Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Craftalong #5 ~ Saucy Sultanas

I've been a bit slack with my blogging, haven't I?! Do you remember that playground game we used to play as children ~ the one where someone covered their eyes and faced the wall and the rest of you had to sneak up on them while their back was turned? Well, that's what Christmas has done to me ~ again!!

But there is still plenty of time to make all of the crafts I have posted so far, and here is one more for you to try. This one is quite possibly the quickest and easiest of them all ~ Saucy Sultanas.

You may well have heard me banging on about these before, I do like to rave about them on my facebook page, but that's because they are simply delicious and only get better with time.

You will need:
Sherry (Ximenez or Cream are best as they are the most raisin-y)
Whole Cloves
Ribbons and tags to trim
Pare short curls of zesty peel from the orange with a vegetable peeler. Fill your jar with sultanas, sprinkling a few cloves in as you go according to taste. I only used a couple as I think the flavour can be unpleasant if too overwhelming. Poke some of your orange peel pieces down and around the sultanas, making sure to  have a few pieces at the sides of the jar so they can be seen. Then all you have to do is top the jar up with sherry, add a lovely tag, and you have a beautiful and proper lush gift for someone!
Use your sultanas to turn a scoop or two of creamy vanilla ice-cream into a luxurious grown-up pudding, or can you imagine how wonderful they'd be in a bread and butter pudding?
If you're not keen on sherry, try using rum or brandy ~ I find those spirits too harsh myself, but I know a lot of people who would prefer them to sherry.
These taste better the longer you can leave them, as the fruit absorbs the sherry and plumps up juicily. If you like, you can heat the mixture very gently for a few minutes to help kick-start the process, but be careful not to cook the sultanas, or to catch the sherry alight!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Christmas Craftalong #4 ~ Festive Faux Fudge

It's Craftalong time again, and I figured it must be about time for another recipe! Sweets are always a welcome gift, and this Faux Fudge is no exception.

Ordinarily fudge is made by boiling milk and sugar, and while this is of course a fabulous treat, it can be a little daunting to make. Not so this recipe! No boiling is required, just some gentle microwaving and a lot of stirring!

You will need:

200g Plain Chocolate
100g Butter
400g Icing Sugar
1 tbsp. Vanilla
2 tbsp. Golden Syrup
Festive Sprinkles

Begin by lining a tin (approx. 17cm / 7" square) with greaseproof paper.
Break the chocolate into pieces and put in a microwavable bowl with the butter. Heat gently (I never go above 50% power when melting chocolate) in bursts of about 30 seconds, stirring in between, until the chocolate is all melted and mixed with the butter. Stir in the vanilla and syrup, then add the icing sugar about a third at a time, mixing thoroughly. The mixture gets real thick real quick, and you may need to zap it in the microwave for another 10 or 15 seconds to show it who's boss.
When the icing sugar is completely incorporated, turn the mixture into the tin and press out into the corners. Put another piece of greaseproof paper or a sheet of kitchen paper on top, then using a potato masher or similar press down firmly on the mixture to bind it all together and flatten the top. Peel back the paper, sprinkle on your sprinkles, replace the paper and gently press the sprinkles into the fudge.
Allow to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours then lift out and cut into squares.

 For a simple effective gift place several chunks of fudge in a cellophane bag and tie with a ribbon. Or to make it a little more special, try filling a beautiful glass tumbler, or a vintage bonbon dish.

This fudge will allegedly keep for a couple of weeks. . .

 . . . if you have the willpower . . .


Friday, 15 November 2013

Christmas Craftalong #3 ~ Tinsel Wreath

Tinsel wreaths are all the rage at the moment, and they are incredibly easy to make using decorations you already have.

Compass and pencil (or plates to use as a template)
approx. 4 metres of tinsel
approx. 25cm / 10" ribbon
little baubles or other festive bits
staple gun
sticky tape

Start by drawing your wreath shape onto a sturdy piece of cardboard. I used a compass to make a 4.5" circle inside a 9" circle, but you can use a large plate and a saucer or similar to create your template if you don't have a compass. Once you have cut out your shape, staple or stick your piece of ribbon to form a hanging loop.

Next, tape the end of your tinsel to the back of the wreath and start winding it around your cardboard hoop. 

When you get to the end, tuck the tail well under the wrapped tinsel, at the back of the wreath if possible, but tinsel is very forgiving so if it ends at the front don't worry too much!

To hang the baubles you can use the little hooks that you use to put them on christmas trees, but I found that made mine too dangly. So I took some unused staples, threaded them through the holes on the baubles, and bent them into tiny hooks which snagged into the tinsel.

They were a little fiddly to hang, but did the job just fine!

These wreaths are so simple and versatile, you can make any colour combination you like.

