Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Welcome to my World

I was going to ask did you have a good Easter weekend... ask what you got up to. But that was this time last week and there appears to have been a time warp. But that's what my life is like at the moment and the weeks are flying by. Of course if I stop and think I know exactly what I have been up to... there's been a printing workshop to teach in Hertfordshire and then a rag rugging workshop in Leicester. I took my Mum to her painting class as driving any distance has started to be problematic for her, and I had a stall at a craft fair, so that's four days gone already.

But for the purposes of this little space I'm still back there in the Easter weekend before all those things happened!

Our Easter break was quiet... a chance to get on with more clearing out and packing, although that didn't really happen. The week before I had spent a day doing mosaic with my friend Terry, making this dish. So I finished it and grouted it and it became the perfect dish for holding chocolate. No Easter Bunny in this house... we have an Easter dragonfly!

I also finished off my furniture restoration projects. An old yellowing pine chest had been given a first coat of paint several weeks earlier and had been sitting there reminding me it was unfinished every time I walked past. It got its second coat, a wax and rub down and then on a whim I added some stencilling as we had been given the stencil as a Christmas gift.

It is destined to hold all my spare knitting yarn but that's a joke... I have given away at least ten carrier bags of yarn and I still have three boxes full. So let's rephrase.... this will hold some of my knitting yarn stash.

While I was about it I also finished off another kitchen chair.

So now I have a pair. I think it might be some time before they become a full set but that's the plan. Except when guests arrived on Monday no-one wanted to sit on them in fear of spoiling them. But no point having nice things if they are not used... I ordered that bums were put on seats!

On the last day of the holiday the family descended... in dribs and drabs all day... popping in, popping out, some staying hours, others making only a brief visit. Of course it was lovely to see them all and there was plenty of food on the go, including chocolate baking too! Who doesn't like a mini egg brownie?

So that was our weekend, busy in a nice way. Since then there has been some progress with the house situation and it looks as though we won't have to rent after all. That's all I'm saying for now, but the clearing and packing continues. I have also joined a little singing group. Believe me, I am no singer but this is an informal group of friends meeting to sing together once a month... because I need another hobby/interest in my life! Jesting aside, it's a great stress relief to sing for an hour or so and I thoroughly enjoyed our first meeting. I'm also taking  part in a free online sketchbook course called Sketchbook Revival, over two weeks. It's pretty intense with two videos a day from a variety of different artists but I'm picking and choosing what I want to do and somehow fitting it in by neglecting the housework. The dust will still be there in two weeks time. If I find another spare half hour or so I might even write about it here!

So how was your Easter weekend? Good I hope.

Friday, 19 April 2019

A Marbled Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

I'm joining in with the Cake Slice Bakers again this month baking from The European Cake Cookbook by Tatyana Nesteruk

A couple of the choices seemed really complicated but I was immediately drawn the the Marbled Chocolate Orange Bundt cake as a chance to use my beautiful Rose Bundt tin, which has languished unused in the back of the cupboard. And being the Easter weekend chocolate seemed a good choice.

The photograph in the book shows a simple glaze that shows off the beauty of the shaped cake and I was anxious whether my cake would turn out quite so beautifully.

I greased and floured my tin well. The actual cake was straightforward to make, it baked beautifully and  turned out of the tin like a dream... I just wish I had taken a photograph at this stage! I then made the glaze according to the recipe and didn't really clock that it seemed more like an icing than a glaze. I poured it liberally over the cake but instead of sinking in and leaving just a touch of frosting as in the book it just sat and looked gloopy all over the surface! Not an attractive look!

I almost didn't share these photos! It's definitely not my best effort and it is hard to believe I used the same glaze recipe as the book, but I did! Fortunately my chief cake tester is not that discerning thought it looked just fine.

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating... and it tasted okay but for me it was neither one thing or another. Not quite orangey enough to be an orange cake, yet not overly chocolately either. So I'm not sure I'll be making it again, although if I do the glaze will be replaced with an orange drizzle... or I would bake it in a plain tin.

