Friday, August 22, 2014

The Sodbury Sheep Search


Last Wednesday Lucas and I spent the morning chasing around Chipping Sodbury, trying to capture twenty-five escaped sheep.  We're awesome like that.

Actually, we were taking part in a fun trail around the town to find the fluffy sheep who had escaped from their field and were hiding out in shop windows.  Not only was this a fantastic low-cost way to spend a morning, but it also introduced me to lots of new shops that I'd never been into before.  Exactly what the local Chamber of Commerce wanted I suspect!

Celebrating National Afternoon Tea Week, perhaps?
We ambled up and down the High Street, and spent ages peering into shop windows and happily browsing in any shops we fancied the look of. Lucas can spot a sheep from a considerable distance!  I had to be really sneaky to spot a sheep before his eagle eyes!!


As per usual I had to stop in at Hobbs House, even if only to look longingly at their cakes and meringues.  Damn you fast days!!  I love their butcher's bike so much!  It's a great (and unusual advertising) method; so much better than a sandwich board.

I admired the Bake Off themed window in Swagger--I really want the tray they had in the window with enamel pictures of British cakes and biscuits on it--for ages until Lucas dragged me along to Purple Parrot who specialise in miniatures for dolls houses and had some impossibly tiny toys in the window.

Along the way I found myself noticing little details, like the house with the magenta-painted windowsills and door with an original boot scraper outside, some beautiful carvings, and all manner of gorgeous doors.  Apparently I have a thing for a nice knocker--who knew?






The details on the police station are amazing.  I love the beautifully carved Public Entrance sign--that must have been a talented stone mason--and the old olice lamp had me snapping photos like a crazy person!  Surprisingly the police station is still in use and hasn't been turned into a dreadful themed pub, a fate that too many of our gorgeous old buildings face.


As we were leaving, we spotted a lonely sheep chained to a bench.  The label around her neck said that she was looking for a husband.  Apparently she'd be no trouble, all she'd need would be a bit of dusting now and then and a few loving words.  If you fancy a low-maintenance wife, she's waiting for you outside the Penny Farthing gift shop on the High Street!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Photo Every Hour (almost)

Saturday was my first attempt at Jane's Photo Every Hour challenge.  I think my offering would be better described as "A Photo When I Remember", but hey-ho...we were busy having fun!

8ish - On the M4 zooming towards London.  We surprised Lucas by getting up an hour earlier than we'd told him, then I told him that he wasn't getting to go to athletics today--his face fell--but we were going to London instead--his face was an absolute picture!


9ish - In a traffic jam at Trafalgar square.  A not very good snap of the giant blue cockerel and Nelson's column.


10ish - the Peter Pan book bench beside St Paul's.  I really wanted to go into St Paul's but was appalled by the entry price for the three of us.  We settled for starting our Book Bench hunt instead.


11ish - South of the river now and a pit-stop for coffee at Starbuck's near Shakespeare's Globe.  It took Lucas a while to notice that we'd been assimilated into Dave's collective...


12ish - After walking down the Thames Path, Dave took us into the Hay's Galleria for a quick look around.  It's a gorgeous building and positively festooned with bunting!  I love bunting.


1ish - Leon!! I've wanted to eat at Leon for years.  They've always been heaving whenever I've tried but we stumbled across this one near Southwark Cathedral which was empty and I couldn't pass up eating lunch there!

We all loved the food, so much so that I popped into Foyles later on and bought one of their books!


2ish - We walked over Tower Bridge and slowly walked around the Tower, marvelling at the poppies.  The sheer number is staggering and it brings home just how horrifying World War 1 was.  Lucas really struggled with the idea that something which represented so much death could be so beautiful, especially after he lost count of the poppies...


3ish Walking through the back streets of Westminster we stumbled across New Scotland Yard.  I had no idea that it was a mere stone's throw from Parliament.  I got ridiculously excited by this, but I'll spare you the photo of me grinning like a lunatic in favour of this slightly more iconic one!


4ish - Afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Westminster.  I loved this flower arrangement with artfully arranged succulents in glass teapots.


5 o'clock and all is definitely well - this was the dessert course of our British Summer Holiday afternoon tea.  All beach huts should be made of brownie and chocolate mousse!  I did feel a bit Hansel and Gretel when I neatly prised off the roof of the hut...


6ish -  Look Mum, No Hands!  We stumbled across the Look Mum No Hands! pop-up on the Southbank as we walked back to the hotel.  Lucas couldn't resist posing... I somehow managed to resist their jugs of Pimms.



