Monday, 25 May 2015

Spritz & Snacks: Inspired by Venice

aperol spritz and virgin spritz by Alexis

One thing that we brought back with us from our trip to Paris and Venice was a spritz & snack habit.

Cantina del Mori - cicheti in Venice -

In planning for Venice we used the Polpo cookbook as a culinary guidebook and once we were there we sought out quite a few bars that are recommended in the back of the book. Most evenings - and some lunchtimes too - we'd stop in a bar, often the kind that you might otherwise pass without looking twice, order a spritz (or glass of wine if it was the second bar of the day) and choose some snacks from the bar.

Cantina del Mori - cicheti in Venice -
Cicheti near the Rialto Market at Cantina del Mori

Cicheti, as they are known in Venice, snacks to our children, are most often made from really simple ingredients in bars where kitchen space is limited or nonexistent. Mostly they are mouth sized bites, quite tapas like, with a cocktail stick in for easy serving from the counter. We'd choose a couple that took our fancy and let the children choose theirs too and then sit or stand in the evening sunshine pondering the day... or what we were going to do for dinner (always easier when when you're not completely starving).

Canalside cicheti in Venice -
Canalside spritz and cicheti - food tourists!

This was on our last evening where we had a mini bar crawl along a canal opposite a gondola workshop - and some of the best cicheti of the trip.

Making an aperol spritz -

So back in our kitchen at home this is becoming a typical Friday night scene. An aperol or campari spritz for adults and a virgin spritz for the small people.
We make ours with two parts aperol, three parts prosseco and a splash of soda water. Ice, a slice of lemon and a green olive are also compulsorily.
The children's versions are made with some still lemonade, soda water and some blood orange San Pellegrino - mainly for the colour, although they do taste good. Coco and Henry love olives but for other children we've added grapes on a cocktail stick instead.

Coco having a virgin spritz -

cicheti needs fresh seasonal ingredients!

For the snack it's meant to be all about what's local and seasonal - so radishes from the garden (I know - so right on... please take this with a bucket full of salt)!

An english take on cicheti -

Homemade cicheti -

We've had a good variety of bits and bobs so far, it really is anything goes. Sometimes we just take things out of the fridge and lay them out so we can create our own combinations

Hugh says a max of two ingredients per item... Coco and Henry often dream up their own and make us try them, turns the tables a bit!

An english take on cicheti -

An English take on cicheti with glutney chutney, chedder and cucumber. If you're lucky you might even get table service!

Friday, 22 May 2015

Snail Mail #2: A Month of Letters

on my desk - letter writing by alexis at

One of the side effects of having been to boarding school is that letters are inherently exciting. News from the outside!
We used to collect our post at morning break time, we'd all go to the dinning room for a drink and biscuit (still love a custard cream) and the post would be laid out on tables for you to collect. Oh the boxes of letters I have... and books of them too - I bound old envelopes into books at college. I developed some strong and lasting friendships via letters back in my teens. They'll keep me entertained in my old age for sure. Yes, I definitely have a thing for letters, especially letters in brown envelopes (I blame a prolific letter writing boy for that one).
At risk of sounding like Julie Andrews can you imagine how happy I was about a brown envelope arriving with that feather in from Lou and Cathy? My new tribe (and I'm basically talking about all the people I follow on blogs and instagram here...) really know how to do post.
Anyway I digress...

on my desk - letter writing with tea and irises by alexis at

After signing Coco and Henry up to the little letters project (back in Feb!) I decided I also wanted in on the letter writing. 

So in February I tried to write a letter a day - I didn't get that far, but I wrote a lot more than I've written in a long time. I sent some long over due thank-you notes and a moving card (also over due) plus I started to action a plan I've had for a while of sending people photos - good ones that they might have forgotten were taken.
The idea was sparked by seeing my instagram friend @ridasj using the hashtag #ourmonthofletters - her project was slightly different in that she spent the month communicating with one friend purely by letter... something I'd love to have a go at some time.

I'm slowly continuing down my long list of people to write to - writing daily was a bit too much - but a couple of letters, or realistically; one letter, a week is doable.

Alice in Wonderland stamps

Plus this project is a good excuse to indulge in buying picture stamps. Not that I really need an excuse...

A pressed flower card

And occasionally a way to share some pressed flowers too.
Sending is definitely as good as receiving. My next aim is to get people birthday cards on time - I need to get organised and do something like this that Heather posted about a while ago.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Paris and Venice with Children: Part 1

Over the Easter break we embarked on the kind of holiday we haven't done with children before; the (slightly extended) city break. We traveled overland to Venice - first by Eurostar to Paris and then after four nights in Paris by the overnight Thello train from Paris to Venice.
Overall the holiday was great - probably better in retrospect in some parts (as I think things involving children sometimes are...). But I think Coco and Henry had a pretty good time and it was lovely to get almost a full two weeks together just the four of us.

