Tuesday 27 November 2012

The oddness of English seasons

I took advantage of Sunday afternoon, when it wasn't actually raining, to have a brief tidy in the garden (not that you would realise I had tidied anything!)  There was a clematis (I think it is Etoile Violette) in flower and with buds coming too.  I had cut this one back hard at the end of the summer because it had gone brown and horrible, and I was hoping it hadn't got some nasty disease.  This must have either sent it into shock, producing more growth and  flowers, or made it think it was next year and time to flower again.  Yes, it was lovely to see, but the sad thing is that it will more than likely get another shock from the frosts.
 A hardy geranium still flowering, despite the rain.
Rose Molineux also with lots of buds.  This isn't all that unusual, as roses often do flower into winter.  It is still a wonderful thing to see and lifts the spirits.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Christmas Cracker Swap

I have just taken part in Tracy's (from Mad about Bags) Christmas Cracker swap and I was partnered up with the lovely Joy from Welcome to Daisy Row .  We exchanged a few emails and looked at each others' blogs to get a few clues and then got going on making/buying things to go into the cracker.  I thought it was a lovely idea because we all had to use the inside of a kitchen roll, fit as many things inside as would go and wrap the cracker in some Christmassy material and tie the ends with ribbon.  So, not only would we get all the goodies inside, we would also have ribbon and material to add to our craft stashes.  Above is Joy's cracker which arrived yesterday morning.  Mine to her arrived on Saturday.
Here are all the goodies.
 A bag full of lovely flower shaped buttons that I am going to use in a jewellery project (but don't know what yet), a knitted rose and pink gingham ribbon.
Shiny sparkly ribbon, lace, a red knitted rose, chocolate lollipops, a tape measure, and two reels of cotton.
 The organza ribbon (which was on the ends), some multi-coloured paperclips, a pen and post-it notes and a bookmark, together with a lovely flower card. Oh, and not forgetting the lovely fabric, which is going to become part of some Christmas bunting that I shall be attempting to make over the next month.  All perfect things for a bibliophile, stationery hoarding, crafter like me.  Thank you so much, Joy!
 Here's my cracker for Joy.
Cosmos seeds, a felt heart, earrings, a key ring, ribbons, chocolate, stitch holders and stitch/row counter, red heart decoration.
It was a lovely swap to be involved with and was great fun to decide what was small enough (or pliable enough) to fit inside.  To quote Brucie (yet again - I really need to find some new quotes), "Didn't they do well?"

Saturday 17 November 2012

In the Garden

 I have finally been able to get into the garden and finish planting my tulips this afternoon.  They are all in pots, except Little Beauty, which I have popped into a border.  All the tulip photos below are from Peter Nyssen's website, which is where my tulips came from this year (the first time they have been sent in proper paper bags!)
 Above is Carnival de Nice.
 Here is Black Parrot (and the bulbs in the first photo are this variety).
 This is Little Beauty, which was sent to me in my Cosy Autumn Swap.
 Triumph Double mixed.
 Ballerina, which is supposed to have a lovely fragrance.
 Finally, Blue Parrot, another gift from the Autumn swap.  I think the garden will be a riot of colour next Spring and I am really looking forward to seeing it in all its glory.

In the garden now, just a few colours remain.  Above is the blueberry bush about three weeks ago - with fiery red and orange leaf colours.
 Here it is this afternoon, with just a few leaves remaining and if you touch the stem, the leaves gently fall off.
I still have some roses flowering, despite the rain and cold.  This one is New Dawn and looks beautiful with the raindrops still glistening. 
I have also started the annual wrapping of pots with bubble wrap, because it won't be long before the frosts start in earnest.  Every year I say 'I'm going to get rid of some pots', but somehow, during the Spring and Summer, I seem to end up with several more.  The bubble wrap may not look very elegant but it does give the plants some insulation and protection.  I still have about fifteen  more to do, so I had better get on with it!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Latest Jewellery

Here is the latest jewellery I have been making, for my work colleague, Leanne's birthday, last week.  She likes dramatic jewellery, so this gave me a challenge for my polymer clay.  I made a large pendant on wire, and two bracelets.

Above is a close up of the pendant, made using polymer clay in black, white, red glitter and silver.  As you can see, I had fun using the extruder tool again!

 I then made some polymer clay beads using the same colours and made them into a macrame bracelet.
 I told Leanne that this was a complete original because no-one in the world would have one exactly the same.  I wouldn't even be able to make one exactly the same.  I love that about polymer clay.
The final macrame bracelet is made using black rutilated quartz (also called rutile quartz and apparently the black flecks in the quartz are tourmaline).  Leanne immediately put this one on and wore it for the rest of the day.  I think they were successful gifts.

Monday 12 November 2012

Chocolate Cake Recipe

Here, as promised, is the chocolate cake recipe.
5oz (150g) self raising flour
3oz (75g) drinking chocolate
6oz (175g) caster sugar (I used granulated and it worked fine)
6oz (175g) margarine at room temperature
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons boiling water

1. Pre-heat oven to Gas 4/180 degrees C/350 degrees F.  Line a 20cm/8 ins round deep cake tin with baking parchment (I added that in!).
2.  Sift flour and drinking chocolate into a large mixing bowl. 
3. Add all other ingredients and blend together.  Beat for a couple of minutes until smooth.
4. Turn into tin and bake for about 45-60 minutes until a fine skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
5. Leave in tin for a few minutes then cool on a cooling rack.
6. Ice with your favourite icing or melted chocolate.
This quick and easy cake keeps well in a tin.

