Notes from Cornwall

50 Shades of Green

It’s raining in Cornwall. We drift off to sleep at night with the rain beating against the roof, echoing around the beams of the rafters and wake with it pattering softly against the windows.

The sun has peeked out once or twice, but has disappeared as swiftly as a shy maiden. I’ve never seen a more dismal weather forecast, but yet we are happy.

Flowers in a milk churn. This is my sort of holiday cottage.

Flowers in a milk churn. This is my sort of holiday cottage.

Monstrously tall #hollyhocks! At least I think that's what they are? My first reaction was, "TRIFFIDS!! Run!"  #cornwall #igersbristol #flowers

They grow their flowers big down here…

 

We’re cosy inside our cottage. The walls are thick and the radiators warm. We’re eating toasted crumpets dripping with good Cornish butter, playing Scrabble and doing this crazy thing called talking to each other. My coffee addiction will be in full-swing by the time we go home, there seems to be a fresh cup every hour.

Holiday reading

The clock ticks as we flick the pages of our books, virtual and physical. Lucas has taken to sprawling over the sofa, an old Beano annual propped on his chest looking every inch a teenager. It’s a slightly terrifying glimpse into our future. I’ve ploughed through two books already and am happily working on my third, “The Mermaid’s Sister” and Dave is whistling through his backlog of comics.

This quiet and cosy holiday has turned out to be exactly what we needed.

Dreaming of Cornwall & UK Staycations

cream-tea-mainWhen I was a kid I dreamed of going on holiday to Cornwall and having Famous Five style adventures, with clifftop picnics, secret coves and discovering old pirate treasure troves.  So many of my books featured Cornwall: Jamaica Inn made Bodmin Moor sound so wild and beautiful, and as an avid reader of Arthurian legends I was desperate to find Camelot.

I can honestly say that my first holiday in Cornwall didn’t disappoint. Okay, I may not have foiled any nefarious plots and the only treasure troves I found were in museums, but the landscape was wild and beautiful with the most incredibly blue sea I’d ever seen.  Tiny, perilously twisty lanes led to charming villages each more beautiful than the last.  It’s also a county unabashedly in love with bunting, which seems to festoon every village!  For the most part, Cornwall is unspoilt perfection and I love it for that.

Since that first holiday, we’ve returned year on year to Cornwall, never tiring of the beautiful landscape. Last year we even took Dave’s family with us!

Apparently I’m not alone in loving a holiday close to home, or a staycation as they’re now called.  (I can’t help but shudder at that–what’s wrong with calling a holiday a holiday?)  According to a recent survey commissioned by Parkdean Holidays, up to 45% of Devon and Cornwall residents have opted to holiday right on their own doorsteps, with 41% saying that the cost of foreign holidays keeps them closer to home.  I can’t really blame them, living in such a beautiful corner of the country…who would want to go elsewhere?

We’re actually off to Cornwall very, very soon.  The three of us are eagerly making lists of places we want to go to and delicious things to eat. Between us we have enough things to do to fill two or three holidays!  Here are a few of our favourites…

Gorgeous Cornishware at Sarah's Pasty Shop in Looe

Gorgeous Cornishware at Sarah’s Pasty Shop in Looe, the BEST pasties in Cornwall!

looe-harbour

Looe Harbour, capturing East and West Looe.

Beautiful Restormel Castle near Loswithiel

Beautiful Restormel Castle, near Loswithiel

view-from-Antony-house

The stunning vista from the terrace at Antony House. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was filmed here!

Ice-creams at Chapel Porth beach

Ice-creams at Chapel Porth beach. Their “Hedgehog” is a must!!

One of my favourite West Country pastimes is taking cream tea.  Our family are practically experts on the matter, having munched our way through numerous cream teas in Devon and Cornwall, at National Trust properties, tea rooms, and even exceedingly posh Michelin-starred restaurants.  I know what it takes to make a good scone and an exceptional pot of jam!!

Parkdean kindly sent me a luxury Cornish cream tea hamper*, full of delicious Cornish goodies, everything you need for a cream tea, right down to Cornish tea leaves!  Did you know that there are tea plantations in Cornwall?!

