Friday, 29 July 2011

Summer Adventure #3

Anne Hathaway
by Carol Ann Duffy
'Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed ...'
(from Shakespeare's will)

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where we would dive for pearls. My lover's words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he'd written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer's hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love -
I hold him in the casket of my widow's head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

 Goodness last sunday seems a long time ago right now, it was blue skied and scorching then. Today is rather muggy and grey, but I can escape by posting about sunnier days. Last sunday we went to Stratford (if you hadn't guessed) and visited Anne Hathaway's Cottage before seeing the open air performance of Taming of the Shrew  at the Dell in town. 

Top: what may or may not be 'The Second Best Bed'. The other bed I included because I just loved that quilt...

The cottage was absolutely lovely, it was obviously very well looked after, the guide was brilliant and knew so much! Even told me a thing or two I didn't know about Oxford, so I was mightily impressed. We managed to get there early and so avoided the big coach groups for the most part, so I managed to get some clear pictures of the gardens. These definitely deserve their own post, it was so beautiful. All the sweetpeas were out, something like 40 varieties; there was an orchard, a sculpture park, a woodland walk. And there were cute little Shakespeare references literally (and literarily) everywhere. A few years ago the Trust had built a willow cabin in the garden, and recorded actors reciting four of Shakespeare's sonnets for visitors to listen to while sat there. On top of that, all the plants that were labelled in the garden had a little Shakespeare quote relating to them underneath. It was details, and the gorgeous weather and flowers blooming everywhere that really made the day. Plus I got to wander round in a new floral dress and my straw boater and feel wonderfully stereotypical English-student. What more could a girl ask for?
 Once again the Gloucestershire Youth Players were incredible, the energy they had was even more impressive on a sweltering day (I for one am still a tad on the burnt side) and to add even more of a challenge they decided to do the play in the round for the last weekend. And pulled it off magnificently. They get a rest now, until the Autumn when they're going to be doing a schools tour in Gloucestershire, and may be back at Stratford (perhaps even in the RSC theatre itself??) Best of luck to them all! 

The calm before the storm...

All ready to go...

Monday, 25 July 2011

That familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer...

From F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby - in a lovely little passage that sums up my excitement at the shiny new summer weather we suddenly have;
"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. There was so much to read, for one thing…"

And in the spirit of this, I've had a wonderfully lazy day sat in the garden and finally getting into some books I've been meaning to read for a while now, finishing Spenser's The Faerie Queene and about half of Kerouac's On the Road. Ever so slightly different reads, but I'm loving them both. Hope you've all been having a lovely sunny day! 
Here's some music that really gets me in the mood for jewel bright days and balmy evenings...Enjoy!

And a song that never fails to get me in a happy sunny mood (and is incidentally very good to jog to) as well as being in one of my favourite films 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Porridge Muffins

This summer has been most strange so far, I can't really think of what I've been doing, but it seems to be going rather quickly! So I'm sharing another older recipe, in lieu of me having anything interesting to say. I actually made these over Christmas, having eaten far too much porridge in my first term at university and thus having it pervade my baking endeavour once I got back home. So these aren't especially summery, but then they kind of fit in with the weather we've been having recently. Let's hope it holds up for my brother's open air performance at Stratford-upon-Avon tomorrow...?

‘Porridge’ muffins
Adapted from a maple pecan recipe in ‘Muffins, fast and fantastic’ Susan Reimer (on account of me not having pecans, or indeed enough maple syrup) These ended up tasting like porridge, in a muffin, and I was told by my sister’s boyfriend that they ‘taste warm.’ Not sure about how that works, but they are certainly very comforting, and have oats in so are obviously good for you! 
1 egg
240 ml milk
60 ml golden syrup
30 ml maple syrup
2 oz 60g rolled oats (or porridge oats, never sure of the difference)
3oz 85g unsalted butter, soft
3oz 85g caster sugar
8oz 225g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Topping (optional)
Crumble topping
Walnuts, chopped
Demerara sugar
Cinnamon or mixed spice

Preheat oven 180 for fan oven
Beat egg with a fork and add milk, both syrups and oats. Try to stir in as much as possible (slightly tricky with the golden syrup) set aside so that the oats soak up all the syrupy goodness. In a separate bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar together. Sift flour and baking powder into the butter mix and rub until it looks like breadcrumbs
Pour wet ingredients into dry, and stir till just combined (you can add chopped walnuts/pecans here if you like)
Spoon into muffin tins with cases, and sprinkle with your favourite crumble topping, finely chopped walnuts, extra sugar and maybe a touch of cinnamon on top before baking for 20-25 minutes

Not looking particularly attractive, it has to be said...
Slightly blurry, but note the festive red and green cases (!)

