Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Make it bold, make it bright

Hey, what happened to summer? I’ve donned a warm jumper today, and a mug of hot tea is constantly in my hand... My poor mother, visiting from America, is borrowing cardigans and I’m turning on the heating for her!

I am battling that dull grey sky and the very chilly temperatures with bold and bright colours:

I finished a bit of Florentine embroidery for the &Stitches blog. (For those new to my place here, I write a post for the embroidery-themed &Stitches site a few times a month.) The history of needlework is so interesting – the methods, materials and origins of different techniques – and Florentine embroidery dates back centuries – you can read more about it here.

I was going to frame this little sample, but Bunny loved the rich colours so much that I made it into a little lavender sachet to sit by her bed. I backed it with regal purple satin so it feels soft and silky in her hand.

oooo, rich!
I’ve also brightened up the day with a mandala for Lucy’s Yarndale project:

I made this using Lucy’s mandala pattern, which luckily just made it under the 8-inch limit, I must have been rather chilled out when I hooked it up!

The palette isn’t random – I chose these colours because I wanted something bright; I wanted to link my American roots with my British home, so I used the patriotic red, white and blue of both countries’ flags; and I included pink because it is my favourite and my best! 

I’m going to send this mandala to Lucy tomorrow, but I will miss it, so I have plans to make another, similar mandala to keep for myself, adding a few more pretty brights...

It’s midweek in the half-term holiday, and despite the dreary, cold weather, we are making the most of my mother’s visit. The girls love having their grandma around and are enjoying being suitably spoiled...

A chocolatey tradition has started between the three of them. My grandma makes the very best fudge in this whole wide world (shall I share the recipe?). Little Flower is a particularly avid fan, and she requests it regularly from her Grammy (who, until LF’s arrival, only made the fudge at Christmas. Now she makes a huge batch to send over each time my mother visits!).

The night before she leaves, my mother tells the girls to have three spoons ready in the morning. Within minutes of arriving, after an overnight flight and drive from the airport, the suitcase is open and a big slab of fudge is on the table, with three greedy ladies digging in...

I’m not allowed to argue that it’s barely 10 a.m. But who can fault the smiles and giggles as they tuck into marshmallow-studded fudge, happy as can be that they’re together again!

How are you doing this week? 

Chrissie x

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Quiet making and sharing

Life is settling down after the past week’s celebrations. I spent the past few days finishing some projects and posting a few gifts. I can show one, but the other will have to wait a few days until I know the gift has arrived.

Another WIP bag, which I so enjoy making. This is a belated birthday gift for my friend Marianne, who has the lovely Ladybird Diaries blog.

I’ve also started a new stitching project, my eye fancied these gorgeous jewel tones. I’m working on a Florentine embroidery project for the &Stitches blog. More about that next week!

Even though I gave my KitchenAid mixer a rest this week, I want to share some tips for the best buttercream frosting.

I’m a bit fussy when it comes to frosting – it can make or break a cake! I’ve tasted cupcakes topped with a grainy, greasy dollop of goo, I’ve even thrown out a cupcake that featured a salty frosting! Such a disappointment, when it doesn’t take much effort at all to turn out a lovely bake with a gorgeous frosting.

For the perfect, scrumptious, fluffy-as-a-cloud buttercream, just follow these simple steps using a standard frosting recipe (butter, vanilla, icing sugar and a touch of milk):

1. Use absolutely room temperature butter. It should be soft and squishy. An unsalted!

2. Use best-quality vanilla. The fake stuff just isn’t worth it.

3. Whip these two ingredients together a bit before adding the sugar. They should be combined and the butter slathered all round the bowl.

4. Add a tablespoon or so of semi-skimmed milk, then sift – yes, sift, this is absolutely key – the icing sugar into the bowl. It really does make a big difference (believe me, I’ve tried both methods, lazy cook that I am, and it really is worth the extra two minutes to sift the sugar).

5. Mix mix mix...and then mix some more. When you’re finished, mix again for a few more minutes. Honestly. You can’t overmix buttercream frosting. It just gets lighter and more whipped. I usually switch on the KitchenAid then tidy the kitchen, scraping the sides now and again. It will be pale, nearly white, and fluffy and lovely. Mmmm.

