August-in-a-blog-post …

… or something that attempts to sum up what’s happened in my month!

My August got overtaken with illness. Yup, it’s me that’s ill. It’s a long-term thing – been around for too long and not going away anytime in the near future. Some days are better than others and August has been a collection of mostly bad days. Life has been a struggle and finding the energy for the every-day essentials has been flakey, so my blog has sort of slipped …

I wanted to tell you because my blog and the blogging community I’ve found online has become very important to me. I love sharing my photos and life with whoever is reading these pages and getting to “meet” some of you fellow-bloggers and share my passions with you has been an amazing experience! Even though I have not been commenting on your blogs, I’ve been keeping in touch with what is going on in your lives, praying for you when you’ve had tough times and loving all the photos, recipes and fun! So I guess it’s my turn to ask for the prayers and/or thoughts. Not something that comes easily to me, but even though I don’t post as regularly as I want to, I’m not giving up!

Here are a few other things that happened in August …

I cooked a fish meal for the first time! I baked salmon in foil parcels with a sauce of chilli, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and oyster sauce, and lots of spring onion, red pepper and fresh coriander (cilantro). I served it with rice and green vegetables and it seemed to be a success! πŸ™‚

One of L’s cousins got married in a country manor house in Shropshire! The staircase used for the bride’s entrance was amazing! They handed out homemade dried-rose confetti and had a beautifully done afternoon tea for the first part of the reception! The couple was obviously happy, despite it pouring with rain most of the day and the bride’s vintage-style lace dress was pretty. There were some photos of L and I taken, but my father-in-law still has these! πŸ˜‰

My youngest sister had her 21st birthday!! Eeeek! Makes me feel old … πŸ˜‰ I had a lot of fun planning and creating a special gift for her. T has quite a number of pen-friends and writing letters and keeping in touch with them is important to her. I found a Jane Austen-style writing desk which I painted with her favourite flower – daisys! I also covered a box with old stamps from around the world (I love Ebay! πŸ˜› ) and filled it with notepaper and cards. My other two sisters had informed me that T was very set on having cards with 21 on them … so the card, some of the wrapping paper and a key-ring made sure she wouldn’t forget how old she was turning!! πŸ˜‰ My sisters and I have had this tradition of giving each other number badges for big birthdays and this year I got to buy the badge – I’ve been assured it will be pinned on her bag for a while! πŸ™‚

Just this past week we had some good friends of ours round for supper. E and S got married just 7 months after L and I did and L and E had lived in the same houses for 6 years and have been in a prayer-triplet together with another guy for nearly as long … so yeah, they go way back. They have had us round for dinner twice and we really wanted to have them round to our house – once we could find a date that worked for both couples, that is! πŸ˜‰

I kind of went a bit over-board on the cooking front … not at all common forΒ  me πŸ˜‰ I like to cook something which is ready ahead of time and just needs putting in the oven, so I baked Chicken, Leek and Cider Pie. It comes from this amazing pie recipe book that my sisters gave me for my birthday last year. I decided to replace the whole chicken and homemade stock with chicken pieces and chicken stock cubes and made a classic mistake – the recipe called for a chicken weighing 1.5kg so, of course, I bought 1.5kg of thigh fillets … let’s just say that not counting in the weight difference for a whole chicken made a massive quantity of filling! πŸ˜‰

Apart from that little slip-up, everyone seemed to enjoy the individual pies, sweet potato wedges and vegetables. For pudding we had lemon-curd biscuits, fresh fruit and homemade ice-cream. I’d been wanting to have a go at making my own ice-cream in ages and I found this recipe that just need me to whip up condensed milk, double cream and vanilla, then put it in the freezer and forget about it … until pudding time! πŸ™‚ So simple!

A few weeks ago L surprised me with this gorgeous bouquet of flowers – he knows how to make me smile! πŸ˜€

I hope to be writing again soon!

What has happened in your August?

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Diamond Jubilee Tea Party!

This weekend people have been celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee all over England!

There have been massive celebrations and events over the last four days and we were given an extra bank holiday today, in addition to the normal June holiday yesterday.

I love the Queen and admire her very much and I have loved seeing the way communities have come together to celebrate our nations’ Queen 60th year of reigning as our monarch!

There have been concerts, parades, street parties, picnics, village lunches, commemorative services and gun salutes galore!

For my celebrations, I chose a wonderfully English Tea Party!

When organising things like this, I tend to leap in with a ‘all or nothing’ attitude. I get obsessed with the details, think about little tweaks and improvements even when I’m meant to be concentrating on something else, research the shops and web every couple of days, plan, plan and re-plan.

