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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Christmas baking favourite

I love to bake. 

I find it a gratifying to go to a little effort and receive tasty results. I also find it a good exercise to distract myself when I’m a bit stressed (and I happily tell myself I’m doing my family a service by providing baking where I know exactly the contents!) and with the hectic lead in to Christmas, I enjoy a bit of Christmas baking. 

My German grandmother, whom I adored, used to bake hundreds and hundreds of spiced, crispy biscuits called Braune Kuchen (which sadly translates to “Brown Cakes” which isn’t very exotic sounding at all) for Christmas and give tins of them to those near and dear to her on Christmas Eve.

My grandmother once told me the recipe and I quickly noted her instructions, which were something like a pound of this, pound of that, a pinch of this and maybe a dash of milk if the dough is too dry, or a sprinkle of flour if it’s too wet. 

That’s it. No method, just a list of ingredients. 

I’ve made her so called recipe with good results, but have come to realise it’s the combination of spices that evoke the Christmas memories for me. So I decided to tart up my usual gingerbread men recipe with a few extra spices and am quite pleased with the results of my version of this family favourite. 

Now I’d like to share it with you… 

P.S. I make a double batch and freeze half the dough, so I can bake the second batch at my convenience. 



 Braune Kuchen (my way) 


Ingredients 

125g butter 
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed 
½ cup treacle 
1 egg 
2 ½ cups plain flour 
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda 
1 tablespoon ground ginger 
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
¾ teaspoon ground clove 
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg 

Method

Cream butter, sugar and treacle til light and fluffy then mix in the egg. 
Stir in the sifted dry ingredients, and then knead lightly into a ball. 
Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least ½ hour. (At this stage, if you have made a double batch, pop half in the freezer to use another day, when you are short on time and want results quickly!) 
Roll dough flat on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick. Use your favourite cookie cutters to make your shapes (this year we have a star, tree and Christmas dinosaur!)
Place on a lined baking tray and bake in the oven at 180c for 10-12 minutes (the cooking time is a bit contentious in our family… soft or crisp? Either way is delicious). 
Cool on trays. 

I hope these Christmas biscuits become a Christmas tradition for your family too.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Angry Birds themed birthday party

My youngest boy turned five this week.  To celebrate we had a party in our backyard with an Angry Birds theme as selected by Master 5.

Here are my highlights on a DIY Angry Birds party:
  • Angry Birds birthday cake.  While I had to "remodel" mine after an engineering failure (damn you gravity!) I made a pair of "TNT" boxes (iced with butter cream icing) with  a fondant icing Red bird crashing into them (icing wrapped around a foam ball).  I used Chocolate Wafer biscuits to make the box appear damaged.  Master 5 took one look at the cake and said "What the heck!", which I will take as a compliment!


  • Games included "Pin the beak on the Bird" a variation on an oldie but a goodie.  



  • I also made a Pinata in the shape of a Bad Piggie.  I highly recommend having a go at making your own pinata; they are simple, quick and satisfying to create.  Two layers of cardboard cut into your desired shape, then using masking tape, attach a length of cardboard around the perimeter to give it some depth (I made mine 10cm wide).  Before fully enclosing the shape, attach the string you will hang it from (make sure you reinforce this onto a tab so the weight of the pinata doesn't make it collapse) and tip in the treats for the kids.  Then cover the cardboard in glue (I used a glue stick as I was going) and wind on your crepe paper which you have already fringed. Finish off by gluing on some paper eyes and other features.

    •   


      • The children play "life sized" Angry Birds in our backyard.  We made a slingshot from an old bicycle tire and a couple of star pickets hammered into the ground.  The kids then flung toy plush Angry birds at a tower of cardboard boxes we had collected.  This was the most popular activity.



      • Angry bird shaped biscuits were beyond me, but these gingerbread cookies with Royal icing and sprinkles were a hit.


      • We had streamers and decorations fluttering from the trees and also from rafters over the party table. We used the pinata as a center piece on the table decorations.  The children also played "rescue the eggs" where they had to go through an obstacle course of streamers and collect a toy egg (you can just see this set up in the background).



      Our party went for 1 1/2 hours.  
      This was an ideal length of time for a party with pre-schoolers.


