Baking

October!

I love October.  There’s something about the changing of the seasons and the arrival of the first frost …and the very, very first beginnings of the whisper of Christmas (I know, I know!! I can’t help it).

Here are some of the things we’ve been upto;

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Making yummy gingerbread ghost cookies with some spooky Halloween cutters (recipe here).  I made and froze some extra batches of gingerbread to use at Christmas.  The smell of it – melted butter, ginger spices, caramelising sugar – is just divine.

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We used the cutter to cut the same shape out of rolled fondant icing and then added googly candy eyes for maximum effect.  Almost – but not quite – too good to eat.

And then outdoors, planting bulbs for the springtime.  We jammed large terracotta pots full of these feathered tulips bulbs from Amsterdam (my favourite!).

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…and then hyacinths too; I hope these ones will flower in time for Christmas.  We’ve popped them in the shed to kickstart them in the damp and dark before bringing them in in December.

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We’re revelling in a change of pace with half-term break this week, but before that there was a scramble for finishing homework and spellings and projects like this one; the brief was ‘make a Paddington Suitcase out of a shoebox’.

Hmmm.  Quite possibly one of the messiest things EVER, but a very cool result.  I might jettison my reliable overnight bag and take this little number next time I’m travelling with work;

Paddington Bear Shoebox Suitcase

And finally, baking chocolate brownies!  Because this season of jumpers and jeans and big boots and soft scarves can hide a multitude of sins, and there’s no time like the present to begin..

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(Our favourite recipe for the choc-raspberry brownies is here…)

Have a lovely week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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Tales from a vintage kitchen

Tales from a vintage kitchen

Last month, I was browsing in a local antiquarian bookstore and chose a couple of old paperback novels.  When I got home, I flipped one open and this carefully folded letter fell out…

vintage letter with recipes

‘Dear Miss Cole..’ it began, and then carefully detailed several recipes for sweets that the two correspondents had obviously discussed.  It’s a charming, curious letter so redolent of a bygone era when new friends would still address each other as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ rather than use first names; I’m guessing it must be at least several decades old.

The other thing that struck me is how simple the recipes were.  Where today you might find an elaborate list of ingredients (‘scrape a vanilla pod’ …’add a pinch of sea salt’), the caramel toffee described by the author Nancy Evans contains just butter, golden syrup, sugar; a gloriously simple trio. Nancy goes on to describe ‘American Sweets’ such as nougat, marzipan, cream almond and peppermint creams, warning with admirable self-control that ‘all of these sweets are better if not eaten for 24 hours’.  Nancy strikes me as a woman of discipline who would find the impulsiveness of our household a challenge…

vintage american candy recipes

So of course, I had a go at making the caramels, to see what happened.

The instructions are sparse (rather like the technical challenge in TV’s Bake Off programme, they leave much to the wits and imagination of the cook), offering only that you melt the butter, combine with the other two ingredients, boil and stir.  I duly did this – whilst uncorking a bottle of wine with my other hand and pouring a glass – and then poured the boiling caramel toffee mixture into lined loaf tins to set.  Once cooled, I placed them in the fridge for 30mins, at which point they looked like this (below); a shot that will not win any mouth-watering food styling awards..

making caramels

…and then I sliced the caramel into inch-long pieces with an oiled knife and rolled each one in a small piece of greaseproof paper.

Apart from 3 small pieces which I ate, because it was the only responsible thing to do.  They were…. delicious, if a little bland.  I’d add a pinch of sea-salt, if you try this yourself, and so I duly sprinkled a little on the top of the second batch.

Then I decided to scan and print the letter to make up a couple of gift bags so that friends could glue their teeth together too, at the earliest opportunity;

A paper bag of caramels from a vintage recipe

Tales from a vintage kitchen

In truth though, the caramel toffee-making was secondary; it was finding a very old letter tucked away in an dog-eared novel belonging to the mysterious Miss Cole that was the real magic…

Have a wonderful weekend!

