Thursday, 30 August 2012

Gone Away

The last weekend of August is always a bank holiday weekend here in the UK and in many ways it signals the end of the summer for me. The days are noticeably getting shorter, the evenings are getting chillier and the the next bank holiday will be Christmas!! Wanting to make the most of this long weekend we decided to take Little T to visit his grandparents in Poland.

They have been enjoying a really hot and lovely summer on the continent this year and we were hoping to have a few days in the sun. But as luck would have it, it rained most of the time we were there. We didn't let this dampened our spirits and on Saturday we headed to a little mountain town to visit a very hilly animal park. We marvelled at their birds of prey display and demonstrations, fed the billy goats and deer and ate a lot of ice cream. The sun even made an appearance every once in a while.

It was lovely to see P relax and rest for a few days and to have a bit of a break myself while my mum-in-law did all of the cooking and most of the running after Little T. Ultimately though, the best part of this trip was seeing Little T being doted on by his grandparents and the pure joy in their eyes every time they could give him a hug. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the end of summer and now we look forward to other visits to come.

Monday, 20 August 2012


I don't own an alarm clock any more as I can be guaranteed to be woken up by either Little T or P before I am quite ready to get out of bed, most days. But early on Saturday morning I was delighted to find myself being woken up instead by brilliant sunlight, finding both toddler and husband still in dreamland beside me. I took my chance and very quietly got up, got dressed, grabbed my camera and sneaked out the door for a rare bit of "me-time".

 This time of the day holds a certain magic for me, the nearly empty streets, the quiet yet teeming with life surrounding woods, the birds singing their morning songs. I savoured it all as I walked around, taking pictures, the sun rising higher in the sky and everybody starting their day. It truly was a little bit of indulgence.

When I got home, P had already dressed and fed Little T, ready to go to the local park and playground while I got to go and spend an hour at the hairdressers, getting pampered and beautified. Another rare indulgence for me:)

By lunch time, we were all happy to be back together and headed to our favourite pub's beer garden for some cool and delicious refreshments. We spent a wonderfully enjoyable afternoon sitting in the sunshine, while Little T happily played with his cars on the grass, and every so often wandered off to chase a passing dandelion seed. This was turning out to be a very indulgent day indeed and what better way to end it than to bake a truly indulgent cake...

 Nigella Lawson is the queen of indulgence and this very easy, very delicious cake was the very obvious choice. Ready in no time, I topped it with swirls of butter-cream icing and a heap blackberries and we wasted no time before we tucked in. The smile on my face still hasn't completely faded away :)

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Back to reality

I probably don't have to tell you that London was a very busy place to be the past two weeks. The Olympics came to town and London saw millions of people flooding its streets, trains and buses. Everywhere you went you saw friendly, smiling crowds of people, usually decked out in their national colours, carrying flags and bubbling over with excitement. The weather played along, most of the time and the world got to see London at its best. I think that even the most cynic of Londoners must feel a sense of pride at how well our city did.

We weren't lucky enough to get tickets to any of the events, but I spent the better part of the last fortnight glued to my telly, witnessing the highs as medals were won and the lows as a split second just wasn't enough. As a result, the housework was neglected, the dirty laundry was piling up, dinner was always made in a rush and there was certainly no baked goods coming out of my oven. It was therefore a very strange feeling yesterday when I woke up and realised that there won't be any running, swimming, horse jumping or any other sports to be watched. With a heavy heart I realised that I will have to go back to normality and make a start on all that cleaning, washing and tidying up. Luckily, as I was having a small break and enjoying a snack with Little T, I realised that I now have time to bake again too!

I hastily threw the last load of washing into the machine and had a rummage in the fridge for something to turn into an after dinner sweet treat. I found a punnet of peaches that were just never going to fully "ripen at home" and knew that I still have some ground almonds lurking in a cupboard. Suddenly there was only one thing on my mind, frangipane tart!

The combination of sweet baked peaches with the creamy yet fluffy almond and vanilla scented frangipane mix, all enclosed in a crispy and short pastry case is one made in heaven. If you have never tried one of these amazing tarts, please put it right as soon as possible.

 I did manage to catch up on all of the housework and it looks like my Olympics withdrawal symptoms are starting to fade away. Another slice of the tart should do the trick:)

Peach Frangipane Tart:

For the pastry:
  • 170g plain flour
  • 100g unsalted butter, chilled
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk, chilled
  • 30ml ice cold water
For the filling:
  • 3 large peaches
  • 80g unsalted butter, softened
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 80g ground almonds
  • 40g plain flour
  • 1 egg, plus 1 egg white
  • 4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Start by making your pastry. Lightly beat the egg yolk with the water and keep it in the fridge until you need it. Keep the separated white as you'll need it for the filling. Cut your butter into 1cm cubes and put this into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade. Tip your flour and salt over the butter and pulse until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. (You can also use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour, if you don't have a processor). Sprinkle about two thirds of the cold egg-water mix over the flour and give this a few pulses until the mix starts to clump around the blade. If there is still dry flour in the bowl then add the rest of the egg-water and pulse again until it forms a ball. Take the pastry out and lightly press it into a disk between your palms, wrap it in cling-film and let it rest in the fridge for about 10 minutes.

You can now start to slice your peaches, cut each one into about 16 slices. I leave the skins on as it gives more colour to the tart and more flavour, but you can take the skins off if you want. Sprinkle the lemon juice and two of the four teaspoons of vanilla over the peaches and give it a stir. Leave this to stand.

Preheat your oven to 200°C and get a 24cm tart tin ready. 
Roll out the pastry to about 3mm thickness and lightly press it into the tart tin, taking care not to stretch or tear it. There is no need to blind bake the pastry, just pop it into the freezer while you make the frangipane mix. Don't leave it in the freezer for more than 15 minutes though!

Cream together the sugar and butter until it is very pale and creamy. Add the almonds, flour and eggs and mix well. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix on a high speed until you have a smooth, thick paste. Pour the frangipane into your cold pastry case and then arrange your peach slices on top, covering the entire surface in a spiral pattern, lightly pressing them into the mix. 
Place the tart in the middle of your hot oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the frangipane has risen over the peaches and is a golden brown colour.

Its great to eat the tart either completely cold or still slightly warm, served with a dollop of whipped cream or just on its own.


Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Life in TechniColor

I have always lived life in Technocolor. If you look through photographs from my childhood and teenage years, I am always the one wearing the bright yellow shorts, red t-shirt or blue hat or even all of these at the same time :) When I was allowed to redecorate my bedroom when I was 17, I painted my walls lime green and turquoise and got bedding to match. When I bake cupcakes, the icing has to be pink, yellow or blue and nowadays when I buy toys for Little T, it's the more colourful the better!

You can therefore imagine that when I walked into my local yarn shop last week and saw a shelve full of the brightest, most colourful balls of Rico Creative Cotton yarns, I nearly fell over my own feet trying to get to it and could not stop myself from filling my arms with as many colours as I could hold.

I am busy turning this box of colour into a little granny square throw to brighten up our grey sofa and I am loving every moment of it. How can you not love such a colour explosion! How can you not want to live life in Technicolor :)