Friday, 30 December 2011

Lovely Pigeon

We are in post Christmas mood. Simple food is craved & the forlorn remains of the Christmas pudding are being ignored by both of us...

I was especially thrilled to receive a small parcel containing a lovely pigeon from Lovely Pigeon's advent giveaway. Thank you!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Flower Challenge Update

I was so busy with the Making Winter project before Christmas that I confess to letting my Backlane Notebook flower challenge slip a little...

So, this week I got out in the garden & here's what I found...


Viburnum flowers & a medley of winter colours & textures...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Urban Nativity Scene

I like crib scenes. I don't know if it's because they are 'miniature' or the fact that it's only once a year.

Seven years ago I bought my own nativity scene.

There is the family,

a shepherd and his sheep,

a choir of angels,

and three wise men (kings?) who have taken up residence near the dictionaries.

The characters may be traditional but they inhabit a multi-story urban dwelling. The angels get the penthouse suite!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Three Festive Mice

A few years ago I returned from a holiday to find that I had squatters- mice!

I do not like mice at all. I encouraged them to move out...

The next few evenings were spent in a manic frenzy of cleaning.

Then, this summer, February niece asked if I would help her to make a fabric mouse. I found a pattern online & we set to work on a colourful off cut. 

February niece took her mouse home. I made a few more as Christmas gifts. I gave them golden whiskers and glittery black eyes.

They are meant to be pincushions but I don’t like the thought of sticking pins in them...

Thank you so much to everybody who has added a link to the December Making Winter Bloghop. I'm leaving the link open until December 25th for anybody who would still like to add to it.

The Making Winter Flickr pool is also looking very festive!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Thrifty-ish Florentines

Mr TH has a theory that, on the whole, people give the presents that they'd actually like to receive. This year I am living proof of that...I have made Florentines, Limoncello, Rose Turkish Delight & Christmas Scented Body Oil as presents for friends.

(I've been inspired by the lovely links in the Making Winter December Blog Hop. Thank you to everyone who has already posted a link. The list is open until the 25th December for anyone else who'd like to join in...)

To make Florentines, I followed(ish) a Nigella recipe from her book, 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' (p203)

Gently melt 90g sugar & 25g butter in a pan. Stir carefully & make sure that it doesn't start to burn or darken.

When the sugar has dissolved, take it off the heat & stir in 15g plain flour to form a small ball.

Gradually stir in 150ml double cream. (You might need to return to a low heat to stir out any lumps).

Add about 200-240g of your chosen chopped nuts/seeds/dried fruits & stir.

Warning! At this stage the mixture tastes gorgeous...

Line a few baking trays. (I found that, for me, the non-stick re-usable liners worked much better than greaseproof paper.)

Blob teaspoons of the mixture on to the trays leaving space for expansion.

Cook for about 8-12 mins at 190 degrees. The blobs will have flattened out and be slightly brown at the edges.

Cool for a few mins then move to a wire tray.

When fully cooled, turn upside down & paint the flat sides with molten chocolate. Leave to cool & apply further coats of chocolate if necessary.

The mixture made about 40-50 Florentines  (It would probably have made more but I had to taste all the ingredients on a very regular basis...). I used three & a half bars of chocolate (half each of white, milk & dark chocolate).

They do not have the immaculate look of shop bought ones but they taste extremely good! (I'm hoping & heavily hinting to Mr TH that a packet will end up in my Christmas stocking...?)

Sunday, 18 December 2011

MoreThrifty Gifts

At 10 years old, February niece is rapidly growing up. Deciding what to make for her was much more difficult...

February niece always has her head stuck in a book & so I made a lined, zipped book bag with a small zipped pocket inside. The fabric was leftover from Emma's curtains. I sandwiched wadding in between the layers before machine quilting it together.

Then I made a removable, washable, fabric covered notebook 

& a lined, padded case for her glasses.

What makes it extra special is knowing that the fabric lining in the book bag was leftover from a shirt that one of my Grandmothers made. My niece & Grandmother also share the same name...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Turkish Delight (theThrifty way)

Turkish Delight sums up Christmas for me. As long as it is rose flavoured & drenched in icing sugar, I am a happy woman.

I have intended to make it for years. I have had the recipe, cut out of a magazine, waiting for me but never quite got round to it...

Inspired by all the crafty goings on in the Making Winter December Blog Hop,  I decided to give it a go.

Here's what I did...

I put 450ml of warm water in a pan & stirred in 3 sachets of powdered gelatin (approx 30-35g gelatin). This was probably the trickiest part of the whole process as it did go a bit lumpy. If you are going to have a go, I would recommend thoroughly reading the instructions on your packet of gelatin- needless to say, I didn't!

Add 700g sugar (yes, I baulked too!), stir & return to the heat stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring to the boil & then reduce to a simmer for 20 mins.

It did not look appetising at this stage...

