I was just looking at my blog and realising how full it is of cancer, death and dying. Now sure I’m cool with talking about that stuff but it does give (even me) the impression that my life must be horrendously difficult. That’s not to say it isn’t at times, but it is only at times, some of the time I get to enjoy normal stuff as well and in the past six weeks despite my Dad’s and my Grandad’s health declining quite significantly I also got a long weekend away for the Jubilations (nice of Her Maj to give us an extra day off and even nicer to move it to that weekend – my birthday was the following Wednesday).
I thought I’d share a few of my favourite photos from that weekend, as a reminder that life is sort of normal too, in amongst all the doom and gloom. There was a lot of food:
a lot of Baby Jack:
and a lot of Ruby:
I’ll not share photos of the impact of having Jack (and his 24 hour stomach bug) with us, suffice to say about three of the eight adults managed a crash diet that weekend and it wasn’t due to the alcohol, even though there was quite a lot of that also.
It is really hard to take time away when you don’t know what will happen at any moment, but it was also a perfect tonic to quite a hectic few weeks. The only downside was that I couldn’t visit Dad for a week, until I was completely sure I was short of Jack’s bugs, not that in itself that was a problem either because it probably just added to my sense of having a break. I just wish I could give my Mum the chance to have that break, as we come into Carers Week I’m more aware than ever of the toll that Dad’s illness and my Grandparent’s increasing frailty is having on her. I’m off to visit her the family this afternoon and will again encourage her to try and take some time out. It’s absolutely essential.
A couple weeks ago I asked the twittersphere for recommendations of foodie hotels that are either good for staying in, or visiting for nosh. A number of people replied with recommendations, but unfortunately I’ve lost their twitter tags so apologies if you sent one of these and aren’t getting your deserved credit. Here are the hotels that were recommended:
There was one Welsh offering - Morgans Hotel, Swansea billed as a boutique hotel in the maritime quarter. There were also two Westcountry recommendations:
Cary Arm’s in Babbacombe, owned by Peter de Savary is the Inn on the Beach, with 5 AA stars and 5 Visit Britain stars it’s absolutely stunning – I’ve eaten here a few times too and it is lovely, especially when you can dine outside in the summer evenings.
The final offering was Old Quay House, Fowey overlooking the estuary.
I’m going to keep updating this post so if you have any recommendations you’d like included please just send me a tweet or add a comment. If you check any of these out please also let me know what you thought. Thanks.
I got a fitbit for Christmas, it didn’t arrive until early January, but it was well worth the wait. I absolutely love it, in fact I think it’s one of the best pressies I’ve ever received…high praise indeed.
A what I hear you ask? What is it? Why is it so cool? And why does this post start with Jiminy Cricket?
Well the fitbit is a fancy pedometer, an activity tracker, my new found conscience and motivator all rolled into one. It’s not just a pedometer though, it counts steps and stairs (elevation) climbed, and calories burned. It also allows you to track your food consumption, weight and BMI. The fitbit works in conjunction with the website and an app if you wish to use that.
That’s not all though, it allows you to manage your data over time, so you can look back and identify trends. It also allows you to complete a journal, to measure your mood each day, and allergies if you suffer from those too. Even more excitingly, you can wear it on your wrist at night and track your sleep – telling you how long you sleep for, how long it takes you to fall asleep (or to lie still so the fitbit thinks you’re asleep), how often you wake in the night and judging your sleep efficiency. I love this aspect of the fitbit and it’s really helping with my challenge to myself to get more sleep this year. Here was my sleep on one night this weekend – I’m blaming a combination of Mogs and my partying neighbours for the interruptions, but it’s good to see proof.
The other thing I love about the fitbit is the trivia and the reward badges. Stairs are measured in fun terms eg 6 floors – you have climbed the Tallest Dinosaur, come on who wouldn’t want to measure the amount of floors climbed by dinosaurs, or pyramids, or buildings. I’ve included two sample days below:
In an attempt to convince you of how wonderful the fitbit data is I’ve included a day from a few weeks ago, when I was on holiday and out walking the Scottish hills. That said it is quite fun to challenge myself on days when I’m at work and less active, to see whether I can increase the flights of stairs I walk up each week (I’ve never been up and down to the photocopier as often as I have this year), or to see how many steps I can take. The other brilliant feature is that you can ‘friend’ people on fitbit and your data is compared on a weekly basis, which supports friendly rivalry.
