Quince Jelly: alchemy in the kitchen – try it and amaze yourself! Monday, Mar 28 2011 

I made Quince jelly for the first time last year –  a modest two jar’s worth.  A month (and two empty jars) later, I wish I had made more.  The brief season of Quinces was at an end, and so was the delicious, jewel-like jelly, that went so sumptuously with meat, bread, ice cream – almost anything!

Today, I saw the first Quinces of autumn, piled high in fragrant mounds, and I dived right in.

And here’s the best bit – you can make quince paste from the same batch of fruit.  (same prep, same cost).  Doesn’t cost the earth, or what??

So here’s how:

First the jelly:

Take however many quinces you feel like, and cut them up into small pieces.  Don’t peel, core or anything, but the smaller the better when cutting.  Just wash off any of their fluff (brown fluff is normal on the outside of quinces).

Cover them with the minimum amount of water (so they are JUST covered).  And simmer for one hour.

Drain, and keep the water for the Jelly, and keep the fruit for the Paste.

Weigh the water (which will look like pale pinkish dishwater) and add the same amount of sugar.  About 500g for every 500ml.  Add the juice of a lemon.

And then boil this until it reaches 103C.  And that’s your jelly.

quince jelly doesnt cost the earth homemade

Bottle in sterilized jars.

It seems impossible that a fruit that looks like a hard apple could produce a jelly as luminescent and brilliant as the most perfect ruby.  How does that happen?  You won’t believe the iridescence of this divine preserve – or its fragrant, sweet tart flavour.


The paste recipe comes in the next post…


How to buy furniture at auction Friday, Mar 25 2011 

Auctions are a fun and very cheap way to buy furniture.  But they can be daunting to a newcomer.  So here are some tips that I wish I’d known!

1. The prices are a guide

Things can go for a lot more (or a lot less).

So you may discount something that has an estimate of $3000, and then no-one bids $100.  Or you may set your heart on an item with a low estimate.  The ‘bird cage’ below had an estimate of $25.  I determined to have it (I had visions of it as a fabulous light above a table), and was prepared to pay $300.  It went for $650.

In another auction, when we lost out on a pair of antique french chairs that went more than five times the estimate of $600, a pair of baronial chairs, with a many thousand dollar estimate wasn’t bid on at all.  In a rash moment, the man stuck his hand up and we got them for $100.  The look of horror on his face when he realised that we had them was priceless.  We hadn’t even examined them!

However – they are glorious now: check out the story of their transformation here.

2. Buy what you want and need (not what is going for a song)

Linked to my advice above – it is very easy to get carried away with items that are unbelievably reasonable. You may well end up with two dining sets, four sofas and a bed.  What are you going to do with them?

These are the things I ask myself.  I try to ask them BEFORE I’ve purchased.

3. Research your item so you know if it’s a good price

Don’t get so carried away that you pay more than retail price at an auction.  It pays (literally) to know what things are selling for in the shops.

Generally, it horrifies me that an antique mahogany dining set (table and chairs) costs less than an IKEA pine equivalent.  Mahogany just isn’t fashionable at the moment.

But check to be certain – it also gives you something by which to set your upper price limit.

4. Auction fees

Once you know how much you’re prepared to pay, don’t forget to factor in the auctioneer’s fee.  These vary from 15% to 20% and higher.

If you’re prepared to pay $600 for something.  Does that include the additional fee?  Because if you bid $600, you may end up paying $720 when it includes the fee. 

5. Different styles and ways of bidding

The best way to bid is in person at the auction.  You can see the other people bidding, catch the mood, see how serious others are and when they hesitate.  Sometimes you can tell when one more bid on your part will clinch it, and when the other party is prepared to pay whatever it takes.

You can usually also leave absentee bids, where you leave you maximum on a form and the auctioneer bids on your behalf.  If you really want an item, you risk losing it. 

Finally, you can often bid by telephone (some auction houses have rules about minimum bids if you do this).  Which means that you can bid even while at a friend’s party.  Dangerous if you have a drink in hand…

In terms of bidding strategy, you can either wait and see what others do, gauge the level of interest and then bid towards the end.  Or you can bid so firmly and strongly from the start that you put others off with your determination.  You won’t fool the seasoned players, but you might fool novices. 