Luxury Cornish cream tea hamper

I love Cornwall but I eat my scones the Devon way!

I love Cornwall but I eat my scones the Devon way!

After a hard and energetic day at athletics camp I treated Lucas to a cream tea when he came home.  He was pretty stoked about this–especially the fudge–and it’s fair to say that this lovely treat has whetted our appetite for our upcoming holiday in Cornwall!  Thank-you Parkdean!

Parkdean Holidays are currently running a competition where you can test your knowledge of Devon and Cornwall and be entered into a draw to win a holiday at one of their holiday parks.  Good luck!

* I was sent a luxury cream tea hamper to review by Parkdean Holidays.

Step Back In Time at the Red Lodge Museum

red-lodge-main-photo2

For years we’ve driven past a little red door on Park Row and idly wondered, “What’s behind that red door then?” and even when a discreet sign appeared outside a couple of years ago saying “Museum” we still wondered just what was behind the door and never took the time to find out.  Shame on us.  However, I imagine that rather a lot of Bristolians have had the same idle curiosity…

The Red Lodge was originally the lodge for the Great House in St Augustines, sadly knocked down by the Victorians to make way for progress, but it was located just down the hill where the Colston Hall is now.  Sadly none of the original furnishings remain for the house, so items from the Bristol Museums collection have been displayed to great effect.  The house feels very cosy and lived in despite being a museum!

The Great Oak Room was absolutely breathtaking. We entered through a carved oak porch The aged oak panelling gleamed in the sunlight which streamed in through the windows, revealing rich carvings all over the room.
porch-leading-to-great-oak-room-redlodgemuseumgreat-oak-room-redlodgemuseumgreat-oak-room-collageIt took two years for the craftsmen to complete the Great Oak Room, which surprised me given the lavish and complex carvings, particularly on the stone fireplace.  (I’d expected to hear it was the labour of a decade or so!)  It strikes me that carving stone is far more difficult than wood, and indeed more specialised, so to complete such a piece within two years must have taken a lot of exceedingly skilled stone-cutters.  I couldn’t help but think that we’ve lost some beautiful skills over the years…

We peeked through the wibbly-wobbly Georgian windows–the Georgian owners ripped out the old Tudor windows and upgraded, just as I did when I moved into my house–for a fantastic view of the Elizabethan inspired knot garden and a reminder that we were still in modern Bristol.  It was all-too-easy to think that we’d time-travelled!
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Salted Caramel Apple Cake

salted-caramel-apple-cake-sliced

Oh my… this cake was a bit of a triumph.

Not too sweet, spiced just like an apple pie, and sporting a glossy, luscious salted caramel buttercream.  This cake got two thumbs up from everyone at the inlaws BBQ, especially Dave as I baked it with him in mind as a welcome home cake.

Before Dave jetted off to Australia he left his office fruit bowl at home and by the time I got around to fancying an apple they weren’t as risk as I’d have liked, so I turned them into applesauce. I was going to freeze it, but thought I’d check Pinterest for ideas first and found this amazing sounding cake! I gave it a whirl and had to buy some extra applesauce from the supermarket as this cake uses a lot of it!

salted-caramel-apple-cake-whole

The most interesting part of this cake is the buttercream technique. It’s an old-fashioned boiled buttercream, which starts with a white sauce of sorts (or pudding, for those across the Pond), which is cooled before butter is beaten into it. Before you know it, a miraculously light and fluffy buttercream forms! It’s less sweet than a regular buttercream and would make a great alternative to a Swiss buttercream.  I’ll definitely be experimenting with this frosting again in the future! I reckon you could make a fantastic strawberry buttercream with this recipe!

All in all, this made a great cake loved by adults and kids alike! And hey, fellow Apple tree owners! This would be a great cake to make with windfalls from your apple tree and indeed I’ll be doing exactly that in a couple of weeks!

