Great British Bake Off and beyond

After the finals were over and the Masterclasses watched, a couple of friends and I were discussing entering for GBBO 4, another friend is in the process of applying too. I’ve thought about it a lot over the past few days – part of me would love to enter, I love baking and enjoy the challenge of making something new. On the other hand I’m not sure if I’d enjoy the TV part of it, yes I know that is what it’s all about! I like to bake because it is relaxing and I can experiment with ideas. I don’t like pressure, I don’t like following recipes to the letter and I have no idea how I’d get on with all the food processors, stand mixers and hand mixers, not to mention the inevitable noise of twelve other bakers, a couple of comediennes and two judges wandering around. I’m used to two big dogs – who know their place in on the floor when I’m cooking- and my son who wanders in and out occasionally, all of whom I can banish at will if I need to concentrate. I doubt Paul Hollywood would take kindly to being told to go and lie on his mat! I couldn’t commit to being available for filming even if I was chosen and would find the traveling and practicing tiring and  expensive.

The application form is quite interesting though, apart from the usual questions about when you learned to cook and whether you have ever cooked professionally, it outlines the categories of dishes you would be expected to bake and asks what the most complicated one of each you have made is and what experience you have at baking in each discipline. Like most domestic cooks/bakers I tend to make a fairly small repertoire of tried and true dishes, maybe not exciting but tasty and reliable.

Looking through them I had an idea, rather than applying for the programme I’ll go through the categories and increase the variety and complexity of dishes I make in each one. I spent a while today looking through some of my recipe books and am challenging myself to make one completely new dish each week. I may have to invite friends round regularly to help test the results!


We’ve all been trumped….

I began watching a programme on BBC2 last night a little after the start time so at first didn’t know what it was about, I recognised the scenery though as the Menie Estate north of Aberdeen. I began to take more notice though when the documentary film continued with the tale of Donald Trump (an American) who has bought some land to develop a golf course and hotel and leisure complex.He was originally refused planning permission by the local council because it was a site of special scientific interest but the government allowed the development to go ahead regardless. Donald Trump then began desecrating the landscape to build his golf course and in the process bullied and harassed the local people who were in his way. He insulted them and allowed his workforce to damage their water supply, built huge mounds of soil outside their houses and disrupted their lives in a quite unforgivable way. That however is nothing compared to the desecration of the landscape. He is now trying to force the Scottish government to abandon plans for an offshore windfarm as it will “spoil his view”.

As I watched I felt angrier and angrier, how can the local council, the government (both Scottish and British), the Queen and indeed all the people who live in the United Kingdom allow this to happen? Why is someone from America (despite his much publicised link to the Isle of Lewis ) allowed to destroy a site of special scientific interest, one of the last remaining areas of wilderness left in the UK? If you haven’t seen the film you can access it on i-player or buy the DVD here and also read about the history of the dispute and how to take action. I will be writing to Alex Salmond, the local council, the Grampian Police (who have acted shamefully) and anyone else I can think of to ask what they will do to rectify the situation – not that the damage Donald Trump has done to our coastline can ever be rectified but restoration may be all we can aim for. If you care about our land please write to these people too. As Edmund Burke is often quoted as saying All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Needle and thread

Finally, after what seems a long long time I have done some clothes sewing. Last week I cut out a skirt using an old Butterick See and Sew pattern that I first used when I got my first teaching job …let’s see that would be 1978! It is a basic jeans skirt with five pockets and a zip fly. I found some black pinwale corduroy in the cupboard which will make a very serviceable smart skirt to wear with boots in the winter.

Yesterday I sewed the pocket linings and finished the edges of the other pockets ready to hem and sew in place today. I’m only managing a short time sewing each day because Skye has yet to learn to lie down and relax while I’m at the machine. She is fascinated by the movement of the fabric and wants to get as close as possible to the action. Alternatively she explores the sewing room and finds all sorts of unsuitable objects to chew.  I rolled up a short length of brightly coloured fleece fabric to make her a soft toy to play with today which gave me an extra few minutes before she decided my piece of fabric was more interesting.

The dogs have always had different ways of reacting to sewing, Nino liked to get close to my feet as he got older and often sat on the foot pedal …with surprising and sometimes painful results but when he was young he liked to sit on the chest of drawers by the window and watch the world going by. When Charlie lived with us he would wander round the room snuffling then sigh heavily and lie down in the spot where the hot water pipes ran under the floor and doze. Tilly likes to lie as close as possible to me so when moving around (my sewing chair is on wheels) I have to be very careful not to run over her tail or paws. The sewing room isn’t very big and contains the spare bed as well as my sewing table, drawers and shelves so it is a little crowded with two large dogs in there too – but I am determined to reclaim some sewing time each morning when (in theory at least) they are full of breakfast and ready for some quiet time.