6. Getting it home

If you are buying large items, you usually have to take them very quickly – usually within 24 hours.  So be prepared to organised trucks or removalists at short notice and at inconvenient times.  Remember to factor these costs into the true cost of buying the item.

7. If it’s not what you want after all?

Finally – if you get it home and you realise that it really isn’t what you hoped it would be?  Don’t just live with it.  Either sell it at the following auction (where you bought it).  You may lose the auctioneer’s fee, but you shouldn’t be too much out-of-pocket. 

Or, sell it on Ebay.  Sometimes, I’ve made a substantial profit doing this.

And there of course, lies a business opportunity.  But that’s another story…

Dine like a king: set your table for a feast (even if you’re dining alone) Wednesday, Mar 23 2011 


When they say dine like a king – do they mean literally?  Do they mean eat from a silver plate, surrounded by ancient tapestries, and piles of exotic fruits while liveried footmen serve endless rich courses?

Of course, far too many of us are dining like kings and have waistlines that answer to it.  But how about dining like a king in terms of the setting.  Maybe I’d enjoy my salad more if I ate it in sumptuous surroundings.

A generation or two ago, families had ‘best’ china, or “Sunday” dinner services.  These were too precious to be used every day and were saved for special occasions or for guests that were to be impressed.

We don’t have such occasions any more.  Although many of us still have ‘best’ things that we don’t use. 

I find that special occasions usually have so much going for them anyway, that you don’t need fancy crockery.  But a stressful and dull Tuesday evening can be livened up no end, with candelabra, silver cutlery and a table laid for a feast.  Even if you’re only having beans on toast.  It makes it FUN!

The table above is only dressed with a sheet – but the room is gorgeous.  Why not try a centrepiece of fruit?  It uses things you already have, so you don’t need to buy flowers.  And you can eat it afterwards.

If you’re eating in a room like this, your wine is probably stored in a cellar much like that below:

If not – a bit of dust will make your wine feel ancient.

The secret to great table decor is height – piles of marzipan (or real) fruit and candles need to start well above table level in little dishes on elegant stems.  It makes it all look so much more bacchanalian!

How are you dining tonight?

Trend alert: moulding, panelling, cornices: they’re back! Monday, Mar 21 2011 

After decades of minimalism, post-modernism and a complete move away from anything that wasn’t functional, we’re moving back to aesthetic appreciation.

Thank god!

For decades, if it wasn’t structural or vital to the form of the building, it was deemed expendable.  This was either a cheap (and shoddy) way of building. Or – if you wanted a great finish – one of the most expensive you can imagine.

Internal architecture serves a purpose – it hides joins at the ceiling (with cornices) at doorways with architraves; it protects (at floor level with skirting boards) and it can conceal all manner of faults, adding character and a sense of grandeur.

Without it, rooms can feel half-finished, or lacking in warmth. 

That’s why it’s coming back.

For those of you who haven’t discovered the free interior design magazine, Lonny, this month’s edition features a featureless house that has been transformed with masses of (fake and period-inappropriate) moulding.  It looks AMAZING!  Check it out here.

Inspirations are easy to find in houses of old:

They range from the more intricate (above) to the plainer applications.  The simplicity and beauty of most can be translated into modern day with a simple paint job or the addition of some pre-cut lengths of moulding.

Beautiful mouldings

Or it can even be painted on in a manner that is never meant to be ‘real’.  The bed may be a bit chintzy for my taste – an ultra modern look would set off those painted panels better I think – it would take itself less seriously.

Does your home smell nice? Are you sure? Friday, Mar 18 2011 

As sensory beings – the only way we engage with our world is through our five senses – we tend to focus strongly on the visual, particularly in design, for obvious reasons.

But often it is the other senses that create the feeling (or sense!) of home.

rose flower scent interior home

I’ve posted before on auditory cues – and how echoing spaces are not welcoming or even comfortable.

