Craft Corner: How to make a Thanksgiving Tree

How to make a thanksgiving tree_for web

Although Thanksgiving is a traditional American past-time, since making my first ever Thanksgiving Tree last year, I would recommend the concept to anyone. Their significance stretches far beyond the grand US of A, and even the month of November.

This simple idea is a communal one, designed to be the focal point of a party spread or family room in the build up to the big day. As with most things, I found the idea on Pinterest.

Beneath the tree (which can take any form you like really, from cardboard cut-outs to garden twigs), should sit a pot containing blank paper leaves and a pen. Every guest or family member takes it in turn to write one thing they are thankful for on each leaf, which – you guessed it – is then hung on the tree.

Depending on the situation, it’s up to you how you do it. For me, hosting a group girlfriends at my place for dinner, I set up the tree with just a few of my own thankful leaves to start things off, then the writing/hanging was a fun conversation-starter as the Pilgrim’s Punch flowed during arrivals. Following a sumptuous feast and several glasses of wine, the thanks flowed further, with people writing them at the table and declaring them as they did – prompting much debate and silliness as they stood to hang them off the nearest branch.

As entertaining as the practice was (could being thankful for the invention of GHDs really be just as credible as the wonders of modern medicine?), it has a real significance. Being thankful for our lot is clearly a course of thought we should encourage beyond one Thursday a year – and so, it is testament to the enduring sentiment expressed on those leaves by my closest friends (and my laissez-faire approach to clearing up after a good party) that the tree from last year still decorates a corner of our living room today. What will we hang on the branches this year?

To make one like mine, you will need:

  • A cluster of large spindly birch branches, spray-painted and tied together securely
  • A large sturdy vase
  • ~1.5Kg of popcorn kernels (unpopped, obvs)
  • 8 sheets of multicoloured card (autumn colours, red, yellow, orange etc.)
  • A pencil
  • Scissors
  • A metal skewer
  • A marker pen

1) Prepare your branches. Depending on how dedicated a crafter you are – and how far you want to take this Thanksgiving tradition – you may want to gather your branches from scratch. Getting your housemates or the kids together for a chilly weekend ramble, collecting large broken twigs as you go might sound like your idea of fun – in which case, dry them out thoroughly before laying them out on discarded newspaper broadsheets – ideally outside. Gather at the stems and secure tightly in a bunch with wire / string. Spray-paint them all over in gold, silver or white, depending on your decor. Leave to dry. (For me, with just one day to prepare for the main event which had to include a mammoth food shop and constructing a crudité turkey from scratch, I slipped off to our local Hildreth Street Market in Balham where a very friendly man sold me a huge bunch, ready-painted and tied for £7. Job done, thank you very much. Your local florist may well do just the thing.)

2) Create a sturdy base for your branches. Holding the branches up steadily in the centre of the vase, poor in your popcorn kernels so they evenly distribute around all sides of the branch stems. You want the vase to be at least half to two-thirds full so the whole tree is really steady and in no danger of toppling over (especially crucial if you plan on making it the dining table centrepiece). My vase was large – 24cm x 10cm – and with the largest branches 1.5m high, 1.5Kg popcorn was enough, but always over-estimate (you can make popcorn with the leftovers).

thanksgiving tree popcorn base

3) Create your leaf template. Google a few typical autumn leaf templates to get some ideas, or again turn to Pinterest – I sketched a simple maple leaf outline, 9cm x 9cm plus 2cm of thick stem. You could even do several different types of leaf (rarely found on an actual tree, but let’s use our imaginations here). Draw and cut a template in all the colours of card you plan to use.

multicoloured card maple leaves

4) Cut out all your leaves. Pile a few layers of card together (however many your scissors will readily cut through together). Steadily holding your template on the top layer, carefully cut around your leaf. This will give you 3-4 leaves at a time and will save you acres of time.

5) Pierce your leaves. In the top corner of each leaf, use your scissors tip to make a tiny hole, then push through the skewer to enlarge the hole carefully, without ripping the card. Test the hole size, making sure it’s big enough to hang on your twig branches. (to save time, yes you can just hole-punch them).

