Wednesday 30 August 2017

An Extra Slice

Okay... so what was the point of my last post? I did what I hate other people doing i.e. refering to something and then not actually telling you about it, like I was being all mysterious! Not really a mystery at all except I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice and was asked to bring a cake. Having been to the final show of the last series it was quite exciting to go to the first one this time. The theme was illusion cakes so I chose to make a cake that looked like one of the new presenters, Noel Fielding... well, sort of!

It was a liquorice and chocolate cake with a blackcurrant filling which I thought would be unusual, dark and mysterious... a bit like the man himself. The show organisers seem to like it and I was chosen to be one of the audience who got interviewed. I say interviewed... Jo Brand spoke to me and asked me one question before moving on. I think I might have blown my five minutes of fame as I was neither funny nor scintillating and there were others far more entertaining than me so I doubt I'll make the final edit. But do watch Chanel 4 tomorrow evening (Thursday) and you might catch a glimpse of me and my cake. My money is on the brocolli baking vicar being featured but we'll have to wait and see. And do look out for my very new best friend Mr. Baker and his phenomenal life size 'mixer' cake.

So did you watch the actual Bake Off last night? The reception on social media seems to be mixed but I really enjoyed it and although the adverts are annoying at least it is a chance to pour another cup of tea (or in our case champagne... but I'm going to be mysterious again and tell you you'll have to wait to hear about that)... or pop out for a quick wee break!

Just like last year I thought I might join in with the technical challenge each week and so have spent rather a large part of today making chocolate mini rolls. As you might guess, I didn't stick to the time that the bakers were allotted, just two hours... but in my defence I have made a cheesecake as well!

Let's just say they are not easy and I have huge respect for the twelve bakers on the show who turned out a dozen of these, in a tent under the scrutiny of cameras and in a limited time. Making the sponge and buttercream was relatively straightforward and even rolling them up wasn't too bad, but covering them in chocolate quite another matter. Mine are far from perfect, with squidges and smudges, lumps and bumps... and I daren't describe the chocolate carnage in my kitchen when I finished. My face was almost as bad... Mrs. chocolate chops, that's me!

There was barely enough chocolate to cover them and it thickened as I worked making it very difficult. There was much scraping up of chocolate that had dripped onto the parchment and reheating it so it was liquid enough to pour. But I did manage to turn out twelve mishapen mini rolls. My swiss roll tins are different sizes so my mini rolls vary quite a bit in size too, but I doubt anyone around here is going to complain.

I followed this recipe pretty much to the letter, but opted not to put peppermint in my buttercream for fear of the toothpaste effect. Instead I added a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of milk to make sure that it was nice and soft and spreadable. I think I got a half decent swirl too.

And although they look 'rustic' they taste pretty good, and have a lovely light texture, if a little too sweet for my taste. It made me realise that I have never actually tasted a commercial mini roll so I can't even tell you if they are "as good as shop" as my ex-mother in law used to say!

Looking forward to next week... biscuits and I'm guessing fortune cookies! Who knows, I might even attempt them in the time limit.

Monday 28 August 2017

Being Mysterious!

It's not going to wash with you guys if I tell you it was another crazy week is it? I know, I know... they are all crazy but there really were so many cakes to make over the past seven days that I'm not sure why I thought I was cutting back on the baking. But I was determined to fit in a little bit of art and dug out my gelli plate to do some printing for half an hour one morning.

It has been a while and I was out of practise but soon got the hang of it again.

And sticking to a palatte of blues and greens, in no time at all I had covered a large sheet of paper with a variety of marks.

I have a little challenge going on and these prints may end up as part of something else, they may not. Much will depend on how much time I have this week. Which all sounds very mysterious, but it's not! I just want to wait until I have a finished item that has ended up with its recipient before I show you more.

