We take a break from our regularly scheduled DIY/recipe/lifestyle blogging to talk about something on my mind…
When I was about 16 or 17, I discovered that with a little help from some product and a diffuser, I could get my hair to curl! Well, maybe more of a curly wave, but curly nonetheless! I had always been jealous of my sisters who had natural curls (shout-out to Bethany and Julia!) and was so excited to realize that there was this texture hidden in my hair.
Oh wow, 18 year old Amy in all her no-makeup, no-eyebrows glory…
For a while, when I had the time, I would diffuse my hair – figuring out all sorts of tricks to get it to curl the way I wanted. But the problem with diffusing a full head of long hair? Time! When diffusing curly hair, you need your hair dryer on its lowest speed, with high heat, to get the best result.
Low Speed + High Heat = Eons of Drying Time
I hate wet hair, so would never just let it air dry; which meant that when I was short on time, I had to go straight.
Then, a number of years back, some genius with a straightening iron discovered shecould curl hair with it! Like most people, it took a bit of practice to get the hang of, but once I did, I could dry my hair and curl it with my straightening iron far faster than I could dry it with a diffuser. This method wasn’t just fast, but flawless! The problem with diffusing natural texture is that the hair doesn’t always cooperate. And so began my 2+ year love affair with straightener curls, which morphed into curling wand curls… etc. (more…)
Okay, I promised a proper kitchen post with before photos and all… so here goes! If you’re following me on Instagram (and check the stories) then you will see we have already begun work on this space.
welcome to our tiny kitchen!
When we had just moved in, we discussed how we could make the kitchen space work best for us. First up, would be to add some hanging storage on the wall, for all of our pots and pans. I don’t have any photos of the kitchen before we put them up, but you can see below how we’re currently using it. We installed two rows of IKEA’s GRUNDTAL rail system, using the top row for pots and pans, and the bottom for pantry goods. One basket contains bread, another potatoes and onions, and the third is a fruit basket.
Those three baskets took me ages to find (it’s hard to find an open weave basket that’s fairly flat) and are actually beach bags that IKEA was selling in their limited HEMTRAKT collection (I just cut off the handles). And yes, we bought waaay more hooks than we need, but we still have to buy more pots.
After adding some hanging storage, we needed to address the cupboard situation. The ceilings are high enough to accommodate another row of cabinetry, so we thought – why not double our storage? (more…)
Before moving to London, I started following a couple bloggers, to see where the good places to eat, shop, and visit were. One of those bloggers is Rosie at The Londoner, and she’s pretty much a go-to resource for places to eat around London, as well as other cities around the world (she travels A LOT!) A place she’s mentioned a few times, and that I have been dying to visit, is Sketch in Mayfair, and especially their afternoon tea in the gallery.
I’m definitely not a girly, girl… but there’s something quite awesome about this room. Almost every surface is pale pink, including the plush velvet booths, and even the bar ware (in rose gold). It’s pretty much like Instagram heaven for the social media generation, no? I like the dichotomy of the decor – it’s all pale pink and girly, but then has these strange mordant sketches lining the walls, with matching ceramic serving ware.
the drawings on the wall are unusual to say the least – we found a few that made us laugh while we enjoyed our tea
So this past Easter weekend, we finally managed to book a table (thanks Richard!!!), and it was definitely worth it! I mean, afternoon tea is quite pricey no matter where you go (and I mean priceeey), but it’s an experience – and we made sure to milk it. And I mean that literally, as we’re both huge fans of the ol’ ‘builder’s tea’, with plenty of milk and sugar…
The afternoon tea we picked started with an introduction by one of their staff, as to how the afternoon would unfold. It began with someone explaining all the teas to us (four pages of options) and we would each pick a pot of tea. As the stuff is unlimited we tried to make a dent in all the options. I think by the end of our time there we had tried a combined 7-8 teas, but we could definitely have tried more. If only our bellies could have handled more of the hot liquid… (more…)
Are you lucky enough to find yourself with an excess of lemons and oranges this Easter? Looking for something to make with them all? This was the bounty that I had the other weekend, and I was quite keen to use them all.
The other day I posted about the more unique take on Paska that I made this past weekend, and I promised more. I decided to try making a regular paska recipe that my aunt gave me, as well as using a challah bread recipe to make a paska flavoured challah. I had remembered paska dough as being quite wet, and wanted something I could braid into shapes. However, after making my Aunt’s paska recipe, I realized it wasn’t as wet as I thought. I could have easily braided it into wreaths etc.