And because they are so light you don't have to worry about banging a nail in, as a piece of Blu Tack is man enough for the job.
If you don't have 4 metres of the same colour tinsel, try winding a couple of different colours around to create a stripy effect.
I hope you have fun making some of your own wreaths. What will you use to decorate yours?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Use your rolling pin - discreetly

I am a sucker for old cookery books. In theory I buy them for my friend's husband, an excellent chef at a rather nice restaurant in deepest Worcestershire, who collects old cookery books. However I have to admit I do find it hard to part with them, and one or two have accidentally stayed on my shelves rather longer than anticipated. In one recent purchase I discovered this little gem tucked jokingly beside the index and decided I just had to share:

Sounds like a very complicated recipe to me, think I'd rather get a take away ;)

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Christmas Snowfall

Now November is here I don't feel too premature in listing festive stock in my Etsy shop. I've been busy crocheting lots of sparkly snowflakes

I love snowflakes, and these look so sparkly I can't wait to cover my tree in them!

If you would like some for your tree, or to hang in your window, or in front of a mirror (or anywhere else you fancy!) you can find them in my Etsy shop

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Christmas Craftalong #2 ~ Pompom Bookmarks

I feel very strongly about encouraging children to give gifts at Christmas. It's all too easy for the meaning and spirit of Christmas to be lost, especially with young children. Everything gets completely overpowered by the fact that they are going to get huge piles of presents and sweets and all kinds of fun stuff!!!

I encouraged my son to make and give gifts from a young age, to help him realise how good it feels to think of others and give them a gift that will make them smile, just like they do for him.
This a lovely simple craft that you can make with your kids in just a few minutes, and it costs pennies. All you need is:

yarn (approx. 5g per bookmark)

There are several ways to make a pompom, I used my fingers but if you are making these with little ones I would suggest either a pompom maker or a piece of cardboard, so as to avoid cutting off the circulation to the tips of their fingers! (you can see the colour of my fingertips in the first photo!)

Begin winding your wool, making sure to leave approx. 12" length of yarn. When you have a thick enough wodge, cut your yarn, leaving a tail to match the one left at the beginning.

Now cut a piece of yarn four times as long as the tail and double it over. Use this to tie nice and tightly around your bundle in a double knot ~ be careful as you tighten it not to be too rough and snap the yarn! I found it easier to use a crochet hook to pull the yarn through between my fingers, the tied a loose knot and carefully slipped the whole lot off my fingers before tying a good tight knot.

Now you need to cut all those loops. I found it easier to hold all 6 long lengths of yarn so you don't accidentally snip through them.

When all the loops have been cut you will be left with a pompom that looks like it's been drunk in a hedge for a week!

 So you need to tidy it up. Snip and trim the stray ends until you're happy with what's left. You will probably trim quite a bit off, but do it a bit at a time, fluffing the pompom out between trims in order to spot any stray long bits you may have missed.

When you are satisfied that you have a lovely neat pompom all that remains is to tidy the lengths up. I chose to plait mine, but if macramé is your thing then go for it! This is where it's handy to have six lengths instead of just three. On two of my bookmarks I accidentally trimmed away a couple of the long tails but as I still had three left I could still make a nice neat plait. Finish by knotting the end of the plait and separate out the strands of yarn to give a nice fluffy end piece. Et Voila!

I used chunky wool, because I happened to have some nearby, so my pompoms came out quite fat. I could have trimmed them down more but I quite like them that way. You can of course use whatever kind of wool you like. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Rainy, Mossy, Marvellous!

I suppose some might consider it strange but I adore the rain, and I love to go walking in the woods in a good downpour. The rich sweet fragrance of wet woodland, all the colours vibrant and fresh, squelching and kicking through mud and leaves, rain soaking through the front of your trousers and down the back of your neck, all the while happy in the knowledge that a big pot of beef stew and a pair of warm pyjamas are waiting for you when you get home.


Last weekend we went to the Devil's Punchbowl, a stunning mix of woods and heathland a short drive away from us in Surrey.

I started the walk looking forward to an hour or two of fresh air and exercise in a beautiful location, and some lovely quality time with my son. I certainly achieved that, but was overwhelmed by how much inspiration I found too.

The patterns formed by trees . . .
the textures of mossy roots and logs . . .


and the colours and patterns in the undergrowth . . .

I found myself overflowing with ideas for incorporating these elements into my knitting and as soon as I got home (well, after I got dried off, and into my pyjamas, and ate my stew) I started makes notes and sketches. It'll be a while before I can get to work on any of my designs, what with Christmas gifts, tutorials, and festive stock for the shop (watch this space!), but I can't wait to get started!