It looked horrible so I scooped off the scum & let it cool for about 15-20 mins (by this stage it was much thicker but not set)

Then I stirred in 2 teaspoons of rose water & a cap of red colouring.

I lined a straight edged baking dish (approx 20cm square-ish) with greaseproof paper.

The mixture needed to set overnight so I took the dish to my chosen spot. (In order to avoid having to walk with a full tray of liquid, I poured the mixture into the dish in situ.)

At this stage I still thought it looked unappetising..

The following day; I turned the slab of jelly onto a board covered in icing sugar, sliced it into cubes & drenched them with even more icing sugar.

I cut 48 large cubes from the slab

Needless to say, I had a taste (or 2 or 3... as did Mr TH). Our conclusion; it is much more delicate tasting than shop bought ones & much more 'jelly-ish' with a comically wibbly wobble to it!

I will keep some for us & the rest has been wrapped up as presents for friends.

I shall make it again next year- maybe a lemon & pistachio or lime one next time...

Friday, 16 December 2011

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Body Oil

A crate of  clementines from the local greengrocer

As a child, the idea of giving gold, frankincense and myrrh seemed terribly exotic & exciting. I've not really grown up much...

Last year I bought myself some tiny amounts of frankincense and myrrh so that I could actually see, touch and smell them. Both are resin/sap products and the smell is wonderful...

Sometimes I carefully burn small amounts because the fragrance is so wonderful...

My favourite use of frankincense & myrrh is an adapted recipe from James Wong...

I made it last Christmas as a gift for my Mum & she loved it (& I had to test some myself...) It's easy to make & smells wonderful. Here's how I made it...

In a blender whizz up:

400ml sunflower oil (or any other non-fragrant oil)
4 tbsp whole cloves
the rind (not pith) of 5 oranges (I used a mix of clementines, satsumas, oranges)

Then I added a teaspoon each of frankincense and myrrh (& a twist or 2 of black pepper from the grinder for added warmth).

Put the, now very, fragrant mush in a glass/pyrex bowl over a pan of hot water (low heat) & simmer gently for about 1 hour. Your house will instantly smell of Christmas, (even Mr TH emerged from his office to find out what the lovely smell was...!)

Remove from the heat & leave to cool down

Strain and bottle up.

The resulting oil will be a wonderful golden orange colour (gold, frankincense and myrrh...)

It should keep for about 3 months. I use it in the bath and as a body oil. (Do be careful if applying it just before wearing white clothing as it can leave an orange imprint- but this does come out in the wash!)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

What does my seven year old niece want for Christmas?

September niece is a young lady who knows her mind. Over the summer she had requested a doll & so I made one for her birthday.

A further request has come in for another everyday dress & also some fancy evening clothes. They would have to be silk and probably black because lots of evening clothes are black...

So I had a good rummage in the fabric stash & made an everyday dress (not something I tend to see everyday though..!)

Then a silk dress was made with some black in the pattern. I didn’t think it looked sufficiently fancy, so I added some beads.

Then an evening cloak with black lining, black ruffles and a hood.

A petticoat was necessary...

& of course some underwear (those of you who are easily offended please look away NOW!)

I wonder if she'll still be asking for doll's clothes this time next year?

P.S.  The December Making Winter Blog hop is going really well, as is the Flickr pool. Thank you to everybody who has been adding festive links!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Making Winter December Blog Hop

Welcome to the Making Winter blog hop for December! (The November blog hop can be found here)

At last the temperatures here seem to be dropping. It is starting to feel like winter...but we're still waiting for the snow to reach this part of East Anglia...

The aim of the Making Winter Project was to help convince winter-haters to fully embrace the season.

Chatting with Emma from Silverpebble, she's admitted that she's beginning to feel quite positive about winter this year.

We've had a go at crocheting, made some firelighters, tested some limoncello & planned lots more activities to continue to convince her that there is a positive side to winter!

The Making Winter Flickr Pool is looking suitably seasonal & is well worth popping over to.

If you'd like to join in with the Making Winter festivities, please add your link below then we can all pop along for a festive visit...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Christmas Tree Decisions

Last week we started our annual Christmas tree discussion. It goes along the lines...

Me-     We'll need to get a tree this week...
Mr TH-  What for?
Me-     Christmas?
Mr TH-  Can we not have so many decorations on it this year?
Me-      .... (silence)
Mr TH-  I thought we had an artificial tree in the roof?
Me-     No, we don't have one in the roof.
Mr TH-  Do you think it might be greener to get an artificial one?
Me-     Maybe, but real ones look real & smell wonderful...
Mr TH-  They both cost about the same but with an artificial one you'd only need to buy it once...
Me-     Erm, true...but the real ones do smell lovely...
       (Long pause)
Me-     Let's go & look at some real ones.
       (trip to see trees)
Me-     Now that we're here, we might as well buy one!

