Friday, December 24, 2010

An edible Christmas

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat;
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!

Christmas is coming indeed. So excited! I woke to Sarah McLachlan singing A Merry Little Christmas from my festive playlist and I now have this favourite litte English nursery rhyme in my head (see above). As promised, here is a peek of my edible Christmas gifts. Since we do the Christmas Eve present opening in our family, there's only hours now until I can bestow my little hampers (above) on my family.

Christmas Spice biscuits in snowflake shapes (recipe from Margaret Fulton Christmas: A collection of Christmas favourites).
Christmas Spice biscuits in cellophane bags with snowflake ribbon!
Almond bread (recipe is an old favourite and I'm not sure of the source)
Mince pies yet to be dusted with icing sugar (recipe from Margaret Fulton Christmas: A collection of Christmas favourites).
Cherry and vanilla bean jam (Karen Martini recipe from the Sunday Life magazine in the Age. It worked out in the end after a few tweeks and tastes delicious, but I don't recommend this particular recipe. A few weeks later a notice was posted in the magazine to say the recipe was incorrect -no news flash, we'd figured that out in the cooking process - and a revised version was published. Annoying - I hate dud recipes).
Ye old favourite gingerbread men. These didn't go in the hampers as they were for the kiddies we saw leading up to Christmas (recipe from 09 Coles catalogue that I used last year).
The boxed Charles Whyte Christmas collection
The paper bag version of the Charles Whyte Christmas collection.

Phew! That's it! Lots of time, love and joy went into the making of these so I hope they are gobbled with gusto. Now I think I deserve to kick back to eat, drink and be merry for a few days (oh hang on, I'm hosting Christmas Day and still have a feast to prepare!).

A big thank you for stopping by and reading my blog this year. May your festive season be filled with peace, joy and the ones you love. I look forward to sharing more of the things that make my heart sing when the silly season is fini. xx

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A festive wrap tune

Forgive my absence, I have been happily baking up a festive storm after work each evening. No time for blogging between gingerbread men, almond bread, mince tarts, cherry and vanilla bean jam and Christmas spice biscuits with snowflake icing. Lots of photos to share but not until the the day draws closer to lessen the chance of ruining the surprise for any friends and family that check in here from time to time.

Lucky, all my gifts are wrapped so today I can proudly present my musical wrapping. Now this really has my heart singing. After a fossick through the books at Savers Footscray, I came across an old book of sheet music with pages yellowed just so without signs of mildew. After forking out $1.99 for the book, I was bursting to try this wrapping I'd only previously seen in magazines. Quick trip to a discount variety store for some red ribbon, a shipping label, some stamping with my kikki.k set and voila. Sweet tunes all round.

A few tips: some gifts are too big to wrap in the pages of the music book but it looked great on a solid square or rectangle (as above). Also, old books can smell musty. I posted two gifts wrapped this way interstate and was worried that they might not smell great after being trapped in a post bag, so just to be sure, I gave the gifts a spray of parfum! For this reason, this wrapping may not be for everyone. Keep some cartoon Santa wrapping paper on hand for those that may not appreciate your creative, gorgeous masterpieces (and for the kiddies that just want to rip into the treasure without a bow in their path). Save the delightful, vintage-inspired creations pour moi!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Everlasting Wreaths

A wreath represents the festive season almost as much as a Christmas tree, but it has more power in instantly creating a festive mood and welcome for guests to your home. A wreath is a symbol of everlasting life and can really set the tone for your Christmas decor so find or make one you love.

While waiting for a wow wreath last year, I made a primitive wreath of sorts from wire, a garland of doves, red bows and a little red bird decoration. This year, I started the wreath search earlier, so by late November I had the desired plain wreath of twigs (above). With the addition of a big red bow, it's complete for this year. OTT style will surely emerge later in life.

