Flutter By Butterfly

I was having a lazy Saturday morning today.  Drinking a cup of tea.  Pottering 'round the web looking at different sites.  When I came across this...




All pictures courtesy of Lillbet on Flickr.
(Apparently Lillbet was on a bus in Seattle, saw this dress in a shop window, brought the bus to a screeching halt, got off and started frantically snapping pictures!)

A bit more pottering, and I managed to discover that this dress is the Monarch Butterfly Gown by Luly Yang, as part of her Metamorphosis collection. 




And another dress from the same collection.  The Red Admiral gown.



Utterly, flutterly creative.


In the summer, early one bright, warm day, a Red Admiral butterfly landed on my window ledge.






My cat was fascinated.

Soon the Red Admiral was joined by a very fat honey bee.  Who sat and had a rest too.

My cat and I sat and watched as they sunned themselves for a good twenty minutes.  After this initial visit, the butterfly fluttered around my garden each day, over a two week period.  One particular morning I was sitting in the garden having a daydream and a think.  The Red Admiral landed on the garden chair next to me.  After a minute or two it actually came and sat on my hand.  Utterly, flutterly brilliant.  I've never been friends with a butterfly before.  It was fantastic.

"Just living is not enough", said the butterfly,
"One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."
Hans Christian Andersen

I love butterflies.  I love beautiful dresses.  And I love cats.  Not necessarily in that order.


Bob and the Art of Creative Dog Walking

My dad retired recently.  He and my mum had wanted a dog for a long time.  My uncle had been blind, and so always had a guide dog.  My mum and dad felt that they wanted to do something to support the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.  When they opted to get a dog, they contacted the Association and asked if they could adopt a retired guide dog, or a young guide dog that wasn't able to fulfill his working role.

They waited several months before they were contacted and told they were to receive their new dog.  He had completed his training but had found the whole process so stressful he had developed severe allergies causing skin problems, runny eyes, and a multitude of other problems associated with allergies.  He wasn't able to be assigned to work with a blind person as his health problems were considered too difficult to manage. 

My mum and dad leapt at the chance to have him.  He came to their home.  And for the past 6 months he has been getting to know his new family.

He is black.  Sleek.  With a shiny coat.  Beautiful big eyes.  And a face that could melt grown men's hearts. 

He is also blessed with an incurable need to explore.  His notion of politeness, and his awareness of which places may or may not welcome him is a little under-developed. 

He considers himself too much fun not to share with every person he comes across.  He has a certain "joie de vivre".  

He just has that look about him.

Let's call him Bob. 

So, hypothetically, perhaps my dad took Bob for a walk a few days ago.  To a lovely parkland area where lots of people take their dogs.  Perhaps Bob ran around.  Followed trails.  Relieved himself.  Concerned himself with doggy things to do. 

And maybe my dad let his mind wander briefly to what lay ahead that day. 

And momentarily took his eye off the Bob.

Perhaps my dad turned around to briefly catch Bob, in the distance, nudging open the gate to a house that sat on the edge of the parkland.  Bob letting himself in.  Hypothetically.  To explore.

My dad might possibly have hot-footed it across the parkland to the gate.  To find it led into someone's very private garden. 

There could have been several ladies walking their dogs on the other side of the parkland.  No-one else about.  

My dad could have found himself calling for Bob over the gate.  

Bob may have ignored my dad's yells and stayed where he was.  Doing what he was doing.

At this point, my dad possibly opted to enter the garden and grab a hold of his dog.  And was surprised and discomfited to see Bob was no where to be found.

My dad may then have ventured forth into the back garden, and begun calling Bob again. 

My dad might have turned slowly.  Looking into the windows of the house to see if he could find the owners to let them know why he was tramping through their very private garden.

At this point he could have seen a flash of something black and doggy-looking reflected in the conservatory window.  And been relieved to catch sight of Bob, in the glass, running round the garden.

Then been a little less relieved to realise that Bob wasn't in the garden.

Bob was on the other side of the glass.  

Inside the house.

My dad possibly started hyper-ventilating.

