Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Umbrella Collective: The Great Blogger Bake Off

I think that's possibly the longest post title I've ever used. I'm often tempted to put half a song in that box, but then realise that that would be a stupid thing to do and stop.

So yes. It's Tuesday again (why do I feel the need to point out what day of the week it is at the start of my blog posts? You know, it's Tuesday for you too) which means that it's Umbrella Collective time!

After last week's charity shop challenge where I felt a little out of my comfort zone, I was pleased to be back on my home turf this week. Amy mentioned in her post last week that she was keen to do a foodie post- and being a bit of a foodie/ bit of a fattie, I was all over it like a rash. Fortunately, Rhiannon and Laura were keen too, and we decided that a Great British Bake Off style post would be best. While it would have been fab to do a "technical bake" challenge, where we all made the same recipe, I think we all felt that could have been less interesting to read- so we decided to go along the "signature bake" route.

Our challenge? Bake any item, and include berries. Simples!!

Yes, it's simple. But I have a confession- I sort of cheated. But before you condemn me, give me a minute to explain myself, because I didn't really cheat. I bent the rules.

I've baked a lot of cake recently, and I just didn't feel like baking more cake to take to work and be mostly eaten by the few people in my office who really wind me up- so that was kind of out of the question. I thought of making cranberry, white chocolate and macadamia cookies- but again, I just didn't feel like it.

What I did want to make, was this:

Tarte aux baies. 

Otherwise known as a berry tart, made with sweet shortcrust pastry, crème pâtissière, and berries- and yes, the entire lot was homemade. No cheating with shop bought pastry for me!! But before you start, be warned- sweet shortcrust is a bit of a faff and an absolute bastard to work with. Every time I make it I remember this, but never before I start. One day I'll learn. That said- totally worth it.

And this is how you do it. Really sorry for the lack of pictures, for some reason they didn't want to go onto my computer!!

You will need: 
A 23cm loose-bottomed flan tin; a few bowls; an oven; baking beans or uncooked rice; a saucepan; an electric whisk or guns of steel

Sweet Shortcrust:
110g Butter (only slightly softened- it should still be cold)
225g Plain flour
80g Caster sugar 
1 large egg

In a bowl, rub your butter into your flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Then stir in your sugar and your egg- I actually find it easiest to do this with a knife (this also stops your butter melting). It'll start to clump together, and when it does this, get your hands in to squash it gently and quickly into something slightly resembling a ball. Wrap it really well in cling film, pop it into the fridge, and go and watch TV for half an hour.

After 30 minutes, get your pastry out of the fridge, and roll it out (a wine bottle works as a good substitute if you don't have a rolling pin) until it's around 5mm thick and bigger all around than your pastry tin. Make sure you flour the surface before you start, and turn the pastry regularly while you're rolling or it'll get stuck to the surface. When it's big enough, get your flan dish really close, roll your pastry up a bit over your rolling pin, and lay it gently into your tin. Press it in around the edges, trim the excess (do not throw it away- wrap it in clingfilm and put it back in the fridge), prick the bottom, and put it back in the fridge for another half hour at the very least. Generally speaking, I hate leaving things to rest but this is SO important here- if you don't, the butter will melt as soon as it goes into the oven and your pastry will collapse. Not good. I actually left mine for about an hour and a half because I fell asleep, and that won't hurt it. Preheat your oven to 170C.

This is what I mean by rolling your pastry up over your pin- it really helps move the stuff.
When it has rested, line your pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans or uncooked rice. Bake like this for 12 minutes, then take it out and remove the paper and beans. Now- at this point, you may notice that some of your pastry "walls" have collapsed. This is what your excess was for- use it to patch any holes and get it all back in the oven for another 15 minutes until it's all golden. Take it out and leave it to cool completely.

Crème Pâtissière
500ml whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 Egg yolks
200g Caster Sugar
20g Cornflour
20g Plain flour
150ml Double cream

In a big-ish saucepan, gently bring your milk and vanilla to the boil- don't let it boil over, it makes such a mess. Whisk everything else except the double cream in a bowl- it'll be a very thick paste, and if it's a bit too dry to mix properly, add 1tbsp of the warm milk to your bowl and whisk again. Once the milk has boiled, add four tablespoons of it to the bowl of eggs, whisk until it's well combined, and then pour all of this back into your saucepan with the milk. Bring back to the boil, stirring constantly until it thickens- this is basically custard, and that's the thickness you're looking for. When it's thick, pour it into a baking tray and cover it immediately with cling film, and leave it to cool until it is stone cold. 

