Friday 28 November 2014

The last week of November ... a recap on the week that was

I can't believe that we're almost ready to start opening doors on the Advent Calendar. November has flown by.

It's taken an enormous effort of will, but I haven't officially put up any Christmas decorations yet. I've been itching to ... but, so, far I've more or less held the line. There have been a few purchases made with the holidays in mind, and I have been busy making decorations for our Christmas tree.

The weather here has been grey and miserable - so, the Wonder Dog and I have reined in our wanderings and stayed close to home. One day we oven-dried some orange slices to make these decorations, which glow warm and orangey with a twinkling fairy light behind them. You can read my post on how to make them here: Dried Orange Slice Decorations

And then we made a few cinnamon parcels, using the same rustic-looking hemp string and ribbon, to compliment the orange slices on the tree.

You can read my post about the cinnamon here: Cinnamon Stick Decorations

Together they create a timeless old world look. Using the same ribbon for both helps to tie the overall design together. 

I like to keep things simple and not too commercial. I hate acres and acres of plastic and tinsel, so there'll be lots of homemade alternatives, and paper chains. I've bought some lovely, ready-cut papers and not-so-messy glue dots so that Emi can get busy and have a go at engineering some decorations too. I chose my words carefully these days. With judicious use of a verb like engineer, which sounds nice and heavy and grown-up and masculine it's amazing what I can talk the little chap into doing.

Christmas came a little bit early on Monday as I took delivery of my new handbag camera, a Canon SX60 HS. I'm really pleased with it. If you're interested, you can read my review here: SX 60 HS Review

The Wonder Dog and I took it out and about during the sunny interludes, which were few and far between, but it did a lovely job of capturing the autumn tints in all their colourful glory. 

With all the mild weather, autumn seems to be holding onto her foliage well past the normal threshold for winter - not that I'm complaining. 

The Wonder Dog had his photograph taken more times than he would have liked to. In the end he went and hid under the kitchen table, where I'm sure he knew the light was terrible. He's smart like that, the Wonder Dog. 

I tried some still-life compositions of the chaos that is my desk. It's amazing: I have a huge desk, but somehow it's always a struggle to find space on there to do anything. It's kind of like Dr Who's TARDIS, only it operates in reverse. 

Today I'm off with a chum to the Black Friday sales. I can't say that I've noticed Black Friday before. I know it's a huge thing in the States, where people get through Thanksgiving and then turn their minds to how few shopping days remain until Christmas. As we don't celebrate Thanksgiving it's never really featured, but I guess with these hard economic times the retailers are having to try every trick in the book to shift their merchandise. 

I'm not the world's most enthusiastic shopper, so I know that I'm going to come home feeling exhausted. I've made a big pot of roasted winter vegetable soup, which I'll serve up to the troops with some nice fresh bread. Hopefully it will get everyone fed without too much further effort on my part. You can find my recipe here: the very best roast vegetable soup. It's a real corker of a soup!

Anyway I'd better push off and put my best foot forward as those bargains won't buy themselves. 

All the best for a splendid weekend,

Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds and image-in-ing

Thursday 27 November 2014

Cinnamon Stick Christmas Tree Decorations ...

I know. I know. It's much too early to put up the Christmas decorations. It's still November for crying out loud. I mean, you've got to at least wait until St. Nicholas Day on the 6th, haven't you? Otherwise it all just seems a bit too ... enthusiastic and unrestrained.

But the thing is. Yikes! I love Christmas. It's a time when all Irish people who possibly, physically can, go home to the Old Country - Mother Ireland, and all that. And by jeepers it's a wonder she doesn't sink under the weight of all us wild geese as we disembark from our various ferries and aeroplanes. It's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful celebration of life. We all go home, party, catch up with everyone and it's just brilliant. You can't blame me for looking forward to it.

Anyway this morning I was out doing the weekly shop when I saw the cutest little potted Christmas tree. Just a little one, you understand.  I knew it would look absolutely perfect on a strange wall that leads into my kitchen. As it was technically just a pot plant, and not a fully paid-up Christmas tree, I reckoned that it would be fine to bring it home in November.