I started thinking about the tea party in March. The invitations were in the post by the middle of April.

Sadly, this didn’t stop me from becoming overcome by life and convincing myself I had two weeks preparation left … when I actually had just one … πŸ˜›

However, with the help of the wonderful man who is my husband, and the un-ending assistance of my dear friend K, who was staying that weekend, we made it to this point:

I went for a high tea theme of savouries as well as cakes.

I just had to have the traditional cucumber sandwiches and threw in a childhood favourite of Marmite and cress – yum! I was rather pleased with the mini quiches, which is something I’ve wanted to have a go at for a long time.

This wonderful cake stand – complete with coloured dots! – was a wedding present from my friend A and her husband. Doesn’t it look splendid all loaded up with sweet treats?! I was quite pleases with the sponge fancies I made – I decorated them with card-making decorations! πŸ˜‰

A made this scrummy chocolate cupcakes, which embraced the English Jubilee theme hook, line and sinker! Aren’t the decorations so cool?! I had a Big Ben!! πŸ˜€

One of my closest friends, R, baked scones and brought the essential clotted cream and jam to go with them. They were absolutely scrummy and the party would not have been complete without them!

I loved planning and setting up the details of napkins, tea cups and saucers, napkins, flowers, little decorations …

I snagged a beautiful vintage-style table-cloth from Ebay for a bargain price and dissected a wedding candle wreath to add some rose-like elegance to the setting.

All three of my sisters came, so plus my friends K, R, a and myself, we were a comfortable seven round our games-chest-come-coffee-table.

My final little thing was a favour bag, containing each girl’s favourite kind of chocolate – or as near to that as I could come! πŸ˜€

I’m so glad I threw my Jubilee Tea Party and hope that everyone who came had lots of fun!!

What did you English readers do to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee?!!

A is for Asparagus, O is for Obsession

Right now, I’m obsessed with this fresh, crunchy and green little vegetable!

This is the go-to veggie of the month. For now.

You see, I’m a self-diagnosed Food Phaser*.

* Please note that a) I am not professionally trained in the finer diagnostic points of this condition, so am unable to offer advice and b) it’s a self-created condition and is therefore unlikely to be recognised by clinical dietician. πŸ˜‰

Although I love cooking and baking all kinds of meals for other people, I’m a bit of a fussy eater in my own kitchen. I like the majority of food and cuisines and will like almost everything cooked for me by others, so I am not what most people think of as “a fussy eater”.

It comes down to me being very particular and quite ritualistic about what I eat day-to-day – did I ever warn you that I’m wierd by the way?! πŸ˜›

As a consequence of this, I become obsessed with a particular food for a week, a month, then something else catches my eye and it becomes all about this new vegetable, grain or combination of ingredients.

I remember a time in my teens when I would eat noodles any time I could wrangle it in to my week – with butter and garlic, soya sauce or cheese.

Cheese, of course, is a constant food that has stuck in there through every single passing obsession (bar about 6 months, but we’ll choose to forget that πŸ˜‰ ), so almost all of my food phases have included cheese of some kind or another. Yum. What more can I say?!

Some of my latest obsessions have been cooked vegetables with cheese …

… fresh, crunchy and raw salads (I think there might be some cubes of cheese mixed into this bowl somewhere …) …

… and roasted vegetables …

… all with this strong and zingy sauce of whole grain mustard, lemon juice, olive oil and soya sauce. Try it -it tastes so much better than it sounds/looks, although I am not keen on most salad dressings and would pick savory over sweet any day, so maybe I’m the only one who’ll love this strong and sour dressing! πŸ˜›

The roasted vegetables (and two largely unsuccessful attempts at making spinach and cheese balls) were thanks to the lovely Katie, over at Yes, I want cake. Several times in the past couple of months roasted veggies have been featured on Katie’s blog, including roasted broccoli. Yup, I know, that’s exactly what I thought!Roasted broccoli?! Ewwww! Wrong – DELICIOUS! I’ve actually survived over 25 years of my life without roasted broccoli. Guess I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

For now, however, asparagus is The Vegetable. It’s in season over here, so the local vegetable stalls are selling fresh bunches of it at bargain prices! Maybe Katie’s blog had something to do with encouraging my asparagus-obsession, as I just HAD to try this asparagus pizza:

My first trial was made on an English muffin, but then I had the real thing and now I love asparagus pizza! And yes, I love Katie’s blogg too – it’s another one of my obsessions. πŸ˜€

Last night and tonight I’ve had a pile of asparagus, covered in tomato sauce, some grated cheese and put under the grill until golden and bubbling – scrum-diddily-umptious!

