Friday, 10 February 2017

And Breathe...

Well I did say I had lots planned for this week and I have managed to do another couple of things from my sixty by sixty list. The first was a birthday present for both of us from Stewart's son and his wife. James and Elizabeth have taken up my sixty by sixty project with great enthusiasm and they thought I might like to add indoor skydiving to my list... They were not wrong!

On Wednesday we took ourselves off to Milton Keynes where we experienced the thrill of free fall skydiving... but inside a big wind tunnel. . You have to let yourself fall into the chamber where a 120 mile an hour wind lifts you up in the air for 60 seconds... which believe me is quite long enough! It was totally exhilirating. Everyone in our small group then got a second turn and if we were relaxed enough, the instructor spun us around and lifted us right up high inside the tunnel. As we left, Stewart said "That was amazing but I would never jump out of a plane"... and my reaction was "That was amazing, I'd love to do it out of a plane!" Not sure I ever would though!

Thursday was my first day in my new job. I'd had a couple of hours there last week, supposedly to learn all about the job... and in particular the "oven", but I left feeling I'd made a huge mistake. The training I was meant to receive on the state of the art "Self Cooking Centre" (actually nothing like any oven I've ever encountered) was non existant. Frankly the thing terrifies me... the idea of jumping out of that plane seems preferable to cooking with this! No one seems to know what I'm supposed to be cooking and it all feels rather chaotic... added to which, the other cook who was doing the days I'm not there, has left. However they are lovely people who run the shop and not wanting to give up before I've even given it a try I spent all day yesterday, from 8 am until 4.30 pm on my feet trying to bake scones in this machine. They were okay and people paid to eat them but I wasn't happy with the results... not up to my usual standard having to work with inaccurate scales, no measuring jug and an oven where you can't set your own temperature! The rest of the day was spent rinsing dishes and loading and unloading the dishwasher... very glam! I came home totally exhausted and with an awful headache so not sure how I will cope with two consecutive days next week.

At least I slept well last night, which was just as well as we had bought ourselves a morning at a Bird of Prey Centre for an African Bird Experience today.

We got to handle and fly all sorts of amazing birds. This was an Eagle Owl which was really beautiful, but we also got to fly a small African Barn Owl, a Harris Hawk and a large Fish Eagle with a 5 foot wing span... I certainly knew about it when he landed on my arm!

We saw so many beautiful birds I can't remember what this one (possibly a Bateleur Eagle) was but he was a real character... we were having a bit of a chat here! It was so cold that I think my nose almost matches his for colour! And the one below is a magnificent Bald Eagle called Lincoln... she was very heavy! She is still young so doesn't have her adult plummage yet. Just look at that beak and talons!

So there we are... that was my busy week. I'd like to tell you next week will be calmer but probably not! I am directing "Charley's Aunt", something I have wanted to do for a number of years ever since seeing a fabulous outdoor performance of it. So that will be another thing off my list no doubt. It could be a while before I have time to post again and I don't seem to be having time to read your posts either, so have fun meanwhile... and I'll be back soon.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Rags to Riches

My sixty by sixty project, which was going so well before Christmas, seems to have reached somewhat of a hiatus over the last month. Sometimes there is just too much going on in day to day life without adding new experiences. But something I've always wanted to do is to make a rag rug and after enjoying making my rag rug door wreath in December I've been prompted to make a start.

I wanted something that looks quite contemporary so have opted for a design of squares and rectangles based on one by Kaffe Fasset in his book "Glorious Interiors". Whether this gets finished or not before my birthday in July is another matter but it will be ongoing... a bit like the 1000 piece jigsaw! It will get added to my list once it is complete.

Secretly I would have liked to make one with fabulous flowers, like the one on the cover of the book but have reined myself in and decided for a first attempt I need to learn to walk before I run... most unlike me.

Next week I hope to actually be adding another two more experiences to my sixty by sixty list, but you'll have to wait until I've done them before you hear about all it! I've also got the first day in my new job next week (that is becoming quite a saga... I'll save that for another time!) and it is the final week of rehearsals for a play I'm directing... I haven't told you about that either, have I? And there's a rather long walk that I need to start training for... You'll just have to come back again I'm afraid.
Whatever you are doing, have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

A Little of What you Fancy!

In my last post I promised you cake but it almost never happened. You might recall, although more likely not, that when I last baked with The Cake Slice Bakers one of the choices for January was a blood orange and vanilla cake. As there were blood oranges in the veg box last week and I was due to bring a pudding for a lovely gathering of friends at a Burn's supper last Saturday it seemed an ideal opportunity to bake this cake.

All went well with the slicing, mixing and stirring etc although I was a little concerned that the instructions for making caramel said to stir the sugar until it melted into a dark caramel. Everything I have ever read or seen about making caramel is quite definite that stirring should not be part of the process, causing the sugar to crystalise... which it did! I did manage to rescue it but it was very thick and my instinct would have been to have started with a little water mixed with the sugar. After a longer than specified cooking time the cake was finally baked but when I turned it out upside down, most of the thick caramel hadn't even begun to melt into the cake and was stuck solid on the tin, so I would definitely make caramel my way next time!

