Monday, 9 December 2013

Making a list, and checking it twice...

Hello strangers. It's been a while. Not surprisingly, at this time of year, my days are packed to the brim with working hard in my dear little shop, shopping for gifts, baking and finishing off my last few craft projects for Christmas. I've finally started to get into a nice little routine and have caught my breath just in time to write my Christmas list and share it with you nice folks, before sending it up the chimney for the 'Big Man' himself...Father Christmas ofcourse!

Incase you missed it, this Saturday just gone (December 7th) was Small BusinessSaturday. A day supported by the credit card company American Express, no less, on which to support local small businesses rather than plowing our money into larger corporations. Hurrah!
And in honour of this rather worthy cause, I have compiled my Christmas list choc-full of the wares of lovely folk like me and you, in order to showcase their talents and discover a little something different to the usual toiletries gift set and socks more often than not bought by a clueless relative.

1. Earthenware sail boat jug from Hannah Berridge.// 2. Hazelnut & Vanilla Soy Candle from Oil & Wax.// 3. Personalised Dala Horse Earthenware Mug from Hannah Berridge.// 4. Polka Dot Tea Dress from Polkadots andPetticoats.// 5.Glitter Holly hair clip from Crown and Glory.// 6.Illustration of Brighton Pier by no-me.// 7. Jingle Bells Necklace from Punky Pins.// 8. Autumn Posy Necklace from Layla Amber.// 9.Fish & Chips Tea Towel from Gillian Kyle.// 10. Miniature Gingerbread House necklace from Petit Plat.// 11. Christmas Tree Scarf from Polkadots and Petticoats.  

So, what's on your Christmas List this year? Go on, be imaginative, be specific. You never know, you might discover something you love from someone who lives just down the road.

See you soon for some more festive cheer. That's right. I'm squeezing every last ounce of Christmassy-ness out of December and I mean business.

Take Care.
Hannah. x

Sunday, 24 November 2013

It's not all Homespun...

Recent comments on my Instagram and blog have compelled me to write this following piece. I've had people mention to me how lovely and 'country bumpkin' like my blog is. And how idyllic I make everything look, but I can't help but feel a slight sense of guilt when people say this to me.

My friend Lauren recently posted a little piece about me on her blog as part of an Introduction to her sponsors, and she quoted me saying “...I wanted to create a space for people to come to, that were looking for something down-to-earth and simple, which didn't make others feel inadequate.” And, I feel, this has hit the nail on the head.
For myself, a Homespun lifestyle is not about creating something ripped from the pages of a John Lewis catalogue, situated in your home that was featured on Escape to the Country and has been photographed for Homes & Antiques magazine. If that's your bag, then brilliant, but, I'm looking for something a bit more realistic here. 'Homespun' and striving for that lifestyle is about taking note of the little things, counting your blessings, and being content with what you have...all with a healthy dose of dreaming thrown in.

Yes, my life consists of dog walks in beautiful Autumnal settings, and Christmas crafting with a hot chocolate and an episode of Nigella, or baking cinnamon cookies on a rainy afternoon but, these are all situations that I create for myself in an attempt to un-wind, switch off and slow my brain down to a nice steady tick, rather than the Energizer bunny mentality that threatens to take over quite regularly.

I dream of a little house in the countryside somewhere, with ample chimney space for a wood burning stove, surrounded by leafy lanes to walk a dog down, and nearby parks for our as-yet unconceived children to play in. But, for me a Homespun life is about appreciating what I have, and realising just how darn lucky I am to be in a steady full-time job which allows me to make a home with my fiance, pay the bills, and save for our wedding.

Our flat may be rented, and not entirely ours to do with as we please but, when I kick off my shoes at the end of the day, and slump onto our slightly uncomfortable Ikea sofa, I am home. The chimney breast may have been blocked up and replaced with an unsightly plastic air-vent but, I have the remains of a chunky Welsh slate hearth on which I can rest candles and pine-cones, creating a seasonal display for my enjoyment only. Yes, we have gorgeous block wood flooring and high-ceilings throughout the majority of our space reminding us of it's Edwardian heritage but, the skirting boards are drafty and we've been going to bed every night since October with a hot-water bottle because the rooms are so tall and expensive to heat.

