Tag Archives: birthday

A love letter to my new kitchen…

About four years ago (on Valentine’s Day no less) my husband and I moved into a house. It was the first property we’d owned together so all exciting and shiny and new. Ish. See, my folks had lived here before us, so whilst it isn’t my childhood home, I’d spent a lot of time here in the previous 15 years so wanted to change some things that I had never liked.

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We got over excited and didn’t take a photo before we ripped out the cupboards, but there were cupboards all along that back wall. Beige cupboards. Yummy.

One of those things was the kitchen/dining room. The people who’d owned the property previous to my parents had built an extension onto the side of the house, leading directly from the kitchen and linking it to the garden and garage. However, they hadn’t knocked the wall through, which I’d always wanted to do (they did put in a  very 1970s hatch though, because why not?) Anyway, we moved in, we got quotes done for the work, we realised we couldn’t afford it (knocking walls through is EXPENSIVE) so we have just lived with it. And it’s fine. But we both love cooking and entertaining and the dining room was not conducive to doing those things. In fact, last Christmas we had friends over who hadn’t visited the house before and one comment involved the fact that it was the biggest laundry room ever (it really was, we’d only ever use it for laundry and leave clothes piling up for weeks… possibly because we’re generally quite lazy but if you’re not really using a room, it just becomes a dumping ground). On top of that, we’ve been using the cooker my parents bought, probably a decade ago. It’s a gas oven and hob. It was shit brown. All the numbers had worn off. The ignition button didn’t work. It was a nightmare and what I haven’t yet mentioned is we have 16 coming to us for Christmas Day.

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horrible old brown cooker.

Fast forward a few months and we’re talking about what I want for my birthday. And I say to Marcel, I want to redo the dining room so it becomes a space we can actually use and I want a new cooker. Now, what I haven’t mentioned is my husband is quite the brilliant amateur at doing DIY shit. I mean, I can hammer a nail into a wall with the best of them, but he’s the kind that’ll measure, and make equations and formulas and drill and rawlplug (or wallplug? I never know) and get the right length screw and hang a painting. So we get to work ordering shit from Screwfix and a kitchen counter company and spend ALL THE TIME at B&Q and then we spend a week doing lots of stuff with rulers and saws and drills and awls. I have no idea what an awl is, apparently it’s Marcel’s favourite tool.

And as of yesterday, the space is almost done. And it’s incredible. So here are some of my favourite bits.

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ta DAAAAAAAAH

We spent a long time talking about shelving. I wanted wall to wall shelving. Now, sometimes I say things like this but kinda just mean like something that looks like wall to wall shelving, even if it is four shelves put end to end to look like one long shelf. But here’s where the wino’s brilliance comes in. He knows of a kitchen counter company that he’s used to make desks before. So he orders in kitchen counters. Lots and lots of kitchen counters. You’ll know, of course, that kitchen counters are a standard width. You didn’t? Wow, embarrassing for you (jokes, I didn’t either). That width was too wide for the shelving we wanted. So we borrowed a circular saw from the neighbour (thanks!) and sliced them lengthways down the middle. And look, wall to wall shelves (and a box to house the washing machine and tumble dryer – clever).

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You may or may not know, I have a tendency towards the dramatic. And I wanted a dramatic wall. So I got to choose the paints, all by myself. And whilst I wanted the glitter addition, I reminded myself I wasn’t 6, so just went for the solid dark, dramatic midnight blue. Yes, it looks black in some pics, but it isn’t, it’s blue. The other walls are in a very bluey light grey so doesn’t feel too much like you’re dining in a box. Also, if you’re going to paint a very dark colour, make sure you don’t decide after you’ve put the first coat on that you can’t live with some tiles you thought you could live with. It makes for a not fun second day of removing tiles and repainting the entire wall.

As I mentioned, I wanted a new cooker – so I got one for myself. A De Longhi range cooker no less. Admittedly, I’m still not used to the size of it, so I only cook on one of the rings, but I’m trying.

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What I hadn’t realised is that lovely wino of mine had also bought enough kitchen counters to replace our other kitchen counters. So we pulled out some cupboards (one gigantic one that made the whole space look really dark), used some of the cupboards from the dining room to replace those, added about another foot of surface to our kitchen countertops and threw in some more shelves for shits and giggles.

And then there’s the light. Oh god, I love that light. I must have seen the light (not like that, fools) in some coffee shop somewhere and it had stuck with me, so I ordered one from eBay. And it was surprisingly inexpensive. Until you buy the Edison bulbs. Then it’s ridiculous. But so dramatic and really warms up the space.

There’s still some snagging to be done (there’s a wire that we’re not sure what to do with), we should probably replace the flooring (I’m trying to convince the wino that a concrete floor will be lovely and modern, he just says ‘COLD’ and walks off. He may be on to something), we need new window dressing (multi shades of green Venetian blinds aren’t really working for me) and I can’t work out how best to display the cook books on the top shelf. Oh, and I am soon to come into my own with a hammer and nails and pictures in frames. But frankly, given how it looked a mere month ago, I love it and I love my wino for being so bloody useful and doing it for me. I’m more than happy to pimp him out, if you need any DIY done.  He’s dead good.

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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!

 

 

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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Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes (for the best 6 year old ever)

It was my beautiful nephew’s birthday last week – he turned six. He’s always been utterly awesome, very funny, a bit cheeky, loves trains, planes and automobiles. In fact, when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he said an iPhone6 or a Lamborghini. I did not get him either of those things, heck if I could afford a new car, I’d be getting one for me not for him. However, I did amuse myself by buying him a wind up car from Tiger and scribbling out its name and writing in Lamborghini. I am a comedy genius.

