Stuff I learnt in floristry class

Hello!

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve been going to a beginner’s floristry class since January. I’m not very good at it, but I don’t even care because I really enjoy it. I’ve even made my peace with the fact that my nemesis is florists’ foam (also known as oasis, which does make me think of the Gallaghers.)

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I do, however, enjoy putting bunches of flowers together (although I think I’m not allowed to call them ‘bunches’ now that I’m *sort of* trained. I think I’m meant to refer to them as bouquets…) I’ve learnt some great tips about choosing flowers and putting them together, which I would have liked to have known before I started putting stuff together.

  1. Bleach your vases and change your water

28235344_10155296869792267_8276381645575148795_oEvery time you have an empty vase, fill it with water and put a few drops of bleach in it and leave it overnight (although I forget and sometimes leave it a few days…) Empty it and rinse it out. This will kill any bacteria and means that you’re starting with a clean, germ-free vase. It’ll mean that your flowers last longer from the get-go. In a similar vein, make sure you change your water every couple of days.

Some people swear blind that a drop of bleach in the water works to keep flowers looking fresh, although I would only do that for roses; for anything else I use a teaspoon of sugar or, if I have it, the packets of flower food you get with supermarket flowers.

2. There’s nothing wrong with supermarket flowers! 

27021216_10155227044562267_3429879072351896780_oI do love going to the florist, but it is expensive. There’s nowt wrong with supermarket flowers- I use them quite a bit for class, and a florist recently recommended I buy focal flowers (i.e. the main flowers in an arrangement) from a florist, the secondary flowers from a supermarket and the greenery from a garden. To be honest, it depends on time/money as to whether I have time to do all of that. But you can definitely gussy up a couple of bunches of Aldi’s finest- arrange them in a symmetrical pattern, twisting the stalks if you can, any foliage on the outside, and tying off with string. Chop the bottoms of the stalks off evenly- et voila! A tied bouquet! The only thing I would say is that supermarket flowers do not tend to last as long as florist bought flowers, but when they’re cheap as chips, who cares?

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

IMG_20180214_083541_236I think one of the reasons I’m not terribly good at the lessons is that I’m not very keen on the formality of what we’re being shown. This is just my thing and no judgement on the teacher (who I love) or the whole world of floristry. It’s just me being an awkward sod. I tend to prefer smaller arrangements that suit a more vintage taste, which have a country garden look to them. This is what I will continue to make once I finish my course, and what I enjoy making. As one of Brighton’s top florists told me, ‘It’s not rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules.’ (He was quite dismissive of a lot of the formal structure of floristry- and seeing as he did my wedding bouquet, I tend to trust him!) One thing I would say: supermarket flowers tend not to smell much. If you want that, consider buying some broom or something like stocks from a florist- even one stem of these will lift your bunch of flowers into something a bit more special.

4. A few tweaks can make a bouquet look way more expensive

IMG_20180311_131728_492Around Valentines and Mother’s Day, flowers will be at their most expensive. If you wanted to make something flowery in the run up to those, I would heartily recommend you buy supermarket flowers for the bulk of it (especially if you want roses or tulips) and then go to a florist for a few finishing touches. The bouquet about was commissioned by Benn for his mum and I did go to a florist where I know I will get a good deal (and a discount for being a student, hurrah!) This is more my style- I love stuff that looks like I could just pluck it from my garden on a sunny June day and it’s nicely balanced, I think. Anyway, there are a few things I’ve noticed when you put together a bouquet:

  1. If you want roses, but not the expense, you could try lisianthus (the deep purple flowers above) or ranunculas, which are pretty in a similar way but often without such a steep price tag (although they will never be as cheap as daffodils or carnations!)
  2. Eucalyptus is having a moment. You can get the traditional varieties, with large silver leaves, or the smaller leafed variety, which is in the arrangement above. The good thing about eucalyptus, especially the bigger type, is that it will literally make any bunch of flowers look more expensive. Probably because it is quite expensive, but it would be a price I would consider paying for something special. To be honest, though, I’d just have vases full of it round the house I love it so much. If you want nice foliage, consider pistachio leaf, which is nice and half the price. Foliage is super important and I almost never have enough.
  3. If you want to make something look vintage, go with wax flowers. These tiny pink or white flowers are a bit of a discovery for me and also seem to be having a bit of a ‘moment’. Oh my god, I love them. They look like something from a Victorian wedding and they last an AGE. They aren’t hugely cheap, but they are cheerful and really add something to the flower arrangements I make. These would go in my vases with the eucalyptus.

5. Use Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration

I have a Pinterest board where I keep all things floristry- I love looking at flower combos, as well as different colours and presentation options. I’m also obsessed with the language of flowers and what different flowers meant in Victorian times. I then use this as a starting point for ideas. There are also some really great Instagram accounts run by florists, with different styles and specialities. Have a hunt around and find your style. Then, go and have a go. It’s really, honestly, not that hard. Seriously- look at some of the mistakes I’ve made!

