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A Mini Garden Makeover

Over the summer, we gave our front garden flower beds a little revamp and before it gets all cold, dark and dead-looking, I thought I would share our simple improvements.

I feel I should firstly start with the incident that caused us to need to makeover our front garden. The house next door to us was empty for a little while and before the new neighbours moved in, they had a complete clear-out of the very overgrown front garden. Unfortunately, the gardeners got a bit carried away and along with next-door’s weeds and dead plants, they also pulled up all of the flowers and plants in our garden leading to me writing several angry emails to various garden companies until I was offered an apology and compensation for the cost of new plants!

In retrospect, our front garden wasn’t looking that great and although we lost some nice plants, they also pulled up a lot of weeds, in particular a rather invasive climbing plant that we could never seem to get on top of!

Here is the long flower bed in our front garden a few weeks after the gardeners had visited with a lot of weed regrowth. We (I roped in my parents to help!) began by pulling all of the weeds up to create a blank canvas then laying down a good layer of topsoil.

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My Dad then secured this lovely little white picket fence to separate our front garden from our next-door neighbours’.

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Then it was time to get planting. I’m no Charlie Dimmock so cannot give a proper list of plant names but I do know we now have a jasmine tree, several hydrangea bushes, some osteospermum daisies, some ferns and a yellow poppy plant amongst other things.

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After nightly watering and weeding, things seemed to flourish and this is our garden at the end of October. I love how the little pink flowering plant hangs over the side of the wall and how alive and colourful everything looks…the bees seem to love our new flower beds too!

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Latest Purchases #90 – Dotcomgiftshop

Happy Saturday! Ian is working today so I snuck back to bed this morning with brioche and tea to read a few chapters of my new book and plan to spend the day baking, blogging, pottering and doing a little bit of marking.

A little while ago, I made another order at Dotcomgiftshop (which does the most amazing sales!) Here are a few things I picked up…

First up a fun new print for the kitchen. I like the retro style of this picture and of course the celebration of all things pudding! I was going to ask Ian to hang it this weekend but after almost falling out hanging some other prints midweek I think I may need to butter him up first!

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I have phases where I find cross stitching really relaxing to do as I watch TV (it stops me constantly checking my phone too!) and this ‘Home Sweet Home’ print is a very sweet project to have lined up.

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This metal sign made me giggle. I plan on hanging this in our utility room by the washing machine when we finally decorate it.

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I really like this next item – a pastel green herb house. I saw a similar style in IKEA recently and almost bought it but thought this was a little more unique. It comes with six plant pots with blackboard-painted signs for you to add the name of your herbs on. We always have fresh herbs on the go so this will be a lovely way to grow and display them.

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I can never have too many notebooks and this pretty pink and gold design is a happy addition to the collection.

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I also picked up this pencil box to try and keep my desk tidier at work.

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I love making my baking efforts look a little bit better by using pretty cupcake cases.

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I had to bin my old flask recently as it was leaking so this is a good replacement…perfect for filling with hot chocolate when we go on an autumnal country walk!

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We always need tea towels and I thought these apples and pears designs looked very Orla Kiely-esque.

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Clearly influenced by the same designer, I bought a new jar for storing our teabags.

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Napkins.

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Despite Ian telling me we don’t need any more tins, I couldn’t resist these pretty ones and they all fit inside the big one so they aren’t taking up too much room!

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Some washi tape in pretty gingham designs.

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Some metal candle holders that I plan on hanging in the garden next summer.

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Finally, my most middle-aged purchase (which I am secretly really excited about) is this little gardening set as my knees really hurt when I have to kneel down to dig and plant stuff!

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Recipe – Orzo Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella

It seems as though we have had another little burst of summer this week and I have found myself savouring what may be the last of the sunshine with sleeveless dresses and all the windows open.

To celebrate this, I decided to make a vibrant and summery dish using an ingredient that was new to me – orzo pasta.

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Reminiscent of risotto rice, these little pasta pieces are great as a soup base, mixed with a sauce or served as a chilled salad. I made a dish that would be great eaten warm or cold the next day and it looked and tasted amazing!

First of all, how could you not enjoy these beautiful heirloom tomatoes?

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We have had a go at growing two different varieties of tomatoes this summer and are just finishing the fruits of our labour. It has made me appreciate really good quality ingredients, especially when so much of the supermarket veggies taste so bland or is that just me?!