Bob, having spotted my dad through the glass, could have started jumping up and down playing a fun game called "Look At Me!  Look At Me!  I'm On The Inside!  Come On In! There's Lots Of New Stuff To Sniff And Knock Over And Trample."

At this point my dad might have thrown caution to the wind and gone to the back door of the house and found it open.  Standing on the threshold calling for his dog.  With intermittant shouts of "Hello!  Is anyone there?  My dog is in your house!  Hello!"

My dad may have been met by a stoney silence and a bouncing dog.  No house owner.

What to do.  What to do.

Weighing up the situation, my dad might have been forced to put his foot across the threshold of a stranger's home. And trespass. In order to get his overly inquisitive, bouncy and downright rude, dog back. 

He could have gone into the kitchen and verbally threatened his dog.  He may have said a few profain words to Bob, himself and The Heavens.

My dad may have approached Bob fairly quickly.  Keen to get him back on the lead.  Bob might have inched away from my dad. Dad might have inched forward.  Bob might have moved away.  Just out of reach. 

Both may have paused. Possibly sizing up the situation.  Eye to eye.  Just for a second.

Bob could have decided to make a run for it.  Down the hall.  Ears flapping. 

My dad may have found himself pursuing his dog through the empty rooms of another man's house. Around chairs.  Up and down the hallway.  In and out of rooms.   It might have taken my dad several very long minutes to tether his dog.

My dad could then have walked Bob tightly on a lead, to the small group of women who were still standing on the parkland.

He may have asked them if they knew who THAT house belonged to.  A small woman with a small dog might have said, "That's my house.  Why?"

My dad could have wanted to say:

"Man alive!  Did you know you left your back door open?  Nice furniture, but I don't think much of your choice of carpet."

Instead:

My dad might have smiled and politely apologised for his dog having rampaged through her garden.  No mention made of Bob's visit into her home, closely followed by my dad.  My dad possibly found himself met with a stunned silence.  He may have held very tightly to his dog, while he walked home.  Watched for much of the journey across the grass by a group of women still standing on the parkland.

But that's just talking hypothetically.




Bob

Mimi and Tilly's Vanilla Shortcake

I woke up today exhausted.  I had set this day aside as time for me to chill out and rest.  But as the day wore on a strange thing happened.

I felt the need to bake.

This may not seem like big news, but it is.

In years gone by, when I have woken up exhausted, and with time on my hands, the last place you would have found me has been the kitchen.  Rather than being a place for me to relax, I have found spending time in the kitchen unbelievably stressful.  I have not been a natural cook.  My philosophy has been "Get in.  Get out.  Do the dishes." 

But things are changing.

Having managed, against all odds, to bake some pretty and tasty cupcakes, ( take a wee look at The Cupcake Challenge and Ta-Da! Suck on These Eggs Cupcake Expert!)  I have been growing in cooking confidence.  And have actually started to enjoy "making things" in the kitchen.


Back in August when I first embarked on my journey into being much more creative I wrote about  My Creativity Starter Kit .  Included in this kit was The Creda Housecraft Manual (A Treasury of Useful Recipes and Household Information), written and published in 1958, which I found hiding in a reclamation shop in a village nearby.  The manual is a treasure trove of kitchen-themed inspiration.  I defy anyone to flip through this book, and not feel the urge to whistle a happy tune, rustle on a starched and frilled apron, and whip up a London Pie or Vol-au-Vent of Chicken...

   

Creativity, apparently being what it is, has taken me so far on a random but fun adventure involving cupcakes, model trains, hot wax, knitting with enormous needles, and following my creative instincts.  None of which has involved me cooking anything at all from my Creda manual.

All that changed today.

I found myself daydreaming about what I could whip up in the kitchen.  I opened the fridge.  Looked at the products inside.  And for the first time started to see them as potential ingredients.  If I put this with that, what would it make?  A mess.  OK.  What about this and this?  Hmmm.

I saw my Creda manual on the worktop and flipped it open.


The book fell to page 105, and there I saw this...


Shortbread.  Sweet.  Tasty.  Lovely with a cup of tea.  It ticked all the right boxes. 

