Friday 28 March 2014

Friday Favourites #22

Happy Friday everyone!  I'm really looking forward to this weekend; we're off to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Saturday and on Sunday, Dave and Lucas are cooking me dinner for Mothering Sunday.  The menu is a secret, and Lucas is bursting with excitement about the whole thing.  Can't wait!

Hello to any visitors from Sunny Sweet Pea (who has just posted an interview with me today)--it's lovely to have you!

Favourite Recipe: Triple Layer Mango & Passionfruit Curd Pavlova

© Not Quite Nigella
I've known Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella for years and with this sublime and decadent pavlova, I think she's surpassed Nigella herself!  It serves 18 people, so I'm going to need to engineer a large family gathering to give me an excuse to make this beauty.  Is a Pavlova Party a thing?  I could totally make it a thing...

Favourite Crochet: Ombre Crochet Throw

I'm on a real crochet and crafting kick at the moment.  Last night at our WI In Stitches group I saw a gorgeous crochet ripple blanket and fell in love.  While hunting around for patterns last night, I came across this beautiful ombre blanket.  Isn't it amazing?  I've never seen crocodile stitch before but I can't wait to give it a go!

Favourite Advice: 8 Tricks to help you get back into an exercise routine

I'll be the first to admit that the gym and I aren't friends at the moment.  I don't know why...I always love it when I'm there, it's just the getting there that's the problem.  I don't mean transport-wise...I mean motivation.

There are some fab tips in this article and I'm definitely going to give some of them a go.  If only they included some ninja tips for sneaking back into the gym without anyone commenting on my absence...

Also seen on the web this week:

♥ I loved Michelle's post about Pete and Betty, her furry friends.  Lots of gorgeous pictures of the puppies!
♥ Five things I wish I knew when I started out in Photography.  Great advice!
♥ April Fools Pranks to play on your kids!  (Although, this may be a slippery slope to go down with Lucas.  It might escalate quite quickly!!)

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Tuesday 25 March 2014

Welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Our Hogwarts letters (aka tickets)
Last month we finally, finally made it to Hogwarts!  Despite none of us being quite the right age, we were ushered through the imposing carved wooden doors into the Great Hall to take our places at Hogwarts.  (Okay, so it was actually The Harry Potter Studio Tour, but I'm allowed to pretend, okay?)

The opening of the doors was a tremendous bit of theatre and like everyone else, we 'ooohed' and 'aaahed' as they were revealed to us.  I'd very carefully not read much about the tour before we went, so this particular surprise was unspoiled for me.

Hogwarts newest pupils!
Walking into the Great Hall was a very special experience indeed.  The tables were laid for breakfast and we were able to get surprisingly close to everything which allowed us to spot all the little details.  Like the House Points counter which is only glimpsed a couple of times in the films.

Gryffindor wins!
Hogwarts crest plus the house crests on the fireplace in the Great Hall

Once we left the Great Hall we entered a veritable Aladdin's Cave of amazing sets and props.  Unsurprisingly, my eye was drawn straight away to the Chocolate Feast.  I'm amazed that the chocolate phoenix has survived for so long!

Unlike most people on the tour, I spent my time at the Gryffindor dormitory photographing Ron Weasley's bed rather than jockeying for that perfect shot of Harry's bed.  Not for any nefarious purposes, I hasten to add!  I'm just quite taken with the blanket on his bed.  Lucas was, too, and has asked if I could knit him one.  The Harry Potter films are stuffed full of wonderful knitted and crocheted objects!

Lucas stopped off for a bit of wand practice before we ventured into the Potions classrooms.  I think this was what turned him from mildly interested into a bit of a fan.  He devoured the first book within a few days after we did the tour!  (Reading with a wand in hand is seriously cute!)

My favourite part of the tour was seeing The Burrow.  The Weasleys have such a happy family life and I adore their cosy and eclectic kitchen with room for the whole family to gather and chat while dinner is cooking or to argue over the last piece of crackling. 

I am in love with the Welsh dresser, which has only served to fuel my need to have one!  I really wish this was my kitchen.

I wish I could show you a photo of everything, but with a thousand photographs between Dave and I, that would be an insanely long post!!  There were so many little details everywhere I looked; I spotted a Gnome Racing Championships cup in a prop cage.  How fabulous is that??

Talking of details, my mind was blown by the work that the graphics department had put into all the newspapers, textbooks and letters.  I stood and read the front page of The Daily Prophet and wished that I could turn the pages.  My eye was caught by this rather pink notepaper:

Halfway through the tour was the back lot where all the large props were kept, like Number 4, Privet Drive and the Knight Bus.  There was also Butterbeer!
Epic Butterbeer moustache!
Lucas and I knocked on the door of Number 4, Privet Drive, but no one was home.  I'm not sure what I'd have said if one of the Dursleys had opened the door!