But you want to know what this huge amount of paska means, besides being something Richard can take to work? Paska French toast!! Awesome Easter breakfast… if I do say so myself.
So my reasoning behind wanting to make paska challah bread, was that I wanted a more decorative Easter bread. As much as I like the simple icing with sprinkles, as far as nostalgia goes, it doesn’t really say “Easter centerpiece”. I decided to make both the regular recipe (in unique tins), and the challah recipe. Perhaps these will inspire you to make a showpiece bread of your own?
The bakery that I work at in London, is quite well known for its doughnuts. When I first tried one without any filling, just the doughnut, I could only think of one thing. PASKA! They use lemon zest in the dough, and the combination of yeast and citrus just brought back memories of paska. It’s not really strong enough to come through when there is a filling in it, but on its own it’s like warm memories of my childhood.
For those of you who don’t know what paska is, it’s a yeasted Ukrainian Easter bread, flavoured with lemon and orange. It’s usually served with sweetened cream cheese – or at least that’s what my grandma always made with it. And if you grew up in a Mennonite family, then you’re probably used to seeing paska with some simple icing on top, sprinkled with rainbow sprinkles… like this!
But I wanted to make something different this year! So with those doughnuts as my inspiration, I decided to make paska flavoured doughnuts! Using a recipe from Justin Gellatly’s cookbook Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding – I adapted it to include the paska flavour. All it took was increasing the amount of citrus zest exponentially, and changing the water to citrus juice. (I also used active dry yeast instead of fresh, as it’s kind of hard to find.)
Well, it’s mostly before. To be exact, by the point I started taking pictures we had already ripped out almost all of the weed strewn landscape fabric barrier, old overgrown lavender, blackberry brambles, and 2-3 rows of raspberry bushes. So it doesn’t do justice to what our little plot was like when we took it over, but it’s sort of the clean slate we created.
Last weekend, Richard and I both had Saturday off, so we spent the morning on the allotment. First up, we went to our local garden center, Ruxley Manor, for some seeds, hand tools, and rhubarb plants. We had hoped to get our shed delivered this weekend, but it won’t come until mid April. Instead, we decided to try and get the rest of the clearing and pruning done in preparation. As a lot of the plants are going around the shed, we decided to only buy the rhubarb that day. The little rhubarb patch is in the other half of the plot, so we don’t have to worry about moving anything.
apparently this is two plum trees planted together – one purple, and the other green!
Our allotment plot was in rough shape when we got it. None of the trees had ever been properly pruned, nothing was cut back or well trained, and most of the soil was covered with landscape fabric to prevent weeds (which just grew through it). It meant a few days of back breaking work for Richard (I kept having to work weekends) and lots of pruning and tidying up for me. However, it already has three apple trees, 2.5 plum trees (one tree is apparently two growing together, different kinds), and enough raspberry plants to salvage a row.
our solitary row of raspberry canes – also, how immaculate is our neighbor’s plot?
But this last weekend, I decided to start documenting our progress! I’m not sure if this is interesting to anyone but me, but I want to be able to see how far we’ve come when it’s done. Side note – Richard has to go away for work for 6 weeks in May, and I asked him if he wanted me to send him weekly allotment update photos. He thinks he wants to be surprised by how much it has all grown when he gets back… which I used to love seeing after summer holidays when I was a kid.
this is our current plan for the allotment – although it changes every time we are down there (in fact, it has already changed from what it shown here!)
So first up, we have the front half of the allotment. We keep calling it the ‘raspberry section’, as it used to contain mostly rows of overgrown raspberries, but we need to come up with better names. Perhaps one half is Canada, and the other Northern Ireland? That way I can say things like, “let’s put the beans in the Northwest of Canada!”.
Here we are stalling the most due to the shed, as it’ll go in the bottom corner of the plot. Richard spent a day ripping up all the landscape fabric (rolled into piles) and random bricks. Now we just need to properly turn the soil and we can begin planting! Hopefully we’ll plant beans, peas, carrots, cucamelons, chillis, tomatoes, herbs and some flowers here. We’re going to try and plant some pretty/fragrant things around the shed as we’re building a mini patio out of reclaimed brick. A nice little place to sit and have a cup of tea while we’re at the allotment.
