Monday, 30 September 2013

Etsy shop update

lavender hearts
It's the biggest update of my Etsy shop that I've had since... well, ever! It's the kind of shop update I've always meant to do, but never quite got around to it. OK, so I still need to revisit my shop banner, ideally. It's definitely time for a new one. I guess I'm just not one of those super-organised people who launch their shop properly and do everything at the right time! But that doesn't make me any less excited to be selling all these new things!

collage badges from vintage magazines
These badges make a statement. I like the idea of making phrases with them! And the alphabet is coming soon too...

One thing I definitely *will* be doing soon is a giveaway to celebrate all the new handmade loveliness. So watch this space!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

top tips for muffins

I've posted about muffins on this blog before, probably because they are my one of my favourite things to bake: they're quick, easy and can be made to be healthier than other cakes without being any less delicious.

Baking is one form of cooking where precision is often paramount but, provided you stick to a few basic principles, muffins are the exception, making it easy to tweak recipes and whip up a trayful of inviting goodies with whatever you have in the house.

I've also learnt recently that it's possible to make them almost entirely one-handed, e.g. with a baby in the other arm, which is very, well, handy! While the jury's out on my recent Sweet Potato Choc Spice muffins for the Cherry Hinton Festival Craft Party (some adored, others found them too sticky and rich) I have learned a thing or two about making moreish muffins, so here are my tips:

1. You can make them a lot healthier quite easily: try reducing the sugar in recipes - you won't even notice 50g less. Take away another 50g and replace with mashed banana and/or grated apple.

2. Substitute some of the white flour for wholemeal flour (for goodness) and/or spelt flour (for sticky moistness and low gluten).

3. Subsitute 50g (or more if you're feeling indulgent!) flour with ground almonds. Moist marzipan-like gorgeousness. Goes really well with apple/sultana muffins, or plum, or apricot. (Oh yes and for a treat you can pop in little squares of marzipan too - mmmm!)

4. Try adding: sultanas (muffins are almost always better with some fruit in them, except maybe chocolate muffins), chopped pecan nuts, chopped dates, grated carrot, mashed sweet potato, oats. All tasty and nutritious.

5. And on the health note, I find that a lot of recipes have way too much oil or butter in them. I often halve the suggested quantity (e.g. 2 instead of 4 tablespoons of oil). Who wants greasy muffins anyway?

6. Keep your dry ingredients separate from the wet ingredients until the last minute. The magic happens when you mix the two. But you can fold in fruit aftewards.

7. Don't mix the batter too much. Lorraine Pascal says, "no more than 8 turns of the spoon" - well, I reckon that's exagerating a bit, I mean, you do want it all combined... but only just. It's great if it's lumpy! This ensures they rise nicely and aren't too dense.

8. Get them in the HOT oven as quickly as possible once you've mixed wet and dry ingredients - again this is all about getting a nice, well-risen crumb.

9. So a totally basic recipe for 12 would be 300g flour (or subsitutes), 100g sugar (easily reduced), 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of bicarb of soda, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons sunflower oil, 125ml milk (you can easily subsitute the milk with fruit juice, skip the egg if you're vegan). Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, whisk wet in the other, then combine. Bake in a hot oven for approx. 20 min until risen and golden. Now play with it! (See also my recipe here).

Let me know if you found any of this useful!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

my granny as I never knew her

It was this photograph that caught my attention, as we were going through a suitcase of my granny's things (she died last year aged 104 - and her incredible age and loss of faculties didn't make losing her any easier). Labelled 'Blackberry stain - Château de Guy 1931', it looked like something out of a surrealist film. It caught a moment and a person almost magically. It should have been a moment of swearing grumpiness. Instead it catches the drape of an elegant dress, a side-parting pointing to a peachy cheek, the body curved in surprise. Was it staged? I don't know, but for me it is art. I wanted to know who this charming young woman was.

The charming young woman appeared quite a number of times in the old brown brown album simply marked, 'From My Camera'. She must be related to my granny, I thought, as she looks so like her. Gradually it dawned on me. It was her!

It was her with an elegantly belted sweater on the beach, wind in her hair, it was her with dimples and a gorgeous cheeky grin. Oh my, she had such great taste in clothes! As I knew her, my granny was smart, but somewhat staid. Her clothes were stiff. In these pictures her clothes are youthful and supple like she is. They are the clothes of a new generation of women who would begin to change the world... who would seize their freedom.

In the early 1930s my granny was a young graduate. Yes, you read that right. She actually went to University and read French (something her granddaughter went on to do... and I married a Frenchman!)  I'm not sure when women began to be awarded degrees at Bristol University (their website seems to avoid the issue) but I don't believe it was before the 1920s. Women were not formally admitted to Oxford University until 1920s (though they had been studying there for 40 years by then). My granny was a proud member of the British Federation for Graduate Women - because it was so important to her that women be allowed a University education if they chose. I always knew that independent streak in her character.

