Cooking

Anyone for Coffee?

I was in a baking mood again and lunch across at my friend and neighbours meant that if I baked I had an excuse and I would not eat it all myself!

Coffee and Walnut cake kept going round in my head, so it was that which I was going to make. I have made it many times, but wondered how it would work as a tray bake type of cake instead of a round sandwich type. Only one way to find out I suppose…..

It also gave me an excuse for using again my new Mary Berry Traybake tin, with markers for cutting which I bought from Lakeland last month. I have just realised I christened it with low fat chocolate brownies and I never even photographed them let alone write about them!

So using my 6 or everything method. (mentioned more in depth here) Obviously for the coffee element, I put a couple of teaspoons of decent coffee in a cup and poured a little boiling water on to make it liquid but obviously extremely strong and not meant to be drunk. I added this a bit at a time, until I felt that the mixture was the right colour, (there may have been a little bit of tasting). Then the walnuts, just broken up, scattered and folded in until I felt there was enough. As you can see no measuring with these things.

Then in the tray and in the oven and bake until skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool and then decorate.

I chose to stick to the buttercream icing and again added coffee in to taste. I used a different nozzle on my icing syringe this time and the end result was this…..

Coffee Cake Tray Bake

What would I do different – well the only thing is, I think make more of the mixture – 8 of everything instead of 6. There was not enough for a good even spread throughout the tin. And I need to practice ny icing a bit more, but this only about the 5th time of trying and I am not really trying to impress anyone, just enjoy the process.

The tin makes 12 and I know there are 9 in the picture but well you have to taste test – don’t you?

So what next, I am thinking perhaps some biscuits – so will look out a suitable recipe.

 

Books

Dying in the Wool – Frances Brody

Kate Shackleton  has gained a reputation for solving mysteries and finding people, in the past she has mainly done it for friends and family. But now an acquaintance come friend from her days as a VAD during the First World War wants to actually pay her for her services.

Trouble is Kate is a widow, it may well be the 1920s and times are changing for women, but really Kate should not be embarking on such adventures. Kate is strong willed and rather determined and I liked her from the start of the novel “hanging onto freedom by the skin of my teeth”.

In a world where it was still rather odd to see women working in male roles, Kate’s father, who in fact is a superintendent steps in to help. He makes sure she has some professional experience on her side in the introduction of the character Jim Sykes a former policeman who Kate reluctantly lets help to appease her father. They make a rather quirky and humorous pairing from the moment they meet. 

So Kate’s first professional case; is the disappearance of Joshua Braithwaite, father of Kate’s acquaintance and friend Tabitha. She wants to know where her father is before she gets married. It is this missing piece of the jigsaw which is stopping Tabitha from moving forward with her life. The trouble Kate is finding is that Joshua’s disappearance does not seem to be that straightforward and as she discovers one part of the story, she starts to uncover information which Tabitha may not like.

Set in a Yorkshire village where the mill is the heart and soul of the community, providing housing and work over many locals heads, it seems that there are some who know more than they care to admit and maybe they hold the key to where Joshua is. The author takes us very much into the heart of the village and the mill, and you can almost hear the deafening noise of the workers as the material is created. In fact the definitions for some of the terminology used subtitles some of the chapters. You will have a greater understanding of how the wool industry in the 1920s works and how the cloth is created by the end of the novel.

Scattered throughout the book, the voice of the story changes from Kate, the main narrator to varying different characters as they tell their sides of the story from when Joshua disappeared, it is not quite in the dual narrative that some books use frequently. Merely flashbacks into a past of no more than 6 years or so to give the reader more background to see if they can solve the mystery before Kate. I was mystified up to the denouement when it all fell into place neatly like a perfectly dyed piece of cloth.

An ideal cosy crime mystery where it certainly harks back to a past age and does it with aplomb which sometimes historical mysteries can miss completely. I look forward to seeing what Kate may well investigate next.

The book was slightly slow and gentle in parts and actually that was a good thing because I think you appreciated the depth of description of the area especially more and gave the mystery the mystery the right setting. 

