Wednesday 25 May 2016

A puppy post!

As we have had Hector with us for a whole week now... a whole week where we have never had so many visitors, I thought it was time for a post full of puppy pictures and let you meet our new pup!

For the first couple of days with us he preferred sitting and sleeping under the kitchen chairs but as the days have gone on he has become braver and has started to explore his new home.

He loves the garden and loves his toys... He's very proud of his ball but his favourite things are an old shampoo bottle and a flower pot!

'Accidents' have been very few, he sleeps all night without crying and waits to go out in the morning.

He has already learned to sit on command, and is such a good boy, although he does like to chew absolutely everything... Including my shoes. Maybe he is just trying to tell me something about my choice of garden footwear!

He wasn't very impressed with the barrier in the kitchen either, something we've had to put up if I'm to keep my 5 star hygiene rating for the baking business. He'll soon get used to it!

 He's a great big cuddly old Hector!

Friday 20 May 2016

Raspberry Squares

This my fifth month baking with The Cake Slice Bakers and I very nearly didn't get to bake at all... the past few  weeks seem to have whizzed by and this week we've been a bit pre-occupied with the puppy. But the girls came to my house for knitting this morning (as I'm still not driving) so it seemed a good excuse to bake something special. The choices this month from Maida Heatter's Cakes were a bundt cake with a chocolate sauce (Big Daddy's Cake) that sounded delicious but more like a dessert than a cake, a chocolate swiss roll with a whipped cream filling, a marmalade gingerbread loaf and raspberry squares. I had intended to make the gingerbread loaf  (and probably still will) but with two of our knitters not liking or not able to eat marmalade, I opted for the raspberry squares instead.

These are made with a yeasted pastry that has to be prepared the night before and refridgerated over night but with no kneading or rising. I only had a quick action yeast rather than standard dried yeast so mixed it in with the dry ingredients before adding the wet. I had still expected the dough to rise overnight but it remained in a solid lump in the morning. I thought that meant it wouldn't work but decided to go ahead anyway. I didn't really understand the instructions for dealing with the edges either... if the filling was spread to the edge as instructed, then how could I fold over the dough at the edges without making a mess! This is where a photo might have been useful!

I did wonder if it might have benefited from a glaze on the pastry lattice, but but the time it was cut into squares (or rectangles in this case) and dusted with icing sugar it all looked just fine.

Definitely a morning cake... or pastry really, to go with a cup of coffee... And quite delicious too!

Leah's Raspberry Squares (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need a swiss roll tin, approx 25 cm x 37 cm. The method I have given is for the method I used rather than the one in the book.

  • 7g quick action yeast
  • 420g sifted plain flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 36g caster sugar
  • 220g  unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 125 ml evaporated milk mixed with 60 ml water
  • 450g raspberry conserve (I used Bonne Maman)
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 75g chopped blanched almonds
  • icing sugar to dust
  • The night before you want the squares mix the flour and salt together. Rub in the butter.
  • Stir in the sugar and the yeast.
  • whisk together the egg and the milk and stir this into the dry ingedients.
  • Mix well to combine and cover and refridgerate overnight
  • The following morning, preheat the oven to 350 deg F, 180 deg C, 160 deg fan and lightly butter your swis roll tin
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured worktop and roll into a ball. Divide into two.
  • Shape one piece into a rectangle and roll the dough out to slightly larger than your swiss roll tin. Transfer to the tin and trim the edges level with the top.
  • Mix the raspberry consrve with the lemon rind and chopped almonds and spread over the dough in the pan, taking it right up the the edge.
  • Roll the remaining dough into a rectangle and then cut into 1.5 cm strips using a pizza cutter. Place half the strips diagonally across the pan 1.5 cm apart and then place the remaining strips crisscrossing in the opposite direction. Trim all the ends of the strips.
  • At this point, Maida says to fold the edges of the dough in towards the centre to form a border but I found it was becoming a jammy mess so I left them and trimmed it when cooked.
  • Bake for 25 - 30 minutes in the preheated oven (I found 25 minutes plenty)
  • Cool in the pan, then cut into squares (or rectangles) and sprinkle with icing sugar.