I'm resisting the familiar urge to paint this hall stand white and trying to embrace the rustic, country vibe happening in our entrance hall. The wreath was slung over the coat hook temporarily but its made itself at home there after I realised that it would be squashed between the front door and the fly screen. I love the little white birds nesting on red baubles under the glass cloche. It feeds the part of me that desires antlers on my walls. For now I have the birds (and the angel wing decorations hanging off the pussy willow).

My wreath search was inspired by my mother who decorates a plain, twig wreath each year. These magazines helped too...
Real Living - December 2010

On another vein, there is something fresh and wonderful about these succulent wreaths from Viva Terra.

What could be better than a living wreath to represent everlasting life?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!

Mister Charles bending down to saw the perfect tree

 If you head down the back track from my childhood home you will happen upon a small pine plantation near an empty farm house. It was here that we would go each December looking for a tree, or more usually, a branch. Dad would head up the tree with a saw in hand (not advised, see note below) and we would all stand at the foot directing him to the best branch. At home, Mum would have the decoration box ready and we'd spend hours pulling out the old favourites and dressing the often spindly branches. The magic of Christmas starts with this ritual and the smell of pine needles always takes me back to the excitement that happens around a Christmas tree. 

Since leaving home, I have had a small, plastic tree (pictured above) but this year I'm leaving it in its box hoping it will never resurface. New home, new tree. Last night, we finally had a chance to head out to a Christmas tree farm. A little different to my childhood treks for the perfect tree but just as fun. The first thing I noticed was the divine smell and the friendly faces of the proprietors. With a saw in hand and well-versed on the procedure, we strolled up and down the rows of trees looking for the perfect tree - a full shape but not too big. We spent more time there than all the kids (I think their parents were hurrying them on, needing to get home to work their way through a longer to-do list than ours). It was very exciting and felt like we were living out a scene from a corny Christmas movie! If you're yet to get a tree, I highly recommend a trip to a Christmas tree farm. I hope to make it a yearly pilgrimage.

We drove out to the friendly folks at:
Lot 319-391 Leakes Road, Rockbank, Victoria. 
Phone: 03 9747 1078 
Open 1st November to 24th December, 8am-8pm

Our tree this morning:
 The decorations were purchased in past years from Bed, Bath and Table, Provincial Home Living, Country Road, Coles and Kmart. 

 A funny little anecdote and a word of warning: Don't try climbing up pine trees and cutting your own Christmas tree. My poor Dad ended up in a wheelchair one Christmas with sprained ankles due to the little ritual I mentioned above. God bless his sweet soul. From memory he felt the ladder move and knew he was about to fall. In a split second, he thought to toss the chainsaw as far away as he could. Thank goodness he remembered all of his kids were below him yelling up their opinion on which branch was best as he was sailing down. Don't ask me why anyone would climb a tree with a chainsaw in hand. The plees of six children might have something to do with it. That fateful Christmas was very possibly the last year we went "down the pines" looking for a tree. After that came the bought ones, so full and fluffy unlike the trees of old. As decandent as a scene from Home Alone with that little something missing :)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bonne anniversaire Charles Whyte

It's a special day at Charles Whyte HQ as we hit the one year blog anniversary. To celebrate we admired the advent calendar strung on the mantle and the Mister got to check out his treats and notes for Day 1. He even asked if he could shine a torch on the other boxes so he could guess what else he has in store! Oh what fun it is to...

To see how I came to have little noodles boxes as an advent calendar, see my previous blog here.  

A very big merci beaucoup to my small but loyal group of followers and subscribers for joining the hunt for all the things that make our heart sing in Charles Whyte's first year. I've loved getting all your help and suggestions on my odd quests - even if most have come to me via email or verbally. I will convert you all to bloggers yet!

Charles Whyte has, in some ways, been about remembering all the things I love in life, all the things that make me happy. After a difficult year or two, this past one has been very positive and I do believe that writing these posts a couple of times a week is one of the reasons for that. A year ago today I wrote about being on the cusp, a place where we aren't quite content and we're out there searching for an elusive, mythical, magical thing that will make us instantly happy. Even though I know there is no such thing, that first post remains this blog's raison d'être. These days though, I feel so much more able to "enjoy the rush as my head hits the water" and I feel much more part of those dreamy images I wrote about. 

This blog only exists because I'm still enjoying the hunt for all the things that make my heart sing. I might be more content this year but I still have to agree with my former words that "the search is like a heartbeat, a rush of adrenaline, my lifeblood." So Charles Whyte lives on and I hope you'll be part of the hunt.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The countdown to the perfect advent calendar

The latest hunt in the land of Charles Whyte revolves around Christmas decorations. The theme usually starts with red, white and a touch of vintage. Rustic wooden touches, brown paper and linen usually grab me, as do birds, doves, angels and glimpses of typography (especially of the French variety). Lucky I enjoy making things as I don't find much in my style in the stores and, as I found out on the weekend while on the decoration hunt, the shops are already horribly busy.

Last year it was a wreath I was struggling with but now that I've found what I was looking for in that department (blog post to come), the hunt has moved on to an advent calendar. What better way to enjoy the lead up to Christmas than a beautiful calendar? The little treats inside are just a bonus, but who doesn't like a daily gift?!

The advent calendar yearning all started with this Inside Out cover in 2008. Sadly, there was no stockist information for the perfect stocking advent calendar picured above. Some clever stylist (ggrrr) is probably responsible. Sooo need to get a sewing machine and learn to sew to make all these things I like.

Then in last year's December Home Beautiful magazine there was this printed advent calendar. Almost perfect, but it is from the wholesaler Mediterranean Markets. Poor little 'general public' me has had to write an email to them to see if there is any way to get it.

 I quickly perked up when I saw a few rusty bucket advent calendars online as I thought I could make these easily myself.

 Aspen & Brown rusty bucket advent calendar (around 30 pounds but delivery within UK only)

 Image from Boxwood (supplier not specified)

 Pottery Barn Bucket and branch advent calendar ($299, no shipping outside US)

After visiting Lincraft, KMart, the Reject Shop, the $2 Shop and various other discount variety stores, I am at a loss as to where to find mini tin buckets. This is the only one I found and its got too much going on for this project.

$3.95 from a $2 shop in Highpoint

To rub salt into the wound, I saw mini white tin buckets being used to display stock in a shop over the weekend but they didn't know where they had been purchased. There are lots online, like this beauty, but all overseas as far as I can see. I only have a day left!

On the upside, I found these Morgan and Finch star pegs for advent calendars in Bed, Bath and Table for $14.95.

The ever-smart Mrs Tee suggested I try mini noodle boxes so now I have an interim solution while the rusty pails come my way (or I learn to sew).

Tomorrow they will be stuffed with little treats and strung up somewhere. Let the countdown begin.

Update: The advent calendar is now in place and helping us enjoy the Christmas spirit. What do you think?

Full blog post here.

The Lettered Cottage

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spring Love

There is but four days left of spring to enjoy so I must share this gorgeous image with you as a reminder that 'In Springtime love is carried on the breeze'. Time to get out there and enjoy it. Bon weekend, dear reader.

Spring Mantle by The Lettered Cottage

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I wanna be a Kawaii Kid

Truth be told, I am wishing I was a teeny tiny tot today because I am swooning over gorgeous little girl clothes. And who wouldn't like to re-live their childhood sometimes? If it means being fed, watered and generally doted on, I'm there. Just dress me up in these sweet threads from Kawaii Kids. I promise to be a good girl and I will not stomp in the enticing puddles outside.
 BubbaGrubb tee and bloomers
 Sooki Baby France Frilly Skort
 Sooki Baby France Nappy Pant
 Sooki Baby Etsy Dots Tee
 Sooki Baby Mushroom Tee
 Sooki Baby Mushroom Tee
 Sooki Baby Mushroom Printed Playsuit
Little Sailor Girl Swimwear

This week, we have welcomed a niece into the world, hence the excitement over finding pretty little things online. On a trip to my husband's home town of Birchip in north-west Victoria earlier this year, I discovered that a kids shop had opened in the main street.

For a tiny country town, this is a big thrill! And it is cute to boot. I found some uber cool union jack jeans at the time for a nephew, but I spotted all the girls pieces at Kawaii Kids and have been hoping since that the new addition was of the female variety. Why? A) the nephew to niece ratio was sitting at 6 to 1 and b) there are so many cute things to buy for little girls. Incidentally, kawaii means cute in Japanese.

Lucky for me, since it is a very long drive to Birchip, Kawaii Kids started out as an online boutique and continues to have a very successful online presence. Both the Birchip and online stores stock Japanese and Korean inspired clothing and accessories but there is also a range of boutique and handmade labels. Plus cute cards and prints to decorate a child's room, like these from The Little Humbugs.

They ship all over the world so check out the website, or if you're feeling in the mood for a roadtrip to the open expanses of the Mallee plains, drive 310km up the Calder and, after a turn or two, you'll be greeted by  the big, red bull . You have to love supporting small businesses, especially those having a go in little country towns. All going well, there will soon be kawaii kids roaming streets across the world and I hope I'm not too big to be one of them.

Kawaii Kids
33 Cumming Avenue
Birchip VIC
Phone: 03 54922785

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Layered chocolate cake (she did ask for chocolate...)

It's not a new obsession, my fondness for a layer cake (remember previous posts on dreamy vanilla cake and black forest?) 

Even on a Sunday night after my high school reunion and a week working interstate, I couldn't resist making a version of the Donna Hay layered chocolate cake from her book Simple Essentials Chocolate. After all, it was to celebrate my new boss' birthday and her only hint on the cake front was CHOCOLATE. She said it, I listened. Weary as I was, a deep enthusiasm for these decadent layers kept me going as the clock ticked again and again to remind me of the late hour.

In the end, I had to give up on icing it and resume in the morning due to the warm weather we are getting in Melbourne right now. The truffle icing was very runny and needed longer to cool. Here's what it looked like after pulling it from the fridge in the morning...

Then after the icing was complete (I love the height of two cakes on top of one another in four layers - so grand. Please excuse the smears on the plate)...

And ready to be eaten...

I'm usually an advocate of following a recipe closely for the first time and making my own "improvements" and variations the second time around, but not this time. The recipe called for 750 grams of mascarpone and as much as I like like the stuff, I swapped this for 500g of light cream cheese beaten in the MixMaster because my local supermarket was selling 250 gram tubs of mascarpone for more than $6 a pop... nearly $20 right there before you even think of the other ingredients including 400 grams of chocolate. I also omitted the liquer and I would like to say that was a conscious thrifty move on my part but the truth is I've only just re-read the recipe and realised I forgot it! Oops. This is what happens when you bake so late and before work (unfortunately, this is when I mostly have to do it). The good news is that it didn't seem to stop my workmates hoeing in and that's the main thing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Got any blacker? Dining in the dark

After eleven months of other priorities and deliberating over paint or wallpaper, a decision has been made on the colour for our kitchen and dining area. We are sticking with the colour wrap (painting 2 walls in one colour and the other two in another - white in our case) but gleefully saying good riddance to our inherited eggplant/deep purple walls. Loving how the sample turned out on the wall and sooo excited to finally be doing it. Here are my inspiration pics for this room:

Image: Decor Pad

Image: Decor Pad
Image: Bettsy Kingston
Image:Sofiaa Interiors

 And some general black inspiration...
 A bathroom belonging to Gwenyth and Chris
Birdgage wallstickers from

Black is not always associated with happiness but my heart sure sings when I peep at the area I've started. This is one black hole I can't wait to spend some time in. 

Update: Click here to see the finished black and white kitchen/dining paint job.



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