Thursday, 28 May 2009

Urban edge outside Budgens?

Who ever knew that Ascot could extend to a Banksy style bit of art? I like it.

Life isn't all about cake, sometimes it's about flowers too

From my folks garden, it might be a bit of a jungle in places, but its very pretty.

Baby cakes

Early Sunday morning, whilst we were all still in our jim-jams, I peeked into the oven to admire the cheesecake and I have to admit, I wasn't entirely sure that it was properly set. Fearful of having no pudding (imagine, no pudding!) I thought it best to whip up  batch of cupcakes, just in case, as a sort of emergency cake you understand.

I picked up a recipe from Nigella Lawson's summer book and made these lemon cupcakes, flavoured with lemon oil and lemon zest.  I opted for both in grown-up and baby cake size (mostly because I had batter left over, but also to see how the baby cakes turned out). 

Turns out they turned out very well (good old Nigella) They graced the afternoon tea table and partnered very well with a glass of cold champagne, or hot, dark coffee for the designated drivers.

Seeing the cuteness of the baby cakes gave me an idea.  They are so adorable and so 'pop-in-your-mouth-in-one-greedy-go-and-because-they-are-small-you-have-two-and-it's-still-not-like-eating-a-whole-cake-so-in-actual-fact-is-very-slimming'  that I think I will make cupcakes in this size for the stall. Oh, and they are also good for the bambinos too.
On Sunday we had family coming over, and Marvelous mum was busy in the kitchen- where she is such a star, preparing a delicious lamb dish roasted with all sorts of scrumptious spices.

Marvelous mum had asked me to make pud and the day before whilst in the supermarket decided that chocolate cheesecake would be a good partner to lamb in the summer, eaten in the garden.  I half guessed what might be needed for such a feast.  Once I had found a recipe I liked the look of from t'internet (a Gordon Ramsey recipe, and whilst I'm not a fan of all the swearing and shouting, I have to admit, the cake did sound good)

A short trip back to the supermarket to pick up the forgotten ingredients later and after dinner, I set to in the kitchen.  Marvelous mum and Brainy bro lent a hand and before long the cheesecake was sitting in the oven.  After 30 minutes of cooking, I turned off the heat and left the cheesecake overnight to slowly cool (did ya' know this prevents it cracking, clever eh?!)

Lunch time the next day rolled 
around, and the cheesecake went down a storm.  The berries went nicely with the sweetness.  The swirls of dark chocolate hadn't incorporated into the cake as I had imagined, and had set hard. However, when sliced into, it did give a nice contrast (very reminiscent of Magic Topping, the most fantastic icecream topping of my childhood) 

Only in the Ramsey cheesecake, it was a slightly more grown up version.

You must be quackers

As a treat on Saturday, we all piled into the car and headed to Windsor in the bright sunshine, to feed Her Majesty's ducks.  

Darling boy didn't quite get the hand of it at first and wanted to eat the bread himself.  I swapped the bread for a rice cake (preferring him to eat the rice cake, rather than the plastic bread for the ducks) He still wasn't too sure, and held on very tightly to the rice cake, not knowing whether to eat it or throw it (as normally throwing food is frowned upon)  Then, fearing that a mighty swan might gobble the rice-cake from his tiny hand, I swapped it again, this time for a toy phone, and Darling boy happily chatted away into it, not doubt having a very important conversation.

The ducks boldly attempted to snap up the bread as fast as they whilst the greedy swans held court.

The rest of the afternoon was spent mooching in the shops and dodging the tourists that swarmed the castle, eager for a glimpse of Queeny.   I picked up a couple of brilliant bright, large canvasses with vintage comic heros on them for Darling boys bedroom back home- no cutesy fluffywuffy rubbish here!  We are going for a much more stylish affect (ahem)

Splash down!

Handsome husband was working on the bank holiday, so Darling boy and I decided to go visit my marvelous mum and dad.  Brainy bro was also due to be there too, so we were in for a treat.  
Now that Darling boy is heavy enough, he has graduated to a forward facing car seat and he loved the journey here, staying awake much longer than I expected to look out of the window and admire all the cars whizzing along the motorway (Darling boy LOVES cars, in fact anything with wheels) 

We had a lovely weekend at my folks house, relaxing and playing.  Darling boy was treated to a new book complete with animal sounds (he LOVES animals)  and he was also treated to a new paddling pool (he also LOVES being in the bath) all in all, this was a pretty exciting weekend for such a little boy.

