Food: Roasted amaretti peaches and plums

Crikey life is busy and mad at the moment. Poorly children, short deadlines, and a weird need to sort and tidy has kept me away from the blog. We're having a wall knocked down in our house next week to make us a lovely big sitting room that opens onto the garden. But to get that done means clearing out what has long been called "the room of doom" due to the amount of stuff we've pushed in there to "organise later". It's so easy to end up with a little used room full of "stuff" especially when you're busy and you never seem to have time to get tidied. I'm really looking forward to getting this new room sorted and I'm hoping the organisation might flow into the rest of the house - wish me luck.

Talking about organisation - how about our fruit bowl - I love the fruit around at this time of year especially the apples and plums. While peaches aren't quite in season, the supermarkets are still full of them and they always look so amazing. But often they're disappointing and they sit in the fruit bowl while I wait for them to ripen and the next minute they're looking all sad a wrinkled until I feel bad enough to toss them or do something like this with them. 

This dish can rescue any stone fruit - as long as it isn't actually mouldy! It's really simple and it tastes amazing. The amaretto makes the juice from the plums taste even more plummy and brings the peachiness out in the peaches - if that makes any sense at all. Some crumbled amaretti biscuits give them a lovely crunch and with a dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt they make the perfect pudding.

To make your own you will need:

A punnet of peaches
A punnet of plums
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
A good slug of amaretto liqueur
Amaretti biscuits and creme fraiche or yogurt to serve

Method

Pre heat the oven to 180c/350f/Gas Mark 4. Slice the peaches and plums in half and remove the stones.

Place in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with sugar and a good drizzle of amaretto. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly and then serve with crumbled up amaretto, some juice from the pan and some creme fraiche. Try not to eat the whole dish full. 


Style: Styling the seasons - September

September is one of my favourite months - the smell in the air, the crispness of everything, the light, the coolness in the mornings and the unique scent of the first day of school.

The trees in our garden are laden with apples and down the back lane there is a derelict garage that nature has taken back for herself. The brambles are climbing over the bricks and rubble, squeezing their prickly vines through gaps and cracks and giving me a good supply of blackberries to make wreaths with and for the children to snack on.

September means abundance to me so I styled my potting bench with a blackberry wreath, freshly picked apples and elderberries, a little garlic and a feather and some pine cones that Laurie picked up on our walk this morning.

I feel the need to hunker down, get organised and tidy and ready everything for colder weather and shorter days - in fact my freshly washed blankets are hanging on the line right now ready for snuggling in front of the fire when the time comes.

I hope September is a good month for you all. Thank you all for continuing to read my little blog it means a lot to me. 

I'd love to see how you style your home for September over on instagram. And for more styling ideas please do follow me on pinterest.

Styling the seasons is a project thought up by Katy from Apartment Apothecary and Charlotte from Lotts and Lots you can join in on instagram with the hastag #stylingtheseasons.

Life: Three

Too long ago, way back at the end of July, Laurie turned three. I've been trying to post this letter to him since then, but then came the end of term, the summer holidays, and back to school and it's gone past in a whirlwind of adventures, afternoon naps, arguments, play doh, cars, lego and big family holidays. And now we're back to normal and I finally have time to sit down and finish writing this letter that I started oh so long ago.

It seems crazy that my baby is so big and that it’s three years ago that I sat in my hospital bed watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics trying to settle an already hungry new born. Each year I write a letter to my boys on their birthdays for them to read when they grow up. Laurie I'm soooo sorry that this one is so late - next year I'll try harder.

Wow Laurie – you’re three and this is the first year you’ve been interested in your birthday and you had such a great day. You were so excited about every present you opened, shouting wow as the paper came off. I think you were so pleased to have toys that were just yours and not your brother's. You loved your superhero party too and refused to take your Batman costume off even though you were so hot and sweaty. When we put you to bed that night after a really long day you said “thank you for having my birthday”, which made our hearts ache.

You love superheroes, though I have no idea where you’ve learnt about them, and you want to be one when you grow up. You also love to cook and eat and always ask me what I’m cooking. You want to see inside my pots and pans and taste things too. You love stories and we often sit and read together while Rufus is at school, snuggled on the sofa under a blanket.

You love to cuddle me, with your arms tight around my neck. You run your hands through my hair and twist it though your fingers. Before you go to bed each night I read you If Kisses Were Colours by Alison Jay and you finish off every line. You like to hold my hand and I have to rub my thumb across the top of your hand, you get cross is I stop and pull my thumb. I hope you’ll remember these moments, but the chances are you won’t. You’re very good at knowing when people are sad and you love to play the fool to cheer people up – throwing yourself on the ground and being silly, making everyone laugh.

You can be wicked and wild and push me to my very limits, but you always pull that cheeky smile that gets me everytime. You love to roar at people when they tell you off, which makes it really hard.  Winding up your brother, breaking his Lego creations and chasing him until he squeals are still your favourite activities. That said you still tell each other that you’re best friends. And the other day I heard you talking about how you still want to live together when you grow up.

