The secret to super easy flower arrangements – five ways

131116 glass bottles and PierreHow to make perfect flower arrangements with whatever you have in your garden, using one simple tool

Happily we don’t have to be florists, or have a Sissinghurst style picking garden. The prettiest arrangements are perfectly within reach.  All you really need are need are some simple little glass bottles.

You can buy bottles like this cheaply from homeware stores or Trademe. However, there are plenty of small bottles which can be recycled into new life.  It still makes me laugh that mine started life as IV paracetamol bottles.  Well cleaned, and with labels scraped away, they have been pressed into a new and more decorative life

Right now in our part of the world the burgeoning, budding spring loveliness is all around us.  Even if you don’t have a garden it isn’t hard to find a few buds or blooms.  This type or arrangement is marvellously non-discerning.  Here are five ways you can use bottles like this to satisfying effect:

131116 Pierre bud vase1. One perfect bloom in a bud vase

Meet Pierre (de Ronsard).  I get ridiculously excited when M. de Ronsard decides to pop out a few fat, heavy buds, the petals of which open gradually into this lovely old fashioned quatrefoil arrangement.  It speaks for itself and doesn’t need any further embellishment.

 

131116 burgundy sweet peas

2. The tiny, fragrant bouquet

I wish I could link you through to the amazing old fashioned scent of these purple sweet peas.  If anything will take you back to your grandmother’s garden, it will be these.  The stems are not always as long as you might like, which is why these little bottles are just perfect.

 

131115 Purple Opium poppy

131116 poppy flower heads close3. the ‘personality’ seed pod arrangement

These glorious purple opium poppies bloom and then give way to these plump upraised seed pod faces.  They seem to have their own comical characters and I like to see them in chatty little groups. My children sometimes draw fierce little faces on them when I am not looking.  It can be quite disconcerting to have a flower arrangement stare back at you!

131116 dinner party flowers

4. The easiest dinner party arrangement ever

I used eleven small glass bottles and whatever I could find in the garden to create this centrepiece for a dinner with friends last night. This is an extremely simple arrangement to create but it brought lovely colour and sparkle to the table creating and a real sense of occasion.  On a practical note, the cakestand makes it easier to remove the arrangement from the table when it came time to put the main dishes on the table.

131116 centrepiece deconstructed

131116 fresh flower ringTo make the arrangement simply, cut the stems to roughly the same height and place them in their bottles on the base of a glass cake stand or plate. This brings them together and give them some height.. Add simple tealights in decorative glasses for a bit of glimmer.

131116 House elf 5.  The birthday party

I had no time, and not many flowers.  But a surprising number of the few blooms went with the froot-loop inspired bunting. Keeping the arrangement on the windowsill took advantage of the sunlight and kept them out of the way of serial small party-hyped elbows.  (You will have to supply your own house-elf though.  This one is ours ;-) ).

There you have it, five ways with everyday flowers, glass bottles and no time.  Do you have any favourite tricks with flowers?

From Scratch – The results of the no-knead bread experiment

bread white boule dark and rye

Regular readers (Hi Ma!) may recall I’ve been playing with no-knead bread recipes, trying to create one of those crusty, artisanal, country style boule loaves you might see at the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC or,closer to home, up the road at Olaf’s.  The frugal side of me would like to think I can do it for less than the $7.50 market rate for good bread.

And here’s the upshot:: The no knead white bread recipe by Jim Lahey/Sullivan Street Bakery is a definite keeper.  No fluke.  It’s good, really good.  It’s my new go-to bread recipe.

The pros are:

  • It really is the closest you’ll get to making a real ‘artisan’ country style white boule, especially in my kitchen, with my crappy old oven (the Bermuda Triangle of my kitchen renovation)
  • It’s seriously bragworthy in appearance.  If you’re shallow and approval seeking like me, this counts
  • The inside ‘crumb’ is moist and appropriately slightly holey.  It is the bread which disappears from the bench before all others.. It’s delicious and I find it better, more authentic than the artisan bread in five minutes per day method, probably due to the longer fermentation period.
  • The kids like it.  They like to risk dismemberment with the serrated knife and cut it themselves.   The crust is chewy and thick and the minions like to walk around chewing them
  • It’s damned easy with the smallest possible hands on time.  Five minutes to mix, then five minutes shaping plus baking time.
  • While some people will laugh at the idea of a bread which has been left for 12-18 hours to ferment being called easy, or quick, the fact is, it bubbles around in a bowl for 99.8% of that time. If you’re the sort of person who regularly uses a yoghurt maker or remembers to take meat out of the freezer the night before (yeah, sometimes me neither), then you can do it!
  • Makes tasty toast
  • Cheap.  Three cups of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of yeast and some salt aren’t going to break the bank anytime soon.
  • It feels good to make good bread!

The cons are:

  • Sticky business: the fermented dough is quite wet and sticky to handle which takes a little getting used to handling.
  • Burny hot! If you check the method here you’ll see that the loaf’s caramel exterior and moist interior are created by the atmosphere within a lidded metal casserole inside your oven. Getting a red hot metal casserole or ‘dutch oven’ in and out of the oven is a bit tricky.  Those suckers are heavy! If you have removed the knob from the lid, then levering the lid on and off again is trickier still. If your knob is metal, then you’re fine but the black bakelite type ones don’t handle above 240c well, so I have had to remove it and fill the screw hole hole with foil to maintain the seal. As a result, I have been eyeing up those daft silicone non slip oven gloves with a little more serious consideration than usual.
  • It’s a round boule shape, so it’s not conveniently shaped for your lunchbox (that’s a future mission)
  • Not a quick fix.  It’s still bread. If you’re in a hurry, make scones.

I tried three mixes: The white, whole wheat and rye flour.  What I learned (a no brainer really) was that the recipe is designed for the properties of white flour only, the others were difficult to handle, very wet and not entirely successful.   I have Jim Lahey’s book My Bread now, so I’ll take a closer look at how he handles whole wheat recipes.

bread white wholemeal comparisonAs a result of my going off-piste in my non-informed way, the whole wheat was very disappointing (see loaf to the left). It hardly rose, was dry, and quickly went stale.

 

 

 

Bread rye flatHowever the big surprise was the rye bread.  As rye contains very little gluten, I didn’t expect much of a rise, and as you can see here, it’s pretty flat.  However it was delicious, moist, and flavoursome, slightly tangy and chewy.  It also stayed fresh and edible much longer than expected.  Sliced, it was perfect with avocado and a little haloumi or smoked chicken (all conveniently oblong shaped foods!) It also made really yummy toast.  I would definitely make it again, although I will look at some mixes with higher gluten flours for a more ‘high-rise result’.

If you want to have a go yourself  I’d really encourage you.  Clearly, kneading is not necessary and you can surprise yourself with some pretty delicious and impressive results.  Not to mention saving yourself a bill at the bakery.

Check out the recipe here.

Let me know if you’ve had a play around with no knead recipes.  I’d be keen to hear about any old favourites.  And please let me know if you have a good reliable sandwich loaf recipe.