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Friday, 20 November 2015

A frivolous, happy Friday until....

For the last three years or so, Laura, Susie, Fiona and I have met up for a Friday fizz night, We meet most weeks's a lovely start to the weekend with nibbles, ice cold bubbly prosecco or sometimes champagne. We laugh a lot, we support each other if something goes wrong, and what 's talked about in our Friday night fizz gang stays with the gang.

Last Friday was different, we were saying goodbye to Laura before she flew off  to live in the States, and as we wouldn't be seeing her at Christmas, we would exchange presents.

So I turned up at Susie's ....and found Laura sitting beside a Christmas tree. In November - an old naff Christmas tree which Susie's Mum was throwing out. Susie shrugged..."Well, I haven't bought one yet, and needs must", or words to that effect.

And in addition to the usual nibbles such as olives, pate, crackers, cheese, bread etc, there was a Christmas cake.

There were even crackers

 We  gossiped all evening, while Laura made impromptu decorations  with the corks from the bottles of prosecco and ribbons from the crackers

And we giggled and laughed, making the most of what would be the last time we would see Laura for months.

And then Susie's husband came home, saying "Had we heard the news about Paris?" We hadn't, but switched on the television and couldn't believe what we were watching. The murders of so many who were innocently enjoying a night out.

I thought of my cousins who have both left Paris in recent years. Alexandra, husband Leo and their children were safe in Lyon, and Claire was back down in the South of France. Thank goodness....

Of course, the impromptu Christmas party in November ended shortly afterwards could we carry on laughing and being frivolous ? We kissed Laura goodbye and wished her well ...

 On Saturday morning, I woke to the news that the death toll had risen to 129.

 I began to cry, for those who never got to say goodbye to their loved ones, and who will never see them again.


Thursday, 19 November 2015

The day the crane collided with a cross

Usually, there's sky to look at as I gaze through our newsroom windows. And as I walk to the window, I can look down at Jubilee Square , which is a piazza with trees, walkways and grass.

But for the last couple of days, all I 've been able to see is this.

It's a Wheel of Light, a large one at that and it 's been erected in time for the Christmas Lights switch on here in Leicester. From the window, the 110 foot high big wheel it looks rather lovely

I love the arcs and angles of the metal catching the light against a blue sky...

And I walked back into work yesterday after driving across the county to do some interviews, I admired the reflection of the Wheel of Light in the glass at the entrance to our BBC building.

But, the morning before, Jim Davis, the breakfast presenter and I had been discussing what was going on outside as the crane and workmen were working away to get the big structure into the sky. Storm Barney was gathering pace and we both agreed that it was very optimistic to be putting something so huge into the sky on such a blustery, gusty day.

Well, that was it we thought, and when I left work that night , I was too busy being blown about in the wind while scurrying to the car park to notice that anything was amiss.

But there was, because that evening there was an incident...involving Leicester's historic High Cross monument standing adjacent to the crane and the Wheel of Light.

A monument which used to look like this

This column was one of eight pillars arranged in a circle which held up a dome shaped roof  and gave shelter at this very spot from the sixteenth century. In the photo above you can see the stone ball and the gold cross which glinted in the sunshine....well, it did until Tuesday night, when the crane smashed into it.

So I didn't have to walk very far to my first story of the day yesterday. The poor High Cross looked very sorry for itself, and by the time I left work last night, it looked even worse, illuminated by some of the lights of the Wheel of Light.


Luckily though, all the pieces were retrieved, and are now safely under lock and key, and stone masons are already deciding what to do.

The Wheel of Light opens on Sunday, and there will be hundreds of visitors wanting a ride on it to look out  over the city - I just hope they give a thought to the historic, but battered High Cross by its side.


Friday, 13 November 2015

the day we planted an oak tree

"So what are you doing this weekend then, Bridget" asked my friend Tim at the end of a meal to celebrate Diwali last Friday.

"Oh this and that...but tomorrow we're planting the Jubilee tree in our village" I replied casually.

Tim was intrigued..."oh, what jubilee are you celebrating?"

When I told him we were marking the Queen's Jubilee, he burst into fits of laughter asking if there was a time warp in our village - after all, we were three years late .

I suppose we are a bit behind with the tree planting, but we did have a lovely lunch on the village green at the time of Her Majesty's actual Jubilee (click the following link)

And we have a lovely tradition of planting Jubilee trees in our village. We planted one to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee way back in 1897, and it stands proud on our village green.

Tim wanted to know why there was such a delay.

 I'm not sure, I know we did have an oak tree.....but it was mislaid. Before you ask how is it possible to lose an oak tree, I have no idea...but it was. Then there was the question of where to plant it and that took a fair bit of discussion. And by the time another tree had been found, it was the wrong time to plant it etc .but Tim still thought it was hilarious, until I reminded him that the Jubilee Square in Leicester was only finished last year, two years after the actual Jubilee too.

Anyway, last Saturday, the rain was lashing down in the village, and the wind was howling, blowing leaves off the trees already planted around the village. It really was a foul day. But by 1pm, the time of our gathering, the rain had stopped. We were all in the village hall, fortifying ourselves with hot soup and rolls.

That's one thing we always do well  in our village. Food. We love our bring and share events in the village, and on Saturday,there were home made soups of every persuasion.... tomato and basil, spiced parsnip, roasted red pepper and butternut squash soups. With plenty for everyone....and then we were off to the hedge beside the village hall for the ceremony itself.

Phil, Reg,Mark and Reg had dug out the land before and done most of the hard work the day before,

so it was up to young Oliver, to firm the ground around the tree...

And he showed Gabriel how to do it...

Iona however decided she didn't need a spade and used her bare hands.....

while the grown ups clapped and then chatted, catching up on all the news....

And even the youngest villagers were there to join in...

And we all took home our hand designed and decorated bone china mugs which had been specially commissioned a few years before by Georgina who also organised our tree planting day....

OK, we may do things differently and at our own pace here in our village, but it was good to meet up and mark the Queen's Jubilee. Once again, the day reminded why I love this village so much,  and it will be interesting to see this oak tree grow and thrive in the years to come.


Sunday, 8 November 2015

A day of drawing with wire

 A trip to an art gallery? Oh yes please! A mooch through all the arty books in a bookshop? But of course....

I'm interested in art, so why was I always so awful at the subject  at school? Well, I've never been handy with my hands, and paint never seemed to go where I wanted to. Slapdash and inept. Drawing was a no no too...I could weep when I see a beautiful drawing , knowing that I could never ever create a thing of beauty.

I was talking about this very subject a few weeks back at one of our book group lunches.
"Nonsense!" said Sue firmly..."Everyone can draw".
"Mnmm, I thought, "not quite everyone." Sue was a fine art lecturer at one of our local universities and she's a very talented artist who is adamant that anyone could produce something.

So that's why on Friday morning, there was a knock on the door and in walked Sue with plastic boxes full of stuff, ribbon beads, you name itshe brought it. And four of us settled down in my dining room on a dull and wet day, for a drawing with wire workshop. No paint, just wire, pins, and paper. Oh, plus coffee, tea , a banana loaf and a batch of  biscuits I'd  knocked up an hour before,to kick off the session.

Sue showed us the basic technique, of drawing an outline, or using a templateof a fish, flower, insect, whatever we chose...and showed us some she had made earlier....

We set to work with a will, laying wire on paper, using pins to anchor the wire. Josephine in green , chose a chicken, Laura who isn't photographed, chose to do a dragonfly....

And I chose a goose

You're probably doesn't resemble any goose that I've seen walking around, but do you know what?  I don't care, it was such a relaxing, carefree hour, not thinking of anything else, just sitting quietly with my friends, creating something. And that's the whole point according to Sue, who says drawing with wire is an alternative way of drawing which takes away your inhibitions.

It was the process that was the interesting part....and we couldn't believe an hour had flown when we stopped for more coffee and cake.

Sue was right, it was lovely to just create something,  and she has promised me that she will get me drawing. And I think that she will do. Although I can't forget that "oh, I can't do this because I'm not good at it" feeling that I constantly had during art lessons at school, I'm not let it going to stop me actually trying from now on. And if others want to laugh at my goose or whatever else I produce, let them.
Besides I have every confidence in Sue....her paintings are beautiful and just take a look at what she does with her wirework.

And two of my favourite pieces are these....ethereal, wirework sculptures mounted on wood which, inspired by seed heads from Sue's garden, sway like flowers in the breeze.

I think they are breath taking...

Sue regularly exhibits her work and runs workshops and you can e mail her at
In the meantime, it may take some time before I can stun you with something of mine which is as captivating, but I'm going to be having fun!

Friday, 30 October 2015

A foodie friday with Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros

Last Friday, there were yet more apples from the allotment. I needed another new apple cake recipe. Looking through the book shelves, I came across one of my cookbooks which I'd bought on a whim years ago, "Falling Cloudberries" by Tessa Kiros.

To be honest it was the title and the cover which seduced me all those years ago. That, and the stunning photographs that lay inside...of food, of different landscapes.

As I've said previously, I love a cook book with a back story and Tessa Kiros certainly gives the reader one of those. She was born in England - her mother was Finnish and her father was a Greek Cypriot,then, as a small child, she went to live in South Africa. Add in years of travelling, and then being married and living in Italy, she's obviously inherited and amassed a lifetime of different recipes.

We're taken back to both her grandfathers' recipes, from the fishy dishes of Finland, to Cyprus, to  sun baked South African cuisine and to her mother in law's Italian food made with love. Each recipe tells a story, gives a glimpse into a time gone by. Foodie memoirs if you like.

I've made a number of these recipes in the past - milk tart, chicken and oregano to name but a few, and I've been meaning to make the Finnish meatballs with lingonberry jam for ages. But as I flicked through the recipes gathered in South Africa, I found my new cake recipe.

Apple cake with toffee filling. That sounded good, something a little different from the other ones I've been making in this extremely productive apple season.

It's a very easy recipe, even though...wait for it....I've not made toffee before. Luckily this was a soft toffee topping, a kind to teeth toffee topping. Which was just as well, as I lost a filling last year to a rather hard sticky toffee.

