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A day and a night in Frankfurt

Frankfurt

Travelling just an hour out of Stansted by plane, I arrived in Frankfurt Hahn airport, on my way to visit a friend who’s living in the city for six months. Although picking cheaper flights into Hahn, rather than flying into Frankfurt main airport, meant an extended journey (it takes two hours by bus), it meant we saw the rolling green countryside that lay between the airport and the main city. It was a bank holiday weekend and from the road, you could see families pitching their tents up in the surrounding fields, ready for a long weekend camping.

My friend’s living just a few minutes walk from the city centre so it didn’t take us long to find the hustle and bustle of the Saturday morning food market…my favourite! And it didn’t disappoint – you really don’t have to go far to find lots of different traditions and cuisines.

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My first find was a crate of brightly coloured painted eggs. After a little research, I’m still unsure if this is an Easter tradition and they’re trying to shift surplus stock (although it is now May) or whether they are in fact hard boiled eggs, painted so you’re able to differentiate them from their uncooked equals. Does anyone know?

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Wandering round the market, it seemed every other stall we came to had some form of fresh herb pick ‘n’ mix offering everything from nettles to parsley. This guy’s were laid out in bunches on the table but others had theirs lined up in rows of boxes or arranged inside a nifty spinning container. Later that day we tried German Grüne Soße (green sauce) made with sorrel, chervil, chives, parsley, burnet, cress and borage. It’s traditionally a springtime speciality made with herbs from the first crop of the year which explains the abundance of herbs on offer all round the market.

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Then we took a pit stop alongside other market shoppers to try some German Apfelwein. It’s a bit like apple cider with a very bitter taste but at €1,50 a glass, you can’t complain.

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Sachertorte – a chocolate cake make with ground almonds and brushed with apricot jam and dark chocolate icing.

After perusing the market, we headed to the Palmen Garten botanical gardens as we’d been advised that the coffee and cake here was some of the best in Frankfurt. After we sipped coffee served on shiny silver trays and tried some of the treats on offer, we spent the afternoon rowing on the lake there and admiring the amazing grounds. My favourite find was this ‘Taschentuchbaum’ (left) also named ‘the dove-tree’ or ‘pocket handkerchief tree’ because of it’s beautiful white floppy petals.

Pocket handkerchief tree

For supper, we headed to Adolf Wagner, a wine tavern filled with long wooden tables that serves traditional German food (Bratwurst sausages, sauerkraut, wiener schnitzel) and, of course, more Apfelwein!

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Setting up shop

A couple of months ago, I left my 9-to-5 job at a magazine in London to set myself up as a freelancer writer. While leaving the security of a full time job felt very scary, I was excited about ‘setting up shop’ on my own. First, I set about creating my new website with the help of the very talented illustrator Andrea Turvey. And once I was satisfied with my website, I needed a shiny new workspace to match.

Setting up shop

This turquoise trolley was a savvy storage solution I found in Urban Outfitters. Although I have enough magazines to create a small library stored away in plastic boxes, I needed somewhere I could keep a few of my favourites for easy access.
Creative desk ideas

I rescued this old strawberry crate from the vegetable market, it’s great for holding bits and pieces so I can keep my desk space clear. And I’m using these old fashioned Campbell’s soup tins for holding pens and pencils.

Creative desk ideas

 

Creative desk ideas

So now I’ve got my workspace sorted it’s on with the writing, and that means many more blog posts, of course!

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Wild Frost Cafe and Flower Shop

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Saturday mornings are the busiest time of the week for the small market town of Ramsey in the heart of the Cambridgeshire fens. The area’s farmers arrive early to set up a vegetable market and, as the town fills up with local shoppers, baskets and bags in-hand, Wild Frost Cafe & Flower Shop is soon bustling with friends keen to catch up over tea and cake.

As you walk in, the scent of fresh blooms draws your eyes to the far corner from which the owner, Louise Sanderson, runs her floristry service. Next is the aroma of both savoury and sweet treats to choose from – most of the ingredients for which are supplied by Cambridgeshire-based producers, as are, where possible, the flowers. From sandwiches filled with roast beef and horseradish, and artisan cheeses from a nearby deli to creations from Tom’s Cakes, an independent bakery and patisserie in nearby Somersham, which uses free-range eggs, British sugar and locally milled flour. The counter is filled with its temptations, from chocolate and Guinness loaf, and red velvet cupcakes to scones to enjoy with jam and clotted cream – all served on mismatched vintage china.

A hub for the community, Wild Frost Cafe runs themed days such as ‘Toddler Tuesdays’, when younger members of the community can enjoy miniature treats and their parents are offered discounts on refreshments. Similarly ‘Abbey Hour’, named after the local secondary school, Ramsey Abbey, offers students discounted hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows on their way home.

