Tales from a happy house is my personal blog, a place where I record and celebrate the things that matter most to me. I write about my love of creating things, of our home, of cooking and gardening, getting out and about, and my family, among other things. We are not always a happy house (we are human after all) but we are most of the time, and I believe in seeking out and cherishing.
Hello! Everyone ok? It's Friday and half term next week so I'm smiling. I'm also high on DIY because I'm so excited to share with you a little project we've had going on here over the last month of so: the creation of a peg rail and shelf in our porch.
The porch (or you might call it a lobby or mudroom) is a small enclosed area between the front door and inner door into the our hall. It serves no purpose whatsoever other that it holds a shoe rack and some of our shoes, but the main bulk of shoes, boots, coats and scarves etc are stored in a big built in cupboard at the end of our hall, so you still have to walk through the porch to hang up your coat anyway. I would happily remove that glass wall and door tomorrow which would instantly make the whole hall bigger and brighter but that's an ongoing discussion for John and I to have.... ;-)
But the porch is the first thing you see upon opening the front door so I like it to look nice. You can see more photos here.
Anyway, before I warm to my theme too much and get out a sledgehammer, it all started after the millionth wet dog walk we endured over the endlessly rainy Easter holidays back in early April. It must have rained every day over those two weeks and I got sick of trying to find somewhere to hang our dripping wet coats so that they could dry off. I couldn't put them in the hall cupboard, because they'd make everything else damp. I needed some hooks!
Opposite the shoe rack in the porch, we have a funny glass wall, a window that looks into the garage. The idea is that it lets borrowed light into the garage but it also provides a hideous view of, well, the garage, and no-one wants to see that so I covered it up with window film three years ago when we moved in. The window film was always peeling off and looked terrible so we decided to cover over this glass wall and create somewhere to hang wet coats.
My brilliant Dad took me to the local timer merchant - that was an education, you have to take your own saw! - and we bought some wooden tongue and groove panels and then he kindly spent one Saturday building a frame then fitting the panels on top to cover up the window.
I swear, I could hear angels singing when I saw that panelling. The difference! No more peeling window film looking onto cobwebs, just a smooth wall of beautiful wood. I set about filling in the nail holes and undercoating and painting the tongue and groove panels with water-based eggshell suitable for wood.
Knowing we wanted to hang a shelf on this wall, my Dad positioned one of the horizontal batons behind the panelling at a pre-agreed height so that we could screw the shelf into that, to give it extra strength and security. (I told you he's brilliant, thanks Dad.)
Then I just needed my hooks. After hunting high and low for a simple and affordable set of peg hooks with a little shelf on top, I gave up and asked John to make me one. We bought wood and a circular baton, and a drill bit with the same diameter as the baton, and John made me a beautiful shelf. Ever the perfectionist, he is annoyed that the top of the shelf bows a little. (I didn't want brackets. Maybe I should have had brackets?) But I put a trailing plant on it and said I don't care, no-one will notice. I've deliberately left it unstained and unpainted for now, although I might change that later.
But I could not be happier with our affordable homemade solution to the dripping coat problem and of course since we made the hooks the weather has been absolutely glorious, and I haven't needed a coat, never mind a rain coat. But don't worry because I've got a few, just one or two you understand, crochet bags to hang on those pretty peg hooks, what a relief....
Shall we look at a before and after? Oh go on then, if you insist.
I hope you like it. Of course, since we boarded up the window to the garage it's dark in there and you need to switch the light on when you go in, but that's really not remotely inconvenient and a small price to pay for a beautiful panelled wall. Discussions about how and when we will remove that internal door are ongoing. I will keep you posted.
The weather continues to be beautiful and May continues to dazzle me every time I go outside, but especially in the woods. Dog walks are a pleasure when it's like this, with everything so green and lush, just humming with colour and life. Hawthorn blossom hangs so heavily on branches it looks like snow and frothy cow parsley lines footpaths and hedgerows. And don't get me going on the buttercups. I just love May and we've still got months of colour and warmth (please, unpredictable British weather) ahead of us before it all starts to bleach and fade - maybe that's why I love it so much.
