Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Woolly Madness

Did I mention that I get struck with a madness at this time of year... I knit and crochet all year long but suddenly in the last week of November I am deluded into believing I can knit everyone Christmas presents. To be fair my output does somehow seem to increase but it remains a delusion. However, that said I have finished a couple of things that have made me happy...

This very cute bunny was made from a kit using a ball of Erica Knight fur wool that came from a shop in Saffron Walden, Craft Days. The instructions were a little sparse as in "sew up and add optional fabric trim". Luckily I've done a bit of sewing now and then, so I worked it out, but despite that it did knit up very quickly and was finished in just two evenings. If only everyone would like a fur bunny for Christmas I might stand a chance of getting them all done but I'm not so sure my boys would be all that thrilled! But at least the newest little boy will have a present when he arrives.

The second thing I finished were these mitts in an attempt to use up random skeins of yarn I seem to have accumulated. The pattern is "Camp Out Fingerless Mitts" which is free on Ravelry and the yarn is Collinette bamboo and wool DK. I added the roses because I could. Between you and me I'd like to keep them but that wouldn't help my Christmas present situation so they are destined for one of the girlfriends.

And on the needles now are socks because him indoors always gets socks. They may get finished, they may not but long time readers will know we have a history of me giving him one sock and a promise, so I would hate to disappoint! I have plans for more mitts, a little hat or two and some tea cosies but we know it's not going to happen don't we.

Plus I have other plans... In previous years I've done a sort of advent count down on the blog in December... quite a few years actually... 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. I didn't manage last year but thought it would be fun to do it again... Yes, well you already know I'm bonkers. Just a single photo, maybe two... A few words, nothing lengthy or meaningful... because even if no one else reads it I quite like to look back on these countdowns to Christmas as a gentle reminder to keep calm, because it comes and goes whatever we do. Fancy joining me?

Sunday, 27 November 2016

A Life of Cake

Where does the time go... aside from the little bit of self promotion mid week which wasn't exactly overly successful... although many thanks to the couple of people who did buy patterns from my shop... I've barely had time to think about this little blog. Except for wondering should I carry on bothering with it at all... but then I'm feeling like that about a lot of things lately! My weeks seem to be defined by cake. Lots of other things get done but it is all interspersed with cake.

I'm continuing to bake for the farm shop but it does feel like flogging a dead horse at times. I make them small loaf cakes and quiche to sell by the slice. There were a couple of weeks in October when I made three quiches and over twenty cakes in a week and I thought that it was really taking off at last. But I popped in on Friday and they had sold two slices of quiche and one little cake all week which seems to be a trend lately. And of course if it doesn't sell I bring it home and we either eat or bin any profit I might have made.

I made my first batch of mince pies of the year for my last embroidery class on Tuesday. I actually made two batches... who knew that gluten free pastry was so difficult? You probably did, but not me! But my gluten free lady was very appreciative so it was worth while. 

Last week I was out five nights out of seven... mostly meetings but I'm getting too old for this lark. I hanker after cosy evenings round a fire with my knitting. This week was better, just two nights out. One to get defibrillator training and learn about a village first response group. It was a really interesting evening but something I hope I never have to put into practice. My second night out was to see the wonderful Laura Mvula. I thought she was fantastic and  it made me forget all about cosy fires and knitting. Stewart wasn't so impressed unfortunately.

The farm shop baking maybe somewhat demoralising but the orders for birthday cakes keep trickling in. Which is good because they are fun to do, although if I'm realistically going to be making a living I need to be doing several a week (or put my prices up!)... but then I'm guessing that might stop being so much fun! The two this week were lots of fun though.

Friday night I got my night in with my knitting and we watched this film. I read the book a while ago and thought it was excellent so I was apprehensive that the film would be disappointing  but it was really good. Very gentle, quality acting... I can definitely recommend it. And the knitting... that might even be a post all of it's own as I optimistically delude myself into thinking I can make everyone hand knitted gifts for Christmas. See even my knitting is a frantic attempt at doing too much!