In the thrifty sense, Mr TH, is right but real trees win every time as far as I'm concerned. We bought our 5ft tree from a local reputable grower.

I kept it outside in a sheltered spot, propped up in a bucket of water until I was ready to bring it in.

Then I sawed off the base of the trunk and pruned away all the lower branches.

Using large stones & bricks, I propped the tree up in large bucket & filled it with water. I'll check it everyday & refill when necessary. I also placed it away from the radiator.

The bucket was not attractive so I sliced up a cardboard box from the supermarket to disguise it.

Then out came the box of decorations collected over the last 20 this point Mr TH rolled his eyes & quickly left the room...

Don't forget that, starting tomorrow, the Making Winter bloghop will be hosted here...

Friday, 9 December 2011

Making Winter Button

Here's the Making Winter pine cone all decked out for the festive season & ready for the next bloghop which I'll be hosting on Monday 12th December. (November's bloghop is here)

If you'd like to grab the button & display it in your side bar, please do.

I know that Emma over at Silverpebble has an exciting silvery tutorial planned for next week, as has Not so Granny.

Also check out daily crafty/foodie advent countdowns over at Calico Kate & Lavender & Lovage.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

More Making Winter

At last the weather has started to become colder and the Making Winter project needs some festive cheer!

Tree & scaffolding...(long story but the fridge freezer arrived back this morning!)

Emma over at Silverpebble is frantically creating exquisite silvery treasures ready for the Selvedge Fair on Saturday 10th December in North London. As soon as she has started to relax after all her industriousness I'm worried that she'll sudden notice the temperature drop...

So, on Monday 12th December, I shall be hosting the next part of the Making Winter Blog Hop extravaganza. There will be a linky list at the bottom of the post on that morning so please join in by adding details of any exciting Making Winter posts!

There will also be an exciting new button to grab & display in your side bar- I'll keep you posted...

A reminder that the flickr pool is looking great, if you want to add any fabulous winter themed photos please do.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Nun's Sweets

Spain now seems like some distant wonderful dream...

One of our many memorable events was standing in a convent trying to order sweets from a nun when we couldn't see her & we couldn't speak Spanish...

Our frantic hand gestures seemed completely useless!

Eventually a box was passed through the grille and money was exchanged, it all felt rather clandestine for a convent...

Unfortunately, last night we finished these delicious Nun's Sweets...

Despite all our testing, we still hadn't worked out what the ingredients were (although we suspect toasted hazelnuts to be one of them..)

Wiping the last crumbs delicately from my lips I suggested to Mr TH that maybe we should return, in the name of investigative food science of course...

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Can I call this a bunch of flowers?

Inspired by Backlane Notebook, I am still determined to produce my bunch of flowers each week.

Chilli plant and feverfew...
Do you think I can call this a bunch of flowers?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Vinegar, vinegar & yet more vinegar...

I keep a large bottle of vinegar under the sink. Purchased from the Chinese supermarket at the end of the road, it costs me £2.99 for 5 litres. I think that's a pretty cheap cleaning ingredient, (& I get to exercise one set of arm muscles on my 2 minute walk home...)

Apart from cleaning my new-to-me decanter the lazy way, here are some of the other ways that I use vinegar:
  • descaling taps; rags or kitchen paper wrapped around taps, soaked in vinegar & left to descale all by themselves- please note we do not have plated taps, this process would de-plate them pretty quick!)
  • descaling shower head; detach & sit in a solution of half water/vinegar overnight
  • descaling the kettle; a few cm of half vinegar/water left over night in the kettle & then rinsed & boiled 3 times with tap water before use
  • descaling the toilet pan; bale out water & leave a mix of half water/vinegar overnight
  • clean limescale off stainless steel; spray a half vinegar/water mix on & leave for about 10 mins before wiping
  • windows/glass; 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water (great for shower cubicles too)
  • getting rid of remnants of sticky price labels; dab with neat vinegar
  • greasy/oily stains; dab with neat vinegar & wash
  • descale washing machines/dishwashers; run about a cup worth of vinegar through a rinse cycle
  • cheap fabric softener; replace fabric conditioner with about half a cup of vinegar in fabric conditioner drawer of washing machine (your washing will not smell of vinegar)
  • cleaning really dirty floors (non wood) ; a capful in with the bucket of water & detergent helps to degrease (also works for really greasy roasting trays, etc...)
  • unblock drains/clear plug holes; pour approx one cup of vinegar over a cup of bicarbonate of soda (do this in situ as the mixture foams!)
  • neutralising smells; dabbed, poured on areas depending on material at site (I stopped dogs using my front wall as a 'place to leave their calling cards' by sploshing some neat vinegar over the site!)
  • wasp stings; dab on neat vinegar
  • itchy skin: a capful of cider vinegar diluted in a basin of warm water may help...
  • & on chips (of course!)
What do you use vinegar for?
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