Friday, January 18, 2013

A Secret Garden Tea

I've always had a love-hate relationship with the month of January. 
On the one hand there are the grim, grey and icy days, when sometimes stepping out your front door is a daunting prospect, but then again, this unfriendly climate offers the perfect excuse to retreat to the cozy comfort of a good book or revisit a forgotten or unfinished project, preferably accompanied by a steaming cup of tea. It's a time when new ideas start to brew and and as magazines arrive with glossy pictures of gardens, it seems Spring is right outside your window even through the bare branches and crisp frozen ground.

That's why I was especially thrilled to hear that the blog 2 Bags Full decided to host a Grow Your Blog Party party at this time of year! What a wonderful way to "virtually" meet and mingle with other bloggers and readers and help one another's ideas and enterprises come into full bloom. The theme of "growth" along with the cheerful floral design button brought to mind one of my all time favorite children's (or any perpetual child's) books on those themes:
 The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

When young, I was captivated by this story of the misplaced girl discovering a mysterious forgotten garden on her uncle's grand but dreary estate. Of course extensive searching of my own childhhod backyard proved that my suburban home did not, indeed, have any such fanciful place but I still delighted in the possibility. Years later I realized that the garden was a metaphor and paralleled the characters development etc etc- but at the time it was a tale of hope, magic and possibilities. With that in mind and since gardening season is still a ways off, I thought I'd create my own indoor secret garden escape in honor of this fun event. 

"Might I have a bit of earth?"

                         Mary in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden

I couldn't be more thrilled to have my post featured as one of Jody and Stan's favorites on
Simple and Sweet Fridays
Please visit their delightful site Rooted in Thyme!

As a confessed bibliophile, the idea of cutting out the pages of a book, especially a childhood classic, is a horrific thought. So I hit the thrift store for a less precious tome and with all due respect to Danielle Steel (I actually have a copy of this in my "beach read" section and it's a pretty captivating read) I didn't feel as badly about substituting this romance I found for $1 for the real thing. I've seen some photos around the internet featuring plants set in books but couldn't find a clear tutorial so I improvised with a bit of trial, error and mess.

You will Need:
used book 
*Of course make sure it's not some rare first edition, and that is is large enough to hold plastic liner
plastic pot liner (54 cents at Lowe's)
craft knife
small plant- I could only find ivy at the supermarket
coat hanger or strong wire
craft moss, mini stones
silk flowers
popsicle sticks
drawer pull, button or decor for the door
mini furnishings or accessories of your choice, small animals, flower pots, benches etc
print outs - on our printable page of this or any favorite garden themed book
modge podge
sealer or varnish

 Paint the book if desired

Decoupage cover art on front (and if desired- title on book spine). I also gave my book a wash of gold acrylic and I painted a quick watercolor blur of blue, green, and brown inside the cover which will be the backdrop for the garden  
Once dry, spray with sealant to protect finish and voila- and easy redo from steamy romance to treasured child's story (at least on the outside)

Next place liner on desired position on page and trace around. Using a craft knife cut out section of pages to create an opening. This takes patience (you have to remove many sections individually to get to the desired depth). Paint top page with a coat of modge-podge or clear sealant to protect from spills. 
Insert liner in opening to ensure fit, cutting out a bit more if needed.
Remove liner, place some small stones in bottom and  add and arrange plants, moss and decorations reset into book once complete.
For the secret door I used the same process to create my Elf Door from the Post Scandanavian Christmas, using popsicle sticks, adapting the width to desired size.

 "Plant" door in soil base
To form ivied entryway, cut wire or coat hanger to desired length and form an arch which will fit around door with some room to spare. Press into soil and wind ivy around wire to create arch.
Add moss and stones and glue on silk flowers. Add any other accessories you fancy to make your garden your own.

I glued a ribbon to inside cover and attached a key. Simply wedge ribbon between some pages to hold book open and display your garden.

