I was sitting in a grey, cold waiting room this morning, flicking through an ancient magazine and came across the most vibrantly, bright, crazily decorated house, that surprise surprise, made me want to re-decorate all over again. It was a real Marmite house. You'd either love it or think it's the most revolting thing you've ever seen. I'm in the former gang and have been drooling over the decorators's other creations ever since. The house in question was the masterpiece and home of interior duo John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon. The New York-based designers own Madcap Cottage Inc, a design house which is all about the F words. "Frisky, fabulous, and fun to be around.” (Their words not mine) I think their aim to fill the world in 'color-rich whimsy and sophistication' and to banish beige and boring couldn't be a better motto for life if it tried. Thank God I didn't come across their creations before our weekend of no power - I dread to think what the house would be looking like this morning if I had.
- FEB. 2014
This month we’ve invited the lovely Willow Crossley owner of Willow Rose Boutique to write us a blog piece on her creative valentine’s supper plans.
Willow specialises in hand making beautiful little treasures using antique fabrics, beautiful beads and enchanting bits and bobs she finds on her travels or near her home in the South of France.
Much of her designs are inspired by her love of flowers, nature, fairies and antiques.
February 14th is one of my favourite days. Chaz asked me out on our first date and again, five years later, asked me to marry him on Valentines Day. So I feel, despite the obviously cheesy connotations with the day, i'm allowed to love it! This year we're not going out for a swanky romantic soiree but staying put at home. I will still obviously be making a big deal of the whole day but it's just going to be a bit more homemade than usual. Chaz is in charge of the culinary side and my job is to make it look as visionary as I can. .
There will be a lot of florals going on - the hellebores in our garden are just coming out and i'm mad about them. From January to March our house tends to look like one big hellebore. The rest of the table will be a vision of pink; the palest pink, vintage linen napkins from Kempton market, dusty pink plates from our time in France, fragile pink sea urchins as salt and pepper holders and my handmade velvet flowery napkin rings. The napkin rings are what I want to share with you - or how to make them at least. This is an extract taken from my first book, The art of handmade living.
I’d never even thought about making a napkin ring before I was asked to devise some ideas for Interiors Queen, Nina Campbell. She wanted to expand her range and asked me to come up with several designs that her company might manufacture. It turned out that my ideas were too extravagant to mass produce, but I had an amazing time creating them all.
Posy napkin rings These are mini versions of the headdresses I made for fifteen little bridesmaids at a friend’s wedding, using wired flowers, tiny wooden bumblebees, and ribbons. Having had all that practice, I simply downsized them to work as napkin rings.
Millinery flowers are perfect for the job, as they are usually already wired. It’s lovely to have a mixture of flowers: think about combining silk, velvet, and beaded flowers, as well as leaves. Even little insects or birds on thin wires would work. It’s up to you whether to put decoration just on the top half of the napkin ring, which is all that your guests will see, or all the way around. Here, the napkin ring is formed from the wire stems of the flowers; they are hidden by ribbon in the last step.
1 Choose the flower you want to start with: using one with a long wire will make life easier. Curve the wire around into a small circle, then attach another wired flower next to the first one by wrapping its wire once or twice around the stem of the first flower. Continue until you have the size of circle you need for your napkin ring.
2 When you’ve made the circle shape, keep adding flowers, leaves, and other decorations wherever you want them by wrapping the wire around the main “stem” to hold everything securely together.
3 Leaving a tail at least 2 in. (5 cm) long, tie a knot in the ribbon underneath one of the flowers, so that it’s hidden from view, then wrap the long end of the ribbon around the wire ring, covering up the loose ends and bobbles of wire. I’ve never managed to get them perfectly smooth, but try to cover up the wires so that all you can see is the ribbon. Use a dab of PVA glue here and there to keep the ribbon in place.
4 Finish by tying the ribbon in a small bow or knot on the underside of the napkin ring, using the tail of ribbon left in step 3. Cut off any excess ribbon. What kind of ribbon? Standard satin ribbon is inexpensive and generally wider than silk ribbon, so you’ll need less of it. Very fine silk ribbon is more expensive, but I think it looks so much more beautiful.
SMALL WIRED FLOWERS – THIN SILK RIBBONS – PVA GLUE – SMALL PAINTBRUSH TO APPLY THE GLUE
For more visit www.willowroseboutique.com
Willow's new book Inspire, is out in March.
So, the new year, new healthy living isn't going quite to plan. The intentions are still there - I'm still swimming every day and generally still eating less refined, more natural, good-for-you foods. I just can't give up cake. Or Dairy Milk.
