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72 posts categorized "There'll always be an England"

27 March 2013

The Best Traditional Easter Simnel Cake


Last year, in typical organised fashion, I managed to post a recipe for a traditional British Easter Simnel Cake a week after Easter. So this year I'm posting it up again, BEFORE the actual date, to give you a chance to actually make one for yourselves.  Don't say I don't love you.


So, Simnel Cake.

I know I should have posted this last week but I actually wanted to try the cake and see if this recipe was worth sharing with you.  And wow it really is.  Suffice it to say that four days after Easter this cake is already but a distant memory.  Do yourselves a favour and bookmark this recipe for next year.

simnel-cake (5 of 6)


First up a bit of history.  Apparently Simnel Cakes go back at least to medieval times when they were traditionally served on Laetare Sunday, a day in the middle of Lent when the Lenten fast was relaxed (sounds like cheating to me).  Since this day coincides with Mother’s Day in the UK, it was apparently the thing in Victorian times for daughters in service to bake a Simnel Cake to take home to their mothers.

Nowadays it’s thought of as an Easter cake, though it’s not very often made.  I think this is the third one I’ve made in my life.  Which is a shame, as it’s extremely delicious and not at all difficult.

Traditionally it’s a light fruit cake, stuffed full of vine fruits and spices, with a layer of marzipan baked into the cake and more toasted marzipan placed on the top.  There are always eleven marzipan balls placed on the top to represent the Apostles minus Judas Iscariot.  I also like to add a puddle of icing and some Cadbury’s Mini Eggs (they’re in the Bible somewhere, right?), but anything Easter-y such as chicks or flowers would do.  I think it’s safe to say that if you don’t like marzipan you will not like this cake.  If you do, though (and as far as I’m concerned marzipan should be a separate food group) then this tastes a little like a fruity, squidgy, non-bready stollen. 

If you live in the UK or anywhere where it is possible to get hold of good marzipan, then you need to buy around 450g/1lb of the stuff.  However, making your own marzipan is very quick and easy and it certainly tastes infinitely better than the peculiar canned almond paste I’ve found in the US.

I’m afraid I haven’t had time to convert to cup measures.  Time to get out those weighing scales!




simnel-cake (2 of 6)



This recipe is a combination of two or three recipes I found on the BBC website. Most traditional Simnel cake recipes are very similar though.


For the marzipan/almond paste

250g/9oz caster/baker’s sugar

250g/9oz ground almonds/almond meal

2 free-range eggs, beaten

1tsp almond essence or to taste

Mix the sugar and almonds in a large bowl and add the almond essence and enough beaten egg to turn the mass into a soft, sticky ‘dough’.  Knead everything together for one minute or so, until it becomes smooth and pliable. If it is too sticky add a little more sugar and almonds.  You want a workable mixture that is possible to roll out.  The marzipan will happily wait a day or two in the fridge.

For the cake

110g/4 oz raisins

110g/4oz sultanas/golden raisins

110g/4oz glacé/candied cherries (in the UK use those delicious undyed ones, I’ve yet to find a supplier of non-HFCS, undyed cherries in the US, if you come across such a delight please let me know)

110g/4oz currants/Zante currants

50g/2oz chopped candied peel (in the UK, you can buy pots of mixed peel, in the US I mix my own from orange, lemon and citron peel)

225g/8oz butter, softened

110g/4oz light muscovado sugar/soft brown sugar

110g/4oz caster/baker’s sugar

4 large eggs

225g/8oz self-raising flour (or 8oz all-purpose flour with 1 tsp baking powder)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 lemons, grated zest only

2 tsp ground mixed spice (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground cloves. You could also use pumpkin spice but it will taste a little different).


For the glace’ icing

225g/8oz icing sugar/powdered sugar

Enough water to mix to a pouring consistency.


simnel-cake (4 of 6)



Preparation method

  1. Cut the cherries into quarters, put in a sieve and rinse under running water. Drain well then dry thoroughly on kitchen paper. Do the same with your peel if it is sticky with HFCS.

  2. Weigh out all the fruit into a large bowl. Essentially you need around 500g/18oz of mixed dried fruit, so if you want to make some substitutions (pineapple, dried cherries or cranberries might be nice) or play around with the proportions then be my guest.  This mix is the traditional one for a Simnel cake though. If you’re feeling fancy then you can soak the fruit overnight in some amontillado sherry, but I didn’t with this cake.

  3. Preheat the oven to 150C/280F/Gas 2. Grease and line a 20cm/ 8in Springform cake tin.

  4. Cream the butter and sugars together in the stand mixer until very pale and soft.

  5. Beat in the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon or two of flour between each egg addition to stabilise the mixture and prevent curdling.  If it curdles a little it’s not a big deal.

  6. Stir in the rest of the flour and salt, the lemon zest and the spices. Mix until fully combined.

  7. Stir in the dried fruit with a wooden spoon until it’s fully distributed through the mixture.  The mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency.  If it is too dry then stir in a tablespoon or so of milk.

  8. Spoon half the cake mix into the prepared cake tin

  9. Take one-third of the marzipan and roll it out to a circle the size of the tin and then place on top of the cake mixture.

  10. Spoon the remaining cake mixture over top and level the surface. I like to create a slight indentation in the centre so the cake doesn’t get too domed.

  11. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 2 1/4 hours, or until well risen, evenly brown and firm to the touch.  A skewer or stick of spaghetti stuck into the centre of the cake should come out clean.

  12. Cover with aluminium foil after one hour if the top is browning too quickly. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.

  13. When the cake is cooled, turn it upside down.  If you want brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam and roll out half the remaining marzipan to fit the top. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate. (My marzipan was sticky enough not to require jam).

  14. Make a stubby snake with the remaining marzipan third and cut it into 11 equal pieces. Form the marzipan into 11 balls.

  15. Brush the marzipan with beaten egg and arrange the marzipan balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the balls with beaten egg and then carefully place the cake under a hot grill/broiler until the top is lightly toasted or, as I did, use a chef’s blowtorch.  If you’re using the grill be careful not to set fire to the cake.

  16. Mix up the icing sugar and water to a pouring consistency and pour a puddle onto the surface of the cake.  When set, decorate with Easter-y things.


This is what your cake should look like inside. The layer of baked almond paste makes it all juicy, succulent and not at all dry, unlike many fruitcakes of my acquaintance.

Happy belated Easter!


simnel-cake (6 of 6)



03 December 2012

Advent Calendar Day 2: Christmas Baking


christmaspudding (1 of 1)


I’m finding standing much less painful than sitting at the moment, which means I’m actually up to date with my Christmas baking. 

This year I’m going for the big British three of cake, pudding and mincemeat for mincepies. and thought you might like a reminder of the recipes I’ve used and published before.

How to make Christmas puddings

How to make Christmas cake and how to make Christmas cake part 2 and how to make Christmas cake update 

How to make mincemeat

05 October 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Fairmont Empress Hotel


I’ve just realised that although I blogged the awesome afternoon tea we had at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria on Vancouver Island, I never got round to blogging about the actual hotel, which is a shame, as the Minx and I had the most fabulous stay there and can’t recommend it highly enough.




To put it in context, the hundred-year old Empress is probably the closest thing this corner of the world gets to Downton Abbey and yet the hotel manages to pull off an amazing juggling act.  It is supremely comfortable, laid-back and not remotely stuffy, full of 21st century amenities and luxuries, whilst beautifully and wittily preserving all the over-the-top Edwardian splendour and graciousness.

Stay here and you can believe that the sun really never set on the British Empire, though there is no Lady Violet raising a disapproving eyebrow over the teapot.

After all, where else could you find tigers, lions and killer whales?  (There are elephants too, but my photos were blurred).


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Perfectly preserved post boxes adorn the walls together with steely-eyed wives of Governors-General (clearly Maggie Smith’s close relations).


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The carpets are swirly and the vistas are imposing.



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Yet our room was cosy and comfortable, with a beautiful view, and we were given access to the gorgeously pretty Gold Lounge and its neverending supply of elegant pastries (I highly recommend paying for this upgrade if you can).



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The Minx had an absolute ball.  I think she thought she as a princess in a fairytale palace and we had enormous fun running round the hotel doing the scavenger hunt she found in her kid gift pack and finding out more about the hotel’s history.


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She also really appreciated her kid-sized bathrobe


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and the truly phenomenal indoor swimming pool.




The staff were kindness personified to the Minx and were a key part of the enormously relaxing and unintimidating atmosphere, despite the grand surroundings.

We even had fun playing ‘Silent Ninja’ on the gracious lawns outside.




That night after popcorn and a movie in bed I snuck the Minx out in her pyjamas to see the beautiful harbour views.






Before my friend and I repaired to the Bengal Lounge for some truly excellent cocktails.




This wasn’t just a hotel stay,  it was an experience we won’t easily forget. Everyone deserves to live like a Dowager Duchess at least once.


If you can’t stretch to a stay at the Empress, the Afternoon Tea is fabulous way of joining in the fun and seeing the hotel’s most beautiful public rooms..

Full Disclosure: The Minx and I were the guests of the Fairmont Empress for one night and for afternoon tea. I promise that they have had no influence on the content of this blog post and all opinions are my own.


14 September 2012

WTF Friday: Wenlock and Mandeville, A Retraction


And so the Paralympics have drawn to a close - though you’d never have noticed if you were relying on the shameful lack of coverage by NBC in the US – and Britain can go back to being its normal curmudgeonly self.

But in the meantime I have an apology to make.  Do you remember this recent WTF Friday featuring Olympic and Paralympic Mascots Wenlock and Mandeville? And how scathing I was about their godawful ugliness (an opinion shared here by the Guardian)? And how no one in their right minds would possibly buy them?

Designer Grant Hunter has always defended them against the most scathing criticism by saying that children love them.




And guess who has pride of place amongst the very special stuffies who get the honour of sleeping with the Minx?

And who did we spent hours chasing after in London? (Though unfortunately we didn’t make it to Regent’s Park to find Sherlock Wenlock).





The Minx adores him. We have four in total, in various sizes and colours.  The kids we were staying with in London adored him too.

Grant Hunter, Wenlock, Mandeville. I apologise.


11 September 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Babington House



Babington House’s cute little chapel

When it comes to fancy hotels, it’s not after all the décor or the food or the mattresses or the service which is the most important thing. It’s the ambience. That indefinable, indescribable ‘je ne sais quoi’.  That combination of all the aforementioned and more, which infuses the whole experience, and determines whether you’ll want to return.

Some hotels go for glamour, others for grandeur, some go for hipness and others prize efficiency.  At Babington House they do relaxation and and laid-back comfort on an epic scale. The sort of deep relaxation you’d love to experience at home -  if only the house were tidy, the chores were done and the kids were somewhere else. And if home really were a beautiful old stone country house with hundreds of years of history and its own stone chapel set deep in the English countryside.



The grounds and pool are scattered with gloriously huge and comfortable loungers


This summer was our first time back at Babington since the Minx was born and we were not disappointed, if anything it was even more beautiful and cheerfully laid back than ever.



Two storey ‘suite’ with its own terrace and gigantic bath


Babington House

How do they achieve this? Well stunning décor, which gives the whole place a modern ‘country house’ vibe helps a lot. As does the beautiful planting throughout the grounds. Seriously it’s impossible to take a bad photo in this place.

The rooms are incredible. We were in a two-storey family suite with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small outside roof terrace, all equipped with every possible creature comfort.

The food is fabulous.  Classic and beautifully cooked comfort food at its very finest, served in either a beautiful formal dining room, the ‘deli’ where you could wander in whenever you want for coffee, breakfast or kids’ supper, or outside on the lawn.



