Birthday bunting x 2

A long time ago I came across a blog that showed a paper banner made by feeding bits of paper through the sewing machine, which seemed a deceptively easy way to make something very decorative.  I mentally filed it away and thought no more of it until I was playing around with bits of paper to make my mum a birthday card, and thought I’d have a go at making some bunting, which seems to be all over the place in cutesy crafty blogs.  This paper-sewing method seemed to be a way of indulging in a bit of bunting frivolity without making too serious a time commitment to an affection (or affectation) for all things cute.

Making the bunting involved painting some watercolour paper in rainbow washes of colour, waiting for it to dry, and then cutting it into triangles.  I stacked up all the triangles, sat down at the sewing machine, and fed them through.  There were a few snags figuring out the machine’s tolerance for sewing paper and dropping stitches (which is how to get the little bit of space in between each piece of paper) but I got there in the end.

The result made me happier than I have been with a craft project for a long time, mostly because I wasn’t expecting it to actually work.  With most projects I have a vision of how I want it to look, and then I’m a bit disappointed when it necessarily looks different to how I’d imagined it.  This bunting was BETTER than I’d imagined.  Proof that the easiest way to exceed expectations is to lower them first!  I was so pleased, in fact, that I proceeded to make some for my dad for his birthday, and also make some christmas garlands along a similar theme which I’ll take a photo of at some point as they are, in late January, still hanging up in the flat.  I take the view that white and gold garlands are not season-specific, myself.

I neglected to take photos of the completed bunting I made my dad, but I was a bit more experimental with the colours and took a photo of the finished ‘painting’ before the paper was cut into triangles:

I painted this sheet by doing stripes of blue, stripes of orange, etc all quite spaced out, and then trying to fill them in with colours that would contrast next to one another.  A sort of random-yet-planned colour splash.  Up until the final few stripes were applied, I was not happy with how it was turning out and almost scrumpled it up to start again, but once I’d finished I was glad I hadn’t.

The result was very cheerful, and I am sure to be deploying this particular crafty idea for celebratory events in the future!


Homemade pizza! Yum yum yum

I love pizza, and I love cheese!  What I do not love is tomato sauce, and pizza restaurants that do not look at me funny when I ask for pizza with no tomato sauce are few and far between.  Also, making pizza at home is lots of fun- we are always in fits of giggles by the end, trying to make the dough flat in a pizza shape (next time we’ve decided we are going to give up on the attempt to make them round, and deliberately shape them like countries- mine was accidentally Australia last time).

The recipe I’ve previously used for pizza dough is Jamie Oliver’s, although I do find that I a) am incapable of mixing it on the work surface as he suggests and revert to a bowl because I am too scared that I will make a more enormous mess than I usually do, which is saying something, and b) require more flour (or less water?) than he suggests.  The last time we made pizza, though, I gleefully purchased the dough from the wonderful Mark’s Bread (which also has a Jamie Oliver connection, as I understand they feature in his new book) and it was delicious.

I have also developed my own alternative sauce, which is a bit of a faff, but very worth it.  As Mark said, “If I wasn’t eating my own pizza, I would be happy to eat yours”.  The most effusive of compliments, I think you’ll agree.  It is a more refined version of the sauce I described in my last pizza post here.

Meg’s non-tomato pizza base

1/2 tub ricotta (say, 5-6 heaping tablespoons? not very scientific with this bit)
1 large clove garlic
lots of salt and pepper
handful chopped parsley

tea strainer (i.e. a miniature strainer/sieve)
small bowl

Having discovered that if I just mixed up a ricotta-based sauce straight from the tub, it was a bit watery on the pizza, I decided (uncharacteristically) to add an additional cooking step and try and drain the ricotta before using it.  And, it worked.  Very well.

So, spoon the ricotta into the tea strainer and balance it over the small bowl.  Stick this in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably longer, and swear death unto anyone who tips it over.  You could do this with muslin as well, but I don’t have any, so.

Once your ricotta is suitably drained, very finely chop or mince the garlic, roughly chop the parsley, and mix in with the ricotta.  You might need to persuade the person you are sleeping next to that night to have some too, as it is VERY garlicky.  Season generously with salt and pepper, and there you go.

Spread onto the pizza base, top with mozzarella and/or whatever else you fancy, and stick  in the oven until the base is cooked and the top is bubbling (10-15 minutes?).

See what I mean about a vague resemblance to Australia?  It looks boring, but tastes really nice I promise.  And anyway, it was exactly what I fancied that evening, which is the whole point of homemade pizza.

Mark’s kitchen-sink pizza. There’s even more stuff under the cheese, if you can believe it.

