Friday 31 March 2017

The Evolution of a Book Club

I have written about the fact that I belong to two book clubs before...  One where we read books every month and the other where we don't! I may have even already mentioned how it is that I to belong to a book club where we don't read books... but I'm about to tell you again. Feel free to go away and come back next time if you've heard it before. To be fair as individuals we do all read a lot of books between us but not necessarily the same ones, however I digress.

Many years ago in a village near us there was a book club with members who were erudite and well read. The books they chose to read and discuss were worthy tomes filled with challenging ideas and deep themes, deserving of discussion. So when one particular member put forward the suggestion that one month they might read something a little lighter, frivolous even, there were mutterings and tuts and it was generally frowned upon. So in true anarchical style a break away group was formed of six or seven friends who just enjoyed a good book... And I was invited to join this little revolutionary group.

That was about seventeen years ago and in the beginning, every couple of months we met and took it in turns to suggest a book which we all read and then discussed in a gathering involving wine and nibbles, at one of our homes. We wanted a name for our club and after the first few books we realised that so far every book we had read had at least one sex scene and so "The Mucky Book Club" was born... or MBC as we became known! As the years passed, there was less emphasis on the books or the necessity for "mucky" content and far more emphasis on the wine and nibbles which evolved into full blown sharing suppers. We continued to meet and bring along books we had enjoyed to share with the others but even that has stopped in recent times. We now meet to eat, drink and chat and generally laugh and have a good time. As it was my turn to host recently I picked a tapas theme to the evening. Everyone brought along a dish or two along with a bottle of wine and as you see we had an absolute feast. There was tortilla, stuffed tomatoes, chorizo, devilled prawns, patatas bravas, artichokes, olives, sardines... it really was a feast and all so good.

There was much laughter as always and a wide range of topics discussed from funerals to flannels (the wash cloth variety... I'll say no more other than one of our group is a carer), pets to whiskery chins (female ones, we are with the exception of one, all of a certain age), travel and old age and all sorts of other things too... the only book discussed was the "Life in the UK" handbook because one of our group LeeAnne is an Australian citizen who has recently taken the Life in the UK test! She knows an awful lot more about UK life than the rest of us!

By the time pudding was served we were all very mellow indeed... Or slightly deranged if my face is anything to go by!

In keeping with the Spanish theme I made a Tarta Di Santiago, a cake of oranges and almonds eaten widely across Spain to celebrate the feast day of St James. It isn't a dagger you see before you...  but the cross of St. James 

I love Christine's face in this photo... very appreciative of the cake!

So no books, but good food, good wine, good conversation and most importantly good friends. And on Christine's suggestion it looks like we might just be changing the name of our little group, keeping MBC but altering it to the Munch & Banter Club!

As for my other book club, where although we do all read the same books each month it is never snobbish or elitist and we get through a wide range of topics from the deep and worthy ones to the frivolous too, we are currently reading The Muse by Jessie Burton. It's not often a story keeps me gripped right to the last page but this one did. The story is set between 1960's London where Odelle, recently arrived from Trinidad, is about to embark on a new job in an Art Gallery... one that will change her life, and in 1936 in rural Spain amid revolutionary uprising. The stories gradually come together solving the puzzle of a mystery painting. It is a pacy story, full of suspense and I can definitely recommend it.

Our book club choice last month was A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding. I didn't read it before the meeting as I didn't really fancy this account of Litvinenko's assasination but after the meeting I was intrigued to find out more so borrowed a copy. It's one that I'm dipping in and out of in between reading His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet which I'm really enjoying.

Reading anything good lately?

Saturday 25 March 2017

Ely Markets... the follow up tour!

I don't think we could have picked a more beautiful morning for a visit to Ely's market. It's always a pleasure to visit Ely and whenever we come we always wonder why we don't venture out here more often. There is the magnificent cathedral, beautiful riverside walks, independent shops and tea rooms, free city centre parking and of course a fabulous market which was the purpose of our visit. You may remember we had a tour of the market's food stalls back in September and we returned this morning for another chance to sample the wonderful produce available.

We started the morning at The Lemon Tree Deli, run by Debbie and her husband. They started out with a market stall but have successfully transitioned to running an independent shop, which is not surprising given the wonderful fare we sampled.

We tried a savoury "afternoon tea" in the form of a cheese scone with cream cheese and a tasty chutney, some cheese and crackers with an amazing chilli marmalade ( I really want to try making that!)  and then some lovely sweet treats - chocolate orange brownies, caramel shortbread and good old fashioned bread pudding. It was tempting to clear the plates but we knew there was plenty more to come!

The next stop was to see Suzannah who is relatively new to the market. She runs Hum-Closen who work with small producers in rural Europe, bringing natural organic wines and raw milk cheeses to the UK. We sampled several of the excellent cheeses, buying a very tasty "1924 Roquefort"  blue cheese to bring home and also tried  the Prosecco Suzannah is holding. Okay, I know it was only 10.30 am but do not judge me... it would have been rude not too! And in case you were wondering it was light and refreshing, not a typical Prosecco should you be used to the supermarket stuff but delicious nevertheless!

And with it being Mother's Day in the UK tomorrow we all appreciated the blackboard sign!

Next was another newcomer to the market Jonathon, The Dessert Man, who specialises yummy desserts... as you might have guessed from the name! We got to sample millionaire's shortbread and brownies, both very good, and if that wasn't enough we all got a slice of cheesecake to bring home. I'm looking forward to my Mint Aero cheesecake later!

From there we went to see Andrew who runs the food cart I am Dumpling. We sampled Andrew's wonderful food last time we were in Ely and once again he didn't disappoint. Excellent quality Asian dumplings served with fresh herbs, fried shallots, sesame seeds and freshly prepared sauces... plus excellent and entertaining conversation from Andrew whilst we waited for our dumplings to steam.

Next up was Al Chili, one of my favourite stops last time. This is a food truck founded by Mexican brothers Octavio and German, serving authentic Mexican food. Unfortunately the samples this time were meat based so I didn't get to try them but I was very tempted by the slow cooked pork tacos... and that's from someone who hasn't eatem meat in over twenty years!

From there we headed to Ely Gin who were celebrating their fifth birthday. Nancy and her husband are another Ely Markets success story having started with a market stall and now they run a shop and a successful online business. They have launched a "Breakfast Marmalade" gin to mark their fifth anniversary and we got to try it... it was after midday by now, okay... and in case you were wondering, it was good! We also sampled some fun gin " infusions"... little bags of herbs and flavourings that you can infuse into your gin... hooray for gin teabags! The strawberry and mint was very tasty.

After that we scooted by George's Bakery, picking up some cakes for later and headed to Replete to try some delicious flatbreads...

and then we stopped at Lizzie's stall to try some of her vegan food which I enjoyed far more this time around... good savoury rolls and scotchless scotch eggs.

After that it was time to visit another newcomer Cha Kombucha where Esther introduced us to her fermented green tea, which I never even knew was a thing. It was surprisingly refreshing and apparently very good for us... possibly a good thing after all the cake and alcohol consumed. Although I confess that the scoby culture that was growing in the fermenting tea was rather alarming!

It was then time to try some delicious preserves from Cambridge Preserves Kitchen, where I bought a jar of raher good beetroot and orange chutney. We then moved on to Sudesh and his Luxury Samosas. All I can say is that these were the best samosa I have ever tasted... and no Sudesh, I don't say that to all the samosa sellers! These were cooked on site in a giant wok in true street food style.

We also got to sample some delicious African inspired chilli sauces from Madam Sunshine who was indeed very sunny and smiley! Her sauces were very good too!

And we finsihed our tour at Silver Oak Coffee where we ate cakes from George as well as fabulous cakes from Audrey too. All of Audrey's cakes are vegan and although it feels a little insulting to say so... you would never guess!

I'm not a big coffee drinker but it was very good coffee!

So yet again, a fabulous tour of the passionate food and drink producers and suppliers at Ely Market. Many thanks to Michelle for organising it as well as to the team from Ely markets. If you are close enough to Ely for a day out then I urge you to just do it... don't put it off, just go! And if you live too far away then please make yourself a cuppa and spend half an hour clicking on the links checking out what these people have to offer. Not only becase I think it is increasingly important to support small independent suppliers... and these are all excellent independent suppliers... but it also took ages to add all the links and write this post... make it worth my while!

You can find the general market open on Thursday, Craft and Collectables along with the street food every Saturday, the farmers market on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month and there are also Sunday and bank holiday markets as well as special events.

And I would like to finsih by saying it has taken so long to write this that I've now eaten my dinner and have finished my mint aero cheesecake from The Dessert Man which was top class!

Monday 20 March 2017

Pina Colada

It's Cake Slice Bakers time again already, when I join in with other bloggers on the 20th of each month to bake from World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. This month our choices were a rather lovely sounding banana loaf (tempting), an extravagant multi layered coffee chocolate cake (maybe just a bit too much work involved), a mandarin, polenta and macademia cake (also tempting) and a Greek coconut cake, that for various reasons I decided to make.