If there’s anything you’d like to know, but I may have missed, let me know either in the comments or on Twitter. Enjoy your flowers!

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Super-easy, step-by-step guide to making autumn jelly

I find it hard to resist picking blackberries as I’m out and about; where we live, we have a load of wild fruit growing nearby (a bonus of living on the edge of the South Downs), including apples, sloes and plums. We also have an apple tree in the garden that grows the blandest. apples. ever. They’re only actually any good in jams, jellies and chutneys. Although my apple chutney is quite popular, I haven’t quite got the recipe right yet- but I thought I’d share my autumn jelly recipe with you, along with pictures which I Instagrammed when I was making it.

Ingredients: we picked just shy of 1kg of blackberries and used about 500g of cooking apples. A lemon is also needed at this stage. I try not to pick fruit by the road, as cars can affect the berries. Obviously I buy the lemon!

Blackberries from the local woods, apples from garden. Add some spices and BOOM…:

First things first- wash the berries and apples and roughly chop the apples and lemon and put them in a pan with about 300ml of water.

Jelly making: stage 1 #autumn #jelly #apples #brambles #cooking #food:

I had so much fruit that I needed to use two pans! (Make sure they’re fairly heavy, btw.) Bring the water to the boil and then simmer for about 40 minutes, until the mixture has thickened. Keep an eye on it, keep stirring it and make sure that the fruit doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Stage 2: straining. The fruit has been cooked for 40mins. I'll leave this now…:  Next, the messy bit! I always think this looks a bit like the aftermath of a horror film (and be aware that blackberries WILL stain wooden worktops. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.) Anyway, empty the pans out into a sieve-I prefer a plastic one-and place it over a bowl in order to collect the juice. Last year, I left the fruit to drain overnight. This year, it took a couple of hours. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Stage 4: you need to measure the juice... then add 450g of granulated sugar per… This is the juice that will be turned into the jelly. Conventional wisdom states that you should add 450g of sugar (I usually use bog standard granulated, but am looking into using jam sugar to see if it speeds up setting) for every pint of juice. I had a pint and a half, so used about 625g of sugar. I also add spices: cloves, cinnamon and ginger- about a tsp of each- but you could use more or less according to your tastes.

Stage 5: add the sugar, bring to the boil. Then boil rapidly for 5-10 mins.:  Next, next you need to bring the mixture to the boil and then-in theory- boil rapidly for 5-10 minutes until the jelly passes the ‘set test’: drop a small amount of jelly onto a cold plate (I stick a couple in the fridge before I begin boiling the fruit) and prod it with your finger. If it has a ‘skin’ and you can leave a trail in the jelly, you’re set. This took a bit longer to get to setting point- 20 minutes- but it was worth it!

Stage..6? It took 20 mins to get setting point 😡 Anyway, it's done! Good stuff…:  Skim the cloves and the foam on top and pour quickly into warm, sterilised jars. I sterilise jars by running them through  the dishwasher. If they cool before I need them, I’ll fill them with boiling water until I need them.

As soon as you’ve poured the jelly in, stick a lid on (I don’t bother really with those jam seals in jars- it hasn’t caused a problem before…) and label it with the date. Leave to cool in a cupboard. Once opened, store in the fridge. An open jar lasts about six weeks, if it’s not eaten first!

Homemade autumn jelly on toast for the first day of autumn! It tastes GOOD…:  Let me know if you have a go!

How to shop for clothes on eBay

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I buy most of my clothes secondhand- and a lot of them come from eBay; I’ve been doing so since I was a sixth former and I like to think my game is fierce. Often, when I tell someone one of my dresses came from eBay, I get an answer like ‘Oh, I have no idea where to start with online shopping!’ or ‘How do you know it’s going to fit?’

So wonder no more, mystery friends! I thought I’d share my tips on how to navigate the online thrift shop with ease and (hopefully) style.

1. Know your size

It’s really handy to know what size you are in certain shops- for example, I know I’m a 14 in some and 16 in others. I also make decisions based on whether I think a particular garment will be comfy/flattering in a bigger or smaller size. Be warned though- some shops’ sizes have got smaller in recent years. Damn recession.

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2. Have a brand in mind

I love Monsoon clothes, but am rarely able to afford to buy from the store- so I often keep an eye on what’s new on eBay. I know that Next, M&S and Dorothy Perkins often offer things I like and I always avoid Primark on eBay. It never lasts and is often priced way up more than it should be. I also find H+M to be hit and miss with sizing, so I try to avoid it if I can. It’s often handy to have a saved search for these things.