7ish - We stopped for a SNOG at the bright pink SNOG bus.  (From a distance I'd assumed it was a disco!)


8 o'clock - This was a very welcome sign as it meant we were almost back at the hotel.  It also marks a learning experience for me: bridges can be windy!  I wound up doing a Marilyn all the way across the bridge in my flippy skirt.  Thank god for leggings!


Our day ends rather early by my usual standards...by the time we got back to the hotel we'd managed to clock up just shy of nine miles and I was asleep by about 9:30!

Next time I'll be slightly more organised and actually remember to keep an eye on the time!  Head over to Jane's blog to see who else took part in this month's challenge.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Great Bloggers Bake Off: Swiss Roll edition

I painted that plate!
I've been a massive fan of the Great British Bake Off since the very first episode aired, but it's never dawned upon me that I could bake along with the contestants.  Bit slow sometimes, me.  A couple of days ago I saw an absolutely delicious Mary Berry Cherry Cake from Clare on my Bloglovin' feed and then Jenny mentioned on Twitter that she was baking a Swiss roll, a la Bake Off.  I just had to join in!

I took the opportunity to try something I've been meaning to for absolutely ages, baking a pattern into the cake.  I've seen DIYs and tutorials for this all over Pinterest but I've never had an occasion to try it.

Turns out, it's super-easy.  All you need is a steady (ish) hand for piping and you can turn out something that looks rather special with ease.  Drawing a template with a thick marker and sliding it under the parchment would be a good idea if you're a bit nervous about free-handing.  It won't take much longer than making your usual Swiss roll recipe, honest!


I'm not sure what Mary and Paul would have thought of my efforts, though.  I used a little too much food colouring and alas, not only did the pink turn out a little on the garish side, but there was a slightly bitter taste which I'm putting down to chucking too much colouring in.  My advice?  One tiny dab of colouring at a time!!  I think Paul might have fixed me with his icy blue eyes and said, "Style over substance."  However Lucas described it as delicious, and he's my favourite critic, so that's all right.

Can't wait to see what the bakers get up to in Wednesday's episode!

Vanilla and Strawberry Swiss Roll


For the decorative paste

30g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg white
30g caster sugar
40g plain flour
a drop of vanilla extract (optional)
food colouring gel of your choice

For the cake

4 large eggs
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
100g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
caster sugar for dusting

For the filling

100g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar, sifted
40g strawberry and vanilla jam (or just strawberry jam and add a drop of vanilla extract)

Grease and line a Swiss roll tin (23x30cm) and brush the parchment with melted butter.

Make the paste: beat the egg white into the melted butter followed by the sugar and flour.  Add food colouring, carefully, as too much will make the paste taste slightly bitter.  This will probably make more than you need, but it's hard to divide since it only uses a single egg white!  Also, having a bit of excess is handy if you want to do a multi-colour pattern...

Put the paste into a piping bag with a fine, round nozzle, or simply snip the end off the bag when you want to start piping..  If it's a hot day it might seem a bit too soft, so pop it in the fridge for about 10 minutes.

Pipe your design onto the prepared tin.  If you make a mistake, you can scrape it off the parchment and pop the paste back into the piping bag.  Once you're happy with it, put the tin in the freezer while you make the cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan).

Let the cake cool for two minutes before sliding it onto a wire rack, keep the parchment on.  Sprinkle the surface of the cooked cake lightly with caster sugar to prevent sticking.  Starting from a short end, fold in the baking parchment and start rolling the cake up.  You might want to protect your hands with a tea towel as the cake is hot!  Allow to cool on a wire rack for about an hour.

Make the buttercream: in a mixer, beat the butter until it pales.  Add the icing sugar and beat in slowly--covering with a clean tea towel is advisable--then add the jam.  Keep beating until fluffy.

Carefully unroll the cake and spread the buttercream in an even layer.  Gently peel the parchment away from the cake and roll it up tightly using the parchment to help roll it all together.  Chill for about half an hour before serving to set the buttercream slightly.

Best eaten on the day of baking.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Strawberry and vanilla jam

Strawberry & vanilla jam

After our strawberry picking adventures at Chosen Hill Farm a few weeks ago, all I could think about as we drove home, the scent of strawberries thick and heady in the car, was making jam.  Those berries smelled amazing, I just wanted to bottle the smell and save it forever.  Well, for as long as jar of jam ever lasts!

