Saturday, 1 August 2015

Biscotti

When we get asked out or go visiting, I always like to take a homemade gift if possible, usually something from my kitchen. And my gift of choice at the moment are biscotti. They are relatively simple to make, can be flavoured in all sorts of ways and somehow seem more gown up than other biscuits... probably something to do with the fact that they are better dunked in a glass of Vin Santo rather than your afternoon cuppa!
 
 
Before heading off to Great Missenden last week we were at a Sunday lunch party and so I took a batch of Fig, Apricot and Nut biscotti as featured in Isidora Popovic's book - The Popina Book of Baking. You can find the recipe here... or if you prefer gram measurements rather than cups... try here (although I converted it to 235g flour and 120g sugar)
 
They were good - lovely fruit and nut flavours - but I could taste the baking powder slightly, so I resolved to go back to the drawing board when I next tried them.
 
 
On returning from Great Missenden yesterday afternoon we got a phone call inviting us to a barbeque this evening so I decided to try a different recipe and adapt it with the fig and apricot flavouring. This was from one of the Great British Bake Off books (it's back this week... very excited!) and unsual for biscotti it contains butter. The Popina recipe claims to be lighter for the absence of butter but really guys, we are talking biscuits here. And from where I'm standing biscuits and cakes do not really fall into the healthy eating category. So as long as they remain an occasional treat they might as well have have butter, sugar and all the other stuff we are routinely told we shouldn't be eating!
 
 
It was my plan to share the adapted recipe to with you here... but it wasn't that straightforward. The dough was very sticky... more like a cake batter. There was no way I was going to be able to roll it out into log shapes. So I added more flour until it became a soft but manageable dough.

 
It was baked for 30 minutes, before removing from the oven, slicing and then going back in for another 10 minutes... hence the name biscotti, meaning twice cooked.
 
 
This time there was no baking soda aftertaste, but I fear they are a little on the dry side so I may have added too much extra flour so until I've sorted it out I won't be sharing the recipe!
 
 
But when they are dipped in Vin Santo I'm sure no-one will notice!
 
 
Now if you excuse me I'm off to put some jumpers in a bag ready for this barbeque... our British summer weather isn't overly warm today. But at least it is dry!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Five on Friday - My Week

I bring you a pretty random selection of things I've been up to this week under the very convenient title of Five on Friday!
 
1. Teaching
 
 
On Tuesday I was at Art Van Go teaching a class called "Stitches and Doodles", which was a fun day practising free machine stitching.

 
My twelve "victims" ranged from three ladies who had never done anything like this before to one who had completed her C & G Diploma in machine Embroidery... the ultimate mixed ability class! The one lady who claimed to not even know how to thread her machine went on to stitch these beach huts... obviously a natural!
 
 
Lots of fun all day!
 
 
2. Cooking
 
 
You might think I was making pumpkin soup in the middle of summer (I'm not even going to mention the rain today) but no... I spotted a recipe for Passion Fruit and Pink Grapefruit curd which I rather fancied. I bought the required fruit but by the time I came to make it I couldn't remember where I had spotted the recipe in the first place... so I made it up based on other curd recipes. But it didn't quite set! So today I heated it up again, taking care not to turn it into scrambled eggs, and I now have four jars of rather nice curd. Which is very pleasing as my favourite breakfast at the moment is lemon curd stirred into plain yogurt and topped with banana and raspberries and I'm guessing the type of curd won't matter.

 
3. Shopping

 
I've got a bit of a thing about vintage china... and before anyone else spots it, I know these are not vintage but are new cups and saucers by Katie Alice but they fit very nicely with the other old bits and bobs on my dresser. I couldn't resist them so treated myself.
 
4. Knitting

 
I've started a new cardigan... again! This yarn originally started out as a "Gina" jacket based on one I saw by Marion Foales. I adapted a pattern and knitted the whole thing but it was awful... big, baggy and ugly! So I unravelled it all, washed the yarn to get rid of the crinkles and started knitting this pretty cardigan by Martin Storey from the book Knit Red. I finished the back before I realised the tension was all wrong again... and yes, I had knitted a tension square but the yarn was too soft and floppy. It just didn't work.
 
