Sticky Maple-Apple Traybake: The Great British Bake Off

April 28, 2013

This recipe came from one of the Great British Bake Off books that I was lucky enough to receive from someone who evidently knew me very well. It was the first recipe I have baked and I can foresee myself trying out many of the others.

It was a nice moist tray-bake cake with juicy apples, perfect for the family to share over afternoon tea, on return from a walk, or for an after-dinner treat.

You can find the recipe over on Rachel's blog or in the book linked above.

Freshly baked and removed from the oven before icing.

Post-icing. Time for a sit down.

It was very much enjoyed by my parents who have been spending their weekends doing DIY or gardening. Get yourself some Brownie points too!

Lisa from United Cakedom says this recipe is on the Great British Bake Off app. Sounds like a worthwhile purchase I think!

Cup of tea break: Manet and the Royal Academy Exhibition

April 23, 2013

A few weekends ago I went to the Royal Academy's Art Exhibition in London. It has now finished, but I thought I would share a little of what I learnt about Manet, not to be confused with the infamous Monet.

A little about Édouard Manet
His life
-Born into an affluent family in Paris.
-Followed his passion for painting rather than the political career destined for him.

His art

-His paintings were heralded as the beginning of 'modern art' and challenged the French Academy's conventions.
-His oeuvre demonstrates the transition from realism to impressionism.
-His paintings are characterised by black outlines, and large brushstrokes. Often there is debate as to the extent he finished many of the paintings.

The exhibition

I loved it. I perused around with my friend Rosita, for many hours, listening to the audio guide. We found the contrast between realism and impressionism particularly interesting. I also adored the tones he used, specifically his masterful use of black, and his proficiency in both oil painting and chalk.
His lifestyle and interaction with other artists, authors, and musicians is always something that I find fascinating. Manet and his counterparts, (Monet, Renoir etc), seemed to spend their entire life in cafés in Paris- not a bad life- which would seem to account for his preoccupation with observations of social life and leisure.

This painting, Music in the Tuileries Gardens was made even more impressive, for me as an English Literature student, when learning of the links between this extensive group of people, those including: avant-garde writers Baudelaire- poet(1821-1867), and Théophile Gautier- poet and novelist(1811-1872.)

I'm really glad to have this lovely book to remind me of the exhibition and to look back to for reference.

There is a large collection of portraits of Manet's student, Eva Gonzalès, two of which are displayed below.

One of my favourites was The Railway, (right hand image) - an expression of modernising times.

It was a lovely day spent in London with Rosita and I can't wait to visit my next exhibition.

If you are also interested in Impressionism, but know as little as me, take a look at this guide from the National Gallery Website. 

Are there any upcoming exhibitions that you're interested in?

A Review: The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

April 13, 2013

Yesterday, whilst in London visiting the Manet Exhibition, (post to follow), I popped into Piccadilly's Waterstones. Although I was customarily distracted by the huge selection of books all of which begged to become my next read, I was in there with a purpose. That purpose was to buy The Rosie Project, which was only released on Thursday. My purpose wasn't, however, to be writing a review on it less than 24 hours after purchasing it, but that is testament to my enjoyment of this new Romantic Comedy.

The charmingly funny atypical protagonist, Don Tillman, is a genetics professor. He has a project: to get married. His problem is a universal one; he cannot find a compatible partner. His difficulty is exacerbated through his social awkwardness resultant of being somewhere on the autism spectrum. His solution is less than conventional, but entirely logical.
He devises a scientific project consisting of: 
'[A 16 page questionnaire,]such an obvious solution [to finding a life partner.] A purpose-built, scientifically valid instrument incorporating current best practice to filter out the time wasters, the disorganised, the ice-cream discriminators, the visual-harassment complainers, the crystal gazers, the horoscope readers, the fashion obsessives, the religious fanatics, the vegans, the sports watchers, the creationists, the smokers, the scientifically illiterate, the homeopaths, leaving ideally the perfect partner, or, realistically, a manageable short-list of candidates.'
Rosie, however, is all of these. She is patently unsuitable and is naturally disregarded. Nevertheless a relationship ensues, for the reason that Don can aid her in her own project to find her biological father, through his access to, and capability of, DNA testing. Rosie begins as a disturbance to Don's regimented lifestyle before utterly dismantling the entirety of his timetabled life. 