For the chocolate fudge icing:
1. Put 4oz (110g) granulated sugar and 4fl oz (115ml) milk into a pan.  Simmer for 9 minutes.
2. Add 5oz (150g) plain chocolate, 2oz (50g) butter and 2 tablespoons double cream.
3. Leave to cool and spread over the cake.
(This makes a generous amount of fudge icing)

To make the Russian Roulette Revels cake, place the contents of two large bags of Revels in a pattern on top of the cake.  Try to avoid eating the coffee ones!

Sunday 11 November 2012

Yet more dis-aaaarrr-sters!

 Not to be outdone by me and my baking dis-aaaarrrr-sters, Chris decided to have one of his own.  I don't think this was the intention as he announced that he was going to make some cinder toffee (or honeycomb, as I know it).  He used Nigella's recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess and followed it to the letter.  The scent of toffee pervaded the whole house.  However, when I went in to see the finished creation, my first (and probably not very helpful comment) was "You'll never get it out of the tin!"
He had used (as Nigella said) a square tin that I use for flapjack, and although he had buttered it thoroughly, the thickness of the cinder toffee meant that it stuck very well to the tin.  A wooden spatula did managed to dislodge it, but it came off in bits, as you can see from the photos.
It tasted very nice, but as it sat there, it softened and became chewy, when it should have been nice and crunchy.  Another attempt may be made, utilising a different recipe and a flat baking tray...nice to know it isn't just me!
In my next post, I'll write down the chocolate cake with chocolate fudge icing recipe for anyone who would like it.

Saturday 10 November 2012

"Dis-aaaaarrrrr-ster" cake!

The title of this post will strike a chord with those of you who watch Strictly, as I am quoting Craig Revel-Horwood! I was making a Russian Roulette Revels chocolate cake (made for the first time last year for my husband's birthday - see here for my previous blog post on it) for my colleague Leanne's birthday and used a recipe I have used many times before.  All was going well until it came to the turning out of the cake.  Would it come out of the tin?  No, it wouldn't.  After loosening it with a knife and judicious amounts of banging around the side of the tin, I tried again, only to find the top half of the cake came out, leaving the bottom half still in the tin.
 More loosening, scraping and banging ensued, only to find that a large portion of the remaining cake fell out onto the floor.  This was picked up and donated to the bird food for the bird table the next morning.  I decided to admit defeat and Chris suggested cutting the top piece in half, sandwiching it together with icing and having a half-cake cake. The photos above show the top half of the cake.
 So, that is what I did and above shows the half-cake cake, with chocolate fudge icing in the middle.  "Dis-aaaaarrr-ster" (sort of) averted!
 Here it is with the remaining Revels chocolates left over from the second attempt.
Here is the second attempt, made with baking parchment lining the tin, which avoided all the unpleasantness of the first attempt.  I am pleased to report that it was well received (even though I seemed to get more than my fair share of the coffee Revels and the raisin Revels, which I do not like at all). 
Note to self: ALWAYS use baking parchment!

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Yorkshire Sponge Parkin

 There have been a few blog posts on blogs I follow recently, which have featured gingerbread or parkin, so I thought I would add to the seasonal baking idea and include Yorkshire Sponge Parkin.  It doesn't contain treacle, so is lighter than a traditional parkin, but with the spices and ginger, it is perfect for this time of year and is really easy to bake.  I was given the recipe by a work colleague, (Sally, who came from Yorkshire) about 12 years ago and it has always turned out beautifully.
4 oz soft margarine
8oz Self raising flour
½ a cup of golden syrup (I use a small plastic picnic cup for both golden syrup and water)
4 oz granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ a cup of water
1 heaped teaspoon of ground ginger
1 heaped teaspoon of mixed spice

1. Cream the margarine and sugar together.
2. Add all other ingredients and mix well.
3. Pour into a deep 9 inch round, greased and floured tin.
4. Bake on a low shelf for 40 minutes at Gas 3, then reduce to Gas 2½ for the final 35 minutes.
5. Cool in the tin, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

I have never needed to use baking parchment in the tin and this is probably due to the slow cooking time at a relatively low heat.  While still warm, it makes a lovely pudding with custard or ice cream and as a cake, it is delicious accompanied by a cup of tea. Enjoy!

Friday 2 November 2012

Blog Giveaway - Winners!

Drum roll...Here are the winners of my blog giveaway, picked from my fleecy hat by Chris.  (I wish I could inject some dramatic tension into the announcement, but I'll leave that to the likes of Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor etc.  Anyway, I don't like it when there is a HUGE pause before announcing the winners/losers!) 
Congratulations to Gillian, Annie and Victoria!  If you would email me (contact on my profile page), I'll get your gifts posted out to you as soon as I can.
However, I have also decided to award runner up prizes too for Thomasina Tittlemouse and Joy and Fiona to say thank you for entering, so please would you email your addresses if I don't already have them.  Congratulations to you as well.
I hope that you will all be pleased with your gifts once they arrive.
Thank you all for your support.
(I thought I would add to the celebratory nature of this post by posting a photo from a local Firework display!)