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and p.s. thanks for all the lovely comments on this post, which had me smiling all week  x

 

Fat-Free Ice-cream Cupcakes! (*Okay, they’re not fat-free at all. Not even slightly).

Ice-cream or cake?  Cake or ice-cream?  Which to choose?  Debate no further; have it all.  Have both!  Well, almost…

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Last week I was inspired by this divine-looking recipe from Waitrose for cupcakes baked in an ice-cream cone and laced with marshmallow-style icing, with a hidden chocolate treat at the bottom – so we gave it a go.  Surprisingly, flat-based wafer cones (we used these ones) don’t burn in the oven, so as long as you wedge them firmly into muffin trays with some tinfoil, they’re pretty foolproof…

How to bake cupcakes in an ice cream cone

Cupcakes baked in ice cream cones

Once the cupcakes are cooled in their trays, gently slice off any tops which have risen above the cone; you want a nice flat surface for your icing.

Make the icing according to the recipe and then carefully spoon it into a large icing bag.  Unlike buttercream icing, it’s firm and pillowy and almost bouncy.  Voila..!

ice6You can test whether you have the right consistency via a number of different means.

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When you’re ready, pipe a swirl of icing onto the centre of each cupcake and then pipe around it, twisting off to give a soft-scoop flourish to the peak of each cake.

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For a true British seaside traditional effect we added a chocolate flake to half of ours…

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Marshmallow-frosted cupcakes with chocolate flake

And then scattered colourful sprinkles liberally over the rest..

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Once they’re set, the only dilemma is which one to try first..

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But be quick.

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For those in the US, the ever-ready Martha Stewart has a similar recipe here that won’t require you to juggle conversion tables for the ingredients.

Enjoy! And excuse us whilst we have a little lie down to recover from all the taste-testing…

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DIY… Edible Greeting Cards!

Edible cookie cards from katescreativespace

I was browsing in White Stuff this weekend, wondering idly whether I am too old to wear short shorts and Really Ought To Know Better (advice please), and instead my eye caught the much safer option of this gorgeous cookie cutter (below); because who can’t resist a sausage dog?

sausage dog cutter

 

I made a batch of cookies today using gingerbread dough, and accessorised with cut-out chocolate fondant ears, candy eyes (from here and good cake decorating shops / craft stores) and pearl necklaces made from tiny ivory balls…

A tray of sausage dog cookies

They look very cute, and are quite flat and light so I then decided to turn a couple into edible greeting cards, and used blobs of thick fondant icing to attach a cookie to folded card blanks.  I had some candy bones leftover from Halloween, so stuck one of those on too…

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I have a supply of flat cards that you can run through the printer, so I added text to a couple (you can just hand-write on the front, of course instead).

Sausage dog card

These would work with any shape of cookie, and are great for something fun and a little bit different.  A few tips and words of caution from this amateur…

  • Inevitably, these are best hand-delivered to your recipient rather than entrusted to the vagaries of the postal service.  Just saying.
  • Use reasonably thick cards to stick your cookies to, so that they don’t buckle with the weight.  The bigger the cookie, the thicker the card…
  • And you might need to use a slightly bigger envelope if your cookie is thick; these dogs slipped in fine, but only just.
  • It sounds obvious, but…. make sure the cookie is completely cool and dry before you stick it to the card, and then wait long enough for the fondant to dry so that the cookie doesn’t slip.  It’s very very very tempting to rush ahead to see the finished result.
  • Gingerbread and sugar cookie dough will be fine for a couple of days, but don’t make these too far in advance or they’ll get very soft and chewy.
  • When slipping your card into an envelope, place a piece of kitchen roll over the front of the cookie first, so that no grease stains come through.
  • Happy baking!

p.s. If there are any cookies leftover when you’ve made your cards, you are entitled to eat all of them.  Cook’s privilege.

Hope you’ve had a wonderful long weekend!

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Ampersand Cookies

Welcome back!

