Thursday 13 August 2015

Salted Caramel Apple Cake

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.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Up, Up, and Away!

Trapped in town 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 watch the mass balloon ascent and ended up with some of the best views we’ve ever had of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta

Thursday 6 August 2015

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.  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) likes to join you in the kitchen.  I made Lucas do 90% of the work.  He's beginning to mutter about child labour...

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.)

Bara Brith, my way

450g mixed dried fruit
300ml strong black tea
175g brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
zest and juice of one orange
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
450g self-raising flour

To top: crushed sugar cubes, pearl sugar or jam sugar

The night before: put the dried fruit in a large bowl, pour over the tea and give it a good stir. Cover and leave overnight to let the fruit plump up.

Next day: preheat the oven to 140C fan oven / 160C conventional.  Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment.

Add the sugar, syrup, zest and juice to the mixing bowl.  Mix well. If your brown sugar was lumpy let the mixture sit for a few minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve.  Beat in the egg.  Finally sift the flour and mixed spice together into the fruit mixture. Beat together.

Spoon into the prepared tin. Give the tin a few bangs on the worktop to remove any air pockets and level the top.  Sprinkle generously with the sugar topping.

Bake for 1 3/4 hours, checking after 1 1/2 hours. It's done when a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Book Review: The Earth Hums in B Flat

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!

Friday 31 July 2015

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.


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...


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?


Thursday 30 July 2015

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.


Monday 27 July 2015

...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...

Top tips

Make a timetable.  Work backwards from when the cake needs to be ready and add an hour on to each stage of the cake to give yourself a nice contingency cushion. Just in case things go wrong.  (I had sufficient time left to bake another tier of the cake if necessary.)

Use a tried and tested recipe.  I used Lindy Smith's madeira cake recipe which I've been using successfully for the last three years.  (I go the whole hog and wrap the tin up in newspaper as well as having a tin of water on the floor of the oven.  Works a treat.)

Use a cake leveller.  And use it properly. Level each tier to the same height, then as you cut the cake into layers cut each tier before changing the height on the leveller again. This will make your cake look very professional when cut!

Don't use new-to-you items.  I used a different brand of fondant icing, in the name of saving money, and regretted it.  It changed colour overnight and then my ribbon didn't match and it was all very traumatic.


Monday 13 July 2015

Le Weekend

Bristol harbourside, looking across to Hotwells

The rain is pitter-pattering against the window as I type; it's hard to believe that we had such a glorious weekend, but we totally did!

We spent Saturday pottering around the Harbourside in town, sort-of following the Shaun the Sheep trail and basking in the sunshine.  I'm a bit like Goldilocks when it comes to the sun, it can't be too hot or too cold, it has to be just right.

Bristol was super-busy this weekend, with Pride, Grillstock--it smelled so good--sheep hunters galore, and a regatta.  It was manic, frankly, but the city was so happy and buzzing that no one seemed to care.

Bristol Pride parade 2015

We watched the Pride parade from Dave's office window which gave us a great view of all the goings on.  So much colour, music, and happiness.  It was lovely to see Avon & Somerset police out, waving rainbow flags and sporting very natty rainbow epaulettes on their uniforms.  And no Pride parade would be complete without some very sassy drag queens and stilt walkers!  So much sparkle!

Beach Boy, BAA-WULF, Green Poems for a Blue Planet, Life Aquatic
Beach Boy, BAA-WULF, Green Poems for a Blue Planet, Life Aquatic 

After the parade left Queen Square, we set off on our sheep hunt.  I highly advise picking up a paper map from the tourist information office, the Aardman shop at The Mall (and I'm sure there are other locations, too) as the Shaun in the City app is a bit flaky when it comes to route planning.  Luckily we had Dave, who seems to be part carrier pigeon and never steers us wrong!

Water fountain with street art in Millennium Square
Love this water fountain in Millenium Square!
Air Fleece, Dolly, King Arthur of Lambelot and Excalibaaar, On the Waterfront
Air Fleece, Dolly, King Arthur of Lambelot and Excalibaaar, On the Waterfront
Some beauts on this section of our walk.  King Arthur was fantastic!  I wonder if it was the same artist who did Sir Gromit of Bristol?  We're still trying to estimate how many glass drops are covering Dolly!

