Monday, 29 October 2012

lately, tea and crochet

Every year when Autumn turns up, I get the urge to a) bake things b) wear pyjamas A LOT c) drink lots of tea d) craft an almost obsessive amount and e) read. Although I'm definitely a Summer-lover, there's something about colder weather that just makes me feel a bit excited - knitwear, beautiful landscapes, soups and stews, a good book, some decent TV (hello, Downton, Monroe and Walking Dead) and all the festivities of Autumn and Winter.

Tea plays a big part in the colder months in our house - the Husband is bordering on obsessed with spiced tea, I like a good old fashioned builders brew, every now and then I'll dabble in different herbal teas, and we've got an ace pot for loose tea. Behold, our (almost out of control) tea collection:

In an attempt to use up some of our tea bags, I had a go at making a tea loaf - my Mum had picked up a recipe card from good old Waitrose the other day, and hers turned out pretty well so I thought I'd have a go. Basically, its like a cross between a fruit cake and a fruit loaf - a bit spicy, full of fruit and perfect with a cuppa in the afternoon. Yum.

Disclosure: I wasn't paid to write this post, but the lovely people at Twinings did send me some ace tea.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

crochet boutique

For those of you who've been reading for a while, you'll know that I'm a bit of a crochet fanatic - I'd been trying to learn to knit for absolutely ages (years, if I'm honest!), and was getting frustrated with not being able to get the hang of it. My Mum suggested I have a go at crochet, and just after Benjamin was born, we sat down together during naptime (his, not ours!) and she went through the stitches with me. It took a few days, but it clicked quite quickly, and off I went*. Since then, I've made cushions, blankets, garlands, motifs, scarves, hats, bags, collars.... the works. I've started working on my own patterns, namely the infamous crochet bobble cushion, and am working towards getting some stock together to do a few craft and vintage fairs, as well as making a ton of Christmas gifts. My name is Vicky, and I am a crochet-aholic.

So when I got an email from the lovely people at Lark Crafts, asking if I'd be interested in reviewing Crochet Boutique by Rachael Oglesby, I jumped at the chance. Rachael, of Softspoken, is famed for her beautiful crochet work, and has produced lines for both Modcloth and Etsy - I've been reading her blog for a while now, so I knew a book with patterns constructed by her would be a goodun.

I'm going to start by saying that this book is an absolute breath of fresh air to the crochet world. The patterns aren't for anything out of the ordinary, but the huge difference is that they're actually on trend and aimed at the modern craft world. So many times I've picked up a book, flicked through it and sighed, wondering just how many granny-square cardigans one person can need - as soon as I opened this, I started marking pages. It was like somehow Rachael knew everything I wanted to make and wrote a pattern for it. The scarves and cowls are my absolute favourites - huge, chunky and perfect for our lengthy winter months. Leafing through, I found patterns for hats, a shawl, a couple of bags and a few homewares - all simple to make, and all really, really lovely.

What's even better is that right at the back is a stitch directory, and brief section on how to master the basic stitches used in the patterns throughout the book, meaning that even absolute beginners can have a shot at making something. In short, it's ace, and I'm keeping everything crossed that there's a follow up to come (Rachael, if you're reading - I've always wanted to make a cable cardigan in crochet...!).

To celebrate the publication of Crochet Boutique, Lark Crafts have given me an extra copy to give away to a reader of The Owl and the Accordion - and for good measure, I've added a few titbits in as well....

As well as the book, there's a set of crochet hooks in coloured aluminium, two balls of Sirdar Denim Sport Arun in cream, and one completed Cuddle Cowl, worked up from the pattern in the book.

The cowl is reversible - ribbed on one side....
...and bobbled on the other.
To stand a chance of winning, follow these simple steps:

1. Follow me on Twitter or 'like' The Owl and the Accordion on Facebook.
2. 'Like' Softspoken on Facebook.
3. Leave a comment below to confirm your entry.

The giveaway is open until midnight Thursday 1st November 2012 - entries after this time won't be counted.

And that's it. Good luck!

*I still can't knit, by the way.

Monday, 22 October 2012

on frome and a freebie

When you've got two kiddos and a husband that works twelve hour days, weekends become sacred family time. We try to keep Saturdays for doing fun things, visiting new places or sometimes just relaxing at home - the weekend before last we managed a two-in-one bonanza when we travelled up to Somerset for a fourth birthday party.

