Thursday 31 July 2014

July 2014 in pictures

Little Apple Tree: July 2014 in pictures

Wow. I can't believe it's August tomorrow.  We go away on holiday in the morning and I feel woefully unprepared.  I should really be packing rather than blogging.  Ah well, that's what the morning is for!!

It's been a busy old month...

♥ it was our eleventh wedding anniversary
♥ so we went strawberry picking.  As you do.
♥ I foraged for elderflowers with a friend and made my very first bottle of elderflower cordial.  It was awesome!
♥ the end of term came and went.  Lucas will be a junior in September!  I feel so very old.
♥ we went to the Foodies Festival at the Harbourside and ate an astonishing amount of freebies!
I bought an ice-cream maker and have been churning all sorts of deliciousness.  I need to learn how to make my own waffle cones next.  They're ridiculously expensive!
♥ I baked a birthday-slash-retirement cake for my lovely Father-in-Law.  You can see Bob the Bass peeking out of the collage above!
♥ the boys spent last Saturday at the Yeovilton Air Day while I chilled out at Jekka's Herb Farm.  Such a lush place.
♥ I shared how I made my summery front door wreath.

I've been pinning loads this month--the gorgeous weather is lovely during the day but it makes it really hard to get to sleep at night!  So I've been pinning away happily until my iPad falls on my nose and lets me know that it is finally time to sleep...

Follow Angela's board Craft Ideas on Pinterest.

August, once the suitcases are all finally packed, looks like being fun, fun, fun!  We're having a huge family holiday, Doctor Who is coming back, the Balloon Fiesta will fill our skies with bright and cheerful balloons.  I'm hoping that we'll get to the kite festival this year as I've never been... We just need the weather to stay sunny, now!

So, how was your July?  Did you do anything awesome?


Wednesday 30 July 2014

My spring-summer wreath

I started hanging a Christmas wreath on the front door a few years ago.  At that time, there weren't many other houses sporting wreaths in our neighbourhood but slowly they started to catch on.  When we took the Christmas decorations down on Twelth Night, I had to say goodbye to my lovely wreath for another year.  The front door looked so drab and colourless after it was gone, leaving me feeling quite sad.

So I decided to make a Spring wreath to cheer up the door and it's been so lovely having it there that I've left it up, turning it into a Spring-Summer sort of affair.

Making your own flower wreath is really easy.  As you can see from the close-up, I've used artificial flowers which make it weatherproof and long-lasting.  I think I'll be trotting this wreath out for quite a few years, maybe swapping the bow for a different colour every so often--I desperately wanted a burlap bow, but finding wired burlap ribbon in the UK is like finding hens teeth!!

I followed this tutorial from Confessions of a Serial Do-It-Yourselfer and honestly, the hardest part of making the wreath was finding all the flowers at a decent price.  I trawled round pound shops, discount shops and ended up in Hobbycraft gritting my teeth as I stood in the check-out queue.  Artificial flowers are not cheap in the UK, whereas they seem to be available at incredibly low prices in Hobby Lobby, Michaels or The Dollar Store in the good ol' US of A!  In hindsight, I should probably have ordered some from eBay, but I had the bit firmly between my teeth and was utterly determined to make the wreath that day...

I've had so many lovely comments on my wreath; the first week that I put it up, the postman rang the doorbell to tell me how pretty it was and someone asked Dave the other day if I sold them!  It makes the house look so welcoming and I always smile as I pass it on the way into the house.

When autumn rolls round I'm planning to make another wreath.  I've already been trawling eBay for artificial berries and ornamental leaves that I can bling up with some glitter and Mod Podge.  It's going to be so much fun!

Top tips for a perfect wreath

♥ Wire cutters are essential. Artificial flowers have sturdy wire running through their stems--you can't get away with kitchen scissors!
♥ If you want to make an asymmetrical (one-sided) wreath, put your flowers on the side opposite to the door handle of the door you intend to hang it from.  This will balance the overall look.
♥ Be aware that it is harder to hang an asymmetrical wreath than a perfectly balanced round one!  It is totally possible, but you may struggle for a few minutes.  I use a large transparent sucker and hook that I bought from Lakeland (unavailable until Sept 2014) a few years ago.
♥ Stab the foliage stems as deep into the wreath as you can so that it's easy to add the flowers on top.
♥ If you have a spidery cobweb of glue gun strands once you're finished, a quick blast with a hot hair-dryer will melt them away much faster than you can pick them off by hand.