So, what I guess I'm trying to say is... Please don't envy me, because I'm really not worth envying. I'm just a 24 year old girl, trying to appreciate the finer things in life, and not get sucked up into a world full of the latest gadget, the latest beauty treatment, must-have fashions and parading my perfect life around on the internet.
I am me, and you are you...and I think that alone should be celebrated, and shouted from the rooftops.

It astounds me to think that this little space of the internet I created inspires people, and makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But, don't look at this site and think “Oh I wish my life was more like her's” because to me, it already is. You just need to slow down and take a look at what you've got right infront of you.

A few little tricks to help me on my way are...

-If you're fresh out of milk, DO NOT jump in the car and fight your way through the crowds at Tesco. Grab a couple of quid from the jar by the front door, and head down to the corner shop, say “Hello” to the local shop keep, and pay into the pocket of someone who lives a stones-throw from your door.

-At the end of a long day in work, try not to veg on the sofa watching trash all evening, still in your uniform. Get into your pj's, put the kettle on, and drag out a film you haven't seen in ages, or watch that documentary which you know people will think is a bit dorky but, you find it really interesting.

-Leave the gossip mags on the shelf in WHSmith and instead, save that couple of quid you would have spent on reading about Kim Kardashian's baby weight battle, and put it towards the latest Dan Brown or Sophie Kinsella novel, and accustom yourself with the writings of someone who didn't get their source material from the paparazzi.

- And finally, if it's a miserable day outside and you don't know what to do with yourself. Please don't trapse around a shopping centre or retail park, along with the rest of the country. Get the Pritt Stick out and do some crafting, or put on your wellies and take a walk in the rain until your nose is red, and your toes are numb. Then come home, put some warm clothes on, heat up some soup and thaw out. Trust me, it's bliss!

Monday, 18 November 2013

From Season to Season

It's been a lovely lazy few days round these parts. Myself and the Mr have enjoyed a few days off work together and thus, have been slowing down, gradually getting into hibernation mode. And it turned out to be exactly what we both needed.
A couple of cinema dates, lunch at my parents' house, and very many well deserved lie-ins were followed by a lovely day taking in the seasons in the chocolate box village of St Fagans which is but a short drive from our home. Within the village resides a lovely open air museum which holds a special place in my heart. This place evokes many a fond memory of Primary School trips spent with a freshly baked Bara Brith tucked in my rucksack to take home for my mum, or sneaking a couple of Cola pips from a paper bag as we explored a time line street of cottages and 40's prefabs, or squelching through pits of mud ready to wattle and daub a Celtic roundhouse. It really is a child's dream.

On this particular day, it was perfectly quiet. We strolled about the leave strewn lanes leading from farmhouse to mill, to working men's club, and then made our way down to the grounds of the wonderfully grandiose manor house which sits in amongst perfectly manicured gardens and greenhouses. Even the dog seemed to enjoy himself, barking at a particularly menacing looking boar in the field next to the farmhouse, and splashing his way through puddles from the day before.

Sometimes it's nice to get away from the traffic noise, and switch your phone onto silent, and just take in the fresh air and the elements around you. Despite the trees looking perfectly Autumnal and golden, I fear since that our visit that they may have lost most of their jewels in the wind and the rain. It well and truly feels like Winter is creeping in upon us, which makes me even more thankful for this lovely sunny but chilly day, spent crunching through leaves before they are spoiled by Jack Frost, and a cold, wet Welsh winter.

This hibernation spirit, has certainly come at a perfect time and I think from now on, my evenings will be spent crafting Christmas gifts and consuming far too many hot toddies and mugs of cocoa groaning under a pile of marshmallows. As much as I love Autumn, I'm ready to slow down into the coldest part of our seasonal year, and anticipate the arrival of Christmas, and then...Spring! But maybe not too soon, ok?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Crafting Christmas Gift Tags

One of the things I love most about Christmas is the creativity that surrounds it. It gives opportunity for even the most inartistic person to throw caution to the wind and dabble in a little creative crafts be it in the form, of sewing, gluing,painting or even cooking. There's nothing quite like sitting at the kitchen table on a rainy November afternoon when it's blowing a gale outside, and putting Pritt Stick to paper, all in the name of St Nick (not forgetting the baby Jesus of course). And that was precisely what I did.

