Friday, 30 March 2012

Thornbury Castle

Yesterday John took the afternoon off work and we spent a delightful afternoon at Thornbury Castle Hotel, enjoying their afternoon tea menu. This was a wedding present which has taken us a long time to get around to using. It almost didn't happen as the voucher was due to expire while I am away in Brazil, and we had run out of free weekends. Thankfully, John is able to take time off work at very short notice, and I have free afternoons, which made Thursday the perfect day for a spot of afternoon tea.
We were greeted by this fellow, then taken to our armchairs that were situated in a room with incredibly high ceilings, an open fire, and a wonderfully diverse range of books. John read about helicopters and yachts, and I read about country homes and hotels. Not particularly diverse, but interesting all the same.

We didn't have to wait long to be served our assortment of crustless sandwiches and cakes. With the amount of food we had to consume, we were both glad that we hadn't eaten lunch, otherwise we would have been requesting doggy-bags, and I'm pretty certain this would not be the expected etiquette in a castle.

The cakes were delicious. The meringue was perfectly light, sandwiched together with cream containing vanilla pod seeds; the brownie was the most velvety brownie I have ever tasted, and the chocolate eclair had just the right amount of cream. Yum.
We took our time in consuming these treats, enjoying the beauty of the castle to the full, to make the most of this lovely treat. After we could eat no more (we had to leave a scone - two each was just a little too much), we took a turn about the grounds. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that John strolled around the grounds while I balanced my camera precariously in various places, set the timer, then ran to John so we could get some photos of the two of us. That ended up looking a little something like this...

Or this...
A beautiful weeping willow catches John's eye. We decide it would be a great spot for a photo. Trees are great by themselves, but with people in front, they're even more exciting. Here goes...
Q:Is John holding his arms out ready for an embrace, or to help me find him as he is so tiny compared to the trees? 

 Nearly there! Running across grass in heels is a risky business!
A:Neither embrace, nor to show me where he is. I found him and he's not embracing. John, why are you still holding your arms out?
And that's the end of the story about how I took the photo of a weeping willow and us simultaneously.

We had such a fun, relaxing afternoon, and are very thankful to our friends who gave us such a lovely wedding present. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

London highlights

Our weekend in London was glorious, filled with much food, family, friends and sun. 

On Friday night we saw the much-anticipated Hunger Games at the cinema. In all honesty, I think the book is far better.

On Saturday we took a stroll through Sydenham Hill Woods and Dulwich Park, followed by dinner at Rocca in Dulwich Village. The pizza was delicious and the red wine was divine - I meant to make a note of its name so that I could go and buy some but I was talking too much.

I love magnolia's. They make me think of my parent's garden. Big, beautiful flowers. How brilliant is Spring?

On Sunday we spent much of the morning making gerbera daisies out of marzipan and sugarpaste icing, then attempting to make them look pretty. 

You see that thing that looks like a white spider? That was one of John's first attempts at using the flower cutter. It was a very sorry sight indeed. Thankfully he quickly mastered the skill and so we end up with a whole garden's worth of edible flowers. I have to confess that I was mostly responsible for creating the circular centres for the daisies, and not a lot else, as I was a little distracted by The Pioneer Woman's book, which I read from start to finish over the weekend.

We drove home on Sunday evening with a new stash of books and a pot full of tadpoles for my classroom - that's definitely a first for me - transporting tadpoles from London to Bristol. I hope they're just as happy in my classroom as they were in The King Family pond.

Friday, 23 March 2012


Wednesday saw the start of Mr. King's 27th year.
We celebrated just the way he wanted to.
He chose to save present opening until bedtime, to keep the fun of the day going even longer.
The cake was a simply a vanilla sponge with cream and jam.
Dinner was the finest food provided by a well known fast food establishment.

The cinema provided the evening entertainment in the form of 21 Jump Street. Very silly & funny.
We finished off the day with John flying his new helicopter around the house. The perfect present for an engineer who has the skills to identify helicopters in films within 0.01 seconds of their appearance on screen and loves to play. 
Today we are heading to London for more celebrations with family and friends, including another cinema trip this evening to see The Hunger Games. I cannot wait.

