Now, what have I missed?

“I’ll write a new blog post tomorrow” has somehow turned into days, then weeks then months until I find myself here in February 2012 with my last post still residing somewhere around  early September 2011. So, I hear you cry has anything happened during my disappearing act? Well, yes would be the answer, and more importantly it’s very happy news, I’m engaged!

The question was popped in spectacular style by John at a wonderful restaurant in Warrington www.grillonthesquare where we were dining with a group of friends enjoying a long overdue catch up. I thought nothing strange when my parents showed up at the end of the meal as it was my birthday a week later and they’ve popped in at the end of an event on a few occasions. What happened next however was totally unexpected, the ching of a knife being tapped on a wine glass silenced our group and next thing I knew John told me he had something to say, he then dropped to one knee and produced a beautiful ribbon wrapped jewellery box which contained ‘The Ring! Aaaaaahhhhh!

Popping the question!

The next few minutes are a bit of a blur, there were cheers, gasps and even a few tears particularly from my parents, whom I later found out John had asked for permission and also invited to join us. It was a wonderful way to get engaged, I had no clue it was going to happen that night and to be in the company of so many of my closest family and friends was well and truly perfect. John had displayed no signs of nerves at all throughout the meal, he was as cool as a cucumber, I never for a second suspected a thing! I’m well and truly delighted to be engaged, it’s something I’ve looked forward to and am excited for the day I become Mrs Hull.

Now……..let the planning begin!

 
 
 
 
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I Love You NYC

Ten years ago today I was awoken by the sound of a phone ringing, it was my friend Claire’s Mum on the line, she told us the awful news that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. She was ringing from Rochdale whilst we were in Claire’s room at the Country Club in NY that me and my friend Sara had worked at together with Claire the previous year. Sara and I had been in Manhattan up until September 10th then headed to stay with Claire that evening with the intention of playing tourists the next day at the Twin Towers observatory, situated on the 110th floor in tower two. We’d planned on buying tickets to see Jamiroquai on September 10th in Manhattan but for one reason or another never bought them, we planned on staying in the city that night but since Claire didn’t finish work until 8 it made sense to stay with her in Queens and jump on the Long Island Rail Road in to the City in the morning. I’d told my friends and family we were heading into the city first thing and would be heading straight to the Twin Towers, we of course never got there.

Top Of The World

Watching the scenes unfold simultaneously on TV and right in front of our eyes from the roof terrace were terrifying and completely heartbreaking. I couldn’t help thinking of the lovely little man who’d worked the lift the last time I’d been, he was so cheerful and friendly, and my friend Claire telling us about how she’d been refused entry to the club ‘The Windows of The World’ only the week before because she’d forgotten her passport. The moment the first tower fell is forever etched in my memory, I could not believe what was happening and broke down in disbelief, I remember putting my hands over my face and telling myself it had been bombed, I couldn’t believe towers so strong which stood so proud could simply crumble. None of us could make sense of what was happening, we were convinced when the first plane hit it was a terrible accident, it soon became apparent that there was nothing accidental about that day.

 I’m so thankful we never actually did those things we’d planned to do on September 10th, call it bad organisation, fate or someone watching over us, we never made it into the city that day. For those people who did, my heart goes out to them, their friends and families, I can’t begin to imagine how you would move on from such an awful tragedy but know the strength and resilience of man is an amazing thing. We all made plans to go and give blood as soon as possible but it quickly became clear that no blood was needed with so few survivors. The smoke from the remains of the towers could be seen for days and the skyline looked so wrong without the iconic towers.

I’ve been back to New York several times since, it’s a place I love and will always mean more than a holiday destination to me. I’ve never been to Ground Zero, I never would go, nor do I like to watch programmes about 9/11 on TV. That day created a unique bond between me, Claire and Sara, we live in different parts of the country now and may not see each other as often as we’d like but 9/11 cemented our friendship which will continue for life. I still have the postcards I’d written with pictures of the Twin Towers on that never got sent and the New York post from September 12th, with the now sadly true headline ‘It’s WAR!’ I’m not sure why I keep them but I just can’t bear to throw them away.

The picture below was taken by my friend Claire from the 10th hole on the golf course where we worked, it’s calm, peaceful yet so very poignant. No matter what we believe, which religion we follow, or values we chose to live our lives by I really hope we never see such an awful and truly tragic event ever again.

RIP all those killed in the terror attacks on September 11th and throughout the world ever since.

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Cake glorious cake!

