Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Cakes

For Sally's birthday party I made a few little cakes - fruity ones and muffins!

Mini Christmas Cakes a la BBC Good Food
225g butter
2 tbsp brandy
pinch of saffron
225g golden catser sugar
4 eggs
225g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
300g raisins
300g sultanas
100g glace cherries, halved
85g mixed peel
50g almonds, roughly chopped
50g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
50g pecans

Heat the oven to 160°C. Heat the brandy in a small pan and add the saffron and leave to infuse for a few minutes. Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, ground almonds, baking powder and a pinch of salt in a bowl, beat together until smooth. Mix in the fruit, nuts and brandy-saffron. Spoon into 24 muffin cases and bake for 50min, or until a skewer comes out clean.

To ice I used ready rolled marzipan and regal icing because I'm lazy but you could easily make your own. I dusted the cakes with edible snowflake, silver or gold from Squires Kitchen.

Cranberry and orange muffins
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb
1/2 tsp baking poweder
125g caster sugar
100ml low fat plain yoghurt
grated rind of an orange
100ml freshly squeezed orange juice
1 egg
150g fresh cranberries

Heat the oven to 200°C. Put the cranberries in a baking dish and sprinkle with 50g sugar. Bake in the oven for about 10min until they have burst and soaked up the sugar, but are still whole and not mush. In a bowl sift the flour, bicarb, baking powder and remaining sugar. In a jug mix together the yoghurt, egg, orange juice and rind. Then combine the liquids and flour mixture and stir in the cranberries. Just incorporate everything and don't over mix to get fluffy muffins. Then distribute between 12 muffin cases and bake for about 20min. The cranberries give the muffins quite a tart taste so if you like them a bit sweeter just adda little more sugar.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A couple of weeks ago I was cycling to work, I needed to be there early and everything was very frosty. As I came over the bridge I couldn't help but stop and take a few photos of the spiders webs encased in frost, I never did get to work that early in the end.

Friday, November 02, 2007


Ok so this is very geeky but these are my cells that I have got to express green fluorescent protein! (The red is actin - the cytoskeleton- and the blue are the nuclei). The top one is of three oral keratinocytes, gum cells and the bottom one is a neuroblastoma cell, a brain cell!


Its been like this every day this week - very beautiful!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

We're Jammin'

and jellying.....
I have been busy preserving - I managed to get some medlars and quinces from the farmers market and made some jellies, and also used up the end of the free damsons and mini quinces making jam and quince cheese. The medlars are quite interesting - I'd never used them before but they were quite popular several hundred years ago! The interesting thing is that you have to let them 'blet' of rot before you can use them - so I left mine under several rather ripe bananas for a week or so to get them all soft and brown. Then I stewed them for about an hour until they were pulpy and strained the juice. Finally for evey 600ml I added 450g sugar and boiled up the jelly until it set on a plate. This didn't take long as they're packed full of pectin! The other jellies were just the same and the jam, with help from Fran, Katie and Kira soon coated nearly every surafce of my very sticky kitchen after an evening of stirring and testing! The quince cheese is curing in the airing cupboard so more on that later.

These are medlars before bletting

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Katie's Zombie cake

Just a plain sponge with lime curd inside - but I went a bit wild with the decorating! Happy Birthday Katie!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Friday night at the jazz

Early Friday evening
Picking up a muffin and hot choc
On the way to the jazz
The glow of the evening light fills the eyes
Pink fluffy clouds linger in the sky
Orange lights flicker on across the square
The unexpected notes
Untangle the week in my mind
The euphoria of Friday night seeps deeper

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cake Festival

We're having a wee cake fest at work today - many people have brought in home made cakes - Kim brought orange chocolate muffins and Ania brought Polish cheesecake, I whipped up a little ginger bread:
Sift into a bowl 250g self raising flour, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, a few gratings of nutmeg and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. In a saucepan melt together 200g black treacle, 2 tablespoons syrup from a jar of stem ginger, 125g butter, 125g dark muscavado sugar, zest of an orange, 110g raisins and three pieces of stem ginger that have been chopped. Once everything has melted then bring it to simmering point. In another bowl mix together two eggs and 250ml milk. Finally beat the sugar mixture into the flour and then mix in the milk mixture until everything is combined well. Pour into a greaseproof lined loaf tin and cook in a pre-heated 170°C oven and cook for 35-40min until a skewer comes out clean. Exceedingly good fresh with vanilla ice-cream or a few days later when it has matured.
The little one in the picture was left over mixture that wouldn't fit in my loaf tin and was baked for as long as the loaf alongside it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Guillemots at the new Town Hall

