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Sunday, 15 March 2015

Cooking up a storm



A couple of years ago, I followed a gluten free diet for about six months as a way of trying to alleviate the symptoms of colitis. One very good thing which came out of that time was discovering this amazing recipe for lemon polenta cake, which I found in a magazine. I put a photo of it on Instagram recently and a couple of people asked for the recipe, so here it is. It is a very easy cake to make, and it also looks beautiful. It is great served with fresh cream.

250 g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten
250g ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
grated zest 2 lemons
juice 1 lemon
125g polenta, sifted
1 level teaspoon baking powder (gluten free if you are following a diet)
For the syrup:
4 tablespoons lemon juice
125g icing sugar
200g soft fruits e.g raspberries and blueberries
Icing sugar to dust

23cm/9 inch tin, lined with parchment
Set oven to Gas mark 3, or 160 degrees
Beat the butter until soft and pale. Add the sugar, beat until light and creamy. Whisk in the eggs a little at a time, making sure you beat the egg well. Fold in the almonds, vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice, polenta and baking powder. Put into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 50 mins to one hour. 
To make the syrup, place the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, and icing sugar into a pan and stir until the icing sugar has dissolved. Spoon over the cake while the syrup and the cake are still hot. Leave in the tin to cool. When the cake is cold, arrange berries on top and dust with icing sugar.



I'll be serving the cake to my Mum later today, along with some home made scones, clotted cream and raspberry jam. 



Have a lovely Sunday. 
PS I should clarify that I didn't paint that beautiful watercolour above. It's a photograph of mine which I changed using the Waterlogue App on my iPhone to give a painterly effect. I wish I was that good at watercolour :)

Sunday, 1 March 2015

An arty adventure


One of my Christmas presents was a day at a lino printing course in Sheffield. I've been looking forward to it hugely,and finally the day arrived. I travelled to Sheffield on Friday night, and met my brother who lives in the city for an early dinner. Up early on Saturday morning and we went to Hunters Bar, the area where the course was being held. As well as having a brother who lives in Sheffield, I feel strong links to the city. I was a student there in the 80s and have very happy memories of that time. It's just one of those places that will always have a really special significance.
As students, Hunters Bar was the place we often came on a Sunday. There is a beautiful park here, with a river running through it, and there have always been lots of interesting shops. The art school was once sited here, although that has now moved into the city centre.



Things have changed, but not too much. In those days, it was 'second hand' not vintage, and there were many little shops selling old clothes. Pre-Primark, this is how we shopped! I distinctly remember buying a pair of leopard skin hobnail boots from a second hand shop along this road, which I wore proudly with a pair of old long johns and a large pinafore dress. Anyway...the printing workshop was set in Cowlishaw Works, behind a pine shop and next door to a vintage china store.



There were eight of us on the course and the tutor was James Green, who is an amazing print maker. Most people had come along with a design in mind, and we got straight down to tracing it onto a lino tile using carbon paper.



Then it was time to start carving the lino. James provided all the tools for us. Some people had come up with really intricate designs: mine was pretty simple by comparison. I still found it quite tricky though. It was great to work alongside other people, we chatted and helped each other along, with sound advice and help from James.



Slowly it took shape. A break for lunch and chance to try some of the lovely local cafes and bakeries.



Finally, time to ink up! I chose black which I thought would suit my graphic design.



A few test prints are done first, and any adjustments made. For example, if there are any messy bits where the ink catches in the wrong place, or a chance to add some more detail. The patterned print above was by Susan, who was sitting opposite me.



And then, time to print on a piece of cartridge paper, to make the final picture. It was so satisfying! Everyone had a little moment as they revealed their design. It's a lovely thing to see. Each print was so different. Some people worked from photos, others had gone for pattern. Mine was probably the simplest style. 



A few of the other prints drying on the floor. Loved the frog and the street scene.
We finished by about 3.30pm, just time for a final cup of tea and a chance to let the ink dry. I headed off to the Millenium Gallery in Sheffield and saw a beautiful exhibition about bird illustrations, well worth seeing if you're in the area.



Then just time for a quick snack in The Crucible Theatre cafe and back on the train home. Pretty much a perfect day. 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Exploring








I've been out and about this week, researching an article about the county of Rutland, and including Rutland Water, the huge reservoir that lies within. It's been very cold, but there have been some beautiful sunny spells for me to explore walks, pubs, villages and tea shops. This is a cottage in Hambleton, on the Hambleton peninsula, the most picturesque of the villages I've visited so far. 



You can stand on the peninsula road and see water on both sides. 



Heading into Oakham, the market town, I visited the Castle Cottage tea room. It's tucked away just behind the castle ruins.



A nice welcome in the garden, which opens properly on March 25. And inside, it's very warm and inviting.



The county museum is fantastic. I spent an hour or two in there getting information and thoroughly enjoying looking around.



Some lovely old farm carts, and lots of domestic history about this rural county.



Then back out to the nature reserve: I like the heron standing guard at this site.



 Moody skies, and a keen wind whipping across here!



Quite glad to be at home in the warm working today.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Craving some colour


It's always around this time of year that I start wanting some colour in my life. The fields are brown, the garden is brown (and very messy), the skies are low and grey and the house is looking a little unloved. Colour makes it all better. Maybe that's why I'm reaching for vivid daffodils on the market, bright Seville oranges for marmalade, and these beautiful scarlet pomegranates.