Do check out what the other bakers have made this month!


Wednesday 18 May 2016


Well, one or two of you guessed and some of you knew but my "news" from earlier this week was neither exciting or good. In fact it is rather sad news. After summer school in August, Missenden Abbey will no longer be a centre for adult education in Buckinghamshire. Which means that more than half my annual teaching commitments will just disappear... Leaving me with a lot more free time on my hands and considerably poorer! It is a very sad day for adult education in this country but for me personally I am seeing it as an opportunity for more time to devote to ideas for my new business so I am trying to see it as a door opening rather than one closing... Exciting times for change. Meanwhile there is one last chance to take a summer school with me at Missenden Abbey  from 1st - 3rd August where I will be teaching Stitched Graffiti Art.

I will also be teaching this as a shorter one day workshop at Art Van Go on 14th July. And talking of Art Van Go there is a fabulous exhibition of oil paintings on there at the moment by Vicki Otte called Colour Fest which runs until 28th May.

 Vicki Otté is lives and works in Hertfordshire and has always painted, originally with acrylics  illustrating children's stories, which also led her to create painted wood sculptures. However, for the last few years Vicki has concentrated exclusively on oils.

Many of her paintings involve portraits and it is obvious from her work that Vicki Otté has a keen eye for people and for characterisation. All of her paintings are portrayals of life as she sees it, usually with humour, and always in vibrant colour. They just made me smile they are such joyous happy paintings.

I just love the colouful exuberence of this work, so much so that when I was there teaching little stitched miniatures a few weeks ago I took this painting called "Gossip 2" as inspiration for a little stitched miniature of my own

And this was the result... obviously not for sale as it is a copy of Vicki's work, but for my own enjoyment.

So that is my news really.

So I am not sure how many more workshops I will be teaching in future... a few at Art Van Go, odd ones here and there but mostly my focus will now be on my baking. And I've lots of ideas for things I want to do so I'm seeing it as exciting times. I'm dancing in the rain!

And for those of you who can't make it to a workshop in person, I still hope to be able to teach via downloadable tutorials... a new one is in my Etsy shop today for the stitched miniatures which you can find here. And there are more planned for later in the year.

Monday 16 May 2016

Cambridge Eat Up pot luck lunch

Several years ago I worked with a young photographer, Karen, on an arts project in a school in the Fens.   We got on well and enjoyed working together but didn't really stay in touch other than an occasional email. Then last year Karen got back in touch and invited me to join an on line group of food writers, food bloggers, photographers, cooks and people who just love to eat, all based in the Cambridge area, called "Cambridge Eat Up". Aside from Karen I knew no one else, then at Christmas I joined some members for a  meal and  then last weekend I attended a pot luck lunch hosted by member Pina as part of the Eat Cambridge festival.

My contribution was a rhubarb and amaretti cake doused in an orange and rosemary syrup... if you want the recipe it is in this month's Delicious magazine.

And this is the wonderful array of food brought along by other members of the group

The table was absolutely laden with all sorts of deliciousness, sweet and savoury.

I'm bound to leave someone out if I try to mention everyone but some highlights were fabulous breads from Helen of the White Cottage Bakery, wonderfully light piragi from Alison (little filled and baked Latvian rolls), the most amazing custard tarts from Karen...

And the thing everyone raved about - these gorgeous little pandan and black sesame Hokkaido cupcakes from Jin... so incredibly light and with a gorgeous subtle flavour.... sublime!

There were also filled pastries, quiches, meatballs, falafels, amazing salads, cakes, biscuits and tarts and as you can see we were all tucking in with enthusiasm!

This is such a lovely group of people brought together by a common passion and I feel very privileged to be part of it all. Huge thanks should go to Pina and her husband Paulo who generously opened their home and were amazing hosts.