Salted Caramel Apple Cake
Print Recipe
This recipe comes courtesy of the Brown Eyed Baker blog (http://www.browneyedbaker.com/salted-caramel-apple-cake/) which in its turn took the recipe from "Baked Explorations" by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito.
Servings
10 people
Servings
10 people
Salted Caramel Apple Cake
Print Recipe
This recipe comes courtesy of the Brown Eyed Baker blog (http://www.browneyedbaker.com/salted-caramel-apple-cake/) which in its turn took the recipe from "Baked Explorations" by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito.
Servings
10 people
Servings
10 people
Ingredients
For the cake
For the icing
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 140C (fan oven) or 160C (convection oven). Butter and line two deep 6" cake tins (this will let you split the layers for a tall 4 layer cake) or three 6" tins for a slightly shorter cake.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, spices, bicarb and baking powder together in a large bowl.
  3. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and cream until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until well incorporated.
  4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add a third of the flour mixture to the bowl, letting it mix in before adding half of the applesauce. Add the rest of the flour and sauce, alternating and ending with flour.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared tins and smooth the top. Bake for about 45 minutes (if divided between 3 tins), checking with a cake tester (cocktail stick!) before removing from the oven. Deep cakes (ie, split into two tins) will take about 70 minutes.
  6. Cook in their tins on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then turn out, strip off baking parchment and allow to cool fully.
Make the salted caramel buttercream
  1. In a medium saucepan whisk together the sugar and flour. Slowly add the milk and cream, whisking thoroughly to avoid lumps. Cook over a medium heat whisking occasionally until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. It's not going to get super-thick, expect white sauce thickness.
  2. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle and beat on a high speed for 5 minutes until the mixture is cold. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter and vanilla. Let this mix in then raise the heat to high and beat until the buttercream becomes light, fluffy and spreadable.
  3. If, after 10 minutes, the buttercream doesn't seem to have done its thing, pop it in the freezer and chill for about 20 minutes. Put it back in the mixer, beat, and it should fluff right up. This shouldn't be a problem unless it's a hot day! Add the caramel, taste, add more if necessary and salt to taste.
Assemble the cake
  1. If you baked deep cakes, now is the time to split them in half. Use a serrated knife and just wiggle it through the middle of the cakes.
  2. Layer the cakes with the buttercream on a serving plate. Cover with a thin layer of buttercream and chill for 20 minutes. Cover with the rest of the buttercream and garnish with any remaining caramel and perhaps some salted peanuts.
Recipe Notes

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Up, Up and Away!

Balloon spotters lining the Harbourside

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2015, the sky is full of balloons

Colourful houses and colourful balloons

It looks like the houses are “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” at the balloons.

Lots of eager balloon-watchers on the water!

Lots of eager balloon-watchers on the water!

Gorgeous Hot Air Balloons
Team GB balloonTrapped in the centre of Bristol by the craziest Balloon Fiesta traffic ever, we abandoned our plans to head out to Bedminster (or even up to Clifton and the Downs) to view the mass balloon ascent and ended up with some of the best views we’ve ever had of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.

We laid claim to a bench on the Harbourside and watched as balloon after balloon slowly rose from behind the flats and offices.  The Fiesta website said 70 balloons went up and I reckon we saw about 50 of those.  It was glorious.

Due to the wind-speed we only saw a couple of the special shape (ie novelty) balloons, the penguins and the very peculiar dragon cube that seems to be advertising a pallet company?!  I am crossing my fingers that the Minion and pirate ship will be able to make one last flight tonight but I know that they’re the trickiest of all to fly.

The balloon forecast for tonight–and I cannot stress enough how awesome it is to live in a city where there’s a balloon forecast–is for the balloons to swoop over NE Bristol, so out in my neck of the woods.  This will be the last ascent of the festival so fingers crossed that the fickle winds are kind to us!

Bara Brith

Gorgeously simple Bara Brith

Bara Brith might seem like an autumn or winter sort of bake, but for me it is good at any time of year when you need something comforting and homely.  That makes it perfect for the rain we’re being plagued with at the moment.  It really feels like autumn; I’ve spent my evenings huddled under a blanket with a book and a chai latte for company. Comfort food is absolutely required, diet be damned!

