Cathy’s Kitchen and Lazy Baking

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I am beginning to realise that the reason a lot of my bakes go wrong is that I am a little bit lazy. I always start with good intentions but then time seems to slip away and when I am about two thirds done I start rushing to just get it finished.

Case in point; I made what was supposed to be an ‘Extra Special Ginger Sponge Cake’ last week.

My attempt looked like this:

Yeah. It’s a mess!

Here are the things I did wrong:

  • I was meant to grease and line the baking tins. I ran out of lining paper so I only lined the sides of the tin and not the bottom. Not sure why I thought it would be OK. Quite a bit of the sponge stuck to the pan when I was getting it out and made two quite wonky sponges. At this point I would say that the cake was rustic but passable.
  • I hadn’t checked my stock of icing sugar and it turns out I only had enough icing sugar left to make buttercream for the middle but not enough to make any for the top.
  • I did have a bag of fondant icing sugar so I thought I would use that instead. But it was getting late at that point so I didn’t bother sieving it. Mistake! This caused lumpy icing
  • I should have added the water to the icing sugar a spoon at a time but it was taking too long so I added some straight from the tap. Mistake! I soon had very runny icing and no sugar left to thicken it up.
  • Then I thought I would pour the icing on top of the cake and if it ran down the sides it would do so in a drippy but indulgent fashion. It didn’t. It ran down the sides and pooled under the cake straight on to the worktop because I hadn’t bothered to put a tray underneath.
  • ‘Top the cake with crystallized ginger and dark chocolate swirls’ the recipe said. I didn’t have any chocolate swirls. I had planned to use chocolate sprinkles instead but actually I didn’t have any chocolate sprinkles in either. At this point I knew I had a disaster on my hands but stuff it, I was going to finish it anyway, so I artfully placed some lumps of crystallized ginger in a wonky circle and ta da! My masterpiece was done.

I was so fed up with this cake and it was so late by the time I was finished that I didn’t even try any of it until the next day. I am pleased to report that it tasted much better than it looked. Also it looked a lot better when it was cut into slices so I have been able to share it without being too ashamed of it’s presentation.

Next time I promise to double check the ingredients, prepare properly and take no short cuts…..or  I will scrap the icing altogether and just make the sponge and serve it warm with custard!

 

 

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Ten Epic Features in Watership Down

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Watership Down is one of those books that I read about every two years. I can come back to it again and again. In fact between me and my Dad we read his copy so much that it has pretty much fallen apart.

After reading it again this last month I thought I would share what makes this bunny book a classic epic:

  • A very long journey – Odysseus travelled from Troy to Ithaca,  Aeneas  made his journey from Troy to the land that would be Rome, Frodo toiled on long roads from the Shire to Mount Doom, and back again! The foundation of the epic is a journey. Hazel and his companions may only travel a few miles in their quest for a new home but when you are living in rabbit scale this becomes a journey of huge risk and adventure.
  • A resourceful hero – In epics the main hero is often not the strongest man or bravest warrior but the most resourceful leader. Bigwig is the strongest rabbit in the company but Hazel is the leader. Epic heroes value independence and winning through cleverness and daring. Hazel embodies all of these characteristics, he doesn’t fight his way out of problems, he thinks his way out. I think in books it is more satisfying to see a cunning plan executed than it is to read about a stronger man winning the fight.
  • A talented crew – Hazel is the undisputed leader but each one of the rabbits in his group have their own role in the adventure. Fiver is the intuitive and prophetic guide, Bigwig is a warrior and secondary leader, Holly offers experience and wisdom, Dandelion is the storyteller lifting their spirits, Blackberry is the clever one working out mechanical tricks. Even little Pipkin’s observations and brave loyalty play their part. Each rabbit is needed, each rabbit contributes and when they combine their skills they are able to pull off amazing feats.
  • A Background Mythology –  The tales the rabbits tell of Frith and El-Ahrairah  help build the rabbit world into a sophisticated culture. The mythology gives the rabbits inspiration to take on their challenges and lifts their spirits when on the brink of giving up.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