When we ventured into the next hangar, we found lots of model making and animatronic displays, but they were totally eclipsed by Diagon Alley!!

Welcome to Diagon Alley!
We stepped onto the cobbled street and walked past Cauldrons, marvelling at the sheer variety and the teetering tower of cauldrons outside which must surely have been held up by magic!  There was such a big crowd outside Gringotts that I was worried that there was a run on the bank, but it turned out to be Crookshanks who was chasing a clockwork mouse to amuse the Muggles.

The last stop on our magical tour was the Hogwarts model.  This was huge!  Not full-size, but still absolutely stunning.  The lighting changed continually between day and night, when tiny lights twinkled in the windows.  The level of detail was breathtaking with perfect lines of grout between all the bricks of the castle walls and plants poking out of Professor Sprout's greenhouses!

And of course, no tour would be complete without seeing where the adventures began for Harry: the cupboard under the stairs.

The cupboard under the stairs

If you're a Harry Potter fan and haven't done the tour yet, then I would highly recommend that you go!  We spent over four hours there and all had a wonderful time; I would go back again in a heartbeat!

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Sunday 23 March 2014


As much as Lucas hates to admit it, he's a bit poorly this weekend.  He was running a little bit of a temperature on Friday morning but still perfectly fine so I packed him off to school with some Calpol and over the weekend he's gradually worsened.  You could fry an egg on his forehead at the moment, poor lad.

He fell asleep in Dave's comfy chair while his bath was being run which is most unlike him.  Tomorrow's an inset day and I figure it will mostly involve curling up on the sofa with a blanket and watching his favourite cartoons.

The 52 Project: a portrait a week of my child with Jodie.

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Friday 21 March 2014

Friday Favourites #21

Oh, Friday!  How I love thee!  You are the gateway to the weekend and all the glorious doing nothing that comes with it.  I have a stack of books and comics to read, a snuggly blanket and my corner of the sofa (I'm a bit Sheldon about that).

Here are a few of the things I've loved this week...

Favourite Advice: 19 Tiny Things You Can Do To Make The World A (Slightly) Better Place

I loved this post from Sarah at about small random acts of kindness that are all totally do-able to make our world a tiny bit better.  I keep meaning to report the new pothole on our road to the council, so #10 is quite timely!  You should check out the rest of her blog, too; it's full of fantastically sage advice.

Favourite Geeky Stuff: The cutest Doctor Who animation ever

You all know how much I love Doctor Who, right?

This little animation made me love it even more.  The artist has managed to capture the personality of each Doctor within a scant few seconds.  It's glorious.

Favourite handmade: Eleven Things

© Eleven Things
My friend's husband has recently taken up pottery and he is turning out some beautiful pieces!  I have been eyeing up the coffee and cream set (and let's be honest, everything else) on his website.  In my head, they're tastefully decorating my (still) imaginary Welsh dresser.  One day I'll turn all of this into a reality!

Go look!!

And finally, check out this incredible video of Bristol!  I love our beautiful city!

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Thursday 20 March 2014

Geeking out: the London Super Comics Convention

Marvel cosplay ensemble, London Super Comics Con
Make mine Marvel!
Last weekend we went to the 2014 London Super Comics Convention at Excel.  LSCC is our favourite con by far, probably the best in the UK these days, and it's always so much fun to go along and catch up with our friends and immerse ourselves in geeky fun for a weekend!  Plus, it's London, and I will never grow out of being absurdly thrilled to be in The Big City.

As dedicated con-goers, we went out for breakfast instead of queueing up to be in as soon as the doors opened.  As traditionally British as queueing is, I'd rather eat an awesome breakfast instead and saunter in when the queue has died down.  Plus, standing in a queue with an increasingly bored kid is misery incarnate.

Mind you, the funky Predators would have livened up the queue!  They had moves.

Funky Predators at London Super Comics Con
Hey, Predators can party, too!
Lucas decided on Friday morning that he wanted to cosplay after all--we had weeks of him dithering about it--and so Dave spent Friday fashioning a Cyclops (from the X-Men) costume for him.  I think he did a bloody fantastic job for such short notice!

Lucas cosplaying at Cyclops at the London Super Comics Con

Lucas also briefly teamed up with The Avengers (and was deemed so cute by the bloke running the Panini stand that he was given a free book)!

Lucas teams up with The Avengers

This year, rather than queue up for sketches as I normally do, I was quite content to wander around and chat to friends between geeking out over some totally excellent cosplay.

Black Cat, London Super Comics Convention

This pic is one of my favourites; for one, the Judges look badass, and the realistic Iron Man armour is beyond amazing, but there's also the Samsung camera robot following everyone around and taking it's own action pics.  I can't wait to see some of the shots it took during the con.  (And I really I hope I don't make the cut--I pulled the most dreadful face while I read it's sign, and then realised it was staring at me.  Eeek!)

