Tuesday, 31 May 2016

May kirigami

Well, it's been a while since I've updated you on progress with the kirigami. I'm still going strong though I've settled into a routine of completing the projects at the weekend rather than each day. My favourites continue to be the snowflake-style designs and there have been some real beauties this month. I've photographed all of them for my own records but, to save your sanity, here are just some of the highlights.

I'd meant to blog more in May. Maybe June will be better - see you tomorrow. x

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Clockwork garden

What a gorgeous weekend again! We're just back from a day out at a farmer's market at a historic house. However, I'm going to save that for another time as I still need to tell you about our day out last weekend.

Last Sunday Chickpea and I headed to Quarry Bank Mill near Styal in Cheshire. The Mill was built by the Greg family in 1784 and still houses working machinery. We weren't here to visit the mill this time though.

I'd read about the new Clockwork Garden exhibition which sounded just the kind of thing we like. It's been created by the House of Fairy Tales, a children's art charity, and tells the tale of mechanical creatures from Meccha_Donk who want to learn all about Earth and the evil Grizzlies who want to stop them. There are two parts to the exhibition, a trail around the garden and an indoor activity area.

First up, the Clockwork Garden Adventure trail. Follow us round to hear the tales and join in with the activities.

At each stage is a board with a part of the story, an activity and a clue to a word, or 'enchantment', to write on your map.

As you can see, the first enchantment tells of the salt road and there's a poem to recite.

Enchantment 2 is Brewer's Weeping Spruce which 'might look a little melancholy but is actually full of joyful magic from all the games and laughter and plays it has seen on this lawn'.

To keep its spirits high we had to tell it a joke, preferably garden-related. I'm rubbish at remembering jokes but Chickpea came up with this one: What do you call a budgie that's been run over by a lawnmower? Shredded tweet.

Groan. Moving swiftly on...

Enchantment 3 was at Troll Bridge where we had to wake the troll by chanting a rhyme:

'Goaty billy gruffy midge, wake up now and guard the bridge!'

It took us a couple of attempts as we a) had to wait until there was no-one nearby (we were still feeling a bit self-conscious at this point though that wore off...) and b) had to do it without laughing!

Enchantment 4 is the Owl-hermit's Cave. Some say a hermit used to live here and others that the Greg family kept owls. The task this time was to whisper a secret to the owl. Obviously, I can't tell you what we both said!

The terraced gardens were looking lovely and full of spring colour. I loved these candy stripe tulips.

Next, enchantment 5 and the Weir. We had to say a song (Fizz, bubble, mix, muddle...) and make our best bubbling sound.

Apparently the Gregs built lots of weirs to help mask the sound of the mill with the babbling of water.

Lovely views of the Greg's house as we climbed higher through the garden. The National Trust are opening it up to the public next year.

Enchantment 6, the Cliff Trees. To increase the strength and protection of the beech tree, stand in your bravest pose and tell the story of the bravest thing you've ever done.

Hmm, we struggled with this one. Maybe, that I've stopped killing spiders in the house and now catch them and put them outside, doing my best not to shriek when they move!

Enchantment 7, Stone Wall Messengers. Little creatures live in these walls and carry secret messages for the enchanted folk. We had to find one and whisper a word of encouragement. After a bit of searching I found an ant scurrying around, 'be brave, little one'.

We're nearing the top of the garden now with lovely views down the valley. Quite a different setting for a mill than the usual grime of the city.

Enchantment 8, the Tickling Roots. Deep underground live the Kobolds, or stone elves. Tickle them awake by stroking the roots of the beech tree from the trunk to the ground.

Enchantment 9, the Protector Tree. Inside the mass of shoots lives a group of tree gnomes. Use their language to ask the lime tree for help protecting Earth from the Grizzlies:

Smukt hoy arbro, behestle vil do yelber os? (Beautiful tall tree, please will you help us?).

