Baking

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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Cake! (And solar eclipses, and the pursuit of happiness..)

Rose ombre 5 layer cake

Did you have a lovely weekend? I hope so… it was Mothers Day here in the UK so I was woken around dawn by a breathless Harry, bursting with excitement and clutching a pot of daffodils he had secretly grown at school, a carefully drawn portrait of me (dressed in black, curiously, with forked hands rather like Satan – but then I’m sure that some of Lucian Freud’s subjects were equally touchy about how they were portrayed), and ready to recite a poem called ‘My Mummy’ about the wonderful things that mothers do.

And yes, I cried. (‘I know you were crying’ said Harry, at the end of the poem ‘Because I could see the drips’.)

To treat ourselves, we made cake; a rather splendid layer cake in the brightest colours we could find.  I got to choose, so I chose pink…

Rose ombre cake

We used a basic sponge cake recipe and a set of  layer cake pans which produce small but perfectly formed sponge layers (try these or this link if you’re in North America – both have recipe links too), and simply divided the cake batter into five pudding bowls and stirred in tiny amounts of pink food colouring, adding more with each bowl…

Ombre cake mixture in bowls


Ombre cake mixture! To get equal amounts of cake batter, by the way, you need a spot of elementary maths (great for mini-chef assistants!); weigh your mixing bowl before you begin and again when the batter is mixed; deduct the original bowl weight and then divide the remaining weight by five; that’s the amount you need to spoon out each time. When the cakes are baked, they look interesting and somewhat planetary; Ombre sponge cakes Once cooled, we stacked and layered ours with vanilla buttercream and then covered the cake with (whisper it) Betty Crocker Strawberry Frosting.  Because if you can’t take a culinary shortcut on Mothers Day, when can you? It was delicious; both the first slice and the second.. Rose ombre layer cake
This was our second attempt at layer-cake-making; we made a neon rainbow cake for Harry’s wonderful Godparents a couple of weeks ago using the same principles but a rather more lairy set of colours, chosen entirely by Harry, who made a cute rainbow decoration to adorn the top;

Rainbow cake!

See what I mean about the colours? ;-)  It had the same effect on our teeth that those old-fashioned disclosing tablets used to do… but it was worth it.

Vibrant rainbow cake

Enough about cake, particularly for those who are trying to exercise restraint in such matters as the thought of summer and swimwear starts to focus the mind, and the appearance of beguiling layer cake photos is far from helpful.  Instead, let’s talk about..

The solar eclipse which will occur across Scandinavia and the UK on Friday and which is already causing feverish excitement in our household.  We need to make a pinhole camera to view it, which requires us to eat a whole can of Pringles before then in order to use the tube for our camera.  It’s a tough job but I’m making good progress (on the crisps that is; I haven’t started the camera).  Will you be watching, are you ready?  If you won’t be able to see it from where you are, you can follow it here instead.  Fingers crossed for clear skies.

And finally have you seen this documentary?  I’m sure that I’m  late to the party on this one but I loved it; a feel-good analysis of what makes us happy – a great antidote for those Sunday-evening blues as we transition from the weekend back to work.  It’s up there with Finding Vivian Maier on my list of great word-of-mouth Netflix discoveries; if you have any more recommendations of things you’ve watched and loved do please share in the comments below – I need to build up a little store of things I can look forward to watching!

Have a great week ahead – oh and thank you for all the lovely comments on our bathroom; they really made me smile.

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Last-minute gifts from the kitchen

Christmas Cookies in a jar

Thanks for all of your lovely comments on the last couple of posts as we’ve prepared the house for the holidays. We’ve had a lovely weekend getting into the swing of Christmas with visiting family; the meringue wreath was mercifully able to be resurrected, the turkey was wrestled successfully into the oven without any limbs needing to be sawn off, and Harry was initiated into the tradition of family games.  Sardines saw 9  grown adults wedged variously into a bunk bed, a small airing cupboard and under an occasional table, and Twister swiftly revealed just who had been conscientious in their yoga practice this year.  I write to you from the sofa, in a happy haze of leftover Prosecco, with several joints iced-up and immobilised.

Anyway, to business, and to a last-minute gift that I promise you can knock up in the time it takes to run a bath, and which will wow with its homespun thoughtfulness.  Trust me.