Making gift tags has got to be one of my favourite, not to mention the easiest Christmas crafts to get involved in. All you need is a few magazines, or old Christmas cards...or in my case, old Christmas postage stamps, some card or ready made manilla luggage tags and a glue stick.

This particular idea came from many a Pinterest board, as well as a feature in the latest Country Living magazine supplement, and was so easy, even my 3 year old niece could get involved.

I'll admit the stamps were purchased from eBay in order to make sure they were all Christmas themed, and to save me rooting through the attic for my old stamp collection but, at a couple of quid for a job lot of about 60 festive stamps, I couldn't really complain.

It was so nice just sifting through the different motifs reminiscing with my mum about the ones I could remember from my childhood.
One of my fondest festive memories, is of waiting endlessly in the queue at the post office to buy a whole sheet of Christmas stamps to adorn our pile of cards and family newsletters to send out year after year.
Anyhoo, where were we...before I went off down Christmas memory lane. Ah tags!

I picked and chose the ones I liked best, in pretty little combinations and that, really, was it. To jazz them up a bit and make them look a little bit more authentic, I added a franking stamp which was bought from a bargain bin at Hobbycraft, and I changed up the plain white string on the tags for some read and white striped bakers twine. And I'm not all ashamed in saying, I'm really quite pleased with the result. I'm thinking of even rocking the Post Office look by wrapping some of my gifts in brown kraft paper and adding a few spare postage stamps to the outside. What do we think? Too much? Oh what the heck, it's Christmas! Let's go all out.

Happy Crafting guys. I'll be back soon with a few more ideas.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Christmas Planning: Baking

I will admit, whole heartedly, that I am one of those people that starts thinking about Christmas back in October. As soon as the Mr's birthday is out of the way come the end of September, my mind immediately starts to turn towards cosy nights in by the fire with a hearty bowl of stew in hand, berry and spice scented candles burning in the fire hearth, and piles of presents accumulating in the spare room just begging to be adorned with paper and ribbon.

This sort of stems from my love for the festive period, since I was a child but, more recently it has come from my choice of day job. More often than not, working in retail at Christmas means December has gone in the blink of an eye, and before you can say “Bah Humbug!” to one more rude Christmas shopper, Christmas Eve is upon us and you've still got a dozen presents to buy.
But not this time. No Siree!

I've got this Christmas Organisation lark down to a tee. So let me share a few tips with you, my lovely readers. And what better place to start, than in the kitchen...

The beady eyed amongst you may notice that once 'Back to School' time is out of the way, supermarkets already begin to filter festive items onto their shelves. Now is the time to strike! Adding little bits and pieces to your shopping trolley which can be stored away for the winter months will not only help make a dent on that seasonal shopping bill, but also help you out amidst a crisis when it turns out you completely forgot about that bake sale you volunteered for back in July, and now you're too caught up gluing tinsel onto cardboard angel wings for the nativity play next week.
My store cupboard items of choice so far have been:
    Cocoa – to jazz up a whole load of different recipes.
    Good vanilla extract – To add to cream, cupcake mix, even porridge. Again strictly for jazzing up purposes.
    Mini Marshmallows – for above Bake Sale crisis, when Rocky Road saves the day. (And for having on top of hot chocolate on particularly cold nights).
    Pumpkin Puree – Great for a quick dessert, sweetened and added to a ready made sweet pastry case, or adding with onions and spices to make pasties, or loosen with veggies and chicken stock for a lovely soup.
    Chocolate coated marzipan – For when you need a sugar fix but, daren't break into the Quality streets. Also goes lovely cut into slices and served alongside coffee, after dinner.
    Mulled wine sachets – simply add sugar, and wine, heat and enjoy! Aaaah, bliss!
    Cupcake cases and treat bags – for those teacher/neighbour present emergencies. Put SOS Rocky Road into said cellophane bag, tie with ribbon, and hey presto, instant pressie! And you barely broke out in a sweat.

And finally my all time favourite tip for this time of year is cookie dough! No, not to eat raw from the tub when you've had a rubbish day, and feel like all of your festive dresses make you look like the pudding on the table. It's to put in the freezer!

