Saturday, 31 July 2010

After-dinner peppermints

Long-time readers of my blog will know that I am a little obsessed with making peppermint creams. There's something happiness-inducing about achieving just the right colour and then popping the shapes out of the cutter onto the work surface. And then arranging them on a plate. And then photographing you can probably tell, I could happily photograph peppermint creams all day long. You can find my recipe for them here.

When some friends asked if they could come over for dinner on Friday night (they're exactly the sort of friends that you want to invite themselves over: when they texted me, I felt utter relief at the prospect of seeing them - like falling into a great pillow of cotton wool - we were having a tiring and unhappy week).

So I made peppermint creams and there was something comforting about knowing they'd turn out just how I hoped and enjoying the production line. 

I went completely wild (yes, I know, I may take to wearing underpants on my head soon. My recklessness knows no bounds) and made some minty green ones too. I love after-dinner mints, but they make me think of Abigail's Party, so I have to stop myself from buying them. These feel like a more acceptable version.

And what made me happiest of all is that after years of making peppermint creams with the evidence still on my fingers for the rest of the day, the manufacturers of the food colouring have finally made bottles where the drops of colour fall easily and don't dribble down the sides of bottle.

It's always baffled me that cars and computers are a possibility and yet the simple food-colouring bottle is so fundamentally flawed. The world feels a better place for some good people having finally thought to fix this anomaly.

They were the after dinner peppermints to a pea and asparagus risotto. Risotto is the perfect lazy supper, because it can be made while people are there, with no advance preparation needed. One just needs to remember to stir and not to drink any wine until it's been served. I did need frequent reminding of this.

Florence x

Ps. I'm so sorry - I'm really behind with replying to emails this week and probably won't get a chance until Monday evening. But I will reply! Patterns will continue to be sent out within 24 hours (thanks to my wonderful, wonderful iPhone). 

Pps. I have not forgotten that I promised a tutorial on how to make a lined, shirred skirt. This is coming...I promise. Things take a little longer in the summer holidays.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Thoughts on cards

[Public health warning: this post is long and rambling...that's what happens when one wakes too early]

Cards are funny things and I think that the way people buy and send them is the same way that the eating of a Cream Egg or the method of gobbling pizza can be fascinating.  To some I think cards are purely functional things where something suitable will be chosen that is entirely secondary to the gift that it might accompany. To others, they are things to be hoarded so that one might always be in possession of just the right card to send, not just for birthdays, but for grey days, celebrations, commiserations or to continue a long-running joke (I have lost count of the number of cards bearing watermelons that my sister has sent me...a joke that started with Baby carrying the watermelon in Dirty Dancing when we were teenagers, and has been continued as she herself gets into increasingly tricky situations transporting them home from the supermarket. She eats them in bulk, so often there will be several in a bag. They have been known to roll down the aisles of London buses and land at the feet of the passengers about to get onto the bus).

For me, I have a small stash of them, bought when I see lovely ones. If I go card-shopping with a specific person in mind it will inevitably lead to procrastination and indecision...I will agonise over whether it is just right for them. I am learning that a card stash is a very good thing. I do not send them in quite the quantities that I receive them in though...primarily because I am disorganised (obsessively ordered in some areas...a chaotic mess in others...some uniformity would be nice).

After making several notice boards as custom orders, I recently (well, not actually very recently...I think it may have been back in March...the pictures of the emptier notice board were taken then...but I photographed it more recently and it is now overflowing...I can see a need for a whole room full of these notice boards) made this one for us that now hangs in the utility room. It seems a shame to receive so many lovely, carefully chosen cards and to not have anywhere to display them.

