I've got the next week off work, and although I'm not away for the whole time, I'm planning on having a bit of a blogiday (that's my new word for blogging holiday). We're heading off to Cornwall to do the Padstow - Rock swim, and then spending some time at home (with a behind the scenes visit to a National Trust property nearby to see its library while they're shut) before heading back to the South West for a wedding. It's months since my fiance and I have been away, so I had a stack of new books on my TBR to choose from. The picture above shows my selection (I know, it's a lot for 2 nights, but it's important to have choice, so you need proportionally more books for 2 nights than you do for a week).
So what have I got? I've written about many of these on my recentish TBR post so I'll keep the descriptions brief. The wavewatcher's companion - kindly sent to me by Bloomsbury - absolutely perfect for a seaside trip (I'll post the view from the hotel room we'll be staying in at the bottom of this post!) Sandy - a book abouta boy growing up in Cornwall at the end of the 19th century - have actually already started dipping into this to get me into holiday mood. Summer Term - Susan Pleydell - seemed appropriate to read this Greyladies title at this time of year, although the schools are just about broken up now. South of the lights - Angela Huth - I enjoy her novels and when I spotted this one in Oxfam which I had come across I thought it would make a nice light holiday read. The school at Skelton Hall - Elinor Brent Dyer - the first of a pair of non Chalet School titles which I've never read, brought back into print by GGBP. The school on North Barrule - Mabel Esther Allen - another Fidra book which I spotted very cheaply on Amazon - I have enjoyed some of her other Fidra books. Juliet Naked - Nick Hornby - this has been on my TBR for a while, but looks like something holidayish - I've enjoyed Hornby's other novels. Dreaming of Amelia - Jaclyn Moriarty - I love Moriarty's YA books, Feeling sorry for Celia in particular is a fantastic read. They don't seem to get much publicity and the publication of this one passed me by. It is delightfully chunky, but I know it will be enjoyable.
And as promised, this is where I'll be sitting and reading - the beauty of where we are staying is that even if I am poorly or the weather is rubbish we can still sit and look at the sea and enjoy being somewhere completely different.
I mentioned how lovely it is to give things which one has made in a previous domestic arts post; I've been wondering for a while what I could do with my cross stitches and now I have a solution. Whilst at Hobbycraft last week I purchased a number of very small cross stitch kits which can be made into cards. This little design only took 2 hours to complete and I think is a lovely thing to send someone. The design on the left came from a kit; I liked the pattern very much but not the colours that they had chosen, so I decided to make it again with some pretty pink threads that I had in my sewing box. It's definitely a pattern that I will use again for cards. I hope that I might be able to utilise some of the patterns in the other kits that I have bought in different colours.
I discovered the author Margaret Drabble last year, and I've written about her before on this blog. I recently came across her memoir, A pattern in the carpet at the library, and like the rest of her books, it was beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read.
As much as it is a memoir of Drabble's life and her family members, it is also a book about jigsaws and games. Jigsaws are something that I find extremely relaxing because they require so much patience. It's been at least three years since I've done a jigsaw but it would be lovely to get one out again. Drabble used jigsaws to help create order out of chaos whislt suffering from depression and the jigsaw theme provides a framework for the book, blending history of games with memoir extremely successfully. Some reviewers have quibbled with the way that the book reads like a stream of consciousness, but this seemed to me to go with the jigsaw concept - it is only at the end that it all starts to fit together. I loved reading about Drabble's Auntie Phyl, one of the principle characters in the story, and about her childhood growing up in Yorkshire, and I loved the way that it was interleaved with writing about games and jigsaws.
Apparently Drabble's family are also described in her book The peppered moth, which is one of her works which I have not yet read, so I will definitely be on the look out for that now. And I'm thinking that jigsaw doing might be another thing that I should do in the near future.