Trust me, this is a good one. When you're feeling in the baking spirit, or you have eggs in the fridge for once and want to use them up before the Mr makes himself another fry-up and stinks the kitchen out, whip up a batch of cookie, or even biscuit dough, wrap it up well in cling film to protect from freezer burn and whack it in the freezer.
So by the time December comes around you roll in the door, in the cold and dark and can't face one more shop bought mince pie, you can find comfort in the fact that your forward thinking paid off. Hurrah! You have biscuit dough in the fridge which was thawing from last night, and yes you can have Cranberry and White Chocolate cookies after all. Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to all men!

This also works particularly well with freshly baked, un-iced cupcakes and sponges but remember to wrap these in tin-foil too, to protect from freezer.

So go on folks! Before you start hibernating and hiding behind your sherry and Buzzcocks Christmas special, pop a few extra bits in your trolley and bash out an extra batch of cookie dough for the freezer. Trust me, you'll be thankful come December 25th!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wedding Diary: Save the Date!

I wasn't too sure whether or not I should start posting things about my wedding. A couple of close friends who've got married recently, kept all the details of their big day so close to their chest. Yet since we first got engaged, and I got the scrap-booking bug, I have been babbling on about themes, and decoration, and details like you wouldn't believe.

I started off writing this post, getting all ranty about the wedding industry, and moaning about friends at war with each other who've booked the same venue within weeks of each other, and now feel the need to compete with every little detail. But, I think that should be saved for another post. Maybe when I'm 2 weeks away from the 'big day' and the poop has hit the fan. Sounds like a good idea.

So instead, here's a little documentation of the lovely evening myself and the Mr spent, assembling our 'Save the Date' cards and watching Breaking Bad (Don't spoil it, we're only on Season 2).
If there's one thing that's stuck in my head from all the wedding blogs I've been reading, it that's you shouldn't sweat the small stuff, and just enjoy it. So that's exactly what we intend to do. Spend chilled out evenings together, doing little jobs in preparation and savouring every last second of it.

We wanted to keep our Save the Date's simple, and to the point. Something that would hint at the theme of our wedding but, without giving too much away. (This was also in-case I changed my mind about our overall theme. I had a habit of doing that early on in our engagement. Oops.)

The photo on our postcards was taken by my sister, as he was actually proposing (and putting the ring on my finger!). We have photo's documenting the whole proposal but, I felt that this one was just right, without sharing the very intimate moment of him actually down on one knee.
I played around with editing it in Photoshop, and then uploaded the image to Vistaprint to add the text.
Tip Off: The font we used, is called Coquette, and it is the same font used in The Little Paris Kitchen cookbook. (Rachel Khoo nerd!)

We had the stamp custom made from a designer on Etsy, who carved the rubber stamp on it's own. To save money, I bought a stamp block and double sided sticky pads on eBay and assembled the stamp myself. We ended up saving about half the price of a fully custom made rubber stamp.

The envelopes, were also purchased on eBay, as was the inkpad. The washi tape was purchased from Paperchase, although I later realised I could have got completely identical tape at half the price, also from eBay.

We started off by stamping all the envelopes, and leaving them to dry before taking it in turns to stick washi tape on the envelopes, then stuff and seal them. (We did half each because the Mr was complaining his mouth was getting dry from licking all those envelopes.)
And then I wrote all the names and addresses on them, because apparently my handwriting is neater than his.
Hey Presto!

I know the assembling of the invitations will probably be a lot more difficult than this, and more time consuming to say the least. But, it was certainly a nice little task to wean us into the whole DIYing aspect of our wedding preparations, and I'd urge any bride-to-be to try it out, even if it's just an evening of just her, and the Mr and some serious gluing action.  

Monday, 21 October 2013

An Autumn Walk

There's something about taking a brisk walk on a windy Autumn day, that definitely blows the cobwebs away.
Despite living in the city. I am lucky to be surrounded by some of the prettiest parks, Cardiff has to offer. My favourite, and closest being Thompsons Park. Something about this place just screams nostalgia to me. Wrought iron gates, and red brick columns frame the entrance way to flower beds (albeit looking quite sad at this time of year), and a duck pond scattered with shiny feathered Mallards, and a small brick kiosk which sells ice-creams in the summer.
Various paths lead off in a warren of trails which climb up into a huge field, outlined with Pine and Oak trees. This place is my haven.

On this particular day, I was in search of pine cones and conkers. Cones to decorate my chunky slate hearth, and conkers to apparently keep the spiders away. A downside to living in such an old draughty building.  