Service with a smile

Our washing machine died the week before last, as you might expect it was full of towels and they were muddy dog-towels at that. I rang the local service engineers and was promised a visit on the next working day (Monday) so over the weekend we managed to get the washer door to open and had a heap of muddy towels to hand wash. On Monday the service engineer arrived within the time frame offered, looked at the washer (which is out of guarantee by a few years now) and said he wasn’t sure what the problem was but there seemed to be a lot of water in the base of the machine that shouldn’t be there so he’d need to take it in to have a better look at it. He promised to ring me if the repair was going to be expensive and off he went. On Tuesday evening I noticed that the phone message light was flashing and found a message from the engineer. He’d found the fault, fixed it and could return the machine the following day. I rang back to ask how much I owed, and was pleasantly surprised to be told that a seal in the soap dispenser had perished so they had replaced that and would charge only the cost of the seal (pennies) and the original call out charge as it had only taken a few minutes to fix. The machine was delivered back in the morning and the engineer reconnected the pipes and drains and made sure it was working before he left. DC Domestics are a local, Preston, firm and I heartily recommend them – we have used them for years after having problems with the official service company for our machine who informed me that the machine wasn’t worth repairing when it broke down shortly after its guarantee ran out and charged me a ridiculous amount to come and tell me that. On that occasion DC Domestics fitted a new door seal at less than the cost of the call out charge for the official service engineers and we’ve continued using the machine for the last few years with only occasional problems due to user incompetence, e.g. my son leaving nails or paperclips in his jeans pockets!  Having done without the washer for almost a week we have been  getting the backlog of washing done over the weekend and the bright sunny days allowed us to hang most of it outside to dry which after the monsoon like rain of the past couple of weeks is a real delight!

Chocolate Teacakes

Like many Scottish children I was brought up on the delights of Tunnock’s Teacakes, Caramel Wafers, Caramel Logs, Tablet, Edinburgh Rock etc. It’s a wonder I have any teeth left at all! My mother had all her teeth removed and dentures fitted when she was 21 – a fact that both amazed and horrified me even as a child. However, I digress, Tunnock’s were always a favourite treat for Sunday tea time and were particularly favoured because they were a. bought from a shop (or came from a friend of my Mum’s who worked at Tunnock’s and therefore got them at a discount )and b. came in a foil wrapping which could be smoothed out and saved though for what I have no idea! The teacake is an interesting confection, it bears no relation to the teacakes sold in the bakers which are made from sweet bread dough and dried fruits . The Tunnock’s teacake consists of a digestive biscuit topped with a dome of marshmallow like fluff and liberally covered in chocolate. It is very similar to the Danish confection known as a flødebolle or cream ball which I developed a liking for when I lived there. On Tuesday the technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off was to make 6 chocolate teacakes using this recipe. It had never occurred to me to try making them but after watching the programme I sent off for the semi-spherical moulds and bought the ingredients. I substituted milk chocolate for plain but otherwise followed the recipe. I found that the quantities for the chocolate and biscuit base were right but the meringue/marshmallow filling made far too much. I would suggest halving the given quantities and you’d still have plenty. Actually making them was fun, less stressful than in the technical challenge atmosphere but I had the added delights of two large dogs and my son “helping”. My son accidentally knocked the spatula out of the bowl of melted chocolate sending an arc of sticky chocolate across the cooker and floor. The dogs were there to clean that up in double quick time though!

After a couple of hours the teacakes were set and turned out of the silicon mould easily. The chocolate shells were much shinier than they look in the photo. They were then left to set further in the dining room behind the closed door and baby gate to prevent the dogs sneaking in to sample them.

At teatime we cut into them carefully to reveal the biscuit and meringue/marshmallow filling …and enjoyed the taste. I think even Paul Hollywood would have been impressed as there was the definite “crack” of the thin chocolate shell, a soft but set filling and a crisp biscuit. The whole creation is pretty sweet, maybe plain chocolate would make a better contrast with the meringue, and I can’t imagine eating them often but mini-teacakes using a smaller mould would be fun.


Coffee and cakes, and shortbread and jam

Last Friday some of my fellow knitters, a couple of colleagues from work and some of the neighbours came for coffee and cake in aid of the Macmillan Fund. There was as the Macmillan adverts said ” laughing, yummy cakes”, we also enjoyed Liz’s wonderful shortbread , Kate’s exquisite cupcakes, a beautiful baby to admire and an entertaining three year old building amazing vehicles from Duplo. There were jars of jam and marmalade on offer both at the coffee morning and again at knitting group last night.

This morning I totaled up all the donations and went off to the bank with £200. The cashier looked less than impressed by the multiple bags of coins I pushed across the counter, until I handed him the paying in slip for Macmillan at which point he smiled and began telling me how wonderful the nurses are. I agreed wholeheartedly, when my Mum was ill the Macmillan nurses were wonderful – their help allowed my sister and I to have a few hours out while knowing that Mum was being cared for, they came and stayed overnight sometimes to allow us to get some rest so that we would be ready to look after Mum in the daytime and when the time came they helped us explain to our young children what was happening to their Grandma in a way that even my two year old was able to take in, but most of all they supported both Mum and us through the very sad last weeks of her life with such understanding and compassion.  Everyone I know who has faced the problems of having cancer or looking after a friend or relative with it sings their praises.

So I’d like to say a huge Thank You to everyone who came to the coffee morning last week, who brought cakes or shortbread or gave a donation.