Friday 25 July 2014

The Doctor Who Experience

Dalek and Cybermen mural at the Doctor Who Experience

During the Christmas holidays we surprised Lucas with a trip to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.  (Although, he worked out where we were going shortly after we passed the sign for Newport through a series of deductions that were Sherlock-worthy (and mildly annoying)).  Brace yourselves for epic (and yes, belated) geeky pic-spam!

The entrance hall of the Experience has a selection of props from the show, some classic and and some very, very new ones.  We were incredibly excited to see Handles on display, only a couple of weeks after the Christmas special!

If you happen to find yourself visiting on a busy day then it gives you something to ooh and aah over while you wait for the Interactive Adventure to begin.

Handles--probably the Doctor's longest-serving Companion

The Moment

River Song artefacts
"Spoilers, sweetie."

Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside the interactive adventure, but having done it twice, I can tell you that it is awesome!  I really, really don't want to spoil the fun, so you'll simply have to take a trip to Cardiff yourself.  Now, if you want to adventure through time and space with the Eleventh Doctor, you'll have to be quick.  The Experience closes on the 1st of September so that it can regenerate into an all-new adventure with Twelve.  I expect the exhibit hall will also get a swift update!

Eleven, in wax.
One of the first things we saw when we walked into the exhibit hall was a replica of the First Doctor's TARDIS console, used in the filming of the excellent An Adventure in Time and Space drama last year.

Replica of the First Doctor's TARDIS console
The First Doctor's TARDIS
I pored over the display of sonic screwdrivers and TARDIS keys for a while.  I love that while all the signs are in Welsh as well as English, sonic screwdriver is the same in both languages!

I love the display of the Doctor's costumes, all laid out in order.  There are also plenty of companion costumes, although mainly from the new series, which is fair enough as those costumes probably weren't preserved!

The Second Doctor also felt that bowties were cool, although not quite in those words.
K-9 was looking most dapper
There was a spot of bother with one of the TARDIS consoles.  Luckily Lucas and Dave were on-hand with sonics to sort it all out!

There are so many wonderful prop displays in the exhibit hall; I could post a hundred photos and still not scratch the surface.  So I'm going to cherry-pick my favourites to finish with.

The Doctor's cradle, just beautiful design,
Special Weapons Dalek
"Don't blink."
We had a great time at the Doctor Who Experience, especially Lucas who bounced excitedly between exhibits, operated a Dalek, and hid behind me to escape from the Weeping Angels!  (Thank goodness they didn't have any children in gas masks otherwise I'd have tried to hide behind him!)  We'll definitely be back for the Capaldi adventure and to see all the lovely new props that keep being added.

If you love Doctor Who and haven't gone yet, then you absolutely must go!!  In!

"I'm the Doctor, nice to meet you.!"


Sunday 20 July 2014

PYO strawberries at Chosen Hill Farm

This year we spent our wedding anniversary picking our own strawberries at Chosen Hill farm near Chew Magna.  Not quite our usual anniversary celebration of a table somewhere fancy and gorging on amazing food, but, this was just as good and we had so much fun in the sunshine!

Chosen Hill farm is tucked away, up a hill overlooking Chew Valley lake.  The views are spectacular--I bet it looks amazing in autumn with all the trees ablaze with colour.  With the perfect growing weather we've had recently, it's really hard to spot the lake with the trees sprawling everywhere!

Strawberries on tables!
One of the nicest things about Chosen Hill is that they grow a lot of their strawberries up on tables to make strawberry picking as accessible as possible.  It's also rather nice for those of us who remember just how back-breaking traditional strawberry picking is!