Catch of the Day, a mermaid Shaun
Catch of the Day, the new figurehead for Bristol Ferries
We were lucky to spot Catch of the Day, the new figurehead for Bristol Ferries replacing their mini-Gromit.  I love his/her mermaid design, complete with seaweed lovingly twined around the ankles. (Do sheep have ankles?)

Jarsberry Ram, Sgt. Shepherd, Lotus, Baaarbersheep
Jarsberry Ram, Sgt. Shepherd, Lotus, Baaarbersheep
The Pump House sported another berry-licious sheep. This time, raspberry flavoured with Jarsberry Ram.  (I hope they bring out a tea towel for him to go along with my Gromberry one!)  We cooled down inside with a drink--it's lovely and cool inside on a hot day, perks of the proper stone walls, I guess--before crossing the river and weaving our way through teams of rowers to find Sgt. Shepherd.

Further downstream we found Lotus outside Aardman's headquarters which was absolutely gorgeous, with lots of hidden details.  I was especially fond of the tai chi poses on each leg.  Peek through the windows and admire their giant Shaun which almost fills the lobby!

Baarbersheep behind the M Shed had it's own farmyard enclosure, complete with haybales (hayfever sufferers beware) and had some gorgeous hand-lettering done by Gav Strange.

Banksy's Girl With A Pearl Earring
It's not a walk round Bristol without a Banksy! Girl with a Pearl Earring

The Pirate Captain, Shaun Beam, King of the Carnival, Justice Lamb
The Pirate Captain, Shaun Beam, King of the Carnival, Justice Lamb
Here are our last few Shauns of the day.  The Pirate Captain was just awesome.  I loved that film!  I'm really not so sure about Shaun Beam. We originally thought that it was something to do with Shaun Bean, but apparently it's inspired by a sculpture in Chicago known as 'the Bean'.  I'm still not sure if I like it... Justice Lamb was great, though!

And lastly, my favourite photo from the day.  I've actually splashed out and ordered it on canvas for the living room wall, that's how much I love it.  And him, too, obvs.  Can't believe he's nearly nine...

Lucas at the Harbourside
Lucas at the Harbourside


Friday 10 July 2015

Friday Favourites, volume 2

It's been so long since I've done Friday Favourites, but it just had to be done this week as I have seen so many most excellent things.  This is likely to be a bit of a sporadic series, all dependent on what wonders I see each week.

So, without further ado, here are some of the things I've loved this week...

Favourite Instagrammer Allison Sadler
© This Little Space of Mine
I am loving Allison Sadler's Instagram feed. I met Allison last year at Blogtacular and her Instagram is a perfect reflection of her personality. It's full of positive, sparkly, bright, happy and beautiful things.   There's always something to make you smile!  One day I'll make it to one of her #makeitsewcial events!

Favourite Handmade Popsicle Bunting

This amazing popsicle (ice-lolly) bunting is by Bees and Apple Trees (a name I thoroughly approve of!) via Allison Sadler's Instagram.  I made some 2D ice-cream and seaside bunting last summer and had dreadful problems with it curling up and refusing to hang nicely, despite blocking. This weightier version looks like it resolves that problem neatly and it looks fantastic to boot!  I've got my yarn, a crochet hook and a pair of sunglasses...hit it!

Favourite Food Arla Skyr

I first had Skyr in America, over five years ago.  I fell in love with the thick, creamy Icelandic yoghurt (which is actually cheese, but when it tastes this good, who cares what it technically is?) and loved that it was naturally fat-free.  Since then I've been trying (and failing) to be in London when the Scandinavian Kitchen had some of this rare beast in stock,  Imagine my surprise when I found a taster stand in my local Sainsbury's last week!  I've been gorging on it ever since; the natural flavour is perfect as a replacement for sour cream in potato salad or on fajitas, and the honey is glorious.  It's very Slimming World friendly, too.

Favourite Geekery The new Doctor Who trailer!!

