I’m feeling a little bit sorry for the trees. We all wax lyrical about their golden autumn leaves, we look out for their spring blossom and laze under their leafy shade in the summer. But in winter, they’re somewhat neglected. We all stay in on our cosy sofas wrapped up in blankets while they shiver nakedly outside, where chilly dog walkers walk by with their heads down and not so much as a glance.
Maybe because it’s because I spend a lot of time in my day job writing about the natural beauty of wood, or maybe it’s because I’m trying harder to look up and out, but I’ve been finding the bare trees very inspiring this season.
Without their summer finery you can see the eccentricities of their shapes, the crooks and forks that they have been brow beaten into forming and their angular silhouettes against the white winter sky. You can appreciate all the energy it’s taken for them to force themselves up through the canopy to the light overhead. You can see how their life has turned, with fallen down branches and dead sections bursting with new sprouts, or the squirrel scampering up to its nest in a high up hollow. Resilient old things, trees.
As regular followers on Instagram will know, I have a thing for collecting sticks and other forest-y bits – as I sit and write this I am surrounded by the best part of a woodland (not even really exaggerating). So when Jord got in touch*, I was excited to have a little piece of forestry to take with me everywhere.
In the past I’d always been a little cynical about wood watches – were they a gimmick? Would they actually be comfortable? Are they a little too tree-huggy, even for me?! While Jord’s site had enough inspiration to allay that last fear, the only way to find out about the first two was to try it for myself.
I went for Jord’s newest design, the Reece, for the simple reason that it won the eeny-meeny-miny-mo competition. I totally couldn’t choose. Then it arrived in the most gorgeous box – and if there’s one thing I love more than sticks its boxes. Worth it just for the packaging.
So, issue one. Was it a gimmick? When you have it in your hands, turning it over and between your fingers, you can feel the quality. It’s heavy, and the watch face looks, well, like a proper watch.
jhhIssue two, comfort. Shockingly, it’s just as comfortable as any other watch. No heavier, no more bulky. I’ve never worn jewellery as I don’t like the feel of metal against my skin – it’s either too cold or gets warm and sticky in the heat. The constant temperature and state of the wood bracelet was an unexpected tonic to this. The only comfort issue I have is the fact that I have really small wrists so it’s slightly annoying that there aren’t half links to remove, but I don’t mind it slightly sliding along my wrist.
If you’d like a Jord wood watch of your own, you can enter my giveaway for either a $100 or $25 Jord gift card – expires midnight on the 19th March!
Are you going to look at winter trees differently for the rest of the season?
*I was sent my Jord luxury wooden watch to review, but the views are 100% mine and from the heart
Throughout my Instagram explorations some of my favourite accounts are those run by makers: not only do they post beautiful photographs, but they’ve actually made the things they’re posting – a double whammy of creativity.
One of the makers I’ve got to know is Alicia from @botanicalthreads. She makes scarfs, tea towels and other textiles using natural plant dyes she makes herself. It seems like such a perfectly slow craft – taking time over the stove, hours worth of dyeing and setting, the waiting to see how it will turn out. I was fascinated by the fact that it was something that people could actually just do in their kitchen.
So I caught up with Alicia to find out more about botanical dyeing, get clued up on her process and tips
and find out how to get started in your own kitchen this weekend…
What is botanical dyeing?
Botanical dye is a dye that is made using part or all of a plant. For example rosemary and lavender produce a dye from their leaves, the madder plant produces a dye from its roots, and the dye from avocados is extracted from their stones and skins. The dyes can be extracted just by soaking the plants in hot water, though sometimes they need the addition of chalk or iron to enhance the colours.
How did you get into botanical dyeing?
During the day I work as a gardener for the National Trust and I first came across botanical dyeing in a gardening book. I then spent the next 3 weeks collecting carrot tops from the vegetable garden at work and made my first dye: a lovely green colour that I dyed a canvas bag with.
