2016-2017; Another year

Another year is over and we’re all trying to find our feet in 2017. As much as I sometimes see the fuss around ‘New Year’ as a bit pointless, I do like the impression of beginning a new chapter that comes with the change of date – generally speaking, as people we have always found new beginnings and clean slates appealing and a motivation for change  (who starts a new fitness programme on a Thursday?).

I have spent the past week or so drafting a list of my own personal ambitions for 2017. Unfortunately I am currently fighting off a rather persistent illness which has left me quite unable to act on most of them so far,  so I thought I would take the opportunity to look back on 2016 in the meantime instead.

From a global media perspective, 2016 seemed a little cursed. Looking a little closer you home however, I am looking back on 2016 rather fondly. I did lots of fun things, caught up with some old friends, took a couple of holidays, got a new job, made progress on the house and made progress on myself too. As I didn’t really get my act together on the blogging front, I wanted to share some of the highlights with you now.

February – Long Weekend in York

In February I arranged to take Pete to York for his birthday to coincide with both the Jorvik Viking Festival and going to see Týr, a band he is a big fan of but never managed to catch live. I was in the early stages of what would go on to be an epic chest infection and pleurisy but still had a lovely time getting away with Pete and seeing York and all the Viking attractions. Unfortunately the Jorvik Viking Centre itself was closed after being badly flooded at the end of 2015, but the rest of the Viking Festival was really interesting and enjoyable – Pete entered the ‘Best Beard’ Competition and was very pleased to come in 2nd place.

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clockwise from left; Micklegate, Emblem of the City of York, Jorvik Vikings
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clockwise from left; Hnefetavl (Viking Chess), Pete as Dick Turpin, Second Place in Jovik Best Beard Competition

March – Chickens!

Since we moved to Wales in 2013 we have toyed with the idea of getting chickens and in March Pete decided to go for it, built a coop with help from a friend and then bought us four hens from a local farm. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but it’s actually been really enjoyable to keep them. It took a few months before they started laying eggs but we haven’t been short of eggs since.

Since we got the first four hens our flock has now grown to 8 with the addition of a cockerel who we hatched from an egg ourselves, two hens that were a gift from a neighbour and one more hen who we rehomed from a colleague of Pete’s who was having to move away and couldn’t take the hen with him.

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The Original flock
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Chipper – Our very own hatchling. Clockwise from top right; hatching day, one day old and four weeks old
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clockwise from top right; me with Chipper at 4 weeks, Mabel & Beauregard, Chipper at 2 and a half months

March-April – A Hen-do & Wedding

At the end of March I went on my first ever hen-do for my good friend Laura. We had a great day and night out in Oxford, starting with a walking tour, then lunch and drinks, followed by cocktail making, a late night tour of the castle then on for more cocktails all followed up with afternoon tea the following day. It was lovely to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen in ages and to let my hair down a bit!

Although it was a bit of a trek down from Wales to Oxford I returned the following weekend, this time with Pete, to celebrate the wedding days itself!

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Obligatory Hen-do accessories, Cocktail Making, Afternoon Tea

June – Northumberland

In June we went away to Northumberland for a week with my parents and our dogs. We stayed in a lovely cottage near the ‘village’ of Twice Brewed which was within walking distance of part of Hadrian’s Wall. We had (mostly) great weather and spent lots of time out and about and did lots of walking, I clocked more than 100,000 steps on my FitBit and we tired the dogs out thoroughly.

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Playing Shield-Maiden at Homesteads Roman Fort, Alfred owning Hadrian’s Wall, The Sycamore Gap in Hadrian’s Wall near our cottage
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Ruins of Thirlwall Castle, Molly enjoying the sunshine and a sheep outside the garden wall
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Lindisfarn Castle, Cragside, Bamburgh Castle
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Walking along Hadrian’s Wall and a very tired dog

July – Croatia

For the past three years Pete’s research has required him to spend around 3 months every summer living in Croatia and for the first time in 2016 we actually managed to find a mutually convenient time, and the money, for me to go out and see him. So, despite being terrified of flying on my own, I headed out for a week at the end of July which also happened to include my birthday! It was far from a ‘normal’ holiday, but I was expecting that, staying in an old house in the middle of nowhere with no mains anything – water from a tank that needed to be kept topped up, gas from bottles and the only electricity from a car battery in the main living room. I had the best time and it made the summer apart from Pete and Alf so much easier.

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Me & Pete, My accommodation, The meadow next to the house
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Radio Tracking, Croatian Lunch and a baby Salamander
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Plitvice Lakes 
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Clockwise from left; Lake, Birthday wine and epic food

September – Wedding Weekend

Just after Pete returned from Croatia in September we had a mission of a weekend attending two weddings nearly 300 miles apart. It was important to us to be able to attend both so we didn’t mind making the effort to get to both. It was a lovely weekend with great weather on both days and two lovely (and very different) ceremonies. It was strange that having had very few friends get married we had 3 this year, that combined with 2 babies in our close friendship group probably suggests we’ve got to ‘that stage’ in life (not planning on following suit ourselves mind!).