Although the conker hunt, wasn't so successful, I did come away with a bag full of pine cones. Not only as a result of the aid of an elderly lady with a boisterous border collie (who you can just make out coming bounding towards me in the photo above). She told me all the best spots in the park for pine cones, where people don't exercise their dogs, thankfully. And even gave me a little tip off for another nearby park which is abundant with Horse Chestnuts at this time of year.
Needless to say, if the rain holds off tomorrow, I shall be venturing there in my boots and duffle coat ready for an Autumn forage.

 Who cares if I look a bit crazy, with my carrier bag sticking out of my pocket. I may get funny looks from the locals, thinking “Why is that little girl (FYI, I'm nearly 25!) trudging about staring at the floor?” An hour or so of fresh air, surrounded by green, soothes my soul more than any soppy movie or bar of chocolate ever could. Ok, maybe not the chocolate but, you know what I'm getting at.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Reading Corner...

Throughout the whole of my life, wherever I have lived, I have always managed to find a quiet and secluded spot, solely made for the purpose of reading. In my bedroom as a child it was a corner of the floor, with a beanbag and a small white bookcase which housed all my favourites. Brambly Hedge, several Roald Dahl's and Charlotte's Web to mention but a few. In Uni, it was the bottom corner of my single bed in my halls of residence. The bed was boxed into the corner of the room by a large desk, and so I would stuff all my cushions and pillows into that little nook, prop myself up and get lost in the writings of post-modern theorists, fashion industry veterans and their musings on sub-cultures, and the odd retrospective of Vionnet or Chanel and the like.

Nowadays you can find me in the corner of my living room. Feet curled up underneath me in my bent-wood hand-me-down Ikea armchair pouring over the writings of Sophie Dahl, or taking Dianne Jacob's word as gospel while I plot my world domination, one recipe book at a time.

I think everyone should have at least one quiet spot to which they can escape, and lose themselves amongst the pages of some epic fantasy novel, or fall in love with a dashing Wall Street tycoon, or live their lifelong dreams through a fictitious heroine who dumped her boyfriend, took on her company executives, and won the lawsuit all while wearing designer shoes.

If you haven't got one yet. I whole heartedly encourage you to find yourself a reading nook and make it the comfiest place in your house, so it beckons you everyday for at least an hour to kick off your shoes, curl up, and switch your brain off as you mindlessly flick through page after page.

So here's some food for thought. A few of my favourite inspirational images I pinched from Pinterest to get your brain whirring.
If you like, head over to my Pinterest page, and take a look at the whole board I created.  

Friday, 20 September 2013

Autumn Anticipation...

Aaaah Autumn. How I have missed thee!

Waking up to cold shoulders and toes outside the duvet. Dew kissed cobwebs which suddenly seem to appear in every corner of the garden. Torrents of rain, followed closely by a blazingly warm sun, tricking you into shedding your coats and scarves before catching you unawares with another icy cold shower.

Why is it that when people try to think of their favourite season, they instantly feel the need to choose between Summer and Winter? For me, Autumn has got to be one of the most beautiful seasons of the year. Closely followed by Spring ofcourse. It's those changeable months when you feel the earth let out a sigh of relief from an exhaustingly hot summer, and everything starts to slow down a little as mother nature begins to put herself to bed, and settle down into a cold cold winter.

I've also been letting out a similar sigh of relief lately. And I'm sure you've probably noticed that things have been particularly quiet around these parts as well as on my instagram. Y'know sometimes, things just get a bit too hectic and it forces you to slow down, take stock and appreciate the quiet time you may have inbetween the hum-drum day-to-day neccessities. After all, this is what I created this blog for, to help me appreciate the simpler things in life, and to learn to slow down and truly understand what a 'homespun' lifestyle is.
So, I bet you're wondering what I've been up to lately. Well, let me update you, shall I?
Here goes...

Mid-week days off have been spent jumping on the bus up to my parents' house. They live in a lovely little quiet village tucked just behind the crest of hill, away from all the nearby town noise, and let me tell's lovely. I pottered around the village. I went to visit the girls in the little hair salon (most of which I've known since I was knee-high to a grasshopper). And I wandered through the church yard inspecting the latest crop of blackberries, to assess their crumble capabilities. And they certainly didn't disappoint.

