Monday 29 August 2016

A Bank Holiday Monday

I woke up this morning feeling right down in the doldrums. Nothing in particular wrong just a general feeling of being fed up and not really feeling like facing the day ahead. But I dragged my aching bones out of bed, pulled on some clothes and headed out with the dog... and already felt better. In the years between having a dog I'd almost forgotten how uplifting it can be getting out for a walk first thing in the morning... especially when the sun is shining.

After breakfast we tackled the housework between us... not terribly exciting... except for when I realised I'd polished all the woodwork with spray starch. In my defense the starch and the polish both have red lids and live in the same cupboard, and it seems to have worked just as well as the polish! So it may not have been a very exciting job but satisfying when it was done.

The day was still young so we decided to head off to a local Chilli festival held in the gardens of Benington Lordship. This annual event has been held for about ten years or so now but we'd never been before. It was a lovely setting, busy but didn't feel too crowded and felt very laid back and low key. There were loads of stalls selling all sorts of chilli related products ranging  from oils, sauces, and olives etc to chocolate and even cakes.

There were plenty of different chilli plants for sale and lots of delicious "Street Food" available for lunch. We had a couple of  excellent mushroom burgers... Stewart had his with hot chilli sauce but I had mine plain! And then he had to try the craft beer...

I gave that a miss and sampled the ice cream instead. We both decided to give the chilli eating competition a miss!

When we got home I went for a walk to collect damsons which are plentiful in the hedgerows near us at the moment. These will be turned into jams and jellies this week.

We then managed an hour of gardening between us and got the patio cleared of weeds before I made us a curry supper using one of our purchases from the festival... a not too hot Burmese sauce.

Butternut squash, sweet potato, carrots and lentils worked a treat!

And I'm now relaxing with my feet up, finishing off a glass of wine and thinking it was a pretty good day after all. Which just goes to show it's worth hauling those aching bones out of bed... even when it feels like a bit of an effort!

I hope you've had a good Bank holiday Monday too. Or if you're not in a part of the world where today was a day off... I hope it was a good Monday!

Friday 26 August 2016


My poor sad neglected blog. I'm not sure I'll every return to the days when I blogged two or three times a week, with posts about a variety of subjects that were not just cakes and puppies... Although to be fair, cakes have always featured pretty regularly right from day one.

It seems absolutely ages since I last did a post about what I've been reading but I don't seem to be reading as much over the last few weeks, so that's probably why! My favourite time to read is first thing in the morning with a cuppa in bed but lately I've been getting straight up to walk Hector. Stewart bought me The Past by Tessa Hadley and The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks for my birthday last month. I started with The Past, a story about a family of four siblings getting together in their grandparents' house for one last holiday. I liked the style, I liked the characters and read eagerly thinking something momentous was going to happen because it had that sort of build up... but it never did. So although I enjoyed it I was left feeling disappointed. I had heard good things about The Shepherd's Life but after a few chapters in I didn't think I could take much more about sheep! However, I persevered and ended up really enjoying this autobiographical tale of the life of a Lakeland shepherd despite some poor editing and a fair bit of repetition!

Currently I am reading two books, although have almost finished both of them. I recently read Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard which I enjoyed so much that I ordered her previous book Lunch in Paris. The format is similar, autobiographical with two or three recipes at the end of each chapter but I haven't enjoyed this nearly as much... perhaps the lifestyle in Provence is more appealing than the thought of living in Paris. So in between chapters I've also been reading the classic, The Periodic Table by Primo Levi as this was our bookclub read for August. After three pages in I thought I was going to hate it, I just couldn't get to grips with it at all. So instead I listened to a few chapters of the recent dramatisation on the BBC iPlayer and gradually it drew me in. Each chapter is based around an element from the periodic table, some fiction but mostly autobiography, written with great insight, humanity and humour as Levi writes about his life as a chemist spanning the years of the second world war. I've almost finished it now with only about three chapters to go but for some reason, I'm struggling to get to the end. Equally I don't want to leave it unfinished because I have actually enjoyed it.

It wouldn't be a blog post from me without at least a little bit of cake and this week I've been inspired by the return of the Great British Bake Off, which I absolutely love. The signature bakes were drizzle cakes so I made some gooseberry and elderflower drizzle cakes for the Farm Shop this week... mostly because I had some homemade gooseberry and elderflower jam which I stirred into the batter before baking. The drizzle was elderflower cordial.

Then this morning I thought I'd give the technical challenge a try and made Jaffa Cakes... it hadn't even occured to me this was a cake I might make at home. I think my jelly blobs were too big but this was smallest round cutter I had! It was all going so well at this stage... but spreading the chocolate proved tricky. After one or two disasterous attempts I gave up trying to mark a pattern on the chocolate... as soon as I started to drag a fork across the surface it started to pull the chocolate off the jelly so I just spread it on the top. Despite looking a little rough they have been given a big thumbs up from my tasters.

Just a pity I don't like Jaffa Cakes really!