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Wedding Number 1 – tipis in a field in Yorkshire
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Wedding Number 2 – Pete as an Usher at a Church Wedding in Hampshire

Well that’s ended up being quite a lot longer than I expected, but enjoyable for me to look back at all the pictures we’ve taken over the past year. It’s not that nothing good has happened since September, but I thought I’d better reel myself in before this becomes even more of a mammoth post than it is already!

I’ve been saying this for a fair while now, but I really do hope to get back into blogging properly so hopefully this will just be the first of many 2017 posts!

For now I’ll leave you and say Thank You to everyone who made my 2016 so great, and to everyone who might still be reading this.

Happy New Year,

Love

Betty

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Baby’s 0th Birthday

This is the cake I baked for my friends new baby girl, to celebrate her 0th birthday! Although she was due yesterday, she actually arrived seven and a half weeks ago, taking everyone very much by surprise. Her parent decided to throw her a little party on her due date which was handy as little Lois even arrived before we’d managed to throw a baby shower for her mum!
I could have gone with a tried and tested recipe that I knew like the back of my hand, but I came across a recipe for a gorgeous looking Double Chocolate Fudge Cake in the Tesco Real Food online magazine a few days ago that I knew I had to have a go at! It’s the cake on the cover and can be found on page 10.

It wasn’t a particularly hard recipe. The cake itself was really easy and baked really well, even in my rubbish oven. It smelled awesome and was lovely and moist and spongy, like a good cake should be!
The filling and frosting were slightly more tricky.
Inside there is a white chocolate filling, made from white chocolate, butter (I used a dairy free spread), and icing sugar. Making it wasn’t really the problem, but applying it was! As soon as I put it on it just ran everywhere, straight down the sides of the cake and all over the tin lid it was sat on! I did the best I could in scraping it back up and putting in back in the cake. It did begin to set after a while and but there was no where near as much inside as there should have been.
I had exactly the same problem with the chocolate ganache frosting. I made it up fine, then left it to cool, hoping it would thicken up and be spreadable, but even after an hour when it was stone cold, it was still really thin and runny. It may have been partly my fault as I used reduced soy milk instead of cream, I’m not sure. I even tried reheating it to reduce it further, but it was still runny. In the end I bit the bullet and started applying it to the cake really slowly and thinly, in the hope that it would set better that way. As with the white chocolate, it ran a lot. Fortunately applying it slowly did help a bit, a lot did stay on the top, but a fair amount just ran straight down the sides as well. At this point I was getting really pissed off and had to take a break to avoid throwing the whole thing straight in the bin.
However, after my little time out, I came back to it an noticed that the frosting that had collected on the tin around the cake was setting – so I grabbed by spatula and started scraping the frosting off the base and spreading it onto the sides of the cake. I continued pouring the ganache over the cake, letting it run, set, then spreading it back on the cake. It was a long and messy process, but did finally work, as my pictures testify!
I have to say, I was terrified the whole time between finishing it and getting it to the party that I’d open the tin and just find all the ganache had decided not to play ball and run back off the cake. Luckily, it made it there intact and everyone said it was really good. I’ve had a fair few chocolate fudge cakes in my time and I really liked this one, even if I do say so myself!
I’ll still want to use soy milk next time, as my boyfriend doesn’t eat dairy, but I’ll reduce it a lot more before I even start. I think I might also try pouring both the icing mixes onto a baking tray and see if it sets before I try putting them on the cake.

This might make it sound like a nightmare recipe, but, once it was done I wasn’t sorry I’d tried. It definitely tasted like it was worth the effort 🙂

Sorry I’ve been a bit absent lately. I’ve had a pretty epic piece of work to finish, which has sapped all my energy, motivation and inspiration for blogging. I finally submitted it this morning, so I hope to get a few posts in over the weekend 🙂
Thank you all for still reading and hello to all my new followers! I’m at 95 now, which amazes me! I will have to start thinking about a 100 follower giveaway!

Love

Taste the Rainbow (Cake)

Note: This is not a post about Skittles, although Skittles are great!

Yesterday was my boyfriend Pete’s 25th Birthday 🙂 He was working all day, which was a bit sad for me (although he loves it as he works with dogs at the Blue Cross), but that gave me plenty of time to prepare a special birthday evening for the two of us.
My main task was baking him a birthday cake. He always says he’s not a big cake fan, but a birthday cake is a necessary part of a birthday as far as I’m concerned (plus I love cake and baking). I had decided exactly what kind of cake I was going to bake ages ago, it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time – Rainbow Cake!
I was a bit nervous about it all going horribly wrong, but it was actually surprisingly easy. The main drawback for me was that I only own one circular cake tin, so had to bake each layer one at a time :/

(This is actually a slightly adjusted recipe from the one I used, as next time I’d prefer a bit more cake batter to work with.)