But what about olfactory?

How does your home smell?

Most of us don’t even notice the smell of our own home as we become accustomed to it.    A return from holiday can be a shock – of delight or horror – as your nose re-enters familiar territory.

Fragrance can be a lovely way to spice up your home.  Sometimes literally.

Firstly, ensure that BAD odours are eliminated.  These may emanate from:

Mould and mildew

Cooking smells: fish, curry, cabbage are a few of the less pleasant of these

Sweaty sportswear and gear

Pets with dirt trays, doggy hair and so on

These can be removed by either cleaning up the mess promptly, or ensuring that offending items (such as sports gear, dirt trays) are placed in low traffic areas that are well ventilated.

Adding new fragrance to your home can be fun.  And I’m not talking about those chemical plug-in devices, or air-fresheners.  To my nose, they can be as offensive as the odours they are attempting to conceal.

Perfumed flowers can fill a house with fragrance.  Lilies are a wonderful example.  You open your front door and it smells like a florist!

lilies fragrant perfume home interior

Some fruits can do this too: quinces have an irresistible exotic perfume that permeates a house – for this reason they are best not kept in your fridge – or even your eggs will taste of quince.

Nice cooking smells are lovely to walk in to: fresh bread, spiced gingerbread, rich stews.  It’s a great reason (not that you need another) to cook these from scratch.

Essential oils add different moods to a room: sultry sandalwood, or bright bergamot and citrus oils for energy, peppermint for clarity of thought and lavender for a lovely restful sleep.

Try changing the scents that greet you as you walk into your home.  It can have a surprising and subconscious effect on mood and wellbeing.  And it’s very easy to change and play with.

rose flower scent interior home

What scent would you most like to be welcomed by?

Heraldry rocks: ancient emblems for funky femmes Wednesday, Mar 16 2011 

I’ve written before about my urgent desire for a coat of arms….

Sadly, my obsession shows no sign of abating.  Happily, the interior world is catching on and there are increasingly wonderful ideas for how to incorporate heraldry into a modern interior.  We’re all so familiar with design these days, that these ancient designs hold thrall – they are still beautiful, still powerful, still heart-stopping.

This chair is a reproduction – brought to life with a fabulous coat of arms.  What an easy addition to an existing piece of furniture….

Even easier – add a cushion or two.  I love the combination of union jack flag and coat of arms here.  A mixture of two ancient and powerful crests.

This modern take on it is a great alternative to these more traditional cushions – which are stunning, but more conservative.  Plus – you could make the one above in a flash: just strips of linen in two colours, and any emblem – even the badge off an old school blazer!

Glass can feature all kinds of designs – but the combination of smooth glass and  a coat of arms looks amazing:

You could just paint the design on your wall, you could print it and frame it, paint it onto blinds… It’s such a simple and strong element that it would work in almost any room.

There are hundreds of designs you can use and translate into interiors.  The ones above can be stencilled onto walls, fabric or furniture.

I’m inspired…  are you?

The disasters, the mishaps – the truth behind the ‘perfect’ projects Monday, Mar 14 2011 

You may believe, reading my blog, that my life is a happy and carefree flit from one delightful and successful room to the next.  Perhaps you think (I wish) that I just knock off one brilliant project and then the next without even getting paint on my clothes.

Aahhh – if only that were true.  What you see is the result of years of mistakes, and sometimes hours (or even days) of frustration.

While renovating and redecorating has got to be up there as one of the most rewarding ways to spend a weekend, it does come with its fair share of mishaps, mistakes and complete disasters.

And while I usually show you the glorious finished product, here are a few things YOU might want to avoid (I didn’t….)

1.  When stepping back to admire your painted finish, you step IN the paint.  I did mention this one here.  My paint was in a plastic container I’d used for mixing, which cracked… and the paint flooded the floor….

Colourwash dining room after

2. When painting something, peacefully and concentrating, your cat jumps IN the paint….  and you end up with dark green footprints across a pale rug.  Forever.