Unfortunately I discovered that carrot top dye is not in the slightest bit colour-fast and within a few days the green colour had faded to almost nothing, so this led me to spend a long time researching and practising techniques.
The Fun Stuff
Describe your process from avocado to scarf:
Before I dye it, I treat the fabric with soya milk which acts as a natural fixative between the dye and the fabric. I soak the fabric several times and after it has dried a final time I leave it for at least a week, to let the the soya milk properly settle into the fibres.
To make the avocado dye I heat either the skins or stones (they make different colours so don’t mix them) in water and leave them to soak for several days, until the water turns a deep shade of pink/red. Avocado dye is high is tannins so the colour sticks to the fabric quickly. To achieve the lightest shades of pink sometimes the fabric only needs to be in the dye pot for 30 seconds.
After dyeing, I always leave the fabric for at least a week, before ironing it to fix the colour and washing it to get rid of any excess dye.
Are there any safety precautions you need to take?
It’s important to remember to keep food away from your dyeing area and to keep separate utensils and pots specially for dyeing. It’s also important to keep the room well ventilated when you are dyeing and avoid inhaling the fumes from a pot when your lift the lid to check. Just because you a working with natural products doesn’t mean that they are harmless – some of the worlds most powerful drugs are created from plants, remember!
What plants can you use to dye?
I think the most fail safe plants to dye with are avocados as these tend to produce consistent colours (pink/peachy-pink) and are light-fast and colour-fast on fabrics. Eucalyptus procures a nice peach shade but does sometimes take a really long time to extract the colour from the plant.
Rosemary and lavender produce shades of grey and have the benefit of making the whole house smell delicious when they are heated. If you give yourself time to experiment a little you can discover so many amazing shades. Admittedly you will come across a lot of beiges but there are some surprises out there.
What are your favourite plants to dye with?
My favourite plants to dye with are avocado and rosemary because they produce my favourite colours: pink and grey. I am such an avocado addict, I eat on average about 6 a week so luckily I have a constant supply of dye material. I’m a currently experimenting with a few natural dye extract powders which allows me to dye with plants that are hard to grow in England. I’m really excited about the new colours I can now produce.
I’ve always been baffled that avocados dye things pink. How can you tell what colour a plant will turn?
If I’m completely honest I have no idea why avocados dye things pink. I think it may be a little above my understanding of science! There isn’t really an easy way to tell what colour a plant will produce. Some plants produce a dye the colour of their flowers and with some things like beetroot or berries it is obvious, but with a lot of plants you will only really find out by experimenting.
What is it that you love about botanical dyeing?
I really love plants and to me it’s a new way to connect with nature. There’s something really nice about creating beautiful things from natural ingredients, especially in the chemical filled world that we are living in. It makes me look a the world in a different way and I feel like I am keeping up a forgotten art. This is what we did before we created chemical dyes.
The beautiful thing about botanical dyes is that they can be unpredictable: the age of the plant, the soil that it is grown in, the water used for making the dye and how the plants have been stored can all affect the colour of the dyes. Sometimes this can mean a subtle shift in tones, whereas other times this can mean a totally different colour is produced (for example, goldenrod flowers produce a yellow if they are open and a green dye is produced if the plant is used before it is flowering).
Is it an easy afternoon activity or are there lots of set up costs and timings to consider?
Plant dyeing is so easy to start (you don’t need any specialist equipment), but it is a slow process – don’t expect to have a finished pieces of dyed material in a few hours. The fabric takes several weeks to prepare in the soya milk, the plants can often take a week (or more) to produce a dye and then fabric often has to be left to soak in the dye for several days. I always have lots of different projects on the go, all at different stages in the dyeing process.
Does it help you to think and live more slowly?
Oh yes definitely! Because the actual dyeing process is so lengthy it really makes me enjoy the process, not just the finished piece. And then there’s the weeks and weeks of waiting for a specific plant to be in flower so that I can use it for dye making!
What are your tips for anyone thinking of having a go at botanical dyeing?