My eldest son's girlfriend is Greek and a keen baker/cook and has shared some lovely Greek recipes with me so I thought it would be fun to try this... although I was then disappointed to read this traditional cake is usually made with semolina but not so in this recipe! Also, consistant with my past experience of this book, the oven temperature and timings seemed way off the mark, which I think could really throw an inexperienced baker. Which is a shame as there are some fabulous looking cakes... but I digress.

The amount of mixture specified in the recipe was vast. There were vat loads of batter so I actually made it in two 23 cm (9") cake tins rather than just the one and I added the coconut toffee topping to just one of them as I had plans for this cake!

As it happens last week I attended another Clandestine Cake Club meeting in Cambridge and the theme for the evening was beverages. For some reason when I saw this coconut cake I immediately thought about Pina Colada. I've always thought coconut and pineapple make a lovely combination of flavours in a cake... although absolutely vile in a cocktail!

So I took my two relatively plain coconut cakes, soaked them in a rum syrup (rather than the specified lemon syrup), then sandwiched them together with a layer of pineapple conserve (made very easily from a tin of pineapple in juice) and some coconut buttercream. I finished the whole lot off with some piped buttercream and dried pineapple flowers.

I don't think I have ever made such an enormous cake!

It did look so pretty when I photographed it at home...

But after driving it into Cambridge and then walking with it from the car park, I took the lid off the box to reveal a bit of a disaster... the entire top had slid off and the pineapple and buttercream had oozed everywhere. The photo below is after I had attempted a rescue. I guess I should be grateful that at least the whole lot hadn't slid onto the floor like last month!

Fortunately everyone seemed to agree that it tasted really good even if it looked a mess. And I managed to bring what remained into my class the following day where it was also well received.

I think it might have said something about our Clandestine Cake Club that the majority of offerings for our beverage theme were alcoholic. There was a delicious limoncello cake and a strawberry Pimms sponge sandwich.

A chocolate Guinness cake and a peach, blueberry and amaretto sponge (yummy!) also made an appearance, along side a coffee chocolate cake and a tea loaf

Despite appearances I can definitely recommend the coconut cake and this is my version of the recipe:

Greek Coconut Cake (adapted from World Class Cakes)
You will need two 9" (23cm) cake tins, greased and lined. Preheat the oven to 170 deg C (150 fan)
  • 9 large eggs, beaten
  • 455g caster sugar
  • 315g self raising flour, sifted
  • 225g butter
  • 300g dessicated coconut
  • 50g caster sugar
  • juice of a lemon
  • 100ml white rum 
Toffee topping
  • 150 ml double cream
  • 80g soft brown sugar
  • 100g shredded coconut
  •  Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy
  • With a hand mixer, add the beaten eggs a little at a time, with a spoonful of flour with each addition, to prevent curdling
  • Fold in the remaining flour and the coconut until well mixed.
  • Divide between the two tins and bake for approximately 1 hour (the book says to bake one cake at 150 deg (130 fan) for an hour and a half to two hours)
  • While the cake is baking make the syrup by combining the caster sugar, the juice of a lemon and the white rum in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar
  • When the cakes come out of the oven, brush the tops with the drizzle until it is all used up.
  • Cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then make the coconut topping.
  • For one cake combine the double cream and soft brown sugar in a small pan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the shredded coconut and then pour the mixture over one of the cakes. Turn up the oven temperature to 190 deg C (170 fan) and return the cake to the oven for ten minutes or so until the top has browned.
  • Allow to cool for ten minutes and then turn out of the tin. The cake is perfectly delicious as it is (and you can freeze one for later) or you can go the whole hog like me and sandwich together with the fillings of your choice, where you will have a cake that is impossible to cut, tastes amazing and is big enough to feed about thirty people!
You can see what the others have baked this month here:


Thursday 16 March 2017

A Vintage Knit

It has been lovely to have had some warmer weather this week, but I've not been ready to ditch my sweaters just yet. Then I remembered this sleeveless top, perfect for warmer days, lurking in the back of my wardrobe that I knitted... thirty five years ago!

There have been many knits in the intervening years and not many have been worn as much as this one or lasted anything as long, but every time I think maybe I should get rid of it, I can't quite let it go.

I know it is thirty five years old because I knitted it when I was expecting my first son. I remember finishing teaching at the end of the summer term and going away on holiday to Switzerland, where being heavily pregnant I spent a lot of time sitting in the hotel garden in the shadow of the Jungfrau, knitting, knowing it would never fit me at the time because I had such a big bump! It's made from a fine, very soft Phildar yarn that has lovely blue flecks of silk and it took forever on 2.25 mm needles. I knitted lots of baby things in Phildar yarn at the time too, but I'm not sure it's available anymore. Do you have any old garments, homemade or otherwise, you can't bear to part with?