Yesterday was a rather fabulous day - not only did I get to hear the charismatic Jeremy Niven talking about energy trade off in neurons but I also got to go and see the Guillemots live in the newly refurbished Town Hall in Birmingham. Fyfe Dangerfield had written a new piece for the CBSO, which we heard in the first half - all fantastic contemporary type stuff with amazing technical string movements, the cello solo was really quite something. The only thing that was disappointing was that the programes were £5 which I felt weas a bit steep so I wasn't entirely sure of what was going on. Then in the second half the rest of the band came on stage and we were treated to a fantastic set - the finally of Sao Paolo with Fyfe legging it up to play on the organ was just spectacular! My head is still ringing to the sound..... thrown across the water.......I love you through sparks and shining dragons.....

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Incaholic cheesecakes

I had a crazy idea whilst having dinner with Anna and Anthony a wee while ago - how about combining cheesecake with beer. We discussed the merits of various brews and decided that Guinness was a must but also something fruity. Anthony suggested heather beer from Scotland but as I haven't been north for a few months I didn't manage to get hold of any. However on my recent trip to Zutphen I picked up some very fruit Rose beer and Sarah and Juul donated a bottle of coriandery Kronenberg blanc. All I needed was a suitable recipe to administer beer to and I was away. Looking through my cookbooks I found Nigella's passionfruit cheesecake - a baked cheesecake that had a substantial volume of liquid added to the mix. So this was the one. Having whisked up the cheesy mix I then separated it in to three and added a little beer, a little taste and then a bit more. Finally into the oven, fingers crossed that they would cook and end up like cheesecakes and not as scrambled eggs. And they did and they taste pretty good too, currently I have the lab tasting them - so far the only comment has been beery!

At the beer adding stage.

The final product!

Beery cheesecakes (with a little help from Nigella)
For the biscuit base
200g digestive biscuits
75g butter

For the filling
600g cream cheese
125g caster sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
200ml double cream
juice of 1/2 lemon

First blitz the biscuits to breadcrumbs and add the butter and whizz again. To make little ones add a dessertspoon of this mix to each mould of a silicone muffin and press down. Put the muffin mould into a baking dish that you can fill with water.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. To make the filling beat the cream cheese in a bowl until smooth then add the sugar and beat in. Add the eggs and yolks mixing them in one at a time. Stir in the cream and lemon juice. Then split the mixture into three. Add 100ml of beer to each - three different beers for a taste challenge. Stir in gently, there will be lots of fizzing. When completely mixed leave to stand for 10min. Put the kettle on. Carefully spoon the mixture over the biscuit base. Pour the water from the recently boiled kettle into the baking dish under the muffin mould. Carefully transfer it all to the oven and bake for 1hour. Carefully take it out of the oven and remove the mould to a cooling rack. Leave to cool and then refrigerate overnight. Unmould by running a palette knife (nothing sharp!) around the individual cheesecakes and then pushing the mould up from the bottom. Enjoy!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Weekend away

Dougal came across sans crutches for another fabulous weekend in London. Starting off with a spot of shopping in Covent Garden and then heading to Le Pain Quotidien for tea before going to see The Emperor Jones at the National Theatre. I was really surprised (though shouldn't be) that there was Friday night jazz there too! Paterson Joseph was fantastic as Brutus Jones and the set was brilliant - especially in the boat scene, it was like the whole theatre was in the swell. The music was fab too - lots of wild drumming! Its on until the end of the month so still plenty of time if you fancy going to see it. More shopping on Saturday and then a walk at Wisley on Sunday to see the Surrey sculpture club exhibition - brilliant but it was the last day so until next year.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


My excitement had been building all week, many people were about to descend upon our little street in Kings Norton for Sarah and Juuls's big day! After torrential rain on Friday I eagerly pull back the curtains on Saturday and saw sunshine! Fantastic! Our first port of call in the morning was to Bank to finish off setting up the tables and then a quiet stroll over to the register office with a few phtotos along the way. Then time seemed to accelerate through the ceremony, Cecile (Juul's cousin) played her clarinet beautifully, Jet read a wonderful poem. Sandwiched between two massive wedding parties we had a few photos in the garden, but more outside the Ikon. Lunch at Bank with a few elegant speaches completed our stay in town and then back for a wee party in the 'party garage' and garden! Wonderful!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Chocolate Festival

The fantastic chocolate festival in Zutphen was on Sunday! We could hardly believe the numbers of people in town for this - there were demonstrations on how to make chocolates, chocolate sculptures and plenty of things to taste!