And yesterday I had an afternoon out with some of the other volunteers from Free Cakes for Kids and the very generous Helen Marie who runs Helen Marie's Cake Boutique. We spent a happy couple of hours playing with fondant decorations and I think all my Christmas cake orders might be topped with fondant poinsettias this year.

And if the tone of this post sounds tired and grumpy I do apologise. I'm not particularly grumpy but I am tired, probably doing too much, packing too much in and trying to make decisions about the future. I listened to a snippet of a radio programme whilst in the car this week. Not sure what it was but there was a woman who works as an end of life companion being interviewed. It wasn't at all morbid but she said the thing she has learned from listening to those who are dying is that she no longers feels she needs to pack her life full of doing things and being constantly busy, but she now tries to do less and savours the moment. I'm working on it... but the week ahead looks just as packed!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Cracking Crackers

Every so often I am reminded that teaching textiles and machine embroidery is what I do in addition to making the occasional cake or two. This week has been my last week teaching this term and as always in my weekly class we've been doing some seasonal makes and I was reminded of these crackers we made a couple of years ago.

Which in turn reminded me of my sadly neglected Etsy Shop and I decided it was time for a little update.

So please forgive the fact that this is a blog post devoted entirely to me selling stuff... but a girl's got to make a living you know

I've updated all the patterns in my Etsy shop but these little crackers are particulary suited to this time of year... although personally I think pretty crackers and fairy lights should be obligatory all year long... but that's just me! They are simple to make with a basic knowledge of free machine embroidery, although if your free machine embroidery skills are in need of a refresher I have a comprehensive DVD available too. Just £10 with free p&p in the UK. Send me an email if you want details.  It makes a great Christmas gift for those hard to buy for "stitchy" friends!

And as an added incentive, if you put in the code BLACKFRIDAY at the checkout of my Etsy shop, you'll get 10% off between now and next Monday, available on all patterns and anything else I might pop in for sale before the weekend (okay, I'm being wildly optimistic here but humour me)
Normal service will be resumed on this blog (i.e endless cake) very soon... but do check out my shop in the meantime! Thank you!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Danish Apple Cake

It's been a funny old week, family worries, pointless arguments and lack of sleep have left me feeling rather tired, miserable and  out of sorts. I didn't think I could be bothered joining in with the Cake Slice Bakers this month, even though we are baking from a brand new book, World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey.

But as the week wore on, things resolved as they tend to do,  there were some wonderful restorative walks in the sunshine, especially in the early morning and gradually my enthusiasm and energy returned.

So on a last minute impulse I invited some friends over for supper on Friday night which seemed a good excuse to pick a cake from the new book for dessert. Our choices this month were some little French Chocolate and Rum Canneles, but as I didn't have the appropriate molds in which to bake them I didn't feel this was an option. I could have happily baked any of the other three choices though... a Bee Sting Cake, named because of its honey and nut topping, a Maple Syrup and Pecan Layer Cake which I will definitely still make one day and a Danish Apple Cake. This seemed a good dessert choice, especially served warm with good vanilla ice cream.

The cake batter was very firm, necessary to support the layer of apples on top.

And it was a good excuse to use this nifty little gadget for slicing the apples.

I didn't have the right sized springform tin so used a slighly bigger 9" one which I think was a mistake as the cake came out quite thin. I had assumed it would take slightly less time to bake as a result but in fact it took longer. It wasn't the prettiest cake to be seving for dinner but the kitchen smelled wonderful whilst it was baking... definitely a good thing as it masked the fishy smell from the thai seafood curry I'd made for main course!

And it was quite delicious, served with vanilla ice cream. I'm not entirely sure I would make it again as I already have a good apple cake recipe I use with lemon and almonds that I think I prefer, but this one seemed a popular choice last night.