Breakfast. I wanted to steal all their ‘props’.


Add to that a ton of squashy loungers, deep leather sofas and soft velvet armchairs; unbelievably friendly staff; enormous and beautiful indoor and outdoor pools; funky chandeliers; quirky artwork; an exceptionally accommodating attitude towards the Minx and a bar which serves the most delicious caipirinhas known to man, and you’re onto a winner in my book.


Babington House1




Babington House2

This time we paid for all hotel accommodation ourselves.  It was worth every penny believe me.  Do treat yourselves next time you’re out in the Somerset countryside. Babington House, we will be back.

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Babington House



Babington House’s cute little chapel

When it comes to fancy hotels, it’s not after all the décor or the food or the mattresses or the service which is the most important thing. It’s the ambience. That indefinable, indescribable ‘je ne sais quoi’.  That combination of all the aforementioned and more, which infuses the whole experience, and determines whether you’ll want to return.

Some hotels go for glamour, others for grandeur, some go for hipness and others prize efficiency.  At Babington House they do relaxation and and laid-back comfort on an epic scale. The sort of deep relaxation you’d love to experience at home -  if only the house were tidy, the chores were done and the kids were somewhere else. And if home really were a beautiful old stone country house with hundreds of years of history and its own stone chapel set deep in the English countryside.



The grounds and pool are scattered with gloriously huge and comfortable loungers


This summer was our first time back at Babington since the Minx was born and we were not disappointed, if anything it was even more beautiful and cheerfully laid back than ever.



Two storey ‘suite’ with its own terrace and gigantic bath


Babington House

How do they achieve this? Well stunning décor, which gives the whole place a modern ‘country house’ vibe helps a lot. As does the beautiful planting throughout the grounds. Seriously it’s impossible to take a bad photo in this place.

The rooms are incredible. We were in a two-storey family suite with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small outside roof terrace, all equipped with every possible creature comfort.

The food is fabulous.  Classic and beautifully cooked comfort food at its very finest, served in either a beautiful formal dining room, the ‘deli’ where you could wander in whenever you want for coffee, breakfast or kids’ supper, or outside on the lawn.



Breakfast. I wanted to steal all their ‘props’.


Add to that a ton of squashy loungers, deep leather sofas and soft velvet armchairs; unbelievably friendly staff; enormous and beautiful indoor and outdoor pools; funky chandeliers; quirky artwork; an exceptionally accommodating attitude towards the Minx and a bar which serves the most delicious caipirinhas known to man, and you’re onto a winner in my book.


Babington House1




Babington House2

This time we paid for all hotel accommodation ourselves.  It was worth every penny believe me.  Do treat yourselves next time you’re out in the Somerset countryside. Babington House, we will be back.

29 August 2012

Anglomania: Google’s London HQ


One thing that really struck me when I went back to London was the sheer number of Union Jacks (or Union Flags for the pedants amongst us) everywhere.




Not surprisingly with the Jubilee being followed by the Olympics, the place was awash with red, white and blue bunting and you couldn’t move for Union Jack merchandise.  Mostly fabulously of all most of it wasn’t done in a tacky way.  It seems the Union Jack has finally been reclaimed even by top end designers as a bit of a style icon.  There really was some good stuff out there.

So it seems that Google have hit the nail right on the head with their new London HQ, designed by award-winning British architects Penson Group.  Not only have they taken the Union Jack, but they’ve mixed in a huge number of dated British design clichés – chintz, lampshades, swirly carpets, Chesterfield sofas, wood panelling etc.  - and made them fun, witty and contemporary again.












I generally loathe that very trad English maiden auntish style of décor but this is fabulous. (Though I’d never get a stroke of work done here).

But what do you guys think? Do you love these offices, or should chintz, lampshades and swirly carpets be consigned forever to the dustbin of history, never to emerge?


22 August 2012

London 2012: The Olympic River Part 2


Here are some more photos from our trip up the River Thames during the Olympics.  I’m assuming that the whole light show will stay in place now, minus the Olympic Rings of course, in which case I can’t recommend a night time visit to the river highly enough if you happen to be in London.

Magical is not a good enough word.

Here’s what we had all come to see.




But in every direction the river looked amazingly beautiful (that’s the home of the French Olympic delegation).




London Bridge has got itself a groovy new lighting scheme.






The Mayor’s Office had a laser light show featuring cyclists and tube trains amongst others.


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Remember I blogged about the incredible new light show they’d installed on Tower Bridge?  Well for some they flipped up the rings and then put the light show through its motions.  HMS Belfast to the right also changed colour too.






And then the rings flipped back on and the Bridge turned gold to celebrate Mo Farah’s win in the 5,000 meters.




Here’s the view from the restaurant we dined at in Hay’s Galleria.




Finally, at midnight, we stopped off at the London Eye.






Slightly awesome n’est-ce pas?

Here are some more shots from my boat trip along the river.


15 August 2012

London 2012: The Olympic River


towerbridgeolympicringssunset (4)


Hey honeys, I’m home!

It’s rather a long time since I blogged here isn’t it?  Apologies for the radio silence but we’re just back from three weeks in Europe – two in London for the Olympics and one in the South of France for some sun.

I had all sorts of good intentions of blogging gently along the way but a) always much trickier blogging from an iPad and b) I was having too much fun (such a bad, bad blogueuse).  I hope you were following along on Instagram instead.

I was so glad we went back.  I was worried that the weather would be crap, it would be impossible to get around, the opening ceremony would be embarrassing and there would be all manner of chaos and craziness. 

Instead, and I hope this made its way through your TV screens, London was beautiful as I have never seen it before, festive and glorious with everyone in a jolly, celebratory mood.  It was, quite simply, magical.

Let’s go for a little trip upriver and you’ll see what I mean.

We’re starting at Greenwich.  Home of the erstwhile Millenium Dome, which has now been reinvented as a massive concert arena, and one of the main Olympic venues. Here’s the view from the new Thames cable car. See that boat at bottom right? We’ll be going on that to wend our way up to the centre of town. Can you see the Gherkin in the distance?




While we’re waiting for the boat we have the perfect opportunity to look more closely at the Dome, and watch the people climbing the new walkway. Wish we’d had time to do this. It looked very fun.




There’s also the chance to watch a parade of tall ships going past – it must have been amazing when all river traffic looked like this.




And we’re off. Spot the tiny Gherkin to the left of the picture.




Getting closer.




This is what we came for. Also loving the newly-opened ‘Shard’.




This was quite literally breathtaking. So beautiful.




Going under the bridge. One of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done in my entire life.


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More pics of magical Olympic London tomorrow.

BTW my fancy pants new camera with all its fabulous ISOs and low light photography capabilities died an ignominious death the day before we were due to leave. So all pics are taken on my little Canon Rebel XSi (450D). You could almost hear it straining.


07 June 2012

The Story of a Cloak


I didn’t mean to write any more about the Queen’s Jubilee outfits – I’m sure you’re all Jubileed out by now – but we were discussing  the cloak the Queen wore at Monday night’s concert in the comments below and it sent me down a delightful little Internet rabbit hole, from which I emerge with these pictures.

Here is the Queen on Monday night wearing a very elegant black wool cloak over her sparkling gold cocktail dress.




It reminded me of the famous Annigoni portrait of the Queen as a young woman wearing the robes of the Order of the Garter.

Here is the portrait in question with the stark dark blue of the robes throwing all the attention on her delicate pale skin (goodness that woman has a flawless complexion) and the wistful expression on her face.




Apparently Annigoni was inspired to paint it this way when he was with the Queen making preparatory sketches for the portrait and she said casually, in French, ‘"You know, when I was a child, I used to spend hours in this room looking out of the windows. I loved watching the people and the cars down there in the Mall. They all seemed so busy. I used to wonder what they were doing and where they were all going, and what they thought about outside the Palace." And as she spoke her face lit up with the exact expression – youthful, almost child-like – which the artist sought.

I then discovered that Cecil Beaton (who had taken her coronation pictures) deliberately tried to recreate the Annigoni magic with this 1968 photographic portrait. He wanted to show the Queen as a person without her jewels, costumes and fancy regalia, and so asked her to wear a simple admiral’s boat cloak, to enormously striking effect.  Recognise the cloak?




Finally we have a picture from the infamous Annie Leibovitz photo shoot in 2008, where the Queen was apparently in a rather grumpy mood, even if she didn’t in fact storm out as was rumoured at first.

This was the last picture of the day (Leibovitz was only allotted 25 minutes of the Queen’s time – imagine the stress!) and the Queen, after being pictured in various sumptuous evening gowns, pulled on the simple black cloak once again.  The resulting image was then digitally superimposed over a brooding picture of the palace gardens taken the day before. 

Yet again it’s enormously arresting, though was famously called ‘vampiric’ by one critic. There are other spectacular photos of the day with the Queen in full rig, but it is in this one, without her tiara, jewellery or furs, where she looks most fearsomely majestic.




One simple cloak. And one fascinating story. Which portrait do you like best?


06 June 2012

Queen of Diamonds


It’s been a long and gruelling Jubilee weekend here on the West Coast, with 5.30 am starts on Sunday and Tuesday, and the consumption of rather too much champagne, Pimms and Prince William’s favourite chocolate fridge cake.




Early yesterday morning I was sitting bleary-eyed on the sofa with the Minx and my friend and fellow monarchist Lilian, being lulled gently back to sleep by one of commentator Huw Edwards’ monotonous monologues when the Queen finally appeared looking radiant and very, very sparkly.  Immediately the sofa contingent jerked awake.  What was that utterly stunning brooch the Queen was wearing?

It turns out that, when deciding what to wear for the last day of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the Queen recalled that she is the proud owner of the nine major diamonds cut from the Cullinan diamond, the world’s largest diamond discovered in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century and presented as a birthday gift to Edward VII (at the risk of sounding churlish, why don’t *I* get gifts like that?)

Inexplicably she declined to wear either the Imperial State Crown, which contains the Cullinan II diamond or sit in her carriage waving her sceptre which contains Cullinan I, the Star of Africa, the second largest cut diamond in the world. 

Instead, and obviously as some sort of austerity measure, she made do with wearing the brooch made from the Cullinan III and Cullinan IV diamonds, a mere 94.4 carats and 63.3 carats respectively and conservatively valued at some $120 million.




Wouldn’t you be just terrified parading round the streets of London wearing that? Fortunately we were spared the sight of her Majesty crawling around the floor of St Paul’s on her hands and knees looking for the brooch she’d just dropped under her seat, which is undoubtedly what would have happened if I were Queen.

It is an utterly amazing brooch though, with an almost contemporary appeal in its stark simplicity - these diamonds don’t need any fussy curlicues or smaller stones to enhance them, unlike many of the Queen’s other diamond pieces.



You’d be smiling too if you had that brooch




And I loved how the Queen’s beautiful outfit of palest mint green was designed to show it and her off to the max – the heavy embroidery, crystal beading and contrasting soft chiffon drapery were exquisite and it was so refreshing to see an eighty six year old looking every one of her eighty six years and yet still be stunningly beautiful. The shoes were of course dreadful, but we can’t have everything.




For future reference, just in case you find something similar in your back garden, this is what the uncut Cullinan diamond looked like before it was divided into the 9 smaller cut stones. Apparently it was initially tossed out of the window at the mining company where it was found, because no one believed it was possible to have a gem quality stone of this size.




Buckingham Palace is putting on a display of the Queen’s personal diamond jewellery this summer, including all seven smaller cuts from the Cullinan diamond, and some spectacular tiaras. Full details here


05 June 2012

Great British Fashion Stamps


I miss British stamps.  The Royal Mail puts out some of the most beautiful and best designed commemorative stamps I’ve seen, and the set they produced for the Diamond Jubilee is no exception.