A few additional points;

  • Although the number of colours might look intimidating, remember – you can mix your own, so you only really need a red, yellow and blue, then mix the green (blue & yellow), orange (red & yellow) an purple (red & blue) yourself!
  • I used a silicone cake ‘tin’ which I very lightly oiled to be extra sure the cake didn’t stick. If you’re using a metal cake tin remember to grease and line to avoid sticking.
  • Keep an extra close eye on your layers as they’re much thinner than a standard cake. My oven is poor so takes longer than most :/ Bake until the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed or a cocktail stick/skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow cake to cool slightly before removing from tin, then leave to cool fully on a cake rack before frosting
  • As usual, I cheated on the frosting and used Betty Crocker’s Vanilla Frosting which I got from Tesco, but you can get a much greater range of flavours and alternative brands on AmericanSweets.com A lot of these frosting’s are ‘accidentally vegan’ as they contain nothing even close to an animal (or natural!) ingredient, but do be careful to check ingredients as not all brand/flavours are vegan suitable. For my cake I used around a can and a half of frosting to frost between layers and all around the outside – for this modified recipe it might be closer to 2.
We had a lovely evening. Pete got to open all his presents – I got him lots of sweets and biscuits (all suitable for his cow-product-free diet), lots of books, some comics and a torc bangle from St Justin Jewellery. I think he was pretty happy with his haul. I cooked duck legs (£2.50 for 2 in Tesco!) with hoi sin noodles, followed by the cake, then we chilled out with beer/wine and watched Ironclad- the DVD his brother bought for him 🙂
I’m very glad he had a good birthday evening 🙂 It all makes me excited for my birthday though – shame that’s still five and a half months away!!
Hope you’re all having a good weekend,
Let me know if you have a go at the rainbow cake. I promise it is easier than it looks, it’s more about time than skill.
Love,

Fun House

“Fun House, A Whole Lot Of Fun, Prizes To Be Won, It’s A Real Crazy Show Where Anything Goes”

Remember the 90’s kids show Fun House? I loved that show, and this weekend I came the closest I ever will to being a contestant on that show (given I’m 26 years old and it was cancelled in 1999), when a friend decided to hold her 25th birthday celebrations at Playzone, Portsmouth!
For those of you who don’t know; Playzone is a massive indoor soft play centre filled with slides and nets and bridges and all sorts of structures for climbing on/jumping off. While it’s primary target audience is toddlers and children, there are weekly adult sessions or you can hire the whole place out over night for parties, complete with laserquest, buffet, breakfast, and you can provide your own alcohol (by arrangement).

The Playzone session kicked off at 9.30 and, after a brief safety talk (mostly common sense stuff) we were let loose in the play area! Everyone ran off in a suitably child-like manner, all in different directions to discover all there was play on!
It didn’t take long for the boys to gather at the top of the red slide, which was practically vertical most of the way down, goading and challenging each other to take the leap. Then, after they’d all done it, they moved onto the girls. I’m pretty pleased to say that, after a little bit of sitting on the edge Oh-My-God-ing and deep breathing, I did have a go. I did not enjoy it one bit, it was awful! Some people seemed to love it and used it repeatedly, once was more than enough for me, but at least I had a go! I don’t know how kids do it, it must be so much more intimidating for them.

Rope Swings, Fireman’s Pole, Rope Bridge

The tame Rainbow Slide, Blue Slide with Ball Pit and Terrifying Red Slide

Human Mangle

Fun in the ball pit

In all honesty, it was thoroughly knackering, and I didn’t even throw myself into it as much as some people! After about an hour and a half some of us were definitely flagging, me included. That place is better than the gym for burning calories! I’ not going to need to exercise all week.
As the birthday girl was a primary school teacher, there were a fair few well organised games going on, although I decided to sit out for a bit as running around fuelled by rum and coke (and having had an upset stomach most of the day) had left me feeling a little peaky. I suspect tucking into the kids party style cold buffet didn’t do much to help that either (cold pizza, cold sausage rolls, cold cocktail sausages, ham sandwiches, egg sandwiches, dairylea sandwiches….).
A bit of a break did me good and by 1am, when the Laserquest session began, I was ready to play again! We played a total of three laserquest games, two where it was everyman for himself and one where we were in teams. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t exactly the highest scoring player but I was on the winning team for the last game (although my actual contribution was minimal).
Time for sleeping was minimal, after all the games and time for people to calm down, it was after 4am before I got to sleep and we were woken slightly before 6 by an announcement that breakfast was being cooked. I managed to drag myself out of my sleeping bag, ate a sausage bap then headed out as the staff needed to clean up before the kids session started at 8am (I do not envy that job).
I slept most of the day on Sunday and ache like hell today, but some of the others must surely feel worse the way they threw themselves into out, coming out complete with cuts and bruises. Overall, it was a fun night and definitely not your standard 25th birthday celebration. Plus for £40 per person for a full night of entertainment complete with food (even if it wasn’t exactly gourmet), it wasn’t exactly too expensive.

If you get the chance to go to one of these parties, or need inspiration for your next birthday, I would definitely recommend something like this.

Hope your weekend was fun, if not as active!
Betty
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