Wednesday, 31 August 2011

My weekend...

I was hoping to have a nice post to write about our weekend away featuring some shots of a couple of literary places that we visited. But, the best laid plans often don't work out. Some other excitement rather took over the weekend, and I forgot my camera. So all I can do is tell you that on our way to Kent, we finally went to visit Knole House, which I had been desperate to visit since reading Inheritance by Robert Sackville West last year, and because of its connection with an author that I had discovered as part of my Virago Venture - Vita Sackville West. Not that much of the house is open to the public, but there is a beautiful deer park with the most wonderfully tame deer. And on the way back from Kent, we finally visited Sissinghurst, which is where Vita Sackville West lived after her marriage to Harold Nicholson. It's primarily famous for its beautiful gardens - she was an avid gardner, but you can also see the room where she wrote (halfway up a tower) and their library (I enjoyed perusing the shelves and spotting things like Rebecca West and Joy Edmundson's Born Free alongside what were evidently a lot of Nicholson's political tracks). So very sorry that I didn't have my camera to share those with you.

The reason that we went to Kent was to do a Swim (only I persuaded Mr W to make it into a weekend so that we could take in those places which he had previously claimed were too far to do in a day). It was an ironman distance swim (3.8 km) and my first organised sea swim. Having done several ironman swims before, I wasn't too worried about it, although I did expect the swell on the sea to slow me down a little. How wrong I was! At the safety briefing, the organiser mentioned the current which had caused problems laying out the buoys for us to swim round (3 laps), and delayed the start, but which would disappear as slack water arrived with high tide. However, by the time we started the swim, I could not discern any current in the water, and just concentrated on swimming, deciding that a sea swim is quite grim owing to the taste of the salt water and the motion sickness caused by the swell. By the middle of the second lap, when I had just overtaken Mr W (who had had a 50m start on me because he is able to run into the sea from the start), things started to change. As I approached the last buoy on the 2nd lap, I didn't seem to be making much progress. I swam, and I swam, and the buoy didn't seem to be getting much nearer. Eventually, after a huge effort, I managed to touch the buoy, but I couldn't get round it, but decided to continue. Off I went on the third lap, merrily heading back to the start of the course. As a novice sea swimmer, I didn't not cotton on to the fact that it was due to a change of the tides making things different - slack water had passed and the tide had turned. Failing dismally to get anywhere near the second buoy, I ended up in a group of about ten swimmers who were advised to aim for the far left of the beach. It took me about twenty minutes to get back to the shore, feeling grumpy that I hadn't been allowed to finish the swim (it didn't occur to me that I wouldn't be able to!); I met Mr W on the beach who had bailed out before me, and we watched the other swimmers come in. Unfortunately, some swimmers had got further out at the point when the current came into action, and a rescue operation involving two RNLI lifeboats had to commence! 6 swimmers were washed into the next bay!! Unsurprisingly, this made it into the news, both at the Daily Mail and the BBC. I should point out that both reports are somewhat exaggerated; in fact 6 swimmers finished the course, 22 made their way back under their own steam like the pair of us, and 25 had to be picked up in rescue craft.

So that was my Bank Holiday weekend. It was nice to have a Bank Holiday, having had to work the last four, but I think I could have done with a little less excitement! We'll certainly give it a go if the event is held again, not least as we identified some other interesting looking National Trust properties, such as Churchill's House, Chartwell, in the vicinity, and our travelodge room, whilst a bit of a comedown after wedding luxury was extraordinarily good value (£55 for two nights for two!)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Two more free cakes for kids

While I gear myself back up into work mode again (well, it's difficult as I had only just got back into it after nearly 3 weeks off...), and start composing a post about my weekend adventures, here's a couple of cakes I made for Free Cakes for Kids last week. A couple of cakes? Yes, I got to bake for three year old twins. The boy likes football, and the girl likes pink and sparkly - a girl after my own heart. As the family had six children, I decided to make one chocolate and one plain sponge to give them a choice...

Friday, 26 August 2011

Braving the rain was worth it!

I got soaked from my middle down at lunchtime as I trudged through what didn't look like very heavy rain, but was certainly very wet rain, to return some library books that despite being interesting enough to pick up did not seem to capture my attention once home. And, whilst I was there, I decided to browse the shelves once more.