The set of ten stamps celebrates British fashion designers of the last sixty years, including Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell, who both designed some of the Queen’s most iconic looks when she was younger.




It’s a pretty much spot on collection of great names and clothes, though am I alone in never having heard of Granny Takes A Trip? 

Mary Quant has apparently featured on a stamp before, and was thus ruled out of this collection. John Galliano managed to rule himself out for obvious reasons.  And I’m wondering why there wasn’t a place for Barbara Hulanicki of Biba.




The gorgeous photos are by Sølve Sundsbø. Stamps are available for purchase here.


02 June 2012

Red White Blue




A world-class energy-efficient illumination system has been installed on Tower Bridge to celebrate the Jubilee and the Olympics and designed to highlight the crazy architecture. All sorts of different colour schemes are planned for the future.

Can’t wait to see this when we get to London this summer!

Tell us what the Jubilee means to you (if anything) below. I’m so excited for this summer in London.


Happy and Glorious


I am so very sad not to be in London this weekend to take part in the festivities for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, as she celebrates 60 years on the throne.



Until recently I’d never seen a colour picture of the Queen’s absolutely exquisite coronation gown, embellished all over with symbols of the four British home nations. Designer Sir Norman Hartnell’s sketch is below. Fan Bing Bing eat your heart out!


Few of us Brits can even remember a time when she wasn’t our Head of State - she’s been a fixture in all our lives since we were babies -  and I’m sure no British person can even begin to envisage the country without her.

It’s going to be a huge four-day party in the UK, starting tomorrow; partly because we don’t have an annual equivalent of the Fourth of July or Bastille Day and therefore have to grab any opportunity we can to show our national pride and patriotism, and partly I think because most British people are, deep down, very fond of the old girl.

I find it amusing that someone chosen entirely through an accident of birth, (in many ways hereditary monarchy is one of the fairest and most truly random ways of choosing a head of state) so perfectly embodies many of the qualities that British people like to imagine they possess. 

Neither flamboyant, showy nor remotely glamorous, like us she can seem reserved, diffident and bit shy on first acquaintance, but underneath seems genuinely warm, honest and friendly and is apparently very witty.  We make her do some of the most boring things imaginable but appreciate that she does them stoically, without fuss or grumbling and without seeming to enjoy her enormous wealth and privilege too much.  We like that she prefers to spend her vacations under the rains of Scotland rather than cavorting on the nudist beaches of the Mediterranean (I just boggled my own mind there) and feel that it is entirely right, natural and proper that she clearly prefers dogs and horses to people.




Funnily enough, in many ways since moving to America I have come to appreciate the monarchy even more than when I lived back in the UK. 

Seems to me that an elected presidency can sometimes be a tricky conundrum for Americans, who have to reconcile their personal feelings for the man (always a man) currently in office with their respect for the office he holds and their belief in the country he represents.

In the UK we have carte blanche to loathe, criticise and disrespect all our politicians equally and without reservation (surely healthy in a democracy) while saving all our patriotism, respect and pride for the little old lady, who with immense good grace and not a whiff of personal scandal, has done everything we’ve asked of her over the last sixty years.  I personally wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Thank you ma’am and have a fun weekend.

It’s going to be all Jubilee here on the blog over the next four days, in between baking for Jubilee parties and getting up at 5.30 am to watch the festivities.

Brits lucky enough to be on the scene please comment and tell us how things are going and what you’re doing; expat Brits and Commonwealth kids, tell us if and how you’re celebrating; I’m fascinated to hear from everyone what the Queen and this weekend means to you (if anything).  Americans, will you be getting up to watch?


20 April 2012

A Mini Tour of Ely


For our final guest post this week, I thought we’d return to the old country.  Whenever anyone asks me what I miss most about England, ancient buildings are very high on the list – or more explicitly that humbling feeling of being surrounded by generations of ghosts, which Liz writes about so eloquently below.  I’ve been reading Liz’s lovely blog for the longest times – it’s such a comfortable mix of family life, vintage finds, home ideas and unashamed geekery – and I knew she’d be the perfect person to take us round her home town and introduce us to a little city that deserves to be much more widely known.  (By the way, that sound you hear is me howling with homesickness.)

Hello, and it's so nice to meet you all! I'm Liz and usually you can find me over at Violet Posy writing about my Home and Family. I'm very excited to be writing as a guest on Paola's blog while she's away. I thought I'd share with you one of my favourite places, the tiny City of Ely, just outside of Cambridge in the UK.

The city which isn't on the usual tourist track, it lies in the middle of what used to be a series of islands. The largest of which was the Isle of Ely. The 'Fen' or large swamp surrounding it, was drained in the seventeenth century making the water logged land, fertile farmland and the Isle finally joined the mainland.

The Cathedral is at the heart of the city and is also known as 'the Ship of the Fens' - you can see it from miles around. It started construction in 1083 under King William I and was finally finished in 1375. It is a stunning piece of architecture and when you enter it you can feel the history surrounding you. One of my favourite things to do, is to sit down in the quiet Cathedral and imagine all the people who came before, you can almost feel them, it's such an atmospheric place.



The Lantern which sits in the middle of the Cathedral, brings in light to the centre. It was handmade in wood in the 1340’s and is beautifully hand painted.



It's hard to believe looking at it's complicated construction that it’s so old. Every Christmas, I sit under it wondering if that's such a good idea to be sitting under something wooden and nearly 700 years old! But it's still standing and I'm sure it will be for another few hundred years.

However the Cathedral is not the only old building in Ely. There are buildings from pretty much every period, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and they are all beautiful in their own way. You can wander round and see buildings which are still used as homes, workplaces and pubs which are pretty ancient. I often forget that some of the buildings are so old as they are used daily and not museums at all.



Ely is also blessed with some excellent Markets, which are held on Thursdays and Saturday's. The Farmer's Markets and Continental Markets are especially favourites of ours. The range of artisan foods - breads, cheeses and meats are amazing, and the stalls with flowers and plants are outstanding. It's impossible to go to the market without coming home with bags of yummy food and a big bunch of flowers.



Further down the hill is the old Waterside with it's fantastic Antiques Barn where we love to have a good rummage and the beauiful riverside. It's a really lovely to walk next to the river or sit for a while and watch the ducks and swams go by. You can also take a peaceful boat ride along the river to see the sites from the water - generally they also give you a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake on the boat too.



And finally no trip to Ely is complete without a stop at the award winning Peacocks Tearoom. There you can get the most amazing afternoon tea - finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and a big old slice of cake with a selection of teas from around the world. It's possibly one of my favourite places to eat in the world, and you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day if you pay it a visit!.


I hope you enjoyed my mini tour and if you’re ever near London or Cambridge pop on a train and come up and visit!


Thanks so much to Liz, to Tina for her wonderful New York insights, to Michele for her awesome photography tips and Sandra for her great tour of Vancouver. Please visit their blogs and show them some comment love, so they’re encouraged to come back and write for us again.

I hope you’ve enjoyed having something a little different on the blog over the last few days, I’ll be back with the same old nonsense on Monday.


17 April 2012

WTF Monday: Wenlock and Mandeville


Only three days late.  One day I’ll get good at this ‘blogging to schedule’ malarkey.

So we touched on this in the comments to a recent post, but I thought it was time we properly dealt with London’s Olympic shame.

When it was announced that London had won the Olympics bid, I was looking forward to my home town showing the rest of the world why it is a capital of style, creativity, incredible design and all round fabulosity.



And then the mascots – Wenlock and Mandeville -  were unveiled (the logo I can’t bear even to talk about).  They are apparently supposed to be one-eyed drops of steel from the construction of the Olympic stadium, with London taxicab lights stuck on the tops of their heads.  Of course.  As an aside, I can’t find any reference to why Mandeville has apparently peeed his pants.

So, really, aren’t these more scary than attractive?  Is anyone going to buy them/collect them?  Aren’t they just embarrassingly lame? 

I did do a one kid focus group with the Minx and she thought they were ‘cute’, so maybe I’m not the target market here. Though the Minx’s strange taste is already on record. 

What do you think? What do your kids think?  Are these an embarrassment to London? UK peeps, are the mascots much in evidence in the run-up to the Olympics or is everyone just trying to pretend they don’t exist?

Buy Wenlock and Mandeville here if you must.


10 April 2012

The London Faberge Easter Egg Hunt


Because I am a glutton for punishment, I like to torture myself by including as many UK-based Instagrammers in my Instagram feed as possible.  So each morning I get big dose of homesickness while I feast my eyes on pics of every day British architecture, or gardens or foods.




big egg hunt3


Over the past few weeks my feed has been full of eggs – more accurately some of the two hundred giant eggs decorated by famous artists, designers and other creatives, such as Zandra Rhodes and Mr Brainwash - which were part of the Faberge Big Egg Hunt which has been taking place all over Central London. Although we had a Nutcracker March in Seattle a few years back, I believe this is the first time a similar event has happened in London.  I so wish we’d been there for this – the Minx and I would have been all over it.

So now that your weekend of egg decorating and egg hunting has drawn to a close, here’s a look at how the professionals do it.


big egg hunt2






The Fabergé Big Egg Hunt from we are fallon on Vimeo.


Did any London peeps get to go egg hunting? Was it as fun as it looks?


Update: Many thanks to reader K for pointing out that there was a Cow Parade in London a few years back.  That one completely passed me by.


22 March 2012

Teeny Trend: Cut Up Union Jacks



Today’s Teeny Trend features the newly-unveiled Team GB kit designed by Stella McCartney and a cushion I’ve recently had my eye on. 

I do like the idea of using portions of the Union Jack in designs – it’s still iconic and cool without going full on into Rule Britannia territory.  And thank goodness the Stella McCartney designs, while a bit dull, aren’t hideously embarrassing, unlike the godawful Olympic logo. I still have no clue what they were thinking with that one.

We’ve booked our flights out to London for the Olympics!  We don’t have tickets to any events, but I still wanted to be there to join in the party.  Can. not. wait.


28 February 2012

Separated At Birth: Billy Crystal Oscars 2012


Finally, as Brit, it warmed the cockles of my heart to see Her Majesty take a break from her busy year of Diamond Jubilee festivities to bring her own special magic to the Oscars ceremony.

 (And yes, I do know Billy Crystal isn’t gay, but that would have spoiled the joke. And besides, I still have very fond memories of him as Jody in Soap).


01 February 2012

Adventures in Cooking – Shepherd’s Pie


Just after Christmas we held a little party and I decided to take a leaf out of Jeffery Archer – British author, politician, crook and all-round slimebag’s - book and make shepherd’s pie; which he apparently used to serve at his high society parties washed down with vast quantities of Krug. 


shepherds pie (3 of 3)

I don’t agree with Jeffrey Archer on very much, but have to say that shepherd’s pie makes fabulous party food. This quintessentially traditional British comfort dish is tasty, rich and satisfying; easy to fork up while standing; can be made beforehand and baked just before the party; sits around happily; freezes beautifully afterwards and delights adults and kids alike.  However, it’s also quick and easy to prepare and makes a fabulous midweek meal.

But before we get on to the recipe I must interrupt this broadcast for a quick semantics lesson.

