Sunday, 24 April 2016

Bonkers!

It's not the first time (nor second) that I've used that title. I spent all week getting ready for what I knew was going to be an insanely busy weekend. It involved lots more frantic baking on crutches with frequent rest breaks. There were some rather enticing walnut macaroons...


Trays of ginger cookies, date cookies, chocolate chip cookies, shortbreads and biscotti.


By Friday there was less resting and even more baking...


Although on Saturday I cast aside my apron and donned my textile hat. I'd had a workshop and talk booked for the Colchester branch of the Embroiderer's Guild for absolutely ages. I had to postpone the workshop as a whole day working without a chance to have a lie down felt like a step too far since my accident... As if I can take many steps at all at the moment! But I did agree to do the talk. Stewart drove me and fetched and carried all my stuff. Despite a minor panic after getting lost (no... okay there was major panic and a touch of hysteria on my part) and then getting stuck in traffic we arrived in the nick of time... as in ten minutes before I was due to talk. It was also slightly terrifying to be faced with a proper lecture theatre... It felt very grown up! But all's well that ends well (that's my nod to Shakespeare this weekend) and it went well, everyone seemed to enjoy the talk and I'd even impressed my husband who had never seen me in "performance" mode before. He took loads of photos, but I won't bore you with all twenty six of them!


We came home and fighting off absolute exhaustion I managed another tray of brownies. The reason for this sheer madness... An Artisan Fair in our village today. Something else I had committed to before I fell in the ditch. As it was too good an opportunity to miss to promote the new business locally, I didn't want to do the sensible thing and pull out... sensible... moi?


And despite now feeling almost catatonic, incapable of any intelligent thought, and only able to utter of words of one syllable... I think it was worth it ( I hope you are suitably impressed I am actually writing this!)


I didn't sell any tea cosies or aprons, although I do think they added to the overall "Apricot & Fig" image...but I virtually sold out of cake and biscuits, which was great. It was a lovely day, busy and buzzing with lots of fabulous feedback and several potential orders.


And I promise that next week I will try to take it easy and rest my leg a little more... Except did I mention there is one more special cake to make... Bonkers, I know... bonkers!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

A Nutty Loaf for April

It's time for the Cake Slice Bakers reveal for April and I was determined to get my cake made despite my mobility problems. I did think perhaps I should re title this post "Baking with a Break" or maybe "Cooking on Crutches" because it is definitely a whole different experience to normal. The choices for April, taken from Maida Heatter's Cakes were a Haleakala Cake, which is a pineapple, coconut and marshmallow extravagance that I would love to make at some point but probably not sensible right now... An English Madeira cake which didn't seem like much of a challenge as nor did the Texan chocolate muffins*, both too similar to cakes that I already make. So that left the Blueberry Nut loaf cake, which sounded perfect.

(* have since made these and they were very good but may have to save that for another blog post)


A useful tip for any baker is to get all equipment out and ready along with all the necessary ingredients so they can be measured out and prepared before you start baking... This is especially true when working on crutches! The whole process took much longer than usual. It went something like this: After much tooing and froing all bowls and utensils were ready, crutches were put aside so both hands could be used to measure and mix, I then realised that I was missing a crucial piece of equipment so retrieved crutches from floor where they crashed down amidst some swearing from me (becoming a regular occurence), hobbled to other side of kitchen, found item, hobbled back trying to hold on to said item whilst also holding onto crutches, start process again only to find another item missing... have a lie down for ten minutes to summon up the energy to start again...you get the picture! I am finding that most things are possible just not terribly easy but I'm determined not to be beaten. I like to call it tenacity although others who know me would probably say it's sheer bloody mindedness!


But I have to say that once everything was gathered together it was a fairly simple cake to make. I followed the instructions pretty much to the letter... creative tweaking is a step too far right now! It is supposed to form a crack along the top when baking and it did exactly that, also smelling wonderful as it baked.


Maida Heatter describes it as a delicate cake but I would disagree. Whilst the blueberries and orange definitely impart a delicate flavour (which seems to intensify over time), the hearty crust and abundance of pecans make it seem rather a robust cake to me.


She also says "when you cut into it you will see thre darker purple and magenta berries against a lighter glowing orange background of cake. Gorgeous!" I suppose to some extent it is true but I would hardly describe it as gorgeous. A good wholesome hearty cake but not especially pretty! Although I was impressed that the fruit and nuts stayed suspended and well distributed throughout the cake... no sinking to the bottom. We thoroughy enjoyed it for afternoon tea on Sunday and I'm looking forward to another slice today (I'm writing this on Monday).


