Friday, 29 July 2016

Five on Friday... By the skin of my teeth!

What a silly expression that is... Skin of my teeth! But I've made it just about with still a few hours of Friday left. As ever ideas for blog posts pop into my head and just as quickly pop out again and I don't seem to get around to them. So instead a rapid round up of my week under the guise of Five on Friday, before I head off teaching at my last ever summer school at Missenden Abbey next week.

1.Birthday Cakes

Two special birthday cakes that speak for themselves really. These are my favourite type of cakes to make and decorate... a bit of a challenge and fun to do.

2. Crochet

One of the benefits of Open Studios being so quiet was I had hours and hours to read, sew, knit... and crochet. Which means I have finished my Frida Kahlo blanket. This was going to be the subject of a blog post all of its own but I've run out of tiime this week and you can pretty much see what it looks like thrown over the sofa. I'm pleased with the way it has turned out but I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with it now!

3. The Farm Shop

For four weeks I have spent a whole day a week baking cakes and cookies for the farm shop and the response has been luke warm to say the least. What seemed to sell one week was left on the shelf the next and each week I was bringing back home as much or more than I sold. I was at the point of thinking maybe it wasn't a great idea but this morning I delivered a whole batch of mini loaf cakes. Nothing else, just loaf cakes in different flavours. And I got a message earlier this evening that they have flown off the shelf... like hot cakes! So guess what I've done this evening... yep, made a load more to deliver tomorrow! 

4. Hector

My little puppy has started to look like a grown up dog! He is only just four months but look how much he has grown! We've moved from puppy class to puppy cadets and he continues to make us laugh... and occasionally despair. But it is lovely to have a dog around the house again.

5. What... no five

Does it count to leave you with more cake? Or am I bending the rules of Five on Friday? But cake has suddenly become such a significant part of my life I fear I am going to bore you with cake... and just when you've had enough... even more cake
These cherry bakewells were made as part of a big order of cakes for a friend this week

Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Create Art with all your Heart

A couple weeks ago when I was teaching my Stitched Graffiti class, one of the students brought in a copy of this book - The Art of Whimsical Lettering. I don't often buy new art books these days but I liked the look of this so decided to treat myself.

It's full of some fabulous ideas for using lettering creatively... The sort of thing I can happily lose several hours over! I decided as this was my last weekend of Open Studios I wouldn't let the lack of interest in my first Open Studios weekend get me down and in a fit of enthusiasm I made a special menu of the cake and cordial available.

And then I got totally absorbed and carried away and made a wrapper for my collection tin too.

By the end of Saturday I wondered why I had bothered... Seven hours sitting around all day for just three visitors! Don't get me wrong, those three visitors were very nice and very much appreciated... But three? Really? I'd thought twelve in a day on the previous weekend was pretty poor given that in all the time I've done Open Studios I've averaged twenty five people a day. Suggestions that it might have been the weather/school holidays/Wimbledon/formula one/Tour de France etc didn't really go far to explain what was happening because Cambridge Open Studios always takes place over four weekends in July, so it always coincides with school holidays and Wimbledon etc. and in ten years I've seen every cold, hot, wet and windy weather combination you can imagine. It just felt utterly soul destroying. But I got up this morning and being a bit like Tigger, always ready to bounce back, I decided to follow my own advice...

Which was just as well, because today the house was buzzing! Visitor numbers were still lower than usual but there was a constant trail throughout the day. People stopped to chat, asked interesting questions and have booked on my classes. They sat and ate cake, talked to each other, patted the dog, gave generously to my charity box... And have even bought art! It has lifted my mood and I'm not quite ready to give up yet.

After all... I've got my new lettering obsession to keep me occupied now!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Cake For Breakfast...

Despite the dog's attempts at picking all my vegetables I am still managing to be over run with courgettes! Every year is the same and you would think I would learn that two plants is quite enough... but no!

So faced with a glut of courgettes and given that one of the choices for this month's Cake Slice Bakers was a "Zucchini Loaf from Seattle" there was no contest really. One of the other cakes this month was an extravagant Black and White Layer Cake consisting of six layers of two different types of cake plus buttercream which just seemed like too much effort without the excuse of a special occasion, but the other two choices - A Sour Cream Coffee Cake with  cinnamon and nut topping and a Blueberry Surprise Cake both sounded very tempting. All cakes are taken from Maida Heatter's Cakes

But no... the cougettes needed using up so the zucchini cake it was. It was a really simple cake to put together and although the batter seems very dry and thick, by the time the grated courgettes are thoroughly mixed in the batter becomes much more manageable.

I found the mixture was two much for one of my regular sized loaf pans so filled two instead. Details of sizes etc. are in the recipe below.

The smell in the kitchen while they were baking was just amazing but then I find anything with cinnamon has that effect. And the resulting loaves were well risen, crusty and brown... with no traces of green courgette!