We’ve been making cookies this weekend; fun, alphabet cookies sandwiched together with jam and sprinkled with a liberal snowfall of icing sugar.  They fit in the palm of your hand and will make you happy for hours, I promise…

DIY cookies from katescreativespace

Firstly, we made a batch of sugar cookie dough, using our favourite basic recipe, though any one will do. We chilled the dough for 20 minutes in the fridge and then rolled it out  (my friend recently bought me one of these genius rolling pins, which ensures a regulation thickness to your dough; no more slanty, wobbly cookies for me…).

We used this small ampersand-shaped cookie cutter from Etsy to stamp out the top layer of cookies, and then for the bases, made a lighter imprint on the dough and I then cut around them carefully with a craft knife.  A bid fiddly, yes, but the only way I could think of to ensure I didn’t stamp out the holes in the bottom shapes.

DIY ampersand cookies

And then we simply baked for 10 mins (these cookies are small so they bake quickly; check on them regularly, and don’t get distracted with a good magazine and a coffee; I speak from experience here…).  Once cool, sandwich together with a dollop of raspberry jam, and sprinkle with icing sugar.  They are divine.  Trust me…

Homemade cookies from katescreativespace

Hope you’re enjoying a wonderful weekend!

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p.s.  I styled our cookies on top a beautiful ampersand image I found  here; if you know the source do let me know so I can credit!

 

Knitted Mitten Cookies

Knitted Mitten Cookies from Katescreativespace

Our little corner of the world here in England has been protected from the snowstorms raging across the US this weekend, but it has still been chilly and bleak.  Harry and I have busied ourselves in the kitchen, making these gingerbread mitten cookies using one of my favourite Christmas presents; a knitting-effect rubber stamp from here.  We’ve produced a tray of gorgeous, decorated mittens that have steadily vanished across the day…

Knitted mitten cookie making

We started by making a batch of our favourite gingerbread and stamping out mitten-shaped cookies…

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We rolled out some white fondant icing, pressed on the stamp and then used the cutter to create the knitted tops for each cookie, using a little apricot jam to hold them in place…

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I pressed buttons into the leftover fondant to create button-shapes and then brushed lightly with edible gold dust, and added one to each cuff, along with some sugar pearls.  Mittens fit for the most discerning snow-queen…

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And once all the hard work is done?  A reward, I think…

Knitted cookies for winter

 And finallly…

Thank you for all the lovely comments on last week’s post about how to stay in touch when you’re far from home; they made me smile (and tear-up a little), and were very comforting in their assurance that most small boys stay just as loving at 36 as they are at 6…

Have a great week!

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A homemade Christmas

How was your week, has it been a good one?  It’s been a crazy busy one here; a mix of work and play, of Christmas parties and Nativity plays, of late nights and early mornings (Harry’s latest trick; to slip into our bed at an ungodly hour and whisper hoarsely in my ear ‘I love you to infinity Mummy.  Now can I stay?’).  We’re looking forward to a relaxing weekend and some festive crafting and decorating.

If you’re feeling similarly inclined, here are a few ideas from the archives for homemade gifts for those you love…

Like pinecone firelighters, for everyone you know with an open fire or wood burner;

DIY Pinecone firelights

Bake-at-home cookies for the students in your life who eat you out of house and home but wouldn’t dream of making their own unless you made it this simple..

Christmas Cookies in a jar

Or perhaps a tinful of these simple DIY bird-feeders, which are easy for small hands and will be a gift for the birds in your garden too…

DIY Bird feeders from katescreativespace

You could make batches of these fun striped holiday candles and tie them up as stocking-filler gifts…

Striped Holiday Candles

Or fill mason jars with their favourite sweets

candy jars as christmas gifts

Three different types of cookies to make and take to your holiday parties..

Gifting Christmas Cookies

Or why not make a 2015 mini photobook for grandparents or friends of some of the best photos from the year?  They look beautiful on the mantle..

