Outdoor chalkboard

Since removing an old mini greenhouse from the patio, a space has been made available to turn into a little (and crucially, shaded) play area for my daughter. First stop, outdoor chalkboards.

Excuse the ground that needs a big sweep!

I had a look on Amazon and outdoor chalkboards cost upwards of £10, so whilst shopping one day last week I popped into Wilko and found A3 sized boards for £2.50 each. I would have preferred something bigger, but for that price I bought two instead.

I used an old tin of blue fence paint that I had lurking at the back of the garage and gave the plain pine frames two coats of that. I attached two picture hanging hooks and string onto the back of the boards, and nailed picture hooks into the fence. That way I can remove the boards during bad weather for indoor use. Clever!

Due to it being the back of the fence where I’ve hung the chalkboards, they don’t lay flat against it, so I added some nails to the backs to help them sit slightly more vertically.

The boards themselves are a bit ‘plasticky’ but as you can see, my daughter got straight to work drawing on them. Now to Pinterest to get more ideas for doing up the rest of the area!

Link here: https://pin.it/4dzcg6xm2t77r6

Perfect brownies

I love to bake and can turn my hand to most cakes, biscuits and sweet treats, but, I have never had the greatest success with brownies. I’m not sure why; despite following recipes to the letter, my previous attempts have been too dry, too gooey or just simply not good so I stopped trying. Until now!

I found a recipe that not only claimed to be super-easy but also made the “perfect brownie”, so I gave it a go. And oh my, they were good! I so highly recommend this recipe.

The recipe is indeed very simple: melt some dark and white chocolate with some butter; whisk up the eggs and some muscovado sugar; stir the chocolate mixture in; fold in the flour and baking powder; pour into a tin and bake. Et voilà!

I followed the recipe owner’s advice on her blog for cutting the perfect brownie… I left the bake to cool completely in the tin, then popped it in the fridge for a few hours before slicing it up. The brownies are so sticky that being completely chilled stops the sharp knife from getting stuck.

Now, be warned! These brownies are utterly delicious and seriously moreish, but incredibly rich too, so restrain yourself from eating too many in one go!

Recipe here: http://www.recipesfromanormalmum.com/2011/02/04/in-search-of-the-perfect-brownie/

Joining and edging the Victorian lattice squares blanket

I spent some time considering how to join and then edge my Victorian lattice squares into a blanket and took inspiration from some photos of finished blankets I found on Pinterest (see link below).

As mentioned in my previous post (here) I put a triple crochet Granny stripe border on my Victorian lattice squares for uniformity of stitches around each one. This them made it very easy to join the squares; I used a single crochet stitch to join the squares into ‘lines’ and then to join the lines together for the blanket.

I then did a double crochet stitch around the entire blanket, again for uniformity and also to provide a solid edge to work my border against.

I chose a mixture of two borders: firstly triple crochet edge to make the blanket a bit bigger, and then I used another Bella Coco video tutorial to add a scallop edge to the blanket. This makes a lovely, detailed edge and really finishes the blanket off. It consists of groups of triple crochet stitches and so is very simple to do.

Rather than block the individual squares (which I really should have done!) I blocked the entire blanket by dampening it and then using my daughter’s play mat to stretch it out on overnight.

In hindsight I would have added an extra row of squares to make the blanket bigger and rectangular, but this is the first blanket I’ve made as a gift and I’ll be very proud when my sister unwraps it for her birthday!

Inspiration link here: https://pin.it/thx3zqa4ksjgi2

Crochet scallop edge link here: https://pin.it/olqjt3uihcpspc

Victorian lattice square

I’ve seen a lot of ‘Call The Midwife’ crochet blankets on Instagram and Pinterest over the past year or so, and the simple but classic design appealed to me. However I could only find written patterns, which I’m not good at following, until my trusty crochet friend, Bella Coco, produced a video tutorial for the Victorian Lattice Square. Whilst it’s not the same as the Call The Midwife blanket, it’s a similar design so close enough in my eyes.

The first square took me about two hours to crochet as I made a few mistakes and had to keep restarting rounds. I had to use the video for the first four or five squares too, until I could remember the pattern well enough; it then took me about an hour to make each square.

It’s a lovely design and the squares are quite large so making them into a blanket is quicker than using Granny or Willow squares.

I decided to put a triple crochet Granny stripe border around each square to make it bigger and to provide a uniform edge for the joining process.