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Anyway, as per Rixy’s birthday where I made all the red velvet cupcakes in the world, my sister asked if I could make some cupcakes for his birthday. When I asked Praveen what type of cupcakes he wanted, he said chocolate brownies and chocolate chips and chocolate chocolate. So I made carrot cakes. Not really. Obviously. My sister had ordered some Star Wars themed cake toppers so we put those on top.

I had the day off on Friday and my dear friend Clare came over to help me make cupcakes. To be fair, she came round on the promise of wine, but we also managed to make 24 cupcakes and decorate them, before we got too tipsy. And then we got really drunk and found ourselves talking to strangers with lovely dogs in the street and doing jigsaws and all sorts (admittedly, very suburban middle aged all sorts but still, fun was had)

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Here’s the recipe. We screwed up the icing a little by putting in the cream whilst the chocolate was still hot so if you’re using this recipe, let the chocolate cool a bit. Or cook the chocolate and the cream together, I think that may be the best option.

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Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes (this recipe makes 14, I reckon…) 

  • 200g butter
  • 200g light muscovado
  • 200g 70% chocolate
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 100g chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 4 and line a muffin tin with cases.

Melt together the sugar, chocolate and butter, once smooth and glossy, set aside to cool. Beat together the eggs, salt and vanilla extract.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Once the chocolate mix has cooled, beat in the eggs and then pour the mix over the flour, stirring constantly. Once all the flour is incorporated, add the milk chocolate chips and beat in.

Spoon into the muffin cases until 3/4 full and then place into the oven for 20-25 minutes. Test with a skewer, and by bounce – don’t forget, the chocolate chips will be melty so don’t overcook your cakes if your skewer doesn’t come out clean.

Leave aside to cool whilst you make your icing.

Melt 200g plain chocolate (70%) with 100ml double cream using a bain marie. Once all melted, take off the heat and add 50g sifted icing sugar. Beat till it’s all incorporated, then spread over the top of each cupcake.

Put on your toppers and serve. Delicious.

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Clare was very proud of her ROYGBIV cupcake case placement, so I had to share at least one photo of them empty.







Chocolate Orange brownie cake (or a baked poop?? You decide)

My father in law turned 70 this weekend so we’ve been celebrating with the family a lot over the last few days. He had quite a traumatic injury last spring involving his bike, his leg and a truck so it’s been a hell of a year for him and was good to be able to spend time with him and see how he’s recovering.

Birthday boy

We went to a lovely party with his friends on the Sunday, where his long term partner who is an amazing cook, put on a spread that included no less than two pies, a deboned, stuffed chicken, about 43 salads and beautiful home baked bread, followed by an incredible four desserts – my favourite was the chocolate Amaretto cherry tart, the husband could have happily drowned himself in the St Clements trifle. Yums.

Cherry chocolate amaretto tart and baked cheesecake

On Monday, my sister in law hosted a gathering just for the immediate family and she asked me to make a cake. I was more than happy to oblige and decided to make a orange chocolate brownie cake, with a little dusting of orange flavoured icing sugar on top. How difficult could this be? I can bake brownies, as my slutty brownies post (hopefully) proved.

Lordy, everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong and I ended up with a cake that looked like this.

Oh dear

Yup, a gigantic baked cow pat. Or, as I fondly referred to it, a turd cake.

Clearly, a dusting of icing sugar, orange flavoured or not, wasn’t going to polish this turd so I ended up making an orange butter cream icing instead which I think made the whole thing a little too sweet but it looked so much better. And they all seemed to like it and the brownie bit actually tasted fine so this is why I’m putting the recipe below. Maybe you’ll have more luck with it, I think I was just having an off day. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

Chocolate Orange Brownie cake with orange buttercream icing

So much better

Brownie Cake Ingredients

  • 175g butter
  • 175g dark chocolate (at least 70%) + an additional 100g all chopped into chunks
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 70g plain flour
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • Zest of two oranges

Method

  • Preheat oven to gas mark 4
  • Grease and line a 20cm cake tin, ideally with a loose bottom or springform to make it easy to remove the cake
  • Melt together the butter, 175g of chocolate, sugar and orange zest over a very low heat until it has all combined and you can’t feel any grains of sugar.
  • Add a pinch of salt and leave to cool a little – use this time to whip your egg whites into soft peaks
  • Once the butter/choc/sugar mix has cooled a little, whisk in the egg yolks and the remaining 100g of chocolate
  • Gently fold in the flour until all combined then fold in the egg whites, taking care not to lose any of the air in them
  • Spoon batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until the top bounces back when you touch it
  • Leave to cool

A note here – when I started mixing the flour into the batter, I noticed that there was a layer of oil that just wouldn’t combine with anything. Didn’t want to put too much flour into the mix but did probably add an extra 10g or so – it didn’t help, I believe this was the start of my turd cake problems. Because of this the egg whites didn’t fold in correctly causing the “natural” pattern as seen on the cake above. 

Whilst the cake cools, prepare the icing.

I had already put aside 200g of icing sugar with the zest of two oranges to give it that orangey flavour but if you don’t have that, it’s just as easy to add the zest to the butter to make orange butter cream

Orange buttercream icing

  • 100g butter softened
  • 150g icing sugar
  • Zest of two oranges
  • 3-4 tbsps of orange juice

Method

  • Beat the butter till it’s light and fluffy – much easier to use an electric or stand mixer for this
  • Add the orange zest and icing sugar and combine
  • Slowly add the orange juice a spoonful at a time until you have a consistency you’re happy with

If you’re better at icing than me, this may look good piped – at this point I was running out of time and flustered at the state of the cake so I simply used the dump and spread method.

Despite appearances, this cake tasted much better than I thought it would so do give it a go – and if you’re cleverer than me, please explain why it looked like a poop? Thanks awfully!