Friday, 21 May 2010


I am currently breaking my no chocolate before 9.30am rule. Defiantly. I have been struck down with a nasty little cold this week, just 3 weeks after my last bout!
Strangely, it seems to have coincided both times with the volcano ash cloud. Is there a connection?
All week I have been obsessing over cookies. OUP don’t really ever do cookies, although they do a plethora of large cakes and pastries. In the Year End briefing yesterday they announced that OUP had consumed 24,000 of said cakes last year. Anyway today I awoke without tastebuds. I even got up early to have a slice of homemade granary bread toasted with marmite for breakfast, and I couldn’t even taste the wonderful sweet nuttiness of the bread! So I decided to go to the coffee bar as a compensation rewarded myself with a morning trip to the coffee bar and lo and behold! Double chocolate chip cookies! It was pretty amazing. Very sweet, and soft in the middle, not unlike a brownie crossed with meringue. I could at least taste the chocolatey sweetness of it. Mmm. But when I got back to the office, there is a tuppaware container on the cake table with homemade cookies in it! It is a mystery, no one knows who made them. My money’s on Steve.

I blame Ben’s Cookies for all this. Had one on Sunday in Leamington, and didn’t think the choice was very good. But then I forgot the golden rule of Ben’s cookies, they always taste about 100 times better than they look. And also they are bigger than they look. I think by putting massive chunks in, they did themselves a disservice as they always look too small. But then you might be inclined to buy more! Ben you crafty corporate devil you! Incidentally, Ben’s cookies was actually founded by Helge Rubinstein, not a Ben. I just learnt that their original store is the one I frequent in Oxford’s covered market! Well I never. Oh no! Ben’s cookies are only available to people in the South. Northerners miss out!? To compensate, they have an online ordering service to anywhere in the UK. I feel the need to send some up north and spread the love. Though really what good would that do them, when they don’t live near a BC shop? I understand that feeling well, for I am haunted by a cookie. This cookie was given to me as a welcome gift from the DoubleTree Metropolitan Hotel in Midtown, NYC. I think it was milk choc chip, but it had nuts in too, and it was large and so chewy. We crashed in the bed on arrival, then awoke at 7am and hungrily ate our cookies. Best jetlag meal ever. I meant to buy some from the lobby before we left…
On a related note, mum was cleaning out the freezer on Sunday night and found a roll of cookie dough! I vaguely remember making the dough. They are basically shortbread with white chocolate chips and almonds, but the recipe told me to use unsalted butter and they were crying out for salt. So, at 9.30 on sun night I sliced up the cookies, put them on a baking tray and milled salt on top of each cookie.
It definitely improved them. Though, having forgotten the original recipe (I think I got it from the newspaper weekend supplement) I had to guess the time and temperature. Mum said they might just be the best thing I ever made! High praise!
Anyway, summer is here so it is time to remind myself of the things I like about summer, so I don’t get bummed out about the things that I don’t like (heat, sunburn, sweating, sun cream, showing the whiteness of my skin, feeling like a whale, gardening):

  • Auntie Jen coming to stay

  • long summer evenings

  • ice cream

  • eating dinner outside

  • the 3 ft thick walls of Barry Cottage keeping us nice and cool

  • crisp early mornings

  • being near the water (tricky since we live in the most inland part of Britain!)

Friday, 14 May 2010

Oxford ArtWeeks

Yesterday, I went to visit some galleries in Jericho as part of Artweeks. I’m no expert, but really liked the work of local artists Morna Rhys (printmaking and etching) and Neil Drury (oils, pastels, mixed media). I think I will get the pastels out this weekend and have a go. Neil’s work was so cheerful and vibrant, but still elegant and tasteful. Morna’s work (pictured) was haunting, quite spooky etches in moonlight blues and greens. Anyone who went to school with me will know that I’m not a bad sketcher and have a certain amount of natural talent, but with absolutely no artistic imagination. All I can really do is plagiarise other people’s work. Even my still life composition sucks. So every now and again I see something I like and have a go at replicating it. A lot of people in my paternal family are artistic. I’m glad they are pursuing it. I made a practical decision aged 18 that although I enjoyed art immensely, it wasn’t a viable way to make a living, especially for someone with no artistic vision like me. I sometimes wish that I had considered it more carefully before discarding it.
So, I have decided to become more creative in my spare time. There are so many things I want to try my hand at, and I hope to start with a 2 day ceramics course in Raku pottery. I saw it on Escape to the Country and can’t wait to have a go. Oh my goodness check this out! I did a Google image search for Raku Pottery and look what I found instead! This is called a Raku sleeping bag, basically a sleeping bag with arms and a hood, and a drawstring footbox section allowing you to move around! Hmm... I am currently shopping around for sleeping bags for Canada…

Monday, 10 May 2010

What is this, a cooking blog?