Ok, so the cheese I eat doesn’t really melt properly and go all stringy and gooey, but hey – it’s the fact that it’s cheese that counts, right?! πŸ˜‰

Oh yes, and the asparagus I’m obsessed with right now! πŸ˜›

What food are you obsessed with at the moment?!

National Chocolate Week

Today I learnt from Frugal Feeding that this next week (10th-16th October) is national Chocolate week!! Nom, nom, nom!! πŸ˜› Check out Frugal Feeding’s Chocolate Biscotti recipe for a yummy, chocolately delight!

In honour of this auspicious National Chocolate Week, I am undertaking to bake something involving chocolate … what exactly that will be, is up to you, my readers … !! Am I doing a very stupid thing here?! Yes, probably, but here we go …

Enter the recipe ofΒ  your favourite Chocolate Bake as a comment (be that cookies, brownies, cake, cheesecake, bar, pudding … ) and I will randomly select one of the recipes (maybe more, who knows?!?) to tackle!! πŸ˜› You will get to see photos of the process and photos of the result … and hear all about my hubby’s and friend’s review of the finished bake!! πŸ˜‰

Please do let me have your favourite chocolate recipes!!! πŸ˜€

And you are …?!

Over the summer I got accepted as a member of my local Youth Offending Team Panel – a long-cherished ambition of mine – and today I my second day of training … yes, that’s right, I am talking about Saturday and no, you didn’t hear me wrong when I said “day” – we’re talking 9am – 4pm here! πŸ˜‰

For someone like me, who always gets thoroughly excited about young people, youth crime and helping make their lives better, this is a wonderful – though awe-inspiring! – experience!

As well as being filled up and over-stuffed with loads of information, it is also providing about 26 or so opportunities for meeting someone new!! πŸ˜› Lot’s of new names to try to remember and lot’s of new faces to associate with the right name … lot’s of introductions and the usual set of “I’ve-never-met-you-before-how-should-I-be-relating-to-you” questions … you know, “What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do? What degree did you do? Are you married? Do you have kids? Why are you here?”

Some questions are more comfortable to answer than others and all of them are only brushing a surface picture of the outside of each of us … but that’s how it goes – this is the way we humans normally start down the road of getting to know each other.

This, along with some very welcome comments from some of my blog readers that I have never met before, has set me thinking …

Who are you?!? πŸ™‚

If you think about it, it’s kind of a little unbalanced, right? Each and every one of you know quite a bit about me now … but I know hardly anything about you!! No-fair, ok?! πŸ˜‰ There are some exceptions – some of you I know in my every day life and some I know through your own blogs – but I am getting more and more confirmation that I have mystery readers that I know nothing about!! Ooooooh mysterious!! πŸ˜€

On principle, as long as I am making you smile and, for whatever reason, you enjoy reading my blog, that’s me content! Please keep on reading, laughing and hopefully taking something positive away with you!!

I’m also thinking of running my first-ever little mini-series!!! Just incase you can’t tell, I’m super excited about this!! πŸ˜‰

Let me introduce … big fan-fair please! …

From My Front Room.

You’ve all been welcomed in over my front step, so now I would love it if some of you would like to come and take a seat on my comfy red sofa, get hold of a steaming mug of tea, munch on a piece of my warm Apple and Cinnamon Cake and share a little about yourselves …!!

I will start, by sharing the answer to some questions about myself … then it will be your turn! πŸ™‚

If you’d like to come and sit on my sofa one cosy afternoon, just email me with your name, blog home if you have one and the reason why you read my blog: alldotty atΒ  gmail dot com

I’m excited about meeting you soon!! πŸ™‚

The Great British Bake Off!

As you must know by now, from my previous posts, I love cooking!!

Especially if it involves lots of colours! πŸ˜‰

Once upon a time, I used to enjoy baking far and above cooking …

… I still love baking, but now I love cooking probably just as much …

L and I don’t have a TV licence, but watch DVDs instead … with the exception of iplayer, a BBC (British Broadcasting Company) website which allows you to watch some selected TV programs on the internet, after their original broadcasting time. My hubby doesn’t use this at all, but I love it! I genuinely don’t miss TV as a whole, but I do like my cookery programs, my youth and crime documentaries and my detective dramas!! πŸ˜› Also, as I can’t watch TV without doing something else as well, it means we have lots of homemade cards and gifts, so who’s going to complain! πŸ˜‰

This week marked the final of The Great British Bake Off!!