I prefer small dollops on top of cupcakes, or just a miserly swirl – the frosting shouldn’t overpower the cake, nor should it give the cake consumer the shakes from too much sugar. (Many cupcakeries should take note of this!) Glitter, on the other hand, well, one can never be *too sparkly*, I think...

I shall leave you with the latest birds to visit the garden:

A second fledgling blackbird is feeding happily, often with its twin. And even more exciting is this:

The woodpeckers are back! I was over the moon to see the female blackbird this week, for breakfast, lunch and supper at the peanut feeder! Today her darling husband came for a snack...

He wouldn't turn his head round so I could snap a photo of his red crown!
...which hopefully means we’ll see a young one soon! We loved watching the family last summer, you can see some photos here and here.

My mother arrived this morning from the States to spend the half term with her granddaughters – which I translate to mean “Chrissie has lots of time to craft!” I have a Coco pattern that beckons...

Enjoy the long weekend, and I hope to share more makes with you soon!

Chrissie x

Thursday, 22 May 2014

A week to recover...

Greetings lovely readers! I have been away too long. I am still recovering from last weekend’s birthday bash, our village May Day celebrations and a baking marathon. I love to bake, but it all got outta hand last weekend...

It started when I baked three dozen cupcakes for Bunny’s class and teaching staff to celebrate her birthday as well as surviving the stressful SATs exams held Monday to Thursday. We took the cupcakes to school on Friday and they were appreciated and enjoyed by all. I also baked five dozen sugar cookies for Little Flower’s pre-school stall at the village fête – luckily I didn’t have to embellish them, because they were for a cookie-decorating fundraiser.

Friday afternoon I baked the cake for Bunny’s birthday party on Saturday. Given that she was turning 11 and therefore is entering the Supremely Cool ranks, she and four close friends celebrated with a Happy Hour party at the highly scented and colourful Lush shop, where they played with bath bombs, moulded playdough-like soap into funny creatures, and made their own Comforter Bath Bars from scratch, to see what ingredients go into these scrumptious products.
The Comforter Bar
So I came up with a fun idea for a cake. Cupcakes were old news, and little cakes shaped like round bath bombs were too obvious – half the bath bombs there look like cakes anyway. But when I was looking at the Comforter Bar they’d be making, I was struck by just how much it resembled a Swiss roll...

I made a traditional Swiss roll, following Mary Berry’s failsafe recipe. I added a deep pink food colour gel and made buttercream frosting to fill the cake (I decided against fresh whipped cream – no refrigeration issues). When sliced, it would reveal a fuchsia cake with white filling, just like the bath bar.

But now we must cue ominous, sinister music.

I dusted the cake with fairy glitter, then wrapped it tightly in cling film and hid it under a tea towel so Bunny wouldn’t see it. Tidied up and went to bed.

Next morning, about 10 a.m., Darling Husband calls me from the kitchen. I said I’d be there in a moment. Darling Husband calls out that I need to come now. In a very serious tone.

We’d been up a while, shared birthday presents with Bunny, had breakfast, and were getting ready for the afternoon before the party guests arrived at 4:30. I popped downstairs to discover that beneath the tea towel, under the cling film and all over the cake were tiny ants.


And not just one or two on the end bit that I could brush away and cut off the piece. Ants all over. The cake was ruined.

I don’t know how, I don’t know why. The kitchen was clean, no trail of sugar, no idea how the little Houdinis got through the cling film (but believe me, I called them a few more names after ‘Houdini’). All I knew was that no way on this green earth was I going to buy a supermarket cake to replace this!!! My fellow bakers will understand completely where I’m coming from...


When faced with moments like this, I get upset, but then very quickly I get very angry. Then anger turns to utter determination to conquer the situation and get the results I want. Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me! Efficiency takes over, and in this case I grabbed a pen and paper, listed the few ingredients I had run out of, and gave the list to DH, telling him that I would fix this, if he could just pop out and get me these few things. And something chocolate. To keep me going.

(Hmmm, I wonder if this sort of attitude would work well on the Great British Bake-Off? Bet they never had a problem with ants. Hmph.)

