Thursday, 16 June 2011

Our Spring Chicken

Our little pink chicken, Pearl, arrived in Spring. Perfectly on her due date of March 4th. That makes her three and a half months. Already!

Pearl is just a dream. Sleeps through the night and everything. Well, mostly. She's turning out to be great fun now already. We're trying to figure out what we did to deserve such a fabulous little girl. 

We do however, sometimes wonder where we put the receipt for return. Nothing a cheeky smile from Madam can't sort out!

Blog abandonment has the great excuse of me spending every breathing moment being all consumed by this little miraculous bundle. Of which, I must get back to....

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Thanks to amazing IFJ photographer, Jack Caffrey, for all the gorgeous snaps as always.

Well hi there if you've been directed here from Country Living Magazine! Hopefully you enjoyed the feature written by the lovely Imen (who you will find here) and thanks also to the IFJ for having me grace their cover (a cover girl at last, yay!). If you fancy, you can read more about my work as a Food Stylist and Home Economist over on my website and other blog. UPDATE: and you can now see the feature here.

Anyhow, welcome to Friendly Cottage. Around here we mostly eat. lots.

Now, you may be on a New Year healthy eating buzz but these muffins, as seen in the feature snaps, contain fruit (result), healthy nuts and wheatgerm (double score) and then everything else is merely mood enhancing which is always a good thing after the festive anti-climax.

If you buy a bunch of bananas, it’s inevitable you are going to be left with at least one that everyone avoids because it’s going black. I mash these orphaned bananas and stick them in the freezer until I have a build up of three. I then whip them out to make banana bread or these yummy spiced muffins. Such a domestic goddess me.

Anyhow, these are delicious for breakfast on the run (I’d probably pass on the sugary icing in that case though!) or as an afternoon treat. If you choose not to top with the icing then pop a pecan nut on top of each before baking. I like to use wheat germ (for extra nutrients) as I always have some in the fridge anyhow, but you can omit it if you like.

Makes 12

75g unsalted butter
250g self-raising flour
1 tbsp wheat germ (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch salt
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
100g caster sugar
50g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
125ml buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas
200g cream cheese
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
pecan nuts and / or redcurrant strings, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 170C (Gas Mark 5 / 375 F). Set paper muffin cases into a 12 hole muffin tin.

Melt the butter and leave to cool.

Sift the flour, wheatgerm, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, mixed spice, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a large bowl and stir the caster sugar and pecan nuts through.

Measure the milk into a large jug and then crack the eggs in. Add the vanilla extract and cooled melted butter and beat together.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the egg mixture in. Mash the bananas in the jug and then tip them in too. Stir everything together, but do not over mix, to give a lumpy (because of the bananas) paste.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases, bringing it almost to the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and cooked through. Leave in the tin to cool for a few minutes before removing and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the icing. Beat the cream cheese and butter in a food mixer for a few minutes until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides, sift in the icing sugar, add the vanilla extract and then gently beat again to give a smooth, thick paste. Refrigerate until ready to use to firm up a little.

Pipe or spread the icing quite thickly onto each cooled muffin. Decorate with a pecan nut or redcurrant string and enjoy!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Making a house a home

Well, Happy New Year and I hope you had a lovely Christmas break. We certainly did here at Friendly Cottage. After spending a few days down home with my family we raced back, got into our jim-jams and pottered, well, lounged about for a whole week! 

Having flown the nest for work early last July and pretty much returning just before Christmas, I relished being at home so much. Especially as it will be our last peaceful Christmas before baby comes along and causes chaos. God, don't remind me of the potential horror of my wallpaper being drawn on, my old lady plates and tea cups being shaken off the dresser and my sofa cushions & blankies being vomited on! 

It was with luck then that Dara, the editor of our fab Irish Interior Magazine, House & Home, asked to feature Friendly Cottage in the November / December issue when it was just freshly done and before smallie comes long & wrecks it. At least I'll have this lovely feature (snapped by the lovely Paul Sherwood) to look back on proudly. (You can see more online here too)

Although, I suppose it's everyday life that really makes a house a bring it on!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Bun in the oven

Well, it's my happy birthday today and I'm STILL waiting for my cake (which I suspect isn't going to materialise, Marty!). Anyhow, I have already received the best gift I could possibly imagine this year, and with that I have some breaking news about the imminent arrival of baby pie! 