Icey spicey

Last week we had the in-laws coming over for Thursday night supper and I wanted to knock up a quick pudding.  

With not much time till dinner o'clock and with a house full of fruit and ideas for a fruity pud, but with Handsome husband and father in law not really 'doing' fruit puds, I decided to opt for a spiced sponge.  I added some sultanas and dates (to sneak the fruit in anyway!) and then iced it with a cinnamon butter icing.  From our weekend of having our friends and family over, Brainy bro's delightful partner had kindly left me a packet of rose petals for cooking...they were calling to me from the cupboard and they adorned the top of this speedy sponge.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Breakfast with Bob and Johnny

I have never been known for my punctuality and time keeping, in fact I’m sure my friends must think I live on a different time zone to the rest of the UK. However, now my commute to work is on a proper train, I need to be at the station on time. When we were in London, I could just turn up at the tube station whenever, safe in the assumption that another tube train, however grim the ride, would be along in a minute (or perhaps not, knowing the unfortunate characteristics of the underground)

Twice a week I now take a train to Bristol and the station at Tiverton which seeming quite plain and unassuming is actually a picturesque example of modern locomotive travel. The birds are always singing, and next to platform 1 there is a field with sheep and cows in, who seem to enjoy the comings and goings of busy Devon commuters, zooming away to Plymouth in one direction, and the rest of the wide world in the other.

I had got to the station this morning in plenty of time and decided to break out the breakfast I had stowed in my handbag. I tucked into a rhubarb yoghurt and listened to the strains of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash singing about their true love from the North County Show. Who ever knew that these two mighty legends could fit into one song? I also never knew I liked rhubarb yoghurt till this morning, but with the sun shining, the birds tweeting and bob and Johnny for company, it was ambrosia to my empty tum.

The County Fair

The Devon county fair truly was a sight to behold. There were prize ruby red Devonshire cows, and shaggy, fluffy sheep that looked like clouds on legs to admire. We saw adorable angora goats, saddleback pigs, curious alpacas and unusual clucking chickens and quacking ducks. Darling boy was very enamoured of the rabbits and waved hello to all of them and they nibbled and twitched their rabbity greetings.

The fair was packed and the sun shone down on us as we toured the site, seeing the vintage tractors, applauding the show jumpers and, naturally, sampling the local produce on offer. 

Unexpectedly there was little in the way of cake (and I wished I had brought a few of the chocolate cupcakes from home for us to nibble on) Though we did manage to enjoy a couple of venison burgers with a local cider for Handsome husband, an apple juice for me. These were eaten enjoying the singing of a Cornish troupe of male singers, who I’m sure must rehearse in their local boozer. There were brilliant, singing old folk songs, and a melodious version of an early Beatles classic, sung in beautiful Cornish accents which after a brief burst of dancing and hand clapping, soothed Darling boy off to sleep- perfect.

Later in the afternoon, he woke up just in time from a doze in his buggy to sample my ice cream (one scoop of ginger and one of Swiss truffle, and mint choc chip and Devonshire fudge for Handsome husband) Darling boy is keen on ice cream, not so sure about its coldness, but appreciates the creamy flavours.

It was also a day of bold new experiences as Darling boy sampled his first taste of honey from the Devon BeeKeepers Association tent. As Darling boy has just turned one, he is now able to enjoy the products of our industrious buzzy friends. Served up on a scone with clotted cream, he was very keen on the golden sticky stuff.

Lamenting the lack of cakes, on the way home, Handsome husband and I discussed the possibility of me having a stall at next year’s County show. It would mean a meteoric rise for a company that hasn’t even started yet- but it’s good to dream big.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Off to the fair

Tomorrow we are off to the Devon County Show. What larks! There promises to be all sorts of fun things on offer, from prize farm animals to dancing diggers. Handsome husband is hoping there will be a hog roast and local scrumpy on offer. I'm keen to check out the shopping opportunties, and of course, the competition cake-wise. I'm looking forward to laughing at the serious-faced farmers, with their hairdryers and clippers at the ready to blowdry their sheep into true Dolly Parton-esq success stories for the 'best in class' coveted prizes.

I'm sure Darling boy will love it, tractors and dogs I'm sure will abound- his most favourite things.

From tax to bunting

With my brain whiring and buzzing with ideas and things to do for the stall, each night before I go to sleep I run through a check list that is part things I have to do and part things I want to do.