Half an hour later I was whipping up another cake (my beloved pink KitchenAid proved her worth yet again, I think I’d like to be buried with her) and it was even better, with a deeper shade of fuchsia. We had to tell Bunny what had happened, and reveal the joke Comforter Bath Bar cake since she was witnessing the minor chaos in the kitchen. In her optimistic, yet practical manner, she said, simply and in all honesty, “Well, it could have been worse. We could have discovered the ants when we cut into the cake at Lush.”

And that was that. Crisis averted. I love her so much it makes my heart ache.

The cake was served right after they made the bath bars, and when it was sliced, the resemblance was obvious. I popped extra slices in the goodie bags alongside the bars, reminding each girl not to confuse the two – buttercream frosting would not be good in the bath!

Following the Happy Hour at Lush, we went over the road to Jamie’s Italian restaurant for dinner. But I had rung up beforehand to ask if the five girls could have their own table, with me and two mum friends sitting across the room enjoying our own meal. The girls felt like proper “big girls”, and we mums enjoyed some proper grown-up time and yummy food!

But I wasn’t finished baking, nosiree. On Sunday we had a wonderful time at the annual village May Day fête, with perfect blue skies and lovely community spirit. Little Flower was taking part riding on the pre-school float in the parade, dressed as a purple fairy with rainbow wings. Bunny was playing the role of the dragon in the traditional recreation of St George battling the dragon. As far as we know, she is the first female dragon in the 110-year-history of the fête! I couldn’t be more proud! “I will die a very dramatic death,” she said when chosen to play the role. And that she did:

Because we ate most of the cake at the party, Sunday afternoon I baked her favourite lemon drizzle cake to have that evening after a barbecue. We sang Happy Birthday again and I watched her devour three-and-a-half pieces of cake! Little Flower had two, DH had, well, I stopped keeping track of who was eating what at that point. I just enjoyed being with my happy family!

Mother of Dragons
But I’m done baking for a while.

Chrissie x

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Ten random things making me happy

I've been enjoying the "Ten Random Things" posts in Blogland lately, and I also love the simple gratitude found in the posts about "Happy Things" I've combined the two. Here are ten random things making me happy today:

1. Very pretty velvet ribbon, in a smoky rose shade, happened upon in a shop I wandered into on a whim. 

2. My monthly Crochet Club, for those I taught at my Beginner's Crochet Workshops, met this week. I love the inspiration shared, the friendships formed, the exciting range of projects they are making - lots of happy times! They were all intrigued by the Pick n' Mix cushion in this month's Simply Crochet magazine, so I think a CAL for them is in the making...more on that soon.

3. A friend and follower of my blog gave me this T-shirt for Little Flower. A "saw this and thought of you" gift. So sweet!

4. A new poster for my kitchen - from the beautiful designs of Yvestown. As soon as Yvonne blogged about this, I snapped one up! The pink whisk, the green all perfectly fits in my pink-and-green kitchen (the wall behind it is actually a pale green, the natural lighting washes out the colour in this photo). Darling Husband is unsure of this poster, it replaces a rather tasteful vintage print of heather, which was beautifully framed, but I'm moving that to another part of the house. Lately I've become tired of being a grown-up. The kitchen is my place, my happy space, and I want to fill it with fun and colour!

5. Two tea towels from Yvestown to go with the poster. Perfect.

6. I'm making slow but steady progress on my crochet project. I love these three colours together, they make me feel very content.

7. My favourite chocolate cookies, recipe found here. I don't make the filling suggested in the recipe. They are *perfect* just like this. 
8. Pink tulips given to me by a lovely friend, as a thank you for making this ballet bag for her little girl:

Similar to this one I made for Little Flower, based on a drawstring bag found in Helen Philipps' Pretty Patchwork Gifts.

9. This gorgeous fox, handmade with beautiful vintage fabrics and trims, by the amazingly creative vanilla squirrel. I am just smitten with this pretty lady! I have her on our mantle at the moment, and she makes me smile every time I enter the room. I'm a big fan of vanilla squirrel's work, I have a growing collection of her creations...

10. And last but not least, a delivery of party supplies! Bunny's birthday is Saturday - my girl is going to be 11!!! And though she's outgrown the little girl party themes and games, you know full well I'll be working my magic in other ways...details to follow! 

Enjoy your weekends, may we all have sunshine and smiles! 

Chrissie x

Monday, 12 May 2014

After the rain

I love the richness of colour after an abrupt rainstorm.