At the beginning we had all these contestants … all amateur bakers – like ourselves! πŸ˜‰

These were the two presenters … I loved their banter and the fun they had together and with the contestants!

And these were the judges – Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. I have grown up with Mary Berry baking recipes, so I have a little soft spot for her!! πŸ˜‰

The many bakes the contestants had to complete fell into three categories – The Signature Bake (something they had created themselves), The Technical Challenge (one of Mary Berry’s own recipes, but with a bare minimum of instructions and timings, all judged anonymously) and The Show-Stopper – perfect in every way and completely fabulous in appearance!

The Chocolate Roulade was one of The Technical Bakes. You saw a photo of my own Jam Swiss Roll (as it happens, one of Mary Berry’s recipes …!! πŸ˜› ) but this is a league above …

Baked Cheesecakes were another feature – something I would love to try making someday soon!

Petits Fours featured a number of times …

… as did Pork Pies, Sponge Cakes, Cupcakes, Savoury or Fruit Tarts, French Special Pastries and many other baking masterpieces …

After eight weeks of baking and eliminations, a Great British Baker was chosen!!

I was a little bit more than rather chuffed that it was my favourite that won!!! πŸ˜‰

Do you prefer baking or cooking?

Cupcake crazy!!

If you had stepped into my kitchen on Friday afternoon you would have found me elbow-deep in clouds of icing, splatters of cupcake batter, daubs of melted butter, dustings of flour, drops of vanilla flavouring, spoons covered in chocolate icing …

If you had stepped into my kitchen on Friday afternoon you would have found me making cupcakes!! πŸ™‚

My mission? Apart from enjoying baking something yummy, that is!! πŸ˜‰ … to bake and decorate thirty cupcakes for a friend’s wedding! What better reason could there be for a baking day?!? πŸ™‚

I’ve never been able to accomplish a large-scale baking episode without a mess to remember … I wasn’t exaggerating when I talked about spoons covered in chocolate icing, daubs of melted butter and dustings of flour … πŸ˜›

I haven’t used an electric whisk to make a cake in about three years … mostly because I didn’t have one, then because I’d got so used to not having one that I always forgot that now I did have one!! πŸ˜› As I was making a triple quantity of cake mixture, didn’t fancy beating that mountain of batter by hand and this time remembered there was an un-used electric mixer collecting dust in my cupboard … out came the mixer and my arms sang alleluia! Or at least, they would have done if arms could sing … mine haven’t mastered that skill yet!! πŸ˜‰

I’d forgotten how much I love seeing the swirls the mixer makes in the batter …

… and how glossy, light and silky the cake mix is when it’s ready to pour into the cases … wonderful!

I’d bought these cute little cupcake cases to use especially for the occasion and was kinda like a kid with them … I couldn’t wait to break open the packet get them filled with gooey chocolate mix!! πŸ˜›

Because of the quantities used in the recipe I was using, I ended up with 40 of these little beauties, rather than the 30 needed …

… oh well, who’s going to complain about a few extra cakes to go around?!? πŸ˜‰

Having use my one big bowl for the cake mixture (which was baked in batches, so not empty for ages! πŸ™‚ ), the bowls I had left to make the icing in were not big enough to use the electric mixer in … trust me, I tried … I barely managed to control the icing-sugar-explosion that threatened to bury my counter-top under a sticky mess … maybe not such a great plan!! πŸ˜‰

So it was back to the wooden spoon and aching arms we went … whoop whoop!! 😦

As a result, the frosting was not as light and fluffy as my baking-pride would have liked, but hopefully these cute little strawberry hearts made up for it … ?!?

Let’s say it did!! πŸ˜‰

T and A are the first names of the groom and the bride, so I was quite pleased with the all-chocolate version …

… although I would have gagged at the first bite with all that sweetness … let’s hope there were enough sugar-devoties out there to appreciate them!! πŸ˜› I’m not selling my baking very well, am I ?!? πŸ˜‰

The third and last flavour of frosting is my favourite!! Not only is it so simple to make, πŸ˜€ it is the best to eat!! πŸ˜‰

Cream cheese frosting … yumtastic!! Of course, it’s best on top of dense, moist carrot cake, but hey, if it comes on top of chocolate cupcakes, do you expect me to say no?!? πŸ˜›

This was also my favourite decoration …

… not surprising as sprinkles have everything to do with lots of colour, right?!? πŸ˜‰

What is your favourite kind of cupcake?!