Isn't this incredible?  Never seen cosplay armour like this before!!
Deathstroke & Batwoman // Batgirl & Commissioner Gordon

Loved the Ghostbusters!
The Cyberman was amazing; he even had air-conditioning in his helmet!
Dave spent most of Saturday trying to catch the very elusive Frank Cho to collect his She-Hulk commission.  The story behind this one is a bit weird...Frank Cho is pretty famous in the comics world and as such, he cherry picks what he wants to draw from ideas submitted by hopeful fans.  He said that he'd let people know on the Monday of the con week if they'd "made the list" but we heard nothing until 8pm on Friday when we were driving into London.  Cue a mad dash to the bank on Saturday morning for cash!

Still, Dave has now met Frank Cho and also has a rather lovely (and naked) She-Hulk commission!  (I expect Lucas to be mortified by this when he's in his teens.)

As I said, I didn't get any sketches done for myself.  I did stop by a few of my favourite artists for a quick chat--always lovely to see Ian Churchill and Mark Buckingham--and I treated myself to a fantastic Second Doctor print by Al at Astral Gypsy.  It's so very him; I love it!

Unsurprisingly we spent ages standing around while Lucas pawed through all the toys on display looking for the perfect Transformers toy.  He found one rare one which was ridiculously expensive and had just enough money for it, but then discovered that it was a statue rather than a proper Transformer.  He was gutted.  I've never seen him go from happy to tears so fast.

He cheered up with the promise of shopping for Transformers at Forbidden Planet the next weekend, and on the Sunday I bought him a Transformers commission from the very lovely (and eternally cheerful) Lee Bradley which he loves.

One of the coolest things about this year's con was bumping into the Sneaky Zebra guys a few times and getting to watch how they shoot their epic cosplay con videos.  There's a fair chance that we might be in the background this time--Lucas is beyond excited to see their video!

The con also saw the d├ębut of my Fourth Doctor scarf!  Dave and Lucas drifted off to sleep on Friday and Saturday nights to the clicking of my needles as I frantically knitted.  In the end, I finished adding the fringe about five minutes before we left for the second day of the con. I was thrilled when a few people stopped me to ask about it!!

We had a brilliant time at LSCC, even better than previous years which is quite a feat, and will definitely be back next year.  We're hoping to bring along some friends and their kids, and maybe dress them all up as a super-team!

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Tuesday 18 March 2014


Whoops!  This weekly portrait of Lucas is a little late, but it's a good 'un.

I have to confess that this shot was taken by Dave...I was further up the path chatting to a robin who was singing in a tree (as you do) and completely missed Lucas's escapades.  Still, I discovered that if you thank a robin for his (or her) song, they'll sing back to you.  I love Spring!

I'm trying very hard to not freak out when he does death-defying stuff...after all, I nearly gave my Granny a heart-attack by climbing up a sheer cliff face at the beach once upon a time!  Closing my eyes seems to be the best strategy so far!

Joining in with Jodie's 52 Project.

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Monday 17 March 2014

Sweetly sarcastic: the Rocket Raccoon cake

Rocket Raccoon cake
Rocket Raccoon cake (with bonus Groot)
I love baking birthday cakes for Dave and Lucas.  Lucas gives me loads of ideas throughout the year, to make it bigger and better than ever before, while Dave just lets me run wild.  (As long as there is buttercream...lots of buttercream.)

This year Dave has been really, really excited about the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film, and since I enjoyed the comics, too, I thought it might be cool to do a cakey version of two of his favourite characters: Rocket Raccoon and Groot.

Check out the trailer--doesn't this look awesome!

The star of the trailer has got to be Rocket Raccoon.  Now, I appreciate that not everyone reads comics, but how can anyone not instantly fall in love with the idea of an intelligent, talking raccoon who has a penchant for heavy weaponry?  He's also more than a little sarcastic--a raccoon after my own heart.  C'mon, his best buddy Groot is an intelligent tree!  Together (okay, with the rest of their team), they've saved the universe a couple of times.  You're welcome.

Rocket Raccoon & Groot, a commission for Dave.  (Dave Wachter, 2010) the cake.  As much as I wanted to reprise the awesome Dave Wachter commission that Dave got a few years back, I know my limits and constructing a PVC pipe framework to build two cakes on is just beyond me right now!  I compromised with a sort-of crouching position for Rocket and opted to make Groot in his cutting phase before he grew back into the badass tree you can see in the trailer and art!

Dave loved his cake.  I think it's fair to say that he was flabbergasted when Lucas and I heaved it onto the table in front of him!  It took him a while to cut it as he just wanted to keep looking at it, but cake is for eating so Rocket Raccoon was eventually decapitated and scoffed.

This was such a fun cake to make!  The only trouble is that it has raised Lucas's expectations for his own birthday cake, so I'm half-expecting him to ask for a Transformers cake that can actually transform... at least I've got until October to plan the next extravaganza!

Cake Notes

Should you ever want to make an almost life-sized raccoon cake, here are a few notes!  This was a three-stage cake; sculpting the head, baking the cakes, and finally construction/decoration.

I started on Monday with the head which I made out of Rice Krispie treats--marshmallows melted with a little butter, and Rice Krispies stirred in--smooshed together to create the right shape and size.  Once it had set in the fridge, I covered it in a thin layer of fondant and then started adding small sections of fondant in ivory, several shades of brown fondant (light, medium, dark) to create the dark markings around his eyes.  I used a blunt knife, actually one of Lucas's weaning cutlery set, to slash and flick at the fondant to create a fur texture.  It's hard to describe, so watch this amazing video by Elisa Strauss.

The cake itself was built out of three chocolate cakes; a deep 8" round and two deep 7" rounds.  I cut internal boards out of foam core to roughly the shape I thought the body would be once carved and used those between the smaller rounds.  For support I used hollow plastic dowels which would easily take all the weight pressing down on the base layer.

I used salted caramel buttercream to fill each of the layers.  You can buy a little bottle of natural concentrated salted caramel flavouring at Waitrose (just caramel, water and salt) which worked beautifully.  It doesn't have a long shelf life once opened, so I'm tossing the rest in hot chocolate and pretending I'm at Starbucks!

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Tuesday 11 March 2014

Luscious blackcurrant cupcakes

I haven't done any baking for absolutely ages, so when Dave asked me if I could make a cake for a charity cake sale at his office, I was quick to agree.  After going to and fro with ideas, I settled on cupcakes. After all, everyone loves a cupcake, don't they?

I wanted to make something which would stand out from the crowd, which meant something fruity as there's always guaranteed to be lots of chocolate-y and vanilla-y cakes.  I'm not sure how I came to settle on blackcurrant, but I'm glad I did as they tasted absolutely fantastic!  

If you want an extra hit of blackcurrant flavour--although, I suspect it may push it into too sweet territory--then you could add a spoonful of jam to the centre of each cake after baking or perhaps cut the sugar by 20g or so and add a heaped tablespoon of jam to the cake batter.

Everyone seemed to love the cupcakes; apparently they sold out really quickly and overall the cake sale raised £171.20 for The Brain Tumour Charity which I reckon is pretty good going!

These are definitely one to repeat!  I've already had to promise Lucas that I'll make a batch for home sometime soon, as he was very sad that they weren't for us.  I'm thinking that they might be good for a spring picnic, assuming the sun comes back...

Blackcurrant Cupcakes

Vanilla cupcake recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery: Home Sweet Home

Makes 16 cupcakes

70g unsalted butter, softened
210g plain flour
250g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
210ml full-fat milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the buttercream:

500g icing sugar, sifted
150g unsalted butter, softened
3-4 heaped tablespoons blackcurrant jam (add as much as you need for flavour & colour)
pinch of salt (yes, really)
about 2 tablespoons full-fat milk

Preheat oven to 170C (150C fan oven, or as per your oven instructions).  Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper muffin cases to make the number you require.  (If you don't have two tins, then just bake in batches--the mixture is surprisingly resilient.)

In the bowl of a free-standing mixer with paddle fitted (or using a bowl and electric whisk) combine the flour, baking powder, caster sugar, salt and butter.  Mix on a slow speed until a crumb texture forms.

Beat the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract together in a jug.  Slowly pour half the mixture into the crumbs. with the beaters on slow speed, until mixed in.  Then turn the speed up to medium and beat until the batter is smooth.  Turn the speed down to slow again and slowly add the rest of the wet mixture.

Divide the batter between the muffin cases in the prepared tin.  Fill each one about 2/3 of the way.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen, lightly golden on top and the top springs back when pressed gently.  Allow to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

In your free-standing mixer, combine the icing sugar and softened butter.  Cover with a tea towel to avoid redecorating your kitchen!!  Mix on low speed until the butter is worked in--it'll have a crumb-like texture--slowly mix in the blackcurrant jam and then dribble in the milk until you have a buttercream consistency.  Add a pinch of salt to cut through the sweetness somewhat.  Raise the speed to medium and beat until soft and fluffy.  (I usually close the kitchen door and let it run for at least 8 minutes.)  Add more milk if you think it needs it but be careful not to make the buttercream too soft if you're piping..

For a rose swirl, I use a Wilton 1M tip (open star) and start piping in the centre of the cupcake.  This uses less buttercream than the traditional Mr Whippy swirl so you might have some buttercream left over.

Here's a video which shows how to pipe the rose swirls.  It's really easy and looks amazing.


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