I thoroughly enjoyed the royal wedding yesterday, did you? It was all lovely, especially because it gave me an excuse to sit down and crochet in the middle of the day - I shouldn't need an excuse, but it was nice to have one. My friend had a little get together last night with cucumber sandwiches, a cream tea and lots of prosecco. My contribution: gin and tonic cupcakes. There's a little gin in the batter, then you make a gin and tonic syrup which you brush over the tops of the warm cakes, then you put more gin in the icing. There's a lot of gin in those cakes. I wouldn't even let Bella lick the icing beater. They were very nice indeed, but I think next time I'd just rather have a gin and tonic.
Thank you for your birthday wishes for Angus. You are all very kind and I appreciate your support and interest in the comments you leave so much. I finished one of Angus's handmade birthday presents, and only a few days after the event. (The children are very tolerant of my late gifts now, and "New Years Day Crochet Animals" were such a hit last year that I think that might have to become a thing.) A while ago I bought the book Edward's Menagerie: Dogs, knowing I'd love it and use it loads. You know l love Kerry Lord's previous two books Edward's Menagerie and Edward's Menagerie: Birds and have written about them often here, so I was excited to see the Dogs version and even more excited to see that it contained a pattern for a whippet.
I changed all the colours to make him more like Ziggy, and tried my hardest to get the grey markings on his face to match (colour work + decreasing = headache) and I'm pretty pleased with how he came out. Much more importantly, Angus loves him. The night I finished Wilf I propped him up on Angus's bedside table next to his clock so that Angus would see him sitting there when he woke up in the morning.
The second part of the late birthday present comes from the book below, Supersize Crochetby Sarah Shrimpton who blogs at Annaboo's House. I am making Angus a huge floor cushion, at his request, so he has somewhere to loll around and read on his floor. This book is packed full of very tempting projects and it's only the cost of yarn that's stopping me from making everything in this book.
I'm only a few rows in, but I did spend a very nice hour in the sun this afternoon working on it in the garden.
You probably spotted the other book in the photo above, Shibori: The art of indigo dyeing with step-by-step techniques and 25 projects to make by Nicola Gouldsmith. I treated myself to this recently with an Amazon voucher, having wanted to try shibori for some time. I have a plain white table runner and some tea towels and plans to play around with this Japanese tie dye technique over the half term break. I'll let you know how I get on.
I also spent a little time this afternoon on my Spring Craftpod box, working on the Botanical Stitch Practice sampler.
While I love to hand sew I don't actually know that much about embroidery or the many different stitches that exist. I'm finding more and more that I am very much of the "make it up as I go along" school of crafting, so this sampler is actually really interesting and good fun.
The other project in the box is for a little mustard yellow linen project bag, but I may use that gorgeous linen for a little embroidery hoop instead, I'm not sure yet.
And finally, I have finished the My Sweetiepie ABCs cross stitch sampler. I feel like I've been working on this for so long and, as often happens with me and long term WIPs, I'm a bit sick of them by the time I finish the project. I need to put it away for a little while.
I now just need to decide whether or not I can justify paying to have it framed professionally, of if I should try and find a frame to fit and and do it myself. I'm not sure yet. I enjoyed it though, even if it did take me over two years to finish.
Have a great week everyone. I hope this settled weather continues right into half term, wouldn't that be nice?
Someone turned nine at the weekend. There were presents and cards and birthday waffles, and Bella made him a lovely card with a badger holding a bunch of balloons - I think Angus was genuinely really touched. Favourite presents included a snorkel (already tested in the bath), a drone and a Swiss army knife, plus a pair of bouncy new trainers that definitely make him run faster.
The birthday cake request - to my huge relief - was chocolate cake with white chocolate buttons round the sides and smarties on top. Specific but achievable, I like that.
We booked a Forest School birthday party at a local park and all the cousins and some of Angus's school friends came. They built dens and learnt how to build a fire to boil water in a Kelly kettle, then roasted marshmallows on the fire. They absolutely loved it and the guys who led it were brilliant, funny and great with the kids. The look on Angus's face when he lit the fire with a spark was wonderful - a little shy but mostly really proud of himself.
Everyone was grubby and smelled of wood smoke by the end of the afternoon but these things count as a good day out in this house. And the rain held off until the last five minutes of the party.
All lovely, but completely and utterly exhausting, especially after a very packed week. Sunday we deliberately kept as low key and easy going as possible.
