27 July 2012

Garden Envy and the Hydrangea

I know I'm probably biased but I am totally in love, and envious, of the garden at my parents house, which at this time of year looks so beautiful that all I want to do is sit in it (which is what I've been doing thanks to a week-long dog sitting stint). I thought I would take beautiful pictures of it and you would all be amazed and then I remembered my camera's not that great and my photography is shocking so here are the pictures but they in no way do the garden justice at all... even a little bit. I hope my mother isn't cross with me for posting these...





In other breaking news the hydrangea that we discovered under a huge shrub in our garden in London in April and moved, loves it's new position and is an amazing colour.

Hydrangea on the right (incredibly sad peony on the left... still quite sad) in April

Hydrangea in July

25 July 2012

Return to Glory

It's rare to find anything at a fantastic price in London and I was dreading booking myself in for a pregnancy massage because I knew that if I enjoyed it I'd want more and we'd be bankrupt before the baby even arrived. But a bit of googling led to me Return to Glory 'London's leading mobile massage and beauty service' who not only offer pregnancy massage but four different pregnancy treatments including reflexology. And they do so many other treatments for the non-knocked up - deep tissue massage, couples massage, Swedish and Thai yoga massage, dance, salsa and Pilate's private lessons, facials, make overs, a whole range of treatments for men and even events for offices and parties.

The fact that you can get whatever treatment in your own home is fantastic but especially if you are in London and want a massage - the thought of being that relaxed and then having to schlep home on public transport thus undoing all the relaxation is what really swung it for me. As I wanted it asap I booked over the phone (0845 485 1195) but you get a 10% discount for booking online so it's definitely worth doing that. I couldn't believe that for £65 someone was going to come to my house with all the equipment and give me a massage.

Agnes appeared at 5 mins to the allotted time and set up quickly even though our room is tiny. She'd bought soothing music (which helped drown out  the noise of upstairs builders) and helped me get my bulk into a towel (which she kept helping me rearrange so I didn't feel like meat on a slab - all exposed). She also explained exactly what was going to happen which was nice - I knew they wouldn't offer or do any treatments that weren't safe but my husband was anxious about me getting a massage which had transferred to me a little so it was nice to have it all talked through before hand. I was getting their Signature Pregnancy Massage and I'd read a bit on the website but what I hadn't taken in was that everything gets rubbed. Your back, legs, feet, arms, face and head. IT IS AMAZING.

Obviously it depends on your therapist but the amount of pressure was just perfect - I was worried that pregnancy massage would be a bit light - and the timing great, nothing was hurried and I definitely got my full hours worth. How can this be just £65. As soon as she left - leaving me in my dressing gown beaming - I re-booked for a months time. I then called my pregnant sister and pregnant buddy and told them they have to try it out. It is really worth giving Return to Glory a go - they are incredibly helpful so if you are not sure what you need give them a call - I'm sure they will have the treatment for you.  

19 July 2012

Devil's Food Cake

My sweet tooth continues to rage and having watched Nigella make this on tele the other night I decided to give it a go. It is delicious although I would advise cooking for 25 mins max (rather than the 30 she advises) so it's as gooey as possible. The top on mine was a bit hard and detracted someone from the vast amounts of icing on the rest of the cake! The recipe is in Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home (although I'm sure I was watching it on an older programme of hers). A little of this goes a long way as it's really rich - I think it would be extra nice with some double cream but for some that may be a step too far.

I've reorganised the way she does this so the icing comes first - I ended up having to put mine in the fridge as it was still too runny to spread on the cake after an hour and a half. 

Devil's Food Cake

For the cake:
50g best-quality cocoa powder, sifted
100g dark muscovado sugar
250ml boiling water
125g soft unsalted butter, plus some for greasing
150g caster sugar
225g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

For the frosting:
125ml water
30g dark muscovado sugar
175g unsalted butter, cubed
300g best-quality dark chocolate, finely chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Line the bottom of two 20cm sandwich tins (not springform or loose bottomed - this batter is very liquid) with baking parchment and butter the sides.

1.  Make the icing by putting 30g muscovdo sugar and 175g butter in a pan over a low heat to melt. When the mixture begins to bubble, take the pan off the heat and add the chopped chocolate, swirling the pan so that all the chocolate is hit with heat, then leave for a minute to melt before whisking till smooth and glossy.

2. Leave for at least an hour, whisking now and again when you are passing by the pan.

3. For the cake - put the cocoa and 100g dark muscovado sugar into a bowl with a bit of space to space, and pour in the boiling water. Whisk to mix, then set aside.

4. Cream the butter and caster sugar together, beating well until pale and fluffy. Nigella uses her freestanding kitchen aid mixer, I used my magimix, you can use either... or your arms!

4. While this is going on - or as soon as you stop if you are mixing by hand - stir the flour , baking powder and bicarb together in another bowl and set aside for a moment.

5. Dribble the vanilla extract into the creamed butter and sugar - mixing all the while - then drop in 1 egg, quickly followed by a scoopful of the flour mixture, then the second egg.

6. Keep mixing and incorporate the rest of the dried ingredients for the cake, then finally mix and fold in the cocoa mixture scraping the bowl well with a spatula.

7. Divide the batter between the two prepared tins and put in the oven for about 30 mins (I think 25 max) or until a skewer comes out clean when put through the middle of the cake.


8. Take the tins out and leave them on a wire rack for 5-10 mins, before turning the cakes out to cool.


9. Once the cakes are cool enough and the icing ready to spread, set one for the cooled cakes, with it's top side down, on a cake stand or plate (I use the lid of my cake tin so the tin itself can go over the top), spread with about a third of the icing, then top with the second cake, regular way up, and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. The cake should keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container in a cool place.





