Friday, 26 May 2017

Crafty with Concrete

I just caught myself doing something very silly indeed... and I fear that I do this silly thing more often than I would like... I'll explain...
I am working on making something to photograph for my next cushion designs and I wanted to show you how I built what I am going to build. The first step was to paint some concrete angels wings a dark bloody brown. This give s great 3D effect and depth to the gold paint which goes on next. So I paint them, all good, then comes the silliness... I walk around my house looking for a nice spot to photograph them in, just to show this first stage. I walk around for ages, with 2 massive heavy concrete wings looking for a 'pretty spot'.

What nonsense! What time wastage! I didn't paint them on the piano, they are not finished, it's just a work-in-progress picture but I couldn't handle the ugly boring truth and I thought maybe you couldn't either ;-)
But I have underestimated you haven't I? Because here is that actual reality of the situation...
I used acrylic paints and mixed dark brown, black, a little red and a little dark blue with quite a lot of water to get a fairly thin paint so it would get into all the nooks and crannies and actually my kids painted them...

Anyway...that is a very long winded way of telling you that I'll be sharing with you my developments over the next few weeks as I make this thing...

If you like the look of those wings and want to get your own then check out my friend on instagram @concretebynoni

Next stage is building a big heart... I like that sentence, it could be a metaphor... but in this case it is not, I am going to actually build a big heart from papier Maché'll see...
This weekend looks set to be a right crafty one!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Olive Oil, Orange & Rosemary Cake Recipe

I'm mad for cakes but I'm also mad about healthy eating, so any recipes that I can find for 'healthy' cakes, well, I'm all in! What do I mean healthy cakes? Well, if the butter and milk is substituted for olive oil, which gives a very moist and smooth consistency and where most or all of the white sugar is substituted for brown and the recipes doesn't use much. That's about the best we can hope for. I have tried making vegan raw cakes and whilst they are edible, I would not describe them as delicious.

So I saw this recipe in the International New York Times newspaper and the original version of this cake is by top British chef Yotam Ottolenghi but I've tweaked the recipe just a wee bit. And yes, there is an element to this cake that is a bit of a hassle but it is worth doing if you can be bothered...

For the Crystallized Rosemary:
12 small rosemary sprigs. That is the little tops of each sprig
1 egg white lightly whisked
2 teaspoons granulated or superfine sugar.

For the Cake:
2 cups/240 grams all purpose flour
3/4 cup /160 ml extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup / 120 grams brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (from 1 large orange)
2 tablespoons of finely chopped rosemary (be careful to only take the leaves, no twigs)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup / 130 grams sour cream 
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Icing:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
enough Icing sugar to mix into a smooth and pourable icing

1. Prepare the crystallised rosemary.
use tweezers or similar to pinch the very ends of the little sprigs of rosemary, one at a time. Dip them in the whisked egg white, brush off the excess egg and them dip them into the sugar, making sure they are coated evenly. Put them aside on a plate and allow the crystallising process about 6 hours before you use them.

2. Making the cake.
Heat oven to 170 Degrees C and line the bottom a baking tray with baking paper, around 25 x 20 cm. I usually let the paper go up the sides too. 
Put olive oil, brown sugar (make sure there are no lumps) orange zest and chopped rosemary leaves in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until combined then add the eggs and whisk for another minute until thick. Add the sour cream and mix on low speed for another minute.
Add sifted flour, baking powder and salt to the olive oil mixture and mix for about 1 to 2 minutes.
Scrape the lovely batter into the baking tray and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before you turn it out onto a board.

TIPS!! If you have a bread board with a groove all around the edge, this is a good idea to use incase you miscalculate the runniness of your icing. Then if it runs off the cake it will catch in the grooves and you can scoop it back up and put it on the cake again. As it dries it hardens so you only need do this for about 5 minutes

3. Making the icing.
Put the juices into a small bowl and begin to add the icing sugar. You will need a surprisingly large amount of the stuff. Just keep mixing until you have a smooth and fairly thick consistency. You want it to run a bit so that it will spread thinly and evenly over the whole cake and down the sides. This icing is intense so it is important that the end result is a very thin layer on the cake, otherwise it will overwhelm.
When the cake is cooled you can drizzle the icing over. Once the icing has hardened you can mark out the cut lines and add a crystallised sprig of rosemary to the centre of each square.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Castles, Customers & Cooking

I've had quite the dynamic week since my last Friday morning blog...

Straight afterwards I popped down to one of my stockists Present Erian. They were having a big party day with lots of offers, free samples, sponsors and stuff. I got to meet some of my customers which was really nice because I don't often get to meet them in person... due to being in my creative cave most of the time and also because I sell to shops and not directly to the public... I don't get to fraternise with the folk nearly enough.

Here is Anette, who owns the store, and yours truly...

And my well stocked Van Asch corner...

I also got to meet Kristoffer who is the friendly face and founder  behind K.Lundqvist, purveyors of gorgeous smelly things. I highly recommend his Black Cashmere scented candles, so luxurious!

Last weekend I discovered Wenngarn castle and I can't tell you how impressed I was with the place.

I didn't really know what to expect because I knew nothing about it other than you could eat cake there... This is enough information for me, so off the whole family went to have a day out, and we were not disappointed. Firstly, there are loads of places to eat, so whether you want proper food or just cakey nibbles, there are several options for both. We ate lunch at the tex mex restaurant, very rustic, super nice food, if a little over priced, then checked out the loppis (flea market). We did a lot of wandering around the grounds with the dog and only went into the actual castle as a bit of an after thought. Well, thank the Goddess we did! It was very warm in there, a welcome respite from the chill outside and the first thing I noticed was the small of cake so we checked out the cute little cafe in there, staffed by the most friendly and informative people then we went to check out the castle proper. What is immediately apparent and rather strange, in a good way, is that this is an 'open' castle. What that means is that you can pretty much go anywhere, do anything (within reason) and there is no-one there watching over you. Seriously, you can sit on the furniture, you could have  picnic up there if you wanted to.

The only rule is no eating or silly nonsense in the chapel... that seems more than reasonable...

It's not the over the top, opulent rococo, 'look but don't touch' vibe of most of the castles I been to, no this is another thing entirely. It's all about the vibe and the vibe is good! On the top floor there was a Yoko Ono wishing  tree which was just lovely, and really funny and also rather touching to read...


I asked the owner of the castle cafe if I could do a photoshoot upstairs and who I should ask about that, she said I could just rock up and do what ever I wanted so long as I was respectful and not annoying anyone... I'm paraphrasing obviously, who says 'rock up'? just me really... anyway, I was very surprised and I will indeed be rocking up there with an armload of cushions to take some photos in the near future..oh yes lovely castle, we will be back!

My last thing to mention is that I cooked the most delicious cake yesterday, a very odd recipe but totally delicious and I'm going to share it with you next Friday... until then... have a wonderful weekend you lovely peeps!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Mindfulness or Mindlessness?

I was having a fretful moment, well I say moment but I really mean day... my mind was like a bees nest or a tangled ball of nonsense. I was feeling anxious and a bit jittery as I was driving along to pick up my daughter from school and thought, I know! This is the perfect time to practice my mindfulness so I concentrated on the moment, felt the steering wheel under my hands, pulled my awareness out from the whirling maelstrom of my inner mind and bought my attention into the moment. I was really enjoying that moment too...until I realized that I had mindfully forgotten to pick up my daughter and driven all the way home! What an idiot! Not really mindful at all! 

So is mindfulness all it's cracked up to be? Well it has a time and a place. Sometimes it is nice to let the mind wander and really become the opposite of mindful. To become lost in a moment of nostalgia or in my case, to visit the inner mind space where I do my designing, or to day dream out the window. All that stuff is brilliant, it can be relaxing, or invigorating or creative. 

But what about planning things and organizing stuff. Deffinitely not  in the mindful zone of the ever present moment. No, there are times to avoid mindfulness, like when you have stuff to do...picking up the kids for example...(she says blushing)

Mindfulness is not a permanent state to strive for, its more like a tool you can use wisely. A perfect example of when I am mindful and it works for me is when I've picked the wrong checkout queue. Instead of getting lost in the angry thoughts of 'why didn't i pick that other queue?' or my general impatience and irritation getting the better of me, I can just think calmly, here I am, I'm warm, not dying or anything, it's pretty ok really... and that calms me right down.

Now is brilliant and we all need to get ourselves more present and awake in the moment, but having said that, it's totally ok to zone out and get lost in your thoughts, unless those thoughts are negative and making you worry or feel depressed. Then you got to pull yourself right into the moment and away from that scary land of ..'what if this horrible thing happens?'... or remembering a horrible thing that has already happened... that's just no use to anyone.

I found myself thinking, in graphic detail, what I would do if my car went off a bridge, into the water, with all the family in it...what exactly would I do? Well I know the answer because I've looked into what to do, because it is this deep irrational fear I have. I think about death a lot, especially since having children... But I suddenly realised that I'd been thinking about that and getting more agitated and running over the scenario again and again...that way lays madness! Pull it right back baby! 

So, my lovelies... have a wonderfully mindful weekend!