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September 2nd  

Light and cosy living room lounge

Light is at the core of our daily lives. Its quality affects the way we feel, influences our moods and is vital to our health and wellbeing.

As technology provides new and exciting solutions, it has become easier to control the atmosphere in the home through lighting. Despite its importance in helping people to relax, enjoy themselves and carry out a variety of everyday tasks, lighting does not tend to be very high on most people’s list of priorities.

Over the past few years, LED technology has rapidly evolved and has helped to focus attention on lighting design in the domestic space. It is not an exaggeration to say that LED has driven a profound shift in the industry, probably as great as the invention of the filament bulb in the 1880s.

Controlling luminosity using LEDs is leading to a transformative shift in the essence of lighting design as it is allowing for new ways of planning and utilising life-enhancing illumination. Dynamic effects made possible through LED controls give home designers the power to paint with light and, in doing so, create an atmosphere that more closely meshes with people’s moods and the ambience of a room.

What’s more, LED advances mean that designers can now play with millions of colour variations and, at the same time, homeowners have the added psychological benefit of knowing that low-energy LEDs are good for the planet.

The eco benefits of LEDs include the low heat – 90% of the electricity burned by traditional light bulbs is diffused as heat – and the very long lifespan of the lamps, with most lasting for up to 50,000 hours.

Advanced brightness controls are an increasingly sought after feature when refurbishing the home. From the simple dimmers to total home-control systems, an intelligent design and application can radically improve quality of life.

Good design, whether attempted by the homeowner or directed by a professional, aims to achieve a perfect balance between efficiency, convenience, economy and aesthetics. A poorly deployed dimmer solution can lead to a gloomy domestic space. To achieve a pleasant atmosphere, dimming should be countered with varied and well place light sources.

It almost goes without saying that any homeowner who values light quality will avoid CFLs like the plague. While they certainly cut electricity consumption, the quality is truly woeful and more or less uncontrollable.

It is also important to invest in the highest quality fittings available within a given budget. When redecorating or making more radical changes, the right bulbs, fittings and controls should be a central design component. Good controls also help with practical or “task” lighting for homework, cooking, reading and hobbies.

Comfort and convenience is provided through the astute positioning of table lamps, which are essential in adding accents and a varied intensity to a living space. Controls add further potential, giving users the opportunity to create a cinema-like mood when watching a film, for example, or increase brightness to read or work.

The ability to dim effectively can help to set a romantic scene. An intimate dinner can be enhanced through an instant, one-button touch to create a candlelit ambience.

If a homeowner is particularly confident and knowledgeable when it comes to design, they may undertake a project to transform their homes by themselves. However, it’s advisable to seek the advice of a professional where feasible. Experts can steer households to lighting nirvana by helping them to make decisions, from choosing simple dimmer solutions to total home control systems.

This guest post is written by Mark Sait. He is managing director of SaveMoneyCutCarbon.com, a full-service efficiency partner helping businesses and households reduce energy and water consumption, and cutting carbon emissions to improve sustainability.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

September 1st  

We all know the UK weather can’t be relied upon, and our shops stay full of waterproofs and brollies all year round. Instead, we’ve decided to guarantee our sunshine with these cheerful, sunny home accessories.

1. Sunshine apron, Freya

Freya sunshine apron

Guaranteed to cheer you up on the cloudiest of summer days, this cheerful bright yellow apron is designed in the UK by artist Freya. Featuring a stylised elephant design and the words ‘Fill me with sunshine’, it’ll add a splash of colour whether you’re wearing it or hanging it behind the kitchen door. Made from 100% heavy cotton drill, it has an adjustable neck strap to fit any size and costs £24 from Very Nice Things.

2. Bottled sunshine range

Fresh and summery bath products from Quintessentially English

Who could resist a range of bath products called Bottled Sunshine? Bringing the scent of fresh lemongrass to your bathroom, this range will uplift and cheer. Lemongrass fights jet-lag and fatigue while helping to relieve headaches, and these Bottled Sunshine products are made from natural and organic ingredients and pure essential oils of lemongrass. The range includes a bath cupcake, soap, massage oil,  hand and body lotion, hand and body wash and bath oil elixir. Prices start at £3.25, available from www.berryred.co.uk.