  • Stories within stories – Speaking of the mythology of rabbits, the use of stories within stories is another common feature of epics. Richard Adams punctuates the adventure with short stories told by Dandelion, they change the pace of the story and remind us that in the end we are all stories, which Hazel realises as his own adventure becomes a myth told to the kittens in the end of the novel. The stories also foreshadow the supernatural elements of the adventure.
  • Supernatural Intervention – An epic is hardly an epic without a touch of magic. When it is clumsily done the magic descends out of nowhere and fixes all the problems; a classic deus ex machina (Doctor Who episodes are notorious for doing this). But when it is done right, it is like a myth reaches a hand through the mist to lift our heroes just enough to help them out of the impossible but not so much as to render their own actions meaningless. Watership Down does it perfectly in the confrontations against General Woundwort. The supernatural is there in Fiver’s prophetic authority, in Hazel’s inspiration and in the storm that seems to be at Bigwig’s command, but these interventions empower our rabbits actions and natural talents, it doesn’t minimize them.
  • A cowardly temptation – Being a hero is hard work and in a good epic a hero will be given a tempting offer to set aside the adventure and settle down. Whether they are lotus eating island dwellers or forest walking elves, there are always providing a place of rest. But there is also a price. Cowslip’s warren has good food, no predators and plenty of room for the ragamuffin wanderers but it is also littered with deadly snares. To stay would mean surrendering tricks and wiles and to accept death when it comes. Such an option is too cowardly and awful for the rabbits, and to live a life at the mercy and beneficiary of humans is disdainful to them.
  • A fearsome adversary  – A story is only as entertaining as the villain. Whilst mankind provides lots of danger to the story, it is Woundwort who is the most fearsome bad guy of the piece. He’s strong, well resourced, clever and a formidable enemy. On top of this he is also nuanced, he has his reasons and he is not wholly evil. In fact the moment when he almost considers a peace treaty is one of the most beautifully written glimpses in to the hearts of those who fail to take their last chance to be a good man (or rabbit). Woundwort is terrifying and his tyranny pushes our rabbits to use every inch of their strengths and cunning.

    “At that moment, in the sunset on Watership Down, there was offered to General Woundwort the opportunity to show whether he was really the leader of vision and genius which he believed himself to be, or whether he was no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate. For one beat of his pulse the lame rabbit’s idea shone clearly before him. He grasped it and realized what it meant. The next, he had pushed it away from him.”

  • A trip to the underworld – All epic heroes have to face death, many actually visit Death in his  own realm! Even Harry Potter enters into a twilight after-world in the Deathly Hallows. A good hero makes sacrifices for the good of their followers and the ultimate sacrifice is death. Heroes who visit the underworld are showing their willingness to die for their people. Hazel’s journey is foreshadowed in the tale of the Black Rabbit and takes place when he is shot by the farmer. Luckily for us, an epic hero always returns from the underworld to carry on the adventure.
  • A happy ending – The heroes win the battle, the bad guys are vanquished and often an epic ends at home; a good home with good people, and a good future. The rewards visible at the ending have to be wonderful – they justify the pain suffered and the price paid by heroes to create a safe place where children and children’s children may flourish. Nearly all epic journeys and battles are fought purely to bring us all back to the love and warmth of home.

Currently… February 2017

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February has been a full month, we have had a window added to our bedroom, installed fitted wardrobes and had a mini-break in Wales with some lovely friends. Here is what going on in my life at the moment.

Currently I am…

img_20170201_142018_904.jpgWalking in the park more now that the sun is staying out for longer. This photo does not do justice to a beautiful reflected sunset I saw the other week. I am so grateful for having a park so close to our house, it does me such good to just get outside for a few minutes and get some fresh air.

dsc_1841.jpgBlinking in the brightness of this colourful array of yarn. I discovered this gorgeous arts and craft shop in a tiny Wales village called Montgomery. The shop was small and crooked, all the floors slanted and the door frames were wonky, and there was a ginormous but friendly Irish Wolfhound sitting by the tills. It was a bit like being in Wonderland!

dsc_1864.jpgPlaying with Orla. Now that she is a fully fledged one year old, Orla’s repertoire of games has vastly expanded. She now likes playing with stickers, bubbles and pouring her drink on to the carpet whenever I am not looking.

