26 August 2010


You'll get the picture when I tell you that I have been meaning to write about progress on my New Year's resolutions for, well, months.  Summer came along, the days were sunny and too hot to do anything other than go to the seaside, or wait until the cool of evening to water the allotment and my mid year review was set aside.

So to get things rolling, let's take as a benchmark my first school report, a report of such goody-two-shoesness that it was framed and put on display on my bedroom, presumably so that I would aspire ever after to such heights.  It proved hard to live up to, which is probably why my resolutions have become ever more modest, and most frequently condensed into one or two words.  This year it was to be bolder, supplemented by a few aims to be greener, healthier, thriftier.

First, my intention to walk ten thousand steps a day or learn how to use the outdoor gym in Mile End Park were gently dropped, a far cry from my days as an "active agile little girl".  Exercising my "excellent creative writing" by paying attention to my blog was, and still is, slack.  Likewise, my "fluent, intelligent reading" has plumbed such depths that I've decided to clear my bedside table of those piles of unread books because they just make me feel guilty.  As for my "well-finished needlework", one summer skirt remains half finished, another has progressed no further than being cut out and tied up neatly.  A multiple-size dress pattern has been neatly cut out to my size, gently folded, and put back in the envelope.

My achievements are scant: a quarter completed crochet blanket, to assist further slothfulness come winter; plenty of restyled clothes from my wardrobe or charity shop buys; using my bike instead of my car as much as possible.  My overarching ambition of "being bolder" I must pronounce a dismal failure although there are  one or two minor achievements that I might mention later. All the while, the leaves are crinkling and autumn is nearly upon us.

Overall a resounding "must do better", I think.  And I've started already...

PS When I checked on the etymology of the word sloth and found that it is sometimes used as the collective noun for a company of bears.  Sounds delightful and most appropriate in my case.

10 August 2010


I'm hoping that while I'm away I manage to curb the consumption of cakes.  It's a funny thing, but when I am baking in bulk, as I do frequently through the summer for the East End WI cake stalls, I don't ever think about eating any of the cakes we serve, other than perhaps to try something new.  When I go out for the day it's much more difficult to resist -it all seems a necessary part of the event.  So it's in the spirit of sharing the goodness, not the gluttony, that I offer these recipes.

I came across Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood recently when I wanted to try something that would use up some of the excess vegetables from the allotment.   The book was published last year and I'm probably the last person to have discovered it, but it's worth taking a look at because nearly all of the cakes are made with vegetables and use rice flour and  ground almonds rather than the usual wheat flour and butter.  The recipe I chose to start with was Orange Squash Cupcakes, made with butternut squash, though I guess any other firm-fleshed winter squash would do.

I'm normally not a big fan of cupcakes - too sweet for me - and I'd rather leave than take buttercream icing, but these little cupcakes were lovely and orangey, not over sweet and with a firm and moist consistency that stayed good for several days.  The recipe is already available on line here where you can see what someone else thinks of the recipe.  One word of caution if you do decide to try it out.  Harry Eastwood emphasises is the importance of using the right size paper cases in the right size cake tins  - then fails to say what the correct size is for this recipe. I assumed that she meant cases with a base diameter of 50mm, depth 38 cm , what she calls cupcake size, but maybe I'm wrong and muffin cases should be used.  She also says that the vegetables should be finely grated by hand.  I used my food processor and it was fine.

The other recipe, frequently requested, is for a carrot cake..  It's pretty basic, with an orange syrup glaze rather than cream cheese or icing, always admired by carrot cake lovers and, well, a piece of cake to make.  It's from Delia Smith's 1988 "Book of Cakes".  I generally make double quantities.  No pictures - it's not hugely photogenic but it is delicious so it doesn't hang around long.

See what I mean about gluttony?

Delia Smith's "Caroline's Carrot Cake"
7oz/ 200g wholemeal flour (it still works with ordinary plain flour but loses some texture)
3 level teaspoons of mixed spice ( yes, it's a lot but don't leave it out)
1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
6oz/ 175g soft dark brown sugar
2 Size 1/ large eggs (do they still come in sizes?)
0.25 pint of sunflower oil
grated rind of an orange
7oz/ 200g grated carrots
4oz/ 110g sultanas
2oz/ 50g dessicated coconut
2oz/ 50g walnuts

For the syrup glaze: 
Juice of a small orange
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
3oz of soft dark brown sugar
(This makes a lot of glaze - I often lose my nerve and have some left over)

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 2/ 300 deg F/ 150 deg C
Use a lined loaf tin with base of 7.5 ins x 3.5 ins (19 x 8.5 cm) and make sure the paper comes a good inch above the rim of the tin so that the orange syrup does not spill over).  Brush the lining lightly with oil.

Sieve the flour, spice, bicarbonate of soda into one bowl.
Combine sugar, eggs and oil and beat or whisk them together in another large bowl. Then stir in the dry ingredients, followed by the grated orange rind, carrots, sultanas, coconut and walnuts.
Stir until everything is thoroughly mixed.
Transfer to the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for and hour and forty five minutes to two hours.  It should be nicely risen and firm and show signs of shrinking away from the sides of the tin.  Mine normally splits along the top a bit but that's fine.

While the cake is cooking, whisk the glaze ingredients together.  When the cake is out of the oven, stab it over with a skewer and pour the syrup over the top.  Don't be perturbed at this point- it will sink in.

Remove the cake from the tin when cold by which time it will look lovely and glossy and smell fruity.  Leave the paper on until ready to serve.  Cut into thickish slices as it is not one of those cakes that is really firm.

Go for a run.

Back soon.

07 August 2010


It was Pirate Day in Hastings Old Town yesterday, an attempt to beat the world record for the number of people dressed as pirates.  And they did.  Over six thousand people stormed the town with ooh-aahs, and shivered timbers.  Pirate flags flew everywhere and drummers beat marches up and down the high street.  There were pirates in tea shops and pubs, with muskets and cutlasses, sashes and eye patches, stripey shirts and corsets and fabulous hats.  Yes, we were among them.

Babies and dogs even did their bit.

The shops were all dressed up with a shipwrecked theme and bunting decorated the streets.

Jack Sparrow was put in irons and cheered to liberty by the crowds.

It was the most good-hearted atmosphere and tremendous fun.

I'm off to the seaside again for a few days.  Back soon, me hearties.

03 August 2010


This snake was left in our garden after one of my cellar clearing sessions and someone who shall remain nameless has put him up in a tree.  This probably explains the frantic chirruping from a wren in the garden yesterday evening.  But it did feel a little weird when I noticed this in the same tree this morning when I was putting out the washing...

.. an enormous ripe fig, ready to burst.

I'll leave you to guess whether I succumbed to temptation, bearing in mind how lazy I've been lately.