3. Yellow drum lampshade, Hunky Dory Home

Great for contemporary or traditional interiors

Handmade from a sunny yellow linen fabric, this shade is great as a ceiling light or on a standard lamp. It’ll give any room a warm, sunny glow and would be perfect for north facing or dark rooms. Measuring 30cm by 20cm, it’s priced at £28, and available from www.hunkydoryhome.co.uk.

4. Children’s sunshine plate, Helen Dardik

Colour, durability, a bold design – this plate has it all

This sunshine melamine plate by Helen Dardik will cheer up any meal, inside or out, with its bright, colourful design. Measuring 20cm, the plates and dishwasher but not microwave safe and cost £6.50 each from Peanut and Pip.

5. Sunflower cushion, Blooming Briony

Bring the outside in with this cheerful cushion

This scatter cushion features a print from an oil painting called ‘My Sunflower’ by artist Briony Benge-Abbott, with a royal blue background contrasting with the  bright yellow and soft orange hues of the petals. The cushion includes a  duck feather pad and measures 45 x 45cm. Available from Blooming Briony, priced at £65.

6. Smiley lamp, MR MARIA

Smile! Bring a warm glow to your rooms.

This is possibly the most cheerful lamp we’ve ever seen, and it certainly made us smile. By Dutch design duo MR MARIA, it has a bright dimmable LED lamp and measures 43.5cm in diameter. It would make a perfect night light for a child’s room, or a quirky talking point in a sitting room. Available from Maiden, priced at £189.

7. Sunshine bowls, Rigby and Mac

Make your own good weather with these sunny bowls.

These brightly-printed large ceramic bowls will be sure to bring some sunshine to your table, even if it’s drizzling outside. And if the sun is shining, these bowls would also look great used outside for salads. Available in four prints, they measure 7.5cm high by 13cm wide and cost £10.95 each from Rigby and Mac.

8. Sunshine print, Ros Shiers

Scatter the storm clouds with this open edition print designed by London based illustrator Ros Shiers and signed by the artist. Printed on heavy 220gsm white cartridge paper, it’s A3 size, delivered unframed and costs £24 from Urban Cuckoo.

9. Spindle candlesticks, ZigZag House

Cheerful and practical candlesticks

These sculptural ceramic yellow candlesticks are designed to hold both taper and pillar candles. Made from hard-wearing ceramic, they measure 17cm tall and cost £42 for a pair from Zigzag House.

10. Pushboy bin, Welco

Throw away in style with this funky bin

Who says functional can’t be fun? We love this tall, bright bin, which at 80cm high by40cm wide will fit neatly into a corner. Priced at £126, available from Red Candy.

By Sara Walker

August 27th  

As owner of and creative force behind Faux Doe Creations, Leanne Owen doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her ‘fake taxidermy’ animal heads, including deer, hares, foxes and even pheasants, are lovingly crafted from a range of materials to produce an individual, quirky result that’s very appealing.

Although she’s never had any formal training, Leanne cut her sewing teeth on making her own curtains and soft furnishings and discovered a knack for being able to see how things were made. A few years ago, though, she’d never have thought that her hobby would develop into a career.

Leanne Owens of Faux Doe Creations

In 2009, her life couldn’t have been more different. Working as an operational firefighter, a physically demanding job she’d done for ten years and loved, she was training for a charity bike ride to Paris when she noticed she was having problems moving the gear levers.

“At the time, I thought the problems were down to the training I was doing,” she says. “I was in pain, but I just thought I had a trapped nerve in my neck. Then I noticed I couldn’t use my computer mouse properly. I went to see an acupuncturist privately, and told her that on a recent holiday I’d noticed a problem with my flip flops dragging when I walked. She  said that as the problem was affecting both my feet and hands, it sounded neurological.

“I went to my doctor, who sent me off to a neurologist, who referred me for a DaTscan. I looked up what this brain scan was used to diagnose, which is Parkinson’s disease, and immediately realised how many of the symptoms I had.

I was experiencing some odd things, such as phantom burning smells which I thought were a hangover from my firefighting days, but they were all there on the list of symptoms. By the time I had the scan as confirmation I was already sure, so although I was devastated it had already had time to sink in a bit. The other problem was that I obviously couldn’t stay on as a firefighter, so I lost my job and my health at one go, and retired on a pension.