I don't know how I've never written about our green miracle - especially banging on about my health kick a few weeks ago. But it's actually drinking it every morning that makes me feel we could eat anything and get away with it. It's that magic. It was recommended to us by the wizardly Mr Lee - and now we, and my whole family, are obsessed with it. You drink it every morning - wait 20 minutes before eating anything and then carry on as normal. Full of antioxidants, chlorophyll, active enzymes, vitamins - if I carry on you'll switch off - but you get the idea. It's an energy giving, digestion sorting, ph balancing, metabolism supporting miracle that I can't get enough of.
I promise I dont secretly work for them and if you want to read all about the technicalities of how it actually works, click here.
Our usually sweet, funny and happy smallest Cub has been possessed. Or had a secret personality transplant without me knowing. Suddenly, over night, he's turned into a tyrant. An actual small prince of darkness. Chaz and I are at a total loss. I was even googling that super nanny at 3am last night while said monster was screaming like his life depended on it while trying to kick down his door at the same time. Fast forward three hours and he locked himself into his bedroom. The bigger Cub managed to sweet talk him out after a half an hour stand off and he emerged, crosser and louder than ever.
I know that the two stage is meant to be terrible, but does it really happen, just that like, the minute they turn two?
I guess him flinging himself out of his cot on the morning of his second birthday was his warning that things were going to change around here; There would be no more Mr Nice Guy. No more sleeping, no more doing what asked and no more eating anything unless sugar-coated or Pom Bear shaped.
This morning we have upped our game. No Peppa Pig watching and no warm milk until he stays in his bed for more than two hours straight. It is 8.30 am and we have already had eight tantrums and six time outs. Even poor Alice (our tiny dog) is cowering in the corner, quivering at the prospect of the next tyrannical outburst. The silver lining - one must always look for a silver lining - is that the bigger Cub is loving his little brother's new dog house behaviour. As I write he is sitting very quietly and very smugly on the sofa. Smiling to himself and chirping up every couple of minutes to ask me just how sweet and how well behaved he is. Long may that last...
This week's obsession is the work of Sabine G. The most ravishingly beautiful rings I've seen in a long time. Ive been wracking my brains all weekend trying to come up with a way of making a quick few thousand pounds.
It's her second collection, Harelequin that's really sending me into a spin; a mix of art deco styles made with rainbow coloured gems.
I had a very exciting book meeting with the wonderful team at Anthropologie yesterday. More about that another time but obviously while I was there I had to pop into the store for a quick look. When in Rome. They have a small gallery off one side of the shop with wonderful exhibitions that change every month. This month's show is called 'A dog a day' by Sally Muir. The walls are jam packed with her collection of paintings -a year long venture where she painted a different dog every single day.
It's running until tuesday 18th February and definitely worth a look, dog lover or not.
It's running until tuesday 18th February and definitely worth a look, dog lover or not.
I'm having a bit of a career-mid-life-crisis. I woke up on January 1st, excited. Excited about my work and what I was going to do next. My second book is about to come out and I was determined that this would be the last year of earning so little I don't have to pay tax. And now I've hit a wall. We went away last week to Canouan, a heavenly Caribbean island, where I was sure I would come up with a game plan. I would come home clear headed and sorted, raring to go. Instead, I feel more disillusioned and confused than ever. My brain has frozen. Hence no posts for the last two weeks.
My problem is that there are too many things that I want to do and I can't decide what to commit to. I flit in and out of love with the idea of each one on a daily basis. I feel the time has come to make an actual decision. So the choices are; interior styling or floristry. Or completely changing tack by starting up a shop or cafe.
Ideally I'd like to combine everything. Ideally, a nice billionaire would back me and I'd rent a beautiful, white-washed, airy, light filled space and set up an all in one cafe, gallery, shop, florist and office- where I'd work on interior projects. And write book number three. And ideally, it would be a success. Chaz tells me it's impossible to make money in retail these days. Unless your name is Philip Green. And this is where the problem lies. Maybe an accountancy course might be a better place to start.
On that note, I think it's time to go back to burying my head in the sand…
Dreamy shop inspiration
I know talking about detoxing and clean living in January is a bit obvious. I've actually never done it before and usually, come January 1st, find myself very happily, knee deep in Quality Streets, a million miles away from anything remotely healthy. This time though I have a real urge to clean up my act.
To cut a very long story short, after years of endless doctors and neurologists appointments, six months ago, Chaz gave up on traditional medicine and took himself off to see a Chinese doctor; A magical man called Mr Lee who lives in Uxbridge. We didn't have a lot of hope and thought he would probably send him packing with some 'magic' herbs. Instead, he put him on the world's strictest diet for two, long months. He was allowed no sugar, no diary, no yeast, no alcohol, no gluten and no fruit. Basically nothing remotely enjoyable. It would actually be quicker to list the foods he was allowed to eat.
It totally transformed him - mentally and physically and so far, touch wood, his mystery pains are no where to be seen.
