Friday, 30 March 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Via SouleMama.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Blossom in the Park

I love how this unusually warm and sunny weather makes the most everyday tasks feel a bit different, a bit special. After collecting Bella from school, we've been walking up to our local park instead of going straight home. 

Instead of making a beeline for the playground, we wandered through the park, looking at the blossom, admiring the flowers, Bella and Angus shouting then laughing at the volume and echo of their shouts in the bandstand. In the summer, a brass band plays there on Sunday afternoons. 

The magnolia tree is starting to blossom. A few years ago I planted a magnolia tree in the back garden but it is small and only has a few blooms each Spring. Not like this one.

It was so warm and bright. I regretted wearing ballet pumps and wished I had flip flops on. It's strange for it to be this sunny when there are still so few leaves on the trees.

The park was busy. Mums with small babies sitting on the grass, older people sitting on the benches. The blossom is just beautiful against the blue sky.

Not a big park, but a busy and well used one, doing what it does best - meeting it's community's needs, providing a place where people can walk, ride, sit, think, meet with friends.

After a visit to the playground we bought ice creams, and when we got home the children ate their tea in the garden and played outside until it was bath time. Good times.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

I've Got Mail

Good, good things came in the post this week.

This beautiful embroidery kit arrived from all the way across the pond in what seemed like no time at all, from Alicia Paulson's Posie Gets Gozy blog and shop.

A box of brownies arrived, from a sweet and lovely friend over at ohabigail (thank you, lovely girl). I am pleased to report that they are totally amazing; chocolatey but not overly so (which I like) divinely crisp on top and moist in the middle. They were so beautifully packaged too. I do love it when things are nicely packaged, it makes the receiving and unwrapping so much more fun.

I recently ordered a mount to frame some cards I bought from Liberty while I was in London. They caught my eye and said buy me, buy me, even though they were £5 each, which is a ludicrous amount of money to spend on a greetings card. But I love the colours and the illustrations, and since I was under the Liberty spell and planned to put them on the wall, I bought them. One for each member of our little family, with the initial of each of our first names. 

Of course the post-person (ours is a lady) also delivered a council tax bill, water rates bill and bank statement this week, so it's not all fun.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Early Morning Light

Now that the clocks have gone forward the light is beautiful first thing in the morning. (Obviously it is the same big old sun that was shining a couple of days ago, I was just in bed asleep when it was peeking through the curtains). It came slanting in at all angles today, landing on walls and lighting up corners of our home. I love to wake up when the sun is shining. Everything seems more hopeful.

Monday, 26 March 2012

British Summer Time

No new breakfast recipes this weekend. We were all too busy playing in the sunshine and doing other things. My parents came to stay this weekend and so our breakfasts were the usual lazy, fluid, hour-long affairs that occur when they come to stay. Coffee and the papers. Everyone helping themselves to whatever they fancy. The children wander over and ask for a "second breakfast", as they call it, and sit on my parent's knees and pinch their toast and jam. More coffee.  We all know which bit of the paper we like by now.  The "proper" news for my Dad. The sports section for John. Any of the lifestyle/family/interior/fashion sections are pored over by Mum and I.

The weather has been glorious. Misty mornings turned into warm and sunny days. We ate lunch in the garden.

The clocks went forward and so we are now enjoying lighter evenings (and I am hoping that Bella sleeps in a little later, instead of waking at six declaring that the birds are "too noisy").

Plants past their best were removed and flower beds cleared in preparation for the planting I plan to do over the Easter holidays...sweet peas, rununculus, anemones and dahlias. Anything that says "English Country Garden".  

The first garden flowers were picked and brought indoors - a motley collection of forsythia, wallflowers, daffodils and one tulip. Slim pickings but still pretty.

I spent Sunday volunteering at my local NCT Nearly New Sale. Yes, I willingly spent seven hours on the sunniest day of the year so far indoors in a sports hall. My parents helpfully texted me photos of the children in the park eating ice cream. But it was worth it as volunteers get to go into the sale first and pick the best bargains and that is what I did. Look at all this bounty for only a few quid!

Plus that warm glow you get from doing a bit of volunteering for a charity. Also, I sold lots of baby stuff (bye bye cot, highchair, stairgate...sob) and made some money as well as some space in the garage.