*Update* I've just discovered there is a whole Bloggers Bake Off going on hosted by Jenny Paulin of Mummy Mishaps. It would be rude not to join in really, wouldn't it. So this week I'm entering my Jaffa Cakes! Biscuit week next week!

Mummy Mishaps

Saturday 20 August 2016

A Blackberry Cheesecake

Another month and another post for the cake slice bakers, baking from Maida Heatter's Cakes. Some months I could quite happily make any of the four choices, but other times like this month there is no contest. Three of the cakes were multi layered extravagant sounding affairs suitable for celebrations, with too much frosting... and too much effort for my liking! There was a four layer chocolate cake with a chocolate sour cream icing, a three layer pecan sweet potato cake witha marshmallow filling (the cake sounded interesting but the frosting sounded sickly sweet), and a three layer carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting. I'm hoping the other bakers will have made these so I can decide if they are worth the effort! But there was also a Blackberry Scotch Cheesecake which was just asking to be made... especially as it used frozen blackberries which I just happened to have!

I'm not always that keen on the usual digestive biscuit base used on most cheesecakes as I find they can be a bit soggy, so I was intrigued by the idea of a shortbread crust and had high hopes of it staying firm and crunchy.

The cheese mixture is a wonderful combination of cream cheese, cinnamon, blackberries and Drambuie... which I confess I bought specially! It tasted amazing (yes... I did lick the spoon)

The blackberries are used frozen and are dotted over the surface of the cheese mixture before baking. I had a tub of blackberries that came from Mum's garden before she moved.

Maida claims the blackberries turn a gorgeous shade of shocking pink once baked and she is not wrong!

Once baked it gets a sour cream topping which gets another five minutes in the oven.

Although it wouldn't have effected the taste, my cheesecake cracked as it cooled and as I was planning on taking this as a dessert to my book club meeting (the book club that is really a girl's supper club masquerading as a book club) I decided to pretty it up with a blackberry sauce as I had some blackberries left over.

I tried some arty drizzling and then decided it looked better spead all over! I was going for a Jackson Pollock effect which I didn't quite pull off!

And the result... even if I do say so myself this was a pretty amazing cheesecake. Everyone loved it, second helpings were had, requests were made for me to make it again and it was generally agreed that the blackberry topping was definitely worth doing, the sharpness offsetting the sweet cheesecake. If there was one critisism, it was that the base did not stay crunchy but it still tasted fantastic and I have already made it again for one of our book club members... and her response was "I want to pass on rapturous thanks from all seven very happy cheesecake eaters - absolutely delicious". I can see this being one I will make again and again.

And should you wish to try this yourself (I promise you won't regret it) here is my version of the recipe:

Blackberry with Scotch Cheesecake (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need a 9" (23 cm) springform pan. Preheat the oven to 190 deg C (170 fan), 375 deg F

  • 140g sifted plain flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 112g butter
Either in a food processor or by hand rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it is the texture of breadcrumbs. Spread this mixture into the unbuttered pan and press down with your fingers or the back of a spoon to make a firm crust. Bake for 20 -25 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile prepare the filling
  • 550g Philadelphia cream cheese (don't be tempted to buy the light version)
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Drambuie
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 150g caster sugar plus 1 tablespoon
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 200g frozen blackberries
  • 415g sour cream
  • Put the lemon juice and rind into a small bowl. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl and using a hand mixer, beat the cheese until soft and smooth.
  • Beat in 1 teaspoon of vanilla, the Drambruie and cinnamon followed by the 150g sugar
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Carefully butter the sides of the pan by brushing a little melted butter down the sides to the top of the crust.
  • Pour the mixture over the baked crust and then evenly place the blackberries, one by one, over the cheese mixture, gently pushing them down so they are partly submerged.
  • Bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the sides of the cake have risen and browned  but there is still a wobble in the centre.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile mix the sour cream with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence. When cake has stood for 20 minutes pour the sour cream mixture over the top and bake for another 5 minutes.
  • Cool in the tin before turning out and then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
If you want to add a fruit topping, in a small saucepan heat up 150g blackberries with a tablespoon of lemon juice and a couple of tablepoons of sugar, to taste. Simmer until the fruit is soft and then push through a sieve to make a thin puree. Allow to cool and add a dash of Drambuie before artistically splattering over your cake!



Sunday 14 August 2016

A Snapshot of my week

I seem to have settled into a regular routine of baking and other domestic chores of late, so it was an unexpected surprise when I was asked to demo for Art Van Go at the Festival of Quilts at the last minute. Having only a couple of days to gather supplies and decide what to demonstrate certainly focuses the mind but after rearranging some other commitments I arrived at the NEC on Thursday morning raring to go!

I travelled up with Anna Pye, my friend, neighbour and talented printmaker and we both had a fabulous day. We talked to people all day long, demonstrated some of our artwork and generally had a wonderful time. This is before the doors opened to the public.

I was stitching these little brooches... if you want to give this a try yourself you can find a tutorial to buy here in my Etsy shop.