“Finding myself with plenty of time on my hands, I started fundraising for Parkinson’s UK, the charity who offer information and support to anyone feeling the effects of Parkinsons, taking part in the Great North Run and many other events.

One day, I was running a carboot stall for the charity when I got chatting to a girl who was buying some fabrics I had for sale, as she wanted to make a stag’s head. I loved the idea, as my friend Holly, who I trained with, had a real stag’s head on her wall and although I’d always admired its majesty I did find it a little creepy.

Designs range from the realistic to the whimsical

“My first stag was more of a soft toy really – I stuffed him with soft filling, and he was a bit floppy. Then, I started investigating taxidermy moulds which are made from rigid polyurethane which I thought would give a better result. I now buy these from a specialist supplier, customise them a bit if necessary and build up the heads with layers of fabric.

“I mostly now work on commission, but when I was starting out I did a lot of craft fairs and Malins Fabrics Ltd, a fabric shop in Pontefract, kindly put some pieces in their window for me.

At craft fairs, it’s interesting to see people’s reactions – they either get it, or they don’t. The majority of customers are women, but I did have one couple where the husband had always hankered after a real stag’s head and his wife wasn’t keen. They bought a big stag’s head in Harris tweed and greens, and it was a great compromise.

At first glance, this beautiful stag made of leather, fake fur and wool seems real

“When I’m making new pieces, the fabric itself is a great influence as are colours and textures.

I mostly work with greens and browns, autumn and country colours, but I’ve made some colourful commissioned pieces, including a turquoise deer and a bright pink unicorn!

The noses are made from leather, as I love the tactile process of moulding it – I particularly like doing nostrils. The eyes are soft toy teddy bear eyes – I did experiment with taxidermy eyes, but they looked too realistic and wrong for the overall quirky feel that I aim at.

Leanne makes other animals apart from deer, including this cute fox

“Although these pieces aren’t toys, they are made to be touched and stroked. I like to add a bit of cashmere under the chin, and of course those leather noses are just made to be stroked. The ears are wired, so you can have them up or down according to your mood!

This bride and groom hare make an unusual wedding gift

“Each one of my little creatures is completely unique, I think as a result of all the determination that goes into creating it.

That’s why they come out looking like such characters, and it’s lovely when customers appreciate that, it makes it all worthwhile.”

For more information about Faux Doe Creations and to browse the photo gallery, please visit www.fauxdoecreations.com.

August 26th  

How to create a cosy home

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

While there’s still a while left to enjoy of the summer, there’s nothing wrong with thinking ahead – particularly when it comes to planning how to keep your family home nice and cosy during the colder months. If it’s important to you that you make your house warm and welcoming through the drearier season, here are some tips to achieving that this year.

Plan an Autumn clean

The ‘Spring clean’ needn’t be the only time you give your home a thorough once over – plan a top to bottom sort-out of your property this autumn and enter winter feeling refreshed.

If your house starts to get cluttered, dusty, or less than fragrant in the summertime, you’ll have the choice to head out into the garden or fling open the windows for fresh air – not so easy in winter!

Autumn is an ideal time to have a proper clear out of any junk and make sure everywhere is spotless; this way you’ll be ready for the Christmas period too, when visiting family and friends often make you feel the pressure to get things tidy.

Get your throws ready

Winter has its drawback; your favourite outdoor activities might be off limits, and your energy bill is probably likely to increase, but it can be a nice time to wind down and spend more time just relaxing.

Soft and snuggly throws for your bedroom or lounge are a must buy at this time of year, allowing you to keep warm whilst watching your favourite TV shows or catching up with a good book. Maybe treat yourself to some snug new slippers while you’re at it?

Upgrade your duvet

If you want to keep warm on the coldest of winter evenings, double check you’ve got a suitable duvet. Duvets come in various thickness, and you may find you have a standard all-season design or even a lightweight summer option. If this is the case, head online to order a reasonably priced Winter duvet. Winter duvets have a tog rating of between 12-13.5.

Clean the chimney

Plan on having a roaring fire this winter? Make sure your chimney is fit for the job. A clean chimney will reduce safety risks and ensure your home doesn’t fill with smoke unexpectedly. Autumn is a good time to start setting aside a budget for fire wood if you plan to rely on a log fire for heating your home too.

