My first recipe – healthy (but tasty) carrot muffins.

Those of you that know me, will know that I was until recently a pretty awful baker. Rather than making cakes from sponge, I seemed to make them from lead or cement and couldn’t for the life of me turn out anything presentable (which is astonishing given how much I love cakes!)

The turning point was when my husband bought me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Firstly, I felt compelled to use it (yes, they’re ridiculously expensive. I’m pretty sure other mixers from different brands would also do a great job) so I had to learn a bit more about the art and science of baking.  Secondly, it taught me that there is a big difference between whacking together some butter and sugar in a bowl for two minutes and beating it properly to form a base for a really good sponge.  Lord knows, I’ve even been brave enough to make meringues since owning it, and they were my biggest disaster ever before – I wept, they wept, it was a mess. Now, the Kitchen Aid is my third pride and joy, right after my two kids. I love it and am forever looking for a good excuse to use it.

Today, I had a good excuse.  My lovely friend and her family are temporarily moving into my neighbourhood while they embark upon a huge building project (I hope she’ll let me share some of that too).  Now, if we can’t show some solidarity after our last 12 months, who can?!  And what better way to spread the love than with cake? But being only Monday, it seemed like I needed to try and strike a balance between indulgence and healthy eating. Far too early in the week to be falling off wagons.

I’ve been meaning for ages to cut down on sugar, both in life in general and in baking.  I have a massive family history of diabetes, and had it myself in both pregnancies so I know this beast is coming for me.  But does cutting down on sugar have to mean cutting down on treats.  No, it turns out. I started out by adapting a recipe I had for carrot muffins, dialling up the good stuff (carrots and fruit) and dialling down the bad stuff (sugar).  Since these muffins don’t use a butter and sugar base, I thought there was a good chance I could get away with less sugar. In actual fact, with just 75g of sugar spread between 12 muffins, that’s a little over a teaspoon per muffin. Not bad going for cakes, and big ones at that.

So here it is, my first ever recipe.  Please try it, it’s super easy and a great treat for kids (they won’t even know they’re quite healthy!)

Low sugar carrot muffins

75g light muscovado sugar

175ml sunflower oil

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

175g grated carrots

50g raisins

5 organic dried apricots

Grated zest of one orange

175g self-raising flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180 (mine is a fan oven, it worked well on this temperature). Fill a muffin tin with 12 cake cases.

In a bowl, place the sugar, oil and eggs and mix until well combined. Then add in the carrots, orange zest, raisins and apricots.

img_9312
I wanted to add a recommendation here for my Microplane. I battled for years with cheap zesters only to find most of the zest stuck inside them and they were impossible to wash. This is brilliantly easy to use.

You could make this with just raisins, but my kids had eaten most of ours, so I added what I had, which was 50g and then topped up with the sweet, squishy apricots. I imagine dates would also work well – same sweet, sticky texture.

img_9308
I grated my carrots in a food processor, but there are always chunks left over. Just chuck them in, they’ll be fine

Mix the flour with the bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon and sift all of this into the bowl with the carrot mixture.

img_9314
My other vital bit of kit is my weighing scales.  You can see they weigh and measure in lots of different denominations and you can ‘zero’ them so you can keep adding ingredients to the same bowl, rather than having to weigh things out in lots of bowls.  Less washing up = winning!

Lightly mix until just combined – muffins can be a bit lumpy in texture and should not be overworked. The batter you have will be a soft, dropping consistency.  Divide the batter between your cake cases – I put about 1.5 tablespoons in each case and then used the last bit to top them all up and make them even.

Bake for approx. 20-25 minutes, until nicely risen and brown. Use a skewer to check if they’re baked in the middle – as soon as it comes out clean, take them out. Leave to cool in the tin for around 10 minutes (so they don’t collapse sideways) and then remove to a wire rack (or even just a plate to be honest).

img_9316
Packaged up and ready to be delivered (with a few kept back for the kids).

Most importantly, do a quality control check with a nice cuppa before serving to anyone else.

img_9317
Actually good enough to eat! Light and fluffy, great orange flavour and just sweet enough (for a Monday!)

 

 

 

 

On the high street: cushions

With work on the house essentially complete, we’re now in the finishing off stage, putting our own stamp on the newly renovated surroundings.  This weekend we took delivery of the final piece of the living room puzzle – our accent chairs (excuse the giant Minion lurking in the background).

A bold choice, yes, but with an otherwise entirely grey room I thought it was a good idea to make a bit of a statement.  And thankfully the rosy pink has gone down well, even with Mr HH. Mainly though, and for the first time ever, it’s just nice to have enough seating so that when visitors come, we can all sit together in the same room. But as you can see, the seats all look a little bit bare and unfinished so the next mission is to find cushions for both the chairs and sofas to tie the whole colour scheme together, and then we’ll be done in here. Probably.