Meanwhile, there have been three birthday cakes this week... this one for a friend who is a keen blacksmith in his spare time. His reaction when he saw the cake made it so worthwhile.

A rather serious looking cake for a young lady who has political aspirations... but the serious exterior hid a frivolous cake inside. A strawberry daiquiri sponge... three layers of vanilla sponge soaked in a strawberry rum syrup and sandwiched together with a lime buttercream and rum soaked strawberries!

And finally another layered sponge cake today. I've a couple of days off before more birthday cakes next week.

There was also more farm shop baking this week and this was my table on Friday morning. The cakes and jam are selling well at last.

And today I managed a couple of hours in the garden. Since breaking my ankle I've not been able to do much gardening. Although Stewart cuts the grass he's no Monty Don... and the weeds have taken over, so much so I decided that one bed needed clearing competely. I hadn't bargained on help from my under gardener though, who proved to be very good at digging, although perhaps a little too enthusiastically!

What... me?

Monday 8 August 2016


One of the perks of supplying cakes to the farm shop is sometimes, Linda, the owner turns up with a glut of some over ripe fruit or another. Four weeks ago it was a big bag of black bananas... there was a lot of banana cake that week. A week ago she brought me twelve punnets of strawberries that were just turning past their best. As I was about to go away for a few days I chopped them up and put them in the freezer... all 6kg of them!

Today I decided I ought to do something with them so I began a jam making marathon... prolonged because the first batch didn't set. Strawberries are not very high in pectin so it is not easy to obtain a set, especially when the fruit is over ripe. I used jam sugar with added pectin, plus some lemon juice:
1.5 kg strawberries, 1.25 kg jam sugar, juice of one and a half lemons

And eventually after boiling it all up I've ended up with 35 jars of softly set Strawberry Jam, which will now find its way back to the farm shop

And while I was stirring and simmering I remembered a book I used to read to my boys when they were little...they loved the story of Mr. Castle and his jam making exploits.

A super efficient stay at home Dad, Mr Castle makes plum jam from the fruit tree in his garden. As more plums drop he makes more and more jars of jam until eventually he is fillng every container in the house from the tea pot to flower vases. The family end up eating jam with every meal - jam in their porridge, jam in their lunch time sandwiches, jam roly poly after their dinner... "Their days were full of jam eating and their nights of dreams all dripping with jam." Just as they finish their last pot of jam they hear the thud of a plum falling on the roof... a whole year has past and it all starts again!

I've kept a box of all the favourite picture books from my boys' favourites too, I love a good picture book... so I was delighted to find I had kept our copy of "Jam".
 I think I might have made quite enough Strawberry jam for one year though!

Wednesday 3 August 2016

As One Door Closes...

I'm back this evening from a fun few days at Missenden Abbey for the last summer school with Adult Learning. I've been going to the Abbey for about 17 years as both a student and a tutor and have stayed in many of their study bedrooms... all perfectly comfortable and functional, even if the bathrooms tend to be a bit snug. So imagine my surprise when I was given the "Abbey Suite" on Sunday evening. I had a huge bedroom with a bed that was wider than it was long, a very roomy bathroom along my own corridor...

and a living room with a second TV. I felt like royalty!

I was teaching a Stitched Graffiti Art class to a small group of only six ladies and on the first day we had a bit of a warm up by using the machine as a painting tool and they produced this wonderful selection of little brooches.

As well as enjoying the teaching and the wonderful surroundings of Missenden Abbey itself, one of the other things I love is being able to walk in the surrounding countryside when I am there, something I've not been able to do on my last couple of visits due to being on crutches. So I was looking forward to some nice walks this week but unfortunately it has been a bit wet and drizzly for the past few days. However this morning the sun made an appearance so I had a stroll up to the parish church after breakfast and before class started.

The views over the valley are beautiful and I took a few moments to take it in and watch a pair of Red Kites hovering and soaring over the churchyard before heading back past the Roald Dahl memorial bench... I've written more about it here.

Back in the classroom, each student worked on their own designs for a "Graffiti" piece and although they need finishing off at home, these are the wonderful results:

"Create" by Sue in a fabulous font

"One in a Million" by Barbara... a special gift for her husband

"Cheers" by Valerie... very cheerful!

"Not One Hectare More" by Wendy... a comment on the destruction of the forests of Borneo

"Perspective" by Janet. I think this says much about me that my eye picks out the P and R and I see "Prosecco". Once Janet has finished the outline there won't be any confusion about what it says!
"Cats Rule" by Pasqua in a lovely crisp font.

And so it many ways it has felt like an ending but the atmosphere at the Abbey this week hasn't been down beat bacause as one door has closed another has opened. Although this is the end of Missenden Abbey Adult Learning in its present form, two of the adult learning staff have started a new company that will be running creative courses over weekends in the coming year.

The website of Missenden School of Creative Arts will be live very soon but you can go there now and register an interest, which means you will be the first to hear about new courses as they are added. And with a bit of luck I'll be back in Great Missenden next spring!