Well, since my last entry I have baked two recipes from Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache, the weird cook book that uses vegetables instead of butter. The first attempts were really lovely – peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes. I could have eaten a ton. The frosting alone was genius – peanut butter, cocoa powder, icing sugar and boiling water. The recipe was for 12 cupcakes but really made 24! And there was leftover frosting! In the absence of my camera lead I cannot yet give you a visual, but here is the book. Yummers. And we sold some over the May Day weekend but still had some left by Saturday, when I attempted to eat one for breakfast. Turns out they don’t really last a week – they tasted faintly musty like old dishcloths.
The second recipe was for the heartache Chocolate cake, it is supposed to be a consolation cake for broken hearts, and actually is my second broken heart recipe of the week (blame Nigella – not for breaking hearts but for making me drool with her cookie batter). This cake took 300g of dark chocolate (I used Willie’s Cacao – fancy present from Nafisa and Mathew), 200g Honey and 2 Aubergines (thanks to Auntie Lynn and Uncle Richard for getting those from Tesco). It was Tortey in texture but so horribly dark and bitter. I like dark chocolate but this was like super intense, almost burnt-tasting dark chocolate. Ahhhh… perhaps it was because I used Willie’s Cacao which is 100% cocoa solids. It all makes sense now! Will definitely use more milk chocolate next time. Am determined to fix my broken heart after all!
The cookies were from Nigella Express, which I accidentally left on series record on the tv. They are called Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies and after watching her make them I couldn’t stop thinking about them. In particular, the sound of her mixing the chocolate chips into the cookie mixture has me drooling even now. And they certainly lived up to expectation. Huge quantities of chocolate went into them, and I used milk chocolate chips rather than dark as in the recipe. I snook one into Dad’s lunchbox the next day and he left me a lovely voicemail after eating it. Brave of him to try it as it sort of looked like a turd in clingfilm.
Yesterday I retrieved my Nigella Express from the house and saw that she actually got the recipe from a cookbook called Big Fat Cookies. Tony bought me that cookie book for my birthday years ago! So I had the recipe all along! It has inspired me to bake more from it. I might have to ask Dad to put up some shelves in my room to house all my cookbooks. I don’t like being parted from them like this. Everything else in the house I could quite happily never see again, apart from Boris of course. And Tony I suppose. I know he should be the first thing to go, but it just doesn’t work like that.

Saturday, 1 May 2010


The May Day craft show was judged today, and although I did not enter baked goods, I helped calm mum as she prepared hers. And what a result! She won the bakery section! First place for her four fancy cakes, Second for her Apple pie and also for her Birthday cake (a triumph of chocolatey delight - see the pic), and Third for her Tea for Two. I, however, somehow ended up stumbling into the floristry category, entering the floral arrangement, themed "Songs of Praise" and the "Garden on a Dinner Plate" category, just because my trip to Legoland reminded how much better things are in miniature.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for my Dinner plate (sorry Port Merion). True, I came away with Second place, but there were only two entries. So it is like saying mine was the worst, despite what I considered to be my secret weapon - a tiny glass effigy of Otto that I purchased for $1.50 at a giftshop in Topsail Beach, North Carolina on one of the best days of my life.

Sarah's winning Entry. A stick fence!! A parasol! And her vegetable garden is superior.
She used Oasis - the wisdom of experience!

My effort, complete with 'Wee Otto'

And check out my flower arrangement! If the judge had known it was my first attempt she would have given me a Highly Commended I'm sure. And I quite enjoyed making it. It is basically sticking pointy things into a soft mound, not unlike voodoo in many ways. I even learnt some flower names. I used Sweet William (the pinky / reddy efforts) and September Flower (they look like daisies). If you can't read the card my chosen Hymn was "The Lord is my Shepherd". I only had two days to choose one and since I was doing the font arrangement, a hymn that included the line 'quiet waters' seemed like a good choice. You can't see it but there is water in the middle. And I made a good stab at making it look like flowers that might be found in 'green pastures', don't you think?I'm expecting my next post to be cake-a-licious. I just bought a great cookbook that substitutes butter with various vegetables in the art of cake baking. My weird taste-combo radar couldn't let it pass me by, and I have already baked peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes (with butternut squash!). At first taste, without icing, they taste loverly. Hope they sell well atthe chapel cake stall tomorrow! Verity is going to help me with some more baking tomorrow, but I suspect we will mostly giggling, singing songs from Chess and turning the kitchen into a Tracy Emin installation.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Haiku of today

Sausage Dog cuddles,
Ice Cream lunch in winter coat,
Sore nose, back and throat.

It rhymes a little. Controversial. I don't think they will come after me.

Ola from the Owlery

Hoot! My first blog. Well I suppose I had better post a photo or something. I just fished this one out from last June when both Auntie Jen and the Bristol crew were here. It makes me smile that in the whole of picturesque Hornton, we selected the back of a van as our photo backdrop. Classic. It is a week and 1 day until the May Day Bank Holiday, where this Green will be transformed into a hive of blossom and activity, with cake stalls; raffles; tombolas; the traditional and far too challenging hybrid of tenpin/lawn bowling; the bring and buy area which always seems three-deep in hardcore rummagers, and of course the controversial fairground rides. Last year I helped mum man the childrens' tombola. Which seemed to be a good way to introduce children to a full-on gambling addiction. This year the chapel are doing a craft show, which I have decided to enter. I'm a bit disappointed at the vague and old-womany categories, and don't know which to enter. I mean, listen to some of these:

  • "Apple Tart or pie on a plate" - Katie thought about entering a meat pie for this, it wasn't until later when we pondered the significance of the apple that we twigged that it had to be apple pie.

  • "Tea for Two" - what exactly is one expected to provide here? Teacups are a given, but considering that this is expected to stand in the chapel over three days, should we do away with the curly sandwich option and just do cakes? And what about the tea? Will leaf tea get more points? Will the judges be able to tell Twinings from Typhoo?

  • "Birthday Basket" - ??? The only thing I would want in a basket for my birthday would be puppies. Little mewing furry angels with scrunched up eyes and waggy talloos. Oh wait... the clue is in the category here, it is in the flowers section. Wow, that could have been embarassing.

  • "Scotch Egg" - I don't know a soul that makes their own scotch eggs. Who decided that wrapping an egg in sausage meat and breadcrumbs before deep frying it was a good idea?? The Scots will have to be blamed I suppose, but I forgive you because of Scotch pies.

I think I will enter either the Birthday Cake category, or "4 Fancy Cakes". But again, this last one could be a challenge as I can see myself disecting the word fancy until it has lost all meaning and I would just cover the darn things in chocolate and put them on a doily.