<pedantry> Firstly it is spelled Shepherd’s Pie not Shepard’s Pie, because it is named after people who used to er, herd sheps and not after a has-been Hollywood actor. Secondly it is called Shepherd’s Pie because it contains lamb ie. sheep meat. You can make it with all beef, but in that case it is more properly known as Cottage Pie since shepherds had nothing to do with it. </pedantry>

The meat you choose is important.  Traditionally it is made with the ground up leftovers from the Sunday roast, either lamb or beef, but i) you’re unlikely to have enough leftover nowadays and ii) it can be a little dry.  I find it better to use at least half raw ground (minced) lamb or beef, though if you do have some leftover meat, it is fabulous added to the meat mixture towards the end of the initial cooking period.

As I mentioned, you can use either lamb or beef, though all raw ground lamb can sometimes be a little greasy. For my Christmas pie I used half raw ground lamb and half raw ground beef and this worked out great. For my base recipes I used one entitled ‘Sarah’s Amazing Cottage Pie’ that I copied down from a friend ages ago, combined with the recipe from the Ivy Cookbook, which gives dishes served at London’s eponymous celeb hangout (it’s a great and accessible cookbook if you can get hold of it).


granny square (2 of 3)


The beauty of shepherd’s pie, though, is that is it a fabulous vehicle for experimentation. Leftover roasted vegetables in the fridge? Throw them into the meat sauce or mash them into the potato topping.  Want to stretch out the meat with fresh vegetables, beans, or feta cheese? I won’t stop you. Want to try different herbs, or flavourings? Give it a whirl.  Here are the basics, with lots of suggestions for options and additions, the rest is up to you.

The following quantities makes a reasonably sized shepherd’s pie for a family of four. Scale up or down as you wish and remember that you don’t have to be precise here.  All that’s important is that the meat sauce does not have too much gravy and you need to have about 2 inches of potato topping over the meat to prevent oozing.



For the Filling

1 1/2 lbs minced/ground meat (see above)

salt and pepper

A couple of tablespoons vegetable oil

1  large onion, finely chopped

2 carrots (optional) either finely chopped or sliced

Several cloves crushed garlic (optional and definitely not traditional)

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 pint (1 1/2 cups) of good quality beef stock

A couple glasses red wine (optional)

1 tablespoon tomato puree (optional)

a glug of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

a couple of teaspoons of mixed dried herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, herbes de Provence are all nice)

1tsp cinnamon (absolutely not traditional but I like to add it for a slightly Middle Eastern flavour)

a tablespoon of chopped parsley and other fresh herbs

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (absolutely not traditional but they bulk out the meat and again works well if you’re going for a Middle Eastern dimension)

Season the meat. Heat the vegetable oil (I use olive oil) in a large saute pan and brown off the meat.  Drain the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add a little more oil and gently fry the onion, garlic, carrots and dried herbs until very soft.  You could also add chopped chilis or other finely chopped root vegetables at this stage.

Return the meat to the pan, dust with the flour and stir in the tomato puree if using (purists don’t like it, but I do) and any spices such as cinnamon or paprika. Cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes. Slowly add the beef stock and any other liquid flavourings such as wine, Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup.  Bring it to a simmer and cook for thirty to forty minutes until you have a thick, unctuous meat sauce.  About 10 minutes before you finish cooking the sauce add any cooked meat, cooked vegetables, and the can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans if using to warm through,

When the sauce is ready leave it to cool.


For the Topping

1 1/2 llbs mashing potatoes

salt, cream, butter, olive oil,  eggyolks etc. as desired

In the meantime boil, mash and season the potatoes and add butter, milk, cream, sour cream, egg yolks or olive oil to taste.  You could also add flavourings such as mashed roasted garlic, or horseradish, Just make sure the mash ends up being quite stiff and not too soft and creamy.


shepherds pie (1 of 3)


Pour the meat sauce into a deep oven-proof dish and top with the potato, being careful to cover all the meat sauce with at least 2 inches of topping.  It’s traditional to fork ridges into the potato to get a crunchy topping. Dot with a little butter. Some people top with grated cheese, but that seems like gilding the lily to me. Don’t let me stop you though.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C/ 375 degrees F and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes until golden brown on top. This dish is very forgiving of being left in the oven before a party, just make sure the topping doesn’t burn.

Serve with some sort of green vegetable or salad and enjoy experimenting!

28 January 2012

Hotel Pelirocco – Knitted Hotel Room


I nearly put my back out straining to love this hotel room, which has received a bunch of publicity in recent months, but somehow I just CAN’T. 

The hip Hotel Pelirocco in Brighton commissioned fibre artist Kate Jenkins of knitwear and crochet brand Cardigan to create a knitted hotel room, and this is what she came up with.


fss Capfsfture


The ‘Do Knit Disturb’ room features a hand-crocheted bedspread and curtains, knitted cushions, a crocheted lamp and telephone and other whimsical crocheted artifacts appropriate to the seaside location, such as seagull soft toys, a knitted picture of fish and chips above the bed and a crocheted full English breakfast.




Capture Captgsgure


I don’t like it because it just seems so expected somehow – all cosy and grannyish and whimsical and about as sexy as a pair of well-worn bedroom slippers.  Heck, the room is even a tiny single room because of course someone who liked knitting would never have a boyfriend.




When you think of some of the cool and innovative knitted homewares other craftspeople are making out there, I can’t help thinking that they really missed an opportunity to do something contemporary, textured and elegant; something modern and abstract or even something downright sumptuous and glamorous. 

What do you think?  Do you like it? Would you stay there?  Is it the best job they could have done with knitting and crochet?  What sort of thing would you have done?

09 January 2012

Christmas Pudding


When we got back from Whistler we tucked into the Christmas puddings which had been gently maturing since November.

It was my first time making Christmas puddings, so I was somewhat nervous as to what they would taste like, but I shouldn’t have worried. They were delectable – moist and boozy with dark marmalade-y depths - and, like mincemeat, I will never go back to buying them again. Thank you America for your ridiculous ban on importing beef suet products, which has made me stretch my cooking horizons.

We shared the first one at a small family dinner. Here she is in all her moist and sticky splendour. I had to send the Husband out in the rain to get the traditional sprig of holly, so couldn’t be too particular when he came back with a sprig without berries.




And here it is anointed with warmed and flaming brandy in the traditional way.




The Minx was mesmerised.




We shared pudding number two at a drinks party for friends on the second day of the new year. It was fun to see the kids and Americans all equally excited by the idea of setting dessert on fire. The actual taste of Christmas pudding is more of an acquired one though it seems.

15 December 2011

Stir Up Sunday


A couple or three weekends back, while I was also in the throes of Thanksgiving baking, it was Stir Up Sunday and I also had to get going with my Christmas baking. 


christmaspudding (5 of 5)


The name apparently comes from the collect from the Book of Common Prayer which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech you O Lord’. This was said in Anglican churches on the last Sunday before Advent and reminded cooks and bakers throughout the land that they should be making a start on their mincemeat and Christmas puddings, so that they would have time to mature before the Christmas festivities.

It’s a good job the Puritans objected to Christmas puddings and so never really brought them to America as I have to say the combination of Stir Up Sunday and Thanksgiving is enough to drive anyone to drink.

After the success of my mincemeat last year, and since the wonderful RainShadow Meats in Seattle is now rendering beef suet, I decided to make Christmas puddings for the first time as well as the mincemeat.  After reading through several recipes I decided to stick with dear old Delia and make some minor tweaks.

Her detailed recipe is here. Tweaks I made included adding substituting some glace’ cherries for half of the mixed peel and replacing the orange juice and zest with a spoonful of the Husband’s fabulous homemade Three Fruit Marmalade as suggested by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

christmaspudding (1 of 1)


As is traditional we also added some foil-wrapped coins to the mixture, to be found when we cut into the puddings – and yes, I really ought to get myself a more photogenic mixing bowl.

Since this is mostly a mix of dried fruits, beef suet, breadcrumbs, spices, beer and brandy, the puddings look surprisingly pale and anaemic before being steamed.


christmaspudding (2 of 5)


The Husband, being an engineer, was then commandeered into covering the puddings with a double layer of greaseproof paper, covering them with tinfoil and manufacturing string handles for them, so they could be lifted in and out of the steam bath.


christmaspudding (3 of 5)


The Internet then informed me that Christmas pudding can be steamed in the slow cooker, a Christmas miracle indeed.  No more having to keep an eye on the pudding and making sure they don’t steam dry.

The larger one was steamed in the slow cooker for around 10 hours on HIGH and the smaller steamed overnight or for around 8 hours.

I don’t know what the alchemical process is that makes them come out all dark and moist and sticky at the end, but they sure looked good and smelled unbelievable.


christmaspudding (4 of 5)


The Husband then re-wrapped them so they could be steamed again at Christmas and now they sit ‘maturing’ in my cool closet, and delighting my heart every time I walk in there and glance at them.

I shall report back.

Here’s this year’s batch of mincemeat.  I’ve already used a jar to make mince pies and can report that it is very delicious indeed.

mincemeat (1 of 1)

11 November 2011

Lest We Forget


Every year around this time I get sad that I can’t buy poppies in the US.

In the UK it’s a huge big deal, with poppies for sale in every public building and in many shops, worn by every public figure, sold out on the streets and laid in wreaths around the war memorials which are in every city, town and village. Even schools get in on the act and since the donation amount is not fixed, ever since I can remember I was supposed to hand over a little of my pocket money to buy a poppy.




So this year I decided to crochet poppies for the family. I used this pattern with full details on my Ravelry page.  The shape is based on the paper poppies for sale on behalf of ex-servicemen and women in the UK.




It was a good excuse to start talking to the Minx about the horrors of war and the debt we owe our soldiers and she went off to school this morning wearing her poppy with pride.  We even read In Flanders Fields together, though I suspect most of it went way over her head.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

01 September 2011

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer




I set myself a low bar when it comes to mothering.  If the Minx grows up to have good manners, to love books and to be able to cook then I figure she’ll probably always have friends, be passably well-educated and never go hungry. And that way it seems to me happiness lies.

Certainly I can think of few greater pleasures in life than devouring a good book or some good food. So you can imagine how much I enjoyed reading Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Yarnstorm’s Jane Brocket, which discusses all the delectable foods found in classic children’s literature, accompanied by scrummy-looking recipes and pen and ink illustrations from the works in question.

The Minx and I are currently on a bit of an Enid Blyton jag at present and revelling in descriptions of fabulous picnics with boiled eggs and sticky buns, Aunt Fanny’s cakes and of course lashings of ginger beer (which according to Brocket, Enid Blyton never actually says in her books).




I am amused to note that, while the plot intricacies of many of these books have completely receded into the mists of time, I can remember almost verbatim many of the food descriptions, such as this one from What Katy Did.

“.. and there – oh, delightful surprise – were seven little pies – molasses pies, baked in saucers – each with a a brown top and crisp, candified edge, which tasted like toffee and lemon-peel, and all sorts of good things mixed up together. There was a a general shout… a tumult of joy… in an incredibly short time every vestige of pie had disappeared, and a blissful stickiness pervaded the party.”

Oh how I wanted to taste one of these pies – ‘molasses’ sounded so delicious and exotic to this little British girl – and now I can, because I have a recipe.

Unfortunately the book is already out of print and quite difficult to get hold of – I suspect the market for it was rather too esoteric. American readers might be particularly frustrated as it focuses primarily on British children’s classics and old-fashioned British baking, though Little Women, Little House on the Prairie and What Katy Did all make an appearance.

But buy this book if you, as I did, grew up with the likes of The Famous Five, My Naughty Little Sister, Pippi Longstocking, Milly Molly Mandy, Paddington Bear, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, and Malory Towers. Get it doubly fast if you are re-reading these books with your kids and enjoy baking with them.

What do enjoy cooking and reading with your kids?  The Minx and I are sorely in need of recommendations in both categories.

