Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Off to get married

This will be my last post for a little bit as I'm off on Friday to get married on Tuesday. So here I'm sharing a few things that have been given to me over the last week or so. Firstly, a beautiful card from Geraldine, a longtime reader of this blog - too bad I didn't have time to persuade K to buy a top hat. I love the sparkles on my wedding dress and the pink flowers!

When I got into work today, I could barely see my desk for balloons, banner and confetti on the chair. Not quite sure what the readers thought, but a lovely send off. My colleagues also gave me a beautiful cardboard cakestand and some cupcake cases and bunting which I am sure will feature on the blog soon!

The centrepiece of the workplace celebrations was my fantastic knitted wedding cake, knitted for me by Alison, one of my colleagues. Isn't it AMAZING? I'm only sorry that my photo doesn't quite do it justice. We spotted it in the Knitted Cakes book that I wrote about last year. What a work of art - I am so impressed by it. I MUST learn to knit properly...

Big thanks to all of the blog readers who have left messages on my wedding reading post, listened to me moan on twitter, sent e-cards, and even a magazine to read on the plane!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Some wedding and Austria themed holiday reading!

Apologies for the lack of posts in the last week or so; it is now only a week until I go to Austria to get married! K has been away since last Friday, and I have been ridiculously busy with all sorts of things, mainly involving the wedding cake, which I am happy to report is now covered with marzipan and icing and dowelled [dowelling stops the cake collapsing when you stack it], and just waiting to go to the venue for our wedding lunch when we get back to be stacked and beribboned. We will also have guests staying with us over the wedding lunch weekend, so I've been desperately

Whilst I haven't actually started packing yet - I intend to do that over the long weekend that I have booked (mainly to catch up with K's washing after he gets back on Sunday) - I have sorted out the books that I have been stockpiling over the last year to take with me. The books fall into three categories - 1. Salzburg/Austria related. 2 - Wedding themed. 3 - Books that I have been hoarding!
1. We will be starting out trip with 2 days in Salzburg, just to give our luggage a chance to catch up with us if necessary, and so that K can finally visit the airport museum, I can go on the Sound of Music tour. So in this pile I have two books relating to the Sound of Music, a guidebook to Salzburg, and a Salzburg travelogue which I came across on Captive Reader's blog.

2. In the wedding related pile, I have a couple of Persephones, both to reread but which are wedding/marriage themed. I also have the book where Anne of Green Gables gets married, which was recommended when I previously asked for wedding reading suggestions, and The wedding wallah, which is the next Marriage Bureau book, kindly sent to me by Abacus. I've also a copy of a Madeleine Wickham book passed on from a colleague, and the three books at the bottom of the pile were ones spotted in Blackwells and chosen purely on the basis of their titles.

3. Finally, the books that I have been hoarding... You will see a couple of Greyladies, as well as a couple of reprinted Lorna Hills and a Pamela Brown. I've also been saving Caddy's world and have nearly finished my rereading of the Casson family books. And I am so excited to read The wilder life about Laura Ingalls Wilder - it has been hard for me to resist picking that one up!

I think that should do me nicely; I may just pick up some chick lit from the library, and K has a couple of books that I've sorted out for him which might do if I run out of reading material (heaven forbid!). But actually, I am hoping to be so busy with spending time with K that I might not read very much at all - what with the house, and my swim, and K's cycling, and 6 day weeks at work until the start of this month we really have spent very little time together since April, and I can't wait!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Banana blondie

I'm trying hard NOT to bake this week while K is away. It is just a little too close to the wedding for my waistline, and having put on some weight due to over consumption of chocolate due to stress, I am drinking lots of peppermint tea and mainly hoping for the best. But this is cake that I made last week (served with a portion of fruit, do note!), while K was trying dismally to do his Open University assignment that is due while we are away. It's not finished... But this helped.

It's a banana blondie (blondie being a white chocolate banana for the uninitiated), which I made to use up some manky bananas... It didn't come out terribly brownie like, a bit more like a cake or a tray bake. But it was tasty. Here's the recipe.

