Thursday, September 29, 2011

Just because...

You know how sometimes you do something, say something, create something that you makes you feel incredibly pleased with yourself and, hopefully without coming across as too big headed (it's just not British...), you want to share it with everyone and their dog?

Well, the other day I posted a picture on Twitter. I was going to save it for Silent Sunday but I loved it so much and was so proud of it I just wanted to share! Lots of you loved it and I thank you for your comments :)

The subject is Rudbeckia - so I'm told. Mum gave me a small plant in with some others she'd grown. I'm sure she probably told me at the time what it was but it was obviously classified as 'it's not really life or death is it?' and dropped into the bottom drawer of the last filing cabinet that is my memory bank.

All I know is that it has got much bigger than I expected and the dark red flowers are just stunning!

So here is the picture again, along with a couple of others.

Just because...


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bountiful Garden

I believe I have blogged before about how much I love Spring. Did I mention I am also a bit of an Autumn fan? I would say that it's because, after a long, hot summer the blessed relief of cooler days is so welcome but we all know that that's a load of rubbish - in fact since we hit 'official' autumn time about a week ago the weather has improved to the point that my garden has been tricked into thinking its spring again and put on an almost triffid-like growth spurt!

Actually it's because all the hard work put into the garden through the spring and summer finally pays off with (if we are lucky) an abundance of goodies to see us through the damp, cold dreary winter bit...

This year we have been pretty lucky - the slugs and snails left most of my plants alone (apart from the low growing strawberries. Next year ALL my hanging baskets will be full of strawberries...) The raspberry canes I picked up for 99p from Woolies closing down sale a couple of years back have really flourished! I have a big bag full of them in the freezer to add to smoothies and puddings through the winter.

And as for the magic beans I planted way back in May with the Little Man...

Well they just grew...

...and grew.... magic beans do!

Now I just need some
runner bean recipes....

We were a bit late with the courgette plant this year. This is not a bad thing as last year I confess I got a little bit sick of eating the darn things. They get grated for salads, added to Mediterranean Roast veggie dishes and I made another batch of these GORGEOUS muffins (yes, muffins, with courgettes. Go on, try them!)

And it's not just our teeny patch that has provided this year.

My parents had the benefit of a new (secondhand) green house and produced an abundance of tomatoes and some cucumber too (have you ever had homegrown cucumber? They ACTUALLY taste of cucumber and not water...)

They also have a pear tree. Last year it produced a grand total of one lowly pear. To be honest we thought it was past it and that was as good as it would get but this year it was absolutely heaving!

Look at them!!! I love pears - just ripe as they are; chopped up in yoghurt; lightly poached with melted dark chocolate dribbled over them....mmmm... ahem... where were we?

The in-laws have apples, plums, damsons, hazels and blackberries galore which we are always welcome - actively encouraged - to help ourselves to. Well it would be rude not to...

Yup - Little Man loves blackberries! That night we had Blackberry and Apple crumble and with what was left I had my first ever attempt at making jam!

I did make one surprising discovery - maybe its just because they have had some of the jungle trimmed back or maybe I just had my eyes closed before when exploring this part of their garden but hanging out above the blackberry tangle, growing over the shell of an old shed is a grape vine. Absolutely smothered in big bunches of ripening grapes!!
I cannot believe I have never spotted these before...

Now I have a garage full of wine making equipment I inherited from my dad (ie; he was going to throw it away coz it was cluttering up his garage and I jumped up and down so now it is cluttering up mine...)

I wonder...

Monday, September 26, 2011


The other day I made jam. For the very first time.

For some reason it's something I have avoided in the past, partly because of the bewildering array of 'special' utensils listed in my recipe books - jam thermometer, jam funnel, special pans, waxed circles, preserving jars etc etc. Perusing the Lakeland website (my kitchen utensil supplier of choice ) confirmed my suspicions that these things cost money. More than I can afford to shell out for what, at best would be a once or twice yearly activity. I really might just as well go out to the supermarket and just buy a jar or two of jam (good stuff, obviously. The ones with 'extra' on the label somewhere...) So I avoided making jam.

This year, however, I thought 'Sod it! Surely I don't really need all that stuff? I mean how difficult can it be? Really?'

And you know what? It really isn't as mystical as hardcore jammers would have us believe.

There are loads of recipes on the internet but basically you need the same weight of sugar and fruit.
I had 600gms of blackberries and apples (peeled and chopped up small) from my mother-in-law's garden, so used 600gms of sugar. I added a large dash (more of a slosh really...) of lemon juice coz it seemed to be mentioned in at least three of the recipes I looked at. And a slosh of water. I have no idea how much... (sorry thats not very helpful I know, but that's the kind of cook I am )

Bring to the boil gently on the lowest heat you can - this can take quite a while so put some music on and make sure kiddiewinks are occupied. You do have to keep an eye on it and stir it so it doesnt burn/stick! In the meantime put a saucer in the freezer (one of those 'mystical' jam things - will become clear in a bit!) and place your washed jam jars upside down in a warm oven for half an hour to sterilize them (140C/275F/Gas1) If you are making this sort of quantity you will only need one or two - recycle old jam jars rather than buying special 'preserving jars'.