Also, I am happy to report that lardy cake freezes beautifully. I defrosted one over the weekend for my parents and it went down very well indeed. I hope you all enjoyed your weekend and are enjoying the sunshine, wherever you are.

Friday, 23 March 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Via SouleMama.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Millionaire's Shortbread

Today I made Millionaire's Shortbread for the first time, from this book. It was a Mother's Day present...thank you Bella and Angus (and John, who chose and paid for it). It is a gem of a book and, despite already owning about twenty baking books, this is my new favourite. John made the treacle tart on Sunday and it was just how I remember my Grandma making it when I was a child. Funny how certain tastes and smells can produce the most vivid and happy memories.

It is pretty easy to make. Bake the shortbread, leave it to cool. Make the caramel, pour on top and leave to cool. Melt the chocolate, pour on top and leave to cool. Then cut and eat! I thought I might have a battle coaxing it out of the unlined baking tray, but no, it cut like a dream. I love it when things don't stick.

The semolina in the shortbread gives it a wonderful crispness, and the sweetness of the caramel is offset perfectly by the bitterness of the dark chocolate. This is a winner, I am definitely making these babies again.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Angus and the Cat

Cat on a cold garage roof.

Our next door neighbours have two new cats and Angus loves them. They are still very little and kittenish and get confused about which house they live in. I keep having to shoo them out of our kitchen. I'm worried that one day I will accidentally shut one in the garage.

We spent most of the weekend in and out of the garden and one of the two cats (they are both black, it is very confusing) was in our garden a lot. Every time Angus sees one of the cats, he looks at me with an expression of utter joy on his little face and shouts "CAT! CAT!" then runs full pelt at the terrified animal. He just wants to stroke them. It's probably a good thing they are quick. The flowerbed thwarted Angus's efforts here. (Apologies for the poor photos - cats and toddlers are tricky targets, especially with such bad light). 

The cat has taken to sitting on this bench which is temporarily stored under our horrid plastic table, until I get time to paint it.

But I think the cats must quite like him. They keep coming back to see us and sometimes they let him get quite close. He only wants to say hello.

Not long after I took that photo it started to thunder and we came inside. I nipped back outside to put the toys away and nearly tripped over both cats sitting right on the back door step. I don't think they were confused, I think they just wanted to hide from the storm.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Renovating a Vintage Suitcase

I won a suitcase on ebay a couple of weeks ago for £10. I must've bid on hundreds, and I kept losing out as my budget was small. I wanted a cardboard one that was in a bit of a state so I could make it beautiful and then use it for storage. This is what I bought:

It measures 54cm/21" wide by 33cm/13" deep by 18cm/7" high. As you can see, it is really quite worn out, so I didn't feel remotely guilty about covering it in paint.

It was such a treat when I opened it to find this label inside. Look at the date - 3rd September 1939, just as the Second World War was starting, and half an address from Hartlepool, written long before a time when the Post Office used postcodes. Just think of all the places this suitcase might have been, all the clothes and possessions (and memories) it has carried over the last seventy years.

The metal clasp says "British Made" in very tiny letters. I think there is something very romantic and old fashioned about a cardboard suitcase; it makes me think of a steam trains and Brief Encounter and running away to join the circus.

I should probably start by saying that I have no idea if I did this renovation correctly - I could not find any good tutorials online for this type of project - so I made it up as I went along. I began by peeling away any of the loose or torn paper lining, so that I had a smooth surface to paint inside. Then I vacuumed the interior and wiped the exterior with warm soapy water.

I gave the whole suitcase, inside and out, two coats of water-based undercoat and primer (trying not to paint the metal corners and clasps too much). I lined the interior, but wanted a clean white surface behind the fabric, in case any changes in colour or tone showed through.

Then I gave the exterior two coats of top coat. I used some leftover cream emulsion I found in our garage.

Then I lined the interior with fabric. I measured and cut it as closely as possible then fixed it with PVA glue. I used pink ric rac trim to perk it up.

I used sand paper to try and remove the worst of the paint from the metal corners and locks. Then I gave the exterior two coats of clear varnish to protect the paint from wear and tear. Last of all, some decoration. I looked at lots of decals online but could fine none that I liked within my budget so when I saw this tin of travel stickers I thought, well now these will do nicely.

I like the way their vintage style echoes the history of this old suitcase.  I can just peel them off when I get bored with them.

I think I will keep my wool and knitting things in it for the time being. It will probably end up holding toys at some point. I did think that these would make lovely baby memory boxes. If I could find two smaller suitcases (more like the size of that pink one in the photo below), then just think of the fun that could be had choosing fabric for the lining, and stencilling names or initials on top... But I am getting carried away. My children will probably have left home before I get round to doing that.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Lardy Cake

A recent visit to Emma Bradshaw's gorgeous blog prompted a trip down memory lane for me. Lardy Cake. Isn't that the best name ever for a cake? No messing, no fancy title, just a cake made with lard. When I was a child we would buy it from the local bakery as a treat at the weekend. I most associate it with going sailing, as my parents would often pack one to eat on the boat. I once asked my Dad why we so often did that and he said it was so full of fat, sugar and carbohydrate that it kept the cold wind out. Sort of like a nautical equivalent of Kendal Mint Cake, that high calorie snack people take on walking or climbing expeditions.

I thought everyone had heard of it, but I later realised that it is a regional thing. It's really a type of white bread from the South West of England, baked with lard, sugar and raisins, so that it becomes a doughy cake with a wonderful sugary crust. It was readily available where I grew up in Hampshire. I think it's fallen out of fashion a bit lately. Maybe that's because of the demise of the local bakery, as much as people not wanting to eat a lard and sugar laden bread!

So I thought I'd have a go at making some. The best recipe I could find was from The Fabulous Baker Brothers book. The recipe is on the Channel 4 website with a very handy video as well. I altered the quantities as the recipe on the website makes three cakes, which I thought was a bit much so I divided it by three then doubled it to give me enough to make two. It's pretty easy to make, you just need to allow time for the dough to rise at the beginning and the end. 

You need (for two cakes):
370g strong white bread flour
pinch of salt
30g lard
7g dried yeast
200ml warm water
a handful of raisins and sultanas

and for the lard and sugar mix:
330g lard
330g caster sugar
plus extra sugar for sprinkling


 1. Line 2 x 15cm cake tins or enamel pie dishes with greaseproof paper.
 2. Knead the dough for 20 minutes (or 10 minutes in an electric mixer). Once you have a smooth and elastic dough nestle it back into the bowl and cover in cling film with no air gaps. 
     Leave it in a warm place to grow to twice its size or for 1 hour, whichever is first.
4.  Meanwhile make the lard and sugar mix by mixing them together until they’re combined in a mixer or with a wooden spoon.
5.  Divide the dough in half. Mould the dough into round shapes and then on a well-floured table, roll the balls out into discs.
6.  Using a pallet knife, spread a layer of sweet lard mix onto each disc. 
     Then fold the dough; this requires you to take and outside edge and pull into the middle, your circle now has a straight edge with a corner at each end. Looking at it clockwise, take the bottom corner and pull the corner into the middle and push the dough down with your palm. 
    Working clockwise pick up the bottom corner and continue to work your way around, pulling the bottom corner into the center until you’ve worked your way all around.
    7.  Roll the disc out again and then spread more sweet lard mix on top. Sprinkle with some raisins and currants. (I used sultanas as I much prefer their flavour)
     Fold as before, then roll out to fit your round cake tins.
8.   Put a big knob of the sweet lard mix in the bottom of each tin and spread it around to cover the bottom. Then sprinkle a generous tablespoon of sugar over the lard mix.
 Place the dough on top, with the flat side on the bottom and the layered, knotted side on top. 
     Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for 2 hours.
9.  After 2 hours, preheat the oven to 210°C/fan 190°C/gas mark 6½. Bake the lardy cake for 45 minutes until you can just lift the cake from the tin using the small pallet knife and the cake is golden all over. (If you bake yours in a sandwich tin, like I did, put a baking sheet underneath to catch any fat that drips through during cooking).
10. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for half an hour until the caramelised lard toffee has set a bit. Then tip out onto grease proof paper and serve sunny side up. It's not a photogenic cake. As you can see mine is rather lopsided.
    But oh, that caramel crust tasted just how I remembered. However, I do have one complaint...the smell of lard when it is cooking. I never use lard in baking (always butter)  and lard smells a bit well...meaty. It still tastes unbelievably good, but I think when I make it again (and I will definitely make it again!) I may try butter, and sprinkle some cinnamon over the sultanas before baking.