 
So I unravelled again, have gone down two needle sizes and so far so good! I'll let you know how I get on... and of course whether it transforms me into that ravishing read headed model in the photo... because you just know that's how I am imagining it will turn out!

 
5. Packing

 
On Sunday I'm off to Missenden Abbey for a week to teach in their first week of summer school. City & Guilds level 1 machine embroidery in five days. You wouldn't believe how much stuff I need to take... I have several lists and I'm still worried I've forgotten something. I haven't even started on my clothes etc. So I won't be blogging next week... although will probably update my Facebook page with our progress. See you when I come up for air in August!
 
Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday

Monday, 20 July 2015

Finished for Another Year

Here I am at the end of another busy two weekends of Cambridge Open Studios... the tenth year I've taken part. I uploaded the photos last night but was too exhausted to write anything which was probably a good thing. It would have been a very different post from this morning
 
 
I was really happy with the way things looked this year and was excited by my new venture... the pop up cafe, but last night I felt tired, deflated and was left wondering whether it was all really worth the effort. The idea of the cafe was to possibly attract more customers... especially the many locals who have never set foot in the house. But alas, that was not to be. There are a handful of friends and neighbours who always pop in and support me but there are many, many more who most likely never will, no matter what is on offer.
 
 
But after a good night's sleep, this morning I am more philisophical about the whole thing. Yes, it has been hard work and I'm exhausted, yes, it would have been good to have lots more people come but overall it has been successful. Those who have visited have been enthusiastic and kind about my work and many have gone away saying that they feel inspired and I am grateful for that.
 
 
I would still continue to create in one form or another even if there were no Open Studio visitors so every single person who comes and visits is a bonus. I have also sold some work too and that of course is the icing on the cake. I always feel that Open Studios is about showcasing work so sales are always very much appreciated.

 
In between the two weekends I was making more cordials... a cherry and lime cordial made from cherries picked from the tree on the field behind our house.
 
 
And of course, making more cake... these two were for our Embroiderers' Guild supper on Friday...
 
 
But there were more new cakes for the pop up cafe too.

 
And although it would have been good to have attracted more new people along to try the cake and visit my studio I still managed to raise £80 for the East Anglian Children's Hospices.
 
 
And so I'm not being grumpy and waiting for the storm to pass... (not that it is in the least stormy)
 
 
But I'm dancing enthusiastically in the rain... whilst dismantling all the open studios stuff, packing for a class at Art Van Go tomorrow, getting ready for Summer School next week, and believe it or not... baking another cake! So I'd better get a move on...

Friday, 10 July 2015

Five on Friday - Open Studios

By the skin of my teeth...  A Five on Friday post as I get ready for my first weekend of Open Studios. This will be my tenth year participating in Cambridge Open Studios and you would think I'd have it off pat by now... yeah, right! It is all left to the last minute as usual and many of the grander ideas and plans I hatch will never come to fruition. But these are a few of the things that have been happening:
 
1. Last minute work
 
 
No matter how much work I have to display, I am always compelled to make just one more thing at the last minute... and invariably you can guarantee that will be the one thing that does not sell!
 
2. Flower Brooches
 
 
I thought I had loads of these little brooches but when I opened up the case where they live I found my supplies were seriously diminished. So I've building up my stock all week. I hope I've enough to make a decent display
 
3. Fresh Flowers

 
I always like to have fresh flowers on display for Open Studios. The delphiniums were a birthday gift and I added the Scented Stocks today, feeling rather pleased that my flowers co-ordinate with the artwork on the wall behind them!
 
4. Prism Work
 
 
It was lovely to have sold one of my graffiti pieces that I made for Prism in June but the remaining five pieces (I know you can only see four in the picture) make an eye catching display that is new for Open Studio visitors.
 