 The recipe should you want to try it for yourself:

227g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar
4 large eggs
1 tspn vanilla essence
1/2 tspn orange oil
Grated zest from one orange
227 ml milk
plain flour
4 tspn baking powder
100g white chocolate, melted
100g 72 % dark chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan) and grease a 23 cm bundt tin. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, along with a spoonful of flour with each addition and beat in well. Combine the flour and baking powder and fold into the batter with the zest, vanilla, orange oil and milk. Divide the mixture into two bowls and stir the white chocolate into one and the dark chocolate into the other. Gentle fold the two together to give a marbled effect and pour into the prepared tin. Bake for approximately 55 mins until baked through.

Cool in the tin for 15 mins and then turn out and cool completely. Combine 50 ml double cream with 125g icing sugar and the zest of an orange and pour over the cake for a nice gloopy topping!

My other chocolate offering this weekend was a Mint and Pistachio chocolate fridge cake from Ottolenghi's book Simple. This is not hanging around and will definitely be made again!
Wishing you all a happy Easter and I hope there will be chocolate for you too!

Each month The Cake Slice Bakers are offered a selection of cakes from the current book we are baking through.  This year it is The European Cake Cookbook by Tatyana Nesteruk.  We each choose one cake to bake, and then on the 20th - never before - we all post about our cake on our blogs. There are a few rules that we follow, but the most important ones are to have fun and enjoy baking & eating cakes!

Follow our Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages where you can find all of our cakes, as well as inspiration for many other cakes. You can also click on the thumbnail pictures below to take you to each of our cakes. If you have a blog and are interested in joining The Cake Slice Bakers and baking along with us, please send an email to thecakeslicebakers at gmail dot com for more details.

The Cake Slice Bakers also have a new Facebook group called The Cake Slice Bakers and Friends. This group is perfect for those who do not have a blog but want to join in the fun and bake through this book.

Our choices for April 2019 were ~

1. Poppy Seed Smetanik
2. Rhubarb Strawberry Tea Cake
3. Opera Cake
4. Marbled Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

Poppy Seed Smetanik
  • Amandie Bakes - Amanda

  • Marbled Chocolate Orange Bundt
    • Fan My Flame - Gina

    • Rhubarb Strawberry Tea Cake 

        Sunday, 14 April 2019

        Like Buses...

        Nothing for weeks and then they all come at once. Well maybe not all at once but two posts in five days from me which feels like a lot. To be honest I need a break from clearing out my studio. The logistics of trying to decide what I might need for the next six to twelve months and what I can put in storage is making my brain hurt but I'm slowly sorting out every box and drawer which has been quite cathartic. The realisation that I will never do silk painting again and the satisfaction of passing on a box full of supplies to the local school was a high moment. The four large crates of knitting yarn I plan to keep (after already getting rid of several bags full) doesn't feel quite so good... until I remember that knitting is good for you!

        And I was reminded of this by a special little parcel that arrived this week... so beautifully wrapped.

        A few weeks ago I bought myself a ticket to an evening talk at Craft Days in Saffron Walden to hear a talk by Jame McIntosh. I think that people often think that I am confident and outgoing but actually the opposite is true and it takes quite a bit of courage to venture out to an event like this on my own. I can quite happily stand up and give a talk to a room of fifty people, or teach a class full of students, but in a small group of I often struggle. But James was talking about how knitting helped him overcome a serious bout of mental illness... literally saving his life. And long time readers will know that this is an issue close to my heart as my youngest son continues to battle with his mental health. So off I went... I took my knitting as a security blanket and on arrival I smiled a lot  at everyone but said very little! Of course as it turns out everyone was really friendly, including James, whose talk was inspirational and very funny.

        His book "Knit and Nibble" has recipes for sweet treats as well as sweaters and we were treated to several of the fabulous cakes and biscuits while we listened to the story of how knitting helped his recovery from a severe breakdown. I loved the sweater he was wearing... simple shapes and stitched up with brilliant big embroidery stitches. Definitely on my list to make (just remind me I don't need to buy any new yarn!)

        By the end of the talk everyone was mingling and chatting and I got talking to an interesting lady called Addy, an ex airline pilot and now a rep for Rowan yarns, who had her own story of over coming mental illness. We got chatting because she was wearing a gorgeous hand stitched brooch featuring a little fox with his knitting needles. She told me it had come from a lady called Lorna also known as Stitchbirdie.

        When I got home I sent a message to Lorna asking if I could buy one of her beautiful brooches and this week a little parcel arrived for me and here he is! The photo doesn't show how beautiful the stitching is on this gorgeous little brooch which is entirely hand stitched. The little sweater is exquisite and the whole thing is beautiful done on a piece of Harris Tweed. And for me it is a little reminder that we all have our own struggles in life to some extent or another and we just need to be kind to each other.

        Tuesday, 9 April 2019

        Did You Miss Me?

        You don't have to answer but this rather sad little blog has been somewhat neglected of late due to a combination of things really. The technology is making it more difficult than in the past so writing and posting photos seems to take longer, plus our lives have been totally taken up with the prospect of moving house. After twenty nine years I had forgotten what an upheaval it can be, although we have had a spanner thrown in the works last week... more on that later. Plus I sometimes think that after twelve years of writing this blog maybe it's time to call it a day. I think of things to write about and then when I actually find the time I'm not sure they are that interesting. Time to do something else possibly? Or maybe just take a break... oh hang on a minute... that's what I have just done! Anyway, for now, a little catch up of life chez moi.

        However busy there is always baking. I made Welsh cakes for my Mum on Mother's Day. There was an ulterior motive.... it was so I could eat them when I visited her. I may have had one hot from the griddle too, making the most of the fact that I still have a range cooker with a griddle. Mum used to make them for us when we were little and I'm guessing maybe her Mum, who was Welsh made them too.

        I made a chocolate cake for an Embroiderer's Guild supper party. We had Michala Gyetvai come to talk to us about her work. I have known Michala since the early days of blogging and although we have met once or twice I have never really seen her work up close. It was stunning and made me think I must get back to doing more sketching and producing more work... but maybe when we move and I have more time!

        So... that move... Every day I try to clear another cupboard or box. Bags have been taken to the charity shop, items have been moved to their rightful owners (two car loads to son no. 2), some things inevitably have ended up in the skip and I have now also started selling things we no longer want. I have discovered the pleasure of ebay as people out bid each other and Facebook marketplace where our junk seems to be others' treasure. This entire set of 1980s magazines have found another home and although I was beaten down by £2 on the price - £8 instead of £10... does that really make them a bargain or is it just human nature to think we've got the upper hand - frankly I didn't care and I was happy because I would have given them away. They are definitely of their time.

        But all is not plain sailing with the move. A month ago I would have said we would be settling into our new cottage by now but that was before the results of our building survey. We had been aware of some subsidence in the past which we were told had been fixed, but it turns out the problem was more extensive than we were led to believe and possibly still ongoing. It wasn't just a case of the cost of putting it right but the problem of getting buildings insurance too. It felt too much of a risk to go ahead so we currently have nowhere to move to. But having found buyers who are ready to move we are keen not to lose them so we are now looking for somewhere to rent. It feels like a logistical nightmare but as all things no doubt we'll laugh about it one day. Or maybe not!

        One of the logistical problems is deciding what goes into storage and what I need to keep back for work which carries on regardless and varies depending on what I'm teaching. Just in the past week or so there has been a rag rug workshop as well as finishing off some rugs for Elspeth at Ragged Life.

        I have held a block printing workshop and have another lined up for a couple of weeks time. This was the result of printing on paper which was fun to do. I feel it needs to wrap around a special gift or possibly make a book cover. Which reminds me I am teaching book making in the autumn so better keep all those materials to hand too.

        And most recently I have been sewing together coffee sacks to make the most mahoosive wall hanging... 2 m x 5 m to be precise. It was an exciting commission. The partner of the owner of the coffee shop where I occasionally work owns a business called Hot Numbers, which not only roasts and supplies coffee and provides barista training but also runs two coffee shops in Cambridge. Their latest venture is a big shiny new coffee shop and restaurant at the same site as their roastery and this wall hanging will be part of the decor.

        It was a real labour of love... my hands were stuck with pins more times than I care to remember,  I broke several machine needles, my house was covered in hessian fibres and dust and I didn't stop sneezing for days. Not only that but I had no idea what the finished thing looked like or if it would even work as there was nowhere big enough to spread it out at home. But it is up in situ and is okay so I've now got to make the second one... preferably before we move!

        I keep sane by walking. Every morning whatever the weather the dog still needs to go out and it sets me up for the day, helping to keep a perspective on things. Sometimes I'm even rewarded by a beautiful sight like this. Although not this morning as I'm currently sitting with my feet up and an ice pack on my right shin. I've had a niggling pain for a few days but after a day working in the cafe on my feet all day yesterday I'm now in agony with full blown shin splints!

        So that's my life for the past few weeks. I don't think I'm quite ready to give up blogging yet but my appearances here might be sporadic. I'm hoping you won't give up on me. I'm finding commenting on blogs and replying to comments sporadic too... sometimes it works and other times not but I'm still reading what you say if you leave a comment and I'm still reading your blogs too although I miss that connection when the comments don't seem to work.

        Well I must go... I have coffee sacks to sew and more boxes to pack!

        Friday, 22 March 2019

        The Cake Slice Bakers - March

        I’m two days late... assuming I finish writing this on Friday, but I have been baking once again with The Cake Slice Bakers. Exchange of contracts is imminent and despite weeks of sorting out, the house looks as though we have barely started clearing so the last thing I should be doing is baking cakes and writing about it... but I never was one for getting my priorities right, especially when there’s cake involved!

        We are baking this year from The European Cake Cookbook by Tatyana Nesteruk and the choices this month were

        1. Creme Brulee cheesecake
        2. Triple-Citrus Mousse Cake
        3. Austrian Pound Cake
        4. Toscakaka Torte

        As ever it was hard to choose and the cheesecake was very tempting given that if ever we eat desserts out, which isn't often, Stewart will always choose cheesecake and I will have Creme Brulee. However I wanted to make this for dinner guests and didn't want to risk something completely new so I chose the Toscakaka cake, a Swedish caramel almond torte. I own up, I have made this before from a different book with a slightly different recipe where it was just called a Tosca cake, so I knew I would be on to a winner. The combination of light caramel soaked sponge with a topping of caramel and crunchy almonds is delicious.

        The cake itself is easy but the tricky part is making the caramel sauce which starts with boiled sugar. I let my first batch get too dark and it tasted burnt so I had to start again.

        But second time around it worked and the resulting cake didn't disappoint. 

        It went down well with our dinner guests as dessert but it made a good cake for afternoon tea too!

        Ingredients for the cake
        • 170g unsalted butter
        • 100g caster sugar
        • 118 ml dulce de leche (thick caramel sauce)
        • 3 large eggs
        • 1 tsp vanilla essence
        • 118 ml full fat milk
        • 188g plain flour, sifted
        • 50g ground almonds
        • 3 tsp baking powder
        Ingredients for the topping
        • 200g granulated sugar
        • 60ml water
        • 118ml double cream
        • 60g unsalted butter
        • 2 tsp vanilla essence
        • 110g toasted flaked almonds                  

        1. Preheat the oven to 170 deg C (150 fan) and line a 23cm spring form tin with baking parchment

        2. In a large bowl beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and dulce de leche until light and fluffy Add the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour with each addition, beating until smooth. Combine the flour, almonds and baking powder and gently add in two additions alternating with the milk until everything is just combined.

        3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes. The sides should be set but the centre just under baked.

        4. While the cake is baking prepare the caramel sauce. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar melts. Bring to the boil and let it cook until it turns a golden amber colour (not dark brown like my first attempt!) Remove from the heat and whisk in the cram, butter and vanilla. Be careful as it will splutter. Continue to whisk until it is smooth and the butter has melted.

        5. After the cake has baked for 35 minutes remove from the oven, pierce the top with a skewer and pour the caramel sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and return the cake to the oven for a further 15 mins.

        6. Remove from the oven and let it stand for 15 minutes before releasing the spring form. Eat warm or cold!

        I served ours warm with a dollop of creme fraiche and a compote of honeyed figs.


        Saturday, 9 March 2019


        About three years ago I picked up three old kitchen chairs in a charity shop. The intention at the time was to do wonderful things with them but then three years went past... and I didn't do anything with them!