Enchantment 10, the Great Beech. This ancient tree has seen many changes in its life. The Grizzlies are afraid of change. Help the tree show that there is nothing to fear from change by sharing something which has changed as you've grown older.

This was an easy one as both me and Chickpea chose to tell it about technology. When I first started work, my office shared one PC between six of us and there was no such thing as the internet (at least not the kind you'd recognise today).

As well as the enchantments, there were four sculptures to find known as tendrils. This was the turquoise tendril which is learning the joyful dance of the garden in the lively English winds. Twirl around like a leaf falling to earth and sway like a blade of grass.

The family picnicking nearby were definitely entertained by our twirling and swaying!

Enchantment 11, Four Trees. In this spot, Robert Greg built an observatory in the 1800s for his hobby of watching the stars. Stand in the centre of some trees and look to the skies.

Enchantment 12, the Holey Tree. This apple tree is home to one of the mightiest of the Piskie wizards, RR. Her magic would be very helpful for stopping the Grizzlies. Find her name and ask for her help.

We had to look at all the labels on the tree to find that the Piskie is called Rosemary Russet.

Enchantment 13, the dipping pond. This was used by the gardeners to fill their watering cans. Create a sky poem by looking into the reflections in the water and saying three words for what you see.

My three words were clouds, fluffy, space.

Enchantment 14, the View. Early in the morning the gardeners pause and look down the wakening valley. The sun shines ghost-lights through the rising mist which can trap and mislead an unwary traveller. What traps would you set for the Grizzlies?

Chickpea chose an impossible maze. I imagined paths of spiders' webs.

Also in the upper garden was another sculpture, the blue tendril, which is learning about the sounds of the garden. Close your eyes and listen: what is the smallest sound you can hear and what is the loudest?

Enchantment 15, the Nuttery. These are all young filbert (hazel) trees. The piskies love to eat nuts but can't break the hard shell. They have to team up with the nuthatch to break into the creamy flesh. Teamwork is great: high-five the person you're with!

This was the last of the clues in this part of the grounds so we wound our way back down the terraced garden.

Here in the formal garden was the third of the tendrils, orange, who is absorbing all the different fragrances of the garden. Investigate the smells around you: flowers, leaves, earth, stones, the air, the rain, the sunshine.

Time for a quick pitstop and to say hello to another visitor :) She's only 12 weeks old.

The final set of 'enchantments' are around the apprentice house where the boys and girls who worked in the mill were housed. We did have a tour but I'll save the photos of the inside for another time. Instead, let's head into the kitchen garden.

Enchantment 16, herbs for potions. The doctor used to use the herbs in the garden to make up medicines for the apprentices. One of these contained wormwood, borage and St John's....what? Find the name of the missing herb.

I knew this without looking: it's St John's Wort

At this point our journey went a little awry as the next enchantment we found was number 20, the compost heap. This dark, secluded corner is perfect for the Grizzlies to sneak into the gardens unnoticed. Make a home for a compost fairy so they can keep watch.

We didn't have time to do this as our allotted tour time was imminent. However, we did admire all the little structures made of clay, twigs and leaves which other people had made.

Here we also found the last of the sculptures, the purple tendril, reaching out to touch a tree, feeling its surface and texture. We had to find a plant nearby and do the same.

Enchantment 19, the Orchard. The inhabitants of planet Meccha_Donk eat only boring fuel cubes. In the orchard are all kinds of apple, pear and plum trees which give the Enchanted Folk and their spells special energy. We had to find our favourite tree name and say it aloud three times to thank the tree for making such special fruit:

'Peasgood's Nonsuch, Peasgood's Nonsuch, Peasgood's Nonsuch'

Peasgood's Nonsuch is an old variety of cooking apple.

Enchantment 18, the beehive. The Enchanted Folk love to spend time with the bees, admiring them for their endless energy and gentle nature. Say thank you to the bees and give them a cheerful wave.

