Where I Am, Right Now.

Almost a month has passed without as much as a short & sweet post on this blog. There has been no shortage of topics I could have shared with you: there have been birthday's, Mother's day and a very busy March so far, but I have held myself back allowing the opportunities to bypass this blog. The reason though is a very good one. 

For the last few months now I have been thinking and trying to work out exactly where I am going with Buttercup days. In fact it is more than that, I've been trying to work out what I want to do creatively going forward. Arthur starts school at the end of the summer and for the first time in eight years my weekdays won't be child centred (until 3.15pm) as they have been. It's a shift: a move into the next phase.

Alongside parenting and working for the business, the last four years have seen me writing my own blogs (Buttercup days is my second one) and writing for other blogs and magazines. The core of what I write about stems from cooking - something else I've done more of during the last four years than ever before.

So, I've taken these last four years and am busy working at transforming my experiences into a next phase for Buttercup days, one with a bit of longevity I hope. I need to invest time in learning a few new skills in order to move forward, so please do bear with me over the coming months if the posts become few and far between at times. Hopefully you will see the results over the coming months as this blog smartens up somewhat and gains a focus. I, for one, am rather excited.

Two Years Later ...

... I am still here writing this blog. Yes, It is hard to believe, but it was two years ago today that I typed my very first post for Buttercupdays.

You can read it here. I never for a moment thought I'd still be writing: still having things to say. A quick count tells me that this is my 167th post, and that Buttercup days has had over 14000 hits in its short life span. To some that may sound a lot, but believe me it isn't. It what some might call a niche blog.

But, for me Buttercup days was never started as a 'business', like many blogs are. In fact it was the very opposite. When I started it I was at home full-time with a one and five-year-old. It was a creative output: a space to fill with thoughts. There have been times when I've considered stopping due to the lack of time, but the longer you do something the harder it is to just stop. So for now, it goes on. 

Going forward, I strive to write more regular posts, plus I've also toyed with the idea of broadening the content, ever so slightly, sharing things that I see that inspire me; design, interiors, my own home projects and crafts. I hope to keep the content varied, unique and honest.

So to all those, who pop by and read my musings: thank you. I hope that you keep coming back. X

Happy Pancake Day. Happy Birthday.

I love pancakes: both the making and the eating. In our house Pancake Day never passes by unmarked. I always remember my mum making us lemon & sugar pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, so it goes without question, that I now make these delicious sweet and sour crepes for my children. Simple food that brings on a kitchen-full of smiles.

Today is also my dad's birthday. I wonder if he'll have cake or pancakes today? If it was my birthday I'd have both. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD xxx

A Mid Week Lunch In January: Roasted Carrot, Ginger & Coriander Soup & Chocolate Cake

Today was my first morning off since returning to work from Christmas. The business has had a busy start to the year, so I've found myself going into the studio more than usual. My morning off was, all in all, a 2 hour window while Arthur was at playgroup. But it was two hours peace and a chance to tidy up the house and prepare for my mid week lunch to which I invited my yoga ladies for a long overdue catch-up. Lunch was simple: Carrot, Ginger & Coriander Soup, followed by a dense Chocolate Loaf Cake.

It's been a while since I shared a recipe here on Buttercup days as I tend to 'save them up' for my weekly posts over at Heart Home. So see it as a rare treat.

The soup is not a recipe, its far too simple to have such classification. Basically, peel a bag of carrots cutting them into fair thick chunks of around 3 - 4". Tip into a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and season. Peel a thumb sized piece of ginger and finely grate over your carrots. Give it all a good mix and then roast in the oven for roughly 25 - 30 mins or until the carrots are soft and caramelised in places. Tip the carrots into a large saucepan and add a generous handful of chopped coriander. Make up some vegetable stock (around 1 - 1.5 pints) and add enough to cover the carrots. Blend with a blending stick until smooth and then add further stock until it reaches your preferred consistency.

The Chocolate Cake is a 'Nigella' and big favourite of mine. Perfect for all chocoholics out there.

Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake.

225 g soft unsalted butter

375 g dark muscovado sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100 g best dark chocolate, melted

200 g plain flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 190C/gas5. 

Grease and line a 23x13x7cm cm (9x5x3in) loaf tin. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating in well. 

Next fold in the melted and cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but do not over beat. 

You want the ingredients combined: you don't want a light airy mass. 

Gently add the flour, to which you've added the bicarb, alternately spoon by spoon, with 250 ml of boiling water until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter.

Pour into the lined loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 170C/gas mark 3 and cook for another 15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won't come out completely clean. 

Place the loaf tin on a rack and leave to get completely cold before turning it out. It improves if left for a day or so before eating. This cake will probably sink in the middle because of its denseness.

The Hand-Me-Down Desk

Some of my most treasured possessions are those pieces of furniture that have been a constant in my life. They are what can only be described as comforting. They're all pieces that I can remember from my childhood.

My great-grandmothers wardrobe stands in Arthur's bedroom and despite it's age and old dark wood, it fits in effortlessly with his modern styled room. Then there is our dining table, that I've written about on this blog before, that originally longed to my grandparents. Also there is my lamp, probably originating from the late 60's, that's lives in my living room: that was rescued from my parents old house some years ago when they were about to get rid of it. In my eyes that just couldn't be thrown away: as far as lighting goes it was practically part of the family!

Then there is my desk. I was the 'middle' owner of it really. My grandfather made it for me when I was little; so little that my feet dangled above the floor when seated at it. The metal frame part of the desk had been the same metal frame of the desk he made for my dad. My grandfather reconditioned the frame and made a new wooden lidded desk top (complete with ink well) before passing it onto me. Once I grew out of it, it was kept in my parents loft and, once I left home, it took residence in the various lofts of the homes I have lived in.

Now it's in Arthur's bedroom and therefore under its third ownership. He loves it. He should get a few years out of it yet, as when he sits at it his feet still dangle above the floor, much like mine did. 

How very comforting that is.

Musical Youth

Way back last year, whilst in our loft, I came across an envelope full of pin badges that David use to collect from the various and frequent gigs we use to go to. I finally put them to use, displaying them in an old printers tray, which is next in line to be put up on the wall.

Looking back, much of our 'courtship' was carried out in music venues: the Town & Country Club, the Astoria, Brixton Academy, Subterania, the ULU and local venues to us back then such as The Old Trout in Windsor.

David still goes to gigs, though to be fair, not nearly as often as he once did. Occasionally, if I like the band or artist, I will tag along too.  But nowadays the venues tend to be local Brighton based ones, rather than the trek into London (up on the train, back on the night bus) and the experience seems to be an altogether more civilised affair. The venues are smoke free and the drinks, although still served in plastic cups, are more refined: organic lager anyone? The old familiar flickering haze of cigarette lighter flames has been replaced with the glow of camera phones and when I  recently attended a Spiritualized gig I was offered complimentary ear plugs. I never saw any pin badges for sale either. A sign of the times for sure.

Move Over Nigella

This is the cake that Lily baked for David last weekend. It was her birthday present to him: a gingerbread cake with white chocolate cream cheese icing and sprinkles in 'gunners' red. All very much her own work. Not bad eh?

A New Year + Distance

So here we are in a new year: 2013. The decorations come down tomorrow and all traces of Christmas will be gone, packed away in the loft for another year. It was a good Christmas with lots of time spent relaxing with family and good friends; all the day-to-day stuff that dominates the other fifty weeks of the year firmly pushed to the back of the mind.

In our home the start of January is never dull as we have a very important birthday in the house (David's: today), it seems to just gate-crash itself into the tail end of Christmas and therefore extend the kid's excitement somewhat. They both have an effortless ability to get more enthusiastic about our birthdays than we do ourselves.