One of the things I think that I am going to use the Kenwood Mixer for most is making bread. We've not bought bread at all since last November when my fiance stopped working and needing bread suitable for sandwiches, with the exception of some Genius gluten free loaves for me, having instead been making use of my bread machine (we already used it, but only once a week as opposed to twice). However, we've tended to stick to a basic wholemeal recipe (no point adding herbs if you're using it for both breakfast and lunch - not sure rosemary and thyme would really complement marmalade or blackcurrant jam). Whilst I'd love to be the sort of person who makes fancy bread by hand, the reality is that either I don't have time or am too tired or just can't face clearing up the messy worktop. The Kenwood mixer solves this - although you need to be around for each stage of the recipe (unlike the bread machine which can just be filled and left, and left on a timer if you are going out), it does all of the messy mixing in one bowl, and then it is just a case of proving it, kneading it once more, putting it into a tin, proving again and then baking - total hands on time no more than 10 minutes. It's prompted me to experiment with different recipes and ring the changes on the bread that my fiance eats. I was extremely proud of this cherry tomato and basil focaccia that I made at the weekend; the recipe came from Leila Lindholm's Piece of Cake which I have from the library (and would quite like to own myself).
I also made some biscuits from Piece of Cake at the weekend; they are Swedish toffee fingers and absolutely wonderful. I broke my wheat restriction and had two (later regretting the pain I had caused myself) and they were delicious. They're shown here on my cakestand with some fig rolls that I made from Baking Magic and a couple of chocolate macaroons from the same book.
I bought a book online last week, having discovered that my favourite Josephine Pullein-Thompson pony trilogy (Pony Club Cup/Pony Club Challenge/Pony Club Trek) had a sort of prequel series. I was very excited about the arrival of Pony Club Camp, which was one of the few of this earlier series that I could lay my hands on via Amazon marketplace. I was very mystified when a very thin Amazon envelope popped through the door (it was an Amazon marketplace order "fulfilled by Amazon"). It turned out that my order had not been fulfilled by Amazon, quite the opposite, as they sent me a very basic guide to plumbing (which my fiance said was not worth the paper it was written on).
Have been in contact with Amazon and hope that I will get a response! In the meantime, I thought I would share the picture with you, as it is really quite beyond my imagination to see any similarity between a plumbing book and a pony book. Maybe there is someone out there who was hoping to solve their plumbing problems this weekend, who instead got a story about ponies. Who knows?!
As Darlene said in a comment on my post about Wedding cakes and Cultural History on Wednesday, I have been completing immersing myself in cakes of late (well, perhaps that isn't a hugely accurate sentence as I'm not planning to do a Marilyn Monroe and jump out of a cake quite yet). So I was very excited to see a new book being published by Reaktion Books called Cake: a global history, and Maria from Reaktion books very kindly sent me a copy to peruse. I've mentioned Reaktion books before, when I wrote about two of the books from their animals series, but this book comes from a new series called "The edible series" which explore different themes relating to consumption - Pizza, Milk, Pie, Curry, to name a few (you can see the whole list here)
But back to the cake book. The blurb on the inside of the front cover provides an excellent summary "[it] explores the origin of modern cake and its development from sweet bread to architectural flight of fancy, together with the meanings, legends and rituals attached to cake throughout the world".
Humble traces cakes form their earliest origins; apparently the oldest cakes known were discovered by archaeologists in Switzerland amongst Neolithic remains, but they were more along the lines of "oatcake" rather than the sort of cake we know today. Humble describes how cake evolved from bread; the two were virtually interchangeable for a very long time. But other precursors of the cake are the plum puddings traditionally made for Christmas (boiled rather than baked as few households had access to the ovens needed) and pancakes. She suggests that the modern cake as we know it today was a product of changes in the 17th and 18th centuriesd - the development of a cake hoop to keep the batter in place (as we use baking tins), the development of ovens and the rise of other raising agents apart from yeast (first eggs and then chemical raising agents).
My favourite chapter was that on Literary Cakes. The two most famous examples of cakes in literature are given as being Miss Haversham's wedding cake in Great Expectations, and Proust's Madeleines, but Humble also mentions the cakes in Alice (and its concept that cake is not to be eaten fitting in with the idea that cake is "bad"), cake in Cranford, Anne of Green Gables and in Katherine Mansfield's short story The garden party. I am sure we could all think of many examples to add to these.
The book is lavishly illustrated throughout, with reproductions of paintings involving cake and of course pictures of cakes (although I wasn't sure about the picture of a wedding cake made entirely out of bones - it looked good, but the concept - urghgh!) and concludes with a small selection of recipes - Ancient Cakes (including Kugelhopf and Panforte), Classic Cakes (including Victoria Sandwich and Lemon Drizzle) and Unusual cakes (including a recipe for a French savoury cake with artichokes, olives and gruyere).
