March 2014

March 2014

Saturday, May 26, 2012

'Tortoise in Love' - and chocolate cake!

This week, my daughter Laura and I had the privilege of attending the film premiere of ‘Tortoise in Love’ in Leicester Square, London. My very good friend, Lesley Staples, was flown to the UK from her home in the United States to play the part of Mrs Summers in this light romantic comedy but, sadly, she was unable, due to work commitments, to make the return journey here for the special night. We have been friends for over 40 years (that shows my age)! We first met whilst working at an Embassy in Grosvenor Square, then went on to share a variety of accommodation, as well as acting beside each other in our local North London Rep and Shakespeare companies.
A few weeks ago, Lesley asked whether we would like to attend this particular premiere and, of course, we said ‘yes please’. It is a lovely experience to ‘walk the red carpet’ and this was the second time we have done such a thing. Lesley was one of the original ‘Calendar Girls’ and, together with her family, we shared the occasion of the premiere for that film too.
‘Tortoise in Love’ is set in Kingston Bagpuize, Oxfordshire, and directed by Guy Browning, a village resident, who had the notion of filming the story set around the annual fete. With the help of some commercial sponsors, the villagers mostly funded the film, provided the majority of actors, as well as the vast amount of ‘behind the scenes’ personnel. It was truly a community effort.
Three years later, the film has caught the headlines and a major distributor, thus allowing during this summer the general release in British cinemas of this low-budget enterprise. At the same time, it is to be shown in New Zealand and Australia.
Now what, you may ask, has a film premiere got to do with a baking blog!? Well..... Lesley insisted on paying for our tickets and just requested a payment in kind of a chocolate cake when she visits England in August. Of course, it will be my pleasure to bake one for her – my only hope is that it brings a smile to her lips, as much as the viewing of this film did to mine. Thanks, Lesley!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Afternoon tea review

After the very successful first meeting of our local branch of the Clandestine Cake Club, I brought home one or two (in fact, four) left-over slices of cake for my other half to sample. His little eyes lit up (ahhhhh....) when I produced the plate of ‘samples’ and within minutes I had a very happy, smiley, hubby – just like the 20 or so members and guests earlier in the evening.
The following week, we decided to go back to the Apothocoffee shop in Earls Barton to sample their Queen’s Diamond Jubilee High Tea for two. Our table had been reserved for us when we arrived and, on a cold but sunny afternoon, we sat looking out at the courtyard garden planted with early summer flowers.  We thoroughly enjoyed the dainty sandwich platter – egg and cucumber and smoked salmon and cream cheese – which had been freshly made, cut into neat triangles (with no crusts, of course) and sprinkled with mustard and cress. We were then treated to a warm scone accompanied by jam and Cornish clotted cream and, finally, we were served a champagne sorbet, which was absolutely delightful and just right at the end of a rich spread. At £8, including coffee or a pot of tea, we thought it very good value for money.
If you know someone you want to give a little treat to, I can think of no better place than to pop into this shop full of surprises beyond their market place front door.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Granary Soda bread

On holiday in Southern Ireland last year, one of the highlights was breakfast each day with the accompaniment of fresh Irish soda bread. The inclusion of buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda as the raising agent seemed to settle in my tummy much better than 'yeasted' loaves and I have, of late, enjoyed making my own soda bread in a variety of flavours.

Today - using a Woman's Hour recipe - I produced a loaf using granary flour (a brown flour with malted wheat grains added for a distinctive nutty flavour). I bought the flour on a recent visit to Denver Windmill in Norfolk ( where it is home stone-milled, using local grains. Health-wise, granary flour, compared with wholemeal, has slightly less fibre but more folic acid. But, what the heck, I like the taste!

If I am sufficiently brave, and able to find a local course, my next adventure into bread baking will hopefully be sour dough (a loaf made with a natural fermented starter) and, like soda bread, does not need the inclusion of extra yeast.

However, back to today's bake, I think there is nothing better than a slice of freshly made granary soda bread accompanied by a good cheese - and it's equally good toasted with light, fluffy scrambled eggs on top - or perhaps spread with butter and home-made jam (a sweet treat when there's no cake in the cupboard).

Sunday, May 6, 2012


As a teenager, still living in London with my parents, I was fortunate that they both had a flair for good food. We travelled abroad on holiday most years and Mum, I think, was inspired in the kitchen by those visits to Europe. They both loved to watch Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet) on TV but Dad never got the urge to actually cook but - like most men of his generation - he carved the meat and made 'all the right noises' when a plate was presented to him at table.

My father also travelled overseas quite a lot with work, mainly to Italy, and we were always treated to something special on his return. Sometimes he brought wine or liquers, Italian chocolates, or pasta made into a shape never seen in our local Sainsbury, but my favourites were white paper bags full to the brim with almond biscotti. These hard, crunchy, biscuits were produced when my parents had dinner parties and were used as a final course - 'dunked' into sweet marsala wine. Yummy!

I don't know why I have never attempted to actually make these biscuits and, whilst sitting in a coffee shop recently and dipping one into a skinny latte, I thought I must try this very week to cook a batch. So, when home, I had a quick scout of my cookery books and stumbled across a recipe - in a WeightWatchers book entitled 'Cook' - for coffee and pistachio biscotti and the photo is the result. For me, a taste memory revisited with fondness.