My fitbit was a pressie so I didn’t spend £80 on it – that said I’d spend that tomorrow if I didn’t have one. In fact earlier today I thought I’d lost it (I eventually found it under my car – note to self, make sure it is clipped on properly) and would buy one in an instant. I’m not saying it would work for everyone, but it is definitely working for me. If you’re not sure go talk to the people at @fitbit and see if they can tempt you.
This weekend I headed to River Cafe Canteen at Axminster. I’ve been a couple of times now and keep coming back – so something must be good. I thought I’d blog this time, mostly because I’ve got some piccies of the food that I thought you might enjoy.
First up the actual canteen space. I love it, the perfect mix between a proper nasty old school canteen, and a fabulous nice cafe; blackboards, bunting, wooden tables, can’t go wrong.
Next up starters, we had one Pork and Bacon Terrine:
Cornish Blue and Roast Butternut Squash:
River Cafe Ham and Shredded Red Cabbage:
and one Crab on Toast:
In a party of six, we had four people tempted by the Sausage, Lentils and Salsa Verde:
Mussels cooked with Bacon and Cider:
Cottage Pie with Greens:
with a side order of Chips:
and Chocolate Mousse with Brandy Cream:
All of this was accompanied by a couple drinks and coffee and a trip to buy some coronary clogging delicious cheese and bread on the way home. So, what’s the verdict, well I’ve been to the canteen three times and will definitely be back again. That said I thought they were understaffed in the canteen, which meant that service wasn’t as attentive as it could be. For example, I really don’t mind standing in a queue, but when I get to the front of it I’d like to be acknowledged and told how long I will be waiting for a table. Again, there was gorgeous looking bread up near the counter, we weren’t offered any (maybe we should have asked) but if our waitress had a little more time I can’t help but think she’d have offered some or explained whether bread was or wasn’t included. So, the food was fantastic, the atmosphere was great, the wait was bearable (and well worth it), the service was good but it felt like they could have done with another pair of hands on the canteen floor.
That said, I’d definitely recommend a trip if you’ve not already been – you can judge for yourself then.
I realised this week that it has been too long since I cooked a meal from scratch, well with the exception of the roast I did the other week! When life gets hectic and busy I tend to cut corners and live off pasta and pesto…or worse still, crackers, crisps and houmous. I have been away a lot in August, for work during the week or for social and weddings at the weekend, consequently I have got lazy and avoided supermarket shopping. I know better than to cut back on Maslow’s hierarchy – it’s not like I’ve gone without meeting the physiological need for food, but the self-actualisation and esteem that comes from baking or creating a meal is something that I have been missing.
So last night, to put things right, I set out to cook a curry. I cheated and bought bhajis and peshwari naan from the shops, despite buying all I needed to make them from scratch, but I started too late and ran out of time. I did however manage to make Andhra Chilli Chicken:
and three different chutneys with pitta bread chips, La Simla Mirch Chutney, Hara Chutney and Cucumber, Chilli and Mint Raita:
Tonight I’m making plum, walnut and pecan crumble and tomorrow I might do some baking. It’s simple really, providing for primary needs, but I felt such a feeling of satisfaction – if you’ve not baked or cooked for a while, take the time and go do it. It definitely recommend it – well worth the effort!
I’ve spent this weekend at a wedding in Suffolk and had the chance to watch a craftswoman at work! Betty had offered to make her cousin and his wife their wedding cake as their wedding gift. They were delighted to accept and had a particular idea about what they wanted – three tiers of chocolate cake covered in white chocolate cigarellos and white roses. You can see the end result below:
How much do you think that cake is worth? Go on, what you reckon? £100? £200? £300? £400? Annoyingly I’m not going to give you the answer – mostly because I don’t know. Depending on where you live, and the quality of ingredients you’d like used, that cake could easily cost you anything between £200-500.
A few years ago I made my little sister’s wedding cake – she’s got modest tastes (not) and wanted four tiers. The bottom tier was fruit cake, followed by double chocolate cake, victoria sandwich and topped with lemon drizzle cake. Her husband is in the Army and she met him at Army Cadet Summer Camp (she was an adult instructor – nothing dodgy) hence the camouflage ribbon and little hearts. You can see it here:
What I can tell you is that the ingredients alone cost over £150 – I’m not a professional and don’t have access to suppliers for the things you need, so the ingredients were all from Sainsburys – yes I could have got them in Tesco or Lidl but it was a one off and my sister at that, so money was no object. So the ingredients alone – cake, marzipan, icing, dowels, cake boxes, ribbon, cake tin hire for the HUGE fruit cake – were over £150. Cost in the time, gas and stress and that cake was easily worth double that I’d say. Not to mention the number of times I did a dry run of all but the fruit cake.
The thing is when people get quotes for wedding cakes they nearly always think they’re extortionate – and to be honest I think I’d always sniff at a couple hundred quid and feel it was daylight robbery, after all anyone can bake a cake right. Well not so actually. The baking is only the first step, then there’s the icing, and the decorating, and the transporting, and the stacking, and the finishing. It really is much more complicated than you think. All of this is time consuming like you wouldn’t consider.
None of this even starts to consider the stress. The responsibility of making the centrepiece for someone else’s special day, takes a lot of the fun out of it. Watching Betty cutting, icing, stacking and decorating the wedding cake this weekend reminded me of just how stressful it is. Never again. Seriously. I did offer to help Betty out with her own cake (she’s getting married in three weeks) but she declined – and I am *so* relieved. Betty, in her real life, is a paramedic, so she’s trained to cope with stress and work under pressure – she is definitely more adept at it than I am.
My final thought is that the value of a friend or relative making your wedding cake is something that you can’t actually buy or put a cost on – it’s love, it really is a *massive* labour of love. So if you’re getting married any time soon, and someone offers to bake your wedding cake for you, please do accept, but accept graciously and spare a thought for the effort, time, cost and love that goes into it.
It’ll taste all the better once you appreciate the love that has gone into it.
The lovely @hadleybeeman was asking today if I had a gluten free chocolate brownie recipe. The truth is I don’t, but, I have adapted the Hummingbird Bakery recipe that features in their awesome Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook on three occasions – none of them came out perfectly, but they were all completely edible; let’ be honest with this much chocolate you can’t go wrong
200gm dark chocolate
175gm unsalted butter
325gm caster sugar
**130gm plain flour**
icing sugar, to decorate
a 33 x 23 x 5cm baking tray, lined with greaseproof paper
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3 (170C/325F)
Smash the chocolate against the worktop to break it up (very therapeutic) – put chocolate and butter in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (usual caution about not letting bowl touch the water but I have to confess that I’m way too impatient for that so I always make sure it is in the water, just not touching the bottom of the pan)! Leave until melted and smooth.
Take off the heat. Add the sugar and stir it all together. Then add flour** and stir until well mixed. Lightly beat the eggs and stir them into the mix until thick and smooth.
Pour/spoon into baking tray and bake in preheated oven for about half an hour – the idea is to get brownies that are soft in middle and flaky on top. I have cooked these loads of times and nearly always leave them in for too long! I check after 30mins, get concerned that the mix is still a little wobbly looking, bottle it and put them back in for five mins….only to end up with overdone brownies with crispy edges – which are still beautifully edible but not as nice as they should be.
Leave to cool before decorating with icing sugar. Serve with clotted cream, ice cream, yoghurt if you insist on pretending to be healthy, on their own. I’ve never had anyone complain about these!
**Gluten free alternatives**
As I said I’ve made these three times for those pesky people who don’t do gluten One of the times I did a straight swop for almonds, so instead of the flour just 130gm ground almonds; one of the times I replaced with a mix of half almonds and half rice flour; and one time I just used gluten free flour from Doves Farm.
IMO none of these substitutes work as well….but they were all still very edible and very yummy.
This week the ever resourceful @dalekdoctor spotted this and sent me a link to the Edge Brownie Pan – I have yet to indulge in a purchase but if I do I’ll let you know how I get on – it makes perfect sense to me as a solution for the is it raw…damn it’s crusty challenge I regularly seem to face.
Need an excuse?
Just in case you are one of those strange, restrained types who needs an excuse to get baking – don’t forget it’s @macmillancoffee today and let’s face it, we shouldn’t need a special day to eat cake or raise cash for them – they’re worth it anyday, so get baking