Friday, February 27

Cabin, no, I mean Jungle Fever! Part One

In August last year, I wrote a post about the 'new' it plants, which was basically my plant wish-list. I didn't actually own many of them back then, but I do now. Obviously. I mean what kind of interiors fashion victim would I be if I didn't rush out and buy them all? A failure, that's what, and I AM NOT A FAILURE.

Now that's off my chest, and there is a vague feeling of hope in the air, (a couple of blossoms on the odd tree, and the tulips in the garden are starting to pop up - that's good enough for me even if it is still freezing), I thought I'd give you an update on my current favourites, but a bit more in depth so you can get an idea of whether you're cut out to be a plant parent this year. Because in case you haven't heard yet, the indoor jungle look is in. BIG TIME.

Up until a few years ago, I considered myself to have a 'black thumb' - unable to keep a plant alive to save my life, and generally totally clueless with any form of greenery. But it occurred to me the other day that perhaps the reason I never used to be able to keep a plant alive was that I wasn't really interested. Every plant that came my way over a period of probably thirteen years - from seventeen when I moved out of home, til the end of my twenties, was dead within a month or two. But had I actually put any effort into keeping it alive? I think not. But the idea that I was 'no good with plants', stuck. So for the following decade I just ignored their existence, and up until a few years ago I owned just one lonely plant - a Jade plant (money plant), that has stayed with me through thick and thin, and came back from near death on several occasions. These days I'm quite sure of what it needs (very little!), it really just wants the right amount of light (not as much as you might think), and a good water every now and then. Figuring out how much water and how much light your plants need are the basics, and all you really need. Just 'listen' to your plant - if it's not looking happy think about the basics - position and water - would it like more or less direct light? Are you giving it too much water or not enough? That thing called the internet is also really very useful to find out what conditions they like best, and if they like a bit of plant food a few times a year. Honestly, it's not that hard.

Over the last two years I've slowly collected more plants as my belief that I can actually keep them alive has grown. I now have a small but slowly expanding collection of beautiful thriving plants that I'm really rather fond of. If I've jinxed that by writing this post I'll be quite devastated to lose any one of them.

Right then, I'm clearly feeling a bit rambly today, but the lecture is over - let's get down to business...

I'm including a bit of information about what receptacle each plant is in, because I've found it quite challenging finding affordable ones that look good (and leaving the plastic pots exposed is NOT an option!!) so this might give you a bit of inspiration. Think outside the box here - baskets are my go-to, I have them from Ikea and H&M and from my travels. Most of the time you can just leave a plant in the pot it came in, pop a plate underneath and put it in a basket. Remember, these plants are inside, so heavy, expensive planters are not necessary.

A fiddle leaf fig in designer Bianca Halls London home

Yes, I thought I'd start with every bloggers favourite. I bought mine in September last year, having missed out on the insanely cheap tree that I'd spotted just before going away on our summer holiday (I still regret not buying it), so when I saw a smaller plant a few weeks later I snapped it up...

Botanical Name: Ficus Lyrata
How much: £30, but expect to pay up to £600 if you have your heart set on a huge 4 metre tree.
How tall: 140cms
Where from: Angel Flowers in Islington, who always have a lovely selection of plants at really reasonable prices. Fiddle leaf figs aren't particularly easy to find in the UK, so if you can't get one locally, you can get a plant from here or a tree from here.
Care: So far so good. I did so much research on caring for one before I bought it, but honestly, didn't come up with much. The thing that stuck in my mind was consistency - they don't like being moved about, and they like a regular water. This may well be total nonsense, I'm no expert, but it seems to be working, so I don't move it, and I give it one cup of water once a week. On Wednesdays. Yes, Wednesday is watering day here at Hall HQ.
Where: It currently resides in my south facing bay window that gets loads of natural light. I may have to move it away from the window when summer hits as apparently too much direct sun could be a bad thing. I'm a bit nervous about that.
Receptacle: It's original plastic pot on a plate inside an Ikea basket.

A Ponytail Palm in designer Bianca Halls London home.

Don't you just love this pretty little thing? The Ponytail Palm is a sweet addition to any room, and so far, seems pretty unfussy too.

Botanical Name: Beaucarnea recurvata
How much: Around £20 I think.
How tall: 60cms
Where from: Angel Flowers in Islington again, but these are pretty easy to find, in plant shops and online.
Care: Super easy, needs very little water as it stores it in that chunky base. A little water every month or so in the winter and not much more in the summer.
Where: It lives on the hearth in our living room (it's not a working fireplace), and gets loads of natural light from the south facing bay window.
Receptacle: It came in a charcoal plastic pot that I don't mind despite its plasticness.