But you don't want to read about my teeth, oh no, so let me tell you, this cake has a soft sponge and a caramelly, toffee coated top. But where are the apples  I hear you ask? Well, they're secreted at the bottom of the cake..

Doesn't it look pretty?  As I made it late in the afternoon, I resisted the temptation to test and taste the cake, as Mr Thinking of the days and I were off out for supper at Jenny's, our dear sister in law's house. Just as well, as we ate rather a lot. Three courses, all delicious. A lovely meal with prosecco, wine and I believe there may have been whisky later .

We all promised ourselves a bracing walk the following morning, but the sky was dark, the rain was bucketing down. So when Jenny, her partner Roger and our cousins Mike and Jane popped around, we decided to stay in for a while to see if the rain would stop. It didn't, so hot coffee and cake was required. Luckily there was one to hand....

And no, Boo and Eric, my two terriers, did not manage to get their paws on the cake, despite them looking longingly at the cake. The rest of us agreed that we liked the combination of all three layers, and it was one to make again. Oh, and yes, Jenny and Jane wanted the recipe.

So here it is....

Apple Cake with Toffee Topping


3 apples
100g butter
200g caster sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
3 eggs
200g plain flour
2 tspns baking powder
60ml of milk


20g butter
115g caster sugar
125m ml of single cream ( I used double and it was fine)

How to make

1.Preheat the oven to 190 degs F/gas mark 5, then grease and flour a deep 24cm springform tin.

2.Peel the apples and cut them in lengthways. Cut each half into about 6 slices, removing the core. Arrange the slices in the tin.

3.Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla essence until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, beating after each one. Sift in and beat the flour and baking powder.

4. Beat in the milk until the mixture is soft and fluffy. Put this mixture over the apples and smooth the top. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and make the topping.

5.Put the butter and sugar into a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes until the sugar melts and turns light caramel. Add the cream, drop by drop initially, then in a steady stream, taking care that it doesn't splash. Lower the heart a little and simmer for another minute.

6.Loosen the side of the springform tin. Serve warm or a room temperature.

Tessa Kiros suggests serving with vanilla or crème fraiche ice cream, another recipe in the book, but we just ate it as it was.

And so, another apple cake, which I will definitely make again.

"Falling Cloudberries" by Tessa Kiros was published by Murdoch Books in 2004 and is still available.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

A foodie friday reviewing Sarah Raven's recipes on a Saturday

September and October mean apples, and I've been picking them at the allotment for weeks now. I have three apple trees, two are cookers and the other is a variety with the warmest, rosiest glow.

There's been quite a number of them, and I've been using them every which way I can.

So on my day off, it was time to hunt through my recipe books to make something different. I've already stewed pounds of apples ready for crumbles this winter and made a few apple cakes. But I wanted to make something different.

And I struck gold with this book from Sarah Raven, which was published back in 2007 I think....and I'm pretty sure I bought my copy about five years ago.

Now this what I call a generous cook book. And by that I mean, this is one of those labour of love books where the author has given we readers  her life time's experience of growing and cooking fruit and vegetables. This is not one of those  a hundred recipes a book if you're lucky type of thing on a double page spread type of book. Oh no. It's not a fancy pants type of cookery book either, with long, infinitely long winded and show off recipes either.

It literally is full to brim of tasty, workaday recipes to make the most of the produce from your garden and allotment. And as I've begun to grow more vegetables and now have fruit trees, I'm discovering different sections of the book.

The first new recipe to try was celeriac and apple soup...another way to use up  apples. This is a pale, silky textured and comforting soup. The sweetness of the celeriac married with the sharp freshness of the apples worked really well for me. Unfortunately my other half wasn't so keen.

But he did like the next new recipe very much... ...a Kentish apple cake. Now, I've made a Dorset Apple cake before but never one from Kent, and it's quite different in method and texture.

Here's the recipe....

225g unsalted butter plus a little extra for the tin
350g self raising flour
1 tspn ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
110g of sultanas or raisins soaked for an hour in water
175g castor sugar
75g toasted hazelnuts , chopped
450g cooking apples such as Bramleys
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
plenty of Demerara sugar for dusting

How to make

1.Preheat  oven at 180 degs /gas mark 4 and grease and line the bottom of a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin

2.Pulse the sifted flour, cinnamon, salt and butter in a food processor until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Put the mixture in a bowl and stir in the sultanas, sugar and toasted nuts

3.Peel, core and chop the apples and add to the other ingredients with the lemon zest. Lightly beat the eggs and put them in.

4.Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for one to one and a quarter hours or until firm to the touch. You may need to cover the cake with foil to prevent it from becoming too brown on top.

5.While it's still hot, sift over plenty of Demerara sugar, and let it cool in the tin or a wire rack.

As Sarah Raven says, it's a good cake for tea or you can serve it warm as a pudding with lots of thick cream. I've now tried both ways of serving...and both are equally as good!

The more I use this book , the greater is my admiration for the sheer breadth of recipes..and there are some lovely photographs by Jonathan Buckley.

Incidentally, you can still obtain personally signed copies of this book - Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook published by Bloomsbury  from Sarah's own website.