There's not been much knitting going on of late, although I did finish another pair of these Camp Out Mitts recently.

When I do eventually get to sit down in the evening I've been picking up my rag rug rather than knitting, enjoying watching the squares grow, but no doubt I'll change back to some knitting soon when the fancy takes me.

Which is just as well because I've got a cardigan to finish that has been on and off for far too long, and then another one ready to start. There are just not enough hours in the day!

Sunday 12 March 2017

Walk the Walk

I keep mentioning walking and training so though it about time I told you what I'm walking and training for! Ever since Gill and I did our Starlight walk, over four years ago, I've had an idea that I would like to do the London Moonwalk... which has nothing to do with Michael Jackson but is an overnight marathon length walk around the streets of London.

And as this is my sixty x sixty year I thought it was now or never. So I am training to walk 26.2 miles, wearing only a decorated bra on my top half... although I'll be doing that during the actual walk, not while I'm training, lest I attract undue attention to myself. And besides it's too blimin' cold for such scanty dress at the moment! I'm hoping it will warm up by May.

The idea is to raise money for breast cancer charities and as I have had three friends battle with this disease it seems a worthy cause for which to raise a bit of cash. I promise I won't keep nagging but if anyone out there fancies parting with the odd pound or two I have an online fundraising page here:

It was all going so well until I stubbed my toe and now that seems okay I'm plagued with blisters. In all the years I used to run I never suffered with blisters but I'm currently sporting three! It's okay I won't subject you to photos of my feet again. Part of the problem is I've been wearing new shoes which are taking some breaking in... they were fine in the shop and around the house and fine the first couple of times I wore them out walking. Then having lured me into a false sense of security they rubbed like mad when I went out for a six mile walk on Saturday. But it will take more than a few blisters to stop me and I am quite determined that by May 13th/14th I'll have another achievement to add to my sixty x sixty list.

 And talking sixty x sixty... I added something else to the list on Saturday. I gave a short presentation about wine at a wining tasting event on Saturday evening. It was a fun, informal evening in the village hall to raise funds for the local church so nothing serious but I was still very nervous beforehand. And although it may look like my friend Peter would rather be somewhere else, (I'm kidding Peter!) mostly people laughed in the right places and seemed to be listening... and even if they were just being polite, at least I didn't go on for too long!

 And this was the wine I presented... a rather nice Italian Merlot from the Veneto region... which we are not downing from tumblers should you wonder, but from some rather lovely "stemless" wine glasses that we won in the raffle!

Friday 10 March 2017

Since I was last here...

It was never my intention to be away from here all week but you know how life gets in the way...

I've been walking...

After four days of not being able to wear ordinary shoes, lying around on the sofa and icing and elevating, the swelling and bruising have reduced and it seems as though my toe may not be broken after all. Just badly bruised. It is still a little uncomfortable but at least I've been out walking again this week. I've just discovered the Map My Walk App with which I confess I'm a little obsessed!

I've been baking...

The first week back baking for the farm shop has gone quite well but I've also done some baking for us and I made a lemon cheesecake last weekend... which also meant making lemon curd. We didn't eat it all ourselves - the cheesecake was shared with friends. Both were good!

I've been teaching...

It might seem that all I do is bake but once a week I still go off to teach machine embroidery to a lovely group of ladies in Letchworth. The beautiful bangles were some some of a selection made using water soluble fabrics.

And the pebble fabrics were the result of our latest project based on a tutorial by Alex Waylett. The little purse was made by Sue who was completely new to machine embroidery at the beginning of September

As too were Carol and Michelle who made these beautiful fabrics.

Ann turned hers into a beautiful beaded bag.
My own mojo for creating machine embroidered projects seems to have totally disappeared though! I need to get back to my sketchbooks I think!

I've been eating well...

It's not just been cheesecake and other sweet treats this week, but we are still sticking to our healthy eating regime of fabulous home cooked meals with loads of fresh vegetables, keeping sugar and processed foods to a minimum. These Corn and Chickpea burgers were surprisingly good... especially with the sweet potato chips.
I'm constantly on the look out for new recipes to expand my repetoire so thought that I might join in with Penny's Cookery Calendar Challenge this month.

I've had this book, Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour for about a year now and except for some rather wonderful date and cinnamon scones I've never used it. You'll need to come back at the beginning of April to see what I've cooked.

So that's my week really... how has your week been?