Festive star wreath

Last week on a whim, and with at least three other more important things on my to do list, I decided to take the plunge and try making a wreath. I have wanted to ever since seeing this round up (and especially this rosemary wreath – so simple). I’ve never done one before and have only given the many many tutorials a cursory glance, but I went straight in. It was nap time so no chance to pop out so I used what I had. That meant a star shaped base rather than a circle – we have a whole pile of sticks from cutting back the garden trees this year.

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There were a few straight-ish branches so I sawed them down to similar lengths. The next step was to tie them together. No garden wire to hand which would have been my first choice, so I went with the plain old string I found lurking under the kitchen sink. First I tied the five points but the corners needed securing as well to hold the shape rigid.

IMG_5324That turned out to be useful later for tucking the greenery into. Once that was done I raided the garden for greenery and a bit of colour in the form of dogwood twigs and hawthorn berries. Then the layering began. I had gleaned from my readings that things look better if you stick to going in one direction so I tried to go with pointing everything upwards. At this point I realised it would have been better (and so much easier to get a nice look) if my string had been green instead of white but again – nap time.

IMG_5327Once I felt there was enough green I added the berries, which did help give a finished look. The whole thing probably took around an hour and a half so if you are tempted to give it a go, there is still time before Christmas!

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Dark Chocolate and Orange Cake

IMG_5005For our 6th anniversary I promised my husband a cake a month. The sixth year is traditionally the time to give gifts of sugar (in the UK – in the US, it’s iron). Anyway, I offered to make a special cake or cakes once a month for our seventh year of marriage. This last month I made dark chocolate and orange cake found on the BBC Good Food website.

You need:

  • 1 orange (the website says Seville but I didn’t worry about this)
  • melted butter to grease the tin
  • 100g plain chocolate broken into pieces
  • 3 eggs
  • 280g of caster sugar (I’m sure any sugar would work fine, I think I used golden caster as it was what I had in the cupboard)
  • 240ml sunflower oil
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • decorations (the website calls for candied orange peel but I couldn’t find this and used what I had in the cupboard)
  • 200g plain chocolate, also broken into pieces (for the ganache)
  • 225ml double cream (for the ganache)
  1. Pierce the orange with a skewer (or, if like me, you don’t have a skewer, use a knife or whatever you have that seems most suitable). Boil for 30 minutes until soft and then blend in a food processor until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  2. Pre heat the oven to 180C/gas4/fan 160C. Grease and line a round cake tin. The recipe suggests a 23cm tin, mine was 18cm. It worked out.
  3. Melt the chocolate and let this cool.
  4. In a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar and oil together. Add the orange from step 1. The recipe tells you to discard any pips at this stage but I certainly didn’t have any surviving pips after blending the orange so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
  5. Add the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder and mix really well. Pour into the tin.
  6. Bake for around 55 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
  7. Allow it to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to finish cooling.
  8. To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a bowl. Bring the cream to the boil and then pour it over the chocolate. Leave it two minutes, and then stir until smooth. Set it aside until firm enough to spread over the cake. The recipe says 1 and a half hours but I think I only waited half an hour. There was a lot of ganache – I would guess you could probably do the top of the cake with half as much. But it is the most delicious so I went with spreading it down the sides and enjoying a generous scraping of the bowl myself to finish it off. Top the cake with the candied peel or whatever you like.

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The cake is very rich, so make sure you have lots of people to share it with!

Felt Fruit

I was inspired by Apartment Therapy’s play food felt-a-long to make the little one a box of play fruit for Christmas. I mostly used tutorials from the extensive list they’ve put together but made a couple of my own additions: a half kiwi fruit and a partly peeled banana.

IMG_4937 I’m not a seasoned blogger so of course it only occurred to me to take photos part-way through making the kiwi, and well after the banana was completed. Here are a few of the steps for the kiwi fruit. If there is any interest in a tutorial for the banana, let me know in the comments.

IMG_20141123_210416371Fairly simple start to the kiwi – cut an oval of light green felt, and a smaller rough oval of cream. Stitch the cream one to the green with cream thread. I used running stitch. Stitch “seeds” around the cream oval onto the green in black thread.

IMG_20141123_211235640These can be as haphazard as you like, this is not the time to strive for perfection.

IMG_20141123_211450647 When your seeds are finished cut a piece of light brown felt. The top edge should be a little longer than the circumference of your green oval.

IMG_20141124_093726870IMG_20141124_130320695I used blanket stitch to attach the brown and green felt together. This is the time to bring out those perfectionist tendancies!

IMG_20141124_182505658When its all attached, sew down the edge (again, I used blanket stitch). Then sew in and out all the way around the bottom with running stitch. Just before you pull it tight, add the stuffing. Then stitch it closed and ta-dah, you have yourself half a kiwi fruit!

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Felt animal cubes

IMG_4926One of my favourite projects of the last few years has been these felt animal cubes I made for the little one while pregnant. The idea came from this etsy shop, but it doesn’t look like they currently have any on show. When I saw them, I immediately had one of those “I could make that” moments and set about planning my first few animals – a lion, a parrot and a penguin. I’m not by any means a perfectionist and I gave myself full licence to dive in, haveĀ  a go and see what happened. I ended up making eight cubes (roughly 10cm square) for our little one, and three smaller ones (roughly 8cm square) for my nephew. They’re so simple to make, and the best part is they have actually become favourite toys in our house. Not only are they lovely soft toys, they’re great for stacking, hiding, and teaching colours and animal names.IMG_9749 I learned a lot making these. For example, in the photo above you can see I sewed right across the bottom of the penguin’s white tummy with black. Now I know you can use two different colours of thread on a sewing machine which would have made the finish a little neater. IMG_4931 If you’re thinking of having a go at making any similar to the ones in this post and have questions let me know and I’ll be happy to try and answer them. Or if you’d particularly like a tutorial for any of them, leave a comment. I’m happy to share my processes but I would say that half the fun for me was figuring out ways to make a three dimensional monkey’s tail or a pig’s snout that would hold up to some fairly rough handling.

I will be making a new cube in the coming months – a panda. Look out for a full tutorial when it’s done!

Ten minute book review: Starter for Ten

Starter for TenAuthor: David Nicholls (Also wrote One Day).

Main character: Brian Jackson, first year university student. Lazy, bad spots, has a habit of making terrible jokes at just the wrong moment.

The story: Starter for Ten follows Brian as he heads off to university where he meets beautiful fellow student Alice. He is determined both to win her love and to appear on University Challenge. The everyday happenings of Brian’s life are nothing out of the ordinary but his internal monologue and uncomfortably accurate awareness of what others think of him (and occasionally, lack of it) are what made this book stand out for me.

In three words: Funny, real, awkward.

Read again: No, but I’d read more of Nicholls’ books.