I started in the B's, deciding to pick up another Maeve Binchy to reread:
and then spotted another one which had passed me by when it came out:
I picked up some chick lit by Fiona Gibson and Julia Williams, whose books I have enjoyed previously:
..and I found a Susan Howatch that I hadn't read - I haven't read too many of her books and they are quite weighty but full of plot.
I'm still on the look for books featuring weddings or marriage, so this one caught my eye, although it is a crime novel and might not invovle the happy depictions that I want to read about!
I've been looking forward to reading this one since it was reviewed on Kimbofo's blog - it sounds fascinating to learn about a different culture.

And I also picked up a local history pamphlet of memories about the village where we have just moved too - today it is quite ugly in places (and really far too big to be called a village...), and it is interesting to see how things used to be.

In other news, my two Stella Gibbons books that I mentioned on Wednesday have arrived, and I am halfway through reading Starlight.

I have an exciting literary theme to my Bank Holiday weekend, and hope that I'll have some photos to share with you next week.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Growing things

I find it difficult to contain my excitement about growing things. I never thought it was something that I could do, but along with making chutney and mincemeat, it seems that with a little care, and following some instructions it can be done.

I am terribly impressed with my forest of two tomato plants which are making a bid to completely take over the patio. Luckily my neighbours kindly kept an eye on them while we were away, and we came back to mini tomatoes! I am not quite sure how to make them turn red - just wait?

It feels like cheating a little bit to mention our pear tree, since we have had nothing at all to do with the fact that it is bearing fruit, but I was very excited to start picking pears at the weekend. They are rock hard at the moment but should hopefully start to ripen in the back room of our house which gets a lot of sun. I'm wondering about making this gluten free pear crumble with them, but I also remember my Mum making fantastic chocolate pear puddings when I was small, as well as amazing pear chutney...

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What I'm looking forward to reading

I had a dismal trip to the library on Monday, and came away with just one more Maeve Binchy, which I've already read, so that has not cured my desire to find something good to read (I'm rereading things from my shelves and gazing dismally at my VMCs which are currently not exciting me very much!). But I had a little shop on Amazon and bought a couple of things, and I also thought of a couple of things which I'm looking forward to when they're coming out, so I shall write about them today. And perhaps you could tell me what you are looking forward to - it doesn't have to be recent, it can be something you're waiting for at the library or something that you have on your TBR pile.

I bought two of the BEAUTIFUL new Stella Gibbons reissues from Vintage. I'm not a fan of Cold Comfort Farm at all, so I didn't buy those sequels, but I did enjoy Nightingale Wood, so I thought I might enjoy these two:

I've been reading my way slowly through the books of Beth Gutcheon, since reading Still Missing, after it was republished by Persephone. None of them seem to be readily available in the UK, so I have to slowly buy them from Amazon when I have spare pennies, and none quite pack the punch of Still Missing but they are still hugely enjoyable.

I'm looking forward to reading the new Fiona Cairns book when it comes out in September - I loved her last book. It's not fiction but enjoyable nonetheless....
Also on the non fiction front, I spotted this book a little while ago which is out at the start of October. I love Pantone colours and apparently this book is a "rich visual tour of one hundred transformative years. From the Pale Gold (15-0927 TPX) and Almost Mauve (12-2103 TPX) of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris to the Rust (18-1248 TPX) and Midnight Navy (19-4110 TPX) of the countdown to the Millennium, the 20th century brimmed with color. Longtime PANTONE collaborators and colour gurus Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker identify more than 200 touchstone works of art, products and fashion and carefully match them with official PANTONE palettes to reveal the trends, radical shifts, and resurgences of various hues.. "

And of course I'll be looking forward to the new Persephone books - I have already read Greenbanks but Dorothy Whipples definitely bear rereading!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

An Xbox 360 cake

As regular readers know, I bake cakes for the organisation Free Cakes for Kids. Just after we got back from Austria, there was a request for a cake for a young carer, a boy aged 10. I waited an for someone to respond, but everyone was busy, so the day after my wedding lunch I found myself in the kitchen once more... It wasn't too much of a hardship, I hasten to add, since I doubled up the quantity of chocolate cake and made one for Mr W and myself :) It was a slightly challenging request for an XBox 360 cake. I'm afraid I wasn't too sure what an XBox 360 was, - and google images showed me that it is literally a BOX which wouldn't have made a terribly exciting cake - so here was what I came up with instead - the light on the cake meant that the photo didn't come out terribly well.

