Farewell to Cheltenham

This might be my last post for a while. The moving men are coming tomorrow to pack us up. Then we’ll drive down to Cornwall on Wednesday. I don’t think we’re going to have Internet access in the new house until some time next week, so I may not be able to get online until then.

Things are pretty crazy here, but I think we’re about ready. I’m feeling a bit emotional about it all. We’ve lived in Cheltenham for nearly ten years, which is longer than I’ve lived anywhere. When we arrived here we were newlyweds, neither of us had a job, we didn’t really know anyone or much about the town. But it’s worked out pretty well, and we’ve been very happy here. However, the opportunity to try something different has come along and I think we’ve done the right thing by going for it.

Anyway, my to-clean list is not going to complete itself, so I’d better leave it there. Wish me luck!


Fairy Cakes

Today was Lucy’s last day at her pre-school before we move and she starts going to a different one. We decided between us that we would bake some cakes together, to take in for her friends and teachers. The obvious thing to make was fairy cakes – quick, easy, fun for little fingers to decorate, and you can make a reasonable number of them quite quickly. I’ve never found a recipe online for actual fairy cakes – many recipes called fairy cakes actually make cupcakes i.e. require a muffin tin. Whereas fairy cakes are much smaller, done in shallower tins. This is the recipe I use, which makes about 24. I haven’t specified how to decorate them, as you could do so many different things. We went for plain white icing with sprinkles, another easy one is butterfly cakes using buttercream icing.

Fairy Cakes

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 170g plain flour
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 170g butter
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 160° C. Place paper cases into two 12-hole shallow bun tins.
  2. Sieve the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the butter, eggs and vanilla essence and beat until smooth. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases – a heaped teaspoon is enough for each one.
  3. Bake for about twenty minutes, until risen, golden and fluffy. An inserted skewer should come out clean.
  4. Remove from the oven then leave the cakes to cool on a wire rack before decorating.

Fairy Cakes

I think I actually prefer these smaller cakes to full size cupcakes, which can be quite heavy and filling. We didn’t on this occasion, but Lucy often likes to make these with different coloured gel dyes added to the batter and/or the icing. You can tell they’ve been decorated by a 3 year old, but that’s parts of the charm, I think. She also helped with the weighing, the sieving, putting the cases into the tin and the mixing. I love how keen she is to bake – can’t think where she gets it from!

For this post, I’m linking up with my lovely friend Rachel aka Food Nerd, for her virtual bake sale in aid of Macmillan Cancer Research. Check out more recipes, and add your own over on her blog (and donate, of course).

New Car!

I’ve been a bit quiet lately, mainly because we’ve been busy sorting things out for the move. Which is now 5 days away! It seems like every time I sit down with a cup of tea I realise there’s something else I need to sort out or someone else I need to call. I think we’re mostly there now and nearly ready. I’d forgotten just how much effort moving house is.

In amongst all of this I’ve bought myself a car. My first car, in fact. We debated it and weighed up pros and cons for weeks and decided that we were going to find life a lot easier with two cars rather than one. And so, decision made, I’ve treated myself to a lovely Fiat 500. This is it:

New Car

She’s only 2 years old and has clearly been well looked after and has a pretty low mileage. I’ve not had much chance to drive her very far so far, so hopefully we’ll get out a bit more over the weekend before our big drive to Cornwall next week. It’s a lovely car to drive round town anyway. It’s weird driving a different car after only really driving Clive’s – it’s noticeable that roads where his car is happiest in second gear, this one wants to be in third. I’m assuming that’s an engine size thing as this is considerably smaller at 1.2 compared to 1.6. Not that I’m claiming to know anything about cars!

New Car

So, now I’m independently mobile. It feels a bit strange, as someone who found learning to drive quite hard and didn’t pass my driving test until only a couple of years ago. I watched all my college friends one by one pass their tests and get cars. I’d always thought I was going to be a lifelong cyclist, pedestrian, public transport user and general lift scrounger. I’m more excited about owning a car than I thought I would be before I bought it. Of course I’ve been driving it like it’s made of glass – seriously, you’ve never seen someone take speed bumps so carefully as I did doing Lucy’s nursery drop off this morning. I’m sure that’ll fade a little as I get more used to the idea that this really is my own car. And no, I’m bit going to give it a name!