We experience the all too familiar frustrations in the quest for love: the disaster dates and awkward circumstances, but surely none of us have eclipsed Don in practicing sex positions with the help of a manual, using a skeleton, in his office, as the dean walks in. The effect of these incidents is nothing short of irrepressible amusement.

Rarely is there a novel with such an abundance of likeable characters. Graeme Simsion manages to create an endearing character without being patronising. He handles the humour perfectly; we can laugh at and with our hero, Don, who although on the Asperger's spectrum isn’t depicted problematically causing any controversial or awkward moments. Instead we are left questioning and challenging our pre or misconceptions. In fact, the novel is incredibly positive in many of its aspects. As Don identifies, Asperger's isn't a fault. It's a variant. It's potentially a major advantage.’

Passionate, spontaneous, and outspoken Rosie is the perfect antidote for Don's regimented and clinical lifestyle. His journey begins with his emotional disfunction and ends in the acceptance of illogical love, that begins as such a perplexing concept to him. It seems that chemistry prevails over the checklist attitude, a list of required characteristics that would make for the perfect partner, a device that many of us subconsciously employ.

The Rosie Project is an impressive debut from Graeme Simsion.
A light, easy and swift read despite handling a serious and thought-provoking topic. Genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, heart-warming, and ideal for a long train journey, holiday, or a break from revision.

‘Imagine the literary equivalent of one of those lamps prescribed for sufferers of seasonal affective disorder—a book that found the crack in our seemingly interminable winter to let laughter and light flood in.’
Sunday Times UK

Quick & Easy Soda bread

April 09, 2013

This rustic soda bread is a Paul Hollywood recipe. It is wonderfully simple as it uses neither yeast nor requires kneading; it shouldn't even daunt the least experienced baker. It's a loaf that can realistically be made in time for dinner- perfect if someone has greedily finished up all the bread, you have some unexpected guests, or you're in want of an accompaniment to a pot of soup.

Crunchy crust and soft doughy centre.

500g Plain white flour
1tsp Bicarbonate of soda
1tsp Salt
400ml Buttermilk


-Preheat the oven to 200C.
-Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
-Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
-Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough.
-Tip the mixture onto a floured surface and form into a ball.

-Place onto the baking sheet and mark into quarters. Cut deeply into the bread almost, but not quite through to the base. Dust with flour.

-Remove from the oven after aprox 30mins of baking.

(stupid face is optional)

We enjoyed ours with Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato soup.

This awards you with the satisfaction of baking your own bread, without the long and sometimes tricky process. With only four ingredients surely it's worth a go?

I'm certainly going to make this again. Next time I might attempt a sweet loaf with some dried fruit.

Detox: Spinach Smoothie

April 02, 2013

I have finally returned home after a long term at Uni followed by a ski trip. After a hectic month or so, with too few fruit and vegetables, and far too much alcohol, my body eagerly anticipated a break and a detox. Followed by a food-orientated Easter weekend many of us are in need of a little injection of fresh fruit, after finishing the last of the Easter eggs, of course. 

One of the best things about being home is the abundance of fruit and veg in the house. Smoothies are great because they can be made from a whole host of ingredients, for this one I used:

1 frozen banana

Several handfuls of spinach
1 Kiwi
Pineapple juice

Other combinations could involve: 

Greek yoghurt or milk, 
Mango, blueberries, apple

These smoothies have been slipping down nicely for breakfast accompanied by a good book and a relaxing morning in bed. With every bite of fruit I'm desperately hoping the weather will represent the spring time it ought to. Soon I might be awarded a little nice weather for long walks in the countryside and a bit of fresh air, for the moment I guess my bed will have to accommodate my presence for a little longer.