Archives for posts with tag: tutorial

1I’ve said in the past that of all the colours I like, pink is nowhere near the top of that list. However, there is something about that shade which evokes the hallmarks of my favourite season – bright flowers in bloom, sunsets at the end of a long sunny day, rosy fruit bursting with juice, and lots of ice-cream to cool off in the balmy heat. Well, I blended the latter two with some milk as temperatures began to soar in the last couple of weeks, and greeted summer with this classic concoction in my hand – a glass of homemade strawberry milkshake…Mmmmm!

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Apart from the solstice (Happy Litha!), this June brought us something else to celebrate, a birthday milestone. Not mine, but a friend who turned 50. A group of us at work got her a giftcard and a bottle of rosé with matching begonias, but I wanted to make her something special.

We recently had a conversation about natural products, and how coconut oil is great for haircare. She expressed an interest in trying out Himalayan pink salts, and that gave me a lightbulb moment… 💡

2018-06-26 21.21.59Instead of trawling through the likes of Etsy or Not on the High Street like I normally do, why not put together a bespoke pamper kit?

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I already had a big bag of the pink salt at home and only needed to fill a small jar with some of it, but I managed to find the other bits and bobs at my nearest Holland & Barrett‘s (which was having a sale), and a local shop in Lytham. As you can see, all items were in the various hues of summer, including the gift bag I made.

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To construct this, all you would need (apart from the bag itself) is a paper doily, some thin card, and gift tissue. Unless you’ve a deft hand, I’d advise cutting the eye-shapes etc. with a circle cutter. I designed a ‘badge’ for the body of the owl that says “turning 50 is a real hoot”, but if you haven’t got a printer, a simpler alternative would be to use washi paper, or another material that’s patterned, like gift wrap.

You might be wondering why the owl. I haven’t an answer for that, except…it’s cute. That’s one of the reasons I like these quirky looking birds. I guess it kind of looks like I’m saying with age comes wisdom, but mainly because…it’s cute. 😀

2018-04-22 17.22.10…a rose still wouldn’t taste as sweet as it smells. Though its natural flavour is too distinctive to be mistaken for anything else, it is actually very subtle. Not so when these crimson blooms have been made into syrup, as I recently discovered!

Now that the days are getting warmer, I’ve been putting my blender to good use by making us loads of refreshing smoothies. However, the Rose Green Tea I made the other week reminded me of a fragrant ice-cold beverage I used to enjoy as a child growing up in the tropics. It is commonly known as Bandung in the Malay Archipelago, possibly a variant of the popular Rose Milk brought over by Indian immigrants generations ago.

Summer lovin’ had me a blast
Summer lovin’ happened so fast

Aside from being a fab summer drink, the colour alone is enough to set off my mental playlist so it repeats the Grease soundtrack over and over again, with particular emphasis on the above verse so I now can’t get rid of that earworm. Perhaps they ought to re-name this milkshake The Pink Lady!

2018-05-06 17.50.50There are many variations of Bandung, but it is essentially a mixture of rose syrup, milk, cold water and ice. Be forewarned: unless you have a super sweet tooth, go easy on the syrup as it is incredibly saccharine. Some recipes call for condensed milk, but I would personally not recommend it. Evaporated milk is a better option, or the regular stuff you’d put in your tea. Unsweetened dairy alternatives will also work.

You could try making your own rose syrup, but I’m saving my supply of petals for other projects, so I turned to good old eBay and bought myself a bottle of Natco‘s. All ingredients went into my trusty blender, and pretty soon I had myself a frosty and frothy (frosthy? 😀 ) pink concoction served with edible gold sprinkles and of course…a cocktail umbrella, because no sunny day is complete without that!

2018-05-06 19.22.34My love affair with rose as an ingredient continues, and has extended from culinary endeavours to skincare. I have a few plans in mind and would ideally prefer to use rose essential oil in my beauty products, but it is very very dear, and with good reason. The purest rose otto requires tens of thousands of roses to be distilled just to fill a mere 5ml bottle. It is, however, considered worth the expense because of the benefits to both mind and body. My previous blog post doesn’t even begin to touch on the merits of this botanical wonder.