And growing up you are. You're big and boisterous,  but you still need to hold my hand when we walk down the stairs and you still love to be swept off your feet in a hug. I know that soon you'll be walking down the stairs without me and the cuddles won't last as long.

We love you very much Laurie-Bobs and we’re so proud of you. And although I’m sad that my baby is now too big to curl up in my lap comfortably, I can’t wait to see you grow up and everything this year brings you. As you tell me every day you're my “big boy baby” and you always will be.

Style: Styling the seasons July

Hooray the summer holidays are here at last - Rufus will finally get the rest he needs (which all-my-fingers-crossed hopefully means no more whinging), we'll get to have breakfast in our pjs and if the weather is kind plenty of time to play outside and go on adventures.

I've decided to take a bit of a blogging break over the summer, so that we don't have to cut our adventures short to get home so I can shoot a post, and so that I can spend some one-on-one time with Ru while Laurie naps. He'll be back to school before I know it and I'm sure no one will mind if I disappear for a bit. I'll still be instagramming and if time allows a little post might pop up every now and again. I hope you all understand my need for some mama and boy time.

But before all that happens I wanted to share my styling the seasons post for July. As I said I'm hoping we'll have plenty of outside time and this little corner of my garden was really getting to me. There is a beautiful climbing rose just above it and while that was in flower I could ignore the rest - but now it's finished flowering I needed to give this area some love.

I like the rustic peeling paint, but the mess of plant pots, a short-lived and ill-fated sandpit and dozens of decaying petals was just horrid. My mum kindly swept it all up for me one day while I was at work, and instead of letting the junk build back up I decided to make a little happy space for me to sit and watch the boys play.

I love this old chair and this even older Laura Ashley cushion that mum and I chose for my room when I was in my teens. Then all I needed was some bright and beautiful plants - a dahlia, verbena and echinaeca, and a little pot of mint for the scent. It's simple and pretty and so much better than the drab old corner that was there before. Fingers crossed I get plenty of time to sit and watch and far less time spent breaking up squabbles!

Happy summer holidays everyone (may the force and patience be with us all!)

Styling the seasons is a monthly photography and styling project started by Katy at Apartment Apothecary and Charlotte at Lotts and LotsShare your images with the hashtag #stylingtheseasons on Instagram. 

Food: Elderflower and lemon sorbet

Sorbet is my favourite pudding. Don't get me wrong, I love a sticky toffee pudding (especially this one), but after a heavy meal, nothing is better than sorbet. I like it better than ice cream and definitely more than chocolate. It's always such a fresh taste and it's best when it's homemade. Shops just sell lemon, which never seems to be made with fresh lemons because it tastes of chemicals, or mango and very occasionally blackcurrant. But make your own and the list is endless, raspberry, passion fruit, coffee, melon, blueberry, lime - I could go on.

With a fridge full of elderflower cordial I decided to turn some of it into sorbet, with a bit of added lemon for zing.  And it turned out really well. Sharp and sweet and so simple to make.

To make your own you will need:

220g (7oz) caster sugar
500ml (16 fl oz) water
250ml (8 fl oz) elderflower cordial
Juice of three large lemons

Method:

Put the sugar in a saucepan and add the water. Heat gently, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Pour in the elderflower, cover and leave to cool in the fridge until chilled.

Squeeze in the juice of three lemons. Pour into an ice cream machine and churn until frozen. Or pour into a plastic box, pop in the freezer and stir with a fork every hour or two until completely frozen.

Take out of the freezer a few minutes before serving. I like it served with some amaretti biscuits on the side and a sprig of mint. 

Thanks for reading x


Style: Styling the seasons - June

I'm not quite sure where June has gone? This morning I was convinced there was still another week of it and then I realised today was the very last day - how did that happen? So squeaking in at the very last moment is my styling the seasons post for June - and I'm so glad I made it because, although I'm not a summer girl, I do love June for one reason - my garden flowers.

June to me means my roses, it means that the mulching and pruning and feeding and spraying is all worth it because the roses come out and the garden is filled with scent and falling blossoms. And it's not just the roses, it's the lavender, it's the hydrangea, the salvia, the thyme, the elderflower and even the chives all making the garden smell amazing.

So this month I decided to lay up a summer table to showcase my favourite flowers from the garden. A simple grey striped cloth, white plates with a posey of flowering herbs on each, antique cutlery, pretty glasses, candles and old bottles filled with flowers. No arranging necessary, just a stem in each one. Easy to do, but beautiful when they're all collected together. The sort of table you want to sit at for a long, lazy summer lunch with friends, drinking prosecco with elderflower, eating good bread, salad and grilled fish and vegetables. Yum. Hopefully I'll get time in July.

Styling the seasons is a monthly photography and styling project started by Katy at Apartment Apothecary and Charlotte at Lotts and Lots. Share your images with the hastag #stylingtheseason on Instagram. 

