An upcycled gift: a baby succulent and bunting


Last weekend my friend Laura had a birthday party. She is the only person I know who would choose to cook for 20 people on a day when people should be cooking for her! She is Belgian, a lovely person and a fantastic cook. For her birthday dinner she cooked a Belgian beer stew, roast potatoes and green beans. An enormous bowl of homemade mayonnaise was pass around and slathered on everything.

I wanted to make her something homemade for her birthday. I decided on a baby succulent upcycled into something special. I grabbed my supplies: a small succulent, an empty baking powder tin, a few scraps of fabric, two skewers and some thread.

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I love baking powder tins. I like buying products that have reusable packaging. These tins are so versatile and quaint. The first thing I did was punch a few  holes in the bottom of the tin so that excess water would be able to drain away from the soil. I resorted to using a thin metal screw driver and brute force. Three or four holes in the bottom should be plenty.

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Next I carefully transplanted the little succulent from his plastic pot to the tin. This was a bit fiddly and I had to redo it a few times to make sure he was snug. I used an old teaspoon to manoeuvre the soil around. Once he was in place I also watered him (just slightly) to settle the soil.

The next step was to add some bunting. Because what is a birthday present without bunting? I used two skewers as poles and placed them gently in the soil – trying to avoid the succulent’s roots. I then snipped them to the height I wanted using strong kitchen scissors.

I used this tutorial to make my bunting. But before I glued the bunting to the thread I sewed Laura’s name in split stitch.

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Once I had finished all the letters I glued the bunting to the thread and tied it to the skewers and I had a perfect little present for a lovely friend.

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An aside: I have been reading Erin’s recent posts on gift giving at Christmas (over at Reading my Tea Leaves). I really like her approach to minimalist gift giving and quality over quantity. I also think that a homemade gift can be very  special.

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No-sew pot plant bunting


image2You will need:

  • A pot plant (a bonsai tree will work best for this)
  • Fabric
  • Thread or string
  • Glue
  • Scissors

1. Measure how much string or thread you will need for your bunting to reach between two branches of your pot plant. Allow extra for tying two knots.

2. Start cutting diamonds out of your fabric. I folded my fabric in half and eyeballed five triangles (I only ended up using four). As you cut out your triangles place them along your piece of sting. Fiddle with the spacing until you’re happy. Iron your diamonds closed so that they lie flat.

3. Open the diamonds and place glue on the inside. Take your thread and place it along the crease. Close the diamond (now a triangle) and using your nail push the thread up into the crease. You want it to be very snug. Attach the rest of your diamonds in the same way.

4. Take your bunting to your pot plant. Play around with the placing and attach it to the branches. Don’t tie your knots too tightly or you will damage your plant. You will need to keep an eye on the knots and loosen them if they start restricting the pot plant.

If you have a pot plant that doesn’t have strong branches you can attached the bunting to two skewers and push them into the soil (like I did with my sister’s birthday cake bunting). It would be a great way to spruce up a pot plant if you were giving it to someone as a present.

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Sunday breakfast: blender pancakes


Saturdays are busy. They are for tea with your sister, fabric shopping and baking.

And then Sunday comes along. You wake up late and drink coffee. You catch up on the news and you plan your breakfast. You don’t want a work breakfast (cereal or toast) but you also don’t want to be stuck with heaps of washing up. Sundays are never for heaps of washing up.

So you make pancakes. But not pancakes that need you to sift flour and beat in the milk and whisk in the eggs. No, you make pancakes where you chuck everything in the blender, blend until smooth and pour.

For me (a South African), pancakes are meant to be thin and plate sized. You sprinkled them with sugar, cinnamon and lemon. You roll them up. For my boyfriend (a Brit who studied in the States), pancakes are thick and smaller. They are for drenching with honey and butter. These are the boyfriend’s pancakes – thick and American.

Blender pancakes (adapted form Nigella’s American Breakfast Pancake)

This recipe will make about nine smallish pancakes – perfect for breakfast for two people. It can be doubled for bigger crowds or hungrier tummies

  • half a tablespoon baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • large egg
  • 150 ml milk
  • 115 grams plain flour
  • butter for frying
  1. Put everything in the blender. Don’t worry about an order.
  2. Blend until smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides once to make sure all the flour has been incorporated.
  3. Head up a non-stick pan. Add a bit of butter. If you’re using a non-stick pan you don’t really need it though.
  4. Pour the batter straight from the blender into the pan.
  5. Flip it over once bubbles start to pop through the top of the pancake.
  6. Serve warm.

You can use this recipe as a base for any pancake variation you like. Try plopping a few blueberries or choc-chips on the pancakes before you flip them over in the pan. I love adding a few raisins.

Heap the pancakes up on a plate and serve them with butter, jam and syrup. My favourite topping is double cream, almonds and honey.

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Easy peasy lemon preserve


I spent the past weekend at my folks’ house. I arrived home to a brand new pair of sheep skin slippers, cat cuddles and days and days of home cooking. On Saturday we had a family get-together. There were 21 adults and 35 children (I don’t know how the mathematics of procreation works but it seemed excessive). Together we devoured a whole lamb – perfectly cooked for hours over a fire. During the afternoon some of the children engaged in a life and death vegetable battle. This involved plundering my dad’s vegetable garden for lemon and tomato ammunition. By the end of the two hour siege only a few lemons remained on the upper branches of the lemon tree. Unfortunately there were no tomato survivors. IMG_1736 We gathered up the abandoned lemon hand grenades and mortar shells in a box and tucked them away in the kitchen. On my last afternoon at home I decided to bottle some of the lemons. I will be able to enjoy them for months to come and remember the great Lemon and Tomato War of 2014.

(Before I started making this preserve, my dad made me a gin and tonic with a slice of lemon. This is also a wonderful and perfectly acceptable way to use up excess lemons!)

Easy peasy lemon preserve

  • A canning jar (I used this Consol jar but any other jar will do)
  • 1 cup salt
  • 6-10 lemons (eyeball enough to fill your jar and extra for juicing)
  • A tablespoon of whole peppercorns

1. Start off by placing a quarter of your salt and half your peppercorns in the canning jar.

2. Top and tail the lemons by cutting the ends off. Standing the lemons on one end, cut an X through the lemon. Make sure not to cut all the way through the lemons. You want them to hold their shape. Sprinkle salt between the lemon segments. IMG_1772 3. Place the lemons in the jar. Press them into the salt and peppercorns. Once the jar is full, squeeze extra lemon juice over the lemons until they are submerged. Pour the remaining salt and peppercorns into the jar.

4. Leave the jar at room temperature for three days. Flip it over each morning. This will help the salt dissolve and get into every nook and cranny of the lemons. After three days put the jar at the back of the fridge (behind the unloved jams and pickles) and forget about it for three weeks. It will be ready to eat once the lemon rind is soft. When they are ready (and you are hungry) grab a lemon out the jar and cut as much as you need. Rinse it under cool water to remove the salt and salty lemon juice brine. Cut it up finely and enjoy.

Not sure what you can use the preserve for? Try them finely chopped in tuna salad or in a salad dressing. Smitten Kitchen has a wonderful squash and chickpea Moroccan stew that calls for them.

Perfect ombré party cake


In 1995, Gary Chapman released The Five Love Languages. In the book he describes the five ways that we express and experience love: gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch.

Gary says that the list is exhaustive and that everyone falls into at least one of the love languages. But that isn’t quite true for me. My love language is cake baking. It’s probably the equivalent of gift giving – except that gifts usually don’t take two hours to bake, have caramel filling and cream cheese icing. And it’s maybe a little bit acts of service, but at the end of the day you get a cake (it’s not like I’m helping you file your taxes or move house).

Ombre cake picnic shot

And the wonderful thing about baking a cake is that it’s so seldom done anymore. People think it’s hard work and messy. So they just resort to picking up a cake from the shops or ordering one from a bakery. But by baking your own, you’re going to save money and get more cake for your buck.

This cake cost just under R100 to bake – all in! You would battle to find a cake as delicious and pretty as this one for less.

This is my go-to party cake recipe (I have adapted it from this recipe). You might think “Who has time to make a multi-coloured, four layer, bunting topped monster of cake!?” You do, my friend. Trust me – it really is so much easier to make than you think.

I made it in pink for my sister’s birthday picnic and blue for a colleague’s baby shower. I have used pictures of the blue cake in the recipe below to show you how to colour your batter.

Caramel ombré party cake (Serves up to 16 people)

  • 560 grams cake flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 340 grams butter (softened)
  • 450 grams white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 egg whites
  • 330ml  milk
  • Food colouring
  • 1 can caramel treat or 360 grams dulce de leche
  • Ingredients for your favourite icing recipe
  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Cut circles of baking paper to fit the bottom of two 9 inch round pans. Grease the pans with butter.
  2. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat together the softened butter and the sugar. It should become a light, fluffy paste and most of the sugar should dissolve. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  4. Beat in two egg whites at a time, until well combined.
  5. Alternate mixing in a third of the sifted flour mixture with a third of the milk. Scrape down the bowl to make sure that everything is mixed together well.
  6. Divide the batter equally into four bowls.
  7. This is the fun bit! Take your first bowl of batter (this will be your bottom layer) and start adding the food colouring. Keep adding food colouring until you are happy with the colour. Do the same with the next three bowls of batter, reducing the amount you add as you go. To check if you’re happy with the colours, smear a little bit of batter from each bowl on a plate or tissue. Ombre batter
  8. Fill the buttered and lined pans with the batter and bake for 13-17 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Keep an eye on them, as they will bake quickly. You might need to rotate the pans half way through the baking time if your oven doesn’t cook evenly – like mine!Blue ombré cake batter
  9.  Take the cakes out of the oven and let them cool slightly before removing them from the pans and peeling off the baking paper.
  10. Wash and dry the pans. Cut new baking paper and butter the pans before baking the rest of the batter.
  11. Leave the layers to cool completely.

Now you can assemble and decorate your ombré cake!

I like filling the cake with caramel treat. Place the first (and darkest) layer of cake on a serving dish. Gently spread a layer of caramel on the top. Continue until all the layers are in place – making sure not to put caramel treat on top of the last layer.

Make your favourite icing – such as butter cream icing, cream cheese icing or sour cream icing. Ice your cake and store it somewhere safe (away from the cat!) until it’s time to celebrate. I like to make a paper bunting topper to decorate it but you can always use candles.

We celebrated my sister’s birthday at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodeport. You have to take a little drive to get there but it is so beautiful. It costs R35 to get in (R25 if you’re a student still slogging away at your degree).