Oh and speaking of the Minx, she went back to school yesterday, oh frabjous day! So now I’m back blogging properly.

17 August 2011

Beautiful British Food


Funnily enough, given that I was brought up by, and learned to cook from, an Italian woman and cook in a very Italian way myself, I have found myself being a bit of an unofficial ambassador for British food here in Seattle, where it’s as much maligned as it is everywhere else on the planet.

I tend to make classic British dishes for potlucks and gatherings (people are so surprised that British food can actually taste good) and really want the Minx to grow up understanding her culinary heritage in the land of mac 'n’ cheese and pumpkin pie.

New Zealander Joel Penkman moved to the UK and started painting beautifully detailed portraits of classic British foodstuffs which make me want to weep with nostalgia.

Every British kid grew up on these biscuits.




No trip to the seaside was complete without a stick of rock to take home.




My favourite ice lolly.  At least until they invented Magnums.




No kid’s birthday party was complete without Fondant Fancies, though my mum had enough of a fear of food colouring that we never had them at home.




Custard tarts.  Always hated those.




And pork pie. One of the top five things I miss most about the UK here in Seattle. I think I would cry if I had this picture on my kitchen wall.




Joel’s website is here. Buy her prints here.

02 May 2011

Prince William’s Chocolate Biscuit Cake


When planning our Royal Wedding-watching midnight feast, I decided to try my hand at  the Chocolate Biscuit Cake which Prince William had requested be served at the wedding.  I vaguely remembered having ‘Chocolate Fridge Cake’ myself as a child and thought that the Minx might like it.




I can now see where Prince William is coming from. This ‘cake’ is obscenely decadent and utterly scrumptious and also very quick and easy to make (though I imagine that the enormous version served at the wedding itself took a bit more time).

I based my version loosely on the recipe given by the Tea & Sympathy tearoom in New York and several British versions.  The great thing about this cake is that, since it’s a ‘no bake’ cake – it just sets hard in the fridge – you can be very approximate with quantities and it will still turn out successfully.

The trickiest part for peeps not in the UK will be sourcing the correct biscuits (yes, biscuits in this case means ‘cookies’ and not the soft billowy scone-like things you eat for breakfast).  The traditional English biscuit of choice would be McVities Digestives or Rich Teas – hard, plain, crumbly biscuits which are not too sweet and and a tad salty. They provide a nice contrast to the rest of the cake which is so sweet and rich.  I can find McVities biscuits in the British food section at Metropolitan Market in Seattle and all the online British food stores also carry them, so they are available in the US if you look. The nearest American equivalent is the Graham cracker but they’re not quite the same.  You could also experiment with some of the plain French cookies which are quite easily available (LU do good ones) or use a plain packet shortbread. Remember, nothing too rich, too sweet, or too fancy.

Golden syrup may also be a challenge for people outside the US. I discuss it at length here. Honey, maple syrup or corn syrup could be substituted at a pinch though your cake will taste different. Or else replace the cream and golden syrup with 14 fl oz (400 ml) of sweetened condensed milk.

Finally dried sour cherries are an inspired addition by moi, if I say so myself. The sour, chewy sweetness adds a whole new dimension to the soft cream unctuousness of the chocolate and the crunchiness of the biscuits. I would imagine that dried cranberries would have a similar effect, and raisins would do at a pinch.





1 sleeve (about 8-10 oz) McVities Rich Tea or Digestive biscuits, Graham crackers, or similar.  I used Digestives.

10oz (300g) good chocolate. I used Green & Blacks, two bars of dark and two bars of milk since I had the Minx in mind. More sophisticated chocolate lovers may prefer to use all dark chocolate.

1/2 cup/200g/4oz butter

10 fl oz/300 ml heavy/double cream

4 fl oz / 100 ml/ 4 tbsp golden syrup (see above)

A couple of large handfuls of dried sour cherries/cranberries/raisins (optional)


4 oz (100g) good chocolate (see above)

1 tbsp heavy/double cream



Line a loaf tin with butter and parchment paper

Crumble the cookies into small roughly almond-sized bits.

Set up a bain marie or a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, break up the chocolate into bits and melt it in the bowl, together with the butter, cream and syrup.

When everything is fully melted together, stir in the crumbled biscuits and dried fruit if using until everything is fully coated with chocolate.  Pour it into the loaf tin and smooth the top with a wooden spoon. Chill in the fridge for around 4 hours.

When the cake is fully chilled, melt the remaining chocolate and 1tbsp of cream or milk together to make a ganache. Turn out the cake and spread the ganache over the top and sides, filling in an gaps, lumps an bumps.

Serve in small pieces. A little truly does go a long way, though the Minx (who ADORED this cake) might not fully agree.


Here’s a picture of the cake served at the Royal Wedding at Prince William’s request and made by McVities. They apparently used 35lbs of chocolate and approximately 1,700 Rich Tea biscuits. 




Separated at Birth - Princess Beatrice



A reindeer



Princess Beatrice of York

I’ve seen this hat compared to a beribboned toilet bowl and Gaga’s lobster, but this separated at birth comes courtesy of the Minx, who really couldn’t believe her eyes.  I love the way that the people in both pictures of Beatrice are having a good old smirk (though Princess Eugenie looked no less ridiculous).


LaplandReindeer_wideweb__470x305,0 beatrice hat


And seriously, I know Philip Treacy is supposed to be some sort of millinery genius, but honestly most of his many, many hats on the day were awful. Somebody really should have tweaked his meds.

29 April 2011

Separated At Birth – Zara Phillips’ Hat


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                                Zara Phillips’ Hat                                                                                          Satellite Dish

It’s the obvious comparison of course, and in fact this was one of my favourite hats of the day, but this is just in case anyone in the Abbey couldn’t work out why the service was being constantly interrupted by garbled Chinese porn films and messages from outer space.

I also love how the Queen’s next grandson-in-law-to-be looks like such a thug, albeit a very jovial one.

Separated At Birth – Chelsy Davy


article-1337031-0C67D5F9000005DC-654_233x423 Chelsy-Davy-Royal-Wedding-042911-2-435x580
                       Next royal bride Chelsy Davy                                                        Busty barmaid Bet Lynch


Prince Harry’s date and the potential next royal bride Chelsy Davy is a dead ringer for Bet Lynch. That’ll mean beans to any American readers, but suffice it to say that she was the busty ‘tart with a heart’ barmaid in Britain’s long running soap opera Coronation Street.

Random Wedding Thoughts – Victoria Beckham


It seems that poor dear not-particularly-especially-in-this-company-Posh Spice is so deranged by pregnancy hormones that she forgot to remove her gown after going to the hair salon to have her pony tail clipped on.




Luckily for us, that means we can copy what she wore to the wedding for a mere £14.99 from Amazon. She’s also clearly of the opinion that if she slapped on enough eyeliner, fake tan and ridiculous shoes, we’d forget she was in her third trimester.

Nope, didn’t work for me either.

Hat was one of Philip Treacy’s better efforts on the day. But what’s with the hew-fangled ‘unicorn’ style of hat wearing nowadays? The Minx and I thought it was hilarious.

Royal Wedding Random Thoughts – The Cake


I’m super tired and still childishly excited – the family had a ton of fun watching the festivities in bed last night – but I’ll be posting up a few random thoughts throughout the day today. All in all I thought the whole thing was a stunning success, made me proud to be British and more homesick than I can possibly describe.  It’s London I miss, God love that huge, dirty, smelly, GLORIOUS city. 

I’ll get to the dress later on, but first up I wanted to share some pictures of the cake – one of the most stunning examples of the cakemaker’s art I’ve ever seen.





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Just look at that exquisite craftsmanship and incredible attention to detail. I have no idea how they could bear to cut into it.



“The wedding cake, designed by Fiona Cairns, is made from 17 individual fruit cakes (12 of which form the base) and has eight tiers. The cake has been decorated with cream and white icing using the Joseph Lambeth technique. There are up to 900 individually iced flowers and leaves of 17 different varieties decorated on the cake. A garland design around the middle of the cake matches the architectural garlands decorated around the top of the Picture Gallery in Buckingham Palace, the room in which the cake will be displayed.


And yes, it was a fruit cake which can, contrary to most American opinion it seems, be utterly delicious.


They’re Getting Married in the Morning




On the night of Charles and Diana’s wedding I had gone with a bunch of teenage friends to see the fireworks in Hyde Park.  It was a warm July night and London was en fete. 

I’d promised my mother faithfully that we’d get the last bus back, but after the fireworks were over and we’d squashed through the gates of the park with thousands of other people, it became obvious that there was no hope of making it home. I remember having to queue for ages outside an old-fashioned red phone box to give her the news that no, I wouldn’t be coming home, and yes, we’d be spending the night out on the street.

We found a space with a pretty good view on the Strand near St Clement Danes (the Oranges and Lemons church) and sat down on the pavement to wait out the night. My overriding memory is of how happy and good- humoured people were – everyone, even the police officers, laughing and joking, cheering every little incident, letting small kids get to the front, sharing food with people (ie. us) who had brought none. 

What we saw was nothing like what you see on telly -  just the procession trotting past us in one direction and back again the other way. There were no screens and the ceremony itself was relayed over speakers. Diana’s dress was crammed into the carriages and we hardly knew what it was like until we saw it later on TV. And yet it was one of the best nights and days of my life.

I so wanted to be in London for this day, but couldn’t make it work.  If you’re there give London a kiss and a hug from me, I’ve been so terribly homesick this week and watching the beginnings of the coverage is making my heart ache.. I’ll be staying up all night watching the coverage in bed with the Minx, wearing pyjamas and my big wedding hat.  The Minx has her favourite princess costume and tiara all picked out. There’s champagne, the fixings for a full English breakfast and and Prince William’s favourite chocolate biscuit cake in the fridge and I’ll be Tweeting up a storm, come and  find me on @mirrormirrorxx

But it won’t be the same. Sniff.

13 April 2011

Royal Wedding Souvenirs – Food


So I’ve been collecting links like crazy and am going to be boring you silly this week with a veritable parade of Royal Wedding memorabilia.  First up is food to get you in the mood for the big day.


UK biscuit (cookie) bakers the Biscuiteers, have come up with a delightful Special Edition tin of biscuits, featuring crowns, glass coaches, tiered wedding cakes, flags, shoes, engagement rings, dresses and cathedrals. I would SO be buying this if I lived in the UK.







Brighton-based cake designers Choccywoccydoodah produced this incredible take on their signature wedding cake to celebrate the event.




Nottingham-based Castle Rock Brewery has created a special beer aptly called Kiss Me Kate for the occasion.




German-based Donkey Products has created a lovely pair of KaTEA and William teabags, showing Kate in her wedding dress wearing an enormous sapphire and wallowing in oodles of cash.


Poor girl has however got some very formidable inlaws to contend with though.


Finally, for those of Stateside who also want wedding cookies then Eleni’s has also created a wedding cookie assortment featuring British icons, tiaras, engagement rings, horses and the bride and groom themselves.





Or instead of commemorative china, you can buy cookies in the shape of commemorative plates, which seems to me to be much the best option. Also available from Eleni’s.




More Royal Wedding stuff later this week.

11 April 2011

Sweet View


These Sweet View prints by artist Jack Noel are really resonating with me this morning.  Over the last couple of years I’ve been gently researching my family tree on my father’s side and it seems I’m a Londoner as far back as I can trace – at least seven generations to silkweavers in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green; chairmakers and cabinetmakers in Brentford and bookbinders and stationers near the Strand.

This series of prints shows London as it’s lived by Londoner -  not the hackneyed tourist images but ‘views of the crossroads, markets and hidden squares that provide the true backdrop to a life in London”. So far he’s done six of the inner London boroughs, with another six to come later this year.



