7 Dec 2014

Christmas fairs and Santa on a motorbike

Mmm.... today has been what I like to call a typical 'Christmassy' day. When the weather is cold and you bundle up with warm coats and fluffy boots. When you do typical 'Christmassy' activities. Today was definitely one of those, as I went with my family to a local Christmas market in Ripley. When we arrived, the streets were lined with stalls, left, right and centre. Vendors, huddled under canvas shelters, smiled warmly while potential customers browsed tables, full with Christmas decorations, lucky dips and homemade treats. After a quick wander up and down a section of road, we passed Pinnock's coffee house, a free table in the window catching our eye- a rare sight as it had recently been voted best in the local area. The café looked like it was made for cold winter days such as this- wooden beams supporting the worn roof, large jars by the till, filled with marshmallows and other hot chocolate toppings, fabric bunting strung up above the till. It was downright cosy. Our orders placed, we sat back and enjoyed the warm and inviting atmosphere. Even the teapots and teacups were charmingly vintage. Being the typical English girl I am, my lunch consisted of Earl Grey tea and scones with cream and jam. Très anglais, non?

(Image sourced from http://www.theguide2surrey.com/Food-and-Drink/Food-Matters/February-2014/Counter-Culture-Pinnock-s-Coffee-House/)

After our lovely lunch, we headed out to browse the rest of the streets. Naturally, the only things I bought were food- two samosas and a pack of Spanish spicy sausages. Anything other than food isn't a worthwhile investment, in my opinion. It was later in the afternoon, once we had finished our mission to find Christmas presents, that we watched a truly fantastic display. Driving down the main road were several motor-biking Santas, followed by cars with more Santas and what looked like a Christmas mouse. The parade then dismounted their vehicles and after the wonderful switch on of the Christmas lights, we called it a day. To top it all off, a batch of freshly baked gingerbread appeared from the depths of our oven... Oh the joys of Xmas!

6 Dec 2014

Birthday cake and new beginnings

I think it's safe to say that it's been a while. It's been a while since I last blogged, it's been a while since I last baked and it's been a while since my birthday. Yet here I am, telling you about the highlights and disasters of my 18th. But before I tell you that, I think I need to give you all an update. Some VERY big news. I have a new kitchen! Ok, so maybe it's not that exciting, but for me it is. After spending many stressful hours with family breathing down my neck when I spill my tea or get cookie dough on the ceiling (yes, that really happened), a new kitchen is a big relief. Finally I have more space to... make a mess, i suppose. Oh. And I have two huge drawers... one for cake decoration and one for tea. Ahh, I'm so English!

Of course, with a lovely new kitchen and an approaching birthday, my mum decided to step into my Gran's shoes and make my birthday cake. Strictly speaking, it's been a few years since I last had a proper cake, so I wasn't exactly expecting one. Of course, when I was out at work (yes, i had to work on my birthday. Oh the joys of having a part-time job), my mum began on what was several hours of hard work, and I must admit the end result was stunning. I wouldn't be surprised if I saw that cake in a magazine. It really was that good! When it comes to cake, I'm a traditional girl. You can't beat a classic Victoria sponge and that was exactly what I got. An elegant layered sponge, sandwiched with cream, jam and strawberries and decorated with delicate pink (edible) blossoms. Bellissimo!

However, as you may remember, my birthday wasn't all rainbows and butterflies, it was compromise (and you're right, that is a song lyric). No, there were many, many, many 'alterations' to my original birthday fête. The original plan was to have my family round for dinner the day before my birthday... my grandparents, my aunt and my cousin for a lovely roast dinner. Sounds lovely, doesn't it. Very lovely. But no, t'was not to be. My cousin was unable to join us because he was at his dad's house that weekend. Not long later, my Aunt and my Gran on my mum's side decided not to come, thinking it would be unfair to see me without my cousin present. So it looked like it would be just my grandparents on my dad's side who were staying for a meal. Nope. You guessed wrong. Sadly, the night before my Nan had fallen down the stairs, breaking her shoulder and her wrist. Naturally, we said that we didn't want her to stay here for my sake, especially if she was in pain. My grandparents went back home in the early evening. The meal had been cancelled, no roast for anyone. The day of my birthday I was, of course, working. After coming home and having the initial surprise of my cake, my day was brightened a little- I would be seeing my Gran, Aunt and Cousin that night for a meal out. But as the evening went on, my mum started getting a head ache, my dad's back was playing up, having injured it a few weeks before. Of course, no birthday celebration was to be had. Instead, we stayed home and watched a film (Chef- I would recommend it). And it's been a month since then- I still haven't had my birthday meal yet. Tomorrow, maybe, but my family have all decided to simultaneously develop colds. Well, at least me and my cousin can cook dinner for everyone. It may not be a meal out, but sometimes a meal in is just as good.

4 Sep 2014

Baking alone or with others? Which do you prefer?

So it has been a while since I last blogged- 10 months to be exact. What with AS levels and a very poor memory, blogging has not been a big priority. But, as part of my grand return, I have decided to start with one of the most debatable topics of the kitchen: tomayto or tomarto? Fine, maybe that isn't the post I had in mind. It's obviously tomarto (here in England at least). The subject I was thinking of is 'Baking alone or with others?' - which do you prefer? We all have our personal preferences when it comes to the kitchen. Some of us take on the role of a dictator (e.g my cousin... and me as well I suppose). Others welcome the help of anyone and everyone, too scared of braving a dreaded recipe alone. But there are pros and cons of both, are there not?

Baking alone:

Although a little lonelier, baking by yourself can be oddly relaxing. Baking alone also means you can turn up the music and jam out as you make delicious cakes or pastries. I am generally a lone baker, mainly because no-one else has the interest. Plus I get incredibly frustrated if someone tries to take over or knows nothing about cooking whatsoever. Although cooking with family is welcomed by many, it's not for me. My brother and dad don't cook often, so I usually have to explain the process and grit my teeth as they somehow manage to burn water. My mum, on the other hand, doesn't like a messy work surface, so I advise her to avoid the kitchen when I'm cooking. You won't believe how bad the mess has been sometimes. To put it simply, I once got cookie dough on the ceiling. That's right. Let's just say I got mad at the dough, and leave it there, shall we?

Baking with friends and family:

Despite my argument against cooking with my family, I have had some enjoyable times in the kitchen with them. If we can settle our differences, then it can be fun. I often cook with my cousin and my gran, dishes ranging from apple cookies to rosemary focaccia. Preparing food out of necessity instead of leisure is usually what causes tension in my household, so when we cook to enjoy, we appreciate each other's company as well. Friends can make just as good companions in 'la cuisine'. Generally, among friends, there is less stress and tension while cooking so roles, both making and tidying, can be divided equally. Just remember that too many cooks spoil the broth, as they say.

All considered, your preferences strongly depend on what type of chef you are and what type of chefs your friends and family are. Because I like to maintain control, I don't often work well with my mum, who also wants control of what we make. My cousin, on the other hand, is a full-on dictator, which is very frustrating, and my brother and dad know so little that it takes longer to make something with their help than without it. My preference in baking solo comes down to my personality and the personalities of those around me. I would happily cook with someone who is willing to share duties equally but when it comes to my family... I'd rather let them eat the food than make it. Below are the pictures from baking with my brother. Take a guess which cakes I piped and which ones he piped. For a perfectionist like me (even though my cakes are always irritatingly messy) this is why I get so stressed cooking with others....