To make ahead: The cake layers can be baked 1 day ahead and assembled before serving: wrap tightly with clingfilm and store in an airtight container.

Freezing: Un-iced cake layers can be frozen on the day of baking, each wrapped in a double layer of clingfilm and a layer of foil for up to 3 months. Defrost for 3-4 hours on a wire rack at room temperature.

16 July 2012

Paul Simon Hard Rock Calling

I booked tickets to see Paul Simon at Hard Rock Calling, Hyde Park quite a while ago and it seemed like it would never actually happen. Then I assumed it would be rained off and yet all of sudden we were there in the sun listening to the 25th Anniversary concert of what is surely one of the most iconic albums of all time.

You may have read or been to the slightly chaotic Bruce Springsteen concert the night before where the sound was switched off by the police mid-song to conform with the curfew. Although I realise the importance of the curfew if concerts are to be allowed in Hyde Park at all, and it would be an incredible shame if there weren't, I do think the way it was handled must have put a real dampner on the evening and I think all of us at the Paul Simon event were hoping that the same thing would not happen. However, I was seriously impressed by the organisation of the venue, the choice of food and drinks, the crowd management and the hygiene of the loos which I was slightly dreading due to the frequency that I pee at the moment. I even managed to find a glass of prosecco for me and my sister for whom we'd bought a ticket as her birthday present in May.

As soon as Paul Simon walked onto the stage all of that was forgotten. As Joe kept saying it was something a lot of us thought we'd never see - Graceland live with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Not only that but special guests including Jimmy Cliff and Jerry Douglas. It was an awesome, once in a lifetime night. For a man of 71 his singing and stage presence were awe-inspiring. I could have listened all night. I didn't take any videos but here are some from You Tube...





14 July 2012

Jam Cookie Sandwiches

When a friend comes for tea I try to bake something new to try although as I'm getting bigger I'm also getting slightly lazier on that front. Which is a little weird as this baby wants me to eat sweet things all the time - which is a little mean of it as I'm now the size of a house. This tea time we're having Rachel Allen's Festive Jam Cookie Sandwiches from Bake and they were actually incredibly easy to make but gave me a new found respect for the incredible neatness of the ones pictured in the book. Mine don't look half so beautiful but they are incredibly yummy and I'm now always pleased to find new ways to eat jam - this is a great one!

She says to do these at Christmas as they look festive but I think they are just fine for any time of year. I left out the lemon zest because I hate lemon... I also halved the recipe because of my fear that I'm going to give myself pregnancy diabetes if I carry on like I am. Halving the recipe made about 10 cookies but I had to use a slightly bigger cutter than she does so I could make the holes... if that makes sense. You'll see what I mean.

Jam Cookie Sandwiches

Makes about 35

425g (15oz) plain flour
75g (3oz) caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
4 egg yolks
325g (11 ½oz) butter, softened
Raspberry or strawberry jam
Icing sugar for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. You will need  6cm (2 ½ inch) plain cutter and a 3cm (1 ¼ inch) cutter. I did half with sweet-tip raspberry jam and half with apricot. I used a magimix and it made the whole thing incredibly fast.

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl or electric food mixer and add the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, egg yolks and butter. Mix until it all comes together in a dough.



2. Remove from the bowl and flatten with your palm or a rolling pin to about 2cm thick and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (longer if possible).



3. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface until it's about 5mm thick, then, using the 6cm plain cutter, cut the dough into discs.

4. Take half the discs and using the smaller 3cm cutter, cut holes out of the centre of each, like little round windows. Bring the discarded scraps together and make more discs and tops - you want to end up with an equal amount.

5. Place the discs on several prepared baking trays and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until pale golden and ever so slightly firm.



6. Allow to stand for a couple of minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

7. When the discs are cool spread the whole discs with jam and top with a disc with a hole in it. Dust with icing sugar and serve.





2 July 2012

Everyday Scones

I don't like cream teas. I know that's unheard of but, not really having a sweet tooth I'd much rather the scone just had butter on it, and that the scone was a crumpet. But the baby has other ideas and just wants doughnuts and raspberry jam so, as a treat for Joe for doing loads of chores on the whim of a hormone-laden wife, and a treat for the bump, I decided that we'd have a homemade cream tea on Saturday.

Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard had an interesting recipe invovling yoghurt and cream in the dough mixture so that's the one I chose although I'm sure you can find one in most baking books, or Delia... of course.

I ate three of these then had to have a nap... Joe finished them off making his tally a mere five. Five scones!!!


Everyday Scones

Makes 6-8

250g low fat plain youghurt
25ml double cream
25g caster sugar
400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g unsalted butter, softened
beaten egg to finish

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/425F/Gas Mark 7. Dan recommends cooking these in a deep roasting dish so less moisture is lost during baking so that's what I used, lined with a teflon baking sheet. You will also need a large mixing bowl and a scone-sized cutter (about 6cm).

1. Stir the yoghurt, cream and sugar together and leave for a few minutes so that the sugar dissolves.

Yoghurt mixture

2. Sift the flour, salt, cream of tartar and bicarb into a large mixing bowl and rub the butter through lightly.

3. Mix the yoghurt mixture into the flour then quickly and gently work everything to a soft sticky dough. Some cooks use a knife to stir the dough to avoid being heavy handed. I initially used my small, metal spatular and then brought it together with my hands.

4. Scoop the dough onto a well-floured work surface and lightly dust the top with flour. Pat it out to 4cm high then push the cutter firmly through the dough without twisting.



5. Place on the base of the roasting tin spaced 2 cm apart.



6. Brush the tops lightly with beaten eggg and bake for 12-14 minutes until just coloured on top.



7. Cool on a wire rack, covered with a tea towel to keep them moist.


Cooling under a tea towel

8. Serve with clotted or whipped cream and jam.



Cream tea


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