Blueberry Nut Loaf Cake (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need a loaf tin, either lined or buttered. I followed the instructions and used butter and breadcrumbs, just because I happened to have breadcrumbs left... see method here but I'm not sure it matters or makes that much difference

Ingredients:
  • 175g blueberries
  • 280g sifted plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 28g melted unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • Zest from 2 large oranges
  • Juice from two large oranges (approx. 185 ml)
  • 150g pecans (or walnuts)
Method:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 deg F, 180 deg C, 160 deg fan.
  • Wash and thoroughly dry the berries ( I confess that I skipped this step... seemed too tricky on one leg)
  • Put berries in a bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon of flour taken out of measured flour. Set them aside
  • In a large bowl, gently beat the egg to break it up then beat in the butter and the orange juice.
  • Using a low speed gently mix in all the sifted dry ingredients until just combined.
  • Stir in the orange zest and the nuts.
  • Spread about a quarter of the mixture into the base of the tin. It will be a thin layer.
  • Gently fold the floured berries into the rest of the mixture and then add it to the tin
  • Bake for about 70 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. (My cake took 65 minutes)
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for about ten minutes before turning out to cool on a rack. You may need to loosen the edges from the tin with a knife. Maida Heatter says that the cake is tender and fragile so you need to take care with this, but mine seemed perfectly fine with my usual clumsy handling.

Check out what the other cake slice bakers have made this month:


   

   



Saturday, 16 April 2016

Happy Pants!

A few weeks ago Gill and I had a day out at the Country Living Spring Fair. There were lots of lovely things to see, much of it beyond our price range, a few lovely little things to buy like washi tape and notebooks as well as some rather yummy things to taste like cheese, fudge and chocolate... Not all together I hasten to add. We may have gone back and tasted the chocolate several times... Just to make sure we liked it (especially the salted caramel flavour). We also had our eyebrows "done"... I never even knew about such a thing although I've since read it is all the rage (just Google Middleton Brow). Although it would seem neither did anyone at home know about eyebrows either... No one even noticed how much younger and more glamorous I looked! All in all it was a lovely day out but for browsing rather than buying.


There was one stall "Enlighten Love" that we returned to see for a second time, run by a young enthusiastic couple who had just launched their business selling framed slogans and greetings lit up with LED lights. They were original, quirky and fun. I share my home with one young man who is always sad and depressed and another somewhat older man who is quite often grumpy, so it is no surprise that I was drawn to the picture above, although I didn't buy it at the time. Of course as soon as I got home I wished I had, so I got in touch with Melissa and ordered it. 


It arrived this week and I gave it to my two men... And yes, it made them smile... Although they are still sad and grumpy! But I don't care because it has gone up in the kitchen to remind me to keep my happy pants on! I'm happy today because I have conquered the stairs on my crutches, so no more shuffling on my backside for me!


And yesterday I conquered cake... Two cakes made and decorated for our Embroiderers' Guild supper with no help. I have to say it was a supreme effort of coordination, organisation and sheer determination, it took twice as long as usual and by the time they were done both me and the kitchen were covered in chocolate. But I did it! It'll take more than a fractured ankle to keep me down!


So just remember... put your happy pants on this weekend!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Healing

Thank you for all you kind thoughts and words of wisdom. I couldn't decide whether the title of this post should be "Healing" or "Friendship" as it is about both really. I would be lying if I said I wasn't feeling frustrated by my temporary immobility, frustrated that painkillers are affecting my concentration, frustrated that I can't just get up and do what I want. But equally I am aware that this is only temporary, it's nothing that terrible or life threatening and I need to accept that life will be slow for a few weeks as I give my body time to heal.


I'm partaking of some leisurely crochet. I tend to associate knitting and crochet with watching TV and I am determined not to go down the road of daytime telly. So I crochet for half hour or so and then stop but there has already been much progress. Two weeks ago I felt a little guilty that I had bought yarn for the Frida Kahlo blanket crochet along. Now I am pleased to have the challenge, although I've still got a week until the next bit of the pattern is released and I've already finished the first set.


 I am catching up with some reading and getting ahead with the book club choices. Again I can only do it in short bursts as I find my mind wanders and I lack concentration but that is improving daily. And kind friends who have visited have left me books and magazines to keep me going over the next few weeks.

Then I pick up my crutches and do a tour of the house... well downstairs only as tackling the stairs involves some inelegant shuffling on my bum... an image you probably don't need. It feels good to move about and I can see the beautiful flowers that have arrived since my accident and I am reminded of all the kind friends that I have.





Other friends have popped by or phoned for a chat, there have been offers of help with various tasks and later this week and next week I'm being taken out for a coffee and change of scene. Another friend, a hypnotherapist has even sent me downloads to listen to that will  help my bones heal. So I might be frustrated but I know I'm also blessed to have good friends and family who are making it easier for me to heal.


And yesterday I even ventured into the kitchen to bake a cake... admittedly only a simple banana loaf made all in one bowl but that still involved much manoeuvering and contortions with my crutches and prolonged lying down afterwards.  But I did it.... because apparently healing uses up extra calories (thank you Cathy for that information) and I fancied some cake, which is just as well because the thing I am missing most are my daily walks.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Stopped in my tracks

So there I was... Usual busy week, rushing here, rushing there. Another day unpacking and sorting boxes for Mum, shopping, haircut, getting ready for another cupcake Friday....


