Thursday, 26 February 2015

Unexpected Gifts



The theme this week seemed to be about unexpected gifts and it's a lovely thing to receive gifts out of the blue when you're least expecting them.

Surprise number one was when Mr Cocopopia magically produced a big bar of Cadbury's chocolate out of his rucksack on our trip to London last week-end - to sustain us on our travels and as far as I'm concerned, you can't go wrong with a gift of chocolate!




At the beginning of the week, we received a family newsletter in the post which was a pleasant surprise and always a fun read.

I suppose here I could mention the unexpected "gifts" brought in by the cats this week but I definitely wouldn't want to subject you to photos of these.  Although they did also manage to drag a branch of a tree through the cat flap and we're still baffled on how they managed it.

Another unexpected gift of some flowers - but I need to grow them first ...



Some free seeds brought into work by someone who had several packets of unwanted seeds which had been a magazine freebie.  I chose the shade-loving woodland mix to plant at the front of the house because it is very much in the shade and a challenge for anything to grow there although bluebells and lily of the valley pop up every year, so there's hope.  I'll be planting them this week-end so lets see what happens ...

Finally, the piece de resistance was a surprise present sent to me all the way from the USA - a retro style pinny for when I am in domestic goddess mode



and I just love the owl print fabric



Have you received any nice unexpected gifts this week?


I'll be joining in with Planet Penny's Happy Friday once again to see what everyone else has been up to this week


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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Stars, Time and Ships - Part One

Greenwich Alleyway

As a delayed birthday treat (my birthday was in December) we visited the big smoke on Saturday for a day out in Greenwich.  

There's a lot to see in Greenwich all within a good walking distance.  Its very pedestrian friendly and being in South East London, its not too difficult for us to get to by train.



We started our visit by heading up via the park to the Royal Observatory , before it got too busy.  




On the way, we also passed Nelson's Ship in a Bottle outside the National Maritime Museum - a piece of contemporary art (a scaled down model of Nelson's ship, the Victory, in a huge glass jar) by Yinka Shonibare which, prior to this, spent almost 2 years on a plinth in Trafalgar Square


Once we reached the Observatory, it was necessary to do the touristy thing and stand with one foot either side of the Greenwich Meridian Line.


Then once inside the building, we entered a world of science, beauty and steampunk inspiration as we saw the instruments designed for measuring time and space.


We then visited the Planetarium located in another building but on the same site.  There was an exhibition showing the finalists of the international Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.  There were some terrific photos, it was just a shame that they were on display in such a cramped little space.  We then went into the Planetarium for half an hour to lay back in the comfy chairs and gaze at the domed ceiling to learn how to recognise the stars and planets which are in the night sky at the moment, and which to me, was absolutely fascinating.  At one point I suspected Mr Cocopopia might be about to nod off so jabbed him with my elbow but he insisted he wasn't and was just resting his eyelids.....
When we'd taken in as much knowledge as we could, we headed back down the hill into the town and decided to give the eel pie a miss but found a cosy little cafe for a hot coffee to warm us up as there was a biting cold wind sweeping across from the river.




To be continued/...



Sunday, 22 February 2015

Feeling Sheepish



What, with the Chinese New Year and everything, there's been a bit of a sheep theme going on here over the past few days and in celebration of this gentle animal the photo above is a picture I took on the South Downs last winter of a "two headed" sheep.


In terms of Chinese astrology, the year of the sheep follows on from last year's year of the horse, which galloped along at a fast and bumpy pace - for many of us it was a case of grabbing onto the reins and holding on tight!  But the year of the sheep is said to be about contemplation, renewal and appreciation, enjoying the calmness, taking a more steady path, being kind and generous to others, being creative, connecting with nature and keeping the peace.  Well that all sounds pretty good to me so bring it on!

Getting Some zzzzzzz's


Sheep have been very much in my head recently due to bouts of insomnia - it is said that counting sheep jumping over a fence helps because the activity switches the mind off from all other thoughts (those worrying thoughts that keep us awake at night or just an over-creative mind which doesn't want to shut up and go to sleep!) and the act of counting something is said to slowly lull us into slumber due to the gentle repetition of the activity.  

Well my sheep are always a little misbehaved and some of them refuse to jump over the fence.  This in turn has the effect of keeping me awake as I get annoyed with them and try to round them up in my mind.  But now I've found the answer, and its based on the same principle of a breathing technique used my many people who practise yoga - its called 4-7-8 breathing and its good for stress and calming the mind and when you need it, can really help you drop off to sleep (and sleep well, once you're there!).  Read more about it here courtesy of Byrdie.com

Never Felt Better


Finally, this week,  in honour of the sheep, I continue to work on my latest felt project.  I love working with wool because its soft and comforting to touch (and in winter its warm to handle).  I'm a very slow knitter and even slower crotchetist but I like working with felt because you can work with it sculpturally for 3-D shapes and also work with it in a 2-D format almost like painting on canvas and, whichever technique you choose to use, they can also be combined and work well together.



I'm linking up once again with Planet Penny's Happy Friday

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Friday, 13 February 2015

Baking and Inventions



It's Happy Friday with Planet Penny time again and I'm thinking about what's made me happy this week.  First of all, I was very pleased to see that Dame Edna Everage had come out of retirement especially to take part in The Great Comic Relief Bake Off.  So I was inspired to get baking, and made some blueberry muffins as part of my plan to clear out food that has been sitting in the freezer for ages.  Not sure how long blueberries are intended to last in the freezer but it was a good excuse to use them up.  I win no prizes for consistency but who cares, they tasted good anyway!





I don't normally blog about technology and gadgets but have to mention this week I was very happy to come across this nifty little invention.  With the days slowly starting to lengthen its time for me to start thinking about cycling to work again a few days a week in an attempt to become more active and enjoy the fresh air. 

But I needed a new bike pump and not wanting to carry any more weight on the bike than necessary, I came across this "Mini Rocket" bike pump.  It only weighs 67g (2.36 oz) and is about 8 inches long.  But wait, that's not all, because it also doubles up as a bike light.



Its not that easy to demonstrate a flashing light in a still photo, but when clipped onto the bike frame next to the water carrier, this pump has an optional red light that can be switched on with the choice of still or flashing mode.  It means that my bike can be lit up from all directions now, which is reassuring.  It was great coming across a new bike pump which was not only designed to be small and lightweight, but which also doubles up as a bike light.  I love it when technology makes gadgets multifunctional like that.


And talking about multifunctional ...


I decided to make an air freshener for the car that was based on the use of essential oils as I find the shop bought ones smell too artificial or only seem to last about a week and then the fragrance is gone.  So I made a heart pouch out of cotton and filled it with toy stuffing and added a ribbon loop.  I then used Absolute Aroma's Travel blend specifically put together with travel in mind and containing such lovely essential oils as spearmint, rosemary, ginger, orange, lavender, geranium, caraway, grapefruit and eucalyptus.  I dabbed a few drops of this onto the back of the heart and once the fragrance fades, it can easily be revived with a few more drops.  I can even vary the essential oils for the seasons - maybe something fresh and citrussy for the spring and summer and something a little spicier for the autumn and winter such as cloves or cinnamon.

And this is the clever, multifunctional part, because the heart has a pouch in it


which means it will hold my ipod shuffle so that I can listen to my playlist in the car.


And finally, on the subject of hearts - here's a Valentine card from me to all my blog readers - thanks for reading




I'm joining in with Planet Penny's Happy Friday 


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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Rediscovering Rocket



Rocket (or arugula, as it is can also be called) is a peppery tasting aromatic salad green which is part of the mustard family and related to radish and watercress.  It is very popular in Mediterranean (particularly Italian) cuisine.  

For me, as a vegetarian, its a good source of iron as well as vitamins A and C. But in addition, its also a rich source of anticarcinogenic phytochemicals which, to put it simply, have been found to prevent the growth of harmful cancer cells. It also has antbacterial and antiviral properties, so good for helping to fight off winter colds.


I like using it in the summer as its great for adding flavour to salads and its peppery taste goes well with many other ingredients.  


However, I do tend to forget about it in the winter until last week when I found a bag of rocket in the reduced section at the supermarket and then remembered how it makes a really nice soup - you can just throw the whole bag in at the end of the soup making process as it softens down really quickly.

Cocopopia's Quick and Easy Rocket Soup

Ingredients (serves 3 - 4):

half an onion or 2 spring onions
knob of butter
tablespoon of cooking oil
4 button mushrooms or 1 large mushroom
1 large potato
1 stock cube, disolved in 1 and a half pints of hot water
1 bag of rocket

Method:
  1. Heat butter and oil in a medium sized saucepan and add chopped onion.  Cook for 1 - 2 minutes then add chopped mushrooms.
  2. Cook for another minute and then add potato, chopped into cubes
  3. Stir then add the stock
  4. With the lid on, bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Blend and serve.  
  6. To make the soup creamier, stir in some milk, sour cream, or soya cream




Thursday, 5 February 2015

Keeping Warm and Cosy



Well its been very cold here this week, what with the hail showers and the frosty mornings and the icy winds blowing in from the north, so I've taken a leaf out of Sweet Pea's book and joined her curled up on the sofa.  She's a fair weather cat - in the summer we hardly see her as she spends most of her time outdoors - even at night she prefers sleeping under hedges.  But in winter, its a different story and she turns into a couch potato, not wanting to go out and get her little paws cold if she can help it.





I've also been making vast quantities of home made soup as its very convenient for a quick and healthy snack and very warming and comforting.  I added a dash of cream to this mugful and was amused that it took the shape of a ghost about to throw a ball or maybe a Mister Men Character holding a lemon ...



On the jewellery front, I've been thinking of February's birthstone and remembering how beautiful amethyst can be.  Its a very popular gemstone and possibly one of the most easily recognised



And finally this week I received a new delivery of beads in the post (I always get very excited when new beads arrive!)


An explosion of hot colours for spring and summer jewellery including some beautiful crackled and frosted agates - can't wait to get making with these!

I'm joining in again with Planet Penny's Happy Friday - celebrating good things about the week


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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Everything Stops For Tea



Last winter we took a bike ride along the coast and stopped off in a cafe half-way for refreshments and to warm up.  This is when I tasted tea bread for the first time and found it so delicious that I vowed to have a go making it myself, but this never happened.

And then last week-end, my decluttering of the kitchen cupboards coincided with coming across a teabread recipe in the newspaper and it seemed about time I gave it a go.  The recipe called for mixed dried fruit but as I was using up old packets from my kitchen stores, I used a mixture of dried cranberries, raisins and sultanas.  Some of the fruit looked a bit dry (well there's dried fruit, and even drier fruit) but it was amazing how soaking it in the tea made it all plump and juicy again!

I adapted this recipe to make it low gluten, with half and half spelt flour and gluten free plain flour but to make it completely gluten free, go for 100% gluten free flour and also gluten free baking powder.

Tea Loaf Recipe

275g mixed dried fruit
300ml strong black tea (I used 1 x Earl Grey and 1 x Vanilla Chai teabag)
60g soft dark brown sugar
zest of 1 orange (optional)
2 large eggs
275g plain flour (or substitute for gluten free)
2.5 tsp baking powder (gluten free if going down that route)
1 tsp ginger
half tsp cinnamon
quarter tsp nutmeg
quarter tsp salt


Method
  1. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin and preheat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3.5
  2. Put the dried fruit and tea together in a saucepan and bring just to the boil.  Allow to simmer for 1 minute then add the sugar and leave to cool slightlybefore stirring in the zest and eggs.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, spices and salt.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the tea mixture and stir lightly until combined.
  5. Spoon into the loaf tin and bake for 50-55 minutes