A cheaper alternative would be to buy a blend, and supplement it with homemade rose-infused oil. The latter is easy enough to achieve. There are a few different methods, but I believe the ‘sunlight version’ yields the quickest result. All you’d need is one part crushed or bruised dried rose petals to one part carrier oil. Grapeseed oil is fine, but sweet almond, jojoba, and even olive oil will also do. If you choose to replace the dried petals with fresh ones, ensure they are from organic roses (so no chemicals have been sprayed on them) but still be wary of mould forming due to moisture content.

Place both ingredients in a clean jar and give it a good swirl to make sure the petals are all submerged. It is absolutely crucial that your chosen vessel did not recently contain anything pungent. Otherwise, you’d be making the mistake I did with my first batch of rose oil. The jar in question had Country French sauce in it a few weeks prior, and it initially seemed like a long soak and a few hot washes did get rid of the smell. Oh, how I was mistaken…The end-result of my rosy enterprise had to be binned because garlic is nobody’s idea of perfume!

Get a pot of water on the boil whilst filling the jar. Once it’s bubbling, turn the flames off and sit the jar in the hot water. The heat will help to release the rose scent into the oil. When the water’s cooled down, move the jar to a location that gets lots of sunlight and let the infusion process continue for at least another 24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more potent it will be. I left mine to sit on the window sill for a week before straining it.

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Another piece of advice: have some coffee filters ready, or empty teabags. Depending on how well you crushed your rose petals, there may be some tiny bits in your oil that a muslin or cheesecloth may not catch. If so, you’ll be glad to have these little paper sieves at your disposal. Give the petals a proper squeeze during this procedure to extract every last drop.

2018-05-07 18.34.03The final step would be to decant the oil into a dark bottle to preserve it. Your rose infusion is now ready to be used neat, or in another beauty recipe. Concentrated in a receptacle (regardless of jar, bowl or bottle), it might give off an odd earthy aroma, somewhat akin to wine. Like me, you might wonder if something’s gone horribly awry. Though I can’t quite fathom the cause, I’ve found that it isn’t one for concern. When applied to skin, the oil did exactly as expected, which was to leave me smelling of roses. 🙂 ❤

2018-04-15 14.33.40As jam is typically made from fruit, some argue it would be more accurate to call this a spread, or even custard because it contains egg. This is an ongoing debate that stems from confusion over the correct classification of coconuts. In botanical terms, coconuts do fall in the fruit category. Somewhat of a misnomer, ‘coconut’ is technically defined as a fibrous one-seeded drupe, putting it in the same league as plums and apricots.

To us Asians, the name of this breakfast condiment has never been a matter of contention since we just refer to it as kaya (or srikaya). However, there are quite a few variations (including a green one) depending on how it is made, so we may not always agree on which version is best!

I am a complete novice when it comes to making jam, so to keep things simple, I opted for a fast and easy recipe that only makes a small amount. Basically, I cheated. 😀

Please note that the end product of this method will only approximate the taste of the genuine article. It’s great for those living in countries where this coconut jam is not readily available, but want a quick fix to satisfy nostalgic cravings.

Making authentic kaya requires a great deal of kungfu (not martial arts…there is more than one definition!), slaving over a double boiler, and involving at least an hour (sometimes more) of stirring. Kaya usually requires eggs, but this particular approach omits the whites and uses only the yolks. True, your jam will not thicken up quite as well, but there will also be less lumps to break up, which reduces the need for all that arm action.

Some day, I will attempt to make kaya the proper way, but for now…this will do.



INGREDIENTS:

200ml Coconut Milk*
4 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 tbsp Gula Melaka** – Grated
4 Pandan Leaves*** – Knotted
4 Egg Yolks

2018-04-15 12.48.09METHOD:

Mixture A – Gently heat the coconut milk, sugar, gula melaka, and pandan leaves in a pot (no need for a double boiler). Turn off cooker once it starts to simmer.

Mixture B – Stir egg yolks, and slowly add in half of Mixture A.

Return pot with the remainder of Mixture A to heat (not too high), and gradually pour in all of Mixture B, stirring all the while.

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Reduce heat to low and stir constantly until the jam begins to coat the sides of your pot.

Add more sugar if preferred. If not, remove pandan leaves and transfer the jam to a jar.