This has been a very satisfying pattern to follow, and has been great to use up yarn remains!

Link here: https://pin.it/2cyoyhm5ojk7tf

Rainbow cake and cupcakes

As I mentioned in my last post (here), for my daughter’s first birthday I had a little rainbow theme going and one of the things I really wanted to make was a rainbow layered cake. I had a recipe for an easy cake mix and from the same Pin I had a link to a ‘super-easy’ cream cheese frosting so those, along with lots of Pins for rainbow decorations, were my starting point. 

The final result

The cake and frosting mixes were indeed easy to make and both were a delicious vanilla flavour due to using vanilla bean paste rather than essence. I used gel food colouring to colour the batches of cake as it gives a much more vibrant colour to the baked sponge. 

Adding the colour
Rainbow sponges baked

My first batch of cake mix didn’t end up being the cake as I discovered a bit too late that I didn’t have the right sized cake tins, so I ended up with a load of cupcakes instead. 

The unexpected additional cupcakes

I started again the next day (with the right sized tins) and baked my six sponges. I wrapped and chilled them ready for the next day assembling the cake and getting the frosting on. In hindsight I should have trimmed the cakes to the same sizes and levelled the tops, but I’m a novice attempting this cake for the first time, so my end result looks more rustic. 

Assembling the beast

Icing the cake was very tricky as my sponge layers would slide around and as soon as the frosting got a bit warm it would melt off the sides, so I had to keep stopping to chill it all. I’ve never iced a cake with cream cheese frosting before so doing the ‘crumb coat’ and building it all up was quite fiddly. Icing the cupcakes, however, was a doddle! 

The leaning tower of cake
Still wonky!

I chose a simple decoration for on top of the cake as I already had a big cake topper ordered, and by this point I couldn’t face trying to model anything from sugar paste. I fashioned a ‘1’ from tin foil and placed it on top of the cake and then sprinkled multicoloured sugar strands over the top before removing the stencil. Et voilà! 

With its topper and the birthday board making an appearance

I have to be honest here, I love how the cake turned out. I love the decoration. I love the layers of the rainbow when the cake is slice or the cupcakes bitten in to. It turned out exactly as I hoped but… it’ll be a long, long time before I attempt another rainbow cake! 

Rainbow slices
Taste the rainbow

Cake recipe here: https://pin.it/C72Wgmr

Frosting recipe here: https://pin.it/m6RMcMS

Decoration link here: https://pin.it/xG84Zez

Birthday chalkboard

A couple of weeks ago my little girl turned one, and whilst we didn’t have a big party for her (just small family tea parties) I did want to get some decorations, make a few things and get creative for it. I’d seen on Etsy and Instagram people selling birthday chalkboards and I pinned a few designs on Pinterest, but it was only when I spotted an A3 board in Wilko that I decided to try making one myself. (And between you and me, reader, I’m so glad I didn’t shell out a tenner for someone else to make one as, frankly, the ones I’ve seen other people have bought recently look… not as good as mine!)

I sketched out my design on paper first and painted the frame of the board. My sister suggested orange to complement my rainbow theme. To be honest I was sceptical initially about the colour, but loved the end result. I used my cheap and cheerful Poundland paint which needed a fair few coats to build up the colour as it is rather on the thin side. 

Start with a plain chalkboard
Get some paint
Paint the frame

I pencilled my design onto the board rather than go for it freehand, and I went over it with my set of chalkpens. I did sections at a time so not to smudge the work. A slight issue was that I couldn’t give it all a second layer of paint as the pens scratched the first coat off, but as long as you look at the board from a distance, you don’t notice that. 

Sketching the design
Chalk painting section by section

I’ve had so many compliments for my chalkboard and I’m delighted with how it turned out so I may now make one every year for my daughter! 


Links here: https://pin.it/a9sYPfp, https://pin.it/wvVHp1-, https://pin.it/Ft6EzwT

Rhubarb and pear cake

Hooray! Finally a chance to bake something new! My tiny patch of rhubarb was ready for the picking, I had some Greek yogurt to use up and Pinterest provided me with a new recipe to try out. I even got to use my fancy cup measures as it’s an American recipe. 

The recipe called for four cups of rhubarb, which I didn’t have, so a rummage in the fruit bowl produced a pear to add to the mix. 

It’s a very quick make – using cup measures is super-speedy – and it makes a really thick cake mix, almost like a dough (the recipe did warn this). 