Coming to our screens on the 19th of September!!  Really looking forward to it, and I'm ever so curious about Arya Stark's character in this.  Could this finally be Susan??

Favourite Tutorial Pretty Handlettering in 3 Steps

© In My Own Style
I came across this tutorial on Pinterest yesterday afternoon--loving their suggested pins--and since then I've been happily doodling away.  My regular handwriting is doctor levels of terrible these days, and I always feel a bit envious when a beautifully penned card pops through the letterbox, so being able to create some beautiful lettering easily is a wonder to me!  It really does work.  I'm quite stunned at how nice my handwriting can look, especially as I'm just using an old biro at the moment. (Must raid Lucas's pencil case!)

All I need now is an upcoming birthday, wedding or baby to show off my handiwork!


Have a fabulous Friday and an awesome weekend!


Saturday 4 July 2015


Shaun In The City starts in two days, on the 6th. Hooray!  It's felt like an absolute age since the London flock got rounded up by the farmer; we have been waiting quite impatiently to get our sheep spotting on.

Now, the trail officially starts on the 6th, but a few Shauns have started stealthily getting into position around the city following Nick Park's parade across the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  The lovely folks at Warmley Waiting Room welcomed their Shaun yesterday and there are three early bird Shauns at The Mall!


Shrek Shaun

"Beware, ogre."
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I only have pictures of two; I'm afraid I was too lazy to go and track down the third, but I shall triumph another day!

The 'Shaun Shop' is also hosting an exhibition of mimi Shaun's decorated by local schools, so there's plenty to admire as excitement builds for Monday!

Our school's mini Shaun is still busy being decorated but I'm sure he would loved to have taken part in the show.  Still, there was a local-ish Shaun--this Special Delivery sheep from Mangotsfield School.

While we were in the Shaun Shop, I decided to treat myself to one of my favourite Gromits from the original trail.  It's taken me two years of dithering to finally get over the price of them!  Shipshape and Bristol Fashion is now happily ensconced on my Welsh dresser.  I wonder which Shaun will join him?!  (Eventually.)


Wednesday 27 May 2015

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular

On Monday we journeyed through time and space at the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular in Cardiff.

As you've all noticed by now, I'm a huge Doctor Who fan--we all are actually--and we've had tickets booked for months and months. Every so often I'd catch sight of the note in the diary and get all excited before remembering that we still had ages to wait. But wait no more! It's been and gone now, or is still yet to come if you're further north...

Having never been to an event billed as a spectacular, let alone a symphonic spectacular, we weren't a hundred percent certain what to expect. I thought it might be a bit like Doctor Who at the Proms with monsters popping up every so often and I expected Peter Davison (Five!!) to tell a few jokes here and there, as he's quite fond of that.  Well, we got that and more!!

Peter Davison reunited with the TARDIS
Each piece of music, played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with the Chorus of Wales (AKA The Doctor's House Band) and conducted by Ben Foster, was accompanied by a video montage.  We romped through the Twelfth Doctor's tenure, said "Hello, Hello" to the monsters, were invaded by some Daleks who invaded the Motorpoint Arena and forced the orchestra to play "Dalek music", and visited Last Christmas with the Dream-crab monsters mingling menacingly in the stalls.

The Teller
Concert photography is hard!!
Highlights were Abigail's Song from A Christmas Carol, originally performed by Katherine Jenkins and beautifully sung by Elin Manahan Thomas and the full Pandorica Suite. Absolutely spine tingling.  The Companions Theme was magnificent and has reminded me of how much I grew to love Donna Noble as Ten's companion. I really need to re-watch that series very soon...

And of course the performance wouldn't be complete without Murray Gold's reworking of the iconic Doctor Who theme!

Best of all, Lucas has decided that he likes orchestra music and wants to go to another concert. Result!!


Monday 25 May 2015

The one where I meet The General Lee (and go racing)

Ever had one of those days when you nip out for a few minutes and then crawl home hours and hours later?

(That may be a slight analogy for my blogging habits of late, too...)

We popped to The Mall to pick up Dave's repaired iPhone and after plenty of mooching around the shops--so much gorgeous copper and crystal at John Lewis just now--we remembered that the Bristol Motor Show was on, so we had to stop to take a quick look...

Lucas checked out the new Smart cars: "Too big"
I was chatting with a rally car driver sponsored by my garage when Lucas hared over and demanded my phone because he had to take pictures.  When I eventually wandered over I found the boys getting snap happy with the '89 Batmobile.

So big! Had to a panorama to get it all in!
I'm afraid that for once the Batmobile didn't hold my attention. Right next to it was The General Lee!  Please tell me you've all heard of The Dukes of Hazzard?  My brother and I used to pretend that we were jumping The General whenever we drove over a humpback bridge and had that millisecond of hang-time... I was going to marry Bo Duke when I was old enough.

The General Lee
The General Lee. Even better than the Batmobile.
The Wee Man was in his own world of geeky joy as he went nuts over Bumblebee from the Transformers movies.

Love the Autobot detail on the wheels!
There were loads of lovely new cars at the show, but I couldn't help but coo over these beauties, who were selling ice-cream.

Possibly the cutest ice-cream stand ever!
From vintage to hi-tech loveliness...

Lucas loved having a go on one of the Freewheelers blood transport bikes and getting to play with the blues and twos.  I hadn't realised how huge these bikes are!

I thought it was a nice little show. There was a nice mix of eco--Smart cars, the Tesla, bike-powered smoothies--along with family cars, motorbikes, and fun displays from BMX riders.

Afterwards we were in the mood for a drive so we zoomed around the countryside which was absolutely stunning in the sunshine and eventually found ourselves at Castle Coombe watching the Lotus Owners Club track day.

Trust me, they were fast!
Sun, fast cars and a great view... we had loads of fun watching the racing and predicting who was going to spin off. Dave is the Undisputed Champion in that respect...

We loved watching all the Lotuses zoom around the track. I'm not sure I'd have the guts to throw my own car around the track but it's a hell of a lot of fun watching other people do it.  The boys are off to watch Smart car racing at Castle Coombe next month--I wasn't very interested before, but this was so much fun that I might tag along.  (If I can take an armchair.)

Here's some cars that managed to stay on the track!

And purely because no post is truly complete without a shot of the Wee Man, here's Lucas doing his very best 70s impression.

Straight out of The Professionals!


Saturday 14 February 2015

The Big Chop!

New Year, new hair
So, for the last couple of years I've been mulling over the idea of chopping off all my straight hair and going back to an afro.  It's always stayed at the idea stage though as I can all-too-clearly remember tears every morning as Mum ripped an afro comb through my hair and it's cost me so much over the years to have it straightened so I might as well keep on keeping on despite my loathing of the hairdressers.  (Does anyone else hate vapid conversations about celebrities at the hairdressers, or is that just me?)

However, in January the idea hit me again mainly because I desperately needed to have my hair relaxed so I looked at Pinterest and discovered that I could do way more with my hair than sticking it in braids or wearing a mile-high afro.  So very tempting, but also a bit terrifying.

I popped into the hairdressers one Wednesday morning in January just to ask if they thought it would suit me, and before I knew it I was sitting in a chair, listening to the snip-snip of scissors and feeling my head getting lighter and lighter.

Bye-bye hair!
I won't lie...glancing down and seeing handfuls of hair littering the floor was a bit of a oh shit moment.  I don't do impulsive, and having 90% of my hair chopped off after a two minute conversation is pretty damn impulsive!

But, you know, so far so good!  It's been a month and my hair is so much easier to deal with--I feel, well, free.  YouTube has been an absolute goldmine of information; vloggers like Naptural85 and Chizi Duru have taught me more in a few videos than I've picked up in my entire lifetime.  I do envy their nimble fingers, though!  I've also spent a small fortune on pretty accessories for my hair at Claire's and Accessorize and for once I'm having fun with my hair!

Love wearing flowers in my hair!
If anyone's considering a big chop of their own, I'd say go for it! It's a bit chilly on a windy day, but I wouldn't change a thing!!
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