Life: Five

Last week Rufus was five. I try to write a post to each of my children for their birthdays. I used to write a mummy blog about them but got nervous about sharing so much of their lives online - but once a year I like to harp on about how much I love them. So this, Rufus, is for the five year old you.

What a year it's been for you, my biggest boy. You've started school and taken it all in your stride. You love to learn and you still want to be a paleontologist. But your interest in science has become even wider. You want to know everything there is to know about how the world and all the things in it work. In fact you love science so much that you won the school science award last term for your knowledge of the world, your love of all things scientific and for your ability to teach other children about science. I know you didn't understand the true significance of it, but that award could have gone to any child, in any year at the school - and you're in foundation and you won it. We're so, so proud of you.

Last week you managed to create an electrical circuit out of bulbs, wires and batteries and your teacher was so impressed she came to see me after school to tell me all about it. You continue to amaze me and I never really know where it all comes from - although Daddy is pretty convinced it was passed down in his genes.

Your confidence has really grown this year and you seem so much more grown up. I can't quite believe that you're five already. Despite being a big grown up boy you still have time for your little brother and even though you still like to wind each other up and scrap like crazy I know deep down that you really love each other. You kiss each other good bye every morning at school and always have a hug when we pick you up. 

You still love to snuggle and every night we read stories together before you go to bed. You love the Famous Five and the Secret Seven and now you're discovering Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and have all the other Roald Dahl books on your list for us to read. When we've finished reading we have to have a cuddle, then you lay you head on my tummy and listen to it gurlge, pretending it is talking to you. Every night it tells you that it wants me to stay in your room and snuggle with you for just a bit longer. And that's my cue to tickle you so that I can escape and you can go to sleep - after reading a dinosaur or science book for a bit of course.

I'm intrigued about what this year will hold for you. I hope you'll continue to try hard at school, even when things don't come easily. I can't wait to watch your relationship with your little brother grow. And I hope being five doesn't make you too cool for cuddles with your Mummy.

I'm always telling you I love you and squeezing you too tight, but just in case you need to hear it again today, I love you lots and although I know you hate it when I say this, you'll always be my baby - even when you're grown up. x

 

Food: Knickerbocker Glory (a healthy version)

One of my earliest memories is of a knickerbocker glory. It was big, really big. I remember having to stand on my chair to eat it with one of those long spoons. It had a cherry on the top and plenty of whipped cream. If I remember rightly we were beside the sea and for some reason I think the cafe was a 1930s style place with huge curved windows. I was wearing t-bar shoes and they were navy - an that's as much as I remember.

True knickerbocker glories are a dreamy concoction of ice cream, fruit, whipped cream, sugary syrup, chocolate and a cherry. One day I promise that my children will get to eat a real one - in fact my four year old already has. But they are most definitely a treat - a going-to-send-you-totally-wild-on-a-crazy-sugar-high kind of treat. But I'm not totally evil and I wanted to give them a knickerbocker glory-ish pudding - so I created these ones made with fruit, compote, natural yogurt and a light dusting of chocolate.

To make your own you will need:

Fresh berries - I bought a punnet each of strawberries and raspberries but any berry would be great
2 tsp caster sugar
Plain yogurt - I went for full fat (you could also use a berry flavoured yogurt here too)
Chocolate

Hull your strawberries and cut them in half then add half of them to a small pan with half of the raspberries. Sprinkle over the sugar and heat gently so the berries release their juice and start to break down. Once the fruit has reduced to a sauce you can leave it as it is or liquidise it for a smoother finish - I left it rustic. Allow to cool.

Once cool you can start to layer up your sundae. Start with some fruit and a drizzle of compote. Add yogurt and a grating of chocolate, pile on more fruit, more compote and keep going until you've filled your glass. Finish with fruit and another grating of chocolate and watch them enjoy them. Older kids would love making these themselves - I'm sure my kids could make them but I'd probably freak out at the mess.



Make: Upcycled tray

I put this post together a while back for the Laura Ashley blog - but I thought I'd share it here too because I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. It's a fairly simple project and it turns a plain tray into something really lovely - perfect for breakfast in bed, with the papers, a good book and peace and quiet - how nice would that be? It's been a while since I've been woken up by good breakfast in bed. 

If you want to upcycle your own tray (and give your husband/partner/slightly bigger than mine children a big hint that breakfast in bed might just be nice) you will need:

A tray
Wallpaper
Sandpaper
PVA glue
Paintbrush
Clear varnish. 

First cut a piece of wallpaper to fit into your tray. I found it easiest to line the tray up with one of the edges of the wallpaper to ensure that you get a square cut. Then draw around the base of the tray as carefully as possible. Cut the paper out just outside the line you've draw. This is because the tray slopes inwards at the bottom and if you follow your line exactly your paper will be too small. If anything err on the larger side because you can trim afterward. Put the paper into the tray and line it up with the edges - if it's too big fold back the edges that you need to trim and crease so you can see exactly where to cut to make it fit.

