Life is sweet (or how to make Scottish tablet… the most sugary sweet thing ever)

11 Sep

Life lately has been pretty sweet… and not just because I made the biggest batch of tablet ever.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I have a shiny new exciting job. (And that’s on top of lovely things like the Mollie Makes Japan feature, winning an award for my old job and oh yes my mister getting an ace new job too.)

Anyhoo, all that said, what I really want to share with you is how to make Scottish tablet.

Last time I mentioned tablet on this blog I got a mixture of people craving a fix and people being entirely confused as to what on earth I was talking about.

If you don’t know what tablet is, it looks like fudge but is creamier and more crumbly. (And better.)

Oh yes and it’s made with sugar, condensed milk and butter. (I’m not claiming that this is a healthy treat here.)

Tablet was also my Nana’s favourite sweet. One of my last memories of her is us having sweet tea and some tablet together. And for that alone it will always have an extremely special place in my heart.

So how do you make it? Well, first thing first, most people will tell you that it’s super hard to make.

The first time I made it, it was so easy that I was baffled by that. Then I tried to make a second batch, using a different recipe, and it went so badly wrong that it never even set. (Yes, sad times!)

So for the third batch, we went back to this recipe. That bit that says “Remove all children, pets and clumsy people from the room. They tend not to mix well with vats of boiling sugar”? Wise words!

Also don’t accidentally touch the wooden spoon that you’ve just the mixture with. (Yes I did that. Yes I may have said some very bad words. Yes I had a horrible white numb bit on my finger for a week!)

We did change the recipe a bit so here’s what we did:

2lbs granulated sugar
1/4lb butter
1 cup of soy milk (because we never drink normal milk)
400g tin of condensed milk
Two teaspoons of vanilla essence

Melt the sugar, milk and butter together.
Add the condensed milk when that mixture starts to boil.
Then start stirring…

Now once this starts to boil again,
turn down the heat and keep stirring.
And stirring. And stirring.
And oh yes, more stirring.

We stirred this batch for a full-on 20 minutes until it went a yummy caramel colour.

Then you take it off the heat… and guess what?

You stir it some more! (Like the ‘keep swimming’ motto in Finding Nemo but with stirring.)

(Concentrating very hard on the stirring here!
Can you tell I wanted this batch to work?!)

Once the mixture was ready, we poured it – very carefully – into a tray to set. Except that wasn’t enough for me…

Back before our wedding, I’d watched to make tablet hearts for the day. I never got round to it so I was determined to try it now.

So if you want to make shaped tablet…

Basically you have to wait until the mixture has slightly set. If it’s fully set, you won’t be able to cut into it. Ours was just right after watching one episode of New Girl (though you can use your own timing method!).

Tip your now set-ish tablet onto a chopping board, choose your cutter and get making hearts…

It should feel almost doughy – like a grainy, warm play-doh!

Oh yeah and I made some tablet bunnies too. Just because! (Anything bunny shaped always makes me think of Peonies and Polaroids now. I guess in the same way that people see foxes and think of me!)

Next you leave it to set… and then comes the fun bit, trying not to eat it all yourself!

I’d originally meant to make this batch when our friends were over from Norway and my sister was back from London, but yes we left it too late and ended up making it just for us!

So that’s my final tip: wait until you have a reason to make this, or you’ll soon realise you’ve just eaten 1lb granulated sugar, 1/8 butter and 200g of condensed milk in hardly any time at all.

Maybe I need to start blogging healthy, veggie recipes instead?

(I promise I don’t just eat sugar!)

 

Mollie Makes, Japan and me (and tales of a cat cafe!)

1 Sep

So I’m guessing by now most of you know I have a thing for Japan?

Well before we went earlier this year, the lovely Mollie Makes commissioned me to a do piece on crafty, cool and fun places in Tokyo and Kyoto.

As you can imagine I was over the moon… until I realised I was about to do only my second ever photography/write-up piece in one of the most amazing places on Earth. How on earth could I do it justice? (Yes, cue massive stress on my part!)