DIY Vacation Photobook

And one of my favourites; DIY personalised pencils, made by printing onto washi tape.  If you haven’t tried this, you really should…

Magic tape printing DIY

And finally if you’re choosing gifts for a book-lover, why not make them some of these whale-tail bookmarks to keep their place each night…

whale tales bookmarks

I’ll be back after the weekend; I hope you have a wonderful one!

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One hundred and twelve red apples

Red apple seasonal tablescape

It was my birthday last weekend and we had a handful of close friends for dinner; one of those cosy, informal dinners that feels just right as the seasons turn and the nights close in.  I went to the garden centre after work looking for flowers I could use on the table and instead stumbled across a stall filled with windfall red apples; a few minutes later I had purchased 4 huge bags of apples for around £4.50/$7, and had developed biceps of steel carrying them to the car.  Very satisfying.

I filled a basket with some of the apples and rested it on a stool to the side of the table, then literally rolled the apples along the centre, adding a few other bits and bobs to add height and interest..

Apple styling

Apple centrepiece decor Apple centrepiece

Simple and inexpensive, it took about 10 minutes to set up, but as a low-effort way of adding a touch of seasonal colour it worked a treat.  For dinner we ate a kind of deconstructed chicken and mushroom pie which I prepared in a large casserole before adding personalised piecrust tops to serve with each;

Personalised piecrust!

I cut large circles of ready-made puff pastry and used cookie cutters to create cameo silhouettes and tiny letter cutters for the initials of our friends (you can make them the night before of course and just chill overnight).  Brush with a little egg glaze, bake for 10 minutes and serve on top of the pie filling; a little bit of fun…

Personalise piecrust toppers!

And finally; a pan full of fudgy, raspberry-stuffed brownies, still warm and with a scattering of icing sugar and a scoop of salted caramel ice cream.  I’ve gradually tweaked and adjusted various recipes over the years and come up with one I love; the quantities are huge so do adjust depending on your needs (but then who doesn’t need 24 brownies?  No point doing things by half). Recipe below..

Fudgy raspberry brownies

Raspberry fudge brownies

Finally, thank you SO much for the lovely comments last time about my quilt post and the blog in general; they really made me smile.

Have a great weekend, when it eventually comes; we have bonfires and fireworks planned, and a couple of days of nesting after an unusually hectic period of travel and juggling.  I can’t wait…

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Home Harvest

Hello again, after a brief hiatus; I’ve been travelling with work to San Diego – a beautiful if fleeting visit, spent mostly in hotel meeting rooms but with the occasional, wonderful foray outdoors. One evening we caught the night ferry across the bay for dinner – those 20 minutes on the water, watching the lights of the city skyline and feeling the mist of the water spray, were a highlight of the trip.

I like travelling, but I love coming home even more, and this weekend has been spent nesting with the boys; apple-picking, crumble-making, bonfire-lighting, marshmallow-roasting and the havesting of everything edible from the hedgerows and trees.  We’re tired, scratched up, smeared with mallow and thoroughly happy – and the best is yet to come; tonight we get to eat everything we’ve made.

We began with the ancient apple trees along the garden wall….

The apple harvest

Even after discarding the ones with worm holes, dents and bruises we had seemingly hundreds, so gently wrapped and boxed them to store through the winter.

Apple storage

Apple storage for winter

They’re cooking apples rather than eaters, so I searched for good recipes before coming across this one for a divine-looking tarte tatin.  Incredibly simple, but a delicious, caramelised flaky dessert.  We cheated and used our favourite gadget, an automatic appple corer and slicer, so ours looks a little flatter than it was supposed to; I don’t think that will trouble the tasters later…

Tarte tatin

We’ve been gradually tearing down an old shed, amassing a pile of wood which we used for a bonfire today.  For fun, Harry and I tried making Ina Garten’s marshmallows, and managed to produce a tray of giant, wobbling cubes which made us laugh just to look at them.  Harry dusted them with sugar and added sticks.  Some we ate before the fire was even lit (how could we resist?), others we secured carefully onto toasting forks and roasted over the fire as it died down.  A small minority we managed to set fire to; I suspect it will take several hair washes before the woodsmoke-and-burned-sugar smell leaves us completely…

