{Party} Tables For Eating At

13 April 2015

It's party season in our house at the moment. Lily's birthday was last month, while Arthur's is next month. This means parties and family gatherings aplenty. I simply love these pretty party tables with their strung up lights - don't they look celebrational and special? Food for thought …


27 March 2015

On Tuesday of this week Lily turned 10. A whole decade. To celebrate reaching double-figures I laid on an after-school afternoon tea for her and six close friends. It was relaxed, fun and I hope memorable. Celebrating such moments in life is time well spent in my book.

So I set to work making tiny cheese & cucumber rolls, filling pretty striped paper cups with chipsticks, baking sausage rolls and filling cocktail sized vol au vents. Then there were mini strawberry & cream meringues, individual coconut & cherry loaf cakes, mini chocolate cakes, mini orange & almond cakes and paper cups filled with lemon cupcake popcorn, berries and chocolate discs and to top it all off a 'fox' birthday cake.

It's the decorations and tableware that also make a gathering an occasion and, in this case, turn one of the most special days of the year into one of the prettiest. All the decorations and tableware in this shoot are from My Little Day, a French online boutique that sell all the kit required to host the most beautiful children's birthday parties. From bunting, confetti-filled balloons and tassel garlands to paper plates, cups, straws and napkins in contemporary patterns. I even made party bags using the paper bags and mini paper rosettes  - they were the icing on the cake.


13 March 2015

In the last couple of weeks there has been a notable change in the everyday. The narcissus in my window boxes are about to bloom. I check the tight yellow buds that are just breaking out of their protective paper-like casing every morning. They are tentatively about to announce the arrival of spring.

It will soon be time to pack away the winter blankets and throw open the windows to let in the dappled sunlight. I tend to make a few subtle changes to my home to welcome in the new season. At the moment I am looking to update a picture that I've had on my kitchen wall for sometime to something new, fresh and optimistic. I find that when a piece of art has been on my wall for a long time, I fail to notice it anymore.

I have recently discovered Minted, an US-based online design marketplace that sells event stationery,  party decor and wall art from their global community of independent designers. An early pioneer of crowd-sourcing, Minted hold regular art and design challenges. Designers submit their designs, fans vote and Minted sell the winners. Minted ship worldwide and their prices are purse-friendly. It's a refreshing way to curate a shop and gives many independent designers the selling platform they need. This is just a selection of what is on offer. The fresh painterly patterns have a Scandinavian feel about them which appeals to me. They are calming while at the same time invigorating - perfect for the sunny spot by my kitchen window. You can browse the full art collection here. Which one would you choose?

Images from top: Morning Dew by Simona Cavallaro | Connection № 3 by Kelly Ventura | Flight of the Ocean by Sharon Rowan | Ice on the Lake by Renee Anne | Weathered by Melanie Severin | Trio of Spheres by Naomi Ernest | Sunset Fade № 1 by Kelly Ventura | Bits by Katie Craig

Minted are currently offering a 15% discount across its shop, but if your inspired be quick as the offer ends this Sunday.

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The Kitchen Cupboard {Lily Pond Stoneware Dinner Set}

4 March 2015

This lovely new Lily Pond Stoneware Dinner Set from Anthropologie caught my eye recently. I've been playing it safe with plain white dinnerware for decades now and sometimes I want to go that little bit further. The pretty frilly edge with its blue glazed trim is just subtle enough to keep within my crockery comfort zone. Its delicate fresh design would really come into its own now that we are on the cusp of spring, don't you agree?

Tables For Eating At

26 February 2015

For me the act of 'sitting down to eat' with family and friends is as important as the food itself: maybe more so. There's a wonderful small Italian restaurant close to us. The proprietor recently wrote on his Facebook page that he kindly requests that customers don't bring their phones to the table as he wants his diners to be fully present to enjoy on the food he has prepared for them - he wants the focus on the food and the company. How refreshing.

The table plays an important role in the ritual of eating. Once sat at a table the mood and focus changes. Not only is it better for your digestion, but eating at a table is respectful to both the meal and the person who prepared it.