But I have to say I’m really proud of how the feature has turned out… thank you Mollie Makes for giving me the chance to do this!

As well as my ramblings, you can also read about Ebony from Hello Sandwich who’s photo collage workshop I went to… she’s uber nice, one of those people who instantly makes you feel comfortable, and super crafty in a way I can only admire!

Anyway, the magazine was out yesterday so if you pick it up, let me know what you think! (In a ‘I hope you all really like it’ kind of way!)

Now, if you follow me on Twitter, you might (most likely not really!) remember me saying I took a ridiculous amount of photos in Japan… thousands in fact! Yes, it’s probably my most documented trip EVER. So I wanted to share with you a few things that I didn’t get round to blogging and didn’t end up in the feature… outtakes if you will!

And when I say outtakes, what I really mean is… pictures from the Cat Cafe we went to!

In Shimokitazana (probably my favourite area in Tokyo we went to) as soon as we left the train station, we spotted this sign… cat cafe!

Now I can’t remember if we knew about cat cafes on our first trip but it was on our ‘to do/only in Japan’ list so we decided that now was the time.

So we went up the stairs, opened the door and well, there was a man with a desk who politely told us that you pay by the hour and you pay when you leave (in case you love the cats so much you want to stay longer). Kind of like karaoke but with cats instead! He took our drinks order and then directed us to the cat room…

Now… anyone who has cats knows they quite clearly have a mind of their own, and the cats at the cat cafe were no different. First up, was this guy – ignoring all the comfy bedding put out for him and sleeping in a plastic bowl.

Then there was this noisy powder puff of a cat… yes also ignoring the beds/bedding and napping in a box.

One of the Japanese customers was intent on getting this cat to like him… putting a cosy blanket on his knee, rattling cat toys, making kissy sounds… the cat was having none of it! I wanted to explain to the poor Japanese man that this is the real cat experience… they do what they please!

My husband made friends with this stripey purr machine and was quite chuffed that he’d won over at least one of the cats!

And me… well, I happened upon a cat who looks like an even more freaked out version of the Fox Owl Cat!

Oh gosh, look at that expression! I felt rather bad for giggling every time it looked at me!

And here they are for comparison… though now I put the pictures together, I think the Fox Owl Cat might be the weirder of the two! (In a nice way!)

I guess the strange but maybe not too surprising thing about the cat cafe was that it just made us miss our own fluff balls. The Japan cats were cute but not a patch on the Velveteen Cat and the FOC!

Anyway, that’s it… that’s me done with Japan posts!

(Well, until my next trip of course!)

Still smitten with NYC… the High Line and the secret whispering gallery

20 Aug

About this time last year (well September to be precise), we took a trip to NYC… I blogged part 1 and then sort of forgot to do part 2.

So here it is. Better late than never… my favourite (and free!) spaces in New York.

And a few of my random NY tips that I don’t have pictures for but they’re here too!

One of my absolute favourite things was the High Line. (Yes, we got this shot by lying down on the ground! Yes, we got strange looks. Totally worth it though!)

It’s a section of old elevated rail line that’s been converted into a park. You basically walk from Downtown to Midtown on it, and get a great view of more unexpected New York sights (like the New Yorker sign above)…

And the Empire State building peeking out from behind this reddy church…

And amazing ghost signs (I was obsessed with these on our trip and would stop to snap them wherever I saw them, usually to the confusion of other pedestrians)…

And arty things… like this cool bird house installation. (Though I got the feeling this wee guy was none too impressed with me taking his picture!)

 

At the end (or the start I think, we might have walked it backwards!) we came across this street art… which I can only assume refers to the massively scary…

… HUGE CLOWN sitting nearby! Clowns completely weird me out – mainly because I watched Stephen King’s IT at an early age. (Even linking to this is giving me the shivers… and I didn’t even watch it!)