Hackney  The view shows St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch (the famous ‘Oranges & Lemons’ church) – generations of my family were christened and married here.



Tower Hamlets (Columbia Road Market)



Westminster (I love how this is a corner of Trafalgar Square without a view of Nelson’s Column)



Southwark (Borough Market)








Really hoping he does a view of Notting Hill for Kensington & Chelsea.

07 April 2011

Recipe of the Week – Scones and Clotted Cream


I think we’ve talked about his before, but American dairy products are different.  Butter is less rich, and the creams have less fat content and, to my great chagrin, thick spoonable, dollop-able creams (I adore the word ‘dollop’) just don’t exist. And nor does clotted cream.




This thick spreadable 55% fat cream is even quite difficult to find in London – it’s a speciality of England’s West Country, and should ideally be consumed in a little teashop somewhere in either Devon or Cornwall at a table heaving with flimsy bits of chintzy china and mismatching embroidered napkins.

I haven’t been able to track it down at all in the US, but last month on our trip to Vancouver, I was thrilled to see it offered as part of the afternoon tea at the Shangri-La, and even more thrilled to be given some as a gift by Stéphane, the world’s loveliest concierge. This month, the wonderful Viv made a return trip to the Shangri-La and came back bearing more clotted cream from Stéphane. Truly I am lucky in my friends.


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Clotted cream should be eaten with freshly made, billowy soft, barely sweet scones. It’s taken me a long time to track down a decent scone recipe but this one from the BBC website is really good. It uses buttermilk, which is slightly unusual,  but gives the scones a delightful airiness and slight bite.


225g (1 2/3 cups) self-raising flour (if you can’t get self raising make your own by adding 1tsp of baking powder to 1 cup of flour).

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda

1 pinch of salt

50g (3.5 tbsp) chilled butter

25g (1tbsp) caster or baker’s sugar

2 handfuls sultanas (golden raisins) optional

125ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk

4 tbsps milk

A little extra flour for rolling and dusting

Preheat the oven to 220C/450F/Gas Mark 7. Butter a baking sheet.

Take a big mixing bowl and add the flour, baking soda, salt and butter. Chop at the butter roughly with kitchen scissors or a knife, and then rub it into the flour. Aim for a reasonably fine crumb but don’t rub it in too much or the scones will be dry.  Remember to lift your hands high in the air while you’re doing this to aerate the mixture.

Stir in the sugar.  I added two handfuls of golden raisins (sultanas) at this stage. They’re entirely optional or else you could also use normal raisins or currants.  Don’t use too many or you’ll weigh the mixture down.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour in nearly all of the buttermilk and milk. Stir the mix with a spatula until the milk is absorbed and then bring it all together with your hands. The dough should be very soft, almost sticky. Use the last remaining buttermilk and milk to bring together all the flaky bits at the bottom of the bowl if necessary.  Use a light touch at this stage.

Dump the dough on a lightly floured work service. Knead just enough to get rid of any cracks and then pat it down gently until it’s a least an inch (2.5cm) thick.  Take a round cutter – the size is up to you, I tend to make mini ones, and cut out your scones. The cutter makes a delightful sighing sound as it pushes through the dough. Gather up the trimmings,  pat together again and cut again until all your dough is used up. You should have enough for around 5-6 large scones or 10 mini ones.

Here are my little honey bunches excitedly waiting to go into the oven.




Dust with flour and bake in the oven for around 10-12 minutes until risen and golden.  Cool on a wire rack.

Serve as soon after baking as possible with jam and a generous dollop of clotted cream.  Strawberry jam is traditional but I used the very last of last year’s cherry jam from our tree and they were incredibly delicious

I always serve mine the Cornish way with the cream on top. Apparently Devonians put the cream first and then the jam. This is supposedly the subject of much fierce debate in the West Country.

My awesome red spotty teapot is from Rosanna Inc (which I didn’t know was a Seattle-based company) via discount site RueLala. If you still haven’t signed up for lots of lovely bargains, here’s an invitation.

30 March 2011

Royal Wedding Watch - Afternoon Tea at Harvey Nicks


I can’t tell you how much I want this silly but charming Limited Edition Royal Wedding Mug, which has been specially produced for upmarket British department store Harvey Nichols (oh how I miss Harvey Nicks).



Tragically, it seems that this mug is only available from Harvey Nicks’ Food Halls directly, on sale for £20, or will be given away as part of an exclusive afternoon tea being served at Harvey Nichols’ cafés and brasseries throughout the month of April.

I’ll be emailing Harvey Nicks to see if it’s going to be made available online, so that people in the US and beyond, including me dammit, can get their sticky mitts on one.  If you’re in the US and think there might be demand for it, can you let me know in the comments below and I’ll send Harvey Nicks a link to this post.


22 March 2011

Fancy Hotel of the Week–MyHotel Brighton


Last week I was idly flicking through pictures of the MyHotel in Brighton, the English seaside town known affectionately as ‘London-by-the-sea’.

Designed by New Yorker Karim Rashid and opened in 2008, the design brief was apparently to create a space ‘where Freddie Mercury might meet the Maharishi’. 

I really wanted to hate it after reading that, but unfortunately I just can’t.  From the photos at least it’s a shiny, sexy, glamorous, somewhat pretentious shag palace, perfect for all the London media types that Brighton attracts and the sort of place that I adore staying in. 

I’m sorry, just shoot me now.













I was very much enjoying my wander through Rashid’s trademark colours, curves and kitsch (and fishtanks) until I came across this picture.




Isn’t this the scariest, most nightmare-inducing hotel room you’ve ever seen? Imagine waking up and seeing that across the way. They’ll be decorating rooms with clowns next.


16 March 2011

Royal Wedding Watch - Knit Your Own Royal Wedding


Are you looking forward to the Royal Wedding?

Even hard-bitten and cynical little me is getting very excited.  What’s not to love - London and dresses and kisses and big hats.  I was even thinking of going back for it until they inconsiderately decided to hold it in April, which meant we couldn’t really combine it with a summer vacation.  Instead I’m going to have to get up at 3 am to watch coverage here on the West Coast.

Or else I may just knit these and replay the Royal Wedding for myself at a more civilised time of the morning.



Here’s the happy couple. Personally I’m a little disappointed in Kate’s dress.


Captttqure Captqtqure


The Queen and Prince Harry will be the other stars of the show and there will no doubt be a lot of royal corgis running round and tripping up the footmen. Though you could’ve worn a rather more spectacular hat, ma’am.


Capfaafature tqtq



Here’s that poignant moment when William sees his beautiful bride for the first time – just loving Wills’ and Harry’s hair here. Note you can even knit yourself a mini Archbishop of Canterbury, though I’m not sure why you’d want to.




And here’s the kiss we’ll all be waiting for – with accompanying Prince Charles, Camilla (boo!) and Prince Philip figures.

The book Knit Your Own Royal Wedding is by Fiona Gable, and if I weren’t suffering from Carmen Banana fatigue I would be seriously tempted to buy it.




Lots more Royal Wedding coverage coming up. I can’t wait to do ‘Separated At Birth’ on the wedding guests.


26 January 2011

Downton Abbey – On Location at Highclere Castle


Late last autumn the UK part of my Twitter feed started buzzing with chatter about Downton Abbey, a new ITV period drama, set in the halcyon years of the Edwardian era just before the outbreak of the First World War.




We managed to er, acquire it just after Christmas and loved it, though it hit every single ‘missing England like crazy’ button I possess.

It’s a typically English class-ridden frothy costume drama, about the fictional aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, with a fine, witty script by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park); Maggie Smith, being Maggie Smith at her most imperious; a stellar cast of well-known British actors and ridiculously exquisite costumes.  It’s currently being shown in the US, and the US part of my Twitter feed is now similarly alive with love for it.

The star of the show though, is Downton Abbey itself, or more properly the splendidly overwrought Highclere Castle in Berkshire, the seat of the Earls of Carnarvon, which was rebuilt in 1842 in High Elizabethan style, by Sir Charles Barry after he’d finished building the Houses of Parliament.  The gorgeous park is by Capability Brown.

Here are some of the spectacular locations – the costume designers and camera folk must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven.  Literally every frame is a visual feast.  The last episode airs on Sunday in the US, but I think it’s available to download from iTunes and from  A new series is coming this autumn.






















More stunning photos of the locations are here

14 December 2010

Homemade Mincemeat


Or, the one in which I totally gross out my American readers.

The taste of a British Christmas were established hundreds of years ago when the Crusaders first brought spices and exotic fruits back to Britain and it was discovered that they were delicious preservatives of meat.  While the cooking of the rest of Western Europe is based on the use of herbs, British food relies much more on spices for flavour, and the British Empire grew up in part because of the spice trade. All manner of dried fruits, citrus fruits, strange spices, brandy and rum would be brought back to Blighty and our traditional Christmas foods all feature these erstwhile exotic ingredients.   Christmas cake, Christmas puddings and mincemeat are essentially all variations on the dried fruit, citrus, spices and alcohol theme, just different in texture.




Mincemeat got its name, because, yes, in Tudor times, it used to contain meat – preserved by the fruit sugars, alcohol and spices. I love this quote I found here and taken from a 1545 cookbook.

‘To make Pyes - Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced and ceasoned wyth pepper and salte, and a lyttle saffron to coloure it, suet or marrow a good quantite, a lyttle vyneger, prumes, greate raysins and dates, take the fattest of the broathe of powdred beyfe, and yf you wyll have paest royall, take butter and yolkes of egges and so tempre the flowre to make the paeste’

As the years went past, the quantity of meat diminished and then disappeared, but the beef suet lived on, helping to preserve the mixture and giving an unctuous silky mouth feel to the finished preserve when warmed.  In my opinion, it’s not worth making mincemeat with anything else.

Who would have thought that one of the main things I’d miss upon moving to the US would be suet?  Suet is the dry fat around around beef kidneys, and, like lard, is very difficult to track down in the US. 

For some reason Americans will quite cheerfully chow down on all sorts of dangerous hydrogenated fats but are very circumspect when it comes to pure animals fats, such as suet or lard, even though they have no more saturated fat  than butter.

In the UK ‘shredded’ suet is available in boxes, chopped and floured into tiny pellets and looking like it never saw an animal in its life. This is good, as so many classics of traditional British cuisine, including many dessert dishes – steak and kidney pudding, jam roly poly, spotted dick (yep, I saw you laughing at the back), traditional Christmas puddings and mince pies – depend for their flavour and texture on copious amounts of chopped up beef fat.  Nobody could ever accuse traditional British food of being sophisticated.

Not only is shredded suet impossible to track down here, but, since the outbreak of mad cow disease in the late 80s in the UK, it, and products containing it, can’t even be imported into the US. Which means that I’ve missed traditional mincemeat and mince pies more than words can express. (Vegetarian suet and vegetarian mincemeat IS available, but it’s full of hydrogenated fats and tastes horrible, so to be avoided at all costs in my book).

However, even a dyed-in-the wool carnivore such as myself was slightly perplexed when I unwrapped my packet of suet from the butcher. Was I seriously going to put this in my dessert?




I also had absolutely no clue how to prepare it  - all British recipes are resolutely silent on the issue, just assuming you’re going to use the packet stuff. So I improvised by painstakingly picking the globules of dry white fat from the papery membrane it was stuck too, and discarded both the membrane and the stuff that was more obviously meat rather than fat).  I began to realise why a certain Mr Hugon had made a fortune back in 1893 out of creating Atora shredded suet for the harried British housewife.