      Tuesday, 28 October 2014

      Crazy for Geometrics

      Do you remember when Melbourne's Federation Square was being built?  Do you remember the criticism of the design?  All those complex geometric shapes and angles were absurd.
      Fed Sqaure - image via Wikipedia

      Jump forward more than a decade and the geometric design of the buildings facade is appearing frequently in modern design.


      Here are some of my favorite sightings of the style;

      I adore this wallpaper by Cole and Son.  It is called Circus.


      Studio Cockatoo are creating gorgeous geometric prints Studio Cockatoo  like this gorgeous elephant. I have some of the Star Wars prints framed in my boys rooms, and the a utterly charming.

      I have also spotted the geometric designs in fabrics and soft furnishings.  For example Cushionopoly, locally designed and crafted cushions have their take on the style

      Cushionopoly

      Furniture and wall art are taking on the style too.  Here's QuirkyBoxes ByRach  (follow them on instagram @quirkyboxes) and some of their products.

      and finally here is a beautiful example from Boyd Blue of table lamps with an elegant geometric style.





      Monday, 22 September 2014

      Are you ready to use brass and copper in your home?

      Hands up if you watch the Block on channel nine? Me too.  Have you noticed any trends in their styles?  I definitely have; Old fashioned Metals are back! Oh, and grey isn’t leaving us any time soon.

      Earlier this year I went to D├ęcor + Design and attended a trend forecasting seminar  and one of the directions was the use of metals such as Brass and Copper.  I’m not talking about a return to the 80’s; this is a subtle sophisticated trend.

      The Block; Simon and Shannon's En suite featured a timber bath with a brass plug.

      Take for example the plug in Simon and Shannon’s en suite bath (pictured above).  They only have that as brass (with a glaze stool to continue the story); all other fittings are chrome.  In other rooms you will also spy the theme continuing.

      The Block; Michael and Carlene have used small amounts of brass in most rooms

      In Michael and Carlene’s apartment we are seeing small amounts of brass in light fittings and door handles.  Further to this, the brass makes an appearance in their styling.

      The Block; Chris and Jenna splurged on this beautiful copper sink for their kitchen

      While I’m talking about these metals, I must mention Chris and Jenna’s copper bedroom wall and kitchen sink.  These guys have jumped onto this theme with both feet! And while the feature wall might be overwhelming, the copper sink is simply divine.

      We are still seeing a lot of timber (often as paneling), warming all the grey in the interiors. It looks like grey is staying for the long haul.  While matt black metal finishes are very much of the moment (furniture legs and tap ware).

      Now when you are out and about looking at interior stores, you are going to notice these trends everywhere; I do!
      Here are some goodies I have been spotting in Melbourne;

      Copper coffee tables at Weylandts with matt black legs
      Schots have furniture featuring brass details
      And I’ve slowly been adding copper and metal detail to my (and clients) homes over the last year;

      This copper side table is from Freedom Furniture

      Bronze Crossover lamp brings all the elements in this room together
      These side tables feature matt black legs.
      Porter's Paint even have "Liquid Copper" paint for re-purposing and updating existing finishes.


      Friday, 15 August 2014

      Why my clients receive their own Look Book



      When I have been to my clients house for a consultation, I put together what I call a "Look Book", specifically for their home/room.  This is a tool for my clients to use to;
      • get a sense of the style I am creating in the room following our discussions where I have listened to your brief and learnt your interior preferences and goals
      • to see the types of furniture and furnishings you could shop for (I include recommendations on where to shop and "try for size", like a shopping list)
      • to visualise the furniture and furnishings I can source and/or have custom made for your home
      I get a great deal of satisfaction from helping my clients to find their own style and to empower them to make confident decisions. 
      Below is part of one of my look books (excluding the "shopping list" details I supply to my client) to give you an idea on what I can do.


      Friday, 20 June 2014

      Five easy ideas for updating a room

      It's true; it doesn't take a complete makeover to update a room.  Sometimes is just takes a fresh look at a room see how simple changes can be made, as it is so easy to look past to everyday and normal.  