It occurred to me that we should have Sundays like that more often.
Hello! Welcome to April's Cookery Calendar Challenge, a monthly post in which I join in with Penny of The Homemade Heart and dust off a much neglected cookery book from my shelf and try out a couple of new recipes. April's book was How to Cheat at Cooking by Delia Smith. I seem to remember that, when this book was published, quite a lot of (male) chefs and food writers were quite sniffy and disparaging about the style and tone of the book. For some, it was a short-cut too far, using so many ready made and pre-prepared ingredients in a recipe and while I am never going to buy or use a tin of minced beef, even if it is from M&S, I won't judge anyone else for doing it. I don't tend to succumb to the quick and easy style of ingredients like pre-chopped vegetables to save time (much too expensive and unnecessary plastic packaging) but I will buy ready made sauces and all sorts of other things depending on what I'm cooking and what else life is throwing at me that week. Sometimes I like to make everything from scratch, other times I am in a rush and just need to get dinner on the table. And surely any book that demystifies cooking and makes it as accessible as possible for as many people as possible is a positive thing? I am all for democratising cooking as I think it is just about one of the most wonderful and useful things you can ever learn to do.
The recipes we chose this month were throw-it-in-the-pot kind of meals, quick to prepare and slow to cook. None involved any particular form of cheating. The first was Spanish pork stew with potatoes and chorizo, a dish we used to make a lot years ago but then forgot all about.
Into a large casserole dish you throw diced pork, chorizo, chunks of peppers, sliced red onion and garlic before adding white wine, passata, olives and new potatoes. Bake for an hour, chuck in a handful of green beans, then bake for another half an hour.
The result manages to be both warming and fresh, hearty but light. It was the perfect dish for a very cold April Sunday a couple of weeks ago, and the kids ate it too so double win.
We followed it with No-cook cheesecake with caramelised rhubarb. You pop chopped rhubarb generously covered with sugar into a hot oven for fifteen or twenty minutes until the fruit is soft and the sugar is just starting to catch. If you're like me, you'll wish you'd made five times this quantity to eat with porridge, yogurt, anything.... Onto a biscuit (made with gingernuts not digestives) base I spread a mixture of cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract then the rhubarb, before putting it in the fridge to chill.
The resulting dessert, while messy to serve, was utterly delicious. The children didn't like the rhubarb (I never did as a child either) so all the more for us.
Our third dish was Greek lamb baked with lemon and garlic which was about as simple as it gets. Put the lamb in some baking parchment and foil, add sliced garlic and lemon juice, wrap it up tight and bake for three hours. Something magical happens to the lamb in that time and it is both meltingly tender and full of flavour. Before serving you mix the lemon zest with parsley and sprinkle over the top which makes it even better. The gamey flavour of lamb needs punchy flavours, I think, which is why it is so great in curry, but the lemon worked just as well.
We ate it with new potatoes roasted with rosemary and a Greek salad. Easy food, everyone liked it and hardly any washing up. My only complaint is that this much lamb cost ten pounds so not exactly a budget dinner.
But the rosemary and parsley came from the herb garden so perhaps I saved a couple of quid there?
Wasn't the weather over the three day weekend just glorious? Sunshine, blue skies and record breaking temperatures, for the time of year. Everyone at work today had a slight post-holiday glow about them, as much due to the relaxed feeling the warmth brings us as to the effect of spending time in the sun. I found that, in just three days, meal times were later, bedtimes later, routines disappearing and everything sliding into that gorgeous holiday mellowness. This morning was a bit of a shock to the system.
Actually, we did a lot this weekend, but the weather made it all so much more enjoyable. My parents and I worked really hard in the garden, digging out an entire flower bed, taking garden waste to the tip, pruning and tidying and generally licking the place into shape. We jet washed the decked area outside the patio door from our kitchen and then I gave it a couple of coats of protective decking stain. John finished the table and benches he made for the garden and they are just fantastic - I'll have to do a big post soon showing you everything we've done in the garden. I'm so happy with how it's turning out. Nothing major, no groundworks or landscaping, but just rethinking the space and how we use it to get the most out of it.
In amongst all this labouring was lots of fun though; meals in the garden, various chilled drinks drunk in deckchairs in the setting sun; new potatoes with butter and mint from the herb garden, slow mornings, children reading outside in the sun, a happy whippet, trips to the beach and the woods to see the bluebells.
The beach on Sunday afternoon was divine. Usually when it's so warm a couple of miles inland, where we are, you find it's a few degrees cooler and breezy down on the beach and it can make quite a difference. But on Sunday it was just as warm and still; people were swimming in the sea, paddle boarding, sunbathing, having barbecues, just enjoying the weather. The sea was calm and clear and I wished we'd brought swim things and a towel with us so that we could have stayed longer. But as it was we were there to walk Ziggy, and he had a wonderful time running around. I didn't let him off his lead until we were quite a way away from most of the people. I didn't want him stealing anyone's sausages. (I'm also very conscious, and respectful I hope, of the fact that many people - especially children - don't like a dog running towards them to say hello, so I am very careful about where he's off his lead.)
On Monday, in between giving the decking another coat of stain and replacing the torn parasol canopy (lesson learned - pack it away in the winter) we went to the woods. I try to do this every spring if we can because....well why wouldn't you?
The walk from the car to the woods isn't a long, a mile and half at most, but it was hot.
But there was frothy cow parsley along the paths and the heady scent of lilac as we walked. When we reached the wood it was deserted, which made me happy. It's a very small area just tucked away off a track but the profusion of bluebells is always what makes it so breathtaking. Hopeful of some photo opportunities, I took my new camera with me and had fun with the new lens.
I think we were a little too late for the full technicolour display though, as they seemed much more faded than on previous visits, though no less beautiful for that. We stopped in the shaded woods and had a mini-picnic of cake and water (too hot for a thermos of coffee) and spent a while just wandering around and taking it all in.
I think that was one of my favourite moments from the whole weekend actually, that pause in the woods. Just the four of us, having a nice time and feeling a bit like we were on holiday. Well five, if you count this one.
Thank you for your comments and suggestions around my herb planter; I hadn't considered raising it off the ground slightly for better drainage, or the differing needs of dry Mediterranean herbs versus the softer ones, so I really appreciate your tips. I am already anticipating that I will need to move some of those herbs into another planter as they grow, so perhaps I'll separate them by type then. I am an enthusiastic gardener but I am constantly reminded of how little I know. I love our garden, I love spending time out there, whether that's working on it or relaxing in it, and if I manage to grow something and keep it alive then even better. Half the appeal of gardening for me is the therapy, the way hours just disappear and I feel so much better after some time working out there. And thank you for the suggestions for uses for lemon balm! Tea, cake, salads, vinaigrette, lemonade, to fill a vase. All sound wonderful and I am already planning and thinking.
We've been working so hard in the garden over the last few weeks. A section of decking has been removed, the trampoline moved to a new and well hidden corner of the garden, borders have been dug and planted, turf laid. This weekend I plan to jet wash and treat the decking area outside the patio doors from the kitchen, and possibly paint the pink bench if I feel inclined. John has been making me some fabulous outdoor furniture - a table and two benches - and I cannot wait to show them to you.
The weather has been completely all over the place here. Monday was so foul, so cold, wet and windy, that if felt like we'd stepped back into winter. I wore a woolly hat, for goodness sake. But it seems like we have a dry, settled spell ahead which is perfect for the bank holiday weekend, and the huge amount of washing I always seem to have to do.
The daffodils have finally finished blooming in their big planter on the decking. I cut the last few fading stems and brought them indoors to enjoy on the kitchen windowsill. Some don't like the smell of daffodils but I absolutely love it. I plan to pull the wilting plants up carefully, leaves intact - something to do with nutrients going back into the bulb I think - and store them somewhere dark until I replant them next autumn. Which leaves me wondering what to plant in their place. Last year I had sweet peas there, and they were wonderful but I'm pondering something different this year. Dahlias perhaps? I'm not sure. I did love those sweet peas, they are one of my favourite flowers.