But the drunken panda street art made it all better. Mostly better. Ok, ignore the clown. Go to the High Line. You’ll love it. Pretend I didn’t mention the other bit.

Inside Grand Central Station, there’s an amazing ‘whispering gallery’. It might be hard to see from our slightly murky photos – but you can stand at opposite ends, talk into the wall and hear each other.

It’s the strangest thing to be leaning against a wall (as pictured) and be able to hear each other’s voices as if you were standing next to each other.

If you’re looking for it, there’s no sign… just go under the main station, towards the food courts and look for a sort of curved roof with four pillary bits.

It’s an obvious one but Central Park is a must-go to…

So you can hang out with Hans Christian Andersen and Alice in Wonderland…

But also to do some brilliant people watching… especially when they’re watching giant bubbles being blown.

This woman’s reaction to the bubble coming her way is just the best. That’s pure joy right there!

And if that’s not enough joy, why not treat yourself a silly ice-cream. We couldn’t decide who’s would win the silliest award…

*****

Here’s my other random tips as promised:

Pick up a Time Out NYC magazine at the airport – that’s how we found out about comedy shows, pop-ups etc that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Best view… I would say go up The Rockefeller. Most people do the Empire State but the queues are long and once you’re up there, well, you can’t see the Empire State if that makes sense! ;)

Rooftop bars we were lucky in that our hotel had an amazing rooftop bar… which was basically an outdoor club with a view of the Empire State and the Chrysler.

Best bakery... Two Little Red Hens. These guys do mini versions of all their cupcakes too so you can buy lots and not over-do it (too much).

Best breakfast (and lunch!) in Manhattan… Penelope on Lexington. There can be huge queues for this place so
it’s best to turn up not too hungry, put your name on the waiting list and grab a coffee nearby while you wait.

Best shop (certainly one of my fav!)… in god we trust in Brooklyn.

Best coffee Cafe Grumpy (the original is Brooklyn but it’s also served in a cool hotel bar that’s opposite the Public Library)

Getting about… we jumped on the river taxis for getting to and from Brooklyn/Downtown etc… might be a bit chilly but you get a great view of the city that way.

Oh yes, if you ever get the opportunity to eat some Fruit Loops at 3am on a deserted hotel rooftop… while the lights from the Empire State turn the whole misty sky red… then take it.

Honestly, it’ll be the best cereal of your life. In a crazy, only in New York sort of way!

Thrifty finds… sewing machine, my first Pyrex & a lost bear

5 Aug

Life lately has been a little hectic… but I’ve still found time to squeeze in some charity shops and a little car boot sale-ness…

Now as lots of you know I have a lot of old china and teapots etc so recently I’ve been searching for novelty mugs instead. Partly based on this mug I found for my mister… I’m hoping to find a Zoe version. (If anyone ever does find one, let me know!)

Anyway, I came across this Scotland mug in a charity shop and thought it was quite stylish for a tourist mug! Scotland, I’ve been there!

Then early one car boot sale morning, we came across this baby… a boxed Singer sewing machine. (I was starting to think they’d all gone thanks to All Saints’ window displays!) We cautiously asked how much it was, trying to be all nonchalant of course and probably failing!

And oh my word, she wanted nearly nothing for it. So much so that I temporarily felt bad that we were paying so little. But then the thriftaholic in me took over and kept quiet… (Yes, thriftaholic me is hard-edged!)

And here my Singer is… ain’t she pretty? And she works perfectly too. Even just turning the handle is deeply satisfying.

Now in the last while, I’ve developed a bit of a thing for old cameras (some of you may have noticed that!). And especially instant cameras.

But I’ll be honest and say what first attracted me to this camera was the box… yip, look at the rainbow arrow! So colourful! (These sort of things really stand out in a grim, grey car boot sale!)

Now the funny thing about this camera is that it’s huge… you lift it up and it completely obscures your face. That gap on the right hand side there? That’s the handle. Yes, you know something’s a bit cumbersome when it need a handle!