I saw these in Manchester at the weekend when we took Jack back to uni. We treated him to a curry for lunch, and were enthralled by a wedding party at the restaurant, the women arrayed in sparkling saris and an amazing drumming accompaniment. We came out and I went into a vast international superstore full of fruit and vegetables. I bought these pomegranates and a big box of mangoes.
All week, I've been wanting to paint these, so yesterday I finished work a bit early and had a go. It was so nice to sit down with these paints and mix up the reds and oranges. 


Couldn't quite get the texture, it was harder than it looked. I'll try again. These little sketches all go into my journal, which I have continued since the one I completed for the local exhibition. I'm really enjoying it, but it probably accounts for the fact that I haven't been blogging as much as before. The trouble is, I like doing both....need more hours in the day.



On the kitchen top are Sevilles waiting to be turned into marmalade and the Manchester mangoes which are destined for chutney. 



The dresser gets the colour treatment too.


Back again soon, hopefully with jars and jars of preserves!


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year


Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a peaceful 2015. 
I've been enjoying time off work to mess about with some lino printing. As one of my Christmas presents, I've been booked on to a day's course in Sheffield to find out more about this technique which I love but have yet to really get the hang of. I am very excited for February when I'll be taking part.
I love the break between Christmas and New Year when there is usually time to do some painting and drawing. I've been reading some of my inspirational art books too. I love these two.


Generally, things have been quite low key around here, as my father in law is very ill. But we've seen family and friends and that has been lovely.



This chair is a recent acquisition which I'm planning to re-cover in the New Year. I loved the carved back, and it is also very comfortable.


More of my scribbles. 

See you in 2015 when I hope to be back here on a more regular basis.

Friday, 5 December 2014

A trip to Burwash Manor


I quite often hear people talking about why they don't like - or use - social media. But I must say, I am a devotee because of the networks it creates. I've found out about some fantastic places via Twitter, blogs or Facebook, and last weekend, I visited one of them. Burwash Manor, near Cambridge, is about 40 miles away, and I spotted it popping up on my Twitter account about six months ago. Last Sunday, my friend Jo and I decided to go and explore. Burwash Manor is an organic farm, which has about ten independent shops based in the barns. It's so charming.


No big crowds, easy parking and a tea shop on site too. Couldn't really ask for more. We were lucky it was a sunny, crisp day. We loved a shop called Providence which sells made to measure furniture, but also utilitarian household items, such as lavender beeswax polish, big wooden chopping boards, all sorts of brushes, reconditioned lighting and plenty of vintage items. Another favourite was Homestuff with History, where my first photo at the top of the page was taken. 


 I thought the shop was so beautifully styled. I bought some of the black and white letters...


There are Christmas trees and decorations, a food hall, deli and butchers, and a few clothes shops too. 


If you like to avoid the high street at this time of year, and prefer to choose some really individual gifts, I'd recommend a visit. 


A day rounded off with a pot of tea and a slice of coffee and walnut cake in the popular tea room. And all thanks to Twitter!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Here, there and everywhere


It feels as if November has been a very busy month. I've travelled to Brighton, Dorset, Cambridge and the Cotswolds for a combination of work and family commitments. I like nothing better than being on the move and seeing different places. It's been great. Last weekend was really delightful, we drove to Burford, on the edge of the Cotswolds, for my cousin's wedding. We arrived on Saturday lunchtime, checked into a motel and changed into our wedding clothes ready for the 3 o'clock ceremony. The venue was a very old and beautiful pub just off the historic high street. The whole town is so picturesque, it's almost unreal. It was looking especially pretty as the light faded and shop fronts were illuminated.



A real mix of shops: always good to see an independent bookshop thriving.



The sweetest cottages, and enormous price tags on all the houses in town! This is, after all, David Cameron country....



I'd love to come back with  more time to explore. 



Me and the boy in our wedding clothes. I can't say he was wildly enthusiastic about wearing a suit, but once he'd gone off and chosen one himself, and realised that it made him look older than his 16 years, he came round to the idea. 



Twinkly wedding breakfast. It was a lovely occasion, and so nice to catch up with the wider family.





The following morning was rainy and grey, so I didn't take as many photos as I wanted to, but it is somewhere to return to. Meanwhile, here are a few highlights from my other travels:



Broadwindsor, Dorset. A really flying visit but a spectacular day which started with this sunrise....(below)



Cambridge is close to where I live, but I always love visiting and I never tire of even the most touristy sights. I've been going there since I was a young girl and have always found it an intriguing place. Everyone around town always looks as if they are leading incredibly interesting and cerebral lives!



I went to this beautiful shop, Catesbys, for their Christmas preview. There is a small cafe inside, selling the world's best tasting cheese on toast.



I would like pretty much everything in this shop. 



I bought a few of these bowls as Christmas presents, but now I need to persuade myself to part with them...



Also loving that blue and white plate, although I didn't buy it.

So there we have it, a few snapshots from my travels around the English countryside. Thanks for sticking with me if you're still reading. 

About Me

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I'm a freelance journalist living in a village in East Northamptonshire with my husband and youngest son. I love visiting car boot sales, auctions and markets and writing about my inexpensive finds, and also some small craft projects and my attempts at watercolour painting and patchworking. I'm the editor of a local magazine, so I find out about loads of interesting things that are happening in my community, some of which I share here, too.