A brief dip inside my head, part way during the monolgue sounds something like this...

tax, stawberries, vanilla sugar, public liability insurance, which flavours?, icings, butter, cases, teacups, cake stands, design logo, how many different flavours shall I start with? mood board for company design, find local suppliers, print banner, try out new recipes, gold pen, invent names for cupcakes, place settings, applique signs, patchwork, do I need an accountant? cut-glass dishes, get crazy sewing machine serviced, chocolate, how to decorate stall, seasonal specials, toppings, vintage styling, get hen house, get chickens, need more cake stands, giant tuppaware boxes, white carboard boxes, ribbons, stickers, aprons, do I need a new mixer? wooden spoons, table cloths, roses, edible glitter, website, company name registration, when to branch out into other cakes, gluten free recipes, babysitters? make own bunting...

Market update

So, I have contacted our local market in Tiverton, our nearest town. They have a food market every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday (as well as all sorts of other exciting markets, like antiques and bric-a-brac on other days of the week).

As I work part time already (I work on a Biodiversity project for the Government department for environment. Yup, I'm saving the world, 3 days a week) I have joined the waiting list for a stall on Saturday. The lovely chap I spoke to reckoned it would be 4-6 weeks before a space became available. This is perfect, as it gives me plenty of time to do the 100million things that need doing before I am ready.


I'd better get cracking.

Im going to hit the market next Saturday to check out the competition, and also suss out any potential suppliers. I want to use good quality local suppliers wherever possible, and until we get our rescue chickens, I'm going to need a lot of eggs!

Its a tough job

Last night I was dreaming up different flavours of cupcakes to potentially sell at my stall the market. I remembered I had had the notion after making sister in law's Sticky Toffee Pudding birthday cake that it would be entirely scrumptious to have it as a cupcake, but with the toffee sauce inside, like a sort of fondent, gooey surprise of toffee loveliness (the sort that haunt dentists dreams)...Anyhoo, so, I was leafing through one of my recipe books ('500 cupcakes', I think the snappy title was) when I happened to find a recipe for exactly such a beauty. With a few tweaks I think it might just do the trick.
I tried the recipe out tonight, as a sort of science experiment you understand. The batter was supposed to have caramels pushed into the middle, but our local shops didn't seem to stretch to caramels, so some I made with toffees, and some with fudge, and some with a devilish mixture of the two.

Handsome husband and I tried all three versions and our favourite is probably the double toffee, coupled with the chocolate fudge icing on top I adapted from a different recipe. The recipe called for coffee in the batter, which helped to cut through the sweetness. For the next batch though I will reduce the amount to give it a more subtle flavour.

See, this is what you can get up to of an evening when you live in the middle of nowhere...eating chocolate fudgey toffee cupcakes with glasses of cold milk on the side, all in the interests of science. yum.

Monday, 18 May 2009

This little piggy went to market...

The next day, whilst Darling boy was having his nap, handsome husband was down on the farm and mother in law was dropping sister in law at the station after a weekend in Devon, I was left to my own devices at exactly cupcake o’clock. Sitting down enjoying a brew and a cupcake, I had the notion that I would quite fancy trying out having a stall at the local farmers market selling cakes. It would be nerve wracking, but exciting I’m sure.

The plan is to start with cupcakes (maybe 4 different flavours?) and then build my mighty empire from there... I have contacted Tiverton market to enquire about stalls and am waiting to hear back. Watch this space for developments!

Coming up (prim)roses?

We had friends over for lunch on Saturday with their little boy, who is a week or so older than Darling boy. The babies had such fun chasing each other round and waving balloons at each other- left over from Darling boys birthday party weekend. For lunch, I had made a caramelised red onion and goats cheese ‘open pie’ (or quiche to you and me, but since, according to Handsome husband ‘‘real men don’t eat quiche’’, ‘open pie’ it was.

For pudding, I tried a new recipe for lemon cupcakes. The night before I had the lovely idea to decorate them with crystallised primroses (as they are edible I think?) We have them growing in the garden and, painted with sugar and left to dry overnight I’m sure they would have looked gorgeous softly glowing against the pale yellow of the icing. Unfortunately, I had this idea at silly o’clock the night before, and keen as I am, I wasn’t about to go creeping about the garden in my jimjams and wellies with a torch to find the blooms. I will have to remember in advance for next time.

The cupcakes were delicious as they were, naked and unadorned. The buttery icing tinged with lemon peel was scrumptious against the light sponge even if I say so myself. I think I am getting the hang of this aga malarkey.

Friday, 8 May 2009

72 cats toes

Nope, not an ingredient for a recipe, but a bit of random information...