Once the fruit and sugar mix has come to the boil keep it there, stirring pretty much constantly for a good 10 mins or so. To test whether 'setting point' has been reached drop a small amount of the HOT jam on the ice cold saucer you have just fished out of the freezer. If its ready it should set fairly quickly as it cools. If not keep it boiling and try again in 10 mins. When ready, remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15mins then ladle into sterilsed jars.

Et Voila!

I know it's chunky but that's the way (uh huh uh huh) I like it (uh huh uh huh)

No complicated ingredients or utensils need! (Sorry Lakeland, but rest assured I will spend my money on other lovely things...)

This is quite a small amount of jam and should keep fine in the fridge - I have no idea how long it will last - but if your house is anything like mine it will be eaten up long before it has chance to go off!

Day of the Diesels giveaway - Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered the Thomas the Tank Engne 'Day of the Diesels' giveaway. It was lovely to read about all your favourite engines!
So the lucky winner is...

Helen & Callum Faulkner

Congratulations Callum - here's another to add to your collection. I hope you enjoy it as much as my Little Man did :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Riot Raffle update

You may remember I posted a couple of weeks back about the great idea that is Riot Raffle.

Events have gathered pace and so far over £1000 has been raised for the Retail Trust to help those affected by the August riots. More than 100 artists, crafters, designers, independent businesses and even cupcake makers have donated prizes to this worthy cause.

If you haven't already, you can by your raffle tickets here - you can donate as much as you can afford and you get one entry for every £1 you donate (so a £5 donation gives you five chances to win a prize)

For a reminder of some of the great prizes on offer visit the Riot Raffle website.

Tickets are available until midnight Friday 30th September. Please show your support.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thomas the Tank Engine - Day of the Diesels Review & Giveaway

As you may remember the Little Man is a bit of a Thomas the Tank Engine nut so the opportunity to review a copy of the brand new movie 'Day of the Diesels' before it is released to the general public was one not to be missed!

 Percy is feeling a little left out as Thomas spends more time with two new engines Belle and Flynn the Fire Engine. When the devious Diesel suggests to Percy that he knows someone who would love to be his friend Percy makes the decision to puff to the diesel works and meet this new friend for himself...

Silent Sunday 18/9/11

Silent Sunday

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who won a little luxury?

First of all let me thank everyone who entered the giveaway to win this gorgeous ring from LouLou's Luxuries and to all of you who tweeted, retweeted and shared on facebook many thanks. I hope you all popped along and had a peek at Kerry's lovely jewellery - don't forget many of her items are very limited (ones or twos) so if there is anything you love grab it while you can!

And now, the important bit.....

The winner of the Lou Lou's Luxuries giveaway is....

Erica Hughes

Congratulations honey - I have tweeted you!

To everyone else commiserations - but all is not lost. Kerry has very kindly set up a special offer code for my blog readers so the rest of you can treat yourself to a little luxury of your choice. Simply use the code BLOGF15 for a 15% discount off your order. Offer code is valid til the end of the month so why not use it for a little early Christmas pressie shopping?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Do you know your onions?

Out here in darkest Gloucestershire we are rather partial to a street party. All the market towns and most of the villages of the Forest of Dean have some kind of carnival/festival/celebration during the year. Just up the road in Brockworth there's Cheese Rolling at Cooper's Hill - a manic event that involves hundreds of idiots people tumbling down a VERY steep hill after an 8lb wheel of Double Gloucester cheese (if you've never seen the carnage spectacle for yourself take a look here )

In Newent we have the rather more sedate Onion Fayre - a festival of food and drink with some good music and funfair frolics thrown in for good measure. We opened the second branch of BikerDean in Newent on Onion Fayre day two years ago so the day holds a particular kind of excitement for us. It may not be the best day for taking money off people but, with approx 15,000 visitors walking past the door it IS a good day for reaching potential new customers and making new contacts.

The shop was busy with browsers most of the day...

...and the Little Man's training in customer service continues ;-)

But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy so me and the Little Man went of for a wander around town.
There was plenty to entertain, both traditional...

And the not so traditional...

There were a lot of fair ground rides and the Little Man is getting bigger and no longer satisfied with a quick go on a merry-go-round. Oh no! He spotted a huge inflatable slide that he simply had to have a go on. I tried to steer him to the slightly less daunting bouncy play castle with smaller slidey bit (yes, that IS the technical term) but he was having none of it so - as there were no height or age restrictions - I agreed to let him have a go...