Why cats paint interiors

3. When removing a tree stump, your beloved chain-saws through the water main.  If you’re going to do this, and you cut it your side of the water meter, you can turn off the water.  If you cut it the OTHER side of the water meter, you will be left with a spout of water, pumping out gallons, until the water board arrives.  Your house may flood. 

However, the plus side is, THEY (the water board) pay for the repairs as it is their pipe.  And gosh – they were surprisingly nice about it!

Palacio del Baililio Cordoba

4. You cut the architraves for the window angled the wrong way.  More than once.

Kitchen window after

5. You cut out the fabric too small or the wrong shape.  Or worse you cut out on the floor and cut out not only your fabric but also the carpet beneath.  Thank goodness, the last time I did this was in my parents house.  (Dad  – you never knew did you?  And you’ve since moved… phew!)

6. You buy a new plant and a new rug and the cat eats the plant and then vomits it on the new rug.  I then also discovered that the plant was toxic for cats.

Diesel the cat

7. Having lovingly recovered the screen, literally the following week, the man knocks the whole thing over, smashing the glass and the frame. The upshot of this, thankfully, was not the end of a long and happy union, but a rather large bill for glass and frame repairs.

Recycled antique screen prints Italian

Bread and butter pudding (with no muffin top for you) Friday, Mar 11 2011 

I love a good bread and butter pudding.  Warm, custardy, and melt in the mouth yet all crispy on top….

low fat bread and butter pudding

These can be deliciously comforting in colder weather.  Or even after a stressful day.  But you don’t need to make it with loads of butter and fat.

excellent warm healthy bread and butter pudding

Preheat the oven to 175C

Ingredients (for 4-6, depending how greedy you are!)

6 slices of white bread (I have tried using brown or wholegrain and it just isn’t worth it – it doesn’t taste like dessert)

20g butter, melted

500ml skim milk

2 eggs

raisins (or marmalade, or chocolate chips (not low fat) for a change)

Caster sugar.

Grease a dish well.  I actually use a wide pie dish as I think the crunchy top is the best bit and I like to have a large surface area.  If you prefer the underneath, use a deep dish and more layers.

low fat healthy recipe bread butter pudding

Place a layer of bread on the bottom of the dish, playing with it like a jigsaw to cover the area.  Sprinkle with raisins.  Keep layering until you reach the top.  Brush the top with the melted butter.

Mix the sugar, the eggs and the milk together well and pour over.  leave it to stand for 10-15 minutes so that the eggy milk is absorbed into the bread.

Sprinkle the top lavishly with sugar.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until it looks done.


bread and butter pudding

The old favourites are still great aren’t they?

healthy bread and butter pudding

Organised wardrobe shelves and drawers: declutter, tidy and beautify Wednesday, Mar 9 2011 

One of the easiest ways to live a life that Doesn’t Cost the Earth, is to reduce consumption.  And one of the easiest ways to reduce consumption is to actually use what you have.  So many of us have so much stuff.

But can you actually find any of it?

earrings drawer divider organiser storage tidy wardrobe interiors

I love nothing more than a good sort out.  I thrill to the idea of going through things, chucking out, tidying and organising.  I’m not so hot on weekly cleaning, but an annual sort through ‘stuff’ really rocks my boat.

So here are some ideas if you’re not so keen (pity the poor man…).

Firstly, don’t attempt to tackle more than one area at a time.  This is supposed to be fun, not forced labour.  Either do the garage, your wardrobe, the spare room – not all of them.  That would be exhausting!

When you’ve decided on an area, take everything out that you want to sort through (either in total, or in sections) and be brutal.  If you haven’t worn it or used it for a year why are you keeping it?  If it is sentimental, create a treasure chest for those items that really mean something to you.

If you are unsure, put those items in a separate box.  Leave it for six months and if you haven’t missed them – you don’t need them.

shelving organised wardrobe jumper storage interiors tidy

Those things you are keeping, should be kept beautifully.  Shops know how to display things in a way that ensures you desire them.  Your wardrobe should do the same.  Shelves and spaces are better designed to fit, with small compartments.  Larger shelves means piles of clothes that topple when you try to remove something, and a resulting disorder that is too exhausting to continually tidy.