We currently have 4 cats living with us, our own black and white cat, Audrey, the two cats that we inherited with the house, the incredibly fluffy BooBoo and her mum, Phoebe. Additionally to this pride of moggies, we also have the pleasure of the in-law's also very fluffy cat Pixie, lodging with us temporarily. We are therefore outnumbered by cats! three of us, four of them.

All in all, this adds up to 72 cats toes...makes a girl think doesn't it.

Lets get the party started

The sunshine was out, guests arrived and pimms was poured. New friends from Devon and oldest pals from London were in attendance as well as our lovely relatives from both sides who had so kindly travelled from afar to join us.

Later in the afternoon, we gathered together around the old battered wooden table in the kitchen for singing happy birthday and cutting the cake. By this time, we had already gobbled all of the sandwiches and cupcakes, but somehow the revellers managed to find room for a slice of chocolate cake and a bowl of trifle. At the perfect moment, Brainy bro remembered the big blousy chocolate meringues I had stashed in the bottom oven of the aga for the beast to work it's magic on them. We stacked them, warm, sticky and chocolatey on a plate on the tea table. Tea was served and the whole cake disappeared!

Darling boy discovered a love of trifle (as suspected he might) he also had some chocolate cake and also squeezed in a few scones during the party too. Good to see he is taking after his mum!

Next up it was present time, Darling boy was very lucky as all of the prezzies were fabulous and very exciting to a little boy who is almost one. He was also very keen on the boxes that some of them came in.

After the party guests had gone home, Darling boy had a play on his new toys and then was up to bath and bed after a fun filled day. Some of the men folk went off to gather firewood ('me man, me make fire'- how wonderful!) and the remaining enjoyed a glass of pink chapmage and a well earned sit down.

Later that night, we gathered back around the kitchen table for chilli and jacket potatos cooked in the fire, and for talking long into the night.

What a lovely day, good company and good food. We have established what we thought all along, that our new home is a great place for parties. And, what a brilliant first birthday party too, here's to many, many more!

Becoming an IT girl.

I have finally bought a USB stick (or should that be an USB stick? doesn't sound quite right somehow) anyway, grammar aside, photos shall be appearing with these little stories next week. Hooray!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Dedication is what you need...

...If you wanna be a party planner! Actually, what you really need is to rope in family and friends and to dish out pinnys to all.

Blessed with an army of supporters, we rallied early on Sunday morning and after a round of bacon sandwiches and hot tea we got busy in the kitchen.

Three platters of egg, tuna and cheese sandwiches were buttered, sliced and artfully arranged. Balloons were blown up, chairs and blankets arranged outside and we got baking. The chocolate birthday cake was the first to go in. I decided to bake the two sandwiches of the cake separately so the heat would be even to both. They came out a success (phew!) and next to go in was the cupcakes. A near disaster was averted when I realised I didn’t have enough icing sugar for the double batch of chocolate icing, and the butter icing for the cupcakes. My wonderful Brainy brother volunteered to go on an expedition to the nearest shop for icing sugar and washing up liquid and the baking continued.

We iced the cupcakes in green, pink and lemon flavoured butter icing and decorated with dolly mixtures (thank you Nigella!) The trifle was cooling in the fridge and the jugs of Pimms was ready to go. I iced the birthday cake, placed it on a glass cake stand and decorated it with a star picked out in cocoa and one blue candle.

My wonderful dad kept Darling boy entertained whilst we whizzed and whirred about the house and garden getting everything ready. Just in time, Darling boy disappeared off for a snooze and the troops broke for lunch, and boy did we need it.

Do you believe in Fairies?

We had house full of our nearest and dearest, and what best to do on a Saturday afternoon after a big lunch, but strap the babies on our backs, get the wellies on and go for a walk. Staying with us were our dear friends and their two gorgeous girls. The eldest is as cute as a button and of the perfect age for looking for fairies and discussions about pixies. We looked very hard during our walk, but couldn't see any fairies. We did see their little yellow hats dotted around though (primroses turned upside down are the latest thing for the fairy fashionista dontcha know)

Imagine Cute as a buttons surprise the next morning when she found a tiny letter in multicoloured writing, addressed to her from the fairies in the Bluebell wood. They were sorry they were out when we went to look for them and they hope to see her next time. You should have seen her face!

After breakfast, Handsome husband took Cute as a button to the bottom of the garden to shout ‘thank you’ to the fairies, and would you believe it, they called back ‘you’re welcome!’

