Recipe: Frozen Yoghurt 'Fab' Lollies

It's been wonderful to see the sun again over the last few weeks hasn't it. Weather like this definitely calls for evening walks, lunch outdoors, fish and chips on the sand and of course, the odd ice cream. 

I'm not going to pretend I don't enjoy chip-shop-chips and seafront ice cream, but mostly we like to try and have healthier alternatives when we're at home and frozen yogurt lollies have become a bit of a dessert staple for us recently. 

Making a Copper Pipe Plant Stand

I've amassed quite the collection of house plants over the year we've been living here, but as we're only just starting to do any major decorating, they haven't really found proper homes yet. Many of them are still sitting in their plastic terracotta pots awaiting some attention and this one in particular didn't seem to be doing so well, it's bottom leaves keep dropping and it's pot was on the small side so I think it had become a bit pot bound (which I know some succulent type plants like, but this just seemed far too small) 

So I set about looking for something larger for it to live in but I couldn't find anything I loved. I also felt I didn't want something that meant it would have to stand on a window sill as, for one thing, our window sills are pretty full of plants as it is, and for another, we have a cat who's favourite pastime is pushing things off tables and shelves and watching them hit the floor! 

After a quick Pinterest search for 'diy plant stand' I came across this copper pipe plant stand tutorial from Deborah at Pure Sweet Joy that I loved the look of! It was super easy to put together and it ended up costing about £20 including the pot. Apart from slicing my little finger with the pipe cutter I really enjoyed the process - like a big copper jigsaw. You can find the full tutorial here, but I wanted to share my process as I made a couple of small changes, and made an irritating mistake along the way too... 

I bought all the copper bits and bobs from Homebase, along with a 2 meter length of copper pipe, and used 2 part epoxy resin to attach everything together. Definitely don't mix too much of this at once as it cures really quickly and it smells nasty so you'll want all the windows open! 

My pot is slightly smaller in diameter than the one Deborah used in her tutorial, so I changed the measurements for the base part of the stand to make it smaller too. This meant that the T-shaped fittings ending up sitting directly next to one another with a small length of pipe glued inside. This is therefore the smallest stand you could make with these fittings, but it would be really simple to increase the measurements to accommodate a larger pot. 

Here comes the mistake: When I glued the second set of t-shaped fittings onto the four corners of the base, I got a bit carried away with making sure they were sitting level and didn't pay attention to where the glue was running. It therefore set inside the fittings making it impossible to push in the legs. So, I spent a good hour filing it down which made a lot of dust and really wouldn't have been necessary if I'd been a bit more careful. 

To decide how long to make the top part of the legs, I sat the pot on the base and cut the pipe so there would be just enough room to slide the pot in to the stand. Remember if you do it like this to take the caps into account too.

After that it was just a case of attaching the legs. I wanted a slightly taller plant stand than Deborah made, so I simply cut the copper pipe I had left into 4 equal lengths. When I came to put the caps on, I noticed it wasn't sitting quite level on the floor, so one of my copper caps has a couple of tiny circles of paper inside it to level things out (you know - like when the waitress shoves some napkins under one leg of your table in a restaurant) I also added some small pieces of self adhesive felt so the feet won't scratch our new oak floor. 

This is how our hall way currently looks. When we moved in it had beige walls and very questionable red carpet (and I think the woodwork was white once upon a time - ew!) We're nearly finished, just the door frames to paint grey and the doors to change, plus little bits and bobs like light fittings and curtains to hang. We may leave the doors as they are for the time being and change them all in one go once we've finished upstairs too - it's lovely living in a big house, but decorating does end up being far more expensive and time consuming. Finally though, with little touches like this, it's really starting to feel like our home now! 

Recipe: Strawberry, Halloumi and Balsamic Salad

This strawberry halloumi and balsamic salad is SO simple it probably shouldn't even be called a recipe but it was so delicious I really wanted to share! My love of balsamic knows no bounds and I honestly think it makes everything better! When paired with fruit it seems to make it taste even sweeter and it makes the perfect dressing if you're going to put fruit in a salad because it sort of convinces the fruit it's not a pudding and ties everything together! 

This is very much made to my taste, so if you fancy a bit more pepper, or a bit less balsamic - go ahead! For one serving you will need:

- A big handful of mixed peppery salad leaves (rocket and watercress work really well to balance the sweetness from the strawberries and balsamic)
- 5 or 6 strawberries (organic if possible - strawberries absorb pesticides really easily and you don't want those in your lunch!) 
- 5 (ish) slices of halloumi (when you've sliced it immediately put it in the fridge or you'll eat the lot while you wait for it to cook - such is the nature of this addictive salty treat!)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- A good quality balsamic vinegar (a cheap one just won't cut it, it needs to be lovely and thick so definitely hunt out an aged one if you can!) 
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To be honest you could probably figure this out from the picture, but just incase:

- First heat up a little oil in a frying pan and fry your slices of halloumi until they're golden and just starting to crisp up. They'll take around 4-5 minutes on each side.
- Meanwhile, slice your strawberries in half, and pile them onto a plate along with a big handful of salad  leaves
- Check your halloumi and turn it over! 
- For your dressing add equal amounts of balsamic vinegar and olive oil to a small jar. Add a couple of good grinds of black pepper, a tiny pinch of sea salt (remember the halloumi is pretty salty!) and shake it up! You can just add the oil, vinegar and seasoning to the salad separately, but I like the combine them before hand.
- Add your now lovely crispy golden halloumi to the plate, pop a little more black pepper on the strawberries and maybe a couple of little drips of balsamic - and tuck in!!!

This isn't really a salad in the traditional sense given that there are only three main ingredients but sometimes something super simple just fits the bill doesn't it! I think if you wanted to make this a little more filling, some parma ham and a slice of toasted sourdough would be lovely, and you could try swapping out the strawberries for perhaps a super ripe peach or some figs when they're in season! 


Tutorial: Ice Dying

I first saw ice dyed fabric in the window display of the Regent Street Anthropologie and fell in love with the abstract, painterly, watery feel it gives.

As our bedroom (at some point in the future when we get around to finishing it!) will be vaguely nautical and beachy, I jotted the idea down as I thought it would make the most amazing sort if focal point bedding! I  finally got around to giving it a try a few weeks ago.  There are a few tutorials around, but the method and the type of dye varies a lot so I just grabbed some a couple of different colours of Dylon hand dye, a super cheap white cotton bedding set and decided to make it up as I went along!

I'm so pleased with how it came out! I was going for a sort-of-ombre look, with the deeper blue at the foot of the bed, then fading to the paler blue and leaving the top edge of the duvet cover white. The dye spread a lot more than I had imagined so although I got the dark to light fade, the white edge didn't really happen.  

I'm definitely going to get some better quality bedding and make another set and tweak my method slightly, but if you'd like to have a go yourself here's what you'll need:

- Powdered hand dye (I used Dylon in Jeans Blue and Ocean Blue)
- The items you want to dye - check the dye packet to make sure your dye is suitable for that type of fabric, cotton/natural fabrics will always take colour better than synthetics (I did the duvet cover and pillow cases at the same time and it was fine, although the dye suggests this would be too much fabric. I think because the powdered dye comes into direct contact with the fabric the colour will be brighter than if you were to dilute it)
- Table salt (or whichever fixing agent your dye packet suggests!)
- A big bag of ice
- A large tray to catch the melting ice (I used the seed tray I was supposed to take back to my Grandad which is still in the garage - whoops)
- A rack of some sort so you can suspend your fabric over the tray and let the ice drip through. Something like a cooling rack, or one of those wire steps you put in the cupboard to give yourself more space. I used two upside down cutlery trays which worked well except for the fact the they're metal. I would DEFINITELY recommend using something plastic coated because although the wet fabric was only sitting on it over night, mine started to go rusty so I have a couple of little rust marks near the buttons of my duvet set.
- Washing up bowl
- Plastic sheets to cover your bare wood dining table so you don't get a big blue stain right in the middle that means you need to sand and refinish it (can you tell I did not do this and am talking from experience?)

First of all, you need to soak your fabric in whichever fixing solution your dye suggests. I made up a washing up bowl with the water and salt quantities for both sachets of dye (which I think was 2l of water and 500g salt) and soaked the duvet cover and pillow cases for a good 20 minutes. There was a lot of fabric to try and fit in there so I kept coming back to it and turning it over or prodding it down to make sure it all got soaked.

Next wring the fabric out, and tip the salty water away. Position the racks above the tray you'll be using to catch the melting ice, then place your wet fabric on top. I had planned for the top edge of the duvet cover to stay white so I didn't pile this on the rack but let it hang over the edge into the washing up bowl.

