Monday, 25 November 2013

Cattern cakes

Today is St Catherine's Day, patron saint of spinsters, spinners and lace makers, and also whom the Catherine Wheel firework is named after. 

I hadn't really heard of St Catherine until I read about her in my new favourite book, Cattern Cakes and Lace, which I uncovered in an Oxfam bookshop a few weeks ago. It only took a quick flick through the pages and there was no question that it was coming home with me!

I really can't describe this lovely book better than by quoting the blurb on the back cover: "An enchanting...calendar of traditional festivals and feast days, and the foods [and] folklore...associated with them." 

What makes me love it so much is how it's illustrated. Every page is decorated with objects and images relevant to the custom and the season: lace, buttons, bobbins and beads, seashells, seeds, flowers, fruit and leaves, poems, pictures and postcards.

It's taken me ages to write this post because I have the book at the side of me and can't resist reaching over to leaf through the pages. Sadly it's out of print but there are lots of second hand copies available from your favourite online stores.

As I did with Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries, I'm trying to read it bit by bit following the months, which is what brought me to November and the Cattern Cakes of the title. Cattern is a corruption of the name Catherine and the cakes were traditionally eaten by lace makers in Tudor times to celebrate her day.

They're really more of a biscuit than a cake but what drew me in was the inclusion of caraway seeds as I still have lots left over from making the Goosnargh cakes back in March. There are other versions of this recipe which include yeast but I stayed faithful to the version in the book.

If I made them again, I'd make a couple of changes. The mixture was very crumbly and difficult to pull together. Even half an hour in the fridge didn't help so I'd recommend adding a few drops of water to help with rolling out. 

The other change I'd try is not adding the cinnamon to the mixture but saving it for sprinkling on the dough before rolling up. That way you'd get more colour and definition in the spiral. Of course you could add it to the dough too if you really like cinnamon!

They went down a treat with the girls at work and I found they were better the next day when they'd firmed up and the spices had had plenty of time to permeate. I hope you like them. x

Cattern cakes

275g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
25g currants
50g ground almonds
2 tsp caraway seeds
200g caster sugar
100g melted butter
1 egg, beaten
Extra caster sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas 6

1. Put all of the dry ingredients into a bowl.
2. Add the butter and beaten egg and mix well to give a soft dough. You might need to add a few drops of water at this point to help the mixture come together.
3. Roll out into a rectangle until the dough is about 1cm thick.
4. Brush the dough with water and sprinkle over the cinnamon and sugar.
5. Roll up like a swiss roll and cut into 2cm slices.
6. Place on a baking sheet leaving plenty of space as the biscuits will spread. Bake for about 10 minutes.
7. Leave to cool completely.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Off to market

Yesterday we ventured out to the Christmas market in Manchester on a perishingly cold day. Knowing we'd be outside most of the time, we'd wrapped up warm but I still ended up shivering with the cold. I couldn't even have a warming gluhwein as I was driving later :(

However, cold aside, we had a great time browsing all of the goodies on display and soaking up the sounds and smells. A lot of the stalls were similar to last year but many seemed more colourful than ever.

We really drooled over these gorgeous-looking Dutch strawberry pies.

And look at these rows and rows of pastel perfection. A tad pricey at £1 each though, so we limited ourselves to devouring them with our eyes.

Ooh, so much chocolatey goodness! I can't look at cannoli without being reminded of being in New York. One of my colleagues at work is there now, lucky girl!

And did we buy?

Well, not the chocolate, but I did come home with this lovely handmade crochet brooch - the temptation was just too strong! We also managed to buy several Christmas presents for family and friends so it was a satisfyingly productive day. We were definitely women on a mission though as, although I'm visiting the market again in a couple of weeks with some friends, it will be more of a social event than a shopping trip.

It was also a productive evening as I finished my latest jigsaw. I don't think I've ever told you that I like to do jigsaw puzzles but I always have one on the go. My Mum did them while I was growing up but it was my friend Sue who really got me started. I was at her house one day and she was working on a beautiful picture of a fairy and dragonfly: I was hooked.

Today has been an at home day. This morning I bottled up my homemade blackberry liqueur. We're having the booze-soaked blackberries in an eton mess tonight.

I also finally made a start on my latest quilt. I've had the pieces cut out for a couple of weeks but have just felt too tired in the evenings to get out the sewing machine. I've also challenged myself to get the piecing as accurate as possible so will be taking it nice and slow.

And right now, we're enjoying a glass of shandy before I start on our evening meal. I haven't had a shandy in years but we had some brown ale left over from a casserole last week. I really don't like beer but I hate waste even more. Mmm, it's not too bad! It's obviously use-up Sunday as the stir-fry we're having for tea was inspired by the mushrooms and green pepper lurking in the fridge and the duck strips unearthed from the freezer.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. x

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


At last it's time to reveal my latest quilting project! Regular readers will know that I'm a member of a quilting group and, way back in January, we were issued with our 2013 challenge: to make a miniature quilt.

The challenge was inspired by this quilt by Leominster Quilters which one of our group had seen at a show (apologies for the awful photo of a photo). Like them we were each asked to make a mini-quilt  which would then be attached to a background to make a bigger quilt.

The only rule was that the quilt couldn't be more than 12 inches square. I knew almost immediately what I was going to make as I'd bought the book Easy paper-pieced miniatures by Carol Doak a few years ago and had never got around to using any of the patterns. After a browse through all the gorgeous designs I settled on 'Scrap Stars'...and then did absolutely nothing until the end of September! Clearly I work better with a pending deadline as it had to be submitted at our meeting last week.

If I'd been sensible, I'd have chosen a less fiddly pattern with fewer pieces. But who wants to be sensible when you can play with lots of brightly coloured bits of fabric :)

The only change I made from the original pattern was to adapt the border to make it fit the dimension requirements of the challenge.

It was love all the way until it came to putting it together and then I had a serious grump. Don't look too hard at the seams as the piecing is appalling. If I was to make a miniature again, I think I'd use a fabric foundation as the feed dogs on the sewing machine couldn't grip the paper very well, so it slid around and pulled the seams out of alignment. Frustratingly, I'd sewn with a really small stitch too to make it easier to rip off the paper foundation, so it was a real pain to unpick. In the end I just thought 'oh, sod it' and carried on. I'm getting much better at fighting my perfectionist tendencies and it's not as if I'm trying to craft some prize-winning masterpiece here!

The quilting is very simple 'in the ditch'. I did use spray glue for the first time to hold the layers together and was really pleased with how it worked. I know, I know, everyone has been using spray glue for years but I've always favoured the good old-fashioned tacking method. Part of the reason being that you need a big table and plenty of space to use glue on a full-size quilt so that you can smooth out all the layers and that's never been an option. I'm going to use it for my next quilt though as I'm doing the quilt-as-you-go method and the individual components should be small enough for the space I have.

Appalling piecing aside, I'm really pleased with how my mini-quilt turned out and enjoyed the whole process of making it.

At our November meeting last week it was finally time for us to reveal all and we excitedly unveiled our contributions to lots of oohs and aahs.

My favourite was this absolute stunner by Pam. My goodness but we have some really talented women in our group!

All of the quilts have now been taken away to be sewn to the background and the plan is to enter it in the Harrogate quilt show next year. It was so exciting to see our last group contribution there and I can't wait to see this one hanging at the show too! x

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Early autumn at Tatton

I woke up this morning to a damp, grey, misty day. How different to the one we had at Tatton Park a few weeks ago. We've been trying to make the most of every last day of sunshine and warmth at the weekends before the winter sets in. So, when the weather promised to be fine on Sunday in October, we headed off to Tatton. It was one of those perfect early autumn days when the skies are still the brightest blue and the leaves were just starting to change colour.

Before heading out to walk in the park though, we stopped for breakfast at the Gardener's Cottage which only opened this year. What a lovely building - I want to live there! So many period features and it has been decorated beautifully.

And look, a table full of pretty teacups and saucers! I'm sure the people in our room must have thought I was odd wandering around cooing over all the prettiness and looking at the different patterns - I was in heaven!

Outside was lovely too with old apple trees and cottage garden plants.

There were lots of apples for sale in the garden shop - all different traditional varieties. I was very tempted but didn't want to carry them around all day and the park was calling.

There are lots of deer at Tatton Park and this pair were enjoying grazing under a lovely tree with its leaves just starting to turn golden. There were signs at the entrance saying it was the rutting season so we kept our distance.

I just love the wide open spaces here and those big skies. All the trails are from planes taking off from Manchester Airport.

I was so busy looking at the views and skies that it was Chickpea who pointed out these giant mushrooms.

I know photos can give a false impression and perspective but these were dinner plate size!

I'm no mushroom expert but, after looking at a few web sites, I'm pretty sure they're parasols, which seems a very apt name.

OK, that's the last photo.

Well, alright, maybe just one more :) These are younger versions.

After all those mushrooms I thought there might be an abundance of acorns and conkers. However, we found only one conker which looked like it had been nibbled by the deer and I think the squirrels must have beaten us to the acorns!

What we did see were plenty of sweet chestnuts.

There were piles and piles of them littering the ground.

There were also lots of beech nuts along the Beech Walk. It was actually quite a strange experience walking under the trees as there was a constant sound of cracking and rustling as the pods and nuts fell to the floor. Thankfully none of them fell on our head!

Sigh. I wish I could be there today walking along that beautiful path and seeing how the leaf colour will have changed. Unfortunately boring stuff like cleaning the car calls so it will have to wait for another time.

I still have another day trip to tell you about from several weeks ago but next time it's time to reveal my latest quilt. Thank you for all the lovely comments lately - you really do make my day. xx

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Sunshine & hail

Well this wasn't the post I'd planned but I thought I'd show you a few images from the weekend instead. Yesterday, Chickpea and I went into Manchester to meet up with friends at the Art Gallery. Just as we arrived, the hailstorm started - hail, thunder and lightning. Earlier it had been brilliant sunshine: don't you just love the British weather and how you can experience all its variations within a few minutes!

We were there to see the exhibition of Grayson Perry's tapestries, Vanity of Small Differences (the link is from a different venue but has better photos). Not something I'd want to display in my house but fascinating all the same.

Luckily the good weather returned today and, after houseworky things, I had an irresistible urge to get out into the fresh air for an hour. I headed for my favourite walk down by the golf course.

Everywhere is still surprisingly green.

I loved the light coming through the ferns. In the height of summer you could barely squeeze past them as they crowded over the path.

There are still a few berries on the trees though probably not for long as I saw several blackbirds munching away.

And despite all the greenery, there are definite signs of autumn colour.

This is what we had for dessert.

Amaretti and sultana cheesecake, made to use up some amaretti biscuits which I've had in the cupboard for ages. It could have done with more amaretto but was lovely and creamy.

I think I'll be making other kinds of cake over the coming weeks as I bought a copy of the Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook on Saturday and have been drooling over the recipes. Haven't had much time to make progress on my various craft projects so I'm off to curl up with some knitting before bed. Hope you enjoyed your weekend. x