Prepare your central heating system

To keep your heating bills down this winter, make sure that your central heating is running as effectively as possible. You can prepare your system by bleeding radiators and invest in a power flushing service, which will remove lime scale and sludge allowing optimum performance, reducing the noise of your heating system too.

Switch to thermal curtains

Another way to make your home extra cosy this winter is to make sure you have the right curtains up.

It can be easy to sacrifice style for substance when it comes to window coverings – cheap blinds are an obvious choice is you want something modern and attractive, but they’re not great for keeping heat in!

Switch to thermal curtains (there are some beautiful designs out there) to make sure you’re not wasting any precious heat.

Treat yourself to new candles

Alongside a log fire, candlelight has to be one of the most-romantic winter accessories for your home. Stock up on pillar candles that you can place on your mantelpieces or dining room table and give a relaxed glow or choose pretty tea-light holders dotted around the room for a magical touch.

***This is a guest post***
August 21st  

New windows and doors from Everest

At Cosy Home Blog, we enjoy updating our homes, but know only too well how tricky it can be sometimes to decide what improvements to make and to afford everything you’d like to do.

So, with the launch of Everest’s new loveable little robot, Ronnie, we’re excited to give you the chance to win £300 worth of John Lewis vouchers.

Ronnie the robot from Everest Home Improvements

All you need to do for the chance to win this great prize is answer one simple question: “What would you do with your very own Ronnie to help around the house?”

Every answer will automatically be entered for a chance to win this great prize!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


This competition is brought to you by Everest Home Improvements. Visit their site to look at new deals and also find out how you can Ask Ronnie a Question.

Terms and Conditions
* There is one prize of £300 of John Lewis vouchers. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is offered
* The competition is open to UK residents aged 18 and over, excluding employees and relatives of Cosy Home Blog & Everest Home Improvements
* The closing date for entries is 5 September 2014 at 12:00am GMT
* One mandatory entry per person, in the form of a comment on the competition blog post, answering the question.
* Optional additional entry methods are to follow CosyHomeBlog on Twitter or Facebook
* The winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries
* The winner will be informed within 14 days of the closing date and will need to respond with a postal address within 28 days or a new winner will be chosen
* The winner’s name will be available on request
* Everest Home Improvements is responsible for prize fulfilment. The prize will be sent within 28 days of receiving the winner’s address
* Entry to this competition confirms that participants have read, understood and agree to be bound by these Terms and Conditions
August 18th  

Cosy Home buyer's guide to choosing a desk

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

The home office or study is increasingly becoming a feature of the modern home, with more and more of us working from home, and an even greater number needing a room for the family PC.

There are so many types of desks out there it is hard to know where to start when choosing one. Here are our tips on what to consider when shopping for a new desk.

1. Room size

One of the first points to consider when looking to buy a new desk is the size of your room. It’s easy to either underestimate or overestimate the size of a room, so take measurements and get equipped with the facts.

If the room is being used solely as a study you don’t want a desk that only fills a small corner, leaving the rest of the room looking empty. Equally if you have a small room you will need to buy a desk that will fit in and which will leave you enough room to open drawers and doors.

2. Will the office be multi-functional?

If you don’t have a room to solely dedicate to being a study, then it may need to be multifunctional. For example, it may be your study much of the time, but then double up as an extra guest room when required.

If the room is big enough to fit in a bed and a desk this is a good way of using a room. If you have a foldaway bed you will need to take into account how much room it will take up once it is down. You may find that a smaller desk works better in this situation.

3. How long will you spend in there?

Is this a room that will just be used occasionally or for nine to five work most days?  The more time you spend in there the more important it is that you get it right. If you’re going to be working there, it’s more likely to be motivating if it’s a room you like and enjoy being in.

4. What is your budget?

Another key issue to consider early on is how much money you have to spend on your desk.

This is also related to how much time you spend in there. If the desk is to be used every day the chances are you will want to spend more money on something you are happy with.

For example, this Mikke desk from Ikea is only £60 and is ideal for occasional use when you only need a small working area.

Whereas if you have a larger budget, more room and need to sit at your desk comfortably for longer periods, you may want to look at a product such as this natural solid oak computer desk from Oak Furniture Land.