There are two schools of thought on Bara Brith: a tea loaf or a yeasted bread with a bit of dried fruit speckled through it.  Your allegiance seems to be based on the very first bara brith you ever tasted. My Bara Brith falls into the tea loaf camp as I can’t recall ever having a bready version.  It seems to me that it would be like Starbucks fruit toast, which is very nice, but not my idea of a Bara Brith!  Apologies to those who love the bread-style version!  The tea loaf version, aside from tasting gorgeous, has the advantage of not requiring kneading and can all be mixed in the same bowl leaving you hardly any washing up!  The recipe is very child-friendly,too, if your little one(s) like to join you in the kitchen.  I made Lucas do 90% of the work.  He’s beginning to mutter about child labour…

Soaking fruit for bara brith, a bit of light stirring and it's oven-ready!

Child’s play: throw some tea over the fruit, a bit of light stirring the next day, then BAKE. Job’s a good’un.

I should also add that Bara Brith travels very well.  I took a huge one to Cornwall last year when we went on holiday–very good toasted towards the end of the loaf–and I can imagine tucking into thick slices around the campfire.  (Should camping be your thing.)

Thanks to Lucas’s neverending spirit of adventure when it comes to potentially weird flavour combinations I’ve discovered that bara brith goes very well with a smear of peanut butter and sliced banana on top. I felt rather like Elvis when I ate my slice!!

However you choose to eat it, a slice of bara brith is a most excellent way of brightening up your day!

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Book review: The Earth Hums in B Flat

The Earth Hums in B Flat book cover

Young Gwenni Morgan has a gift. She can fly in her sleep. She’s also fond of strawberry whip, detective stories and asking difficult questions. When a neighbour mysteriously vanishes, she resolves to uncover the secret of his disappearance and return him to his children. She truthfully records what she sees and hears: but are her deductions correct? What is the real truth? And what will be the consequences – for Gwenni, her family and her community – of finding it out? Gwenni Morgan is an unforgettable creation, and this portrait of life in a small Welsh town on the brink of change in the 1950s is enthralling, moving and utterly real. Mari Strachan’s debut is a magical novel that will transport you to another time and place.

I am not known for having my finger on the pulse of book releases, but even so I can’t quite believe that The Earth Hums in B Flat has been out since 2009 and I’ve only just discovered it!

Set in a small Welsh town in the 1950s, the story is told through the eyes of Gwenni, a twelve year old girl who is blessed with a vivid imagination (or cursed, if you were to ask her Mam).

“[…] the mantelpiece’s clock’s tick-tock is loud. I look up at the clock and see the Toby jugs almost falling off their shelf as they strain to watch and listen. They’re straining so hard their faces are crimson.

It is these flights of fancy that leave the community smiling gently and calling Gwenni “quaint”. Her Mam, on the other hand grimly says that, “they say quaint, but what they mean is ‘odd’.” She constantly berates Gwenni to act like her sister and stop being so childish.

Like all small towns and villages, everyone knows everyone’s business but no one ever says a thing. There are dark secrets hiding behind closed doors and it takes a neighbour’s disappearance to bring them into the light.
Gwenni observes everything that goes on, but her understanding is that of a twelve year-old—just on the brink of adult understanding, but still prone to childish interpretations. When she arrives at Mrs Evans house, whose girls she is to babysit while Mrs Evans is at the dentists, and finds her at the door with a swollen cheek, she immediately assumes that she’s late and that Mrs Evans has already been to the dentist. (And had a bad time of it, from the looks of things.) As adults, we understand what has happened, but Gwenni takes it all on face value.

When Ifan Evans turns up dead, Gwenni decides to find out what happened, just like the detective in the mystery books she loves to read. This could easily have turned into a Welsh version of Nancy Drew but Gwenni’s bumbling yet well-meaning investigation is far more real than anything Carolyn Keene ever dreamt up.