Monday, 19 March 2012

the kindness of a woodcutter

Ever since having a classroom and outdoor area of my own, I have found that I am constantly on the prowl for freebies that might enhance the learning environment. On a couple of occasions I have driven past men cutting down trees, but haven't quite managed to pluck up the courage to screech to a halt, jump out the car, and ask them for some slices of wood to add to my outdoor learning environment.

On Saturday morning, John asked if I wanted to play tennis after I'd met with a friend for coffee. It nearly didn't happen, as our arrangement to 'meet outside the fabric shop' was not quite specific enough. We both waited for each other outside the fabric shop for a good half an hour, then eventually realised we were waiting outside different fabric shops. Oh dear. So, our tennis match was able to go ahead, because neither of us had given up on waiting and gone home, and I'm so glad it did, because when we arrived at the tennis courts, there were two men chopping up a tree.

Sometimes boldness is not my strength, but I knew that if I didn't ask if I could have some of the wood, I would be thinking about it for the whole of our tennis match. I needed to focus on tennis, so I figured I should just ask. They were very amenable to my requests and descriptions for which diameter and length would be preferable, if not a little intrigued that I should want some wood for my playground. 

As we loaded up the car with the little logs, I marvelled at the beauty of the cross section of the tree, and the incredibly intoxicating aroma of pine emanating from the freshly cut wood. Now I have no need for a car air freshener - I have a bootful of logs doing that job - all for free.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

At the start of this year I mentioned that I hoped 2012 would have a few adventures in store. This is certainly happening to be true so far. 

On Thursday, the second big adventure of 2012 was confirmed: I am going to Brazil! My precious friend Katy moved to Brazil in November 2011. It's her husband's homeland, and they felt it was right to make Brazil home for their growing family. Six weeks ago Katy gave birth to their first son, Benjamin Lucas. The last time I saw her, her bump was a little bigger than in the photo above, but still very much a bump. I cannot wait to see her and snuggle baby Benjamin. 

Sadly, John won't be joining me on this trip. Although John has been away a lot with work since we've been married, this will be the first time that he's the one left at home. I am positive that he will do a far better job of feeding himself than I do when I'm alone. I quite happily live off a diet of granola and homemade soup, substituted with meals shared with the wonderful Poulson's, whereas John will be sure to cook something delicious every night. 

In just 15 days I will be boarding the plane to Brazil. Oh my, what a wonderful adventure to look forward to.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

baby quilt in progress

As I write this, I can hear birdsong. The windows in our little flat are wide open, letting the Spring air flow freely and freshen up our home. There is washing hanging on the line. There are buds on trees everywhere I look and the scent of Spring is most definitely in the air.

With the sun streaming through our windows, I needed to get outside and utilise the sunlight that I so love for taking photos. It was the perfect incentive to do a bit of sewing and put together the quilt I had started with the set of fabrics I included in this post.

This is going to be a baby blanket for my lovely friend Katy's baby boy. (Right this minute she is burping her baby in Brazil - I know that because of the wonders of the internet and facebook chat!) Although it's not quite finished yet, the first stage is complete and that seemed worthy of a photoshoot.

Every time I take photos in the park, I am aware that it is quite possible that people are watching me, as the park is surrounded by flats like ours. As I headed back to our flat, someone called out to me from across the park. It was one of those slightly awkward occasions where you find yourself walking towards a complete stranger from a good distance away, not knowing quite where to look, and wondering all the while what they are going to say. I thought she was going to get cross with me for hanging my blanket over a garden fence...maybe she thought I was taking photos of someone's home...would it be rude to turn around and pretend I hadn't heard her? Yes, I decided, that would be incredibly rude. So I braced myself and had an apology at the ready. It turned out she thought I might be someone from the Council, taking photos of the rubbish in the park. The lady told me of happier days when there had been benches in the park that she used to enjoy sitting on, and lamented that they were no longer there. I did end up apologising after all - that I was not who she had hoped. Thankfully, she did not mind at all that I had gone about the park draping my creations from trees and fences.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

a splash of colour

Pretty flowers from a precious friend. Thank you, Hannah

I found these tiny bottles in the Scrapstore, costing me next to nothing. I was tempted to pick up the whole palette, but common sense won over that I would struggle to find uses for 200 mini glass bottles.