5. Materials

Think about the style and materials you envisage your ideal desk being made of. You may have a preference for real wood, or you may prefer laminate for ease of cleaning and price. Real wood is obviously more expensive but will last longer.

6. What will you use it for?

Do you need the desk for checking emails and a bit of Googling or will you need room for a printer and scanner and possibly a shredder? If you will be using a PC as opposed to a laptop you may want room for the CPU underneath, as well as built in wiring holes for electrical connections.

This desk from Pirantha Ltd is a good example of a desk that has enough room to work at, plus has plenty of storage facilities for all the extras, such as a printer or scanner.

7. Are you messy or tidy?

Forget the office’s clear desk policy at work. What kind of environment do you like to work in? Are you a messy worker, who needs lots of space for files and books, or do you tidy things away each evening?

8. Consider ergonomics

If you are going to be spending a lot of time at your desk you want to ensure you don’t end up with back ache. Sit at the desk and make sure you have enough clearance for your legs and that it is the right height. Desktop equipment should be within easy reach to avoid unnecessary stretching or straining. Computer desks with a keyboard platform will allow of the keyboard to be placed at the correct height.

9. Consider a stand up desk

Desks don’t have to involve sitting down. A stand up desk will mean no more slouching, and will certainly keep you awake….and some scientists even claim they could help you lose weight! One of the latest trends to hit offices is stand up desks, and they may work for you at home too.

By Jackie Cosh 

 

 

August 17th  

I don’t have many nostalgic items in my house. While I like to buy household items to last, there is little in my house which has a story to tell.

Apart from this record clock that it. It is gorgeous isn’t it? My husband Alan is one of the biggest music fans you will ever meet, with a music collection to match. When I first met him all his spare cash would go on music, and vinyl, as any proper music fan will tell you, is by far the best.

But then one day, shortly after a house move, I dropped his record player and it broke. I thought he would be furious, but babies and sleepless night meant that he hadn’t had a chance to listen to his records for a long time. CDs were easier.

Now our eldest son is looking for a record player, and we are getting more time to listen to music. My husband doesn’t know it yet, but I plan to replace that record player.

So this record clock  is a constant reminder to me – of the Saturday evenings we used to spend together with him putting on records for me to listen to, and also of that promise I made to myself recently – I must check out good brands of record players.

By Jackie Cosh

Disclosure: This blog post is an entry for the History of Home competition being run by British Gas. For  more details, visit http://www.britishgas.co.uk/blog/articles/history-of-home.

August 15th  

Cosy Home guide to healthy homemade ice lollies pops

Ice lollies aren’t just for children. We’ve put together five of our favourite iced treats, from alcoholic to healthy, to help you stay cool this summer. Whatever recipe you use, a set of proper ice lolly moulds and some wooden sticks will make life a bit easier. Try serving a fruit or chocolate lolly after an adult dinner party for an unusual pudding.

1. Pimms lolly

You’ll need:

  • Pimms
  • Lemonade
  • Diced cucumber
  • Mint leaves
  • One strawberry per person

These adult treats freeze very hard, so to serve take them out of the freezer twenty minutes before needed or use hot water to release them from the moulds. They’re perfect after lunch on a hot summer’s afternoon.

In a large jug, mix one part Pimms to three parts lemonade or ginger ale.

Cut the strawberries into small pieces, and drop them into the lolly moulds. Shred the mint leaves, and add a pinch to the moulds then drop in the strawberries. Top up with Pimms and lemonade, add the lolly sticks and freeze until hard.

Variation: try gin and tonic lollies with one part gin to five parts tonic. Carefully cut the peel from a lemon or lime so it forms a spiral, and drop into the mould before adding the liquid.

2. Healthy fruit lollies

These are perfect for a healthy after-school snack or an extra treat – vary the fruit according to what’s in season. These lollies don’t freeze rock-hard, so they’re great for children, and they’re also an ideal way of using up over-ripe or blemished fruit.

You’ll need:

  • Fruit, such as bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apricots, pears or pineapple – the riper and sweeter the better.
  • a little fruit juice such as orange or apple

Wash, peel and de-stone the fruit as necessary, and remove any damaged parts.

Put everything in a blender with two or three tablespoons of fruit juice, and pulse until smooth.

Pour into the moulds, adding a little more juice if the mixture has turned out a bit thick. Freeze until set.

