Busywork

Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Spooked October 27, 2013

Filed under: Halloween — lauravw @ 9:20 pm

ImageWe went early on the Halloween stuff this year: in September we went on holiday to Seattle, and Megan and Scott threw a party at a pumpkin patch, timed perfectly to coincide with our visit.

You can read Megan’s account of the party on her website, but I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that she throws a very fun party. We went with Erica, who I was very happy to finally meet in person after many years of reading her blog. It was still light when we arrived at the farm, and I was in heaven as I had never seen so many pumpkins in my life – many had been picked at artfully arranged around the farm (in a Martha Stewart Living style), and many others sat in the pumpkin patch, waiting to meet their destiny (when we left the farm later that night, it was nice and spooky to see the pumpkin patch in the dark).

The idea was that you had to make your way through the maze to get to the party – and this was harder than it sounds, even with a map (which was actually an aerial photo of the maze). We were with Scott and so we didn’t get lost – I think it would have been a different story if we’d attempted it alone.

Once you made it to the maze’s half-way point, you could access the private bonfire areas, where we found Megan, a lovely bonfire with seating around it, and an open-sided tent filled with food. She’d brought hot dogs of every persuasion – real, vegetarian, and gluten-free, There were also the ingredients to make s’mores, and Megan’s friends were on hand to school me in the right way to make them. (I still struggled – American marshmallows are HUGE compared to the UK ones.) I’d taken English marshmallows, Dairy Milk, and digestive biscuits so that we could compare and contrast the flavours. There was also hot cider and there MAY have been some bourbon, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Some of the other guests really did get lost in the maze on their way to the party, and while Scott was heroically saving them and helping them find their way out, he also rescued a lost family or two. At the end of the party, most of us took the short route (round the outside of the maze), but a few brave souls went back in to complete the second half of the maze before making their way home.

I took a whole load of pictures on the trip, and I will try to get round to telling you about more of what we got up to soon. Bourbon will feature again, I fear.

In the meantime, have a happy Halloween! We have our decorations up and are ready for a small gathering with friends on Thursday night.

 

La rentrée September 8, 2013

Filed under: Places to go — lauravw @ 11:21 am

ImageIn France, when they reach the end of summer and everyone picks back up where they left off, they call it la rentrée. The word sounds a lot like re-entry, and that’s sort of what it is – going back to work and normality after the holidays. So, after having neglected Busywork for a couple of months now, this is me picking up where I left off.

I have actually been at home for much of the summer, but now that it’s September and there’s a chill in the air, it feels like a new start. I find this more so that when the new year starts in January, because the weather then just carries on as it has been, there’s no real seasonal change.

I ended the summer on a high note – a day in London with my friend Jane (hello Jane!). It was something we’d talked about doing for a long time, perhaps more than a year, but we finally got round to it, and the weather gave us a perfect late summer day.

We visited the Chelsea Physic Garden, pottered around the very nice shops on the Kings Road, and then headed to the OXO Tower for cocktails. I had done this back in March when Megan and her friends were in London, and was very keen to go back. They had switched to a summer menu for their Not Afternoon Tea, which meant the options were completely different to those I’d had in March. I went for the chocolate bubbles option, and everything on the plate was amazing (pictures here). That was followed by a very refreshing gin cocktail, and then we were on our way, walking across the Thames to St Paul’s and a view across the city as the sun dipped in the sky.

 

Brownie tiramisu recipe June 14, 2013

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 4:21 pm

brownietiramisuThis is an utterly unorthodox recipe that would never be served in Italy, but it is delicious. It’s about six years now since I first made this, and the recipe has been tweaked over the years so I thought I would share my definitive version. If you’re on any kind of diet, look away now.

It’s a brownie tiramisu, rather than a tiramisu brownie – by this I mean that it’s a tiramisu made with a base of brownie instead of the more traditional sponge finger biscuits. The brownies are not tiramisu-flavoured – I just use my favourite brownie recipe.

For the brownies

  • 150g butter
  • 125g dark chocolate
  • 3 eggs
  • 375g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 125g plain flour
  • 30g cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease a 20cm square cake tin (ours is rectangular, but it doesn’t seem to matter).

Melt the butter and chocolate in a pan over a low heat. Allow to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together (using a wire whisk) in a large bowl until well combined. Sift the flour and cocoa together.

Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, and then stir in the sifted flour and cocoa; do not overbeat.

Pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 40 minutes (or 25 minutes, if you prefer them to be moist and fudgey) until slightly risen and just firm to the touch. I always underbake them, taking them out of the oven after 25-30 minutes – I like them to be gooey.

For the tiramisu

Serves six – you will have brownies left over

  • 200ml of hot, strong black coffee
  • 4 tablespoon of Kahlua
  • 3 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 150ml pot of double cream

You can make this in one big dish (ideally one with a flat bottom), of make individual servings in bowls (again a flat bottom would be better, but the ones in this picture are in normal curved bowls). If you’re using individual bowls, put a slice of brownie at the bottom of each.

Mix the coffee with the Kahlua and a tablespoon of the sugar, and pour over the brownies. While that cools, whip the cream until it just holds its shape. In a separate bowl, beat the mascarpone with the two remaining tablespoons of sugar (an extra tablespoon of Kahlua at this point won’t do any harm…), then fold in the cream.

Spoon the mixture over each of the brownies, and top with some grated dark chocolate.

 

Down on the farm May 28, 2013

Filed under: Nature and wildlife,Places to go — lauravw @ 3:08 pm

pigletsMy mother commented the other day that it’s been a while since I posted anything here. Not a good sign. The usual excuses apply: busyness, laziness, procrastination.

Anyway… The other day I took a trip with my parents to a small farm where you can pet the animals. It’s an ideal time of year to visit a place like this – there were baby animals a-go-go. There was also plenty of cherry blossom, and a tea-room that was worth a visit.

I’d like to think that one day I will live somewhere where my neighbours keep goats. (Or have goats myself, but it would be so much easier to just live near some.) There was a small family of them on the farm, and I always like seeing their smiling faces.

I was also rather keen on the rabbits, and for a short time was able to hold one of the younger ones. He was promptly returned to his hutch when he started to nibble my Boden coat though – and there is still evidence of teethmarks. While we were there, mum and I spotted that one of the rabbits had been making a nest, and we actually spotted two tiny rabbits be born – it was quite exciting to be there for the first few moments of their lives.

If you’d like to see more pictures of cute little animals, there are plenty more on my Flickr account.

 

 

At last April 16, 2013

Filed under: Books,Food — lauravw @ 3:20 pm

hummingbirdbookThat was the longest winter I have experienced.

I dread to think how much our heating bill will be – but at last the heating is off, the windows are open, and there are flowers in the garden. Until very recently, our pond had been frozen over every morning, but now the temperatures have climbed, it’s back to its liquid state. I’ve been checking most mornings to see if there is any frogspawn (we only put the pond in last summer, so this is the first opportunity we’ve had to see frogspawn in it), and so far I’ve not seen any. But today I saw a frog, once this morning and again this afternoon. I shall be checking the pond extra carefully tomorrow.

At the end of this week it’s my 35th birthday, and so baking has been stepped up a notch. I made tiramisu cupcakes yesterday, ready for a visiting friend (though there will only be a couple left by the time she visits…), and tomorrow I’m going to make chocolate rice crispy squares to take in for friends at work. And then the big baking project will start: candy bar pie, from the latest Hummingbird Bakery book. The book arrived a few weeks ago, but this is the first recipe I’ll be trying out. The ingredients are most encouraging: Oreos, Snickers bars, peanut butter, double cream… I’ve booked Friday off and so will have plenty of time to work on it – I’ll let you know how it goes. Can’t promise to save you a piece though.

 

There were more cocktails… March 18, 2013

Filed under: Places to go,Travel — lauravw @ 2:23 pm

towerbridgeFor much of the last week I was in London, enjoying a bit of a holiday during some of the coldest weather we’ve seen all winter. Not great timing.

Megan (also known as Not Martha) and some of her friends had flown over from Seattle to visit people. They spent some time in Bath and then Cornwall before they, and I, travelled to London for a few days. Unfortunately a few of them had or were getting over a cold, which curtailed activities slightly, but we still had chance to see some of the sights.

Almost as soon as I arrived, I headed out to meet Melissa (also known as Fehr Trade): it was nice to meet her in person at long last, and I also enjoyed having a tour of her houseboat – during which I asked about some of the more pratical things like where your post is delivered if you live on a boat, and how your rubbish is collected (by boat!).

Dusk was falling as I walked back along the Thames, and that made for an interesting walk – I enjoyed seeing Tower Bridge in the twilight.

The following morning I went with Megan and her friends to have a late breakfast at Nopi, which was an interesting experience – our table was right by the kitchen, and so we could all watch as our food was prepared. Also interesting were the loos, which are covered in mirrors! There are so many mirrors, in fact, that an arrow on the floor points you in the right direction when you have finished admiring your many reflections and are ready to leave.

Then there was shopping – I think we should be grateful that this group of tourists made such a contribution to the economy while they were over here! The next day (Monday) I caught a train out to Wivenhoe in Essex, to meet up with an old friend who has moved there. I have very little experience of Essex (I think I had only been there once before, to visit a university) and didn’t expect the place to be so charming! It was covered in snow, and we trekked along muddy footpaths through fields to collect her daughter from the local village school. I was sent back to London with homemade cake to eat on the way.

Tuesday was our last full day in London, and contained two highlights for me. The first was an exhibition I hadn’t wanted to go to: Light Show at the Southbank Centre. I get a lot of migraines and so was anxious it would trigger one. Luckily for me it didn’t, and I found the whole exhibition really enjoyable – they don’t let you take pictures inside, but there is a video on their website that’s worth a look. (I would have loved to take pictures, but I think not allowing photography is a wise choice here, as people standing around with their cameras would have altered the atmosphere in the space.)

And finally, we ended our holiday with Not Afternoon Tea at OXO Tower: no tea, and no cake – just four puddings and a cocktail. It’s not cheap, but the food and drink were excellent, and I felt very well looked after. And the view is worth paying for too. Be warned if you go that the cocktails are strong – so strong that I quickly stopped worrying about the cost and ordered a second one…

 

Bird choreography February 26, 2013

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 9:53 am

murmurationJust before dusk falls, the local starlings have been getting together and dancing in the skies.

It’s a murmuration – albeit on a very small scale. Like most areas of the UK, our starling population has dropped dramatically in my lifetime, but we’re lucky enough to still get quite a few, and it has been very cheering to watch them assemble and dance around in the sky.

On one level it makes me sad that the numbers are so few that they can’t form the giant flocks of the past, but at the same time I think it’s wonderful that they still pursue this hobby, just as a small group. The other evening I spotted a few of them doing laps of the sky above our house, and gradually more joined in. I wonder how they let each other know what their plans are?

I stayed outside and watched them for some time, and they flew right over my head several times – I could hear their wings as they went.

If you’d like to see what a murmuration looks like on a bigger scale, this lovely video is the next best thing to being there.

 

 
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