Friday, 15 July 2011

IABD: competition entry

Here is my entry for one of Thomas' IABD competitions - the category "best picture of your pet reading Anita Brookner". I don't have a pet, but I do have Bernard, so I asked him if he'd participate. As regular readers will know, although he's a fun-loving bear, he does also take things seriously, so decided that he would read through the novel that I had borrowed from the library for the event.

He said he was a little disappointed that there weren't more bears in the novel, and he was a bit sad about the lack of pictures, but mostly he was concerned by the book's last line: "It is not yet time to put the book down" - he told me that he'd got a crick in his neck from sitting at that angle on the sofa, and he'd quite like to be able to put the book down so he could go and have some cake.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Casson Family books (Hilary McKay)

A few weeks ago, Nymeth alerted me to the existence of a prequel to the marvellous series of Casson Family books by Hilary McKay - Caddy's World. I have to admit to not having read Nymeth's review yet, as I managed to pick up a supercheap copy of it on ebay, which I'm saving for my wedding trip. I'm so excited about reading it that it will probably end up in my handbag for the flight.

In the meantime, I thought I would prepare for reading this book, by rereading the five-book series, and, I thought I would blog about them, in hoping to share the love a little further. Yes, they are books aimed at the younger end of the teenage market, but I think they are so good that it would be a shame if they were the only group that read them.

I'll talk a little bit about Saffy's Angel, since that is the first book in the series and where we meet the Casson family. Named after paints, by their artistic mother and father, Caddy (short for Cadmium), Indigo, Saffron, and Rose (Permanent Rose), the children and their parents are a somewhat eccentric family. When Saffron discovers that she is not on the colour chart that her parents chose their names from, she starts upon a voyage of discovery into her past, that will take her all the way to Siena (hiding under a beanbag in her friend Sarah's car), to find a stone angel that she was bequeathed by her grandfather. But there are other stories running along the way such as that of Caddy who is on her 96th driving lesson and hopelessly in love with her driving instructor. It's the sort of book that will make you both laugh out loud and bring tears to your eyes - Hilary McKay is truly an amazing children's author and this book deserves to find a place as a modern classic.

The other books in the series are Indigo's Star, Permanent Rose, Caddy ever after, and Forever Rose. I'm about to start Permanent Rose tonight, so I think I shall have plenty of time to savour the rest before I go away. I seem to remember that the rest of the series isn't quite as good as the first two, but I'm sure I will enjoy it anyway.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


I had a couple of requests to show the fruits of my new oven; unfortunately I've not been taking that many pictures of the things that I've made due to disorganisation, but here are some meringues that I made last week.

Meringues SEEM complicated, and I don't know why I don't make them more often than about once a year, but as long as you separate each egg carefully, (and not straight into the mixing bowl), and as long as you have an electric mixer (ideally the freestanding sort as you can then just leave them for 5 minutes), they are really very easy, and all you have to do is work out what you want to do with the yolks. Mine look brown, not because I got the temperature wrong, but because I used unrefined caster sugar, which gives them a slightly fudgy flavour.

With the yolks, I made lemon curd, which I'd been enjoying recently from Marks and Spencer, but never previously attempted. Again, like meringues, easy peasy. You basically whisk yolks with sugar, heat it gently, melt in some butter, add lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Here's a link to Delia's recipe.

Meringues, fresh raspberries, greek yoghurt, and lemon curd - a winning combination.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Knitted wild animals

I know that another project is not exactly what I need at the moment (humungous amounts of DIY, gardening and the small matter of getting married in less than a month), but I am quite excited about this, which shall be the focus of my attention in the post-wedding weeks.

My colleague drew my attention to this book the other week, and, hoping that her claim that it was the kind of thing that is suitable for beginners was true, I bought myself a copy with an Amazon voucher that I had...

There are some exceptionally cute animals inside; an adorable moose, and a wonderful giraffe. I have not set my heights too high however, and my colleague seems to think that I might be able to manage either the snake or the Penguin.

I went to have lunch with K today (I'm off work this week, he isn't, and I had yet to properly visit his new office...), and took a detour back via Abingdon to visit its library (which until today I was yet to cross off my list of public libraries in Oxfordshire), and also to visit a knitting shop recommended by my colleague. I now have wool for both the snake and the penguin, so watch this space...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


I haven't posted many pictures of my baking over the last few months - I have still been baking, so I thought I'd share two of the highlights today.