When it's cold, pop it back into a bowl and beat it until it's all smooth and lump free again- nobody likes a lumpy crème pât. Whip your cream to soft peaks, then fold through the cold custard. Pour this lot into your cooled pastry case, and pop into the fridge until you're ready to serve (though I wouldn't leave it for more than a couple of hours).

This is what your finished  creme patissiere should look like
When you're ready to serve, take it out of the fridge and cover in lovely berries- I tried to make mine look artistic and wished I'd just piled silly amounts of berries on- it can take it. It would also be fantastic with peaches or mango and raspberry, I think.

And look! Not a soggy bottom in sight.

So there you have it! My bake with berries. Yes, I cheated a little in that I didn't actually bake the berries, but come on- surely I'm forgiven for something as delicious as this!? If not, I'll make cranberry, macadamia and white chocolate cookies in the week.

Make sure you check out AmyRhiannon and Laura's efforts too!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Happiness Is... (vol. 13)

Whoosh. Monday again!?

For some reason, I'm struggling to think of things this week- not because I'm not happy (in fact, as I'm writing this on Sunday I'm feeling really very content), more because I don't think I've been paying much attention this week. Whoops.

Anyway, here goes- today, happiness is....

.... this picture. Because it's true- Mamas are the best and somehow seem to know everything. (That said, the washing tag below is an easy one to understand...)

From here
... making plans. I'm off to London this weekend to see one of my absolute besties who I haven't seen since Easter and I am so excited. I'm also in the process of actually properly planning my trip away in June/ July which is SO exciting, and am looking into a trip back to Cardiff to see my uni darlings. I love having things to look forward to!!

... Old pictures. Come on, how cute was I? I just wish my hair was still well behaved enough for a fringe like that now. Sob sob.

... A first class train ticket. YES this is materialistic, but I'm getting the slow stopping service from Exeter to Waterloo on Friday and being in first class will certainly ease the pain of stopping EVERYWHERE. And it was only £3 more....

... This weather forecast. No rain forecast for an entire week? WHAT IS THIS?!

There we have it! That wasn't that hard in the end, actually.... 

What's making you happy this week?

Sunday, 28 April 2013

I Am Superwoman

At least, I like to tell myself that I am superwoman. Mostly when I've done something particularly domesticated, like ironing, making supper, or putting the washing out, without burning myself, falling over, or walking into something.

I'd love to have a superpower. Still can't work out which one though. I mean, people always think of the obvious ones, and I always think of the flaws:

Invisibility- but people would forget I existed
Super hearing- I'd overhear things I don't want to know
Flying- good god that would be scary. I'll stick to planes.
Telekenisis- Come on, is lifting things really all that difficult?

I like the idea of slightly less normal superpowers, but these aren't always much better. Wolverine and Doctor Who (come on, he has to count...) have powers of regeneration which are pretty cool- though apparently it's painful when those claws come flying out. Running through walls would be fun... but would you not just fall through seats and the floor and end up in the centre of the universe? Being bitten by a radioactive spider is my worst nightmare. And Batman? Come on, he just has far too much money to burn.

I suppose if I were to have a real superpower, I'd like to be able to control time. Travel in it, stop it, make it move more slowly (or more quickly, like when you have to sit through five hours of meetings on a Friday). Even though if you've read The Time Traveler's Wife (and if you haven't why the hell not?!), you realise that even if you can time travel, you can't change what has or will happen (which would be stressful), I think I'd like being able to control time. And teleport. That's just a bonus one.

I think I just love the idea of superheroes. Ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations (other than you Superman. You're supposed to be like that) and forced to step up to the plate. With great power comes great responsibility, after all. 

I think we could learn a lot from superheroes. Yes, they're quiet often idiotic and do stupid things. But I would like to think that if I was in a situation where I could stop a bad guy, save a kitten, or throw myself in the way of an oncoming bus to save a stranger, I would. And I think a lot of you would too.