I think these would make ideal gifts for any foodies in your life - I am sure you could find an appropriate edible for almost anyone!
I frequently blog about domestic arts on Thursdays, mainly because I have the morning off work, and often spend it doing something domesticky (I always clean the kitchen, and hoover unless my fiance offers to do it (which he has done for the last few weeks), but I usually manage to bake or make something). Although I did make some bread in the mixer (a country loaf, which I left baking under the supervision of my fiance (I checked that he knew how to tell when it was done and was impressed when he said "you tap it on the bottom and it sounds hollow) and made some humous to have with it tonight, this morning's main activity was a whistle stop trip to the Hobbycraft shop. I'd not been to Hobbycraft before, but I needed some cross stitch thread that I couldn't find in the shop in town. What a wonderful experience! If you haven't come across Hobbycraft, it is a shop filled to the brim with every kind of arts and crafts equipment you need - highlights for me were the cake decorating section, a huge section on wedding parapenalia, a whole aisle of beads, and lots of cross stitch materials (there were also kits for all sorts of other activities, paints, frames...). It won't surprise you to learn that I came away with a lot more than just my 99p thread...I got the latest Cake decorating magazine, a Dolls house magazine (I have a beauitful dolls house at home and although I don't ever make things from it I thought I would have fun looking through it), about 10 very small cross stitch kits to make cards with, and actual cards to put them in, a new butterfly plunger sugarcraft cutter, and a big plastic pink box to keep my cross stitching things in - they have until now been languishing in a bin bag behind the sofa. Definitely a great way to spend my morning off!
(I should also add a postscript, that Hobbycraft turned out to be next door to Lakeland Limited. We weren't going to go in (as it invariably turns out to be an expensive experience), but my fiance said "It'll be ok, we don't need anything". Famous last words. It turned out that we did need a silicon spatula but unfortunately they had them in every colour other than pink, so we didn't get one of those. But I did spot a wonderful moulded cake tin in the Sale section: I have the same tin in a heart design, and couldn't resist buying this one too when I saw it was reduced from £8.99 to £2.49. This picture comes from the Lakeland site; I'll have a go in due course and show you the results!)
As you know, I have developed somewhat of an obsession with wedding cakes of late, as I try to work out whether or not I will be capable of making mine for my wedding next year. The answer is yes, I think, and now I am trying to work out what I will be capable of producing and how we would like our cake to look (hopefully combining the two). I've been on a one day cake decorating course, am about to book myself on a 20-week cake decorating evening class, and have been perusing vast numbers of celebration cake books from the library, as part of the process. I was extremely excited to track down a book all about the history and anthropology of wedding cakes called Wedding cakes and cultural history. This is actually an academic book on the subject, not exactly a light read, but absolutely fascinating if you are as obsessed with the topic as I am.
The earliest recorded recipe of a wedding cake, in 1665, was actually a pie, and it wasn't until later on that the customary British wedding cake became a fruit cake covered with icing. Apparently, the traditional tiered wedding cake design was inspired by the spire of St Bride's church in London, although these did not come into fashion until the 19th century, first appearing at a number of royal weddings. But at this stage, bakers lacked the expertise to engineer real tiered cakes - only the bottom tier would be cake and the rest would be dummies or sculptures made out of sugar. It was in the 1870s that the tiers began to be made from actual cake and in the 1890s that the tiers began to be separated by little columns rather than stacked. It wasn't until the late 20th century that wedding cakes moved on from fruit cake into sponge cakes, and although the book was publisxhed in 1992, one could argue for another shift in wedding cake habits, towards having a tower of cupcakes sometimes arranged in tiers. And I've seen wedding photos where the cake is a cheese cake, literally made of a number of whole round cheeses balanced on top of each other, mimicking the tiers of the "traditional" cake.
Another interesting titbit is that the cutting of the cake was originally held to symbolise the bride losing her virginity. Nowadays it is often believed that the cutting of the cake is the couple's first public act together, and Charlsey suggests that this is representative of women's changing role and position within marriage.