I thought I'd just do an overview of the holiday and what worked for us. I've optimistically called this post 'part 1' as I intend to gradually go through what we did (but my blog is getting a little neglected at the moment so that might not happen)!

We didn't try to cram in lots of activities, in fact we hardly did any 'culture'. Almost as soon as we got to Paris we decided not to charge around trying to do a million things but instead to make sure we just go there more often... it is so easy!

Setting off from home on a Monday morning  - we left early enough to be in Paris for lunch. The major drama of the trip happened as soon as we were in the queue for security at St Pancras and Coco realised she'd left Teddy at home. There were lots of tears and she missed her throughout the trip too, "Teddy was so looking forward to seeing the Eiffel tower" etc etc.

On our first day we checked into our perfectly located airbnb apartment and then headed out for a bite to eat. We ended up in the not so French Frenchie, a kind of French/American deli, but it was delicious, hit the spot perfectly and fueled us for an afternoon of wandering.

Rue Montorgueil - right near our apartment, perfect for food shopping and people watching. 

We walked through the courtyard of the Louve... Coco was intrigued by all the people taking just these kind of photos so we jumped on the band wagon and had a go too.
I was intrigued by the sheer number of selfie sticks we saw. Slightly unreal.

We made our way through The Tuileries Garden where the children spent a good hour in the playground while we sat with take away tea perusing our guide book and admiring all the immaculately dressed French children.

Eventually we coaxed the children away with the promise of a carousel ride...

More wandering... Paris was starting to bloom, we didn't really get the best weather, it still looked pretty stunning.

Then we shopped for supper, taking home a medley of gorgeous quiche, salad, cheese and bread (not actually a supper of sweets as Coco and Henry would have liked).

After a busy day of travelling and walking and a nice bottle of French wine for me and Hugh we all slept very soundly ready for the next day of our adventure...

Friday, 15 May 2015

Purple & Blue in the Garden

Like last month I wanted to make a quick record of what is out in our garden - and have another got at some modern calligraphy. 
It's all about purple and blue at the moment... the orange tulips and daffs are all but gone. The bearded iris are blooming, there are enough buds coming that I didn't feel too bad about bringing one stem in for a vase. These iris' were transplanted from my parents garden and have expanded so that now that have a quite a patch.
The alliums are almost at their best, the salvia just coming into flower along with the nepeta (which always reminds me what a great backdrop it made when I hosted the nursery photo course a couple of years ago... )

So it's been busy in the garden and busy with me too. Hence the lack of blogging... I'm hoping to get a chance to catch up - but I think I'm always chasing that dream!

Cotton Twist (my new business venture) is taking up lots of time at the moment - which is mostly a good thing. Orders from our website are starting to pop up - some from readers here which makes me very happy so THANK YOU - you know who you are! We've also just launched a storefront on Not On The High Street and I've broken my longtime aversion to Facebook and we have a Cotton Twist page there so please come and show us some love if you feel inclined!

I'll be back soon - I promise. In the meantime, happy Friday everyone! Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Styling the Seasons: April

In an attempt to be organised I took these photos a couple of weeks ago with a plan to actually schedule this post for while I was on holiday... but I'm obviously not destined to be an organised blogger and so it is that already these photos feel out of date...

The blossom buds, cut from a tree in the garden have bloomed and the petals have blown away already. The chionodoxa (just seen on the left) is all but gone and we have a lot more muscari out than we had a couple of weeks ago - when I could hardly bring myself to cut what I wanted for this photo.

But change in the garden is what April is all about... it's coming to life. It's the time to plan the veg patch and to start sowing seeds for the season ahead. The potting shed would be the place to be - if only we had one. Instead we pot up seeds outside and keep them inside on windowsills or on the floor by the doors out into garden where we can watch them germinate and grow before planting them out.

I'm a bit in love with botanical drawing. I keep thinking I'll try to draw some of the plants in the garden - but I still haven't got around to it.

As a sort of nod to the documentary nature of botanical drawings I thought I'd photograph what was out instead and maybe the act of writing down the names of the flowers will help me remember them too (plus it was a good excuse to practice my calligraphy). I used to love Polly's monthly garden mood boards and I have wondered if I should do the same one year... but the last thing I need is another project... what I really need to do is get out in the sunshine and do some weeding/digging/potting up/planting out instead!

Styling The Seasons is a monthly challenge run by Katy and Charlotte - anyone can join in - just show an area in your home styled to show what the season/month means to you. This month they are running a competition too - see their blogs for all the details!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Paris & Venice: Books for the Kids

Over the last couple of weeks I've been pouring over guide books and googling things to do with children in Paris and Venice, so in order to get the children in the mood for our up and coming adventure we collected together a few books so that they could do their own 'research'.