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After looking at a few orzo recipes for inspiration, I noticed several of them recommended cooking the pasta in stock to add some additional flavour. I liked this and saved a few tablespoons of the liquid to use as a light ‘sauce’ rather than drizzle a load of oil over the pasta and it worked really well.orzo12

Ingredients

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1 chicken stock cube

150g of orzo pasta

1 punnet of heirloom tomatoes, halved (normal cherry tomatoes would also work)

A handful of fresh basil

A ball of mozzarella cheese or a tub of the mini mozzarella pearls

Salt and pepper

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How to make it

  • Bring a pan of water to the boil and crumble in your stock cube
  • Pour in the orzo pasta and cook until al dente
  • Drain the pasta leaving a bit of stock in the pan
  • Mix through the tomatoes and some basil and cook on a light heat for a few minutesorzo7
  • Add the mozzarella balls and season wellorzo8
  • Serve with a little more fresh basil and enjoy!orzo2

Recipe – Mushroom, Leek and Gruyère Quiche

Finally, the school holidays are here! It was an emotional last week of term with lots of goodbyes, a rather horrible car accident (my poor Smart car is currently off being repaired…fingers crossed it returns in one piece!) and a classroom move in this sweltering heat, but I made it and am already feeling very much in holiday mode.

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It was strange last night not to get the usual ‘Sunday night feeling’ but I do have lots of things planned for the summer holidays so will definitely not get bored!

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So far we have had several meals outside, started work on a new area of the garden, drank Pimms from my new cocktail dispenser and I managed to burn my knees!

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We also had Ian’s parents and George to stay this weekend so I tried out a new quiche recipe on them. This is the perfect time of year for quiche – it is tasty warm or chilled and throw on a bit of salad and you’ve got yourself a lovely summery lunch.

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Ingredients

1 pack of shortcrust pastry (it was too hot to make it from scratch!)

A good glug of olive oil

3 leeks, sliced

1 tray of chestnut mushroom, sliced

Salt and pepper

A pinch of dried thyme

2 eggs

284ml of double cream

200g of Gruyère cheese, grated

How to make it

  • Begin by rolling out your pastry on a floured surface so that it fits your quiche dishDSCN0164
  • Using your rolling pin, lay the pastry over the dish (I usually grease mine first too) and use some leftover pastry scraps to gently push it into the edges of the dishDSCN0165
  • Chill the pastry case in the fridge for about half an hour and meanwhile preheat your oven to 200°C, Gas Mark 5
  • While the pastry is chilling, fry your leeks in oil for about 10 minutes then add the mushrooms and sauté for another 5 minutes
  • Season with salt and pepper and add a pinch of thymeDSCN0169
  • Once the leeks and mushrooms have softened, set the pan aside and allow to cool
  • Get your pastry case and lightly prick the base with a forkDSCN0166
  • Line with greaseproof paper then fill with baking beansDSCN0167
  • Blind bake your pastry for 20 minutes before removing the paper and beans
  • Cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown
  • In a separate jug, beat together the eggs and cream
  • Pour this mixture over the leeks and mushrooms and mix wellDSCN0170
  • Add half the Gruyère cheese and tip this filling into the pastry caseDSCN0173
  • Top with the remaining cheeseDSCN0174
  • Bake for 25 minutes until the quiche has set and is golden brownDSCN0175
  • I usually trim off the excess pastry tooquiche8

o   Enjoy warm or chilled!DSCN0181

A Little Catch Up

It felt like I didn’t have a spare second to blog last week so I thought I would start this week with a little catch up…

We have enjoyed glorious weather for the past week and I have spent most of my free time either in the garden or watching the World Cup…but the less said about England the better!

I have become slightly obsessed with my roses, which I still believe are the some of the most beautiful I have ever seen – I am even logging on to gardening websites for hints and tips! Unfortunately they don’t last very long when I have cut them and brought them inside in vases but the smell is so intoxicating I don’t really mind.

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Not wanting to turn this into a gardening post but as well as my roses, I am also doing daily checks on my tomato plants and raspberries. We are growing two different varieties of tomatoes indoors in pots in the conservatory and now have about 12 baby ones coming through.

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Whilst clearing away a huge bramble bush in the back garden at the weekend, I also uncovered five or six healthy-looking raspberry plants which have a nice little harvest ready to pick.

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After moaning about my recent ceiling-painting, Ian and I decided to treat ourselves to a professional decorator for our hallway. It’s a big job and I don’t trust myself balancing precariously on stepladders to access those hard to reach places, so I think it is worth it. I spent a long time in B&Q finding the perfect shade of grey I wanted and the entrance hall, stairs and landing are already looking much better than they did before.

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I went to a really interesting talk on chocolate moulding at our village hall with the local WI. I’m not a member but couldn’t resist the invitation from a friend to join them for an evening of tasting and making. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photographs but I will definitely put my new skills to good use soon.

I held a little pizza party for the England match with friends. It was a really fun evening and I will be sharing my foodie tips on it later this week.