5. A Pop Up Cafe
 
 
Every year I have grand ideas of holding a preview evening with cocktails and canapes... but that would mean being ready before Saturday morning and somehow that never seems to happen. So instead, this year I'm having a pop up cafe in the garden serving homemade cordials and cakes. Having spent the best part of today baking I think I'm completely losing my marbles...  like I don't have enough to do!
 
 
So if you want a slice of homemade Battenberg with a glass of Rhubarb and Rose cordial... you'd better get here early.
 
Open 11th/12th and 18th/19th July from 11 am until 6 pm
 
Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Year in Books - July

Two posts in two days... what is the world coming to? Despite running about like a headless chicken for most of today getting ready for Open Studios (or at least that is what I was supposed to have been doing) I realised that I completely missed my Year in Books post at the beginning of the month, so as I am now collapsed on the sofa I thought I would get it done while I've got a chance... it could be a while before I'm back again!
 
 
June's choice Nora Webster was a bit of a disappointment. I really wanted to enjoy it. I liked the style and the prose (enough to make me willing to try more from Colm Toibin) but I just didn't care enough about Nora Webster, recently widowed and trying to come to terms with her life. It was just too slow and dreary and I couldn't help being more concerned about her two young sons who were also dealing with their bereavement at the loss of their father. I wanted to give Nora a shake and tell her to pay more attention to her boys!
 
The second book I read last month was The Secret Diary of a BBC Secretary, which was written by my friend Sarah. Although I had downloaded it to my Kindle a while ago I couldn't bring myself to read it. What if I didn't like it... what would I say to Sarah? But Sarah and I met for lunch last month and I decided that I really did need to bite the bullet and read it. I started that afternoon and two days later I'd finished it. I loved this book and by the time I got to the second half I couldn't put it down. It is the diary of 19 year old Sarah Shaw, written in 1971 when she was working as a secretary for the BBC and living in a run down hostel in London. Not only does it convey the era perfectly but it also tells of the blossoming but unlikely romance between Sarah and a lift operator at the BBC's old Langham building. It is written with great humour and honesty, with a brilliant eye for detail that took me right back to 1971.
 
 
Another unlikely read for me last month was An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. You'll have heard of Chris because he was the astronaut who sang "Space Oddity" from the International Space Station and the resulting you tube video went viral. I was surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did. It was a bit repetitive and full of jargon at times but it still made for a fascinating read that I really enjoyed.

 
I also managed to fit in a thriller by Val McDermid, The Skeleton Road. I don't read that many thrillers finding them a bit formulaic but my Mum devours them one after another and often passes them my way... and this was one of those. It was entertaining enough telling the story of a skeleton found in the remains of an old school in Edinburgh and linking back to the war in Croatia but as often with thrillers it was a bit predictable and I'd guessed "Who Done It" pretty early on. A good holiday read though!
 
 
And so to my choice fo July... How to Catch a Frog by Heather Ross. A wonderful memoir of Ross's childhood in Vermont... that I'm already half way through! You'll notice that I've gone from tea and cake with last month's choice, to a rather necessary G & T in the garden this month... I'm under pressure guys... only two days to go until Open Studios and I'm nowhere near ready....

 
So what have I really been doing today...updating a tutorial for making these newspaper backgrounds and putting it into my Etsy shop, following some requests after last week's class in Bristol... of course. I know how to prioritise, me! You can find it here should you be interested.
 
 
Tomorrow it really will be action stations for Open Studios... full details of where and when to find me if you are anywhere near South Cambs can be found Here: www.camopenstudios.co.uk
 
Joining in with Laura for The Year in Books

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

I do like to be beside the seaside

When Stewart asked what I wanted to do for my birthday this week I knew straight away I wanted to go to the seaside.
 
 
We set off early Monday morning and headed to the Suffolk coast. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to go to Aldeburgh or Southwold but we plumped for Aldeburgh so I could see the wonderful Maggi Hambling sculpture on the beach.
 