**********

However, the new year hasn't been rosy everywhere. Someone I'm very close to lost her father on New Years Eve. It was unforeseen, cruel and shattering and I can't begin to understand the emotions that she must be experiencing at this time. There's roughly 350 miles between us. I want to be there. To do what, I don't know. I just want to take round a cooked meal for an evening that ends a tough day. I want to take her little girl, who has lost her granddad, out for a milkshake or an ice cream on the windy beach (I'm certain she'd have no problem eating ice cream in January). Just lots of little nothings. How I wish that distance wasn't so great.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! What I really love about Christmas is the time spent with family and friends. So far there has been time spent with my family, the one I grew up with; my family that I married into and old friends, many of whom we've known for so long that they are considered family. Happy, relaxing, warm times with great company and delicious food!

And it's not over yet: we're off to the Isle of Wight tomorrow for a few days to do 'Christmas' with my parents, before arriving home in Hove to see in 2013. Perfect.

Merry Christmas - enjoy the rest of the festive holiday. X

The picture in this post of the Pistachio and Boozy Cherry Pavlova I made when friends came over yesterday evening. This morning only a lone slither remains in the fridge.

Realignment

You'd be forgiven for thinking that I had given up with Buttercup days: it's been so long since I have written a post. I haven't given up at all, just taken a bit of an unplanned break. 

I've been doing this blog for near on two years now and it can at times be all consuming. It's odd as I am obviously doing this blog off my own back and can indeed stop at any point, but as with so many things you start, build up and put loads of work into, it can be hard to just end it all: it would be like it was all for nothing.

But the truth is, over the last month or two life has been really busy. Nothing special, but just every angle of it demanding my time, energy and attention. My work / home balance has been somewhat off kilter during the last quarter of this year, which can in turn make for quite a stressful time. Family and friends are forever telling me that I take on far too much. They are probably right. So I am trying to cut myself a bit of slack and clarify what is important and deserves my time; saying 'no' to stuff, which is not in my nature. This blog is important to me, but not essential, so I put it on the shelf for a month to give myself a chance to slow the pace and get the other stuff done.

I've altered my work hours in the business too and am only taking on non-business work projects that I really want and, more importantly, have the time to do. For example, I was heavily involved with Lily's school in the run up to Christmas: organising and doing Christmas crafts with years 5 & 6, running the crafts at the school Christmas fayre and sourcing and collecting prizes for the school raffle. I was doing all this whilst working to launch our new business blog (the final part of our rebrand), writing my weekly food posts for Heart Home blog and getting everything ready for our family Christmas. So when the notice went up at Arthur's play-school asking for help with their Christmas fayre, for the first time ever I didn't put my name down. For me that was a hard thing to do. I turned up on the day with a batch of homemade mince pies, no flash cake, and that was it. 

I have just one more day at work tomorrow then it is headlong into Christmas. I really can't wait: we have some great days planned seeing family and friends, some days we're having family trips out and other days the four of us will just hang out at home doing nothing in particular, which is a pretty rare indulgence. It should be time enough to recharge ready for the new year ahead. So please bear with me, the regular post are coming back. 

***********

The pictures attached are of the kids making Christmas paper-chains for their bedrooms. They so can't wait for the festivities to begin and neither can I.

Here we go: the countdown to Christmas starts here

How the devil are we back here again with Christmas just around the corner? Tomorrow sees the start of many festive activities that our weeks are peppered with from now until the end of the year. It's not our lives that are a social whirlwind, but rather those of our children. As of next week come the nativity plays, carol concerts and parties. 

Tomorrow is Lily's school Christmas Fayre. Again this year, I am 'head of crafts'. Sounds a rather grand title, but it basically means I spend the duration of the fayre and the two weeks running up to it knee-deep in glitter and spend many hours pre-folding paper and cutting out cardboard reindeer antlers and such like. It should however be fun and a fitting excuse to eat a mince pie.

Fireworks + Politics



Yesterday we took the kids to see our local fireworks at Hove Cricket Ground. I love fireworks night: I've never grown out of it. It hasn't been until recent years that Lily has embraced fireworks. We had a couple of false starts taking her to displays when she was younger only to have to leave seconds into the display as she was clearly petrified of the bangs and unfamiliar darkness. So it was with a little hesitance that we took Arthur to his first fireworks display last night, aged three. He told me that he really wanted to go and that he didn't mind loud bangs as he was three and could deal with it. He was right. He was so full of expectation. He sat, as good as gold, waiting for the display to start and when that first rocket launched and exploded into a riot of glitter in the dark sky his eyes were wide and his smile was priceless. He sat there drinking it all in. As a result, I think I spent more time watching his reaction than the actual fireworks. 

On an entirely different note, though equally topical, Lily today asked, in all sincerity, if she could vote in the US elections. She was rather miffed to hear that she couldn't. She has apparently been following the pre-election campaigns on Newsround and had already decided who she would vote for. 

It says a lot when a seven-year-old can clearly see who should win this election.

Poster Lust



 


I recently stumbled upon Swissted, an ongoing project by graphic designer Mike Joyce, owner of Stereotype Design in New York City. Drawing upon his love of punk rock and swiss modernism, an unlikely pairing, he has designed these fantastic typographic posters. I absoloutely love them: they remind me of Penguin book covers from the 1960's. The question is would you opt for your favourite band or your favourite design? Your answer probably says quite a bit about you.

Educating Lily

 






In my eyes my daughter is a lucky girl: her middle name is Biba. It isn't a middle name that she is at all comfortable with at seven. Her middle name isn't something she tells her friends at school. She prefers to blend in, rather than stand out. Lucky for her it didn't become her first name - left to me alone it probably would have done. I not worried though, I'm pretty confident it will grow on her and over time she will come to love it and what it stands for.

So today, I took her to Brighton Museum to introduce her to her name sake. Biba and Beyond is an exhibition currently showing at the museum. Three interconnecting rooms do well capturing the essence of Biba. With loans from major collectors and private individuals the exhibition tells the amazing story through illustrations, film, fashion, music, photography, ephemera and the memories and reminiscences of those who shared the experience. I could spend hours in there, really I could. 

Lily, on the other hand took it all in her stride. She liked it and really liked some of the dresses. At her tender age she is too young to totally get it, but on the comments board at the exit, she wrote without any prompting from me 'I ♥ Biba - it's my middle name'. 

Needless to say it made me smile.

Tent London: Part Three

Hot on the heels of my last post, here are the rest of my picks from Tent London ...


Tamasyn Gambell has designed a series stunning graphic interior fabrics that have a vintage and art-deco feel to them. She has teamed up with with Førest London, who import mid-century Scandinavian furniture, to re-upholster some key pieces of furniture with her fabrics. For Tent London, Tamasyn  was commissioned by Ercol to create a bespoke contemporary fabric for the iconic 203 Windsor armchair. Needless to say it was a much admired piece of the exhibition.


I had to do a double take when I saw 'George' on an exhibitors stand. George, for those who don't know, is a bit of a favourite in our household. He is a rather loveable children's book character from the book 'Oh No, George' by Chris Haughton. I know it's probably rather shallow to judge a book by its cover, but when I bought this book some time ago for Arthur that is just what I did. The illustrations use such a great colour palette and that sold it to me. Of course, the story is great too and it is one of Arthurs all time favourite bedtime reads. If you're looking to buy a great kids book, you can't go wrong with this. Anyway... so there was George at Tent, amongst some rather stunning rugs. It turned out that Chris Haughton is also a rug designer too. 

Before he became involved in books Chris was active in fair trade and has been a supporter and designer for the fair trade company People Tree for many years. In 2010 he took 8 months off to to re-connect to fair trade and find ways his design could work more directly with the fair trade groups in Nepal. Images of his rug designs became popular on the web and were featured in many blogs. Designers were emailing to ask if they could design their own rugs and buyers were emailing to ask if they could buy them. Node was set up to help facilitate this. Node works with some of today's leading designers and illustrators, converting their images into the highest quality hand-made fair trade carpets. 

















