Monday, 24 December 2012

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Baking Mad

Had a mad day's baking yesterday, ready for all the guests we are expecting over Christmas. Whipped up some more mince pies, as the ones I made last weekend were all eaten rather quickly!

Some were a little smaller than others, due to the slightly different sizes of our baking trays. But they all still look great packed in a nice tin for Christmas. They will just need heating through and a light dusting of icing sugar on the day.

One thing I have never made from scratch before is sausage rolls. You can buy ready to roll flaky pastry, but I wanted to try making it myself, so followed Delia's really simple recipe for quick flaky pastry, which basically involves freezing and then grating the fat. Roll the pastry out into an oblong shape, cut into three strips then roll out your sausage meat. Our butcher has some lovely organic sausage meat which really does have no rubbish in it. Do try and support your local high street shops.

Mix in some very finely chopped onion and a pinch or two of sage, then divide and make three rolls long enough to fill your pastry. Brush one edge of the pastry with beaten egg , then roll the other side of the pastry over the sausage meat and seal it. Cut every 2 inches, brush with egg and make a couple of holes in each one, and pop them in the oven for 20 minutes or so at gas mark 7. It's great fun to watch the pastry rising though the oven door (if you have nothing better to do!)

Finally we made some cheese straws. Dead easy. Roll out more flaky pastry, cover one half with grated cheese then fold the other half over. Roll out again, squashing the cheese in the middle of the pastry. Cut into strips, twirl them around and pop them on a greased baking tray. Brush with a little egg or milk, and maybe sprinkle with some sesame or poppy seeds. Bake on gas mark 6 for about 20 minutes, until they are golden brown.

Happy baking everyone. I'm off to pick up some wine to mull. Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, 21 December 2012

...Tum-tee-tum delightful!

So, I said I would show you how to make an origami Santa...You need a square of paper, red on one side and white on the other. Use some scrap paper from the offfice and cover any printing with red paint (we also sprinkled some glitter!) Then cut or tear out a square.

Next fold the square again, so there is a cross from corner to corner.

Then fold both sides into the centre, as you would a paper aeroplane.

Turn that over, and bring down the white bit of paper to the very centre.

Then fold it over again - this makes the brim of Santa's hat.

Turn over once more amd fold Santa's hat back up, leaving the bottom of his white beard at the bottom of his body.

Finally turn the two flaps behind him, and draw a little face:

He can now stand up and several could be very useful as table decorations, or place holders. Or you can punch a hole in his hat and hang on the tree like we did!

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful...

Well, it's ok today, but it was dreadful on Saturday, when I took my boys to the Brighton Christmas Boutique Market. There was lots of shabby chic-y things there, but the boys' favourite (and mine) was Jilted Dog Art's stall (, selling limited edition prints, cards and calendars by local Brighton artist Paul Griffiths.

I could have very easily come home with a couple of prints (if there had been any money in the bank!) At home we made the Christmas tree. For the second year running we decided to make a totally sustainable, eco-friendly tree from some old bamboo canes we had knocking around the garden. Some judicious use of wire to tie the canes together in a rough wigwam formation, and we have lots of twigs to hang baubles off.

These baubles were picked up for pennies second hand, and jazzed up with a little paint and glitter.

And the tree looks great, with our upcycled baubles, and these rather lovely felt birds, made by pupils at my sons' school and sold at their Christmas Fair.

Tomorrow, I shall be showing you how to make one of these wonderful origami Santas!

Monday, 10 December 2012

DIY - With Knobs On

This week I was lucky enough to find some old door furniture for sale at the Wood Store ( Pairs of door knobs for £3 per set. An absolute bargain - how could I resist? And as the newly installed doors in my council flat have some hideous cheap looking models, I had always wanted to change them.

Here is one of the old cheap door handles. I simply unscrewed these.


And then sanded the holes and gave it a quick paint job. The door has been undercoated for some time, until I had the money for some more paint. In the end I used some Farrow and Ball paint I picked up for nothing from Freecycle - it's amazing what is available out there for nothing!

I then screwed in the "new" brass knobs. The paint is called Great White, and has a hint of dusky pink in it, which makes it a lovely warm white. Obviously the door still needs some sanding down, filling and repainting, but I really couldn't wait to show you the "new" old brass knobs!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Quick Oat Biscuits

I haven't very long today, so here is a quick recipe for you.

Mix together 125g butter, 125g sugar and 60g golden syrup.

Then add 125g flour and 125g oats, half a tablespoon of milk and a couple of drops of vanilla essence. Mix into a dough by hand and cut out your biscuit shapes.

I have gone for stars, as a test run for some Christmas biscuits.Bake them in the oven on gas mark 5 for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are golden brown.