Scenes From the Weekend 15.09.14

Tree climbing

It feels like we’ve had a very busy weekend this week. I’ve already shared our adventures on Saturday morning, when we visited Chedworth Roman Villa, and the crumble I made on Saturday afternoon after blackberry picking. Sunday was another outdoors day – we decided to head to nearby Crickley Hill for some more fresh air and walking.

Crickley Hill

Crickley is a mixture of open common and beech woodland. The open common is great for running around, and, as we’ve done on previous visits, flying kites, as it’s exposed. There are some great views across the Severn valley towards Wales, and some fun, easy, and above all low trees perfect for climbing, even if you’re 3.

Crickley Hill

Crickley Hill

Crickley Hill

Like so many of the hills round here, there are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort on the top of Crickley, and display boards explaining the history. Lucy just likes the coloured circles marking where posts were found.

Crickley Hill

Further round, we entered the woods. These woods have one of my favourite trees in – a giant beech tree which is still growing well despite the fact that the land underneath half of it has slipped away. Which means you can stand underneath it and peer up through the root. We call it the tree cave.

Crickley Hill

Crickley Hill

You can also stand in the roots, if you’re careful, and look down.

Crickley Hill

The walk through the woods is lovely, we climbed fallen trees, found Gruffalo houses and I picked a lot of hazelnuts. We’ve had lots of lovely days out here, and it felt nice, if a little sad, to say goodbye to it.

Crickley Hill

Crickley Hill

Crickley Hill


For this post I’m linking up with Em over at Snowing Indoors for the Point and Shoot linky.

Plum and Blackberry Crumble

Apple Crumble

Yesterday I made a very autumnal crumble. When we were driving back from our trip to Chedworth, we went past our local pick-your-own fruit farm, and saw they had an offer on local plums. I decided to stop and get some. Later in the afternoon we went to the park, and picked blackberries. The obvious thing to do seemed to be to make a crumble with both. I’m not sure what variety of plums these were, but they had a lovely purple skin and juicy yellow flesh and were delicious with the blackberries.

Plums

Ingredients

  • 8 plums, stoned and quartered
  • large handful of blackberries, washed
  • 1 tsp each ginger, cinnamon and mace
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g butter
  • 75g soft dark brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180° C.
  2. Place the plums and blackberries in a large ovenproof bowl and sprinkle the spices over. Mix gently then leave to soak in while you make the topping.

Plums and Blackberries

  1. Place the flour and butter in a bowl, and rub together until fine and crumbly. Stir in the sugar until evenly distributed.
  2. Cover the fruit with the topping and even the top. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

I think you have to serve crumble with custard, but I’m sure it would be equally nice with cream or ice cream. This quantity made enough for dessert last night and tonight; in my opinion it’s even nicer the second day when the fruit has really soaked up the spices.

Chedworth Roman Villa

On Friday afternoon, driving through town, I saw a sign saying it was heritage open day weekend this weekend. When I got home, I checked this out online, thinking it was a local Cheltenham thing, and that there might be something interesting we could do. There were lots of things that appealed, but mostly of the Regency walking tour, or theatre backstage visit variety, which I couldn’t imagine would hold a 3 year old’s attention for very long. Then I realised it wasn’t a local thing at all, but actually a national one, and I spotted that Chedworth Roman Villa was free to visit, which made the decision on where to go for me.

We’ve lived here nearly ten years, and in all that time I’ve kept meaning to visit Chedworth – it’s only 15 miles away – but we’ve never got there. So, while it was free, it seemed like a good opportunity (it’s normally £9.90 for adults, £4.95 for children and free for under 5’s). Leaving Clive asleep (he works very late on Friday nights), Lucy and I set off. We had a gorgeous drive through sunny Cotswold lanes, which got narrower and narrower until I began to fear my satnav was leading me astray. But then we turned the corner and found ourselves where we wanted to be.

Mosaics

There was plenty to see – in my opinion it would have been worth the usual admission price. After passing through the visitor centre, and seeing a scale model of what the villa would have looked like when it was inhabited, we went into a large wooden building which housed the exposed mosaic floors that Chedworth is famous for. It was cleverly done, with walkways over the mosaics so you could see them really well. Every time I see this kind of thing I marvel at how long it must have taken to construct using such tiny tiles. We walked around and I explained to Lucy about the hot baths and cold baths and hypocaust under floor heating systems. There was an interesting education room in there too, with examples of finds from the site and some brass rubbing which Lucy enjoyed having a go at.

