Sunday, 23 February 2014

I Promised Photographs...

of our Pantomime Red Riding Hoodie written by Sarah Harrison.
An updated version of the traditional tale, let me introduce Red Riding Hoodie, the young girl who doesn't visit her Grandma as often as she should.
Not that her Grandma appears unduly bothered!

Especially when preparing medallions of hand reared, corn fed, pea hen in a rosemary jus...

Of course there was a big bad wolf... (who turned out to be not so bad after all)

Who encounters the lusty gamekeeper Jed, also on his way to visit Granny Gruntlepants in her cottage in the woods.

Naturally there was a local hostelry where various characters gathered, overseen by the buxom barmaid Jemima Jugs...

Although Jemima only had eyes for Blackfaced Bert, the charcoal burner and Red Riding Hoodie's Dad.

You'll be pleased to know that everything worked out for the best, there was a double wedding and everyone lived happily ever after...
And although it really has been the most tremendous fun and I have thoroughly enjoyed myself it will be good to get back to some sort of normality this week, although I'm not entirely sure that my life ever feels that normal!
p.s.  Have you spotted me yet? (I'll give you a clue... I wasn't playing the wolf)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Since Last Week...

Thank you all kindly for your good wishes and as indeed "all things do pass" there was an improvement as the week went on.
  • I managed to finish off several of these embroidered button samples. I hold my hands up and say these are not my own original idea but I have made enough embroidered buttons in the past and have seen enough examples from numerous different people that I felt it would be okay to use them for a class I am teaching at Textiles in Focus in Cottenham on Friday. I would have said hurry up and book your place but fortuantely for me both classes are full. However it is still worth going to this fabulous three day show if you are are within travelling distance so maybe see you there.
  • I had a trial run of my next round of the Cambridge Bake Off which is to cook and decorate a chocolate cake of my own choosing in two and half hours in the kitchens of the Cambridge Cookery School. I managed it, just, in my own kitchen and my tasters approved ( I haven't actually tasted it myself) but I was disappointed with certain aspects... like all those darn chocolate ribbons broke! So I do feel I need a couple more trial runs... but I'm not sure I can face it...
  • Because after making the cake I came over feeling rather peculiar and then spent the next 48 hours shivering and aching in my bed trying desperately not to panic at the thought of our forthcoming pantomime... no such thing as understudies in AmDram! I was convinced I had flu. Fortunately whatever it was, came as quickly as it went... although it has left me with with no stomach for chocolate!
  • So although I was still feeling somewhat wobbly yesterday, Gill and I rearranged our trip that we were meant to have last week and we went into London to see the Isabella Blow exhibition which was far better than I had expected and worth seeing for the amazing Philip Treacy hats if nothing else, although being a huge fan of Alexander McQueen I loved the dresses too. I found the exhibition quite a moving tribute to someone who on the surface seemed to be leading a charmed life but in reality was obviously very unhappy
  • And now the rest of the week which is going to be dominated by our Pantomime with technical and dress rehearsals today and tomorrow and first performance on Thursday. Still feeling a tad wobbly which doesn't bode well for a week spent on these heels... Wish me luck but please don't say "break a leg"
I promise more photos later in the week!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Happy Face

More faces...
more sampling...

and finally I feel that I'm getting somewhere and the images that have been in my head for so many months are beginning to be realised.

Now I'm tweaking and fine tuning trying to arrive at exactly what I want...

All this against a week of family upset and drama... a minor op (me), a funeral (my uncle), food poisoning (youngest son) made additionally complicated by his type 1 diabetes not to mention  all sorts of other angst and anger... living in such a testosterone filled house is far from easy at times, believe me. The are days when I long for female company.... but unfortunately today's outing with a special friend has had to be cancelled while I fufill the role of nurse.

Washing bed linen and administering dry toast are the order of the day...

Ah well... Put on a Happy Face Gina!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

I've been on a quest...

to find the perfect carrot cake.
Most cakes are based on four essential ingredients... eggs and flour to give structure... fat and sugar to give flavour. So even before additional ingredients are added there are many decisions to be made. Caster sugar or muscavado sugar, plain flour or self raising, white or wholemeal, butter or oil.

And then come the additions. Do you grate the carrots finely or coarsely, what spices should be added - cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or allspice or perhaps a combination and do you add sultanas or nuts or both and if so, walnuts or pecans or perhaps something else?
So many decisions to be made. And that is before the frosting and decorating takes place.

Over the past couple of weeks I have made four different carrot cakes with various ingredients in different combinations including one that seemed to contain about half a bottle of brandy (Very good but not really what I was after!)

After my family gallantly took to extensively tasting and giving feedback, (they do suffer for me you know) this is what I ended up with. I decided to keep the decoration simple depite having an urge to create bunnies and carrots. And this is the one that I took into Cambridge this morning as my entry in the first round of the Cambridge Bake Off. Yes, despite my "spongy sponge" experience of last year, I decided to give it another go and was one of 48 contestants selected for this first round to bake a carrot cake.

And after the judges had tasted I was delighted to be one of 24 selected to go through to the next round where I will have to bake 'live' in the kitchens of the Cambridge Cookery School. Although I was given good marks for presentation and texture they thought the taste was lacking and did not taste of carrots. Personally I'd rather my cake did not taste of vegetables and that the carrots were there to add moisture and sweetness... but what do I know? And anyway, I'm through to the next round so I don't care! And should you want to try it yourself... the recipe is below.... do let me know if it is carroty enough for you!


150g light muscavado sugar                                                            
80g dark muscavado sugar                                                              
3 free-range eggs                                                                              
175g rape seed oil                                                                            
250g self-raising flour (white)                                                                                  
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
40g plain yoghurt
Zest of 1 satsuma
260g carrots (peeled weight) peeled and finely grated
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
100g pecans, toasted and roughly chopped, plus extra to decorate

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line the bases of 2 x 18cm sandwich tins.

2. Put the eggs and sugars into a large mixing bowl and whisk well until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the mixture has almost doubled in volume. This can be done in a free standing mixer. Gradually add the oil, mixing well.

3. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder salt and spices and then fold very gently into the liquid mixture, being careful to knock as little air out as possible. Fold in the yoghurt and the remaining ingredients and divide between the tins. Bake for about 30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool for 10 mins in the tins and then turn out onto a wire rack.

4. When cool decorate with cream cheese icing and the remaining nuts. I used this recipe for the icing.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Mixed Emotions

More faces from my needle today...
free machined sketches made with a single stitched line, without breaking off and starting again...

But it's not working for me yet...

and as I often find when translating things into stitch, it lacks the sponteneity of the original 5 minute sketch from my notebook...

So I'm not "happy"... let's see how I get on when I try to stitch "grumpy"

Monday, 3 February 2014

Ain't Nothing Like a Dame

Pantomime is a peculiarly British form of theatrical entertainment. It is a musical comedy that includes songs, dancing, slapstick humour and cross dressing with a story loosely based on a popular fairy story, that is traditionally performed around Christmas time.
Modern pantomime follows a pretty tried and tested formula. The leading juvenile male character - the principle boy - is always played by a girl in tights and there is always an older woman called the Dame, played by a man in drag. There is usually a fairy of some description plus a baddie who always gets defeated and turns good in the end. There are often explosions and chases and the whole thing relies heavily on audience participation with plenty of calling out and singing along.

Our village Amateur Dramatic society nearly always stages a pantomime in February and this year is no exception. We are lucky enough to have had a pantomime specially written for us by local author Sarah Harrison, who is also directing the show. It is a fabulous adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood story called "Red Riding Hoodie" and is packed full of music and mayhem.

As usual I have been involved in helping with the costumes and have been having great fun putting together an outfit for our dame... Red Riding Hoodie's Grandma of course! A great chance to go mad with plenty of colour and oversize frills and bows.

But more unusually for me, this year I am actually in the pantomime. It's not the first time (I've been known to play the priciple boy in the days when I didn't mind showing off my legs) but it has been quite a while...I play the local barmaid...

... and I'm having so much fun! Off to another rehearsal tonight... only a couple of weeks to go!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A Year in Books :: February

Often, I find January a month that drags its heels but it seems to have come and gone in a flash this year. The book I chose to read in January, The Chess Men by Peter May, also came and went in a flash!
I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first two in the Lewis Trilogy with a gripping story set against the backdrop of the atmospheric Hebrides. If I had any critisism it was all the background information about the main character Fin - much of which had been gradually indroduced in the first two books but I can see that it would be necessary if you hadn't read the first two. Despite this repetition, I still found it a real page turner that I finished in just five days.
There was one small passage that stayed with me from The Chess Men. Fin meets a school friend from his past, Whistler, who is living in old croft in a filthy state. Fin asks: "Smartest boy of your generation...You could have been anything you wanted to be, Whistler. Why are you living like this?" And Whistler's reply: "I'm exactly who I want to be. And there's not many can say that."
As the book progresses you do wonder if Whistler really is who he wants to be but it made me think how many of us grow up trying to meet the expectation of others rather than becoming exactly who we want to be?

I chose my February book from one of the piles of unread books lying around the house. The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. But because I finished my January book in mid January I started my February book... and enjoyed it so much I read this one in five days too, finishing it before February!

I have read quite a few reviews of this book and they vary enormously, many of them being quite negative. Most of the negative reviews criticise the main character Honor Bright, a young Quaker girl who leaves Dorset after been jilted by her fiance, to start a new life in America, finding her an unbelievable character. But I found I was totally absorbed in Honor's story. Honor becomes involved in helping runaway slaves through a movement called The Underground Railroad, which I knew nothing about previously. I haved loved each of Tracy Chevalier's previous books and this was no exception. A good story set against an accurate historical backdrop.

One of the best things about the book was that  readers are treated to an insight into the importance of quilts in colonial life.  I learned that there is a difference between English and American quilting in the styles, the methods and the fabrics used and it left me wanting to learn more which I feel is always the sign of a good read. It left me wanting to make (and finish) a quilt too.

So as I have already read my intended February book before the start of February, I thought perhaps I ought to choose something different to actually read this month. So I have picked Restoration by Rose Tremain... mostly because it also happens to be our book club choice. But as I can't make book club this month I'll review it here instead. I've started it this morning and already have a good feeling about this one too. I also feel that this will take a little longer than five days!
What are you reading this month?