French China and hydrangeas…

CulinaryBirthdayI have said before that Hydrangeas are one of my favourites and here’s another example of how pretty they look. Fresh hydrangea popped in a teacup with another flower or two – lovely!

I follow various vintage–inspired interior design companies on Facebook and I get so much pleasure from little cameos of flowers in old china, or just old china on its own! I keep promising myself that I will redo my kitchen cupboards and arrange vintage china beautifully on every shelf… hmm maybe not, I might be too busy, nice thought, though.

It may be wonderful and contemporary to get all your household contents from IKEA, or somewhere equally minimalist but, for me, it will never have the appeal of collecting oddments from older members of the family and arranging them on shelves and window sills. I have about twenty little jugs of various sizes and I love the way they look as a collection. If I had more space I would love to collect teapots or teacups and saucers. I saw a collection the other day beautifully displayed – vintage Tupperware – hmm mine just looks beaten up and not attractive at all and is bunged in the cupboard over the freezer!

But the romantic in me inspired me to choose this artist – Stefania Ferri – she has some wonderful vintage–inspired looks which we have translated into card ingredients in the pad – I love it! Here’s how to make this card.

Ingredients:

  • Stefania Ferri paper pad
  • Joanna Seen Paper Collection volume 3
  • Signature Dies Hydrangea and Wild Rose
  • 8” square white card blank
  • Pink, Green and burgundy cardstock
  • Assorted glue and tape

Technique:

  1. Take some burgundy paper from the papers pad and layer some of the hessian look paper on top. Cut the main topper from the sheet and the small decoupage piece. Also, cut out the border strip featured on that page and the sentiment. (Brilliant that it’s all on one page I think.)
  2. Attach the hessian layered paper to the card blank, then add the decorated border. I do this with double sided tape. Now add the main topper and build the small amount of decoupage with some glue gel. Add the sentiment in the position shown.
  3. Now cut the roses and hydrangeas. Make sure you lift the rose petals to give some movement and likewise with the hydrangeas. If you wanted to you could add pearls in the centre of the roses. All of the die cuts have been fixed onto the card with glue gel.
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Tea for two

TeaCupBirthdayFor the last 100 years at least, “I’ll just pop the kettle on” has been the British way of handling life. If in doubt … have a cup of tea. Things not going right … have a cup of tea. Long and difficult discussion to have with a family member, I’ll just get the kettle on!

The older members of my family were complete tea-aholics drinking many, many cups a day. But now as the younger generation comes through and flourishes, not so many of them are tea drinkers. I’m a bad example as I mainly drink coffee, then switch to peppermint or ginger tea after lunch, but my daughters – not a sign of a hot drink, what did I do wrong? My younger daughter quite likes mint tea made with fresh mint leaves (bet nobody in the office makes her one of those!) but apart from that, neither of them have anything except water. Goodness me, my granny would be amazed!

I always love sending a card with a tea bag hidden inside it as a little extra – just makes the handmade card even more of a little present. Here’s how to make this card:

Ingredients

Technique

  1. Cut some lilac card to slightly smaller size than the card blank and then white smaller again and layer. Attach to main card using thin foam tape or sticky pads.
  2. Die cut the cups and teapot in white and then stick some scraps of lilac card behind the rose design.
  3. Die cut the Clarissa die in white and trim to fit the card, attach with glossy accents glue or a quickie glue pen.
  4. Now cut a plain circle in the Kraft card and layer onto a scalloped circle in lilac card about 3½” diameter. Attach the teapot and cups using glue gel and curve them slightly.
  5. Die cut the wild rose in cream and green – or you could do it all in white and colour with alcohol pens. Attach to the card as shown.
  6. Finish the card with some flat back pearls and the printed out sentiments.
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Phew! It’s a scorcher!

