Sunday, 31 March 2013

Repurposing cake

Every year my Mum makes us a small Christmas cake but, this year, we just seemed to have so much food in the house that we never got around to eating it. When it was still lingering in the cupboard in February, I had a flash of inspiration: why not repurpose it as a Simnel cake? I could then devote my time to decorating rather than baking.

On Good Friday I started the transformation. The first step was to gently peel off all the old icing and marzipan. Luckily it came away quite easily without causing too much damage to the cake underneath. Looks yummy already - Mum makes the best Christmas cake ever!

Originally I planned to leave the sides uncovered like the other Simnel cakes I'd seen. However, as they were quite sticky from the jam Mum had used to stick on the original decoration, I decided to recover them with fresh marzipan. The top and sides were then embossed with a PME impression mat. It's at this point that the idea of a traditional Simnel cake was abandoned and I went with a decorated Easter cake instead. Much more opportunity for prettifying!

The flowers were made from white fondant icing coloured with Sugarflair paste concentrate: the colours were melon and grape violet. I only used a tiny amount, dipping a cocktail stick in the pot and then kneading the colour through the icing. There was far too much icing for this cake so the remaining flowers and the butterflies will be used for other projects.

Making Easter Bunny (pattern from an old Asda magazine) was my favourite part. He's made from white and yellow marzipan and the details were painted with dark chocolate. The flower centres are chocolate too.

And finally, the finishing touch of a couple of pretty ribbons and it's all ready for the reveal...

Ta-dah!!! I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. Not what I'd planned at all but sometimes you have to go with the flow and where the inspiration takes you. It's also made me want to have a go at a proper iced cake. Chickpea's birthday is in May so you never know.

OK, all that remains is for me to wish everyone a very Happy Easter! Hope you're enjoying the long weekend and the sunshine. x

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Goosnargh cakes

Last time, I teased you with a photo of a spice and asked you to guess what it was. Well, I can now reveal that they're caraway seeds and they're the essential ingredient in a traditional Lancashire treat, Goosnargh Cakes. Tradition has it that they were originally eaten on feast days such as Easter and Whitsun, though they're now available all year round. Goosnargh (pronounced Goozna) is a small town also known for its corn-fed ducks and chickens and much loved by celebrity chefs.

I first came across Goosnargh Cakes at a bakery in Preston, Elsie's Pantry, which sadly closed down several years ago. The cakes are actually a shortbread (shortcake), which is probably my all-time favourite kind of biscuit. It's the caraway seeds which give them their distinctive slightly aniseed flavour. However, don't worry if you don't like aniseed as it's more of a hum in the background unless you add a lot.

The other spice found in Goosnargh Cakes is ground coriander though there are mixed views on whether it should be included or not. However, as it seemed an unusual flavouring for a biscuit, I decided to give it a go. And the result? To be honest, I'm not sure I could taste it but maybe it's one of those background flavours that you'd miss if it wasn't there.

You'll also notice quite a bit of sugar on the top of the cakes. There's only a small amount in the mixture but you make up for it by sprinkling a lot on later! The first sprinkle is added when the cakes are raw as the idea is that the sugar melts and forms a crust as they bake. One of the recipes said to add a 1/4 inch layer! I was much less generous than that. A second sprinkling is then added when they're hot out of the oven. I actually don't remember there being a sugar crust on the cakes I ate from Elsie's so they must have added more sugar to the recipe itself, which is an option if you don't like to see the amount of sugar you're eating!

What I can say is that this recipe gives a gloriously crumbly, melt-in-the mouth texture and I've had to restrain myself from scoffing the lot in one go. Have I tempted you enough yet? OK then, time to make yourself a batch - I'd love to know what you think if you do decide to give the recipe a go.