Some we had already - like the Paris Hide and Seek and the Panda and the Odd Lion (a funny second hand book about the winged Lion of Venice).

I took myself on a little detour to Hatchards the other day - their Children's book department is wonderful - and got a couple more:
This is Paris
This is Venice
Olivia goes to Venice
Paris - Everything you ever wanted to know

I actually could easily have spent a small fortune... but I held back, here are some of the books I reluctantly didn't buy
A walk in Paris
A Lion in Paris
The Madeline Books
Stickyscape Paris
Paris colouring book (city)
Paris City Walks (partly as I couldn't find a copy - but it looks fab)

We've also spent a bit of time 'doing' pages in the Usbourne first french words sticker book and playing french bingo... (helping to touch up my GCSE French too).

Coco (7) seems to have read 'Paris Everything you ever wanted to know' from cover to cover - but as she keeps telling us it's 'not for parents' so she's being a bit mean about sharing any information. She is still adamant that the main things she wants to do are to go up the Eiffel tower and to see the Mona Lisa.
Oh, and take a boat down the seine... Despite the comparative lack of books on Venice Coco has announced that she thinks she'll enjoy Venice more than Paris... we'll see, I'll get her to report back!

The books have also sparked off some ideas of our own about how to keep the children entertained. I'm planning on making some kind of carousel token system - basically a reward chart - we're budgeting for one carousel ride a day for the children but they might have to 'earn' it a little... (obviously there's a big assumption here that they'll WANT to go on carousels... I off course am just thinking about the photo opportunities... so predictable).

We've gleaned some facts, such as Venice having 177 bridges so we'll do a tick-off chart of some kind for those - Coco loved doing cat spotting in Marrakech last year.

I definitely think the small people are ready for this trip - I'm not sure what they are going to really make of it all...

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Styling the Seasons: March

Planning for Paris & Venice

I have spent a lot of this month in anticipation of our up and coming trip to Paris and Venice.

We decided to do this overland trip from London ~ Venice via Paris last year and we were very timely about booking our transport (eurostar to Paris, overnight train from Paris to Venice and flight home from Venice) and then we kind of sat back and forgot that we needed to organise other things, like, um, places to stay.

So this month I've mainly been hanging out on airbnb. But finally we are sorted.

I bought a couple of maps at our local Oxfam book shop and I pinned one up above my desk with our route on - partly for Coco and Henry to be able to start to get a sense of where we are going and partly to cajool myself into getting the rest of the trip sorted. I added the train (the kids excitement about sleeping on a train is almost uncontainable) the Eiffel tower keyring and the metro tickets - from the last time we were in Paris about 6 years ago. My advent calender still hasn't been put away because it's so beautiful I can't believe that soon we'll be standing in front of the real Saint Mark's Basilica.
The daffs from our garden... well, they are just some daffodils from our garden, because, you know, it's March.

I've got a new sketchbook for the trip ready so we'll be taking lots of drawing things as normal, maybe a few rubber stamps (the ones in the image are some new ones I got from Paperchase). Hugh's sister has also made us each a little notebook too so we'll be encouraging the children to do some sketching too.

Until I started really researching the trip I was wondering if we were a bit mad having such a city orientated holiday (despite that fact that this trip was really driven by Coco's desire to see these two cities after a school project on Europe last year). But the more research we've done the more I've thought it's going to be fine.
I've got two books on Paris which both have tonnes of great stuff to do - Paris with Children and Around Paris with Kids there is no way we are going to be bored, I think we'll be spending more time in playgrounds than in museums but I'm quite up for that. As long as I also get a bit of time to do some wandering and window shopping.
We are very food orientated tourists - Hugh has been reading the Polpo cook book in preparation for Venice and he cooked a good spread of cichetti which we took over to our neighbours last night. I spent a couple of mouth watering hours reading The Paris Gourmet which made me think that we're not going to have nearly enough meal-times in Paris...

I've also, of course, been doing research in blogland too - both Lori and Fritha have good posts on Paris and Courtney took her four children to Venice last year too. Skye McAlpine wrote a Venice guide on  Design Sponge and has recently written a 'Secret Venice' section on her website.
So although we still don't have a set plan-plan we kind of know what we want to do - and are also happy to see where the mood takes us armed with a bit more knowledge.

So, time to get packing... we leave tomorrow -  but I just had to get my styling the seasons post in before the end of March. Next month will surely be all about flowers and the garden - so except for the daffs it's good to do something a little different!

Styling The Seasons is a monthly challenge run by Katy and Charlotte - anyone can join in - just show an area in your home styled to show what the season/month means to you.