Just as fascinating as how one buys them, is how one stores them. It infuriates Mr Teacakes that I hoard things on such an extreme basis (even though he is a fantastic card buyer himself). After each family member's birthday, the cards are put in a plastic bag with the year written on and added to the card mountain in the loft. My own mother saved my birthday cards for me too...and I remember how much, as a child, I loved occasionally taking the cards out and looking through them...there was something very special about the ones that bore the age number. I love that some of the cards come with stories attached. In one of Dinosaur-boy's bags he has the most amazing homemade three-dimensional card, where a frog's mouth croaks open and closed with the opening of the card. I will be able to tell him that his friend arrived half-an-hour late to his party because he'd spent so long perfecting the card...I love that they took the time to do this for him.

I still have the sweet card that my father pushed underneath my bedroom door when I was a miserable 16 year old (for the card stash is not the sole preserve of the female father has always kept a well-stocked stash of his own, completely separate to my mother's), and the hundreds of cards that my mother sent to me while I was at university, and even some of the notes my friends passed to me in the classroom. Emails might now have lessened the number of cards sent, but one of my best friends, who had her first child four days before I had mine, put the emails we exchanged during pregnancy in her son's box of baby treasures. I don't know whether he has read through them yet or whether they will be saved for when he is older (I am hoping the latter, as I do remember there being much discussion about the sanitary towels that the hospital had told all new mothers to come equipped with: we had worried that they were so incredibly thick that we may end up levitating above the hospital beds).

I especially love this card that my sister sent to me for my birthday this year. I noticed it this morning (when I woke at 3.30am and came downstairs to potter). It reminded me of the cake-making disaster of the last post. It reads "It's really not so much about the cake itself..." said the birthday monster, "...more about the pink icing and sprinkles on the top". "I see" said the limpet.

Comments on my blog? All saved, just like the cards...there's a sub-folder in my email account entitled 'Flossie Teacakes Comments'. Mr Teacakes believes that it is exactly this type of filing system that may be responsible for the fact that my computer's hard drive is about to explode.

What kind of card sender are you and how do you keep the ones that you receive?

Florence x

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

My cake-making misery

I feel strongly that one should share one's failures as well as one's instead of leaving you thinking that this is the sweet cake of a happy baking session shared with the Teacakes I feel that I must share with you what really happened.

This was not meant to be a cupcake with a dollop of white cream frosting and jelly beans on top. It was meant to be a hydrangea cupcake, or a whole plateful of hydrangea cupcakes, to take along with us when we go visiting tomorrow. I thought that the person we are to see, who has always loved flowers, might be as delighted by their appearance as I was.

But it was not to be. The troubles started when we were making the chocolate cake mixture. When I plunged the hand-held mixer into the mixing bowl and pressed the power button, I somehow forgot to hold onto the bowl and immediately the mixing bowl spun wildly about the whisk, before ricocheting across the room and splattering the ceiling, walls, photo frames, carpets, doors, and even Zebra-girl's armpits (she'd raised her arms up in horror as the mixing bowl had started to fly) with brown cake mixture. Deep breath. Clean up operation completed, armpits de-caked, and education given about why it isn't suitable behaviour to lick one's sister's armpits, what was left of the cake mixture went into the oven and I began to make the cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients waiting to be mixed, I firmly held on to the bowl (I was wise the second time) and then pressed the power button...seconds later my beloved hand-held mixer blew up...just one loud bang and it was gone. I have loved this mixer - it will whisk meringues, blend soups and chop is my cooking companion several times a week and makes me happy whenever I get it out from the cupboard and plug it in. Its brushed stainless-steel body feels heavy and reassuringly good quality. Its presence has opened up whole new culinary avenues for exploration that weren't available to me before owning it. Another deep breath. Feelings about the defunct blender put firmly to one side I turned my attention back to the ultimate goal: hydrangea cupcakes.