The way the fabric is positioned will affect how pattern ends up so you can have a bit of a play with twisting or folding it to create different effects. I didn't realise at the time but I actually managed to leave the duvet cover folded in half down the middle which has meant it's ended up symmetrical which isn't ideal! I tried to make a sort of wavy pattern and put in a couple of big twists.

I then laid the pillow cases on top of the duvet cover, and again let one short edge of each hang over into the washing up bowl hoping this would give a sort of left-to-right fade.

So, onto the dying! First off, pile as much ice as you can manage on top of the fabric, I managed to fit about a bag and a half on top before it started falling off! I got really carried away with taking photos because it just looked so pretty and crystaly! 

Then, open up your packets of dye, and start sprinkling! I used the darker colour at the bottom (or foot end) of the quilt cover and then the lighter colour at the top, blending them a little in the middle. 

It is so much fun!! It was so fascinating watching the powder start to dissolve on the ice and I didn't really know when to stop so I just kept going until it looked like the powder wasn't dissolving anymore. Then I realised there was such a small amount left I just chucked the rest of the dye on and hoped for the best. 

I was really worried at this point because although the Denim Blue looked great (you can see it down towards the bottom left) the ocean blue looked decidedly purple and purple is my least favourite colour so I really didn't want purple bedding! 

Then just leave it until all the ice has melted! I was totally obsessed with it and kept sneaking into the dining room to have a look at how things were progressing! It's so pretty, and it's so much fun watching the colours slowly soak through the white fabric.  

When I went to bed, this is how it was looking. I was rather concerned about the purple at this point but pleased with how it was fading towards the top edge. I'm not really sure why the different pigments in the dye seem to separate, but for some reason it all looked a bit orange!  

So, when the ice has all melted, it's time to rinse! I was too excited and forgot to take any pictures, but by the time I woke up the purple had turned a much more pleasing blue! 

I rinsed all my fabric in the bath which was definitely easier than trying to fit it all in the sink but I did stain the bottom of my bath blue which isn't ideal.

When you've rinsed the fabric as much as you can and the water is running clear (or nearly clear - it will take a quite long while!) pop it all on a quick wash with a normal dose of laundry detergent then hang it out to dry! 

I love it, and I think I might be in love with this method of dying too! It totally reminds me of swirling waves and inky ocean depths and the flashes of white that did get left un-dyed are like the crests of a breaking wave. The faded effect came out much better on the pillow cases than the duvet cover too. I'm definitely going to get a much better quality bedding set and make another set, and I think I might just go with the Jeans Blue colour as I'm not a massive fan of the still somewhat lilac-y Ocean Blue. I really want to try it with linen, but I'm not sure I'm feeling brave enough to dye expensive linen in such an unpredictable way...we shall see! 

So yes - I hope if you try it out you love it too, I'd love to hear how you get on if you do!

The Language Magpie (S is for...)

The word in question in this edition of the language magpie isn't technically a real word. It was coined by John Koenig of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a compendium of words for emotions we may all feel at one time or another, but which currently do not have a naming word attached to them. One of my favourites, and one that I was reminded of a couple of weeks ago is Sonder.

Sonder is defined by Koenig as:

"The realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own"

I had this realisation, and a moment of overwhelming sonder after looking around an antique shop in Norwich a couple of weeks ago. Amongst the glass bottles, suitcases, books and 60s curtains there was a huge box of photographs and postcards. There were holiday snaps, wedding photos, dodgy family groups, picnics and beach scenes; hundreds of snippets of peoples lives packed into a box and on sale for 50p each.

I'm completely fascinated by who all these people are and, even more than that, how their memories ended up muddled up with those of strangers in a box rather than cherished in a family album. That little thatched cottage was obviously important enough for one of those precious 24 (or sometime 25 if you were lucky!) shots on a 35mm roll of film, so how did it end up here?