Beautiful Zutphen in the autumn sunshine!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Free Jam.....

....well nearly anyway! Having gathered all my fruit I just had to decide what to make with them all. I have a book called Fruits of the Hedgerow by Charlotte Popescu and I leafed through this and decided first of all to make some damson jam and hedgerow jelly. I also made some sloe gin (in a 1litre kilner jar put 225g sloes that have been pricked with a fork, 125g sugar and 70cl of gin, seal and leave in a dark place for 3months) but this will only be ready later in the year.

Damson Jam

1kg damsons
450ml water
1.35kg granulated sugar
juice of a lemon

Wash your jam jars and lids and place the jars into a 100°C oven. Wash the damsons and then put them in a large heavy based saucepan. Add the water and bring to simmering and simmer for 30 min. Leave to cool and then try and find all the stones. You could leave then in and remove them once the jam has reached setting temperature as the will float up to the top at this point but I find it easier to remove them now. Then add the sugar and lemon juice and bring to the boil. Stirring occasionally to stop the fruit sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan boil until it reaches setting point. To test this have a plate in the fridge. Put a little of the boiling jam on to this and then place back into the fridge for a few minutes. If its set or if it forms a crust then the jam is ready for bottling. Turn off the heat and allow the jam to collapse back into the pan, skim off and scum (its just the protein that's in the fruit nothing to be alarmed about) and ladle into the hot jars. Seal whilst hot and then leave to cool.

Hedgerow jelly

450g haws (the fruit from the hawthorn tree)
450g crab apples
450g elderberries
a handful of rosehips
granulated sugar
juice of a lemon

Remove all the stalks from the fruit and rinse to remove any bugs of dried bits of flower petal from the fruit. Put all the fruit in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to simmering and simmer until all the fruit is soft, crushing the fruit on the side of the pan. Then strain through a muslin cloth into a bowl, overnight. Discard the pulp and measure the juice. Put the liquid in a pan with 450g sugar for every 600ml juice. (I had about 900ml juice and so needed about 700g sugar) Add the lemon juice and bring the mixture to the boil, dissolving all the sugar. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached (see above) and then bottle in prepared jars (also detailed above).

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bountiful Birmingham

This is my 'haul' from the canalside yesteday when I went a-picking! Nearly 5kg fruit and a few hazelnuts. I found a whole field of sloes so there will be sloe gin and lots of jam. Watch this space!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Fabulous vegetarian and vegan food

Liz and Ethan intited a whole crowd of us along to the Warehouse Cafe on Allison Street on Saturday lunch time for a celebration with vegetarian and vegan food. The cafe is upstairs from the Friends of the Earth Shop so it was a little like going up to a friend's sitting room clambering up the stairs in the old victorian terrace house. And the place was hopping - we took the centre of the restaurant on several tables and generally enjoyed ourselves whileeverything was cooked up! The policy is to bring your own wine which we did, and cava and beers! The food was fabulous - for me an aubergine and chickpea fritter stack on a bed of couscous with youghurt dressing followed by a vegan cheesecake with strawberries. Fantastic, it was nearly 6 by the time we dragged ourselves away.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Time lapse at Stallheim

Here are a couple of videos of the time lapse piccies we took first overnight and then over breakfast out of out bedroom window at the Stalheim with Dougal's very cool bit of kit!

Friday, August 10, 2007

A gastronomic tour of Norway

Our gastronomic tour of Norway started in Stavanger at Gladmat the 'happy food' festival. The weather wasn't as kind as last year but the food was definitely up to scratch! The scallops were divine (I think this word will get rather over used - everything was of the heavens!) and we particularly enjoyed the dates wrapped in bacon too. A highlight was the 'hummer' (Norwegian for lobster)!