The earth is drenched and still in a quiet, post-storm recovery, when suddenly the Sun’s rays explode through the cloud, highlighting the recent soaking.

Colours in the shade are bolder, deeper. Sunlit areas look overexposed. The sun shines almost too brightly on the azaleas and ferns, like a spotlight.

It beams down on the Sweet Woodruff, which is overflowing in my raised herb border.

The Sweet Cicely stretches high enough to steal some of the rays from the woodruff behind it. This is starting to go to seed already and hopefully will increase in numbers here.

Shaded areas have a more secretive, hushed tone. The clematis are not entirely sure they want to be seen yet.

The centres of these flowers will soon burst open to reveal white pom-poms of petals.

The rain coaxed open the first pumpkin blossom, which tickled Little Flower, because only this morning we were examining this seedling and looking at the closed bud.

 I happened to look up at approaching clouds and spotted an early honeysuckle bloom on the wall, taking in the last rays before a new shower commences.

Before the rain I happened to spy this out the kitchen window:

A contented pigeon on my garden bench, sitting pretty right in the middle of the seat, having a wee nap.

And who else should visit today but a turtle dove? 

I was very happy indeed to catch this pretty bird enjoying an afternoon snack.

What do you notice after the rain?

Chrissie x

Friday, 9 May 2014


Last night I donned my Ricicles Shawl, gathered my crochet hooks, books and handouts, and went to teach the second class of my latest Beginner’s Crochet Workshop at a nearby haberdashery. I had finished my WIP and was ready to shift focus to finishing the two three other crochet WIPs in my basket. Then I walked into the shop and saw this:

Can you see the teeny-tiny sequins?

This beautifully simple, sparkly shawl was crocheted by the owner of the shop, who started learning to crochet just last week at my first class! Can you believe it? ONE CLASS and off she goes! She is one of those super-crafters who obviously picks up new techniques in a heartbeat. She learned the basic crochet stitches quickly last week, she is already an avid knitter and so familiar with yarn, and let’s face it – she is surrounded by gorgeous yarns all day long, so she just had to have a little go with this...

The yarn is Louisa Harding Etoile, which I bought from her shop and wrote about here. The photo doesn't adequately capture the subtle sparkles that cover the shawl. It is simply gorgeous; the sequins sparkle like ethereal dewdrops.

I haven’t made much progress on my other shawl since I first posted about it, and I was distracted by this shawl all evening. By the end of the two-hour class, I decided that I would start again with the yarn and copy my student! (Imitation is the best form of flattery, yes?) The pattern is obviously fast to work, using mainly chain and double crochet stitches (wonderful practice for reading patterns and practicing tension, for all you newbie hookers out there). It can be found in DK’s Crochet Step by Step, which is a marvellous reference book for new and experienced crocheters.

Distractions continued today, with garden happenings...

One of the azaleas that Little Flower and I planted a few weeks back has surprisingly burst into flower! I didn’t expect blooms until next year.

I stand at the kitchen sink and marvel at this little pink shrub out the window. It makes me smile. The perfect shade of pink.

The aquilegia have replaced the tulips by the lemon balm. I love the rich aubergine shade next to the bright, vivid green.

And the chives have already started flowering, so I’m snipping some into a crème fraiche dressing for roasted asparagus this evening. Mmmm! (I'm always distracted by food!)

Seed trays have captured our attention today:

Every square of three trays now boasts a tiny seedling, which brings huge joy to my children (and me as well – I’m continually fascinated by how these itty-bitty stems and leaves can grow and flourish and feed us!). We had run out of plant markers, so we improvised with toothpicks and sticky labels. We each chose a row, mine was in the back, and thankfully they are all sprouting now so no one feels left out.

quick snapshot through the glass door
I was distracted while tidying the kitchen table. Outside the back door, Mr. Blackbird was sunning himself...

...before gorging on his teatime treats!

The postman has provided an absolute distraction by popping these two sewing gems through my door yesterday afternoon:

(I really, really wish I didn’t need to sleep...)

And late last night an idea popped into my head and took hold, a new make is coming together in my mind...

...and also in reality, as I gather the items I need to bring this idea to life. It is a project conjured out of necessity, and will prove most useful in my craft kit.

So yet another WIP begins - here I go again!

What will you be up to this weekend?

Chrissie x