Saturday, 29 August 2015

Postcards from Tuscany - Day Seven

Arrivederci Italia... I'm sure we will be back.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Postcards from Tuscany - Day Five

Firenze! So much to see...

Santa Croce

At the top of the torre of the Palazzo Vecchio

David (a copy outside the Palazzo Vecchio)

Ponte Vecchio

Gelato (I think I may have eaten my body weight in gelato this week!)

Santa Maria del Fiore - Il Duomo

And back to the Palazzo Vecchio....

So much to see but so hot and crowded!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Postcards from Tuscany - Day Three

San Gimignano in the sunshine... Bellissimo!

Monday, 24 August 2015

Postcards from Tuscany - Day Two

We went to Siena and it rained... A lot! Still had a lovely day though.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A Dress

I bought this dress two years ago... A simple Jersey shift, very cheap, but perfect for throwing in a bag when travelling except it came mid way down my shins making it look rather dreary and slightly ridiculous on me.

It was just a matter of taking off six inches off the hem. Not a big nor difficult job, yet for the past two years it has remained in my wardrobe untouched... And unworn! Until this week when I decided I either had to alter it or put it in the charity bag.

And it wasn't a difficult job! It took just twenty minutes despite my thread breaking several times. And before anyone I have ever taught asks me when did I last change my needle... I changed it four blimmin' times, using every ball point needle I could find until finally I changed the thread. That worked! I don't have an over locker so it is not the neatest job ever but it is good enough for what was only a cheap dress to start with.

Just the job for throwing in a bag without ironing, easy to rinse out if necessary... And perfect for strolling around the streets of Siena and Florence! Now I must go and paint my toenails and pack my bags. Back soon with tales of sunshine and vineyards from the Chianti hills!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Chopping and Stirring

So what do you usually do three days before you go on holiday? Order your currency? Yes! Get all the washing and ironing up to date? Yes! Make chutney? No, I thought not!


I am totally useless at making chutney... I have never yet made anything worth eating. Special family recipes, fail proof recipes, the only chutney recipe you'll ever need... All wasted on me. They all taste disgusting and end up in the bin. So I'm not sure why I had the urge to make chutney this week but I did. An afternoon spent chopping...

And stirring...

Before potting and eating! And boy oh boy, sound the trumpets... this one is good! Even if I do say so myself!

 I've also been playing around with my photos as I've just opened an Instagram account. To be honest it is a bit like Twitter in that I haven't a clue what I'm doing or why I am there but you can find me at FanMyFlame should you be the least bit interested.

I'd add a link here if I could actually work out what I'm doing... But I really should be doing things like ordering currency and getting my washing and ironing done!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Five on Friday - A Miscellany!

There is no link up for Five on Friday this month but I thought I would do it anyway... it's such a neat and convenient way to tie in several random topics that have nothing much to do with each other. Separate topics, that in past times when I was managing to write a blog post more than once a week would have probably warranted a blog post each of their own. But for various reasons I don't seem to get here more than once a week at most so here are five snippets from the past week or so...
1. Walking
I'm still trying to keep up with regular walks and last week Gill and I had a faulous walk around the village of Much Hadham, followed by a wonderful lunch... and cake, at Hopleys garden centre. This was my birthday present from Gill and I have to say I do rather approve of spreading birthdays out over several months, especially when they are lovely treats like this! The walk was over miles of beautiful countryside but we were both mesmersied by this fabulous meadow of wild flowers. The photo doesn't do it justice!
2. Lunching
I'm now realising there are tenuous links between my five things (or at least between the first two) because I enjoyed my lunch with Gill so much that I decided to recreate it at home. I couldn't find any links to suitable recipes on line so made it up as I went along. All butter puff pastry (bought, not home made I might add) topped with red onions that had been slowly cooked until soft and caramelised. On top of this was a sliced pear, a scattering of walnuts, topped with crumbled stilton... and then it was baked in a hot oven until the pastry was brown and crispy. Delicious served with a variety of salads and it was just as good warmed up the next day too!
3. Baking
There is never a week goes by without some sort of baking in my house and this week there was a bit of an experiment that came to me in the middle of the night... and I wonder why I don't sleep! Of course having thought it up in the middle of the night I had to try it the next day. A Battenberg cake with a twist... a combination of a lemon drizzle cake with an almond sponge, sandwiched with lemon buttercream and wrapped in a layer of almond paste. It got the thumbs up all round so will be added to my ever growing folder of cake recipes.
4. A Commission
After two weeks of avoiding my sewing machine and studio I ventured in to complete a long over due commission. I had been asked to make this hellibore brooch a year ago, although in my defence I was told it wasn't required for another 18 months. Of course, I promply forgot all about it until Terry turned up at my Open Studio this year and I had to come clean! I put a big sign on my studio notice board so I wouldn't forget about it again, and this week I finally got around to finishing it. Always a mistake to tell me something is not required for ages as I work much better to a deadline (as regular readers will know), so I was feeling rather pleased that this was finished in plenty of time after all!
5. Sewing
And while I was in the mood for sewing this week I made some tea cosies. I sold all that I had left at my open studios, so thought I would build up some stock before the end of the year... before people start looking for presents for you know what. I'm like a boy scout me... totally prepared!
Have a lovely weekend.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The Year in Books - August... Plus a recipe!

I can hardly believe we are a week into August already. I don't teach or do any other work in August with the intention of catching up on all the other stuff that I never seem to get done around the house. But since I got home from Summer school last Friday all I seem to have done is catch up with family and friends every single day... which has been absolutely lovely! All the other stuff can wait. I've not even had time to start a new book this month but I did read quite a few in July.
My July choice for The Year in Books was How to Catch a Frog by Heather Ross. It was an easy, gentle and delightful account of Heather's rather unconventional childhood growing up in Vermont, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Earlier in the month Stewart had been to a talk by Nigel Risner and was so inspired he came home with this book The Impact Code. As it seemed to tie in with the Do What You Love course I was taking I also read it. It was a quick read which I'm sure had as much to do with the wide margins and sparse text on many of the pages but mostly it seemed a bit cliched, repetitive and stating the obvious. I was left feeling this was obviously a really inspirational speaker who was cashing in by selling the transcript of his talk!

Our village book club choice was Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It is a bleak, horrific thriller set in communist Russia... and utterly compelling, although as often with thrillers, by the end it all seemed a little far fetched.
The final novel I read in July was The Children Act by Ian McEwan which I thought was brilliant. Very powerful, very sad and with totally believable characters. A High court judge, Fiona Maye, is required to decide whether a 17 year old boy should receive a life saving blood transfusion , although he and his parents are refusing on religious grounds. Set against problems in Fiona's own life, the novel intellegently weighs up all the arguments and is utterly compelling.

As yet, I've not started a new novel this month as I've been absorbed in this fabulous baking book... Popina Book of Baking by Isidora Popovic... and trying to perfect my own biscotti recipe based on the apricot, fig and nut biscotti in the book. And this is the result:
Date and Pistachio Biscotti
1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C. (160 fan)
2. Sift together 250g plain flour, 125g caster sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder.
3. Beat two large eggs together in a jug and gradually work into the dry ingredients until you have a very soft dough. You may not need all the egg or you may need to add a few drops of milk to get the right consistency. It should be soft but not sticky.
4. Add 70g pistachios and 100g chopped dates*, working them into the dough. 
5. Divide the dough into two and roll each half into a sausage shape about 25 cm long and place onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Flatten each sausage slightly and bake for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown.
6. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile turn the oven temperature down to 150 deg C. (130 fan)
7. Once cooled, move the biscotti dough to a cutting board and using a sharp serrated knife slice the biscotti into diagonal 1cm slices and lay them onto the baking tray.
8. Return to the oven and cook for 8 minutes. Turn the slices over and then cook for another 10 - 15 minutes until golden brown.
9. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks.
10. Served dunked in coffee, dipped in vanilla ice cream or best of all... dipped in Vin Santo!
* You can used any combination of fruit and nuts if you stick to approximately 60-70 g nuts and 100 - 110 g dried fruit. Isidora uses 30g each of pistachios and hazelnuts plus 40g each of chopped dried figs and apricots and 30g of raisins.

And so to a novel for August... I have a pile to choose from, mostly aquired from charity shops over the past couple of weeks, which I'm hoping to get through when we go away at the end of the month. But I shall start with The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell.
Joining in with Laura of A Circle of Pine Trees for The Year in Books

Saturday, 1 August 2015


When we get asked out or go visiting, I always like to take a homemade gift if possible, usually something from my kitchen. And my gift of choice at the moment are biscotti. They are relatively simple to make, can be flavoured in all sorts of ways and somehow seem more gown up than other biscuits... probably something to do with the fact that they are better dunked in a glass of Vin Santo rather than your afternoon cuppa!
Before heading off to Great Missenden last week we were at a Sunday lunch party and so I took a batch of Fig, Apricot and Nut biscotti as featured in Isidora Popovic's book - The Popina Book of Baking. You can find the recipe here... or if you prefer gram measurements rather than cups... try here (although I converted it to 235g flour and 120g sugar)
They were good - lovely fruit and nut flavours - but I could taste the baking powder slightly, so I resolved to go back to the drawing board when I next tried them.
On returning from Great Missenden yesterday afternoon we got a phone call inviting us to a barbeque this evening so I decided to try a different recipe and adapt it with the fig and apricot flavouring. This was from one of the Great British Bake Off books (it's back this week... very excited!) and unsual for biscotti it contains butter. The Popina recipe claims to be lighter for the absence of butter but really guys, we are talking biscuits here. And from where I'm standing biscuits and cakes do not really fall into the healthy eating category. So as long as they remain an occasional treat they might as well have have butter, sugar and all the other stuff we are routinely told we shouldn't be eating!
It was my plan to share the adapted recipe to with you here... but it wasn't that straightforward. The dough was very sticky... more like a cake batter. There was no way I was going to be able to roll it out into log shapes. So I added more flour until it became a soft but manageable dough.

It was baked for 30 minutes, before removing from the oven, slicing and then going back in for another 10 minutes... hence the name biscotti, meaning twice cooked.
This time there was no baking soda aftertaste, but I fear they are a little on the dry side so I may have added too much extra flour so until I've sorted it out I won't be sharing the recipe!
But when they are dipped in Vin Santo I'm sure no-one will notice!
Now if you excuse me I'm off to put some jumpers in a bag ready for this barbeque... our British summer weather isn't overly warm today. But at least it is dry!