You can water lightly or spray to keep moist, but your garden might not last forever.
When garden outgrows base, remove liner and plant something new or for staying power use convincingly "faux" foliage

"Where you tend a rose, my lad,
a thistle cannot grow"

from The Secret Garden

An invitation

 from Robin Redbreast

A chatty Robin led the way to the garden in the story, but should you want to host Secret Garden Party without a feathered friend to lead the way, you can borrow his image and create this easy invitation. Since the Key was such a major element in the story I added one to the top with ribbon.

You'll need:
printable from printables page
sturdy paper
Key charms (these I found in the scrapbook section of my craft store $2.00 for a pack of six- but flea markets or yard sales usually have delightful vintage keys as well)

Print out the image and attach to blank card or sturdy paper. I use spray adhesive to avoid those nasty glue bubbles. Cut two small openings near top and attach a key with ribbon.
( I also included a blank version of the image that could be used for menu or place cards.)
These images were all downloaded free from The Graphics Fairy -The most wonderful site for vintage clip art and inspiring ideas!

Fairy Cakes and Lemon Curd Tartlets

In the story, Mary, Collin and Dickon were often left to their own devices, freely roaming the grounds of Misselthwaite Manor. If they were to pack a picnic tea to bring to the garden I'm sure it would consist of lots of sweet treats, fresh berries and ripe produce from the kitchen garden as well as the favorite rustic oatcakes made by Dickon's mother.
Admittedly as much as I enjoy baking and partaking of sweet confections, my skill level in the kitchen doesn't reflect my enthusiasm. So I often resort to simpler semi-scratch creations that still capture the spirit of the occasion but for authentic Yorkshire recipes (and delightful activities) check your library for these two wonderful companion books to the story:
The Secret Garden Cookbook
Inside the Secret Garden

You'll need:
for fairy cakes
pound cake- thawed if frozen
white icing (melted in microwave) or glaze
mini marshmallows
for tartlets
filo cups
lemon or coconut curd
berries and mint leaves for garnish

sweet treats with the help of Sara and the Dickinsons

Fairy Cakes

Cut poundcake into about 1/2"- 3/4" slices. Using biscuit cutter or 2 varied sized drinking glasses cut out circles. Pour some glaze larger circle and place smaller on top. 

Cut marshmallow in half on the diagonal and dip cut side into sugar sprinkles. pour more glaze onto top of cake, let drizzle down sides and arrange marshmallow buds like flower. I first saw this marshmallow idea in the book Hello Cupcake! A must have in your cookbook collection if you love fun sweets!

Curd Tartlets

Fill cups with curd. Add berry and mint leaf. The mint adds a nice fresh taste. No culinary skills needed here!
serve with tea and garnish with mint sprigs
Animals were important symbols in the story so be sure to invite some along
Quick PennyWise Tips:
I have a strip of "faux" grass from a home improvement store I use as a table runner that is great for any outdoor theme party (it's been used for a dinosaur baby shower, Kentucky derby party and July 4th) so I got my money's worth out of it.

"Shop" in your home home for any objects that might go with your theme before hitting the store (I had the concrete duck outside and the moss covered bunny in my easter decorations)

"If you look the right way, 

you can see that the whole world is a garden"

 Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tea Time at Downton Abbey

For our latest PennyWise Downton ideas pop over to our post Ring Carson for tea!
Will Mary and Matthew go through with the wedding? Will Bates be set free? Will Cora's mother be a match for the Dowager Countess?

If any of these queries have kept you on the edge of your seat these many months, then you might be just as smitten with Masterpiece's Downton Abbey as I am. So in honor of it's long awaited return for season 3, (or 4 if you're across the pond) I thought I'd celebrate with a Downton inspired tea and viewing party! Never seen the series? Not to worry, many of these tea time ideas can be adapted to other festive Anglophile occasions.

Of course with no Mrs Pattmore to bake crumpets or Carlson on hand to oversee the tea service, this fete might be a tad scaled down by Downton standards; and since my "downstairs" is a basement consisting of storage boxes and a dusty treadmill rather than a bevy of well dressed footman and kitchen maids, I kept things easy to make with a staff of one (me)

Please note, this is just a fun cheeky nod to the formal tea which was considered an important ritual in the Edwardian time, so excuse the glaring historical inaccuracies and leniency with proper etiquette; so put the kettle on, grab gloves and a fabulous hat, Tea is Served.