One of the highlights at Tent was 100% Norway: a showcase of the countries best contemporary design. As a huge fan of Scandinavian design, it's always an exhibition I'm keen to see. There were several pieces that more than appealed to me this year, but these little wooden birds by Lars Beller Fjetland for Italian company Discipline won me over. Each one is made from old table or chair leg. Now that really is taking recycled products to an altogether more stylish level, don't you agree?

Tent London: Part Two

I can get a bit overwhelmed at Tent London, much like a kid in a sweet shop. I see so much product that I love, want, or am just in awe of. There is some real talent out there. Our press office was really busy but I'd take in various products as I walked through the exhibition en route to grab a coffee or run an errand of some sort. I'm sure I missed so much, but here are some of the products that really appealed to me: a 'Buttercup days Pick of Tent London' if you like ...





We've known Zoe Murphy since she first launched her designs at one of the very early editions of Tent London. Since then she has gone from strength to strength. Zoe creates imagery inspired by her seaside home town of Margate and uses it to print onto and restore recycled interior product. I love her use of colour and retro pattern. In her designs Zoe references the unspoilt retro charm of Margate which I can recognise having spent many occasions there myself as a child. My uncle and aunt owned a wonderful imposing Edwardian guest house along the front. At key times of the year, namely Christmas, all the family would go down and stay; uncles, aunts, cousins and my grandparents. Though I haven't been back for probably near on twenty years, I do get a wistful nostalgic feeling when I see Zoe's designs.

Rachel Powell's retro Woodstock print really appealed to me. In the lead up to the exhibition all the exhibitors fill out questionnaires for us so we can learn about them and their products for the purpose of writing the press releases and relaying the show content to the press. In Rachel's questionnaire she wrote of how one of her many design influences were Lundby Dollhouses. Intrigued I googled 'Lundby Dollhouses'. Wow! How did I bypass them during my childhood? Needless to say, thanks to Rachel, I now find myself frequently searching Ebay for cute little retro Lundy kitchen units, bathroom suites and suchlike as I'm thinking of making a Lundby style dollhouse for Lily one day soon. 


Ahh, the wonderful Mini Moderns: where to start? Well, they are a client of ours and have been for sometime now and during that time more and more of their fantastic products have made their way into our home (the wallpaper above is in Lily's bedroom). If ever two people totally get my style, Mark and Keith are them. We have a mutual appreciation of Biba, 70's Habitat, Kate Bush, old Crown paint catalogues, retro biscuits, the graphics on 60's penguin book covers, Manhattan Transfer, the pleasing effect of multi tonal blues placed together and cake. They're the sort of people I could take away on holiday with me. Very good company. They've just created a range of coloured paints in that contains 90% recycled content, made up from waste paint that has been diverted from landfill or incineration. How amazing is that?

Tent London: Part One




Regular readers of the blog will know that a couple of weeks ago I had a spell up in London with my 'proper job' hat on. Every year, at the end of September, David and I decamp to London to run our pop-up press office from Tent London, the UK design event we have been working with for the last six years. It's an event we spend a huge chunk of our working year on. This year we did the PR for two shows; Tent London and its sister show Super Brands London. We tirelessly worked in the run up to the show with the organisers and exhibitors to get valuable press coverage, which pays a huge part in getting people through the door. At the event itself we worked from our press office meeting new press contacts, forging new relationships and catching up with old industry friends. It's hard work, but wonderfully social.

Every year we have a different creative team design our press office space. It is always a surprise to see the results. This year was the best year yet: drawing inspiration from the De Stijl movement, Memphis design and contemporary street art, CurtisMcEvoy, the London-based creative stylist duo bought a mix of high impact colour and pattern to our onsite Press Office. It made for a very happy place to live over those five busy days.
I did find a few spare minutes to nip round some the exhibition (it was vast!) and take a few snaps of some of my personal highlights which I shall share with you in another post. So watch this space ....

