Friday, 26 July 2013

Confessions of a Bookworm

I have a confession to make... albeit a strange one but, a confession nonetheless.

I have never read a chick lit novel before. Not one. Never. Nope!

Now don't get me wrong, I like to think of myself as quite bookish. So much so that the bookshelf in our living room is now groaning under the strain, and myself and the Mr are having to seek other storage solutions for our ever growing stack of reads which seem to spill around the house.
But yes, I have never read a 'chick lit' novel. Not even a saucy Danielle Steel on a girls holiday, or a Christmassy Trisha Ashley when the nights start drawing in.
My daily reads, comfort reads, and foodie reads.

I was the kind of child brought up on Roald Dahl, EB White, JK Rowling and Louisa May Alcott. Classics, if you ask me!
And then, as I grew older, I branched out into Jacqueline Wilson and Jane Austen.
I guess you could say, my reading options were safe bets. I tend to go for the kind of stuff that I know I will like, such as, the book of a favourite film. Which is how I discovered Joanne Harris and Kathryn Stockett. Or the memoirs of a favourite chef a la Nigel Slater's Toast, and Eating for England. Or close likenesses to things I have already read i.e. PD James writing in the style of Jane Austen in “Death comes to Pemberley” or Peter Mayle, and his descriptions of life in Provence transport me to a world of boules, and pastis just like Joanne Harris can do.

I guess I'm also a bit tight with my money too. I don't like forking out money for a book I'm not so sure on. If someone (usually my mum) hands me a book and says, “You HAVE to read this! You'll love it” I usually look at them through sceptical eyes, and think “Pfft! How do you know?”

My little stack for the summer.

However, on a recent browse around the local charity shops I came across two titles which had been sticking in my mind, ever since I saw them popping up various Instagram feeds over the past few months. The first being “Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe” by Jenny Colgan, and the second “Brown Owls Guide to Life” by Kate Harrison. And at £1.50 each, how could I refuse. As a result I've decided to start my summer reading list. Somewhat a little late but, atleast I'm making the effort, hey? To go with the first two novels, I will also be attempting the romantic gettaway that is “The Villa” by Rosanna Ley and also, another foodie novel thrown in for good measure called “Summer School” by Domenica de Rosa.

Cake and books? What more do you want?!  

And so, to kick off my summer of reading and discovering chick-lit, I think I shall start with “Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe”. This could be fatal. Even from reading the blurb, I don't think it will do anything to help dampen my dream of, one day, owning my own bakery.
I'll see you on the other side folks.

Now, if anyone has got any other recommendations for nice fluffy chick-lit for novices then please, send them my way.  

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

My Day in Cuppas

I've recently been inspired by two of my favourite online reads. The first being the lovely Miss Charlotte of The Tea Drinking English Rose, the second being Simple Things Magazine, online blog. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I could harp on about the benefits of a good cup of tea for hours. I often like to get on my soap box, and preach the history and wonders of the Tea industry but, I shall save particular that personality trait for another time.
I will however, share with you “ My Day in Cuppas” as I like to call it. And let you in on a few of my rituals with mug in hand. Enjoy!
 French press coffee with Banana cinnamon porridge.

Which is your favourite mug?
I've actually got quite a few favourite mugs. The mug or cup I choose depends massively on what kind of mood I'm in. If I'm having a lazy morning, then it's usually a cup and saucer. Around lunch time I'll have a hefty earthenware mug, and then in the evening, I go for something a bit smaller and daintier, so I'm not up in the night rushing to the loo. (Too much info?) But if I had to choose an all time favourite, I think it would be my Emma Bridgewater hearts mug. It's very girlie but still holds a 'man-sized' amount of tea, as my Mr would say.

Who are your favourite people to share tea with?
It's only now that I've realised just how many people I like drinking tea with. The girls in the office at work, first thing in the morning. My Mum and Dad, with the table laid 'for tea', putting the world to right. My best friend, sat at his kitchen table with the dog on my lap having a good ole catch-up. And who can forget my Mr, snuggled up on the sofa, debating the latest controversies of the Tour de France highlights.

Oat & Raisin cookies, and my little Polish mug.

Can you remember your first time you ever tried tea?
I can't remember an exact time. I think it was when I was about 7 years old. I had to learn to make a cup of tea and produce a batch of fairy cakes for my Brownie Hostess Badge. I can remember I left it to go practically stone cold before I would drink it, because I tried taking a sip fresh from the boil and nearly burnt the skin off the roof of my mouth. Ever since, I've always left my tea atleast 10 mins before attemping to take the first sip.

How many cups of tea do you drink a day?
About 4 or 5. Two in the morning, one around lunchtime, one for an afternoon pick me up, and one in the evening to help switch my brain off before bedtime.

A stack of biscuits, and my favourite retro sugar shaker.

When is your first tea break?
Usually Elevenses. I'll have my first cup of tea of the day (I always have coffee first thing, Oops) and flick the telly on for half an hour to take a break from my morning 'To-Do List'. If I'm feeling a bit peckish, I'll have a biscuit to go with it too. This usually helps suppress my hunger until around lunchtime.

Which is your favourite cuppa of the day?
Definitely in the evening. By this point, I'm about ready for bed. I'll put my pj's on while the Mr boils the kettle, then join him on the sofa to watch something mindless like QI, or an old episode of Friends before heading off to the land of nod. It's our quiet time. The time when I stop answering my phone, switch of all social networking and begin to unwind.

Pottering about in the garden. Picking Geranium petals out of my Rosemary plant.

Cake or biscuits? And, are you a dunker?
It has to be cake! I do love a biscuit or two but, for me the ceremony of making a cup of tea must be accompanied by a wedge of cake you can eat with your fingers, or something slightly dainty that requires a fork. I love food, and often find that mealtimes go past in the blink of an eye, so anything we can do to make mealtimes, or teatimes go that little bit slower, should definitely be cherished.
As for dunking, I've learned from my Mr's mistakes that dunking is not a good idea. Many a time has he frantically scrabbled for the teaspoon trying to fish out half a bourbon, or custard cream only to have to sift the rest through his teeth when he reaches the bottom of the mug. Rookie mistake!

Blogging and scribbling down ideas.

How do you make your tea?
I will throw my hands up and admit now, that if I'm gasping for a cuppa mid-afternoon then I have on occasion thrown bag into mug and stirred vigorously for fear of passing out from lack of Yorkshire's finest. However, if I'm joined by anyone else, I always make sure to use the teapot. This always makes me laugh because my Grandmother is appauled by the fact that I even use tea bags.
If I'm making it in the mug, milk goes in after, until I get the required shade of turpentine but, if it's being brewed in the tea pot then the milk must go in first. No exceptions.

Curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas.

And finally...If you could enjoy a cup of tea with anyone, living or dead, who would it be, and why?
I think it would have to be Jane Austen. She was such an intelligent and witty woman, that I bet you could have such an interesting conversation with her. Plus, the Georgians certainly knew how to make a big deal of 'taking tea'. 

And there you have it folks. I hope you've enjoyed this little insight into my world of tea (and coffee) drinking.
I'd love to hear about your tea rituals too. Do you have a favourite mug? Are you a make it in the mug, or teapot kind of person?
What are your favourite tea-time treats?

Sunday, 14 July 2013

My Home Comforts: Evening Baking

I find, that in some shape or form, we are all creatures of habit. Everyone has their own, quirky little, day-to-day routines and penchants that they keep to, which ultimately make them who they are, while also bringing them some form of comfort.

For my Mr it's a stack of biscuits (atleast 3) with a cup of tea, at approximately 9pm in the evening. I think this is his equivalent to milk & cookies before bedtime. For my Best Friend, a glass of wine cannot be consumed without a freshly lit cigarette clamped between her fingers. (Each to their own I suppose).
And for me, if I'm baking beyond a certain point in the evening, then it must be done in my pyjamas. Don't ask me why. It's just one of those things.

So recently, after a particularly rough and tiring day in work, there was only one thing I had on my mind. Baking!
I didn't even walk in the door until gone 9pm. However, no matter what the time was, I would make a bee-line for the kitchen, flick on the oven and then proceed to change into my pj's.
Now, don't get me wrong. Now is not the time for perfecting my latest venture into the world of croissants. Nor is it the time for endless kneading of cinnamon rolls. Evening baking is all about quick, easy and mindless. Some gentle stirring of cake batter, in a mixing bowl lodged under your arm. Or even the simple act of melting butter and golden syrup, and adding to oats. Flapjacks are always a favourite evening bake in this household. And there is certainly no shame in picking up a ready made cake mix from the supermarket on the way home, only to add milk and eggs when you get in. If it helps me unwind then, who cares?!

 On this particular evening, my recipe of choice was “Auntie M's Chocolate Fudge Cake”. Now this is no ordinary chocolate cake. It's not the squidgy-gooey kind that would make even Bruce Bogtrotter druel. It's a dense... almost brownie dense... mixture, if but a little drier. And goes perfectly with a cup of tea. This has been a long-standing favourite in the quick & easy baking department within my family, so much so that I can rustle up a mixture in no less than 15minutes flat. And have enough time to consume an oven warm slice or two before bedtime. (Remembering to brush my teeth after, ofcourse).
And if you're hankering for me the divulge the recipe then, I'm sorry to admit that this one in particular must stay under wraps. It's a long-kept family secret! Maybe I'll let you in on it, in the future.

Now, I understand that, to some, this may seem like a bit of a bizarre habit, maybe even self-indulgent. But, after a hard day in work, if we can't offer ourselves a little 'me time' then, when can we do it? I'm a firm believer in celebrating these little quirks, and complex genetic make-ups that essentially makes us...well...Us! And I bet you've got a story or two to tell me, about some of your strange habits.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Elderflower Cordial: Summer in a Bottle

My list of favourite things about summer include...

British Strawberries being in season.
Being able to eat outside.
Putting the summer duvet on the bed.
Longer evenings.
Fresh fish, home-made chips and peas from the garden.

And... Elderflower Cordial.

Whilst growing up, I was constantly surrounded by countryside in some shape or form. We were never really city dwellers. So it wasn't uncommon to hear myself or my sister shriek from the back seat of the car, as we drove down a country lane... “Look Dad! Elderflower!”

Although we learned quite quickly, not to pick the stuff right next the road. You always needed to go a few metres further into the field, or down the overgrown lane a little more so you could find the blooms with slightly larger heads and fresher looking flowers which hadn't been stunted by passing exhaust fumes.

Whilst recently visiting my parents house, all these memories came flooding back to me. As I wandered in the back door of the kitchen, I was hit with the heady citrus-floral scent of 'brewing' Elderflower cordial sitting in a huge preserving pan on the counter. I instantly lifted the tea towel that covered it, and stuck my head right in close, breathing in the smell of summer. Yum!

My preferred method of drinking this summertime nectar is simply with water (still or sparkling), ice and a slice of lemon. Or for a little evening tipple, I like to add a dash to a glass of sparkling white wine, or prosecco with a raspberry or blackberry thrown in for good measure. I got that cheeky little idea from Bill's in Cardiff. Thanks!

Excuse me, while I go rummage for some ice. All this talk of Elderflower is making me thirsty!