Making marshmallows

Making marshmallows to toast

And finally today we picked all the pears from our pear tree which was leaning ominously under their weight. Most were unripe so after googling advice we have consigned them to the fridge for a few days to hasten the process.  Apparently if we take them out next weekend they will soften up beautifully within a few days.  A handful were ready, so we invented a recipe of our own and made blackberry crumbles for dinner tonight, each with their very own magic, golden pear…

Gold pear crumble

My recipe is below if you fancy giving this a try – and if you’re a pear-lover and have some other favourites, please do let me know; we’ll have a lot of pears to work our way through this month!

Golden Pear Crumble

Have a wonderful rest of the weekend; it feels very autumnal here so once we’ve polished off the crumbles we’ll be lighting the fire and snuggling up in front of the TV, holding the oncoming week at bay.  I’m praying for a good night’s sleep after jetlag kept me awake last night; at 2am I was cheerfully – if quietly – rearranging cuboards and drawers in the dark, not something I’m keen to repeat…

I’ll be back in a few days; till then, take care.

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Friends for dinner: time for kitchen experimentation!

How is your Monday going, are you surviving?  We managed a lovely weekend with friends and sunshine (the best combination), so the afterglow has seen me through a manic day at work.  We threw a small dinner party on Friday night.  The kind where everyone arrives, slightly giddy with a mix of exhaustion, anticipation, and the rush of adrenalin that comes after shutting your laptop, settling the babysitter in, examining yourself from every angle in your outfit, sucking everything in and racing, slightly late, to your destination.  Friday night fever.

If you’re braced for a picture-heavy post, here are a few touches from the night, like dessert (but more on that later!)…

Lemon tart with edible nasturtium flowers and macarons

Earlier in the week I made place-names for everyone to go on the table.  I began by printing out the names of all our guests onto watercolour paper (I used this calligraphy font; a favourite of mine), before taking a heavily loaded brush and spattering on watercolour paint in different shades of green.  I swirled the brush around a little to pool the colours and left to dry…

Watercolour gift tags step 1

Before slicing the paper into strips to create individual tags;

DIY place cards or gift tags

Which I then clipped to the plates at each setting, adding a spring of rosemary….

DIY Watercolour place names

Watercolour place settings

With dinners like these it’s always good to work out where to spend the effort and where to make life easy for yourself so that you can kick back and enjoy the evening; I opted for a huge caprese salad to start, and then a side of salmon, baked with lemon, feta, black pepper and capers and served up with sharing bowls of roasted new potatoes; one of those combination that you can place in the oven and forget about for 40mins whilst catching up on everyone’s news.  You’ll have to excuse the lack of photos; we were having way too much fun to stop and try to capture the food…

After a couple of easy courses, I wanted to go to town on the dessert and experiment with using the edible flowers I’ve been growing.  I decided to make individual lemon tarts in advance (these, which are my go-to reliable pudding for nights like these!).  To try to truly over-stretch myself, I also decided it would be a really great idea to make caramelised hazelnuts to garnish the plate, following what looked like a foolproof tutorial from Martha.  WELL.  Let me tell you that it’s quite an expensive garnish if you factor in the saucepan which became irretrievably welded with cooling molten caramel, and the burn cream I had to invest in after a minor slip up with the pan.  Oh, and you could lose 8hrs of your life attempting to skin the hazlenuts, unless  - as I did – you decide from the outset that life is too short and that a rather more slapdash approach is called for.   They look mighty pretty, but I can tell you it was a one-off venture into nut caramelisation for me…

caramelised hazelnuts

Still, I would like to be awarded an inventiveness prize for my creative repurposing of an old floral foam wreath…

caramelised nuts in florists foam

After that, the rest of the dessert was remarkably easy.  I had a dry-run at putting it together before everyone arrived, and took the photos below.  I’m pleased to report that even 4hrs and a number of glasses of wine later, it was manageable – here’s the step by step guide if you fancy giving it a whirl!