I went to my fridge and cupboard to see if I had the needed ingredients.  Plain flour.  Nope.  I'll use self-raising instead.  It can't make that much difference.  Sugar.  I've got caster sugar.  That'll do.  Margerine.  I've got olive oil based spread.  How much difference can it make?  Few drops of almond essence.  Nope.  Don't have that either.  Vanilla essence will have to do.  Salt.  None left.  Will do without.

In my head I was baking directly from the book...

I followed the instructions but using the ingredients I had substituted rather than the ones listed in the book.  What's the worst that could happen?

I patted out my dough.  Shaped it lovingly.  Pricked it with a fork.  And put it in the oven.  On gas mark 5.  A random guess.

I half expected to find a tall loaf-like structure in my oven when I went back to check on it, having used self-raising flour.  But I didn't.

I half expected to find it slightly soggy and uncooked in the middle.  But it wasn't.

I took it out of the oven.

I left it to cool.

I half expected to find it firmly adhered to the base of the baking tray.  But it wasn't.

I half expected to find that it tasted awful when I broke off a piece.  But it didn't.

What no cooking disaster? 

But I hadn't followed the instructions.  I had veered off the well-trodden shortbread path.

Was it just me or was this shortbread completely and utterly delicious?

A little plumper than shortbread.  A little more moist.  But utterly tasty.

My dad paid a visit.  It was lovely to see him.  I offered him some shortbread with a cup of tea.

"Mmmm...  Good grief...  You could make a living making this stuff... Mmmm...  It's more like a moist, flat, cakey shortbread than a shortbread...  It's much nicer than the shortbread I've bought in the shops, you know...  What's that flavour..?  Not almondy..?  Vanilla..?  Vanilla!  Can I have another piece?  Your mum would love this."

So.  Using my Creda manual I have created a different type of shortbread.  In honour of my dad's great support and positive feedback, I'll call it...

Mimi and Tilly's Vanilla Shortcake

Ingredients

7ozs self-raising flour
4ozs caster sugar
6ozs olive oil based spread/margerine
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 30 mins plus another 30 mins in a cooling oven
Makes: 8 honking great slabs or 16 polite-sized triangles

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and rub in the margerine.  Add the vanilla essence.  Knead the mixture with your hands until it is a stiff dough and binds well together.  Work into a flat cake about 1/2 inch thick, and place on a greased baking tin.  Pinch the edge to make a pattern.  Prick the shortcake with a fork and mark in triangles by cutting lines with a knife.

Cook at gas mark 5 for about 30 mins.  After 30 mins turn off the oven and leave the shortcake in the cooling oven until cold or for up to 30 mins.  Remove from the oven and allow the shortcake to cool completely in the tin.

(Original cooking instructions from The Creda Housecraft Manual 1958)

Here is the finished product...






I know this recipe is very basic.  And as Creative Baking goes, I'm a beginner.  But I've gone from hating being in the kitchen, to finding it relaxing and therapeutic.  From being someone who has to follow a recipe in order for something to taste good (and even then there's no guarantee)...  To someone who can veer slightly off the well-trodden baking path and still make something that tastes yummy.  It's a big day in Mimi and Tilly's kitchen.  In the past, I have spent far too much time dry heaving as a result of my "Creative Cooking"! 


My Creative Space

As my life has been growing more and more creative, I have felt a growing need to devote a space to my creative endeavours, where I can let loose with creative abandon.  This week I have been reorganising my office into a creative space full of creative inspiration.


When I say the word "office", I use the term loosely.  I have a room.  With stuff in it. 


I use my office to email, surf the net, write my blog, and make neat piles of paperwork (they don't seem to serve a purpose, they just seem to grow freely in my room and then I spend time neatening them), when I should be doing other things. 

Basically, it's a computer room.  A desk, if you will.   Surrounded by piles of junk mail, a bag of Christmas presents I didn't get round to delivering to cousins last year (I am a bad woman), piles of books to read, shelves of books I've already read, piles of books I'm planning on reading next, books I can't part with, books I have half read and never finished but won't part with.


I also have an eclectic mix of wooden puppets, holistic therapy bits and bobs, and drawers of art paper, ribbons, paints, pens, beads, wire, tools and creative bits and pieces collected over the years.  As well as files of collages and children's stories I created while I was teaching, and used with the children. 