There's a particular image which I keep thinking about (and I kind of wish I'd bought) It's the one you can see in the photo above of the middle aged couple at what appears to be a wedding. Assuming I'm right, and the photo was indeed taken while the guests were waiting for the arrival of the bride, I wonder how the couple in photo were related to the newlyweds. It looks like it might have been taken in the 80s, which is when my parents got married. I wonder if the couple had children, if they did they'd be about my age. I wonder if I know them? I mean, the chances are pretty slim, the photo might have been taken anywhere in the country but you never know. All we know for sure is what's been captured in that frame, but those two people, and all those other people sitting around them were children once, the went to school and got told off and dreamt of what they'd be when they grew up. They got jobs and bought houses and shopped for lawnmowers and bread and wedding outfits. And even more mind-bending is that their lives continued after this photo...they danced at the reception, they got taxis home, sent their films off to be processed then looked fondly at the photos when they popped through the letter box, maybe they even framed some of them. I wonder if they're still alive. It's a strange and morbid thing to think about, but I wonder if that's how their photo ended up in a box...

This feeling happens quite often when I'm on the bus, I'm usually focused on just getting home, planning dinner and getting under a blanket (which I've been, not very ecologically, putting in the tumble dryer for a few minutes - heaven!) Sometimes though, a little snippet of conversation will catch my attention and I'll remember that all these people are heading home too, to their families, or pets, or just to their own thoughts. I recently heard a man reassuring his wife that he would be fine, that there was an M&S readymade lasagne in the fridge and he hadn't eaten all of the meals she'd left for him yet so she could stay away for another night and he'd be just fine! There's a woman I see quite often who's been knitting something red for the last few weeks, and two students, one who is clearly totally in love with the other (who unfortunately seems to have no interest!) It's weird to imagine that these people have lives after they leave the bus, that life isn't like playing a computer game where once you've walked out of a scene it dissolves away behind you and only the moment you're currently in exists. It's a bit like that old philosophy question, if a tree falls in the woods and there's nobody to hear it, does it still make a sound? My husband would try to answer this scientifically with some technical response about sound waves and the inner ear, but really - does anything really happen if theres nobody there to notice? This is making me want to re-read Sophie's World, which if you haven't read - you really must!

I've found a couple more 'words' in Koenigs dictionary that resonate with patterns of behaviour or emotions I have too:

Jouska - hypothetical converstations that you compulsively play out in your head.

Ambedo - a kind of melancholic trance in which you become absorbed in sensory details, briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, and act that is done purely for it's own sake.

Anemoia - nostalgia for a time you've never known.


Some Thoughts on Balance

This week I spent some time with my grandparents. While I was there something happened which made me recognise quite how far I've come in the last few years, nothing groundbreaking or exciting but something which two or three years ago would have made me panic. 

My Nanny offered me a sandwich! 

I know right - shocking! I'd arrived just before lunch and while I was too late for shepherds pie, there was a ham and mustard sandwich on offer, and without thinking I replied 'Oh yes please, that would be lovely!'

A few years ago I would have made an excuse and left before dinner, but I was enjoying talking to my Grandad - he's not been well in the last year or so, and a conversation with him these days can be hard work sometimes; he forgets peoples names and misses out crucial words or starts a story from the middle and you end up trying to piece together what he's trying to say, but today he seemed quite bright, and we sat in the conservatory with a cup of tea while he told me all about his new glasses, Nanny's hospital appointment, how my Aunty and Uncle are getting on with renovating their house. Before long we were back to the story of how he converted the loft fifty years ago, how he met my Nanny and what happened after he was demobbed from the RAF (which I've heard dozens of times but will happily listen to over and over!)

But, back to the sandwich! From the age of about 20 I suffered with acne, and after trying everything under the sun to get rid of it, I finally cracked it just in time for our wedding with a combination of diet, amazing skincare (from wonderful Louise at U and Your Skin who I've written about before) homeopathy (from Kathy, another huge support) and I think most importantly - changing my mindset! While changing my diet did help cure my skin to a certain extent, the way I went about it wasn't especially helpful for my relationship with food! As you know, I am a massive food lover, recipe book collector and fan of exploring new cafes and restaurants. However, I took the advice of the wonderful dietician I saw WAY too far and ended up completely destroying this healthy relationship! Overnight I gave up sugar, wheat, dairy, caffeine, red meat, alcohol, anything refined and basically any chance I had of eating anywhere socially! I stressed myself out so much over what I could and couldn't eat, I overdosed on herbal tea in a quest to find a 'builders brew' replacement, and I cried in the city centre because I was hungry and couldn't find a single thing I deemed myself allowed to eat! I lost a lot of weight, and it wasn't until I saw a video of myself that I realised how thin I was! I've since heard the word 'Orthorexia' being used to describe this fear of eating or drinking the wrong foods, and while I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying I had an eating disorder, I certainly wasn't very far off and my mindset definitely affected my way of life for a while. 