Leave kaya to cool entirely before putting the lid on, and ensure it is airtight. Refrigerate and consume within one week.

*Although it is better to use fresh coconut milk, this is next to impossible to get hold of in most Western countries. However, it is ok to use tinned coconut milk.

**Gula melaka aka coconut (not date) palm sugar can be found in most Asian stores. It is also possible to buy it online. I actually got mine from an eBay seller.

***Another challenging item to acquire, though I did manage to purchase mine from Amazon. The trouble is not only are pandan leaves generally sold in large quantities, they also have a short shelf life and don’t last long in the fridge. I’d advise rolling up individual leaves in some baking paper, putting them in a bag, and freezing the lot.

With enough of these leaves to last me the next six months, I’ve now lined up quite a number of recipes to keep me busy experimenting in my lab kitchen. Pandan flavour is sometimes dubbed the Asian equivalent of vanilla, but I don’t quite agree with that analogy since it is a major ingredient in many savoury dishes from Asian cuisine, such as the Pandan Chicken I made awhile back (served with a prawn and vegetable stir-fry).

20228556_10155381175750856_7038454441550405045_nI was thinking of making it again, but would be happier if I could avoid any deep frying since that activity is almost guaranteed to cover most of our downstairs in a thin film of grease. Then I remembered a childhood favourite of mine – Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: Paper-Wrapped Chicken). It’s a Cantonese variant of Pandan Chicken and best of all, it can be done in the oven! Ji Bao Gai is absolutely scrummy and won’t be difficult to make, so I can’t wait to try it out, but that’s a project for another day. 🙂

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The vernal equinox took place a week ago, and marking this astronomical occasion was the usual Google Doodle, which led a couple of my colleagues to remark: “I’m sure the first day of spring has already been and gone!”

They’re not wrong…Meteorologically speaking, it did. As explained by our Met Office, there are (just to confuse us) two dates – one determined by temperature, and the other by our planet’s position. Regardless of how you prefer to split up the seasons, the weather is definitely warming up, and despite freak snow flurries not long ago, daffodils here have finally gotten the memo. I actually noticed a few tentatively poking out of the ground on the way home from work last weekend, so yay! At last!

Sunny days beckon – time to banish that winter pallor and prep your skin for summery outfits by putting the radiance back in it. What better way to celebrate this period of regeneration than with natural homemade skincare?

Rounding up the ingredients to make your own body wash is relatively simple. They are available at many online stores or marketplaces. You’ll also most likely be able to buy them at your local health store on the high street.

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Three key elements are required – castile soap, raw honey, and coconut oil. You can then add your own choice of essential oils, depending on what your skin needs and/or fragrance you like. For my body wash, I have used grapefruit and rosemary. As a prelude to the recipe, I thought I’d touch briefly on the benefits of all these items:

CASTILE SOAP
Sourced from the Spanish region it was named after, this cleanser is made from olive oil, and its use can be traced back to Queen Cleopatra. Besides being kind to the environment, it is also not animal-based, which should please vegans and vegetarians. Although gentle and safe enough for sensitive skins (including those who suffer from eczema etc.), castile soap does clean very effectively without drying your skin. It can also fight acne since it possesses antibacterial properties.

RAW HONEY
The most natural and least processed form of honey is best for this endeavour since you’ll want to make the most of its skin-saving qualities. This is a staple ingredient when it comes to DIY beauty. Unpasteurised (aka raw) honey is full of anti-ageing antioxidants that can bring a glow to your complexion. It is antibacterial and clarifying as well, thus helping to unclog pores, whilst healing and soothing your skin at the same time.

COCONUT OIL
I am never without several jars of this tropical wonder because it is such a great all-rounder. Not only can you cook and bake with coconut oil, but it can also work miracles on your skin and hair. Particularly with regards to the latter, coconut oil has rescued me from more than a few tangly snags and frizzy disasters. This oil is an excellent moisturiser, and has the ability to penetrate far down into the skin to repair collagen layers. It is hypoallergenic and locks in moisture, creating a physical barrier against all sorts of harmful agents – such as pollution, harsh UV rays, and free radicals. Being both antibacterial and antifungal makes this oil an ideal deep cleanser and make-up remover (eyes included). Since it literally melts in my hands, I would normally apply coconut oil (solid at room temperature) straight from the jar. However, to make this body wash, you’d have to liquify it using the double-boiler method.