6) Thanksgiving time. Arrange your coloured leaves in a careless pile at the base of the tree as if freshly fallen (or, neat freaks, tidily in a small dish), with a pen. Start off the proceedings with a few special thanks of your own. Hang. Admire. Grab a glass of punch, toast and be thankful.

thanksgiving tree leaves

A few final handy tips:

  • Buy your birch branches pre-prepared if you can find them locally and cheaply. It’ll save huge hassle and look just as impressive.
  • Always over-estimate your popcorn quantities. You’ve got to make sure your branches are super steady and you can always make popcorn with any leftovers – or even have a go at making these for more Thanksgiving prettiness.
  • Remember to make your leaves big enough to write lengthy thank you’s on (some people do go on a bit)
  • Don’t bother to draw out all your leaves – it’ll take forever. Once you have a card template cut, stack together several layers of card to cut 3-4 leaves out freehand, around the template, at the same time. Or else wrangle any nearby small children to help (with any necessary scissor-supervision).
  • Keep the tree up all year round – as a regular reminder that life is pretty amazing really. You could even add more leaves as the year goes on whenever something awesome happens.

thanksgiving tree complete

Thanksgiving tree



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20 things that mean home to me

Stocks flowers painted | | The Writing's on the Wall

As part of a new project, I’m starting to think around what home really means. To everyone really, but here’s my starter for ten. Feel free to leave your own thoughts after the jump. I’d love to read them.

  1. Fresh stocks in a vintage enamel jug on the kitchen table
  2. A kitchen warmed sweet by baking banana bread
  3. Soft, corner lighting
  4. Fresh sheets & plump pillows on a newly-made bed
  5. Pushing the plunger on a steaming cafetiere
  6. The kitchen table covered in the detritus of Sunday papers
  7. BBC Radio 4
  8. Time dissolving in an un-putdownable book
  9. A long-brewed teapot of peppermint tea
  10. The cloud of roast dinner hitting you as you come in from the cold on a Sunday afternoon
  11. Dinner Jazz on Jazz FM
  12. Two hours of uninterrupted Sky+ catch-up
  13. The chattering of two radios on opposing stations, battling for supremacy
  14. The irritable motor of the hoover
  15. Furniture polish
  16. The double click of the front door lock and the inevitable schlump of the door closing behind
  17. Distant droning aeroplanes
  18. Test Match Special
  19. Dogs barking; followed by their name bellowed, a call for silence
  20. The late night Shipping Forecast

What means home to you?



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Salad Days: food of the goddesses

salad days header

Salad is decidedly a summer food group. Although our short-lived summer already seems to be vanishing, my capacity for tossing one together from the jumbled remnants in my fridge and calling it dinner knows no limits.

It’s usually only when I have the flat to myself of an evening that I can get away with salad constituting a main meal. Men, I find, rarely consider mixed lettuce with some trimmings an acceptable side dish, let alone a meal in and of itself, but oh the joys they miss out on.

Some of my earliest gastronomic memories involve tottering around the house clutching red and orange sliced peppers and those tiny red boxes of Sun-Maid California raisins – safe to say I was brought up on a snack fest of fruit and veg; an appetite that hasn’t dissipated with age.

My aforementioned spontaneous salad-drawer emptying has led to some interesting concoctions of late, which I plan to share on the blog over the next few weeks as a new recipe series, Salad Days. On evenings when you’re time and energy poor, can’t face a detour via Sainsbury’s and suffer as I do from the gnawing guilt of sedentary days spent at a computer whilst a growing yoga/pilates/’Pump It Up DanceNation’ DVD collection slowly gathers dust at the back of the TV stand, you have the added bonus of it at least being an altruistic supper.

Salads being a food choice for warmer months, it is a little late in the day, but as we Brits tenaciously cling on to the final weeks of our so-called-summer – refusing to part with cotton dresses and ballet pumps until we are wringing them dry from the daily downpours – I’ll be eeking out the salad days at my place for as long as possible. As long as you have something to form my four salad must-havescolourcrunch, protein & greenery – you can’t go far wrong.

Stay tuned.


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Fitzgerald’s cityscape & urban decay

London Underground tube crowds

Over the past couple of years, I’ve gradually been falling out of love with London.

City life, and London especially, offers a treasure-trove of experiences. Its rich history, culture and melting pot of global visitors makes it enriching for some – for most. But it possibly also has a time limit, an expiration date.

When I first started travelling to places with significantly more living space (i.e. anywhere but England really),  I was uncomfortable with how far apart everything and everyone seemed. The cosmopolitan, bustling Sydney – Darling Harbour, early-ish Saturday morning – was a comparable ghost town compared to an equivalent spot in London. Kind of unnerving, when you’re used to the packed out West End, or tourist-laden South Bank.