Life rumbles along quite peacefully here. Bella is a little preoccupied with her Y6 SATS tests in a few weeks although I wouldn't say she's worried, more just wanting to do them and get them over and done with. I tell her that I don't care what score she gets but I'll be cross if I think she hasn't made any effort, mainly because she has worked very hard and deserves to do well. We recently went to a welcome evening at the secondary school she'll start in September. My little independent learner, how she grows. Angus meanwhile is consumed by the prospect of turning nine in a couple of weeks and has asked for a drone and a Swiss army knife. Ziggy continues to be a challenge and a delight, but more the latter. I can't imagine life without him now, the naughty, chewing pup. John turns forty soon, and has booked some time off work over half term so that will be nice. He's asked for a petrol chainsaw for his birthday, or a nice coffee machine. We are so middle aged, and happily so. I am very nearly finished with the My Sweetiepies ABCs cross stitch sampler. I enjoyed stitching that folksy little kettle very much and have saved the bit I most wanted to sew, the bed, until last. Now my thoughts are turning to gifts for Angus's birthday, then a patchwork quilt perhaps, and lots more embroidery. And possibly a crochet summer sweater. Decisions, decisions.
Hello! First of all, thank you so much for your lovely and encouraging comments on my knitted jumper. I am glad you all liked it and, given how chilly and grey the weather has been this week, I've appreciated it's warmth on more than one occasion.
Welcome to my Making the Seasons post for April. In this monthly project, my friend Lucy of Attic24 and I are consciously trying to make time in our busy lives to focus on small and seasonal creative projects - activities which are achievable yet fulfilling, and in tune with the months of the year. I really hope it might inspire you to have a go at doing something creative yourself.
My project this month was to renovate an unloved wooden box and turn it into a small herb planter for the back garden. This might at first glance seem ambitious but please believe me when I tell you that it only took a couple of hours, snatched here and there over the Easter holidays.
The box, found in my Grandpa's garage, was in reasonably good shape and just needed a bit of TLC and as soon as I clapped eyes on it I thought "planter!" I gave it a quick sand and two coats of outdoor wood paint in a lovely soft grey, then drilled a few holes in the bottom for drainage. I lined it with a couple of heavy duty plastic bin liners staple-gunned to the inside of the box, trying to roughly match up the holes in the plastic with the holes I'd drilled in the box - I have no idea is this method is correct but it has worked for me on previous projects, allowing drainage but reducing the effects of water on the wood over time.
I bought a selection of herbs from the garden centre, choosing rosemary, chives, flat leaf parsley, thyme, oregano, mint and lemon balm. I am a bit nutty about fresh herbs. The olfactory power of them just sends me into such a spin; the memories, the recipes; the meals - it makes my mouth water. Fragrant rosemary reminds me of lamb and little roasted potatoes, while savoury thyme makes me think of roast chicken every time. Oregano I associate with pasta dishes and the oniony chives with cheese and salad. But the herb that really moves me is mint. The associations and memories are so powerful, just a whiff of that plant takes me back to my grandparent's beautiful garden on a summer's day. My late maternal Grandma - who would lunch "casually" in the garden with a table that was laid for state occasions including, tablecloth, china, crystal glasses, silver cutlery, the works - would send my sisters and I down to the "herb garden" (rockery) to cut mint or chives for various salads and other dishes. Mint would be chopped and sprinkled liberally over butter-drenched Jersey Royal new potatoes which would be eaten as we sat under a tree in their garden. I'm sure the filter of time and love has skewed these memories slightly, but they remain. Also, in recent years, I've come to associate the smell of mint with mojitos, and the memories around those are no less warmly remembered, although they may be at times fuzzy. Goodness I love a mojito: white rum, mint, lime, ice - summery heaven in a drink.
I aimed for herbs that I knew we would use a lot in cooking (although sadly I don't think I'll ever be able to grow my most-used basil or coriander successfully without a cold frame) and that were hardy for the British climate. I deliberately planted the mint and lemon balm separately in pots as they will spread quickly and need to be contained. I have to admit here that I have no idea what I will do with the lemon balm, I just liked how it smelled. Any ideas most welcome!
I realised once I'd planted them that, while I knew which was which, the children (and very possibly John) might not. How could I ask the kids to go and cut me some rosemary if they didn't know which plant it was?
And so I decided to make some herb markers from Fimo modelling clay, simply because I had some in the house and had seen something similar on Pinterest, and I thought I could use my little stamp set with it. (Incidentally, this is the stamp set - I've had it for some years and use it absolutely loads, I'd really recommend it.)
