Wednesday 25 October 2017

Wedding Cakes

Being a completely self taught baker and cake decorator I tend to shy away from doing wedding cakes. Whereas the odd imperfection can be overlooked on a birthday cake, it is a complete no no where weddings are concerned. Wedding cakes have to be perfect! The first wedding cake I ever made was far from perfect... but it was okay because it was my own! Back then I knew nothing about stacking cakes with boards and supports. I just made four different sized chocolate cakes and put one on top of another. I covered the whole lot with chocolate ganache and then slapped white chocolate shavings over the lot. It tasted fantastic but looked a mess! Even the little hand crafted couple on the top (Me and Stewart!) looked somewhat dishevelled! But we ate it with strawberries and cream for dessert at our wedding and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

So when a couple of years ago my friend Ann asked if I could make her wedding cake I was a little hesitant. She assured me that informal and simple was fine. So with some carefully placed flowers and piped dots to hide the cracks, I think I got away with it!

Gradually my confidence and skills increased so when my brother asked could I make his cake this year I was up for the challenge, although I didn't feel quite so confident when I found out what they wanted... Steam Punk meets Alice in Wonderland! There were many hours spent watching YouTube tutorials where I learned how to make cake lace...

And molded decorations like watches...

and roses!

And although I know it was far from perfect, they were happy with the end result.

So knowing perfection had still to be achieved, it was a bit of a risk when I agreed to make the cake for a friend's daughter's wedding. With a woodland theme, their request was for a reasonably simple cake topped with an ivy garland and accompanying cupcakes.

Last week I made 250 sugar paste ivy leaves in preparation and have spent the past two days making the three layer red velvet cake and 72 cupcakes. There were two attempts at getting the red velvet right (I now have a spare cake in my freezer) and I was on my feet baking for about eight hours yesterday. I've not slept well either  and have had recurring dreams of either not finishing it in time or of all the ivy leaves falling off.

Today it was all ready to deliver and set up... but what if I tripped up whilst carrying the boxes and dropped the cake! What if the ivy leaves really did fall off?

I can't tell you how relieved I was once it was all set up with no mishaps.

And was it perfect? Probably not, but it's the happiest I've felt with any cake I've made and I loved the finished display on the fabulous log slice cake board (made by the bride's Mum!)

So am I now ready to take on more wedding cakes? No I don't think so as I'm not sure I can handle the stress... not to mention the lack of sleep. Although I don't think I will get away saying no more wedding cakes with three family weddings next summer!

Sunday 22 October 2017

A Skimpy Outfit

There has been a big disappointment this week that has left me feeling a little less bouncy than usual, but before I explain shall we have some cake?

I must admit that my interest in this year's Bake Off has waned slightly. I didn't really mind the move to Chanel 4 and although I think Noel Fielding does seem a little awkward and out of place at times, mostly the new line up works well... But the bakes? I think they are having a laugh! The technical skill required to make some of the bakes seems way beyond the scope of most amateur bakers and it feels as if they are coming up with more and more obscure and difficult tasks each week. As you know I stepped back from my own personal challenge of doing all the technical bakes the week of the Stroopwafel, not being prepared to buy a wafflemaker just to complete a technical challenge. But I got back into the swing of things with my Portugese Custard Tarts, or Pasteis de Nata, made unnecessarily difficult by the addition of a custard made with a sugar syrup...who on earth makes custard that way? I could have used a different recipe of course (Paul Hollywood uses a completely different method in his baking book) but I've been trying to use the same recipes as the contestants. They weren't too tricky in the end, despite the custard and the results didn't hang about for long. I may have eaten one or two... possibly more, even though I deemed them too sweet.

The next week was Italian week with a ridiculously complicated showstopper challenge to make Sfogliatelle and a tricky signature bake of Cannoli, which are not even baked but fried. The technical bake that week was really simple by comparision - a Margherita Pizza. As I often make pizza from scratch I wasn't going to bother, that was until I got a message from youngest son who was outraged, demanding to know why hadn't I made the technical bake when it was his favourite thing. I sucumbed and made him pizza for lunch. It got the thumbs up!

