2016 has not been a kind year thus far. Now we are in March. Three months in. A third of the way through the year. Yup. Time is, quite literally, flying by. I can probably safely say that 2016 will not be a vintage year for me. Bad news followed by more bad news. My source of joy and escape has come from running. After over a year of being out of the fitness game due to injury I knew I needed to do something and it needed to be cheap as possible. And it doesn’t cost a dime to pull on your running shoes where ever you are and step outside. When I moved to London, my housemate Eilis got me to sign up to my first ever half marathon which was only 6 weeks away. It was the best thing I could have done! Evenings after work were spent sprinting up hills and Sundays mornings were all about 10km runs round north London. It gave me focus and drive, when you have your headphones in you can just zone out and not think about anything except you and the road. It’s the best form of therapy. Last weekend was my marathon, down in Brighton going along the sea front past the piers and the bandstand. The weather was dry with a bit of a breeze, perfect running conditions. I would have liked to have smashed it in under two hours but I managed at 2.08 hours, alright for my first one I reckon (I did end up in the medical tent though after aggravating an old knee injury, spent an hour in the medical tent with an ice pack on and sipping Lucozade like a drama queen. Poor Eilis had to come and rescue me). I have another half lined up for May to keep the training going. For anybody else going through a bit of a rough patch or just had a bad day at the office, I would totally recommend running (or any exercise for that matter), even if you can only run to the lamp post. Then the next time to the end of the road. Before you know it you might be doing a half marathon of your own!
I absolutely lost my baking powers this weekend. And what little cooking skills disappeared too! What happened to them I do not know, will they even return at all?! What will become of me? A sad shadow of my former self, only capable of preparing a Pot Noodle and dreaming of my past cake creations…. The picture you see attached to this post took so many attempts to get right, I normally do a cake like this standing on my head and blindfolded. My first attempt at baking the sponges went so very wrong through a simple mistake, opening the oven door too soon. I know, I know, a schoolgirl error! I really should know better, obvs. The sponges sank to become flat eggy pancakes, sad face. So, round two I got cocky and attempted three layers of sponge in one oven. Duh! What possessed me do this I don’t even know. I ended up with one burnt layer, a wonky half risen layer and an undercooked layer. Fail. By round three I had learnt my lesson and out came two beautiful even sponges. Thank goodness as by this point I had spent a small fortune having made 3 separate trips to Tesco at the end of the road for supplies (Any more visits would see me with enough Clubcard points to fund a trip to Pizza Express). I really should have taken a break by this point, had a cuppa and read the paper. Instead I went straight to the next part of preparing the caramel. Anyone who has boiled sugar substances will know how you have to carefully boil the mixture, with loving patience and care. I had no patience by now, blasted the heat on full power and halfheartedly stirring, paying more attention to singing along to Tony Blackburns Pick Of The Pops. It wasn’t long before there were black bits floating around and the strong wiff of burning wafted round the kitchen. The pan is still soaking in the sink after three days…
I am a sugar queen and I can take or leave savoury food stuffs (Always dessert over starter. Always.). Because I’d rather eat a jam tart over a sausage roll, I tend not to cook. I bake. I really struggle with putting flavours together and I lack the ability to pick up what is missing out of a dish when making a meal. I am the master of bland stir frys and over cooked omelettes. Therefore it was a blessing to spend an hour or two with Tess Ward (www.theyeschef.com). Tess is a talented chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu after finishing her History degree. She now passes on her wisdom and knowledge through teaching several different cooking programmes and writes for several publications and her own shamazing blog. Tess uses fresh seasonal produce in her cooking and my class with her was no exception. She took inspiration from the food market she had visited that day and on the menu was sweet potato gnocchi with kale and bacon plus a mango, carrot and radish salad. Tess talked me through the process of preparing and cooking the ingredients. She also taught me a great lesson on how to chop and slice properly instead of being perilously close to chopping my finger tips off at any moment! We chatted and drank tea as we prepared dinner. The best bit was rolling the gnocchi which involved getting elbow deep in flour and mashed sweet potato to roll little sausages ready to be chopped up for the pan. I loved this bit as the generous use of flour all over the kitchen table resulted in a mess similar to the icing sugar explosion that appears to happen in my kitchen whilst baking (except in Tess’s kitchen I don’t get told off). We discussed foodie blogs, boyfriends and books with great recommendations from Tess on books and blogs she thought I would enjoy. Before I knew it, it was time to sit down and enjoy all my (ok, ok, it was a joint effort) hard work
I find baking the most enjoyable, relaxing and calming activity. Its like my therapy, I can loose myself for hours in the kitchen. I get in the baking zone and forget everything else. This week has been one of those weeks, it has been pretty rubbish for several reasons (I shan’t bore you with the gory details) so I was just itching to get baking. I also really enjoy running and working out (Sadly, no matter how hard I wish, cake is never going to be calorie free) which I also find is good for the soul but nothing beats some bonding time with the Kitchenaid with Radio 2 in the back ground. The whole process of sitting down with a pile of books trying to find or create the perfect recipe, then measuring, making and baking. It requires all your concentration for those couple of hours and then, at the end you have created something lush that you can share with someone who deserves it (or, if it has been one of those weeks, just grab a fork and scoff it on your own. Note: Several runs needed after this). So next time you are feeling down or just need a little pick me up, don’t reach for the vodka, pick up your apron and get baking!