Next give the surface of the tray that you'll stick the paper to a quick sand down to provide a key for the glue. Wipe it down, then liberally paint on the PVA - you need a good thick layer so that your wallpaper will stick evenly. Carefully apply your paper and smooth over every inch with your hand to make sure you don't get any bubbles. Pile with books or magazines to keep it as flat as possible and leave to dry for 24 hours.

When the paper is completely dry you can apply several thin coats of clear varnish to make the tray splash proof and to protect it from tea sloshing over the side of your mug on the way up the stairs. Make sure you let it dry completely between coats.

Style it up with a beautiful jug of seasonal flowers, a steaming mug of tea, some orange juice and some quick and easy French toast with fresh berries (or train your loved ones to style it up and bring you breakfast!)

Style: Styling the seasons - my sister's May wedding

My little sister got married on Saturday and it was beautiful. A small garden wedding at our parent's house and the biggest styling job I've ever done (bar my own wedding - which was easier because I was styling for myself). My sister loves bright colours and the brief was bright and whimsical.

We dotted the garden with open gazebos, filled their ceilings with paper honey comb balls in bright colours, laid simple white cloths on the tables and filled bottles and jars full of bright seasonal flowers. The apple trees were filled with candles and tied with ribbons to catch in the breeze. My parents and sister carefully painted wooden chairs in off white and a teal blue for our guests to sit on. There were hand painted signs directing the guests everywhere and an abundance of ribbon, flowers and tealights. It was beautiful.

A bright and beautiful wedding 7  Really Pretty Useful.jpg

It was the first time I had ever done the flowers for a wedding and I was a tiny bit daunted. Working out the quantities was hard. But after a lot of research online I ordered 400 stems. If you're creating an informal wedding for 60 odd people and want a simple whimsical look that's what you need - it worked out perfectly. I chose larkspur, stocks, tulips, roses in pink, orange, yellow and white, sunflowers, phlox, freesia (which my mum had in her bouquet), anemone and September flower. I mixed them with rosemary, mint and sage and plenty of other foliage pinched from mum's garden. Our very clever Mama knitted Rachel's bouquet (more pics to come from the professional photographers) so I didn't need to make that. But I did give myself a crash course in button holes at the 11th hour - Youtube for you I am grateful. And also a big thank you to Adam from the Flower Stall on Cambridge Market who sourced all the flowers for me - you were so brilliant and the roses opened beautifully and still look amazing.

We had such a fun time styling the wedding, not one cross word was had - and that can only be called a miracle with three feisty women working together! From Thursday evening we worked and worked to set it all up so that Saturday morning could be calm and we could all be relaxed to welcome the guests and make Rachel and Stu's wedding day perfect for them - and it was.

Everybody seemed to be having so much fun, eating drinking and dancing. As the sun went down we lit fire pits and brought out loads of blankets hand knitted by mum for people to snuggle in. We toasted marshmallows and danced some more.

The only thing more beautiful than the day was my sister girl who looked so gorgeous and elegant - despite the battered old sneakers she put on under her dress to dance in. I'm so happy that she and Stu finally decided to get married and I'm so happy that I could be a part of your day. Love you guys xx 


Food: Chilli beef burritos

My boys love these burritos, they ask for them every week. I never thought they'd eat chilli, but wrapped in a tortilla and stuffed with rice and good things they love it. Feeding children isn't always easy and it's taken me a while to work out how to get my kids to try new foods so that we don't have to live on fish fingers (not that there is anything wrong with a fish finger). Whenever I cook something new I try to serve it with something I know they'll like - basically anything bread like - so naan bread and poppadoms with a curry, wraps with chilli, garlic bread with lasagne, prawn crackers with Thai Curry. That way I can say - "just try one bite and then you can have another piece of bread" - it usually works, and usually when they try things they like them. Although I'm still working on broccoli and peppers.

Teaching my children about food, feeding them a balance diet and helping them learn to cook is so important to me - that's why I'm supporting Food Revolution Day on Friday. Jamie Oliver wants to petition the G20 and make food education compulsory for children around the world. The hope is that if children learn about good healthy food and learn to cook we can beat the obesity crisis and keep our children healthy. This isn't about putting kids on diets it's about teaching them to eat well. Jamie's TED Talk is a heart-breaking must-watch. If you have two minutes sign the petition. If you have a little more time make burritos with your kids.

You will need

1 batch of chilli - my recipe is here 
Rice - I usually measure my rice in an old measuring jug - for the four of us I cook 1/2 pint (275ml) rice in 1 pint (570ml) boiling water, bring back to the boil, pop a lid on and cook over the lowest heat until all the water has been absorbed.
8 tortilla wraps
1 avocado - cut into chunks
1/2 a tub of cherry tomatoes - cut in half
A small bunch of fresh coriander - chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Some grated cheese
A pot of half sour cream/0% natural yogurt/half fat creme fraiche
A little gem lettuce shredded

Serves 4-8 ( we usually have leftovers to freeze or take for lunch at work)

Mix together the tomatoes, avocado and coriander and squeeze over the lime to make a little salsa. Warm your tortillas in a dry frying pan. To assemble your burrito pile on a good tablespoon off rice, top with chilli, sour cream, salsa, lettuce and a sprinkling of cheese.