This week was all about forgotten bakes and mostly I think you can see why they were forgotten. Why would anyone want to bake an oversized architectural Savoy cake, a favourite centerpiece at Victorian banquets, but seldom actually eaten? Or a Bedfordshire clanger containing both sweet and savoury fillings? However the technical bake - a Cumberland Rum Nicky did actually sound quite nice. With a sweet shortcrust base, a lattice top and a rum soaked date, apricot and ginger filling I thought it sounded delicious and I was looking forward to trying it. It didn't disappoint! Especially with a generous helping of rum butter. Once again a helping or two may have been eaten.

So with all this extra baking there wasn't too much chance of me fitting into the skimpy outfit I had lined up for the play... except the play was destined not to happen. It was no ones' fault but despite weeks of rehearsals it really wasn't ready to put on for a paying audience. Although we are just a small AmDram group we do have a good reputation for putting on a high standard of entertainment and so the decision was made it was better to cancel than to put on a substandard performance. It had been in trouble from the start with one cast member having to drop out due to work commitments, another suffering one illness after another, there were lots of tricky movements and some people had an extraordinary amount of lines so we knew it was the right decision. But it was still bitterly disappointing after all the hours learning lines and sitting around at rehearsals... especially with just one week to go until curtain up. But as I've said before, village life is never dull and on Saturday evening there was a chance to dress up in another skimpy outfit as we headed off to a 1960s themed supper.

I got kitted out in a dress that came from our drama group wardrobe and as it happens one that I actually wore about 17-18 years ago to another 1960s themed evening. It wasn't quite so loose fitting as it was back then when I was newly divorced and far too skinny but I squeezed into it even finding the same earrings that I wore all that time ago. We had a fun evening of sixties music, a quiz and a reto supper of prawn cocktail, boeuf bourginon and the most enormous slice of black forest gateau... like I needed more cake. Thankfully I didn't get as drunk as I did the last time I wore it... like I said...newly divorced and somewhat emotionally unstable in retrospect.

So, here I am disappointed and feeling a little down but life goes on... there will be more plays, more cake and no doubt more nights out* before too long, so I along with the other cast members will get over it.

*Talking of nights out we were at another village event on Friday - a monthly cinema club, held in the chapel schoolroom where the film shown was Child 44. I'd read the book with bookclub and had obviously deleted it from memory... it was really disturbing, violent and I found it rather incoherent. The sort of film that makes me long for a gentle drama... and makes me think I'm getting old. Last month it was Kind Hearts and Coronets which was hilarious and charming and much more my thing.

I hope your weekend has been a good one.

Monday 16 October 2017

Rags, Paint and a Desert Wind

Gosh, that was a weekend that came and went in a flash. Busy as ever but in a good way. I took advantage of the good weather on Saturday morning to do a couple of hours tidying up in the garden after breakfast. Not that you'd know... it's looks just a messy as ever although I filled the wheelie bin with garden rubbish. Inbetween I managed to rustle up a batch of flapjacks before anyone noticed there hasn't been much cake in the house lately.

Although I took half of them away as in the afternoon I was teaching my first ever rag rug class... nothing like a bit of homemade baking to get your students on side!

My venue was a quaint little coach house near Hitchin where I let myself in and made myself familiar with everything. This is the Ragged Life HQ, home of all things  rag rug related! Before long a group of five lovely ladies gathered for the class and were soon stuck in with a project designed to teach them the basics of rag rugging.

They were each making one of these flower trivets... I made a sunflower as my demo piece! I'm not sure I want to stand pots on it though!

Saturday evening saw a night of good food and operatic entertainment in our village hall no less. Village life is far from sedate and never boring!
Then first thing on Sunday I called for my Mum and we went on another painting day together, this time with Jamel Akib. In our first painting we were learning how to paint gold. I think this was my favourite of the five I managed to paint throughout the day.

Next we got to paint dancers using dramatic strokes in the background to create the illusion of movement.