Enchantment 17, dream flute. We may have gone out of order following the numbers in the trail but the story at this point made it the perfect place to end.

'Long ago an apprentice called Johnny Mitton worked extra hours in the mill...until he could buy a flute. He would come here after all the work and chores were finished and sit in the last of the sun to play sweet gentle tunes."

The task was to sing a gentle tune to fill the Grizzlies with positive magic. The first song which came to both me and Chickpea was 'The hanging tree' from the Hunger Games film - maybe not the most positive lyrics to end on but a beautiful and haunting tune.

This completed the trail and we collected a sticker as a reward :)

Next we headed into the mill to look at the exhibition. There was only one room but so much to see and do.

In this area you could make spirograph pictures. I used to have a spirograph as a child and haven't played with one in years. It was great fun to make patterns with all the coloured pens: I loved it!

I also had a go at making a paper flower which you then attached to ribbons hanging from floor to ceiling.

We had a brilliant day and I'd highly recommend a visit, particularly if you can take a child or two. We'll definitely be heading back to Quarry Bank over the summer as there was so much we didn't manage to see: the mill itself, the North and South woods, Styal village.

We've had another lovely day today and I'm off now to make dinner with the food we bought at the farmer's market. Then I'm hopefully going to catch up with your blogs. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday. x

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Bananas and custard cake

I read somewhere that bananas are the fruit most often thrown away and that's definitely the case in our house. I'm fussy about my bananas. They have to have only just turned yellow or even still have some green on them. As soon as brown spots appear and they smell like banana, they are destined to stay uneaten in the fruit bowl.

At the weekend I had a couple which had been lingering in the bowl for some time. They weren't just spotty, they were completely black. I hate to throw food away though and I fancied some Bank Holiday baking. After thinking of a few combinations, bananas and custard appeared as the complete favourite. I couldn't find the right recipe though so ending up adapting a couple from the two Clandestine Cake Club books*.

It was so easy to make and so delicious! The only thing I'd change would be the decoration. I took the lazy option in plonking some dried banana pieces on top. Next time I think I'd use icing.

If you'd like to have a go yourself, the recipe is below. We'll be eating a different kind of cake today though as it's my daughter Chickpea's birthday! We're going for afternoon tea at a French patisserie - very posh - and there'll be birthday cake later. Happy birthday to my (not so) little girl :)


200g unsalted butter, very soft
200g caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
2 small, very ripe bananas, mashed
1tsp vanilla extract
175g self-raising flour
3tbsp custard powder (not instant)


250ml milk
1tsp vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
75g caster sugar
25g cornflour
1-2 fresh bananas, sliced

To make the cake:
  • Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan 170C/Gas 5.
  • Grease and line two 8"/20cm sandwich tins.
  • Put all the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and blend. This makes a slightly denser cake so, if you prepare one that's lighter and fluffier, use the creaming method, adding the bananas at the end.
  • Divide evenly between the two tins and bake for 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the custard:
  • Heat the milk and vanilla extract in a pan until hot. Remove from the heat.
  • Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy, then whisk in the cornflour.
  • Pour the milk over the egg mixture, whisking continuously.
  • Pour everything back into the pan and heat, again whisking continuously. Don't leave it alone as it will suddenly thicken. Once thickened, take off the heat and pour into a bowl. Put some clingfilm over the surface to prevent it forming a skin. As soon as it's cooled, you can pop in the fridge until you're ready to assemble the cake.

To assemble the cake:
  • Spread the custard generously over one of the sponge halves - you might not need all of it.
  • Put the slices of fresh banana over the custard.
  • Put the other sponge half on top.
  • Decorate how you choose. I just put a few dried banana slices on top but you could dust with icing sugar, or cover with icing (maybe coloured yellow).

*The cake was adapted from the Rhubarb and Crumble cake in A Year of Cake. The custard is from the Manchester Tart cake in The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook.