March 2014

March 2014

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New year's day macaroons

As my parting shot for 2012 I thought I would share with you my recipe for Sparkly Pink Almond Macaroons. What could be better than a plate of these easy pretty biscuits to accompany a shared cup of tea or coffee when visitors call on New Year’s day?  They would equally make a lovely girly foodie gift at any other time of year.
2 egg whites
225g golden caster sugar
125g ground almonds
¼ tsp almond extract
25 blanched almonds
pink food colouring and pink edible sparkles (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180C (fan oven 160C) mark 4. Then line baking trays with edible rice paper. Whisk the egg whites in a clean grease-free bowl until stiff peaks form. Using a large metal spoon, gradually fold in the sugar, then gently stir in the ground almonds and almond extract to make a firm paste. Finally, if liked, tint the mixture to a strong pink colour.
Spoon teaspoons of the mixture on to the baking trays, spacing them well apart. Press an almond into the centre of each one and bake for 12-15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheets for 10 minutes to harden slightly, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Trim off rice paper edges and sprinkle, if liked, with edible sparkles. On cooling these biscuits have a soft, chewy centre. Once made, eat within 1 week and store in an airtight container or wrap in cellophane as a gift.
Makes approximately 20.
Around 80 calories per biscuit
A very happy munching New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"It's the most wonderful time of the year"

Frangipane mince pies
As the Andy Williams old song goes.....
"It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"
It's the most wonderful time of the year......
Reindeer - ready for action
And now I feel that I am just about ready for the festivities to begin. Yesterday we even visited some reindeer temporarily housed at our local garden centre. The staff confidently told us that they would only stay until they were needed on December 24th. Aaaaaargh!

Home-made gifts
Today I put together the various home-made items that I have produced as gifts for family and friends – Cranberry vodka, Cinnamon and apple room fresheners, pink macaroons, Christmas cakes for one and, I didn’t forget the pets, carrot, cheese and parsley bone-shaped biscuits.

Who's a good boy then!
 We then spent a happy hour or two this morning delivering our seasonal goodies – Jasper (a retriever) especially enjoyed his early present - before finally returning home to produce my ‘Bake ahead Christmas mince pies’.

Mince pies ready for the oven
This year, I decided to make them slightly differently in that I used a sweet short-crust pastry for the bottom, added a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat, before finally topping with a frangipane mixture studied with marzipan. Flaked almonds completed the assembly. The wonderful aroma of warm spices filled the kitchen and I am pleased with the result.

Yes.....It's the most wonderful time of the year
There'll be much mistletoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It's the most wonderful time of the year”

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bake ahead Christmas - Part III - a biscuit tree

What a merry time we had last weekend with friends making biscuits to produce a Christmas tree tower. Our husbands gallantly used their good right arms to do the mixing of a simple sweet dough recipe:

300g unsalted butter, softened
300g caster sugar
2 small eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
600g plain flour, sifted

and we used Lakeland 3d Christmas cookie cutters to make the shapes. When baked and cooled I covered the biscuit stars in rolled fondant icing, brushed all over some edible glitter and decorated the edges with silver balls. I actually thought it might turn out to look like the leaning tower of Pisa but, as you can see, it is fairly straight and ready for the festive table.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bake ahead Christmas Part II – mini Christmas cakes

I couldn’t resist making some individual Christmas cakes this year as gifts. They are so simple to make but pretty when complete and popped into a cellophane bag, decorated with festive ribbon and tagged.

The amount of mixture to fill 8 paper cups is the same as required for an 8” cake tin. So, just use your favourite fruit cake recipe or, if preferred, why not make a sponge base? Both of these mixtures cook perfectly well in paper cups and, in fact, the thickness of the paper cup is a bonus when baking fruit cake with a high sugar content as it helps it not to burn.

I lined my cups with muffin cases, stood them in a deep bun tray to keep them upright, and baked the mini cakes for around 1 hour or so at 140C (fan) 150C gas 2-3 but tested them with a skewer and made sure that this came out clean.