Oh yeah and it can’t stand up. Put it down and it sort of drops to one side. Yeah, you can kind of see why they don’t make these any more right? Which isn’t to say that I don’t love it.

I do. Especially as it had one piece of instant film left in it… which my other half accidentally took a ghostly shot of me in the kitchen with.

I like to imagine some 70s family being really excited to own this camera, only they were saving that very last shot for a special occasion. (Yes, if we’d know there was one left, we’d have maybe tried to take a better shot!)

(Um, this is to prove that I have a bit of a camera obsession going on right now… see that little white Instamax on the top right? It was a present from us to us in Japan. Ridiculously cheap. So sort of counts as a thrifty find right?!)

But this… this photo negative envelope is currently my favourite camera-related find.

It’s just rather glamorous… and so far away from the Boots disposable cameras from my childhood!

Even inside is just brilliant… “What to do with your best snapshots? Have them enlarged… and make them into real pictures”. Only your best snapshots mind you!

Yes, I’m a sucker for old packaging. Even this bit gets me. So pretty!

I also picked up my first piece of Pyrex. Now ages ago someone tweeted me to say that Pyrex always reminded them of me and I had to tweet back to admit that I have none. (Oh the shame!)

But now I have these three triangular little dishes… which I suspect where originally six dishes to hold veg/accompaniments in?

They’re surprisingly handy, so much so that I’m keeping an eye out for another three to complete the set.

And this is my 40p jug that a car boot sale man dissed me for buying!

I have a sort of thing for milk glass and I thought this was rather cute… and you know, jugs are pretty useful really. So I handed over 40p then moved on to the next stall where a man tried to convince me that my new jug was worthless and I should really buy the brown jug he had for £14 instead.

Um, no. I’ll stick with my little floral number instead thank you very much!

And nearly my most random find (I think the next one takes the title) are these old National Geographic magazine maps. Technically they came with the magazines… so I had to flick through a HUGE pile to find the ones with maps (and not just big pull-out posters of scary looking spiders! Who wants those? Who?!)

No idea what I’m going to do with them… but I’m sure they’ll be involved in a future craft project.

And here’s the title for my most random find ever… this little knitted bear!

Yes, one night when walking home I spotted this wee guy lying in the street. I took a snap of him (yes I am a total instagram addict!) and then popped him on wall in the hope the owner would come back for him.

The next night, I was taking the same route home and there was this bear, now lying in the road, looking grubby and kicked about. So I took him home and tweeted his picture but no-one claimed him. Instead I just washed him and  he’s  been sitting about the flat ever since…

Until the day our fox-owl-cat decided that the bear belonged to her. (Again if you follow me on instagram, you’ll know this is a cat that likes cosy things!) Isn’t this possibly the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? I think I ‘awwwwed’ for about 30 minutes on seeing this!

So that’s my lot recently… well, apart from the uber cute little telephone table I picked up. But that’s a story for another day!

Japan finds: a tape elephant, washi tape stamps and more

23 Jul

At the weekend, the lovely Lauren came round and took some pics of me and my flat for a feature I’m writing (and another little project too). Before she arrived, I was having a look at my own camera and discovered that I’d taken lots of snaps of my Japan finds and never shared them…

I took them so long ago (or it feels like so long ago) that the pictures next to them are all of Fab ice lollies! (Yes, it was back when we had some sunshine and I ate up to 2 Fabs every day! Very healthy I know!)

Anyway… normally when I go away, I buy nearly nothing. I think I worry about how much money I spend while I’m there and then when I get home, I go “I wish I’d bought xxx”. Always.

So this time, I treated myself to a few funny little cute things (you’ve already seen the biscuit maker and the egg moulds) but here’s some of the other things…

A pink elephant sellotape dispenser… an essential, is he not?

And of course more washi tape. It’s so cheap in Japan. So so so very cheap. And so pretty! And there’s so many more varieties (yes, that’s one with pins and safety pins on it!)