While Gwenni’s detective efforts move the story forward, the main focus of the book is on Gwenni and her close family: Gwenni the dreamer, Bethan her constantly irritated older sister, her mercurial Mam, and her father, Tada, who surely has the patience of a saint. There is a lot that should be said about this family, but I don’t want to give too much away on that front.

We also have a thread running through the story about growing up. I wouldn’t call this a “coming of age” book, but as the story unfolds we can see Gwenni’s childish innocence giving way to a dawning understanding of some adult topics. Her best friend Alwenna has just discovered boys and refuses to play childish games with Gwenni anymore which leaves Gwenni feeling somewhat alienated and clinging to her childhood more so than ever. She quite deliberately doesn’t want to grow up, but we see her weakening to the inevitable onset of puberty as the book comes to a close.

The Earth Hums in B Flat is a book which deals with dark subjects in a very deft manner. Gwenni’s innocent eyes soften the blow of the revelations which unfold in the narrative and the well-drawn characters make the book sparkle. It’s very much the sort of book that you become immersed in, taken back to a time when having a TV was a rare privilege and shared baths in front of the fire were commonplace; you’ll lose yourself in the character of Gwenni and love her.

I adored The Earth Hums in B Flat and would give it 5/5.

This review originally appeared on the much-missed Me, Bookshelf and I blog.  As I re-read the book recently I thought I’d dust off the review!

You might have noticed a bit of a change around here…do let me know what you think of my blog redesign!

Month In Pictures: July

 

Here we are again, the end of another month.  It’s hard to believe that we’ve had almost two weeks of the summer holidays already! (I’ve even managed a whole day Without Getting Cross.  Parents, you know how big a deal that is during the endless holidays!)

So July was pretty cool…

Top: The month kicked off with Bristol Pride. I’ve never seen the parade before, so we watched it from Dave’s office window which gave us a great view. Where on earth do people get these huge flags?!

Two willow whales have taken up residence in Millennium Square for the summer, The ocean they’re swimming in is made of plastic bottles and bubblewrap, collected after the Bristol 10k.  It’s a beautiful piece of art, with a big message behind it.

July also saw me baking my first (and last) wedding cake.  I was honoured to do it, and so thrilled that the happy couple loved it, but I was a nervous wreck by the end of it.  I’ll stick to making fun cakes for the family that I can plaster with flowers to hide mistakes!

~

Middle: The Bristol leg of the Shaun in the City trail started this month.  While I find Shaun tremendously irritating–Gromit is just lovely though–I’ve still really enjoyed hunting down each Shaun with Dave and Lucas.  I’m hoping that we’ll get a few more next weekend!

We seem to be spending loads of time at the Harbourside this summer. Last year we were all about Tyntesfield, but this year the marina and the brightly-painted houses have caught our eye.  This pic was taken on the same day as Pride, when there was a small regatta in the floating harbour.  Lush!

My partners in crime being 100% them. They’re totally bonkers but in the best way possible.  Love ’em.

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Bottom: I splashed out on one of my favourite Gromits from the trail two years ago. Shipshape and Bristol Fashion now lives on my Welsh dresser and is often joined by a bunch of peonies.  I love them, even though they don’t always open.  I could be doing something wrong, though??

We’ve spent rather a lot of time at Friska this month.  I might have a slight addiction to their dirty chai, but that’s okay as all their food is dead healthy and delicious.  It all balances out, I’m sure!!

Lucas and I went to the aquarium and found Nemo.  He was right there in the tank (along with Dorie and the yellow tang whose name escapes me).  I bet lots of other aquariums have a Nemo tank…

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In August I’m looking forward to our summer holiday in Cornwall.  We’re going to a different farm this year as our usual one was booked solid–although yay for our favourite place doing so well!  I need to unearth my swimming costume as it has a pool.  Farm holidays have certainly changed since the days of the Famous Five!!

There’ll be pasties, cider and far too much ice-cream, plus fresh eggs collected by Lucas.  Should be awesome.

Talking of ice-cream, I keep hearing about a gelateria on Baldwin Street. I must go and look for it… I haven’t had real gelato since we went to Venice for our first anniversary.

So how was your July?

Taking Stock

My ohana

Tonight feels like a good time to take stock… Lucas is fast asleep upstairs, I’m at one with the sofa, and on the other side of the world in Australia Dave is just waking up. It’s been very cool to see pictures of his morning run past the Sydney Opera House, but I’m totally ready for him to come home now!

  • Making : a gorgeously textured crochet blanket.  If only it was big enough to cover my toes!
  • Cooking: I knocked up a gorgeous Italian style sausage and lentil dish for dinner.  The house will smell of garlic for days but it was totally worth it!
  • Drinking: berry iced tea from Friska.  We’ve been to Friska three times this week, they must think I’ve given up on cooking!
  • Reading: issue one of The Rivers of London comic.  When it was first announced I didn’t like the character drawings of PC Peter Grant, but in action (as it were) he looks perfect.
  • Wanting: a big, squishy hug.
  • Looking: forward to the weekend.
  • Playing: Criminal Case. I’m addicted.
  • Wasting: time. {See playing.}
  • Sewing: nothing…yet. I did buy a gorgeous jellyroll to make a giant floor cushion though.  Lucas seems to prefer lying on the floor to sitting on the sofa,
  • Wishing: for more energy. And a housework fairy.
  • Enjoying: watching Downton Abbey. It’s taken me a very long time to get into it, but I’m now loving it!
  • Waiting: for Dave to come home on Sunday.  This might necessitate a cake…
  • Wondering: how early Lucas is going to wake me in the morning!  He’s better than a cockerel.
  • Loving: my little family.
  • Hoping: for sunshine tomorrow.
  • Marvelling: at the beautiful sets and costumes on Downton Abbey.
  • Needing: a good night’s sleep.
  • Smelling: garlic wafting through the house. We shall be a vampire-free zone for quite a while.  What can I say?  I’m a giver.
  • Wearing: PJs and a cardigan for extra warmth.  While I don’t miss sweltering evenings, it would be nice not to have to wrap up!
  • Noticing: the apples getting bigger by the day on the not-so-little apple tree.
  • Thinking: about what book to read next.  I’ve got The Ocean at the End of the Lane in the virtual pile, along with a stack of Robin Hobb books.
  • Bookmarking: WordPress tutorials.  Finally getting around to the big switch from Blogger to WordPress!
  • Opening: lots and lots of tabs in my browser.  I do like to research thoroughly!
  • Giggling: at Lucas’s bad jokes.
  • Feeling: Lucky and loved.

…And They Lived Happily Ever After

Wedding cake with Swiss dots and large flower

Last week I was honoured (and very surprised) to be asked to bake a wedding cake.  My sister-in-law asked me to make a cake for her friends who were getting married this week as she’d just discovered they didn’t have one.  Awww, how lovely is she?

Now, I’ve made big cakes, small cakes, ridiculously layered cakes–really want to make another Dobos Torta–a 3D raccoon, and a couple of stacked cakes, but never a wedding cake.  So baking this wedding cake was not something I undertook lightly.  There are so many emotions tied up within a wedding cake, you’ve got to get it right.  I was a nervous wreck by the time I was done.

I sketched out a few ideas and settled on a simple but hopefully pretty design.  (Loving playing with my chalkboard; I get to feel all artistic.  Luckily for everyone, I bake better than I draw.)  As I’m currently in love with peonies and the wedding colours were to be white and baby pink, I thought I’d have a go at making a simplified one to grace the top tier.

Chalkboard sketch of my wedding cake design

I’d love to say that this cake went smoothly, but as with all things that you care rather too much about, nerves played their part.  My fingers were less than nimble at times and the cake isn’t the flawless beauty I’d imagined.  But what I think doesn’t matter: Emily and AJ were thrilled with their cake and as luck would have it, the flower I created looked exactly like one of the flowers adorning Emily’s dress!  (I’m going to ride the wave of these burgeoning psychic powers and buy a lottery ticket.)

Congratulations Emily and AJ, I hope you have many happy years together!

And should anyone ever be crazy enough to take on a wedding cake, here are my top tips…

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