Stamping the Fimo took a little practise (and I had to give the stamps a good clean!) but was fun to do and they have the desired effect.
I've since moved the herb planter to right outside the kitchen door, so that they can be easily cut in all weathers (so important in April!) without trekking down to the bottom of the garden.
Ziggy hasn't eaten the herbs yet, but has had a little nibble at the corner of the planter.
That last photo reminds me that I really must jet wash and treat the decking soon, it's looking awful. That job is one of the many things on my garden to-do list this spring, one of many ideas that's always simmering away at the back of my mind, as I try to think of ways to improve our outdoor space on the smallest of budgets, so that hopefully we can sit out in the warm sun in a few months and enjoy all our hard work. With a mojito perhaps? :-)
Please do pop over to Lucy's blog and read all about her creative adventures this month. I hope you're all enjoying your weekends. Happy crafting!
This post comes under the category of Posts I Never Thought I'd Write, including "I sewed a wearable item of clothing", "I successfully made macarons" and "I finally baked that sourdough loaf". My knitted jumper dreams are mainly centred around Sarah Lund style Faroese patterns and complicated Fair Isle colour work - beautiful but incredibly complicated and time consuming - but what do you know, I actually knitted a jumper, and just in time for a heat wave too! I try for seasonal crafting, I really do, but I'm a bit slow with the old needles.
The pattern is the Dreaming Jumper by Wool and the Gang (you know I'm a big fan of them) which was very kindly - and patiently - gifted to me last November. I didn't really get going on it until the end of the year and then have been working on it off and on for about four months. I know, that's slow. Quicker or more experienced knitters would be able to knit this in a week or two, easily, as it's just four large garter stitch squares sewn together.
And that's the beauty of it: it is the ultimate beginner's pattern for a knitted sweater. No increases or decreases, no purls, just cast on, knit, cast off. You might say dull. I say relaxing. Wool and the Gang kits are fab and come with everything you need including pattern, yarn, needles, darning needle and even a cute label to sew in, a nice touch.
The yarn is very soft, very chunky and a delight to knit with. It glides over the needles and has great stitch definition while still being a little fluffy. The kit came with six balls of my chosen colour Rocky Grey, but paranoid as I am about jumpers and coats never being long enough in the sleeve for me (I'm 5'11") I bought myself another ball of yarn in Bronzed Olive to edge the cuffs with. I love this block of colour at the end of each sleeve, and they are really, really long now.
The jumper is cloud-like. If I was ever to take it on holiday I would either have to wear it or give it it's own separate bag, as it is voluminous. Folding it is almost impossible.
It's a dream to wear, although perhaps not the most slimming item of clothing in my wardrobe, but if you're cosy who cares.
Angus, who was a little under the weather over the weekend, kept wearing it. He wants a blanket knitted in the same yarn as it it so soft and warm. I would also quite like to knit a blanket in this yarn, I just need to seriously save my pennies first. (Actually, the thought of a one colour blanket in this kind of yarn, with the emphasis on texture more than colour or pattern, is very appealing indeed. Very calming.)
Knitting this jumper has definitely brought back some of my knitting mojo, but also my desire to make more things to wear. I've crocheted and sewn so much for the house, and I will always want to do that, but it's fun to make things to wear too. I want to try my hand at a crochet cotton summer sweater next.
But overall, a success. I knitted a jumper and I like it a lot. I just need winter to come back now so that I can wear it.
All photos above taken at Mottisfont House, a National Trust property.
I've been thinking a lot about spring lately, about how it makes me feel. It's such an optimistic season and I have come to recognise, even look forward to, the burst of energy I always get at this time of year. I think it's a combination of the lighter evenings - which, like the sunshine, make a huge difference to my mood and energy levels - and the slow waking up of everything outside the four walls of our house.
I scrutinise everything, cast a critical eye over scuffed paintwork or neglected corners, find that I urgently need to do a job I was able to ignore for months. I have an urge to refresh and rearrange, plan and write lists.
First on the list was a new peg bag when my very old one finally fell to pieces. Years ago - when I had a lot more time, to blog and to sew - I wrote a tutorial on how to make one. I'm glad I did because it reminded me that it's really easy, and so I dragged my sewing machine out from the dusty cupboard under the stairs and Bella and I spent a very happy rainy afternoon using it.