At the end of the say, we're all superheroes really. We all have things which make us a bit different. We are all thrown into extraordinary situations and have to deal with it. We all have something awesome about ourselves that we sometimes feel we have to hide. And sometimes, when life is throwing all the shit it can at you, the ability to just get out of bed and carry on is a superpower in itself.

And to paraphrase Alex Karev- at the end of the day- even if you take away Green Lantern's ring, the guy's still a hero. 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Pretty Things

I really am not a girly girl.

Don't get me wrong, I'm feminine- I love pretty dresses, baking, flowers, and chocolate- but I'm not a girl. Come on. I've only ever lived with male siblings, and in my final year at uni I lived with three boys and totally wasn't fazed by it. I don't wear make up (other than eyeliner and mascara), I don't get my nails done, I have never had a facial. And I am terrible at accessorizing.

Except for a few things. My charity shop scarf is a new favourite, and in general I'm pretty good with scarves- but there are a few other bits and pieces which I go back to again and again and again. And oddly enough, they all have some sort of sentimental meaning to them.

 These are my absolute favourite earrings. My nanna, who passed away in 2009, gave them to me one day when I went to visit her. I was wearing a turquoise jumper, and she looked at me, jumped up from the dining table (well, jumped as well as a 70 year old woman ever can), and said "I have something which will look lovely with that". She brought these back downstairs, and I agreed that they were beautiful. She tipped them into my hand, closed my fingers around them, and said "You keep them". They're the only earrings I wear on a regular basis.

The turtle's name is Burt, by the way...
I cannot leave the house without my watch and bracelet- I feel naked. I know some people aren't really keen on Pandora bracelets, but I love mine. My mum gave it to me for my 21st birthday, and when I opened it in front of my uni friends, they all glanced around the table at each other looking a bit worried. Turns out they had bought me one too! They maintain that this is evidence that they know me as well as my mum does- she disagrees though. All of the charms/ beads/ whatever they're called have a meaning behind them, or were gifts- and I'm sticking to a red/ white/ pink/ silver colour scheme because the first one I received contained garnets, which is my birth stone. The watch was a Christmas gift from my dad last year- he picked it out all by himself, and I was pretty proud of him- bless him, he isn't always known  for getting it right without a bit of guidance.

These pearls used to belong to my great-grandmother. After she passed away, I received a few pieces of her jewellery- mostly because my grandma has two daughters, but only one granddaughter, so she decides it's fairer to give things like this to me, and not to either my aunt or my mum. These are my fancy-pants pearls- any time I need to look respectable, on they go. Their first outing was a friend's black-tie 21st birthday, when I wore them with a pretty black dress as I attempted to do somersaults on a Twister bouncy castle. Classy lady.

Do you have any pieces of jewellery which you always go back to?

Friday, 26 April 2013

A Chocolate Teapot

 Remember when I got nominated for a Leibster Award and I said that I never win anything?

I stand corrected.

Can you imagine how excited I was coming home to this!?
A few weeks ago, I entered a competition hosted by Emma Bridgewater and Montezuma. It was one of those really easy ones, where you have to sign up for a mailing list, and answer a question when they've already given you the answer. (You know the sort, they give you a little blurb like "we have shops in X Y and Z town... " and then ask "Which of the following is NOT a town we have a shop in? W, X, or Z?").

Given that I adore anything Emma Bridgewater (seriously, I'm going to bankrupt myself one of these days), I popped my answer into the box, entered my email address, and promptly forgot all about it. Seriously. I enter competitions every now and then, but given that I have never won anything before, I never think much about them. 

Then completely coincidentally, on Tuesday a colleague came into my office, giggling about how she'd won 150g of posh coffee on a Times+ competition. And I still didn't think about the competition. But when I got home, for some reason I decided to check my junk mail account. (Is it just me who has an account which you use almost exclusively for signing up for things?) Mostly because having unread emails stresses me out and I have to clear it every few days or so.

And then I realised that 10 days earlier, I had received a lovely email from a girl named Vikki telling me I'd won the competition. 