Ready Steady...


With an unexpected day off work and Darling boy in nursery, I was able to get the house ready for our guests. After cooking up a big pot of chilli-con-carne for Sunday night dinner, I then weighed, grated and chopped the ingredients for the carbonara I had planned for Friday night into Blue Peter style bowls, as I knew as guests would be arriving, I wouldn't want to be chopping, but chatting instead. I then made a citrus scented tiramisu for pudding. The last time I made one, it was the booziest pud with the biggest caffeine hit ever. I tried a different recipe this time and it is more gentle, with a subtle orange flavour. With a whole bar of 80% dark choc grated into curls on top, it is sure to be a winner.

Cooking done, after I had cleaned and tidied, shifted furniture, made beds and cots up and hung curtains, I decided to wander over the fields and pick a few flowers to decorate the bedrooms. I know its a naughty, but there are just thousands and thousands and I thought a handful would be ok. After being in the kitchen and then cleaning all day, it felt good to be out in the fresh air. Crouching down in the bluebell wood to gather my bounty, the cows were extremely curious and came over for a good stare. It reminded me of the milk advert where the cows follow some poor chap all the way home because ‘they want the milk back’ I felt sure this was the thought on the cows minds, so I made my excuses and dashed, calling cheerio in cow to them (‘Moo’) with a promise to see them soon.

We have 52 balloons, a HAPPY BIRTHDAY sign, and a fridge and larder both groaning with food for the weekend. Now I just need to work out what to serve at the party, and to decided if I am brave enough to make the all important CAKE...

My dear Maderia

The baking experiment went surprisingly well. Faced with the decision to either buy a sponge from the shops to use in the Birthday Trifle, or be brave and hit the aga, my disbelief in buying shop bought cakes overruled my nervousness of the beast.

The sponge came out better than expected, though it was, shall we say slightly darker than normal and also rather lopsided. It did however taste pretty good and would be just the job sliced up and drenched in sherry for the Birthday Trifle (I know, Darling boy is just one year old and therefore not really a suitable candidate for sherry, but he can have the top layers)

Motivated by my sponge success, and with the Darling boy in nursery for the day, I decided to make the most of the opportunity and bake some cookies and biscuits to have in store for the big weekend. First up was honey and ginger biscuits that I have baked a few times. There were thinner and more spread out that usual, which I put down to the hot-hot-heat of the roasting oven. The first batch were sadly, mostly only fit for the worms, as they were cinders. The next batch however were morely closer watched and came out squidgy, gingery and deliciously honey flavoured. We plan to get some bees next spring and I can’t wait to make these with our own honey.

Next up was a batch of cinnamon cookies, which came out very well, fragrant, sweet and suitably doughy. They came out of the aga just in time for the in-laws arrival and Darling boys return from nursery with Handsome husband. We enjoyed a selection of both with a cuppa and a gossip in the run up to bath time.

From baking the sponge and biscuits, I found that any cakes in the aga need to have the tray placed above them to help reduce the heat and stave off burning. I also learnt that the top left side of the roasting oven is much hotter than the bottom right side- all very handy lessons for the big party!

Preparations for the party

I have now cooked a couple of dinners on the aga, and its going ok. Though I really need to tackle the main roasting oven and get baking.

I’m going to brave it today and either try a Madeira cake, so delicious, lemony and soft with its sugary crust, and something I have baked a million times. The other option is to go for cookies- less risky than a sponge I think, but equally tasty and a fine partner to a cuppa.

Look mum, no hands!

Watching Darling boy steer a path of destruction around the house with his walker makes me wonder if it won’t be much longer till he is walking, then we will all be in trouble! He has been crawling since seven months and the clever money is on him walking before he is 1 year old. Darling boy is already taking bold steps freewheeling towards his target and manages a step or two without hanging on to anything. The joy in his face is clear as he tumbles forward, falling, but hands free!

Dancing darling boy

As a former choreographer and a proud mum, it was a lovely moment when Darling boy first started dancing. It’s a unique movement style, bouncy and sporadic. He is clearly dancing to the music 'in his soul' as he doesn’t need to hear music to feel the urge to get his groove on. It’s very funny.

This morning, after waving handsome husband off to work, Darling boy and I had breakfast together whilst gazing out of the French windows in the kitchen across to the hills. We were munching on our toast and Darling boy was dancing along to the songs on BBC Radio 1. I joined in and we were throwing some awesome shapes as a dynamic duo, powered by marmite.