Happy First Canadian Thanksgiving

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So we finally made it to Canada. For the first time ever, I got to experience a Thanksgiving (we know of them in the UK, but we just take the ‘shopping sales’ aspect of it and leave the giving of the thanks to the Canadians and Americans – in November-), so did what I know best: got in the kitchen and baked.

These little delights are chocolate, with an orange buttercream ‘fire’, mini salted pretzel sticks and mini mallows – yes, a Pinterest inspired treat. I used Chipits (this was a risk, I’ve never used anything but Tesco chocolate for melting and baking before!) and melted them in a pan, but just enough to add some moisture to the cake and left little chunks in the mix. Was a nice little surprise biting in and finding a Chipit chunk in my cupcake! Something I will definitely do again.

They took some attempts to get right though. I started by ‘twirling’ (not a clue what the technical term would be!) the buttercream and placing the pretzel sticks against it. But this didn’t give the desired ‘fire’ effect at all! So I tried again. This time, I still ‘twirled’ the buttercream in the centre of the cake and used it as a base to ‘brush’ the buttercream up against it to give an almost ‘flame-like’ look. This seemed to work much better!

Next time, I need to get my food colouring ratio right, as I wanted a mix of colours for the flames, but for a first-timer, they weren’t that bad! Tasted scrummy too! Especially with the mix of sweet from the chocolate and salty from the pretzel.

Happy 60th.

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This has got to be my absolute favourite cake I’ve ever made. The pirate of 2013 was pretty good, the (not featured on this blog, unfortunately) 3-tier mountain/snowboarder/ski lift cake of the same year was incredible (if I may say so myself) and the mountain-bear cake of 2018 is top of the list for sure, but this, this cake was something I’ve never tried before.

I’d watched countless Pinterest and Instagram videos and tutorials about how to make the striped buttercream wrap around the cake, and smooth it down and I as desperate to try it. Finally the opportunity presented itself when I had to make a surprise 60th birthday cake.

The cake was something I’d perfected over time: white chocolate and fresh strawberries. I made it as 2 large tray bakes and when chilled, cut them into circles with a cake tin. I found that this was much easier, not just because I got a few leftovers to nibble on and share, but because I got a smoother edge to work with and the top was much flatter than if I’d have used 2 circular cake tins.

The layer inside is just vanilla buttercream and strawberry jam, to compliment the white chocolate and fresh strawberry cake.

I mixed some of the buttercream with red food colouring and left the other bowl ‘naturally’ yellow/white. I found French butter to be an absolute nightmare to work with for buttercream and couldn’t wait to get home to use some good ‘ol Stork! I then piped big lines all the way around the cake, changing the layers as I went. I travelled with a cake decorating kit (yes, I was just that prepared) and used the flat edge to smooth the buttercream around and merge the lines.

Then the pièce de résistance, or so I think, is the fresh fruit topping. We were lucky in France that the physalis still came with its leaves which adds another dimension to the cake, and I chopped a couple of strawberries for the edges and ‘casually threw’ some raspberries in the mix.

I just loved it.

She Said Yes!

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This was part of a couple’s magical New Years’ Day when he proposed to her, and it was all lovely, and luckily(!) she said yes!

It’s just a Victoria Sponge with buttercream flowers and royal icing text. I just wish I’d made the flowers a little bigger to finish with the desired effect I originally wanted, but all in all, it all got eaten.

We’re Off To The Alps, Better Get Our Game On

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This ‘ere subtle looking thing, is basically #diabetesinacake. We’ve got a chocolate base, with a salted caramel chocolate frosting, mini marshmallows and chocolate shavings.

I’ve always been nervous about making chocolate cake, whether I’ve used the wrong powder, it won’t be (and let’s just get past this word without cringing) ‘moist’ enough, or somehow it’ll transform in the oven to a crisp chocolate biscuit. But this one turned out so well, it travelled all the way from Margate to Cambridge and got devoured by a house of hungry  students.

The only thing I would have done differently, was mix the salted caramel with the cake mix, rather than add it to the chocolate butter cream frosting as it was a little over-powering.

When You’re 27 and You Have To Bake Your Own Cake…

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As I had to bake my own Birthday Cake, I made my favourite. Victoria Sponge.

I had a great time trying something new with this cake, using sugar paste (as it sets hard) to make the toppings. I have a new thing for geometric art (the monkey tattoo is testament to this) and my love of mountains inspired this one. I used edible ink to draw the lines, some were freehand, some I indented with a knife and went back over to make sure I had it right. Blue fondant icing wraps around the cake to make a mountain scene.

I absolutely love the toppers, but need more practise with the wrapping of icing to make sure it’s not lumpy. It was a frustrating cake to make but one of my favourites! Totally worth it. Tasted great too!

The boy turns 3

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A ‘Cheesy nip’ treat… (they are really called Cheesy Bites or Nibbles, I think, but my family changes the names of everything, so here you have ‘Cheesy nips’.)

Peanut Butter, oats, banana, shredded carrot and a little honey to hold it together. Baked in the oven until golden brown(ish). Topped with Philadelphia and peanut butter frosting and a small treat of your choice.

Can be frozen (without the topping) for a later date. These last for ages, and Thor now expects them to be defrosted in time for dinner.

‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’

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Vanilla cupcakes with a chocolate frosting, covered with red sugar beads, and fondant icing daggers coated with edible silver paint.