(Oh and here's the one I made for us!)
As it's holiday time, most of the bakers seem to be away, so I've found myself with another request hot on its heels - this time for twins. So hopefully next Tuesday I'll be sharing the TWO cakes that I've baked for them!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Getting back into the swing of things...or trying to.

It feels like simply ages since we had our Wedding Lunch, and the wedding day itself seems to have receded into dim and distant history, but at the same time I'm struggling to get back into routine. Having had something so exciting on the horizon for over a year, I guess it is not a little surprising that life feels a little strange after it. And frustratingly, it seems to have hit onto my reading too - I had a plethora of wonderful books which I read on my holiday (and because it was a holiday I didn't keep notes to blog about them afterwards), but now I'm back to the dregs of the TBR, and a very disappointing library trip last week.

How nice then to recieve a parcel of two books from my friend Geraldine on Saturday, completely unexpectedly. We had lots of presents for US for our wedding lunch, so how nice to have a present just for ME, the week after :)

I'm heading to the library at lunchtime in the hope that I will find SOMETHING to entice me, and to enable me to start writing more about books on this blog again (although I do have a cake post scheduled for tomorrow!). The highlight of last week's reading was a Maeve Binchy book which I'd not read - even though I thought I'd read all of them as they came out - a good story but not something that I especially want to write about.

In the meantime, ahead of tomorrow's cake post, here's a cake that I made for my friend Kate's birthday at the weekend - the poor girl was stuck in hospital, so I hope this made up for it a little bit, although I was sad that they wouldn't let me take in candles!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

*the* cake

This time last week we were getting ready for our wedding lunch celebration - a joyous occasion with over 80 of our family and friends getting together to celebrate Mr and Mrs W's marriage! Of course, we had to have a wedding cake, and as most of you know, I decided to do it myself. We're still waiting for the photos of the party, but I persuaded our photographer to give me a preview of the cake so that I could share it with you all. And here it is! Three layers of fruit cake, the bottom two made to the same recipe as my parent's cake, the top layer was vegan and gluten free, all covered by me in marzipan and sugarpaste.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Austria: Bernard's holiday

Bernard was very excited to be going on holiday with us:
Obviously he had a very important job as ring-bearer, and looked after the rings until we left the hotel on our wedding day.
He also kept an eye on the weather forecast:

He enjoyed celebratory champagne :)
But found the wedding day completely exhausting!
But luckily he recovered to enjoy sitting on the balcony of the hotel.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Austria: some wedding photos

Some photos from our wonderful wedding day in Austria - I'm sorry there are not more, but I only thought it fair to put up the pictures with just me, and most of our photos unsurprisingly featured Mr W as well!

Beautiful bouquet

At the registry office, before the ceremony
Exchanging rings


After the ceremony, on a boat trip around the lake.
Just such a very very happy day.

I expect you're all wondering what Bernard was up to...I've got some pictures of his holiday tomorrow.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Austria: the morning of the wedding

What a beautiful day for a wedding it was!
So what better way to kill pre wedding nerves with a swim? The hotel pool looked inviting...
...but much better to go down to the lakeside lido for a dip in the lake? As you can see, I had a strong sense of purpose...
We waited for it to open...and then I had it to myself!
After acclimitising in the "heated" pool, I couldn't resist a plunge into the lake.
And onto the trampoline in the middle of the lake! Wonderful!
Tomorrow - some wedding photos :)

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Austria: beautiful Zell am See

After two nights in Salzburg we went to Zell am See. Mountains and lake - beautiful. Some photos of the mountains...

A beautiful place to stop and sit...
...but too bad it is cloudy:
Further on the view clears up:
And some photos from the walk we did around the lake.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Austria : the Sound of Music Tour

Hello everyone! It's time to start sharing some photos from the last couple of weeks, and I intend to devote the whole week to a photo fest. Today is my last day before going back to work, and it's nice to revisit some photos to remind me quite how much has gone on as I battle with the tax office to change my name and try to write the remaining 18 thank you letters...

Today I start with my photos from the Sound of Music tour, which I know are hotly anticipated! It proved to be a fantastic way to kick off our trip.

Leopoldskrun Palace - used for the scene where they fall out of the boat.
THE gazebo! ("I am 16 going on 17")

The road from "I have confidence"
The bridge from "Do Re Mi"
Nonnberg Abbey - the nunnery

Mondsee church where the wedding takes place...
...and inside it.

And finally some "Do re mi" scenes from the Mirabell Palace Gardens