I adapted the streusel topping to just cinnamon and brown sugar to try and make it a little healthier and, let’s be honest here, I was too lazy to make the streusel!

Before baking…
And after.
 The recipe said to bake the cake for 45 minutes at 350°F, so I did it for 30 minutes at 180°C which gave the end result quite a thick crust. I divided the cake into 12 ‘fingers’ – it cut well, came out of the tin just fine and kept its shape. 

Next time I’d bake it for a little longer as it had quite a doughy, almost bread-like (like those tear-and-share style breads) texture, though that could have been due to the ‘wet’ fruit. I, however, quite liked the stickiness. 

Recipe here: http://pin.it/pmp08qL

Sensory discovery bottles 

Typically, my daughter seems to enjoy ‘non toys’ more than her proper toys – mobile phones, tv remotes, coasters – though she does love shaking her rattles around so I had a little brainwave to make her a simple ‘rainmaker’ rattle. An empty (clean) bottle and some (uncooked) rice later… voilà! She loves it! So I looked on Pinterest for some more ideas… 

1. Marbles. I got some marbles and put them in an empty bottle. Simple. This is her favourite as it’s really loud when she shakes it! 

2. Water. Just plain old water from the kitchen tap. It makes a great noise when being shaken around, and it can be made more exciting with a few drops of food colouring (or fruit squash even!). 

3. Water beads. I have two bottles with these in. One is full of water beads and we can watch the air bubbles weave their way up through the multicoloured beads. The other has less beads in and some baby oil in the water – I hoped to make something like a lava lamp, but failed. It looks pretty though! 

4. Rice. Our original rice bottle got pimped with some multicoloured rice (see this post for how I made it). 

I haven’t got round to making any of the fancy Pinterest ideas with glitter and tinsel and stuff, but the good thing about these bottles is that they can be changed quickly and easily, so when my daughter tires of these ones, I’ll be able to make some new ones to retain her attention. 

Link here: http://pin.it/WnKrFeM

Multicoloured rice

Making multicoloured rice is so easy to do, though a little fiddly – an upgrade to the humble grain of white rice! 

The humble grain of rice being tarted up!

You need… rice (obvs), food colouring and ziplock bags. Put the rice in the bag, add the food colouring (a little at a time to get the colour just right) and shake the bag. Then comes the fiddly bit: tip the rice out onto a paper plate or some greaseproof paper – the rice likes to stick to the inside of the bag- and leave it to dry. 

Take some rice, a bag and some food colouring…
Shake it up…
Looking bloodstained!

Is this how you get the grains of pink rice in the Indian takeaway rice?!

For my first attempt I just raided the kitchen cupboard and found some ancient red, blue and green food colouring I had. I didn’t attempt to mix any colours, it would probably be easier to just buy the different colours! The red came out brilliantly but the blue and green are a little pale. Also the red dried so quickly in a few hours, whereas the blue and green took several days to dry out completely – they were different brands (Langdale and Tesco respectively) so I assume that’s why. 

Still waiting for the blue and green rice to dry out!

For now I’m using the rice in some homemade shakers, but when the baby is older (and less likely to try and eat the uncooked rice) it could be used in sorting or pouring games and all sorts of other activities. If kept in a ziplock bag or airtight container it should last for ages too. You can also do the same with oats, which may be a little safer if the baby attempts to eat them! 

Et voilà, a homemade shaker.

Link here: http://pin.it/BDmjfkO

Sensory scarves 

At a lot of the baby groups I’ve been to over the past months, sensory scarves have been a common feature, so I ordered a set for home from Amazon (I searched for juggling scarves) for a few pounds. I received more than I expected, with a pack of 12 scarves, so have made two games for my daughter using them. 

Two for the price of one

The first is a simple ‘hack’ of the play arch that she’s no longer interested in (well, except knocking it over or trying to pick it up!) where I threaded scarves through it. She crawls through it or sits in front of it feeling the scarves with her hands or face, or just tugs them all free!The second game uses a carrier bag holder I found in Poundland – originally intended to hold cuddly toys, but they’re too big and too many for it. I push the scarves inside it for the baby to pull out through the holes. It’s such a basic idea but it holds her attention whilst she practises her ‘pincer grip’ to pull out the scarves. When she’s got them all, I celebrate by throwing the scarves in the air for her to watch flutter down, or we play games where I hide them in my fists or clasped hands for her to find.