dsc_1875.jpgGoing all out  for movie night. Last week we decided to do movie night properly. We rented classic Sci-Fi film Dune. We pulled the sofa up to the telly, dimmed the lights and lit candles. Rob made popcorn and salted caramel from scratch and I poured the wine. It was bliss! Think we might do the same this weekend.

dsc_1894.jpgJumping on the Bullet Journal bandwagon. I have been using this journal to track my goals and to-do lists since January. The biggest change it has helped me to make is to keep on top of the house work. I have a list of 8 daily household chores and 6 weekly or fortnightly chores. Even though I rarely tick everything off, I find I am getting a lot more done and the housework is feeling more manageable. I now take this journal with me everywhere I go, it my top new accessory!

Dining Room Display Wall

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Rob and I had this project in mind for months, but in the last few weeks we have finally finished our display wall in the dining room.

We had this big blank wall in the dining room that we wanted to fill with some chunky floating shelves and a few of our prints. Rob made the shelves himself from some spare wood that we had and thought they would be a good setting to display Rob’s vintage camera collection. Having a guitar easily accessible is another bonus!

dsc_1900.jpgRob designed two of these prints and the Magpie in the top hat is the work of Jon Turner, one of our favourite artists from Manchester Comic Con. You can check out more of his work here.

dsc_1901.jpgdsc_1902.jpgI struggled to get a good photo of this print (or actually I was too lazy to go and get the good camera instead of using my phone) but I do love this piece Rob made. It reminds us to build our family by design, not by default, and to be intentional with how we want to live our lives. It is a good family motto for us.

dsc_1903.jpgI am really happy with our display wall, as it is full of things that make us happy, photography, music, art and pretty vintage things! There is also room to add more to the display over the years and would be easy to rotate things on the shelves from time to time. I could see us dressing this up for Christmas or swapping the cameras for other trinkets!

Her Ladyship’s Notebook:Warmest Smile

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Sometimes the most mesmerising person in the room is the one with the warmest smile.

– Camilla Morton

A genuine smile is worth a thousand words, and all of them are lovely. Smiles are beautiful even when your lip liner is wonky and your teeth are crooked. Smiles lift your spirit, they invite the world in to share your happiness, smiles spark conversations and open doors into countless friendships.

A warm smile says ‘ I am glad to see you. I am happy that you are here. You are wanted and I enjoy your company.’ They help us to connect with one another in a joyful way.Never underestimate the power of a smile to turn around some one’s day. Smiles are contagious, they sneakily infect people with tiny doses of happiness – even as they are determined to be grumpy.

Beauty trends come and go, fashion rotates on a speedy carousal but  a warm smile is an unchanging marvel of beauty. Never leave home without one.

My February Garden, 2017

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The best thing about my home is the garden, no contest. It is basically a small field with old trees and lots of squirrels. Last year I thought I would get lots of gardening projects done whilst I was on maternity leave. That was a mistaken assumption….I did nothing! But even left to it’s own devices, and even in the latter bedraggled stages of winter, the garden still has lots of treasures to discover.

dsc_1812.jpgDaffodil shoots are rising up, letting me know that Spring is on it’s way. There are also signs that we will have a good bluebell crop this year. I really love all the flowers that appear in Spring and can’t wait to spot the first crocus or snowdrop.

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My friend’s got me this clever bird feeder for Christmas that ‘frames’ the birds. I was desperate to put it up so I have placed it on this tree for now but I think one of our projects this year will be to set up a proper bird feeding area.

dsc_1814.jpgThe primroses are eeking out, pushing aside the dead leaves that I never got round to sweeping up!

dsc_1817.jpgBut even though it is untidy debris, I think the messy lawn is interesting, especially under the horse-chestnut tree where there is a generous scattering of conker shells. Plus the twigs and leaves are good for wildlife, which is very important to us.

I love it when a new animal comes and visits our little wildlife friendly garden, so far we have had; squirrels, birds, a hedgehog, a heron, mice, pheasants, a fox, owls and deer.

I really want to entice a badger to come next, any hints on how to do that would be most appreciated!

What I am Listening to

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‘Whistle while you work’ chirped Snow White as she briskly swept the floor of the little woodland cottage, whilst the deer and blue birds joined in the spring clean.