Yes, friendly cottage is going to come alive with all things baby in early March next year (oh my wallpaper!). I am seven months pregnant now and thankfully all has gone really well. I have been so lucky to have flown it so far, especially as I've had such a nutty work schedule. I by now, have a very diligently trained food styling assistant! So we (baby pie and I) are planning on taking things a little easier from now on with lovely yoga and swimming classes booked in the New Year, lots of nesting to do and the exciting prospect of a baby room to decorate.

So anyhow, there's my bun in the oven news. I'm STILL waiting for my birthday cake, so in the meantime, here's a cake-to-self recipe for my mini carrot cakes. Pink for a girl or should it be blue for a boy????


Makes 24

100g walnut halves
400g soft light brown sugar
450g plain flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
pinch salt
325ml vegetable oil
75ml buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g carrots (about 4 medium), peeled and finely grated
1 tbsp grated ginger
zest of 1 large orange
200g cream cheese
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
zest of 1 large orange

Preheat the oven to 180C (360 F / Gas Mark 4). Line two 12 hole muffin tins with muffin paper cases.

Toast the walnuts in the oven for about 10 minutes to release their flavour. Remove and finely chop.

In the meantime, stir the sugar, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and salt together in a large bowl, leaving a well in the centre.

Measure the vegetable oil and buttermilk into a large jug and add the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat together until combined and pour into the dry ingredients. Add the grated carrots, ginger, orange zest and chopped walnuts and stir everything together until well mixed.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, swapping the trays around on the shelves half way through. The muffins should be risen, deep golden in colour and cooked through. Leave to cool on a wire rack

Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Beat the cream cheese and butter in a food mixer for a few minutes until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides, sift in the icing sugar, add the orange zest and then gently beat again to give a smooth, thick paste. Refrigerate until ready to use to firm up a little. Pipe or spread the icing onto each cooled carrot cake before devouring!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Deck the halls

Thanks to journalist Niall Toner from the Irish Times for including me (along with Mel over at design heavenin his recent feature on decorating your home for Christmas on a budget. Once again, I'm great at being 'all talk' and have only just got our house blinged up for Christmas this week. I'm totally relishing being at home for the holidays with the fire blazing, the sweet smell of Christmas baking, festive tunes beating out, and fairy lights dazzling. Wishing you a happy Christmas!

Here are my decorating tips from the Times feature:

- Thread some festive ribbon through cute christmas cookie cutters and hang them from kitchen door knobs or hooks.

- Why stop with eating at the table? Edible decorations can be nibbled on anywhere in the house...adorn your nest with fresh cranberry chains, fruit & nut garlands and cheeky gingerbread men.

- Get down and dirty with the kids and have fun making, baking and painting your own bespoke decorations with salt dough. Store them carefully for use next Christmas too.

- Always have a pan of warm mulled wine on the go! The intoxicating smell of spices will waft festive cheer around the house before you even drink it.

- Stock up on festive essential oils like frankincence, orange, cinnamon, pine, clove and juniper to burn around the house (individually or in interesting combinations). Also, use a few drops in homemade cleaning products and air freshners to keep you in the festive mood as you clean.

- Bring childhood memories flooding back and have fun with potato printing your own homemade christmas cards and wrapping paper.

- The best way to instantly fill your home with Christmas cheer is to stick some of your favourite festive tunes on (mine are from Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra) and get baking Christmas goodies while you sing along.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The bread of life

There's nothing quite as satisfying as making, baking and eating your own bread. For me it gives a great sense of wholesomeness and warmth to a home. That's definitely what is needed right now with snowmageddon going on outside. Thankfully there is no fear of our dry food supplies running out which means I've been baking like a madwoman!

The last time I made this yummy foccacia bread was in the summer when we had some lovely friends over from London to stay. The kids, Issy and Lucas, loved squishing the dough and getting their hands messy with the tomato topping. We took it to the park as part of a picnic (the other 'part' being fizz to wash it down, non-alcoholic for the kids of course!). It's surreal to look at such summery snaps now when the current weather couldn't be more opposite!