3. Strawberry and yoghurt lollies

These are very popular with children, and if you use low fat yoghurt they’re pretty much guilt free as well.

You’ll need:

  • 1 tub good quality thick strawberry yoghurt, e.g. Greek style
  • Handful of strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped into small pieces

In a large bowl, mix the strawberries and yoghurt together until the fruit is evenly distributed.

Spoon into the moulds, and add the sticks. Freeze until set.

These lollies also work well with raspberries, blueberries or apricots – if you can’t find the right flavoured yoghurt, use plain and add a little sugar.

4. Chocolate coffee lollies

Flavoured with coffee liqueur, these are a great to finish off an adult dinner party. Vary the flavouring with different types of alcohol.

You’ll need (to make 8):

  • 500ml milk
  • 250ml double cream
  • 250g milk chocolate
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons coffee liqueur such as Kahlua or Tia Maria
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 50g icing sugar

Break the chocolate into small pieces, and melt it in short bursts in the microwave.

Stir in the milk, cream and alcohol until fully combined.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and gradually pour the chocolate mixture over. Beat until combined. Spoon into the ice lolly moulds and freeze until solid.

5. ‘After Eight’ lollies

This combination of mint and chocolate will be a winner with adults and children alike.

You’ll need (to make 8)

  • 250ml milk
  • 500ml double cream
  • 300g good quality plain chocolate
  • chocolate sprinkles
  • 1 teaspoon mint flavouring, or mint liqueur
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 50g icing sugar

Break 250g of the chocolate into small pieces, and melt it in short bursts in the microwave, reserving 50g. Stir in the milk, cream and alcohol until fully combined.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and gradually pour the chocolate mixture over. Beat until combined.

Spoon into the ice lolly moulds and freeze until solid. Once solid, remove from the moulds by pouring a little hot water over them. Melt the remaining chocolate, and use to coat the top of each lolly.

Roll the melted chocolate in the chocolate sprinkles. Lay the lollies on a tray covered in clingfilm, and return to the freezer until needed.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

August 14th  

The first Victoria plums are making an appearance in our shops. Victorias have been Britain’s most popular plum almost since they were discovered in the early 19th century, as they’re sweet, juicy and equally good for cooking or eating. Best of all, we love to eat them fresh with may be a dollop of Greek yoghurt, but they’re also delicious in summer puddings.

Here are a few of our favourites:

Plum custard tart

1. Plum custard tart

This has a lovely caramelised flavour, and is very simple to make (particularly if you cheat a little with some shop-bought short cuts)

You’ll need (to serve 4 to 6)

  • 1 packet ready-rolled sweet shortcrust pastry, or homemade
  • 8 to 12 Victoria plums, depending on size
  • 400g tin custard, or make your own
  • 2 heaped tablespoons cornflour
  • water
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons jam, preferably plum but any dark fruit would work

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Line a 20cm shallow pie dish with the pastry, pressing it well into the sides of the dish. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the pastry’s just beginning to colour.

Meanwhile, put the custard in a pan and bring to the boil. Mix the cornflour with a little water until it forms a smooth paste, and pour into the custard, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Spoon into the pastry shell, and smooth out with the back of a spoon.

Wash the plums and cut them in half, removing the stones. Lay them on the custard, cut side down, until the custard is completely covered. Melt the jam in the microwave, then pass it through a sieve.  Use a pastry brush to brush the jam over the plums.

Put the dish back in the oven for another 10 minutes, until the jam is starting to bubble and colour. Remove and allow to cool completely before cutting and serving. Ideal partners for this would be Greek yoghurt, creme fraiche, pouring cream or vanilla ice cream with a little chopped mint for freshness.

Make plum crumble in individual portions for a dinner party

2. Summer plum crumble

Fruit crumble is just as delicious in summer, served warm rather than hot with ice cream.

You’ll need (to serve 6)

  • 800g ripe Victoria plums
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • finely grated zest of one orange
  • 250g plain flour
  • 150g butter
  • 160g demerara sugar
  • 50g oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Wash the plums and cut them in half, removing the stone. Lay them on the bottom of a one litre ovenproof dish of any shape, and sprinkle over the granulated sugar and orange zest.

In a large mixing bowl, rub the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until there are no lumps of butter left. Stir in the sugar, oatmeal and cinnamon.