For me, three things contribute to the atmosphere of a meal: the food, the company, and the tableware.  I'm not keen on dressed up tables: you can keep your napkin rings and table centres. Likewise I can't abide the sauce bottle on the table either. I favour a relaxed table: maybe a tablecloth, a few floral sprigs, tea lights, and food presented thoughtfully and appetisingly. This applies for a supper gathering with friends to solo tea and cake perched on a stool at the kitchen table, between chores, on a weekend, while the kids are 'having a run out' in the park.

I find these images inspiring. They remind me to take time over food, to make an effort and make an occasion of it all. I shall be coming back to this subject again to share further images that I hope will inspire you as much as they inspire me. Bon Appétit.

Images: sfgirlbybay.com (top), handmadestudiotn.com (bottom).

Red Grapefruit-Syrup Loaf Cake

24 February 2015

Today I am sharing this recipe for a Red Grapefruit-Syrup Loaf Cake. Although a visually plain cake, it hits-the-spot on the flavour front perfectly: buttery, melt-in-the-mouth sponge with a fresh citrus zing. Perfect when enjoyed with a warming mug of tea.

Red Grapefruit-Syrup Loaf Cake

Serves 8 - 10

125g soft unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1/2 a red grapefruit
175g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
4 tbsp milk
juice of 1 red grapefruit
100g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4, and butter and line a 450g loaf tin well, ensuring that the lining comes up a good centimetre or so above the top of the tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar, and add the eggs and grapefruit zest, beating them in well. Add the flour and salt, folding in gently but thoroughly, and then the milk. Spoon into the prepared tin and put in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until golden, risen in the middle and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, get on with the syrup. Put the grapefruit juice and icing sugar into a small pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Once the cake is done, remove from the oven and puncture the top all over with the cake tester. Pour over the syrup, trying to let the middle absorb it as well as the sides. Leave the cake to soak up the syrup and cool completely before removing from the tin.

Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson's lemon-syrup loaf cake.


19 February 2015

Buttercup Days is four years old today. It's changed quite a bit over those years and good things have come from it. When I typed my first blog post I had no idea what my goal with it was: I still don't really. I started it while at home pretty much full-time with my then one year old son and five year old daughter. The blog served as a creative output in those stay-at-home days. Blog posts tended to be family centred. It was about being a mother to two young children, while also looking back at my own childhood. It documented those tiny but significant milestone and occasions that make up life. Food was always part of it and recipe posts were a fairly regular thing back then.

Every now and then, I have to stop and see where I am going with this blog. With both of the children very much settled into school life, I work those school hours 5 days a week. There's my daily task list for Seen and my Shopping Editor role at The Simple Things to fill the hours. The blog gets squeezed in as and when time allows, which isn't nearly as often as I would like, which can be frustrating. If only I had thought of doing this before having kids, back in the day when I had something called 'spare time'

With the vast majority of my posts being recipes that I make, style and shoot myself, I couldn't have chosen a more time consuming blog to write. To keep a blog going it has to be about a subject you are passionate about, that much I've learnt. My passion extends further than just the food itself and I plan to share that with you in the form of content that won't require me to cook up a storm in the kitchen in order to achieve a blog post. I still want the recipes to be very much the core of the blog; these new elements I hope will support and compliment the recipes.

Over the coming weeks I will be introducing a few new elements to the blog as it enters its fifth year.  I will be posting about inspiring cooking and eating spaces, beautiful kitchenalia and simple ideas and thoughts on the act of cooking, sharing and connecting over food.

No matter how I write up and plan my posts in orderly subjects, there will still be a few random posts (probably children related) that will pop up. I've got to keep it real, as they say.

To all my family and friends, the people I've met through Buttercup Days, and those who may have just stubbled across this post today - thank you so much for your support. It means the world.

Lentil Pie with Feta & Thyme Mash

4 February 2015

This Lentil Pie with Feta & Thyme Mash is my go-to comfort food at this time of the year. Growing up, Shepherd’s Pie was one of my mum’s specialities that made regular appearances on the kitchen table much to my delight. This is my vegetarian, slightly tweaked version.

The hearty lentil base made from onion, garlic, carrots and a rich tomato and herb sauce is topped with a creamy thyme mash with a surprise salty-feta hit. It’s a great combination. As well as tasting good it’s a practical recipe too: it can easily be portioned up and frozen, ready for an effortless TV supper for one. Likewise, serve it with a side dish of sautéed kale or a spinach salad and it can pass as an elegant dinner party main course (I know, I’ve done so successfully on many occasions). Also, its always goes down well with the kids, which is never a bad thing.

