Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Spinning Plates

It's a phase and I'm sure it will pass as all things do, but I feel like I'm juggling balls and spinning plates at the moment... Ever so slightly out of control. Who am I kidding... Totally out of control!

Since giving up working at the bookshop, cake orders keep coming in which is wonderful. I loving working on each individual cake, each one so different. One minute it's a sophisticated red velvet cake for a thirtieth birthday and the next, an enormous cake plus several traybakes for a party for 300 people... all recorder enthusiasts. Who would have guessed there were that many! This one was ordered by my ex-husband... I resisted telling him it had only been laced with jam and buttercream. He would never have got the joke!

Meanwhile I am also now supplying a coffee shop with cakes and scones, which promises to be regular work, (good news) I'm making my brother's wedding cake next month as well as making myself a dress to wear to the wedding, (looking forward to doing both but not sure when I'll find the time), trying to organise my own birthday party (hoping it will be fun), attempting to keep things calm and peaceful at home (which is much easier said than done... it's complicated), grabbing odd minutes in the garden when I can so it doesn't have a second year of neglect (a losing battle)... all this as well as all the usual day to day stuff like shopping, cooking, cleaning etc. And I forgot... still training for the overnight marathon walk that is just over two weeks away. I have completely lost all incentive to go out and walk long distances at the moment and I'm wondering why on earth I wanted to do it in the first place... but I did make myself do seven miles this morning.

So you can probably appreciate why I feel like I am sinking right now and barely holding it all together. Meanwhile two little girls have just celebrated their first birthdays with these cakes and I've practising my icing skills... I think my boys had a swiss roll with a candle stuck in the top for their first birthdays!

And this weekend I'm wearing my other work hat as I'll be away teaching a class on machine embroidered landscapes.

Which might have been a relaxing weekend away except there has been a problem with the accomodation and I'm going to be driving back home on Saturday evening and back again on Sunday. Oh joy!

At least June is looking like a quieter month I hope... for the moment anyway.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Japanese Strawberry Shortcake

It's time again to join in with the Cake Slice Bakers where all participating bloggers bake from a choice of four cakes from World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. There were some interesting cakes this month. I couldn't face making Lamingtons as it seemed such a time consuming process for something I didn't really fancy eating but the other three choices all sounded tempting... a Turkish Yoghurt cake, a pistachio and lemon cake and the one I opted for a Japanese Strawberry Shortcake.

This was basically a genoise sponge, sliced in half and then sandwiched together with a jellied Chantilly creme and strawberries. I ended up making twice the amount of filling specified in the recipe and I didn't use gelatine but substituted agar agar, a vegetarian alternative. I'm not sure it needed to be jellied however and I think that whipped cream would have held the shape.

It was a pretty cake that tasted light and delicious. The strawberries on top were dipped in a raspberry coulis but I'm not sure that was entirely necessary. I drizzled the extra coulis inside the cake with the strawberries and cream.

And although the recipe says it serves six, we found it made eight generous servings.

Which went down well with our dinner guests... well this little chap is not quite ready for eating cake yet but his Mum and Dad enjoyed it... and got to take the leftovers home!

 We were having quite a conversation about cake... I've got him all lined up for mixing and stirring when he gets older!

This is going to be the last time I join in with The Cake Slice Bakers as I'm finding it more and more difficult to find the time to fit it in and blog about it (hence no actual recipe from me this month) and sometimes things just have to give. But it has been fun. Do check out what the others have made:



Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Week

How's your Easter weekend going? The long weekend has been mostly fairly quiet for us so far... youngest son was collected from Guildford with all his worldly shackles on Friday as he he will be living back at home with us for his final term. I managed a long training walk of sixteen miles for my Moonwalk yesterday, as it is only four weeks until the actual event. Despite a broken toe, endless blisters and even being bitten by a dog last week I'm determined not to be beaten. (If you have an urge to sponsor me you can do it here). And today we've had a fabulous meal cooked by my eldest son and his girlfriend... a traditional Greek feast. It remains to be seen what tomorrow will bring!

Before Easter we had a whistle stop visit to Scotland to visit Stewart's parents. We drove up, something we've done many times before and although we always stop for breaks en route they are never anywhere very interesting... Depressing motorway cafes with the ubiquitous Costa Coffee, McDonalds or M & S Food usually! But this time we thought we would try to stop at more interesting places... and tick a few more things off my sixty x sixty list at the same time.

I have long admired the imposing statue The Angel of the North as we whizzed past on the A1 but we've never stopped there before, always saying "we must stop and see it one day". As sixty x sixty is all about doing the things I'll get around to doing "one day" we took the short detour off the motorway to see the statue. At 20 metres tall, the 200 tonne steel statue, created by Anthony Gormley, is Britain's tallest sculpture and just as imposing as you might imagine. I thought it was wonderful!

After a couple of relaxing days in Dundee, taking Stewart's Mum and Dad out and about, it was time to head home again and after checking the tides we decided to take a little detour via the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

It was absolutely beautiful, remote, wild and rugged and we both thought it would be lovely to return one day and take time to do some walking.

However, despite what it may look like from my photos, it was absolutely heaving with people, all trailing along the various paths with their children, dogs and grannies. I don't know what I expected really, in a tourist location on a beautiful sunny day in the Easter holidays... but I couldn't help feeling it would have been really lovely if it was deserted. But very beautiful nevertheless.

We were back on the road in plenty of time before the causeway flooded and our next little detour was to another spot neither of us had been before...

A section of Hadrian's Wall, possibly not the most imposing section but we were happy to have found it and to walk along this well preserved section. I was amazed we could clamber right up and over it but maybe it doesn't get that many visitors?