Instead of a squad of forest critters to help me clean the kitchen, all I have is a one year old baby who likes throwing my biscuit cutters on the floor whilst laughing manically. However, with or without help I have found that connecting my phone to the bluetooth speakers and blasting out the tunes whilst I cook and wash up does really help to make tea time a fun part of my day. So I have been treating myself to downloading a song once a week to add to my playlist.

Here are the latest ten songs that I have been listening to: (Warning: they are nearly all old cheesy songs!). I have added links to the end of each song so you can have a listen for yourself.

  1. A Star is Born By Disney, Hercules. This full throttle Gospel tune is great for an energetic and private kitchen dance party.
  2. God of Miracles by Chris McClarney – I am learning this for the worship team at church. Good faith building song when you are searching for miracles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpdGTzRXk64
  3. Simply Irresistible by Robert Palmer – Ah, an 80’s classic that requires you to power strut and pose with big hair and a bigger personality. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrGw_cOgwa8
  4. Winter Light by Linda Ronstadt – This is the song that plays at the end of the Secret Garden. It’s ethereal and whimsical and perfect for frosty mornings when you feel that Spring won’t be far away http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPgNbtqb40k
  5. Send me on my Way by Rusted Root – And this is from then end of Matilda. You can see how my music tastes are very strongly influenced by movies that make me happy. Whenever I listen to this I find myself murmering ‘on my way, on my way’ for the rest of the day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGMabBGydC0
  6. Dela (I Know why the Dog Howls at the Moon) by Johnny Clegg – And this song plays in George of the Jungle which I watched last weekend and remembered how much I love this very silly and completely underappreciated comedy. And whilst this song is very cheerful and upbeat, the words are also beautiful. ‘Dela’ means ‘content’ so the chorus is actually saying ‘Content, content, I am content when I am with you.’ I think that is lovely. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggDNKrTsKv0
  7. Drive by The Shires. I love this English Country Duo and this song is from their second album, My Universe. This song makes me what to go out and do something.  It inspires action and adventure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkT-OIZkoMI
  8. Twist and Shout by the Beatles. Sometimes you just can’t go wrong with a classic, and I love taking Orla’s hands and assisting her to ‘shake it out, baby!’ which she finds hilarious. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-VAxGJdJeQ
  9. Fever by Elvis Presley featuring Michael Buble. I never knew men could be sultry until I heard this duet. Each line is performed in a succint understated way and the voices are mixed together perfectly. This is a song that slows you down, like the first sip of a night cap. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUGHQQGm7tk
  10. White Flag by Joseph. I have had this song on my playlist for a while but it has come to mean more to me since the Women’s March that was so inspiring. It is all about ignoring the voices telling you to ‘keep it down, now’ and to keep fighting on for what you believe in. It’s a good for soul song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3kXDMPwfMc

Cathy’s Kitchen: Chorizo, Chilli & Chickpea Casserole

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Since going back to work I have had to become more organised in the kitchen. Rob and I tend to land back from work at half five which is also the exact time that Orla gets extremely hungry for tea. Every minute counts as we race around to get something on the table so I have been on the look out for more recipies I can make in a batch and then warm up quickly on the nights when we are rushed.

I made this at the weekend and it is absolutely delicious and really easy to make! The recipe is from the Step by Step Cook’s Encyclopedia which is a fantastic big book with photographs of every step you need to take in every recipe. It’s great because you can see what it should look like as you go. This is the first recipe I have tried from the book and I will be trying out more now that first one was so successful.

20170206_134612.jpg The first steps involved frying onions, garlic and pepper in chilli flakes, which are things I normally have in the cupboard anyway. Good start.

20170206_134654.jpgYou then had to add chorizo, chopped tomatoes and chickpeas. I saved more cooking time by using diced chorizo, which I didn’t even know existed until Rob came home with it after scouring Morrisons top to bottom and not finding a whole chorizo anywhere.  The good thing with these packets is that it would be really easy to add chorizo to a dish that needed an extra something, could spice up a chicken casserole, or even go into a winter salad.

dsc_1827.jpgI let it sizzle away for half an hour whilst the rice cooked, it smelt great as it gently simmered! I added a handful of rocket leaves just a few moments before I dished it out into bowls on top of rice.