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Christmas Craftalong #1 ~ Maple Pecan Granola

Granola is always on the menu for me at Christmas. It's one of those sneaky ought-to-be-healthy-but-really-isn't type of foods that I just love to indulge in. Although it can be eaten as is, just poured in a bowl and covered with creamy milk, I usually like to sprinkle mine over fruit and yoghurt. Or over ice-cream. Or poached pears and cream. Or baked banana. Or . . . well . . . you get the idea.

The recipe is super simple, and you will probably have a lot of the ingredients to hand. This will make approx. 600g, or just over a litre.

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup flaked almonds
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / Gas 4

Mix together the oats, coconut, almonds, pecans and cinnamon in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil and syrup in a separate bowl until combined then pour over the dry mixture and stir well until thoroughly combined. Lightly grease a large sheet pan (12" x 14" ish) and pour the mixture in, spreading evenly. Bake for approx. 25 - 30 mins, stirring every five minutes or so, until it's a nice even golden brown. Stir the cranberries through for the last five minutes of cooking.

Remove the granola from the oven and leave to cool in the pan. Don't try to stir until it's completely cold, that way you should get a lovely clumpy texture. Store in an airtight container.

If you're not keen on Maple Syrup (or live in the UK where it's mad expensive) then honey makes a delicious alternative. You can also swap in any dried fruit you like. Try chopped dried apricots in place of cranberries, they go perfectly with honey and almonds.

Now to turn this from an indulgent treat into a luxurious gift all you need to do is tart up a large jar. You can buy a Kilner or Mason jar if you like, but I used a pretty jar I had around the house. You can decorate it however you like. I cut a circle of festive poinsettia fabric and tied it with a gold cord (this is easier if you secure the fabric with an elastic band first) but a rustic piece of burlap tied with a thick red or gold ribbon makes a lovely contrast. If you don't have any fabric, try some Christmas wrapping paper.

For the label I found a lovely vintage holly frame from a fabulous site called The Graphics Fairy which shares vintage images for crafters to use. A nice fancy font (or write it yourself if your handwriting is better than mine!) and a pretty hole punch and my label was done.

All food gifts are better made as near to Christmas as possible, but this should keep for about a month in an airtight container. If it lasts that long!

Monday, 23 September 2013

The "C" Word

I really hate shops stocking up on Christmas goods before the summer holidays are even over (I saw cards in the shops as early as 12th August this year!) but when you're planning a homemade Christmas you need to get started early or your December is going to be a panicky nightmare.

So far I have managed to finish a present . . .

Start on some festive new shop stock . . .

and try out a new recipe for a Christmas Craftalong ~ a delicious gift you can make yourself to dazzle and delight your friends!

The Christmas Craftalong is a series of tutorials I started last year, some nice and easy suggestions for gifts you can make yourself to add your own handmade touch to Christmas. Unfortunately, due to family bereavement, I was unable to complete the Craftalong last year, but this year I am hoping to post a new craft for you to try every fortnight. There will be a variety of different crafts so don't worry if you are needle-phobic! Just watch this space, as the first tutorial should be along before the week is out!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Arty Chalk and Cheese

This weekend was another culture-fest for this Cheery Chicken ~ a delightful day trip to London. We toured Buckingham Palace, saw two art exhibitions, and even stumbled across sixty of the world's rarest cars as they roared and purred away from the Concours of Elegance at St James's Palace. Vrooom!
But as usual with art exhibitions, it was the artists I didn't expect to see that made the lasting impressions. We had tickets to see the Vermeer exhibition at the National Gallery but as we walked into Trafalgar Square we saw banners outside Canada House advertising Inuit Ullumi ~ an exhibition of contemporary Inuit art. It was free (hoorah!) so we popped in, and I'm very glad we did. There were only a handful of paintings, drawings and sculptures, but there was some amazing work there. Tim Pitsiulak's Ancient Aqviqs and Whale Hunt, and Itee Pootoogook's Cape Dorset at Night were among my favourites.
Ancient Aqviqs - Tim Pitsiulak
Whale Hunt - Tim Pitsiulak
Cape Dorset at night - Itee PootooGook

The works were a pleasantly modern take on folk art, in particular Pitseolak Qimirpik's sculpture Young Man Playing MP3, which could be mistaken for an ancient carving were it not for the MP3 player and smouldering cigarette propped between the smiling figure's fingers (Just Say No, kids!)

Young Man Playing MP3 - Pitseolak Qimirpik

After the refreshing Inuit surprise, we headed on to the National Gallery to see the Vermeer exhibition ~ talk about Chalk and Cheese! Although there were only four of Vermeer's paintings (no Girl with a Pearl Earring, sad face) there were heaps of other Dutch artists, and a collection of 17th century instruments ~ guitars, virginals and lutes. We even got to hear them played, as musicians from the Academy of Ancient Music gave regular performances of 17th century music.