For wonderful authentic recipes and fun historical facts, this is a wonderful website:

       Downton Votive                            

Be lord or lady of your own grand but scaled-down estate with an easy mini Downton votive. 
Print out this, or any preferred image of the Abbey, to appropriate size. Using a craft knife carefully cut out several windows. Tape discreetly onto clear candle holder or vase and pop in a flameless votive or two! I liked the way this square container worked with the architecture and the unusual orange color (It came from a fall flower arrangement) gives the light a warm glow. I used two identical printouts to wrap completely around votive.
on our Printables page

Earl Grey Tea Spoon Cookies

I just love these cute little shortbread spoons I see around from time to time, and thought an Earl Grey  version would be a perfect addition to the tea table. Serve with a dollop of clotted cream and lemon curd or as is with assorted teas, small tea sandwiches and other store-bought or homemade confections. These have a lightly sweet distinct Earl Grey flavor.

There are several good recipes online but I'm partial to this flavored shortbread from, easily adapting the shape from a simple round cookie to a cute little spoon! 
confectioners sugar
loose tea leaves.                                                           
Get the yummy Recipe here

 Make sure to let the butter come to room temperature
 I cut open 4 Twinings teabags yielding about 2 tablespoons of loose tea
 Here's where I stray from the recipe. 
Instead of rolling the dough into a log shape, flatten it between two sheets of plastic wrap to about 1/3 of an inch before chilling. I couldn't find my rolling pin but happily my Costco thermos worked really well in a pinch!
Once chilled and firm, cut out shapes. I didn't have a spoon shaped cookie cutter so I roughly cut around a small iced tea spoon with a sharp knife, simply making the stems shorter.
Let them cool well before removing from sheet as they are fragile while very warm. They will have light golden brown edges.

Painted Tea Chest

Of course tea was a prized commodity in Downton days, and every respectable household had an elegant tea caddy. You can find them in many wonderful gourmet or antique shops and online but here's a DIY version that repurposes a flea market or tag sale find on a commoner's budget.

You'll need:
Box with lid -from craft store or old jewelry box (mine was $2 at a yard sale)
Suitable paint
Stencil Initial if desired
Decorative Label -if desired
 *This East India Tea seal is on our printables page and was found at
Modge Podge
Scrap velvet or satin if desired for lining

I found this old jewelry box ages ago and was waiting to do something fun with it but if you don't have a flea market treasure on hand, another option would be an unfinished wooden box available at most craft stores very inexpensively.

First I gave it a good clean and then removed the eagle hardware.

I taped off a square area on top and painted it a basic black with gold edges and painted the knob.

Using a small stencil, I opted for my own last initial on the front but a G for Granthem or C for Crawley would work if you wanted to go authentically Downton. I quickly freehanded a mini crown and some swirls.

Then I decoupaged the seal on top and once dry gave it a quick coat of sealer.

I popped some scrap velvet into the bottom drawer and filled with tea and tea time accessories.

Character Masks 

 Images of Downton characters are easy to find online. Simply enlarge whomever you choose, print out  and using spray adhesive attach to sturdy paper. 
Glue on a craft stick and some flair if desired and get into character!

Mixing and Matching

 No formal matching tea set for twelve? Me neither.
 Mixing a variety of yard sale and hand me down teacups and saucers with some silver for sparkle can look surprisingly elegant

Ivy from the supermarket and some faux flowers brighten a winter afternoon

I don't know where the candelabra came from but because it is a little dramatic for my taste it is usually reserved for Halloween, covered with cobwebs and topped with a raven; so it's nice to use it in a more dignified setting.

Extra Touches

During commercial breaks why not test your knowledge and play Downton Trivia?
 Fun questions (and answers) here:
You can offer small tea related prizes for the winner if the thrill of victory isn't enough.
Have a selection of easy instant "costumes" from second hand or party stores: plumed hats, white gloves, derbies, fans and faux pearls for guests to sport to get into the spirit.
And if all else fails: