Thursday, 19 November 2015


Coming from London, I am a city girl at heart. Even though I have lived in a small village for over twenty five years now and have no desire to live anywhere else, I still enjoy the buzz and pace of city life. Fortunately we do have Cambridge on our doorstep, which is a particularly beautiful and vibrant city... with a very lively food scene. I have recently joined an online group in Cambridge for poeple who like to make food, write about food, photograph food... and most of all eat food!

Through this group I have met Cambridge based artist Naomi Davies who has produced these beautiful pen and watercolour drawings of wintery scenes around the city, that she has made into Christmas cards.

 They really do conjure up a feeling for the city... it's hard to pick a favourite.

But best of all Naomi has sent me a set of these cards and although I really would like to keep them all for myself, I thought it would be a festive gesture of appreciation for everyone of you who keeps reading my wittering to give them away! All you have to do is leave me a comment on this post and after one week I will pick a name out of a suitable vessel to find the winner of the set of cards

Meanwhile I am trying to get some festive baking underway... cakes, mincemeat, pies etc as I have a tasting day on Sunday to launch my new business. I'd like to tell you that the kitchen is all finished and ready but I'm still working around tradesmen, ladders and the occasional bucket of paint! Maybe by Sunday?

I've also had a special order this week to make a Slavski Kolac or Slava Cake which is a traditional Serbian dish made for family saint's days, a yeasted enriched dough a little like a brioche. Our friend Pete wanted me to make it for a family get together this coming weekend as it was something his Mum always used to make. As it was something new for me I decided I'd better have a trial run.

This afternoon Pete and his wife Janet came over for a cup of tea and a trial tasting!  And the verdict... almost as good as his Mum's... which was good enough for me. Now let's hope the real version turns out as well as this one!

Then it's back to more baking ready for Sunday... where luckily for me Naomi will be bringing some more of her cards so I will be able to buy a set for myself. Don't forget to leave a comment if you would like a chance to win. And take a look at some of Naomi's other lovely drawings:

Friday, 13 November 2015

A Busy Five on Friday

Well since I was last here, that was some mad crazy week that's not over yet... So I thought I'd pop by very quickly, join in with Five on Friday if I can remember how and then take my leave once more. Goodness knows when I'll next find time to blog!

1. Holt

We had a lovely weekend away in Holt, despite the weather being pretty awful. The day we arrived I could hardly walk, the arthritis in my left knee had flared up so badly, so I didn't mind the rain and the excuse to stay inside. But anti-inflammatories worked their magic and the sun came out for a while so by Sunday we managed some walking and saw loads of seals out at Blakeney Point. Stewart also managed to fall in the mud which was slightly amusing... I wasn't quick enough with the camera unfortunately!

2. Work

By Tuesday I was back teaching in Letchworth and on Wednesday this was followed by a workshop at Art Van Go. This is a collage of some of the wonderful applique made by the ladies in my class.

3. The Kitchen

It will probably be several weeks until it is entirely finished and every time we think maybe it will all be done today something else crops up... like the fitter having his tools stolen when he left the van unlocked (not on our drive I hasten to add) or the damaged worktop that needs replacing etc etc. But I am working in it as you can see. And today the painter is in and it really is starting to look fabulous (bare plaster is so dark!)... and that cooker... Oh, I love it!

4. Crochet

Spare moments are being spent making crochet snowflakes... I'm aiming for fifty of them and so far have done twenty that are still to be blocked. I'll tell you more about this particular project in a week or so, if I ever get it finished. (I've got until 26th... loads of time!)

5. Cake

This is what I was making in the kitchen photo above. My first order to come out of my new kitchen... another chocolate and peanut butter layer cake. I was getting slightly worried I wouldn't be able to get this done in time and I'm mighily relieved I can work that beautiful cooker too!
Now if you'll excuse me I must finish my last bit of packing before I head of to Missenden Abbey for my final weekend teaching there this year. Have a lovely weekend!

Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday.

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Year in Books - November

This might as well be titled The Weekend in Books... We've escaped the renovations again for a weekend in Holt, returning to the beautiful and cosy Blackbird cottage where we stayed last year. It was booked long before we knew the kitchen work was scheduled for now and it is probably not the best time to go away but on the bright side, there is a washing machine and a cooker... And it is warm and clean! But the weather is awful so think we might be holed up in the cottage for most of the weekend, reading! I've already bought a another new book in the excellent Holt bookshop.

But back to my October Year in Books choice, Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, the retelling of Jane Austen's classic. It was a light easy read, amusing and certainly not too taxing. I'm not entirely sure the manners of Jane Austen's era translate to modern day but I still enjoyed it for what it was. And I'm now thinking that perhaps I ought to read the Jane Austen original.

I also picked up Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris in a charity shop for 50p last month, which I quite happily enjoyed. A bit far fetched and I'm not sure I realised it was a murder mystery/thriller to start with (despite mention of murder in the first chapter!)... And I certainly didn't have a clue about any of the twists and turns that were revealed at the end, but none of that detracted from my enjoyment of the story, which is set out like a chess match between the main characters in a rather old and decaying private school St Oswalds. Joanne Harris spins a good tale in this story of revenge, she writes some excellent characters and there is always a dark and rather sinister under current lurking not far beneath the surface.

And this month I'm reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, which I'm already loving. A very powerful fictionalised account of the life of American abolitionist and suffragette, Sarah Grimke told in parallel with the story of her personal slave, Hetty.. I'll report back next month! I've also got a couple of others in my bag if I finish it this weekend, which looking at the rain outside could well happen!

And do you want to see what I've left behind at home...

Still no oven until next Tuesday (fingers crossed) but it is starting to look fabulous... and I'm looking forward to getting back and baking. Just a bit excited really!

Joining in with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for The Year in Books.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


I escaped!
I escaped the dust, the endless commercial pop radio, the builders rubble on our drive, the ever shifting deadlines for our finished kitchen and had a blissfull day out stitching with Gill at a fabric shop, Backstitch based in Burwash Manor near Cambridge. The first Wednesday in the month always used to be Spectrum day, but since my involvement with the group ended I have a years worth of SPECTRUM marked in my diary that I can now fill with other things... days out, exhibitions... and dress making!

I have had the pattern for a Tilly and the Buttons Coco Dress for months, I bought the fabric for the dress in September but it all lay untouched until today.

But by booking in to the shop for a social sew day, we had access to a wonderful big cutting table, plenty of room to spread out, tasteful music in the background and a whole day just to stitch and natter with no distractions... bliss!

Of course there were a few fabric purchases too... well, I need something to make the next time I go back for a day out stitching. And best of all I finished my first Coco dress. From start to finish in a day!

I posed for the first photo but then I had Gill and Heather (who works in the shop) telling me to cross my legs, thrust my hips and  lift my chin if I was posing for a photo... I resisted a Victoria Beckham pout though!

Back home at the ranch we have now passed day ten of the "week to ten days" we were quoted for our kitchen and it is nowhere near finished. (No surprise there) No sign of an oven either which is a little worrying given I have cakes to make next week. Ah well... at least the microwaved curry tasted good tonight!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Listen Very Carefully

Work began on our kitchen yesterday and there is a backdrop of banging, crashing and drilling all accompanied by loud pop radio... Not really conducive to the work I was planning to get done this week. After trying to struggle to think all morning I've given in and have settled down with a cuppa to write out the recipe I promised instead. 

Chocolate and Peanut butter layer cake

This is a cake of three parts... The chocolate sponge, peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache. I have adapted a chocolate cake recipe from one in Nigella Lawson's book Nigella Bites, mostly because it is so easy and despite the large quantity of sugar it doesn't actually taste too sweet, which is what you need. Of course you can substitute your own favourite chocolate cake recipe and make more than two layers (next time I'm planning three)... But this is what I used. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients as it really is easy.

Chocolate sponge
400g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
250g golden caster sugar
100g caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
150ml creme fraiche
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
175g unsalted butter, melted
125ml vegetable oil
300 ml water

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (350 deg F, Gas 4) and grease and line two 20 cm sandwich tins. Combine all the dry ingredients by sifting them into a large bowl. In a large jug whisk together the eggs, creme fraiche and vanilla. In another large bowl, or the bowl of a free standing mixer, whisk together the butter, oil and water. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and oil mixture  and whisk in well, finally adding the egg mixture and whisking again until everything is well combined. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for 50 to 55 mins or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tins for 10 mins and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Peanut butter frosting
110g unsalted butter, softened
250g smooth peanut butter
250g icing sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons milk

Beat together the butter and peanut butter until well combined. Gradually beat in the sugar with the milk and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Set aside a small amount of the frosting to use as decoration and then use the rest to sandwich the cakes together and to cover the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Ganache
70g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) broken into pieces
30g unsalted butter
25 ml double cream

Combine all three ingredients in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted and combined. Stir well until smooth and glossy and set aside to cool. Meanwhile put the cake in the fridge to allow the frosting to chill a little. When the ganache has started to thicken, remove the cake from the fridge and pour the ganache into the centre of the cake allowing it to cover the top and drip down the sides. Allow the ganache to set ( you can pop the cake back in the fridge) and then use the reserved frosting to decorate the top, along with some Reese's Pieces peanut butter cups cut in half.

Then all that is left is to eat it... And enjoy. I'm not even going to mention calories.

Well, they have now finished in our kitchen for today... And this is the current state of play. Our fitter is still saying he will be finished by early next week! I'm not convinced and I'm getting baking withdrawal symptoms!

Luckily there is plenty to take our mind off things as the curtain goes up on our play this week. Last night we had a photo call for the local press. Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once... yes, the red head is me!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A New Kitchen

We are about to embark on a major kitchen refit. It is something we have been thinking about for a few years but when push came to shove it felt like such an upheaval... it's a big kitchen, so it will be a big job. And of course there is the cost, on top of three years which has seen more than its fair share of unemployment in this house. Every time we decided it really had to be done, we changed our minds!

On the face of it and looking at these photos it would be easy to think that it is unecessary but one thing after another has broken or gone wrong so with the launch of my new business the time seemed right. We have an integrated fridge that stopped working ages ago, doors have fallen off cupboards and taken half the casing with them so are impossible to put back. Door knobs are missing or mismatched.

The cooker has been a nightmare since day one. The doors don't close properly despite several repairs so the heat escapes and melts the knobs which have been replaced dozens of times. And for the past year I've been down to one oven as the fan oven packed up again, having already had the element replaced once.

But it has served us well for over twenty years, seen four small boys grow up and learn to cook, provided thousands and thousands of meals, been the centre of parties and celebrations and so finally the time was right!
I've spent the past week or so emptying cupboards and sorting stuff out... so much stuff! In my "plastics" cupboard there were 17 lids without containers and two containers without lids... how does that even happen. (We won't mention how often I clear out my cupboards... okay?)

So in one final flourish I made a cake. I have an order for a chocolate and peanut butter birthday cake next month so thought I ought to have a trial run... just in case it was disgusting!

But it has been tasted and consumed and declared a success!

It was my intention to put the recipe up with this post but I've run out of time and there are still a couple more cupboards to empty. I really do not know where I'm going to put all this stuff for the next couple of weeks!

But I will share the recipe in my next post... so please pop back and see me soon.

And I will also come back and tell you how this lot is looking!

The fitter is saying a week to ten days... I'm not holding my breath!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Shades of Gold

My friend Celia keeps a small flock of Ryland sheep.

They are friendly, inquisitive creatures and will come up to the fence if you walk past their field, curious to see you. Celia uses them for both showing and breeding but in the past couple of years she has also had their fleece spun into yarn.

We were chatting about the different weight yarns produced and the possiblity of mixing it with other yarn from different breeds to get different colours and eventually got onto the subject of natural dyes. Now I am no expert by any means but I have had success using onion skins to dye yarn in the past.

I got our local farm shop to save me all their loose onion skins and then I dyed one of the balls of yarn. I did take photos of the process but to be honest, pots of murky looking liquid bubbling away on the stove are not that picturesque! (And not a great advert for my cooking skills!)

But to cut a long story short... this is the result and this is what I have knitted from them.... a pair of very warm and cosy chunky mitts. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a selfie of your own hand? Let's just say there were several out of focus shots of my thumb!

They really are the most wonderful shade of deep gold. And talking of gold (she says neatly segueing into a completely unrelated subject)... I also picked these fabulous quinces from an absolutely fully laden tree outside the gym that I go to very occasionally. Fortunately for me I decided to go for a swim on Monday!

Much as I enjoyed looking at a bowl full of them just like this, I thought I ought to make something with them. The first small batch I made up into a quince jam, using a recipe from the Honey & Co Baking Book. If you have ever cooked quince you will know that they are rock solid, even when ripe and the job of coring and peeling them was a bit of a faff even though the end result is a lovely dense pink jam. So after my Pilates class on Tuesday I picked some more and turned these into quince jelly, which doesn't require the removal of skin and core... but in the interests of recipe development I had a little play around and came up with a fragrant quince and orange jelly.

I had about 1.5 kg of quinces which I chopped up into small pieces... core, skin, the lot! I then added the juice of one lemon and the juice and rind of one large orange. This was all bubbled together with 1.5 L water until everything was soft and mushy. This was then let to drip through a jelly bag overnight.

I then measured the juice (which wasn't as much as I had hoped so maybe I should have used more water) and added 500g of granulated sugar for every 600 ml of juice. This was then heated slowly to dissolve the juice and then boiled rapidly until it reached setting point. This didn't take very long as the quinces are so full of pectin. I then skimmed off the scum that had formed on the surface, added a few tablespoons of orange liqueur and then potted it into sterilised jars. It made almost three full 1lb jars of wonderful rose gold jelly.

Which goes very nicely with my new golden mitts!
(Did you see what I did there!)

In between knitting and playing around with recipes, I'm still teaching machine embroidery and this week I've been getting ready to go back to Missenden Abbey for the weekend. Looking forward to seeing what my students have produced over the summer. (No pressure if you are reading)
Have a good weekend!