Usually, I come into the room, ignore the detritus around me, trip over the cat, slide on a magazine, and sit down relatively unharmed at my laptop.  I then spend several minutes trying to remove the cat from the computer keyboard.  He flops across it and purrs.  Dribbles on the keys.  Emits a little gas.  Before head-bonking me in a bid for attention.


He has worked out how to flip the letters off the keys by using a well placed claw.  I recently spent quite some time looking for the letter "E".  He was completely underwhelmed with my high pitched expressions of frustration at being cat-botaged.  


I'm then forced to fuss him a while until he is prepared to take himself and his noxious gases to a furr-bally corner, and have a well-earned snooze.


I'm not a house-cleaning slattern per-se.  It's just that this room has a tendency to become the glory hole for all the bits and pieces I don't know where else to put, so that the rest of the house can stay clutter free.


And I don't like hoovering.


A few days ago I decided to take action and turn this disorganised room into a creative haven.


I'm a big believer in Feng Shui.  I know I feel differently in different rooms depending on what's in the room and how it's arranged.  So, in order for me to want to sit in my office and get creative, I needed to change a few things!  

A sigh of relief...

The piles of paperwork have been cleared, and organised into rubbish and recyclables.  The books are on the book shelves.  I have dusted, vacuumed, and aired the room.  I have burned essential oils to give it a welcoming "perfume".  I've de-cluttered.  And I've designated different areas for different things so that I know where everything is.  The energy in the room has completely changed and I feel drawn to spending time here.  I even have a wee place to lie down just in case my new creative space causes me to have so many new creative ideas, my head explodes...

Here are some of my favourite things in my creative haven:

The first Christmas my significant Other and I were together, he took me to Prague.  We celebrated Christmas together drinking mulled wine, eating gorgeous food and exploring the city.  He bought me this puppet while we were there.  She's one of my treasures:



I saw this puppet in the same shop and couldn't leave her behind!



I love notebooks and journals.  These are my current notebooks/journals.  They contain inspirational quotes, notes from books I've read that I wanted to remember, sketches and designs of jewellery pieces I'm going to make "one day", notes on holistic therapy techniques, and ideas for short stories and poems I get in the middle of the night (that never seem like such good ideas when I read them back in the cold light of day).  Somehow over time I've managed to collect a few notebook journals...




A friend recently had an Hawaiian themed birthday party.  We wore these garlands for the party.  They hang from the end of my curtain pole.  It was a great party, and I had lots of fun drinking cocktails with paper umbrellas in, chatting to friends, and eating (hey, there was a buffet, it would have been rude not to).  I spent time in Hawaii when I was on my round world trip alone in 1996.  I had an adventure there that involved swimming at night in shark feeding waters (I had no idea), and visiting Magnum P.I.'s home (who wouldn't?)  When I look at these garlands they remind me of good times.






Do you have a space that is just yours?


Men, This One's For You.

I've been thinking recently about men.  And how they express themselves creatively.  As I've been travelling around the blogosphere, I've come across plenty of creative and artistic blogs written by women who are sharing their creative and artistic endeavours with others.  It's tremendously inspiring.   

But I haven't come across too many blogs written by men about how they express themselves creatively.  This could be because men are being creative and not writing about it.  Or that I am just not finding blogs written by men because I am drawn to blogs written by like-minded women.  I shall have to ponder this further...

I also received a message today from a man, who writes for an online magazine, asking what kind of articles I would like to read, based around creativity.  He has read my blog.  He noted in his message that he thought my blog was "quite girly but my partner loves it." 

This got me thinking.  I know my blog is pink.  And I have an unhealthy pre-occupation with cupcakes.  But is it really all that "girly"? 

I looked at it tonight with objective eyes.

Who am I kidding? 

It's pink.  Covered in cupcakes.  Has lots of pictures of pretty things. 

Hmmmm.

I guess it could be judged as "girly".  I shall call it feminine.  No, I won't.  That word makes me dry heave a little bit.  I think I'll just settle for pink and cupcakey.  