I have also been planning the possibility of directing a play for our Am Dram group, which involved attending a meeting at the other end of the village on Thursday evening. Stewart walked up with me and I happened to comment how dark it seemed up that end. So dark in fact, that coming home I managed to fall into a ditch... I really had only had one small glass of white wine... Honest! I sat in the ditch for a while until the pain in my ankle lessened... and I realised the damp was seeping through to my bum . I then stood up and promptly had to sit down again but eventually decided it was sensible to walk (it wasn't) and managed to stagger down the road to the pub where Stewart was waiting for me (Of course I hadn't remembered my phone). We ended up in A & E and it turns out I have fractured my ankle.


I won't treat you to the sight of my horrible swollen blue foot but this is the stylish fashion accessory I have to wear for the next six weeks. You'll all be wanting glamorous boots like this now! At least unlike a plaster I can take this off to shower and when I sleep. At the moment I am on lots of painkillers and feeling very frustrated by my limited mobility... I can walk with crutches but not far yet. And I can't drive for eight weeks... I am going to go totally stir crazy!


But there are books to read, knitting and crochet to finish and it will give me time to work on developing a new website, and I can catch up with a bit of blog reading too, so I'm trying hard to look for the positive. There won't be much baking going on though so enjoy this cherry bakewell cupcake while you can!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Folkstone Riviera!

What glorious weekend it was in Folkstone. Warm and sunny, I could have almost imagined it was the Italian Riviera... well, I can dream can't I?  Despite being there to work for three days I managed early morning and evening strolls along the cliff top each day, with these fabulous views. On Friday we even had a clear view of the French coast.



But for the rest of Friday, Saturday and Sunday I was in the classroom with sixteen lovely members of the East Kent Embroiderers' Guild.


Lots of fun cutting, sticking and designing followed by free machining and a liberal sprinkling of laughter... they all worked really hard.


By the end of the weekend each of them had finished a beautiful textured landscape. Each one was totally unique and absolutely stunning.


I could show you each individual piece of work but that's a lot of photos...


But I think these collages give a good idea of how fabulous their landscapes were.


This is the most satisfying part of teaching to see each individual produce something beautiful and unique... Such talent!


They took a picture of me at work... Although it doesn't really seem like work most of the time!


Especially when they were all so talented and self reliant... I even had time to finish my own little landscape as I demonstrated each stage of the process..


Thank you ladies... It really was a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Nothing Changes!

I seem to spend my life saying "When things quieten down..." or "When I've got a bit more time..." but just as I think that is about to happen something else comes along to fill my days. Nothing changes and the more I think about it that's the way it has always been. I guess it is the way I am. I need projects, I need plenty to do, I need to be busy. Which is just as well because busy is what I've been!

How was your Easter? (I'm way behind on blog reading) Good I hope! I finished off all the business baking by Friday evening and rather than have a day off on Saturday I decided to make an Easter cake for us... It took all day! But it was worth it.


I had no sooner sighed "done" than these two appeared as if by magic to "help me clear up"... every bowl, spatula and whisk was licked clean!

On Sunday the family came en masse and there were eleven of us here to eat the cake and other goodies, which was lovely. Then on Monday I went to Mum's new flat to help her with some decorating. After a day painting walls and ceilings I could hardly move!

But in between the busy bits there has been  time for relaxation too and I have got through a few books this month. The first was How to Be Both by Ali Smith. I really wanted to like this book, I really did...  but I didn't. It has won awards, it was clever, very clever but it just didn't engage me. In fact, I can barely even tell you what it was about. Two different stories with a tenuous connection through art, one set in the  1960s, one in the fifteenth century. I didn't like the style, I didn't like the prose, it irritated me and I was disappointed because I really believed I was going to love this book.


A quick read this month was The Bookseller of Kabul. I enjoyed this observation of a different culture presented by journalist  Asne Seierstad who spent four months living with bookseller Sultan Khan and his family in Afganistan. But there was a lot that made me angry, in particular the treatment of women and the values which seem so alien to our Western culture but there was also a lot that engaged me too. I can't claim to understand it but I found it an interesting read.


I also finished The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee which was a fascinating history of the gardens of Italy and the citrus fruit that grow there. It transported me to the warmth of the Italian sunshine and made me want to pack my bags. A lovely combination of travel, history, art and food from scented bergamont groves to Scicilian marmalade kitchens. A sensory delight!


My most recent read was Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming. This is our village book club choice for April. Another very quick read, it is a memoir by the actor Alan Cumming. Whilst researching for the TV show Who Do You Think You Are, Cumming not only discovered things about his maternal grandfather but at the same received shocking news from his father, a violent man who had brutalised him throughout his childhood. It is very readable, reasonably well written with humour and wit and amazingly, no bitterness.



There has also been more knitting... a pair of socks finished, another pair for Stewart.


And today I have been packing bags and ticking things off lists... unfortunately not for a trip to the lemon scented gardens of Italy but Folkstone instead. I'm there to teach a three day machine embroidery landscapes course to members of Canterbury Embroiderer's Guild over the weekend.


It might not be Italy but I'm sure we'll have fun making Italian inspired landscapes.