Then when it arrived in the kitchen it looked so bare that I had to thread it up with a few fairy lights that I just happened to have lying around. And then I got a few of the smaller dried orange slice decorations that I made the other day, and tried them out for size. (You can find the link for making them: here. Suddenly it was starting to look rather splendid, but I thought it needed a little something else.

I rooted around and found a bag of cinnamon sticks, and set about tying them into little bundles with my hemp string. I didn't do anything fancy: just a double knot around the sticks, tied at the ends to make a loop to go around the branches and prettied up with a little bit of ribbon to match the oranges.

So that's it: they're pretty, really easy to make, cost next to nothing and they even smell nice into the bargain. What's not to like? You can even chose your ribbon to make them co-ordinate with all your other Christmas tree decorations.

Oh, and I'm definitely, positively not putting any Christmas decorations up until it's at least December ... .

All the best,

Bonny x

Wednesday 26 November 2014

How to make dried orange slice Christmas decorations

Down here in London it just keeps raining and raining and raining. We're getting really fed up with wet feet and muddy paws. So to keep our spirits up we're looking forward to December when we can get going and deck the halls with boughs of holly ... . 

Yesterday we had a go at making these little beauties:

In fact we made a whole big bunch of them. Here they are hanging on the stem of my desk lamp: 

They look great: simple, traditional and understated, with their little ribbons and rustic hemp string ties; all very shabby chic. 

If you'd like to make some for the Big Day, they're really easy to cobble together.

You'll need:

2 big oranges (should produce about 12 to 14 slices)
baking paper
hemp string
parcel ribbon

You really need to start the day before by slicing your oranges into straight slices that are about 1 cm thick.

Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Heat the oven to 50º C, and place the tray of orange slices in the oven for several hours. The longer you can leave them in there for, the better will be the result. Mine spent the better part of the day drying out in the gentle heat, and then I switched the oven off left them in it to cool down gently overnight.

This was how they looked the following morning:

When I held them up the light they were lovely, and I thought happy thoughts about how pretty they'd look on my Chrimbo tree illuminated with sparkling fairy lights.

Now all you have to do is string a little bit of hemp string through each slice and you'll be half-way home. I threaded the hemp string through a darning needle. 

And then pierced a hole in the orange and drew the string through with the needle before cutting it to the length that I wanted.

Then I joined the two ends of the hemp string with a knot, and prettied it up with a piece of ribbon tied in a bow. And that's all there was to it.

In my photos I've shown them hanging from various knobs and knockers around the house, but the big plan is to put them on the Christmas tree once I get it installed ... which is going to be one day very, very soon. 

I've got a few slices left over that I could use in some festive pot pourri. They'd look great with some pine cones and a few pot pourri roses. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

And if you liked the orange slice decorations, take a look at my cinnamon stick decorations too: Cinnamon Stick Christmas Tree Decorations

As shared on Creative Mondays

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Canon SX 60 HS ... a great handbag camera

I've been on the look-out for a new handbag camera: one that I could carry around with me all the time just on the off-chance that I'd see something stunning to photograph. As with all such purchases I've had a lot of fun reading up on all the contenders, and choosing the one that I thought would be just right for my handbag.

And here it is, my choice, the Canon SX60 HS, newly released this autumn:

It arrived yesterday at Talk-a-Lot Towers and I'm already very impressed. I wanted something with a zoom lens that wouldn't weigh me down: something nifty and light for when I'm out and about. And my first impressions are that this little baby ticks all the boxes. I'm a bit blind so I love, love, love its great big LCD monitor at the back where I can see what I'm shooting really clearly. I love the zoom lens that takes me up to 65x zoom. And I love how I don't need a shopping trolley to lug it around with me. It's a super versatile, one size fits all situations sort of camera.

The only slight snagaroo is that my principal model, the Wonder Dog, is getting a bit fed up with having his photo taken. Grrrr ... .