We then went to a wedding this New Years Eve where I met a nutritionist. She gave me a mini consultation telling me what I should and shouldn't be eating and funnily enough it was pretty much the same as what Mr Lee had said. Her parting words were for me to have a look at the website Deliciously Ella.
Feeling more than a little worse for wear on January 1st I logged on and have not looked back since. I am well and truly hooked. The oh-so-beautiful Ella Woodward was diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome in September 2011 and after six months of traditional medicine not helping she decided to turn to holistic, natural methods instead. Changing her diet over night, she cut out meat, sugar, diary and gluten - anything processed and full of chemicals. She truly believes that it is eating this way that has given her life back, leaving her full of energy and pain free.
I thankfully, am not ill but am quite keen to keep it this way so this year, I am going to try to follow some kind of diet loosely based on ideas taken from both Ella and Mr Lee.
As I write there are two enormous tins of Quality Street winking at me from across the room; it's the no sugar part that I'm going to really struggle with. I'm going to start off now by making raw brownies with this recipe of Ella's.
I'll keep you posted!
If you put a plate of Christmas pudding in front of me, I'll quite happily eat it. Although there will be no excitement. Apart from of course when it's set on fire. I'm all for tradition but think the time has come - as far as puddings go -for it to be broken. I came across this meringue, tower sensation in Grazia this week and think that its too magical not to be part of Christmas. It's made by the wonderful Meringue Girls, who if you don't know their work, have a look, its incredible.
Below they've shared how you can re-create this vision.
Ingredients for the Meringue:
* 400g egg white (we use Two Chicks Free Range Liquid Egg White) *800g caster sugar * 500g pistachios, ground.
For the brandy cream: 600ml double cream * 2 tablespoons icing sugar * 1 shot of brandy, or 2 tbsp of rosewater if you want to keep it booze free.
To decorate: edible glitter * 1 punnet of figs sliced into 1/6ths * 1 punnet of strawberries * 1 punnet of physylis (cape gooseberries) * A handful of dried cranberries * edible flowers or any other Christmasy decorations you like! Holly sprigs, gold leaf or sprinkles, a heart-shaped sparkler...
How To Make:
- Preheat oven to 200?C. Line 6-7 small flat baking trays with baking paper and draw out your seven Christmas tree layers on each sheet. Draw the largest circle on your first sheet of baking paper. Use your serving plate/tier as a stencil.
- Once you have your circle, draw a five-point star within it, making your star as fat as possible. Get your next sheet of baking paper and trace over the star, but making the star 2cm smaller. Repeat until you have your final 7th baby star for the top of the tree.
- Line a deep roasting tray with baking paper, pour in your caster sugar and put it in the hot oven for about 5-7 minutes until the edges are just beginning to melt. Heating the sugar helps to create a glossy, stable mixture.
- Meanwhile, crack the egg whites into a non-plastic bowl. Make sure your bowl and whisk are free from grease. At first whisk slowly allowing small stabilising bubbles to form, then increase the speed until the egg whites form stiff peaks. The sugar should be ready to take out of the oven at this point.
- Turn your oven down to 100?C. Whisking at full speed, slowly, big spoon by spoon, add the hot sugar to the meringue mixture. Once you have added all of the sugar, continue to whisk on full speed for about 5-7 minutes. Feel a bit of the mixture between your fingers, if you can still feel the gritty sugar keep whisking at full speed until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth, stiff and glossy.
- When ready, carefully spoon your stiff meringue mixture into a disposable piping bag. Pack the meringue mixture in tightly, ensuring there are no air bubbles. With sharp scissors, cut the tip of the piping bag to the size of a 20p coin. To get the piping bag flowing, use some of the mixture pipe small dollops on to the four corners of your baking sheets and stick down your baking paper securely in place. You are ready to start piping!
- Hold the piping bag with two hands, place your dominant hand at the top of the piping bag and your other hand half way down the bag. You must ensure that there is pressure at the top on the bag. Use the hand that is half way down the piping bag to control the flow of the mixture and squeeze to form your beautiful filled in stars. These should be at least 1inch thick. Cover each star with your ground pistachios.
- Bake these at 100C for 45mins-1hr, until the meringues is firm and come off the baking paper without breaking. Take out and leave to cool.
- In a bowl whip the double cream and icing sugar into stiff peaks. Fold through the brandy at the last minute. You want your cream to be very thick but not over whipped.
- Time to assemble! Very gently place your largest star on the cake stand and spoon a large spoonful of your brandy cream on top. Smooth it out to the edges and then place the second largest star on top making sure that the points of your second star fit into the gaps from the first star not directly on top. Repeat this process until you have layered all seven stars.
- Decorate! We dipped our figs, physalis, dried cranberries and strawberries in edible glitter and stuck these and the edible flowers into the cream in a spiral tinsel garland. We added a beautiful heart sparkler to top off the cake and give it the final wow factor.
The genius meringue girls - Alex and Stacey