Strawberries in a colander
Strawberry jam is a classic for very good reason--it's such a pure and bright flavour--but I wanted to make it extra special by adding some vanilla.  I'm sure that I'm not the first person to add vanilla to strawberry jam, after all strawberries taste amazing with Chantilly cream, but I felt like I'd made some alchemical discovery when I tasted the finished jam!  The vanilla really kicks up the strawberry flavour.

I'm not ashamed to say that we all stood around the cooled pan, armed with spoons, and scraped the remnants from the pan and ladle.  It was amazing, even better than the berries themselves!

The jam is absolutely delicious simply spread on hot buttered toast and sublime as part of a cream tea with .  If a jar survives into autumn or winter, then I reckon it would taste fantastic dolloped on top of a bowl of rice pudding!  Perhaps rippling it into ice-cream would be fun, or you know...you could just eat it from the jar with a spoon.

I've always been quite keen on making the occasional jar of jam and curd, but now I can easily see how people wind up with cupboards upon cupboards full of jam.  I'm saving every jam jar and planning to go blackberrying very soon, as well as making some chutney.  I'm going to turn into a crazy jam lady, aren't I?

Strawberry & vanilla jam


Strawberry and vanilla jam

(Adapted ever-so-slightly from Mary Berry's excellent recipe.)
Makes 4 jars of jam.

1kg strawberries, rinsed, dabbed dry, and hulled
juice of one lemon
1kg jam sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

First things first, click through and watch the video that accompanies Mary Berry's recipe.  Making jam is such a visual thing, it's hard to describe in words and the video really helps!

Put a couple of saucers into the freezer to chill.  Wash and sterilise jam jars.

If the strawberries are large, cut them in half. The general rule of thumb is that the strawberries should be small enough to fit on top of a scone in the finished jam.  Put the strawberries and lemon juice into a large pan. Heat for a few minutes to soften, add the vanilla paste and sugar and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Once the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear, boil steadily for about four minutes, or until at setting point. The jam should cook at a fast, rolling boil that you can't stir down.

To test if the jam is at setting point, spoon a little onto a cold plate, leave for a minute and then push the jam with your finger. If the jam crinkles and separates without flooding back, setting point has been reached.

Set aside to cool for ten minutes.  (This ensures that the strawberries will stay evenly suspended in the jam, rather than all bobbing to the top in the jar.)  Spoon into sterilised jars, label and seal with wax paper and a lid.  Leave to cool completely.

How to make Strawberry & vanilla jam :: Little Apple Tree blog


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Taking Stock

Sunflowers at The Eden Project
Hello!  I'm back from a lovely week in Cornwall with all of the family.  I've never been on holiday with so many people before, so that was quite the experience.  In a really great way, I hasten to add!

So, it seems like a good time to Take Stock...

MAKING a doily from a vintage crochet pattern.  I can tell you from bitter, bitter experience that this is not something to do apres vino.
COOKING nothing!  Dave did dinner tonight, bless 'im.
DRINKING a glass of Pimms, thoughtfully procured by Dave.  (I've put the doily down for its own safety.)
READING the latest copy of The Simple Things magazine.  The only trouble with saving trees and buying a digital edition is that you can't rip out pages filled with pictures of scary spiders and stuff them in the bin.,,
WANTING to play with my sewing machine tomorrow,
LOOKING at Swiss roll recipes.
PLAYING Unseen Academicals in the car.  More philosophy and Hard Questions than you could shake a stick at.
DECIDING when to go up to London for a couple of days.
WISHING that Shaun in the City was happening this year.  Greedy, I know!
ENJOYING singing along to Metallica songs.
WAITING for this film to start making sense.  Oh well, at least I can sing my heart out...
LIKING Lost Girl.  It's taken me (like so many other things) ages to start watching, but I really like it!
WONDERING what sort of soil we have in our garden.  I fell in love with blue hydrangeas in Cornwall and apparently they like an acidic soil.  I feel a trip to B&Q coming on...
LOVING my little family, as always.
PONDERING how many years it's been since we saw Metallica at Wembley.
CONSIDERING crawling into bed soon.
WATCHING Through The Never. I can't believe it's taken me such a long time to watch Metallica!!
HOPING that the dregs of ex-hurricane Bertha don't cause too much damage
MARVELLING at The Corner Shop art installation in London.
NEEDING to go to the supermarket tomorrow.
SMELLING orange and ginger shower gel.
WEARING my oldest, comfiest clothes to slouch on the sofa.
FOLLOWING the weather forecast. How very British of me.
KNOWING that life is good.
FEELING happy
ADMIRING my beautiful new mug that I bought in Cornwall.
SORTING out a play-date for Lucas with his best friend. I can't wait to tell him tomorrow!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Summer Tag


I saw this meme over at Dear Ms. Leigh's blog and thought it might be fun, especially as we've had a rather lovely summer so far in the UK...