Feel free to substitute some of the ingredients for what you have to hand. I very rarely make this recipe exactly the same twice. If I have rosemary on the balcony I use that instead of thyme. If I have some goats cheese in the fridge then that can happily replace the feta. Likewise with the vegetables, feel free to throw in a few zucchini in place of the carrots if that is what you have.

You may have noticed the beautiful tiles that I had the joy of shooting with in this post. They are from Lindsey Lang - thanks so much for the loan Lindsey. Lindsey is one hell of a talented lady who in addition to her flooring collection also has a gorgeous range of kitchen textiles and has just designed some beautiful towels for John Lewis. Do seek her designs out. Also, I must extend out my thanks to Simone at Keep It Vintage who often allows me to borrow some of her lovely products for my shoots. This girl has a real eye for picking out some must-have vintage and retro pieces. The enamelware, textiles and the bowl in the last image (below) came from her treasure trove of a shop.

Lentil Pie with Thyme & Feta Mash.
Serves 6 – 8

For the lentil base:
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and diced
350g ready to eat / pre-cooked Puy Lentils
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
80ml red wine (optional)
Fresh thyme, leaves stripped from several stems
1 tsp of dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
150ml vegetarian gravy (made to a fairly thick pouring consistency)
For the mash:
5 good-sized potatoes (approx 225g)
Olive oil (approx 80ml)
Fresh thyme, several sprigs
150g feta cheese
Parmasen, dried Basil, Nigella seeds (optional – to finish the dish)
Coarsely ground black pepper & sea salt to season

Heat a little oil in a large pan and sweat the carrots and onions on a low-med heat until slightly softened (5 – 10 mins), then add the garlic and continue to cook for a minute or two longer.

Next add the lentils, followed by the tinned tomatoes, vinegar, wine and the fresh and dried herbs. Stir and then slowly add the gravy, adding a little hot water if the overall consistency is too thick. Turn the heat down a little and cover the pan loosely with a lid and let it gently bubble away, filling your kitchen with the most delicious aroma. You want the carrots to be tender and the flavour of the sauce to come through. 15 – 20 minutes should do it, but keep your eye on it, adding a little water if the mixture starts to dry and taste as you go to check its progress. Season with black pepper and a little salt should you wish. When the base is done, turn off the heat and keep to one side.

While the lentil base is cooking, you can start your mash. Peel and chop your potatoes into equal-sized pieces and add to a pan of water. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to medium and simmer for approx 10 mins or until the point of a knife effortlessly slips through the potatoes. Drain and set to one side.

Taking a small bunch of thyme or several sprigs, strip off the leaves and add to the potatoes. Next drizzle in your oil, a little at a time, and start to mash your potatoes (I use a hand whisk for this). You may not need all the oil or you made need a dash more. Once your mash is smooth, crumble in the feta and gently fold through and season with some black pepper.

Preheat your grill to high. Decant your lentil mixture into an oven dish (or individual dishes) and top with the mash. A light grating of parmesan cheese, a dusting of dried basil and a sprinkle of Nigella seeds is a nice finishing touch, but by no means essential. Pop the pie under the grill until the top is golden. Serve as it is, or with some vegetables of your choice. Enjoy.

Note: if you want to make this ahead of time, you can do so. Just cover the cooled pie with foil and place in the fridge. When ready to eat, remove the foil and pop it into an oven pre heated to 200°C and bake for 25 -30 mins or until golden and heated through.

Gin Thyme Lemonade

30 January 2015

After a long and busy week, Friday is finally here. With this in mind I thought I'd share a quick recipe with you; one that's the perfect way to end a busy week and see in the weekend.

Gin Thyme Lemonade

Quick, easy and refreshing. Be sure to buy a good quality lemonade for this recipe, you want it made with real lemons for that zingy flavour.

75cl bottle of traditional lemonade
1 small bunch of lemon thyme (ordinary thyme will do)
lemon, sliced.