There has however been some mysterious cake baking and you really will have to wait until later this week before I tell you more about that too... It has all to do with the new series of the Great British Bake Off which returns to our screens this Tuesday on Chanel 4. And no, I'm not on the show but I have had a sneak preview and it is looking really good - a seamless transfer from the BBC in fact. The show is exactly the same with a diverse mix of lovely contestants, a signature bake, a technical challenge and a show stopper. And the new presenters are great. Noel Fielding is the surprise wild card but he is very funny and works well with Sandi Toksvig. And Pru Leith has stepped quite comfortably into Mary Berry's shoes.

So as I can't show you my surprise bake just yet I'll leave you with this one instead... and should I forget to show you what I baked you might just see it on Chanel 4 on Thursday evening. Maybe!

Monday 21 August 2017

An Olive Oil Cake

After a bit of a break I have been tempted back to join in with The Cake Slice Bakers this month. Each month, the bakers choose a cake from a choice of four from World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. The choices this month were a Hummingbird Cake, which sounded a lot like a carrot cake but with pureed pineapple, M'hanncha, a nutty filo 'snake' filled with sweet nut mixture, a Strawberry & Marjoram tart and an Olive Oil cake. I admit that I could have quite happily made all four they sounded so good, but in the interest of our waistlines I stuck to the Olive Oil Cake with Fresh Peaches.

As I happened to have them in the house I used nectarines rather than peaches which I'm sure made no difference to the outcome. In fact I think any stone fruit like plums or apricots would also work well. I also opted for a light olive oil rather than anything too heavy and fruity but then changed my mind once I got all the ingredients ready and used half light oil and half extra virgin olive oil.

It was incredibly quick and easy to put together and I had high hopes at this stage!

But when I tested the cake after the recommended 40 minutes it was nowhere near cooked. I kept checking every 5 minutes but the skewer kept coming out still covered in wet batter until it had had almost double the time in the oven. I know that my oven is pretty accurate but think the problem is that I baked the cake in the recommended 7" tin whereas I think it would have worked better in a larger tin, resulting in a shallower cake but one that cooked in the recommended time.

It looked good and had a lovely crumb, but unfortunately it was just too dry from having spent too long in the oven and didn't deliver on the lovely light texture promised.

The flavour however was excellent and it was certainly good with a large dollop of creme fraiche to add some moisture.

Should you wish to try it yourself I have given the tin size and cooking times as specified in the book but I would definitely use a larger tin if I made it again and might even be tempted to add an orange drizzle.

Olive Oil Cake with Fresh Peaches (adapted from World Class Cakes)
You will need  a 7" round springform tin, greased and lined (although I would use at least 8"). Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan), 350 deg F
  • 3 large eggs
  • 250g caster sugar
  • grated rind from one large orange
  • 140g plain flour, sifted
  • 140g self raising flour, sifted
  • 125 ml olive oil (1/2 cup)
  • 85 ml whole milk (1/3 cup)
  • 2 peaches or nectarines, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of apricot jam, warmed and strained
  •  In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar and orange zest until pale.
  • Whisk in the flours in three batches alternating with the oil and milk
  • Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for ten minutes
  • Remove the cake from the oven and carefully arrange the slices of peach on top of the cake.
  • Return to the oven and bake for a further 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  • Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out brush the top of the cake with the warm apricot jam and serve warm or cold.

I optimistically had a slice for my breakfast this morning, hoping the texture might have improved overnight but unfortunately it was still a little on the dry side and I couldn't help thinking it would be greatly improved doused in sherry at the bottom of a trifle! But it has been fun joining in with this lovely group of bakers again and I hope to bake more regularly with them in future... having said in my last post there would be a shift in focus in my life from cake to more textile art! The plan is for more sewing today but that is after I have finished the scones, granola bars and cakes for the coffee shop! Do check out what the other bakers have made.



Thursday 17 August 2017

A Shift in Focus

Almost two years ago, after a lot of serious thinking I decided to cut back on my machine embroidery and teaching and explore different avenues... namely cake baking. Many of my regular classes were being cut back and there had been a noticeable fall off of interest in things like Open Studios etc. This combined with a change in our personal circumstances meant that I could no longer afford to belong to the exhibiting group Prism and I also need to secure a more regular income, hence my baking business Apricot and Fig was born. It was and continues to be moderately successful but I have never stopped with the embroidery, it has just been lower key. However I have reached a decision point again. I spend a lot of time on the baking, especially on the shopping and the book keeping as well as hours on my feet actually baking and decorating cakes for fairly low returns. To move forward, I would need to convert a room (probably my studio) into a store room/office, buy and store in bulk and up my production considerably. In other words it would need to become full time. But that is not what I really want.

After a couple of remarks from people along the lines that they thought I had given up textiles altogether, I decided that I needed to have a rethink, which coincided with some new classes being planned and several enquiries about other weekends away teaching. And so there will be another shift in focus as I re-launch my art career. I won't stop baking cakes (I don't think I'll ever stop baking cakes) but the textiles and art will come first once again.

Which is all quite funny when you look at my latest sample made for some forthcoming classes. I posted the first photo on social media and one person thought it was an open sandwich with some fancy bacon, three people thought it was cake and my friend Isobel, who at least identified it as embroidery, wondered why it was on toast! I can only concude there has been too much food and not enough embroidery around here of late.

It is neither bacon, nor cake but free machine embroidery on scrim worked on water soluble fabric, enhanced with beads and mounted onto a book cover of painted pelmet vilene, not toast!

Because as well as embroidery I'm going to be teaching some basic book making too, so it will be a double duty sample.

Meanwhile I'm continuing to enjoy painting with my Mum and last Saturday saw us take a water colour class with artist Ali Lindley. I was way out of my comfort zone with this. We were painting birds just using big brushes and after four unsuccessful attempts I finally ended up with this, which is just about passable. Well at least it is recognisable as a painting of an owl rather than an item of food!

I'm hoping that by improving my painting skills it will improve my artwork all round so at least my embroidery will stop looking like bacon sandwiches!

Tuesday 15 August 2017

A Tale of Two Cardigans

This is a tale that actually starts eight years ago when Gill and I visited a knitwear exhibition and saw this "Gina" Jacket by Marion Foale.

Having decided it was something I really had to have, Gill sourced a suitable pattern that was similar enough to the original that I could adapt it, and I invested in some rather luxurious wool yarn. Several months later, despite doing tension squares and pattern swatches I had knitted an over sized sack. It lay neglected for a long time until four years later I decided the yarn really was too good to waste and so it was unravelled and washed and I started to knit this cardigan instead. I finished the back and realised that once again it was knitting up far too big.

Fast forward another two years and it was unravelled again, I went down two needle sizes and started all over again but I've struggled with motivation. I picked it up between other projects doing a little bit here and a little bit there until a couple of months ago I decided I really must finish it and so here it is, having only taken four years, in it's final incarnation!(I'm trying very hard to look like the model in the photo!)

In truth it could still do with being a size smaller, especially on the arms, but I'm definitely not starting again. And I like it enough enough that I wore it out for a special birthday treat last week when Gill took me to The Orchard in Granchester for afternoon tea. Did you ever see such a huge plateful of food! It was delicious but we both had to take doggy bags home... not that the dog got anything I brought back! Especially after photo bombing me!

It was lovely to see Gill and catch up as I don't see nearly enough of her since she moved to Norfolk. Afterwards we had a wander around the parish church and the churchyard in Granchester. Gill has written all about it here.

I think Gill was hoping we might bump into James Norton but it must have been his day off!

And as afternoon tea at The Orchard is something I have never done before I've added it to my sixty by sixty list. An awful lot of things on my sixty by sixty seem to involve cake!

Saturday 12 August 2017

Speed Queen!

Overheard at home:
"So what else can I add to my 60 x 60 list?"
"Hot air balloon?"... "Done it", "Water skiing?"... "Done it", "Absailing?"... "Done it", "Bungee Jump?"... "Never doing it... ever"
"But I've never riden a motor bike before and I'd really like to do that!"

My brother!