Stepping into the strawberry field was an incredible experience; the rich and heady scent of ripe strawberries settled around us like the most delicious blanket imaginable.  I'm sure that alone made us keep picking and picking and picking.  And when we tasted a berry each, well...we nearly went back for a second basket!

Romance abounded in the field--Dave found a heart-shaped strawberry and presented it to me.

There were some monstrously large berries, so large that their weight was ripping them away from their stems.  I suppose they could have been full of magic, like Roald Dahl's giant peach... We stuck to smaller berries who were perfectly ripe and ready to feast upon (and turn into jam, but that's a story for another day).

The farm shop handily sells local cream and meringues so that you can make an almost instant Eton Mess or pavlova--what a wonderful idea!  We stocked up on both and that evening Dave made me a gorgeous Eton Mess, lightly tinted pink with strawberry juice.

I'd thoroughly recommend Chosen Hill farm for PYO fruit.  The flavour of the strawberries we picked utterly blew away any supermarket berry and were better than I've had in many a starred restaurant, too.  We ventured into the raspberry canes--these smelled amazing, too--and had a look for gooseberries so that Lucas could see what they looked like.  They have a really good variety of fruit, with some that I'd never tasted before, too.  I could happily spend a day there, picking fruit and then taking it all home to make jam!

Thursday 17 July 2014

Summer Fruits Frozen Yoghurt

Sometimes you just have to treat yourself, don't you?

Yesterday I treated myself to a very sexy ice cream maker; it's sleek, shiny and best of all...self-freezing!  I've been lusting after one of these beauties for at least ten years, waiting patiently (and then not-so patiently) for the somewhat astronomical price to fall so that I could feast upon ice-cream.

My luck changed on Saturday when I visited the Nisbets stand at the Foodies Festival in town.  (I had absolutely no idea that Nisbets was open to the public--I'd always thought it was trade-only--so that was a nice surprise.)  I flicked through their catalogue and spotted the Buffalo ice cream maker at a rather nice price, and the folks running the stand mentioned that it was actually on special offer at the moment.  Well.  My heart went pitter-patter.  I got even more excited when I discovered a 10% off voucher tucked into my catalogue!

One quick trip to the Nisbets shop in Avonmouth and my dreams finally came true.  I wonder how many people can say that their dreams have come true in Avonmouth of all places?

I was delighted to discover that the Buffalo had an incredibly simple design.  Just put the bowl and paddle in the machine--there isn't a wrong way to do this, bonus!--pour in well-chilled ingredients and put the lid on.  Then all you have to do is set the timer and watch the temperature plummet.  The Buffalo went from 24C to -24C in less than five minutes and was pretty quiet when churning, too.

I put it to the test with a 'kitchen sink' sort of frozen yoghurt.  There were some blackcurrants leftover from a trip to a PYO farm last week, half a punnet of blueberries and some cherries in the freezer.  My eyes lit on a tub of Greek yoghurt  at the back of the fridge and that was that...Summer Fruits frozen yoghurt was born.

The first thing Lucas said to me when I picked him up from school was, "Did you make ice cream, Mummy?"  He was thrilled when I told him that I did!  Unfortunately I tested his patience while I fussed over my photo set-up and took a million photos before finally fixing him a cone.

He was happy.  My poor deprived child...fancy having to wait a whole five minutes for frozen yoghurt?!

So far I'm really pleased with my shiny new ice cream machine.  The texture of the frozen yoghurt was silky smooth and the yoghurt was firm enough to scoop when I took it out of the machine, so if you had some sort of ice cream emergency you could have a bowl of freshly-churned ice cream ready in just over half an hour.  How awesome is that?

Next up is salted caramel ice cream (followed by some vigorous exercise).  I can't wait!!

Summer Fruits Frozen Yoghurt

400g mixed summer fruit (I used about 200g blackcurrants and roughly equal amounts of blueberries and cherries)
60g caster sugar

400g full-fat Greek yoghurt
125g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
pinch of salt

Place the fruit in a large saucepan and add the caster sugar.  Place on a medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes until the fruit softens and collapses.  Don't put a lid on--it will boil over and then you'll have to scrub and scrub and scrub. Ask me how I know.)  Allow to cool before rubbing through a fine-mesh sieve.  Make sure to press through all the liquid--you should be left with a small spoonful of skin and seeds once you're done.  Put the fruit puree in the fridge and allow to chill completely.