Deckchairs2I am always amused at the British enthusiasm for talking about ‘The Weather’ – it is always either too wet or too dry or too cold or too hot! The trains can’t run for leaves on the line, the wrong kind of snow, or as a few days ago, rails buckled due to the heat! In among all these weather stories online are pages and pages of hints and tips about how to manage this roaring British summer weather… But what is true and what is false? What is fact and what is fiction? We know the common advice for coping with the warm weather – stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, drink plenty of water, use sunscreen when you’re outside. But what about all those other tips?

Wearing white cotton clothing is best

It is true that natural fabrics like linen and cotton absorb sweat and allow it to breathe. They’re much better than man-made fibres like polyester, which can trap the moisture against your skin, leaving you hot and uncomfortable. But when it comes to colour, things are a bit more complicated. White is good if you’re out in direct sunlight a lot – it will reflect the heat better than any other colour. But if you’re spending time in the shade, black is a more effective colour to wear as it radiates out heat into your environment, cooling you down.

ColdWaterDrinking hot drinks actually lowers your body temperature

Staying hydrated is very important. If you don’t drink lots of water and beverages like fruit juice, you can start to become unwell, with symptoms of headache and tiredness. It can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. But can hot drinks help cool you down? I’m afraid we are back to sweat again… The thinking is, drinking a hot drink raises your body temperature, causing you to sweat. Sweating cools you down because as the moisture evaporates it takes away some of the heat of your body. But sweating also means that you are losing liquid from your body, meaning you need to take on more to stay hydrated! Why is life so complicated?!

Keep the curtains closed as they block out the sun

This is another one where there is no straight answer. If you have thick dark curtains then keep them open otherwise, the fabric can keep the heat trapped in the room. However, lighter curtains can help reflect the sun’s rays back out of the room, so keep them closed.


HotDogKeep windows open during summer to circulate the air

Surprisingly, this is another instance where there is no hard and fast rule. If the room you are in is actually cooler than the temperature outside (as in my old farmhouse) then keep the windows closed otherwise, all you are doing is letting hot air in. But if the room is warmer – and this is much more likely to be the case at night – then opening the windows will help cool your home down. Always consider home security and safety when it comes to leaving windows and doors open though.

There’s lots of advice online (some of it very strange) but to be sure you get sound advice, always go to an ‘official’ site. The NHS website has lots of useful advice on how to cope in hot weather. If all else fails, wear a knotted hanky on your head, and stick your feet in a bowl of cold water – always works for me!

 

 

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Posh rhubarb!

It’s rhubarb time! It seems to be a good year for it and you can spot the massive leaves lurking in people’s gardens all over the place. Partner in crime writing, Julia, grows rhubarb and has been giving it away to friend and neighbours as she can’t keep up with this year’s crop! Fortunately, she also enjoys drinking prosecco, or cava (she isn’t fussy!) so I’ll leave her to tell you her latest rhubarb discovery…

“I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so you won’t find me turning out rhubarb crumble or pie, I simply stew it, keeping it quite sharp and eat it with yogurt for breakfast… but you can only eat so much of it and can only get so many tubs in the freezer! 

In desperation, I began looking online for other uses for rhubarb… and came up with a very easy idea for putting a zing into your summer drink selection!”

How to make a rhubarb prosecco cocktail:

First, make a rhubarb syrup:

Makes about 250ml

  • 450g/1 pound fresh rhubarb cut into disks
  • 100g/3.5oz cup sugar
  • 125ml/4.2fl oz cup water

Method

Put all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the fruit is very soft. Turn the heat off and cool in the pan.

Strain through a fine sieve into a measuring jug. Leave the fruit to drain for a few hours and then use a funnel transfer to a bottle or other suitable container. Keeps in the fridge for up to four weeks!

Next, add the alcohol!

Put 1tbsp of the luscious pink syrup in a glass

Top up with prosecco, cava or, if you are splashing out, Champagne

The rhubarb syrup will keep for up to a month in the fridge so why not make a big batch and invite all your neighbours round!

If a cocktail isn’t your thing, it’s also delicious as a porridge topping or drizzled on ice-cream!

 

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Tea please!