In fact given that my Dad rode motorbikes when he and Mum met, and my brother has not only ridden bikes since he was sixteen but now races Rally bikes, I'm not sure how I've managed to get to sixty never having ridden one before. My brother offered to take me out for a spin but given he lives an hour away and we never seemed to be able coordinate a time when we were both free and the weather was fine, it looked like it was never going to happen... that was until a friend from just up the road offered to take me out.

Last Sunday the sun was shining so Mike gave me a call to see if I fanced going out... oh yes! We started out gently on the small roads around the villages until we ended up on the by-pass... and then we went really fast (I will not incriminate either Mike or myself by telling you how fast) and I absolutely loved it! It was brilliant! So much so that I think I would really like to learn to ride my own bike, although financially it's not really an option right now. I'll never say never though (except for bungee jumping, of course).

Me and my grandad circa 1958

And then when I was looking through some old photos I found I had actually been on a motor bike before, although I don't think it moved very far!

Wednesday 9 August 2017

A Day in My Life...

Given that I only seem able to post once a week lately and when I do it's a condensed version of the entire week in one post, inspired by Christina's post here, I thought it might be fun to ring the changes and give you a condensed version of my average day instead... not that there is ever an average day around these parts. Of course there is a chance I'll bore the pants off you and you'll never come back, but I'll take that risk because I always enjoy reading about other people's daily routines but maybe I'm just nosey! So this was yesterday...

  • 6.00 am - the alarm goes and although I usually don't mind an early start to the day, often waking long before the alarm, for some reason I want to turn over and snooze for another hour. It may have had something to do with staying up late last night to finish my latest book. The Ashes of London  an historical thriller set in the times of the Great Fire. I found the descriptions of London after the fire interesting even if the plot wasn't terribly engaging at times, so enjoyed it overall... enough to stay up late to finish it anyway.
  • 6.15 am - Old clothes are on and I'm out walking the dog. It is damp, cold and drizzling and feels distinctly autumnal considering it is still early August. I don't let Hector off his lead this morning because I can't be bothered with chasing him if he runs away which he tends to do. He is far more interested in other people and their dogs than he is in me. As it happens we didn't see anyone else out.
  • 7.00 am - Back home and Stewart has made a pot of tea so I pour a mug before heading up to the shower. I don't take the tea in the shower with me!
  • 7.20 am - I drive Stewart to the station, come home and have a second mug of tea whilst looking through a contract for a new teaching job in September.
  • 8.00 am - I make my breakfast. The oats have been soaked the night before with some mixed seeds, raisins and cinnamon. I just have to stir in some fruit (grated apple, grapes and banana) and yogurt. I savour it whilst reading through some favourite blogs. I then spend half an hour trying to learn lines for a play I'm going to be in this October... I've got a lot to learn. But because I'm reading out loud it gets the dog over excited and he starts acting stupid, jumping all over the place and barking so I give up!
  • 9.15 am - I head out to deliver cheese scones and apple cake to the local coffee shop. I made them on Monday and have frozen them so they can use them as required. They still have a lot left from last week, so didn't neeed as much as usual. From there I go on to the funeral of one of our Embroiderers' Guild branch members. As far as these things go it was a lovely service with beautiful singing from the choir she used to sing with but sad too. And as always there were interesting things about her we never knew. Half way through the service I regreted the second mug of tea though! I stopped off at the bank and the supermarket on the way home.
  • 12.30 pm - Back home, I decide that it feels like soup weather, so raid the fridge and find an onion, a chilli, a sweet potato, a butternut squash and a handful of carrots with which I make an orange soup (as opposed to green soup) It took longer than I thought so ended up eating lunch quite late but it made several portions so there is plenty for the rest of the week. I added a splash of creme fraiche and some chives so it would make a pretty photo for Intagram. I also had my eye on a lone cheese scone that was left but youngest son snaffled it whilst I was on the phone to my Mum so I had toast instead.
  • 2.30 pm - I finish off a birthday cake order that came in at the last minute on Sunday. I made the cake on Monday but it needed icing and decorating. I always think these things will take about half hour when in fact it was more like an hour and a half. I'll never get rich making cakes at the hourly rate I'm working for but the customer was pleased.
  • 4.00 pm - I make a cup of tea and spend an hour answering emails and doing some planning for various classes I've got starting in the autumn, ignoring the fact I'm feeling a bit sick... I may have eaten a few too many chocolate buttons and licked too many spoons... possibly.
  • 5.00 pm - it  is time to walk Hector again. We both get very wet... the joys of owning a dog!
  • 6.00 pm - Back home I change into dry clothes and get the dinner prepared ready to cook later and then spend more time on sorting out the admin etc for my classes. I'm determined by the time September arrives I'm going to be organised and on top of the work... you heard it here first!.
  • 7.30 pm - I collect Stewart from the station and drive home and cook the dinner. We have smoked haddock fishcakes on a bed of sauted greens with a curried mayonnaise sauce. It was met with approval all round but then I don't think they would dare complain!
  • 8.15 pm - Dinner is finished and the men have washed up so I retire to the sofa with another cup of tea. I consider knitting as I have just started a new sweater called "Hut 8" from Eden Cottage Yarns. The yarn is a lovely mixture of wool with silk but it is only four ply so it may take me a while. I blame Celia who was wearing a beautiful golden version of this cardigan the last time we met. At least it is knitted in the round so there will be no sewing up. But instead I work on my rag rug which has been put aside for several weeks. I hope to be teaching a rag rugging class later this year so it will be good to have something finished. It's also on my 60 x 60 list as something I have never done before.