My World's Biggest Coffee Morning






On Friday I took part in the World's Biggest Coffee Morning to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. It was the first year I had ever done it. In previous years the date, 28th September, often fell during our time at Tent London. But this year it didn't so I had no excuse and signed up for it. Macmillan's is a worthy charity so close to many people's hearts. I did my part in memory of my father-in-law who we lost to cancer nine years ago. He loved cake, so it seemed very fitting indeed.

I held the coffee morning in my home and invited a real mix of people; friends, school mum's, neighbours, even our company accountant. The turn out was amazing and everyone was so very supportive. A local catering hire company provided me with china cups and saucers, cake forks and plates free of charge and my local florist made up three beautiful jugs of fresh flowers for the table. So very lovely.

Of course I did all the baking: Chocolate & Beetroot, Orange & Almond, Courgette Cake, Lemon Drizzle, Toffee Apple Cake and Chocolate Brownies. Thanks to everyone's generosity and appetite for cake I raised £235.00, and that isn't including a few yet-to-come text donations.

Thank you to everyone who supported me - I'll be doing it again I'm sure.

On The Back Foot + A Belated Happy Birthday



That's where I've been most of the last week; on the back foot. New routines coupled with our busiest work period always makes September a busy month in our household.

The children are now back at school and playgroup. The've settled nicely into their new routines. Arthur is now doing four mornings a week meaning I have an extra 4 hours a week in the office; barely enough but over a week or the month I hope it will make a positive difference to our ever-demanding workload. 

Next week is a biggie for our business as the London Design Festival kicks in. We handle the PR for two of the festival's biggest events, Tent London and Super Brands London. We've been working tirelessly since May with the exhibiting designers and show organisers to create as much coverage on the events as possible. During the event David, I and the whole team decamp to London for five days to work from our pop-up press office housed in The Old Truman Brewery. It's five, long, tiring, busy days but also five days full of buzz and celebration. It's also our key time of the year in which we can meet industry colleagues, old friends and hopefully forge new relationships and work contracts. We're also rebranding and changing our company name (more of that at a later date) and we'll be setting out the seeds to that change at Tent London and Super Brands London, which is kind of exciting too. In a nutshell it's a pretty important five days for us.

It will be a strange feeling staying up in London for those days next week. My parents will be down to care for the children and keep their busy little schedules ticking over. I know that Lily and Arthur will adore having Nanny and Grandad to stay and look after them, but I'll really miss them as I am so not used to not having them around.

Finally, I want to say a big, albeit belated, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my wonderful brother who became another year older at the weekend. He may (or may not) appreciate the photographs above. We must have been around 6 and 3 in these pictures, but I love them; they really make me smile. 

A Little More Charilla






Whilst in Charilla we took frequent trips out in the car to explore neighbouring towns and further afield places. The local town, Alcala La Real, was barely a ten minute drive away. It is a beautiful town with a fascinating history. It was first inhabited during the stone age and played an important role during the Roman and Moorish occupations of Spain. We visited the impressive Fortaleza la Mota one day and spent time in the town on many evenings too. The kids played in the central park and visited the local toy shop for Spainish playmobil figures and I shopped for local ceramics and cake tins (yes cake tins; I found some beautiful shaped ones that were just a couple of euros each) and picked up any provisions for the next day. We had a couple of meals out, but more often having cooked and eaten supper at home we would amble into town for an ice cream pudding at one of the roadside cafes.

We stopped off in Madrid too on the way back for a couple of nights. Although the polar opposite of Charilla it was a fascinating and charming city we wouldn't hesitate going back to.

Oh, and the flying? Arthur took his first ever (rocket) voyage in his stride and Lily simply loved every second of it. We were lucky that on both our outbound and return journeys we had lovely clear skies so  could see the land way down below us. As we gained height, Lily asked where we were flying over, England? Brighton? The Sea? What Sea? France? Spain? Once up in the huge white fluffy clouds she asked 'Where are we now? Is this heaven?'