30th Oct 2008
Jane: The ghostly meringue banshees went down so well with trick or treaters last Halloween that I thought I'd make a similar version on a devilish theme this year. The devil meringue had to be red, with diabolical horns, a fiendish mouth and an evil expression (sadly, I knew cloven hoofs and a devil's fork were way too ambitious for the medium of meringue). In the end, even 'red' turned into a bit of challenge. I made the meringue as normal (for instructions see meringue banshees) and at the last minute added my red food colouring.
The mixture turned a light pink. I added some more colouring, it turned a slightly darker pink. I could see that if I added the 2 or 3 teaspoonfuls needed to make the mixture a deep and bloody red, the meringue would be so sloppy it wouldn't hold the devil shape. So the devil became pink (hope he didn't mind).
On a sheet of greaseproof paper, I whirled spoonfuls of pink meringue to try and create a devil shape. The floppy mixture wouldn't quite hold and kept squidging out sideways, getting fatter and fatter as I added more for height. Still, fat devils can be fiendish too. I shaped two crescent horns using a straw, whirled some eyes, and drew a long downturned mouth. Then I shoved the little monster in the oven to crisp up. I had a peek about an hour in and the devil was frothing red blood (the colouring) from the gash of his mouth – marvellously gruesome. I left overnight hoping the blood would solidify creating a truly scary sight.
In the end, there was just a dribble of blood, but the devil looked rather splendid as though he'd been on a three-day eating and drinking orgy, his horns slightly bashed and with a rueful but still devilish expression on his face.
27th Oct 2008
Tamsin: We decided this year to theme our Halloween around Devils. A devil must have horns, sinister eyes, a mean mouth and red skin. For our cupcakes all this had to be achieved with a selection of sweets from the newsagents which unfortunately excluded liquorice (the smell is enough to make me feel rather woozy). This was a bit of a handicap due to the lack of other black sweets around, so we decided purple ones would be a fine substitute.
A large teaspoon of artificial red food colouring went into the sponge mixture before baking and at least another large teaspoon into the icing to cover the 12 cup cakes.
Carla, Sara and I began to experiment with the variety of sweets we had managed to find.
The best horns turned out to be Fruit Polos that we ‘sawed’ in half. The only problem was our packet only contained three purple ones, and it was rather too easy to create fruit splinters rather than horns when cutting them.
Tic-tacs made good eyes and a tube of black icing was best for the wicked eyebrows.
The cakes would make good trick and treat gifts but the best fun is creating the different devil faces. If you need to entertain some devilish kids, decorating these could keep them amused for quite a while.
23rd Oct 2008
Jane: As a gruesome welcome to trick or treaters this year, we wanted to try out something new and a bit different – some gorgeously gassy grotesques. The idea of three expanding Halloween balloon monsters lined up in a row, wobbling and burping horribly before our eyes, seemed very enticing. So Edie drew some monstrous mouths, eyes and noses – enough for three faces (see below) – and cut them out. We found three small bottles, some orange balloons, and got out the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar ready for the old explosion trick
First we filled the balloons with a very big teaspoonful of bicarb using a funnel (flow it in gently, otherwise it can get stuck in the neck). Then we filled the three bottles one-third full with vinegar.
We attached the neck of the balloons over the bottles, making sure to pull the plastic down as far as we could and being careful to flop the balloon over to one side so no bicarb falls in to the bottle.
Then we stuck the eyes, mouths and noses upside down on the balloons, with a small separate piece of blu-tack on each bit.
Then came the exciting bit – we turned up the balloons so the bicarb fell into the vinegar, and the balloons began to expand with the carbon dioxide produced. The faces stretched and grimaced, and started flopping madly on their wobbly necks. The bottles were made of plastic – not quite heavy enough to support the weight of the balloons – so they all fell over and crashed. It was messy, very messy! But also very good (and a little bit scientific) fun.
19th Oct 2008
Carla and Sara: One afternoon we decided to design and make paper dresses out of fully recyclable materials. We had to find old newspapers, scrap paper, flowers from the garden, string, straws and some tape to stick it all together. We drew a picture of what we wanted the dresses to look like but somehow they turned out completely different!
Sara: I made the skirt by sticking five or six sheets (depending on your size) of newspaper together in a long line. I then started to ruffle them together and stuck them with tape along the top. The effect was the big sticky-out skirt that was then attached to the top Carla made. However, you can do any style you like - why not try straight cut, a pleated mini skirt or even a full length ball gown!
Carla: I made the top and necklace. For the top, I used around three or four sheets of newspaper. I stuck them together with tape and tied it round me, then added some string to fit it snugly. I next rolled up a small sheet of newspaper to make a belt around the top and then it was done. The necklace was easy to make. I got two straws of the same colour and crossed them over. Then I chose the pretty flower (a passion flower) and stuck it on to the straws. I cut a length of string and threaded it through the straws and used tape to stick them down – and there was the necklace.