GRAPEFRUIT ESSENTIAL OIL
Just the smell of this oil alone is a good reason to add it to your beauty regime. It is a fabulous energiser and stress buster. Due to its lymphatic stimulant and diuretic traits, grapefruit oil is often listed as an ingredient in cellulite-busting and firming creams. A robust circulation booster, it can also dilate blood vessels and relieve inflammation. Combine with a carrier oil (such as coconut) and you have a nourishing salve that wards off toxins and builds skin immunity.

ROSEMARY ESSENTIAL OIL
As a natural deodoriser, this will keep odours at bay. The same characteristic, plus the limonene and camphor it contains, also repels insects, especially mosquitoes. Rosemary oil is an anti-inflammatory which aids healing, and even reduces puffiness. Rich in nutrients, it’s been described as an efficient combatant of sun damage and age spots, with fatty acids that can aid in tightening skin. Being an astringent means rosemary oil can act as a toner when mixed with a carrier. Add to that its muscle-relaxant capabilities, and you have another versatile must-have for DIY skincare.

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Moving on to the how-to part of this post, it goes without saying that you’re going to need a bottle (preferably pump) to decant the body wash once you’ve made it, along with a bowl, spoon, and the following:

100ml Melted Coconut Oil
100ml Raw Honey
225ml Castile Soap
20-25 Drops Essential Oil

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First, put the coconut oil and honey in a bowl. Give the mixture a bit of a stir, but don’t worry too much if it doesn’t come together.

Next, add all the castile soap gradually, stirring gently as you do so.

Last to go in is the essential oil…It can be just one type, or you could create a blend (like what I did with grapefruit and rosemary).

There are no hard and fast rules here. The advantage of a homemade beauty product is the wherewithal to customise it to your taste and requirements, so feel free to experiment. 🙂 If it’s your first time dabbling in aromatherapy, my advice is to start off with small amounts of oil. Some are considerably more potent than others, and you don’t want to end up with a potion that’s too overpowering!

Once all the ingredients have been combined, pour the concoction into a bottle, and that’s it…all there is to making your own body wash at home! The only thing that remains is to stick a label on. I didn’t have any waterproof ones appropriate for bathroom storage, so I just used old-fashioned DYMO (or rather, MoTEX) labels. I love that retro look; they even come in quite handy when decorating gift boxes.

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You can tell from my photos that the various elements of the body wash do separate eventually, but it only requires a little swirl or shake prior to using. Although it doesn’t lather much, this body wash will still leave you feeling thoroughly cleansed. My hubby David isn’t too keen on the fatty smell of castile soap, but all I can detect is a faint whiff of the medicinal which I do not mind. I did expect the fragrance to be stronger, but it was surprisingly mild. Perhaps more drops of grapefruit oil is called for…

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To complete this body pampering set, I also made a matching sugar scrub. It is more suitably used as a treatment, rather than a stand-alone cleanser. Natural scrubs generally need a bit of a stir beforehand, and this is no different. As with all aromatherapy bath and shower products that are oil-based, take care not to slip when using them. Your shower floor or bathtub may even need a quick swipe with a soapy sponge after you are done.

The grapefruit and rosemary infusion gives off a lovely fruity and fresh scent (slightly minty), as can be expected from a citrus and herb combo. I was initially concerned that the sugar would dissolve too quickly in the wet, but I needn’t have worried as the crystals more or less kept their form throughout, and some even had to be jetted into the plughole before I got out of the tub. As an exfoliant, this body scrub beats any other I have ever bought and, together with the body wash, works superbly well in keeping my skin soft and smooth.

So pleased with the success of this “no poo” equivalent to body care that I am now considering this sugar scrub as another DIY Spa Kit to add to my Etsy store, which will soon be re-opening. I have a few other ideas as well, so be sure to keep a lookout for new products coming out later this year by subscribing to my blog. TIA! 😀

2018-03-11 00.28.40This is what I like to call my budget basket! 😀 It’s perfect for those times when you are stuck for ideas, and have a bit of a cash flow problem. That’s how we found ourselves this Mother’s Day. Fortunately (piggybank-wise), my mum is in Singapore where this occasion isn’t celebrated until May, so for the time-being, we only had to take care of one present.

