Monday, 18 March 2013

Jack and Ginger

Here are some pictures of more baking things from the last few months.
These were for a Sunderland vs Man City afternoon – the red came out pink and the blue came out lilac, but you get the idea. The food itself, rosewater jam tarts, raspberry and vanilla cake, and chocolate cupcakes, all went down a treat. We won’t talk about the score though.
Some orange and poppyseed cakes, and chocolate, burnt toffee and vanilla cakes that I made for friends.
I got two baking books last year, including the latest Great British Bake Off book. Here are two cakes from it. The first is salted caramel cake, which is sickly by the time you’ve finished making it, but delicious the next day, once the caramel has left your senses. The second is a Union Jack cake – it’s just a cut and paste job, but a fiddly one. I ran out of icing sugar, so the ready-roll icing on top has unsightly seams! It was a welcome home present for my old mentor who had been travelling for a year (you can read her and her husband’s blog here – there are lovely stories about the places they saw and beautiful photos).

Here are my gingerbread houses – not nearly as pretty as the one in the book. Guess what I ran out of again?! They transported well though, as long as you have someone to drive slowly and someone to hold onto the base very carefully. And they tasted nice. The big one was for my friend who I’ve known since we worked together way back when we were doing our A-levels, and the small one was for my sister (I helped her to eat it). The leftover gingerbread dough was used to make shapes.

I went on a little break to Yorkshire and Derbyshire a few years ago, going around different towns. I had parkin for the first time, and thought I must learn how to make it. It’s the most amazing ginger cake – treacly, chewy and dense. I finally made it, and although it wasn’t nearly as nice as the parkin I had in Yorkshire, it wasn’t bad for a Southern effort.

Finally, bagels, which I am not that fussed about, but wanted to make after I saw them make them on the Bake Off. They sound like more effort than they are – making dough, quickly poaching them, and then baking them – but if you like bagels, I think they’re worth the effort. The taste and texture is less plastic-like than the ones you can buy from a supermarket. In case you wondered, they do have holes in the middle, but they shrunk in the oven!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Sweet hearts and wishing trees

Here are some photos from my little sister’s birthday – flower arrangements and a wishing tree that I made for her (my partner did the blue leaves – my first effort looked more like a giant teardrop!) and baked treats that I spent the day before making. The flowers are guelder rose, blue hydrangea and purple limonium. The arrangements were inspired by the birthday cake my sister had for her first birthday in the 80s, with pastel fondant icing on top and hundreds and thousands around the side. The huge heads of hydrangea were the fondant icing and the fairydust-like limonium was the hundreds and thousands!

The sweet treats were heart and butterfly-shaped chocolate biscuits, Earl Grey cupcakes, and a chocolate and vanilla marble cake. I tried to tie in the colours of the flowers, so the cakes and biscuits were various combinations of purple, green, yellow, blue and white. The biscuits and big cake were painstaking to decorate, and the big cake went wrong – the royal icing was too runny! But as it was my first attempt to ice stripes down a big cake, I was pretty pleased with it. And the marble ‘worked’ when it was cut and tasted pretty good, which was a big relief! I was happy with the biscuits though. I can see why handmade iced biscuits are so expensive – it’s the time it takes to make the dough, cut them, bake and cool them,  do the outline, flood the inside with icing, then decorate. They’re fun to make but pretty fiddly, especially when you are using different colours of icing.

It was one of the few times I wished I had a dishwasher!

Happy family

I planted some bulbs last autumn, and the cold and warm spells have had a strange effect on them. Some of them grew very quickly when we had a warm spell earlier in the year, but then they seem to fizzle out. As a result, some of them have bloomed and gone before I’ve got photos of them. I didn’t cut any of them as I wanted to see how long they’d last as plants. Binkie daffodils didn’t do too well, and only one bulb flowered. Pipet narcissi fared better and grew very tall. Pink Sunrise muscari seemed more dirty white than pink, and only lasted a few days; but blue Atlantic muscari were pretty and lasted a few weeks. Innuendo tulips smelt lovely and lasted about a week – I have another pot full of these bulbs which are yet to flower. And two pots of Happy Family tulips (pictured above) did quite well – one grew very tall and the flowers lasted a fortnight.

There are some plants which are yet to flower, so I’ll make sure I get photos of them when they do.

Frankly, my dear

It’s World Book Day again, so it’s the perfect reason for me to get back into blogging (there has been a lot of upheaval over the last few months, so I’m afraid I’ve let the blog grow under my feet. Or more accurately, not grow).

I used to carry around a notebook and write down quotes from books that I was reading. When I read some books, I felt like writing down quotes every other page, because there were so many great lines and thought-provoking passages. I still get annoyed when I’m flicking through a book, trying to find a passage that stood out to me, and I can’t find it!

If the only thing you know about Gone with the Wind is the line ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’, you’re missing out on a treat. A 1000-page, epic treat. Like many people, I only read the book after falling in love with the film. I remember watching different films with each of my parents as a child. With my dad, we watched The Great Escape, Fiddler on the Roof, Casablanca and lots of Laurel and Hardy. With my mum, we watched Gone with the Wind…and as the film was four hours long, there wasn’t much time for anything else. As a child, it’s difficult to identify with an adult sometimes, because they seem so different. I absolutely adored the heroine of Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara, and perhaps it was because she was childish, loud, stubborn and wore flamboyant clothes. It wasn’t until later, when I read the book (which took me a long time, by the way!), that I really felt I understood her character. Literature and cinema are full of strong, male protagonists, and it’s so refreshing to find a female lead as full of life and as complex as Scarlett. Unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she’s not sweet and innocent and she’s often not especially likeable, but if you let her character speak to you, then you see her tremendous willpower and physical strength, as well as her vulnerability and honesty.

This is an encounter from Margaret Mitchell’s wonderful book, when Rhett Butler proposes to Scarlett:

'I always intended having you, since the first day I saw you at Twelve Oaks when you threw that vase and swore and proved that you weren't a lady. I always intended having you, one way or another. But as you and Frank have made a little money, I know you'll never be driven to me again with any interesting propositions of loans and collaterals. So I see I'll have to marry you.'

'Rhett Butler, is this one of your vile jokes?'

'I bare my soul and you are suspicious! No, Scarlett, this is a bona fide honourable declaration. I admit that it's not in the best of taste, coming at this time, but I have a very good excuse for my lack of breeding. I'm going away to-morrow for a long time and fear that if I wait till I return you'll have married someone else with a little money. So I thought, why not me and my money? Really, Scarlett, I can't go all my life, waiting to catch you between husbands.'