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My meringue masterclass

According to The Meringue Girls, it is not just the technology industry that is subject to constant upgrades and modernisation, the age-old, quintessentially English tradition of Afternoon Tea is, too. Say ‘too-da-loo’ to scones laden with clotted cream, miniature meringues are the way forward. I went along to one of the girls’ meringue classes in Hackney, with the intention of mastering the art of creating beautiful, deliciously flavoured ‘meringue kisses’.

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Held at Meringue Girl HQ in their warehouse kitchen space, it was an evening affair and, as our group of eight hurried inside one-by-one to escape the rainy October weather, we were welcomed with glasses of Prosecco, a table filled with savoury snacks and, of course, a menagerie of meringues.

It was an incredibly well organised event run by the girls themselves. Their knowledge and experience in all things meringue was made clear as they were circling the kitchen ensuring our mixture was ok, stopping at each meringue-making-station for a little chat. Their  recipe is no secret and you can find it on their website here. But I would challenge anyone who doesn’t need hands-on-help from the experts. It’s an art that is not easy to replicate – their recipe relies on impeccable timing and uses a very particular piping technique.

Having made the perfect meringue-mixture, we were let loose on their impressive collection of flavourings and toppings. I went for a lemon and strawberry meringue, swirling pink and yellow food colouring through the bright white mixture and secondly a lavender flavour meringue with purple food colouring and peanut sprinkles. I’m going to be honest and admit that the lavender and peanut flavour meringues were quite revolting and I definitely didn’t discover a new, innovative flavour combination there. Nevertheless, I returned home with boxes and boxes piled high with beautiful sugary treats.

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I have since tried making the meringues at home with great success. I made rose and pistachio flavoured ones which had pale pink colouring pulled through and sprinkled with crushed pistachio nuts and then violet flavoured meringues which were meant to be a pretty pale lilac colour but turned out to be a bright indigo. I served them at a dinner party and there was not a sugary crumb left.

If you’d like to try your hand at making these gorgeous meringues, I would recommend investing in a silicone baking mat (I got mine from Lakeland Limited) and also Two Chicks’ egg whites in a carton (you can get these in most large supermarkets and they can be frozen for up to two years- so when you find some – stock up!).

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A lining of love

Enjoying ‘auntie-hood’ far too much, I finished a little project today that I have been working on for my two-week-old nephew. When my sister got married last summer, she chose a lovely Liberty print Tana Lawn fabric to be made into a tie for the groom, a sash for the little bridesmaid and a cummerbund for the page boy and the bridesmaid dresses. We’ve had the remnants of material lying around the house since the wedding and, this week, I put it to good use, as a soft, cotton lining inside a woolly jumper for the baby.

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I didn’t have time to knit the jumper from scratch so I found this one in Zara Baby. Lining it was incredibly easy and it’s a really good way to add a personal touch if you lack the time or expertise to make something more extravagant. First, I cut a pattern of my jumper using tracing paper.
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I then used the pattern to cut out the fabric, leaving about 2cm around each template – I ironed this down to make a hem which you can stitch into the jumper.

 

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It takes a good few hours of careful hand-stitching but the result is definitely worth it. Not only does the lining spruce up a plain jumper, it also softens the garment so the woolly texture doesn’t scratch the skin. I’m tempted to line one of my own jumpers now!  (Perhaps with a different fabric before we start to resemble the Von Trapp family!)

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“Aunty Alice”

On Tuesday my sister E gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and made me an Aunty! The sex of the baby was a complete surprise so I had waited to get a present (although I was well equipped with two cards – one pink, one blue). I kept my eyes peeled for the perfect baby gift throughout my sister’s pregnancy and had found so many adorable girls outfits in ditsy floral prints with little peter-pan collars but only found one thing I liked for a boy – these teeny apple-green leather shoes made by Inch-Blue in Ark, Cambridge. 

After meeting my little nephew, I popped into Cambridge on Friday and was delighted to find them still sitting on the shelf.