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Finally, my highlight of the week, well actually my highlight of 2014 so far, was seeing the legend that is Dolly Parton at Birmingham NEC last night.  Ian and I drove up with my parents and it was the most amazing concert…I’m not sure if I enjoyed the songs or all her funny stories in between them more! Having grown up listening to her, it was great to sing along to all the classics and her voice was just stunning. The tickets were pricy but I don’t know how many more UK tours she will do so it was a case of ‘now or never’ when I saw them advertised! I can’t wait to watch her again on TV at Glastonbury this weekend.

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Phew…no wonder I didn’t have time to blog this week! x

Recipe – Ham, Leek, Asparagus and Mushroom Pie

Yesterday was glorious! I was in the garden after work last night (helping my neighbour try and catch his rabbit, Reggie, who keeps making a run for it!) and noted how beautiful my rose bushes are looking. They were all here when we moved in but I have made an effort to keep them pruned and well-watered and my efforts are paying off…

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They also have the most gorgeous scent which fills the room when I pick them.

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When Ian got home from work, we walked up to the pub for a few beers in our favourite spot, overlooking the cows and calves, before heading back home for chicken and tzatziki pittas and the news series of Orange is the New Black – a pretty perfect evening for me!

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Today however looks to be wet, grey and miserable! I was saving this recipe up for such an occasion as who doesn’t love pie when the weather outside is rubbish?!

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This recipe came about after we had lots of leftover ham following a roast dinner joint – the below should make enough for four hungry diners. I separated the filling in to two dishes and made two smaller pies

Ingredients

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A glug of olive oil

2 leeks, sliced

A small tray of button mushrooms, halved and quartered

One small bunch of asparagus, quartered

About 3 thick slices of ham, chopped into bite-size pieces

A good pinch of dried thyme (1-2 teaspoons)

A large tub of crème fraîche

3 teaspoons of wholegrain mustard

A sheet of puff pastry (I always buy the ready-made stuff!)

How to make it

o  Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4

o   In a large pan, heat the oil on a medium heat

o   Add the leeks and sauté for 5 minutes or sopie2

o   Then add the mushrooms and asparagus for another few minutespie3

o   Add the ham, season well and sprinkle over the thyme

o   Sauté for another 5 minutes or sopie5

o   Add the mustard and pour in enough crème fraîche so that the contents of the pan are generously coatedpie6

o   Spoon your filling into your pie dish or dishespie7

o   Cover with your puff pastry and score some little holes to release the steam whilst cookingpie10

o   I usually do a little wash with some milk over the pastry using a pastry brush to give it a golden finish

o   Pop your pie(s) into the oven and bake for around 30 minutes until well-risenpie14

I enjoyed mine with some garlic roast potatoes on the side but it is pretty substantial just as it is too! x

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How to…Restore an Iron Gate

This little project has been an on-going one since we moved in to this house about two years ago but with the help of my Mum this week, it is finally finished!

My priority has always been to get the inside of the house looking good with the front and back garden a kind of afterthought that we just about keep on top of with the occasional bit of lawn mowing and weeding. The front of your house however is obviously the first thing that people see when they come over so I wanted to smarten ours up to make a good first impression and all that!

We inherited a rather worn and rusty iron gate when we moved in, which I assume was once painted black. As you have probably gleaned, I am a fan of all things white so set about researching how to transform our gates. I should point out that I first started this project in April 2012 so it has taken me a good two years to finish it…sounds about right for me, although I am clearly going to blame it on the lack of good sunny outside-painting weather!

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The basic kit you will need:

  • Wire brushes (a thick one for the gate posts and a thin one for getting into the fiddly ornate bits)gate3
  • Paintbrush (use an old one as unless you want to buy the specialist thinner, this paint is pretty impossible to clean off!)
  • Specialist metal paint in the colour of your choice (I chose one that didn’t need a primer or top coat)gate13
  • Hot soapy water and an old rag/ cloth

Try and choose a day or weekend when you have fairly decent weather as rain can interfere with the paint drying and wind can cause dust and debris to stick to your newly painted gates.

Begin by using your wire brushes to thoroughly scrub the gate to remove all traces of rust. With a gate of this size, it did feel like a rather painstaking process but it ensures the paint has a good surface to adhere to and gets rid of all the old paint as well.

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You can see where I used the wire brushes here:

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Next, using hot soapy water and a rag, clean down the iron to ensure all traces of rust and dust are gone.gate9 gate10

Finish off with a spray of clean water but mind your toes…I got soaked!

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Once the gate has dried off, then you can start painting. You can lay down old sheets if you want to avoid getting paint on the surrounding floor or plants but I didn’t bother.

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We needed two layers of paint for full coverage and if your gate is ornate like ours then you really do need to take care and make sure every twist and curl is painted.

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Once the gates dried and I admired our handiwork, I added the finishing touch which was a number 7 sign I bought when we first moved and can FINALLY put up now!

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I hope you’ll agree the gates now look 100 times better and make our drive look so much nicer! x