I only have one tip really, and that’s just to get out there and do it. Have fun, experiment and see what you come up with.
I am inspired by so many people that I have found on Instagram. @rebeccadesnos has a great book that I wish I had discovered at the beginning of my dyeing journey, and @gregoriafibers uses the most gorgeous colour combinations in her yarns.
What’s in store for Botanical Threads this year?
I’m currently experimenting with natural dye extract powders to produce a wider range of colours, which I want to combine in interesting and new ways to what I’ve done in the past. Avocado dye will always be at the heart of Botanical Threads so I am concentring on colours that harmonise with the pinks that avocados produce.
In terms of new products I have so many ideas and custom requests from people that it’s hard to know where to begin. In the pipeline are cushions and table linen to compliment my polka dot tea towels such as linen napkins and table cloths. I professionally studied Fashion Design at the London College of Fashion so I have plans for some wearable Botanical Threads items soon too.
Welcome back to the Tea Journey and here we’ve taken an excursion away from tea bags into loose leaf green tea. I’ve been a little trepidatious about tasting green tea. It’s the one tea I’ve always wanted to like for the health benefits, but I could never get on with the teabags my mum bought from the supermarket.
After that experience I never quite believed that all the people espousing the amazing-ness of green tea could actually like it, or was there something wrong with me and my taste buds? I was keen to find out.
Here I am trying two types of green tea by Jing Tea. The first is Organic Jade Green Sword, Jing’s best-selling entry level green tea; the second is Dragon Well, China’s most famous green tea.
To make the loose leaf tea I used Jing’s Tea Infuser, a glass mug with a glass infuser that sits in the top. Quite often loose leaf teas can be a bit too faffy for everyday use – you need a lot of equipment and it’s very fiddly to clean the teapot out after use. The Tea Infuser is just as easy as making tea with a bag – spoon in the tea, pour over the water, wait 3 minutes, then lift the infuser out. Done!
Green tea must not be made with boiling water as it will burn the leaves and make the tea taste bitter. If you haven’t got a thermometer, I tend to leave the kettle about 10 minutes after boiling to let it cool down to 80 degrees.
In the infuser the tea colours slowly over the three minute infusion time to a vivid-yellow green, the leaves dancing as the water is poured in before settling nicely to stew. With the lid on the cups steams up, the flavours percolating and building , and when you remove the infuser both teas look like patches of freshly mown grass.
Jade Green Sword
As I took my first sip, all my nervous fears were immediately allayed. I can totally see why this is the most popular and introductory green tea. It’s bright and fresh and completely unexpected on the tongue; I expected it to be more powdery after my earlier experiences. It has citrus notes, like grapefruit or maybe a sharp green apple rather than being lemon-y.
As bright and fruity as it is there’s a richness that settles on the tongue that is almost like coffee; it’s difficult to describe, it doesn’t taste like coffee, but the sensations in the mouth, that ‘settling’ feeling is very similar to the sensations of coffee drinking.
It is so refreshing and easy to drink that it’s almost like a light cordial; it feels like a spring morning. Whereas the flavours of jasmine and peppermint matured and altered in the mouth, this is bright and zingy the whole way through.
So onto to Dragon Well with its bright green, long leaves. This is a very unexpected flavour. It has the same sort of brightness as Jade Sword, but as if it had been smoked. It has a much, much deeper flavour which is smoky and sophisticated; it feels more grown up, like the father compared to Jade Sword’s busy pre-teen.
There are still touches of fruit but they’re in the background compared to the smokiness that dominates the mouth. While the flavour is deeper it is similar to Jade Sword in that it is still light and doesn’t mellow or sophisticate on the tongue.
I’ve said repeatedly here that Dragon Well has a ‘smoked’ flavour – to clarify, the tea hasn’t actually been smoked, and the more sophisticated palates at Jing would call this nuttiness.
The freshness is still undeniable, but it is a wintery freshness as opposed to the early summer vibes of Jade Green Sword. This is definitely a February drink.
