Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Perfect Easter Cupcake from Hi Cupcake! Bespoke Cupcakes

Our wonderful first guest blogger has a perfect Easter cupcake! We're very excited to introduce...

Carrot Cupcakes
A perfect Easter weekend treat that contains enough carroty goodness to make you believe you’ve had one of your five-a-day!

220g carrots, finely grated
100g raisins
20g pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)
Zest of ½ orange
2 eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
120g golden caster sugar
100ml sunflower oil
120g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt


30ml freshly squeezed orange juice
Zest of ½ orange
250g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter

Firstly, combine the grated carrot, raisins and nuts (if using) in a bowl. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, oil, orange zest and vanilla extract together well until slightly thickened. 

In another bowl mix together the sifted flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt.  This should be gradually folded into the egg mixture, and then finally mixed in with the carrot, raisins and nuts.

The completed mixture should be evenly spooned out into 12 cupcake cases, and baked (160⁰ fan assisted/ 180⁰ electric/gas mark 4/350⁰F) for approximately 25 minutes, by which time they should bounce back once touched. 

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack before topping with the orange buttercream frosting.

Decorate with crushed digestive biscuit and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon.

Sit back and enjoy!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Awash with Spring colours

With balmy weather in the south east, toddler and I have taken it upon ourselves to paint in the garden. With very little on the paper and most on ourselves (and the newly laid lawn which is looking at me witheringly-quite literally since a rampant animal seems to have lifted our turf and dug beneath it!) we have accomplished some interesting looking masterpieces! In the event of any peace and quiet I am also building up some less extreme sketches for our fabric 'collection'! There can be nothing more freeing than drawing, as an art teacher I strongly believe that it is not about 'good' or 'bad' art but the unique experience of making one's mark, an original distinct mark that says, I am here in this universe. It should be an affirming practice; I once worked on an education project in a gallery where some scary and rather surly teenagers took part in live art and practical art, as well as art debates with artists. They left chatty and enthusiastic.

So in a quiet moment take sometime for yourself. Grab some paper and try out our Duck Egg masterclass in watercolours...watercolours? Yes watercolours, not the scary medium everyone thinks it is. It's unforgiving reputation is a shame as its easy to blot off and paint (once dry) and it is a little misunderstood. I love it for bold pieces, it is often used for detailed work, but experiment with amounts of water and it comes up with some wonderful effects. For example use a square flat headed brush with little water for marking out bold shadows, once dry use a lighter wash around it in a paler tone for the highlights. Think Hockney landscapes, form far away detailed and intricate, up close a whole swirl of colours and brushstrokes. Try simple subjects such as a garden, buildings, or just the sky. If you can go  to a bluebell wood this weekend, the seaside or the countryside.

Duck Egg takes to the water...

You can if you have to sketch in your drawing in pencil, but take the plunge and try it without, you can get some lovely effects and it is more freeing!

Understand your composition, discover where the centre is, how will it fit- and don't worry if it ends up not fitting on your paper! Tape your paper with masking tape to a solid surface such as a tray.

Have a few paint brushes at the ready and think what techniques you will use...

You might want to start with a basic wash off colour, use a graded wash for sky and sea. Lift off any unwanted patches while wet with some kitchen roll or smooth tissue for a different effect, for clouds etc.

You might also start by blocking in colour. You will use this to build the highlights and shadows on to create perspective so make sure that the paint is not too thick.

Once dry you can then start to add details to your wash, keep looking at the shapes you see and try and not paint what you think you see, it's hard but also therapeutic to turn off and just look. A dry brush can add more detail and you might even want to try scratching into the paint with a clean end of a brush.

For any more inspiration I love this series   take a look at how differently all the artists paint!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Some crafty ideas for Spring!

So Spring is definitely on the way! Time for a new craft and for re-vamping old furniture in the attic! Give a table, a chest, or even a wardrobe a new lease of life (and at the same time if you want to occupy small hands for days on end over Easter!) through the therapeutic art of decoupage. Decoupage is a decorative technique which is quite simply sticking on paper to furniture and varnishing to create the idea of inlay or painted on designs. This seemingly most genteel of crafts can produce very bold and modern looks for your interior. You can go for striking all over schemes or dainty collections of vintage rose blooms and gold leaf for a vintage country look. Just make sure the paper is not too thin and you varnish well. (For areas subject to less wear and tear  or to make this an Easter craft with little ones you can use PVA glue instead of varnish, but it's a bit less shiny!)