There was a slight disappointment with the book in that it was barely illustrated at all; on the other hand I have another anthropological cake book to write about soon which had some fantastic pictures in. Watch this space for more cake discussions (I love it when books and baking come together!)
Following on from the post I wrote about my new toy last week, I thought I'd write a post to share the wonderful things (bakes and others) which it assisted me in creating over the weekend.
We started both Saturday and Sunday morning with smoothies, made in the blender attachment. This is my fiance's role - I think it is probably the most masculine bit of the equipment and provides an outlet for relieving tension by pulverising fruit. We've frozen banana in chunks, and tend to use that as a base with some soya milk, orange juice and then whatever fruit we have to hand - this weekend it was strawberries and blueberries.
I used the whisk attachment to beat egg whites (oh so easy and painless) and made my first ever batch of meringues! We were really impressed with the result, and served them up with more fresh fruit. My fiance got the whisk attachment out again to whip cream for his bowlful.
Making meringues means thinking of something do to with egg yolks, but I had a recipe in hand - Nigella's recipe for a Breton gateau, which she describes as a cross between shortbread and pound cake. It was essentially a shortbread dough recipe with the addition of egg yolks; this made for a very sticky dough, but when baked it came out biscuit like on the top, but without a crunch all the way through. I got to put it on my new cake stand!
I haven't taken pictures of the last two creations, but I used the food processor attachment to make homemade pesto - far far easier than doing it with my hand blender as I did last summer. And then I made bread - we do have a bread machine but there was something very satisfying about making it in the mixer - for a start I was able to make it in a loaf shape, rather than a square block. Even if I didn't actually knead it, it still felt more hands on, and the smell pervaded our flat even more than bread machine bread does.
A couple of weeks ago, I went along to the Woodstock Bookshop for their latest talk, by Robert Sackville-West, on his book Inheritance, about the house Knole and the Sackville-West family to whom it has belonged since its purchase by Thomas Sackville-West in 1604. I was particularly interested to attend this talk having become a fan of the writing of Vita Sackville West through my Virago Venture earlier this year - her books All Passion Spent and No Signposts in the sea are particular favourites. I have long been keen to visit Sissinghurst gardens for its association with Vita, but did not know about Knole - I discovered that many of VSW's novels used Knole as their inspiration. I am now desperate to visit!
The house itself sounded absolutely fascinating - it is supposedly a "calendar" house - with 365 rooms, 52 staircases and 7 courtyards (however, this is only alleged, no-one has apparently counted the rooms to make certain). Robert Sackville-West and his family recently moved into a wing of the house, having been living in a cottage in the grounds for some time. The house is now owned by the National Trust but a number of family members have apartments within it (well there is certainly plenty of room!). RSW talked about the problems of refurbishing the apartment within the bounds of English heritage, but also touched on the good sides of living in such a remarkable place - primarily its fantastic history. A big house apparently lends itself to a lot of cupboards and thus to a culture of keeping everything providing RSW with a huge archive of material - letters, diaries, artefacts, to draw upon in writing this book. RSW was not sure that his 5 year old daughter agreed however, reporting that she had recently complained that "Susan visited my house at the weekend. It's not fair, I have to be invited if I want to go to her house!)
After the talk, I contacted Alice at Bloomsbury who very kindly sent me a copy of the book to read and write about. It filled out the details of the talk and provided a much more in depth look at the Sackville-West family and their lives. It is a wonderful story of an aristocratic family through the generations - I found Victoria, Vita's mother a fascinating character - RSW has gleaned lots of information from her incredibly candid diaries (for example, they reveal in code where and when she made love to her husband). The book, as revealed by the title, is based around the theme of "Inheritance" and the passing of the estate through generations - extraordinarily there were few straight father-son inheritances; Robert Sackville West is no exception, having inherited from his uncle. Vita Sackville-West was particularly devastated not to inherit the property.
My only disappointment was that there weren't more pictures - I would have loved to have seen more images of the interiors and plans of the house at various stages throughout its history. But perhaps the book is really more the biography of the people who lived in the house than a biography of the place itself, and in that RSW has undoubtedly written a masterpiece. If you have any interest in English country house and aristocratic life at any point between the 17th and 21st centuries, then do pick up a copy of this book. I have been dropping hints about a trip to Kent and very much hope to be able to visit Knole, with this book in hand, before too long.