Of course now I'm thinking I'd like to walk the entire 75 mile length of the Hadrian's Wall path from coast to coast... but probably not before I'm sixty! And that is the lovely thing about doing these sixty x sixty projects... they keep throwing up more things I'd like to do! 

Maybe tomorrow we will venture out and about or maybe we will potter around the house and garden but all in all it's been a good week. I hope your Easter week has been fun for you!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Daily Bread

One of my Christmas presents this year, a result of some pretty heavy hints from me, was a voucher for a bread making day at The White Cottage Bakery. Although I have made my own bread for many years I have only ever followed recipes in books and magazines so I was looking forward to actually learning from a pro... I wasn't to be disappointed! There were several courses to choose from but I opted for an Italian Bread Making Day... it turned out to be a wise choice.

We were welcomed to Helen's cottage in the Cambridgeshire village of Kingston with a breakfast of toast (bread homemade by Helen, of course) and homemade marmalade or jam, while Helen explained what we would be doing throughout the day. It wasn't long before the six of us on the course were getting stuck in learning how to make and handle a very wet ciabatta dough. 

While the ciabatta dough was left to prove we got to make some wild garlic pesto to use later in the day as Helen had been foraging just the day before. We then made some more dough, a pane all'olio which again was left to prove before we got around to shaping the ciabatta.

After all that hard work kneading we stopped for a coffee break... accompanied by some delicious Ricciarelli, a type of almond macaroon that originate from 14th centuary Siena, again made by Helen of course!

It was then back to work shaping the pane all'olio - some was left to prove in tins ready to become Focaccia, the remaining dough was rolled out and covered in a variety of toppings... wild garlic pesto and pinenuts...

Slow dried tomatoes, marinaded garlic and basil...

Peppers, olives, cheese and basil.

These were then cut and twisted to make a variety of filled and shaped doughs.

They all look so good and the wonderful  aromas filling the kitchen were absolutely mouth watering !

With all our breads made and shaped and ready to bake we then got around to making our lunch. Helen had prepared some pizza dough for us which she then showed us how to shape into perfect circles. We each got to cover our our own  pizza with our choice of toppings. Peppers, mushrooms, tomato, olives, pesto and plenty of mozzerella for me.

Others chose to add Italian meats to their pizza toppings.

It was fabulous pizza...

Together with salad prepared by Helen's husband Mark who had looked after us at all of our breaks, it made a wonderful lunch, which we ate while our breads baked.

And these were the amazing breads we all made during the day.

Fantasic focaccia topped with pesto or rosemary and sea salt, soaked in fruity olive oil.

Wonderful pillowy ciabatta...

A lots of lovely filled pockets and twists...

All of which we got to take home at the end of the day. It was a brilliant day, I learned loads and as an added bonus I've a freezer full of fabulous homemade bread. Not only that it's another sixty x sixty ambition realised as I've always wanted to learn to make bread properly.

I can certainly recommend a day learning to make bread with Helen, who is a great teacher and very generous with her knowledge. And as for me I will be putting my newly learned skills into practise and I can't wait to go back for a day learning more bread making techniques... sourdough next I think, although French breads... or maybe even sweet doughs also sound tempting. Maybe all three!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Kew Gardens

Amazingly in all the years I have lived in or around London I have never managed to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, yet it has always been one of those places I have wanted to see... so another thing to do for my sixty x sixty list that I finally achieved last week. I joined a coach trip from our village on the warmest day of the year so far. There were mutterings about being of an age where one goes on day trips on a coach but I rose above it...

And I'm so glad I did because it was a fabulous day out, once I got over the embarrassment of turning up at the bus stop at 9.50 for a 10.00 am departure to find everyone already on the coach waiting to go. Of course the last remaining seat was in the back row (it's where the naughty children always sit) so I had to do a walk of shame down the entire length of the coach! On arrival we were greeted by the sight of an avenue of magnolia trees in full bloom which was stunning.

From there I ventured into the Princess of Wales Conservatory where there was an amazing display of orchids and other exotic plants.

Beautiful succulents

and cactii too.

Outside, the highlight for me was the cherry blossom

It was breathtakingly beautiful and I can fully appreciate why in Japan that picnicking under cherry blossom is something of a tradition, known as "hanami"

Instead I chose to eat my picnic overlooking the tranquil Japanese garden.Not a bad place to stop for lunch!
This inquisitive chap sat at the end of my bench getting ever closer to my lunch box the entire time I was eating... but I didn't share it with him!

I then walked around the treetop walkway with it's wonderful bird's-eye view of the gardens and beyond. I imagine it will have a very different vista once the canopy is in leaf.

But at the moment it still looks quite bare.

I couldn't visit Kew without a going into the iconic Palm House but I'm afraid my interest in palms wasn't enough to make me stay in this giant greenhouse for very long as it was overwhelmingly hot... so hot my glasses steamed up and I couldn't see anything anyway!

And so I spent the rest of the day strolling around the park admiring the woodland garden and majestic redwoods.

Wandering around the lake and being impressed by the displays of tulips with the clever underplanting of primula

The day finished with a well earned ice cream whilst I admired the classic proportions of Kew Palace, country home to George III. It looks just like a dolls house!

Of course I came home inspired to get my garden into shape which seems a never ending job. Having spent most of last spring unable to do anything in the garden due to the broken ankle and then the arrival of a boisterous puppy meant it was rather neglected last year so there is much to do now and I despair of it ever looking tidy, never mind beautiful. But I doubt the gardeners at Kew have help from a lively labrador who likes to dig everywhere, chew anything that resembles a stick... and thinks that flowers pots are there merely so he can up end them onto the patio!

That said... I'm off to do a bit of digging now*. Have a lovely weekend. It sounds like it's going to be a good one.

* Blogger wouldn't load my post this afternoon, so I have now been and finished my digging and I'm enjoying a Friday night G & T!