From Stavanger we drove north to Dr Holm's hotel in Geilo....and I can't find the photos from there......where we ate in the brasserie, I remember beautiful tasty food but with remarkably cold vegies, very peculiar.

After a couple of days we travelled up to Dovrefjell and stayed at Kongsvold fjellstue. This fabulous little place was very homely, beautiful simple rooms and amazing food. Mr Nyhus personally attend his guests and we all ate from a set menu each night. The first evening we had muskox terrine with onion compote, pan fried trout with potato mashed with spring onion, asparagus and green beans, followed by pannacotta and raspberry sorbet served on crisp sweet stewed green rhubarb and very old balsamic vinegar.

At breakfast I was a little adventurous and tried some very old crumbly exceedingly salty cheese - euhhhhh! The second evening we had a dish I never order - ox tail soup with maderia in it and to drink, which was magnificent, then halibut with flagelott and green lentils and finally a passionfruit cheesecake. Our wine was a Puilly-fummee sauvignon blanc positively bursting with bananas.

On our final evening we had a speciality of the region almond potatoes which were made into a thick cream soup, then reindeer with celeriac mash, almond potato cake and green greens, followed by chocolate brownie with heavenly blood orange sorbet, my favourite rhubarb again and caramelised pineapple. WOW!!!

We moved further south to the Fossheim hotel, where we had their set menu the first night - an amuse bouche of smoked halibut on turnip puree and with a green olive dressing, salmon roasted in walnut oil with broad beans and a blue mussel cream sauce, deer with mushrooms and wortleberry poached pear, and for dessert a strawberry soup with a raspberry sorbet. This was all exceedingly delicious but sadly the set menu stayed the same for the remaining two nights we were there so one night we had the buffet and the next we had excellent pizza (yes veering off the gastronomic route a little) just over the road.

Our final port of call was the Stalheim hotel, where the first night we were the only ones in the second dining room - complete with magnificent view down the valley as the first dining room was full!!! We all had starters and mains but then nearly exploded as we could have shared probably one between the four of us! I had curried chicken on a pancake to start and then pan fried salmon on spinach and pesto spaghetti for main, fabulous stuff.....but ever so slightly too much!

On our second evening at the Stalheim we had learnt to start small, so I had the steak with 'potato cookies' and roasted vegies and then the chocolate mousse with red fruits. Succulent and creamy! Fantastic food!

Just in case we were peckish between all this amazing food we also managed to squeeze in a few pastries and waffles - my personal favourite were the mandelstangs - must find a recipe!
And now with a couple of weddings to attend in the next month I need to loose a few pounds, kilogrammes, may be I should just leave an arm or leg at home..........

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Jazz and Jewellery

Don't forget to pop by to the Craft Fair in the Jewellery Quarter this weekend!!! I'll be up by the Big Peg with my felt! Thus slightly dodgy photo shows the flier.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A taste of Birmingham

Naomi and I headed over to Cannon Hill Park to visit the Taste of Birmingham exhibition - many of the brilliant restaurants in Birmingham were showing off their skills. The system was a little weird but we bought a number of crowns (vouchers) that we swapped for taster plates of food - Beef Wellington from Jonathon's, duck suasage from the restaurant in the Hyatt, lemon possett from Opus and Black Forest trifle from Bank! All exceedingly yummy but the favourite was the Black Forest trifle!!

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Do you remember the little wooly hats I made for innocent and their supergran campaign? Well now they're looking for bunting donations to smash the world record for the longest piece of bunting!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

This is the river Rea - I cycle past it every morning and when we had all the rain it became a raging torrent (left hand side) from its normal quiet self (on the right). Its been yo-yoing back and forthe ever since!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The new Glasshouse at Wisley and the Festival of Speed

What a fabulous weekend - we went to the Festival of Speed at Goodwood - lots of beautiful old and new cars. And only one shower - though it was very heavy with giant hailstones! I even got to go up the hillclimb on a bike - well on a computer simulation anyway! And then to the new Glasshouse at RHS Wisley - fabulous!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Stroud Festival

Saying good bye to Stroud - one last potter around all the fab places and it just happened to be the STroud festival too!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Goat's cheese cannelloni