OMG he looks so small up there...and yes it really was as high as it looks, but judging by the look of pure joy on his face he loved it!!

Keeping with the high up theme the next ride he insisted on trying was the Ferris Wheel. 

Having never been on a big wheel I was quite excited to have a go too and as the OH 'doesn't do heights' I knew this was one experience he wouldn't mind missing out on!

The view was pretty good up there too! There's another shot of the street from the very top here.
The Little Man took it all n his stride, although he did go a bit quiet when the car we were in rocked at the top of the wheel in the wind while we waited for the passengers to get on down below...

But Onion Fayre is mostly about food!

And Onions. Obviously.

We had a lovely day, Little Man made some new friends and the rain even managed to hold off until the end of the day. Even then it left us with something to smile about!

Now then, anybody got a good onion soup recipe?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

#SilentSunday 11/09/11

Silent Sunday

Olive the Ostrich

A new show with a difference premiered on Nick Jr this week.

Olive is a lovable little ostrich who lives with her mum and dad in the outback.. Whenever Olive buries her head in the sand she goes on a fantastical adventure. Who knows where she will pop up this time! On the moon? On a theatre stage? In a science lab? Wherever she ends up, she just loves to help!

The episodes are short and sweet (perfect for a three year old attention span!) and each one sees Olive use her friendly enthusiasm to solve problems and help out in her own, unique way.
The series is narrated by Rolf Harris and the theme tune has his distinctive 'wobble board' sound. I don't know about you but I love Rolf (I met him once and sat on his knee - but that's another story...) and grew up looking forward to Rolf's cartoon time on Bank Holiday weekends! I am so pleased that now my Little Man can enjoy his warm voice and enthusiastic story telling too! 

Olive the Ostrich was created in partnership with The Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts, through a series of workshops, hosted by selected schools across the country, aiming to inspire creativity and develop story telling skills and give pupils an insight into the animation and film making process. The result is a wonderful, quirky set of five minute episodes that burst with life and colour with backgrounds, props and characters drawn by the children themselves. It makes Olive just a little bit different and we love it :)

Olive the Ostrich is shown at 8.15am and 6.30pm weekdays on Nick Jr
Watch a clip or get creative with Olive on the NickJr website

We were not paid for this review. NickJr sent us a DVD containing 2 episodes to watch (although we had already been watching them on TV ) and a poster for the Little Man to put up in his room. All opinions are our own :)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Forest Flower Designs - I'm dreaming of a (Red &) White Christmas...

I am very excited about my new Forest Flower Designs collection for Autumn 2011!
Inspired by my love of Scandinavian Chic, Rustic French country elegance and English Shabby Chic, along with my desire to create a stylish, co-ordinated red and white Christmas decorating theme that wasn't overtly christmassy and so could be enjoyed all year round.

It all began with these fabrics...

I spotted the cute polka dot and the gorgeous retro floral print at my local quilting shop The Patchwork Basket in Newent...

I am so totally in love with this fabric - from last year's 'Lumiere de Noel' collection by French General for Moda. I just knew I HAD to do something with it. Unfortunately for me it is, as I said, from LAST year's collection and, as I had the last FQ the shop had I then had to track down further supplies. There seemed to be plenty of it still available in the States but for UK sellers it was like gold dust. Finally found some at Thread Bear , thanks to the power of Twitter!! (or more correctly, the helpfulness of my lovely twitter friends!)

So this is what I have done with them

Six gorgeous felt birdies with patterned wings...

...six hand-stitched felt hearts with patterned fabric inserts...

...and these cute fabric hearts with felt panels and heart shaped shell buttons.

I absolutely love this collection I have named 'Rustic Country', and it seems other people do too! It has already been picked up by a gallery in Oxfordshire - The Tube Gallery - who want to feature the hearts and birds as part of their 'Wonderland' exhibition running from October into the New Year, alongside loads of really talented artists and designers whose work they consider 'an eclectic mix of all that is wonderful and covetable'. I am so proud to be part of that! If you live in (or are visiting) the Forest of Dean area, the full range will be stocked by Solid Objects Gift Store in Newent and the award winning Forest Bookshop will be incorporating them into their Christmas window display and selling a selection.

I have added these designs to my Folksy shop and I am in the processes of uploading them to my Gift Wrapped & Gorgeous boutique. (There will be some online exclusives being added there shortly too!)

All of these decorations would look just gorgeous anywhere in your home but I reckon they would make an amazing display on your Christmas tree for a relaxed and stylish red and white 'Handmade Christmas' decorating theme. Coming up in the next few weeks I hope to add some more new designs 'Rustic Country Christmas Collection' will include bunting (including one special design/idea I can wait to unveil), mini stockings, full size personalised stockings and garlands.

Following my popular Handmade Christmas Giveaway last year I have something bigger and better in planning for this year. Stay tuned!
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