Saturday, 24 January 2015

Mashed words

I've been doodling a lot and messing with words.  I like how you can mix it all up and join letters at slightly wrong angles and mash them together.  In the one below, the arm in the"r" of birthday forms the cross of the "t" but looks a bit spindly.  If I were doing it again I'd make that arm a bit thicker.  I came up with two designs.  Here's the first before I added any colour...
And here it is coloured with gelly roll pens which I love, love love.

The second one was made for a colleague who is leaving.  I can read it (I should be able to, I drew it!) but Himself didn't see it at first.  It's coloured with pencils and only a little clear glitter pen but the glittery stuff doesn't show up very well in the photo.
 What do you think?  Develop or drop?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Frugal Home Made Mascara Remover!

I've nominated 2015 to be my year of living frugally.  I'm seeing it as my financial detox after the excesses of Christmas.  But I'm not going to go crazy with it.  My plan is simply to try and make things instead of buying them.  My first challenge is make up remover which I've run out of.  Even the best (and often expensive) ones never seem to work really well and just leave you with panda eyes.  So can you make your own?  Google says yes.
The simplest recipe I found was 50% olive oil mixed with 50% witch hazel. I bought a bottle of witch hazel from a local chemist (about £2.00 for 250ml) and mixed it (in a small  decorative souvenir bottle from Morocco) with standard cooking olive oil.  Then I applied a lot of mascara and let it dry.  I shook the bottle and put some on a cotton pad and swept it across my eyelashes....
Actually amazing!  It removed everything nice and quickly with only two wipes.  I shall never need to buy "proper" make up remover again.  This is well worth trying.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Christmas Cottage

The nicest time of the year, for me, is when you arrive at Christmas.  All the thought and preparation is done.  There's glitter everywhere, things shimmer and shine, everything and everyone has been thoroughly hoovered and we can huddle warm inside.  The house has food stuffed into every spare space you can find and always, always too much chocolate.  Just in case there's a shortage.  You never know.  I don't just get ready for Christmas, I plan for a 2 month siege, ignoring the fact that the shops will only be closed for 2 days at most and if we don't have it, we probably don't need it.  Every year I promise myself I will be sensible next year and every year I forget.  I blame it on my Scottish childhood when we were regularly snowed in and needed to stock pile mince and tatties.  Hoots.  So here we are in the Country Cottage, ready for a visit from the fat man.  Santa (I'm told) likes a large Port to keep him warm on his sleigh and Himself is very considerate about checking the Port is good and hasn't gone off since it was opened the day before.  The reindeer get one carrot between them and this singular carrot doesn't need to be checked at all apparently.   (Note - the Port has been checked so conscientiously there's only the Very Best Drop left in the bottom of the glass.)
There's a candle wrapped around with some free foliage we found in a forest.

And we look all festive and welcoming.
The table is filled with all good things (which means naughty, bad things) made in advance and frozen throughout the autumn.  So we have mince pies (a la Bertinet) macarons, raspberry and white chocolate cakes, rum and cardamom truffles, fennel  seed and chilli snaps (from Ruby Tandoh's book "Crumb"), sea salt water biscuits, ham, cottage pie, veggie pie (with puy lentils it's lovely and even the meat eaters like it), ciabatta with truffled parsnip (yes, really) and some melon slices sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint because it makes it look more Christmassy.

Because one of our guests was a veggie with a nut allergy we had some special festive meringues piped with red and green colours since nearly everything else sweet was nut based.
And of course there were little gifts on the tree for the guests.  Buy a pot of plain Play Doh, roll it out flat between two sheets of baking paper and use a biscuit cutter to cut out appropriate shapes.  I did snowflakes for boys and hearts for small girls.  Use something pokey to make a hole in the top to take ribbon or twine and write or stamp the names of the recipients.  Leave them to dry for about 48-72 hours somewhere warm.  Apply children's name tags to little gifts.
Apply adult name tags to mini bottles of Blackberry Liqueur.  (If you ever get round to making this gorgeous liqueur you'll only gave away mini bottles too.)
We generally fill the house with people on Boxing Day.  It's a great chance for all the cousins and relatives to gather and I consider myself off duty once the Boxing Day Buffet lunch is launched. Santa brought me some lovely books this year so 2015 will be filled with new recipes!

Bertinet Christmas Baking Class

After all the travel, kitchen fitting, insurance claims etc, it was a relief to have a day off to go to the Bertinet Baking School Christmas Baking Class.  I'd booked up in the spring because we were promised that knowledge of stollen, rum and cardamom bread, poppy seeded star shaped rolls and edible mince pies would be shared with us and I guessed that would book out pretty quickly.  Although I hate mince pies, I was up for the challenge of stollen. The bakery school is in Bath which is lovely any time of year but especially in the month before Christmas with the market stalls open and sparkling, festive twinklyness all around.  Below is the view from Himself's office.  Not jealous.
Et voila!  C'est Monsieur Bertinet.  The man who has taught me (via books, DVD's, a couple of classes and a lot of flour) to bake bread and pastry you can actually eat.  Boff!  (Below, rolling out stollen.)
I wasn't kidding when I said I hate mince pies.  What is the point?  Too much soft pastry half filled with too few gloopy raisins.  Turns out Monsieur B agrees and came up with this version instead.  It's a mini sweet pastry baked to a crispy crunch and filled with home made mincemeat but (this is the clever bit) topped with an almond cream (with added rum 'cos it's winter) and slivered almonds sprinkled on top then baked.  I still hate standard mince pies but I love these!  Click here for the recipe.  Because the almond creme is piped on top of the mincemeat, there's no gap where there should be ... something.
Below our basket of prune and cardamom rolls.  Ridiculously tasty.
And here's the maestro gathering up the goodies at the end of the class.  You pick up so many extra tips too, for example we were shown how to properly wrap and store or freeze the things we'd made so that in return for spending one day in the kitchen you can make enough to last through the whole of Christmas. Finally our little class of 12 enjoyed a splendid lunch with too much wine and plenty of warm festive fuzzy warmth.  (Or that might have been the prunes soaked in rum and dropped into our coffee, try it, really!)