Once I get going with a thought process, I tend to run with it.  So, I found myself wondering if there were any men out there reading my blog who were struggling with the pink, cupcakeyness of it all.  I have received lots of positive feedback from creative ladies.  But only from two creative men.  And one of those creative men was my Significant Other. 

So, in honour of all the creative men out there who might be reading this blog and struggling with the pink cakeyness of it all.  

This one's for you.     

I've been expanding my creative boundaries.  I've had a busy week.  I've been to Abbey Road Station.



I then visited several other lovely places

Here.


Here.



Here.


And here.



I've been to a model railway show!

It was wonderful.  Rooms full of creative men.  Fantastic.  

I am not being sexist when I say this.  I made sure I counted the ratio of women to men who were displaying model railways whilst I was there.  There were over one hundred men.  And three women.  (All of whom were accompanying their husbands who made the model railways.  I know this because I asked the ladies.)  Which gives me a ratio of 3:100.  (Sometimes, I impress even myself.)  Not very many women, that's for sure.

As a child, I was mesmerised by miniature villages and model railways.  They were magical worlds where I was a giant who could peep into tiny windows and see how tiny people lived.  I was enthralled by the creativity of model villages and railways then, and still find them magical now.

So when I recently got the opportunity to visit a model railway show.  I leapt at the chance to take a peek into the magical world of creative men.

My Significant Other and I have discussed the possibilities of building a model railway that somehow runs the length of the hallway, through the lounge and into the kitchen.  With practical capabilities that somehow mean the train can chug past the sofa bringing cups of tea and plates of bourbons. 

At the Model Railway Show, I learnt that this was no mean task.  This lovely gentleman started his model in 1976.  He still hasn't completed it.  And not even a sniff of a bourbon or custard cream...


Here are some close-ups of his creative genius.







Amazing.

The model of Abbey Road and the connecting station really made me smile.







Do you recognise who is crossing?


But for British creativity at it's best, my favourite model was this one. 
Check out the attention to detail and humour.





(The man in the green shirt has spilled his paint and walked through it.) 

After leaving the station, the train ran past a village store...


A fair ground, farmers' market and fish and chip shop ...



The essential village pub...



With beach and bathing beauty...



Then past the wee naturist corner! 
(Although the man's Significant Other doesn't look too impressed that he's misplaced his undercrackers.  *Squinting to look more closely at picture*  Is he waving them at her?)




And a barbecue!



It was fantastic.

And my favourite model maker was this lovely gentleman who wore his engine driver's hat with pride, and smiled and laughed to himself each time his engine passed where he was sitting.



Creative Men.  Lovely.
     

Ta-Da! Suck On These Eggs, Cupcake Expert!

Last week, I bought a foodie magazine for the first time.  I was hungry.  It had pictures of gargantuan cupcakes on the cover.  I was in a long queue.

Having come home and read the magazine, I expressed alarm over the apparent shoddiness of my cupcakes in the blog post "The Cupcake Challenge".

Having been presented with cupcake perfection by a Cupcake Expert of World Renown, and having compared my wonky, wobbly,  definately "rustic" cupcakes with her visions of cakey perfection, I sucked it up and set to in the kitchen. 

No more flicking things out of the bowl.  No more inadvertent skidding on said items mistakenly flicked from the bowl.  No more fleecy dressing gowns. 

I have whipped my cupcakes into cupcake supercakedom.  And I am proud.

So, my first cupcakes of superior quality are Orange Cupcakes.  I know they are cupcakes of superior quality as I taste tested them on my Significant Other.  Whenever I taste test anything on him, he usually eats it, makes a hmmmm, yummy noise, and says, "That was tasty."  He's very supportive.

This time it went more like this:

"£$%&!  That's a £$%& hot cake!  How many have you got left?  Can I only have one?" 

I don't need telling twice.

I'll post the recipe here.  I'm guessing you probably all know the recipe for Orange Cupcakes.  But humour me.  I feel like I've entered an unknown world of wondrous things.  I can now actually step out of the kitchen without setting my hair on fire, or causing any unnecessary explosions.  I am relieved.  Not only that, but when I step out of the kitchen with all my hair intact, I can bring forth a mean sponge.  (If you don't believe me regarding setting my hair on fire, ask my Significant Other about Prague...)