Goosnargh cakes

110g butter
20g caster sugar
180g plain flour
1tbsp caraway seeds
1tbsp ground coriander
extra caster sugar for sprinkling

1. Cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Combine the flour, caraway seeds and ground coriander and mix with the sugar and butter.
3. Use your hands to pull the mixture into a dough, then roll out to 1/4 inch thick.
4. Cut out rounds using a cutter - mine was a 2 1/4 inch cutter.
5. Put the rounds onto a baking sheet leaving a little space between to allow for spreading during baking.
6. Sprinkle with caster sugar. 
7. Put the tray in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight to firm up.
8. Preheat the oven to 140C/120C Fan/Gas 1.
9. Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes until firm, though don't let them brown.
10. Sprinkle with more sugar and leave to cool on the baking tray.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

And we shall have snow

Well, who would have thought we'd wake up to a blanket of snow at the end of March? The weather reports in the newspapers have been saying it's more likely to happen this time of year than at Christmas because the air is more moist. Maybe they're right but I can't remember the last time it happened, and I'll be quite happy if it never happens again!

Still, I did enjoy taking these photos of my garden ornaments from the relative warmth of my patio doors: open the door, take a photo, shut the door.

Given the snow and the bitter wind, we rarely ventured out this weekend except for a quick trip to the supermarket for food and petrol. Instead it was another weekend of crafting.

I finally got around to making Easter cards for a couple of friends. The sheep toppers are from Hobbycraft and were a very reasonable £1 for two. They're quite chunky so the cards will have to be posted in padded envelopes to protect them.

And all of the papers were 'free' with various magazines, except for the green 'Easter' which I cut out of an Aldi leaflet! I think this one is my favourite.

I also made this card for my friend's football-mad little boy who turns 7 in April. It only seems like yesterday that I was holding him when he was a few days old!

The card had to undergo a bit of a repair job this morning. I'd bought some flat rubber football toppers but, when I came downstairs, they'd all fallen off - looks like sticky dots weren't strong enough to hold them. Luckily, I still had some of the paper so cut out the footballs instead.

I also did a little baking using this spice. Can you guess what it is? It's the key ingredient in a traditional Lancashire treat and all will be revealed in my next post.

This afternoon, Chickpea finished her decopatch letter. I've been surprised and thrilled how much she's enjoyed doing it - maybe we've found 'her' craft at last? I'm convinced everyone has a craft in them and it's just a matter of elimination to find the right one. Or ones in my case.

I also think she prefers crafting with someone else rather than on her own. So, while she was decopatching, I was sat next to her working on this applique picture. I'm soooo excited about this and can't wait to show you the finished result! Hopefully, I'll get it finished over the Easter weekend which for me starts on Thursday - 5 whole days off work. Yippee!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Naughty black cherry & almond cookies

As I was rummaging in my kitchen cupboards I came across an unopened packet of dried black cherries: no doubt destined for a long-forgotten recipe. How could I use them up?

Cookies sprang to mind as, the weekend before, I'd eaten a very nice cranberry and sunflower seed cookie. Cherries also made me think of cherry bakewells with their almond flavour. I had the beginnings of a recipe.

The next stage was to find a basic cookie recipe to which I could add my flavourings. Eventually I settled on the Rachel Allen recipe for chocolate chip peanut butter cookies as the photo in the book looked like the texture I had in mind. To get the almond flavour, I substituted some of the flour for ground almonds, and replaced the vanilla extract with almond extract. And for even more flavour and a crunchy texture, I added flaked almonds.

So far, so good. And now comes the naughty bit! The dried black cherries seemed very dry and quite firm. I worried that they might become even harder during baking so decided to soak them first to make them plump and juicy. I needed something to enhance the cherry flavour and another rummage in the cupboards produced a bottle of blackberry gin - delicious when added to Cherry Eton Mess - yum!

Armed with my recipe, I headed to the kitchen. 

Look pretty good don't they? Actually, they were disappointing: more cakey than biscuit, the almond flavour was too strong, and they went soft very quickly. I'm sorry to say that most of them ended up in the bin.

Back to the drawing board and fast forward to last weekend.

This time I decided to stick with a tried and tested cookie recipe as the starting point: Felicity Cloake's Perfect Chocolate Chip. As we've made these a couple of times I knew they had exactly the right texture.

It's quite a stiff mixture and hard on the arm muscles when it comes to adding the flour, so I opted to use my friend the food processor and only mixed by hand when it came to adding the cherries and flaked almonds at the end. And the result?

Success! Maybe not quite as firm as the chocolate chip version but nice and chunky and the almonds give a good crunch. What a relief!

Given the right inspiration, I'll have a go at creating a recipe again but, just in case you'd like to try this one for yourself, here it is:

Naughty black cherry & almond cookies

100g dried black cherries
2 tablespoons (30ml) blackberry gin
150g butter, at room temperature
75g light brown sugar
75g granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
240g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
70g flaked almonds

1. A few hours before, chop the cherries. I cut them into quarters with scissors but you can cut them finer if you prefer a less chunky cookie. Put in a small bowl with 2tbsp blackberry gin. You can use any blackberry/cherry liqueur or a cordial if you prefer, though the alcohol will cook off during baking.
2. In a food processor, mix together the butter and sugars.
3. Add the egg and almond extract and mix.
4. Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda a few spoons at a time until just mixed.
5. Transfer to a bowl. Drain any excess liquid from the cherries and add to the mixture with the flaked almonds. Stir with a wooden spoon until evenly mixed.
6. Chill overnight (or for a few hours) in the fridge.
7. On baking day, preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas 5.
8. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
9. Using about a dessert-spoon full, lightly roll the mixture into balls with your hands. It will help if you wet your hands for this bit to prevent the mixture sticking too much. Place on a baking tray and flatten slightly, leaving space in between to allow the cookies to spread while baking. You should get about 15 cookies.
10. Bake for 10-15 minutes until just golden. I had to do 3 batches but you may need to do less if you have larger trays.
11. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes on the tray, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

(Deco) Patching

Last year I decided to try some different crafts: 'variety is the spice' and all that. I'd seen decopatching in a craft magazine and then saw the papers in Hobbycraft. As a patchworker and quilter it wasn't too much of a stretch to try patchworking with papers.

Well, I love it! It's so simple and so effective. What can be more relaxing than cutting up bits of paper and sticking them on objects? 'Dream' was purchased from Hobbycraft and was the first thing I made. 

The 'Love' ornament came from Next and was plain and boring and just begging to be transformed into something bright and colourful. Can you tell I took the last two photos in the summer? All that lush greenery. I saw the first buds on a cherry blossom tree today - true spring really is on its way!

And this is what I've been working on over the last couple of weekends. I made a similar one last year as a gift and this one will be winging its way over to Germany later this week. The papers are probably not really my friend's taste but I still have lots of the paper left and it would have been a waste/extravagance to buy more. Hopefully, she'll appreciate the sentiment if not the colours.

Of course, as yesterday was World Quilting Day, it seemed appropriate to do some real quilting with fabrics too. This is the border for the Wonky Star quilt which I'm foundation piecing.

I've also been baking cookies but you'll have to wait until next time to see those :-)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Quilter's Guild Regional Day

I had a lovely day on Saturday attending the Spring Regional Day of Region 13 of the Quilters' Guild of the British Isles (The Guild is divided into Regions and the North West is Region 13). As always it was held at the community centre in Frodsham (where Gary Barlow grew up for those of you who are Take That fans - not me!) and we had two very entertaining speakers.

The speaker in the morning was Janice Gunner whose work I already knew and admired. She's particularly known for her 'log cabin with attitude' designs as in the picture at top left. Her talk for the day though was 'Kangaroos, Koalas and Kwilts' in which she told us about her recent trip to Australia to teach a number of workshops. The picture at the top of this post is a detail from one of the quilts she made from Aboriginal fabrics she bought there - I thought the colours were just amazing and one of my all-time favourite colour combinations. The log cabin at bottom right was also inspired by the visit and made of similar fabrics.

We were then treated to some of her latest work. The poppies are painted using heat-sensitive paints - if you put your hand over to warm them up, the colour becomes brighter! On another quilt the colour disappeared altogether - I wish I'd written down what they were called. She's also been making quilts from vintage kimono fabrics (bottom left) and hand-dyed indigo and shibori (tie-dye) fabrics. Chickpea would have liked these as she's fascinated by Japan.

After Janice, it was time for Show and Tell. I'd taken Chickpea's quilt and was first up. I managed to mumble something about moving from the sublime to the ridiculous but otherwise completely forgot everything I'd planned to say - doh!

Of the other quilts brought along, this one 'Dear Jane in Liberty' by Val Neve caught my eye. I think she said that every block is different but I may be making that one up!

While we were enjoying the speakers, a group of eleven young quilters, including one boy, were having a workshop in another room and they came out to show us what they'd been making. It was so great to see them and the lovely work which they proudly held up.

After show and tell it was lunchtime and a couple of lovely things happened. Firstly, a lady came up and said how much she had liked Chickpea's quilt. Then another lady asked if I would submit a photo to be included in the regional newsletter! Of course, I said yes but, remember fellow bloggers, you saw it here first!

In the afternoon our speaker was Linda Barlow who had us all laughing with her irreverent and quirky sense of humour. One of her quilts is called 'Lust and Envy go out for a drink after work'! Another features the Grim Reaper and a Phoenix representing the people who've lived in her village forever and the newcomers!! And another had Dame Judi Dench dancing with a tobacco indian at a garden party in York!!!

A lot of her work is around the theme of motherhood, juggling priorities, and the difficult balance to find time for yourself. The quilt on the left is 'They never actually belonged to you' about children leaving home. At top right is a detail of 'Sometimes she felt as though time itself was dragging her down'. And bottom left is a detail of 'The fragility of friendship' about the time she fell out with a friend. I found her fascinating and could have listened to the stories about her work all day.

There were also traders present but I managed to restrain myself and only purchased 2 fat quarters of fabric, one of which is a gift and therefore doesn't count :-)

And that was the day over. It's a quilty week as it's my group's meeting tomorrow evening too. If only I could find time to actually do some quilting...x

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mother's Day

I hope you've all been enjoying Mother's Day, whether you're a Mum or not. This is what my lovely Chickpea gave me this morning :-) Such a pretty card and I love orchids.

Sometimes we go out for Mother's Day but, more often than not, it's a quiet one and that's how I'd planned it today as I'd been out at a quilt event yesterday (more on that next time).

After I'd opened my card and present we headed round to see Mum. I decided to make Mum's card again this year and enjoyed creating these little paper cupcakes on an 'Emma Bridgewater' polka dot cake stand. I did debate whether it was a good subject for her as she's diabetic and doesn't eat much cake. However, she's always baking, so cupcakes it was. Of course, Dad, always the joker, made the comment 'and this is what you could have had' when he saw it! I think Mum liked it though, and she definitely liked the heart tealight stand and tulips.

Last year I made this card. The design was from Papercraft Inspirations magazine and you can download the template and motifs here - there are different ones for people who like baking, DIY, gardening etc. As soon as I saw the design, I just had to make it. The pleated frill was a bit fiddly and awkward to stick down but, otherwise, it was an easy make and I had great fun choosing the papers and trimmings.

There was more card making this afternoon, this time for the daughter of my American friend who turns 16 in  a couple of weeks. The Russian dolls were free with Craftseller last year and the paper and wording came free with other magazines. I really enjoyed making this one and it came together quite quickly, unlike the Easter ones which I'm still deliberating over.

After the card making, Chickpea and I enjoyed a crafternoon doing some decopatch. She's never shown much interest in crafting but I keep trying! As she'd admired the decopatch I did last year, and spying an opportunity, I bought her a papier mache letter for her birthday and we primed it last weekend. I worked on something for my German friend whose birthday is in a couple of weeks - so many March birthdays - it was my best friend's and my brother's this week too! I'll reveal all after the event.

And that's been our day. Tempted by the bright sunshine, we did set out for a short stroll but the wind was so bitingly cold that we headed straight back home! Enjoy what remains of the weekend. x

Monday, 4 March 2013

Buttons, birds & blooms

Although it was the first day of Spring last Friday, the ducks have been under that impression for the past week or so. Most of the year they stay pretty close to the lake but, come Spring, they start to wander around the neighbouring streets looking for nesting sites. I love to watch them wandering in and out of each garden in turn, sitting on walls, fences and hedges, and sometimes cars. There were four on my drive this morning as I left for work and more in the street.

I was also in the mood for wandering on Saturday and went to Manchester to meet my friend, Bernie. Before leaving though, I hung out the washing and watched the steam rising from the clothes in the heat of the sun. Yes, heat! My garden faces North and gets very little sun during the winter so it really does feel like spring when I can finally hang out the washing.

I met up with Bernie at the Art Gallery and spotted this arrangement of branches and flowers attached to the railings all along the front of the building - stunning. I only discovered later that it's part of the exhibition by the artist Raqib Shaw. However, we were only at the Gallery to eat in the cafe as our destination was actually the Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall.

And this is what greeted us there: a sea of crocus. So, so pretty. It made my heart lift to be out in the sunshine and see the drifts of flowers spread around the park. <contented sigh>

I also got quite excited when I spotted an unusual bird rummaging around in the dead leaves which turned out to be a Redwing - probably not unusual at all where you live but it was the first time I'd seen one. Some of my best memories are of birdwatching with my Dad when I was younger. We had a caravan at Blackpool and would spend hours on country walks trekking across fields and crawling in the undergrowth in pursuit of a glimpse of feather. <more contented sighs>

However, back in Manchester...

Inside the Gallery there were beauties of a different kind on show. There are lots of pictures of the collection on their web site though only a small part of it is on display in the Gallery. These are some of the things which caught my eye and that I could get a decent picture of. I'm not a hat person but I loved the big buckle on the black hat, and doesn't the black and white one just scream '60s? And, oh, the bags! I could quite happily have taken this one home - Christian Dior biker chic! The button lovers amongst you would have been drooling over the cases and cases filled with buttons of all description.

Talking of buttons, how gorgeous are these? Can you believe they date from the 1780s? This was a formal court suit and would have only been worn on special occasions which probably explains why it's in such superb condition. And don't you just love the embroidered narcissus and lily of the valley? Just the kind of coat to be wearing in the Spring!

An afternoon well spent and we'll go again next time the collection has been changed around.

So did I come away from Manchester empty-handed? What do you think? ;-)

I couldn't resist this gorgeous bird tile by Lee Page Hanson at the Manchester Craft & Design Centre. There were so many to choose from that I spent ages deliberating but I think it was the little heart which won me over in the end.

It hadn't been a good week for frugality and resistance as I also succumbed on Wednesday and bought these button beauties...

My heart skips a beat every time I look at them! I'd seen these Avoca designs on the internet and had a serious case of the wanties but hadn't been able to track any down in the shops (I do shop on the internet but much prefer to see things in reality). Then, on Wednesday, I spotted the green butter bell. As I was paying, I chatted excitedly to the shop assistant and told her how I really loved the allover button pattern but it was hard to find around here. She disappeared into the back for some bubble wrap and came out holding these two, the only ones left in stock! I did try to decide between them, honestly I did! But they just all looked so happy together!

Sunshine, buttons, birds and blooms, and the company of a good friend. It truly was a lovely weekend. x