      I find it a little amusing how people have a flurry of activity and improvements when they prepare to sell their home, but can't justify making these same improvements for themselves! In the same vein; there's nothing like expecting guests to spur on a quick clean up of the house! (All the more reason to keep inviting people over I say!)... I guess it takes the inspiration of seeing the room through strangers eyes to see what needs to be done.

      Here are five ideas on updating a room;


      1. Upon entering the house it always feels lovely to arrive to a pretty view; so a side table with a decorative arrangement on top is good or you could go for an over sized mirror or artwork. A jumbled pile of school bags and shoes is what we want to avoid!  
      2. New scatter cushions on the sofa will always give the living room a fresh feeling.  Changing these with the seasons also helps make the room feel inviting (think warm and cosy for the winter and cool and bright for the summer).  Try and use colours from the artwork you have in the room on the cushions to give the room a cohesive feeling.
      3. Fluffy hand towels in the bathroom and a pretty soap dispenser (think Aesop bottles!)  make a great impression.
      4. I like to look at a room as if I'm preparing for a photo shoot and style the room with "views", try it.  
      5. Pack away the clutter!  If this overwhelms you, it might be worth hiring a professional declutterer (yes these people exist!) who will help you through this process.
      Lastly, please don't forget to indulge in fresh flowers and/or pot plants, as there is something about foliage indoors that is very uplifting.

      Tuesday, 27 May 2014

      Wallpaper in every room? How to use wallpaper successfully in your home.

      The latest reality renovating show is currently on Australia's television screens and I can feel myself getting sucked into the story. I thought I would be watching 'My House Rules'  (link to official site) just on the 'reveal night' to keep up to date with what is going on, but as a keen interiors addict I'm now watching every night!
      We recently saw the reveal of Adam and Lisa's Melbourne weather board home.  They had the brief/rule of a 'Wow Moment' in each room, use of mirrors and wallpaper and they seemed really happy with the results.

      While I'm thinking about wallpaper I thought I'd share my tips on where and how to use wallpaper successfully in your home.


      Tips on how to use wallpaper successfully in your home without creating overwhelming spaces;

      • Behind a bedhead. This gives you a clear direction in dressing the bed and rest of the room; the wallpaper should cement the rooms "theme" and introduce the colours, pattern and even textures you use in the room.
      Interior Decorating By Sophie

      • Behind a splashback; a basic and simple kitchen design can be given a focal point my placing wallpaper behind a glass splashback
      Image Credit beautifulkitchensblog.co.uk



      • Mural style; this type of wallpaper is becoming increasingly popular, particularly as it can be personalized using your own images and printed locally (a simple Google search will result in an array of opportunities)


      Image Credit:au.lifestyle.yahoo.com
      Lisa and Adams new living room on My House Rules



      • The wallpaper you select gives you direction when selecting the colour palette to then draw you through the house that tells a story and has a pleasant flow


      • Back of cupboards/cabinets.  This can add great interest and pops of colour without needing "decorate" an entire wall.

      Image credit: http://blog.alicelanehome.com



      Tuesday, 22 April 2014

      Star Wars Themed birthday party....

      Yes, yes, this is off topic for a blog about interior design and decoration, but I get such a creative buzz from pulling a kids party (in the backyard) together that I just had to share the experience!  Here is a run down of our now seven year old Star Wars fanatic birthday party....


      Pinata in construction

      Star Wars character shaped cookie cutters

      Jedi Training certificates shaped as lightsabers

      "Yoda" sign, on the path to our front door sets the tone

      Laser maze


       On request I made a pinata with my young boys.  I found a soft cardboard box that apparently looked a lot like a "biker trooper" (yes, Mr. 7 has a very clear on his Star Wars facts), luckily he is very encouraging on my attempts to recreate his vision, in this case through papermache, and some paint! 

      Next we started baking and made this awesome cookies from my favourite butter cut-out biscuit recipe and loaned cutters from a friend. (we also used these cutters to press coloured fondant icing that was later iced onto plain biscuits)

      As part of our preparations, I made certificates that were also thank you notes, I rolled these into scrolls and held them in place with black paper cuffs so that they looked like mini lightsabers.  These then went in the children's party/loot bags to take home.

      We've been renovating our garden and had hoped to have our new driveway ready before the party... Melbourne weather had other plans, so we needed to improvise a safe path to our front door.  I made this 
       sign featuring an image of Yoda, with Yoda speak advising young Jedi to to walk carefully (I think our neighbours enjoyed the sign more than the kids!) 