Wild Frost Cafe & Flower Shop 18 Great Whyte, Ramsey, PE26 1HF, 01487 813339 (Louise also runs Wild Frost Florist, 97 High Street Somersham, PE28 3EE; 01487 741700

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Urban gardening

There are so many perks of living in London. I love the hustle and bustle of the city, I love walking to work in a morning and seeing all the professionals darting to their offices and most of all – I love all of its hidden gems, cultural events and pop-up shops. I would challenge anyone who says they know London inside out because it seems there’s always something more to discover. With all of its marvellous selling points, there is just one hindrance, it is very rare to find decent garden space in central London. The solution? Urban gardening!

Last year I tried my hand at growing potatoes in bags and, after nurturing them all spring, I prized the tangled roots out of the bags only to find not one of the potatoes exceeded the size of my finger nail. I think I discovered the ‘diet potato’ – the only variety where it’s perfectly acceptable to cook 20 of them for supper. Despite their size, they were delicious and it’s true – you really can taste the difference when they’re home grown.

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When I moved to London earlier this year, I was determined to have another go at growing something. I’d missed the boat for growing potatoes. (My green-fingered mum tells me potatoes have to be sown at Easter time) Instead, I decided to grow lettuce. I was getting fed-up of buying packet salad from the supermarket only for it to go off. Having my own living lettuces means that I can pick a few leaves whenever I fancy. I’ll admit,  I cheated a little bit, not growing my lettuces from seed. My mum had a few seedlings spare (the teeny  leaves on the left in the photo) so after a visit, she packaged them up very carefully for me. We arrived in London unscathed and I gave them a drink on the window sill until I had time to find them a real home!

 

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When you don’t have a vegetable patch – let alone a plant bed – the cheapest and easiest way to create a make shift veg patch is to buy a compost bag (I got mine in Tesco). By cutting a square window in the centre, it fast becomes an ideal container. As with all living plants, a bit of TLC is required in the form of watering and keeping the slugs off but lettuces are very easy to look after. And what’s great is that they grow so quickly so you don’t have to wait too long before you can enjoy their crisp, fresh leaves. A top tip from the RHS – when the lettuce leaves are ready, cut them off the plant with scissors or a knife, don’t pull them or the whole plant might fly out.

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I recently found this fantastic website dedicated to promoting genius urban gardening ideas. www.verticalveg.org.uk has well and truly mastered ‘the art of growing in small spaces‘ and reports on the savvy solutions of fellow urban gardeners. Next on my list is tomatoes – in a window box!

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Make your own lovely lampshade

There are some perks of spending a rainy Good Friday indoors. It meant that I could dedicate time to the little creative projects I’ve got on the go. A few weeks ago, I attended the Knitting and Stitching Show in London, and among a delightful mess of wool and thread, I stumbled across some really lovely printed fabric. I picked up two metres of my two favourite prints, not really knowing what I’d use it for, but sure that I would find a purpose for them. After another little browse I saw some lampshade making kits, with absolutely everything you would need to make your own homemade lampshade and all of a sudden, I had found a use for my lovely fabric. (I had a little trawl of the internet to see if the same lampshade kit I bought is available online and it is – here.)

These lampshades are really quick to make, relatively cheap (around £10 – £15 depending on how expensive a taste in fabric you have) and a bright, cheerful fabric is a great way to freshen up an old lamp or personalise a new one. I chose this lovely floral print with kissing rabbits in a pale green to revive an old bedside lamp. There are only ten steps to making your own lovely lampshade but they are a little complicated so read through the instructions before you begin.

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1. Get your materials ready

The kit will (hopefully!) supply everything you require but just incase – you will need:

Fabric scissors (not included in kit)

Length of your chosen fabric (not included in kit)

Double sided sticky tape

Wire structure in two parts – top and bottom.

Roll of thick sticky backed PVC that makes the main lampshade structure

Perforated triangular tool

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2. Cut your fabric to the appropriate size. Make sure, if you are using a printed fabric, like I did, that you line the pattern up so that it will run in a straight line around the lamp.

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3. Stick the fabric to the sticky backed PVC

Lay the fabric pattern side down. Peel the stick back layer approximately ten centimetres.

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Press the sticky surface firmly down onto the fabric, ensuring that the pattern is lined up how you’d like it.

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4. Roll the sticky backed PVC out on the fabric, peeling back its protective layer and keep pressing it firmly down to ensure the fabric is fixed well and without air bumps.

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5. Peel off the perforated edge from the sticky backed PVC. The PVC provided will have two perforated sides, peel these both back to reveal a strip of the fabric, either the side of lampshade’s main structure.

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6. Add a strip of double sided sticky tape to the shorter length of your PVC enforced fabric

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7. Now attach double sided sticky tape round both wire structures, curling it round the wire. Peel back the protective layer from the double sided sticky tape and be sure not to put the wire structures down where they can get stuck to anything.

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8. This step requires a lot of concentration, and maybe two pairs of hands! Once you’ve peeled back the protective layer from the double sided tape, it’s time to attach the wire structure to the PVC enforced fabric. Roll each wire structure carefully onto the edge of the PVC, leaving the fabric border free. Roll it along until the PVC is in place around the wire structure.

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9. Secure the PVC enforced fabric in place

When the PVC enforced fabric is rolled all the way round your wire structures peel back the protective layer of your previously placed double sided sticky tape and press it firmly into place.

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10. Push the excess fabric border around the wire to add the final touch. Each lampshade making kit will come with a perforated triangular tool as shown in this picture. Once the PVC is attached to the wire structures, use this tool to tuck the excess fabric round, leaving completely covered wire structure with no scraggly or frayed fabric and adding a final, professional touch to your homemade lampshade!

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Ta da! The finished piece…

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Wedding Dress Exhibition at the V&A

Reels of silky white fabric, intricately arranged pearls, glittering white beads, buttons and lavish embroidery everywhere you look – the V&A Wedding Dress Exhibition was just as opulent and ethereal as I had imagined.

Walking you through the age old tradition of the demure white wedding dress, the exhibition showcases dresses from 1775 to 2014, and all the years in between. From the Tudors’ padded skirts that extend metres away from the bride’s waist to the sheer silk dress edged with delicate feather-shaped embellishment that belongs to Kate Moss, the dresses document the fashion of the wedding dress as well as the social context in which they were worn.

Behind each and every dress there lay a unique story of love and tradition and, for me, these stories are what make the exhibition so enthralling: A mature bride who didn’t believe she was young enough to marry in white had chosen a violet gown for her wedding day; a bride dressed in a hand-painted coat who had been told that she couldn’t wear white as it was her second marriage.

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The gift shop continued the exquisite display of sparkling items but, these ones, you can take home. Thoughtfully themed around the wedding poem ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’, I found a dish full of beautifully painted ceramic buttons (something blue) and these three were just too lovely to leave behind…

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A traditional English crumpet

One thing I’ve never really ventured into is bread making. I’ve baked bread rolls, loaves and pizza dough but never dared to tread outside the basic flour, yeast and water mixture. Yet, there are so many interesting variations: pita bread, soda bread, tea cakes, hot cross buns, English muffins, croissants…and then there’s the traditional English crumpet, my all time favourite.

I recently visited the Hambleton Bakery (if you’re ever passing through Peterborough/Leicestershire area, it is well worth a visit!) and I left with a paper bag filled with breaded delights. It was late afternoon when we arrived home so we sat down with a cup of tea and sampled one of the baked-on-the-premises crumpets (how very English!) and it was like no other crumpet I’d tasted. Wondering why I had never tried making them before, I set about finding out where to start and it seems, crumpet rings are the vital ingredient!

So, here is the recipe I followed with a few hints and tips along the way.

This recipe will make twelve crumpets and will take up to two hours, and a fair bit of concentration! I’d recommend dedicating an afternoon.

Before you start, make sure you have the following:

Crumpet rings – essentially just metal rings like cookie cutters but with thicker rims. I have four.

The main ingredients:

250g strong white bread flour, sieved.

1 x 7g sachet dried active yeast

100ml water

275ml of milk

The essential little extras:

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Butter for greasing (and to serve!)

The method:

1. Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sachet of yeast and your little extras – caster sugar, bicarbonate of soda and salt. (Not the butter)

2. In a pan, mix the water and milk together and heat gently over a hob on a low heat until lukewarm.

3. Once lukewarm, pour the water and milk mixture into the flour mixture and use a balloon whisk to whisk it for approximately two minutes. A batter will form.

4. Once suitably whisked. Place a damp tea towel on top of the bowl and place it in warm place for one or two hours (depending on how much time you have!)

N.B. I used a freshly washed tea towel that wasn’t quite dry yet and stood my mixture on a shelf in my airing cupboard for an hour and a half.

5. After standing your mixture should have risen and be full of bubbles. A bit like this:

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Crumpet mixture after an hour and a half standing time

 

6. Now it’s time to cook your mixture. Grease your crumpet rings generously. Use a non stick frying pan (a pancake pan is perfect for this) and melt a little butter on the pan.

 

7. Place crumpet rings on the pan and spoon the mixture into the rings until they are half filled. I found about two tablespoons of the mixture in each worked well.

The crumpets starting to rise

The crumpets starting to rise

8. Cook on a low heat for around ten minutes, until you can see that the surface is bubbly and the mixture is cooked. As they cook the crumpets should shrink away from the sides of the ring and be easy to remove from the ring. Be wary at this stage as the crumpet rings are very hot – use an oven glove to remove the rings.

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9. Now flip the crumpets for just a few seconds so the tops can brown.

 

Now lather generously with butter, jam or honey and enjoy your homemade, traditional English crumpet as an indulgent breakfast, a savoury mid-afternoon snack or with a cup of tea as a warming treat when you arrive home from work…

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Recipe from Mermaid Professional Home Cooking.

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Be a crafty commuter

An exciting new job in London has meant that I have joined the long standing commuters of East Anglia once again.

While ecstatic about the new job, I was a little apprehensive at the thought of a daily commute from the depths of the Cambridgeshire fens into central London (and back again!). I thought that it would leave me with very limited free time to spend on the little creative projects that I love doing. But within the first week, I sat next to a lady who inspired me with her crafty determination: as she pulled a bundle knitting out of her bag and spent the entire journey completing row upon row of perfect stitches, I vowed to follow in her footsteps and dedicate the time spent commuting to doing the things I most enjoy.

I’m now three weeks in to my new routine and, in actual fact, I’ve been more productive than ever before – the time spent on a train is sacred!  It’s very rare that a busy person gets a 50 minute time slot to do whatever they like – with a little forward planning and savvy packing, the possibilities are endless.

So, here are three ideas on how to be a crafty commuter, each one adaptable to your own hobbies and interests:

 

Learn something new

It’s time to study an instruction manual intently. Crochet has been something I’ve wanted to learn to do for a few years now but the list of equipment alone was enough to deter me from starting. Equipped with two instruction books (this is how good my intentions to learn were), a crochet needle (they’re very blunt, don’t be alarmed) and some wool, I began learning and practicing a new stitch each day. I’ve only got the odd chain to show for my efforts but I’m slowly mastering it and, once I feel confident, I’d like to make some granny square bunting.

 

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Read…anything!

A little unoriginal, but there’s good reason behind why you see so many commuters’ faces buried in all manner of reading material. It’s the perfect time, without any disturbances, to get stuck in to a good read whether it is a gripping new novel or the new edition of your favourite magazine. I was lucky enough to be given a Kindle for my birthday last year so I carry a selection of books around on that. Last week I finished Toni Morrison’s heart-wrenching novel set in rural South Ohio in 1941, The Bluest Eye (I love her writing!). In need of a little light relief, I began J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy yesterday – I’m trying to read it before I succumb to watching the TV adaptation.

 

Finish a creative project

Whether it’s knitting or DIY, use your commute to finish it. Knitting needles and writing materials can of course, be carried on to the train but even if your hobbies are larger scale gardening or DIY projects, why not do some rough drawings of your plans or write a list of what you’ve got left to finish? There are loads of journals and specially designed garden note books available that would be great for this (I actually gave my Mum one for Christmas – it’s called ‘a line a day garden journal’).

 

If you’re a commuter too, or just have some great ideas, I’d love to hear from you!

 

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‘Cheerfulness’

 

 

 

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I’ve discovered a new favourite flower! These daffodils, aptly named ‘cheerfulness’, have pom-pom like florets of tiny cream flowers that nod elegantly on long, delicate stems. Their beautiful scent is strong enough to fill a whole room.

 

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Say it with a sausage roll

While for some, Valentine’s weekend was spent fancifully, I spent mine very practically – baking sausage rolls for the week ahead.

Determined to embrace the Valentine’s Day vibes, here’s an idea for those of you who are not so excited by flowers and chocolates, say it with a sausage roll…

You will need:

1 packet of Jus Rol puff pastry (500g)
1 packet of Waitrose sausagemeat (450g)
1 egg, beaten

These will take under an hour, including cooking time.
Preheat oven to 200°c

1. It’s best to divide the packet puff pastry into two halves and roll each one out separately. Take one half of the pastry and roll it out into a long, thin rectangle about half a cm thick.

2. Divide the sausage meat in half. Take half and line it up on top of your puff pastry. Try and line it up so it is slightly closer to the right hand side edge of your pastry. This will mean that when you come to fold the pastry over, you have enough pastry on the left hand side to reach over.

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3. Before the next step, use a very slim knife (I used a fish filleting knife) or a tiny cutter to cut out heart shapes down the left side of your pastry rectangle.

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4. Use a pastry brush to brush beaten egg down the edge of the right hand side of your pastry rectangle. Pull the left hand side of the pastry over the sausage meat to meet the other side of the pastry and seal by pinching the two sides of pastry together with your finger. Use a fork to seal it further.

5. Brush the whole length of sausage roll with egg white (this makes pastry lovely and crispy).

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6. Cut the long sausage roll into smaller ones using a large, sharp knife.

7. Repeat with second half of puff pastry and sausage meat.

8. Line on a grease-proofed baking tin and cook at 200°c for 20-30 minutes until pastry is crisp and golden brown.