Cranberry and Orange marscapone sponge cake

Welcome to my Christmas blogging spree. As you’ll have seen from previous posts, I kinda went a little political but I’m back on the food stuff now and frankly, that’s much nicer than being a little bit sad and miserable about the state of the world.

So I had a birthday last month. As you may remember, last year was a big ole birthday, so this year, I decided to keep it low key and went to see a play about the troubles in Sri Lanka at the Arcola. Slight change of pace but lovely fun day. I also indulged in a cronut from the newish Dominique Ansel London. Man, I’m glad that place isn’t too close to home, I could eat one of those every day.

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As part of it not being a big milestone birthday, I didn’t want a normal gift – I’m good at buying myself things and we’ve been complaining for years about how we hate our kitchen/dining room but haven’t been able to afford to do the big works (knocking a wall through). So this year, I told the wino I wanted a nice dining room for my birthday, so we spent a week ripping out cupboards, painting, putting up shelves etc etc. And it’s so very nearly there. I love it very much. But I’ll save that for a future post, when we’ve finished both rooms.

I hosted my inaugural proper Sunday lunch in the dining room last Sunday. We’d had a cheese and wine and drunken dancing party a few weeks before but what happens on a drunken night stays on a drunken night. So I’m just going to talk about the amazing cake I made for the Sunday lunch (in my new fancy cooker).

I love a Victoria sponge but I don’t love double cream that much. Also not a huge fan of butter icing. I may be a little late to the party on this, but I’ve recently discovered the joy of throwing all the icing sugar at a tub of marscapone and adding some orange zest and juice to it and using that as a quick and dirty icing. It’s delicious and simple.

And because it’s Christmas, I’d bought a bag of fresh cranberries and was thinking about making cranberry sauce for gifting (if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen the kitchen clearout unearthed several hundred glass jars – hence the gifting).

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See? Crazy lady jar collection.

But then I had a brainwave. Why not make a cranberry cake? And then I had a second brainwave – why not make a cranberry jam to use in the aforementioned Victoria Sponge cake? So I did. And paired it with an orange marscapone.

My recipe for a sponge cake is well old fashioned but basically, weigh the eggs in their shells, then weigh out the same amount of butter, sugar and flour. And a pinch of salt. I’m a creamer (of butter and sugar) and then an adder but do what you feel best. I’ve just never been able to make the all in one method work for me.

The marscapone is done to taste (god, this is a rubbish recipe, huh?!) But basically, a tub of marscapone, the zest and juice of one orange and a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar – to taste. Mix it all up. Job done.

Now, here’s the cranberry jam recipe. I did it in American units, because I couldn’t be bothered to weight out the ingredients. Is that bad? It might be a bit. Oh well.

Cranberry, mint and ginger jam

  • 300g fresh cranberries – washed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • A handful of mint leaves
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root, grated finely
  • One stick cinnamon

Put the water, sugar and mint leaves into a saucepan and bring to the boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Leave to one side for 10 minutes, to let the mint seep in.

Remove the mint leaves and add the cranberries, ginger and cinnamon. Bring back to the boil and then simmer for 10-15 minutes stirring regularly. I’m sure there’s clever things you can do with checking temperatures and things – I didn’t. Cranberries thicken up as they cool so once you’re happy that the majority of the cranberries have popped, give it a quick stir. You want it thick but not jellified. Transfer to a clean bowl and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, make the marscapone as above, slice your cake in half and once the jam is cold, spread a layer of marscapone, followed by a few dollops of jam. Then repeat on the next layer (if you have two layers) or on the top (if you only have one middle cut.

Put some mint leaves on top if you’re that way inclined. Slice and enjoy.

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You can see a bit of my new dining room in the background. How awesome is that colour? 

 

What I think about when I think about being brown

I mentioned in my last post about how this referendum is making me feel like the country  I was born and brought up in doesn’t really want me here.

But that got me to thinking about all the brilliant things about being an immigrant (or child of) and I thought, hell, let’s write a list. Because I’m bloody pleased that I’m a child of immigrants, and I’m (often – not always) bloody proud to call myself British and here are some reasons why the combination of my two cultures is actually a really good thing.