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3. Buy out of season

I just bought a brand new Next winter coat for a tenner (and £3 p+p). Last year I bought some calf length DMs in the middle of July for £50. Buying out of season means you beat demand and can snag some bargains.

4. Consider a budget… and stick to it

It’s really easy to get carried away on eBay, so I think of what I’m after and how much I want to spend. Then I take a look at the Buy It Now options first, as you’re paying a fixed price. I’m also a great fan of seeing these lots from the ‘lowest price first + P+P’ angle.

5. Think about what you like- and will you really wear this dress?

Some of the eBay mistakes I’ve made have been when I’ve bought something that is really not my thing (for example- high heels. I never wear high heels, so why I thought I’d wear some patent pink stilettos is beyond me. Yellow makes me look washed out if I wear too much of it and pleated skirts make me look like I have the legs of a wrestler. So if anyone can explain why I bought a mustard dress with pleated skirt, I’d be interested.) So I stick to things I like. Mostly skater dresses with birds on. Also, never fall for that part of your brain that says ‘Oh, I’ll alter it!’ 1) You won’t and 2) that way, madness lies.

6. Be zen when mistakes happen

Sometimes, no matter how well you’ve planned your shopping spree, you end up with a dud. It happens. If it does, I either resell, give to a friend, or (more likely) donate it to a charity shop.

Do you buy from eBay? What are your top tips?

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

I love Christmas. I especially love it at the moment because D is find the whole thing equal parts interesting and bewildering (I’ll refrain from saying ‘magical’. He thinks the Universal logo at the start of a film is ‘beautiful’. The kid has no concept of magic.) Unfortunately, he also has a penchant for helping himself to decorations off the tree, so my beautiful Nordman Fir is frequently denuded and its carefully placed* baubles are now all over the place. Between the toddler and the cat- who likes to see if it’s possible to climb up the tree without me noticing- my poor tree looks like it was decorated by aliens with no concept of taste.

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Christmas has also coincided with the onset of the Terrible Twos, which have come about WITH FORCE. Hooray.

I used the garden to good effect the other day, by gathering some evergreen plants we have. One of the main plants is a huge holly tree that has lots of foliage and berries. I also figured that by taking some of the bottom of the tree, I was saving the birds from Bronte’s inept ‘hunting’ efforts. I also included a little ivy, some twigs from an old Christmas tree at the bottom of the garden and some rosemary (we have at least two good-sized bushes.)

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I tied the whole shebang together with some cheap cinnamon sticks (50p for two at the local spice shop- it’s there for looks, rather than smell, as it doesn’t smell much at all) and some glittery red ribbon which I picked up from Tiger for £1. My friends and family are actually asking me to make up there own bunches of evergreens, so I think a new Christmas tradition has been born. It was also really nice stepping out into the garden for the first time in weeks, although I did feel a little overwhelmed at how much I want to do out there- but that’s another post for another time…

I’ve also done a little Christmas knitting, but decided to limit myself to one present, as I left it too late to co-ordinate myself efficiently. So I’m making a pair of Fallberry mitts in Drops Alpaca for a friend- lovely pattern and lovely yarn! I’ve knitted this pattern before, so I know it’s a quick(ish) knit that looks lovely.

Image: Knitty

Image: Knitty

How are you preparing for Christmas? On Wednesday, I’m going to post about how I’m getting organised for hosting Christmas this year… Leave any tips in the comments!

Super easy customisable egg fried rice recipe

I’ve been promising to write up this recipe for ages- it’s a Saturday night staple for us, especially in the autumn and winter (it’s a handy ‘lap dinner’ that we eat when watching Strictly.) I can’t remember where I got the original recipe from, but it’s definitely evolved over the years. It’s pretty healthy and low fat and best of all, it’s very easy and customisable- I wish I’d known how to make this dish when I was a student! Now, I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I’m not the new Nigella.

So, the ingredients- this makes enough for two. If Benn didn’t have a ‘growing lad’s’ appetite, there’d probably be leftovers:

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As well as what you can see here, I add a couple of cloves of garlic and a touch of ginger (which, brilliantly, Benn forgot to buy.) The ingredients above: prawns  a bunch of spring onions, two small-ish tomatoes, a small tin of garden peas, two medium eggs, a red pepper, a cup of basmati rice, sweet chilli dipping sauce and light soy sauce.

I boil the rice in boiling water straight from the kettle with a drop of groundnut oil before I do anything else. The rice needs to be fluffy and I like it slightly sticky, too. While the rice is cooking, I chop all the veggies (top tip: I chop up the spring onions with a pair of scissors) and beat the eggs in the cup which held the rice (saves on washing up!)