Once out of the oven and cooled I tipped the cakes out of the cups and trimmed the muffin cases to below the cake height to neaten. The cakes were then placed back in the paper cups ready for decoration.

I brushed the cake tops with apricot jam and placed on top a circle of rolled out marzipan. Finally I topped everything with a circle of rolled fondant icing and decorated with a fondant snowflake which had been brushed with edible glitter.

Yes, good things do come in small packages.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Good Food in winter

Cakes at the NEC

It has been a busy few days. At the end of November I took hubby to the Good Food Winter Show at the NEC Birmingham and we both thoroughly enjoyed our day out. It wasn’t too busy and the exhibition was well planned with loads of interesting stands to visit.  Samples of food and drink were in abundance and it was perfectly possible to nibble and sip your way around the centre without having to resort to the usual exhibition catering. Nevertheless, us ‘old fogies’ need to get off our feet every now and then and so it was a welcome relief to sit and watch the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards ceremony in the theatre. The awards were hosted by Valentine Warner and Sheila Dillon and it was a humbling experience to see and hear the back-stories behind each winner. We also saw many ‘food celebs’, including Angela Hartnett, Paul Hollywood and Raymond Blanc, present the accolades. It was a thought-provoking hour and with new ideas and new enthusiasm I am so grateful that these entrepreneurs bring such exciting food and drink items to our tables.

Watching Brendan Lynch of GBBO fame.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Make ahead Christmas

What a delightful couple of hours I spent today making marzipan fruits with two friends. We sat at a kitchen table, swapping news of family, with each of us engrossed in sweet production. Memories of childhood and cake making were explored and the ‘fruits’ of our labours looked a real treat when we had finished.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Clandestine Cake Club - Northampton & District

What a fantastic round of drinks the aptly-titled cakes made at our Boozy Bakes event this week. I think we all must have raided our own drinks cabinets and discovered some of the left-over dregs from Christmas 2011 to include in this month’s baking!  Anyway, the results were amazing, as always, and I am so grateful to the following attendee bakers for making my drive home just a blur and this morning’s headache a fond remembrance!

Lorraine - Gin and tonic cake
Helen - Chocolate Guiness cake
Laura - Cointreau cake
Christine - Coffee and Tia Maria cake
Julie - Amaretto cake
Marian – Grand Marnier bundt cake
Mary-Jane – Chocolate and Amaretto cake
Mark – Chocolate Guiness cake
Marie – Amarula cake
Tina – Banana and Drambuie cake
Carmela – Christmas rum and orange liqueur cake
Lisa – Coconut and Malibu cake
Debbie – Tiramisu cake with Tia Maria and Brandy
Gillian – Pina Colada cake

Thanks, too, to the Yeoman of England pub/restaurant in Wootton village who hosted our meeting. The Manager and staff couldn’t have been more welcoming and, as they have asked us to book again, we look forward to returning there sometime in 2013.

Bottoms up!

(Further photos taken at this event can be seen on shortly).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New TV programme

Bedfordshire clanger

If, like me, you have an interest in everything to do with baking, have you heard that there is to be a new TV programme starting on Monday, 26th November? It is scheduled for ITV 1 between 4.00 and 5.00pm each weekday, running for 4 weeks, and is entitled ‘Britain’s Best Bakery’.
More than a food competition, this series will be a celebration of bakeries across the UK, the delicious goods that they produce, their regional specialities and their centuries of old baking heritage. Critics will be sampling the delicacies of the country’s favourite independent, family run and community bakeries, tasting their way through breads, cakes, pastries and pies.
The shortlisted bakeries will also compete in a series of baking challenges that put their skills to the test and the programme will also reveal the heart-warming stories of the bakeries and the people who lovingly create and bake within them.
I’ll be watching, or recording it, will you?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bake ahead Christmas