Something to rebel against

I did not have a bad childhood. Far from it, I had a great childhood. But I can only say that now with the benefits of hindsight. Ooh, I was a nightmare child. I mean, probably no worse than most teenagers, but I always felt the need to push against my heritage by way of rebellion, from wearing Doc Martens with saris to becoming vegetarian just to be stubborn (I get that my people generally are vegetarian what with the holy cow and all but the first gen Lankan contingent were committed meat eaters so being a vegetarian did not make them think I was pious and worthy and instead, it simply highlighted my brattishness). Also, weird shit like dressing me up in a sari and inviting all the locals over to gawp at me when I started my period (not even lying – see photo below) didn’t help me feel like being an immigrant was something to enjoy. My white friends just got given a box of feminine hygiene products and left to get on with it – I had a priest, pouring milk over my head, then getting dressed up like a 10 year old child bride in a sari with (fake) diamonds dripping off me and all of the Lankans in the extended family come over to watch the spectacle of me bleeding. Where are they now, eh? Maybe I should revisit this fun time once a month – they can watch me yell at the husband, cry and binge watch TV whilst eating all the Minstrels, I’m sure I could do that in a sari too.

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So this is me, aged 10 with my ma and pa, on the day they dressed me up as a little bride to celebrate my monthly chum. I am not sure why I’m green, when my folks are definitely brown. Let’s go with embarrassment?

So yeah, whilst I love the mad insane lot of them, being a child of immigrants gave me something to rebel against that helped me develop my personality (I have maintained the brattish behaviour throughout my life) when actually, all things considered, I had a very lovely childhood (and I wish I’d appreciated it more then).

(Swearing in)many languages. 

My mum likes to tell a story about the time when I was in a Sri Lankan shop with her best mate who told me to put something down so I called her a litany of swearwords in Tamil. I was 35. Not really, I was like 10. Possibly not dressed like above (more likely to be in some sort of batwing and legwarmer – it was the 80s, after all. Admittedly I still love a batwing).

Oh, they laughed and were mortified all at the same time. Mortified because the only reason I’d know such filthy language was because my mum had used them on me in times of ultimate brattery. Your fault, mother. But in all honesty, more than swearing, I love the Tinglish of my people – you get them in a room and the words flow in all the languages and make a beautiful cacophony of sounds. It’s just great to be able to understand go to India or Sri Lanka or Wembley or Tooting and understand  people talking around you (not all the people, obviously, there’s a lot of languages there)

A naturally built in community

So I have many communities. Friends, colleagues, the people you see when you get the same train every day, I would say the gym/yoga/running club but that’d be a lie. But you get the drift. But what  I love/loathe more than anything is being able to spot a Sri Lankan Tamil at 100 paces. We have a ‘look’ you see. Depending on who I’m with (mostly my dad, really) you’ll then get the whole ‘which village are you from’ conversation – and invariably, you’ll find out that their mother’s second cousin, twice removed’s husband’s sister’s dog was walked by your cousin’s second wife’s sister’s neighbour. And you’ll be like, whoa, small world. But outside of those almost family members, there’s always all the actual aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins as well as the family by heritage (mum and dad’s friends mostly) who turn up to the opening of an envelope. They’re ace. Annoying as all sin, but ace to know they’re there. It’s difficult to be alone when you’ve got a whole race that could potentially have walked your grandparent’s dog (not a euphemism) back in the home lands.

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Some of my fam making merry and a couple pretending not to know us. We’re that cool.

F(orce)feed Me

I have no idea if this is because they didn’t have much back in the home country (I don’t know that this is true for I’ve been force fed there too), but fuck me, we love to feed people. I get anxious if someone just pops in for a visit if I don’t at least have a bag of Doritos to forcefeed down their throats. Honestly, there’s a generosity of feeding that I blame entirely for my inability to fit my fat ass into anything gorgeous and ethereal and elegant, and instead has given me the delightful dumpy figure I endure today. But in all seriousness, I love that I can pop in to my cousin’s to drop off a bowl and be there hours later, eating all the mutton rolls – it shows such generosity of spirit (and food) and makes you feel part of a family. It’s also considered rude to visit someone without eating something. Honestly, I’m just realising why I’m fat.

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Mutton rolls, fish patties. Actually licking the screen right now.