The gift you see in the photo above is actually for my mother-in-law. She’s the sort of person who likes a simple quiet life, with no particular hobbies or interests (apart from cats), which makes her a pretty tricky recipient. We often buy her feline-related paraphernalia, but wanted to get her something different this time.

Posh nosh is always a great fallback…There aren’t many of us who will say no to yummy treats! They don’t necessarily cost a lot either. The little hamper I put together actually came to less than £15 in total, and could have been cheaper had I not decided to shop in Booths. Well, I wanted it to be special, so it was worth the few extra quid. 🙂

2018-03-10 22.05.54The basket was a bargain from a pound shop, but if you can’t find one that’s suitable, you could cut up a cardboard box and stick some nice wrapping paper on the outside of it. Apart from the card (in colours to match), I didn’t buy anything else because I already owned most of the necessary materials to put this gift basket together. As you can see below, I’ll not be experiencing a shortage of patterned cellophane anytime soon!

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I also have a collection of artificial flowers I keep as props and decoration. However, you can embellish with something else if you haven’t any of those. Be inventive! I think shaped bath bombs or candles can look pretty as well, or possibly mini plush toys and beads. To cushion the items in the basket, I filled it with some leftover packaging from parcels I’d received, and paper from my shredder.

The whole endeavour was fairly quick and easy, but would have taken me a bit longer had hubby David not lent a hand when it came to taping the cellophane down. I’m really rubbish with dates and suck at time management, so this really isn’t bad for a last minute job (even if I do say so myself)! It’s a trait that must run in the family, because my daughter Zhouyi admitted she was similarly pushed for time and only got my present yesterday!

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She does know me well though…Her gifts are always the most adorablest! And that card did make me chuckle. 😀

I hope there’s much joy going round this Mothering Sunday, and that you’re having a lovely time with your mum whether or not you follow the UK tradition!

25037454_138865226896675_2036079854268448768_nMerry Christmas to you and all your loved ones! Hopefully, everyone has had as wonderful a time as I have, filled with joy (and treats). I realise this post is a little late, but maybe it could come in handy for next year…Not that advanced preparations have actually helped me in the past. Despite my best attempts (even taking time off work), there’s still always a lot of rushing around at the very last minute! I did, however, manage to get all the wrapping done by the morning of Christmas eve. Whew!

2017-12-21 22.11.31I try to come up with different gift ideas every festive season, and thought I’d have a go at something I’d been meaning to do for a very long time – personalised goody bags…or mini sacks/pouches in this case. The designs were created in Photoshop (remember to reverse them!), and then printed on transfer papers before being ironed onto the hessian pouches.

Unbeknownst to me then, my iron was actually damaged. It wasn’t distributing heat uniformly, so some of the fabric ended up with slight burn marks, and in other areas, it wasn’t hot enough for the design to transfer successfully. The result was a tad patchy, though some of my friends felt it contributed to the overall rustic appearance. I’m still getting a new iron though!

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These little bags are a good alternative if you have many friends you want to buy gifts for, but have a limited budget. I filled these with scented tealights (a bargain from any pound shop), homemade espresso truffles (recipe here), skincare/aftershave samples, poppers, and a few other party favours or stocking fillers.

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As for other presents specially for family, I made 3D Christmas Trees from origami paper, and glued them on gift tags made out of card, patterned ribbon, and gold raffia. If you haven’t got any pens with metallic ink, it’s probably best to use light coloured card instead of the burgundy ones like mine.

2017-12-18 21.51.07We normally send charity cards every Christmas, so I was very pleased to find out that Snapfish had partnered with Macmillan Cancer Support to offer bespoke merchandise, such as greeting cards. We have a gorgeous photo of our cat Magic playing with tree decorations when she was 16 weeks old, and I just knew it would be perfect for this occasion. My order did turn out a bit more expensive than previous years, but looking at the glossy outcome, you can see why I didn’t regret a penny of it!