Probably unnecessary but I added a simple glace icing and some walnuts just to pimp it up a little bit as one of these cakes is probably destined for the farm shop this week.

But obviously the other one had to be sampled for the sake of this post!

So I confess... I have had a slice for breakfast this morning. But it is so full of courgettes and walnuts it is practically a health food isn't it? It's not like I just had buttercream for breakfast, which has been known! Just don't remind me when I complain I can't shift the weight gained since breaking my ankle.

It is a delicious cake full of moisture and flavour and I would definitely make it again. In fact there are so many courgettes I might even make another couple of these today to go in the freezer.

And should you wish to try this yourself (I can definitely recommend it) here is my version of the recipe:
Zucchini Loaf From Seattle (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need one large loaf tin (10" x 5" x 3") or two smaller tins - mine were approximately 8" x 4" x 3" (20cm x 10cm x 7cm) , lined or buttered well and dusted with  breadcrumbs. (See method here )

  • 420g sifted plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 450g coursely grated courgettes (zucchini) I used four cougettes but do weigh them as sizes do vary!
  • 220g  vegetable oil
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 112g walnut pieces
  • Preheat the oven to 350 deg F, 180 deg C, 160 deg fan.
  • Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, gently beat the eggs to break them up and add the vanilla, oil and sugar mixing well to combine
  • Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix well.
  • Stir in the grated courgette until thoroughly mixed and then fold in the walnuts
  • Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for about an hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. (If you are making one cake Maida says to bake for and hour and 45 minutes which seems a long time so keep an eye on it!)
  • Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool in the tin for about ten minutes before turning out to cool on a rack.
  • Once cool add a simple glace icing (125g icing sugar plus 1 tablespoon warm water makes enough for one cake) and some walnut halves... this is entirely optional!



Monday, 18 July 2016

My Week in numbers...

One little dog...

Who is not so little any more.  Hector is a constant delight yet drives me to distraction on a regular basis. I've given up all hope of the garden ever looking good this year! But he does make us laugh. He found this old deflated football in the depths of our weedy undergrowth ( it's years since any of the boys have kicked a ball in the garden) and it is his most favourite thing ever!

Three birthday cakes...

There have been three birthday cakes made this week, each completely different, each of them well received and I've enjoyed making them which I guess is good news. Although I enjoy the process of baking and trying out new recipes it is the decorating that gives the most satisfaction. After all they might taste good but they need to look good too!

I didn't know the person who ordered Sarina's cake and he came all the way from Milton Keynes to get it... I was flattered but I'm sure there must be people who bake cakes in Milton Keynes!

Six machine embroidered graffiti signs.

I taught a machine embroidery graffiti class at Art Van Go on Thursday. It was the first time I had taught this class and although it was a small group it mostly seemed to go down well and there was much chatter, laughter... and rudeness if you haven't already noticed!  And some pretty fantastic results too. I say mostly, as there were actually seven people in the class but one lady wasn't so happy... she was bored stitching all day so left early! Can't please everyone I guess... although I'm not sure what she expected from a machine embroidery class. Tap dancing?

Five desserts...

Our branch of the Embroiderer's Guild had a fabulous supper party on Friday where we were treated to an inspirational talk from the costume embroiderer from Game of Thrones, Michele Carragher. I've never actually watched the TV program but the costumes are stunning. Do check out Michele's website to see her fantastic work. It was a real treat to listen to her explain about her inspiration and process. After the talk we had a buffet supper. I'd made two cheesecakes and three pavlova. There was almost a crisis with the pavlova but whipped cream came to the rescue and cemented it all together! There wasn't much of either left so I guessing what they lacked in looks they made up for in taste.

Five loaf cakes...

More baking for our Farm Shop. I had planned to make more than five loaves (I'm sure there is a joke about fishes in there somewhere if only I could think of it) but ran out of time. Just as well really as I popped in this morning and they had only sold two all weekend! It is the third week baking for them and it's all very slow. 

The week ahead is filled with more bithday cakes, more puppy playtime, more farm shop baking and more preparation for another weekend of Open Studios. Chatting to other people it seems Open Studios has been particularly quiet for everyone this year so I'm not holding out too much hope for a busy weekend. Meanwhile I'm making the most of the sunshine and washing everything in sight. Didn't factor in having to iron all the loose sofa covers in this heat though... I'm steeling myself!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Open Studios

Well that's another weekend of Open Studios done and dusted... My tenth!

In all the years I have been doing it I've never had such a quiet weekend, whether through recessions or other Wimbledon finals weekends, the number of visitors will fluctuate a little but nearly always average out to the same for each weekend. This year I was down to half the usual number.

I had old work and new work on display... Plenty to see and all for free. Although there was even plenty to buy should that be a reason for visiting.