Saris and shalwars

So as I’ve mentioned (once or twice) I am short and rotund. It’s OK, one day I’ll come to terms with this. But the best thing about that is saris specifically are made for short rotund people like me – you get a blouse made to measure to your specific requirements and then acres of beautiful fabric, folded and draped over your womanly curves to make you look as though you have actual womanly curves rather than gigantic sofa cushions stuffed in clingfilm (thanks skinny jeans and lying magazines). Similarly – having a day where you just want to eat all the food and nap on the sofa – throw on a shalwar kameez. Drawstring pants and baggy tops can still look elegant if a cousin pops over to drop something off/get fed till they explode. And being a child of immigrants means that you’ve got all those outfit choices at the back of your wardrobe along with all the clothes of your adopted country too. It’s superficial, sure, but it makes me happy.

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See? Womanly curves, not lumpy lardy bits (sorry about insane face – whodathunk I was excited about getting hitched?)

 

The opportunities

I should probably say here that had I been born and brought up in Sri Lanka, I may be a step closer to the ‘castle/sprog/Indian version of Dior’ dream I had at 11. But having known my parents for like 40 years now, I don’t know that would be strictly true, but it might have been. I may have been less brattish after all. I grew up here, I got educated, I went to university, I lived on my own, I met my own husband (rather than one being chosen for me). I never felt like the world wasn’t mine for the taking – everything was available to me. Sure, I get that some people don’t have that, but going back to my first point, part of my rebellion was to ensure that I could go out and grab the world, and I never felt like I should be held back (and god help anyone who tried to).

 

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve realised that not much is simply down to the fact that my folks moved here in the 60s and are brown. These things: generosity of spirit, community, support, multiculturalism, saris; are there for the taking for anyone at all – we’re one big melting pot of cultures and classes and that’s a bloody brilliant thing in my book. But some people don’t like it. And that makes me sad. So my request for all my tens of followers is that you go out and learn something about your own culture or one you want to be part of and you’ll soon see, that we’re all more similar than you think.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

It’s been nearly six months since I blogged. Six months without my bon mots to get you through the dark winter nights and spring showers. How have you coped? Probably completely fine, I haven’t had anyone knocking down my door, begging for the latest installment in my little life.

It’s been a topsy turvy six months – I started a job,  I ended a job, I started another job, I’m soon to end another job. I am on the hunt for another job. We have an obnoxious tenant who we’re having to take legal action to evict. My cat still hates me. My dad was emergency hospitalised, he’s OK now, but that started January off on an extremely stressful note. So life has been stressful  (see job and tenant points above, I’m slowly coming to terms with the cat hatred) but not without some ups in amongst all the downs.

But the reason for my S&BB return is that I’ve realised I’ve been 40 for nearly six months now, and I’ve not had a complete breakdown. A round of applause for me. I’ve been wondering why my mid-life hasn’t involved a crisis (and when it does, I’d like to be in a position to afford a sports car please) though. I mean, I have the crippling pain of not one but two mortgages (thanks, obnoxious tenant), I have chosen poorly with my last two work contracts and thus need to look for another job to pay aforementioned crippling mortgages. I have a cat who hates me (OK, maybe I’m not as over this as I thought), I have a few marital woes, nothing major or that I can write about here (as it’s not just about me, you see – unlike everything else in the world). I have a sickly dad and he’s also old so there’s that constant spectre hanging over the door. What else?

I have been suffering with chronic eczema (due to work and life related stress and possibly because of the evil cat – I have a mild allergy, yet she still doesn’t find it in herself to love me – the bitch) for the last six months, leaving my back looking a little like a lizard. I have truly joined the realms of madness – I think I’m half lizard. Do cats like lizards? Maybe this is the reason for my cat hating me. I have yet to find a cure or anything to stop the incessant itching, despite giving up literally everything to see what is causing it – so I can only put it down to stress. Any cures/remedies – send them my way.

And the country is in the grip of a maddening referendum debate about the EU which has turned into crazy xenophobic scaremongering by the Leave campaign, which is making me feel like the country I was born and brought up in isn’t one that wants me in it. I mean who wouldn’t want an unemployed, scaly lizard person of the landlord classes being part of their country?