And as if that wasn't enough we all came home with fabulous goody bags... well more like over filled shopping bags there was so much wonderful stuff. So far I have sampled more Piragi (delicious), an excellent red onion marmalade from Hibiscus Lily, tasty little orange biscuits from Olive Branch and some rather moreish chocolate covered almonds from Dulcedo. And Stewart had an excellent pork pie from Romano's kitchen... and there is still loads more left to try!

Mea Culpa!

I have a sometimes have a tendency to open my mouth and say things before I've really thought about it or thought about what I mean. There has been more than one occasion when I have followed a particular statement with "Did I just say that out loud?".... "Umm, yes!" I think my last post was a case in point. I was so taken up with my thoughts spilling out that I hit the publish button before taking time to read and edit, and I fear some of you have got the wrong end of the stick.

The news I received last week was not what I was excited about (it doesn't take much to get me excited, believe me, but that is a whole other problem). In fact it wasn't very good news at all and as soon as I know it is public knowledge I will share it with you. But the news itself has affirmed for me that the big change I made last year to launch a baking business while cutting down on other committments was worth the risk. And that just seemed exciting... because I feel it has freed me up for other things and I'm full of enthusiasm and ideas. So sorry, my fault to let you think there was something REALLY exciting going on!

Well there is... our puppy arrives at the weekend... that's exciting!

Let's see how much baking I get done with him around! The kitchen has already been puppy proofed!

Saturday 14 May 2016

Ch... Ch... Changes!

How do you feel about change... do you embrace it or shy away? I'd say that most often I like change, I enjoy trying new things and relish new experiences but in reality that probably only applies to the little things in life, the low risk stuff. I'll always try new dishes in restaurants (unlike my lovely husband who always chooses the same food... so much so, I could probably pick what he would order from almost any menu!), I like to visit new places on holiday and I'm alway willing to try new experiences. But the big changes in life, the ones that take a leap of faith... I'm not so brave then! 

Sometimes changes happen due to circumstances and breaking my ankle has certainly imposed changes on my routine and lifestyle over the past  few weeks. I thought the enforced rest period and general slowing down would mean a lot more time for reading, blog writing, and getting my website sorted out... none of which has really happened because I've not had the energy. I've not even looked at my website, I seem to be blogging less than ever and although I'm reading, it's no more than usual... and that is because everything else takes twice as long as usual! By the time I've got up, showered, dressed, tackled the stairs and had my breakfast I'm half way through the morning!

But I have enjoyed the books I've read over the past few weeks. I finished A God in Ruins which I absolutely loved and have added the companion book Life after Life to my wish list. It cover the events in the life of Teddy, a would be poet, RAF fighter, son, brother, husband, father and grandfather, told with much humour. It does contain some fairly traumatic scenes from his life as a fighter pilot but it was one of those books I didn't want to put down but didn't want to finish either.

Kind friends have also lent me books recently and I have read The Year of Living Danishly, which is a light hearted and enjoyable read about the experiences of an English couple living in Denmark for a year and their quest for a happier life. I read The Dressmaker, which is a dark, gothic tale of revenge set in rural Australia. I found the character observation hilarious as it is full of weird and wonderful individuals and their engaging lives .And lastly I have just finished A Perfectly Good Man which I literally couldn't put down. It is the story of Barnaby, a parish priest in Cornwall and it draws the various different threads of his life together as the story unfolds. I found it an incredibly moving story.

But I am pleased to say I am healing well, feeling less tired and gradually getting back to my normal self. This week I even ventured into London for a day (not alone, I might add). I attended a Kitchen Table Talent event called Build Your Business organised by Country Living Magazine. It was an excellent day, well organised with good speakers (Sophie Conran, Julie Dodsworth, Emma Bridgewater), opportunities for networking, workshops to help with branding and business plans, plus a really good lunch too! I came home buzzing with ideas for my baking business. Making the change of direction from textiles to incorporate my love of baking definitely was one of those "leap of faith" changes in my life and if I'm honest I have wobbled a few times over whether it has been the right thing to do. But this week I have received news* that has confirmed this is a good change in my life. I'm going to be intensly irritating and say I can't share that news just yet... but I will in due course.

And so I continue to bake with a passion, even if it does mean operating at half speed! Orders continue to come in and this week I've made a "naked" sponge, which has been one of my favourite cakes to date

And this blue birthday cake which might be one of my least favourites. I'm pretty confident it will taste good but I just struggle with blue food! On the plus side, it does match my range of aprons and tea cosies which will remain part of the Apricot and Fig brand.

So currently I'm feeling excited about the changes that are in store... not to mention the prospect of this bionic boot coming off next week!

* I seem to have given the impression that I have some really exciting news which is not the case. The news is not good but it has confirmed for me that starting the new business was the right thing to do and that is what makes me excited for the future! And now that sounds even more cloak and dagger than before!

Friday 6 May 2016

Five random things on Friday!

Five random things from my pretty random week...

1 Flowers

Four weeks since I broke my ankle and my house is still filled with flowers that make me smile and cheer me up. Lovely gifts from friends, including roses and freesias from my husband.

2. Embroidery

For the first time since my accident I worked a full day teaching this week. I was apprehensive as I'm still getting very tired and most afternoons have a couple of quiet hours with my feet up. But despite my fears it went well and these are the little stitched pictures made by the ladies in the class at Art Van Go - many of them just beginners. I was shattered by the time I got home but it was worth it. Now I'm steeling myself for a whole weekend away teaching and wondering how I will cope being away from home.

3. Crochet

 I'm keeping up with my Frida Kahlo Crochet Along blanket and love the crazy colourful flowers on this week's block. 

4. Cake

Well there's not a week goes by without cake, and after the outrageousness of Elvis popping out of a D.I.Y. disaster last week, this week's cake seems very tasteful. My brief was for a white Christening cake, with minmal decoration... perhaps a few flowers, a name and maybe a touch of pale pink. I reined in my natural instinct for over the top decoration and think I've met the brief. I hope Abigail's Mum and Dad think so!

5. Puppy Love

No words really... just can't wait for this little chap to move in with us!

Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Elvis Has Left the Building!

I really was exhausted last week wasn't I... A whole week has gone past and I haven't even thought about my blog. Perhaps I am destined to churn out blogposts just once a week on Sunday evenings from the comfort of my sofa, feet up and glass of wine to hand... but not every Sunday as sometimes we go out and play bingo at the pub, which is a whole other story. So rock 'n' roll, I know. But I digress...

After the hectic time I had last weekend I took things slowly this week. I knew I had a rather important cake to make for a special friend. She wanted a cake for a joint birthday celebration... for a 70 year old Elvis fan and a 30 year old into D.I.Y. Well luckily I like a challenge!

  I opted for Elvis popping out of a two tier cake doing a bit of painting and decorating

I planned it out to the very last detail and then paced myself all week to get it done without any last minute panic... which was just as well when my first attempt at "Elvis" caused rather a lot of panic as he slumped down into a rather squashed, sad and fat looking character... too fat even for Elvis's latter years!

But by taking things slowly and having plenty of rest it was all done and ready for collection on Friday. The birthday celebrations are tomorrow so fingers crossed they like my interpretation. And better still, that they like the cake inside!

Happy birthday Heather and Ed!

And in other news, I'd like you to meet the latest member of our family... we almost called him Elvis.

But this is Hector, who will be coming to live with us in two weeks time when he is old enough to leave his mum.

I know, don't say a word... broken ankle, new puppy, still bonkers! But we've been more than three years without a dog, we miss Barley and when these puppies came along the time felt right. It's going to mean all sorts of arrangements to fit in with the baking business involving pens and gates but it will be worth it... he's gorgeous!