I am intrigued to see what Kate get’s up to next in the second of the what is becoming a series of books, I think the combination of this widowed women in her thirties, who likes photography and can drive a car coupled with a married an ex policeman who cannot drive makes for interesting developments. Not your normal pairing you could say. 

Books

Snow Angels – Elizabeth Gill

It is nearing the end of the nineteenth century in Newcastle upon Tyne. The shipbuilding industry is growing and the bleak weather and landscape is as challenging as ever and knows nothing about what is happening to the folk who walk the land.

Gil is the second son, he is the spare and he is treated with such contempt and disgust by his father and brother that it is any wonder he seeks friendship with a local girl, Abby, daughter of a shipbuilder and lost following the death of her mother. One night, they make snow angels on the ground, and a bond is formed.

Over time something grows, but it can never be. Neither family will agree to any sort of match. But then Gil meets his prospective sister in law, Helen and the bond is broken through Gil’s passion for Helen. Something that must remain hidden, but is his friendship with Abby broken beyond repair or will fate and circumstances drive the back together.

It seems not as marriage, death, births, financial despair all come together and secrets held become secrets told and truths start to ruin everyone.

This book is very much of the Catherine Cookson vibe and if you enjoyed reading them then this is very much a book for you. You have the dark brooding hero, almost Heathcliff like at points. The father who seemingly drops one son for another as they succeed and fail in many different areas of their life. The forgotten lover who turns to another man and another life to heal her heart, only to realise perhaps too late where her true heart belongs. It has the right elements of a saga and although at times it was a bit slow paced and the ending slightly hurried it was a book to lose yourself in.

Elizabeth Gill is a recent discovery for me and I have reviewed her most recent novel here Miss Appleby’s Academy.

Books

The Novel in the the Viola – Natasha Solomons

Elise is an Austrian girl, who seeks work in Britain. Whilst there is nothing untoward in such a thing. Elise is an Austrian Girl in the 1930s and Jewish. The only way for her to live is to escape her country of birth, find work and wait until she can rejoin her parents and sister in American.

That is how Elise comes to Tyneford Hall as a maid. However, Elise has stepped from one level of society down into another and she belongs in neither in the British Class System of the 1930s.

She is made to clean the silver and serve the tea.

She is used to having tea served to her and from silver tea pots that she has not even cleaned.

Underneath her maids uniform she wears the pearls her mother gave her as a security when leaving Austria. It is this touching memento which keeps Elise remembering exactly where she has come from and her status.

She is neither one or the other. Neither upstairs or downstairs. The staff can she does not belong with them, but does she really belong with the widowed man and his son, Kit upstairs?

But there is something about Kit that Elise is drawn to. And Kit is drawn to this rather interesting foreign parlour maid. Kit shows Elise that with the strength of love you can break down some barriers.

However the war that Elise escaped from in Austria comes to Tyneford Hall. The author then takes us slowly but surely through love and loss with great emotion that it all unravels as does Tyneford Hall itself.

The title is very much an interesting concept. It actually was lost in the whole story and whilst I believed for a long time in it and the future it would give, it was really a disappointment and the book could have worked without it.  The House at Tyneford, which it has been called in other countries would have sat better with me and makes more sense to the overall story.

A book which was a refreshing change and it was interesting for it not to focus on someone British. As you read you know what happened in history and there is some inevitability to what happens, but the characters did not and the result of Elise losing contact with her past was heart wrenching. I wanted nothing more than a happy ending, but life does not have those all the time.

A book to read slowly, not one you can skip through at a heady pace because it does not allow for that. It draws you into the life of Elise and I enjoyed it with a sad melancholy I think. The subject matter was interesting and I do like a book set in the past but I would have liked to know more about Tyneford the place and the compulsory purchase of it to enable war training to continue unabated. That could have been give more and not as rushed as I thought it was.

A book that shows the changes not just war makes but loss, love and class. No matter who you are or where you come from, you must be loved for you simply and not what religion or class you stand for.

I have this book sat on my shelf for a while, I read her first novel Mr Rosenblum and I much prefer that one to this. Although the subject matter here is good, what I would have liked to know more about was glossed over very quickly. 

I am intrigued by her new novel The Gallery of Vanished Husbands and look forward to reading it. 

Books

The Proposal – Tasmina Perry

This is the first Tasmina Perry novel that I have read and I had a preconceived idea about what I was going to get. Something light and fluffy.

I was wrong.

I got a story that was strong, which had a dual narrative which is a plot technique I favour. Tasmina takes us through the modern-day with Amy Carrell an American girl who has moved to London to further her career in dance. Trouble is she is stuck waitressing and her boyfriend, Daniel seems to be in another class to her. But when she spots a Tiffany box at home, she thinks that maybe she is going to be asked the ultimate question?

The question though is very different – daniel’s parents question the suitability of Amy as a wife. It seems that rather than celebrating, Amy is going to be broken-hearted.

It’s coming up to Christmas and Amy cannot afford to go home and be in the arms of her family. Randomly she spots an advertisement asking for a travel companion for an elderly lady to travel to New York and she decides why not – if it means even seeing her family for a small amount of time it will be worth it.

In steps Georgia Hamilton, a lady of a bygone era when it was all about dresses, money, men, position and doing ‘the season’. We are taken back to late Nineteen Fifties, the last ‘debs’ are going to be presented to the Queen and Georgia Hamilton is not that keen she has a rather more independent view of how she wants to live her life. But needs must it seems and Georgia takes us into the world of posh frocks, the romantic nature of stolen glances with handsome men, competition over the best parties and ultimately who gets the boy. We look back with rose-tinted spectacles perhaps but it was a different time and one not that long ago and it felt like I was experiencing a social history lesson right there on the page. So wonderfully described and showed the contrast to the modern parts of the novel.

But as these two characters come together and the two eras are compared, we begin to see how good Amy and Georgia are for each other. How the secrets of the past, because you know Georgia is hiding something come to the present and how Amy can see that if you are not true to yourself or love, it is ultimately going to pass you by.

The hurt is going to live with you forever; it has for Georgia.

Georgia’s history becomes Amy’s present and the two forge an unlikely friendship which results in some revelations that will be a shock to us all.

I loved the way Tasmina Perry took us through something so simple as a Christmas Party held in the Tower of London and painted a scene so magic that you felt you were there, to the sights and sounds of New York and the upper class places that perhaps the ordinary new yorker would never see. I felt like someone reading a travel guide to New York, especially as I have never been. Even the warmth of Amy’s family leapt off the page which was in complete contrast to the descriptions of family life that Georgia was experiencing in the Fifties.

This book has everything that you could want for a great story, you learn, you feel emotion and you are taken away to another place. I recommend it highly.

As I say in my review this is the first Tasmina Perry book that I have read. It was kindly sent to me by the lovely people at Headline and I am most grateful for this as I have discovered an author and her books that I think I am really going to enjoy. Which is good because there are a couple more waiting to be read. 

I am much fascinated by the whole ‘debutante’ process and ‘the season’ I think because it was not that long ago in reality. The 1950s were changing so dramatically and fast, there seemed to be a sudden need to come out of the War Years and for the young to enjoy life. Ironically enough I love watching, period drama (Downton Abbey included) about what upper class life was like, knowing that is was going to radically changed in less that 50 years. It was also refreshing to have a dual narrative book which did not go back to either of the World War’s. 

I really do recommend this book. It is one to devour whilst reclining on your chaise lounge with chocolates in a posh box! 

Books

Mary Poppins Comes Back – P.L. Travers

This is the second of the Mary Poppins books and it is very much in the same format, a series of short stories which can be read quite separately. Dipped in and out of as the reader sees fit.

For whatever reason, Mary Poppins arrives back at Cherry Tree lane, and it is probably best not to question the lady about it, just accept it. Don’t forget according to the thermometer she is “A very Excellent and Worthy Person, Thoroughly Reliable in every Particular”.

The more I read of this rather upright, conceited but rather mystical and magical woman, I realise how much Walt Disney sanitised her for the screen. There are recognisable characters and scenes in this book that made it to the screen, but actually I had placed the film to one side whilst reading and read them for what they were. Magical Adventures for children (and no doubt adults) featuring, balloons to carry you into the sky, being transported into the Royal Doulton bowl and a green meadow depicted on it, an evening out with the stars (in the sky) and the arrival of a new baby to swell the numbers in the nursery at number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane.

Mary Poppins is still grumpy, a stickler for the rules and having things just so, especially her vanity when ever she passes anything that gives her a reflection but there is still the magic and that is because ” what Mary Poppins thought…nobody never knew, for she kept her thoughts to herself and never told anyone anything……” And we won’t know as Mary Poppins, has gone again………until next time.

I am rather enjoying these stories, and like dipping in and out. They are just right when you have only a bit of time to read, especially when tired, I am sure I dream about magic journeys into the sky, tea parties on the ceiling and being carried by balloons. Mary Poppins Opens the Door is the next book and that will nearly take me to halfway through the huge omnibus edition that I am reading them from.

Books

Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate – M.C. Beaton


They say that thirteen is an unlucky number. But for this thirteenth outing for Agatha raisin, this is one of the stronger stories. Of course nothing is lucky for Agatha but then if you are a fan of the series then you will know that.

Agatha is certainly going through a man hating phase, James her ex husband is no longer around and no one knows where he is. The new neighbour made advances that Agatha was not prepared for and when the new curate, Tristan turns up it seems he is prepared to overlook Agatha as well.

Tristan is bringing the flock to church, but they are not there for any religious direction but to simply adore this man who has swept into the village and swept the hearts of many ladies away. The congregation is rather female dominated all of a sudden. The vicar, Alf Bloxby is starting to resent this intrusion into his vocation and Mrs Bloxby doesn’t like the fact he is upsetting her husband. It all seems too good to be true.

When Tristan ends up dead, the last person having seen him alive being Agatha and the vicar being the prime suspect. Mrs Bloxby wants Agatha to try find out the truth, who really killed him and why.

Once again Agatha is one step ahead of the police but blundering about when she gets there, you know that there is going to be some scrapes that she is needing to get out of as she gets to the truth.

This is a good example of an Agatha Raisin story, you can see the vulnerability of being an unloved woman that agatha is, but also the brash hard faced parts of her that upset people and somehow get them to tell the truth.

Great escapism read and ideal if you want something short and light with no real guts or gore.

I cannot believe that I have read so many of these, and I have to resist reading the next one as soon as I have finished.

They make light reading, and are ideal fillers in between more cerebral and hefty tomes or when I get bored with the blood and guts or overly sweet romance! 

Books

When I Was Young – Mary Fitzgerald

A young girl, Eleanor, from a farm in the Pennines is given the opportunity to go on a French exchange programme. She will escape the drudgery of farm life, where her home is not a home but a house, where her mother does nothing to encourage anything and feeds her the basic food. Her father is there, but he says nothing. Home is a bleak place with no colour or vibrancy. Eleanor simply exists and survives.

Eleanor grasping the opportunity that is handed to her goes to France, to the Loire Valley. Where the beauty of the countryside, the vibrancy of colour, the new scents is in contrast to what she has been growing up with. She knows that her exchange with sullen student Jean Paul will not be reciprocal, he would never contemplate coming to a farm on the Pennines.

But despite this beauty, Eleanor realises that this family she is staying with have problems of their own. There is dark secrets, and Eleanor is at an age when she is starting to feel emotions that are new and quite frightening for her. Some secrets are for telling others are for feeling and Eleanor becomes an adult and woman as her time in France is extended indefinitely.

What makes this book stand out from the rest? It is in the beauty of the writing, the way the author has taken a very simple story and weaved something magical around it all. It is not a modern tale, we are not talking about some fluffy and heady teenage romance. This is the 1950s, the war may be over but it is still deep-rooted in so many people’s memories, and the after effects are like a ripple on a pond, reaching further and further out to touch the reader. And touch the reader they do.

It is told in Eleanor’s voice and we seen how she is perceiving everything about her. I felt like this was an old lady writing about such a happier time to share with her family as to how life turned out for her from the age of sixteen. With her vulnerability you felt for her and I cared about Eleanor and the life she was creating for herself which is why I had to keep reading. Eleanor blossomed as a character and from the page as well.

A beautiful gentle novel that shows secrets do not always have to end in tragedy and that the past can remain there and love is in the future.

This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher and was previously published in e-book as The Imperfect Tense.

This book was probably something that I would not have picked up if I had been to left to my own devices in a bookshop. So I am very humbled by the lovely publicists who send me these novels. They have introduced me to so some lovely reads. This was a book I enjoyed reading and I am intrigued by the authors work.

Out in paperback on 27 March 2014 or on kindle now. 

Crafts · Knitting

Knitting Memories

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When you are first starting knitting, you normally knit simple things like squares and scarves. All easy knitting to get you used to the wool, the stitches etc.

But these squares are different, they are a joint project. Myself and a few friends decided that as we were unable to help a friend of ours, through her illness, we would make something which she could have with her, so she knew we were with her when we weren’t.

So started the blanket in September 2013. Knitting squares gave us something to do but also used up wool and helped practice the knitting. As the weeks went on, we gathered our squares.

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Until we thought we had enough and my mum declared that we did and would bring them all together. We had lots of colours, lots of ways of putting them together and lots of different knitting styles. Everyone knits differently and that can make it difficult in joining these together – 4 different knitters and 4 different tension styles.

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Time went on and mum changed a few squares, made some herself and started to put it together.

However, time ran out for our friend. She lost the battle and we were all bereft.

The blanket was not finished in time. It sat unfinished in a basket.

We were unsure what to do with it. Do we finish it? Do we give it away? Do we raise some money for the hospice in memory of our friend?

Christmas and New Year came and went.

Mum helped me with my blanket I had knitted. It spurred her on to finish these squares.

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But still we were not sure what to do with it?

Why not keep it and use it as a comfort for us, for those who need it when perhaps life is not being great. To be passed around, kept in a special bag with a book for memories. That way our friend is with us.

20140302-193938.jpgI can’t think of a more fitting tribute.

Books

Highland Fling – Katie Fforde

Jenny Porter lives in a virtual world. She works but she never seems to meet her bosses or whoever she has been sent to work with. But that changes when for some impulsive reason she decides to go and help a failing mill in Scotland, which her boss wants her to report back about – the most obvious solution being close it down.

Nothing to worry about, but it is Winter, the weather is very different to what she is used to down South and she is not just going deal with a failing mill she is going to walk into a very difficult family situation. She can remain neutral, she can remain calm and treat it as any other work…..can’t she?

Jenny rather falls into situations and is somewhat of a softie when it comes to others. When she hits it off with the heavily pregnant owner of a Mobile burger bar, Meggie she also takes on running that too. Trouble is Meggie is married to one of the sons whose family own the mill and as he was number two son, he has always been left out despite having some workable ideas. Add to the mix a matriarch with a title and a crumbling house who is living in the past. Relying on the presence of number one son and an ever doting down trodden unmarried daughter it seems that Jenny is going to have to work hard at saving the family as well as the family business.

The business could be saved as Jenny thinks they could maximise their ideas and output, but her boss wants to see more and has decided to make his presence known just not to Jenny but the mill as well. It looks like Jenny can do nothing to save the mill or the family. Trouble is who is her mysterious boss? And when he does show up, earlier than Jenny ever thought does he get right under her skin?

This is a true Katie Fforde, if such a book exists and you know what you are going to get when you pick up this novel. That should never put you off, there is something reassuring in knowing. You get it all in this novel, class differences, a community working together, the big crumbling house, the romance not just of the characters but the spectacular winter scenery that is abound in Scotland along with the weather than can change everything within a blink of eye. To quote another reviewer “a perfect snuggle on the sofa book” – I agree.

I am slowly working my way through Katie Fforde’s books and I wanted to read another one straight away, but I distracted myself with something else and know that I can always rely on a Katie Fforde for a weekend of reading on the sofa!