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Speaking of tree decorations, look at these two adorable ones a friend and fellow crafter made for us! Needlework is one of those skills I never quite got to grips with, and how I wish I had…Perhaps a new goal for 2018? 😀

24274019_1970996123188841_2622979760808001536_nIt rarely snows where we live, so I’m not holding out any hopes for a white Christmas. Although the ground does eventually get mucky, there is something magical and oh-so-cosy about watching snowflakes fall outside your window while you’re sipping hot chocolate and listening to Christmas carols.

24178219_158566281426093_4703554647334322176_nInstead of waiting around only to (most likely) end up being disappointed, I thought I’d do something about it by creating my own snow globe! It might not be the real thing, but looks pretty all the same! Unlike traditional snow globes, these are dry ones since I’m not too sure how the materials used would fare long-term when submerged in liquid. I guess it would be more accurate to call them jar dioramas.

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I started off by painting the pine cones I collected way back in Spring with just plain old dark green acrylic paint, and tipped the edges with white paint and iridescent glitter. If you’d like to know how to clean and prep cones for craft, a tutorial can be found in my last blog post.

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Next step was to make the mini signposts, which involved a pair of scissors and some small ice-cream sticks. It would be more ideal to use proper wood-burning tools for the lettering, but because I have none, I borrowed David’s soldering iron (after he swopped the tip for an old one). If you are thinking of attempting pyrography the same way, I’d advise writing on with a pencil and then tracing it with the soldering iron. It took me a couple of tries, but I finally got it looking legible. After that, I brushed on some wood stain (samples can be purchased on eBay) to give it a weathered appearance.

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Assembling the snow globe took some doing, but I found air-drying clay to be the best option for the base, particularly in keeping the signpost upright. Take care to keep the clay away from the edges of the jar lid though. You need to leave a bit of room for the jar to screw on properly. After that, all you need is more glitter (I used a mix of large and small flakes), give the jar a bit of a shake, and there you go – a winter scene in miniature! 😀

24175157_385047045264235_7910478964865368064_nMeanwhile, other Christmas decorations have started going up in our house…Most importantly, the tree! This year, we have switched to an icy theme with snow animals, mainly because Zhouyi and David both insisted on having a penguin sat at the top instead of the usual star.

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Oh well, Pegwig (as christened by David) does seem quite happy up there despite having a tree stuck up his bottom!

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Everytime someone whinges “but it’s not even December”, an elf loses their sense of purpose, and gets turned out into the cold. Help save jobs in Santa’s Workshop by keeping the festive spirit alive! Forget S.P.E.W…that’s so 1994. Elves of today have a new campaign and slogan – Christmas should be forever, not just once a year. 😀

Yes, I know…I’ve gone a bit OTT, but people can bah-humbug me all they like. I’m still not going to change; I just love Christmas. I was making plans for this occasion even before Halloween had been and gone…Actually, I probably started as early as spring when I went looking for pine cones during our nature rambles.

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Early May saw us at Spring Wood in Walley which was practically covered in gorgeous bluebells. Quite by coincidence, it also had a lot of pine trees in the vicinity…The ground was full of pine cones, much to my delight. If you live in Lancashire, another great place to gather pine cones would of course be Beacon Fell.

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I wish I’d thought of bringing a bag or basket with me because I could only carry the cones in my coat pockets. They were very large and deep pockets though, so I did collect enough pine cones for craft purposes. The little branch that some of them were attached to could come in useful for another project, so I took that home with me as well.

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As it’s my first time working with pine cones, I had to do some research on how to prep them. According to various online sources, there are a number of methods. However, a vinegar bath seems to be the popular choice. Mostly because it not only cleans them, but also kills any bugs that may be hiding within. It will stink the room out as well, but that can’t be helped! 😛

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It’s advisable to grab a pair of tweezers so you can remove any visible debris before doing anything else. There’s probably all sorts of muckiness trapped in the scales. After that, put the pine cones in a bucket or large bowl. Mixing the solution is not an exact science, but it’s roughly two parts water and one part white vinegar.

Leave the cones to soak for about 20 minutes or so. You might want to weigh them down with a small dish as they tend to float to the top, and the cones need to be completely submerged in order to be cleansed thoroughly.

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As you can see, the pine cones close up when wet, but this is normal, so no need to panic. They open up again once dry. From here onwards, there are two ways you can proceed. Either lay them out on some old newspapers or a towel, and let them dry naturally, or use your oven.