Recently whilst browsing Twitter I discovered the perfect club for me……’The Clandestine Cake Club’,  http://clandestinecakeclub.co.uk/  The club, first established in Leeds and rapidly expanding across the country offers the opportunity for people to get together over coffee and cake……what’s not to like! Members bake their own cake at home and bring it along to a planned secret location. I’ve completely fallen in love with the idea of a cake club and the fact it is secret makes it even more fabulous! Social interaction with fellow cake lovers whilst sampling the creative talents of the clubs members is just too good an opportunity to miss, so I set about becoming a member and tomorrow will attend my first ever Cake Club in Manchester. There is no charge for tomorrows meet up, I just have to rock up with my cake and get stuck in, I’ve even been reminded to bring along some tupperware to take surplus cake home! I will receive a text message some time tomorrow giving me details of the as yet secret venue, I am so excited by the whole secrecy of it, so quirky and fun.

Looking through the pictures of cakes made for previous gatherings I wanted to find something special to make. The theme for the meet up is ‘Summer Holidays’ I decided I wanted to include some summer fruits in my cake so after a little investigating on google I found a great recipe for a Blueberry Soured Cream Cake with Cheesecake Frosting, yum! I decided to tweak it slightly by adding raspberries too.

Ingredients

  • 175g soft butter
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 142ml carton soured cream
  • 200g blueberries
  • I decided to add 200g raspberries to the recipe too
  • Frosting
  • 200g tub of cream cheese
  • 100g icing sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to fan160C/ conventional 180C/gas 4 and butter and line the base of a loose-based 22cm round cake tin with non-stick baking paper.

2. Put the butter, sugar, eggs,flour, baking powder and vanilla in a bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes, or with a hand electric beater for 1-2 minutes, until lighter in colour and well mixed. Beat in 4 tbsp soured cream, the mixture should be of a lovely silky texture once the soured cream has been beaten in. Then stir in half the blueberries and raspberries with a large spoon.

3. Tip the mixture into the tin and spread it level. Bake for 50 minutes until it is risen, feels firm to the touch and springs back when lightly pressed. Cool for 10 minutes, then take out of the tin and peel off the paper or lining. Leave to finish cooling on a wire rack.

4. To make the frosting, beat the soft cheese with the icing sugar and the remaining soured cream in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Spread over the top of the cooled cake (don’t be impatient as the frosting will melt if the cake is too warm) and scatter with the remaining blueberries and raspberries. The cake will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. Bring it to room temperature for about an hour before serving.

 

And now the cake is residing in my fridge where it will stay until we travel to Manchester tomorrow to meet more fellow cake lovers, it is torture knowing it’s there but can’t be touched, roll on 7pm tomorrow…..location of course tba!

 

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Peanut butter and raisin cookies with a dollop of TLC

Firstly I must apologise for my lack of blogging of late, this is down to the fact that I’ve been playing Florence Nightingale to my partner John, who recently had a shoulder op. He’s currently in a sling and can’t drive or use his right arm much so is having a long overdue rest from work and enjoying some tlc from moi! I’ve taken some time off work to help him recuperate and am (if I’m perfectly honest) having a great time playing Matron. It’s lovely having time to ‘do’ things, I even went wild on Saturday and defrosted the fridge/freezer! For those of you who know me you will fully appreciate how much I usually hate tasks like this. In fact I don’t just hate cleaning if I’m honest I positively loathe it, I’m just really, really, really bad at it! I can spend hours in one room ‘cleaning’ but nothing much seems to happen other than piles of things I should really have found homes for appear dotted around the room. I really, really must try harder……..(or get a cleaner).

Cleaning done I decided to bake some cookies from a recipe I’ve been meaning to try from my friend Jo’s blog, http://twoowls.typepad.co.uk/ for ages. Jo’s blog is always full of lovely creative things from beautiful bunting to mouth-watering brownies, I knew before I started that this recipe wouldn’t disappoint. Jo’s made this recipe for many years and first discovered it in an old ‘Good Housekeeping’ book which resides on her Mum’s kitchen shelf. It’s simple, delicious and for those who don’t like peanut butter or raisins (quite frankly I think you’re mad) you could easily substitute them for chocolate chips, macadamia nuts, cherries etc. So let’s get stuck in!

Ingredients

150g (5oz) plain flour

125g (4oz) butter

150g (5oz) sugar

125g (4oz) crunchy peanut butter

1 egg

1/2 tsp baking powder

175g (6oz) raisins

pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 190oC, gas mark 5. Put all of the ingredients except for the raisins, into a large mixing bowl and mix together with an electric mixer until well combined.