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Summer Adventure #2

'Sit by my side and let the world slide, we shall ne'er be younger'  
The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare
This wasn't so far flung an adventure as the Welsh mountains, but it's a summer outing so I'm still counting it. Last Saturday I went with the family and some friends to Longborough Festival Opera to see my brother in The Taming of the Shrew with the Gloucestershire Youth Players

Afraid I have no idea who this is meant to be...
Longborough is a small theatre in the middle of the Cotswold countryside, attached to a lovely little manor (complete with folly) and picnic grounds. Unfortunately the increasingly inclement weather meant that our picnic turned into a 'how many people + picnic can you fit in our car?' game. 

The view from the courtyard

Luckily it was still light enough for some pics during the interval, as it was a lovely location! Plus the ever-present threat of cloud made for some dramatic skies and lighting. I anticipate some bias so I won't write about the play much, except to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it(yet was actually quite traumatised at the same time, both for the woman-breaking and the sibling cross dressing that went on with my wonderful brother as Petruchio.) You can tell they've worked so hard on it and are an incredibly talented group of people. Bravo! They performed in the gardens of Wadham College last Sunday, and are at the open air Dell theatre in Stratford this Sunday (so no doubt that's where my next adventure will take me)

Note the folly on the left hand side - unfortunately the interval was too short for me to go exploring this time
The Opera House itself, and some charming thespian types

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Indecision Cookies

I'll get to these in a minute...
Last week was actually quite busy on the baking front, so busy in fact that I didn't really stop to photo or post any of my endeavours. Apart from 'that cake', I made some cherry and almond cookies and quick brownies (from a packet mix, not gonna lie) for my brother to take for a bake sale, and lovely mini Red Velvet Cupcakes for my friend's birthday on thursday (Incidentally, we went to the midnight showing of Harry Potter, which was brilliant. The atmosphere was incredible; loads of people were dressed up, we all had our little round HP 3-D glasses on, everyone cheered at Molly Weasley. What more could you want from a night out?)
I digress. Here's a recipe from a few weeks ago in replacement for my poor post planning

Peanut-Butter-Oat-n-Raisin Cookies
Adapted from Sugar and Spice
Reeni's cookies looked amazing, but unfortunately I didn’t have any walnuts or spare chocolate around to chunk up so as I couldn’t decide what to do,  I combined this with one of my favourite cookies ever - the humble oat and raisin. And as it’s an American recipe, normally I’d go ‘aw, they look nice, but I know my estimation skills are shoddy so lets not try and guess cups…never mind’ but no more! Due to my mother’s excellent finding skills I am now the proud owner of these adorable Russian doll measuring cups. Really I just needed an excuse to try them out. Don’t you just love it when a coincidence like that comes along?

3 /4  cup butter
2/3 cup peanut butter (I like the extra texture of crunchy but it’s up to you!)
1 cup caster sugar
1 /2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 /2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla syrup
1 ¼ cups plain flour
2 cups rolled oats
2 handfuls of raisins

Preheat the oven to 180 for a fan oven. 
Beat the butter and peanut butter together using an electric hand whisk and then add the sugars, baking powder, bicarb of soda and cinnamon. Then beat loads again till it’s as smooth as possible (resisting the urge to just eat the mixture as you go)
Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla, still beating. 
Sift the flour in an stir by hand for a bit so you don’t get big flour clouds, then once it’s roughly incorporated get the electric whisk on it again.
Finally stir the oats and raisins in and put the whole thing in the fridge. Forget about it for as long as you like, just so it solids up a bit and doesn’t spread so much when you get to bake them. Then when you’re ready place rounded tablespoons of cookie dough onto lined baking trays, and bake for 10 minutes (I’m afraid I don’t know exactly how many this makes, around 15-20 depending on how much of the mixture you eat while ‘letting it rest’)

Friday, 15 July 2011

A labour of love and carrot based mystery...

 So. This was meant to be a post featuring a gorgeously decorated, ever-so-good-for-you-don't-you-know carrot cake, that I made on monday afternoon for my father's birthday. And yet...several things went wrong with this plan, and what was meant to be a relatively do-able bake became a veritable struggle with me trying to cope with my various mistakes. I started with a lovely looking Hummingbird recipe for a three tier carrot cake, which I'd reduced to two tier on account of lacking a third cake tin. So far, so good, the recipe was helpfully in 3 or 300g measurements, so that was easy enough. Did my usual adding little bits in like orange juice, raisins and more spices, the cakes came out the oven lovely and moist and golden (perhaps a tad too moist, but they kept together.) And then I tried to ice, cream cheese icing has a tendency to go a bit liquid-y at the best of times, and I had chosen an incredibly warm and muggy afternoon to bake. Combine that with the fact I didn't really make enough icing and my cakes weren't stacked very straight, and it became a bit of an ordeal as the icing became increasingly difficult to work with. Never matter, a load of crushed walnuts and chopped up apricots meant it wasn't a huge dilemna sight wise. And at least I could look forward to the inside; a golden sponge streaked with amber carrot strips, chunks of walnut and juicy raisins. Right?