My favourite painting of the exhibition was this one: 

The Concert - Hendrik ter Brugghen
Although the Vermeers were exquisite, it was the composition of ter Brugghen's The Concert that captured my attention. Such an intimate family gathering, cosily lit by a single candle, you can just picture this little family passing the winter evenings in song together.
The exhibition also included a fascinating display of photomicrographs (extreme close-ups to you and I) showing some of the materials and techniques Vermeer used to create his masterpieces, and how time has changed them.
Unfortunately this exhibition is finished now, but you can read about it on the National Gallery website. 

Inuit Ullumi, however, is on until 30th September. It's small but sweet, and I highly recommend you pop in if you're in the neighbourhood.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Fruits of my Labour

I've always been a bit contrary. Not on purpose! I just never seem to fit into the world's way of doing things. So I guess it is perfectly natural for me to 'hibernate' during the summer months, and spring into action in the autumn. Part of this is the massive change in routine that having the kids out of school causes, part of it is the heat ~ who wants to be rushing around when it's sweltery hot?! And I guess part of the kick start is the thought that there are only 111 days until Christmas!

So now the kids are back at school (well, mine doesn't start back until tomorrow) and the weather is on the turn (well, it will be by the weekend) I feel spurred on to create. I have managed to finish my first Christmas gift (I know it sounds early, but you can't leave homemade gifts until the last minute. Unless it's cookies) and now I've launched a new range in my Etsy shop . . .

Fruity Baby Hats!


I may need to make a Satsuma for myself! What flavours would you like to see?

There are more fruity hats on the way, but for now you can buy these (and other awesome things!) in my Etsy shop

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Bye Bye Berries

Raspberry season came a little later than usual this year. There is a marvellous Pick Your Own farm near me that sells wonderful fruit at affordable prices, much cheaper than the supermarket, and today was their last picking day. I managed to pick several pounds a couple of weeks ago, which I turned into jam. I didn't expect to have time to pick any more so today's harvest is an extra treat.


It took a while to fill my punnet, lots of rummaging between canes and under leaves, like trying to find a t-shirt your size in Primark!

But while one crop is finishing, another is growing tall and golden, ready to become bread to slather with zingy raspberry jam.

I enjoyed some of the berries for tea with some yoghurt but I can't quite decide what to do with the rest. I do have a craving for Apple and Raspberry crumble, but what else?
Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Ice-Pack Bed Coolers

The heat in the UK has been crazy lately! The humidity has been so high it feels like the air itself is sweating. Trying to sleep in weather like this is a real challenge, but I have a simple little tutorial here that can help. A simple pillowcase-style towelling cover turns an ice pack into a fabulous 'cold water bottle' to help you keep your cool between the sheets ;-)

All you need is an old towel, or piece of towelling approx. 18" x 6" (45cm x 15cm), and an ice pack like you would use in a cooler for a picnic.

First you need to cut your towel to size. 18" x 6" should be big enough for most picnic ice packs, but check you have enough room on each side for a seam allowance, and an inch or so overlap at the top. If you're cutting up an old towel try to make use of the neatly edged hem for one of your short edges, it will save on sewing later!
Next, turn over the unfinished short edge and hem it. I made this cover by hand but if I had bothered to get my machine out I would have zig-zagged it to strengthen it and help prevent fraying.
Now you need to pin the fold-over top in place. With the right side facing out, position your sewn hem almost level with the top of the ice pack, then fold the towel hem over and pin in place. Slip the ice pack out through the open side, turn the fabric wrong side out and stitch the seams.

And that's it ~ done! All you need to do is turn your cover right-side out, get your ice-pack from the freezer, and tuck it down under the sheets. The ice-pack will keep you nice and cool, while the towelling cover will soak up any condensation so you don't end up wetting the bed ;)

 Sweet Dreams!

Monday, 22 July 2013

A Paper Prince


Today a new heir to the Throne was born! The little Prince, whose name is yet to be announced, was born at 4.24pm and weighed a healthy 8lbs 6oz.

If you, like me, are all of a tizz with the news, well what better way to celebrate than by making a paper copy of the new family! Simply click here to download and print off your copy, then you too can have a lovely time snipping and folding, tongue poking out of the corner of your mouth in concentration.

Hip hip Hooray!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Thrifted Glamor Cabinet

My local wool shop is having a refit next week, so I set off bright and early this morning to see what bargains could be had in their clear-out sale. I was expecting (and found) some lovely balls of wool, some beads, and a couple of gift sets, but without a doubt my best find was this awesome vintage button cabinet:

It needs a little tlc but has so much character and will be perfect for keeping all my craft supplies in one place.

It's even got adorable little rickety wheels!

I haven't decided yet if I want to sand it down and paint it, or stain it, or just take the stickers off the front and tidy it up a little.

What would you do?