I actually bought more than this but managed to leave a bag on the plane that had some of the rolls in it. And it was never found, sad times! (Or a good excuse to go back!)

I also ‘invested’ in these gorgeous wooden stamps… yes those three on top are washi tape stamps! Just when you thought I couldn’t get any more washi tape obsessed!

I also bought some doily stamps too… again utterly essential! (Not sure how yet!)

Does anyone else totally geek out over stationery? (I know Lynne from Tea For Joy would have been in her element!) I kept picking up pretty tags and fun stickers… and thinking ‘I need these!’

Oh and you know you really need some ‘puzzle point markers’… yes I don’t really know what they are either but I loved the way the animals were jigsawed together.

And how could I resist some bunny shaped paper clips?

All my important documents are going to have these on them from now on! Maybe… (Or at least anything I send to Cara from Peonies and Polaroids should!)

There’s a shop in Tokyo called Winged Wheel. It sells the most beautiful little letter-pressed things I have ever seen. (And they are amazingly, mouth-wateringly affordable! Yes, you can salivate over paper!!)

I bought myself some tiny business cards… which are way too nice to give to anyone!

Yes, those are sponges. Wearing outfits. Yes, I know. Insane but amazingly so. (I popped in to see Rachael from Hannah Zakari the other day and she has one too in her kitchen. So I’m in good sponge company!)

Um, yes, you can never have enough cute sponges right? (These cost the equivalent of 50p, it seemed rude not to get them!)

This is my little watcher… the Fox-Owl-Cat is always fascinated by me taking photos of things on the floor…

… things like these animal soy bottles. (I do eat a lot of sushi, so I’ve been using these already.)

And some Japanese paper balloons… again so cheap in Japan, it made me want to buy them by the boxful.

Just in case, you were wondering cats are not so impressed by Japanese balloons…

And so there you have it. Possibly the most random selection of stuff I have ever brought back from a trip. But good, happy, colourful random… which I think is a pretty good memento of Japan really.

So, my dears, what do you bring back from your travels?
Do you buy sensible stuff or silly souvenirs?

Sun, street art and celebrating in Barcelona

10 Jul

Last month, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

Instead of paper, we gave each other Barcelona.

7 days of staying in a top floor apartment in El Born.
With a winding, narrow staircase that went on forever
Windows that opened to rooftops, huge church spires
And the happy, relaxed bustle of life below.

7 days of proper sunshine.
Of brilliant bright blue skies.
Of bare legs and wearing sandals.
Suncream. Missed bits. Burnt bits.
Ice lollies for an afternoon snack.
Ordering Pimientos de Padron.
Cava with every meal but breakfast.

7 days of wandering in the Gothic Quarter.
Narrow little streets that twisted and turned.
Shutters that hid last night’s bars.
Shops that opened when they liked.
Everywhere the sound of chatter,
and surprises round every corner.

7 days of statues that changed their looks every day
And streets littered with colourful confetti.

7 of days gazing and then glazing
at early “Blue Period” Picasso works.
Of Park Guell, with its pretty tiled dragon,
stunning views, shady trees and talented buskers.
Of lying on picnic benches in the shade
and snoozing like strays or happy hobos.

7 days of blue tiles, watery windows, dragon-like roofs,
In a house that was more like an upright submarine.
For the first time really feeling like we ‘got’ Gaudi.

7 days of heading to la Sagrada Familia on a very hot day,
taking the lift to the top and standing, with shaking legs,
looking out at the city and trying not to look straight down.

7 days of heading to the beach. Picnic packed.
Cheese, bread, salsa, beer, crisps… all too warm
All too liquid by the time we reach the sand.

7 days of taking Polaroids – all of us, smiley and slightly tanned.
Of comparing our £2 cameras to the Impossible Project shop ones.

7 nights of staying out late, snapping street art,
(being stared at by curious locals as we posed),
of feeling like we didn’t have a care in the world,
and wondering what it would be like to live here.