A peg bag is an ideal way to use up scraps of fabric and that's what I did. Both of these fabrics were cushions in a previous life. I'm really happy that I was able to get out my sewing machine and make something useful and pretty with it. Simple things.
Another job I'd been meaning to do for months was repair some of the damage to our furniture caused by Ziggy when he was teething. I knew that "puppies chew" in that abstract way that you know that "babies don't sleep" but I don't think I really grasped just what that would look like until he came along and decided that he quite liked gnawing, well, everything.
The (delicious, clearly) legs of our beautiful coffee table (the one we think is Ercol although we're not sure) took a battering.
Over the course of a few days I sanded and filled them with wood filler, sanded again and filled again, until they were not perfect but not bad looking at all. Then I gave the legs a few coats of white eggshell, again sanding between coats.
I could not be happier with the results. I think the legs look a million times better in white, and they really stand out against the rug. Sorry about the terrible grainy photo. What can I say - it was raining.
Angus's bookcase was another job which had been bugging me for a while. His cheap IKEA bookcase simply wasn't big enough for his books and so they were piling up on the floor. I do encourage Angus to regularly clear out old books but that child is the biggest bookworm you will ever meet. He devours books, fact and fiction, and reads them over and over again. I never begrudge buying him a book because he really does get so much from them.
Anyway, my parents mentioned that there was a bookcase still at my Grandad's house and did I want it before it was taken to the charity shop? It was quite water damaged and I thought I might paint it. Well, it just so happened that not only did the bookcase turn out to be a beautiful piece of mid-century teak furniture, it was also a perfect fit.
There was no way I was ever going to paint something so lovely, but I did sand the top and give it a few coats of oil, just to remove the worst of the marks.
I love the way it looks under his big wall map, and it really adds some warmth to his bedroom.
I finally got around to framing a couple more prints and adding them to our family gallery wall too.
Everything on that wall tells a story of some kind, whether it's something the children painted or drew, or a holiday souvenir, or gift from a friend. It's my favourite wall. Don't tell John but I plan to add to it until the entire wall is filled..
Crafting projects have been moving slowly and pleasurably onwards over the holidays.
Outside, the garden is slowly emerging from it's muddy winter slumber and I'm full of plans and ideas.
My big planter is just bursting with daffodils at the moment, and bright pink and red tulips fill the pots on the front door step, lifting my spirits whenever I come home.
I also have lots happening on the kitchen windowsill, including a tomato plant that I have just moved outside and a tray of baby plants that were a gift from a friend only I've forgotten what they were. Courgettes I think and maybe chillies? Oh dear. And it was all going so well.
Well, the Easter holidays are over and we are straight back into our usual routines. Despite the really awful weather I did enjoy the two week break from school and work; it seemed to both last a long time and go in a flash. Two weeks feels like forever until it's over, then it doesn't feel like long at all. We didn't do anything particularly exciting, just a mixture of days at home and days out, catching up with family and friends, lots of walking and, as you can see, lots of pottering and DIY. It was bliss. I also watched a lot more TV than I usually would (free time, what is this crazy thing?!) and have become completely obsessed with the Channel 4 series Escape to the Chateau. I am late to the party with this one, but am nonetheless charmed by Dick and Angel's life and sweet family, and would quite like them to adopt me so that I can go and live there too. Anyone else a fan?
My chosen book for March's Cookery Calendar Challenge was Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman, which I was given for my birthday. You may already know her website Smitten Kitchen, where she shares her recipes from her New York kitchen, and I really like her writing style; she's funny, self-deprecating, and utterly passionate about food and eating. This is her second book and has much more of a family-friendly cooking slant than her first, as she now has two children. The book's subtitle, "triumphant and unfussy new favourites" reflects this as she admits that the pressures of cooking for a family of four is very different to two adults plus a baby who'd eat a bit of what ever they were eating whenever they were eating it.
This already felt like a breath of fresh air. I love it when cookery writers first admit to and then address the challenges of feeding children, children who aren't exactly fussy, but fickle and who change their minds about what they do and don't like on a regular basis; the challenges of eating together as a family and the planning around work, after school activities and bedtimes which that entails; the monotony of planning, shopping for and cooking meals that are budget friendly, healthy, interesting and also please everyone at the table. It's exhausting.