And after a quick trip into Cambridge this morning where I picked up some essential baking supplies, we had an excellent brunch at The Afternoon Tease and met up briefly with son no. 2 who was about to start work on the punts...

And then came home to a slice of cake which went down rather nicely with a cuppa. So good at any time of day!

Should you want to try it yourself ,it is definitely very quick and easy to put together, so here is my version:

Danish Apple Cake (adapted from World Class Cakes)
You will need  an 8" springform pan, greased and lined. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan), 325 deg F
  • 40g sultanas 
  • 165g soft unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 175g sifted self raising flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 Braeburn apples, or other good flavoured eating apples
  • 50g Demerara sugar
  •  Beat the butter and caster sugar togetrher until light and fluffy
  • Gradually add the eggs, with a little flour on each addition, beating until well combined.
  • Fold in the sifted flour until well combined.
  • Add the raisins to the batter and then spoon into the prepared tin
  • Peel, core and slice the apples into thin wedges and arrange in a circle around the edge of the cake.
  • Sprinkle the Demerara sugar over the surface and bake for 35 - 40 minutes until golden and cooked through.
  • Cool for ten minutes in the tin and then turn out on a wire rack and strip away the baking parchment.
  • Serve warm with ice cream... or thick cream... or even custard!

See what the others have baked here:

Sunday, 13 November 2016


On a wet grey November day what better than getting together for a wonderful warming lunch with friends... Which is exactly what we did yesterday. It was another chance to meet up with others from the Cambridge Eat Up group and sample some excellent food with good conversation at Prana, in Mill Road Cambridge.

Mill Road is a lively area of Cambridge lined with some fabulous ethnic shops, restaurants and cafes and host to many events including an annual Winter Fair.

Prana, which has not long been refurbished and re-opened was warm and welcoming... especially after the horrendous drive we had into the city, which took twice as long as usual with gridlocked traffic and pouring rain. But that was soon forgotten as we tucked into a complementry pre-starter of a paneer stuffed green chilli. I'm not a great fan of anything too hot and spicy but this was perfect, full of flavour and just the right amount of heat.

Stewart and I both had a vegetable platter as a starter which was wonderful... pakora, samosa, a potato curry and some sweet chilli sauces. Again full of fresh flavour and freshly prepared ingredients.

For main course, Stewart chose a Lamb Jalfrezi (a creature of habit he will always opt for Jalfrezi in an Indian restaurant) which he thoroughly enjoyed and I had a Vegetable Makanwali, a medley of vegetables in a creamy honey flavoured coconut and almond sauce. It was delicious although the portions were so generous I found it a little too rich and sweet to be able to eat it all.

All this was served with mixed vegetables, sesame courgettes, pilau rice and lots af garlic naan. What a feast... and what a treat!

And just when we thought we couldn't eat another thing, we were each given a beautiful poached pear that had been simmered with cinnamon, cardamon and star anise. As at previous Cambridge Eat Up events, the food was wondeful and it was lovely getting to know new people and chatting to others we'd met before.

This event was organised by Pina, and special thanks must go to her for making it all so effortless for the rest of us. All we had to do was turn up and eat! I'm hoping she won't mind me pinching a couple of her photos... but she took these Facebook "Selfies" to promote the event on Social media. I think the smiles say it all really. We all had a wonderful time.