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I am not certain if there’s a difference in the outcome if you opt to do it either way, but I have heard that airing cones can take a few days, whereas the oven gives a much quicker result. Plus, it has the added benefit of further bug-proofing your cones.

As I was impatient, I put them in the oven on the highest setting and took them out after about 45 minutes. It was probably a little too long as a few of the cones turned darker. I didn’t mind so much as some of them will get painted eventually, but for future reference, I’ll take the cones out after half an hour, or turn the heat down.

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When the pine cones are dry, it is recommended that you coat them with some sort of clear varnish in order to preserve them. The smaller cones were quite brittle, so the lacquer did help slightly in keeping the ends from flaking off. I am not keen on gloss, so it was a matt spray that I used. You can’t really tell from the photo above, but the pine cones that I sprayed have a smooth sheen as compared to the ones in the tin trough which have no varnish on them, since I will be painting those at a later date when making some of my Christmas ornaments.

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Pine cones fully sanitised and glazed, I could finally relax and enjoy a small batch of truffles I made earlier. What could be more Christmassy than chocolate? Truffles are a simple treat to make, whether for yourself, or friends and family.

The recipe is pretty forgiving as not a lot can go wrong…It’s basically ganache that has been allowed to set, rolled into little balls, and coated in ground nuts, cocoa, or any other ingredients you like. To make these, I used:

150gm Dark Chocolate – Chopped
150ml Double (or Whipping) Cream
25gm Unsalted Butter

Melt the butter in the cream until the mixture begins to simmer. Then pour it into a bowl with the chopped chocolate. Keep stirring until the chocolate melts and blends smoothly with the cream. If you want to add other flavours, such as coffee or Amaretto, now would be the time to do so.

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Let it the ganache set in the fridge for a few hours (it took four hours in my fridge). You’ll know it’s ready when the little balls keep their shape after you’ve rolled them in your hands. The first one I made sank into a sort of squishy blob, so back into the fridge the ganache went.

I used unsweetened cocoa and ground almonds to finish off my truffles, but you could also try dipping them in milk chocolate or desiccated coconut. After coating them, I left my truffles to chill in the fridge overnight so they could solidify further. I am not sure what the shelf life would be for homemade truffles, but that might not be much of a concern…If your family is anything like mine, it won’t be 24 hours before they’re all gone.



In other news…

Processed with MOLDIVI’m very happy to say that the relaunch of my Etsy shop is going well, and I have made quite a few sales since opening it a couple of weeks ago. As a gesture of appreciation, all customers will receive complimentary gifts of either sweets or scented tealights, along with a small discount for their next purchase. Thank you all for your support…It’s been awesome! 🙂

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…of Halloween!

I like to make the most of this occasion, because on no other day can you go around wearing a costume without anyone thinking you’ve gone a bit batty. I do sometimes wish the UK were a little less traditional (like the US) though. Americans are a lot more flexible when it comes to the characters they portray, but over here, most people don’t really deviate from horror themes.

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No Face isn’t exactly scary (unless you’re a toddler, like in the pic above!), but it’s still a supernatural entity and definitely meets Halloween criteria!

It wasn’t until last week that work confirmed we could dress up for this event, so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Although I am a Studio Ghibli fan, and Spirited Away is one of my favourite animated films, the main reason I picked No Face was partly down to expedience.

All I needed was a black hooded poncho, a black headband, and white card to make the mask. The interweb is full of templates for No Face’s…erm…face, but I will save you the trouble of looking for one by posting mine here!

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The mask will print onto an A4 sheet, and is a little large, but you can easily size it down. If you need it even bigger, please feel free to DM me. 🙂

I had no intention of wearing the mask over my face all day, but wanted it to stay attached to me so I’d still be recognisable as No Face. A few other female cosplayers have been wearing it on the side of their heads, and I wondered if I could devise a way for the mask to also double up as hair accessory.

This is where adhesive velcro strips come in, and they were fangtastic for this little project. You can get them in craft or fabric stores, or if you prefer to shop online, I bet Amazon and eBay will have them too.

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As you can see here, my headpiece can also be turned into a visor-mask…and it is soooo easy to do. After printing and cutting out the mask, work out how you want it positioned when on face and side of head, then stick on bits of velcro respectively. And there you have it, a fully-adjustable disguise that can be worn in two ways!

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Some girls opt to paint their faces, but that’s optional. I did it as a test run when trying on my costume, but didn’t bother with it today as I’m really not a morning person. No force on earth can motivate me out of bed early enough to coat my skin in layers of slap.

I did, however, notice that with my hood up and facepaint on, I looked like I’d gone over to the dark side in full Sith mode!

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What a truly versatile costume this has turned out to be…Now all I need is a lightsaber, and this time next year, I will be a dark lord of the empire!

Update 01/11/17 – Much as I love snacks and chocolate, Halloween treats have never held great drawing power where I’m concerned. It’s not like I don’t already stuff my face the other 364 days of the year. That said, I was inordinately chuffed to receive this little package of goodies the next day.

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These were gifts for the few who dressed up for Halloween at work, so yay us! Eye can’t see why the treats pleased me so much…Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t expecting it, or perhaps some of the sweets were old school and I can be a bit of a retrophile at times. Either case, it made me happy enough to blog it. 😀

2017-10-11 23.03.51Summer might be over for us here in the UK, but the season of sunshiny days is just starting for those living Down Under, and that’s where a friend of mine is headed. Sarah will be spending a year or more in Australia, so we had a small leaving do to give the lucky young lady a proper send-off.

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As a fellow Disney fan with Princess Belle aspirations (yes, she even looks and sings like the character!), Sarah’s not a difficult person to buy presents for. Basically anything BatB-related will go down well, so when I saw this charming makeup and toiletry bag, I knew it had my friend’s name written all over it. Ok, I’m aware it actually says ‘Beauty and the Beast’, but in our reality, that’s synonymous with Sarah!

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Heh, if I’m honest, I liked the bag so much, I almost didn’t want to give it away…But I resisted temptation and filled it with a few bits and bobs which Sarah might find useful in her travels, such as a set of mini squeezable bottles, plus a few other beauty products and tealights that I packaged in clear cellophane. Also…chocolates! No largesse is complete without it! 😛

Such pretty things require fitting gift presentation, but with only a couple of nights to put everything together, I had to make do with whatever materials I had to hand. Luckily, I did already have a small collection of seashells, and since Sarah would soon be seeing a lot more sun, sand and sea, crafting something beach-themed was perfect for the occasion.

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This card and gift topper is very easy to do, and would only need the following:

  • White Card
  • Blue Card or Paper – Various shades
  • Brown Kraft Card or Paper – Various shades
  • Ribbon – Preferably white or cream
  • Seashells
  • Guillotine, or Scalpel and Ruler
  • Scissors
  • PVA Glue

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The ‘stamp’ was designed in Photoshop, then printed on thin creamy yellow card and cut down to size, but it’s ok to use white card instead. The reason I did not was due to the only white card I had left being too thick for my Epson Inkjet.

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Although the ‘stamp’ on Sarah’s present features Australia, please feel free to download the PDF of a more generic version (with pic of a suitcase) if you too have friends going away and fancy giving this idea a whirl…Bonus if your mates also love Disney as I’ve included a line from one of the songs in BatB. Perhaps when I have a bit more time on my hands, I’ll expand on this and create a range of similar stickers with quotes from other animated films. ❤

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Awhile back, I bought some little wooden tags from a craft store simply because they were cheap and I liked the look of them. Although I didn’t get them for any specific purpose, they did come in rather useful for this project…A bit of sanding, some chalkboard paint and twine, and I got myself a reusable gift tag! If you can’t get hold of wooden tags, and aren’t bothered about reusability, thick black card works just as well. Writing on such a small surface with sticks of chalk can be quite tricky, so unless you’ve a deft hand, you might be better off with a dressmaker or chalk pencil.

sq blog pic2This is possibly one of the more straightforward cards I’ve ever made. However. if you’re not feeling confident you can pull it off, I’d advise doing a test run on some scrap paper before ripping up the good stuff. The paper weight also needs to be within the Goldilocks zone – too thick and it won’t be pliable enough to tear, too thin and you won’t get the nicely frayed edges. My top tip: Don’t stick anything down until you’ve got all your baits and pieces lined up, and are happy with what you sea! 😀