Every year, I make spiced oatmeal and raisin cookies for Christmas and every year, I end up scribbling the recipe down for friends who are already planning how to secure some more, even before the last crumbs are brushed away.  They require very little skill and are actually supposed to look uneven and bumpy, and that to me qualifies them as being just about the perfect cookie to make.

christmas cookies

This year I’ve distilled the recipe into a jar, adding the dry ingredients in layers and attaching baking instructions listing the steps needed and additional ingredients (an egg and butter, very easy).  I’ve uploaded some printables below, so that once you’ve raided the cupboards and filled your jars, you can just print out the swing tags and you’re ready to go.

An important caveat for chefs and gourmands; combining all the dry ingredients in this way is not quite as good as taking a conventional step-wise approach and mixing butter and sugars before adding flour, and raisins last etc; if you are gifting to a cookie connoisseur with a refined  palate, this may matter.  For the rest of us – they’re yummy.

To fill your jars (I used 1 litre jars; try Kilner or the Korken range at IKEA) you’ll need: (if you’re in North America and work in cup measurements, try this recipe which helpfully is designed for a jar too and is similar):

  •  130g Caster sugar
  • 130g soft brown sugar
  • 60g rolled oats
  • 180g plain flour, mixed with 1/2 tsp of bicarb of soda, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1tsp ginger
  • 120g raisins
  • 200g icing sugar.

Pour all of the ingredients into the jar in layers, in the order described, tapping the jar gently to level each layer out before adding the next.  Try spooning them in if you find it easier.  For the icing sugar, put this into a separate small bag and add last before sealing the jar; this is for the icing so will be used when the cookies are baked.

Spiced Christmas cookies in a jar

Recipients of your gift can just pour the contents of the jar into a bowl, stir well and then add a beaten egg and 150g of softened butter, and the cookies are ready to roll into balls and bake.  Once cooled, they can be drizzled with icing.  I added a little jar of white chocolate stars and a wooden spoon with each gift this year; you could also accessorise with any pretty sprinkles or with chopped nuts, for example.

If you click on the links below you’ll find these labels; just cut out and glue front to back before tying on with ribbon.

Christmas Cookies Front

 

Christmas Cookies Back

Enjoy!

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Christmas Cookie Printable FRONT

Christmas Cookie Printable BACK

Home Harvest

Blackberry and Pear Crumble with Pistachio Crust

How was your weekend?  I hope it was a lovely one.  We had a decidedly autumnal couple of days, with misty mornings and cool evenings punctuating the bursts of heat and sunshine in between.  We had an amazing evening on Friday at the Luna Cinema, watching a movie under the stars whilst swaddled in blankets and sipping wine; as Friday nights go, it was hard to beat.  Picnics too take on a whole new dimension when you’re unable to see what you’re rummaging for in the basket; we did eat the strangest combination of things.

Our main activity this weekend though was harvesting and foraging, gathering pears and blackberries from the garden to see us through the next couple of seasons.  We began with pears… very small, wrinkly and peculiarly shaped ones, but they taste delicious nonetheless..

Home Harvest

Harry was in charge of quality control, checking for holes, bite-marks and signs that we’d been beaten to the chase by other inhabitants of the garden.  He takes after his dad and is able to do this calmly and methodically, and not run screaming to the house in hysterics every time he finds a worm (guilty as charged…).

Gathering Pears for Autumn

The quirky summer weather has produced masses of early blackberries, which unlike the pears are super-sized and super-juicy.  I flash-froze tray after tray before packaging them up like marbles, and now have a freezer-full of strangely shaped bags of bobbly purple fruit.

frezzing blackberries

Last year we experimented with blackberry jam-making, but this weekend we wanted a more immediate treat, so I tried this recipe from James Martin for pear and blackberry crumble… and can officially declare it to be delicious.  I tweaked the quantities a little (my version below); if you’re working in US measurements, all you need to remember for the filling is a rough ratio of 3:1 for the pear vs the blackberries – though of course the beauty of crumbles is that you can customise it is much as you like…

Pear and Blackberry crumble recipe

Finally, we gathered up all of the pears we had left over and arranged them amongst tissue paper in a couple of spare shoeboxes; I pasted a picture of our morning’s efforts to the inside lid and we’ll take them to local friends.  Harry has certified each to be worm-free, and his word is good :-)

a box of pears

And now we’re back into the hurly-burly of the working week; thankfully without the frantic checking of school kit and the shock of early mornings and routine which rushed at us last week; we’re in our groove again now.  At least, today we were..