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I loved the taste of this and I normally have all of these ingredients in the house so I think this casserole will become a regular feature in my kitchen. It has just the right mount of spice to give you a lift on cold days but it is not too spicy. Orla loved the rice and kept going back to it for more chickpeas!

It also made enough to use on two nights and took just over half an hour to make which is ideal for us as a family right now. I remember being disappointed with Jamie’s 30 Minute meals because unless you could peel and dice a butternut squash in 30 seconds then you could never make the meal in half an hour but this really was a triple threat of a quick, tasty and easy meal.

 

Book Bag: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

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Autumn has finally arrived in the small town of Bascom, North Carolina, heralded by a strange old man appearing with a beaten-up suitcase. He has stories to tell, stories that could change the lives of the Waverley women forever. But the Waverleys have enough trouble on their hands. Quiet Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies, but it’s nothing like she thought it would be, and it’s slowly taking over her life. Claire’s wild sister Sydney, still trying to leave her past behind, is about to combust with her desire for another new beginning. And Sydney’s fifteen-year-old daughter Bay has given her heart away to the wrong boy and can’t get it back.

From the author of the New York Times bestselling sensation GARDEN SPELLS, FIRST FROST is magical and atmospheric, taking readers back into the lives of the gifted Waverley women – back to their strange garden and temperamental apple tree, back to their house with a personality of its own, back to the men who love them fiercely – proving that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.

Some books you read for the plot; you are desperate to find out what happens next and what happens after that, and how will it all end? But, some books you read to enter in to another world for a little bit and witness the peculiarities of the people who live there. That is what reading Sarah Addison Allen’s books are like for me, it’s like going on holiday and people watching from the local cafe’s window.

I adore the town of Bascom with it’s jumble of family histories and reputations, appreciation of food and it’s sensitivity to the magic of the seasons. After reading Garden Spells a couple of years ago it was lovely to come back and gaze through the window once more of the Waverley house. It was refreshing that the ‘happy ever afters’ were still in tact and that the drama did not revolve around the sister’s love life. Instead Claire and Sydney were battling with their next big dreams, Claire can’t work out what she wants from her business and Sydney is desperate for a new baby whilst also feeling a growing distance with her teenage daughter.

Saying that, there is still enough plot to keep the book going with high school fights, a mysterious stranger up to no good and a flighty young woman who is as wily as she is vulnerable all causing trouble for the Waverley sisters to deal with. But at it’s heart this was a most comforting read. I saw in an interview that Sarah Addison Allen wrote this just after battling cancer and wanted to return to safe ground in her writing, which is why she wrote a sequel. I was moved by that and I think her appreciation for the loved ones in your life and knowing where you belong comes through very strongly.

The writing once again feels like a soothing lullaby, reeling you into a comforting dreame land. And when I finished it, I put it on my shelf and thought  about how I would probably visit Bascom again in the summer, on a hot day, when Orla naps and I can spread a picnic blanket out in the garden and take my book and once more take a little holiday to the world of Sarah Addison Allen.

Orla at One

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This time last year I was less than a month into motherhood. I was sleep deprived, exhausted and completely intrigued by this tiny little baby in my arms. What would she be  like? What is her temprement? Will she have a favourite colour? What will make her happy? Will she ever sleep? (Answer to the last one was ‘yes, but not until 11 months!’)

Now a year on, the blanks are filling in and it feels like every couple of days Orla reveals something new and wonderful about herself. This is what I can tell you about Orla at one:

  • She tells stories I can’t understand but they all end in a happy screeching cheer
  • Dances by bobbing her knees or bouncing on her bottom
  • Sleeps through the night….well, almost
  • Has two bottom teeth
  • Has an infectious and rambunctious laugh
  • Eats everything, especially if it is on your plate instead of hers
  • Loves animals and tries to follow any dog at the park
  • Snuggles when tired
  • Knows the word ‘elephant’
  • Nods her head when you say ‘yes’
  • Says ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mummy’ and ‘yesssss’
  • Gives ‘goodnight kisses’ every evening.

What a star!

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