When I went to the supermarket on Tuesday night they didn't have any ricotta and as I was due to make spinach and ricotta cannelloni for Gloria on Wednesday I had a swift think - what was most like ricotta? With a pot of cottage cheese already in hand I suddenly spotted the soft goat's cheese and thought with a little marscapone that would make a delicious substitute. It did indeed and it was so good we ate it all before I thought of taking in a picture!!!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Rhubarb muffins and Tulband

I was down at the Saturday Farmer's Market in Kings Norton and whilst dodging the rain I picked up some fabulous looking rhubarb for these yummy muffins, as found in the March Olive magazine.
Bake 300g rhubarb with 3 tablespoons of sugar for 10min at 200°C. Drain and cool. Mix together 300g plain flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder, 100g sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. In another bowl beat together 2 eggs, 200ml milk and 100g cooled melted butter. Once cool add the rhubarb to this mix then fold it all into the flour, taking car to just incorporate everything but not to mix too vigorously or it'll make for very rubbery muffins. Spoon the mixture into 12 muffin cases or a silicone muffin pan and bake at 200°C for 25min.

In fact this is a Kersttulband, or Christmas turban, a recipe I found in an ancient copy of Allerhande. Its fantastically tasty, very buttery and fruity.

100g raisins
100g sultanas
100g dried citrus fruit
250g self raising flour
250g soft butter
200g cater sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
4 large eggs
Cream together the butter and sugar and beat until pale. Then work in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla essence and then sift and mix in the flour a third at a time. Finally stir in all the fruit and pour into a Tulband mould (aka kugelhopf mould) and bake in a preheat oven at 175°C for 1 hour. Once cooled turnout and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spinach Gnocchi

My first foray into the world of making gnocchi was very successful and delicious, a pre-eurovision treat. The recipe came from The French Kitchen by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde.

For 6 people, though three of us managed to eat them all!!!
600g potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed
350g spinach, washed and dry fried til wilted, chopped
150g plain flour
1 egg yolk
75g butter, cubed
100g blue cheese, I used Saint Azur, crumbled

Mix together the mashed potatoes, spinach, flour and egg yolk with some seasoning. Then divide the dough into 64 little balls and lay on a floured surface. Squash each one with fork and then cook themin batches in boiling water for 2min. Drain them well and layer them in a baking dish with the butter and cheese. Then bake at 180°C for 10min until the cheese is bubbling and browning. Strew with torn basil leaves ansd serve. Delicious with a green salad.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Last week was all about moving, sometimes at high speed, sometimes very slowly! It all began on Sunday when I took part in the Shakespeare half marathon in Stratford upon Avon. It was a gorgeous day, not too hot not too cold at the start, though by the time I was running it was toasty and I had to have water at every station. The course was good, even the hill between miles 7 and 8 was managable. I was exhausted by the end but managed a time of 2h and 4min. Just about spot on. Then it was all about speed on Tuesday night when I took part in the Coroporate Relay for Mencap at the University. Our team, 'the dentists' (I was an honorary dentist for the evening) were pretty good - all the lads ran around a 6min mile and I managed to squeeze a 7min mile out of my tired legs! And we came in 5th out of 30 teams - not bad at all!!! And finally the big move spread across several days - and now I am settled into my new abode!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


On Saturday night Mum, Dad, Dougal and I went to a fabulous restaurant Opus - not new to the city as such but certainly new to us, and me in particular as I'm the one living in Birmingham. In the week I'm sure that Cornwall Street is part of the thronging business district, and there was certainly a lot of noise on the phone when I rang for a reservation on Friday lunchtime, but on Saturday night it was pleasantly quiet, though the restaurant was nearly full by 9. The waiters were attentive and knowledgeable, explaining the things we didn't know on the menu (rotollo). The menu itself made choosing hard but eventually we all settled on something different. I had exquisite scallops and monkfish followed by banana bread and rum butter pudding. All were exceedingly delicious. I would heartily recommend this place!

On Sunday Maggie came to visit us and we all went to see Madeleine Peyroux at the Symphony Hall - what a fantastic voice she has! We had songs in French and in English, and her band are pretty darn good too!!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easter with Whistler

I squeezed Whistler, my bike, on to the train at New Street, ousted a chap from my reserved seat, and was then on my merry way to Edinburgh. The cabin I was in was alternately freezing and roasting as a mini battle played out between the passengers who liked it hot or cold! My excitement started to rise as we got to the coast and I glimpsed Alnmouth and then Berwick from the train. In two days time I would be peddling down this stretch of the coast. In Edinburgh I hoiked my bike up the steps and out on to Princes Street and wandered down to the youth hostel in Haddington Place. This has got to be the most swanky YHA I have ever stayed in! With a beautiful evening going on I didn't linker, though. I wandered up to the castle and then found fabulous little thai restaurant for a spicy thai green curry.