When you're ready to make the frozen yoghurt, mix the caster sugar and salt with the Greek yoghurt.  Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes (to allow the sugar to dissolve) then mix again.

Beat in the vanilla bean paste and approximately half of the fruit puree.  Taste and add more purée if needed--you want a strong flavour that is just too sweet.

Churn in an ice cream maker, following manufacturers instructions.  Once churned, spoon into a freezer-proof container, alternating the frozen yoghurt with drizzles of the remaining puree. Gently swirl the mixture together to create a ripple.  Freeze for at least four hours to finish hardening.


Wednesday 9 July 2014

Flight of the bumblebees

Look who flew off my crochet hook this week!  Some adorably fuzzy bumblebee friends, who've taken a liking to my crochet flowers.  Sadly there is no yarn nectar or pollen for them.

I crocheted these fuzzy little bees for my friend Gill, who wanted to take them as a little gift to a Sewing Bee meeting on Friday.  She's going to pop a pin on the back so that they can be worn as brooches; I think they'll look really cute!

Anyway, while I was curled up with my yarn basket, I started thinking about bees in general, and their plight.  Despite loads of campaigns over the last couple of years, the British bee population is still declining.  Unfortunately they haven't flown off to their home planet (see Doctor Who, The Stolen Earth), but they are being killed off by losing their habitats, pesticides, and insecticides.  Bees are essential for pollinating our crops and life without bees would be quite grim.

There are loads of things that we can do to help our lovely bees--did you know there are 25 native species of bees? I thought it was just the honey bee and the bumblebee--a biggie is giving them food to eat, by planting some of their favourite plants...

I think it's probably too late to sow some of their favourite flowers, but next year I'll definitely get a packet of wildflower seeds and chuck them in our window boxes (I am such an expert gardener!).  I can, and will, buy a bee house and hang it in the garden to give any hiveless bees a house over the winter.  It's a very little gesture, but all these small things do add up.

Crochet Bumblebee

From 100 Flowers to Knit and Crochet by Lesley Stanfield

Yarn DK Wool in black (A), yellow (B), and white (C)
3.00mm crochet hook

NB This pattern is written using UK crochet terms.  Pay close attention to the colour changes!!

Using A, make a magic ring.
1st round (RS) ch3, 7tr into ring, pull end to close ring. With B, ss into top of ch3. Continue with B
2nd round 2ch [2dc in next tr, 1dc in next tr] 3 times, 2dc in next tr, with A ss to top chain of 2ch. 12sts. Continue with A
3rd round 2ch, 1dc in each of next 11dc, with B ss to the top ch of the 2ch.
4th round As third round, working ss with A. Continue with A.
5th round 1ch [dtr dec in next 2dc, 1dc in next dc] 3 times. dtr dec in next 2 dc, ss to 1ch. 8sts. Fasten off.
Wings Using C [make 6ch, miss 5ch, 2-st trtr  cluster in next ch, 5ch, ss in the same ch as cluster] twice. Fasten off and weave in ends.
Making up Use yarn to fill body. With colour joins underneath flatten the body a little and with A join the two sides of the opening for the head.  Attach the wings with A.

Do you do anything special to help the bees?


Sunday 6 July 2014

My (not-so) little apple tree

Just look at all those apples!!  2014 looks like it's going to be an absolutely bumper year for my not-so-little apple tree.

In case you were wondering why the apples on one branch look different to the apples on the branch next to them...this is a family apple tree, with three varieties grafted onto a tree.  Pretty nifty, right?

My not-so-little apple tree has Katy, James Grieve, and Cox, all dessert apples.  I'm going to need to spend some time with an apple identification book (I assume there is such a thing?) to figure out which is which!

My inlaws popped over yesterday and admired all our apples.  They counted over 80 apples on the lower branches alone, with a huge cluster of apples on the upright branches!  I think now would be a good time to start pinning apple recipes on Pinterest, and everyone should probably brace for appletastic Christmas presents!!