So to get started grab your scissors and choose your images, excess wallpapers work well or for a contemporary vintage look use old maps. Try garden magazines, antiques catalogues (look out for bird prints-these can create a lovely vintage feel) or design brochures. Look out for decorative details to complement the look such as cherubs, ornate leaf scrolls etc.

Paint your chosen piece, wooden boxes are a good place to start if aren't feeling too confident! Small bedside tables also very willing subjects. I had a pine Ikea one which was perfect for my first foray! Sand if needed and paint with your chosen colour, you could try a Farrow and Ball emulsion for heritage looks. (Gold leaf can be rubbed over edges at this point).
From (some useful tips on decoupage)

When dry you can place the cut outs where you think they need to go before sticking, make sure you are happy and start glueing on the images by putting the glue onto the furniture or object and smooth out any air bubbles as you go along. At the edges of the furniture you can cut into the paper to allow it to fold over without creases and bunching. Push paper into corners and smooth over.

Once dry apply a couple of coats of varnish or PVA to finish!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A Florentine Fancy: Gardening with Tuscan Style

In a moment of indulgence, when the house was quiet and the washing up was out of necessity (again) soaking, I found with great relish 'A Room with a View'. A marvellous book which is so haunting and whose soul translates well to the film. Who couldn't help but love sumptuous shots of Florence's golden Duomo and the air thick with art, history and heat! The phone rang, the baby cried and chaos was once more restored to our household. However in those snatched moments and with the advent of someone helping us today with the mammoth task of heaving the rubble out of the garden, I decided that since I couldn't paint furniture (my workshop being used as storage for plants that looked very sorry for themselves), I would get to work on adding a Florentine twist to our humble plot!

A fragment from Fra Angelico's fresco of a garden scene from his 'Deposition from the Cross'

 I spent a winter out in Italy and have never quite got over it! I lived in a beautiful terracotta tiled flat in the eyrie of an ancient building, huge flights of stairs and dodgy wiring. (The oven only worked if the lights were off!) I soon discovered it was desperately cold, MTV was the only channel with anything vaguely English and my Italian only really worked in moments of hysteria such as shutting ourselves out of the flat on a snowy afternoon! However, I loved it and the lovely English girl who I been placed with. We wandered around our local greengrocer, being taught vegetables in an extremely fierce and aggressive manner by the owner, I have since forgotten 'melanzane'...We found pockets unvisited by tourists, restaurants alive with locals and food of which I spent most of my budget on and incidentally when I left Florence to travel, I ended up in a convent in Venice on Valentine's Day. I frequently walked up to the monastery of San Miniato, in the hills outside Florence, where behind small windows from the main church you could see the edge of a habit as a monk swept through the cloister and it seemed as if centuries had stood still. There is history in every street and it takes little imagination to be back in the Middle Ages or the Nineteenth Century doing the Grand Tour.

I do realise that a copy of the 'David' might be somewhat overbearing and I am not sure next door would appreciate his muscles rippling up and over their side of the fence so I have decided against my better judgement to employ some sense of restraint!

Michelangelo's David in the Accademia, Florence

However, I have come up with a few planting ideas that might add a few So in my quintessential English Garden, amongst fluffy tea roses and fox gloves and apple blossom there is to be a corner of Italy. In fact, incongruous as it might seem what could be more English! There is so much today in modern gardening that bears a strong resemblance to the ideas from Renaissance planting brought back from the Grand Tour, that the terraces of the Boboli Gardens and the structural elements of planting seemed ingrained in our gardening traditions. So whilst I don't think we can fit a lake and a tempietto, we could have a wispy cypress or a silvery olive tree, boxwoods to line a more formal front garden and over a thicket of evocative herbs such as rosemary and sage, vines can tumble around a seating area. A little bit of history, a terracotta pot here and there and the sense of a secluded archaic grove, just right for some artistic inspiration.
Boboli Gardens, Florence