Here  are the little beauties before I decorated them.



Yep.  They are actually glistening.  That's because I infused them with an orange sugar syrup made with the juice of freshly squeezed oranges.  I actually squeezed oranges.  And then went on to make a syrup.  I didn't know I had it in me either. 

Here they are after being decorated.


I know.


Yes, those are little cocktail sticks with tiny
 ribbon bows.  No, I haven't got too much time on my hands.

There were originally six cakes, but sadly, two of them didn't make it to the photography stage of the proceedings.  I ate them instead.



Yum, Yum.



I altered the recipe shown in the foodie magazine to fit with my mum's recipe for cupcakes.  My mum's recipe was handed down to her by my Nana, who got it from her mum, my Great Nana Webb.  This is the recipe I have used so far, and don't want to cast aside.  All ingredients are measured in ounces.  I got the idea for the sugar syrup and the orange flavouring from the foodie magazine.  As I've altered the recipe to creatively fit my own, I feel justified in giving it a name:

Mimi and Tilly's Orange Cupcakes

Makes 6 honking great cupcakes
Prep Time:  20 minutes  Cooking Time:  20-25 minutes

Ingredients

2 eggs
4oz caster sugar
4oz unsalted butter
4oz self-raising Flour
finely grated zest of 2 oranges
orange flavoured sugar syrup (see below)

You will also need:

a muffin tin with 6 cake cups, lined with muffin cases

Ingredients
for the Orange Syrup

Makes enough for six honking great cupcakes and flavoured icing
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Just over 1oz of caster sugar (roughly just over 30g)
4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed orange juice

Cooking Instructions for Orange Syrup

Put three of the four tablespoons of orange juice, and the caster sugar into a small pan, and bring to the boil.  Stir steadily to dissolve the sugar.

Once your syrup has cooled, stir in the fourth spoonful of orange juice. 
Put your syrup to one side while you prepare your orange cupcakes.

Instructions for Making Orange Cupcakes

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 180 C.  Put the caster sugar and chopped butter into a bowl or electric mixer and cream together.  I like to use a hand held electric mixer for this.  It's fun to rattle your teeth if you hit the edge of the bowl.  It shakes things up a bit.  Break the eggs into a separate bowl, and mix them with a fork to break the yolks.  (I never do this.  I just break the eggs whole into my caster sugar and butter blend, but this is usually when I see blobs fly out of the bowl when I set to with the hand held mixer.  I'm giving you both options, in case you don't enjoy skidding on your kitchen tiles.)  Add the eggs and a little flour to the mix, and continue mixing.  Add the remaining flour and mix until creamy.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases.  Bake for 20 minutes on gas mark 4.  Check to see if cupcakes are ready by pricking with a fork.  If the fork comes out of the cakes without any sticky residue on the prongs, the cupcakes are ready.  If things are moving along a little slowly put the oven to gas mark 5 for an extra 5 minutes.  As these cupcakes are large in comparison to the traditional size, I find they need to be baked for slightly longer than the traditional 20 minutes.  

Remove cupcakes from the oven when they are ready and leave to cool for 10 minutes.  Prick the tops with a fork, and using a tea spoon or a pastry brush smother each one lightly with the sugar syrup.  Once completely cooled, take cupcakes out of the tin.

Icing  

5oz icing sugar
the remaining orange sugar syrup
zest of one orange
one or two extra tea spoons of freshly squeezed orange juice if needed

Add the sugar syrup to the icing sugar in teaspoon measurements until the icing is the right consistency for spreading on the cakes.  You may or may not need a few drops of extra orange juice depending on how runny you like your icing!  
Mix in the orange zest.

Slather all over the top of your cakes.

Decorate with sugar balls.  Tie ribbons onto cocktail sticks and push gently into the tops of your cakes.

NB.  Please be advised to be extra careful when having at your cupcakes.  Do not take your eye out or pierce your tongue with the cocktail sticks.  They are sharp and pointy.  Oh, and also, do not eat the ribbons.  (Wow, these cakes are a health and safety nightmare.)

Enjoy.


P.S.  If you do try out this recipe, I'd love to hear how you get on!
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