We’ve already changed our plans from what my plan shows above, as we’re now thinking about moving the carrots and lettuce greens to this section, and putting them in raised beds. We may even include the cucamelons in with this plan, and create an archway between the two beds!
In between the two growing sections, we have two trees. One is our weird mixed plum tree-and-a-half, and the other is an apple tree. There were three rose bushes placed around these, but they were getting in the way in terms of picking and pruning, so they had to go. We are giving them to a friend of Richard’s, so at least they will be planted somewhere. Just not somewhere that involves me constantly getting pricked by thorns when trying to get at the fruit in the trees.
As I do like flowers, I am replacing the thorny roses with a bank of edible flowers. My goal is to cover the ground between the trees with flowers, that can then be added to salads. You can see my little tray of violas ready for planting, and there were already tons of primrose around. We’ll also plant marigolds, cornflower, and violets. I just need to get them sprouting first. Maybe in a year or two we’ll have lots of pretty, yet edible, flowers?
The second half of the allotment, is larger than the first. It’s where most of our rows of vegetables will go, along with a few randoms. As there was already a rhubarb plant here, we decided to keep it where it was, and create a patch. We’re introducing a couple varieties that we bought, so we’ll hopefully get rhubarb at different times of the year.
There was also a thornless blackberry variety, to the right of where Richard is majestically posing. Again, we’re keeping it as is, but will try to train it better. We’re creating a little brick border, and will mulch on top of the existing landscape fabric, as it was too difficult to remove in this area, and will help with weeds. You won’t even notice it once we’re through with it.
And seeing as how there it a bit of room in this little section, we’re going to add a tayberry plant! I have never tried one before, but it seemed like a good fit beside the blackberry, as they both need similar support and training. Oh, and there is another smaller plum tree in this section, but it doesn’t divide the space up like the other trees, as it’s on the edge of our plot.
apparently this is a purple plum… which makes me a bit sad as yellow plums are my absolute favorite!
the little rhubarb plant we inherited
At the far end of our little plot are three trees – one cherry, and two apples flanking it. I’ve already pruned them back, so now we just have to devise a plan for protecting our cherries from birds! We’ve heard from our neighbors not to expect any cherries, as the birds get them all. Not this year birds! Although, to be fair, I’m not sure what to do yet to prevent that.
As with the previous tree section, we’re going to plant a bunch of flowers under the trees. In this case, however, Richard wants to plant tons of spring bulbs! Not going to do much for us this year, but come next spring, there will be a huge boom in daffodils, crocus, and snow drops under these trees!
And that’s that! It’s kind of a boring post, not going to lie, but I wanted to let you all see the blank slate we started with. That way, when I start posting amazing photos once it’s all established, you will be even more impressed! Now if you need me, you will find me sitting on the grass, trying to mentally encourage my plants to grow…
With the Easter holidays approaching (we’re both getting some time off together – yay!) we’ve started thinking about updating the kitchen. It’s been a project we have long discussed, but haven’t had the time to accomplish. I’ll write a full post soon, with before photos and plans, I promise!
But for now, I want to explore some of the things I am being inspired by for the kitchen. One of the things I know for sure, is that the cupboards will be white, and the tile too! It’ll mean that a good portion of the kitchen will be light and bright, and for that I think it needs some contrast!
I’m loving all things black lately, especially in contrast to white. It’s classic looking, and yet can also be quite modern. So for this kitchen, I am hoping to add lots of black accents for a little punch of style.
My jumping off point were these black cabinet handles that were used on an episode of Fixer Upper (man, I miss that show – I can’t get it in the UK on any channel). I have tried really hard to find something just like it, but so far have been coming up empty or wildly expensive. The closest I have come- in style are these handles from Etsy. They aren’t quite as sleek as the ones Joanna Gaines used, but are less traditional than many on the market. I think they will probably be the ones I end up with.
To go with them (on the drawers we are hoping to add), I am thinking of using cabinet edge pulls. Something really simple like these! I don’t think it would look good to use the same handles horizontally, as it would be too busy, so I want something visually lighter. So far these ones are the only I have found, but I’m still on the hunt.
Now, in my dream kitchen I would add a black faucet to go with all this… wouldn’t that look sharp? But at the moment, replacing the faucet or sink, is probably out of the budget. I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t my forever home, so let’s not get too crazy with the unnecessary improvements.
Okay, but enough of these tentative plans, I will save the proper ones for later, in their own post. For now, enjoy all these photos of kitchens that are looking sharp with all that white and black contrast.