Carla and Sara: When everything was put together they look kind of like real dresses. The one problem was that you couldn’t really move when you were wearing them.
We decided to call the look Urban Fairy.
After we had finished and the photos had been taken we had fun ripping them off.
Unfortunately we'd made a lot of mess and it took a while to clear up!
13th Oct 2008
Tamsin: As I walk out of my garden gate each morning I watch this spider. It has got so big now that innocent members of the public walking past have stopped in their tracks to stare at the beast.
It is not surprising that it's so big as I have observed it slowly devouring enormous black flies over the last few weeks. I was a bit disappointed to find that it is called a Garden Spider and that it likes to sit in the middle of its web waiting for its unlucky prey. I think it's a female as they are larger than the males.
I am hoping that Carla does not notice it, as she suffers from arachnophobia and can dissolve into a shivering wreck if confronted by our eight-legged friends. I am not keen on them either, and we have had some horribly big house spiders this year which I've had to catch with a glass and postcard. I swear they have a homing device: one evening I evicted one from our sitting room, deposited it out of the front door and then half an hour later it appeared again.
Still, their webs are beautiful especially on a dew heavy morning, so maybe it's worth a bit of horror.
6th Oct 2008
Tamsin: This weekend it rained and rained, so what better thing to do than put on a play?
This was not my idea but Maudie, Carla and Edie’s. They spent the whole of Saturday and Sunday writing scripts, rehearsing and performing two historical dramas – one about Queen Victoria (which involved a bedside death scene and suitors for the princess), and one that told the story of Henry VIII and his six wives. Much appreciative laughter was given by the audience, as the actors managed swift changes of outfits and portrayed a rather humorous take on our country's royalty.
For the show we had to get out the ‘family’ dressing-up box. We have two boxes – a dressing-up box full of fluffy pink fairy outfits and wizard capes, and the family ‘heirloom’ box filled with garments from many different decades of my family's life, some over 100 years old.
My parents passed this box over to me during a recent attic clearance, adding some of their own clothes to the collection (my dad's National Service uniform, and several of my mum's dresses from the hippy 70s). It is always great fun to delve into its contents and visualise a life you can only guess at, because you have to remember as you pull out each oddity that these were real clothes, never meant to be for dressing-up. It makes me think about what I will add to the box for future generations to smile over and wonder why on earth someone would wear something like that!
These socks were my great-grandfather's - much darning has been done on them.
How did they keep this so white in the jungle?
This was a silk outfit my grandmother wore to my mother's wedding.
My grandfather's green beret.
Luckily, our family has the nose for these.
When this was made everyone had to wear something on their heads.
Why we have this chain, we don't know - probably presented to a family member when they worked in Asia.
Just about a wig.
1st Oct 2008
Jane: Last weekend the children were camping, so Mal and I went hedgerow picking with a step ladder. Ooh, it made life much easier. We could reach all the sloes and lovely juicy blackberries that everyone else had left behind. I’ve just bought a fantastic book, Hedgerow Medicine, which shows you how to make teas, tinctures and balms from the plants that are all around us. But I started off with hedgerow jelly:
This has a lovely delicate flavour and despite the sugar can even be called healthy (hawthorn especially is good for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol). I used a mix of sweet (blackberry), bitter (sloes) and sour (rosehips, hawthorns) flavours but you can use any hedgerow fruits including rowan berries. Always use the same amount of cooking apples as other fruit: they provide the pectin to set the jelly.
1kg cooking apples
150g hawthorn berries (haws)
About 2 litres water, to cover
2kg granulated sugar
Wash the apples and cut into big chunks, leaving the skin, pips and cores on. Strip the fruit from the stalks (no need to top and tail) and rinse. Put all the fruit into a big preserving pan, and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until the fruit is soft, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Put the mixture into a muslin-covered sieve or three-legged jelly bag and leave to drip into a pan. This might take an hour or more but don’t hurry it – if you squeeze the bag the jelly will not be clear. Measure the juice, then return to the pan. (Make sure the pan is only half full: if you have more juice than that, do a second boiling.) Add in 500g sugar for every 500ml juice.
Heat the pan gently, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Then bring to the boil, skimming off any white scum that forms on the top. Turn the heat down, and leave to simmer uncovered until setting point (105ºC, 221ºF) is reached, usually about 10 to 15 minutes. I use a thermometer or you can try the wrinkle test: place a teaspoon of jelly on a cold saucer (keep in the fridge), leave to cool for a minute, then drag your finger over – if the top wrinkles, it’s ready. (Always take the pan off the stove while doing this to avoid overcooking, which loses the set.)
Pot into warmed sterilised jars and immediately place a wax circle on top (wax side down), and seal. Store in a cool place. Tie a pretty ribbon round and label.