Thank you incidentally for the lovely comments about our puppet theatre, and the stories and memories shared – it’s so lovely when a conversation unfolds!

Have a great rest of the week.

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A Cupcake Armada (and back to school fever!)

Cupcake Armada

How are you?  Today feels like the last day of the long summer break, before school and work restart in earnest next week.  An amazing summer of long hot days, evenings without bedtime curfews and delicious expanses of family time.  A summer too of sporting achievements; armbands are now permanently consigned to the loft and Harry is confidently afloat and swimming like a fish (albeit a wriggling, giggling one, who is liable to take onboard water in moments of distraction…).

We’ve also had the time to make progress with more of the house redesign and decor, tackling the upstairs rooms a little at a time; so exciting.  And many more projects in the pipeline… but more on that in a minute.

First though, a fun papercraft-and-cake project from this week (combinations don’t come much better than that, surely); a practice-run of ideas for friends who want to have homemade vibrant and fun cupcakes at their seaside wedding instead of a traditional cake.

cupcake sails 07

I wanted to create the impression of masted sails and chose long wooden barbecue skewers and strips of brightly coloured paper to create the effect.  For the pattern – which reminded me of swirling sea colours but also picked out the pink theme colour of the wedding – I downloaded one of the wonderful free watercolour designs by Yao Cheng for DLF , cropped it into long rectangle shapes and then added some text in Powerpoint (below).  If you don’t need to add writing, I’d just chose a lovely patterned sheet of gift wrap and cut out rectangles of about 2×5 inches.

cupcake sails 02

I painted each skewer with food colouring; you can do this neat from the bottle or dilute for a more subtle colour.  I left the bottom of the skewers unpainted but of course the beauty of the food colouring is it’s completely non-toxic and safe to be thrust deep into sponge…

cupcake 04

I threaded the paper onto the skewer and then pushed a small pearl bead onto each skewer tip both for decorative effect and to avoid any partygoers accidentally poking themselves in the eye when leaning over to choose their cake.. and also strung a few tiny bells randomly on the mast tops..

cupcake sails 05

Ta-da; the finished cupcakes!  Easy to produce en masse but equally fun just to make for teatime.

cupcake sails 07

 In other news… Harry and I have been embarking on a rather more substantial project this month; remember the Parisian Play Shop?  It was well-loved and well-played with for about a year but gradually became a dumping ground for all kinds of toys, books and half-built Lego models.  Whilst the play kitchen is very much still in active use, and acts like a magnet for any little girls who happen to be passing through, the shop seemed to have run its course, so I moved it to the loft to create space and forgot about it.

But then, this summer we stumbled across a pop-up puppet show in the local park – and Harry was absolutely transfixed.  There’s something about the slapstick comedy and audience participation which completely captured his imagination and made him chuckle whenever he thought about it for days afterwards.  So… we’re building a puppet theatre together, where we can stage our own plays at home.  I began by bashing out the top shelf and getting a large hole cut out from the back..

puppet theatre in progress

and finished up…….

starlight puppet theatre DIY

…well, I think we’ll open the theatre officially with a Grand Reveal next week, when our finishing touches are complete. We have some rehearsing to do after all :-)

Have a great weekend when it comes; I’ll be making the most of the last couple of days of lie-ins and sunshine, in-between stitching in name tags and retrieving long-abandoned school kit from corners around the house..

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Molten chocolate fondants with sea-salt caramel sauce; calorie-free! (not really..)

chocolate fondant pots with seasalt caramel sauce

A quick post today in case you’re looking for culinary inspiration for the weekend…. I’m preparing molten chocolate fondants for dinner with friends tonight, and they’ve become a fail-safe favourite.  The brave will tackle these with relish and determination, stopping only when there is not a crumb or smudge of warm chocolate left, but even those who usually decline desserts tend to manage a spoonful or three.

My recipe is a composite of numerous ones I’ve tried; I think that every cookbook tends to have one.  The beauty of these though is that you can prepare them the evening before and just pop them in the oven when everyone is still congratulating you on the main course (at least in the fantasy world of how you imagine that the evening will go..).  After just 10-12 minutes they will be lightly crusted on top, cake-like at the sides and full of molten deliciousness in the middle.  If you want to be extraordinarily clever and are one of life’s risk-takers, you can actually tip these out of the ramekins or pots at the table, to oohs and ahhs of surprise.  Me?  I keep them in the pan; these mini Mauviel pans I found at an antiques fair last year;

Mauviel pans

Here’s the recipe, which makes 6 pots…..