The book is divided roughly into meals, sides and snacks, with an excellent baking section (the party cake builder recipe is genius). I have to admit that I found this a more inspiring book to cook from for breakfasts, lunches, vegetable sides and cakes, than I did for family dinners.
My first recipe was from the Breakfast section: Baked Oatmeal with Caramelised Pears and Vanilla Cream. I won't lie, I liked the sound of it because it sounded more like dessert than breakfast, but had oats in so must be quite healthy, yes?
It's quite a fiddle to make, but not difficult, you just need to be in the mood for an hour of kitchen pottering on a weekend morning. You bake the pears in butter and sugar and lemon zest until they are cooked and caramelised, then you pour in the wet oat mixture before putting it back in the oven to finish cooking.
Then you serve it with vanilla scented cream while it's warm. It is completely and utterly delicious. All breakfasts should taste this good. The oats were light and crispy on top but not dry, the pears were heavenly, it wasn't overly sweet. But, funnily enough, the cream was a step too far for me. I like cream, but not at breakfast time it would appear.
When I reheated the other five portions for breakfast during the week (that's lovely by the way, reheating and eating such a nice meal on a busy weekday morning) I ate them with milk or yogurt instead of the cream.
My next meal, from the Meat Mains chapter, was Meatballs Marsala with Egg Noodles and Chives. I was initially a bit confused by the talk of noodles - noodles to me are the kind that you eat with a stir fry in Asian cooking - but the recipe said wide pasta noodles, so I used some fresh tagliatelle. (Overall, I would say that this book has been beautifully translated to a British reader so that weights, methods and ingredient descriptions all make total sense. Perhaps the noodle thing is just me.)
Anyway, you make meatballs with minced chicken (I substituted turkey) and brown them in a pan. This was tricky as they tended to disintegrate a little.
Once they're cooked, you remove them and de-glaze the pan with the Marsala (I just used sherry as it's what we had in the cupboard) before making the creamy sauce. Then the meatballs go back in to cook a little longer before you cook the pasta at the end.
While not the most attractive meal, I loved it. The meatballs were light, the sauce creamy but not too rich, the pasta was divine and the chives cut through the slightly sweet sherry flavour. However, everyone else absolutely hated it. It was a hilarious disaster that I had not anticipated. "It's just like spaghetti and meatballs", I told the kids in a cheery voice as I put their plates down in front of them, but they were not fooled. Angus liked the meatballs, but hated the sauce, which everything was covered in. Bella didn't like the meatballs or the pasta but conceded that the sauce was okay. John found the whole meal unremarkable and the tagliatelle "claggy". I wondered if we were all eating the same meal. You win some, you lose some.
Finally, I made Banana Bread Roll from the Cake section. It's a bit of joke between John and the kids that I am always making banana bread and they look at each other and roll their eyes when I bake it. The thing is, no-one in this house will eat a banana when it starts to go brown, including me, as we don't like them when they're overripe and so, to avoid waste, at least once a fortnight I make some kind of banana bread/cake. There's a great recipe in the first Hummingbird Bakery book that I usually use, and I add chocolate chips which strangely makes the children much more amenable.
This recipe caught my eye though because I'd never made a Swiss roll style banana bread, or one with cream cheese frosting, plus I had - you guessed it - a few brown bananas in the fruit bowl. The cake part is easy to make and roll, and the moisture from the fruit makes the flat cake very easy to handle when rolling.
The cream cheese icing was not overly sweet and the tangy flavour was perfect with the sweet cake. And the frosting part unintentionally came out in the shape of a G which made me ridiculously happy.
But overall, a really great book, one I'll cook from again many times I am sure. I am joining in with Penny from The Homemade Heart and her fantastic Cookery Calendar Challenge which I just love, it really makes me use my cookery books so much more and think about what we're going to cook and eat. I am not sure yet what April's choice will be. I'm not that organised.
I hope you're all enjoying the Easter holidays, and "spring", if you're getting any of that. Here, we had three joyous days when it didn't rain, and then it started raining again. But we made the most of those days and I have been so busy doing things around the house and garden - I'll have lots to show you soon - but I am so weary of the rain now. Do you remember how warm it was this time last year? Unseasonably warm, yes, but no-one was complaining.
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