I decided to experiment with frosting techniques before adding any colouring. So with the super-duper device for frosting that my mother-in-law had lent to me last week, and a dozen different nozzles at my disposal I set to work. I piped, I primped, I weaved...and then I changed nozzles and wondered why no matter what I did I was only capable of producing the ugliest cupcakes I'd ever seen in my entire life. I went through every nozzle and tried every consistency of frosting...but still cupcake beauty eluded me. Thus far I have presented you with tasteful macro shots that hide the true horror of how these cakes actually look....but now here they are in all their utter ugliness (you might think these look hideous...but in real life they look a great deal worse). I feel quite fascinated by just how repellent they are:

Not a single cake that looks the way I had intended. If you look at one of them more closely you can see that in fact it looks like I have recreated some strange ocean coral. When I was small I had a piece of Staghorn Coral from the Great Barrier Reef (this was 1984, before people became aware of how damaging it was to remove bits of the reef)...this one reminds me of that. I was never tempted to eat the Staghorn coral...just as I haven't been tempted to eat this cupcake.

Eventually I turned the icing pump over to the Teacakes, handed them a bag of jelly beans and implored them to make something prettier than I had managed to.

With their lovely enthusiasm and oohs and ahhs of delight at the different colours and flavours it didn't take too much effort on their part to better my attempts. Sometimes one can try too hard.

Florence x

Ps. The cupcakes tasted as bad as they looked. Salvaging where one can, Mr Teacakes and I have been picking the jelly beans off and discarding the cakes this evening...I think this makes them almost healthy...sort of a diet version of what could have been.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Playing with quilt designs

Mr Teacakes looked bewildered as I tried to explain the possible quilt designs and fabric choices that I had in mind for Zebra-girl's new quilt (yes, it's the Anna Maria Horner Little Folks voiles quilt that has cropped up in previous posts). I think you need to design them on the computer...there's no other way of making a choice, he said eventually. The thought had occurred to me, but I'd dismissed it thinking that only my own indecision and lack of vision would cause me to go down such a route. So to be told by someone decisive and with good vision that it was the only way that one could possibly decide was all the encouragement I needed.

I think I may have spoken on quite a few occasions of my love of PowerPoint and Mr Teacakes' irritation at my unwillingness to move onto a more sophisticated design programme. The fact that I was able to create four different quilt designs in less than 90 stress-free minutes is all the confirmation I need of its continuing brilliance and downright fabulousness. I love it. I simply downloaded the fabric images from the Free Spirit website, filled some shapes with them and then rotated, aligned and dragged them around into place. I'd already sketched out my designs in a notepad, so it was simply a case of recreating them.

I loved being able to play around in this way without cutting into fabric. I actually incorporated many more prints and colour-ways than the ones shown here and was able to discount them, as when the whole 'quilt' is seen at once like this it was obvious they they were either too dark or added too much intensity to the design.

Which one do you like? I think my favourite one is this one below:

I've found this a difficult quilt to think about, because so many of the fabrics have stripes running through them. I feel like this design actually works with the stripes and makes a feature of them. It also allows me to easily use them in a way where I don't have to start getting stressed about trying to align them all.

And Mr Teacakes: I think you need to remember that you can re-size the fabrics on the computer, but not in real life. In two of the designs you've got the squares of flowers at two different sizes. Sweet Anna Maria for designing them that makes them so very usable for both sewing and tricking husbands with, which is a very good thing indeed.

Florence x

Ps. I'm loving these new little buttons that Blogger have given us, that let you link to a post. The best thing is that when I just put this post on Twitter it automatically brought up the shortened link, leaving more of the 140 characters for chatter. Perfect.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Cocoon Laptop Cover Pattern PDF

I've been working on this pattern on-and-off for the last couple of months now, and it's finally reached a place where I'm really pleased with it. It is snug-fitting, can be made to fit the dimensions of any laptop, has a pocket at the front for CD's, pen drives, or any other little bits that you might need and will protect it against bumps and scratches.

Included in the pattern are all the formula you need to calculate your pattern pieces to fit your own laptop perfectly, as well as tables to record your measurements in. The measuring and cutting for this pattern are what could be described as an extended Precision Moment (this is a term that I often use in my patterns, so it amused me a great deal to find recently that one sewing group who made the Tabitha Bag together now jokingly use this terms at moments that require made me feel so happy that they had found this amusing and have adopted the phrase into their shared lexicon), but once the measuring and cutting have been completed, it's actually a very simple pattern to put together.