These were made for students partaking in the Shakespeare Fest 2018. Granted, they were made in a rush and on par with the icing/potato mash mountain disaster of 2013, but they went down a treat.

A review of sorts for David Cable’s Rails Across…

Anyone that knows me personally knows I am not a train fanatic by any stretch of the
imagination. I grew up with a Thomas the Tank Engine train set and have since held a grudge towards my father for it (no matter how much I really loved it deep down – you know the one: wooden train tracks with the wide grooves, plastic trains with the magnetic dome to link with the carriages…)

So for me to review a ‘train book’ is a first. But all things considered, David Cable’s Rails Across series isn’t just your average collection of ‘train pictures’. I’m a sucker for National Geographic-esque photographs, the ones that exhibit such spectacular scenery you can’t help but investigate every tiny detail, and that’s exactly what you get with Cable’s books.

Of course though, you must bear in mind that the subject of each photo is a train (expect for in Rails Across Australia where the subject is a witch-looking tree, I guess you’ll have to buy the book to decide for yourself) and so for some readers it can get a little tedious – some of the photos only feature a specific engine without a fantastic backdrop – I didn’t like these.

At the beginning of each book Cable includes a short intro that looks into the history of the area, his involvement in the photo taking and who helped. It doesn’t go into great detail, but for the amateur reader it is plenty and gives a basic understanding for what they are looking at. Each photograph comes with a very short caption that identifies the locomotive and, sometimes, location. Thankfully for me, I wasn’t too bothered, being interested only in the photo, but I can see that for some this may not be enough.

I highly recommend these books to the train fanatic, the photographer and the landscape lover. It’s an incredible collection that documents the way of the land in a different, and sometimes very beautiful, way.

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I haven’t reviewed each book in any particular order, but I have started with my favourite; Rails Across Canada.

There are 200 pages of glossy-paged photographs, and I have no doubt that readers will have chosen different images for different reasons. I have four that I absolutely love from this collection.

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Being a young’n still, I love the advertisement on this 6424, decorated for the NFL Super Bowl in Ottawa ON, 1985. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
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Oh man, just look at that powder against the bright orange and yellow. A spectacular shot. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
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Just for the mountains and that crystal-blue river. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
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It’s Christmas in one picture… (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)

 

Next up; Rails Across North America

The landscape featured in the photographs from Rails Across North America are not too dissimilar to Rails Across Canadaexcept that it seems the land is drier, more arid and agricultural. The Union Pacific reminds me of a Disney Pixar character.

I admire Cable’s eye and appreciate that he hasn’t just compiled a selection of books based on photographs of an engine; the composition of landscape and locomotion, in most cases, is incredible. The Chicago skyline (May 1993) and industrial-looking Amtrak F40Ph create a fascinating photo with the solid grey collection of skyscrapers, grey offices and stark blue sky.

Here’s Rails Across Australia. Don’t worry, there are no super-huge spiders or slithering snakes. Nor are there any Kangaroos, sorry.

The fact that there are only four photographs in this selection is absolutely no reflection on the book. It’s awash with amazing images showcasing a variety of landscapes and locations. Personally, I only liked these ones; one for it’s postcard potential (im. 3) and another because it looks like a miniature modelling scene (im. 4).

These photographs seem a lot less professional than in perhaps the other books, but I don’t feel like that takes anything away from them. In fact, it makes me like them more. The blurry, grainy texture gives them a retro feel. Cable explains that they were taken while he lived in South Australia between 1967 and 1973.

Lastly, Rails Across Europe: Northern and Western Europe. Now, this one is completely different to the other three. The landscape changes dramatically (obviously) and the photographs themselves focus more on the locomotive. Cable has explored Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Northern France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Latvia & Lithuania, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden. As you would expect from European architecture, some of the photographs are outstanding. In one, an AM86 EMU 914 awaits departure from Antwerp Centraal station back in 1991; the stark contrast of the grand architecture of the building makes the simple-looking locomotive stand out like a sore thumb.

Rails Across Europe: Eastern and Southern Europe continues across the continent, looking at Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Southern France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey (in Europe) and Ukraine. As you would expect, the photographs from Austria are just stunning; luscious green grass and snow-capped mountains. If there was a Rails Across that you had to add to the pile, it would be this one. It is due for release at the end of August, 2016 from Pen and Sword Books.

All other titles in the series are available to buy from Pen and Sword Books. RRP £25.

All photos have been published here with the permission of the publisher and not subject to redistribution without prior consent. I thank Pen & Sword Books for allowing me to publish them on this post.

 

 

And so a new project begins…

Like the crazy crafty person I have come to be, I am taking on a new challenge – turning this into a house/wedding dress boutique (perhaps). I’ll hopefully be making most of the contents by hand; if I stick with the wedding dress shop idea then I’ll be making dresses on the sewing machine that sits alone in the corner of the kitchen at the moment. But I’m undecided as to whether I’d like a cake shop – something I’ve always fancied in real life but will never get around to.

I have taken inspiration from Bromley Craft Products and want to use their powder and stencil to create a realistic ‘Northern’ stone finish on the outside, and am constantly pinning for ideas on Pinterest.

I’m hoping to do this, not just as a hobby, but as an opportunity to try and review new, and old, products.

Wish me luck!