Christmas baking

Lizzie and I did a LOT of baking during the christmas period; sadly I neglected to photograph nearly all of it.  I did manage to take an iPhone photo of our christmas cake though, even though I decorated it after christmas so it ended up being a ‘new years cake’.  The recipe was Nigella’s time-honoured christmas cake, which is in a couple of her books, including ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’.

We took a chunk home to Bristol with us, which is sadly just a distant memory.  I might need to make some everyday fruitcake to console myself with (and to feed the cyclist…)

A walk with a beautiful view

The walk we went on after I took my photos in Philly’s garden was so lovely- spectacular views almost the whole way.  We parked at the North York Moors visitor centre at Sutton Bank, and walked along the edge of the escarpment with moors on one side of us and a sharp drop down on the other side to green fields and hills.  I tried to take a few photos to capture the view, but they don’t convey the sense of space and distance.  It was magnificent.

Last days of 2011

I am going to rewind a bit to our post-Christmas visit to North Yorkshire.  We had a brilliant time as always getting outdoors with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, and coming home to cosy fires and gorgeous food.  One morning as everyone was assembling for a walk (more on that later) I nipped out into my aunt Philly’s garden to take some photos of the frosty, misty morning.  The sun was just rising, although at this time of year that means it was about 9am.  

The pattern of frost on the undersides of the leaves was captivating.

Two-part blog: ribbon chalkboard and marbled cupcakes for hungry cyclists

I haven’t been very active in finding interesting or useful things to hang on the walls of our flat, partly because as we’re renting, I don’t feel like it’s really ‘ours’.  However, the other week I thought it would be useful to have a chalkboard in the kitchen to write lists of things on, so I don’t forget to buy another tube of toothpaste for the fifth time.  Mark, always happy to oblige if sawing, drilling, and painting are involved, found a suitable piece of wood and painted it with chalkboard paint, drilling two holes for string.  My job was to source the string; I completely forgot and in a fit of desperation/inspiration dug through my box of ribbons and found the perfect silky black ribbon to hang it up with, so much better than a piece of rope!

I hope you’ll agree it looks smashing.

You might also notice the message I came into the kitchen this morning to find….

I had mentioned to Mark that I might want to bake something this weekend, as my sister Lizzie bought me the Hummingbird Bakery ‘Cake Days’ cookbook for Christmas.  He was pretty excited and obviously thought he’d make sure I remembered my plan for the day!

I settled on marbled cupcakes, and after a temporary but very alarming setback in which my set of scales went bonkers and started lying completely about what things weighed (unopened 500g bag of sugar weighs 871g, apparently?!) which was only resolved by a quick trip to the local hardware store for a replacement, all went smoothly.  The recipe is fiddly and a bit unusual but worth following, as the sponge came out incredibly moist (a crucial factor) and the icing was very fluffy, although I much preferred the vanilla to the chocolate icing.

As soon as the last cupcake was iced, four hungry cyclists turned up wanting tea and cake!  Although cyclists are not exactly tough customers where sweet treats are concerned, the cupcakes certainly disappeared very quickly.

Bookcase project

I may have mentioned here before that Mark has been working in Bournemouth for the last four months, and travelling home to Bristol at weekends.  Needless to say, this was an undesirable arrangement for many reasons (although there was a silver lining in the cloud as he saw more of his family who live in that area), but it has thankfully now come to an end as he has left the horrible job which sent him there.  “Our” furniture reclamation projects which were embarked upon so excitedly when we first moved in to our current flat were put on hold as Mark’s do-stuffing time in the evenings and weekends became almost non-existent.  The true extent to which all things DIY are driven and completed by him also became very apparent, as if it wasn’t before!

So it was with glee in his heart on his first free day home that Mark headed down to the wood recycling centre to find a ratty old bookcase for the knock-down price of £10.

I never actually saw it naked in person as I was up in London, but according to Mark (who took all the photos in this post) these shots somewhat mask the fact that the wood veneer was in quite poor condition.

(Note- the photo above is a bit misleading- there is a mirror in the back of the bookcase which is actually reflecting a DIFFERENT bookcase which looks quite similar to this one, but was in better condition so we left it as-is.)

So while I wouldn’t condone blithely painting over lovely wood (witness our gateleg table as an excellent example of something which, in my opinion, should never ever be painted or even varnished), it seemed this specimen wasn’t sufficiently sacrosanct to warrant saving, and a few good coats of white paint would give it a new lease of life (and fit in with my current obsession for all things Scandinavian.)

It first had a good undercoat, then slipped into a white eggshell.

Ta-da!  I am already plotting how to fill up the shelves without him noticing before it’s too late.  In all ways, it is good to have Mark home.