What's your favourite thing about summer?

I love the light evenings--being able to sit out late in the evening, basking in golden sunshine is awesome.  I was still playing badminton in the garden with Lucas and his cousins at half past eight last night!  I don't sunbathe but I do love soaking up the heat in the occasional sunbeam. I may have more in common with cats than I'd care to admit!

Do you have a favourite summer drink?

Pimms!! Definitely Pimms. It's the epitome of summer drinks, with plenty of cucumber, mint strawberries and orange bobbing around happily in the jug... Mind you, with the scorching temperatures we've had so far this summer, anything with ice is good!

Is there a location you prefer to go in the summer?

I love pottering around old mansion houses and stately homes in the summer. The sunlight seems to bring them alive again.  I'm not much of a beach person...I get cranky about sanda in my sandwiches and ice-cream but I can be persuaded upon occasion...

Favourite make-up look for the summer?

This summer as per usual, I shall be rocking the au natural look.  Mainly because I am too lazy to be bothered with it!

Dresses or skirts?

This week I am rocking the skirts!  I packed for bad weather so my dresses have stayed at home.  I do love the whole dress-leggings-flats look.  It even (kinda) works if I shove on a pair of trainers for very touristy days.

Sandals or ballet pumps?

Can I say both?  I've spent most of the summer running around in sandals but some outfits go better with a pretty pair of ballet pumps!  Bare feet are always in style, too...


Do you prefer to wear your hair up or down for summer?

My hair goes up and down like a yo-yo in the summer. If it turns hot and humid then I'll twist it up in a trice. Otherwise it hangs down my back getting itself into all sorts of trouble.  The merest hint of a breeze causes major tangles!

Deep smokey eyes or bold lips?

Lips, always lips. I love a vivid, vampiric red lipstick.  Or a deep plum.  I'm not a fan of poking around at my eyes, hence I've never mastered eye liner, let alone mascara!

Favourite perfume for summer?

I love perfume, but I am dreadful at remembering to put it on. Usually it gets put away for best and then forgotten about. By the time I next think about it. The poor thing's gone off.  I do like Elizabeth Arden's Green Tea perfume, though. Perfect for summer!

Last but not least, what is your favourite music for summer?

We seem to listen to more 90s and 2000s pop in the car during the summer. My beloved Metallica just feels a bit wrong on a bright sunny day. The Cardigans Lovefool or Blur's Parklife always seem to end up on my playlist.

I suspect I'm late to the party with this meme, so if you haven't done it yet and would like to...tag, you're it!!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: The Language of Spells


When you are ready, seek, and you shall find. It is your gift.


Gwen Harper left Pendleford thirteen years ago and hasn’t looked back. Until an inheritance throws her into the mystical world she thought she’d escaped. Confronted with her great-aunt’s legacy Gwen must finally face up to her past.

The magic she has long tried to suppress is back with a vengeance but gift or burden, for Gwen, it always spells trouble. She has to stay – she has nowhere else to go – but how can she find her place in the town that drove her out after branding her a witch…?
I must admit that this really isn't my usual sort of book at all--I may be a bit snobbish when it comes to 'chick lit'--but it was a Kindle bargain at the unbeatable price of free, so I couldn't resist.

Much to my surprise it was really rather good.  I zoomed through it in two days, and that was only because I had to go to sleep.  It really is a proper page-turner; I haven't been so caught up in a story since I read A Game of Thrones for the first time.

I really liked that magic wasn't the main focus of the story.  It's definitely there, but it's not in your face.  (I've read some dreadful urban fantasy books over the years, so this was a welcome relief.)  This is a book about relationships.  Gwen's relationship with her ex, Cam, who is stiff and distant when she returns to Pendleford, her rather strained and fraught relationship with her sister, to whom she is pretty much a polar opposite, and her developing relationship with the townsfolk who either welcome her with distrust or expect her to fix all her problems, just like her Aunt did.

The plot flows well, and there were some twists and turns that came as genuine surprises--my favourite thing is guessing whodunnit or motive and I like to think I'm pretty good at it!  I've held off on reading the sequel, "The Secrets of Ghosts", until my summer holiday as I wanted to be able to relax and enjoy it; as you read this,. I'll be tucked up in a cosy cottage, iPad in hand, and a slice of cake in easy reach.  Bliss...

The Language of Spells is a satisfying and engrossing read; I'd give it 8/10.

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