This is based on a recipe from ‘Homechef’ by Neven Maguire

Makes 1 loaf

7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling
1 tsp fast-action yeast
450g (1lb) strong plain white flour, plus extra for dusting
1 ¼ tsp sea salt
1 jar semi-sundried tomatoes, drained
leaves from 1 fresh rosemary sprig
Maldon sea salt, for sprinkling

Oil a 28 x 18 x 4cm (11 x 7 x 1 ½ in) baking tin and line with non-sick parchment paper.

Mix the yeast, flour and ¼ teaspoon of salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in 225ml (8fl oz) of tepid water and 5 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix well to form a soft dough then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. 

Place in an oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place (I always use the airing cupboard!) for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Knock the dough back by punching lightly to knock out air bubbles. 

Then turn it out on to a lightly floured surface again and knead for another 2-3 minutes. Roll out to a large rectangle that is about 1cm (½ in) in thickness and place in the prepared tin.

Stud with the semi-sundried tomatoes and sprinkle the rosemary sprigs and remaining salt over.

Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise again for about 30 minutes until soft and pillowy. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C (425F), Gas mark 7.

Drizzle again with olive oil and bake for about 30 minutes until cooked through and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and drizzle with olive oil to keep the crust softened. Cut or tear into chunks and enjoy!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Pom Pom Pretty

As always I'm oozing with Pom Pom love! This time Pom Factor has hit a lampshade once again. I bought these shades really cheaply from Ikea last year to tide us over until I found 'the one' for our hallway. Sadly, like most things I dream of, my exact specification (deep cerise, wide but shallowish drum, with diffuser base) doesn't seem to exist. So I pulled out my vast array of Pom Pom trims and teamed the shades up with these delicious double delights....

Before & After

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Blog Watch

So I've been out of touch once again, sorry! I'm still away with work but getting closer to home...this time in the same time zone & country at least! I've been trying to get a second since way back in August to tell you about this, so consider this well-old news! 

Anyway, the lovely & industrious Lorna Sixsmith from Garrendenny Lane Interiors was lovely enough to include me in her feature for 'Munster Interiors'. Lorna has a gorgeous online interiors shop, of which her new website has just gone live recently so well worth checking out. Lorna also manages to juggle running a successful business with raising a family and chasing after sheep on her farm...all of which makes a great read on her blog here too. Thanks Lorna for such a lovely write-up! x

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Happy Four Years Married Day

I have snapped the photos from our wedding album but the original photos are taken by Joanne Grant

Yay, it's our happy four years married day! In true Friendly Cottage fashion, we are spending it apart. As with all anniversaries, bar one so far, Marty is in London with work. He'll be hanging out with a bunch of blokes. I'm home alone (I'm so going to light the fire tonight...the boy hasn't let me yet!). We've got used to it at this stage so it's fine. Besides, it gives a little more time to scramble for a card and gift!

So the traditional gift for four years of marriage is fruit or flowers apparently. The modern gift is appliances. Eh, no thanks anyhow, we'll stick with tradition on this one. As a fruit gift, I'm going to make Marty some Strawberry & Champagne Jam. A week before our wedding, the very dutiful bridesmaids and I stirred a huge cauldron of strawberries and sugar to make hundreds of pots of this jam as gifts for the guests. The champagne didn't quite make it into the pot, hic, and the jam didn't quite have long enough to cook as a result, hic. It was a little more suited to drizzling over things rather than spreading in the end. Still, we produced a beautiful tasting preserve all the same. Here's what should have happened...

Marty & Sharon's Wexford Strawberry & Champagne Wedding Preserve

You will need plenty of jam jars and lids. I especially love when they are mismatched in different shapes and sizes. Sterilise the jars by rinsing in hot water and then popping in an oven heated to 140C for about half an hour. Alternatively, rinse them through a dishwasher on a hot cycle without the washing tablet. I love decorating the jars once the jam is all potted up. Use fun fabrics or oilcloth, ribbon, twine or raffia. Print or hand make labels or tags. Keep all to yourself or give as gifts. By the way, if you'd rather drink the champagne while you stir the pot then just don't bother putting it in!

Makes about 1.5kg

1 kg jam strawberries, washed and hulled
1 kg jam sugar
1 glass of champagne (or other sparkling wine)
finely grated zest & juice of 1 lemon

- Place the strawberries in a large pan and crush them lightly with a potato masher. 
- Add the jam sugar, champagne and lemon zest and juice.
- Bring slowly to the boil, stirring to help dissolve the sugar.
- Bubble away for 8-10 minutes, skimming away any impurities that come to the surface.
- Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly before potting.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Abandoned Ship & Tea Pot Roses

Well, hello there! Hope you are still speaking to me after a very lengthy and unexplained abandoned ship! I hate it when blogs I follow do that, so I really am super-sorry! 

My summer actually ended up being a completely mental meltdown of work, mostly away from home. Think living out of suit cases, flights here and there, working endless hours, not getting much sleep and general delirium! I really had hoped to keep up with posts but with barely even being able to keep up with husband and home it just wasn't possible.

On my return to Friendly Cottage I can confirm that all is really well and good here though. The only sad thing is that I'm only here for a week before heading off again. So, we'll just have to see how I go on with that one! 

Anyhow, thank you so much for your messages of concern, continued comments and I see lots of new followers too. Some pretty tea pot roses as a peace offering?!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

Yay, it's that time of year again that our gorgeous Elder tree blooms heavily with hundreds of fragrant flower heads.  Elderflower cordial makes a really refreshing drink. Use enough cordial to sparkling or soda water to taste and with plenty of ice and some mint sprigs if you fancy too. It is also delicious with a swig of gin or vodka or added to bubbly. Also use the cordial to make jellies, sorbet or ice-cream or use it to sweeten gooseberries or rhubarb. When our friends were here with us last week we got the kids to help out making our first batch of the summer. Here's what we did...

Makes about 2.75L 

(you will need enough stopper or screw topped bottles to take this amount)

2kg caster or granulated sugar
1.2L water

about 40-50 freshly picked elderflower heads
3 unwaxed lemons
75g citric acid*

- Stir the sugar and water together well in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Bring very slowly to the boil stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. 
- Meanwhile, gently rinse the elderflower heads to get rid of any bugs and pick off any leaves or brown flowers. Place the flowers in a really large bowl or bucket.
- Using a peeler or small knife to shave a few pieces of zest from each of the lemons and stir them through the sugar syrup. Thickly slice the lemons and scatter them over the flower heads.
- Stir the citric acid into the sugar syrup until dissolved and then carefully pour the mixture over the flowers and lemon slices. Stir everything together to make sure it is well immersed. Cover and leave in a cool dry place to soak for 24 hours.
- After this time, you are ready to finish and bottle. It's important to sterilise the storage bottles (to avoid any nasty growths) so wash them in hot water and then dry them out in a low oven (about 170C) for about 15 minutes (or alternatively, run them through a hot dishwasher without powder).
- Strain the soaking flowers through a very fine sieve lined with a piece of clean muslin, j-cloth or coffee filter into a large jug. Squeeze out as much of the syrup as possible from the flowers (but not so much the lemon slices) so as not to waste a drop!
- Then the easiest way to bottle the cordial is though a funnel. Then pop the lids on tightly and store in a cool dry place for a few months (although some people say up to a year - just keep a check out for any fur!). It can be frozen too but perhaps use smaller bottles so you can defrost a little at a time and use plastic instead of glass bottles (leaving a good gap from the top to allow for expansion on freezing). Once opened it should be stored in the fridge.

* The citric acid in the recipe helps preserve the cordial. It can be bought in pharmacies or health food stores (but you might have to search a few as not all stores sell it - it is said to be used by junkies also!). Read the label carefully as it can cause irritation to the skin if not handled correctly. A bottle of cordial is an ideal gift to give to friends. 

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Garden Glory

Painted in Cuprinol's 'Seagrass' (& the trim in 'Pale Jasmine ') from their Garden Shades collection

Hurrah, we have a garden at last! We have grass and a path and all sorts of crazy things like that. It has been a long slog and to be honest the boy has done most of the hard graft out there (thankfully he loves it). There were days battling brambles, getting the tree under some sort of control, digging deep for unrulely roots and unearthing everything from bed springs to bones. Lots and lots of bones. We're hoping those of nothing more sinister than animals. 

The stages our poor garden has been through over the last few years

So, Mart is now a happy man to see nice new grass growing at last. No more mud slides for us. It's the simple things in life eh? Now, for the planting planning for the ultimate garden glory....

Anyhow, I don't have an 'after' photo to show you yet as the weather has been so grim out there. So for now I've posted a photo of our newly painted shed which is down the bottom of the garden tucked just under the tree. I love it! I was inspired by beach huts (one day, *dreams*) and love how this colour combination turned out. If only inside was a dream world of stripy deck chairs, hanging seashells and floppy hats. 

P.S. Are those elderflowers I see bloomed on the tree? I feel some cordial coming on...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Big Noodle

So, you know the way Americans call the boss The Big Cheese? (or is that just in the movies..?) Well, in Asia they call them The Big Noodle. Maybe you had to be there, but this really made me giggle when I first heard. Mind you, that was in my travelling days when I had nothing more to do only giggle at such silly things. Would I giggle if told now in this so called 'real world'? Hmm....Oh well, it still puts a smile on my face and brings me back to those happy and carefree days daze.

Some travelling memories from the Friendly Cottage photo album


I love nothing more than this quick and easy noodle salad for a tasty and healthy lunch or light supper. Swap the prawns for cooked chicken strips or for a vegetarian version, something like toasted cashews or tofu. Don’t toss everything together until ready to serve to avoid things becoming soggy.

Serves 2

175g thin rice noodles
100g mange tout
150g cooked & peeled prawns
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced
2 spring onions, chopped
handful mint leaves, torn
4 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander

Place the noodles in a wide shallow dish and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Leave to soak for 15-20 minutes until tender. Drain, rinse in cold water to refresh and drain again.

In the meantime, prepare the dressing in a large bowl. Whisk the sunflower oil, light soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander together and set aside.

Blanch the mange tout in a small pan of salted water until just tender. Drain, refresh in cold water and drain again before cutting diagonally in half.

Tip the noodles into the dressing with the mange tout, prawns, mango, spring onions and mint leaves. Toss everything together really well and serve at once.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Pimms O'Clock

Happy bank holiday weekend! And what a fab sunny time it's been too (well, except for the rain today, that we just won't talk about). We had some friends and their kids over from London for the weekend and so have been hanging out with picnics in the park and hose downs in the garden (the kids now believe that here in Ireland we have to shower and water the garden at the same time to save water!). To keep the grown-ups (I use the term loosely) cool, we've been sipping on Pimms cocktails. What better drink to 'chink' the start of summer to.


I couldn't have said it better myself so here's a definition of Pimms o'clock according to the urban dictionary...Time for Pimm's (posh cocktail made with pimms, lemonade, and fruit). Implies lazy, happy days sitting in the sun with nothing to do and no need to worry about time. 

My friend Louise reckons she isn't a great cook and so gets people drunk so they 
don't notice the food. She makes a pretty rocking Pimms if you ask me!

large serving jug of ice
300ml Pimms
1L lemonade
large handful mint leaves
1/2 cucumber, sliced
150g strawberries, hulled & halved if large
2 apples, cored and diced

Pour the Pimms and lemonade over the ice in the serving jug. 
Stir the mint, cucumber, strawberries and apples through.
Serve at once.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

True Blue Baby I Love You

I'm still in love with my new kitchen. Here are some blue things I spied with my little eye recently...

Spotty bowls from Avoca. Blue plates from Ikea in plate rack.

I can't remember where I came across this sweet girl. We haven't quite found a home for her yet so she hangs out in the kitchen with us for now. 
Tea cups on the dresser with a cute knitted tea pot cosy a friend gave me.

Washing-up gloves from Homebase. Very unused looking I might add. I do like my dishwasher. The appliance one rather than the husband one.
 Scales by Typhoon.

Love this bowl's shape and colour, by Sophie Conran. Stack of bowls, baking dishes and colanders on a kitchen shelf.

No Irish kitchen is blessed without the holy Mary water on the dresser. A dear friend gave me one and not sure where I got the other. Probably my mother. I sprinkled the whole house with one of these when we first bought it. The other one helped me find a lost diamond when away with work once. Handy things to bring traveling, Holy Mary waters. Cute bottle from Avoca for homemade drinks.

Currants tin, from an auction house, reused as a utensil pot. Retro clock with cooking timer from ebay.