Luckily after the cake had been in the fridge overnight, the icing hardened up and improved hugely, so didn't look quite so glisteningly unappetising

This is where things get interesting. When we cut the cake the next day, my light, moist sponge was flecked subtly, but unavoidably, with green...My mother was happily tucking in and innocently asked 'ooh, this is interesting, what's the green? Apple? Lime? Courgette? Basil? Rosemary?'(her suggestions got a little extreme as she tried to guess my bizarre experiment) Having decided that somehow the carrots had gone off inside the cake overnight, I retreated in shame. To the internet! And apparently, overuse of bicarbonate of soda (which I must have forgotten to reduce from the original 3 tier recipe) can have a reaction with the pigments in fruit and veg, and change their colour when baked! Thus turning some of the carrot streaks green! Luckily, although it looks a mite odd, the carrots are still absolutely fine to eat. This cake and myself have reached a mutual level of respect; it tried to best me at every opportunity and it isn't going to win any beauty contest. But goodness, it tastes marvellous.

note where the sponge still peeps through the icing..needless to say this wasn't my best baking endeavour.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Pear and Ginger Muffins

Having sat pondering for a good ten minutes on possible pear and ginger/ Fred and Ginger puns and coming up with nothing sensible, I decided to let the title stand on its own. I made these to use up a free morning and some slightly over ripe pears (those tricky fruits of the blink-and-you-miss-it ripeness) and they went down rather well, so enjoy! 

Adapted from ‘Muffins, fast and fantastic’ by Susan Reimer, these smell delicious; gingery and subtly fruity. Using fresh pear keeps these nice and moist, and I added more ginger, mixed spice and honey and reduced the caster sugar for a warmer flavour.

10oz self raising flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon mixed spice
3 oz caster sugar
1 egg
100 ml milk
80 ml apple and pear juice (or just pear if you have it, or if you like just have 180ml milk instead, this just adds a bit more fruity flavour)
6oz well chopped pear
3 tablespoons honey
3 oz melted unsalted butter

Mine was a handful of dark brown sugar, a handful of oats and three walnuts (all I could find!) roughly chopped and mixed up to make a sugary crumble topping

Preheat to 180 for a fan oven and prepare your cases. I used my silicone cupcake moulds again, and a 6 hole silicone muffin tray (hence the varying sizes and shapes of muffin…clearly I wasn’t going for regularity here!)

Sift the flour, bicarb, ginger, mixed spice and caster sugar together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and add the milk, juice pear, honey, and butter. Stir this really well to make sure all the different things combine (the honey is particularly tricksy) and pour it as soon as possible into the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined as you don’t want it too smooth and obviously the pear will make it a lumpy batter anyway.

Fill the cases and sprinkle the topping on top (again if using, I like the occasional walnut flavour and crunchy sugary oats but these would be nice without as well) and bake for 20-25 minutes.


Saturday, 2 July 2011

Summer Adventure #1

Goodness, back home a week already! And I can't really think of what I've been doing this past week, mostly catching up on sleep and telly I'm afraid, and planning what I'm going to do in the rest of the summer when I have energy and it's sunny! But I don't have to return to my recipe backlog yet, as last weekend, having been fetched from uni me and the family then travelled up to Wrexham to visit my sister. I was already looking forward to seeing her obviously, but wasn't really counting on getting any blog ideas from the trip.Until...

On the sunday we drove up a bit further to Trevor (a wonderful town name, incidentally) and went to the stunning Pontcysyllte Acqueduct. Despite spelling difficulties and my ever so slight fear of heights (combined with my mother's rather large fear of both heights AND water) it was definitely worth walking over the acqueduct itself to see the views over the valleys and hills around. Just lovely.  
Yes, that would be a sheer drop on the other side of the canal

And from man-made to natural wonders, for lunch we went to Pant-yr-Ochain near Wrexham. The food was wonderful (definitely did not need all three courses but everything was so good!) the indoor decor was just to my taste (ie. lots of books, nice crockery and vintage prints) but they had the most lovely gardens, including lots of roses. So naturally, I can't resist sharing my photos of them with you. Apologies, there are a fair few...

Who could resist a close up of these?

Also, my blog appears to be mixing up all my posts, so I'm even less chronological than usual..hurrah! Hope you all have a wonderful weekend