Spread the mixture evenly on top of the plums and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the top is golden and bubbling with plum juice. Allow to cool slightly before serving with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

This recipe is great for using a surfeit of plums

3. Plum compote

This lightly spiced compote is delicious served for breakfast with Greek yoghurt, or use it layered as part of a fruit ice cream sundae.

You’ll need (to serve 4 to 6)

  • 25g butter
  • 350g Victoria plums
  • 40g Demerera sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice

Wash and de-stone the plums and cut them into quarters. Heat the butter in a frying pan, and gently fry the plums until they start to colour but still retain their shape.

Reduce the heat, and add the remaining ingredients, gently simmering and stirring until the sugar’s dissolved and the plums have started to break down. Remove from the heat, and serve warm or cold.

By Sara Walker

 

 

August 13th  

These days, there are any number of reasons not to use pesticides in your garden. Spraying chemicals onto plants can harm the useful insects who feed on them, such as bees and ladybirds, and birds and hedgehogs are in danger of eating slugs and snails who have died from slug pellets, and being poisoned themselves.

Slug pellets can also harm household pets if ingested, and chemical sprays are harmful to the gardener if inhaled.

Organic and chemical-free methods might be less effective and more effort but they’re safe to use and have far less environmental impact. Here are our tips for greener gardening.

1. A Natural approach. Most of the smaller harmful insects such as aphids (greenfly) have natural predators.

Ladybirds are great at cleaning up aphids, and you don’t even have to wait until some settle in your garden – you can buy adult ladybirds and larvae online and release them.

Hedgehogs are vociferous when it comes to eating slugs, so encourage them to take up residence by leaving wild patches of scrub of brambles in your garden, especially near the bottom of hedges, and leaving out water and purpose-made hedgehog food.

Ladybirds clear a number of harmful pests

2. Harvest by hand

Every so often, clear vegetable plants and vulnerable seedlings of larger pests such as caterpillars and slugs by hand to prevent too much damage.

3. Non-chemical sprays

Aphid infestations may respond to spraying with water with a dash of washing up liquid added. There are also several kinds of organic sprays available which use concentrated plant oils to deter pests.

Marigolds are a natural deterrent

4. Clever planting

Some species of plants are particularly vulnerable to attack by predators, so mixing these in with less appealing plants means pests are less likely to find the ones they want. Marigolds emit a strong scent that confuses whitefly and blackfly, so planting a few among your tomato plants will help protect them.

5. Barriers

Slugs and snails are a particularly insidious pest, and can be extremely destructive.

Make a safe, effective slug trap by putting an empty, hollowed out half melon upside down, and removing the slugs each morning.

Slugs are also partial to a drop of beer – sink a container in your flower bed up to the rim, and add half an inch of beer to the bottom.

If you draw the line at killing your garden slugs, try a physical barrier to surround plants such as copper piping, crushed eggshells, straw or used coffee grounds.

Great buys for your garden

Treat your garden to some of these great buys!

Make your own insect house, the Oak Room

Give your garden insects a home

This comprehensive but compact DIY kit contains all you need to make your own insect house for bees, ladybirds and other species. Contents include the wooden kit, glue, bamboo tubes and decorative wooden ladybirds. RRP £9.99, available from The Oak Room.

Solitary bee houses, All Lovely Stuff

Cute chalet-style houses for your garden bees

These ‘bees knees’ bee houses are designed for solitary bees,  a species who’ll pollinate trees and garden flowers. Made from machined oak and steel, the houses come as a set of three, each one measuring approximately 35cm x 35cm x 10cm, and are designed by Ester Comunello for All Lovely Stuff Available from Nook Shop.

Seedbom wildflower mixes, Kabloom

Watch your garden explode with colour

Great for attracting lots of useful insect life to your garden are these wildflower seedbombs from Kabloom.

Each bomb contains a different mixture of British wildflower seeds, including Pollinator BeeBom, Poppy PeaceBom, LoveBom (Forget-Me-Not), ThymeBom, Sunflower Power, Cornflower FieldBom, Urban BeeBom and Great British Bloomer, and the packaging is handmade in the UK from 95% recycled, organic, ecofriendly and biogradable materials. £3.50 each, available from Cotswold Trading.

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