Archive for the ‘Crafts’ Category

Home-made Christmas biscuits

I love this time of year.  The pre-Christmas excitement and planning is my favourite part of the proceedings, and I know exactly why.  It’s all the creative possibilities, the baking, the making, the shopping, the goodwill, the thinking, the planning.  It’s my favourite time of year, closely followed by the short-lived bit of summer where camping in the UK becomes a pleasant pastime.

Inspired by the amazing “Biscuiteers“, my friend Clare and I decided to make some home-made biscuits.  This activity was squashed in during the twins lunchtime nap and my school run, more of which later.

We based the biscuits on a wonderful recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook.  I have seriously never tasted such great biscuits, and would thoroughly recommend this one.  From what I can remember, we used:

400g plain flour
200g butter
280g unrefined caster sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

These ingredients were mixed together like a cake, as in:  butter and sugar creamed together, add the egg, fold in the dry ingredients, making a dough.  Usually you would put the mix in the fridge to set a bit, but we had no time, so just rolled it out straight away, cut out some Christmas shapes and stuck them in the oven till they went golden brown.

We then made some royal icing, which has lemon juice and egg white added to make it harden properly.

300g icing sugar
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice

You whizz the lemon juice and egg together, then add the icing sugar gradually, mixing well throughout.  Then add colours.

My collection of icing colour pastes and sparkles came into their own.  But the unfortunate thing is that we ran out of time, so rushed putting the icing on, and only had spoons to apply it, hence they are a bit rough and ready.  Next time we will have a small piping bag etc…..

Unusually for these sorts of things, the best bit of them is the taste.  They are the best I have ever tasted.

The second batch of biscuits were supposed to be for the school Christmas fair, but in the event I was too ill to go, so we had to eat them all ourselves…..



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Crocheted dishcloths

Recently I have been spending a lot of time crocheting things for my new house.  Above is a dishcloth made out of cheap cotton bought in car boot sales or on ebay.  The inspiration and the pattern were kindly given away for free by crochetspot here. I wonder if I will ever get the courage to use it for something as mundane as wiping the surfaces?

There is something so satisfying about making your own stuff around the place.  I have always loved making things, and growing somehow fits into that.

When I lost my right little fingertip in November, overnight I realised how lucky I had been to be healthy and  able bodied.  The ability to make things was temporarily on hold.  I realised that I had spent the best part of my life taking this for granted .  I had moaned and whinged every time things didn’t go my way.  I somehow felt entitled to have a job that wasn’t stressful, for everyone in my life to do things my way, all the time.  For everything to work out just as I believed it should.

Today I am back to that restless feeling of hurrying round my busy life, even the spare time when I seem to feel obliged to do something useful or constructive.  I find it very hard to just ‘be’.

This is why gardening has always been a great panacea for my soul.  It’s a way of doing something but nothing.  Even five minutes on the allotment seemed to refresh my spirit.  It makes me slow down.  Although sustained neglect is a recipe for disaster, a bit of neglect often yields unexpected rewards.  Gardening, and in particular growing your own crops is a fantastic way of seeing a little investment of time reap a harvest.   Since I have got the use of my right hand back, I can’t seem to fit enough life in, gardening, knitting and crochet, amongst a busy job, house, husband and children.  But how lucky I am to have that full an in-tray again.

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Midwinter magic and fairy dust

Sometimes you plan things for ages, and other times an idea just hits you from out of the blue.  I was browsing through one of the girliest shops in the world in the town of Arundel in West Sussex, when I found this:

In case the picture is unclear, it is a phial of glitter which says ‘Fairy Dust’.   Costing about 50p, it was irresistable to a mum with two small girls of 3 and 6.  The possibilities!  Bear with me on this one…

While growing up in the wild moors of Lancashire, believing it to be the back end of nowhere, (subsequently proved by the long journeys back from civilisation later in life), I couldn’t wait to leave and live in a big city.  I was never sure which city, but I knew it was going to be a bigger and more interesting place than the rainy wilderness of home.

Of course, when I had my own children I was very excited to be bringing them up in London.  WOW, I thought, how lucky are they to live in such an important and cosmopolitan place?  The history, the culture, the museums, the markets, the endless life opportunities.  A truly enthralling place?

So I was very surprised when my daughter announced that she thought Tottington, the Lancashire village I grew up in was the most amazing place in the world and that she was going to move there when she grew up.  They do say life comes full circle!  Curious to find out more, I asked her why Tottington was the best place in the world to live.  She replied that it was because there was more magic there than there was in London.

I realised that when we had visited Granny there, the girls had got to make spells in the garden and, by magic, some gifts from the fairies appeared when they got up the following day.  Now of course, spells had never worked at our house in London, and we had speculated that there weren’t any fairies in our garden.  However, when I found the fairy dust, we wondered together if it might make our spells work?  Obviously Granny must have her own magic which Mummy can’t do?