But it didn't always look like's been through so many guises. I found it more challenging to design something where the dimensions were unknown. It started off as a zipped version like this:

But there were elements of this that I couldn't translate to be universal to suit any laptop's dimensions...or more specifically any zip that might be used. I started to lie awake at night worrying that someone would use a zipper with wider sides or bigger teeth than I'd intended...would such a thing throw out the whole pattern? It was too much for the control freak in me to contemplate when the final fit is so important.

Then one morning I woke up and realised that I could design something that was like a sister pattern to the Lis iPod holder, in both look and function. At first I incorporated handles into this...but then I realised that I wouldn't want to hang something as precious as a laptop perhaps no one else would either.

So here it is...very similar to the Lis, but as I thought that as one is unlikely to store credit cards in the pocket, the closure flap protects that laptop area, rather than the pocket this time, and is a little more substantial. The pocket is snug, so should hold most things securely in place without the risk of them falling out (yes, one prototype had Velcro on the pocket, but it made the contents inaccessible. I have a testing process that could rival Ikea and their trialling of kitchen drawers...where they apparently slam them shut about 50,000 times....sometimes I drive myself to distraction with these things).

Here are the vital statistics:

The Cocoon Laptop Cover:
  • Can be made to fit the exact dimensions of your own laptop
  • It has a pocket and a Velcro closure tab
  • Has full instructions and illustration photographs (small, to be easy on the printer ink)
  • It costs £6.50 (which is just under $10).
  • Small businesses and online shops are welcome to sell any laptop covers that they make from this pattern.
  • The pattern can be downloaded immediately after payment. Once you've paid, PayPal will take you to a page where you can download the pattern instantly, by clicking on the link provided. You will also receive an email containing the same link. The pattern must be downloaded within 48 hours of payment - after this time the link expires.
  • Payment is completely secure through PayPal - you do not need a PayPal account, as they accept Visa or debit cards too.

If you want to share any pictures of Cocoons that you make then I'd be delighted to see them. You can either email them to me or drop them into my Flickr pool here.

School finishes today, and so it feels like the summer is truly about to begin for us. I hope you're having a lovely hurrah-for-the-weekend feeling to your Friday today too.

Florence x

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The dog and the chair

Light summer evenings mean later bedtimes for Zebra-girl and Dinosaur-boy...last night we could hear whispering and giggling from the bedrooms and frequent trips down to the recycling box. At 9.30pm they took their new dog, Harry, for a walk to meet us. He has a lovely red tongue that can be flipped up inside when he's not feeling particularly doubles as a lovely red nose. He can open his mouth to be fed...and in his stomach they have stored lots of food that they have made for him. He has bits of yarn stuck on for a tail. He can even hold a small ball on his tongue.

It's interesting how much more inventive they are when there are no grown-ups involved.

Now on to matters of upholstery...this is not my speciality...but I'm enthusiastic and your encouragement after my last post is making me seriously consider tackling this chair. But I need help if you have a minute to give you have any pointers to good videos (one of you mentioned Texan women on YouTube...but they're elusive creatures and aren't popping up in my searches) or tips on how I should go about doing this? I've found a brilliant local supplier of everything I might need....but first I need to think about how I want to do it.

Should I remove the springs and go for webbing? I've taken another picture of the chair today. I have four very good springs on the back, but the springs on the base of the chair will need taking off completely as they're too old, as is the webbing that they are attached to. 

I want the back and seat cushion to be integral and fixed to the there a special way of building up the layers to form a nice domed seat and back pad...and what should the layers consist of?

About a year after I'd first rescued this chair from a skip and reupholstered it (very badly) myself, Mr Teacakes and I were walking along Upper Street in Islington and saw a chair identical to this one in the window of one of the boutiques. It was immaculately upholstered in deep purple velvet and had a price tag of nearly £1000 (this was over ten years ago, so I'm assuming the price would be even more inflated now). It was the same chair...but very much not the same chair. Knowing what it could look like, has always made me hanker after having another go at it and making it look a little more like the one in the shop window. Perhaps my 33-year-old self can do a better job of it than my 21-year-old self....