Since I’ve been trawling the market for cushions, I thought it might be useful if I shared some of my findings from the high street.  There are a lot of great trends out there for this season, here are some of my top picks….

M&S– brilliant for birds and bees (roll over pics for prices).

Next – cosy up with warm wools, felts and tartans.

John Lewis – going bold with bright geometrics.

Dunelm – these guys have a huge selection of cushions at really reasonable prices.  They cover pretty much every trend under the sun but I love these florals.

Asda – with almost 300 cushions in their collection, there really is something for everyone here.  But the pets and retro cushions stood out for me (even though I’m not a pet lover as numerous friends will attest to!)  Could make great gifts with Xmas coming.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, please do!) will know that I already invested in these fab letter cushions when they first launched.  At just £5 each, who could resist and they fit in really well with the other black accents in our room.

Last but not least, I didn’t think it would be easy to find some cushions to tie in with the variety of colours in our spare room but these charcoal metallic feather cushions from Tesco are just perfect and they were a bargain at around £8 each. At the time of posting this, Tesco has a ‘3 for 2’ offer on soft furnishings.

tesco-cushion

Since my hunt for the perfect cushion continues, please share any great finds you’ve had in the comments and thanks for reading.

 

 

 

O is for…

  1. Over.

The building work is over.  Well, at least over in the sense that we no longer have to walk on concrete, sleep in the wrong rooms and make decisions about kitchens, bathrooms, paint and such. Obviously it’s not over in the way that these things are never quite fully over – snagging, finishing off bits and pieces, filling out new spaces with new things and turning the garden from a building site back into a garden, that sort of thing. But certainly waking up every morning and not finding random tradespeople in your home at the crack of dawn is a VERY GOOD THING.

2. Overanalysing.

The next phase of course (as any of you that have ever carried out any sizeable building or renovation work will know) is the overanalysing, the bit where the stuff which is more perfect than anything you had before, is not quite perfect enough.  Many good and kind friends and family have walked in and made very complimentary noises about our new home and the changes we’ve made.  We however, the residents of the madhouse, can currently only see the newly appeared crack under the cooker hood, the paint splatter on the radiators, the fingerprints on the freshly painted walls.  Obviously by we, I mean hubby and I.  The junior fingerprint-makers seem quite relaxed about it all. I know that once the house has been duffed up a bit and lived in just enough to make it look presentable without having to be quite so pristine, we’ll relax a bit too, but for now it’s quite hard to get past that ever so slightly wonky light switch on the landing.

3. Overthinking.

It occurred to me this morning, that 3 weeks of intensive searching for plain grey lampshades for the new lamps in the lounge might be a sign that I’m (slightly) overthinking the final finish of the house.  Sure, we want it to look nice, but it is *possible* that I might have lost the plot at this stage.  Just a tad.  With a renewed energy to get the lounge finished though, I got over myself, took a trip to eBay and bought two standard issue grey lampshades.  I mean, how bad can they be?*

*we might be revisiting this question in a few days.

4. OK.

We are OK, we survived the last 7 hectic and turbulent months and so at last it’s nice to be able to share a little something from the new home with you. This little haven was a spot we didn’t know we would have when we started the renovation.  A major part of the work was extending the house to incorporate a bigger kitchen with open plan dining room, but we didn’t know the final layout would leave us a perfectly proportioned space right between the two to make a little morning coffee spot, looking out onto the garden.

I started with a very lucky buy from Homesense.  For those of you that don’t know it (I didn’t, my mother in law introduced me) it’s the home division of TK Maxx.  Like its clothing counterpart, it carries a wide range of products and is a bit of a lucky dip in the sense that what you find that day is what you find and it probably won’t be there the next time you go.  So when I stepped out of the lift and saw just two chairs like this right in front of me, I knew I had to make a quick decision.

homesense

Fortunately, the decision was right and the chairs fitted perfectly into the space we have.  But they looked a bit lost and it became obvious pretty quickly that sitting there with a drink, but nowhere to put it down was a bit of a pain.

img_8712

So the first hunt was for a table.  This really well-priced find, £65 from Marquis & Dawe is ideal in terms of both size and style, with legs that echoed the shape and colour of those on the chair. The table top has a beautifully lacquered finish and the quality feels really good.

fullsizerender-5

Now for my favourite part – accessorising.  Mr HH and I managed to grab a couple of kid-free hours last weekend to hit the shops and pick up a few bits and pieces.  But it wasn’t quite plain sailing.  I forgot that accessorising doesn’t come particularly naturally to this pragmatic male.  “We are not having bloody wooden acorns!” was his opening gambit. OK, thought he’d go for those.  How about some sleek, stylish ceramic apples and pears? “What are they FOR?” I didn’t think it was even worth suggesting the giant artichoke in the end (and I’ll tell you about the gold pineapple another day).