A couple years back, I was in the cookbook section of my local library, looking for books on making pasta. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done my reconnaissance properly, and didn’t realize the books I was looking for were at other branches. But while I was in there, another book caught my eye – the Bouchon Bakery cookbook.
It was so big that it stuck out from the shelf, and looked like it would contain good recipes. And yes, I definitely pick books based on their covers…
Imagine a photo of this book right here… but it’s currently stuck in a gap beside our upper kitchen cabinets! We need to take stuff apart to get it out…
Bouchon Bakery has become one of my favorite cookbooks, and contains lots of classic recipes – including the pâte sucrée crust for this tart. I pretty much use this recipe for any tart I am making – whether it be for a frangipane and fruit tart, or classic lemon.
Lemon tart is one of Richard’s favorite desserts. So the other day, I decided to surprise him with a lemon tart when he came home!
I had a recipe from the Waitrose magazine that I was thinking of trying, but I was worried that it wouldn’t be good. (Although, I haven’t had a bad one yet…) Instead, I decided to break out my whisk, and make something I knew would work – this lemon sabayon.
Sabayon is simply the name given to cooking eggs over a Bain Marie while whisking. Unlike other tarts, this one mostly cooks the eggs before you bake, which reduces the possibility of cracks.
The original recipe is for an 8″ round tart shell, and the lemon mixture shouldn’t be whisked too much, as you don’t want to incorporate air. Since my only tart shell is 10″ in diameter, I whisked my mixture a bit fuffier so that it would fill the shell. Turns out I should have done the math on the volume of my shell, rather than the surface area.
The original recipe was an 8″ round that was 1.5″ tall, and my 10″ round was only 1″ high. I ended up with too much filling, and it gave it a slightly weird sensation when eating. Almost like those “whipped” yogurts that were popular a few years ago? Very light and airy tasting, but still lemony. Not unpleasant at all, but it made it feel like something other than a lemon tart.
top this with fresh fruit, and even a dusting of icing sugar – the choice is yours!
So depending on the texture you are after, watch how much you whip the lemon over the stove. You’re not trying to increase the air, just keep it moving so that the egg doesn’t cook in big chunks. Unless, of course, you want an airy-whipped-lemon-tart. Maybe that’s your thing?
If, like Richard, you’re a fan of the classic lemon tart – perhaps give this method a try!
Lemon Sabayon Tart
Pâte Sucrée recipe adapted from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook (https://www.amazon.com/Bouchon-Bakery-Thomas-Keller-Library/dp/1579654355).
Servings 1Tart (8-10" diameter - depending on height)
113gunsalted butterroom temp.
0.5vanilla beansplit open, seeds scraped out
28geggsabout 0.5 of a large egg
Zest of 1-2 lemonsdepending on size
For the pâte sucrée, sift together the flour, ground almonds, and 23g icing sugar. Add any of the almond that doesn't pass through the sieve back into the mixture.
Beat the butter and vanilla seeds until light in colour and soft, and then sift in the remaining icing sugar. Whip the sugar with the butter until light and fluffy.
Add the sifted dry ingredients to the bowl and mix until it resembles a sort of wet sand. Tip the bowl out onto your work surface, and press together.
To make sure all of the vanilla and sugar is evenly mixed, you will use a technique called 'fraiser' or 'fraisage'. Use the heel of your hand to smear the mixture together on the table, then scrape it off the table, fold it over itself, and continue smearing until it's evenly mixed (see image above).
Pat the dough into a disc, and wrap in cling film, Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 325°F (162°C), grease and line a tart pan with a circle of parchment paper.
To roll out the dough, place the disc between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll out until it is large enough to fit your tart pan and lay inside*.
Press the dough into the corners and fluted edges of your tin, then trim the edge either with your fingers, or by rolling over with your rolling pin,
Line the tart with parchment paper, and fill with rice or beans.
Bake in your preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are starting to turn golden. Remove the beans and paper, and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. If the edges brown too quickly, cover them with some aluminum foil.
Remove tart from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
While the shell is baking, prepare the lemon sabayon filling.
Place a large heat safe bowl over a boiling bain marie, and whisk together the lemon zest, juice, sugar, and eggs.
Continue to whisk the mixture slowly, trying not to add too much air, until the sabayon is lighter in colour and thick. You should be able to draw a figure 8 on top with the mixture and it'll sink slowly. If the mixture is heating too quickly, don't whisk more, simply take the bowl on and off the heat to prevent it from getting too warm.