Regular readers will know by now that I've got a bit of a preoccupation with all things countryside - fields, cottages, wellies, plants, agas, fresh air, the lot. So when we drove over the border and past the sign that shouted, 'WILTSHIRE', I got a bit over excited, and we stopped to take some pictures.

A few weeks ago, I entered a competition over on Mathilde Heart Manech, organised by the lovely Lisa, and to my surprise I actually won. The prize was a tote bag of choice from Doodle-Bag, an ace company which produce eco-friendly and ethically made cotton tote bags topped off with contemporary illustrations. If you fancy your hand at designing your own, there's the option to customise a bag with text or images of your choice - I chose The Stag by Cherith Harrison, and very pleased with it I was too!

A chilly Autumn day in the country calls for three things - boots, a good coat and knitwear. I went with my new bargain eBay boots (£20 for new, unworn Schuh leather chelsea boots - actually a little small, but hey, they'll stretch!), my beloved teal coat and a jumper that used to belong to my Mum, and was knitted by her own fair hands. All topped off with a reworked vintage necklace, and brand spanking new tote bag.

Best photo face EVER. You should have seen the other ones....

Frome is ace. There's countryside, markets, winding roads, cobbled streets and the BEST vintage shop. Poot is absolutely packed full of retro and vintage treasures, from tea dresses to suits, shoes to bags, jewellery to linens, and a host of homewares. Owned by the loveliest lady, who let me snap pictures of absolutely everything while chatting away happily, and frequented by Pearl Lowe (who I actually stood next to at the counter, but didn't realise until after she'd left), my only regret was that I didn't have time to rummage more.

How amazing is this window display?
More bags than you can shake a stick at.

Linens and the dress I almost bought for Miss Daisy.
There are so many beautiful shops in Frome, and it was only because we had this little man with us that we couldn't spend more time poking about in them (because who drags children round shops? There is pretty much nothing children hate more than shopping):

Who has the biggest grin?
From homewares and stationers, craft shops to florists and everything in between, there's pretty much something for everything, and it's all beeeyoootiful. All topped off with a lovely time at our friends birthday party, and a snooze in the car on the way home - we're counting the weeks until we can make it back again. (I may already have looked at the price of houses in the area.... ahem...)

This reminds me of a road from 'Call the Midwife' - not sure why, seeing as it's full of cars....

Lovely, lovely enamelware.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

tarts, pies, puffs and a giveaway - the result

After a week off, things here at Birthday HQ are finally getting back to normal - admittedly, we're bankrupt and I'm writing this on a sofa covered in juice stains and nacho crumbs, but Benjamin (now aged four) had an ace time. And isn't that what counts?

So. we're back to business as usual - and what better way to kick things off than with the result of the very first Owl and Accordion giveaway? Thank you ever so much for all of your entries, and making it such a success - without further ado, I'm pleased to announce that the winner (picked courtesy of is:

Congratulations to Kim of The Small Things! An e-mail will be winging it's way to you shortly to arrange postage. Well done!

Friday, 12 October 2012

tarts, pies, puffs and a giveaway

A week or so ago, I was sent a copy of a brand new cookbook to review, which covers one of my favourite Autumn and Winter food groups - pies. It's safe to say that I'm not the worlds best cook - most things that are a triumph in my kitchen are a result of luck rather than judgement. Don't get me wrong, I can make a good ol' shepherds pie or lasagne from scratch, but Nigella I'm not. However, I'm slightly better at baking - I know how to make cupcakes (mostly thanks to my Mum's infallible recipes), I've recently learned how to make pizza dough (ta very much, Hugh F-W) and I've got grand plans to work out how to make yorkshire puddings (because Sunday lunch just isn't the same without them).

The book I was sent, 'Tart It Up!' by Eric Lanlard is a beautiful, beautiful hardback cookbook with mouth watering food photography like this:

Don't give me that, we're all thinking about the 'C' word already....