Take a plate (yes, ok – that’s the easiest step).

plate

Using a brand new  - washed! – paintbrush, add a stripe of raspberry coulis (from a jar; this is no time for domestic goddessery; no-one will ever know).

Plate with coulis

Add your homemade lemon tart in the centre of the coulis.  Squash together any crumbly bits; dust with icing sugar if necessary to disguise any imperfections.

Coulis and lemon tart

Add a couple of fresh blackberries and some carefully washed and pesticide-free edible flowers.  Mine are nasturtiums; you can grow your own or buy them in high-end supermarkets.

Step by step dessert with edible flowers

A couple of (shop-bought!) macarons add a further splash of colour.  I once tried making my own during a weekend break in Paris; it was amazing to learn but another of those once-in-a-lifetime things for me.

And finally, the caramelised hazelnuts, a sprinkling of dried edible rose petals (from Waitrose, for those in the UK), and a shaving of lemon zest, and ta-da! – dessert on a plate.   Just don’t drop the tray of these on the way to the table or your poor heart will never recover from the ruined labour of love…

Lemon tart with edible nasturtium flowers and macarons

The evening went on into the wee small hours; plates were scraped clean and the weekend was truly christened and launched.  I love Friday nights…

p.s . Now I need a new show-stopper dessert; do you have any favourite recommendations that you can share? Or other courses?  Preferably high on the aesthetics and low on the culinary skill required, which regular readers will know is my modus-operandi by now…

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’re upto;  and thank you for stopping by… particularly those who come week after week and say hello; it’s a very wonderful thing :-)

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The gift of…. Breakfast.

Sunday morning croissants

Back in January, we spent a lovely evening at my friend Anna’s house.  Twelve of us squeezed around her dining table, talking to and over each other, eating and drinking into the wee small hours.  The party continued after we all left, as Anna and her husband cranked up the stereo and threw some moves, ignoring the scene of culinary devastation in the kitchen.  A perfect night, all told; but what of the morning after?

‘I have the hangover from hell‘ texted Anna gingerly the next morning, ‘And there’s no food in the house because I didn’t think beyond dinner.  I would KILL for carbohydrates right now.’

It was a lightbulb moment for me; so now when we go to friends for dinner I generally take a bottle of wine – and breakfast.  The kind of slightly decadent, Sunday-morning breakfast that you can indulge in whilst reliving tales of the night before and revelling in your marvellous hostessery (new word, but you know what I mean..), before the realities of cleaning up and entertaining the kids with a hangover properly kick in.  I find croissants (butter, almond or chocolate; all divine), really good jam and fresh bread go down a treat, and also require no attention when you hand them over; they can be set down and forgotten, then rediscovered with joy & hunger the next day.

The gift of breakfast...

A couple of really good friends have recently had babies, and I take a similar approach on the first visit to see them too; whilst the new arrivals tend to get showered with lovely gifts, it’s easy to forget who actually did all the hard work and is finding it hard to remember unbroken nights and the phenomenon of being able to read a book from cover to cover.  For the new mums, a magazine, some simple scented flowers and a loaf of sourdough go some way to restoring peace of mind and providing the maternal equivalent of a comfort blanket;

Hostess gifts; breakfast for the morning after

Creamy white roses

p.s. Hot, buttered toast would be my last meal of choice.  No question.  Perhaps not my desert island food of choice – that would be calamari and crayfish with a chilled glass of wine as I scan the horizon looking for passing ships – but toast would be the most evocative, comforting choice. And as my last meal, I wouldn’t even have to skimp on the butter…

Also,

41 rules for how to be a great dinner party guest

..and useful tips for the host (especially ones like me who tend to have a warm-up cocktail at 7pm and only then remember to vaguely start thinking about the cooking)

and finally, for anyone feeling tortured by the gratuitous photos of carbohydrates, try the gluten-free museum

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