Stir in the raisins with a spoon

To form cookies, scoop a tsp full of the mixture and roll it into a ball, flatten it slightly and then place onto a greased baking tray (do not place too close together as some spreading will occur).

Bake for approx 12-15mins or until golden.

Cool on a wire rack, then make a brew and sample, yum!

Mmmmmmmmmmm

After the success of the cookies I decided to experiment a little by making my own piccalilli, I personally do not like piccalilli so a strange choice you may think but, my partner John, well and truly LOVES the stuff, so much so we can quite easily go through a jar a week. After a little browsing on google I found a recipe called ‘Gran’s Piccalilli’ possibly swayed by the cosy, homely feel of the title I set about on my pickling mission! I had to tweak the recipe slightly as I couldn’t find pickling onions and I also reduced the cooking time of the veg as a little bit of crunch is preferable (apparently!)

Ingredients

200g (7oz) salt

3L (5 pints) water

1kg (2 lb) cucumber, peeled and diced

1kg (2 lb) pickling onions, halved (I used chopped shallots as I couldn’t find pickling onions)

1kg (2 lb) cauliflower, broken into small florets

250g (9 oz) caster sugar

3 teaspoons mustard powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1.4L (2 3/8 pints) distilled cider vinegar

4 tablespoons plain flour

2 tablespoons ground turmeric

And here’s how we do it, the directions listed below include the reduced cooking time (the original recipe says 20mins simmering where I reduced it to 7 as there were quite a few reviews saying it was too mushy).

Dissolve the salt in the water and add the cucumber, onions and cauliflower. Cover and leave for 24 hours.
 
 
Drain the vegetables. In a large pan, blend the sugar, mustard and ginger with 1L of the vinegar. Stir in vegetable mixture, bring to the boil, and simmer for 7 minutes.
 
Blend the flour and turmeric with the remaining 400ml vinegar and stir into the cooked vegetables. Bring to the boil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. At this point it looked a bit runny so I added some cornflour until I got a slightly thicker consistency. Pour into sterilised jars.
 

Well it looks the right colour!

 
In a large stock pot, pour water half way to top with boiling water. Using a holder, carefully lower jars into pot. Leave a 4cm (1.5 in) space between jars. Add more boiling water to cover them, about 4cm (1.5 in) above the tops. Bring to the boil and cover, processing for 15 minutes. Remove jars from pot. Put jars on a wood or cloth surface, several inches apart and allow to cool. Jars will be sealed.
 

The ingredients made about 12 large jars so I had plenty to dish out to my piccalilli loving friends and family. It’s a  very easy recipe to make and can quite easily be adapted, I spotted one person had commented saying they’d used courgettes instead of cucumber and had added sultanas too, this I think I’d have to clear with my chief tester John. It got great feedback from everyone so I’ll most definitely be making it again, the question is, where on earth can I find pickling onions!

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Watch me flash on youtube!

Saturday 11th June was a rather eventful day for me, I flashed in public! Now before you shriek and wonder for my sanity, do not panic, it was a ‘flash’ of the mob variety, and was organised by three Zumba instructors in Warrington.

 A flash mob as defined by wikipedia is;

  • A flash mob (or flashmob) is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse. The term flash mob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.

In this case the event was organised via Facebook, the flash would begin at 2.30pm, we were to mill round ‘acting natural’ then suddenly music would pump out and the three organisers would break into one of two routines which we’d all gradually join in with. Plans were discussed at the Zumba class I attend and we practiced one of two routines we would be performing on the day, the second (which we’d never done) “was easy and we’d pick it up no problem” eek! We gathered in a town centre car park and practiced ‘acting natural’, easier said than done when you know you’re about to break into an unexpected dance routine in the middle of town. As the first track  ‘Caipirinha’ (which was the official anthem of the 2010 instructors convention) began to play the three instructors took their places and started the routine, gradually more and more people joined in until there were approximately 80 people all shimmying and wiggling about.

Are we really doing this?

My friend Michelle and I giggled the whole way through, Michelle was in a state of disbelief that she was actually dancing in public, in the middle of town and stone cold sober! Once we got past the nervous laughter we really started to enjoy ourselves, as the second song ‘Party Rock Anthem’ kicked in we began to notice just how many people had stopped to watch, it was unbelievable, everyone was either taking pictures/videos or just staring open-mouthed whilst looking a bit bewildered.

I think I need a large glass of Pinot Grigio!

As soon as the final beats of the song had faded away we quickly dispersed as though what we’d just done was a perfectly normal Saturday afternoon activity. We were on such a high afterwards, I’d highly recommend anyone to get involved in a flashmob, it may terrify, delight and confuse all at the same time but one thing it most certainly will do is entertain.

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Let’s Get Physical

Whilst deciding I’m going to become a master at Zumba I’ve also made the decision that I need to get my bum down to the gym if I’m going to work off all these lovely afternoon tea’s I’m so fond of. My gym of choice is ‘Total Fitness’ sadly at the moment my physique would be more accurately described as ‘Total Flabness’……it’s time to turn the flab into fab! – Did I just really say that? –

The thing about healthy eating/fitness is I know EXACTLY what to do to lose weight, eat less and exercise more, simple! The only glaring problem here is that although I can talk the talk, – I could quite easily reel off how many Weightwatchers points are in a curly wurly – 2.5 – if you’re interested, or give you a beginner’s guide to the Atkins diet, meat, mayo, meat, cheese, meat, double cream and you guessed it more meat, I am quite simply brilliant at not losing weight! The problems I have highlighted for my lack of success are…..

1. Declaring I hate the gym/don’t have time for it/the exercise bike hurts my bum/I’m not a not a natural runner, the stepper hurts my legs etc, etc, etc.

2. Loving wine and then loving eating calorific treats once under the influence of said wine.

3. I secretly deep down for a long time haven’t truly believed I can do it.

Lance Armstrong has nothing on me!

When reflecting on these reason I realise how pathetic they actually are, especially reason 3. I am addicted to watching programmes like the Biggest Loser, glued to every minute of the amazing journey each successful contestant makes, screeching at the telly ‘OMG 34lbs in a week!’ whilst watching the amazing weight-in sessions, vowing if they can do it I can do it, then I go away and do….well, nothing. I have to question myself as to why this is the case, I HATE having to get my flabby bits out on holiday, resent having to search desperately for ‘flattering’ outfits that will cover my wobbly muffin top and jiggjly bingo wings and have often been reduced to a blubbering mess after trying everything on in my wardrobe and declaring, ‘Nothing fits!’ So why then do I continue to eat the things I shouldn’t, snub exercise and allow the cycle of unhappiness and unhealthiness to continue? The honest truth is……..I really don’t know. But, I’ve come to a point where I realise ‘I don’t know’ isn’t good enough, if I asked anybody why they do a certain thing that makes them unhappy and their response was ‘I don’t know’ I’m not entirely sure I’d buy into it. Surely everything is done for a reason, good or bad? I relaise in need to find my reasons and make sure those reasons mean enough to spur me into action, and make sure those actions evolve into long term changes. It may sound a bit ‘self help guru’ but I need to stop listening to my inner critic, why shouldn’t I be one of the successful ones?

I can't hear you!

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I am officially in love…….with Davenports

I have fallen in love……..with a gorgeous farm shop, florist and tea rooms by the name of Davenports. The occasion was my little sisters 31st birthday and she couldn’t have picked a more perfect place. Situated within the Weaver Regional Park, on Bridge Farm near Northwich, Davenports, a long-established florist, opened it’s Farm shop in 2006, a year later the now multi-award winning farm shop welcomed its first customers to the newly established tea rooms. Arriving at Bridge Farm felt a little bit like being on holiday as a child, the rustic building is surrounded by farmers fields housing chickens, donkeys, ostriches and even a rather unexpected herd of llamas! Sadly traditional British summertime weather of gale force winds and torrential downpours were threatening so we didn’t hang about and thought it wise to head straight inside.

The smell of freshly baked scones hits you immediately, it is seriously delicious, we were all soon salivating when we spotted said scones nestled amongst a feast of sponge based delights, each looked as tempting as the next. The interior is styled on a quaint Old English tea room with beautiful quirky touches representing local author Lewis Carroll’s world-famous tales of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Pretty china tea cups and antique sugar bowls awaited us on the table reserved for our party as well as a beautiful antique Alice in Wonderland chessboard, along with an ultra cute miniature table croquet set, both totally charming! It’s clear a lot of care and attention has gone into making a visit to Davenports feel as special as it does.

Such a gorgeous touch!

We had opted for the classic afternoon tea which Davenports’ request you book 24 hours in advance, we were served by Belinda, one of the owners, who began by talking us through the various teas which are available, asking how strong we liked our brew then recommending appropriate blends. I personally like a fairly strong brew so opted for the Lancaster Blend, a competitor to Yorkshire tea, and described as ‘a superb blend of African, Indian and Ceylon teas, the perfect traditional afternoon cup’ another choice amongst our group was, ‘Kwazulu’ a South African favourite of tea room connoisseur Margaret Thornby, on that recommendation how could we resist! We were then offered a choice of home-made scones, made to Belinda’s grandmothers’ recipe (c.1930) using organic spelt flour (which is an old variety of wheat), local organic free range eggs, golden caster sugar and real butter, delicious! The varieties on offer today were, rose petal, lavender or good old raisin. I’m not wildly adventurous when it comes to varieties of scones so opted for a traditional raisin and was rather put to shame by my 15-year-old niece who went for the rose petal variety….note to self, must get more daring! Our tea cups were taken away and warmed, again a really lovely touch. My five-year old niece was given special attention from Belinda and opted for a glass of traditional lemonade and a picture of Alice to colour in whilst she awaited the arrival of the main event!

With the return of our warmed china and the arrival of pots of fresh brewed tea it was with much excitement we anticipated the bone china tiers we knew were merely a crust away! Our chatter was soon silenced by their arrival, they looked so so pretty, decorated with a garnish of fresh salad leaves, strawberries, tomatoes and even fresh flowers from the on site nursery. Portions were plentiful with three stands served between our group of seven. Belinda then talked through the different sandwich fillings, offering information on where the products were sourced and also included a selection of cheese and ham especially for my young niece. Other fillings included free range egg, cream cheese and cucumber, smoked salmon and a very yummy cheddar and chutney.  The bread was super fresh with a nice mixture of wholemeal and white, it was great to hear we could opt to buy many of the products we were sampling next door in the farm shop.

Yum!

 Next Belinda talked us through the cakes, we heard how Katja, the lady who makes the cupcakes went to visit her brother in New York and ended up staying to learn her trade in the world famous Cupcake Cafe before thankfully coming back to the UK and providing Davenports with some of the prettiest cakes I’ve ever seen, (also available in the farm shop).  As well as the cupcakes we were treated to squidgy chocolate fudge brownies, cream filled meringues, and mini chocolate eclairs. We were provided with clotted cream, butter and two varieties of home-made jam, blackcurrant and plum, to enjoy with our scones, both locally produced and full of flavour. The scones were exceptional, served warm fresh from the oven, if I’d have died right there and then it would have been as one happy lady!  One of our party declared them to be ‘Better than at the Ritz!’ High and well deserved praise indeed.

So pretty and entirely edible!

 Apologies if anyone thinks I’m gushing just a little too much about this place but honestly it’s one of the loveliest places I’ve ever been to for afternoon tea. You can tell from the minute you walk in just how much love, care and attention has gone into making Davenports such a special place. My older sister has decided to book the ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party’ themed afternoon tea for her birthday in July, I literally can not wait!

Scones and Scales scores

Ambiance – 10 out of 10 – A very pretty, welcoming room, gorgeous touches here and there inspired by Alice in Wonderland, such as miniature ‘drink me’ bottles, a fab collection of tea pots and beautiful packs of exotic looking teas from around the world.

Sandwiches – 10 out of 10 – A great selection, ranging from vibrant coloured free range egg to cheddar and tangy chutney, super fresh bread, crusts perfectly removed and approximately four per person.

Scones – 10 out of 10 – One word – heavenly! Moist with the perfect amount of crumble, served warm and baked to perfection, I think the Government should bring out a law that all citizens are provided with at least one of these scones a week, the UK would overnight become a much happier place!

Cakes – 9 out of 10 – A tantalising selection, cup cakes, moist chocolate brownies, fresh cream meringues and yummy chocolate eclairs. My only slight criticism (hence the 9 and not a 10) is that I would personally have enjoyed a fruit loaf or something slightly less sweet included in the cake selection as everything (although delicious) was rather on the sweet side, this of course is personal preference and the empty plates clearly indicated that not everyone would agree with this!

Service – 10 out of 10 – the information provided for individual items on the menu was fabulous, extra brownie points for the special attention given to my rather shy niece who soon forgot her shyness once tucking into a chocolate brownie!

Value for money – 10 out of 10 – Undoubtably! For anyone who wants to enjoy an afternoon tea in wonderful surroundings but doesn’t want to pay the quite often over inflated prices of top hotels then Davenports is an absolute must, you’ll feel spoilt, special and will be desperate to go back again!

Final Score – A super dooper – 59 out of 60 – A gorgeous place to visit, charming, fun and delicious! The traditional afternoon tea we opted for is a snip at £8.95 per person, with the option of a luxury tea priced at £11.95 per person which includes extra cake or sandwiches and more blends of tea, all in all great value and a wonderful experience.

Links:

http://www.davenportsflorists.co.uk/tearooms.html

http://www.katjaskupcakes.co.uk/index.html

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