And 49 people got killed for their sexuality in Orlando. And an MP got shot for doing her job by someone who believes in Britain for the British (and his interpretation of British does not include the likes of me.) Jo Cox was a 41 year old woman who has done more with those additional 12 months that I have done in my 40 years on the planet. And that brought me right here to talk about my 40 something non-crisis.

From all the tributes, she seemed like an amazing woman – there has not been one negative word said about her, in any of the obits I’ve read. She was determined, committed, compassionate, kind, caring – she just gave of herself to make the world a better place.

And that got me to thinking about where I expected to be at 40 when I was 15. I mean 40 at 15 was a lifetime away. And at 11, I fully expected to be married and living in a castle with 450 screaming brats being looked after by their nannies, whilst I travelled the world and wore Dior and had a matching set of Globetrotter luggage. And none of those things have happened (and Dior doesn’t make clothes for people who have asses the size of mine).

The 25 years since 15 have been filled with a lot like meeting the man I fully intend to spend the rest of my life with (and several ‘frogs’ before him), buying two houses, travelling, building my career (to the heady heights of nearly unemployment now – woo!) and just generally meeting wonderful people who I am honoured and #blessed to call family. Or framily if you want to use a really ugly word. And my actual family – being the world’s best aunty ever takes a lot of work, but that’s work that I really don’t mind doing. Whilst the numbers may have gone up and down over the last 25 years, there are people I value more than life itself amongst my family and framily.

But what else have I actually achieved? That’s the sum total of my 40-something crisis, I think. I’d like to think I’d done good things but the reality is that I haven’t done bad rather than actively doing good. And I don’t really think I’ve ever had proper ‘goals’ (apart from castle, sprogs, Dior). So maybe that’s what I need to do, set myself some goals that’ll help the world be a better place and by doing so, I’ll finally achieve some actual good and go into the next decade with a 50-something crisis that involves more than still wishing that I had a set of Globetrotter suitcases.

The sum total of this post is, I want to do good things and whilst I’m not unhappy with my little life (in fact, I’d say I’m actively contented), I want to be able to do more with it. So watch this space, a change is coming. But not until I’ve caught up on the latest episodes of whatever’s on Netflix to binge on. Change takes time, right?

PS for want of better images, I’m using pics from recent holidays as I find holidays inspiring.

And we’re done for the year

And so it’s farewell to yet another year. Compared to the crazy body punching blows of 2014 that left me broken in several small pieces and on a granola obsession, this year has been much more stable, with a few gigantic waves thrown in to keep me on my toes. Or to knock me onto my substantial big brown ass but not enough to break me. Thank GOODNESS for that.

I started this year very unemployed and on the hunt for a job and in April, I won a competitive pitch against 20 agencies/freelancers for a project which was a great confidence boost. But that was only a few days work over a few months so I also had the opportunity to work with some super clever agencies and individuals who made me fall in love with PR again (well, a bit, I’m far too cynical to drink the KoolAid and completely lose my mind!) I’m ending this year working with a fantastic team on a longer term project so that’ll hopefully keep the wolves from the door and get me back on a much more even work-life keel. (Sorry about all the maritime analogies, I think I want to be on a beach).

Speaking of beaches, I started the year, in the midst of my unemployment, in Goa with my darling wino (because there ain’t nuffink like celebrating unemployment with a huge holiday) and then over the next 12 months, we also went to Istanbul, Berlin and had a big gay weekend in Suffolk. All told, a much smaller year of travel than previous ones, but I blame that on my work shy foppishness. Goa was incredible, met some wonderful new friends, explored a beautiful part of the world and now I’m wondering where I can go in 2016. I want to end the year in Australia but I can definitely feel a weekend in New York to catch up with my buddies on the cards and possibly somewhere a bit Scandi.  But that sounds a bit like a resolution and I’m loathe to set myself up for failure before the year’s even started.