And on the way home (which was a much better journey) we got to chatting about this and that and events in the world over the past week and months. There is no doubt that there has been much upset and despair both here in the UK and in the US but it seems to me there is obviously a huge desire for change. I don't claim to understand it but maybe if you are poor and struggling the idea of change offers hope for the future. I just hope and pray that change turns out to be good. But what worries me more than anything is the racial hatred it all seems to have unleashed. I have no doubt the racists and bigots have always been around but recent events seem to have given them a legitimate voice and that scares me. Yesterday at our lunch of eleven people we were German, Canadian, English, Malaysian, Chinese, Scottish, Malawian, Portugese and more, eating Indian food... yet that was irrelevant because were just a group of people, getting together and getting along, chatting about the things we had in common and enjoying finding out about those things that were different. And I really wish that is how the world could be... a place where everyone could feel safe to be just themselves, wherever they come from, whatever they look like, whatever their beliefs. And I think every single one of us has a responsibility to make that happen whatever our political beliefs... so be kind to each other, love your neighbour, (even if they are horrible!) and celebrate the wonderful diversity of other people!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Five on Friday - A Reading List

It seems like a long time since I wrote about the books I've been reading so I've picked five recent reads to share with you for Five on Friday

1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I resisted picking up Me Before You for quite a while, mostly because it had received a lot of hype and I thought it might not live up to it all but I was pleasantly surprised. It tells the story of the unlikely relationship between bubbly and funny Lou Clark, a very ordinary girl with very few expectations from life and Will Traynor, a previously high flying businessman who has been left quadraplegic after a motorcycle accident. It cleverly tells of the impact they have on each others lives with humour and empathy. I think it is a serious book about serious issues but cleverly presented as a romance and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm wondering if I'll enjoy the film as much.

2. The Beauty of Murder by A. K. Benedict

This was our book club choice back in September. It is a murder mystery with a difference as it involves time travel and it is also set in Cambridge which gave added appeal as I always enjoy reading about places that are familiar. I actually quite enjoyed it and it presented some interesting ideas but the writing style became irritating after a while. For me it seemed so obvious it had been written by someone who had taken a degree in creative writing as it was packed full of far fetched metaphors and at times an over flowery style. So it was no surprise to find that A.K.Benedict has an MA in creative writing. It wasn't an overly popular choice in our book club and one of the biggest questions was whether the author was male or female! (I'll leave you to find out!) But I found it quite an entertaining read.

3. The Cake Shop in the Garden by Carole Matthews

This was one of those books that I popped into the trolley when I was supermarket shopping. I admit I didn't have high expectations and I was seduced by the title, a light read and the idea of a cake shop in the garden. But I have never read such drivel in my entire life. Fay Merryweather (yes, I know even her name says it all) runs a cake shop and cafe in her garden where she also has a canal boat moored in the canal at the back of the house. She is put upon by her cantankerous bedridden mother, taken advantage of by her horrible selfish sister, treated terribly by her boring boyfriend but all the time poor old Fay soldiers on with a smile... what a martyr! And all the time you know that eventually the chap who has turned up on a boat to do odd jobs will be her knight in shining armour. He just takes 422 pages of repetitive, long winded, highly predictable drivel to do it. And before you ask, I have no idea why I actually bothered to finish it!

4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Fortunately my brain was prevented from turning to mush by our October book club choice All The Light We Cannot See which was brilliant. Set in the second world war it follows the parallel lives of a young French girl, Marie-Laure who happens to be blind, and a young orphaned German boy Werner, who is recruited to the Hitler Youth because of his talent for fixing radios. Their lives are linked by the impact of radio during the war and the devastation in the walled town of St. Malo where their lives eventually converge. It is a well written and beautifully crafted story and it was an extrememly popular book club choice.

5. When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendleson

I have just finished When We Were Bad and found it a quick and entertaining read. It tells the story of the Rubin family, Rabbi Claudia, her husband Norman and their four "grown up" children and how they collapse into one big mess after their beloved eldest son does a runner on his wedding day. It is witty and warm and although the story doesn't really go anywhere it is a nice little observation of human behaviour. A fun read!

I'm currently reading In Order to Live by Yeonomi Park, which is a harrowing autobiography by the young Yeomoni telling of her escape from North Korea, via human trafficking in China. Have you read any good books lately?

