The Pink Button Tree

The Pink Button Tree: October 2013

Monday, 7 October 2013

A fabulous day of baking :: Bake With Maria…well, with Marianne!

On Saturday I spent the day baking. Taking time out to bake is something that I rarely do at the moment and I didn't realise how much I missed it until this weekend. I used to really love baking. I’ve baked Victoria sponges, scones, cupcakes, muffins, cookies, shortbread and loaf cakes in the past but have got out of the habit of making time to bake. I started to grow despondent following a few baking disasters with a particularly fierce oven, and always ended up making things in a rush. However attending a course this weekend changed how I want to experience baking moving forwards. The passion I have for baking was sparked again by a really fantastic class I attended. The process of combining simple ingredients to create delightful cakes on Saturday brightened up the cloudy October day, and was the turning point I needed to get inspired to pick up a whisk again.

I was very lucky to be treated to a day of baking at the Bake With Maria baking school, thanks to Mr C’s sister and brother-in-law. The weekend started with an early morning train journey from Bristol to London. Armed with a latte and the November copy of Red magazine, I set off feeling really excited and ready to learn. Until recently I had never been on a sewing class, and a baking class was equally as new to me. I learnt to bake watching and learning from my very talented mum, watching Delia and Nigella on TV, and reading copious baking books and trying a few things out. Looking back at the home economics lessons I had at school I realised I was never really properly taught the basics, but this class filled the essential gaps in my knowledge.

Mr C’s sister, Rachael, and I met up and headed to The Baking Lab in Swiss Cottage, London for the class. We arrived at The Baking Lab and had tea and delicious biscuits to fuel the morning of baking and learning. The class we attended was the Cake Baking Masterclass led by the extremely knowledgeable and super talented pastry chef Marianne Stewart (@MarianneBakes). The course was 5.5 hours long and we baked three different cakes, firstly a Moelleux au Chocolat (Chocolate Torte), then 12 Mini Carrot Cakes with a cream cheese frosting and candied carrot strips to decorate, and finally a lemon drizzle cake.

We watched Marianne skilfully demonstrate her recipes with a full how-to demonstration per cake. We learnt about the basic techniques used within each recipe, what each stage of the baking process should look like, and general tips in relation to baking skills to use during each recipe. There were practical skills too, so how to zest lemons, tips including wrapping cling film round your mixer while making icing so you don’t have a kitchen covered in white dust, and recommendations on equipment to use. After we were shown how to make the cake step by step, we then had a go ourselves following the helpful and detailed recipe handout.

Half way through we had a break for a very delicious lunch prepared by Marta, The Baking Lab Manager, and sat chatting sharing baking stories.

Our group of 8 who were taking the course were lovely and we all were quite candid about our baking disasters and level of skills! We had the opportunity to ask lots of baking questions and each were answered. We learnt things about why a cake mixture behaves the way it does, so I now understand why some cakes rise like volcanoes and why we experience problems with paper cases sticking or falling off! Both things I've experienced. I felt I learnt more in 5.5 hours of baking than in all my years of baking so far.

The day was truly fabulous and the course really surpassed expectations. What was unique was that each recipe involved different techniques, volumes and types of ingredients that were different than the ‘standard’ recipes. During the class we used good quality equipment, the highlight for me was having the chance to use a Kitchen Aid mixer. I was in heaven and I felt like I was on the Great British Bake Off! Unfortunately our kitchen at home wouldn't fit a Kitchen Aid mixer. Even if we had space I'd never make a decision about the colour I’d want!

At the end of the class we got to take home our creations in cake boxes that were supplied and left full of inspiration to get baking. After the class I sampled the cakes with a friend over cups of tea and we agreed they were yummy and had to hold back from scoffing the lot in one sitting!

On Bake with Maria’s website the strapline is ‘Bake yourself happy!’…well I certainly did on Saturday. Thank you Marianne for inspiring me to get in the kitchen and bake again, and thank you Rachael for taking me!

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Sunday, 6 October 2013

Autumn :: A time to learn something new – Curtain making

During the autumn I love to get stuck into learning something new. Over the years I've taken a knitting class, photography class, online blogging class, and started scrapbooking. I feel that this point of the year is such a great time to start a new chapter in our lives, perhaps it's because my body clock is still in tune with the academic year. With a new school term came the urge to enter the next phase of learning and personal development, with the fun things like selecting a brand new notepad and pens, but also with it for me came bags of motivation to get learning.

I'm using One Little Word to help me shape my year and help achieve my goals for the year. My word is ‘grow’ and each month I set myself an intention to help me keep a focus on my word. Some of my intentions for the months during autumn are to ‘grow a new seed’, ‘make time to grow’, and ‘grow a cosy home’. I wanted to do something this autumn that may cross all three and to learn a new skill.

Growing a cosy home is really important to me so that Mr C and I can enjoy our space even more than we already do. The evenings are getting darker earlier, the night time temperatures are starting to drop, and so creating a cosy home is really on my mind. When I spend time at home during this time of the year I like to curl up under a blanket, get my craft on and enjoy our home. We live in a lovely Grade II listed building built in the 1760’s with lovely sash windows, however our flat can be a little draughty and cold at times. With the past few winters seeming to get harsher, the more frequent snow fall and freezing weather, I want to ensure our space is warmer than it has been in previous years. To achieve this I have set myself a very big project indeed! A few weeks ago I wrote about my new fabric stash, this will soon be cut into to make new cushions and at some point a quilt. However the biggest project I hope to complete is to make curtains for our bedrooms and to make Roman blinds for our lounge.

I decided during late summer that if I was going to achieve my intentions for the year I would need to get kick started somehow. I had looked in books for instructions on curtain making but for something so big as making curtains I felt I needed a different approach. I thought it would be best to take a course. I haven’t been on any proper sewing classes so it would be a new experience for me.

I decided to book myself onto a curtain making workshop run by The Makery in Bath. The curtain making class lasted 3.5 hours and was an intermediate level class run by lovely lady called Cerys, who broke down the steps of making a curtain into easy and achievable chunks. We were given detailed step by step notes showing how to work out the quantity of fabric required to make a pair of curtains, and then how to make lined pencil pleat curtains. The class covered all the essentials such as hemming, measuring, cutting and some great practical sewing tips. I came away with a sample curtain that I can use as a guide when I make the actual curtains. I loved the class and will definitely sign up for more classroom learning to improve my sewing skills.

I hope that over the next few weeks to make time to think about making the curtains, start growing a new skill and hopefully making our home even cosier. I’m going to start with the curtains and see how I get on, then hopefully progress with the skills I have onto Roman blinds! I have it on good authority that John Lewis have a great Roman blind making kit with good instructions, so I’m going to brave it without going to a class for those. Wish me luck!

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Saturday, 5 October 2013

Autumn begins :: Harvesting crops

October arrived this week bringing with it a mix of weather. The rainy and stormy days cleared the muggy air and then some sunshine and unseasonably mild weather. I love Autumn especially when the leaves start turning to the beautiful reds and yellows and leaves dance around the pavements in the wind. With the seasons turning came with it a signal for me to start to tidy up our courtyard garden and harvest our final few crops.

I spent time in our garden sweeping up, moving garden furniture and pots, tidying the dead plants and picking our small crop of tomatoes, chillies and potatoes left in the garden. It is quite therapeutic pulling up dead plants and preparing the space for planting bulbs and preparing the soil and our space for spring. Lugging things round and moving containers was satisfying and great exercise! Overall the garden is delivering a good crop of herbs, we had some unsuccessful radish crops and the strawberries didn’t produce much of a crop this year but it was worth trying.

Three different tomato plants delivered some lovely tomatoes, most of which I had to ripen most of them on a windowsill. 

The chillies started turning red by themselves and are waiting to be used to add to a pasta dish. I’m looking forward to seeing what flavours they produce!

I grew potatoes for the first time this year but started really late. I was unsure when to dig up the potoes as it didn’t flower. I didn't plant many seed potatoes and thought perhaps I had just grown long trailing plants! I did a bit of digging around and came out with a small crop! Mr C and I had these in one sitting, boiled with salted butter and chives from of the garden. It really was one of life's simple pleasures. I will definitely try growing potatoes again next year.

One of my fuchsias is still flowering, which started quite late this year. I love these pretty petals, they are almost like pink and purple frilly skirts. 

While I was digging around and sweeping up I spotted a few final flowers on the strawberry plant. I do love looking close up at these flowers they are so delicate.

Our garden will be quite an empty space over the next few months but I'll keep you posted on any changes or things I'm trying out in our courtyard garden.

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