 
"Scallop", a four meter high steel sculpture, is a tribute to the composer Benjamin Britten and the words "I hear those voices that will not be drowned" are taken from Peter Grimes. 
It is fabulous and wonderfully tactile.
 
 
I then indulged in a little bit of paddling... can't possible go to the seaside and not dip my toes in! I resisted  going in for a swim though as even in July the North Sea is a bit on the cold side!
 
 
We then wandered back up the stony beach to the town where we bought fish and chips, which we ate from the paper sitting on the Promenade.
 
 
As it was still early we decided we could manage to fit in Southwold too so drove up the coast via Snape Maltings... where we indulged in a little shopping!

 
Do not be fooled by the sun shimmering on the sea at Southwold... by the time we had walked along the pier the wind was whipping up a storm and we just had time for a quick ice cream before the rain set in and we headed home.
 
Back home there was a bottle of champagne in the fridge along with a box of chocolates and a DVD (The DVD wasn't in the fridge!)... a perfect end to a perfect day. Not exactly a day of healthy eating but it is only once a year!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Lost in Bristol*

I might have a long term plan to cut back on various committments but it certainly hasn't started this week. On Wednesday it was our last meeting of Spectrum. I suppose it was a fairly relaxed day but a little odd in that any mention of the fact that this was our last meeting was mostly avoided... a bit of an elephant in the room really! The saving grace was that one of our members, Gill had a rather special birthday which provided a distraction, and obviously there was a cake... I can't let a birthday pass without baking a cake.  Although I do think I should have let the opportunity to eat chocolate dipped strawberries for breakfast pass me by!
 
 
Gradually everyone left and made their way home and I got in the car to drive all the way to Bristol, where I was giving a talk to The Bristol Quilters. I arrived in good time and thought I was doing well navigating my way through the Bristol streets at rush hour, without the benefit of a satnav... I have never got around to getting one. Then I realised I had made a wrong turn. I stopped, consulted my map and was working out where to go next when my phone rang and it was Jacob with a minor drama... Me: "I'm lost in Bristol, stopped on a busy road, I've got 20 minutes to find this hall... sorry can't deal with this right now!" A couple of U-turns later, I arrived at what I thought was the venue but the hall had a completely different name. I asked someone who didn't know... had a wander down the street and finally returned to spot several ladies of a certain age arriving at the hall. I had arrived!
 
 Jacob's problem had resolved, at least for the time being and I unpacked the contents of my car ready for my talk.


 
I talk about the various things that inspire my work and always bring along my "wig of cakes". At the point where I asked if there was anyone in the room who would like to model it for me, all 70+ women in the audience fell silent! So there was only one thing for it... and of course the moment it was on my head someone whipped out a camera!
 
I stayed with their chairman and the next morning followed her to a different venue where I was to be teaching a workshop... except we managed to lose each other on the way. And this time I didn't know where I was going so couldn't even look it up on the map. I took a guess at a junction and there was a hilarious moment when we passed each other going in opposite directions. Stephanie made some wild hand gestures that I took to mean I should turn around which I did, by which time she had disappeared again. She'd meant for me to stay put while she turned round because I was actually headed the right way. Eventually when I found her phone number on a scrap of paper at the bottom of my bag we were reunited and we got to the venue in plenty of time where I had a lovely day teaching ten ladies how to create newspaper backgrounds on fabric and then adding applique to the surface.
 
 
These are just a few of their finished pieces.
 


 
Most tried to tie in their newspaper headlines with their appliqued images and as ever the variety and skill was a delight.





 
It was a lovely workshop and I managed to find my way out of Bristol and back home without too much incident. And having had such a fun time I wondered whether my decision to cut back on my teaching has been a bit hasty... although a three hour journey home on motorways followed by all the unpacking of bags confirmed I've made the right decision.
 
* I owe the title of this blog post to my friend Anna who came up with it as I was recounting these stories to her this afternoon. We got together to be photographed for the local rag to advertise our forthcoming Open Studios. If you live in or near Cambridgeshire, full details can be found here: