Thursday, 24 January 2013

A little bit of indulgence ...

Decorative gold leaf and decadent chocolate orange squares are just the ticket for the New Year.  This is the second recipe that I have tried from one of my Christmas presents.  If you fancy some lovely baking ideas then head over to Fiona Cairns to be inspired and try one of her wonderful recipes.  I love Fiona's baking books, they are full of delicious cakes and wonderful decorating ideas.  Fiona is the ultimate cake decorator and I wish that I could do things with even just half the finesse that she does!  Her TV show was pure bliss.  An hour that went by in a whirl of sugared flowers, ribbons, feathers and chocolate (that's not even including the cakes themselves) each Sunday.  Perfect Sunday afternoon viewing that not only looked incredible but made you want to go out and buy a heart-shaped tin and bake, bake, bake!

The first bake that I tried was a stripey coconut cake, which turned out even better than anticipated.  Well the taste did, I am just never happy with the overall finish.  No matter how hard I try, I also produce something that looks as though a 4 year old had "had a good stab at it".  I long to be as good as Fiona and am rather jealous of one of my lovely friends who has just recently embarked on a cake decoration course (not that she needs it, her whirls of icing are always picture perfect).  My baking is fine, I wish it wasn't let down by the outer layer.  Imagine producing wonderful creations that make people gasp (previously mentioned lovely friend, that is you by the way!) at the way they look along with that deep breathy "Mmmmm..." accompanied with the delighted roll of the eyes at the first bite.

I guess it is just a case of practise and having a determined outlook.  I, more often than not, produce childlike results because of my childlike impatience.  I think I am getting better, but I just want to have a beautiful creation right away!  Not in a few hours once it has cooled and been decorated and then cooled once again.  I tried really hard with these chocolate orange squares and was secretly quite pleased with the results.

I have also been really enjoying The Great British Bake Off Comic Relief episodes.  It is such a great programme anyway, but the Comic Relief version has added another layer of sparkle.  I love the fact that sweet Mary Berry always finds something positive to say and that Paul Hollywood has had to hold his tongue.  They are, at first glance, an unusual pairing but really they compliment each other beautifully.  Whilst Paul is technically excellent, Mary is such a dear.  Always a word of encouragement, a smile and a wink, not to mention an excellent line in floral bomber jackets.  (Who knew they'd be popular?  I haven't rushed out to buy one, just yet though!).  Those words of encouragement are so important.  I certainly don't respond well to someone being negative and would immediately shut down before being able to learn anything.  I would love to spend a few days in the Great British Bake Off tent (partly to get a glimpse of the infamous squirrel) and learn from Mary and Paul.  It struck me whilst watching it, just how much they know.  Mary mentioned what size of cake she would expect from knowing the number of eggs that has gone into it.  How marvellous is that?  I bake a lot, but details like that don't seem to stick in my mind.  How does Mary know these things?  A lifetime of handling ingredients, mixing and working dough.  To be truly that knowledgeable about ingredients and the forms that they can take, one must be immersed in it.  Not be afraid to experiment and find yourself the time to have a go and relax into it.  Hold the ingredients, feel them and get to know them.  Then, not only will you learn how to be a fraction of the greatness of the likes of Fiona, Mary and Paul, but you will also have a super dooper, fabulously scrummy pie, cake or scone (whatever takes your fancy) to taste.  And as your friend, I completely insist that you do indeed taste your baking, then taste again just to be sure and maybe again.  You can never be too sure that the baking is delicious.

Happy baking (& tasting)!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Spring Watch ... Day 5

She opens more with each minute, even the second flower opened today.  A welcome splash of yellow in amongst the snow and minus temperatures.  Don't get me wrong, I love winter and the snow, but little colour pops here and there are the things that help us keep going.  Bringing a warmth to the day that makes it all seem worthwhile.


Monday, 21 January 2013

Spring Watch ... day 4


These shots were taken throughout just one day, isn't it incredible?  Despite the well below freezing temperatures, the little flower is desperate for the light.  It is crying out to be part of the world, to burst and bloom and spread its' colour.  


Saturday, 19 January 2013

No kidding ...

When I said yesterday that we couldn't see out of the window, I wasn't fibbing ...

It really was a blizzard yesterday and I felt as though we were being encased in snow.  There wasn't actually that much snow falling, the field only had a smattering of a covering, but the sky was almost black and the wind was a howler, whipping up the snow.  It was being blown around and about, piling up in corners and other strange places.  Drifts as high as my shoulder and sheep covered in snowballs.  The neighbours' cat jumped off the shed, which resulted in a yowl as he sank so deep only his ears were visible (I don't think it helped that a dollop also landed slap bang on his head).  On the plus side, today it was sunny and the snow wasn't cutting horizontally into your face.  A beautiful day for a long walk, crawling through snow (the paths were shoulder deep in snow!) and photographing lovely scenes ready to pop straight into next years Winter Collection (that's the Christmas cards sorted out then!).  I'll post them in a day or two, oh I have a couple of lovely ones of some sweet looking sheep.

My poor little Tete-a-tete is desperate for some sunlight, so here is Spring Watch Day 1; a little bit of Spring colour in amongst the snow flurry ...


Friday, 18 January 2013

Snow day ...

It is really hard work being snowed in ...

Currently can't see out of the window, the snow is piled so high!  Will post photographs of that and a live piece of spring soon.  I'm just about to bake chocolate orange squares.  Keep warm and safe.  Fingers crossed for a bright sunny day tomorrow to play in the snow and take photographs!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Snow, slate quarries and Dr Who ...

Let me take you on a little walk around my village.  We finally have had a dusting of snow and some beautifully clear, bright days.  If only it had been like this over the Christmas / New Year holiday!  Never mind, it is here now (and we're set to have a fabulously snowy weekend!).  I managed to take a quick break from writing yesterday and build up my Winter Collection of photographs.

I think the photograph (above, left) is my favourite of the day.  Isn't that tree silhouette just beautiful?  Getting out for a walk does wonders for the mind.  Not only do you get some fresh air and beautiful scenes, ideas start whirling around like tiny snowflakes.

The area is full of slate quarries, I guess most of Snowdonia is a large slate quarry, and I think it is rather lovely (particularly under a dusting of snow).  That may be controversial.  Most people will think they are ugly and just a mass of dull grey clogging up the view.  Look more closely, the tips are teeming with life.  In amongst the dreary grey backdrop are tiny bursts of green, dotted here and there.  Things are found in all different shapes and sizes, from a star-shaped tiny moss to the oak sapling, and colours.  Colour matches and clashes are the real beauties of the area.  There must be something here, I do believe that even the Doctor himself paid us a visit in years gone by.  I'm still waiting for him to come back.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Winter pick-me-up | Edition 3

A little bit of summer to warm you in the icy conditions.  Secretly (or not so secretly), I am hugely excited about the snow!  Although I do love roses and can't wait to see them again.  I was lucky enough to catch this little fella, laden down with his pollen, in flight.  Just one of the very small wonders that make me smile.


The importance of friendship ...

What a wonderful weekend the past one was.  I had a visit from a very old friend (we've known each other forever!) and as we relived the past, I realised just how important our friends are to us.  How we should cherish each other and always be there for one another.  May and I grew up together, we spent all day with each other, six days a week and although we left school nearly ten years ago (yes really, eek!), it was as if we had only seen each other last week.  Conversation flowed easily and there were no awkward silences.  There was only one thing missing, our other dear friend Kathy.  The three of us were inseparable at school and I miss them dearly.  Thinking about friendship made me realise just how wonderful it is to have friends.  I am very lucky to have five best friends, one who I share every wonderful moment with.  However, I am quite sad that four of them live so far away.  It is much easier to keep in touch these days, with e-mail, texting and I have now discovered WhatApp (how awesome is it?! If you are overseas and want to keep in touch, message me and I'll send you my mobile number).  Where was I?  Oh yes, no matter how easy it is to e-mail/text, it really isn't a substitute for chatting, walking with each other and sharing your lives.  You just can't beat having a coffee together, walking arm in arm and sharing future plans.  Being with your closest friends is the best tonic in the world.  No matter what stress or time pressure you are under, what sadness you are going through, nothing can't be made that little bit better by being with someone that cares.  Someone who knows your name, your circumstances and loves you no matter what.  Someone who will laugh with you, cry with you and always be there.  Someone who knows that you'll do the same for them.

I met May and Kathy at the beginning of secondary school, seventeen years ago (crikey that makes me feel old).  We were starting at Penrhos College, a lovely school overlooking the sea.  All three of us were nervous for one reason or another.  I was terrified, I didn't know anybody and although I wasn't too bothered by it at the time, I didn't really fit in with all of the rich girls in the school.  To be honest, meeting Kathy and May was the best thing that happened to me there, apart from the excellent education and managing to score one goal on the hockey pitch (sport was not my forte).  We instantly formed a strong bond and we all needed each other.  I was so lonely in my first year and cried every day.  Spending my time with Kathy and May helped me discover lots of wonderful things; friendship, fun, not to mention being force fed dried seaweed!  I even started to enjoy my time there.  
Just a small part of the Penrhos stained glass

After school, we never lost touch, no matter what miles were between us.  Recently those miles have been far.  It is a long way from here to Hong Kong.  But we've never stopped being friends.  We write and we are always there for each other.  It was wonderful news that May had an opportunity to be over here for a while and was coming to visit me.  I was nervous of cooking and being a disappointment, but it was such a wonderful weekend.  May was happy to have home cooking and we talked non-stop.  We went to visit our old school, saw some of our teachers (it was nice to know that they actually wanted to see us too!) and saw the beautiful stained glass that was moved up from Penrhos College to Rydal after the school had closed.

We visited Betws-y-Coed, ate massive Mr Whippy ice creams with flakes and struggled to stand up in gale force winds.  We cuddled kittens, had homemade scones and pizza, and saw beautiful colours in the sky.  But one of the best things of all?  We called Kathy!  We dialled up and bridged the gap across the miles.   Talking to two of my best friends like magic!  Thank you for making my weekend lovely and for still being my bestest friends.  


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Winter pick-me-up | Edition 1

The next couple of months look set to be busy for me and with the weather being so grey, I thought I would start a series of winter "pick-me-up" shots to help brighten the long dark days.


Monday, 7 January 2013

What to look for in Winter ...

After reading the wonderful What to look for in ... series by Watson and Tunnicliffe and being inspired by Nick Campbell, I wanted to share some what to look for in winter photographs with you.  I think it would be lovely to make this a monthly thing and maybe we could all share photographs of what we have found during the month?

During the past few weeks I have discovered panda shaped tree knots, leaves hanging on by a thread, cold sheep and frosty rivers.

The light at this time of year is generally sparse and in Wales it is usually tinged with grey, but there are those moments when the light is perfect.  It is soft and highlights every aspect of the natural world.  Every vein of a leaf, every drop of dew, each seen in a glorious light.  

So the next time the rain gives over and the sun comes out, pack some sandwiches, pick up your camera/phone and take a walk.  Document the wonderful world around you.  Be that trees and leaves or pillar red post boxes and London buses.  Just look around you, take some deep breaths and enjoy the surroundings.