The most fantastic thing I think about domestic arts is their utility as gifts. I mentioned previously how my knitting project had been motivated in part by the desire to make an eco-friendly present for a friend, and I've drawn on some of my new domestic arts skills recently.
Last week it was my fiance's grandmother's 90th birthday; it's often difficult to know what to give as a present for such a significant occasion. She had a select birthday lunch, so I decided to utilise my cake decorating skills and send along a little cake for her to share with her guests, or to have at home afterwards. I wasn't quite sure how to approach this as my smallest tin was 6", so the cake making started with a mission to find a suitable tin. Luckily Boswells in Oxford came up trumps with a 4" Pork Pie tin (an interesting piece of kitchen kit for a vegetarian!) - obviously this was quite deep so I didn't fill it to the top with mixture. They also furnished me with a mini cake drum/board and some number cutters - I was ready to go! I used the same madeira recipe as for my other cake, only made 1/6 of the quantity (and that was slightly too much). I was very pleased with how the mini cake turned out, and set to work utilising my new found skills. I levelled the top of the cake, split it and filled it with jam, and put a layer of buttercream on the top, and then covered it with sugarpaste. It's not any easier sugarpasting a small cake, and I still committed some cardinal errors (making thumbprints in the paste once on the cake, and getting crumbs in it), but luckily it was easy to cover these up with the decoration. I used a mini blossom plunger cutter to make the flowers and my new number cutters to make the 90. I then put ribbon around the bottom of the cake to disguise where I had cut off the paste unevenly. But overall, I was really pleased with the result, and I think the recipient was too.
I'm currently in the middle of making a cross stitch card as a thank you for a friend; unfortunately I've been so tired recently that I haven't been able to focus on the pattern, and am back doing Forever Friends kits because they are nice and easy. Hopefully I'll have the card to show you soon.
I have some new toys for the kitchen...I don't know which I am more excited about...
This: Our new Kenwood Food mixer with blender and food processing attachment which arrived on Saturday, and which represents OH and my present to ourselves in celebration of booking our wedding (a belated engagement present perhaps and our first jointly owned domestic appliance).
Or this: My beautiful new cake stand and matching slicer. (I also have matching cake forks and am dropping copious hints about matching teaspoons).
The cake, BTW, is just a regular jam sponge, although with homemade jam in the middle. But it was mixed in the new Kenwood mixer. I'll be having more of a play around with it in due course - I think it will depend on the size and type of things that I bake as to whether I use it or not. I already have a bread machine but that can be quite limiting in the type of bread that you make so I am looking forward to trying out some other sorts of loaves using the mixer. But what we've used it most for is making smoothies in the blender! If you have a mixer, what is your favourite thing to make in it?
Intrigued by reviews of The Flavour Thesaurus in both the Guardian and on Desperate Reader's blog, I was very excited when a copy came my way via Alice from Bloomsbury and have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last week or so flicking through it - you know the way with thesauri or dictionaries - you look up one thing, get distracted by something else, and then find that half an hour later you have taken somewhat of a voyage throughout the book.
But what is it, and how does it work? Segnit starts with a flavour wheel (half of which is shown on the front cover), broken down into types of flavour, such as roasted, meaty, citrus fruity, floral fruity, within which 99 flavours are categorised. She then pairs flavours together. The bulk of the book is devoted to a paragraph or two about each flavour combination, sometimes with a recipe, or sometimes with a reference to other food writers, for example, under chocolate and cherry she refers to Nigella's wonderful cupcakes which I remember having made. Organized by the 99 different flavours, the only annoying thing about the book, is that obviously each flavour combination is listed twice, within the section of each flavour, but only in full in one section, so browsing through the cherry combinations, you will have to flick elsewhere in the book if you want to find out how it goes with walnut or chocolate for example. Thankfully there is also an index at the back where all of the flavour combinations are listed in brief, so you can get an idea of what flavours will go with what and then turn to the relevant page for more detail.
There are some really intriguing flavour combinations in the book - avocado and chocolate is one that I would certainly not have come up with. But apparently in Mexico, avocado is more of a fruit than a veg, and often used in making milkshakey drinks. Lime and butternut squash is another combo that I have not contemplated, and I'm thinking of pepping up my butternut squash and chilli risotto with some lime zest and juice the next time I make it - I think that would turn an Autumnal dish into one with a bit of a summery zing.