Re-upholstering this chair at the dawn of the Internet, my 21-year-old self searched for 'leather hides' and then didn't go online again for a couple of months as she was so shocked by the search results that the strange new 'information super highway' had returned (because people actually really called it that then). The chair ended up being covered in chenille instead...the leather route was just too trepidatious to explore further...provisions for it were obtained through the Yellow Pages. It's amazing how quickly things have changed in the last 12 years...and how much more blasé one has become at having ones sensibilities unexpectedly challenged.

Florence x

NB: Yes, of course I didn't get to the end of writing this post without revisiting that search term. Alas, there was nothing even remotely tawdry to be found. I think that very few small businesses had an online presence at that point and search engines weren't as sophisticated in understanding what it was you probably wanted...which meant that some very odd things were able to float to the surface.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Bella has been busy playing...

The Little Teacakes constructed a great many paper aeroplanes before school yesterday morning...I later found Bella sleeping in amongst them. She looked like she had had an exhausting morning of fun.

We had our own afternoon of exhausting fun. After we came back from lunch, I was in the kitchen baking cakes, when I asked Mr Teacakes if he wanted to come and chat to me. 'I really do, but there's no sofa in there', he said from the play room/office room/garden room. Such a simple comment....two hours of moving furniture later and the sofa was in the old dining room which is a part of the kitchen, where he could lie and talk to me while I baked, and where the children might later sit and read and keep me company. And suddenly we find ourselves with a proper grown-up sunny dining room. Gone is the odd mix of a room that didn't quite know what it was. You can see how it used to look at the bottom of this post here, which also shows before and after pictures of how the rooms first looked just after we'd moved into this house.

What I especially loved about doing this is that we happen to have a garage full of old furniture and bits and bobs that we have amassed over the years, and every time we change things around it allows for things to be rotated. This large painting (above) that we couldn't find a home for has now been brought inside. I bought this directly from the artist when we lived in London and I've always loved it.

These reflections on water that my aunt photographed and had block-mounted have been brought inside.

And this old lamp will be nice in the window once I've bought a new shade for it.

The tapestry created by my incredibly talented mother in-law of our old house has now been hung over the desk. When we first moved house, as lovely as it was, neither of us had wanted it up...without the distance of time and having settled completely into our new home, it didn't feel right. But now it very much does.

We also found a little wooden stationery holder which will be perfect for storing all the children's art supplies in so that they can easily transport them over to the table (and importantly, easily transport them back again afterwards). We are gradually replacing the dining room chairs with older, more characterful ones than the Habitat lovelies that we bought several years ago. I bought the one on the right at a friend's vintage yard sale last week for £12.

I am completely in love with our new dining room. Our old dining room, being in between this room and the kitchen (which is a very open plan area) had felt slightly dark and gloomy in the middle of the house, but with the sofa there instead, it just feels warm and pictures of the sofa area yet though as we've decided that our ten year old sofa may need to be replaced with something lovely. I also need a chair to put here in the corner near the glass doors:

This completely beloved chair that I rescued from a skip, sanded, varnished and reupholstered (very badly) in our first year of living together in London is up for consideration. We've now removed the old upholstery as I think really it needs to have all the webbing and springs replaced. I'm really tempted to do it myself....

....but I'm wondering if it may be too big a job for me.
We had such fun doing this...and I feel that I am now thoroughly justified in my hoarding ways. Mr Teacakes has not outwardly agreed with this, but he did express some delight each time I appeared from the garage with more forgotten treasure.

Florence x

The eagle-eyed may notice that we have not one, but two ride-on bees in this room. No, it's not a playroom any more, but these wooden bees are so much fun and so lovely to look at that I can't bear to put them away until the children have completely finished with them. If you're interested in finding your own, they're called Wheely Bugs and are mounted on castors that glide easily on carpet and wood and do a thrilling 360° turn.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Eight exciting things

1. The first has to be that Seamstar have some of the Patty Young double knit fabrics in here...I have only heard good things about these and about how much easier they are to sew with than regular knits. I keep on putting them in and out of my online basket as this is always the way I conduct my internet shopping...I am horribly indecisive.