Getting up the next morning I bumped into a fellow cyclist and we chatted for ten minutes before going our separate ways - he was off to Gretna, which sounded suitably distant, and I was off into the Borders to Galashiels. The sun was shining again which was great until I realised I was turning a pretty shade of pink! And it took 3 days before I found a shop selling suncream!! I peddled merrily out of Edinburgh on mostly traffic-free routes seeing loads of birds and even a stoat (I think). As I came into Dalkeith I was pointed down a cycle route that was being retarred and when I shouted to the road crew if there was an alternative they said they'd carry the bike over the tarmac being poured and I could sneak across!! Just outside Dalkeith the the road began to climb through the Moorfoot hills and I looked out across a long plain to Edinburgh and the coast. I was soon into the Borders and it was so beautiful. In the autumn it must be even more breath taking with all the heather in bloom. I lunched, propped up on a fence next to the sheep and watched the speed demon cyclists in their lycra whizzing by. Down near Innerleithen I saw a sign advertising afternoon tea at Traquair House and decided it was that time of day. Traquair House is, apparently the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, and has not only its own maze and brewery but also makes jolly nice scones! My final route of the day took me alongside the beautiful Tweed river as it wound its way towards the sea, I was to follow it on the next day too. The B&B in Galashiels was a welcome sight and I headed into the highly recommend Salmon pub for Good Friday Salmon in a chilli and lime crust.

The bells started at 7 and I was out onto the road filled with scrambled egg by 9, pottering alongside the Tweed again towards Berwick-upon-Tweed. The cycling was undulating and it made for fine views and a hungry cyclist. I found another field for lunch and bathed in the sunlight. The route wound in and out of the border, just as well I didn't have to have my passport checked ;) and at Horncliffe exiting Scotland for the last time I sneaked across the closed Union Suspension bridge, only closed to cars really and pedestrians were using it so I didn't have to don my invisibility cloak. At the top of the last hill into Berwick I was greeted by a sign welcoming cyclists and also a chilly wind blowing off the sea. The town centre was thronged with people and I took refuge on the beach just round the corner from the B&B before dinner of as many carbs as I could lay my hands on.

I had checked the tide times and knew that I could get out to Lindesfarne from about 9 so I didn't dally in the morning and was off on Whistler down the coastal path. But even then as I got to the causeway I could see a steady stream of cars heading onto the island. It was easy getting out there, I thought because it was so flat but on the return with the wind in my face I realised the real reason. With a long ride to complete I chose to visit the priory over the castle and really enjoyed wandering through the ruins and round the exhibition. The boat hull sheds at the harbour tickled my fancy too. By the time I left the place was hopping, not quite the calm atmosphere I had envisaged. Back on the mainland I was confronted by a series of nasty little hills that were particularly precipitous and after battling away for a couple of hours I decided to take the coastal road from Bamburgh, busier but much less vindictive! My next stop was just under Dunstanburgh Castle on a wonderful sandy beach complete with paddlers and cricket teams. Then the final leg on the coastal path, possibly the best cycling ever, from Craster, past Howick to Boulmer and then on the road into the beautiful Alnmouth.

Filled with scrambled eggs again I pottered off down the coastal path through dunes and past daffodils. Over looking the sea at Ashlington I shared my spot with a couple of bumble bees and a goodly quantity of fig rolls were consumed to keep the energy up. Coming through Blythe I played cat and mouse with a couple also touring but eventually lost them, when I actually found a shop selling suncream, and never did find out where they were off to. In Whitley Bay I started on the 'shared use path', which was basically the footpath and seeing as I didn't fancy weaving in and out of the tourists I pottered down the road, managing to miss some of the signs and picking them up again as I got to the very edge of the mouth of the river Tyne. There I found a fantastic visita served by the largest number of benches I think I'd ever seen. Following the river inland I cycled past Segedunum at the end of Hadrian's wall and some of the old ship yards. My temporary destination was the centre of Newcastle as I wanted to see the new Millennium bridge and the Baltic Arts Centre. I wasn't disappointed even though I was on my last legs by the time I stopped. A few photos and a celebratory fig roll and then I peddled over the bridge itself and off to the B&B at South Shields.