Well, I hate to remind you but with the days shortening and with a nippy start to the mornings, we are heading downhill or uphill – whichever way you believe it so - to Christmas.
This year I am going to try and get organised with one or two tasty and perfect treats to bake ahead of time and freeze - ready to pop in the oven over the festive period.
Like most of us, I so look forward to the British apple season. There is nothing like biting into a juicy, crisp and slightly sharp fruit.  However, in my fruit bowl yesterday, I had two forlorn-looking Cox’s apples left and, on the spur of the moment, decided to incorporate these into a Christmas bun recipe. This is one I will definitely bake ahead for my family.
So, like me, go on - spoil those around you – make now, freeze the buns and warm through for breakfast on Christmas morning and fill the kitchen and house with the glorious and intoxicating smells of warm fruit and spices. There’s nothing better!
350g strong white bread flour
7g easy-blend dried yeast
1 large egg
100g butter
200g marzipan, grated
2 eating apples – peeled, cored and cut into small pieces
75g raisins
1 tsp ground mixed spice
Icing sugar
In a mixing bowl, place flour, yeast and sugar. Make a well in the centre and add the egg. Melt the butter, then make up to 175ml with warm water. Add to the bowl and bring the mixture together to form a soft dough.

Knead on lightly floured surface for 10 minutes or so until smooth and elastic. Place in a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave until the dough has doubled in size.

Meanwhile, line a shallow 23cm tin with baking parchment.

When dough is ready, tip it out onto floured surface and knead again for 1 minute. Then roll the dough out to a 50 x 15cm rectangle. Scatter over the marzipan, and apples. Mix the spice with raisins and sprinkle over the apples. Starting from the long edge, roll up the dough into a long, thin sausage shape.

Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 10 even-sized pieces and place them with their cut sides face-up in the prepared tin. Cover loosely with clingfilm and leave to rise again for about an hour or until the buns are tightly packed in the tin.

Bake for about 30 minutes in a 200C oven – gas mark 6 – until a deep golden colour. Leave in the tin for 15minutes and then tip onto a wire rack to cool. When ready to serve, dust with icing sugar or make up a small quantity of runny icing and drizzle over.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Raspberry muffins

Question – “What can I bake this weekend that is not wickedly indulgent but satisfies my need to fill the kitchen with warm aromas of something fresh and satisfying from the oven?.”

Answer – “The easiest cakes I ever cook - which can come in all kinds of mouth-watering flavours - and can be made occasionally to be quite 'virtuous'.  Of course, it must be American-style muffins.

Recipes for these little cakes are numerous but, today, I wanted to keep to the lower fat version using buttermilk and some raspberries that had been reduced to £1 in the supermarket.  Well.....we all like a bargain!

Sadly, it is no longer easy to find churn buttermilk. Years ago local butter producers would sell the liquid left after butter churning, which resulted in an almost fat-free product. Today most modern buttermilk is cultured, i.e. factory-made using a fermentation process with very low-fat milk. The resulting product is thicker than traditional buttermilk but can be used in the same way for making excellent pancakes, scones, soda bread, and more......including muffins.

My low-fat (0.75g saturated fat per cake and 170 calories) raspberry muffin recipe uses:
275g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
115g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 carton buttermilk (around 280ml)
4 tbsp rapeseed oil (or other healthy oil)
150g raspberries (or other fruit)
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 200c (or 190c fan) and line a muffin tin with 12 cases. Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl, stir in the sugar, then make a well in the centre.

Mix the egg, buttermilk and oil together in a separate bowl, pour into the flour mixture and mix quickly.