I didn't think it looked too great, not the least shiny and glossy like the photo in the book and I almost didn't bring it along but in fact it tasted much better than it looked... so although it wasn't very photogenic, it turned out okay. It was a real treat to go out to supper and have pudding, not something that has really been a feature of our healthy eating plan over the past few weeks.

Apple , raisin and cinnamon porridge.

Since the weekend we are back on track with tasty breakfasts and delicious soups, and loads of wonderful vegetables and it really doesn't feel like a hardship. We are eating regular meals, cooked from scratch and are enjoying every one.

Leek, bean and spinach soup

I've also been reading this book which gives loads of sensible advice for healthy eating for life. Lots of ideas for tweaking ones diet to make lasting healthy changes, without having to give up the occasional treat.

It focuses far more on the pleasure that should be had from all our food and it's definitely not about denial or giving things up. There is no doubt that cake should be an occasional treat rather than a regular part of our diets, but when we have it, it should be enjoyed for the treat that it is, not be something we feel guilty about, which I guess is good news for someone like me who loves to bake so much!

I'll finish with one of the best quotes I've read lately "We shouldn't feel guilty about eating a slice of cake... it's not naughty, it's not a sin... sleeping with your best friend's husband is a sin. Cake is just cake, get over it"

I promise no more evangelical food posts... it's just we both feel so good plus we are both half a stone lighter since the beginning of January so it's hard not to want to shout about it!

Monday, 30 January 2017

A Ritual

It really doesn't matter how many jars lurk in the cupboard from the previous year... Or possibly even years. And there are always some, as marmalade consumption is rather slow in our house given I'm the only one who eats it, unless it gets baked into a cake or a pudding. But when the Seville oranges appear in the shops briefly during January, I cannot resist buying them for a marmalade making session. It's an annual ritual, capturing that little bit of sunshine in a jar during the cold grey days of January.

A day of making marmalade is like bringing a little bit of hygge to the kitchen. I prefer the slow method of squeezing out the pips and juice from the bitter oranges and then thinly slicing the peel by hand. It is then left to soak overnight in the juice and water.

The following day it gets boiled until soft and then cooked up with sugar until it makes marmalade. I love the way the windows steam up, the kitchen becomes warm and cosy and the whole house smells of fragrant oranges.

This year I used half demerara sugar and it has produced a wonderful dark almost treacle like conserve. I also found the remnants of a bottle of Jack Daniels in the cupboard so that went in too... slightly more than I had actually anticipated was left in the bottle!

But it has made the most intensly flavoured dark marmalade.

Which of course, I had to try... on a slice of soda bread which went down nicely with an afternoon cuppa.

Since embarking on our healthy eating regime I've been making soda bread each week for our lunches and to go with our soups.

It really couldn't be easier. In a large bowl combine 450g of wholemeal plain flour, 75g mixed seeds (such as sunflower, linseed, and pumpkin), 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Then in a large jug mix together a tablespoon of black treacle with a tub of buttermilk (cartons seem to vary between 280ml and 300ml but the exact quantity doesn't matter) and make this up to between 425 and 450ml with cold water. Mix this thoroughly into the dry ingedients to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. The amount of water you need does tend to depend on the flour. Leave to stand for 5 minutes while the oven heats up to 200 deg C (180 fan). Then shape the dough into a round loaf (or two smaller loaves as I tend to do) and place on a non stick baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.

Making soda bread each week has also become something of a ritual this month and I like the idea of eating something that is not packed full of additives. As you might have gathered we are now approaching the end of a whole month of eating better, it's not been difficult, everything seems to taste so much better, we're enjoying our food and we feel so much better too. Alhough there has been cake this weekend... more about that next time!

Friday, 27 January 2017

A Tale of Two Gloves

Are you sitting comfortably? Cast your mind back to the week before Christmas. You know, that week where there are a million and one things to do and not really the time to do them. I wanted to find an extra little present for Ben's girlfriend, Alexandra... beautiful, glamourous and raven haired. She wears mostly black, with chunky jewellery... sort of gothic but not quite, and I suddenly had inspiration that she might like a pair of black mitts with a lace cuff. Just like the ones that I had started weeks, months... ok, possibly years ago but never finished. After rummaging in several drawers and cupboards I eventually found them... one completed mitt and another cuff almost finished... Bingo! I spent a couple of evenings finishing the second mitt, which incuded having to unravel part of it which literally took hours. If you would like some advice... don't try to unpick sections of lace knitting in black yarn in artificial light... ever. Just saying.