It was a scrambled egg day again and then in overcast conditions I cycled past the coast park where we had finished the Great North Run 3 years ago. In Sunderland I wound around the marina, which was very beautiful, and toyed with the idea of visiting the National Glass Museum, but with only 10miles under my belt I wanted to push on. The route was pretty much traffic free but punctuated by A frame barriers that I could hardly squeeze the laden Whistler through. But it was worth it as I went along the East Durham railway route straight across the countryside. I stopped in Thorpe Thewels for an ice-cream and promptly lost the route, having to remove all the bags from the bike and get it through a kissing gate. But I found it again shortly after and weaved my way through the broken glass in Stockton-on-Tees and into Middlesbrough. Waiting for the B&B to open I ate lasagna and chips in Albert park and watched the first ducklings I had seen this year. There appeared to be 24 of them all belonging to one mother duck.

The B&B had a strange atmosphere and I was very glad to see fellow human beings at breakfast the next morning. But I still had no desire to linger and was out on the cycle path at 8.30. I had decided to go a bit more cross country through the North York Moors and so I took the road down to Stokesley and then a tiny little road into the National Park itself. The views were beautiful and I was just about enjoying the giant hills. One particularly memorable one was labelled 1 in 6 and I hurtled down it only to grind to a halt about 5m up the other side of the valley. The lorry in front of me was struggling too and I admitted defeat and walked to the top. But it gave me the chance to see the lapwings displaying as they wheeled about in the sky, dive bombing the ground only to soar back up again with a few centimeters to spare. I'd just joined the off road route to Castleton when disaster struck - my saddle was suddenly on the ground. The bolt had sheared off an I didn't have a spare with which to fix it. Luckily I was near the train station and I walked the remaining two miles and waited to take the train home, there not being a bike shop near by. Having cover 300miles in 6 days I wasn't disappointed and Whistler got a well earned rest. Whitby, Scarborough and Hull can wait til later in the year.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

This week I have been at the IADR conference in New Orleans. Apart from spending most of our time in a chilly conference centre we have also had a little time to explore the city. On Wednesday Iru and I took a stroll around the French Quarter for the first time - there was lots of live music being played and we sat and enjoyed a quartet complete with their own dance couple!! For lunch we have also been trying out various little spots - one of the best was the unprepossessing Louisiana Products on Julia Street. We got there a bit lat for their usual lunchtime crowd but we managed to have the end of their fried chicken with salad, sitting at the little rickety tables and enjoying the company of the locals.
For dinner we headed into the Crescent City Brewhouse on Tuesday night and I started the trend of having lots prawns for tea - very tasty! And on Thursday we made our way down to Snug Harbour, a fantastic jazz club, to hear Badal Roy playing the Tabala - magic!
Yesterday, in a search for an electronics store, we took a cab out to Walmart and caught the local bus home. We got a little trip through the Garden District, glimpsing the old houses, much like the balconied French Quarter houses but more spread out. Getting off in town I walked up to the Superdome and was really very surprised to see the mall just next door still looking fairly destroyed. Much of the 'touristy' areas seem to be doing fairly well, certainly full of punters. But there is a strange ghostly feel to the whole city and there are many for sale signs on the shops. Even to other Americans, who I talked to at the conference, the city seems strange - a bit like an over looked corner - I can only imagine that the areas that were devastated are still in a fairly bad way and that the people living here are still struggling enormously, which seems monstrous as it has been quite some time since Katrina came to town. I had expected that things would be looking up. We never did find an electronics store selling what we wanted - but we did find several selling what looked like the older models of cameras etc. May be there's a booming internet delivery business here or may be nobody is buying anything.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Northern Lights

Mum, Dad, Dougal and I were all in Kiruna, Sweden for the most fabulous trip - to visit the Ice Hotel! What a fabulous place to visit - spectacular and so many things to do! We arrived from Stockholm in the afternoon and went straight off to see the Saami reindeer herders, who cooked us up some exceedingly delicious smoked reindeer meat with lingonberry sauce. And that night we stayed in the Ice Hotel itself. Every year a new one is made so its a really unique experience - snuggled up in our enormous blue sleeping bags! And there's also the Ice Bar where the drinks are served out of ice glasses!!! And the ice suites that are sculpted out of ice and snice (thats snow and ice mixed together) by anyone who submits a proposal that gets accepted (a bit like Chelsea I suppose). The next day we did ice sculpting, which is fantastic fun, to the tunes of Moon Dog. And the crowning experience - we went off on skidoos to look for the northern lights!!!! I could hardly believe my eyes as they rippled across the sky, green curtains of light, more spectacular than I could ever have imagined! Having dined on moose stew we had a night in a warm cabin before heading off on a moose expedition. And we saw about 15 without really trying - as they were all basking in the sunshine near the road!!

Friday, March 02, 2007

I can't believe its the beginning of March already! What happened to February? As we're nearly into spring I thought I'd post a few of the early flowers out in the garden - captured in the gorgeous early morning light.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nuno felting

This may look like an old hanky but in fact it my first effort at nuno felting. Emma, my tutor down at the Mac, showed me this evening how to felt onto silk - fantastic - just like normal felting but now I have even more felting fun to look forward to!! Those little bobbly bits are called neps and are also made of wool - even more new and exciting things!!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An evening in Manchesterford

I've just got in from the most hilarious evening. Sally, Naomi and I had a trip to the theatre - first dining at the Green Room - and then settling into our seats at the Hippodrome for Acorn Antiques The Musical!!! It was just divine!!! We might not have had the big big stars that first put it on with Victoria Wood but our cast was spot on! Mrs O and her girls were hilarious from start to finish - when we were invited to donate to a charity of Biiirrrmingham and the Black Coun-tray in a faultless brummy accent that went down a storm in the Hip!! Bravo!!!! Who would have known that macaroons were a midlands thing!!! Go and see it if there are any tickets to be had!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Waiter there's something in my pie!

I was cycling home today in the sunshine thinking what shall I have for tea? when I thought of something we used to cook as students. Mel and I used to cook together and made delights such as bolognese risotto and sausage plait, though I seem to remember lots of lentils too and one fateful outing of fruity mince, never again. It was the plait that inspired me today - I thought instead of sausage I would put in lots of delicious vegies and some tangy cheese. So here we have it an experimental vegie plait that I shall name Mels' plait!

Mels' Plait

fresh spinach
a tin of chickpeas, chickpeas rinsed
two cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 onion finely chopped
125g mushrooms, finely chopped
1 leek, finely sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
half a ball of fresh mozzarella
2 peppers (red and yellow)
100g shropshire blue cheese (or other tangy cheese)
500g puff pastry
a little milk for brushing

First put on the oven at 220°C and once hot roast the peppers for 30min. Once they're done take them out and put them in a bowl and cover with clingfilm or foil for 5min. Then peel and remove all the seeds etc and cut into four pieces each. Then make a simple houmus with 3/4 the chickpeas, garlic, peanut butter and enough water to make the liquidiser go round. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a pan and fry off the onions until transparent and then add the mushrooms and leek and fry until soft and dry. Stir in herbs of your choice - about 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme is good. Roll out the pastry until about 3mm thick, place on a greased baking sheet and then on one half cover with the spinach leaves leaving a border of about 2cm all around (so at this point it looks like a book with just one page covered in green and the other page is blank). On top of the spinach layer the houmus and scatter over the remaining chickpeas. On top of this layer the mushroom mixture and then tear up the mozzarella and spread over as evenly as possible. Then layer over the peppers and finely crumble or finely slice the cheese and layer over the peppers. Brush the 2cm pastry border with milk. Finally take your blank 'page' of pastry over the top and stick down using the back of a fork. Brush the top with milk and cut 8 slits in the top layer of pastry. Cook in your 220°C oven for 20min, until golden brown. And if you'd like to have roasted tomatoes with it put them into the oven too. This will serve 4-6.

I know there's no plaiting here but if you felt inspired you could centre the layers instead of having them all on one side and then plait the pastry from each side - v complicated to explain but easy enough to do.

BPW2 continued

What timing! This gorgeous postcard arrived in the post yesterday in time for Valentine's Day all the way from Rachel in Florida. Rachel has a great blog and hand made this card just for me - thanks! And thanks to Meeta for organising the event - bring a little bit of joy into all our lives.
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