Allow them to cool on a cooling rack. They will harden to a biscuit consistency whilst they cool. They are delicious. For the Christmas biscuits I may add a dash of mixed spice. Speaking of which:

Fed the Christmas cake again today. I think it may not need another feed, as it has had most of a small bottle of brandy all to itself. It may be the booziest Christmas cake ever! I'll let you know.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Buy fresh, buy local

For today's blog we want to think about the food we buy, and whence it comes. We are lucky enough to live near a local farmers' market, where we shop for our fruit and veg. Not only do the staff know the farmers where the food is produced, but the carbon footprint is tiny compared to supermarkets, and it is actually cheaper. Just look at these beautiful garlic bulbs, all locally grown

Not only are they much bigger than some of the muck you find in your local supermarket, but the taste is just sensational. Try garlic in more of your cooking, it will help to ward off a cold, which is great at this time of year. We use it not just in pasta, but with all sorts of dishes, including this gluten free quiche.

Another very versatile staple from our farmers' market is beetroot. You really can do a lot with it. We like it roasted with some butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Or you can juice it, as we did with some carrots and a little grapefruit.

Just look at the colour of that! All totally natural, and naturally sweet too. Lastly we want to think about the food which is all around us, if only we would look. We took the children blackberry picking a few weeks ago, and managed to collect about two kilos in less than an hour. We made a crumble that day and froze the rest. This week we got some out and tried Nigel Slater's recipe for blackberry marinated pork. Delicious.

Though burnt on blackberries are a nightmare to wash up!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

World's Tallest, Smallest Upcycled Table

We had an annoying gap beside our new cooker (the old cooker having blown up the first night we moved to Brighton!), barely nine inches wide. And although I had hung a shelf on the wall above, which is a useful place to keep oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, etc.,

what we really needed was a little bit of kitchen worktop just beside the cooker. So off I went to possibly my favourite place in Brighton, The Wood Store ( to find a suitable piece of wood.


Lo and behold, scaffold planks are the perfect size, give or take a millimetre. I chose a piece with the hoop iron (or nail plate) still attached. Used scaffold planks are 70p per foot rough and £5 per foot sanded, so I chose a fairly decent piece of rough wood and sanded it myself by hand. I also found four spindles from an old staircase at the Wood Store which looked about right for a pound each. 

I nailed the spindles in place, and replaced a couple of missing nails through the hoop iron. The spindles were exactly the right height for the world's smallest, tallest table to sit perfectly next to the cooker. I then glued it to the wall and sealed the side and back with some waterproof sealant to make it extra strong, and finished the surface with three layers of Danish oil.

The total cost of the project was under six pounds. The wood is such a lovely texture and colour now that I really am tempted to go the whole hog and replace our mismatched kitchen worktops with more scaffold planks!

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Bog Blog

These days, more often than not, we are told to decorate simply, with a plain backdrop, usually white, and only to go for boldness on one "feature" wall. Well I think differently, particularly in the smallest room. In the toilet you can go for it.

Having collected ephemera for years, I finally found a use for it. With designer wallpapers fetching hundreds of pounds, here's a relatively free option (all I paid for was the wallpaper paste!)

Strangely for a one bedroom council flat, I discovered there was room for a small shelving unit in the toilet too. I picked one up for a song at the Brighton Flea Market, and thought I would upcycle it with a bit of paint.

But when I got it into place I thought it fitted quite nicely with the decor. It sits next to a piece of "bookcase" wrapping paper I have also used as wallpaper.

Now I have a quiet place to sit and read some poetry, or peruse my small collection of Observers' Books.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Remember, Remember

Well, October is over and November's here. But what to do with the pumpkin flesh you hollowed out to make your Jack O' Lantern? Well...

Here's our Jack O' Lantern, and very scary he was too. And here's what we did with the rest:

A recipe from BBC Food. Made very much like carrot cake, but tasting more like my nan's bread pudding, and very delicious. Here's how it turned out:

On the subject of cakes, we've been baking mad this week. Not only have we made the Christmas cake and the above mentioned Pumpkin Cake, but it was my son's birthday today, so the third of this week's cakes was a simple chocolate sponge. And you can't get much simpler than Delia's recipe for "All in one sponge cake" from her Complete Cookery Course.

You really do just bung it all in together and mix it up. So simple, but so effective. Some whipped cream for a filling and topping, then some more chocolate (and candles as required). 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Finders Keepers.

We like to mix up our finds. Natural objects, picked up while beach-combing, sit well alongside home crafted items, like this tapestry, made by my aunt.

They all sit upon an upcycled shelf, made from some recycled Victorian floorboards. The jumble of natural objects with family photographs and mementos makes for a lively display.