To fold your burrito, fold in the long sides (as in the sides along the filling) and squish the filling down a little. The pull the open ends up together and fold over to seal the package, then cut it in half with a sharp knife. 

Our kids are getting more adventurous every time we have these burritos - to start with they'd just have chilli, rice and cheese in their wraps, now they'll have the sour cream and some lettuce and hopefully soon they'll have some salsa too. Luckily they get plenty of veg hidden away in the chilli!

Don't forget to join the revolution! Sign the petition today.


Food: Easy French toast

French toast main  Really Pretty Useful.jpg

I upcycled this gorgeous lap tray for the lovely folks at Laura Ashley and I couldn't not put food on it. I'm bored of pancakes (our children ask for the fluffy ones every weekend) and I wanted something quicker and simpler so I went for an easy French toast recipe.

One of the first things I ever learned to cook as a child was eggy bread, which I ate sprinkled with sugar - so French toast is really just a fancy version of that. This quick version is light and fluffy - it's made from store cupboard staples too which is so handy when you haven't done a food shop on Saturday morning. I love it served with fresh berries and a drizzling of maple syrup.

To make your own you will need:

150ml (1/4 pint) whole milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 slices of standard white bread - I don't use the completely plasticky stuff - but a mini sliced farm house style loaf will do - no need for fancy bread for this recipe.
Butter for frying
Berries and maple syrup to serve

Serves 4 - 1 slice of French toast per person

Method:

Whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon. Melt some butter in a small frying pan over a low heat - not super low, but just above the lowest flame (if that makes any sense?). Dip one slice of bread into the egg mixture leave it for 30 seconds and then flip it over. Lift into the pan with a spatula and gently fry for 2-3 minutes until golden. Turn over and cook the other side for another 2 minutes until golden, fluffy and cooked through. Repeat with the other slices. Cut each slice in half diagonally, stack and pile with berries. Drizzle over the maple syrup.

Why not treat someone to breakfast in bed this weekend - it would be kind you know - she'd really appreciate it.

Food: Donuts or doughnuts however you want to spell it

I wanted to post this recipe before Easter and call them Easter donuts because they are topped with almond, vanilla and chocolate glazes - but after making two batches with varying degrees of success and ending up with awful photos of all of them I gave up. I looked at my kitchen, a disaster zone of icing sugar and sprinkles and decided enough was enough. There would be no donuts. But then there was peer and sibling pressure and I gave in and made more and this time the pictures are ok. And  according to the people in this house who like donuts they're pretty good. 

These are baked donuts so you could argue that they are a healthier version. Really they're just a donut shaped cake though, so they're not that healthy. But they do look pretty and are fairly easy, if a little messy, to make. They're light and cakey and don't leave your with that heavy I've-just-eaten-a-donut-and-now-I-feel-sick-and-a-tiny-bit-dirty feeling - which is a bonus in my book.

To make your own you will need:

225g (8oz) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
175g (6oz) caster sugar
175ml (6 fl oz) whole milk
2 eggs, beaten
30g (1 1/ oz) melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

A donut pan - I have two of these.

Makes 12 large donuts

Method

Brush your donut pan lightly with oil and dust with flour - I tried various methods to stop my donuts sticking and this was the best, but you still need to slide a knife very carefully around end each little cake to loosen them once they're cooked. 

Pre-heat your oven to 160c/325f/Gas 3. Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and give them a quick whisk (I do this instead of sieving because I'm lazy). 

In another bowl whisk together the milk, eggs and vanilla, then add this mixture and the melted butter to the dry ingredients and mix to a smooth batter. It shouldn't be too stiff and should pour easily off a spoon.

Fill each of your donut cups 3/4 full - I found about one and a half tablespoons was the right amount. This is a bit of a fiddle and you have to ease the mixture around the cup, don't be too worried though, because the mixture is loose it spreads quite well. Once the batter is settled in each cup don't be tempted to add more - when I did that my donuts ended up a little lumpy with a two tier effect. If you over fill your cup you'll lose the hole in the middle of your donut, so take your time with this bit.

Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden and firm but springy. Leave to cool slightly in the pan. Then using a table knife carefully ease the blade around the edge of each donut and around the hole in the middle. Then slide the blade underneath and around each one to carefully lift it out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Don't worry if they stick and end up looking a bit rough and ready - you can hide most problems with the glaze. 

To make the chocolate glaze:

100g (4oz) plain chocolate
1 tbsp golden syrup
25g (1oz) butter

Melt all the ingredients gently over a low heat then dip your donuts. For easy dipping keep the chocolate warm - if it gets cold it goes too thick and harder to work with. This glaze is enough to cover 4 large donuts.