Green tea has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, both to treat individual illnesses and also as a general health tonic. There are studies that show it can help to speed up the metabolism and reduce cholesterol. Tea was also used by Buddhist monks to achieve better results while meditating.
I’ve always thought that green tea is as much a lifestyle choice as it is a beverage. Having tried it, it is certainly the perfect tea to sit with, to take time over and to feel revitalised with. Why not use it to aid meditation and mindfulness? On a quiet weekend afternoon I can’t imagine much better. Jing have this short guide to tea meditation and I heartily recommend it.
You can view all of Jing’s green teas here – and if you’re not sure which green tea is for you, they have lots of guides online to help too.*
Are you a green tea lover? What’s your favourite variety?
*please note that these products were sent to me by Jing Tea to review – however, the words are all mine and from the heart.
I always feel a little sad about cut flowers. Of course they’re beautiful and all, but I always feel slightly wasteful and guilty for cutting them down in their prime and eventually throwing them out. If only there was a way to keep them for longer…
When I posited this thought on Instagram, I received lots of great ideas of things to do with dried flowers from the community. So good, in fact, that I had to share them with you!
Whether you have a glut of dried flowers or your looking for a new craft, take a look at the awesomely creative ideas below…
16 Things To Do With Dried Flowers
@ashley.ulmer: Once I let me petals dry completely, I grind them up and add them to homemade incense…I mix them with any leftover bit of sage, lavender and bbits of other stuff to be burned!
@foreadventure: We love throwing them in the bath with sweet almond oil then SOAK
@gail.watson.photo: How about dipping them in wax? When completely immersed they will keep for quite awhile. Very ethereal and pretty too.
@composedconfusion: I always try and keep them if I can. I think they still look as beautiful as when they were first picked, just different.
@two_mad_girls: I have two jars of rose petals that I have also put a couple of drops of rose oil into. Every now and then I open the jar and have a sniff but I don’t really know why I’m keeping them
@wearestardustuk: Wedding confetti! My sister is getting married in May and we are all collecting petals.
@pandora_lotte: I love to press them and keep them on a sketchbook for inspiration or send them away with letters.
@thefamilywardrobe: A press is usually best but any big heavy book will do and always put a sheet of paper between the flowers and the pages to avoid staining.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I’m somewhere in the middle of the ‘love it’ and ‘hate it’ camps. I find the present-giving a bit arbitrary and weird, but I do think a celebration of love is, well, lovely. Love has inspired many of our greatest works of art and literature, and, whether you choose to believe it or not, it dominates the way our worlds turn as much as the gravity and the moon.
I am fascinated by love’s intangible power, but I’m not into the soppiness and giant teddy bear kind of love. Ours is quiet, built on comfort, trust, in-jokes and hours spent in silence. No matter what kind of love you have, here are 6 of my favourite un-soppy quotes about it – more peppery than sugar-sweet.
For accidental love…
“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald (from ‘This Side of Paradise’)
This one is my favourite. As soon as I saw it I thought it perfectly encapsulates mine and Dan’s own love-falling. I find all the ‘I just knew‘ conversations about love a little dangerous – they raise expectations impossibly high and they degrade a love that falls anything short. We never had violins and angels singing, we never locked eyes across a crowded room, we never ‘just knew’. But without even realising we fell down the hole of love, and have built our home there.
For longing love…
“Somewhere on the other side of this wide night and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.”
– Carol Ann Duffy (from ‘Words, Wide Night’)
“For I am in love with you, and this is what it is like, or what it is like in words.”
– Carol Ann Duffy (from ‘Words, Wide Night’)
Words, Wide Night is definitely up there as one of my all time favourite poems. You should finish this post, then go and read it immediately. It perfectly captures the mind-boggling longing that comes with long distance love, of feeling so connected but so distanced from someone. The last line, “For I am in love with you, and this is what it is like, or what it is like in words” feels like the most romantic sentence in the world – the wordlessness of love encapsulated.
For impatient love…
“My very soul demands you.”
– Charlotte Bronte (from ‘Jane Eyre’)
I read Jane Eyre for A-Level and it’s one of those narratives that has seemed to wind its way into my very being. I remember it better than any story I’ve ever read, and more often than normal find myself comparing situations to scenes from the book. This quote spoken, of course, by Rochester, quietly and politely belies burning lust and passion. But more than being a Victorian Fifty Shades, it speaks of souls rather than flesh, impatiently demanding life long partnership and love.
For everyday love…
“Had we but world enough, and time…”
– Andrew Marvell (from ‘To His Coy Mistress’)
There’s something about the rhythm of this line that I just love. The full poem talks about taking time over love, of how many tens of thousands of years he would take to adore each tiny part of her body, but how there is only a finite amount of time. I think we all have dreams and daydreams that we imagine our lives will be like. Whether it’s travelling the world, eloping, escaping to a cabin in the woods together. This quote leaves room for our dreams, but reminds us to make the most of everyday love.
For uncomplicated love…
“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)”
– e.e. cummings (from ‘[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]’
This is about as soppy as it gets here. I’ve always liked the simplicity of this line, the balanced phrasing, the simple words. As complicated as we like to make it, love is really a very simple thing. You both exchange you hearts, giving a piece of yourself away and looking after someone else’s.
“Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life…who knows you by heart”
– Derek Walcott (from ‘Love After Love’)
Whether you’re single or not, there are not enough love quotes about the importance of loving yourself. This poem is a beautifully wistful, yet positive, look at life after a break up. I love these lines because we can sometimes be a stranger to ourselves, then surprise ourselves with how much we know. We talk often of giving hearts away, but never of giving to ourselves, to the person we are or want to be. We are always there for ourselves, and know ourselves best.
Having written recently about my distaste for stews, it got me thinking about how I have always tarnished one pot meals with the same brush. At university I remember zealously telling my housemates that ‘I don’t like any one pot meals’ as they all sat down to a casserole or stew, and I munched a Ryvita.
I’ve always considered a ‘one pot meal’ to be a meat-based, greasy-water-gravy dish. It wasn’t until recently that it dawned on me that actually most of my meals are one pot meals according to the literal definition: a meal made in one pot.
Why did I come around to them as a concept? I now value my time far more than when I was a student when all time was infinite, so anything that reduces cooking faffery, and the subsequent washing up, gets a big thumbs up. Similarly anything that can be made in bulk and portioned up for lunches is useful, and cooking like this helps me to buy less, and therefore waste less.
So here I’m on a somewhat evangelising quest to help you too see the light of One Pot Meals. I’ve provided all my historic grievances, and offered solutions and alternatives to make you desperate for a lovely new casserole dish.
Problem: They’re too stodgy
I like a bit of stodge when it comes in a treacle sponge or a roast potato, but there’s something about that really rich, bordering on greasiness about a stew that makes me shudder. I don’t like that tacky feeling that seems to coat the inside of my mouth. But one pots don’t have to be overtly rich.
While thinking about this post it dawned on me that risotto is a one pot meal! Duh! I have a recipe for an easy peasy oven baked risotto, but even if you make it traditionally they can be really sharp and light. Add plenty of lemon juice and use aldente fresh vegetables for a zingy, crunchy one pot meal full of flavour and texture.
Problem: I hate stewed meat
This is my big bugbear with stews and casseroles. I hate chewy meat, and even if it’s beautifully tender, I’m still waiting for that bit of gristle so much so that I can’t fully enjoy it. For one pots now I’ll usually cook the meat separately and add it in – whether that’s sausages stirred through a pasta dish or lamb on top of a bean stew. I realise that this isn’t strictly one pot, but it will reduce your cooking time and taste nicer – I think we can get away with one pot-one tray, right?
Problem: They’re too watery
The biggest mistake people make with one pot meals, especially stews and sauces, is putting the pan lid on while it bubbles away. Think about it – the steam rises, condenses on the lid, and falls back into the sauce as water. It never gets a chance to thicken. Keep the lid well away from the pot and allow the steam to evaporate away. Give it the occasional stir to stop the bottom burning, but the sloppiest mixture will only take about half an hour to thicken up really nicely
Problem: Not enough flavour
Linked to the above, even if you’ve removed the lid and it’s still lacklustre, you need to up your seasoning game. For any one pot meal bay leaf, salt and pepper are vital. If it’s tomato-based add a few squirts of tomato purée. Try a spoonful of marmite for a salty, umami depth, a little hint of spice (try cinnamon with beef) or a tingly hit of lemon.
Are you converted? Or do you have any favourite one pot recipes? I’d love to hear them!
Welcome back to the Tea Journey and to our second instalment, Peppermint Leaf tea. I think we all have this vague idea that mint tea is good for you in some way, easing digestive complaints, reducing bloating and whatnot. However, my only experience of mint tea was in Morocco where a tiny portion is served with around 6 sugar cubes, so that kind of defeated all the health benefits.
Since then, I’ve not really had mint tea. I must admit that I’m not actually the greatest fan of mint full stop, apart from the mint sauce in a jar you used to have with your nan’s roast dinners that doesn’t really taste like mint. However, I am keen to test out the health benefits and to see if I can acquire a taste for it.
The preparation of Peppermint Leaf tea is easier than Jasmine. Simply pour fresh, boiling water over the bag and infuse for 3 minutes.
The Jing Peppermint leaf tea leaves no holds barred when it comes to strength of flavour. Forget watery mint teas, this one punches you in the face with a minty hurricane as soon as you open the packet. Once the water is added, the smell softens somewhat. It smells a little like Murray mints – smooth, creamy and sweet with the mintiness, rather than the harshness of a humbug or Polo.
It almost immediately turns a vibrant, golden yellow. It’s almost unbelievable that a little bag of dried herbs can exude so much colour in so little time. As you waft and drag the bag through the water you can see the dried mint unfurl and enliven so that it ends up looking like a clutch of freshly mown grass.
And then you take a sip.
I’ve honestly never had a tea like it. There is just so much going on in there that you immediately take another one just to work out what the hell just happened. At first it’s really mellow, the flavour coming mainly from the smell that wafts towards your nose. It’s slightly sweet (although maybe that’s my brain tricking me into thinking it’s a Murray mint…). Then after you swallow, a spicy heat lies across the back of your tongue. It’s tingly and peppery, like the sensation you get from a clean, chilli-based meal (I’m talking Thai rather than Tikka).
The more you drink, the tingle spreads around your mouth making you feel refreshed, clean and cool (I’m honestly not trying to make this sound like a toothpaste, it’s not!). Unlike other teas where it can start to feel claggy in your mouth after half a cup, this one just keeps getting fresher.
As peppermint tea is caffeine-free and has digestive-easing properties, it is traditionally drunk as an after dinner palate cleanser. Peppermint helps the movement of gas through the body, thereby reducing bloating and speeding up digestion. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory, so is popular with IBS-sufferers to soothe their tummies.
Similarly to jasmine, peppermint also has stress relieving properties and is commonly used in aromatherapy. A natural sedative, its anti-inflammatory nature can reduce blood pressure and body temperature, allowing you to unwind and relax.
Why not start drinking Peppermint tea before bed? Have an early night with a favourite magazine or a new book, fluff up your pillows and curl up with a soothing peppermint tea. Particularly if you’re a bad sleeper or have tummy trouble, it could help you relax and sleep more soundly.
Peppermint Leaf is certainly the surprising tea. I hadn’t, to be honest, expected to enjoy it. I thought it would be too minty, or not minty enough. I thought it might be dusty or synthetic tasting. I didn’t expect the freshness, I didn’t expect to, well, enjoy it. Having learned a little about it’s health benefits, I think I’ve found myself a new bedtime drink.