So in the end, we agreeably settled on a deliciously scented white candle, sitting inside a bell jar, both from Neptune and a tiny spiky plant in a shiny chrome pot (no idea what it is – gardening is definitely not in my skill set) from our local garden centre.  Rather impressively, Mr HH picked out the slate coasters which fit in perfectly; my interiors training is clearly working.

img_8912

The final piece of this puzzle was to define the overall space with a stand out piece of wall art.  Now you read the bit above about the accessorising, right?  So you’ll understand then that I had a bit of a job to get these angel wings passed. But O is for OMG I LOVE THEM!  From Cox & Cox, the gilded wings have a blue/grey wash over them and frame the space perfectly.

img_8914

Not that the 3 males in my house show much appreciation.  The junior ones keep asking why we have them on the wall when it’s not Christmas.  The senior one has been busy taking a series of photos of himself in ‘angelic’ poses in front of them.  What do they know? I’m looking forward to welcoming lots of girlfriends next week for a Macmillan Coffee Morning and enjoying a bit of female solidarity. Watch this space for lots of cake photos (and please comment with any great baking recipes you have – still planning what to make!)

 

 

 

 

Beach chic

Whilst the shops are already starting to bring in their autumn/winter collections, I refuse to give up on summer in early August (even though I was sitting watching the drizzle outside as I started writing this post). Fortunately, I was watching the drizzle out of a lovely little sash window (equipped with window seat dressed in seaside tones), overlooking a perfectly sandy surfers beach in Cornwall, whilst enjoying a week away from it all.  The surf, the sand and the sweet little whitewashed cottage we stayed in got me thinking about beach chic.  I loved pottering around the many art shops and galleries in Cornwall, but it’s all too tempting to get carried away in the moment when you’re on holiday and shop up a storm, bringing back a host of beach themed memorabilia. But whilst it looked perfect in its beachside setting, you realise that these things don’t fit quite the same way into a semi in suburbia once you get home.  With that said, injecting a hint of seaside colour or beach materials is the perfect way to keep memories of happy holidays alive, once the sun has gone in and you’re home and back to reality.

On our own home front, it’s been nice to take a week off to decompress from all the building work and renovations which have been mildly stressful (read: VERY STRESSFUL). But we’re almost there, bar snags (I could probably do a whole post on snags – maybe I will). Normality has largely returned to the happy home, if a somewhat hollow normality as we’re still missing  a lot of our belongings and soft furnishings to take the echoes out of the place.  I’ll be back to update on that soon – in the meantime, suffice to say that walking on new carpets after almost 6 months of walking on rubble, nails and broken floorboards is positively dreamy.

Hope you’re enjoying your summer whether you’re home or away – would love to see pics from any of your stylish holiday homes, souvenir finds or days out and about.

Here are my summer hol picks, hope you like them. Clockwise from top left:

  1. Ahoy! whale and octopus trays, £12.00, Magpie
  2. Beach hut blackboard, £19.95,Dorset Gifts
  3. Summer beach vacation art, £95, Norfolk Boy
  4. Beach hut bath mat, £39.99, Coastal Home
  5. Happy place cushion, £13, Sass and Belle
  6. Driftwood heart, £85, Nautilus Driftwood Designs

Slide1

 

 

Almost: the (long) final furlong

Almost 4 months into our build and renovation (and five weeks past the completion date, but hey, who’s counting?) we can (almost) see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Upstairs has been (almost) finished, decorated and reclaimed as a fairly viable living space.  In fact, at end of the day that we spent 12 hours putting everything back into the right rooms and ejecting the rubble, it (almost) felt like we were spending the night at The Dorchester on London’s Park Lane, compared to how we had been living.

The weird thing about a project like this is telling people it’s just about done, but not feeling like it’s actually anywhere near done, thanks to the continued presence of dust, rubble and great expanses of light-sapping plaster coloured walls.  There’s a lot to be said for finishing touches like decorating and flooring, and how big a role they play in transforming the house from hovel to home.

But anyway, what can we say we’ve learnt?