Barcelona, I rather love you.

You were a rather perfect
first anniversary destination xx

It’s nice to be nice biscuits (and other nice things)

26 Jun


So… I have so much to blog about right now
that I’m managing not to blog about anything!

(Yup, that’s Zoë logic for you!)

So to get me back in the swing of things,
how about some baking?

******

When we were in Japan, I got lots
of nice baking and ‘cooking’ stuff.

One of those things was a wordy biscuit kit.
(I’m sure that the exact translation!)

Since we got home, I’ve been waiting
for an excuse to actually use it…

(Does anyone else ever do that?
Buy themselves something nice
and then not allow themselves to use it?)

So on Sunday I thought wouldn’t it be nice
to bake some biscuits… for us. For no reason at all.

The biscuit on the front of the pack reminded me
of Nice biscuits.. which reminded me of
my recently re-found ‘It’s Nice To Be Nice’
print by Hazel Nicholls

And so I made ‘It’s Nice To Be Nice’ biscuits!

(See all those letters… they had to be individually
taken apart. My thumbs were really raw afterwards!)

By the time I finished, I kept reading
this as “It’s nice to be mice”!

(Also it’s much harder to put letters backwards
into a holder to stamp on dough than I realised…
there were a few outtakes where the words
are round the wrong way!)

If you fancy making NICE biscuits,
the recipe we went with was:

100gm flour
40gm butter
1/4 tsp baking powder
50gm powder sugar
40gm desiccated coconut
8 teaspoons of water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 almond extract
sugar to sprinkle on top

Mix everything together to make a dough.
Roll out dough onto baking paper.
Put in the fridge for a few hours to firm up.
Then use a cutter to make biscuit shapes.
Bake until golden brown. Then add sugar on top.
Wait patiently to cool a bit before eating!

*******

So I said we also bought ‘cooking’ stuff?
That means sushi kits and some other random things…

Remember the perfect little pocket sandwiches
we ate in Japan? (They were number ’10 in my
10 things I love about Tokyo’!)
Well, we got a kit to make those too.

My other half has been making peanut butter and jam ones so far.
I may need to conduct some more ‘research’ into other
combinations soon… chocolate and banana maybe?

Oh and perhaps the craziest kitchen item we bought?

A bunny mould for boiled eggs!

I can never quite decide if these are cute
or just completely freaky… they’re
good fun to make though!

*******

Until next time… which hopefully won’t be
as long this time! (If you follow me on twitter
or instagram, you probably already know
there’s a future Barcelona post brewing!)

A tiger print + polka dots = happy hall

7 Jun

My hall has always bothered me.

It’s long, doesn’t get a lot of light
and we tend to just dump stuff
there when we come in.

It’s also the first thing you see
when you come in the door.

Well, no more. Now what you see
is this fine fella… Mr Tiger.

I got this print specifically for the hall
but he felt like he needed some company…


So I got some little shelves from Present & Correct,
and happily got sent some amazing PolkaLOVE!
from Denmark to brighten up the walls too…

I originally bought Kerry‘s Good Times print
for a friend… but then forgot to give it to them!
Whoops! So I decided to keep it…
(It wasn’t the plan all along. Honest!)

The other shelf is currently ‘exhibiting’
a few cards I picked up in Japan
and my cross-stitched charity find.


Not sure if I’ve finished putting up the PolkaLOVE! yet,
still have loads more… but I’m also loving how well it sits
with our Hang It All (generous wedding present!).

All in all, a much happier hall than before.
And hopefully all the colour/tiger-ness
will distract from the mess of discarded
shoes, bags, bike helmets etc etc!

******

P.S. Has anyone ever successfully kept their hall tidy?
If so, do tell! Shoes in a suitcase is how I’m rolling right now!

P.P.S. Regulars here might notice I’m blogging less nowadays.
I’m over on Instagram pretty much every day though.
Anyone else feel that it’s just easier than blogging?

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