A quick pulse in the food processor later with a tablespoon of flour and this is what I ended up with. The suet is very dry and so crumbs up nicely. How much more innocuous and palatable this looked! 




From then on we were on a roll. I used Delia Smith’s recipe from the venerable-but-still-much-thumbed-in-this-house-anyway Delia Smith’s Christmas.


Ingredients (Makes 6lbs)




1lb/450g Bramley apples, cored and chopped small without peeling (I used the last of my precious Bramleys, but you can use any sharp, crisp apples)

8oz/225g shredded beef suet

12oz/350g raisins

8oz/225g sultanas (golden raisins)

8oz/225g currants

4oz (110g) mixed candied peel, finely chopped  (I could only find orange peel and forgot to chop mine)

4oz (110g) glace cherries (Delia’s recipe omits the cherries, which are not traditional, and uses 8oz of mixed peel, but I love cherries in mine)

12oz/350g soft dark brown sugar (you may want to use a little less if your apples are much sweeter than Bramleys)

Grated zest and juice of two oranges

Grated zest and juice of two lemons

2oz slivered almonds

4 tsps ground mixed spice*

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Grated nutmeg

6 tablespoons brandy

*‘Mixed spice’  is a ready made up spice mixture from the UK similar to pumpkin pie spice but omitting the ginger and often including ground cloves. In the US I replaced all the spices listed here with 2tsps cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp allspice and 1 scant tsp ground cloves.





Spend the best part of an hour weighing and  measuring fruits and chopping apples. This is fun as your kitchen will smell like you’ve died and gone to heaven and if your kids are anything like my kid they’ll be keen to help.

Stir all the ingredients, except the brandy, together in a large ceramic bowl. I added the brandy by mistake.

Cover with a cloth and leave overnight in a cool place so that flavours get a chance to mingle.





Then place everything in a very cool (225 degrees F/120 degrees C) oven for three hours. This melts the lard and coats the apples, thereby preventing fermentation.

Look how yummy and moist and succulent and juicy it looks when it’s warmed!





And look how faintly disgusting it looks covered in coagulated fat after being left to cool completely in the fridge.




But no matter, all it needed was another thorough stir to break up the fat and it became unnoticeable in the mixture. The brandy is normally added at this stage to preserve everything. I was a little worried that my mixture would not preserve so well because I’d added the brandy before the warning process, so I added another 6 tbsps of brandy to be sure. That’s my excuse anyway.

Words cannot describe how delectable this tasted. Eons better than any brand of jarred mincemeat I’ve ever tasted.  I seriously could have eaten the whole bowlful that very morning.  Instead I packed it in clean, dry jars which I heated in the oven to sterilise.

If properly made, mincemeat will keep for at least a year or three. The flavours are supposed to develop and intensify in the jar so it’s customary to make your mincemeat in November for December eating. I honestly don’t see though how the flavour of this could be in the slightest bit improved.  Mince pies will be made at the end of the week.


02 December 2010

Things I Am Loving – Orla Kiely Reusable Shopper for Tesco


So US peeps, you may not want to read any further.

162762_169875396379221_108965912470170_407386_5717365_nSee this beautiful reusable shopping bag by Orla Kiely? Well, it’s apparently a Limited Edition reusable shopper available only through Tesco’s (one of the big British supermarkets) in the UK. The price is £4 with a portion of the proceeds going to some of Orla’s favourite charities.

Has anyone in the UK seen one yet to report back?  I have a horrible feeling that a lot of these will be going straight to Ebay.

Speaking of Orla, we had the last of our stuff in the UK shipped over last month (yes, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that we’re here in the US for the foreseeable future) and I used the opportunity to ship over some of the gorgeous Orla Kiely bedding they have at Heal’s.


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Here’s a crappy picture of it on our bed this morning (yes, it does look better ironed) and here is a picture of the beautiful boxes the duvet cover and pillow cases came packaged in, which are almost nicer than the bedding itself.

19 November 2010

Recipe of the Week – Red Onion Marmalade


I’m in a preserving state of mind at the moment and this weekend decided to make a little treat for the Husband.  Since coming to the US we’ve found it quite difficult to get hold of good onion marmalade. We can occasionally buy it in Canada or in the speciality food aisle here in the US, but we’ve yet to find a brand that could replace Tracklements Onion Marmalade in his affections.

 (The following recipe is one I first tried at a friend’s house years ago. I photographed the relevant page from her cookbook but unfortunately the pboto doesn’t tell me which cookbook it came from. I’d love to be able to credit it properly, so please let me know if you recognise it.)




Silky, sticky onion marmalade is one of those very British sweet/sour condiments that the French find quite barbaric, but is quite sensationally good. The sweetness of the caramelised onions is enhanced and deepened by the balsamic vinegar and sugar, while the garlic, thyme and wine add unexpected layers of flavour. 

It’s best served with foods that are rich, creamy and intensely savoury – the subtle crunch of the onions adds a layer of texture, the vinegar cuts through the richness and the sweetness adds its own counterpoint.

Dollop it onto strong creamy Cheddar as part of a ploughman’s lunch, or serve with a smooth chicken liver mousse, other meats or even foie gras.  It is also quite amazing with sausages and mash and fabulous in a hamburger.

The Husband just scoffs his with a spoon, straight from the fridge.


Red Onion Marmalade


(Makes enough for 1 small jar. Multiply the quantities depending on how many jars you want to make)

2 large red onions

3 tbsps olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Sea salt

4 tbsps red wine

4 tbsps balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

Few springs of thyme

Black pepper





Thinly slice the onions.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based deep-sided frying pan or saucepan. C rush the garlic and saute’ the onions , garlic and a little salt very gently for around 20 minutes until soft and translucent. The recipe suggests covering the onions with a circle of greaseproof paper so that moisture is trapped and they don’t brown – this worked very well for me.

Then add the wine, vinegar and sugar and simmer everything gently for around 15-20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.  You could also experiment with different vinegars and liquids. Port would be a good substitute for the wine and sherry vinegar would be an interesting replacement for the balsamic. The Husband’s favourite Tracklements brand uses redcurrant juice.

Strip the leaves from thyme and add them to the marmalade, season with pepper and more salt to taste and cook gently for another 5 minutes.

Pack into a sterilised jar and close the lid while it’s still warm. The recipe says this lasts for about a month in the fridge.  I pass this on to you as an interesting theory, no more - the Husband inhales this stuff and in our house it lasts a week or two at the very most.




01 October 2010

Recipe of the Week – A Traditionally English Bramley Apple Pie


One of the challenges on my 101 List is to ‘Win something – anything’, which means I actually need to enter competitions.

Cue the 2nd Annual Queen Anne Farmers’ Market Blue Ribbon Pie Contest, which I decided to enter on a whim, despite the fact that I haven’t actually baked a pie for about ten years – crumble always seems so much quicker, easier and less daunting – and that Seattle is home to some fiendishly expert piemakers.




This year I’ve been able, through extensive excitable Twittering and emailing, to locate a local source of Bramley apples. Despite being home to more fabulous apple varieties than you can shake a stick at, America appears to be almost entirely ignorant of Bramleys, which I’ve missed horribly over the past couple of years.

For those of you who don’t know, Bramleys are a large knobbly British heirloom ‘cooking’ apple – too tart to eat raw, but which, thanks to the extra acidity, have a uniquely wonderful flavour and soft fluffy texture when cooked. It’s funny the things you miss, but I am not the only Brit to nearly wet my knickers with excitement at finding them.

So, I decided to make a traditionally English Bramley Apple Pie for the competition and show Americans what they’re missing out on.




And here’s my finished pie literally seconds before it slipped out of my hands as I was putting it in the oven and it crashed to the oven floor. Fortunately I was able to perform extensive reconstructive surgery using leftover scraps of pastry and make it look like a pie again, but it certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty competitions.

So you can imagine that I wasn’t holding out much hope of a prize when I was greeted by a veritable masterclass in the piemaker’s art on arriving at the market. (My poor battered pie is at top right in the red pie dish, I didn’t even bother to take a proper close up photo of it).




Here it is after the judges had tucked into it.


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And here it is sporting its ribbon for 3rd Prize! You could have knocked me down with a feather, quite literally. They clearly weren’t judging on looks.




Anyway, it was a lovely and very unexpected surprise to end to what has been a fairly shitty week, so many thanks to all at Queen Anne Farmers’ Market, to Jones Creek farms for their wonderful Bramley apples, to my lovely friend M for coming to my rescue with lard, and  to my fellow competitors who made some SERIOUSLY delicious pies (enough already, it’s getting like the Oscars round here :- the Ed)

And it’s made me think that maybe I should make pie more often.



Shortcrust Pastry

250g/2cups flour

75g/5 tbsps butter*

75g/5tbsps lard or vegetable shortening**

Iced water + lemon juice


1-2 tbsps of butter

5 Bramley apples – peeled, cored and sliced***

1 tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsps raisins soaked in Madeira****

6 tbsps bakers/caster sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

A few grindings of nutmeg

1 tbsp cornstarch/cornflour/plain flour


* I used an imported European butter as the fat content is higher and it apparently works better for pastry. You can get Kerrygold and Lurpak reasonably easily in the US. I also used salted butter as Il like the whole salty /sweet thing in my desserts.

**It appears that good quality lard is also very difficult to get hold of in the US. It’s available as ‘manteca’ and extensively used for Mexican cuisine but the brands I’ve found seem to be full of partially hydrogenated fats. Or else you need to track down ‘leaf lard’ from a good butcher or farmer. I was lucky enough to be given some by a friend. Brits, treasure that pack of Tesco’s lard you’ve had squashed in the back of the fridge since time immemorial.

*** Bramleys are unique in my experience. If you can’t get hold of them, Granny Smiths have a similar tart taste, but very different texture and I’ve heard that Gravensteins and Belle de Boskoop are other good cooking varieties. You may need to adjust cooking method (below) accordingly.

**** Madeira is yet another very English thing. If you don’t have madeira, rum, whisky or Calvados would be great. If kids are going to eat the pie use apple or orange juice.



Soak your raisins in your booze of choice a few hours before starting.

Chop your fats into small dice and put the flour and fats into the freezer for around 15 minutes. If you didn’t use salted butter, you could maybe add a pinch of salt.

Prepare a cup of iced water and add a squeeze of lemon.

Put your flour and fats into a food processor and pulse process until the fats are fully incorporated and the mixture looks like coarse sand or oatmeal.

Add iced water to the mix a teaspoon at a time and keep pulsing until everything has almost clumped together. Fish it out and knead it into a smooth dough by hand. (You can of course use the traditional ‘rubbing in’ method. I like the above, courtesy of Nigella Lawson – God love that despicable woman – because it’s quick, easy and means you don’t have to handle the pastry more than is strictly necessary).

Put the pastry in the fridge for at least 30 mins to relax.



Core, peel and slice your apples and place the slices in a bowl of cold water with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to stop them browning. Americans seem to prefer more discernible lumps of apple in their pies, so may want to slice them more thickly.

Melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a large frying pan and then turn off the heat and add your apples, drained raisins, approximately 6 tablespoons of caster sugar depending on how sweet your apples are (if you’re not using tart Bramleys you may want to use a bit less), the spices and the cornflour. I also added a little lemon juice, and you can adjust this according to the tartness or otherwise of your apples. If you’re using very sweet dessert apples go for more.

Stir the apples around until all the buttery juices are amalgamated. If you prefer a softer pie filling or are using dessert apples that don’t disintegrate easily you may want to cook the apples gently at this stage.  I didn’t with my Bramleys.



Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the one of the pastry circles and line the bottom of your pie dish.

Add the filling.

