Our new room, inside & out

We are about 2 weeks in to having a fully functional kitchen – hurrah! – and the honeymoon period is still definitely on.

True, there have been a few bumps and scrapes on paintwork already, and the ‘fun’ of learning my way round a new oven, washing machine and dishwasher, but there is no mistaking we have a proper, workable family room at last.

Getting used to a large kitchen is an interesting challenge – room for two adults to prepare food without getting in each other’s way is a plus, but a looong walk to get to a tea towel or open the fridge door is something to get used to!

Other big improvements are a proper recycling bin rather than an overflowing bag, and finally enough deep drawers for all the saucepans.

Here’s a picture of the kitchen as it looked at the weekend: not at its tidiest, but looking well-used, I hope (we have thrown ourselves back into proper cooking with a vengeance: veg soup, roast dinner, shepherd’s pie AND veggie mushroom version, macaroni cheese, lemon pudding…I am rediscovering the joys of having enough leftovers to make Monday night dinner!)

The dining area we all love already – table, light, and awesome fitted shelves and cupboards which we haven’t even filled…yet. Just being able to sit round the table properly to eat after months of eating on our laps is a joy.


The bit that doesn’t feel quite finished yet is the sitting area overlooking the garden – currently occupied by my old red sofa, soon to be home to a bigger new sofa, but still awaiting storage for toys and a coffee table and whatever else we think might be missing.

The one thing I knew I would love is being able to sit down there and look at the garden – finally it doesn’t feel like the garden is separate from the house, it has become an integral part of the home.

The amount of light coming into the room is even better than I could have imagined, and even on a wet day, with rain pouring down the Veluxes, it’s a pleasure to be there just taking it all in.


Finally, here’s some pictures of the odd little nooks and corners:

What used to be our funny inside-outside corridor, now mostly an outdoor side return, which may eventually house some kind of storage unit for garden things: it looks so much bigger than when it was ‘indoors’ it feels like a waste not to use it for something!


Next is the teeny tiny utility cubby hole, what was going to be an actual utility room. Just big enough now for the washing machine and boiler, but it is also somewhere to leave muddy boots and gives us that little bit of extra space between us & the outside world. (And we also have, not photographed, the holy grail of the downstairs loo, and some proper hall storage for shoes & coats courtesy of a trip to Ikea this weekend).


After a severe drenching at the weekend, the lawn we are trying to reseed is looking pretty dreadful, but we did get an hour of work done tidying up the garden on Saturday morning, before the serious rain set in.

Flower pots have been returned to the patio and overgrown shrubs hacked back, and it’s all looking a lot smarter than it has for the last few months.


And there is always the view of the house, plus the new patio and path which I’m still in love with, to stop and admire while I’m working.

It has been a long, stressful four months of having strangers in our house 6 days a week, noise, dust and chaos, but we have gained a very happy house – now to get on with the job of living in it, and planning for Christmas. Other projects and plans can wait now for 2015 and beyond!


Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s…tasty?

When I began planning my urban cottage garden, it went without saying I would be planting herbs.

Herbs, to me, are the classic cottage garden plant, and for those of us lacking the space or the skill to grow proper fruit or vegetables, it’s an easy way to grow something we can use for cooking, and subsequently feel all smug about in a Good Life kind of way. (Not that all herbs are easy to grow, as I’ve learned, but that’s a whole other blog post).

The first plant I grew in the garden was lavender, planted by the back door to get the full benefit of the beautiful scent, but unless I started making those little lavender bags which end up in the drawer with the tights that never fitted and that scarf which just doesn’t go with anything, there wasn’t really anything I could do with it.

Lavender and roses in a Dulwich garden – classic cottage garden style

I did like the idea of making lavender cupcakes, having tried them in posh cupcake shops over the years, but was put off by the rather complicated recipes I’d seen (and by the prospect of fiddling round with red and blue food colouring to get just the right shade of icing).

Then I was given this book, and found it had what looked like a very straightforward recipe. The lavender in the garden had just come into bloom, and I was going to a NCT mums meet-up where cake was going to feature heavily, so I thought I had better give it a go.

The recipe called for 6 lavender flower heads, but I threw caution to the wind and picked 8.

These were chopped up using my beloved mezzaluna (how Habitat catalogue circa 1988 am I?) and added to the cake batter. It felt a bit odd adding raw flowers straight from the garden to food (they had been washed first, I must stress!) but once mixed in, the batter looked pretty much as normal and the smell of lavender was not overpowering – to the extent I was a bit worried the flavour might end up a bit diluted.

After cooking, however, the cakes had a lovely lavendery scent and rose perfectly – always a worry when trying a recipe for the first time.

The icing was, as I predicted, the most fussy part of the recipe – why food colouring bottles aren’t made with droppers in the top any more, so you can add colour a drop at a time, I don’t know – and I ended up with blue fingernails in the attempt to get the perfect shade.

Cupcakes iced and finished with crystallised violets

The recipe called for glace rather than buttercream icing, which was at least easier to make, and flavoured with orange juice. I added crystallised violets as decoration – not strictly according to the recipe, but I love crystallised flowers (would it surprise you to learn the last cakes I made were flavoured with rose water and decorated with rose petals?) and, well, the colour matched.

As it turned out, the lavender flavour was just about perfect – not over-dominant, but not too subtle either, and even my husband, who probably doesn’t quite share my love of flowery cupcakes, liked them too.

My next plans? As the combination of orange and lavender seems to go so well together, I’d like to try them together in a shortbread biscuit…and I’m also keen to do some baking with rosemary, as my ever-hardy rosemary bush grows bigger and bigger, and I’m always looking for new ways to use it. Perhaps my book has a muffin recipe I could try out….