These little pretties have found their way to our spare room, which I rarely set foot in. Finding a home for the flowers within our home gave me the push I needed to clear just a little space on our desk for them to reside. Clearing the space meant I could put my slightly neglected sewing machine back in its rightful place, and I started a project I have wanted to do for a long time. I'll share it with you soon.

Can anyone identify these flowers for me? I'd love to know what they're called.

Monday, 5 March 2012

light and letters

Today, the afternoon sun streaming through the spare bedroom window onto our little-used desk was too inviting to ignore. I picked up a pen and paper, wrote some letters and replied to a wedding invite. I love sending post - especially when it's destined for a far away country.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

gluten free lemon shortbread

Every Summer in Bristol there is an organic food festival at the Harbourside. I had always wanted to go this festival, but often missed it during my student days, because it was during the Summer vacation. When I eventually managed to go in 2008, I had a big old cold, so couldn't taste a thing, meaning all of the hundreds of free food samples were wasted on me. 

The following year, I attended the food festival again, this time with John in tow. We watched a cookery demonstration by Bordeaux Quay, and I got the idea that it might be fun to attend their dinner date demonstration workshop. So, I bought it as a present for John that Christmas. We had a lot of fun on that 'date', along with 14 other couples, and went home with a few new recipes in our pockets. I felt like I was stealing valuable foodie information by taking their recipes - I didn't think restaurants tended to be that free & easy about sharing their culinary secrets. 

Ever since that date, the Bordeaux Quay recipe secrets have been tucked away in my recipe file, waiting patiently to be remembered. After seeing a bag of lemons for some brilliantly cheap price that would have been rude to refuse, I knew it was time to make the Bordeaux Quay shortbread.

The coupling of lemon and vanilla pod in this recipe is a brilliant one. Baking with real vanilla pods feels oh so extravagant but completely brilliant. They tend to cost a fortune, but John found a good deal online and popped a packet in my Christmas stocking last year. The pods have also waited patiently for me to be bold enough to bake something that is worthy of their speckly beauty and pure flavour, and the Spring-time sunshine this weekend heralded just such a worthy occasion.

Lemon Shortbread (yields approx. 10 rounds)

115g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
55g caster sugar
20g cornflour 
90g rice flour
zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla pod / 1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Beat together the butter and sugar with your weapon of choice - if you want to build some muscle, use a wooden spoon; if you like to do other jobs while baking (like taking photos of vanilla pods), use a freestanding mixer.
2) Stir in the flour(s), zest and vanilla pod or extract until you have a smooth paste.

3) Lightly flour your working surface then turn the shortbread paste out onto your surface and roll to 1cm thick. (Requires minimal rolling - in spite of being gentle, I ended up re-rolling 3 times as I kept making it too thin.)

4) Cut into your shape of choice - rounds, fingers, hearts, happy faces, whatever you fancy.

5) Place your shortbread shapes onto a greased baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes. 
6) Preheat your oven to 170C / Gas mark 4 / 340F when you put the dough in the fridge.

Then make yourself a cup of coffee / do the washing up / have a shower if it is embarrassingly late on a Saturday morning and you are still in your pyjamas / go for a 20 minute run while your shortbread hangs out in the fridge.

7) Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack then enjoy the lemony buttery goodness that you have just created.

Baking Notes:
The original recipe wasn't gluten free, so if you wanted to put regular flour in them, just use 110g plain flour. 
If you don't have vanilla pods, vanilla extract will do just fine too (1 tsp).
The shortbread spread out a little more than I was expecting while baking - this could be due to using gluten free flour, or not chilling the dough long enough...I'm not sure, but it didn't matter. 
Their texture is wonderfully light with just the right amount of crumble.