To make the sugar glaze

250g icing sugar
25g (1oz) butter
2 tbsp milk
Pinch of salt
Your chosen flavouring and colouring.

Melt the butter and milk together and sift in the icing sugar and salt to make a paste. Divide it in half and add half a teaspoon of flavouring and a few drops food colouring to each half. I chose to make a yellow almond flavoured glaze and a pink vanilla glaze. Dip your donuts while the glaze is still warm. I found I needed to spoon some over to cover gaps. There is enough to cover the remaining eight donuts here.

Then cover with sprinkles. 

Make: A simple spring wreath

This post was supposed to be about donuts, Easter donuts in fact, with almond, chocolate and vanilla icing in yellow, brown and pink with sprinkles. But there are no longer any donuts. I have spent more time than I care to admit making and photographing donuts this week. And they looked lovely and tasted pretty nice (which coming from me is a compliment because I don't really like donuts). But the computer was being temperamental, which it is want to do, and I couldn't check my pictures as I like to do usually. And it turns out that my lens was a bit smeary, which is quite a regular thing for a food bloggers lens, so all my pictures look like they been taken in one of those glamour studios where they make you look like a 1980s album cover. On the small screen of my camera they looked great - but on a computer screen, not so much.

So instead I bring you this simple spring wreath. Which was taken with a less smeary lens and meant for next week. It took me 20 minutes and was super simple to make - unlike the donuts, which stole hours of my life for NO GOOD REASON - argh! 

Anyway I love this wreath and all you need to make it are some blossom branches, I used forsythia, some string and a pair of scissors. I had to buy my forsythia because I don't have any in my garden and my conscience would let me pinch any from anybody else. Happily it wasn't expensive and you don't need too much. 

The hardest part is making your initial ring shape. I found it easiest to use the whippy new growth at the very end of the branch because it's the most bendy. I cut off any woody stems and  tied three bendy pieces together end to end with string to form a loop. Then I simply wove the rest of the branches through and around the initial ring, intertwining them and tucking the ends through gaps to secure them. I used a few more bits of string to hold things in place as I went along. 

When you're happy with the shape and thickness of your wreath, make a loop with some string and hang it up. Mine is now brightening up the back door - and it looks so lovely and almost magical when the light shines through it. And best of all it won't make you fat like a donut might.

Style: Styling the seasons - March

I love March, the longer days, the flowers starting to show their faces in the garden, the brightness and blossom everywhere. It makes me itch to get gardening and planting. But still I have to wait and be patient for the frosts to stop and the ground to warm up slightly. It doesn't stop me planning though.

Last year we finally got our verandah sorted - it's a glass roofed, open fronted verandah in the side return of our house. We put it up initially to sort out a dark and damp patio that we never really used and now it is turning into a very useful outside room. My brother-in-law to be built me a side board from old scaffold boards for potting up and bringing on seedlings (or prepping bbq food) and I have a butler sink for washing off wellies and cleaning off veg from the garden.

This month I decided to set it up with some flowers, pots and seed trays to inspire me to get planning and sowing. I've already labelled up some spare wooden teaspoons left over from a party - they make great seed labels. And I've ordered some flower seeds for the cutting garden I'm hoping to start this year. I only have a tiny spot but I'm hoping there will be enough to supply my instagram feed with flowers in the summer.

I adore seasonal flowers and fell in love with this beautiful and delicate larkspur at the florist and the punchy vibrant green of the viburnum. And of course tulips - I'm always in love with tulips. 

I'd love to see how you style your home for spring. You can join in by tagging your instagram posts with #stylingtheseasons and @aptapothecary and '@lottsandlots.

Food: Quick and easy afternoon tea

So I wanted to post this last week in time for Mother's Day - but then I was in bed unwell with the stomach bug that had made its merry way through the house (boring). I hope you won't mind reading it now, I really wanted to share it with you so here it is - still perfectly useful, quick and easy

And if you didn't get to see your Mum, or maybe you've decided the present you bought her was really rubbish, or maybe it's her birthday (or yours) or maybe you just fancy doing some baking -  then this little afternoon tea takes just an hour and a half to make. All the recipes are easy enough for kids to make (with a little supervision on the oven bits of course) and it looks impressive and tastes delicious.

If you wanted to make a more substantial meal you could add some little sandwiches - smoked salmon and cream cheese, cucumber, cheese and pickle, brie and cranberry. Or even some prawn vol-au-vent - who doesn't love those?

I've listed each recipe separately here, but I've also listed at the end which order I did things in to make the best use of my time. So to make your own afternoon tea you will need:

For the fruit tarts
(I've actually made these before using homemade creme patisserie, but I wanted this to be super simple so here I've used shop bought fresh custard)

12 vol-au-vents (I use the packs of Just Rol frozen ones)
1 pot fresh shop bought custard
Fresh berries

Method:

Bake the vol-au-vents as per the packet instructions. Leave to cool. Press down the centres and fill with the custard until level with the top (a heaped tsp). Top with fresh berries - I quartered my strawberries, but left the stems on for a bit of greenery.