This book is ace. There's a section at the front on perfecting your pastry, the majority of the recipes have gorgeous images to accompany them, and right at the back is a space dedicated to quick sweet bakes - which is where I took my tester recipe from. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, banana and chocolate puffs:

I'm going to be honest - I tried making these when the eldest was running around my feet, desperately trying to lick everything that had chocolate on it, and the baby was wailing , and I forgot to put the sugar on top before they went in the oven. That aside, they were great - the Husband claimed they were awesome, my Mum liked them, and they took about five minutes to prepare, and fifteen to cook. A great little project if you have youngsters that can keep their tongues to themselves. Ahem.

To celebrate the publication of the book, I've decided to roll out the very first Owl and Accordion giveaway. Drum roll please.... drrrrrr......

Readers of this blog have the chance to win everything pictured above - the cookbook, a 1960's paisley apron (to protect your frock while you whizz up a few pies), two vintage linen napkins, two vintage plates from my collection (one is pyrex, PYREX I tell you!) and two retro cups. So basically, tea for two. Hurrah!

To enter all you have to do is:
1. Leave a comment on this blog post, making sure that you have the correct contact details attached to it.
2. Follow me on Twitter, or like the Owl and the Accordion on Facebook.

The giveaway closes one week from today, and the winner will be announced via this blog shortly after.

And that's it! On your marks, get set, go!

Monday, 8 October 2012

winter coats

The best, best thing about the start of Autumn and Winter is (apart from the soups and stews, the beautiful scenery and the knitwear) thinking about getting the big, warm coats out of the back of the cupboard, where they were shoved a few months ago. I've already got two really decent numbers, a teal wool swing coat bought for a bargain £6 from the Rowans Hospice charity shop, and a forties-esque tweed version with the best faux fur collar. (I've also got this massive full length insulated duvet-style thing that my Mum bought me last year - brilliantly warm, and definitely the best for those freezing trips to the park.) I like to think there's no such thing as too many coats (or dresses, or blouses, or accessories....), but at the same time I'm trying to limit my consumption levels, and also my spending. So I've done the internet version of window shopping instead, and come up with my five favourite winter coats this year. Drum roll please:

1. Wool Cape, £145, American Apparel
When it comes to coats, I always think they should be a bit of a statement - bright colours, prints, little details, the works (although probably not all in one go....) I've got a bit of a thing for quirky clothes, (although recently I seem to have lost my way when it comes to style - I spend most of my time in skinny jeans, converse, a t-shirt and a cardigan, AKA the Young Mum Uniform) and this usually extends to outerwear as well, which is one of the reasons I've put this American Apparel cape on the top spot. Capes have the ability to look modern and retro, depending on how you wear them, and there's something a little bit great about a coat that you can comfortably fit a baby sling under. On top of all that, American Apparel are one of the brands I'm comfortable buying from, as they're ethical and environmentally aware - I love that you can look around their factory here (you can even see what people have for their lunch!), and you can also read more about the company here.

2. Komodo Manchu Fair Trade Coat, £145,
Another thing I look for in a coat is volume - there's not much better than a good bit of knitwear, a huge coat and some skinny jeans when it's freezing out. This one from Fashion Conscience is grand; the print is great, the shape is ace, and it's fairly traded. A lot of people stick to the high street because they think that ethical clothing is either too expensive, or made of hemp, but this coat is a prime example of what you can find online - and you can't ignore the fact that it's no more expensive than a coat from some of the pricier high street shops, and a darn sight cheaper than most designer brands. Hurrah!

3. 'Miriam' Double Breasted Fur Collar Coat, £115, Dahlia London
If ever there was a coat that would look tip-top with coloured tights and clogs, then this is it. The retro cut, the massive faux fur collar and the bright colour tick all the boxes, and to top it all off, the lining is covered in a Russian Doll print. I love how it looks like it's a little bit vintage as well - anything that could be straight out of the sixties or seventies makes my heart beat that teeny bit faster.

4. Pleat Swing Front Coat, £70,
It's got a funnel neckline and a swing shape - and more importantly, it's teal. TEAL. If you're a frequent reader, you'll know that my three great colour loves are blue, mustard and.... teal. Enough said.

5. Fringed Leather Jacket, £130,
OK, so it's not exactly what you might call a winter coat, but you could certainly wear it during the autumn, and out to dinner in the evenings. Completely impractical for a mother-of-two, number five is my fantasy buy - in my head (like many of us approaching thirty, I reckon!) I'm still twenty-two and dressing inappropriately!
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