Wednesday, 30 September 2015

All Change!

Have you missed me? I have been noticably absent from my own blog and yours, not because I have been away anywhere wonderful and exotic, but because I have been very busy. Busier than usual... busy making changes... and cakes!

A couple of months ago I found myself doing a bit of soul searching and knew that I was ready for some change in my life. I took an on-line course with "Do What You Love for Life" which gave me the push to actually do just that... to do what I really love doing and that is baking.

I'm not completely giving up with textiles as I have teaching committments that run throughout next year and beyond, but as a rule I am not taking on any new classes. I will remain a member of Prism and with a bit of luck I'll have more time to stitch the things I want rather than endless teaching samples. Time for my own work.

But this week I have taken the plunge and launched my new baking busines "Apricot and Fig" supplying fresh baked cakes, desserts and savoury bakes. It is something I've thought about for many years but the fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of giving up on something I am already known for and successful at, has held me back. Taking the on line course was a huge factor in pushing me in this direction, wonderful for making me confront those fears and realise they existed only in my head. I would definitely recommend it. There are other reasons for me wanting to make changes too but this is not the time nor place.

So this week, not ony have I been sorting out paperwork, filling in forms for the local authority, getting things printed etc. I have also made a batch of gluten free macaroons, some millionaire's shortbread, several pots of damson jelly (my prize winning recipe!), a large gluten free chocolate cake, a 50th birthday cake, a banana cake,  a lemon tart (I'll own up... two lemon tarts because the first one leaked everywhere and collapsed) and twenty four mini savoury cheesecakes... And I also spent a day with the ladies of Tunbridge Wells Embroiderer's Guild teaching them how to make these books.

Didn't they do well!
There is little doubt that I will miss my days of teaching... we laughed, had fun and there was the satisfaction of seeing everyone go away with a finished item and new skills.
But I'm also very excited about my new venture... cake anyone?

Starting my own baking business also ticks another sixty by sixty box too!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Afternoon Tea

This is where I went for afternoon tea yesterday!

The Palm Court at the Ritz Hotel!

It was a present to my Mum from my brother and myself for her 80th birthday but it has taken us all year to find a time when the five of us were free at the same as the Ritz could fit us in. Mum will be 81 on Wednesday! But it was worth the wait.

I thought it might feel a bit snobby or pretentious but not at all... it was just beautiful! The room, the flowers, the music, the china and the silver... all just beautiful. And the service was wonderful as might be expected!

We all had a super time and decided it was a pretty perfect way to while away a Sunday afternoon. Very civilised.

The sandwiches, scones and pastries weren't bad either! In fact we were so full up when they came round with the cake trolley none of us could manage anything else.

I think Mum enjoyed herself!  Look at her misbehaving at the grand piano... can't take her anywhere!

Afterwards we had a stroll in the sunshine in Green Park up to Buckingham Palace before heading home. All in all a wonderful weekend. And for me "Afternoon Tea at the Ritz"means I've ticked off another of my sixty by sixty! Two down... fifty eight to go!

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Village Life

I have lived in the same village for over twenty five years and the things I love most about village life are the whole village events that bring everyone out, helping or joining in. There is a wonderful sense of community and friendship. Today was our annual Harvest Fair and despite the threatening look of those clouds it was a warm and sunny afternoon that brought the crowds out to enjoy the fun.

There were old tractors and vintage cars, displays from police dog handlers and firefighters, tombolas and raffles, sideshows and stalls

There was a fabulous band, a barbeque and a beer tent as well as teas, cakes, ice creams or anything else you might fancy.

And the whole afternoon was rounded off with a traditional tug of war... and if you look very carefully you can see our MP leading the adults in dragging all those children across the mud!

And of course, there was the horticultural show in the village hall. Despite all your well wishes my pretty biscuits did not convince the judges and only came in third place... which would have been quite respectable had there been more than three entries in that class!

But I was not disappointed because I picked up firsts in the fruit cake, bread rolls, fruit scones, cheese scones, jam, chutney and needlework classes which meant I was the overall winner of the homecraft cup.
My old domestic science teacher would never believe it!

When we got home we celebrated with afternoon tea of prize winning scones with prize winning damson jelly...

And I'm now off for an early night because we've got another busy day with afternoon tea tomorrow that promises to be rather special... but I'll tell you all about that next time!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Five on Friday - From my kitchen

Five on Friday? More like Five every fortnight! I had all good intentions of a post last Friday, then before I knew it, it was the weekend... Six on Saturday anyone? But one thing led to another and a whole week passed. My teaching has started again this week so there has been sewing of samples and preparation done, my Italian classes have started again and I'm painfully aware of how much I have forgotten over the summer despite a holiday in Italy,  plus I'm in the thick of rehearsals for a play to take place next month... So as you can see lots going on, some of which I may tell you about in due course. But all the time I continue to bake and cook with a passion, no matter how busy I am. So today a taste of a few of the things to come out of my kitchen recently.

1. A fig and pear frangipane tart

Inspired by the frangipane tarts on the Great British Bake Off and by some good figs from the market, I made this tart, combining various recipes and tweaking here and there. It was good... But with only two of us here it meant dessert all week which was not so good. Well, it was but you get my drift!

2. Chocolate and salted caramel torte

Gill, who doesn't really enjoy cooking, often sends me recipes. And of course, I can't resist trying them. Do you think she has an ulterior motive as one of my chief testers?  This was meant to be one big torte but I made twelve little ones. Again, they were good, but to be fair, I did manage to give half of these away although it still meant several more days of dessert. At least we had finished the frangipane tart!