For the ginger biscuits with lemon cream

50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) golden syrup
40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar
115g (4 1/4oz) self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger
For the lemon cream
70g (2 1/2oz) butter - softened
140g (5oz) icing sugar
Zest of a lemon
Juice of half a lemon
 

Method: 

Pre heat the oven to 180c/350f/Gas Mark 4 and lightly grease a baking tray. Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together in a pan until just melted. Do not let it boil. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients, stir until you have a smooth dough that you can roll into balls. Scoop teaspoon sized pieces and roll into balls. Space evenly on the trays  leaving plenty of space in between for spreading. Press lightly with a fork. Bake for 8 minutes or until just golden. They will be very soft when you get them out of the oven so leave them to cool and crisp up on the tray before removing to a cooling rack.

Whip up the butter and add the icing sugar to make a soft butter cream. Add the lemon zest and gradually add the lemon juice, tasting as you go until you like the flavour - it should be slightly tart, but sweet. 

Once the biscuits are cool put a heaped teaspoon of butter cream on the underside of one biscuit and sandwich another on top.

For the scones
Now I know a little about scones - my sister and I made 120 of them on the morning of my wedding. This is the recipe I always use and it never fails. I thank Nigella for this,

250g (9oz) plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
35g (1 1/4oz) butter (room temp)
150ml (5floz) milk

Method: 

Pre heat the oven to 220c/425F/Gas Mark 7. Lightly oil a baking tray. Sift together the flour, bicarb and cream of tartar. Rub in the butter until the flour resembles breadcrumbs, Add the milk and stir briefly with a knife to bring the dough together. Knead lightly on a floured surface to bring it all together.

Roll or press out to about 2 cm/3/4in and using a small cutter stamp out your scones - you should get about 16 scones with a couple of re-rollings.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until risen and golden. Leave to cool.

Serve with clotted cream and jam.

The plan

When I cook several things at once I try to think about the best use of time and oven space. This is what I did here:

Bake the vol-au-vents, leave to cool.
Make the biscuit dough while the vol-au-vents are baking, bake and cool.
Make the scone dough while the biscuits are baking, bake and cool.
Make the butter cream while the scones are baking.
Fill the vol-au-vents and top with berries.
Sandwich the biscuits with the butter cream>
Make it all look pretty.


Make: Easy envelope cushions

I love cushions, they're a quick way to update a room, relatively cheaply, and they make everywhere look cosy and homely. My husband hates them. He thinks they are pointless. He spends a good deal of time removing cushions from from the place he's about to sit down on and throwing them on the floor. I spend a good deal of time picking them up off the floor and arranging them on their allotted piece of furniture. And so we continue, man and wife in a constantly battle of cushions - till death do us part (unless the cushions get us first). 

So I'm sure he'll love this post and the fact there are two new cushions on the spare room bed. In my defence they replace two old ones and he never has to sleep in the spare room (unless of course one day the cushion flinging goes too far, in which case spare bed it'll be).

Lots of people will tell you that you can make these cushions in 15 or even 10 minutes. And you can if someone else measures and cuts out your fabric, winds your bobbin, threads your machine and if you don't think you'll ever want to wash the cushion cover and therefore don't need to take measures to stop them fraying in the wash.

But you know me, I like full disclosure over a snappy sell. So these envelope cushions will take you nearer 30 minutes each - but that's still pretty quick if you ask me.

To make your own you will need:

A cushion insert (don't buy the cheap ones from Ikea - they aren't worth it, they make pathetic cushions and they disintegrate pretty quickly. Look for feather filled ones instead or ones with a decent amount of padding that isn't going to clump and flatten. Dunelm do a great range of reasonably priced cushion inserts.)
Fabric of your choice - how much depends on the size of your cushions.
Coordination thread

Method:

Measure your cushion and add 3cm to that measurement for seam allowance (1.5cm seam on each side). Cut out one piece of fabric to these measurements to be the front of your cushion. For the back pieces measure a piece of fabric that is the same width, but 12cm longer, cut this piece in half so you have two back pieces the same width as the front piece but that overlap on the back to form your envelope. Apologies for the lack of step by step pictures, they just didn't come out right.

Put your sewing machine on the zig zag setting and sew along the top edge of one of your back pieces and the bottom of the other (check your patterns are in the same direction when you do this).You're not sewing anything together here - the zig zag stitch, which should overlap the edge of the fabric slightly, helps to stop the fabric fraying if you need to wash the cushion cover in the future. This is known as overlocking

Fold over a 1.5cm hem on those zig  zagged edges and iron flat. Switch your machine back to straight stitch and stitch down the hem to give a neat edge. These two edges will form your envelope opening on your cushion.