Remove from the heat, and whisk in the cubed butter, a little at a time. Preheat oven to 300°F (148°C).
Pour the mixture into your tart shell, and bake in the preheated oven for 10+ minutes, or until the sabayon forms a skin, and the tart is set but jiggles a bit in the middle.
Allow tart to cool before removing from the tin, and decorating with fresh fruit or a dusting of icing sugar, if desired.
*This dough is very forgiving - if it cracks or breaks, simply press pieces together. No need to remove and roll again.
I’m starting to realize that I can’t do everything by hand. And I don’t mean that in the sense of handmade… but that sometimes, you just need machine power when baking. Case in point – these Nanaimo Bars.
When I was studying pastry in Vancouver, our course had us doing almost everything by hand. Whether that was whipping cream, or making meringue, there were few things that we did with our Kitchenaid mixers. One of the few things we did with a machine was an italian meringue – and I resigned myself to not making them while living in this tiny flat. (I also resigned myself to not making marshmallows while here, as it’s pretty much the same process.)
As I couldn’t bring my Kitchenaid mixer from Canada, and had no room to put one here even if I did, I didn’t bother to buy a hand mixer. Maybe it’s because once you go Kitchenaid you never go back? Or perhaps my hand mixing at school had made me cocky? Bah ha ha, you puny machines – look at the strength of my arms!!! Mwah ah ah…
But seriously – if I could whip cream by hand, and make meringues (just not italian), why did I need a hand mixer? Well folks, creaming butter, that’s why! It is easy to do when you’re just softening it for a cookie dough, but trying to incorporate air and make it fluffy?! My upper body strength has its limits. So the next time I need to make a fluffy layer, I may just review my aversion to hand mixers.
For anyone not already aware, Nanaimo bars are something from the West Coast of Canada (named after the city of Nanaimo). They are so ubiquitous that as a child I thought they were as common as chocolate chip cookies. It’s a crust of digestive/coconut/nut/chocolate, covered with a buttery custard layer, and topped with more chocolate. Normally the crust contains graham crackers, but over here I substituted with digestive biscuits.
I personally was never the biggest eater of Nanaimo bars, as I found them too sweet/rich as a child, but homesickness has crept in. Either than or my new Canadian coworker, lamenting the lack of these delectable bars, persuaded me to break out the ol’ wooden spoon.
Maybe you will too? Or do you have one of those fancy hand mixers?
Add the egg, and stir until it has cooked and thickened.
Remove from the heat, and stir in the crumbs, and nuts.
Press firmly and evenly into the pan. Chill in the fridge while making the second layer.
For the custard layer, cream together the butter, custard powder, and icing sugar, until light and fluffy.
Add whipping cream, and whip until light. Spread over first layer, and chill until firm.
For the chocolate topping, melt the butter and chocolate together over a bain marie, being careful not to overheat.
Remove bowl from the heat, and allow to cool. Once cool, but still pourable, spread over the custard layer, and chill to set.
*Bain marie is a fancy way of saying hot water bath. It is used to describe cooking items in the oven surrounded by water (to ensure even cooking), or cooking items in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. In our case, it means the latter.
While discussing painting the tile in our bathroom, I mentioned to Richard that I thought it would look great to paint the floor black. I have seen black tile lots of times, and always think it looks dramatic, and yet somehow classic. Seeing as how our flat is Victorian, and they were fans of black and white floor tiles, I feel like it’s sort of character appropriate. Not really, but it’s close enough to make me feel good about my decision. So there.
However, Richard isn’t too keen on the idea. He likes the concept, but doesn’t think it will work in our tiny windowless bathroom. His argument is that the bathroom is too small and it’ll be too dark. My counter argument is that the walls and ceiling will all be either white, or slightly-blue off-white. Everything else will be so bright that the room can handle the dark floor. Not only that, but the floor tile paint options out there aren’t exactly vast, but they do make black!
Here are a few more arguments in my favor, in the form of photos of pretty bathrooms with black/charcoal floor tiles. One of them is even a basement bathroom, which shows you can do this in a room with no windows!
So what do you think? Are you on Richard’s side of the discussion, and think the black floor will be too dark? Or are you with me, and think that those black tile floors will really make this room pop? I’m curious to know what you guys think as it’s a big step to make in such a small place.