Yet even the promise of cake didn't lure people in... On Saturday only one slice was taken!

But those visitors who did come were much appreciated and all were lovely about my work. I'm opening the doors again in two weeks time so maybe it will be busier then... I can only hope!

In the middle of it all on Sunday afternoon we had this... No you are not seeing double...

My brother came over with Hector's brother Herbie and for two hours there was absolute puppy mayhem... They were so excited to see each other!

It took all yesterday morning to get the floor clean and then this morning Hector did this... he was helping me with the gardening! He likes gardening... he's also dug up all my beetroot having taken a bite from each one and has now discovered the courgettes!

Never a dull moment eh!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016


I bet you all thought I had forgotten about my flower brooch giveaway. And you'd be right! Well, I hadn't completely forgotten but it had rather slipped to the back of my mind. But in fact it doesn't really matter because as today is my birthday it seems more appropriate to be giving something away today. Judging by the comments there wasn't a huge demand for one of these little brooches, but names were put into a hat and a winner was drawn... Katy M. I'll be in touch about making you a red and/or turquoise brooch!

On the 23rd of this month I will have been blogging for nine years and things have changed dramatically in that time. In the early days, comments were few and far between and I was happy to have three or four per post... Until I held a giveaway and suddenly I had fifty plus comments! Perhaps it has something to do with what I was giving away but more likely the nature of blogging and bloggers has changed. There are very few of us still doing it after all this time. Bloggers come and go and new people come on the scene but very few of the people I knew from the early days are still posting regularly. Other social media platforms seem to have taken over. I'm still in contact with many people on Facebook and I'm aware that many are around on Twitter which I still don't understandt. Recently I discovered Instagram which I really like... Until they changed the app for the iPad and I can no longer post. I know I can use my phone but I just don't. I don't use it for photos and more often than not the battery is dead just when I want a crucial shot! Anyone else have this problem with Instagram on an iPad or. Is it just me? Whatever else may come and go I'll probably still go on blogging because I like the fact that it is a record for me... And I quite enjoy the reflective process of writing. And I'll probably still give things away occasionally... whether you want them or not!

This week, with only four days until I open my house for Open Studios, I was doing a bit of tidying up and found a dozen or so of these 6" wooden frames. I was on the verge of packing them off to the charity shop when I thought they would be good for an idea I'd had to make "stitched tattoos". Five hours later and my stitched tattoo had become a stitched tattoo portrait! Suddenly my head was swarming with all sorts of ideas for others I could make and and I felt an old familiar excitement return at the thought of what I might do... but of course, with only three days to do it all. Blogging may have changed but I haven't... always more productive with a tight deadline!

As a result, I have spent most of my birthday making portrait no. 2 "The Stars Look Very Different Today". Stewart has already named them my "Dead Singers" series!

I've got some of my own ideas for others... What about you... Who do you think I should do next?

I shall leave you with some images of some of the beautiful flowers I have received for my birthday... I have lovely friends and family!

Lots of beautiful flowers but no cake... which was entirely my choice as I am still trying to shift the several pounds gained since breaking my ankle.

We are going out for a meal this evening though and I'm looking forward to that!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Cakes and a Puppy

The title of this post says it all really... This is my life at that moment. I'm either baking cakes or running round after the puppy. I'm permanently exhausted, but in a good way I guess!
Exciting news for me this week though, as our local farm shop is going to be stocking a selection of my cakes. So yesterday saw me making lots of loaf cakes, cookies and tray bakes ready for delivery this morning. I haven't been back to check if they are selling but might have to pop in to see in the morning*. Fingers crossed!

Silliest puppy moment of the week has to be this. Between the back of our shed and the oil tank, there is a small patch of pretty useless space where we tend to leave discarded pots etc... not the prettiest bit of our garden! Hector was playing and suddenly disappeared... And when I looked out the window this is where I found him. Sitting in a huge flower pot looking very serious!I couldn't stop laughing and he just stayed there looking indignant.

As well as baking for the Farm Shop I had another commissioned cake this week... Fairly self explanatory really.

Hector and I are still going to puppy school, which is as much about teaching me as it is him... But look what a good boy he is... So attentive!

This week it involved quite a bit of sitting about on the grass playing games, some recall work off the lead and a game of hide and seek...needless to say we both come home very tired!

And my final cake this week which I finished this afternoon was this triple layer caramel cake... Delivered to the local primary school for their school fete tomorrow! 

And a final puppy photo too... Hector worn out after puppy class. And yes, it was him that chewed the corner of the sofa!

I've a weekend off from baking cakes but no doubt there will still be plenty of puppy playtime. Hope you have a good weekend!

 * Farm shop update... just one cake and two bags of cookies sold all day and I'm starting to think perhaps I should just get a proper job. It all feels like such hard work sometimes.