I came home that day, laiden down with blackberries. So much so, I had to freeze them in two batches. Lucky for me, the Mr isn't too fond of blackberries either, so I have been enjoying them on my porridge and in cakes for many days now.

Alas, the rain has struck with avengence. So out came the winter boots, to keep my feet dry on the way to work, along with my rain coat and cloche hat. I'm the kind of person that gets frustrated with toting an umbrella round all the time. I would much rather tuck my hair up into a hat and cower against the wind, than wrestle with spokes in my eyes any day.
I'm not sure if it's because I've been living in Wales so long that makes me used to the rain but, I don't seem to mind it so much any more. There's something quite comforting about putting the kettle on as soon as I get into the office, and watching it lash against my little shop window. Or even walking home, knowing there's a hot chocolate and my pyjamas waiting for me at the end.

The change in season also means a change in fashion. This means, 'good post days' are a-plenty at the moment. I love picking out knitwear, and little dresses to pair with wooly tights and boots. Being a February baby, I am definitely suited to the colder months. Not to mention catalogues filled with spongeware goodies courtesy of Ms Bridgewater. My Christmas list is going to be a good read this year.

And finally, I've begun testing out recipes for Christmas hampers. I think the ladies at the library think I must be crazy, checking out Christmas cookery books mid-September. But, when you work in retail during the festive period, everything needs to be planned out with military precision if you don't want to be left panicked and frazzled on Christmas Eve just as you're closing up shop, along with everyone else on your street.

And ofcourse, some baking for myself was needed as well. This particularly tasty batch of flapjacks was rustled up in ones PJ's (obviously) while still a little soggy from walking home in the rain. They were then hastily washed down with a bucket of tea, whilst watching an episode or two of Barefoot Contessa (my other guilty pleasure), and it was absolute bliss!

I hope you're all enjoying the changing Autumn months, and not fed up of the wind and rain just yet.
A couple more exciting things coming my way soon...

The winter duvet goes on the bed this weekend.
Myself and the Mr have booked a week off together, which begins on Monday.
And the heating goes on the week after.

Yay! Simple things, folks...simple things.  


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

White Chocolate and Raspberry Cake. Enough said!

Sometimes, Only Cake Will Do...

So it may appear on this ere blog, that I've been taking a longer than expected hiatus but, if you follow me on instagram you may have seen that things have been pretty hectic lately. In true Back to Work stylee, within 2 days of returning, it felt like I'd never been away and the pace certainly hasn't slowed down since.

So to save my sanity and my sugar cravings, I recently rustled up this delectable White Chocolate and Raspberry Cake one evening after work to take to my mum's the following day for a family gathering. And let me tell you, it went down a storm. This recipe comes courtesy of the lovely John Whaite, winner of Great British Bake Off 2013. Trust me, you HAVE to try this. Just as he describes, baking this cake is the ultimate stress buster. Melting the butter and white chocolate together completely fills the house with the most amazingly vanillery-buttery smell that will literally having you salivating as you wait for it in the oven. It's so easy to make, I managed to bust this out (minus the ganache) after returning home from work on a Saturday, gone 8pm and frazzled to the core.

Now, I'm not sure what the ettiquette is with posting other people's recipes online etc so, I'll simply link you to John's Facebook which is the exact same page I followed this recipe from.

Here's a couple of little tips though...
  • The ganache definitely takes a while to thicken. After a couple of hours, it was still at a thick runny stage. So once it had cooled completely, I covered the bowl with some cling film and popped it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I simply whipped up the ganache with a wooden spoon to loosen it a little before spreading it into the centre of the cake as directed. Voila!
  • Instead of using fresh raspberries, I managed to get away with using thawed frozen ones. (Perfect, if you fancy making this in the depth of winter without importing raspberries from Morocco.) They do start to ooze out a little juice though so I found adding a handful of flour from the measured amount and gently folding them in, ensured they were mixed into the batter evenly, without turning the whole cake pink.

So, what are you waiting for?! Go grab your pinny, whack the oven on, and be prepared to wow your nearest and dearest. This is one Show Stopper that will not have you bursting into tears with 5 minutes left on the clock! Yippee!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Unplugged and Truly Homespun

Source (This illustration also lives permanently as my desktop background)

Today marks the first day of a well earned week off work. The first chunk of time (apart from standard days off) that I've had since February.

So, to appreciate it to the fullest and truly understand the meaning of a simple homespun lifestyle, I am going offline for the duration. No emails, no blogging, no instagram, no facebook.
I hope to fill my week with lots of cooking and crafting, diving feet first into a good book, and simply slobbing about doing not much else.
I've been particularly inspired by this video discovered on YouTube recently, and urge you to try it too.
Go on, buy yourself an alarm clock and flick your mobile off at night, or leave it to charge in another room. Put a film on, and truly watch the film. No checking Facebook in the ad-breaks. Turn the telly off, and read a book, in silence.

I'll be back in a few days, hopefully fully rested and full of inspiration.

Au Revoir.
Hannah. x

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Myself and Rachel Khoo.

Anyone who knows me well, will know I am a bit of a Francophile. Ok...maybe that's a little bit of an understatement. I love France, and all things French. Even down to the complex personalities of Parisians, and the quirky ways of the locals of the small Vendeen villages I visited as a child.

So, it won't come as a surprise to many, that I have a little bit of a girl crush on the lovely Ms Rachel Khoo. (Which definitely wasn't helped by a recent Twitter interaction). Now, allow me a minute or two to wax lyrical about why I think she is so fab, and to express my excitement about the release of her new book, this coming Autumn.

For myself, and probably many others, I think the initial fascination stemmed from the picture perfect postcard shots she creates of Paris, tottering down cobbled streets in a pair of Swedish Hasbeens and a vintage dress, with a basket slung on her arm with a baguette and a bunch of sun flowers poking out the top.
Next, it's that tiny little kitchen, in all of is crooked and precariously balanced glory. Not to mention the fact that she can create some of the most sumptuous French recipes on a two-burner camping stove and the tiniest oven I've ever seen in my life. This reminds me of fonder memories from my Uni days, when cooking became a way of unwinding in the evenings. A moment of hankering respite from final year deadlines.
I was restricted to two small cupboards in my student kitchen, one of which housed varying sizes of crockery (only ever one of each piece), as well as several sized roasting pans, frying pans and baking tins all so precariously stashed within that lower shelf of the cupboard, that with one false move the whole lot could come tumbling out. And that was just the preparation equipment.
In the cupboard which housed my ingredients, you would find bottles of garlic and truffle oil, mismatched jars of dried herbs and the odd tin of Cassoulet for emergency hearty dinners when heating up the contents of a can was the only culinary venture I could stretch to. I was never one for buying things in bulk, so often you would find the dregs of a bag of pasta, or a handful of roasted almonds waiting patiently for the day when they would finally have a purpose in one of my dishes.

Image Source - Taken by the mighty David Loftus.

And so, this is where another fondness for Ms Khoo comes from. Like she, I also studied Fashion at University. It was a long and stressful 3 years, and by the time I graduated I was so sick of looking at pattern pieces and burning the ends of my fingers on industrial irons, that it was a good 6 months after I returned home that I even un-packed my sewing machine. I guess she learned to stick it out a little longer than I did, having worked in the industry for several years before moving to Paris. But, I like to think that her enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu and moving to Paris, was a way of sticking two fingers up at the Fashion Industry and saying “Sod it! I'm gonna do something that makes me happy!”

I also did this, albeit in a slightly more meagre way, deciding to move back to Wales and set up home with my, then boyfriend (now fiance) and began a job in retail (this being seen as the ultimate short straw amongst fashion industry types).

I like to think I'm not quite there yet though. My dream is to have written my own cookery book by the time I'm 30. (Just over 5 years to go). And like Ms Khoo, I hope to start with a first book BANG!, and continue the winning streak, going on to capture the heart of others with my recipes. Her unique take on classic French recipes has taught me to be more daring in my ingredient choices, and given me the courage to perfect those essential skills worthy of the patisserie masters. (Chouquette, anyone?!)

Like many others, I'm sure, I am highly anticipating the release of her new book 'My Little French Kitchen'. I can't wait to see how she's branched out, exploring the various regions of France and bringing them to my own kitchen table. I'm particularly looking forward to impressing my family and friends, with recipes that will make them think I've been slaving in the kitchen all afternoon, when it actually took less than an hour to rustle up.