Cue panic stations when I realised that they might have given my prize to someone else in the 10 days between them sending me the email and me reading it. Let this be a lesson to you all- always check your inbox! So I quickly pinged off an email in such a panic that I'm not entirely sure it made sense- and two days later, I received the following:

chocolate teapot! (I was absurdly excited by this, particularly given that my EB teapot is one of my most prized possessions)

An Emma Bridgewater I Love Chocolate tin- perfect for ferrying baked goods around/ hiding chocolate in.

And this ridiculously amazing looking hamper of Montezuma chocolate.

See how enormous the hamper is?!
How generous is all of that?! Seriously- I am too excited by this. I'm particularly keen to try the peanut butter filled mini eggs, and the butterscotch pecans, and given that I miss my not-quite-a-pet squirrel, Bruce, from my old job, the Secret Squirrel truffles will go down a treat. I am slightly concerned that the teapot looks too cute to eat, but I'm sure I'll cope- particularly given that it's also made from the wonderful Montezuma chocolate.

So a huge thank you goes out to  Emma Bridgewater and Montezuma for this amazing prize- you have made my week!! Now please excuse me while I go and stuff my face with chocolate...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Desk Space

Sometimes, I feel like I'm the only blogger in the world who doesn't have a "blogging space", "studio", "office" or suchlike where I can sit and blog. I get that a fair few of you lovelies work from home, or are still studying, but even still- I feel left out of the cool-desk club.

Most of my blogging is done in bed, on the sofa, lying on the floor, in scribbles on my hand or phone when I'm out and about... you get the picture.

I like to think that I'm organised. I really really do. I always know where things are (*cough* other than when I need an important document *cough*), and I'm able to put my hand on things much quicker than my mum or brothers are. But the fact that I haven't yet done a room tour, despite the fact that I adore reading others', should probably make you realise that actually I am a depressingly untidy person. Seriously. Here is a picture of my very untidy desk.

See why I don't blog there!? 

I think I'd like a proper desk. With some lovely stationary, and my laptop, and an inspiration board and things... I could sit and pretend I'm writing a novel, or penning ladylike missives to far-flung friends, when really I'm here rambling to you lovely lot.

From here
Found here

From here
From here

This has definitely inspired me to sort out my desk/ room/ life this weekend. I'm sure I'll keep you posted on the progress.

But then... a part of me can't help but think that I sit at a desk all day at work.... so why would I want to sit at one at home?

(Yes, I am aware that that sentence makes this entire post redundant)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Mount Edgecumbe

How is it Wednesday evening already? I could have sworn the week has only just started...

Monday and Tuesday were ridiculously busy at work, and involved a trip to the garage for an oil leak. This resulted in tears over how I was possibly going to collect my car in time for work on Wednesday (cue amazing colleagues dropping me off and getting me out of work at 15:45- thanks guys!!)- I really can be rather overdramatic. And I know the rest of the week is going to be ridiculous too- which can only be a good thing, I want it to be the weekend again!

But on Sunday, I managed to tick one of the things off of my Summer to-do list. Mama CupandSaucer and I took a little trip out to Mount Edgecumbe, a beautiful stately home with wonderful gardens, on the coast just inside Cornwall.

We started off by parking at Devil's Point- I have no idea why it's called that, and can only assume it's something to do with shipping and the area being devilishly difficult to navigate- and wandering around to the Royal William Yard and the Cremyll Ferry. This is by far the loveliest way to get to Mount Edgecumbe- it just feels so charming, for some reason, and is just a lovely extra part of the day. You can drive there by coming up from deepest darkest Cornwall, or from the more civilised part of the world (CORNWALL I'M JOKING) you can drive over the Tamar Bridge and follow the signs.

Dog on the top of the ferry... as you do!

Once we'd hopped off the ferry, we headed straight for the formal gardens... and missed them completely. Instead, we went around the outside of them and wandered along the edge of the coast- it's this proximity to the sea which particularly reminds me of Manderley in RebeccaI think.  

The front lawn... 

Just in case the French try to invade...

Gratuitous picture with a canon... has to be done!

And how stunning is the house? Imagine living there... Apparently, you can get married here and have the reception in The Orangery near the gardens- this knowledge has definitely been tucked away for future use. 