  1. Never, ever build another extension again.
  2. Actually, despite point 1, we are already feeling the benefits of creating home that works to our specific needs, so we’ll probably forget the pain in due course and think it’s a good idea to embark upon phase 2 (phase 1 has been extending downstairs only).
  3. If you’re planning on living in, don’t.
  4. Just kidding – moving out is a very costly business and if you absolutely have to live through the building work, liaise with your builders to map out what will need to be moved around when so you don’t end up doing mad panic moves at 11pm to prepare for work invading a room the next day.
  5. Learn to practise mindfulness and meditation to get you through the moments that the builders don’t stick to your carefully planned and agreed schedule in point 4.
  6. Expect (and budget) to have to place quite a lot in storage. A cull at the beginning is crucial.  But a second round of packing and storing things mid way will probably also become necessary.
  7. Expect the things you don’t place into storage to become buried in dust (however well you wrapped them). We are at all times to be found inconspicuously patting ourselves down from streaks of dust all over our clothes.
  8. Think details – at all times.  No piece of work will be carried out because it’s common sense or because the builders think it would be really useful to you. If you don’t note it, it won’t happen.
  9. Measure light fittings.  Properly. We (OK, I) seem to have gotten the buying of light fittings more wrong than anything else in the whole house.  From too small, to too long to ordering extra lights for rooms that didn’t even need them – one way or another, we seem to have ended up with enough spare light fittings to open a lighting store.
  10. Keep the faith.  There have been many (many) moments that someone has switched off the light at the end of the tunnel (usually when they’ve switched off the electrics without telling you and then gone home for the night).  However dismal the site looks at any time, it will come together.  Eventually.
  11. Embrace the adventure.  Especially if you have children, they will revel in sleeping on dust sheets, eating on the floor and doing their homework perched on the toilet because there is nowhere else to sit. Life’s rich tapestry and all that.  And one day, MANY MANY months into the future, you’ll (probably) be ready to laugh about it.

Check out a few of our during and almost done shots below. The ‘during’ phase has been the exact opposite of fun.  But the ‘almost done’ part has brought a surprisingly large amount of elation.  Who’d have thought that just being able to sit on a sofa could be such cause for celebration? It’s the little things.

I feel like bursting into the opening line of Take That’s ‘Never Forget’…”we’ve come a long way…” Forgive me, the stress has made me a little hysterical.

After shots coming soon.  Almost.

img_7683img_7878img_7880img_7805

6 of the best: denim blues

Denim blue, in its huge variety of shades from pale chambray to deep indigo, is all the rage in homes this summer. Here’s my pick of the best blue buys on the market…

Slide1

Clockwise from top left:

  1. Blue Belle throw, Loaf, £140
  2. Hay eclectic cushion, Liberty, £59
  3. E wall light, Kartell, £59
  4. Duralex Picardie marine tumblers, set of 6, Heals, £11
  5. Denim bean chair, Cox & Cox, £85
  6. Blue metal storage trunk, Habitat, £50

And it’s not just homes that are rocking blue this summer.  If you feel like splashing out, accessorise yourself with one of these blue beauties…

Spend a penny on spending a penny 

Firstly apologies for the decidedly unspeedy fashion in which my posts have been arriving. Turns out that starting a blog right before starting a major renovation…not such a good idea. Work is continuing at a good pace on the extension but the huge amount of choosing and ordering fixtures and fittings, combined with moving things from room to room every week is leaving some pretty jaded faces around here.

But not to be distracted from the job at hand, and certainly not to fall at the final hurdle and just paint everything cream because we’ve ever so slightly had enough of it all, it’s been time to focus our minds on the smallest room in the house, the downstairs loo.

When I brought up the subject of how to decorate the loo with Mr HH, I got a puzzled look and a short and sweet reply of “who cares, it’s a toilet”. I shall take that as carte blanche to unleash my slightly braver self, where I might have had to plan with longevity in mind in the rest of the house.

When you think about it, your loo is actually the room which will have the most captive audience (not to paint too graphic a picture), both the house’s inhabitants and visitors, so why be boring? It may be small, but my loo will most definitely be perfectly formed.

Initially I thought I had it easily sussed. I was completely and utterly set on decking it out in some bright, shiny and pearlescent parrot wallpaper.


But then my nephew took one look at my wallpaper samples and shot those parrots right off their perches by announcing it would look like the flat above the Queen Vic in Eastenders. And so back to the drawing board it was (17 year olds can be so cutting. And honest).

You’ll have to watch this space to see how I integrate my love of shiny things in the end!  But one thing that will be adorning our powder room is this collection of hilariously funny (but quick to read) modern takes on the old Ladybird kids books. My lovely friend bought me one for my birthday and this feels like the perfect way to share the giggles. Don’t worry friends, we won’t be timing your tinkle trips.


In the meantime, if you’re thinking of giving your powder room a facelift, chuck out the idea of painting it white and sticking in some functional tiles and check out these gems….