This Easter weekend, I have eaten a lot of cake. However, in the words of my inspiration, Nigella, you should only feel guilty about food if you do not feel pleasure from eating it. And each sweet treat was v pleasurable and therefore guilt free (until I stand on the scales)! I started off my sugarathon at Manuka Kitchen in Fulham where I shared a peanut butter, chocolate and pretzel tart with the BF. Very rich and indulgent, one to share was more than enough (pictures can be seen on my Instagram @hollylovescake). The ground pretzels were used to make the pie crust filled with a rich chocolate ganache and topped with peanut creammmmmmmmmm (Opps, sorry, just thinking about it is making me drool). Delightful. The cafe itself is stylish with an open kitchen at the back with black and white pictures from local industry adorning the walls, it serves a great brunch menu with pancakes as big as mattresses. The same day also saw us going to Dum Dum Donutterie located in Box Park, Shoreditch. Wow. They are all about the doughnut and they do it so so well. Every doughnut sounded like a dream including creme brulee. But I was all over the cronut, a big craze of cake hybrid mixing a croissant with a doughnut. Flakey yet doughy, buttery and sugary and oozing with pistachio cream. This was absolute filth in the best possible way.
I constantly look for inspiration for cakes, whether for flavours, colours or decoration. This week I visited Cake International, hoping to soak up some new cakey ideas. But I couldn’t be more wrong. It was all about sugar craft. And I really dislike sugar craft. By this I mean rolled icing, flowers made from sugar paste, highly intricate traditional wedding and celebration type cakes. Not my style at all. I prefer to lash on the butter cream, throw on some flowers, chuck some chocolate buttons on. I think it just looks so much more tasty, fun and appetizing when it isn’t so precise. Like you just want to grab a fork and dig right in. I just don’t feel that when I look at a slab of rolled icing. There is a time and a place for more serious sugar crafted cakes, I know the majority choose them for their celebration cake and I totally admire the artistry that goes into it but I just really don’t like it (Dare I say it, I find it a bit tacky..). So after having a giggle at some truly awful cakes I got a bit carried away buying cut price cake accessories. Nothing got me more excited this week than finding pure Maple Syrup flavoring extract! Can you imagine a maple cream cheese frosting?! OMW. And just when I thought my day couldn’t get any better I found hot cross bun flavored icing sugar! It was like eating paradise. Will go delightfully on top of a carrot cake (Yes, I am a cake geek. No shame.). So I left the show with some ideas of how not to do cakes and my wallet was a hell of a lot lighter.
Those with food intolerances are viewed by many as just fussy eaters (or awkwardtarians as my mate calls it. I like this cos it sounds like a dinosaur). There are those who avoid gluten or dairy due to the amount of research and opinions from professionals saying they are not the kindest food stuffs for our waist line. However, a huge amount of people cut out wheat and/or dairy due to the health impact on the body, especially the tummy and digestion. My mum is lactose intolerant which she kindly passed onto me in a currently very mild form. I’m not quite sure how it works (with my peanut sized brain) but not all dairy is created equal with some products containing more lactose than others. I made her really ill the other week when she tucked into my chocolate Easter cake without telling her it contained cream. Uh oh. Was def not the favourite child after that incident.
I lost it this weekend. Completly lost my baking mojo. I was a disaster in the kitchen and if it could go wrong, it did go wrong. As soon as I post my recipe on a Sunday, I immediately start plotting and planning my next bake. I read books, look at blogs, dream about past baking successes (this happens a lot, I wake up dissapointed when I realise I wasn’t actually eating cake) and cobble together ideas until I come up with a bake I am happy to share with you, my gorgeous readers (flattery gets you everywhere). So le grande plan for this weekend was a delectable fusion of cheesecake, honey and blueberries in a cupcake. Generally, I hate cupcakes. I want a piece, no no, I want a SLAB of cake. Not a cupcake for it will not satisfy any cake fanciers appetite. However, I thought as it was quite a rich bake a smaller offering in cupcake form would work. But I was wrong. When I opened the over door I was greeted by overflowing, burst cake cases with volcanic blueberries and a bready textured cake. Not good at all. When this happens, I have a little tantrum. I put on a pout, slam the cupboard doors and occasionally I boarderline on tears, actual tears. Its not a pretty sight. What a waste of expensive ingrediants! Of my time! Shattered cake dreams! I also attempted the honey cream cheese icing as they were in the oven. That too was a failure as I bought medium fat cream cheese instead of full fat which lead to a runny icing that would not hold its own. Failed icing plus failed cake = MEGA FAIL.