      Tatooine birthday cake with Lego C3PO & R2-D2
      with their crashed ship 
      As this party had young Jedi in training (Younglings, I think is the right name!), I thought I would make uniforms for all the children to help them get into the spirit of the day. I made these out of 90cm (2ft) wide calico, simply cut into lengths (also about 90cm long), with a triangle shaped head hole cut out and a sash cut down one of the selvedge (about 10cm/ 4in wide).


      Our star wars themed party games:

      We started with a Laser Maze, where the children had to "use the force" to safely take turns to make their way past the laser beams (made of crepe paper streamers), collect the ball at the end and make their way back.

      Next we had our version of "pin the tail on the donkey", I drew a picture of General Grievous on a big piece of paper and the children then took turns, while blind folded, to pin a paper lightsaber near one of his hands. 

      Instead of pass the parcel, we played pass the planet
      After this we moved on to "Pass the Planet" using a Lego star wars planet,   When the music stopped, the child got to pick a lucky number from inside the planet and a prize from the selection we had.  The lucky numbers were to decide the order that the children were to have a go at the pinata. (Birthday boy got to go first, regardless of the number he chose).

      Following the pinata, the children then were each given a pool noodle lightsaber  and a balloon, and practiced using the force to keep their balloon off the ground until it was time for party food and the birthday cake.  
      Making use of the beautiful Autumn weather
      the children enjoyed simply running around


      Using the force to keep the balloon in the air
      lightsabers made from pool noodles and electrical
      tape handholds


      Tuesday, 8 April 2014

      Three tips towards deciding where to invest in your home furnishings

      Making over a room doesn't need to break the bank, confident and smart purchasing are what you need.


      For me it is a matter of knowing where to spend money and when to bring in the savvy purchases.


      • When it comes to soft furnishings; do be prepared to invest in the big long term pieces that need to handle a lot of wear like your sofa, carpets and rugs.






      • Then save on accent pieces that may be updated frequently (for a new look or style) or are only used occasionally, such as; cushions, throws, side tables and even (sometimes) your wall art, if you are willing to consider these elements as costume jewelry. 



      • When it comes to window furnishings, I think it is wise to spend a little more, particularly as these will come with moving parts and are subject to deterioration from direct sunlight.  Use reputable manufacturers, and use appropriate materials for the job, your interior decorator should guide you to the best choice.  

      • Oh, and while I'm on the topic, please consider using Australian made linings for your curtains and blinds as these are manufactured subject to Australian regulations regarding safe content (cheap imported linings are made of unchecked cocktails of ingredients that can leech into your room). Ask your interior decorator where their lining comes from.

      Sunday, 23 March 2014

      How to get the Loft Look, like on The Block fans v faves

      The hugely popular reality television show  The Block this season has had the contestants working to the brief of creating a New York style Loft Apartment.

      As we approach the finale auctions, I thought I would put together some simple tips on recreating the style:


      • Exposed brick walls.  This feature it seems, must be incorporated into the design, whether it be as a feature wall or an interesting nook.  This coupled with vintage industrial styling can be very effective.



      Photo credit: anthropologie.com
      • Ceiling to floor sheers (particularly charcoal coloured).  These need to bit fitted into a bulk head and then long enough that they touch the floor.  If you take a look through Pinterest you'll find this as a reoccurring style.




      Image credit; theblock.tv

      • Next you will need a either a light grey or charcoal sofa, upholstered in a linen cloth or similar. Make sure it is a deep seat with plush inviting seats and then set it off with interesting accent scatter cushions.




      • Another feature that can not be over looked is over sized modern artwork.




      • Now  add in some mid-century furniture that contrasts to the ultra contemporary furniture in the room add some large pendant lighting and you are well on your path to your own loft style apartment.




      • Oh, I haven't mentioned the use of timber to clad the walls that has been popular on The Block Fans v Faves.  I don't feel that this is particularly a look that I associate with the loft style, but if I stretch myself, I guess the use of raw materials and exposed beams will bring us to this result. 




      If these images aren't credited, you will find the links to their source on my Pinterest page.