Lay your front piece on the table with the right side of the fabric facing up. Then lay the two back pieces on top, right side down, lining up the edges with the top and bottom of the front piece. They should overlap one another in the middle. Pin into place. 

Using a straight stitch sew around all four sides of the cushion leaving a 1.5cm hem. Turn the cushion right side out to check that you have sewn it up correctly. Then turn it inside out again and trim the corners to take out the bulk of the fabric - take care not to snip out your stitches.

To secure the seams and any lose threads pop your machine back onto zig zag stitch and overlock your seams to stop them fraying. 

Turn the right side out again, give it a good press and stuff your cushion in. It should be a snug fit to give your cushion a good shape and feel. And you're done.

Food: Boozy eccles cakes

At last a new post! What with an extra busy few weeks at work, half term and poorly children it's been hard to find time for blogging. But finally I have. And I hope you'll think these boozy eccles cakes are worth the wait. 

My husband has declared these the best eccles cakes he's ever eaten. And believe me when I say he doesn't pass out compliments about food lightly. When we first started going out I cooked him a meal that included some slightly (very) over salted potato rosti and he still talks about them and how disgusting they were. Anything I cook that he doesn't like gets a "hmmm I'm not sure that's a make again." So his approval is high  praise indeed.

They're slightly different to a traditional eccles cake because they have a boozy, gooey, sticky sauce around the dried fruit. I was trying to recreate the ones I used to get at school at break time, warm from the oven, in my early teenage years before it became uncool to eat anything that wasn't salad in case your skinny fourteen year old self might get fat. They were oozy and gooey, though hopefully not boozy, and like mine had crisp flaky pastry and crunchy demerara sugar on top.

They're pretty quick to make too - needing just 10 minutes in the oven. To make your own you will need:

150g (5oz) currants
50g (2oz) mixed peel
100g (3 1/2oz) soft brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 tbsp brandy
1 orange - juice
50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) demerara sugar, plus extra for scattering
1 x pack of ready made puff pastry (not the ready rolled stuff)
Milk for glazing

Makes 8-10 eccles cakes

Method

If you have time mix together the currants, mixed peel, soft brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg with the orange juice and brandy and leave to soak and infuse for a few hours. This step isn't vital but it does make a bit of a difference.

When you're ready to make your eccles cakes preheat the oven to 220c/425f/gas 7. Lightly grease a baking tray. Melt the butter and stir into the fruit mixture with the demerara sugar.

Roll out your pastry to about 3mm/1/8" thick and cut out 10cm/4" circles with a pastry cutter. Put 2 teaspoons of the fruit mix into the centre of each circle and brush some milk around the edge.

Now I tried various methods of folding these up, and I found it easiest to fold one side over and press the edges together as if you were making a turnover or Cornish pasty. Then take the ends and tuck them underneath, pressing the little cake down and into a round. It's a bit of a fiddle, but once you get the hang of it, it's ok. Make sure you pinch the folds of pastry together on the bottom well to stop too much sauce seeping out as they cook.

Brush with milk, then using a sharp knife, gently make three cuts in the top of each cake and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake on a baking tray for 10 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Don't worry if some of the sauce escapes, it always does and it gives the cakes a wonderful sticky caramelised bottom. Remove from the tray straight away and leave to cool on a cooling rack.

Word has it that they're pretty good with a chunk of stilton.

Style: Styling the seasons February

This month's styling the seasons is a bit different because lovely Laura Ashley have joined in and asked a bunch of regular styling the seasoners to style up some things from their Spring /summer 2015 range.

You'll be able to see what the other bloggers came up with over on the Laura Ashley Blog on the 10th and 11th of February. And if you vote for your favourite you could win £50 worth of Laura Ashley vouchers.

Now in our house we don't go in for Valentine's. But since we first became boyfriend and girlfriend in February fourteen years ago (fourteen years - really fourteen years - that's a loooooong time) I wanted to create a little table for two - in the hopes that we might actually get five minutes or maybe even twenty minutes of peace so we could sit down together and have a casual lunch. Fingers crossed.

Styling the seasons feb  Really Pretty Useful.jpg

I chose this lovely and fresh Pussy Willow Sea Spray wall paper which I used to make placemats by gluing it onto some ply wood and then varnishing it with lots of thin coats or a clear mat varnish. There's a great tutorial on this on Katy's blog - if you want to make your own - it's really simple.

I also chose this lovely brass effect lantern to add a little candle light to the table without going for a plain old votive.

I scavenged around at the local antiques shop and fell in love with these mother of pearl handled knives and some old silver forks which look lovely tied with some simple ribbon.

And of course seasonal flowers -  it wouldn't be a post from me if there weren't flowers. I used some pussy willow in the vase too to highlight the print on the mats.

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I love how simple and fresh this table is - now we just need to find the time for a quiet lunch.

Don't forget you can join in with styling the seasons by tagging your instagram posts with #stylingtheseasons and @aptapothecary and @lottsandlots .