Sunset at Mandrem

We also contemplated becoming supperclubbers in 2015 but trying to hold down a 9-5 and then cooking for 15-20 people on a regular basis sent me into freefall a bit so we had one awesome trial run with friends and family and then just carried on as normal.  Maybe we’ll do it again in 2016? I’ve been told that we’re hosting the family for Christmas next year (which is possibly about 30 people) so that may inspire me to finally get the kitchen updated. Doubt it though, I’m quite lazy and scared of commitment (and also, we may run away to Oz so we don’t have to do it…)

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We’ve had an interesting year with our cat, Doris. She was bullied by another cat who was sneaking in the catflap and eating her food so decided to let us know about her unhappiness by peeing on our bed. Delightful. Put an end to that madness through lots of loving but she’s ended the year pooping in the lounge. Not sure what’s wrong with her, think she’s just insane but that was definitely one present I didn’t want to find under the tree.

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Before she started to leave us poopy presents all over the house

The wino has continued to put up with my madness as well as mad times at his business but that’s his story to tell so I’ll not go into details. He’s a good, if annoying, man who I wouldn’t replace for all the tea in China. Possibly for all the chocolate in the world but not tea.

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I turned 40 too this year, which I celebrated over three weeks and loved every minute of it, so much that I may be 40 again next year – gird your livers, chums.

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And on top of all that, I went to a gin festival, I ate at some incredible restaurants, I spent a lot of QT with gorgeous people who inspire me and make me laugh till I want to pee (I am 40 after all), I baked a LOT and this year was just lovely. Apart from the four failed Amazon deliveries that have made me realise that Amazon Prime is not worth the money it costs and that their drivers are more than a little bit racist. But that’s a conversation to have with their press office rather than bitching here – unless I don’t hear back from them, in which case, bring on the bitching.

So onto 2016 – I’m in employment, I have a roof over my head, I have more shoes than a girl could ever possibly need and a lovely man by my side. If 2015 was about getting back together (after 2014 decided to break me down), I think 2016 is about bringing joy back. Which mostly means spending time with those reprobates who are my dearest framily, experiencing new places and eating lots of food. Those aren’t resolutions by the way, that’s just good sense. Oh, and I’ve got a flying lesson and a Segway experience and a cake decorating class to do that I’m hugely excited about (god bless birthday present experiences!) Thanks to those of you who have listened to my ramblings over the last 12 months, I may post more regularly over the next 12 but don’t hold me to it, I’d hate to let you down. Here’s to a 2016 that’s filled with joy for all of you too.

 

 

Recapping November… and Monkey(bread)ing around

Blimey, what a month. As I mentioned, briefly, in passing (ALL THE TIME) I turned 40 in November and as that’s apparently quite the milestone, I decided to drag out the celebrations for the better part of the month.

The actual day, my wino and I went to breakfast at the Delaunay (amazing), saw Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy which moved me to tears in parts, utterly emotional and beautiful and then had a mildly crappy afternoon tea because we’re old and needed a sugar hit. And then dinner with my family that evening which was also simply super (although mediocre food, didn’t expect much more from the local curry house).

My birthday gift from the husband was a trip to Berlin so we went the following weekend and stuffed our faces with German cakes and weinerschnitzel and saurkraut and stuff. Had the best time at the Photography Museum at the Frank Horvat exhib, love his stuff and went to a few other galleries and mostly just pootled around the city really. Don’t go to the zoo, it’s absolutely horrible and I totally cried at the sad lions and camels. Tinged a little bit with sadness – an old friend moved there  a few years ago and I was hoping to catch up with him and his partner but wasn’t to be the case as his partner sadly lost his battle with cancer the week before we arrived. Nic’s been bravely and beautifully blogging at his struggles with dealing with his loss here – please go read it, it’s an honest, heart wrenching and sad read (love you Nic).

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Then back to London town, to start a new job (which is awesome and huge and I think may keep me away from blogging for a bit just whilst I get my head into it) and to celebrate with a bunch of my very best family and friends.