2. Alyson Clair has written a fantastic piece on sewing knits without a serger as a guest post over at Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing. I do have an overlocker, but I still found this completely fascinating and thought that you might too.

3. I have realised that I use said overlocker too much now to make it continue its life in the under stairs cupboard. It now has a permanent place in my room, where it can easily be lifted down and plugged in (yes, this is more exciting for me than it is for you...but I can't help selfishly sharing my own excitement on this one) See how it camouflages itself cleverly in between the door and the's barely noticeable.

4. Patty Young has put the most amazing tutorial for this yoga skirt up on Sew, Mama, Sew - I made this skirt in less than 40 minutes on Saturday night and the fit is utterly perfect and Zebra-girl loves it. I want to make it many times over and it will be perfect for winter too...very possibly with the fabric from Point 1, once I've finished being indecisive (but at £18 per metre, one does need to give it some thought...I know that if I buy it, it's really a bit of self-gifting as I wouldn't normally spend £18 on a child's skirt). Yes, it's very similar to my own jersey skirt...but fear not, we will not be wearing them at the same time.

5. Yes, the first four exciting things are all revolving around knit fabrics...I really think this could become an obsession. And you may remember what happened when my shirring obsession struck back in June.

6. I have received a review copy of Lisa Stickley's book Made at Home. It's beautiful, as with the last book that Quadrille sent me. I found it really interesting to look though this book, seeing it next to the Simple Knitting book, it's made me realise that Quadrille have a very definite identity and vision as a craft publisher - the things that had struck me as being excellent about the Simple Knitting book are very similar to those in this book. Muted, tasteful colours; un-kitchey projects; thick, creamy pages, with a good amount of space around each project. Their books seem delightfully lavish. I like that.

The book itself is perfect for a beginner sewer (probably less appealing to a more advanced sewer, but I'm not sure that's who the intended market for this book was anyway, so it's perfectly pitched). The projects are simple, but not simplistic and the way that they are illustrated is especially appealing - at times like a grown-up Lauren Child graphic. I think it was William Morris who said 'have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful': well the illustrations in this book make me believe that the projects will cover both bases simultaneously. They range from a table runner to a roman blind, to cushions to foot pouffes. I was really impressed with the inclusion of curtains and blinds as this makes it feel a far more comprehensive book than many of its type.

7. Mr Teacakes has the whole of this week off work - I am so excited. Today ended up taking us by surprise and turning into our very own Healthy Boot Camp sort of a day. We started off with an hour of Kundalini yoga (the first 10 minutes was spent snorting with laughter, but that interfered with the breathing techniques slightly, so we eventually stopped), then decided that it was such a nice day that we'd pack a picnic and go for a bike ride...we had just meant for it to be a slow-paced meander...but somehow it ended up being a 13-mile cycle ride in 27 degree heat. It was a circular route and half way round my chain came off. Mr Teacakes. He is the person I'd want with me in the event of any outdoor crisis. Chain fixed, it was a race through the last seven (very hilly) miles to make it back to the car in time to pick the little Teacakes up from school. We made it.

8. The virtuosity of point 7, called for the making of Dutch Apple Cake after school today which is possibly one of my favourite puddings in the entire world. I first tasted it at my sister-in-law's house a couple of months ago. The recipe was then very kindly sent to me from her best friend's mother and as it's their family recipe I don't feel as though I can share it, but believe me, it's very good and you can perhaps Google for something similar. There is a huge amount of cinnamon on the top of ours (it's not at all burnt, which may be how it looks in the photograph), as that's just the way it was when I first tasted it made by my sister-in-law's friend's mother.  Yum.

Do you have anything exciting to add to the list?

Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.