Saturday 5 July 2014

Eleven Years

Today is our eleventh wedding anniversary and the day we celebrate Dave putting up with crafting materials everywhere for another year.  He's a keeper!  (And made of 100% awesome.)

Love you, babe!


Thursday 3 July 2014

Elderflower Cordial

Every year I promise myself that I'll make my own elderflower cordial, and every year I promptly forget until the leaves are turning gold and I'm left kicking myself for being an idiot.

This year I vowed that things would be different.  I would make that bottle of cordial and it would be awesome.  So I went out on an elderflower foraging walk with my friend Claire.  We scoured the banks of the duck pond near school only to discover that the council had ripped all the bushes out along with the brambles, leaving behind a swathe of opportunist jagged, green nettles.  As much as I'm growing to love foraging, I don't think I'll be making nettle soup any time soon!

So we started walking the lanes near school and eventually found a lone elder bush.  Well, more of a tree, really.  The only trouble was that someone had beaten us to it and all the lower branches were stripped bare.  After jumping up and down, snipping wildly at far-away blooms with my longest pair of scissors like a crazed Edward Scissorhands, we admitted defeat and Claire popped home for a step-ladder.  Things went much better after that!

© Julochka via flickr
Sadly we only managed to reach eight heads so I headed to a park and managed to snag another two heads of flowers with my umbrella.  Not quite the romantic basketful that I had in mind!  Enough, however, for a half-batch...

I prettied up my bottle of cordial with this gorgeous label generously created by Holly at Hollytron Blogs.  I didn't have any proper sticky-back label paper to use, so I printed it out on regular paper and used Power Pritt (the grey one) to stick it on.

I'm so pleased that I finally got round to making my own cordial.  It's just as good as Bottlegreen's and so much cheaper, plus there's the satisfaction of making it yourself!  I've been experimenting with it in cake, drinking it over plenty of ice, and I've also had fun trying out cocktails.

This little beauty is vodka, a couple of slices of chopped cucumber lightly muddled with the vodka, ice, a dash of cordial and all topped up with lemonade.  (I have a sweet tooth, but tonic water would probably work well.)  Cucumber and elderflower goes amazingly well together!   No proper measurements, I'm afraid...I put a couple of fingers of vodka in a jam jar--why yes, I have succumbed to this hipster trend--and went from there.  So good.

Elderflower season is over in my part of the country, but if you're further north then you might strike it lucky and find some elderflowers blooming in a park.  If you do, go forth and make your own little bottle of summery sunshine!

Elderflower Cordial

from Countryfile

Notes: I've read that a lot of people have difficulty getting hold of citric acid these days.  (Apparently Boots don't sell it any more as drug addicts use it to cut heroin and cocaine!!)  I ordered a 50g box from my local independent pharmacy, and you can also get it from wine or beer-making shops.  Of course, Amazon sell it too.  (Is there anything they don't carry?)

900g caster sugar
600ml boiling water
30g citric acid
1 lemon, unwaxed
10-15 heads of elderflowers--do not wash. Pick in the morning on a dry, sunny day.  Check for insects and pick them off before using!

Place the sugar into a large bowl.  Pour over the boiling water and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.  Add the citric acid and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Grate the lemon zest directly into the syrup, then slice the lemon thinly and add the slices to the syrup, too.  Place the elderflower heads in the syrup, ensuring that all the flowers are immersed.  I left the stems sticking out as some recipes say that they add a bitter flavour.  Cover with clingfilm and leave to steep for 24 hours.  (Some of the flowers may turn brown and look yucky; it's normal.)

Strain through a sterilised muslin into a sterilised jug.  (A still-hot jug straight out of the dishwasher will be fine, and pour a kettle-full of boiling water over the muslin or even a clean tea towel.  You want everything to be squeaky clean so that the cordial will last for as long as possible.)  Fill sterilised bottle(s) with the cordial and add a label.  Store in the fridge.

Blogger Template Created by pipdig