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We’d booked out lunch at one of our favourite restaurants in Queen’s Park – the lovely Caldo. It’s a tapas place and wine bar (and my husband does some of the list so he knows them well). Sorted out a set menu and awaited the hoards to arrive – and boy did they. There were friends from all aspects of my life – school, university, work, drinking in bars, family friends, family members, all told I haven’t felt so loved since probably my wedding day. I always think it’s amazing that some of those people have been in my life for the whole of it, the experiences we’ve shared together could fill books.  It was a lovely day, there were shots done, a cake by a baker (Fondant Fox) whose creations I’d been drooling over on Instagram for a while and whilst her cakes clearly look amazing, they also TASTE amazing, which is possibly the most important thing. And then there was the afterparty. And from that I don’t remember much, but I do know that my fridge was stuffed full of fizz, a tequila station was set up in the kitchen and I had enough Doritos to feed 500 peple before we went to lunch but the next morning the fridge was empty and there were Doritos all over the floor. Lord knows what happened to the tequila. Never saw the bottle again, think it ran away. Took me the better part of a week to recover – won’t be doing that again for a while… Although I tried, the following weekend when my GBFF treated me to an amazing Twin Peaks themed dinner/immersive theatre thing (which I’ll blog separately), I had to follow a bus and a Spice Girl around in a pee yellow car for a day and I have been hanging out with X Factor stars. All told, November has been quite spectacularly full on and, frankly, awesome.

Last weekend was the first weekend we’d had at home since October and the last till Christmas so I decided to get baking – and I’ve been wanting to make Monkeybread for quite some time. For those of you who don’t know, Monkeybread is (probably) an American thing, it’s effectively enriched, sweet dough balls, rolled in cinnamon, sugar and butter and baked. What on earth about that is not to like? I’ve been avoiding my bundt tin since last Christmas when I didn’t grease it enough and an impressive cake I should have made (spiced cranberry) got stuck in it so I had to slice it to take to a party. Not ideal. So I decided to bundt the shit out of my monkeybread to break the fear. And I’m glad I did. It looked GREAT and tasted even better.

Couple of changes I made to the recipe. I have a sweet tooth but I don’t think it compares to most American recipes I’ve seen – sometimes even I get unnerved by the levels of sweetness in a recipe. So I decided to use a traditional white bread dough to make the monkeybread and hope that the sweetness of the cinnamon, sugar, butter would be enough – and it most definitely was. If you do want to go all out, a brioche style bread would probably work quite well – I had no milk in the house so couldn’t do that. Next time, I’m going to experiment with savoury flavours -I think herbed bread and cheese would be amazing. But here’s my recipe, enjoy!

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Monkeybread 

For the dough:

  • 400g strong white bread flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1 tsp fast acting yeast
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 300ml warm water
  • Oil for kneading

For the cinnamon sugar

  • 100g butter melted and slightly cooled
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • Pinch of salt

Put the flour into a bowl and add the salt and yeast, making sure these two ingredients don’t touch. Add the warm water and bring the dough together to a sticky shaggy mess. Scrape any dough from your fingers and then cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 30 mins. After that time, turn the dough onto a lightly oiled and dusted board, and knead. Use whatever method you’re most comfortable with – I use Dan Lepard’s, it’s easy to follow and usually comes out with a great bread. Knead for about 5 mins, return to the bowl, leave covered for 15 mins, then repeat this process twice more.

After the last knead, put the oven on a low-medium heat (around gas mark 4 or 170C) to preheat and make your cinnamon sugar – simply mix the sugar and spices and salt together in a bowl. Grease a 25cm bundt tin.

Turn the dough out onto a board and start rolling small dough balls – you want to get at least 30 small balls (golf ball sized). Dip and roll each ball into the melted butter and then dust them in the bowl of spiced sugar and then placed them into the bundt tin. 30 balls comes up about half way up the tin – don’t worry about this, once all the sugar coated balls are in you need to leave it for its final prove so it’ll fill up.

The final prove takes around 30-45 mins (the doughballs should spring back when you poke them!), then put the tin into the oven to bake for one  hour.

Let the monkeybread cool in the tin for 15 mins, then turn it onto a serving platter and give the base of the tin a good whack, it’ll release and leave it ready for serving. It’s a lovely indulgent breakfast cake but equally good when still warm with ice cream. Enjoy!

 

 

Cheese and Jam Pizza – weird but so good…

Soft cheese, hard cheese, crumbly cheese, melty cheese, processed cheese (honestly, I’m not even joking about my love of Dairylea – it is one of the few constants in my fridge for comfort eating days) – I love me some cheese. So when the team at Castello asked me if I wanted to try a new cheese, I may have actually punched the air with joy before calmly saying, oh, sure. OK, if I must. I have uber cool appearances to keep up, you see.