Firstly, a wonderful cherry and marzipan cake; it is a basic sponge, made half with ground almonds and half with flour (I used gluten free), and studded with glace cherries (I never used to be a fan, but I've since found that you can get less garishly red ones in Marks and Spencer). Half of the mixture goes into the tin, and then a disc of marzipan is put on top, before the other half of the mixture completes it - once baked, you have a lovely layer cake.

Secondly, a Rhubarb Crumble cake made with delicious rhubarb from the pick your own farm, that came in sticks longer than my arm! I used this recipe, although I left out the orange juice as I didn't have any to hand, and used ginger rather than cinnamon to make a spicy flavoured sponge. Sadly, although it tasted fantastic on the first day, using gluten free flour alongside the very moist fruit, meant that the texture deteriorated quite badly on the second day.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Paris in July

I am excited to be participating in this year's Paris in July hosted by Karen from Bookbath and Tamara from Thyme for Tea. I've been struggling to find things to read of late, and I didn't have a clue what I could read to participate, but Karen's list of inspiration mentioned Julia Child's My life in France. Long before the film, Julie and Julia, I had read the book, but the film inspired to me to read the book which had inspired the original book, and so I decided that Paris in July would be the perfect time to get around to it.

The book is Julia Child's memoir of, as the title suggests, her life in France - she moved their with her diplomat husband in 1948 and initially found it difficult to settle in. But she quickly fell in love with French culture, shopping at the markets, attending dinner parties with other ex-pats, and taking cookery classes at the Cordon Bleu. She then made friends with some other french-food lovers and together they started to collaborate on the cookbook. It was a fascinating tale of a pretty inspiring woman; whilst Child could easily have suffered at having to move for her partner's job, she seized matters into her own hands and carved out a good life for herself.

I have to say, that whilst reading, I found it very difficult to imagine Julia Child as anyone other than the marvellous Meryl Streep (she is so good in that film!); I even heard her voice as I read through this autobiography. One thing that surprised me about the book was how recently it was published - mostly written with a ghost writer in the year leading up to her death, it was completed after she died in 2004. Because the cookbook is so very traditional, I somehow thought that this would be a much older book, which it isn't, but it does deal with a period of almost 60 years.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Hen party chocolate biscuit cake

A quick follow up to yesterday's post which showed off my loveheart cupcakes. As my hen party had a vague Royal wedding theme (bunting, tiara making, royal wedding hen party socks...


I suddenly realised 4 hours before the ladies were due to arrive, that really what we needed was a chocolate biscuit cake. After all, if Kate and Wills had one, then we should have one too. Here it is:

If you look carefully, you can see that there are actually two layers, and the top layer is heart shaped. Would you like to know how to make one? It's a very versatile recipe as you can make it dairy free/egg free/vegan/nut free/gluten free if you need to.

Melt 100g of hard fat (butter is fine, but I used vegan margarine) with 100g of dark chocolate (sometimes dark chocolate can contain milk so check the label if you are catering for a dairy free/vegan diet) and 1 tbsp of golden syrup. Then, bash up 100g of biscuits (digestives are good, but if you are catering for dairy free/vegan/gluten free diet then buy appropriate biscuits - the Free From aisle in the supermarket or a health food shop is usually a good place to look) into little crumbs and stir them into the chocolate mixture with 80g of dried fruit (I used cranberries, but raisins would be good, or dried cherries) and 80g of nuts (chopped up a bit) (you can always add extra fruit if you need to leave out the nuts!). Then, put most of the mixture into a tin, lined with clingfilm (this tin is an 18cm round tin). Put a heart shaped cutter on a piece of tin foil on a plate, and fill it with the rest of the mixture. Put both the tin and the filled cutter into the fridge. After an hour or two, the heart shape should have firmed up, so remove it from the cutter and place it on top of the cake in the tin. Leave for a further two hours, until the cake is firm. Remove from tin and serve!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Loveheart cakes

A quick post - made these cute little gluten free cupcakes and decorated them with Lovehearts this morning as it is my hen party this afternoon/evening - games, jewellery making, and some food!