First it was the black dog on a black carpet challenge, taken with no flash:

 Even though the light was far from stellar, and I'd got that black on black thing going on, the shot still came out clearly and properly exposed.

Then we had everything else in between, because, as all you serious shooters out there will know, black dogs are difficult chaps to photograph. They've got this annoying tendency to appear as indecipherable black smudges in photographs. As such they make the perfect model for testing a new camera on. And as you can see the Wonder Dog has processed perfectly.

Next we headed off to Walpole Park, our local park here in Ealing, where we had a merry old time snapping the autumn tints. 

The camera weighs only 672 g according to my scales, and it's small enough to sit comfortably in my out-stretched hand, so I'm loving its super portability.

The big LCD monitor was an immediate hit. You can twist it out and turn it around until you get it exactly how you like it, which could be useful if you have the sun at an awkward angle. The view-finder on the other hand distorted the colours leaving everything looking bleached-out and a bit weird. This is, however, only a minor niggle as I'm so in love with that great BIG LCD monitor screen. 

One other feature that struck me as a bit odd is that the built in flash does not pop up and flash unless you raise it manually. No biggie, but it would have been more seamless if this had popped up as and when the camera detected low light levels.

The accuracy of the colour is first class.

It was a stunning afternoon; the first day with half-decent light for ages. And I think the little Canon did a pretty good job of capturing all that autumn glory.

If you know someone who's hoping that Santa might bring them a handbag camera, then the Canon SX 60 HS is a worthy contender for their Christmas stocking.

All the best and happy snapping, 

Bonny x

Monday 24 November 2014

The very best roast vegetable soup

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the soup is so delightful
And since we've got no place to go
Let is snow, let it snow, let is snow.

OK, so I may have messed around with the lyrics, but the sentiment is totally authentic. When the weather outside is grey and miserable there's nothing to beat the comfort factor of a nice bowl of home-made soup.  And, for me, coming from Ireland, any kind of homemade soup has to be thickened with barley grains to give it substance. That's how my mum and my grandma used to make soup when I was a little girl, and that's how I like it.

These days I add a mixture of barley, split peas and lentils. Sometimes I buy a packet of mixed grains that have been put together specifically for adding to soups or stews, and I love the variety of the textures and flavours that they add.

This recipe maximises the flavour of the winter vegetables by roasting them slowly in the oven. The cumin and turmeric add extra warmth and depth of flavour.

Anyway if you'd like to try your hand at a spot of soup-making here's what you'll need for 6 servings.


150 g (5 1/4 oz) barley soup grain mix
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) of good vegetable stock
1 medium sized butternut squash
2 large parsnips
4 medium sized carrots
2 medium sized brown onions
3 tablespoonfuls of chopped freshly cut sage leaves
2 heaped teaspoonfuls of ground cumin
1 level teaspoonful of turmeric
bacon lardons for serving: I fry 100 g (3 1/2 oz) per person and drain them on some kitchen paper to remove excess oil before sprinkling them into the soup
grated cheese (Cheddar or Emmental work well) for serving


1. Peel all the vegetables and chop them into chunks. Place on a roasting tray and toss with some olive oil and the chopped sage leaves. Season with salt and black pepper, and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200º C (390º F or Gas Mark 6)  for 45 minutes. Turn them over once during this period so that they cook evenly.

2. Whilst the vegetables are roasting, cook the barley mix in the vegetable stock until the grains are cooked through.

3. When the vegetables have cooked blitz them in the food processor and add to the vegetable stock/ mixed grains. Be sure and add all those wonderful rich juices that will coat the bottom of the roasting pan to the soup mix as they'll be full of added flavour. Stir well, add the spices and heat through until it reaches your ideal temperature for serving.

4. Fry the bacon lardons and coarsely grate some cheese. Serve the soup with the bacon lardons and grated cheese on top.

Delicious! It's pretty substantial so you'll need very little extra to fill your people up at supper time.

Enjoy with a nice glass of Rioja and good company!

All the best for now,

Bonny x