The cheese is the story so here’s a little bumpf from the press release.

“Castello is bringing Aged Havarti to the UK following strong demand from cheese lovers…. With buttery caramel flavours, Castello Aged Havarti is base on an authentic Danish recipe dating back to 1952 and matured for 12 months for a richer taste experience.”

Sounds delicious (although would be interested in learning how strong the strong demand was – given I work in PR, I spot a stat fudge when I see one!) The challenge set by the team was to create a pizza using this cheese – they’re working with the super talented Trine Hahnemann to develop recipes for it and provided one she’d created using quite Scandi flavours. They’d also put some stuff in about smorging but by this point I decided all I wanted to do was cut the cheese (ha ha ha) and eat the cheese.

The second food confession I need to make is my love of pizza. Honestly. it would probably be my death row meal (washed down with a side of KFC and my mum’s chicken curry). I love pizza. I have been known to have pizza at lunchtime and pizza for dinner (earning me the not so interesting but factually correct nickname, Vinnie-two-pizza – thanks Sarah!) I have made pizza at home before but usually I order in and when I say usually, I try to limit it to only when I’m hugely hungover, there’s no bread in the house and I want chicken wings. I know, I’m filth.

But now I’m approaching (two days to go) 40, I figured I need to stop spending my money on Papa John and start making pizzas for myself. It feels like something a proper grown up would do, and I figure that grown up malarkey is going to kick in on Monday and I’ll start wearing power suits and reading the FT.

So with my niece and nephew hanging out with me over half term and with a pizza stone provided by Castello, we decided to make five pizzas. One for each of us and one dessert pizza. Here’s a selection of toppings from our savoury pizza day. We ate a LOT of pizza.IMAG3409

You know how a good cheeseboard will feature fruit? Usually figs or apricots or grapes. After I’d tried the Havarti, I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind to make a herby, spicy jam (and definitely a jam, not a chutney) to use instead of a tomato sauce and with the cheese on top. And it worked really well – just that right combination of salt and sweet and the thyme and fennel brought the whole thing together. I’ve been fascinated by the combination of cheese and jam since we ordered scones in Cape Town and they provided a side of grated cheese and strawberry jam and it worked really (if weirdly) well. So here’s my take on a Cape Town classic, using lovely Havarti Aged Cheese.

(If you couldn’t already tell, this is a sponsored post but all opinions are my own. They haven’t made me lie about cheese, I love cheese.)

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Roasted plum, thyme and fennel jam

  • 12 plums, halved
  • 1.5 cups of golden caster sugar
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme, cut into smaller pieces
  • 2 tsps fennel seeds
  • 1.5 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1.75 cups of water

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6. Place plum halves skinside down into a roasting tin – as you’ll see from the pic above, I didn’t bother to try and get out the pits, they come out easily after they’ve been baked.

Sprinkle over half a cup of sugar and the fennel seeds and place the thyme sprigs around the plums in the roasting tin.

Roast for approximately 25 mins until the tops are golden and the sugar is melted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool until you can handle them.

Remove and discard the pits. Scoop the flesh from the skins and put into a bowl. Put the skins and herbs and any juice from the roasting tin into a saucepan, add the lemon zest and juice. Taste at this stage to see if it’s got the right level of thyme/fennel for you and if not, add more – I put three more sprigs into the pan. Add 1/4 cup of water and bring to the boil over a low heat – you want to release the additional roasted flavours from the skins. Once the liquid has reduced by half, remove from the heat and strain. Add the liquid to the reserved plum flesh, along with the remaining sugar (1 cup) and water (1.5 cups), transfer to a saucepan and bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer until you get the consistency you want (check by doing the line test – drop a blob of jam onto a freezer cold plate and then drag the back of a spoon through it – if the line holds, your jam is set).

Put the jam into a sterilised jar – it should keep for a few weeks in the fridge.

Plum jam and Castello Aged Havarti Cheese pizza

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I used the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s pizza dough recipe which worked REALLY well and will become my go-to. You can find it by clicking on the link.

To make a jammy cheesy pizza, simply heat up your pizza stone (or baking tin) in the oven at the highest temperature, roll out your dough, transfer it to a baking sheet with no edges that has a light sprinkling of semolina on it (this’ll help it to slide off the tin and onto the stone in the oven). Smear 2-3 heaped tablespoons of jam over the base (as you would with tomato sauce). Sprinkle a tsp more fennel seeds and a a similar amount of thyme and then top with Castello Aged Havarti – we used a good 150g, because I love cheese (have I mentioned that before?). Transfer to the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes – the cheese cooks a lot faster than mozzarella and you may burn the jam if you leave it any longer. Allow to cool before eating. I had mine with Green and Black’s chocolate ice cream which may have taken the weird food couplings a smidge too far but wasn’t bad. Maybe a dollop of cream or creme fraiche would have worked better? Regardless, utterly delicious and definitely something I’ll be doing again. Thanks Castello!

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So this is (not quite) 40…

I think I’ve done spectacularly well at not falling apart at the approach of 40 but it is now just a week away and I’m starting to panic. I really do feel I should have some sort of pre-40 bucket list but with only a week to go so it’s unlikely that I’m going to find myself in Fiji and snorkelling with dolphins or skydiving in Outer Mongolia. And to be honest, as a terrible swimmer and with a pathological inability to do anything that’s even a little bit risky, those things wouldn’t be going on my bucket list anyway. Going to Fiji and sitting on a beach – that one’s definitely on the list.

It does however seem appropriate to mark this birthday as it’s a milestone, even if I did celebrate it two years ago (thanks Nat!) These are all things about me (weird huh?) but obviously, things like spending time with friends, family, loved ones feature high on this list. But that’s not a pre-40 thing, that’s a thing I will do for the rest of my days.

Decorate a cake well. I love to bake, you may have noticed. But I cannot decorate a cake for love nor money. I don’t have the patience or the skill. But, you know what, I am going to do it, goddamnit and it’s going to look amazing. I’d love to hear your tips for doing this, other than practice practice practice.  I’m looking for cheats.

This cake is by the incredible www.fondantfox.com who make stunning cakes. I would like to make something that looked half as good as this.
This cake is by the incredible http://www.fondantfox.com who make stunning cakes. I would like to make something that looked half as good as this.

Use my morning hours. I wake early, it is my superpower. But I often wake early and then do nothing till the wino wakes up so I’m going to take up something which makes use of the hours that I’m awake. Maybe decorating cakes. But more likely to do <gasp> sport of some variety.

Stop looking like a reject from a 1990s boyband. I have been sporting an asymmetric hair do for a few months now, it’s one of my go-to dos when I’m feeling blue (poetry, right there) But I’m also rubbish at hair maintenance and so as the do grows out (it’s quite short), it starts to look more and more like I am stuck in 1994 and a boy. It is not a good look. So I am off to see the lovely Tom and get him to reinvigorate my hair into something that isn’t ridiculous. And whilst I’m there, I’m probably going to get it coloured, for shits and giggles. Because why not.

Picture this do on a brown lady. That's me right now.
Picture this lovely Ryan Gosling do on a brown lady with black hair. That’s me right now.

Spend more time with my Nikon DSLR and its many lenses. God, I love my Nikon. But I seem to only take my Nikon on lovely holidays with me and never hang out in London town with it. So I’m going to go and practice what I learned two years ago on the amazing London Photography School course I did and make a pact with myself to use it much more regularly. Which may also involve buying a handbag that looks good and can fit all its many lenses. Anything for a new handbag.

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Start plotting out my novel. We all want to write one, right? I have always wanted to write one anyway. So that’s on the list for the next few weeks, get a start on it and then aim to finish it before my 50th birthday bucket list kicks in.

Get a birthday book thingie. I am literally the most terrible person for forgetting birthdays and god bless Facebook for the reminders, but I think I’m now of an age when I should be posting cards to people I don’t see, not posting inane messages on their virtual walls. To be fair, this is just a life thing rather than a pre-40 thing but let’s see if I can be a proper grown up before I hit 40. That’d be a rare treat.

Any other suggestions for what I can achieve in the next few weeks? The only pre-requisites are not life threatening nor expensive and that’ll make me feel as though I’ve achieved something! Woo!

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Story telling, bad dancing, much eating.