Chocolate fondant recipe

When they come out of the oven, they will be beautifully soft and molten in the middle..

Molten fondant pots with seasalt caramel

For the salted caramel sauce, look no further than Nigella, who has this easy-to-follow recipe for whipping up a generous amount with relatively little effort.  Or, if you’re like me and value a short-cut, look no further than the shelves of M&S or any good supermarket for a jar of it, and hope that your guests will be so distracted by your obviously-homemade fondant that they fail to ask how you made the salted caramel sauce.  If cornered, quote Nigella.  You can also use dulce de leche and add a few flakes of fleur de sel on top, as in my pictures above; drizzle it over the pudding and then stir in as you break the top…

fondant pots with salted caramel sauce

And then if you’re feeling virtuous, run for approx. 6hrs on a treadmill to ensure that your dinner is calorie-neutral.

But then, where’s the fun in that?

Have a great weekend!

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Hot chocolate fondants from katescreativespace

Fathers Day (and the often surprising Language of Flowers)

gingerbread matchsticks

There’s a sense of feverish anticipation in our household as the week draws to a close and preparations for Fathers Day can begin in earnest.  Harry has been busy card-making and tip-toeing around with carefully rolled up artworks, whispering ‘Shhh!’ loudly whenever my husband enters the room.  My efforts have been more culinary in nature, experimenting with making giant gingerbread matchsticks (above).

For those who are wondering what on earth has possessed me, I confess that I was a devoted follower of the Great British Bake Off series, during which one contestant – the impressive Frances Quinn – created a beautifully presented box of breadsticks disguised as matches.  She had spiced them with ginger and chilli and they were startlingly beautiful and uniform as they lined up, elegantly inside her giant matchbox.  I was in awe.

I have no idea how she managed it, but I’ve been having a play using my usual gingerbread recipe; I rolled out the dough into slim sausages and aimed for a vague uniformity of shape and size.  After baking for 6-8mins and leaving to cool, I dipped the ends in melted dark chocolate…

chocolate dipped gingerbread sticks

Then took a supermarket breadstick box and covered it with a homemade wrapper (if you’re at all interested in making these, my file is attached below as a PDF)..

Edible Breadstick Box Design

Edible Matches

Lest these appear dainty and petits-four-esque, here’s Harry to demonstrate the scale of these babies; less than 500 calories in each I can promise you.  Probably.  Start the day with one of these on Sunday and I guarantee it will be a pretty relaxed day, focused mostly on digestion.

bbb

 

Edible Matches top and sides PDF

Edible Matches Blank PDF

 In other news…

I’ve just finished reading The Language of Flowers, which I loved; have you read it?.  Given it spent years on the NYT best-sellers list, I realise I am somewhat behind the curve here (again), but nonetheless it was a great novel to stumble across.  Hard to explain, but beautiful to read, and it sparked my curiosity about the fact that the Victorians assigned meanings to each flower and used them to communicate messages and sentiments.  Whether it be friendship, luck, enduring love or hope that you are seeking to convey, there’s a flower at the ready to bring this to life.

I was discussing this with a friend and we decided to look up the flowers we’d chosen for our respective wedding bouquets. Ginnie had chosen purple irises, which revealed themselves to be ‘a sign of our enduring friendship and love’.  Very apt.  ‘Google orchids’, I cried; ‘my whole bouquet was orchids!’.  We waited…

‘Testicles!’  Said Ginnie.  ’It means testicles, from the Greek apparently!’.  It appears I walked down the aisle clutching a message that my husband cheerfully interpreted as a sign of my inherent manliness.  The wedding photos will never be the same again…

wedding master shot

After further searching, orchids were revealed elsewhere to signify ‘mature love’ (which is slightly better of course, although now I feel rather like Elizabeth Taylor or Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Would you choose flowers with their meaning in mind?  The risk is that definitions and interpretations vary wildly, but here’s a guide from Vanessa Diffenbaugh to get you started if you want to do some detective work.  Just don’t ever give anyone a pot of basil without being prepared for the consequences…

have a great weekend – and thanks again for all the wonderful suggestions about our California trip last week; it’s been a joy reading them all and making plans!

Kate

p.s. Some Fathers Day ideas from last year.