Thanks Rachel. You truly are a life saver!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Home Comforts: Fresh Bed Linen

One of my favourite home comforts comes from the simplest of actions which is, changing the bed linen. When life gets a little bit too hectic and you feel like all you do is work, eat and sleep, something as simple as putting a fresh duvet cover and pillow cases on your bed can solve a multitude of ill and exhausted feelings. I often like to do it, to help mark the weekend. A clean duvet cover is often celebrated in our house by a lengthy lie-in and possibly even a quick flick through Country Living or whatever book is currently stashed in my bedside cabinet. I once dared change the bedding mid-week, and was swiftly met with an icy response from the Mr stating how cruel it was the change the sheets on a Wednesday, when he had to get up early for work the next morning.

It's the smell of the clean sheets that gets me every time. That fatal combination of fabric softener, fresh air, and maybe a little bit of Lavender linen water. (That is, if I can be bothered to iron them. Most of the time, I'm simply too excited to just get them on the bed.) It just wreaks of comfort, in one long deep breath.
And everyone's got their favourite duvet cover of course. I don't think anyone would expect any less of me, if I said mine was a Cath Kidston one. Especially with my mix-and-match pillow cases.

For me, a bed needs to be a sanctuary, a place to dream while your both awake and asleep. When I was younger, my cast-iron day bed was surrounded by a white mosquito net hung from the ceiling, which would be drawn round the entire bed every night, to protect me from nightmares. Apparently I used to think it was magic too.

Nowadays, I rest in a hand-me-down bed frame which came with the rental property, as I dream of brass foot-railings a la Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and pretend the noise of freight trains nearby is that of the North York Moors Steam Railway. As I rest my head on mis-matched pillows, I drift off to land where I own a chocolaterie and patisserie combined, and when I awake I am not in Cardiff but in the rolling hills of Liguria, ready to face the day with a heaving a bowl of pasta waiting for me at the end of it. Aaaah... Bliss!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Confessions of a Bookworm

I have a confession to make... albeit a strange one but, a confession nonetheless.

I have never read a chick lit novel before. Not one. Never. Nope!

Now don't get me wrong, I like to think of myself as quite bookish. So much so that the bookshelf in our living room is now groaning under the strain, and myself and the Mr are having to seek other storage solutions for our ever growing stack of reads which seem to spill around the house.
But yes, I have never read a 'chick lit' novel. Not even a saucy Danielle Steel on a girls holiday, or a Christmassy Trisha Ashley when the nights start drawing in.
My daily reads, comfort reads, and foodie reads.

I was the kind of child brought up on Roald Dahl, EB White, JK Rowling and Louisa May Alcott. Classics, if you ask me!
And then, as I grew older, I branched out into Jacqueline Wilson and Jane Austen.
I guess you could say, my reading options were safe bets. I tend to go for the kind of stuff that I know I will like, such as, the book of a favourite film. Which is how I discovered Joanne Harris and Kathryn Stockett. Or the memoirs of a favourite chef a la Nigel Slater's Toast, and Eating for England. Or close likenesses to things I have already read i.e. PD James writing in the style of Jane Austen in “Death comes to Pemberley” or Peter Mayle, and his descriptions of life in Provence transport me to a world of boules, and pastis just like Joanne Harris can do.

I guess I'm also a bit tight with my money too. I don't like forking out money for a book I'm not so sure on. If someone (usually my mum) hands me a book and says, “You HAVE to read this! You'll love it” I usually look at them through sceptical eyes, and think “Pfft! How do you know?”

My little stack for the summer.

However, on a recent browse around the local charity shops I came across two titles which had been sticking in my mind, ever since I saw them popping up various Instagram feeds over the past few months. The first being “Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe” by Jenny Colgan, and the second “Brown Owls Guide to Life” by Kate Harrison. And at £1.50 each, how could I refuse. As a result I've decided to start my summer reading list. Somewhat a little late but, atleast I'm making the effort, hey? To go with the first two novels, I will also be attempting the romantic gettaway that is “The Villa” by Rosanna Ley and also, another foodie novel thrown in for good measure called “Summer School” by Domenica de Rosa.

Cake and books? What more do you want?!  

And so, to kick off my summer of reading and discovering chick-lit, I think I shall start with “Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe”. This could be fatal. Even from reading the blurb, I don't think it will do anything to help dampen my dream of, one day, owning my own bakery.
I'll see you on the other side folks.

Now, if anyone has got any other recommendations for nice fluffy chick-lit for novices then please, send them my way.