        So, last week in the midst of sorting out and packing (even though we still don't have an actual moving date) I decided it was time to tackle my little upcycling project and the chairs were given a couple of coats of chalk paint, waxed and then rubbed down to give a distressed look. You've got to love paint that doesn't require any rubbing down or preparation first.

        While I was about it I also got the first coat on an old pine blanket box. There is method in my madness as the intention is that this will hold my stash of knitting yarn in our new living room so it does almost come into my sorting out regime. And I couldn't live with that aged yellow varnish.

        I then recovered the seat with some appliqued and embroidered fabric...

        And hey presto... my new upcycled chair (other two still to finish!)
        I was wondering whether to make a set of six but at the rate I'm going it will be another fifteen years before I finish them all!

        I was spurred on to get at least one finished though as I am away teaching at Misssenden Abbey this weekend where we are making collaged fabric to turn into bags.

        And I thought it would be fun to show how the fabric can be used in different ways

        Almost too nice to sit on!

        Sorry I haven't been replying to comments again... for some reason Google lets me type out a comment, I hit publish and then nothing appears... so frustrating! But I do read them all and enjoy hearing from you.

        Friday, 1 March 2019

        Since Last Time...

        Yet again it seems a long time between blog posts but I'm not sure it matters much anymore... is anyone really interested in the minutae of my life? But should you be the least bit curious a summary of what has been happening in these parts...

        • More decluttering - despite the divided opinions on the Konmarie method of decluttering I am continuing bit by bit. I don't see it as a ruthless throwing away reducing myself to a minimalist lifestyle but more of an honest appraisal of what really is necessary or "brings joy", which let's face it is not a million miles away from the William Morris adage of "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful nor believe to be beautiful". William Morris was there way before Marie Kondo! The plastic shoebox contains my boys' first shoes... and little red wellies. Not in the least bit necessary or useful but they bring me joy when I see them so they are staying. However, the piles of card making supplies that hadn't been touched in years were re homed. The tidy cupboards bring me great joy!

        • Listing things on Ebay - I was going to throw out my old Blue Peter annuals discovered lurking at the back of a cupboard - why on earth have they been kept?  But when I put a picture on Facebook there was an outcry of " don't throw them, sell them". So I have listed three of them on Ebay to see what happens... so far nothing... not so much as a starting bid! So they will no doubt be thrown away after all!
        • I've been Pantomiming - if there is such a word! I wasn't acting in our local AmDram Pantomime, Beauty and the Beast this year but I have done a supporting role as producer/business manager as well as helping out with costume. It has been very time consuming but lots of fun... friendships are always made and cemented!
        • Painting - Those grey brick walls were my doing!
        • Reminiscing - the young girl playing Principle Boy (centre of the photo) was wearing an outfit I made for me to wear about 23 years ago when I was playing a Principle Boy! The outfit was actually older than her! Talk about making me feel ancient *sigh* where do the years go?
        • Editing - our village newsletter. Just one more edition to go before we move and I no longer live in the village so no longer will be an editor!
        • Baking - Coconut Dream bars from a Hummingbird Bakery recipe. I have made them at the cafe before but never at home until this week. I now know why they are called dream bars... boy are they good! Chewy, sweet, coconutty and hard to stop at one!
        • Teaching - rag rugging to two large groups of adult learners in Luton. There were language difficulties to be overcome but we crossed those cultural barriers and had lots of fun as the learners made rag rug corsages. It was a wonderful example of how creativity can be such a great boost to self esteem and mental well being.
        • Visiting - I've had a twenty four hour trip to Dorset with my Mum to visit her sister who is very poorly, but despite the underlying sadness there has been much laughter too and as a bonus we got to visit the beautiful Wimbourne Minster. The ceiling of the central transept was stunning.
        • Sewing... on buttons. I finished knitting this cardigan (yarn and pattern from Eden Cottage Yarns) ages ago but couldn't face sewing on fourteen buttons... I know lazy! But I thought I might like to wear it tomorrow so I have finally put the buttons on. I was going to use the mother of pearl but ended up putting on the glittery black ones. I like the contrast.
        So that's what I've been up to... have you done anything interesting?