 

California Dreaming (and other weekend notes)

haake-map_california

Are you having a lovely weekend? We’ve had a blissfully relaxed one after another hectic week, and have managed to plan a getaway for later in the year – to California! We had an amazing time in New England last October so have pooled airmiles and co-ordinated dates and this time we’re heading for the west coast; I’m already ridiculously excited.  We’ll fly in and out of San Francisco in late October but beyond that we have 12 days of completely free time to explore the coast and travel around.  As always, if you have any tips or recommendations I would love to hear; particularly for unusual or interesting places to stay or must-visit stops along the route.  We’re planning to travel at least some of the way between SF and LA, but beyond that have no fixed ideas.

Holiday-plannng aside, it’s been a rambling weekend of small domestic pleasures, enhanced by the sunshine and luxury of open doors and ambient breezes.  Like these peonies; surely the ultimate summer flower, which have been slowly unfurling on my bedside table and making me smile…

peonies

…and Saturday morning’s traditional baking foray; this week I adapted a basic sponge cake recipe by adding a cup of desiccated coconut and a generous handful of raspberries, and christening my new bundt pan; it produced a deliciously more-ish cake which was photo-bombed by a small and hungry footballer even as I arranged these shots;

raspberry bundt cake

bundt thief

So then we all had to have a slice…

bundt crumbs

The conservatory continues to be a source of endless pleasure and new discoveries; this week the mouse melons had a growth spurt so I potted them up into old tin cans which I decorated, and handed out to friends;

Mouse Melons

…and I continued to sporadically photo and document the growth of everything else whenever I had the camera to hand… we tried deep-frying courgette/zucchini flowers for the first time and felt very cosmopolitan (though lest you think this typical of our weeknight-suppers, let me point you back to the old baked bean cans above, of which we have an embarrassing number..)

Cucumber F1 Botanical Journal

Zuccini flowers

And finally we went adventuring, setting up camp in a local forest for a couple of hours and having a spontaneous picnic whilst keeping a weather eye out for the myriad of friendly dogs who appeared every time we rustled the sandwich bag.  I took along Harry’s IKEA play canopy (a steal at about £8, and used relentlessly for all different kinds of activities).

picnic in the woods

And now we still have the evening left, perhaps a warm enough one to sit outside with a glass of wine and unfurl our newly purchased map of California, savouring the last few hours of the weekend. I hope yours has been a good one too.

Kate

Illustrated map (top) by the wonderful Martin Haake

The Great Asparagus Debate

Asparagus Ricotta and Pink Peppercorn Tart

How was your weekend?  We had a gloriously hot one, the kind that tempts you into thinking summer is just around the corner and leaves a nation of oddly-sunburned yet exuberant workers heading for the office on Monday whilst trying to remember how to locate the car air-conditioning, last used circa 1986.

We made the most of the sunshine with a weekend spent largely outdoors, venturing only to a local farm to pick the first of the season’s asparagus….

Asparagus picking

I had briefly contemplated adding asparagus to our growing kitchen garden, but the fact that you have to wait three whole years before harvesting your first crop  saw it struck swiftly from our list.  That and the vivid descriptions of the ferocious asparagus beetle with its red thorax and many sets of legs (okay, six legs.  And it seemed even more ferocious when I misread its size as being 6 inches rather than 6mm.  But I digress..). We roamed the avenues of spears, selecting those with fat stems and a general air of perkiness…

asparagus trug

Rinsed asparagus

Once home, I constructed these tarts in a somewhat ad-hoc manner, adding together ingredients which I thought would work – asparagus, lemon, ricotta, peppercorns and a dash of balsamic – and hallelujah, they were delicious.  My husband will agree that not all of my creative recipe-generation is successful, but these were the exception and so I share with pride;

asparagus tart recipe

 
As the tarts were baking I drizzled some vine tomatoes with oil and grilled them; lovely on the side or (as we had them) piled on top of the tarts to make a decadent yet easy lunch.

Asparagus and lemon tarts

Despite their beauty, Harry was decidedly unconvinced by asparagus, even after we told him about the exciting sulphuric effects it might have later.  A suggestion from Harry then is that if you pick the asparagus off these tarts, they are even more delicious.  Hmm… I beg to differ.

Asparagus for lunch

p.s. Another super-easy tart recipe here, and my other favourite asparagus dish here.

Have a great week!

Kate