But over time, I’ve come to crave: space. Living with a South African, and seeing London through the eyes of a nation with a plethora of just that, I’ve started to see our city for the over-crowded, sometimes-claustrophobic life it offers. And it’s troubling. Travelling the same journey to work each day, accompanied in too-close quarters by the same crowds of commuters, evokes a drone-like automaton existence that is in some way deeply sad.

Fitzgerald captures this like no one else I’ve found. Outlining a vision of New York that could double in every way for London-living, Amory Blaine shares the following scene in This Side of Paradise as he stands on the pavement in the early evening, watching the post-matinee crowds take to the rain-soaked streets:

“He stood aside, edged a little into the rain to let the throng pass. A small boy rushed out, sniffed in the damp, fresh air and turned up the collar of his coat; came three or four couples in a great hurry; came a further scattering of people whose eyes as they emerged glanced invariably, first at the wet street, then at the rain-filled air, finally at the dismal sky; last a dense, strolling  mass that depressed him with its heavy odour compounded of the tobacco smell of the men and the fetid sensuousness of stale powder on women. After the thick crowd came another scattering; a stray half-dozen; a man on crutches; finally the rattling bang of folding seats inside announced that the ushers were at work.

“New York seemed not so much awakening as turning over in its bed. Pallid men rushed by, pinching together their coat-collars, a great swarm of tired, magpie girls from a department-store crowded along with shrieks of strident laughter, three to an umbrella; a squad of marching policeman passed, already miraculously protected by oilskin capes.

“The rain gave Amory a feeling of detachment, and the numerous unpleasant aspects of city life without money occurred to him in threatening procession. There was the ghastly, stinking crush of the subway – the car cards thrusting themselves at one, leering out like dull bores who grab your arm with another story; the querulous worry as to whether someone isn’t leaning on you; a man deciding not to give his seat to a woman, hating her for it; the woman hating him for not doing it; at worst a squalid phantasmagoria of breath, and old cloth on human bodies and the smells of the food men ate – at best just people – too hot or too cold, tired, worried.

“He pictured the rooms where these people lived – where the patterns of the blistered wallpapers were heavy reiterated sunflowers on green and yellow backgrounds, where there were tin bathtubs and gloomy hallways and verdureless, unnameable spaces in the back of the buildings; where even love dressed as seduction – a sordid murder around the corner, illicit motherhood in the flat above. And always there was the economical stuffiness of indoor winter, and the long summers, nightmares of perspiration between sticky enveloping walls… dirty restaurants where careless, tired people helped themselves to sugar with their own used coffee-spoons, leaving hard brown deposits in the bowl.”

Where Amory uses these observations to comment on a dislike of impoverished life – the trappings of the financially poor as he sees it – perhaps we could read this as a different type of poverty. Not lacking of financial riches, but a richness of life.

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“Too many voices and predigested food” – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words of warning

With the The Great Gatsby love-affair still dominating the zeitgeist, I’ve started digging into some other Fitzgerald titles to see if any could grab me as Gatbsy does, year after year.

I was struck whilst reading This Side of Paradise, his first novel, how certain commentaries rung so true to modern life. Almost as if he had a foresight quite remarkably ahead of his time. More likely is that he was able to observe and capture certain society fundamentals that remain true through the generations – a unique talent that contributes to his timeless appeal and long-standing as an American great.

By means of example, we see at one point protagonist Amory Blaine pour forth derogatory views of his national press and the damaging impact an unschooled digestion of its messages could have on the general populus:

“We want to believe. Young students try to believe in older authors, constituents try to believe in their Congressmen, countries try to believe in their statesmen, but they can’t. Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism. It’s worse in the case of the newspapers. Any rich, un-progressive old party with that particularly grasping, acquisitive form of mentality known as financial genius can own a paper that is the intellectual meat and drink of thousands of tired, hurried men, men too involved in the business of modern living to swallow anything but predigested food. For two cents the voter buys his politics, prejudices, and philosophy. A year later there is a new political ring or a change in the paper’s ownership, consequence; more confusion, more contradiction, a sudden inrush of new ideas, their tempering, their distillation, the reaction against them…And that is why I have sworn not to put pen to paper until my ideas either clarify or depart entirely; I have quite enough sins on my soul without putting dangerous, shallow epigrams into people’s heads; I might cause a poor inoffensive capitalist to have a vulgar liaison with a bomb, or get some innocent little Bolshevik tangled up with a machine-gun bullet.”

Fast-forward a century, where we’re surrounded by news reports and (social) media channels 24/7, it is harder than ever to see the truth through the noise – indeed, “too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism.” Fitzgerald here encourages us to always question the source before accepting what we consume as an authoritative voice that has the potential to influence and shape our on views, and subsequent actions.

When extremist views and political discontent can so easily find a voice that reaches the masses – a powerful result of technological developments and freedom of speech that we are all struggling to reconcile today – perhaps we can learn from Fitzgerald here that old adage of thinking before we speak – or blog, or tweet.

And to always, continuously, relentlessly question.

First National news archive newspaper

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Hungover brunch: poached eggs smash hash

hungover brunch poached eggs

Brunch is possibly my favourite ever mealtime. As much for the types of dishes usually served up (eggs, pancakes, lashings of crispy bacon) as for the time of day, day of the week and the whole laissez-faire feeling it invokes. Not sprightly enough for breakfast, but with too hearty an appetite to wait for lunch and best served up on a weekend accompanied by proper steaming coffee, freshly squeezed juice and the company of loved ones. It also reminds me of a place dear to my heart, New York City.

From my groaning stack of cook-books, my trusty Lazy Brunch contains some wonders and it is from Simon Rimmer’s New York smoked salmon hash (p.50) that I created this particular Saturday morning treat. The original recipe happens to be in a section named ‘treating your girlfriend’, which I’m all for, but I’m happy to take the reins on my version.

Serves 2 hungry/hungover brunchers


  • 2 medium-sized potatoes (~300g)
  • 6 rashers of bacon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed (or granules if you can’t be bothered)
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp double-concentrate tomato puree
  • chives (dried can substitute fresh, I’m not fussy)
  • ground black pepper
  • a splash of Worcester sauce

What you do is:

1.   Get the potatoes on the go. Don’t worry about peeling them – give them a good scrub and chop them into small chunks, about 2cm square cubes. Drop them into salted boiling water and simmer for about 12-15 minutes. Don’t over-do them – you’ll be frying them in a minute – you want the potato equivalent of al-dente, or they’ll fall apart in the hash pan.

2.   Once they’re on the boil, grill your bacon. Keep an eye on it, turning as you go. Don’t crisp it to a cinder – just grill until it starts to brown, usually around 6-8 minutes. Remove the bacon and carefully shred the rashers into small pieces – scissors work wonders here.

3.   Next get your eggs ready to go, via the Delia method. Put a wide, deep pan on the heat and fill up to about an inch with boiled water from the kettle. As soon you see the bubbles start to appear on the base of the pan, work quickly to drop your eggs into the water and set the timer for exactly 1 minute. When it beeps, turn the heat off immediately, leave them in the pan and set your timer for 8 minutes (10 if you like them well done)… leaving you to get on with the hash.

4.  Take your potatoes off the heat and drain into a colander.

5.  Splash some oil into a frying pan and heat for a minute, then add your onions and garlic and sweat them for 2-3 minutes.Turn up the heat and add in your potatoes, mixing them in with the tomato puree, paprika seasoning and chives, stirring them around every 30 seconds or so, allowing the potato bits to gently brown without burning.

6.  After 3 minutes or so add in your bacon and season with some black pepper, continuing to stir through the hash while it browns for a final couple of minutes.

7.  Divide your mixture between two plates (if all has gone to plan, just as your egg timer dings). Remove the eggs with a slotted metal spoon, topping each hash serving with two eggs, a grind of black pepper, a sprinkling of chives and some Worcester sauce.


hungover brunch poached eggs hash

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World Poetry Day – everyone’s a poet

Happy World Poetry Day one and all!

This date hadn’t occurred to me until reading the wonderful Lucy Mangan in this week’s Stylist magazine, and though she decries the artform as not for her, even she manages to finish her column with a spontaneous burst of verse. Granted, she is a literary fireball, but in four short funny lines, she nailed a little ditty just like that:

“The boy stood on the burning deck,

His feet were full of blisters.

The flames came up and burned his pants

And now he wears his sister’s.”

Why not have a go today? You can pick anything – the most mundane subjects usually herald the funniest results – and pen a few lines. Share your efforts in the comments below.

I’ve recently rediscovered the sometimes therapeutic benefits of writing verse, which you can check out in the Poetry Please series.


*Image via

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