Eventually I finished the pair of mitts which I then gave a quick wash. When they were almost dry I left them over the radiator in the hall so they would be dry enough to wrap (this was the day before Christmas eve). I quickly popped upstairs and on my way back down, spied the back end of a black puppy running away at great speed with something black in his mouth. Yes, you've guessed it... Hector had swiped one of the mitts off the radiator! I managed to retrieve it from him before he decided to swallow it (believe me... he would. His brother Herbie, who belongs to my brother ate a whole T shirt, a dish towel, a pair of socks and a metal coil before Christmas that need to be removed surgically. But that's another story). 

Unfortunately the mitt was destroyed beyond repair. To say the air turned blue is a bit of an understatment. I may have shouted just a little bit, possible even said some bad words before I stomped off out. On my return the dog just peered at me tentatively round the kitchen door... he knew he'd done bad! It was too late to start again so I resigned myself to not having an extra present for Alexandra.

Then over the holiday when Ben and Alexandra were staying with us I told her the story of the dog and the mitt and showed her the remaining unscathed mitt. And she loved it! She tried it on and admired her hand and was sad that there was only one. So after making sure she wasn't just being polite and that she really did love it, I offered to make another, which I finished today, just in time for her birthday next week.

And that naughty puppy was watching like a hawk as I sewed the buttons on, waiting for his chance... as if!

Pattern is Veyla by Ysolda

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Times They are a Changing.

...and I'm not just talking about world politics.

When I first started blogging, almost ten years ago I still had four sons living at home, I did a little bit of teaching in adult education and I was about to embark on a degree in stitched textiles.

All these years later and the three older sons have moved out and the youngest is here only part time as he completes his degree. My own degree course was never finished, not through any lack of enthusiasm on my part but because the school ceased to exist and as for my work... it has undergone many changes and is about to do so again.

My teaching gradually increased of the years but then started to wane again as various doors began to close and so a liitle over a year ago I took the opportunity to start my own little baking business as well. I considered myself lucky to be able to work in two different jobs, both doing what I love. But the reality is that whilst doing what I love might be wonderful in an ideal world, it is not really paying the bills.

So as from next week I will be starting something else and have a job 2 - 3 days a week in the kitchen of a brand new cafe attached to a local independent book shop. I've also added an evening class and an extra term to my local teaching commitments and I hope to continue to bake the occasional cake for people in between.

I've no idea how easy I will find it to juggle these various aspects of my week but I know I'll miss my long dog walks at lunchtime and first thing in the morning on the days that I'm working. But with the prospect of lighter evenings I'm hoping there will be plenty of evening walking to be done instead.

"Is it time for another walk yet?"

Friday, 20 January 2017

Another Lemon Cake

It's that time in the month again when I join in with the Cake Slice Bakers baking from World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. I very nearly didn't join in this month as we are still going strong with out healthy eating and I didn't want the temptation of cake in the house. But No. 3 son came over last weekend and we were chatting about it and he very valiantly offered to take a cake off my hands should I feel the urge to bake!

The choices this month were a Devil's Food Cake which didn't really appeal. Chocolate cake is probably my least favourite ( I know, I'm weird) and I couldn't stomach the thought of all that sickly frosting. I have completely lost my taste for sweet things.

I did rather fancy the vanilla and blood orange cake... and might make this when the blood oranges appear in my veg box

Or possibly the Apple streusel cake with its crumbly topping.

But as it is exactly one year since I joined The Cake Slice bakers and my first cake was a Lemon Cake I opted for the Lemon Drizzle Cake... it just feels like a January sort of cake! I do have a fail safe recipe for lemon drizzle but this one was different in that it has a whole carton of cream so thought it was worth a try.

The batter was wonderfully thick and creamy and tasted heavenly... yes I licked the spoon!

It did take longer to bake than the recipe stated... a whole 15 minutes longer and if I made it again I probably wouldn't add the water to the syrup but it certainly looked the part and smelt wonderful. I'd like to be able to tell you it tasted delicious too... but it got wrapped up and Joe collected it last night ready to take to work this morning. He's working on a construction site at the moment so I don't imagine there will be much left! He has promised to report back*

* Message from Joe and the guys he is working with "Very nice and lemony", "Best lemon drizzle I've had" and my favourite... "She's very good, is she paid to do this." 

Should you want to try it yourself ,it is incredibly easy to put together, so this is my version:

Lemon Drizzle Cake (adapted from World Class Cakes)
You will need  an 7" x 3.5" x 3.5" loaf pan, greased and lined. Preheat the oven to 160 deg C (140 fan), 310 deg F
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 175g plain flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 75g butter, melted
  • 150g double cream
  • finely grated zest of two large lemons (or three small ones)
  •  In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Whisk in the melted butter and the cream
  • Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for one hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean
  • While the cake is baking make the drizzle by combining 85g caster sugar, the juice of two lemons and 125 ml water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.
  • When the cake comes out of the oven, brush the top with the drizzle until it is all used up.
  • Cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then turn out until completely cool.
And this is what it should look like!