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They are handmade in Wales and I was reassured by the kind shop assistant that the dye and the leather is all completely baby-safe so, should he decided to chew his shoe, it wouldn’t be disastrous. I bought them home and wrapped them up nicely because little boys deserve pretty parcels, too…

 

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An interview with Katie O’Hagan

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From a huggable grizzly bear hanging decorations on his Christmas tree, to dashingly handsome red foxes dressed in country attire; illustrator Katie O’Hagan could give the deadliest of animals a sweet temperament and make it seem natural. After commissioning her to create the urban fox standing elegantly at the top of this page, I have been totally enthralled by her ability to capture such character in a two-dimensional painting. On Monday, I managed to steal five minutes from Katie’s busy schedule to ask her about her work and her techniques…

Urban Fox: Katie, you studied Illustration and Printmaking at University in Dundee, did you always know that illustration was what you wanted to do?

Katie: Absolutely – I went to school in Luxembourg where there was a heavy focus of Maths and Science and Art wasn’t really taken seriously at all. I was always really interested in drawing and began attending art lessons outside of school where I built a portfolio which secured me a place at University.

Urban Fox:  All your paintings have a very unique feel – did it take you a long time to solidify a distinguishable style?

Katie: It took me years! Even when I started University I was playing around with different styles and techniques. It was only really in my final year that I felt I had developed a unique and definitive style.

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Urban Fox: The soft colour palette that you use is one of the most distinctive features of your work, how do you achieve such consistency and what is your favourite medium to use?

Katie: My favourite medium is acrylic paint. I use a specific brand of fluid acrylics which have a particularly high pigmentation because the colours are amazing! I have experimented with oil paints and watercolours but have always returned to acrylics – they are much more forgiving. I also use an ink pen. I tend not to start out with a pencil drawing because I find it can make the drawing look stale. It’s risky, but instead, I go straight in with an ink pen to add fine detail and outlines and I think the animals seem more spontaneous and lively as a result.

Urban Fox: Do you have a favourite place to sit and paint?

Katie:  Not really – my paintings are relatively small scale and I don’t make too much of a mess so I mostly work at home. I have a desk where I keep all of my materials, but I prefer to spread out onto the kitchen table and I’ll sit and draw there.

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Urban Fox: Your paintings of animals are full of character. How do you begin a drawing, do you decide on their personality first?

Katie: It really depends on the job. When I develop a character for a book, it is all about the personality. I will do a lot of character sketches in so many different sizes, positions and situations. By the end, drawing the animal is so natural to me, I can envisage it doing anything! Commissions I approach differently and I tend to only do one version. The paintings and prints I make for my online shop are influenced by beautiful animals – whenever I see one, I am immediately inspired to draw it and facial portraits of animals are one of my favourite formats.

 

Urban Fox: You’ve illustrated a book about an ambitious goldfish (“What I think about when I think about…swimming”) and you’ve painted an array of animals. Where else can we find your designs?

Katie: Yes, at the minute I mostly make gift cards, paintings and prints which I sell online from my website and my Etsy shop. I have also recently discovered the hidden world of London craft fairs. I am considering how else to use my illustrations on products and have thought about expanding to use my designs on ceramics. But, for now, these keep me busy alongside commissions. Actually, I have been getting commissions from all over the world for some weird and wonderful illustrations…

Katie’s illustrations can be found in Indiana, on the label of goats milk soap, in Novia Scotia, on a gig poster, on a German Shiba Inu Breeders’ website and, perhaps soon, on a large jigsaw puzzle for French toy company Djeco.

 Excitingly, Katie will be at a craft fair a little closer to home. Find her charming prints, gift cards and paintings at the Crafty Fox Christmas Market on 14th December in the Bussey Building, Peckham.

A very big thank-you to Katie for bringing the urban fox to The Urban Fox Blog, for her time and for answering all my questions!

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For the love of pom-poms

As an incentive to finish knitting my blanket, I have been on the look out for some nice pom-poms to embellish the end once it is complete. Even after a good trawl through Cambridge’s best craft and fabric shops, I haven’t been able to find any that I like the colour or shape of. So, I turned my hand to making my own. I was surprised at how easy they are to make and, the best thing about it is that I’ve been able to use the same wool I’ve been knitting with, so the colours match perfectly! Bizarrely, the most important instrument is a fork…

 

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Using the spokes of the fork to secure your wool in place, wrap your wool round and round. The more times you wrap it round – the larger your pom-pom will be. I did 35 wrap-rounds for a large pom pom, 20 for a medium sized one and 10 made a small one. Once you’ve finished wrapping it round you need to tie it through the middle spoke of the fork (see below youtube video for detailed instructions).

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Once you’ve tied all the wool into a large circular shape, use scissors to cut the loops and trim the pom-pom so that the edges are round and smooth, or you could leave them shabby!

 

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Here is my collection of pom-poms so far. I’m going to mix my woollen ones with some felt ones for a bit of variation.

 

This you-tube video is great for detailed, step-by-step instructions:

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Afternoon Tease? Yes please!

Today was a sunny autumn day spent perusing the streets of Cambridge with my good friend E. We worked up an appetite on our non-urgent mission to find pom-poms (for my knitted blanket) and a necklace (for her birthday) and so retired to Afternoon Tease for…afternoon tea!

The sounds of busy shoppers and ringing bicycles faded away as we arrived at number 13 Kings Street. Tucked away behind one of the main shopping areas in Cambridge, the relaxed, echoey space in which Afternoon Tease is situated, deceives its central location.

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On entering the cafe, which is illuminated by natural light and a minimalist colour scheme, your eyes are immediately drawn to the chalk board filled with tea and coffee options and the counter, laden with an array of delicious homemade cakes. There are old favourites (an award-winning chocolate brownie or a slice of carrot and walnut cake), as well as something interestingly flavoured to try (chocolate and Guinness cake with cream cheese icing or a pear and sultana bunt with caramel icing).  The choice of cake attracts an equally wide range of customers; a cluster of students sit out the front chattering over cups of tea or coffee. Inside, a young professional types away on his MacBook, stopping every so often for a sip of coffee and a bite of cake, while a little girl in school uniform is enjoying an after-school treat with her Mum.

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We represented the ‘two young ladies catching up’ demographic. I chose the chocolate and Guinness cake with an English breakfast tea while E went for the carrot and walnut cake with a latte. We chatted for hours, admiring the mis-match crockery, the charming 1950’s sideboard and the display of fresh flowers and I was very satisfied with my choice of cake until, as we were leaving, I saw a lemon and pistachio loaf arrive on the counter, which only reaffirmed my desire to visit again, and soon!

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Knitting with Nana

With expert knitter Grandma staying this weekend, I am taking full advantage and have dug out my balls of wool and needles to begin a blanket that I’ve been meaning to start for a while.  When it’s finished, it will be a big stripy blanket that I’ll throw on my bed but I’m definitely going to be needing a few one-to-one knitting consultations with Grandma along the way. It may take me a while, but watch this space!

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B is for…baby

This weekend, I reached a significant rite of passage; my first baby shower!

My eldest sister E is just two weeks away from her due date but we managed to fit in one last celebration with bump in tow. My sister B and I were in charge, and invited close friends and family for a pub lunch at The Windmill, Somersham. It was such a lovely afternoon! The pub filled up with ladies nattering away, bouncing babies on knees and after lunch we cut slices of this delicious creation from Tom’s Cakes to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee while E opened her beautifully wrapped parcels, filled with toys, blankets and tiny little baby-grows.

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I didn’t sense a moment of silence – even as our sophisticated rabble of ladies, babies, prams and presents exited the pub everybody was chattering and laughing away – a true sign of a good party!

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Susie Watson’s delightful designs land in Green Street, Cambridge

After celebrating the opening of the new Susie Watson Designs shop at the press evening in Cambridge last night, I was thrilled when my friend L decided to pop round today – the perfect excuse to use my new Susie Watson jam pot and have a chat over tea and scones.

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This gorgeous little hand-painted pot with matching spoon is actually meant to be a salt pot- but I wanted to keep it out on my table. It is ideal for jam – the lid keeps any pesky flies off and you don’t need to wash the spoon each time you use it.

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The shop is full of the soft hues that Susie has chosen for most of her home-ware designs – from handcrafted wooden dog beds to beautiful hand-painted candles – the shop oozes ‘country chic’ and she has thought of every tiny detail to create this look.

But when I began chatting to one of Susie’s team at the event last night, she opened my mind. She said that actually, Susie’s designs are incredibly versatile and can work well with many other styles. So, I decided that I would take this jam pot, that I had fallen a little bit in love with, and try it with my mis-match vintage china at home, and I’m very pleased that I did!