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Yes it's freezing outside so you may think I'm a little bit bonkers for gardening in this weather and I think I agree with you to a certain extent, but my inner gardening freak really needed to do something about this…

Sad isn't it? A sad little frost burned dahlia curling into itself to escape the cold. Looking at it every day from my kitchen window is a reminder that the warm days of summer are long gone and venturing outside in this chill requires at least four layers of clothing. Shall I bother? No, I think I'll stay inside. This is a mistake. Winter is a time when you can see the bones of your garden. Seeing it laid bare can help you to formulate plans for spring planting. More than this though, there are some really tough and quite beautiful plants to be seen (and smelt) at this time of year.

I love to plant cyclamen coum in pots on the deck in November and December. So I eased the sorry dahlia out of the soil carefully trying not to damage the emerging narcissi bulbs. I will store the dahlia in the greenhouse over winter. To do this knock any wet soil from the dahlia tubers (they look a bit like potatoes) and cut the frost damaged stems back. Store upside down in a dry container, you can cover it with straw or hessian to protect it from frost too if you like. I've found by doing this the dahlia tubers start to shoot earlier in spring than if I leave them in the ground or a pot over winter so I get a longer flowering period the following summer.

I bought the cyclamen from a local garden centre. If you intend to plant cyclamen outdoors make sure you buy the hardy outdoor variety. They are the ones that are kept outside at the garden centre, they are generally more compact than the varieties intended for indoor use. There are an array of colors available, from pure white or pale pink all the way through to fushia, deep scarlet and burgundy. I pack them into the pot because I know I will be moving them in spring to a shaded spot in the garden under the laurel where they can naturalize over time. If you intend to keep them as a permanent feature in the pot leave about 10cm between the plants to give them space to grow, but be aware that they are a magnet for vine weevil so you will need to treat the soil with nematodes at intervals from spring through summer.

I added a handful of plant food to the soil prior to planting the cyclamen and teased it into the soil with my fingers to avoid burning the roots . Once the cyclamen is arranged in the pot add extra compost in-between the plants and firm them in with your fingers. Think of it like tucking your kids in at night, you want them snug but not too tight. Sweep up any excess soil around the base of the pot then water in well. Now, doesn't that look happier?

Bright pops of colour for the winter garden

Yes it's freezing outside so you may think I'm a little bit bonkers for gardening in this weather and I think I agree with you to ...
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Isn't the British high street marvelous? I'm a fan. So when I heard that Miss Selfridge is launching a 30% off promo until Sunday I got a little excited. There are a few perfect sweaters I've had my eye on as well as the dress from last week's Black Friday post.  Here's a peek at my favourite picks.

I love the mix of textures this sweater and faux leather midi skirt combination provides. Pair with a statement necklace and classic heels. To add a little fashion oomph and keep your feet warm layer a pair of cute ankle socks over your tights too.

This party season it's all about sparkle. It's everywhere. What I love about this look is that it's so easy to take from day to night. You can layer it with a crisp shirt under the sweater for the office then loose the shirt and just wear the sweater with the sleeves pushed up to your elbow for drinks afterwards. I would wear this outfit with a pair of silver loafers, nude tights, red slouchy socks and a chunky gold statement necklace.

Happy Browsing.

Miss Selfridge is having a pre-Christmas sale with 30% off everything!!!

Thursday, 5 December 2013
Oh peppermint bark… just get in my belly. Now.

First bite...
Annabel: "Oh My GOD!!! Mummy, PLEASE make this. EVERY. DAY."
Bear: "Ooooooh Yummy."

Second bite…
Annabel: "Aaaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhh, soooooooo gooooooood."
Bear: "More please."

If you've never tried peppermint bark you are going to need to prepare yourself for the fact that you will never want to eat anything else, ever again. Also your pre-Christmas diet is ruined. It's deliciously chocolatey, subtly minty and has crunch. Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!

You will need:
1lb milk chocolate (the very best you can find for cooking with)
1 1/2 lbs white chocolate (again, buy the best you can)
Lots of candy canes (the peppermint kind)
1 1/2tsp peppermint essence

Prepare a baking tray with baking parchment or aluminium foil, choose a tray that has a little depth as you want the bark to be about 1.5cm thick. Set the tray aside.

Place the candy canes in a zip lock bag and bash them with a rolling pin or wooden spoon. You can blitz some of them in a food processor if you like, but I like to keep the pieces chunky. Put the broken candy canes to one side.

Create a bain marie (a pan of boiling water with a bowl sitting over the pan, the water must not touch the bowl) and add the broken up milk chocolate to the bowl. Stir gently until it melts. Pour the melted chocolate into the prepared tray, gently tilt the tray to ensure even coverage and tap it gently on the kitchen surface to release any air bubbles. Pop the tray into the fridge for about 20 minutes.

Take the milk chocolate out of the fridge and allow it to return to room temperature for five to ten minutes, condensation on the chocolate may stop the white chocolate layer from binding to the milk chocolate layer.

Clean the bain marie bowl then melt the white chocolate in the same way. Just as it is all melted add the peppermint essence and stir gently. If you have created peppermint dust in a food processor add this to the white chocolate now.

Pour the melted white chocolate mixture over the top of the milk chocolate. Gently tilt the tray to ensure even coverage. Sprinkle the candy canes over the top of the white chocolate, lightly press the chunks into the white chocolate then return the baking tray to the fridge to set.

Once set lift the baking parchment and firmly break the bark into pieces. If you can't break it with your hands use a sharp knife on a chopping board. Now hide it, you will not want to share. If you can bear to part with your peppermint bark it is a wonderful gift at Christmas time and it's fun to watch adults and children trying to snaffle the last piece.

Peppermint Bark

Recently I've been feeling just a little bit tired, there's nothing wrong with me but I couldn't shake it. Normally when this happens I take decisive action along the following lines, go to bed earlier, go to the gym more and drink a heck of a lot more water. It always does the trick. This time, to my own surprise I decided to do… nothing. Not sure why I took this course of action, it's extremely out of character. I am a doer. Normally when I have absolutely nothing to do I cross-stitch (yes, I am a closet crafter). Not doing does not sit well with me. Yet that's what I did. A kind of social experiment on a minute scale.

I won't lie, to begin with there was fidgeting. I felt uncomfortable. So I cleared the garden of leaves and tried again. Nothing. DO nothing… it's harder than you think especially with kids around. Getting kids to do nothing is impossible. So we went to see some reindeer. Then I really tried very hard to do nothing… and I shopped online. So far, doing nothing was an expensive time suck, but the garden looked good.

School gate conversations became awkward too, without my 'list of things I've done or have yet to do' I had very little to peacock in front of the other mums. I feared they may lose interest in me and my lack of chat. I worried about how this could impact on Bella and Bear, would they be excluded from playdate invites? Should I make some stuff up to appear more interesting? It made me wonder, does doing nothing break an unspoken social taboo? Do we fill our lives with doing things just to have something to say to each other? Do we need to be constantly doing something in order to 'have a life' or is it the stuff in-between the doing things where life happens? I mean when Buddha supposedly did nothing he uncovered the noble truths for crying out loud, that's some pretty smart stuff for a guy contemplating his navel under a tree. 

All this left me exasperated and no less tired than before I started doing nothing. I'm still at a loss to say whether it was all the nothingness or the serious introspection that tipped me over the edge, but there was a cleaning backlash.

I have concluded I have too much time on my hands to do nothing. It will lead to madness. So I'm going to make some peppermint bark and later I'm going to the gym. I'll still be tired but at least I'll have something to say at pick up.

The lost art of doing nothing

Wednesday, 4 December 2013
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