Hypocausts

Mosaics

Brass Rubbing

Then we went for a wander around the outside bits, looking at living areas. It is obviously a ruin, but definitely one of the best Roman ruins you’ll find in the UK. I think Lucy preferred the outside bit as she could walk around and touch things. She was pretty well-behaved and didn’t try and climb on anything. I’m not sure she quite understood what we were looking at, but she seemed interested.

Chedworth Roman villa

The villa was discovered by the Victorians who lived here, 150 years ago. There’s an old Victorian house in the middle of the site, built, I assume, before they knew about the villa. Part of it’s been turned into a museum displaying more finds, and we had a wander around that before eating our picnic lunch.

Museum

Inside Lucy enjoyed trying to make her own mosaic.

Tesserae

The lady on reception had told us about some craft workshops happening, so after lunch (which was as accompanied, to Lucy’s delight, by lots of playful chaffinches and robins zipping about between nearby trees), we went to investigate. This turned out to be Lucy’s favourite part of the visit, I think, as she got to make her own badge. Colouring in and stamping is, I guess, always going to win over ancient history, when you’re 3.

Badge making

Badge making

She made one for herself and one to take home to Daddy (who then wore it all afternoon which I thought was awesome of him). Finally, in need of a drink, we went to the café. In my opinion, no visit to a National Trust property is complete without tea and cake. It’s part of the experience. So, as I’d deliberately not included any cake in our lunch, we treated ourselves, sharing a slice of gorgeous lemon and blackcurrant cake which I may have to try and recreate some time. We also tried some of the spring water from the site, which tasted so clean and lovely and utterly unlike tap water.

Cake

Full and happy, it was time to head home and see if Daddy was awake. It must have tired her out, because Lucy slept most of the way home, despite the fact that it was only early afternoon.

Valdete!

After we move, I’m hoping to do a lot more days out like this, but with Clive as well, as he won’t be working so many nights any more. I’m sorely tempted to buy National Trust membership, and get into places like this for free. The trouble is I also want English Heritage membership, and I’m not sure I can afford both. There are plenty of properties owned by each in the Cornwall and Devon area, where we’re going, so I’m sure we’d get our money’s worth from either. Maybe I should do alternate years of each. Something to think about, anyway.

Christmas Tree Crochet Motif

Christmas Tree

First, apologies for a Christmas post in September. I haven’t really started doing Christmas prep for this year… yet! No, this is a tidying up post. A while back I made up a pattern for making crocheted Christmas trees. I even posted it on Ravelry. Then, in one of my occasional blog panic moments, I deleted all my content, including the post. Well, I’ve noticed in my stats that people are looking for the pattern and not finding it. So, to rectify this, here it is!

Crochet Christmas Tree Motif

I made a load of these last year and stuck them on to card blanks. I used a 3.5mm hook with DK yarn, but clearly you could use whatever size hook and yarn you like to get variations in size. These are made from the top down, and I used two colours, green and brown.

I’ve used UK crochet terms throughout.

Row 1: Make a slip stitch on your hook with the green yarn. Chain 3. Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the furthest stitch from your hook. Turn. (3 stitches)
Row 2: Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the first stitch. One treble crochet into the next stitch and then 2 treble crochet stitches into the last stitch. Turn. (5 stitches)
Row 3: Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the first stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next three stitches and then 2 treble crochet stitches into the last stitch. Turn. (7 stitches)

Crochet Christmas Tree Motif

Row 4: Miss the first two stitches then make 2 treble crochet stitches into the third stitch. One treble crochet into the next stitch and then two treble crochet stitches into the next stitch. Turn. (5 stitches)
Row 5: Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the first stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next 3 stitches and then 2 treble crochet stitches into the last stitch. Turn. (7 stitches)
Row 6: Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the first stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next five stitches and then 2 treble crochet stitches into the last stitch. Turn. (9 stitches)

Crochet Christmas Tree Motif

Row 7: Miss the first two stitches then make 2 treble crochet stitches into the third stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next three stitches and then two treble crochet stitches into the next stitch. Turn. (7 stitches)
Row 8: Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the first stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next 5 stitches and then 2 treble crochet stitches into the last stitch. Turn. (9 stitches)
Row 9: Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the first stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next seven stitches and then 2 treble crochet stitches into the last stitch. Turn. (11 stitches)

Crochet Christmas Tree Motif

Row 10: Miss the first two stitches then make 2 treble crochet stitches into the third stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next five stitches and then two treble crochet stitches into the next stitch. Turn. (9 stitches)
Row 11: Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the first stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next 7 stitches and then 2 treble crochet stitches into the last stitch. Turn. (11 stitches)
Row 12: Make 2 treble crochet stitches into the first stitch. One treble crochet into each of the next 9 stitches and then 2 treble crochet stitches into the last stitch. Turn. (13 stitches)

Crochet Christmas Tree Motif

Bind off the green yarn and now use the brown.
Row 13: Secure the brown yarn with a slip stitch in the 5th stitch along. Chain 2. Double crochet 1 stitch into each of the next 4 stitches. Turn. (5 stitches)
Row 14: 1 double crochet into each stitch. Turn. (5 stitches)
Row 15: repeat row 14. Bind off brown yarn.
Weave in ends, and then you can decorate with sequins, glitter or whatever decorations you like.

Christmas Card

Chocolate and Hazelnut Blondies

This is such a simple recipe, but it’s so yummy that it’s always popular. It certainly was with the friends I shared these with the other day. I’m sharing this recipe as part of my friend Rachel’s Virtual Bake Sale, the idea being to share some recipes and raise money for Macmillan Cancer Research’s giant coffee morning on September 26th. Cake for a good cause? Hard to say no to that, really. Do head on over to Rachel’s blog and check out the other recipes, and maybe add your own to the linkup (and donate, of course).

blondies

Ingredients

  • 150g hazelnut butter
  • 100g butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 75g milk chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 170° C. Grease an 8-inch square cake tin, and line the base with greaseproof paper.
  2. Beat the hazelnut butter and butter together until smooth. Add the egg, sugar and vanilla extract and beat again to combine.
  3. Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and beat that in too. Then add the chocolate chips and stir so that they end up evenly distributed.

blondies

  1. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and ensure it’s evenly spread across it. Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes. The cake should be golden brown and risen, but should still be slightly squidgy.

blondies

  1. Allow to cool for a few minutes then slice up – I cut into 16 squares. Leave these to cool on a wire rack. These are lovely cold, but they’re at their best when still just a little bit warm and gooey.

Hazelnut butter isn’t the easiest ingredient to find. You can get it in some delis and whole foods shops, or you could always try and make your own.

Scenes From the Weekend 08.09.14

Autumn is definitely here this week. It’s now dark when I get up, and dark when I go to bed. The air is just a little cooler and the trees are starting to look autumnal – leaves turning and masses of berries everywhere. And when you see something like this outside a shop, you know it’s not really summer any more!

Pumpkins

This was a weekend of pottering about, doing bits and pieces, but not doing any one big thing. On Sunday Clive took Lucy to his parents house for a couple of days, giving me a good chance to get on with cleaning and packing for the move, now only 3 weeks away. I’m proud to report that our bedroom and her bedroom are now pretty much done, and the movers can just come in, stick everything in boxes, and we’re good to go. And I have another massive load of stuff to take to charity shops and the recycling centre and some more bits to sell online. It’s all very therapeutic, this decluttering.

Milkshake

Before they left, Lucy and I had a fairly quiet weekend. We did some shopping and went for milkshakes, and we spent some time at the park. She hasn’t shown as much interest in her balance bike as we hoped, but seems to have got more into it recently, so we ended up racing round and round, with me running after her.

Bike ride

Climbing frame

In the park I spotted hazelnuts, which I unashamedly scooped up, blackberries, which I’ll be going back for, and sloes, which I should leave until after the first frosts, but which I probably won’t as I’ve done that before and always had them picked by someone else first.

Hazelnuts

I love watching seasons change generally, but there’s something about the turn to autumn that brings out my inner squirrel. I want to start hoarding things for winter. If we weren’t about to move house I’d be making chutneys and pickles (I may do so anyway). And yes, I confess I’ve started thinking about Christmas. Only in a “shall I make the cake before or after we move?” kind of way, but the thought was definitely there on Sunday. Accompanied by eye rolling and sighing from Clive who thinks it’s far too early to think about such things!


For this post I’m linking up with Em over at Snowing Indoors for the Point and Shoot linky.

Top Ten Books

This is a meme that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook this week – you have to post 10 books that you really love, in no particular order. I don’t normally do things like this on Facebook, but I loved seeing all my friends’ answers, so decided I would answer. This is my list, with some comments about why I love each choice.

Dune
Dune by Frank Herbert
Probably my favourite sci-fi book ever. Set far in the future, Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, the young duke of a desert planet, and his battle to overthrow his enemies. I love this book because it’s just so rich. To me, fantasy and sci-fi works best when the author has clearly worked out every detail of the world they’ve created, and that’s what you have here. A rich cast of characters, a detailed history and political background make Dune an awesome read.

The Lord of The Rings
The Lord of the Ringsby JRR Tolkien
I read this when I was 11 and it blew my mind. As with Dune, the world created here is so rich and detailed, down to the invented languages and history, which again makes the story really rich. I have mixed feelings about the films; they’re good, but I’m not sure they capture the spirit of the books that well. But the books, I come back to time and time again.

Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas is really clever. It’s a series of short stories nested within each other, moving forwards through time, with each story featuring in the next in some way. The characters are linked, and the book explores the good and darker sides of humanity and how we try and dominate each other. It’s deep, sure, but well worth it. Each story has a different feel – one is a murder mystery, another is a travel voyage, another is science fiction. Like I say, very clever.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
This is a love story. A real love story, with sadness and regret and people being very very human. Set on a small Greek Island during the Second World War, this is the story of local girl Pelagia who falls in love with an invading Italian officer. At times utterly heartbreaking, this is one I fell in love with the first time I read it.

Sophie's World
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
Sophie is a 15 year old Norwegian girl who finds mysterious messages asking her questions. She gets drawn into a quest with a mysterious philosopher, and together they follow the history of Western philosophy before realising they are characters in a book written for a girl called Hilde. It all gets a bit metaphysical at the end, but it’s a great way to discover different philosophical ideas. It came out when I was 15, so maybe that’s why it struck a chord with me.

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This story is set in a somewhat dystopian future, where most women are infertile. Women who have born children are put into rich families to act as surrogates, called handmaids, and the book is told from the point of view of one of these women. It’s a great story in itself, but it’s also pretty thought-provoking.

High Fidelity
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Another book whose film adaptation I can’t make up my mind about. High Fidelity Is the story of Rob, a music lover who runs a record shop, and the ups and downs of his love life. It’s funny, it has lots of musical geekery in it, Rob’s endless top 5 lists are fascinating and, he’s a really awesome character, because he’s just such a normal guy; you can imagine bumping into him in any pub. The reason I’m not sold on the movie is because they moved it to America, and this is such an English book.

Perdido Street Station
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
I used to read a lot of fantasy when I was younger, but kind of got bored with it over the years. It all seemed so samey. Then, a few years ago, I read this and remembered why I love fantasy, if it’s done well. I also fell a little bit in love with China Mieville when I saw him speak at a Literature festival a few years ago. He writes beautifully – I’ve seen criticism along the lines of suggesting he writes with a thesaurus open. But when you hear him speak you realise that no, he has an absolutely astounding vocabulary and command of the English language. It’s hard to sum up the plot of Perdido Stret Station in a few words but essentially it’s an urban steampunkish fantasy thriller.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
I want to say this is a fantasy, but actually I don’t think there is any magic in it, or any fantastic creatures. This could be set in some remote corner of the real world. Titus Groan is about the inhabitants of the castle of Gormenghast after the birth of a new heir, Titus. It’s not all about plot, more a slow-boiling, sweeping, fabulously descriptive story, with some very weird and wonderful characters. I read this immediately after The Lord of The Rings, when I was 11, on the advice of my English teacher, to whom I’m indebted for introducing me to so many great books, with this one top of the list.


Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This is a brilliant book to curl up with on dark evenings. It’s the story of two magicians during the Napoleonic wars, and how they bring magic back to England. It’s written in a sort of pastiche of the style of writers of the time such as Jane Austen, which I love. The two characters are so completely opposite and unlike each other that they make a nice contrast – Strange is young and romantic while Norrell is old and stuffy. I believe the BBC are adapting it, which I’m really looking forward to.

So, that’s my 10. That was really, really hard to do – I could easily have done 20, or 30. I decided not to do any series, otherwise I’d have things like His Dark Materials in there for sure. I’m sad about some of the books I’ve not picked – there’s no Jane Austen, no Neil Gaiman, no Discworld. But I like my list; it’s been fun thinking about books that I’ve read and re-read over the years. I now want to read these again!

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