Roll out the other pastry circle and place over the top of the pie dish, cutting the excess away with a knife.

Paint the edge of the pie with milk and then crimp together the top and bottom layers. Pierce vents in the top layer to let the steam escape and decorate how you like with the pastry scraps, eggwash or milk and lots of sugar. I experimented using different types of sugar – caster, demerara, and large-crystalled ‘sparkling’ sugar to decorate different elements of my design.

Bake for about 45-50 minutes until golden. I covered my pie with foil for the first 20 minutes so it wouldn’t get too brown.

I’m not going to count this as a win for the 101 Things, since it was only a 3rd place. However ask me again when the three years is nearly up.  Oh and here’s a gratuitous cute picture of the Minx chatting up a baby at the market.




Here’s a link to a write-up about the competition on the Queen Anne Farmers’ Market website, with a rare flattering photo of me (on the far left).



Photo by John Schussler


Thank goodness I didn’t know that professional bakers would be competing and that we would be judged by professional pastry chefs.

Here are links to the three other prize-winning recipes which all looked utterly incredible. Mine was apparently the highest-ranked apple pie (of which there were several) which I attribute entirely to the amazing power of the Bramley apple.

23 September 2010

Recipe of the Week – Brown Bread Ice Cream


Or ice cream as health food. Kinda.





A week or three ago I was honoured to be invited to an ‘Ice Cream Social’ at the home of Seattle Bon Vivant. ‘Viv’ doesn’t blog much anymore but she is a huge presence on the Seattle foodie scene and I knew I was going to be in exalted foodie company.

So which ice cream to make? I wanted something that would be unusual enough to intrigue an American foodie crowd; something either very English or very Italian to reflect my heritage, and of course something utterly delicious. And that’s when I remembered Brown Bread Ice Cream.

This ice cream is as British as it comes, apparently made by the Victorians, and still served today in British restaurants and gastropubs, though you won’t find it in a British supermarket  (why on earth not? – Ed)

It’s also pretty quick and simple to make. I used Gordon Ramsay’s recipe here as my base but made several changes.


Olive oil, for greasing

75g (2 1/2 ozs) brown bread (I used 3  large thick slices of a well made wholemeal  or whole grain loaf without too many nuts or seeds)

75g (2 1/2ozs) soft brown sugar

250ml (1 cup) milk

250ml (1 cup)  double/heavy cream (American heavy cream is not as rich as British double cream but still works)

1 tsp vanilla extract (Gordon uses a vanilla pod, if you have one refer to his recipe above) 

6 free-range egg yolks

50g (1/4 cup) caster sugar



- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6

- Make brown breadcrumbs by slicing thick slices of your wholemeal loaf, removing the crusts, letting them go stale over a day or two and then whizzing them in a food processor. If you’ve forgotten to let them go stale, just bake them for 30 minutes or so in a very cool oven before whizzing.

- Add the same weight in light brown sugar to the crumbs. I forgot to make precise cup measures., sorry. Suffice to say that you should make LOTS of the caramel breadcrumbs as they are delicious stirred into any shop-bought vanilla; so just make loads, keeping the weight of bread and sugar the same.  

- Grease a baking tray with a little olive oil using a pastry brush or spray. Spread out the breadcrumbs and sugar and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the sugar caramelises. I burnt my first batch, so for the second batch I stirred the bread crumbs with a wooden spoon every 3 minutes until they were crunchy and caramelly – about 10 minutes in my oven. I highly recommend doing this. Watch the crumbs like a hawk anyway.

- Leave the crumbs to cool. When they’re cool, bash them with a rolling pin or meat tenderiser or similar, so that they’re crumby and not all clumped together.

- Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together in a bowl until thick, pale and creamy and then whisk in the cream, milk and vanilla extract. Transfer to a thick-based pan and cook gently over a low heat until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Pass through a sieve if you’re feeling fancy.

- Cool in the fridge overnight. Gordon forgets to mention this, but it’s imperative for my ice cream maker (the Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment)

- Pour the custard into your ice-cream churn and, just as it starts to set, add the breadcrumbs and churn until they’re stirred through.  Then put in the freezer to freeze completely. This ice cream benefits hugely from twenty minutes ‘ripening’ in the fridge before serving.

- I served mine with strawberries marinaded in sugar and lemon juice.

- If I were you, and if you were going to serve this to adults only, I’d definitely experiment with adding a splash of Baileys or Irish whiskey to the mix instead of vanilla.

If I say so myself this ice cream was super good – dense and rich, with a sweet chewy nuttiness - and it was fab to see the change come over some initially highly sceptical faces at the Ice Cream Social.

27 August 2010

Things I Am Loving - Jme Foods for Williams-Sonoma


Or, more precisely, I’m loving the labelling, since I haven’t tried the foods themselves yet.

Jamie Oliver has just launched his Jme range of artisanal British foods in the US in conjunction with Williams-Sonoma. I’m definitely going to be trying the mango chutney, mint sauce and marmelade as it’s difficult to get good versions of these oh so British delicacies over here. (Though I’m also noting how flippin’ expensive they are in comparison with the same products in the UK.) I’m hoping that at some point his full range of British products finds its way over here.




What I’m most intrigued by, though, by the packaging.  It looks very British - as in so many things American packaging can get very busy and very ‘more is more’ - whereas this is simple, old-fashioned in a modern way, if that makes sense and quite austere.

I love how the simplicity and retro styling makes everything hang together, despite using a  mishmash of different packaging shapes, fonts, label styles and colours.  It looks like a very idealised version of how my mother’s pantry might have looked in the Mad Men era (in her dreams haha!). Interestingly the actual branding is very subtle, the only thing the have in common is the sixties-style  ’J’ on the labelling.  I’m also loving that he’s calling a biscuit a biscuit.

I’m most intrigued by how this reads to an American audience. Does the styling make you want to buy the food? Or does it just seem too plain, too old-fashioned and unappealing?

06 May 2010

Vote Early, Vote Often



Portrait Badge of Emmeline Pankhurst c. 1909 From the Museum of London.


Feeling bad today as for the first time in my adult life I’m not going to be voting in a UK Election - for some unfathomable reason we just forgot to register. I hope that Mrs Pankhurst, wherever she is, can find it in her heart to forgive me.

It’s made even worse because today is the first election I can remember where it really isn’t clear what the outcome is going to be, and so it is all rather exciting, though in a somewhat depressing way, as none of the candidates are particularly inspiring. Where is a Barack Obama when you need him?

Still we have the Prosecco on ice in the hopes that by tomorrow the rather unpleasant Gordon Brown will no longer be Prime Minister. (Champagne doesn’t seem appropriate given the parlous state of the British economy whoever gets in).

I’m going to be watching the all-night coverage via The Telly, worth hooking up to for any other British expats out there.

19 April 2010

Traditional English Apricot Flapjacks


or possibly the best flapjack recipe in the world. 

These are what I made for the Food Bloggers’ Bake Sale. I chose them because they’re quick and easy, as English as the Queen (no bake sale in the UK would be complete without flapjacks, in fact the Queen probably has her own ‘go to’ recipe) but would probably be a novel taste experience for an American audience.

I believe that in the US a ‘flapjack’ is a type of pancake, but in the UK a flapjack is a squidgy, chewy bar a bit like a granola bar, full of oats and redolent with sugar and butter. 




Their unique taste comes from the addition of ‘golden syrup', a traditional British cane sugar syrup with a distinctive buttery flavour. It’s becoming increasingly available in the US and we have found it here in Seattle at Metropolitan Market, Cost Plus World Market and at British food stores.

If you buy some it’s also absolutely delicious on pancakes and porridge as well as being used for lots of other traditional British recipes such as treacle tart. You could substitute corn syrup, honey or molasses at a pinch, but your flapjacks won’t taste quite the same.





This recipe comes from my mother-in-law by way of Waitrose I think (some British supermarket anyway) which I’ve adapted for American measures and temperatures etc.  The thing I like about it is the inclusion of not-so-traditional sweetened condensed milk, which definitely ups the sticky squidgy factor.



1 1/2 sticks/6oz/170g unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups/6oz/170g soft brown sugar

2 tablespoons golden syrup

2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

4 cups/12oz/340g rolled (old fashioned) porridge oats

6 oz/170g chopped dried apricots



Line a 13” x 9” pan with baking parchment and grease the paper with butter.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4.

In a saucepan gently heat the butter, sugar, golden syrup and condensed milk, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.




Stir the chopped apricots into the oats until they’re evenly distributed and then stir in the sugary, buttery, syrupy liquid until all the oats are evenly coated.

Press the mixture into your prepared pan. There’s no need to press down too hard, but make sure the top is even.




Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. At the end your flapjacks will be slightly more golden, but won’t look much different from when they went into the oven.

Leave them to cool in the pan, then cut into 12-15 servings and devour.

Flapjacks are very tolerant creatures, so go to town with variations and additions. Try different dried fruits (raisins are very often used), nuts and seeds, coconut, glace cherries or even chocolate chips .

We had to wrap our offerings as well. Flapjacks are not the most aesthetically beautiful things (the pleasure is all in the munching) so I wrapped them with baking parchment sealed with Happytape (yes, the Husband took the anvil-sized on blog hint for Valentines Day).



Oh, and as predicted Megan Not Martha was the star of the bake sale with these.  

15 April 2010

Bloggers Bake Sale for Share Our Strength




On Saturday I, and a number of other much more famous Seattle food bloggers, such as NotMartha, Cakespy and Gluten Free Girl, will be donating baked items to the Food Bloggers bake sale. Megan NotMartha will apparently be upstaging us all with a secret something baked in jars. I will be contributing something very, VERY British.



When: April 17, 2010
10:am -12:pm

Metropolitan Market Uptown
100 Mercer Street
(free parking available)

What: Cookies, Cakes and baked goods made by Seattle food bloggers
Recipes will be available too.

Nearly 17 million— almost one in four—children in America face hunger. Despite the good efforts of governments, private-sector institutions and everyday Americans, millions of our children still don’t have daily access to the nutritious meals they need to live active, healthy lives. More information on SOS can be found at Share Our Strength.


The Seattle bake sale has been organised by Keren of FranticFoodie and if you can’t make it to Met Market in Seattle, then there are bake sales being organised throughout the US by Gaby of What’s Gaby Cooking.

Just running out the door to get rolled oats. British readers I bet you can guess what I’m baking!

09 December 2009

Fancy Hotel of the Week – the Scarlet


A UK friend of mine and occasional blog commenter stayed a couple of weeks back at this brand new hotel in Cornwall and thought I would love it as much as she did. And from the pictures she was right.  We used to go down to Cornwall nearly every year when we lived in the UK and it’s another place I miss horribly.  I MUST get to this hotel sooner rather than later as it looks amazing (though annoyingly it doesn’t appear to take kids).


The building itself is a fabulous purpose built affair, making the most of sea views and built to the highest eco-standards by architects Harrison Sutton.


This is the wonderful bar area.  Love the colours and the mix of chunky wood and leather.


Like the seating and the low hanging lamps, though wonder if they’d be annoying if you were actually in the bed.


Pretty colours, though the big wooden boat is a bit of a Cornish cliche. Kelly Wearstler should look here to see a more successful use of statuary though.





More lovely colours, prints and unusual lampshades in the library and lobby.



And everywhere fabulous sea views. Why are there no hotels like this close to Seattle?  Cornwall does actually remind me of the Pacific Northwest a lot. Maybe I should open one. 

{All images from The Scarlet’s website.  Check out more from their gallery here.  And they have quite an interesting blog here about the trials and tribulations of building a hotel. Interiors by Max Bentheim Interior Design}