But I didn't know this carefree person (here pictured on the right with her friend Elizabeth - I think - on the left). Look at her tumbling curls, her beaming smile... what is she laughing at? What just happened? These photos show her before she married my grandfather. As we were looking at them, my mother told a story of how on my granny's wedding night my grandfather dropped his clothes on the floor and said, "you're my wife now, you pick them up". Can you imagine? This spirited, playful, independent, intellectual woman, encountering that on her wedding night? I think maybe from that moment she thought she'd made a big mistake...

I don't know where Sark is (somebody tell me?) But look at that hat... and those sunglasses in her hand! I love to see my granny like this, her head full of French poetry, her style incredibly chic, her heart full of future possibilities! And then I want to weep a little for the bird-like toothless creature I saw at the end, hands like tree roots, skin like crepe paper. Oh granny I wish I'd known you then! Instead I just know the you that's in me. I will carry your spirit forward! (And my husband picks up my clothes too!) You can read more about my granny in my Memoir Project.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Cherry Hinton Festival craft party

Last Wednesday night I participated in the Cherry Hinton Festival Craft Party, hosted by the lovely Claire of Claireabellemakes (I realise I quite often describe my blogging friends as 'lovely' - but only because they really, really are!) It was also my second time selling my wares in a mini craft fair.

My offerings were made using vintage fabric and repurposed materials such as vintage wooden jigsaw puzzles and magazines. I was working with a warm Autumnal colour palette of pinks and oranges. I think maybe it wasn't your typical craft stand, with my eye-popping pink table cloth (my mum's, from 1964!) but I was happy with it.

image by Claireabellemakes
I enjoyed browsing the other stalls too: MissChaelaBoo's stall was full of creative goodies including cute cards, beautiful felt brooches and mini-tags (it also had some great colour coordination going on!)

image by Claireabellemakes
I snapped up these pretty tags decorated with ribbon...

I also bought some amazing rocket gift tags from Bluerana's Sharon (for similar see here).

image by Claireabellemakes
Claire's stall had a selection of her pretty accessories including some desirable new sparkly heart brooches, soon to be featured in her Etsy shop. After dithering about the colour I finally bought one of her popular macramé bicycle bracelets the next day.

But the evening was a gathering of crafty folk to learn and create and practise, more than it was about selling things. This was helped by the selection of cakes (I wasn't the only person having cake for supper that night).

Michaela's vegan sponge cake was divinely moist - completely delicious whether or not you're vegan.

I had a lovely time learning to crochet for the very first time ever! Claire was on hand to teach us and we sat chatting and eating cake, a mix of super-advanced and uber-newbies.

Typical me, I was very very slow but I did get the hand of it. While some beginners managed to finish the sweet crochet bow project we were supposed to be making, I merely managed a little mouse's scarf... It may end up in my son's dollshouse.

It was a lovely evening with a cosy huddle of like-minded crafties. It got me out of the house at bath/bedtime for the first time since the baby arrived (hubby did a brilliant job of getting both boys to sleep!) And perhaps most importantly it spurred on a frenzy of making, leaving me with lots of fun new stock for my Etsy shop. Like these vintage wooden jigsaw puzzle brooches, for example...

image by Claireabellemakes
See Claire's post about the evening here, and Michaela's here. They've got some great pictures and cover things I've missed out. Thanks ladies, I had fun!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

handmade card swap - what I sent

Kate has received my cards now, so I can share what I made for her. I played around with a similar idea to the cards I wrote about in this post and was inspired by Kate's amazing travels.

Kate mentioned that she liked using vintage maps to wrap gifts, so I also incorporated a piece of vintage map into the designs.

And I used some pages from an old book about ships and the sea, along with vintage wallpaper and hand-stamped text.

I enjoyed making them and hope Kate will find them fun to send. I wonder where the cards will travel?

See the cards Kate sent me here. We're now talking about doing a handmade Christmas card swap to continue the fun...

Friday, 13 September 2013

handmade card swap - received

The lovely Mezz organised a handmade card swap and I was paired up with Kate. I was impressed by her incredible travel blog - 'little red tree frog' - definitely worth checking out if you fancy a virtual world tour! She made eight lovely cards, each with a different message inside. I love the way they were packaged with gold ribbon and a shimmer of lilac glitter.

All the cards are beautifully made. Kate was worried they'd be more her taste than mine, but I love the fact that I wouldn't have thought to make these myself, that's part of the point of the swap! I know I'll enjoy using them.

Her attention to detail was great. I especially loved the little logo she made on the back of each card. And her handwriting is really pretty!

'Just be yourself!' and 'Here's to sharing the housework' (the latter is going off with a wedding present to a dear friend of mine).

'Happy birthday' and 'Thank you'.

'You make me smile' and 'Bon Voyage'.

'Dinner?' and 'Bon Voyage'. Thanks Kate, I love my cards and this was a fun swap! I'll be sharing what I made for Kate as soon as I know they've reached their destination in Australia.

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