What is wonderful about this book is the way that it makes you think about ingredients. Scarcely a meal goes by now in our flat without consulting the thesaurus on how else we might have cooked our meal - what flavours should we have paired with the prawns? And how else might we serve the strawberries sitting in the fridge for pudding (surprisingly not with ginger as it happens, although I think that is a match made in heaven, but with white chocolate, or chocolate, or rhubarb perhaps).
I've got the last two new Bloomsbury Group books to write about today.
Mrs Ames by E.F. Benson is a social comedy, probably a bit in the style of Wodehouse perhaps, although at times it reminded me of E.M Delafield's Provincial lady. The story revolves around a set of characters in the village of Riseborough where social niceties are acutely observed:
"No amount of appreciation would make tinned peaches fresh or turn custard into ice cream," said Mrs Ames, laying down the fork with which she had dallied with the kedgeree...."It is foolish to pretend that a thing is perfect when it is not".
The book tells the story of how Mrs Ames, perhaps the most popular villager, finds her popularity challenged by the incomer Mrs Evans. Mrs Ames' husband and son are also attracted to Mrs Evans, posing a further threat to Mrs Ames position.
I have not read anything by E.F. Benson, although my father is a fan of the Mapp and Lucia series which is what he (I was surprised to learn when reading the author note at the beginning of the volume that Benson was a man as had always assumed that he was female!) is probably most famous for. I have to say that this wasn't my sort of thing, although if you enjoy Wodehouse (which I don't!) and you like books that observe English social life (which actually I do, being a fan of Barbara Pym and the Provincial Lady) then you should definitely give this a go.
And onto Henrietta sees it through by Joyce Dennys. This is the follow-on to Henrietta's war, which Bloomsbury published last year, and enables us to catch up with Henrietta's exploits in wartime England as told through letters to her childhood friend Robert who is at the front. I found the last book a bit bitty; the letters were originally published as articles for the journal sketch and only brought together in book form in the 1980s. But this time around the bite-sized format suited my current inability to concentrate on books and I quite enjoyed Henrietta's humour alongside the insight into life in wartime England. And there are lovely cartoons illustrating the book throughout.
This passage where Henrietta helps out the orchestra by playing the triangle made me laugh (partly because I had a similarly important part playing the bass drum one year at school...) "In triangle playing, if you have only three Pings in a whole movement, and each Ping is separated from the next by at least eighty bars, and you aren't very good at reading music anyway, it is extremely difficult to Come In at the Right Time. The conductor was sitting with his head in his hands, apparently weeping, by the time we had gone through the movement twice. After that I threw my music onto the floor and trusted to Womanly Intuition and Memory. After the Double Bass had played three loud zooming notes I Pinged once; when one of the cellos turned round and gave me a Look; I Pinged a second time; and at the bit where little Mrs Simpkins began playing in flats instead of sharps, I Pinged for the third time. This was correct. The conductor said "Good Triangle"! and was I proud?"
Thank you Bloomsbury for giving me the chance to be among the first to read these books in their latest editions; and I commend them for their choice of books. Fascinated to see what will appear next, and I really hope it includes some more Mrs Harris!
I've been continuing with my cross stitch since I last wrote about it. Some of it has made me very cross, and I even gave up on one project, because the pattern was too tiny, the threads kept tangling and I didn't like the colours I was working with. I reasoned that I was doing the cross stitch for fun, and if I wasn't enjoying it, then I should stop. So it was back to more Forever Friends patterns as these seem to be my favourite - appealing colours, adorable bears, and absolutely relaxing. I think my favourite is the one with the roses at the bottom - they took a lot of backstitching but I loved the result.
I must now iron them, but I'm not sure what to do with them. My fiance offered to frame them, but I think that was before he realised how big the output would be. They're too big to use for greetings cards.
I love books, baking and my boyfriend, and love to write about the first two. I particular love "forgotten" books, books brought out of obscurity by republication and those still languishing in obscurity. I'm currently reading my way through all of the Virago Modern Classics, but taking in other books along the way.