A paddle plant in a metal urn in designer Bianca Halls London Home

I love my little paddle plant. When exposed to enough sunlight the leaves turn a beautiful pink colour, just like a happy blush. Bit like me really.

Botanical Name: Kalanchoe thyrsiflora
How much: Around £10
How tall: 20cms
Where from: That Flower Shop at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. Love this little shop which also acts as the street entrance for one of my favourite places to dine and drink cocktails. These are widely available, so you shouldn't have any problem finding one.
Care: Pretty easy, though about a week after I first got it, it got really droopy and looked so unhappy. I thought it was because it wasn't getting enough sun, even though it was in the sunniest spot in the house, but it turned out that it's not like other succulents and they actually like quite a lot of water. Weird because I've read they don't like much water, not the case with mine though. Now I've figured that out, it's a happy, if a little crazy looking specimen again.
Where: It currently resides on our kitchen table where it gets lots of light, though it might move back up to my studio for a proper dose of heat in the summer to get those leaves nice and pink!
Receptacle: I got that fabulous little aged metal urn on Ebay. I'm definitely getting another one to put a Boston Fern in.

 A Snake Plant in designer Bianca Halls London Home

There's just something so cool and sculptural about the thick waxy leaves of a Snake Plant don't you think? And I love the yellow border and pattern on the leaves. They remind me of watermelon skin - I wonder if they're weirdly related...

Botanical Name: Sansevieria trifasciata
How much: £18
How tall: 60cms
Where from: Online from House of Plants
Care: Easy! I water it every now and then (once a month or less), and it doesn't really seem to mind where it lives, it's a slow grower, so you'd be forgiven for thinking it was fake, but mine is starting to grow a new leaf, so I know it's the real deal!
Where: Currently residing in our south facing bedroom away from the windows, so it gets lots of indirect light. I'll probably move it to a sunnier position in the summer.
Receptacle: Another basket from H&M.

Phew. That's it for part one of this post. There just aren't enough hours in the day at the moment (or enough sunlight to take decent pictures). Make sure you subscribe so you don't miss part two of this post next week including the ultimate indoor jungle plant!


Thursday, February 26

A vaguely cautionary tale...

I bought a vintage chest of drawers for our bedroom on ebay recently, which turned out to look an awful lot better in the photos than they did in reality. That's ebay though - it's always a bit of a gamble if you're buying vintage, or anything for that matter, that you've not seen in the flesh.

I probably couldn't accuse the seller of mis-selling exactly, more of using flattering photography / lighting / angles, and a vague description. When it was delivered, I saw that the fronts of the drawers were covered in what I think were watermarks, the drawer fronts were also very faded - and they generally looked old and grotty, as opposed to the old and a little bit glam I was expecting.

I wasn't super disappointed though, as it had great bones and was the perfect size for the space - I wanted the largest chest of drawers I could fit along the wall to maximise storage space, and this is 122cms wide by 95cms high and 55cms deep - a sizeable piece, so was by no means a complete disaster of a purchase as it's flaws were only skin deep.

I had really wanted a new piece to fit the space in our bedroom, albeit a new piece in a mid century style, like this chevron grained beauty from West Elm. I really, really wanted it. In fact, I still do. Sadly though, even with a big price reduction when it was on sale (£949 reduced to £549.95), it was still way above what I could afford to spend, so I had to let it go (let it go..!).

Chevron Grain Chest of Drawers West Elm

I really wanted to have the luxury of smooth running drawers and, something that could just be put into place and didn't require any work at all on my part for this piece of furniture. I already have a huge list of half finished DIY jobs and not enough time to complete them, but alas, it wasn't to be this time. Yes, maybe next time. Back to reality. So, this is what mine looked like on ebay...

Not bad for £120 huh? But this was the reality... Hmmmm, not quite so pretty now, is it?

You can see from the dust in the image above that I'd already started taking to it with sandpaper. Impatient as ever, and a bit of a risky move considering that it's veneer, but thankfully, good quality thick wood veneer, so it's taken a sand perfectly well, and all the marks have come off. You can also see in the image above that the handles were not in good condition at all. They were probably once lovely shiny brass, but that plating was long gone, and no amount of elbow grease was going to make them sparkle again.