Once the rice has cooked, I drain it and let it cool. I fry the garlic and scramble the eggs in the wok/pan. Then I add the prawns. Then, once those are cooked, I add the veggies and a mix of the chilli sauce and the soy sauce, until I like the taste. I told you this wasn’t complex!

Finally, I add the rice and stir it up. Et voilà! Stupidly simple egg fried rice:

eggfriedrice.jpgAs I said, this is a really versatile and healthy dish. It’s easy to use whatever you want in terms of meat and veggies (although Gok SWEARS that the holy trinity of Chinese cooking is garlic, ginger and spring onions, so I reckon you would probably need those at the very least…)

Anyway, enjoy!

 

Country Baskets Blogger Challenge- Accessorize yourself!

Before Christmas, I was asked to take part in the Country Baskets blogger challenge. I enjoyed myself so much that I knew I would be well up for the spring challenge- to design something suitable for a wedding. There’s £250 of craft vouchers up for grabs, so I had to design something interesting.

Now, I admit that I found this quite hard; I ran through a few different ideas. A corsage? A bag? In the end, I decided to make a headband- they’ve become quite a staple in my own accessory wardrobe. I knew I wanted to use some of the purple chiffon in the pack I was sent, as well as some sparkly teardrops. I just had no idea what to do.

And then it hit me- I’d take Carey Mulligan as Daisy in The Great Gatsby as my inspiration!

carey-mulligan-great-gatsby-pixie-cutI decided though that my own creation would be a bit more low-key- I don’t have the skills and, more importantly, I didn’t have any glue in the house. Everything would be hand-stitched and done in the limited time I had while D was out with his grandparents. So, listening to Ivanhoe on Radio 4 (narrated by David Tennant), I set to work.

First of all, I cut a length of chiffon and lace and stitched them together. The chiffon is barely visible and gives the hairband a wispiness, while the lace really makes it feel ‘wedding-y’.

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The challenge was to use five of the materials I was sent. Of course, using the chiffon meant that the rest of the product had to be similarly delicate. One of the materials that most interested me was a wire spray with teardrops. I decided to snip some of these off and twist them onto the lace at regular intervals. Although not immediately obvious, I thought they’d reflect the sunlight really nicely on a beautiful day.

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I was also sent a lovely white and cream bouquet of artificial flowers; although immediately attracted to the roses and lilies (that had a splash of pink in the centre), I thought that the smaller flowers would suit the delicate look I was going for- anything else would have just been, well, blousey. Also, I have fond childhood memories of them, so they seemed perfect for the project at hand. Luckily, they popped off their stems quite easily, so I stitched those on as well.

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Finally, I added ribbon to the ends, so that the hairband would tie on nicely. (By the way, I apologise for the state of my hair in this photo, but I was sort of aiming for ‘shabby chic’. Alas, I ended up with just plain old shabby…)

This was a super easy project that took just over an hour; it could be an idea for bridesmaids or for brides who are having a simple wedding. Similarly, it could double up as some kind of festival hairband, which I hear are all the rage with the kids these days.

Anyway, I hope you like it!

(All materials provided by Country Baskets)

 

Country Baskets’ Festive Face Off- my entry!

A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted quite a mysterious photo of lots of Christmassy, crafty bits that looked like this:

20131118_143301I was approached by Country Baskets, a company specialising in craft supplies, to take part in their Festive Face-Off competition. Thirty bloggers have been approached to make a Christmas decoration; the winner will receive £250 to spend on Country Baskets and also a donation will be made to their charity of choice.

It was a bit overwhelming to think about what I would make, but I was inspired by the stories of The Snow Queen and also the White Queen in the Narnia books. I decided I wanted a frosty, wintery theme, instead of my usual approach to Christmas (which is GLITTER! OMG GLITTER!) I’ve also always wanted to make a wreath, but never got round to it. So, I hit Pinterest, looking at images of the Snow/White Queen and also at wreaths, getting inspiration. I selected a few of my favourite bits from the hamper I was sent and away I went!

The end result was this:

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To make:

  • I used some wired woollen cord  to make the base: I unrolled the whole thing and twisted it a few times to make a ring. I then added some florist’s wire to the back to strengthen it (no one likes a droopy wreath…)
  • Next, I covered the whole thing with a bit of lace, wrapping it round at fairly regular intervals.
  • I then wrapped around a string of beads I found really fetching; I love the black and white together- to me they represented the light and dark of the stories.
  • Then, I glued some velvety leaves around, making sure that there was space for everything else I planned to pile on!
  • I next glued some leaves made of bark, which had some glitter on. I think these are possibly my favourite piece on the wreath.
  •  I added some silver apples around the wreath and added the snowflake decoration and a white hanging ribbon to finish it all off.

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I really love this and, even if I don’t win (there are some seriously amazing entries), I’m grateful that I was given the chance to do something completely different and experiment!