Pop two or three ice cubes into a tumbler and add a measure of gin. Top up with the lemonade and add a few sprigs of thyme and a slice of lemon. You could insert several sprigs of thyme into the lemonade bottle a few hours ahead of serving (remember to screw the lids back on tightly) for a stronger hit of thyme. Feel free to omit the gin for non-drinkers.

As featured in the January 2015 issue of The Simple Things
Photography: Buttercup Days

A Gathering for Friends

26 January 2015

I love nothing more than hosting a small informal gathering; inviting friends to my home to share a home-cooked meal together.

Invariably, I will cook a simple supper; unfussy but considered. I will allow myself time to plan and prepare. For occasions such as these I will bypass the busy supermarket and head to a local greengrocers, fishmongers and bakers to purchase what catches my eye. Having done some research browsing through my cook books, food magazine tear-outs and the internet, I'll usually head to the shops with something in mind; a stew, a robust winter salad or something as vague as some locally caught fish, herbs and good bread or maybe just a determination to track down the first of the blood oranges. I’ll probably pick up some flowers from the florist to – nothing grand, just a few pretty blooms to place in an old jam jar or a small vase #littletouches.

The weekend before last we had some friends come down to stay. These were old friends from where we use to live. With kids, work and busy lives we don't see each other as much as we'd all like, so this was an occasion we were all very much looking forward to. I believe times spent with friends sharing food and conversation is so good for you; there really is nothing quite like reconnecting around the dinner table catching up on each others lives, whilst lingering over a meal and a bottle of wine (or two). 

For me every such meal needs to end with a pudding. I often plan my menu from the pudding back. I used this occasion as an excuse to try out a recipe from a new cookbook of mine, Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. The recipe was Set 'Cheesecake' with Plum Compote. It is a deconstructed cheesecake, where the compote, cake and crumble are made and kept separate. Other than the fact I can never resist a cheesecake, I was drawn to the recipe as its components (which were easy to prepare) could be done so 24 hours in advance. Having pudding ticked off the list the day before appeals to my ‘control' streak. Here are a few pictures of the said pudding. It was delicious and there was enough leftover the next day for photographing and eating (again).

Click here for a link to a greengage compote version of the same recipe.

A New Job + Parmesan & Thyme Popcorn

7 January 2015

Happy new Year. 

I'm starting the year off with some doubly good news. Those regular readers of this blog may recall that  I had some of my work published in The Simple Things back in September. Well not long after that, they commissioned me to create and photograph a series of 'snack' recipes to accompany a feature they were to run on book clubs. The feature is out in all its glory in the January issue of the magazine. I will run the recipes over the next couple of weeks here on the blog, but if you can't wait that long go grab yourself a copy from any good newsagents. I promise you won't be disappointed.

The second bit of news also relates to The Simple Things: I am their new Shopping Editor! The position was given to me back in November when I was launched straight into their February issue. That coupled with the onslaught of Christmas meant I'm only just sharing my news now - not that it has really sunk in quite yet. The roles means that I can indulge in my passion for design - sourcing lovely new products for the home and self and discovering wonderful independent retailers and creatives for my 'Shop of the Month' and 'Designer of the Month' columns that run alongside my product pages every month. My debut issue is the February one, so not too long to wait until see will my work in its good old fashioned print form. I can't wait.

But, back to the recipe. Parmesan & Thyme Popcorn did feature on the blog some time ago, but I am taking the liberty of running it again, along with a couple of the new images that I took for The Simple Things. 

Parmesan & Thyme Popcorn (makes plenty)

This is a super-quick savoury snack to make and one that can be adapted to what you might have in your fridge. Feel free to swap the Parmesan for another hard cheese and the Thyme for another herb – Marjoram or finely chopped rosemary would be perfect. The melted butter, cheese and herbs mix together and form a kind of pesto that coats the popcorn. Warning: these are very moreish.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
6 tbsp popping corn
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
a good handful of thyme, leaves picked.
salt & pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan. Tip in the popping corn and cover with a lid. Allow the corn to pop over a medium heat, giving the pan a little shake now and again. Once the popping ceases remove the pan from the heat. Take care when removing the lid - there may still be a bit of popping activity going on. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small pan.

Tip the popcorn into a large bowl and add the melted butter, grated parmesan, chopped herbs and seasoning. Mix throughly, taste and add further seasoning, more herbs or cheese depending on taste.