I looked into having them re-plated, but it was surprisingly more expensive than I'd thought it would be at around £13 a piece, so a total of £104 for the eight handles - nearly as much as the chest of drawer cost to start with, and I just didn't like them enough to spend that kind of money, so I started the hunt for some replacements. The replacements had to fit or cover the existing holes, which meant my choice was quite limited, in an already limited market. However, I absolutely love the ones I found. I have a post dedicated to cabinet hardware coming very soon, so you'll have to wait for the details, but they were £6.30 each. I'd possibly have preferred a natural brushed brass if it was an option, but I do love their shiny goodness.

I removed the old handles, and sanded to get rid of the uneven faded varnish and watermarks, and filled the existing handle holes with a drill-able filler, as the new holes needed to be precariously close to the old ones. I drilled new holes, and gave each drawer three coats of clear Osmo Oil, before fitting the new shiny new chunky handles... Ta dah!

I'm pretty proud of this one, even though it was very straight forward, because it's made such a dramatic difference, and taken a battered and really average piece of furniture, to something I love and will keep for years to come. Not to mention the fact that we can finally put all our clothes away.

Now remember kids, the moral of this story is that you should probably ask more questions than I tend to when buying vintage on ebay, and perhaps for more closeup shots too. Or just take the gamble, which is quite probably half the fun.

So what do you think? Have you had any ebay disasters that you managed to salvage? Or not? Do tell...

Saturday, February 21

Gluten Free Hotcakes

Yes, I know that Pancake Day was last week, but I'm here to tell you that pancakes (well, hotcakes actually) are forever, not just for Shrove Tuesday. However, if you only indulge in pancakes once a year (and if so, what's wrong with you??), you might want to bookmark this post for next year, because let's face it, we'll probably all be gluten free by then.

I'm by no means a chef, but I am a big foodie, and I'm trying to drastically reduce the amount of gluten in my diet as I know I feel so much better without it. Making pancakes for my children several times a week (I know, mum of the year) was getting the better of me, so a while back I decided to make them gluten free. They can't tell the difference, so it's a win-win situation - I get to eat them without feeling guilty, and I'm also reducing the gluten in their diet which pleases me greatly.

My friend Demelza who used to own a total gem of a café around the corner from my house until she and her family moved to Sydney just over a year ago, announced last week that she'd launched her blog A Harvest Of Love. Both Dememlzas partner and eight year old daughter have recently been diagnosed as coeliac, so the focus of the blog is delicious gluten free recipes. Her food was always nothing short of phenomenal, so I know that anything that she posts will be amazing (not food that is gluten free and tastes okay, which I think is often the case with gluten free recipes). So do tune in!

I'm hoping she'll post her recipe for Chorizo with sweet potato and egg (hint hint Demelza!!). Maybe the bread could be replaced with a couple of slices of fried aubergine....

Anyway, I digress. Demelzas first post was a gluten free adaption of Bill Grangers Coconut Bread from his Sydney Food book, a cookbook that remains one of my all time favourites, despite being nearly fifteen years old now. That guy was seriously ahead of his time food wise. I made it within 24 hours of her posting it - I was that excited - and it was delicious, as I knew it would be.

The reminder of Sydney Food, got me reminiscing about the good old days, having long, hungover brunches with friends at one of Bills cafés in Sydney (I was born in New Zealand, but grew up in Sydney and lived there until I met my husband and moved to the UK in 2002). My favourite thing on the menu was the Ricotta Hotcakes served with banana and honeycomb butter. Yes, really - so good! They're still on the menu all these years later, and they're also served in his Granger and Co restaurants here in the UK.

I really wanted to make them, forgetting momentarily as I often do that they're not gluten free, so I thought I'd see if a straight switch of self-raising gluten free flour for the plain flour and baking powder would work for a gluten free version, and it did. Result! I'm always a bit cautious with doing swaps like that, as I don't like the waste if it goes terribly wrong, but I guess it's trickier in proper baking, where it can totally ruin a recipe, than in things like pancakes.

So I'm sharing two recipes below. One is my standard gluten free hotcakes which we tend to have several times a week, and for the more decadent days, the ricotta hotcakes, which are totally worth the extra bit of faff. Also, with the added protein in the ricotta, on top of the eggs, they're practically health food, right?

Gluten Free Hotcakes

Two eggs
One cup self-raising gluten free flour (I use Doves Farm)
Approx. 300mls milk or milk substitute
Butter or oil for frying

To serve
Blueberries & Maple Syrup

Measure flour into a mixing bowl.

Break eggs into a measuring jug, gently whisk, then top up with milk to just below the 350mls mark and whisk to combine.

Pour the egg and milk mixture into the flour whilst whisking to form a smooth batter.

At this point I like to transfer the finished mix back into the jug, making it easier to pour into the pan, but that's personal preference obviously.

Melt a little butter in a frying pan over low to medium heat, add batter and cook for a few minutes each side.

I use a small frying pan to make these (19 cm diameter), and just pour the 'right' amount to fit the base of the pan. You can use a larger frying pan and spoon in approx. 2-3 large tablespoons of mixture per hotcake.

These take a little longer to cook than standard pancakes due to the thicker mixture and the gluten free flour.

Serve with whatever you want, or my favourite - fresh blueberries and real maple syrup.

Gluten Free Ricotta Hotcakes

These are the perfect weekend treat, for when you (might!) have a little more time. Adapted from Bill Grangers Ricotta Hotcakes from Sydney Food.

1 1/3 cups ricotta
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs separated
1 cup self-raising gluten free flour
A pinch of salt
Butter for frying

To serve
Banana, icing sugar to dust & maple syrup

Put ricotta, milk and egg yolks into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add the flour and whisk until just combined.

Whisk eggwhites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form, then fold the egg whites into the batter with a large metal spoon.

Melt some butter in frying pan and spoon 2 tablespoons of the mixture per hotcake into the pan. Don't cook more than 2 or 3 at a time. Cook over low to medium heat for 2-3 minutes each side until golden and cooked through.

Serve with sliced banana, a dusting of icing sugar and maple syrup. Or for a really decadent treat, make Bills famous Honeycomb Butter...

Honeycomb Butter
250g softened unsalted butter
100 g honeycomb
2 tablespoons honey

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend til smooth. Spoon onto clingfilm and shape into a log - chill for 2 hours. Cut thick slices and serve between the hotcakes. Store leftovers in the freezer.

Or check out this rather amusing You Tube video of him making his Chocolate Honeycomb Butter.

Oh yum. Let me know if you make any of these. I promise you won't be disappointed.


Saturday, February 7

My Top Five Affordable Rug Resources

I think I might be a little obsessed with rugs. My idea of a great night in, is snuggling up on the sofa with The Rug Company catalogue. I know.

However, the term 'affordable' doesn't exactly fit with the name 'The Rug Company'. While I might drool over their beautiful rugs, owning one will remain a fantasy for the foreseeable future and not just for financial reasons - I don't want to have a mini heart attack every time someone walks on it with shoes on (we're not a no shoes kind of household), and let's just say my children have a fair way to go before I'd consider them posh-rug friendly. Baxter rides his scooter in the house, and Edie likes to put her rollerblades on inside too - and I'm not about to tell them otherwise. Maybe if we lived in a warmer climate the rules would be different.

So I wanted to share my best resources for affordable rugs. I'm in the market for a new one for our living room so I'd love you to tell me yours if you think I'm missing any great ones, especially if they come in large sizes, which is often not the case with cheaper rugs.

1. The Plantation Rug Company A great selection of designs at great prices, and lots in larger sizes. My current fave is this one...

Plantation Rug Company Velvet Underground Rug
Then again, I'm very fond of their Beni rugs too...

2. Joss & Main An ever-changing beautiful range at totally bargainatious prices. That really should be a word. But don't procrastinate like I do, because once they're gone, they're often gone for good. I am a bit in love with this Clo design. Maybe I should buy it.
 Joss & Main Clo Rug
Joss & Main Clo Rug
3. Tesco Yes really. Check this baby out. We know that Chevrons are O U T, but Herringbone? Yes please. More of the good stuff please Tesco. And bigger sizes. Rubbish image quality, sorry.
Tesco Herringbone Rug

4. Ebay Of course I have to include my beloved eBay here. I have never actually bought a rug on eBay (yet), but its a great source for vintage rugs, with a plethora of gorgeous overdyed ones to choose from. Like this...
Vintage overdyed rug Ebay

5. Etsy Strangely enough Etsy is also a really great rug resource. It's not somewhere I'd ever have thought to look, and I can't remember who told me about it, but thanks, whoever you are.
Overdyed vintage rug ArtcoreIstanbul on Etsy
Hmmm, are we sensing a theme? Remember to share your favourite affordable rug resources if you have any to add. I've whipped myself up into a rug shopping frenzy now, I know what I'll be doing for the rest of the afternoon...

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