Because I paint quite quickly I had another go at a portrait with a flash of gold... can you recognise her? I don't think she is quite finished yet so I'm hoping to fit in some time this week to work on this.

After a delicious lunch, all provided as part of the course, we learned techniques to give the impression of crumbling brickwork. I'd like to work into this one some more too, straighten things up a little... but not too much

And finally Jamel demonstrated how to get the effect of feathers on birds. I wasn't very happy with my robin  at the time having churned it out in about 15 minutes but he doesn't look so bad in the photo! It was a fabulous day where we learned so many techniques and laughed a lot... Jamel is very entertaining. But it was also completely exhausting, so I was good for nothing last night and thought I'd sleep like a log (How do logs sleep? It's okay you don't have to answer I was thinking aloud.) Instead I lay awake until about 2 am... what was that all about!

So I wasn't good for much today either although I did have a long very windy walk with Hector and took photos of the rather amazing sky. Sand from the Sahara blown in by Ophelia... or alien invasion? Zombie apocolypse? Whatever, it has turned the dog into a lunatic... he's tearing around and leaping about like he's got a rocket up his bum!

So how was your weekend?

Friday 13 October 2017

A Bustle Skirt

This is a story that starts almost a year ago at our Embroiderers' Guild branch Christmas lunch. Back in December, Gill returned from deepest darkest Norfolk to join her old friends (friends of old or friends who are old... read it as you will) for lunch and with her usual panache she was wearing a fabulous skirt with a bustle that of course she had sewn herself. I confess I had serious bustle envy, after all who wouldn't want to wear something so stunning. Fast forward a couple of months and I spent a couple of days up in Norfolk with Gill and she kindly gave me a length of her left over fabric so I could make my own bustle skirt... all I need to do was buy a zip and some suitable lining fabric.

Fast forward even more months and despite searching my stash and keeping an eye out here and there nothing was deemed suitable and so the skirt was never made.  Then, this week I happened to be at the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace, demonstrating rag rugging for Missenden School of Creative Arts. I had a quick look round the show over my lunch break but was left feeling it doesn't seem too special any more. I used to love going but now I don't find much that is inspirational and I certainly don't need to buy anything new to add to my stash... although if you are there this weekend check out the exhibition by Hue, and in particular the three stunning panels by my friend Marian. So I wasn't really prepared to do any shopping until I spotted this gorgeous Liberty Lawn fabric.

I had absolutely no idea if it would look okay with the fabric Gill had given me but I bought a couple of metres anyway and as luck would have they look fabulous together with the print picking out the burgundy stripe in the woven fabric.

So although I had set aside a day yesterday to cut out my new coat instead I made my bustle skirt!

The design is very simple but so effective and is essentially a rectangular length of lined fabric cleverly joined at the back with a zip to create the bustle.

The trickiest part was inserting the zip and even that wasn't that tricky... but look at those gorgeous folds and that fabulous fabric!

And because the woven fabric has a beautiful fringed edge I only had to hem the lining.

I commandeered youngest son to take some photos of me actually wearing the skirt... he grumped a lot and was very reluctant and this is the best of a bad lot. I wasn't going to ask him to try again and as he was the only person I was likely to see while it was daylight these photos will have to do!

It is not quite as long as it appears and is just below knee level at the front, although sweeps down to mid calf at the back.

I love the skirt but was a little disappointed that I had made it too loose on the waist. The instructions advised getting a friend to help with the pinning and measuring. I certainly wasn't going to get youngest son to help stick pins in me so fiddled about and did it myself with the result I was a bit cautious and too generous with my measuring. My heart sank a little as I thought I would have to adjust the back seam and re-insert the zip but then I decided to add a couple of little pleats in the front instead. And although I say so myself it was just a little bit genius because not only does it fit much better now it also sits better over my tummy. Let's face it who actually has a completely flat tummy... not me that's for sure!