  • 10.45 pm - after watching the latest drama on TV followed by the news it is time to head to bed and choose a new book to start reading. I pick up The Light Between Oceans which I think I'm going to enjoy but I only manage one chapter before falling asleep!

Saturday 5 August 2017

Random Moments in Another Week

In a moment of rather ambitious optimism and because I really would like to introduce more art back into my life I thought I might do a little sketchbook project in August... I've done it before, a couple of posts each week with ideas of drawing in sketchbooks*, starting on 1st August with you joining in if you fancied it. 1st August came and went and I can tell you now it's not going to happen. Plenty of other things happened, but not sketchbooks.

  • There was a day out painting with my Mum last week. Despite doing A level art I've not really been taught to paint and especially not painting abstracts in acrylic, so it was new to me. I was aiming for a "buildings along a shoreline" sort of impression and surprised myself in that I actually quite like it. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it mind you... it's big Next week we're off for a day watercolour painting, so looking forward to that.
  • I've grown radishes! Four rows of seeds planted and this was the sum total of my harvest. I had hopes of beautiful jars of pickled radish, but that's another thing that's not going to happen. Since you ask, the bindweed and thistles however are coming on a storm, thank you (speaking of which, storms that is... it's like the tropics out there, torrential rain like I've not seen in a years)
  • The radish may have been disappointing but look... I've grown aubergine! No greenhouse, they are just plonked in the veg beds amid the bindweed! I had to take a photo just in case they don't survive as I'm not sure when they are ready to pick (any advice welcome). Last year I grew melons but the dog thought they were tennis balls... needless to say we didn't get to eat homegrown melon!
  • I was taken out  for tapas by four friends who couldn't make it to my birthday celebrations. It was a lovely evening that started with gin served in goldfish bowls. (okay, not literally). Gin and pink grapefruit is a match made in heaven... just saying! The evening finished with probably a glass too many of red wine and I may have felt a little out of sorts when I walked the dog at 6.15 the following morning. But it was worth it.
  • Stewart has a new job and started on Tuesday, back commuting into London. All going well so far and no cancelled trains... yet.
  • I made a cake... well actually I have made five cakes, brownies, granola bars and cheese scones since Monday but this was probably the prettiest of them all.
  • We watched the athletics on TV and the dog was obsessed. He doesn't usually pay any attention to the telly but I think he was trying to work out how he could chase the runners! Lovely watching Mo win the 10,000m.
So that's another week done and dusted. 
*Should you be the least bit interested and have more time on your hands than me you can find previous sketchbook tutorial posts here and here! I don't think I'll be joining you though.