The shelves above show jumpers and sweaters stacked one or two deep.  Any more and it’s hard to keep it tidy.  The shelves are the width of each item – as two piles next to each other always get messy. 

shelving organised wardrobe jumper storage interiors tidy hanging

Arrange items by type first: jumpers together, shirts hanging together, trousers etc.  Then organise by colour.  This makes it very fast and easy to find things.  If you want a blue top – all your blue tops will be hanging together.

Use every inch of your space – here high heels are stacked along the top shelf beneath the sloping ceiling.

And just as shelves are best arranged to fit – so are drawers.

tidy drawer ties organised wardrobe interior

You can purchase (or make) so many fabulous drawer dividers – and they really do make all the difference in the world.  You’ll be able to find things.  Everything will be better preserved (no ironing) as you’re not permanently rummaging through hunting for the one thing that evades you.

Ties can be hung – but (above) are arranged like flowers in a drawer – making it easy to find the right colour.

Rolling items (such as the ties above) means no creases.

Drawer dividers work for small items such as underwear, socks, ties and belts.  But a simple strip down the centre of a large drawer makes it easy to store T-shirts and the like as well.

tidy drawer jewelry organised wardrobe interior

Jewelry is lovely when you can find it easily.  Lots of sections, each with colour-coded earrings, make accessorizing an outfit fun, rather than stressful.

Overhauling of an area of your house, giving (or selling) the unwanted items to a charity shop, cleaning and tidying the remaining goodies – is definitely a very rewarding thing to do.  You can sit down with a large cocktail and be certain that you deserve it.  And what’s more – you can wear matching earrings while you’re drinking it!

Tiles for a bathroom: the good, the bad and the ugly Monday, Mar 7 2011 

Tiles are expensive, and a major part of the cost of a bathroom.  And nowadays they come in seemingly infinite variations.  So where do you start?

This is what I’ve picked up:

1. The smaller the room, the simpler the tile.  If your space is small, stick to a larger, plainer tile.  Don’t mix up patterns and so on – it’ll be too busy.  Avoid mosaics, as all that grout makes it quite overwhelming in a small space.

The mosaics below are a much less soothing look and together with the stripe overwhelm the small area…

2. In a larger space, you can use tiles to define areas – such as the bath, or the shower.  This can look stylish.  Keeping the colour palette very similar ensures that it looks great. 

3. Borders and feature tiles are likely to look dated over time.  See below.  I’d really avoid these unless you can’t live without them.

4. Grout is important.  Thick lines of grout are very passé.  It used to be 2-3cm thick, whereas tiles now need to be laid very close to each other, with a similar colour grout to make it all look seamless.  Your tiler should also align grout lines along the floor and wall so that the lines are continuous.

5. Laying tiles diagonally across a space is also very out-of-date.  Stick to lines of tile that follow the line of the walls.  It was thought that diagonal lines of tiles make the room look bigger, but they just look old-fashioned.  Likewise border tiles around the edge of the floor.  These are definitely not the ‘in’ thing right now.

6. If you want the look of natural stone there are lots of fabulous ceramic imitation that have random stone patterns (so no two are the same), and don’t need sealing to prevent staining and mould (which many natural stone tiles require).

These days you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a sophisticated surface.

7. If you have a lot of  ‘corners’ in your tiles, ensure that the tile is tough enough to be mitred.  This gives a sleek edge where it meets.  But if the tile isn’t a high quality hard tile, the corners will chip and it’ll look terrible.

Your tiler should be mitring the corners, and not laying one tile flat, and the other perpendicular, so that you see the edge of one tile…..  These are the key to a professional finish.

8. Take out a few bricks in the wall to create an alcove to store product (very useful in the shower).  You can then highlight this with different tiles inside the alcove.

9. Finally – make it your own.  I just adore the way that tiles have been used to create architecture (below) – faux tile panelling.  What a fabulous idea…

The glimmer of gold below is so glamorous.  I love metallics in a bathroom – you’re not in there long enough for it to be too too much.

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