So although the fabric for the coat remains untouched I do have a lovely new skirt to wear when we go out tomorrow evening. I'm also off to teach a rag rug class tomorrow for Elspeth who runs Ragged Life and  next month on 18th November I will be teaching a whole day at Missenden Abbey to make rag rug Christmas wreaths... which was why I was demonstrating at Ally Pally this week. Whatever you are doing I hope you have fun this weekend! (And I apologise for actually mentioning Christmas twice in one post... it just sort of slipped out!)

Monday 9 October 2017

A Book Exchange

Back in the summer when I was bemaoning the lack of creativity in my life my blogging friend Lesley threw down a gauntlet and suggested that we might come up with some sort of creative challenge to kick start some activity and get the creative juices flowing. We've a bit of a history of swaps and challenges that started back in 2011 with a postcard swap. We have also exchanged books and prints in the past, both things we enjoy making and so a challenge involving a printed book seemed a good starting point.

During August we both got busy printing sheets of paper which we then made up into books.

I stuck to a palette of black, grey and green and had lots of fun printing a couple of large sheets of paper using a variety of mono printing techniques.

I then tore the sheets into smaller pages which were bound together to make a book.

I used some of the prints to cover the book too and it was a good opportunity to practise some forgotten binding methods.

Then at the begining of September I posted it off  to Lesley and she now has the task of working into the book for three months before returning it to me in January.

And likewise I received a book of prints from Lesley into which I can work.

We can draw, paint, print, collage, cut and stick... anything goes with the original book providing the starting inspiration.

The strong red and black graphic pages of Lesley's book suggested urban landscapes to me and I was thinking buildings and graffiti.

But everytime I picked it up I couldn't get started... until this morning.

Out walking with the dog I was inspired by all the signs of autumn around and especially by a fabulous bush covered in rose hips. So I made a ten minute start into my sketchbook and painted this quick sketch of rose hips, which is not the least bit urban!

I've a lot to do until I send the book back to Lesley in the new year but starting is often the hardest part.

At least that is what I'm telling myself... especially as I've not started that coat yet either!

Wednesday 4 October 2017

My Quiet Weekend

Okay, I know the weekend seems a whole life time away and no doubt you are all looking forward to the next one but in my head this was scheduled for Monday... it just never happened. Is it me or does the pace of life just seem to get crazier and crazier? I am in desperate need of a holiday!The weekend just past however was at a slower place than usual. No, of course I didn't just sit and relax but I did things at my own pace and for us. It would have been good to fit in some painting or other art work but another time maybe.

  • I made a quiche for lunch - I've made one every week for the past year or so for our farm shop and as a result never seem to make one for us anymore. Last week thay had a mushroom and pesto tart with pine nuts that I really fancied keeping for us, so I made another one. With some crunchy homemade coleslaw it it di the job both Saturday and Sunday!
  • I bought some ridiculously expensive fabric. I have never spent this much on fabric before but I couldn't resist this beautiful boiled wool and it is destined to be a coat. The pattern is relatively simple but I'm still terrified to cut into it! I need a day when I'm not preoccupied with other things... so watch this space.
  • I made bread.... mostly because we had run out and it seemed preferable to a trip to the shops.
  • I filled my new biscuit barrel with cookies. Of course it is now almost empty again and I am reconsidering the skimpy outfit. Something with a bit of room for movement seems more appropriate.
  • We spent some time with this gorgeous little chap who is now very mobile. He is climbing, crawling and pulling himself up to standing... and becoming very vocal! He is absolutely adorable. Where did those ten months go.
  • I finished off some off these poppies for my friend Liz (They will be with you by the end of the week I hope... once I've got the ends sewn in!) We met very briefly in a group when we both attended the Build a Business day last year. Sometimes you just connect with someone and that was the case with us. If like me, you like food and fabrics with a bit of Italy thrown in then I'm sure you'll enjoy reading Liz's blog and you can read about her Remember Me project here.
There were also dog walks and lines learned with a fair bit of mooching about so a good weekend. Since then of course there has been teaching, rehearsals and a birthday with cake... no rest for the wicked but I guess it is better than being bored! Off to ice another cake now but will be back soon I hope!