So we tried:

The girls had a pot each, and collected an assortment of grass, leaves and other ingredients from the garden.  They mixed them up with a stick, and then we added the fairy dust to see if it brought any fairies overnight?

Well, the next morning we checked:

The fairies had been!  Well, my 6 year old confided that she had started to think that fairies didn’t really exist, but this confirmed that they did.  The rest of the fairy dust went a long way.  We made magic wands using real magic glitter, we made the teddies move, and we even made facepaint out of it later that day.

All in all a magical midwinter day.

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I find Autumn a bittersweet season.  On the one hand, it is quite nice to settle down to cooler weather and darker nights.  There is something relaxing about calming down and getting ready for winter, heating on, warmer clothes and hot dinners.  On the other hand, it is a sign of worse weather to come, of a long hibernation before the next growing season and of plenty of indoor days.

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Tempting though it is to start planning ahead for Christmas, autumn is worth savouring for itself.  Halloween  and Bonfire night sit nicely half-way between end of summer and Christmas.

In the vegetable patch, pumpkins have got to be the autumn king.  Despite all the weeds and the weather, the pumpkin still grows huge.

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This autumn has been amazing for weather – lots of long sunny weekends, perfect for long autumn walks.  I took this photo in Kensington Gardens the other day.  The birds were all perfectly lined up on the posts.  You would never guess you were so close to the city.

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Anyway, now for the useful bit – at least for those of you with children.  This recipe for home-made playdough comes from our local toddler group, Tots and Toys, and it is one of those fabulous ‘don’t think this is going to work’ recipes which feels a bit like magic when it does work.  Or at least that’s how we found it.

Home-made play-dough

2 cups plain flour
2 cups water
1 cup salt
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons cooking oil
a few drops of food colouring, (you can also add glitter etc.)

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First you put all the ingredients in a large saucepan over a low heat.  Stir until it forms a ball, keep stirring the whole time (it takes a while!).  When it has formed a ball put it into an ovenproof bowl to cool down.  When cool, knead and wrap it up in cling film.  Keep in an airtight container until playtime.  TIP: soak the saucepan straight away!

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Happy autumn – enjoy it while it lasts!

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Well, just in time for hottest weekend in about 3 years, the smallest member of the Costello family (Fern, 3 years old) has contracted chickenpox.  The poor thing is covered from literally head to toe in sore itchy spots.  None of us have had any sleep for days.

Anyway, a bit of research on the internet revealed that oatmeal baths are good for irritated skin, including chickenpox and sunburn.  I also know from experience that lavender is great for skin disorders, and honey and tea tree oil have anti-bacterial properties, so I made my own recipe for a bath bomb.  On such a long hot weekend, I thought it was worth sharing the bath formula that we are using on her, in case any fellow gardeners get caught out in the sun too long.

Oatmeal and lavender bath bomb

  • 3 handfuls of oatmeal (can be any type – mine is a cheap bag from Lidl)
  • dried or fresh lavender flowers
  • few drops of lavender essential oil
  • 2 tsp honey (runny or set)
  • about 8 inch square muslin, organza, or other porous fabric
  • String for tying
  • tea tree oil (optional)

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Put the oatmeal in the blender and whizz until powdery (optional – I couldn’t be bothered with this bit).  Spread out the muslin square and pour on the oats with the lavender flowers and the essential oils.  Put the honey in the middle and cover with the dry mixture, tying with string at the top.

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Put the bag into the bath as it is running and leave to soak  during bath.  Squeezing it makes more of the white liquid come out.  It is known as ‘colloidal’, whatever that means – something to do with the texture.

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Having tested the recipe on Fern, it really seems to have soothed her itching, so I feel entitled to recommend it.  In fact I can’t wait to try it myself.  Later on, Eden and I got carried away with them and made some more for presents for people.

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Finally, the peas are finally coming through in numbers, so I picked some for dinner tonight.

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I expect many more where these came from:

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One of the perks of the plot is that it has a number of lavender plants, inherited from the community project when they used to hold the plot. We have reached a kind of agreement with the lavender people that they pick the lavender from those plants, but in exchange we can pick lavender from what is left over on other plants near our plot. They also maintain the lavender bit of our plot – mowing etc.

In any case we always have more than enough for our own needs. During the week, Jamie took the lavender that has been drying around the house, and picked it off the stems ready to put into lavender bags. Then I made some lavender bags with Eden and proceeded to stuff them. They do smell a lot stronger than the ones you can buy, and they make a nice additional present for people.

Lavender bags

Lavender bags

Another pleasant surprise was to find that the lemon verbena leaves which I had picked and dried smell amazing. I have visions of lemon and lavender bags this Christmas.

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