There is no Five on Friday link up this week but as I'd already written this post and it's Friday, I'm sticking with it!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Free Cakes... Three Cakes

Since I was here last (it was only Friday, but feels like ages ago) I have made three big cakes... and not eaten any of them! The first was rather special as it was for an organisation called Free Cakes For Kids. I'd heard of them a couple of years ago via one of my students and at the time made a mental note it would be good to get involved one day. They provide birthday cakes for children who, for whatever reason, might not have a cake on their birthday

So being the year where instead of saying "I'll do that one day" I'm actually trying to get things done, I joined the Cambridge group and volunteered to make my first cake for a little girl called Orla who was two on Saturday. I was lucky enough to deliver the cake and meet Orla who declared "CAKE" when I came through her door! Her little face made it all worthwhile and I've ticked another thing off my sixty by sixty list. I'm now trying to think of some more things to add to the list that do not involve cake... I've got one or two things lined up but your suggestions are always welcome.

The second cake was for a good friend celebrating his 65 birthday. The landlord of our local pub organised a surprise party for him at the pub on Saturday evening as Vic apparently had never had a party before. And if you're having a party of course you have to have a birthday cake. Vic was almost as delighted as Orla proving cake can make you smile whether you are 65 or 2. It probably goes without saying that Vic is a bricklayer!

And the third cake was for my step daughter's baby shower which is where I've been today. It was organised by her friends at her Mum's home and we've had a lovely afternoon, chatting, playing silly games (for some reason I did really well at "Guess the Baby Food" which was quite disgusting) and eating a lovely buffet. I was so full I didn't get to try the cake!

Meanwhile we are still enjoying cold but beautiful days,

...and even colder nights but warmed by bonfires and hot soup... and spectacular fireworks organised by the village school.

And on a final note I discovered my pumpkin wasa runner up in a pumpkin carving competition held by Bridges, a cafe in Cambridge. At the suggestion of a friend on Facebook, I submitted a photo at the last minute and then forgot about it so it was a nice surprise to hear I'd won! I'll enjoy my free lunch.

So that was my weekend... how was yours?

Friday, 4 November 2016

Five on Friday - My Week

It's not all cake and baking in my house you know... Although you would be forgiven for thinking that! So just to prove otherwise a quick round up of my week and I'm joining in with Amy for Five on Friday

1. Dog walks

 The weather really has been wonderful around here lately. Although the temperature has dropped we've had some fabulous bright days and Hector and I have been out for several walks every day.... I tell you, I'm nailing that Fitbit target! I was practicing his "Sit & Wait" while I took the photo. He was practicing his "What on earth for?" look.

 The colours of the leaves and berries have been spectacular.
2. Sunsets
Our last walk in the evening has coincided with some spectacular sunsets. I'm trying to enjoy them and ignore the fact that it is dark way too early!
 3. Foraging and Jam making

I've come back from walks laden with crab apples and rosehips in an attempt to recreate the wonderful apple and rosehip jam we had on holiday. I failed because I've made a concoction that tastes only of sugar... but it's a pretty colour and tastes okay on toast. And talking of jam I've "lost" eight jars of apricot jam that I made in the summer. We haven't eaten it, I've not given it away so I must have put it somewhere safe. Where on earth does anyone hide eight jars of jam? No... I don't know either but I'll let you know if I find them.

5. Halloween
I carved a pumpkin for the doorstep and then worried I'd made it too scary. But I'd underestimated the children of our neighbourhood. "Your pumpkin is awesome" from the mouth of a five year old! I think I took inspiration for his teeth from my Victoria Sponge.

5. Baking

Okay, I tricked you... I have been baking... just a little bit. No cake but I did make these gingerbread biscuits for the Brownies' halloween party. And then just because they were fun to make I made more for the Farm Shop.

So that's pretty much my week. There has been some sewing too but that can wait for another post and now I'm back to making cakes. Three this weekend but is meant to be wet so it's a good excuse to be inside.
Whatever you are doing, have a lovely weekend!