I'd take this as the view from my front door...!
 The grounds are enormous- we didn't wander even a fraction of them, but had a thoroughly lovely day. The formal gardens are absolutely beautiful, and I can imagine that when the weather perks up a bit, the flowers will all be absolutely gorgeous.

The Orangery- isn't it pretty?!

Paths to nowhere...

All in all, it was such a lovely day. I love places like this, and cannot believe that until last summer, I had never been. Seriously- if you're in the area, and are looking for a lovely picnic spot and place to lounge for an afternoon, I can highly recommend Mount Edgecumbe. You'll probably find me there.

And if you get married here, please invite me so I can see how it all works there for myself.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Umbrella Collective: Charity Shop Challenge!

After the success of last week's post, the wonderful ladies that are RhiannonAmyLaura and myself (I'm not classing myself as wonderful there, just so you know) decided that we'd like to make this collaboration business a weekly thing. And because the other ladies are all clever beans, someone who wasn't me (I'm so sorry ladies, I can't remember who it was!) decided that we needed to give ourselves a name as a group, and so....

... the Umbrella Collective was born! So named because we all post under an umbrella topic each week- and because I had a brolly I could take a picture of.

We've decided that being lifestyle bloggers, we'll post about a range of things- sometimes serious stuff like last week, sometimes not- and this week, the idea of a charity shop challenge was thrown into the ring, and we all decided it sounded like a rather marvellous idea.

Well. Almost all.

I am not a patient shopper in the slightest. I do terribly in sales, or places like Primark and TK Maxx where everything is thrown together and you can't find your size and and and. So when this challenge was suggested, my heart sank a little- I do not do well with charity shops. But saying "yes" is always a good idea, so I agreed with the other ladies and decided to really challenge myself with this one.

So on Saturday I popped into town, and after a few errands decided to nip into some of Tavistock's many many charity shops to see what I could find. Our only rule was that we had a £5 price limit.

My first stop was St Luke's Hospice. This is a local charity, and is an enormous shop- I was sure I would find something in here.

Or perhaps NOT. 

Something I found particularly baffling when charity shopping this weekend- I'm not sure if it's just the Tavistock area, but there was a lot of Primark cast offs being sold for as much as they would be new- and in some cases, definitely more that they would have been new. It was also at this point that I realised that £5 is not a lot to spend in charity shops in Tavistock.

Woodside Charity Shop was my next stop. And as you might guess from the picture below, was no more successful than St Luke's Hospice.

That said, they did have a reasonable looking book section:

SO. I moved swiftly on, my £5 still burning a hole in my pocket. I headed up the hill, and nipped into the Children's Hospice South West and Sue Ryder in pretty quick succession.

In one of these (I forget which one) I found a pair of Benetton jeans- but not in my size. Seriously, this was the closest I got to a good find- almost everything in these charity shops was from either Primark or Tesco- and not only that, most of the stuff was UGLY, or just plain tees/ jumpers. Definitely not what I was looking for.

So feeling slightly despondent, I wandered across the road into Oxfam.

Oxfam is normally meant to be good, right? Well not here. To begin with, they arranged everything by colour- what is this?! Honestly charity shops, this is the most unhelpful thing ever. I really didn't understand why they'd done it- it did not make for an easy shopping experience.

This was literally my last chance- I had to get something. I was getting pretty desperate by this point, and feeling a lot like I was never going to find anything- but then I found something, and handed over my very creased £5 note...

And what did I buy?

A scarf and some chocolate.

Clearly I am awful at this. But look how pretty the scarf is!! I felt like an old lady wearing it with my tweed jacket, and the feather brooch I bought at a boot-sale the other week, but I am pretty pleased with it. In total, I spent £5.10 so a little over, but given that the money is going to charity, I think that's allowed.

Apologies for the awful quality and the gratuitous picture of my chest. Good thing I don't really have boobs.
So yes. I did not do well at this challenge. But I will wear this scarf- I wore it all day on Sunday- which is better than buying something for the sake of it. And I will do better next time I go charity shopping!

Make sure you go and check out the other lovely ladies' blogs- I'm sure they will have been a lot more successful than I was!!