Houseplant Heaven – Bathroom Jungle

Houseplant Heaven – Bathroom Jungle

I recently re-decorated my bathroom, and am sure that adding lots of green is going to work beautifully with the black and white theme.

I’ve had an aloe there for a while now, and apart from a mealybug infestation, it’s doing ok.

Recently I added this variegated Philodendron, which I’ve already blogged about here.

I completely fell in love with this small zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa) at Knights Garden Centre. Apparently they are a bit tricky to take care of – they like warmth and humidity. Not things we have a lot of in the British Winter! So I thought my bathroom would be the best place for it. I have a towel radiator in there which means the room gets reasonably warm, and it gets nice and humid when the shower is on. Fingers crossed it’s gets on ok. The pot is from Burgon and Ball.

The zebra plant has a couple of new friends since I started drafting this post. All from the lovely Suzanne at The Ginger Jungle. If you like unusual house plants, you have to check out her site. She has a very small business, and imports houseplants from all over the place. She has ones you won’t get anywhere else. I went to pick up my new plants from her today (she does mail order, but doesn’t live so far from me, so I went in person). Her house is a veritable jungle, it’s awesome!

The pink edged one at the back is Aglaonema Sparkling Sarah,

and the smaller one at the front is Hoya carnosa variegated ‘tricolor’, which has some pink leaves. I wanted some pink in the bathroom as I have a pale pink shower curtain, and I like things to match (but not too much). The pot is a gorgeous Wedgewood one that I bought in the RHS Wisley gift shop sale last year.

Hanging out above this gorgeous trio is a Fishbone cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger) also from The Ginger Jungle. The pot is from Burgon & Ball

I just love it’s crazy shape. And together I think the four of them have a great mixture of shapes, textures and colours. I’m very happy. Now I just have to keep them alive!

Related Posts: Houseplant Heaven – The beginning of an obsession

Houseplant Heaven – The beginning of an obsession

Houseplant Heaven – The beginning of an obsession

It’s the beginning of 2019, and, as usual, I’m behind the trends! Apparently 2018 was the year of the houseplant, and I only caught the bug at the very end of the year. I think it was a combination of seeing a lovely lush garden in Morocco (and knowing that I could only grow most of the plants indoors), the sadness of not getting out into the garden/allotment in Winter, and too much Pinterest browsing that has started me down this track.

I bought the RHS Practical House Plant Book to help me. It has sections on designing with houseplants, and profiles of 175 plants. It also has a helpful explanation of different types of light in a room, which is very helpful. And of course there is Google for information and Pinterest for inspiration.

I have to confess a love of variegated houseplants. I really like the irregular way the white shows up on the leaves.

Look at this gorgeous sweetheart plant (Philodendron Scandens Brasil). I have put it in my bathroom which is north facing, but with a large window, and it seems happy so far. It is about 1metre tall, and pinned down over the moss stick. I’m hoping that it’s going to get really long, and I can unpin it and train it over the end of the shower rail.

The best thing about is that you can make it climb or trail.

I also bought a Devil’s Ivy (Scindapsus pictus Trebie, also known as silver pothos) at the same time from my local garden centre Priory Farm Nursery. It looks similar to the philodendron, and was climbing on a 50cm moss stick. But being a contrary sort, I wanted it to trail. I undid it all (it was pinned to the stick with small metal pins), and it had one long and two shorter limbs (I’m sure there is a proper name for them!). I’m absolutely thrilled with how it looks cascading down the side of a wardrobe in my dining room. It is in the middle of a knocked through room, but gets quite a bit of light because I have huge 1930’s windows, and it’s near one which is south facing.

I’ve also taken cuttings of both of these. I plan to take cutting of all of my new plants, as an insurance policy! I’m putting them in water on a north facing windowsill. They look pretty, and hopefully will root soon.

Related posts: Houseplant Heaven – Bathroom Jungle

Inspiring Gardens – Majorelle Gardens – Marrakech

Inspiring Gardens – Majorelle Gardens – Marrakech

I recently went on a yoga holiday to a gorgeous hotel called Tigmi just outside Marrakech in Morocco.

I had heard about the Majorelle Gardens from a colleague, who said they were well worth a visit, and I managed to find a fellow garden loving yogi on the holiday, so we went together.

The gardens were built by French artist Jacques Majorelle, but it fell into disrepair when he died in the 1960’s. The garden is also known as the Yves St Laurent gardens as he and his partner Pierre Berge bought the house and gardens in 1981 to save it becoming a hotel. They had it restored and expanded the plant collection. When he died in 2008 his ashes were scattered there, and there is a memorial to him in the gardens (bizarrely it was the scruffiest part of the garden!).

It’s very popular, and was quite crowded, even at 10.30am, but it was an absolute delight to wander round a garden with someone else who loves plants as much as I do!

I’ve subsequently bought Paradise Gardens by Monty Don from Amazon (on kindle because it was only £3.99, and the photos look great on my iPad!), and discovered it’s also in there.

You can click through to the website or buy the book to get a sense of the main features in the garden, I’ve chosen to focus on smaller details that caught my eye. Partly because there were too many people to get good photos of the main structures, and partly because I like close ups of plants!

I loved the coloured pots dotted around the garden. I don’t think it would work in the UK, but it looks gorgeous in the Moroccan light.

This was a citrus area. In a formal pattern, with masses of different citrus trees in pots.

I fell in love with these gorgeous cut out pots. Not sure of their function, but they looked pretty.

Loved the planted tortoise!

And I thought this plant looked spectacular on the top of the wall.

Naturally there was a lot of water, both fountains and still ponds (with fish).

And despite being December, there was still colour and lovely flowers. I would love to know how they get their nasturtiums looking so neat!

Gorgeous arches, floors and doors!

And finally…I think this was my favourite part – you weren’t allowed to walk in this bit – I think it was the garden of the house. It had a lovely calm sense to it, and felt the most like a regular garden.

Related posts: Inspiring Gardens – Nymans Rose Garden, Inspiring Gardens – Perch Hill

Christmas Canapés

Christmas Canapés

For our early family Christmas dinner, I was responsible for starters and desserts. For starters I decided to do canapés, so people could eat as much/little as they liked, and still leave space for a huge turkey dinner.

Of course, stupidly I decided to make everything from scratch, rather than buying some from M&S!

Whilst each individual canapé was easy to make, it did end up being very time consuming. Most of them had aspects that could be made ahead, leaving just simple assembly on the day, so that helped. And I know that I’m biased, but they were delicious.

Our menu was:

  • Beetroot and goats cheese napoleons
  • Pears with blue cheese and prosciutto
  • Goats cheese and asparagus frittata
  • Scotch quails eggs
  • Caprese bites

In terms of make-ahead, I did the following:

Bake beetroot, Boil and peel quails eggs (fiddly!), Make frittata (but leave whole, and cut up on the day). I also made the scotch eggs the night before, but didn’t bake them until the next day.

All of the recipes are online, and I’ve just given my tips/thoughts below.

Beetroot and goats cheese napoleons

These went down an absolute storm, with adults and children alike. They are so delicious! I made them a little too ahead of time, so the goats cheese filling went a bit pink too. When they are freshly made the white goats cheese contrasts beautifully with the beetroot. I am definitely going to make these again with beetroot from my allotment, where I grow a range of different types of beetroot.

For speed you could make them with those packets of pre-cooked beetroot. I also used whatever vinegar I had in the cupboard as I didn’t have rice vinegar. I also didn’t bother with the dressing. And I put skewers in the stacks to help with eating.

Recipe from – check it out here

Pears with blue cheese and prosciutto

These are very simple, and lovely and fresh. I used dolcelatte cheese, which is quite mild, and I didn’t bother adding in the rocket. I also didn’t bother with the lemon juice because I was serving them straight away.

Recipe from – you can find it here

Goats cheese and asparagus frittata

Super simple and quick to make. I didn’t have as many eggs as the recipe said, so I just used what I had and made it in a small pan. I added random herbs from my garden. You could add any veg or cheese you like.

Recipe from thecooks – see here

Scotch quails eggs

No photo for these – I forgot to take one, and they had disappeared by the time I remembered!

It’s nice to have a hot canapé as well as the cold ones. And these are perfect two bite scotch eggs. The recipe is for 12 eggs, but I used a pack of 6 sausages, and managed to make 20 scotch eggs.

I made them up to the point of frying, and then baked them just before we needed them.

A top tip when putting the flour, egg and breadcrumbs onto the sausage covered eggs is to have one hand for wet and one hand for dry. So (for example), with your left hand toss the egg in the flour, then pick it up with your left hand and drop it into the egg. Pick it up and toss it with your right hand, then pick it up with your right and drop it into the breadcrumbs. Toss it with your left hand and then pick it up with your left and drop it into the frying pan.

I used a frying pan and a small amount of fat. I do think it would be better to deep fry them to get a more even colour.

Recipe from Good Housekeeping. Recipe here

Caprese bites

Super simple, super quick and popular! Just thread a cherry tomato, a bocconcini (tiny mozzarella ball) and a basil leaf onto a skewer.

I served them on a large wooden platter, and bought some nice bamboo cocktail sticks from Amazon to make them look a little more special. They disappeared in no time, and I was really pleased with how they looked and tasted.

Related posts: Tiny Gingerbread Houses, Cherry and Amaretto Pavlova, Chocolate and Blackberry Fraisier

Tiny Gingerbread Houses

Tiny Gingerbread Houses

If, like me, you are a Pinterest addict, you will no doubt have seen lots of lovely photos of tiny gingerbread houses beautifully balanced on mugs.

I’ve wanted to make them for ages, so I ordered a set of cutters online from eBay. I think they came from China!

Once they arrived I used the recipe in the Biscuiteers book that I mentioned in the Iced Biscuits (Cookies) post. It’s got treacle, and a range of spices in it, and I doubled the ginger, and added the grated zest of an orange, which was a genius move, because it tasted great. I didn’t want to over mix it so it was a bit streaky when I rolled it out, but it got less so when I gathered up the scraps and re-rolled it. The recipe is here. I also recommend checking the biscuits after 12 minutes (the recipe says 14-18, but I find that a bit long).

I used this new rolling pin with the rubber rings round the end to get an even thickness all round – the only disadvantage is that it’s a bit small, so you can’t do a massive piece of dough all at once.

The cutter is a front/back, side and roof. You need two of each per house. If you’re sensible (unlike me), you will cut an equal number of each so you have complete houses. Of course I didn’t and ended up with a few odd pieces, which were the cooks treat, and good for testing the icing before committing to the houses!

A baker friend recommended using meringue powder to make the icing, so I bought a tub from The Vanilla Valley. It’s known as Meri White. It means you don’t need egg whites, so don’t get loads of left over egg yolks. It was really easy, and once I had followed her recipe (1kg icing sugar, 10tbsp meringue powder, 180ml water) I then added orange juice to water it down to the right consistency – so it enhanced the orange in the biscuit. Note this makes a lot of icing – but you can freeze it, and it works just as well when you’ve defrosted it as it does fresh. Some people use less meringue powder, but my friend recommends the recipe from Sweet Ambs, who says it gives more stability, and stops the icing crusting over so quickly before you use it.

We iced the individual pieces first, and left them to dry before building the houses. My 8 year old particularly enjoyed this bit – not sure how much arrives on the biscuit, and how much in her mouth! I think I cut the hole in the icing bag a bit big, but pretty pleased with the results.

She went off to bed once we had done this bit, and I stuck them together later on.

I just piped thick lines of icing on the joins and stuck them together.

I left them to dry for a while before adding the roof.

And then added extra icing as snow along the ridge and edges.

Here they are decorating the table at my Sister’s before they got rapidly consumed by a load of kids.

And of course the obligatory shot of one on a mug! They were a bit big for that – so check the size of your cookie cutter before you buy it, but they made great table decorations.

Related posts: Iced Biscuits (Cookies)

Cherry and Amaretto Pavlova

Cherry and Amaretto Pavlova

I made this for an early Christmas dinner that we had recently. My Sister in Law is gluten free, and I wanted to make something she could eat. It’s also pretty easy, looks great, and tastes amazing. There is alcohol in it, but not so much that anyone is going to get drunk, (our kids ate it), but you can leave it out or replace it with almond essence if you prefer.

Cherry and almond is one of my favourite flavour combinations, in fact anything with cherries is good in my book. Though if we’re being strictly truthful, amaretto is actually made with peach kernels not almonds.

You could replace the almond with chocolate if you want something more Black Forest gateau flavoured.

On top of the eggs and sugar for the meringue, you need almond extract, amaretto, a large pot of double cream (600ml), 400g fresh cherries (pitted), 200g fresh raspberries (you can use just cherries if you prefer, but I like the freshness of the raspberries too) and a jar of Cherries in kirsch. I used these from Lakeland. Sainsbury’s also do some as do Waitrose and probably loads of other places. Drain them and cut them in half. Beware it’s a sticky job.

I used my trusty meringue recipe, which you can find here, added a teaspoon of almond extract at the very end. I use the Sainsbury’s French Almond one, which I think is great – make sure you use extract not essence as essence is not a natural product. I then divided it into three circles of about 20cm – I drew round a small plate onto the underside of some parchment paper. If you want it to be taller – make four smaller circles.

To add a lovely flavour I made a purée by blending a handful of the fresh (pitted) cherries (about a handful) and a handful of the raspberries, sieving them to get rid of the seeds, and boiling to reduce it down a bit.

I then splodged it onto the meringue circles and swirled it around with a wooden kebab stick.

I try and bake meringue on as low a heat as possible. My own only goes to 80 degrees centigrade, so I use that. It takes several hours to dry out the meringue. The cream will soften up the meringue, so I wanted it to be quite crisp and baked for around 3 hours.

Once the meringue disks are cold it’s time to start layering up. If you want the meringue to stay crisp, leave this till just before you serve. I made mine several hours before we ate, and the meringue went very soft (and still very delicious!).

Add a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar to the cream. Whip the cream to soft peaks and add some amaretto to taste. Beware – it tastes amazing!

Put a little bit of cream on the plate you are going to use and stick the worst looking meringue to the cream. This will stop it sliding around. Add some cream and spread it around to the edge of the disk.

I placed a row of kirsch cherries around the edge, and filled in the middle with the fresh cherries and raspberries- push them down a little into the cream the put more cream on the top so the layer is quite smooth.

For the other layer I placed fresh cherries around the edge and kirsch cherries and raspberries in the middle.

Add the final layer on top, add some cream in the middle of the layer (to help the fruit to stick) and make a lovely pile of the remainder of the fruit.

Don’t worry if any of the layers crack (mine did), just stick them back together with a bit of cream. It’s very forgiving!

Refrigerate until you’re ready to eat. I left mine a little long, and it travelled in a car, so became a little soft and squishy. But it still tasted amazing!

I will most definitely be making it again when I have some of my home grown cherries and raspberries next summer.

Related posts: Christmas Canapés, Tiny Gingerbread Houses, Cherry and Amaretto Pavlova

Chocolate and Blackberry Fraisier

Chocolate and Blackberry Fraisier

We had an early Christmas dinner in our family this year, as some of us are not going to be around on Christmas day.

I was responsible for starters and desserts, and I came across this blackberry fraisier recipe in a Christmas pull-out in Good Housekeeping recipe, which can be found here.

I’ve wanted to make a fraisier since I saw it in bake-off one year.

There are a lot of different steps and layers to get ready so you can layer it all together at once – it needs to chill for at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight, so make sure you plan ahead.

The cake is a genoise sponge where you whisk the eggs and sugar to within an inch of their lives, and then fold the rest of the ingredients in. You do lose a little volume when you do this, as it takes a while to get them properly combined, but it still makes a lovely airy cake.

The next step as creme patisserie (ore creme pat as you always hear it referred to on bake off). I’ve never made it before, and it wasn’t overly difficult, though quite hard work on the arm with all the beating!

I did find that when I left it to cool it became overly heavy and solid, so I emptied out of the piping bag, added some milk – gave it a good beating, sieved it, and it turned out perfect! So I would say that you could reduce the amount of corn flour that the recipe recommends, and it would be just fine.

You have to make a liquid to soak the cake – the recipe has lemon juice, sugar and cassis in it, I skipped the lemon juice, added a bit of water, and used creme de mures (blackberry liqueur) instead – it worked fine!

The second to last layer is marzipan – I used bought, and I recommend using more than the recipe suggests. I found it quite hard to roll the amount recommended out to the right size – so use more, and then trim it off!

The glaze is the final thing – it was a bit lumpy when it cooled (I think it was the cocoa that hadn’t dissolved properly), so I sieved it. I probably use my sieve just as much for smoothing our lumpy mixtures as I do for sifting flour! It ran a little over the edges, so if you want a super professional finish, maybe add an extra sheet of gelatine, which will help it be more set.

It’s fun to stack it all together. You do it in the tin (without the bottom), and then remove it after chilling. I forgot to take a photo of each layer, so here is the beginning and end!

I love how it looks, and it tastes absolutely delicious!

I would definitely recommend it as a Christmas Day or dinner party centrepiece, and you could use a different fruit if you can’t get hold of blackberries (which are not in season in December, so harder to get hold of).

Related posts: Christmas Canapés, Tiny Gingerbread Houses, Cherry and Amaretto Pavlova