Thursday, 26 March 2015

New growth

Well it would seem that everywhere I look in the garden there are new signs of life. The climbing rose that I carefully pruned (hacked down in a fit of anger) seems to have survived the Winter. It pulled off the old trellis from the wall so we need to put up a new one before it has a proper growth spurt!

In the back garden I rearranged the Spiraeas and fuschia bushes before they started to grow again. This Spiraea seems fine now, although the fuschias are no more than twigs right now. I'm hoping this is normal and the leaf buds will soon appear?!

We've also started to refresh pots with new bulbs and plants ready for the Summer. Some lily bulbs that I planted two weeks ago are already starting to show themselves.

I was very kindly sent some complimentary strawberry plants, wildflower seeds and a mushroom growing kit from Sutton Seeds last week. The strawberry plants arrived bagged in a box with their roots bare so I found myself emptying the strawberry planter of last year's plants, lining the side holes and replanting the old & new plants in fading evening light. I think I did the right thing though - we've had gentle rain for the last two days so they should be well watered in now.
The wildflower seeds have been mixed with a little compost and spread over our bare patch of earth at the bottom of the garden, I'll be keeping a close eye out over the next few weeks to spot the first seedlings, by the Summer it should be a bank of colour!

Finally we've been able to sit out and enjoy the first few days of gentle Spring sunshine. The fairy lights have been strung through the old tree and we're already starting to see new growth on the trees and shrubs that we didn't cut back. I think our new area is going to be just the spot to enjoy the last of the afternoon sunshine!

This weekend will be a weekend to enjoy the garden, rather than work on it! I need to buy a Clematis or two to work their way around our new archway and empty the pots of last years seeded herbs. Nothing too strenuous! I'll also be looking out for signs of the first mushrooms from our growing kit. An unfortunate incident involving next door's cat, a window sill and the mushroom kit means it's had an adventurous start in it's growing life, but I'm ever hopeful!

I was sent a selection of products free of charge from Sutton Seeds which I have used and highlighted in this post. All opinions and words remain my own.

Joining in this week with the fabulous How Does Your Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow

Friday, 20 March 2015

Tell Tales in aid of The Christie

Today is International Day of Happiness. Countless people over the years have tried to quantify what is needed to make people happy. We all know that money doesn't buy you happiness (although, of course it helps) but fundamentally the most important thing to bring happiness to people is a connection to others.

I think that happiness breeds happiness too. I get more pleasure out of doing something nice for another person than doing something nice for myself. Reaching out and connecting with another human being, whether a smile, a conversation or and action makes me happier than being left in my own company. Sadly our lifestyles now almost encourage an isolation, everything is done on line, virtual conversations and story telling, even books are becoming phased out in favour of a sterile electronic object.

Perhaps it's time today, to change that. It's rather apt that my Step-Mum sent me a book that a dear friend of her's has worked had to put together in aid of The Christie Hospital in Manchester. Tell-Tales is a collection of stories written by women, each story is anonymous and tell of the challenges of day to day living. There's a complete rainbow of styles and subjects, but each is written as if the author is telling you the story over a coffee, you get a real sense of connection with each author.

Sally Clegg & Sharon Goddard the joint editors, write a wonderful introduction explaining the development of the book. I especially love the following lines;

"Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has the courage to use it, to tell their tales with honesty and conviction...We hope to entertain you and to make you reflect on your own lives and experiences as you share ours" 

A group of women got together and told stories that made them happy. They decided to support and encourage each other to write stories for a book that would make other people happy. The money raised would touch the lives of countless people living with cancer, to help bring a little happiness into their lives. Each and every person that buys the book will feel happiness through connecting with the authors and the people that it will help. One simple act can reach out, touch and impact so many people. I think this book may have shown me how easy it is to find happiness.

Tell-Tales is being launched at Marple Library on the 21st March at 2pm, when it will be on sale for £5.00. After the launch it will be available in local outlets in Stockport, Marple, Marple Bridge, New Mills and High Lane for £7.99. You can also buy it directly from the publishers Troubador using this link.

This week there can only be one Word of the Week - Happiness, I hope you all find it this weekend.

The Reading Residence
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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Garden Update March 2015

A few weeks ago we looked out of our conservatory at the garden and realised it needed A LOT of work! The grass had slowly grown so much over Winter that next door's cat had made a little cat alley way through it and the brambles were once again threatening to take over.

Since last Summer I had wanted to clear the bottom third of our garden and make a little woodland seating area but the brambles had long taken hold and we decided to wait until things died down over the colder months before tackling it. Annoyingly I forgot to take a "before" picture, but this is one I had snapped last Spring - 

and this is the kind of idea I was going for - 

So we cleared all the brambles, laid liner and bark with a border, planted primroses, laid stepping stones, built furniture and put up lights...all over two days! It was such hard work, but this is what it looks like so far...

There's still work to do. I need to clear more roots & brambles, two fence panels need replacing, more lights need to be put through our tree and I want to sow lots of wild flower seeds on the cleared area, but I can see how it's going to look in the Summer and it makes me happy! I'm going to keep taking photos every few weeks so that I can see the difference as the wild flowers take hold and the spring vegetation starts coming back.

In the rest of the garden we need to tackle our mammoth hedge (I think we might get professional gardeners's about 4 metres high now!), clean the back yard area up and replant a herb garden. I've got strawberry plants arriving and I'm growing my own mushrooms. We learnt last year that our patio is just too hot to grow vegetables easily so I've planted lots of lily and gladioli bulbs instead.

What plans have you got for your own gardens this year?

How Does Your Garden Grow

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Chocolate & Raspberry Cake

When someone with 30 years service retires there is only one cake you can present to him on his last day. His love of chocolate was legendary so chocolate ganache was also called for. Certain that he would share it with other people I made sure there was an element of "healthiness" to it by including raspberries - as decoration and to flavour the fresh cream filling. I give you my Chocolate and Raspberry Cake. 

Ingredients - Based on 3 x 7" sandwich tins

For the Cake

190g Butter
190g Dark Chocolate
4 tsp Instant Coffee
140 ml Water
110g Self Raising Flour
10g Plain Flour
40g Cocoa Powder
0.25 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
420g Caster Sugar
3 medium Eggs
6 tsp Vegetable Oil
95 ml Buttermilk (or sour cream with a little milk to loosen)

For the Ganache

75g milk chocolate
75ml cream (not straight from the fridge)

For the Raspberry cream

250ml double cream
35g icing sugar
75g fresh raspberries

Extra raspberries to decorate


Preheat the oven to 160C Gas 2-3. Grease and line your sandwich tins with baking parchment.

Put the butter, chocolate, coffee and water into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the chocolate has melted. Take off the heat and leave to one side.

Sift both flours, cocoa & bicarbonate into a large bowl, stir in the sugar and make a well in the centre of the bowl.

In a separate bowl combine the eggs, oil & buttermilk. Add this egg mix to the flour, along with the chocolate mixture. Stir until completely combined.

Evenly split the mixture into the three tins and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes then remove and allow to cool completely before assembling.

To make your cream whip until you can form soft peaks. Sieve in your icing sugar and continue whipping until you have firm peaks. Gently break apart your raspberries into 3 or 4 pieces and fold these gently into your cream. Use the cream to layer between each cake.

To make the ganache break your chocolate into small pieces an place in a small, clean bowl. Melt over a pan of simmering water. Once melted stir in your cream and combine well. If your cream is cold this will thicken very quickly to a consistency like mine. If you want to have a pouring consistency it is important to allow your cream to come to room temperature before adding to the chocolate. As your chocolate and cream mix cools it will thicken. Keep checking it and once it coats and sticks to the back of a spoon you can pour this over your cake. If you want a thicker consistency just wait a little while longer before spreading over your cake. Finish decorating with raspberries.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Bake With Maria: When Less is most definitely More...

Back in January I went to London for a fish cookery lesson that was brought as a gift for me. Unfortunately it left my companion and I hugely disappointed. There were 20 attendees is a space more suited for 10, only one hob was used, meaning that if you weren't the person cooking at that time you just had to watch and the resulting 3 courses were shared between everyone. I didn't realise that one sea bass could comfortably feed 20 people...I was right - it didn't! There were people in this class that had paid £100 and I'm sure they left as disappointed as us.

Luckily for me, my next experience of a class completely changed my perception of group classes and made me see just how fantastic they could be. Let me introduce you to Bake with Maria.

I first met Maria Mayerhofer late last year when I was invited to her baking lab in St John's Wood, London for a Christmas party. I ate a huge amount of traditional Christmas cookies and cakes and was excited to be invited to try one of her classes. She provides a full range of classes both in the evenings and at weekends. I booked onto her Introduction to Pastry class one Wednesday evening. 

When I arrived I was introduced to Marianne, who would be taking the class and we spent a little time getting to know the 5 other participants over tea and carrot cake.

Firstly we were given our recipes for the evening along with plenty of pens to take those all important notes! We were encouraged to ask lots of questions, Marianne was obviously very knowledgeable and a brilliant pastry chef. She gave us lots of tips and advice to help us easy make both sweet and savoury pastry.

We spent the evening working in pairs, there was plenty of high quality equipment to go around and more than enough space. Classes are limited to 8 people so there will always be room to work comfortably. 

We learnt to make a lemon tart, peach & almond tart & a savoury galette using pastry that we had made from scratch. Marianne would take us through each stage first then we would be let loose in our pair to replicate with pretty good results! We cooked everything ourselves (except for the frangipane) and tried lots of different techniques within each recipe.

As well as Marianne, there were two other brilliant assistants making sure we had all the ingredients to hand and the equipment was quickly washed up so we could reuse them. This meant that we were always learning and doing, rather than waiting for something and the class ran smoothly and to time. We got to take everything that we had made home with us, including our batch of sweet pastry. Maria thoughtfully provides boxes so there was less chance of breakages! 

As I headed back to Waterloo to get my train, carrying my two boxes of goodies I was amazed at the difference in style, content and quality of the two classes. Bake With Maria classes range in price from £85 to £145 - my Introduction to Pastry Class is £105 which I thought was really good value for the level and quality of teaching that you receive. I can't recommend this enough and after my macaron disaster this weekend I'm pretty sure what my next class will be!!

A full calendar of Maria's classes can be found here. The Baking Lab can be found at 81 Loudoun Road, London NW8 0DQ.

I was invited to try one of Maria's classes free of charge in return for an honest review.

Family Fever