Top to bottom: Traditional Chinese tea. A ‘proper’ cup of British tea… but should it be milk or tea first? Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza, started the tea craze in this country and finally, tea smugglers!While rummaging around with the TV remote recently, I stumbled across a historical take on tea, starting with the origins of the tea cup, and I started thinking about the significant part it has played in our history.

Tea is often thought of as being a quintessentially British drink and, while we have been drinking it for over 350 years, the history of tea goes much further back. The story of tea begins in China where tea drinking became established many centuries before it had even been heard of in the west.

In the latter half of the sixteenth century there are the first brief mentions of tea as a drink among Europeans. These are mostly from Portuguese living in the East as traders and missionaries. But it was not the Portuguese who were the first to ship back tea as a commercial import. This was done by the Dutch, who in the last years of the sixteenth century, began to encroach on Portuguese trading routes in the East. Tea soon became a fashionable drink among the Dutch, and from there spread to other countries in continental western Europe.

A cup of char!
We Brits, always a little suspicious of continental trends, had yet to become the nation of tea drinkers that we are today. The first dated reference to tea in this country is from an advert in a London newspaper from September 1658. It announced that ‘China Drink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other Nations Tay alias Tee’ was on sale at a coffee house in the City… and that’s why people talk about a ‘cup of char’!

We owe it all to a Portuguese Princess
It was the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza that was a turning point in the history of tea in Britain. She was a Portuguese princess, and a tea addict, and it was her love of the drink that established tea as a fashionable beverage first at court, and then among the wealthy classes as a whole. 

Milk in first or last?
Putting the milk in last was considered to be the ‘correct’ thing to do in refined social circles, but the real reason for this is often forgotten. In the early days of tea-drinking, poor-quality cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped to prevent this. When finer and stronger materials came into use, this was no longer necessary – so putting the milk in last became a way of showing that one had the finest china on one’s table! Evelyn Waugh once recorded a friend using the phrase ‘rather milk-in-first’ to refer to a lower-class person, and the habit became a social divider that had little to do with the taste of the tea…

Tea smuggling and taxation
Tea became a popular drink in coffee houses, as much locations for the transaction of business as they were for relaxation or pleasure and were the preserve of middle and upper-class men. Women drank tea in their own homes, and as yet, tea was still too expensive to be widespread among the working classes. In part, its high price was due to a punitive system of taxation. The first tax on tea in the leaf, introduced in 1689, was so high at 25p in the pound that it almost stopped sales. It was reduced to 5p in the pound in 1692, and from then until as recently as 1964 (amazing!), when tea duties were finally abolished, politicians were forever tinkering with the exact rate and method of the taxation of tea.

One unforeseen consequence of the taxation of tea was the growth of methods to avoid taxation – smuggling and adulteration. By the eighteenth century many Britons wanted to drink tea but could not afford it, and their enthusiasm for the drink was matched by the enthusiasm of criminal gangs to smuggle it in. What began as a small time illegal trade, selling a few pounds of tea to personal contacts, developed by the late eighteenth century into an astonishing organised crime network, perhaps importing as much as 7 million pounds (weight) annually, compared to a legal import of 5 million pounds! Worse for the drinkers was that taxation also encouraged the adulteration of tea, particularly of smuggled tea which was not quality controlled through customs and excise. Leaves from other plants, or leaves which had already been brewed and then dried, were added to tea leaves. Sometimes the resulting colour was not convincing enough, so anything from sheep’s dung to poisonous copper carbonate was added to make it look more like tea – euw!

By 1784, the government realised that enough was enough, and that heavy taxation was creating more problems than it was worth. The new Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, slashed the tax from 119 per cent to 12.5 per cent. Suddenly legal tea was affordable, and smuggling stopped virtually overnight.

The topic of tea is huge and fascinating, I could go on… about when cups got their handles, why tea caddies were so important and, of course, the Boston Tea Party. But perhaps I will save that for another time. I’ll just nip off and have a cuppa now…

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