It also dawned on me around this time that my skin was changing, but not necessarily as a result of my crazy strict eating. I know that too much still sugar makes me feel awful, and that too much dairy gives me a bumpy forehead and spots on my back (glamorous!) but the acne I experienced on the rest of my face was so much better because I had started to balance my hormones and, crucially for me, I had stopped looking at my face! I was so bored of thinking about it all the time that I covered up all the mirrors in the house and made a conscious effort not to look at it!

So, I decided to relax my food choices a little and see what happened! I went with the mentality that I would only eat something I previously wouldn't have done if it was really worth it: the best sourdough bread, organic cheese (goodness I missed brie!) and I started saying yes to pudding in restaurants if there was something I loved the sound of. I started baking at home again which I used to adore and I suddenly felt like I'd got my recipe books back after discounting so many of them because the recipes didn't fit with what I was 'allowed'. 

This is how I continue to eat most of the time, very low sugar, not too much dairy, lots of vegetables and the best indigents I can find; if I fancy some chocolate it'll be the darkest organic I can find, or I'll make the molten chocolate pots from the Hemsley sisters book. I started drinking tea again, mostly organic decaffeinated (Clipper is my favourite) and after searching for a non-dairy milk that didn't split and failing to find one, I started using organic whole milk. I slowly let the things I thought were terrible creep back in occasionally, and you know what - my skin was fine! In fact, my more relaxed mind set combined with some light therapy (again at U and Your Skin) made my skin look and feel better than ever! I also remembered how much I love food, how a glass of red wine makes a meal a little more special, how much better fish and chips taste when you're sitting on the beach, and how visiting Cornwall without eating a scone with cream and jam is something close to sacrilege! 

So, was a ham and mustard sandwich worth it? Was it the best wholemeal bread I could find, filled with free range organic pork and perfectly seasoned with great quality mustard. No, it was a day old white sliced loaf from aldi with wafer thin ham and fluorescent yellow english mustard. But was it worth it - it definitely was! 

My Nanny used to cook the best food. I spent a lot of time at her house when I was growing up, and a lot of my favourite food memories are there. Her chicken korma with raisins and coconut that always felt so exotic, butterfly cupcakes she taught me to make all by myself (along with the wisdom that you never beat with a metal spoon and never fold with a wooden one!) ham egg and chips on a tray in front of the tv, a slice of warm tea cake in the afternoon, and the best porridge in the world, made with whole milk and finished with double cream, and big knob of butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar! 

There's been a long running joke that you can't go into my Grandparent's house without being offered something to eat or leaving with a food parcel. We used to get told off for eating Grandad's yoghurts or ice creams and they really do have a jar of Werther's Originals in the dining room (and the living room for that matter!) Nanny has always fed people, but she hasn't cooked for me in a long time. I know it was only a sandwich, but she cut the crusts off the bread, sliced it into four triangles and offered me crisps, an apple, a yoghurt, a cereal bar and a Kit-Kat, trying to make sure I was full enough! My Grandad set the table just like he always has. I got moaned at for having my fringe in my eyes and tutted at when I said no to sugar in my tea, and we sat at the table to eat together just like we always have. 

So, I think I've finally got things balanced. I feel really lucky that I know how to cook and eat well, and that I live in a privileged country and earn enough money to have such an amazing choice of food to buy. I love to cook and eat healthily, but I also love to eat with people and let people make food for me, and that is sometimes just as important.

Oh, I said yes to that Kit-Kat too...


Doors of St Ives

I'm called every year to come back to St Ives
Southwest bound with others who lead busy lives,
To walk on the Island, to gaze at the sea,
Drawn back to this land that is calling to me.
The deeper blue Ocean, the paler blue sky,
The call of the seagulls all soaring on high,
Wherever I travel, wherever I roam,
One day I will live here and call Cornwall home.

One of the loveliest things about our recent holiday to Cornwall was that it was so quiet and peaceful we were able to almost forget we were tourists and move into the, usually bustling, but this time decidedly sleepy little town of St. Ives. 

We spent a lot of time just wandering around noticing the little alleyways and funnily shaped (and often named) houses, and in particular how many differently coloured doors there are - a veritable rainbow in fact!