3. Biscotti

More apricot and fig biscotti, most of which were given away as gifts. There is a limit to how much cake or biscuits I can eat. Recipe here if you missed it.

4. An Ottolenghi inspired lunch

After our visit to Ottolenghi's in Spitlefields last week, I was inspired to get out my copy of Plenty and cook a broccoli and Gorgonzola pie plus various salads when my eldest came for lunch. See I can do savoury too! Fortunately it is the type of food that tastes just as good the next day... and the next... and even the next. Delicious though it all was, it was good to have macaroni cheese yesterday!

5. Bouquet cookies.

Yesterday, a piece of fiddly baking, recipe from The Pink Whisk... Cookies for the village show tomorrow. I decided to up my game for my entries for the home crafts section in the show. So if you will excuse me I'm off to perfect my Victoria sponge, bake a batch of six rolls and see if I can improve on my scones! I'll let you know how I get on!

Linking up with Amy for Five on Friday

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Up the O2

We've been on a bit of an adventure today. As part of Stewart's birthday present back in June I bought him an "Up at the O2" experience. A bit of an ulterior motive as it was something I quite fancied doing but I was banking on him wanting to do it too... Fortunately, he did!

So today we booked ourselves a day off and headed into London. After a fabulous lunch at Ottolenghi's in Spitlefields we then walked down to the river and caught a boat to Greenwich.

Because it is so wide it is easy to overlook the fact that the O2 is also 52m high! After a safety briefing and getting on our harnesses we were off... walking all the way up to the viewing platform on the summit!

It was absolutely brilliant! The views were fantastic and we picked a fabulous day for it... Warm, bright and not too windy. Even though my knees hurt this evening from the climbing it was definitely worth it. And for me I've ticked the first thing off a list...

After my birthday this year I decided I would like to have a list of sixty things to do before I'm sixty... I've got two years to write my list and tick things off but so far I only have a couple of things on my list. One of which I've now done and the other I'm doing in a couple of weeks!

The problem is that I can see this being an expensive challenge if I carry on at this rate... So any suggestions for fun but cheap things I can add to my list will be gratefully received... Except I'm not doing anything that involves jumping off things like aeroplanes! Do leave me your ideas in the comment box.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Year in Books - September

Thank you to everyone who stuck with me through my holiday postcards from Tuscany. Although we have had a couple of lovely weekends away this was our first proper holiday in over two years... and it was wonderful. We drove to Italy through France and the Mont Blanc tunnel. The scenery was stunning!
As well as sightseeing and relaxing there was a lot of eating and drinking... food was definitely one of the highlights of the holiday! And there was also plenty of time for reading too which has meant I've got through several books this month.

I finished The Hand That First Held Mine before we went away and loved it, but I've not yet read a Maggie O'Farrell book that I've not enjoyed. It tells two parallel stories, that of Lexie who moves to London from rural Devon in the 1950s and the other set in the present, tells of new parents Ted and Elina as they struggle with parenthood and the effects it has on them. The two stories gradually come together in  beautifully observed writing
I was given Go Set a Watchman for my birthday but before I read it I wanted to reread To Kill a Mockingbird as it is so long since I read it the first time. It was every bit as good as I had remembered and well worth reading again. I'm sure I don't need to give a review as can there be anyone who hasn't read it? I wasn't so enamoured with the sequel however. Much has already been said and written about it since its release and I don't want to give too much away but I was disappointed. The best word I can think of to descibe it is 'unecessary' and I think Harper Lee should have left well alone! Fortunately for me it didn't detract from Mockingbird, but if you want your images of Scout and Atticus (who will always be Gregory Peck in my mind) left untarnished then don't read it!

The next book I read while we were away was The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce. This is not so much a sequel to The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry, which I read and enjoyed a few years ago, but more of a companion, telling the same story from a diffeent perspective. Queenie is dying, but she is waiting for Harold as he makes his way on foot from Devon to Berwick to see her one last time. It was sad, but funny too and another beautifully observed book. If you enjoyed Harold Fry you will like this too.

My last holiday book was Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood. Although a novel, it tells the story of each of Earnest Hemingway's four wives, cleverly weaving each story together, whilst also painting an interesting picture of Hemingway himself. I found it fascinating as it moved from Paris, Antibes, Key West, Cuba and London. And as a bonus we stopped over in Antibes on our journey home, which was absolutely beautiful..
Since coming home I'm finding it hard to settle to a new book or to anything very much really. My washing machine broke the day before we went away so I have had that and the holiday laundry to deal with as well as getting Jacob safely back to Guildford and settled in his new accommodation. Today I'm off to Tunbridge Wells to give a talk and there are all sorts of other new things bubbling away on the horizon but I'll save those for another day!
For some reason I seem to have bought a lot of magazines this week which have made up most of my reading... it's about all I can concentrate on in the evenings. But I have started a new book for September - The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. I've started it and so far I'm finding it sort of funny but strange... but I'll let you know next month!
Of course, the other thing I've been doing since coming home is baking and finding creative ways to use up the courgettes that had grown in our absence in the form of a courgette and lime cake. (I used Nigella's recipe from The Domestic Goddess) Like I need more cake after all we've eaten on holiday! It did taste good though.
Joining in with Laura at  Circle of Pine Trees for The Year in Books

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Postcards from Tuscany - Day Seven

Arrivederci Italia... I'm sure we will be back.