Add the raspberries and lightly fold in with a metal spoon. (Do not over-mix – it’s OK for it to be a bit lumpy.) Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake for around 25 mins until golden brown and firm in the middle. Transfer to a wire rack and when cool dust liberally with icing sugar.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Clandestine Cake Club

Veggie cakes

The Northampton & District branch of the Clandestine Cake Club met this week at Irchester Bowling Club for an ‘Eat your greens’ themed October event.
Using hidden vegetables in cakes was the order of the day and surprise, surprise our bakers turned up trumps again with their veggielicious sweet offerings.
Nearly forty members and guests attended together with our VIP guest Ben Frazer – a 2011 contestant from the ‘Great British Bake Off’ TV programme and owner of Northampton-based Cupcake Artisan -  who kindly also brought with him a batch of delicious ‘secret ingredient’ cupcakes for us all to try.
During the first half of the meeting we sampled about 20 beautiful and inventive bakes and a fun competition took place to guess the hidden vegetable – all so abundant at this time of year.  I can now tell you that sales must have gone up in our area this past week of marrows, sweet potatoes, carrots, courgettes, butternut squashes, pumpkins, beetroot, parsnips, swede and even sauerkraut (cabbage) – I hope I haven’t forgotten any!
As the evening progressed Ben shared with everyone just how his involvement with GBBO took place last year and the delights and downfalls of the programme. He also answered many of the nagging baking questions our members asked like ‘Why does my fruit sink’, ‘Does he like to use silicone moulds’ and, of course, ‘How to avoid a soggy bottom’!

Our local Clandestine Cake Club continues to steadily grow and - just like our vegetables - this can only be good for you! And so, until next time......’Eat your greens’.

(Further photographs of the event can be seen shortly on the main website)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

National Baking Week

I suspect most of us have cookery books that we hardly ever open, simply because they are precious and exciting when first bought but now just nestle amongst newer volumes on the shelf. I suspect, too, that I am not alone in reading not a novel but something culinary whilst in bed - before the lights are turned out – or sitting on the sofa with one eye scanning a recipe book, whilst the other is watching TV or, hands up, I confess here and now to taking the latest food magazine into the bathroom with me! Does this make me a ‘foodie’?

Anyway....I have resolved to actually use a recipe each month from a volume that I haven’t opened of late and, for National Baking Week in October 2012, I made some shortbread and ‘Dark Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies’ from Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book which was first published in 1994.

Mary’s book contains over 200 classic recipes and, on reflection, is just as ‘current’ and useful to me as it was when first bought.  The recipes cover all areas - cakes, bakes and biscuits for every possible occasion – and you can almost hear Mary’s calm and authoritative voice when you read the easy and informative chapters on method, equipment, ingredients, etc.
And, finally, a note to self - shall I put Mary back on the shelf next to Paul Hollywood, or would she like to stay a little longer on the bedside table? What a dilemma!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I love Sunday mornings

I love Sunday mornings – a lazy breakfast, followed by the ‘Kitchen Garden’ show on BBC Radio Northampton. However, prior to today’s show, the weather forecast predicted frost tonight and so I was galvanised into action to pick the last fruits and vegetables in the garden before they could be spoiled. To my amazement, I managed to gather a motley harvest of a kilo or so of fruit and vegetables - green tomatoes, red tomatoes, peppers and cultivated blackberries. Now what to do with it? Out came the preserving pan and my trusty chutney recipe.
Ready to eat!
The recipe calls for just green tomatoes but, over the years, I have found that a mix of ‘soft’ veggie varieties – like courgettes - can be used just as successfully, as well as ‘topping up’ the amounts with apple,  pear or, as today, blackberries. I also didn’t have time to ‘brine’ them overnight either but salted the prepared ingredients for several hours before cooking. What could be better than home-made chutney accompanied by some strong cheddar and warm, just out of the oven, savoury scones? Yum!
Here’s the chutney recipe:
·        2.5kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped
·        0.5kg onions, finely sliced
·        4 tsp salt
·        1L malt vinegar
·        0.5kg soft light brown sugar
·        250g sultanas, roughly chopped
·        3 tsp / 15g ground pepper

Finely slice the onions and washed green tomatoes and place them in a large bowl and stir. Add the 4 teaspoons of salt, stir again and then cover with food wrap or a large plate and leave overnight. This will draw out lots of the tomato juices and help enhance the flavours.

The next day:
Place the litre of vinegar into a large pan. Add the 500g of light brown soft sugar and stir over a medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved.
Roughly chop the sultanas then add to the simmering vinegar and sugar.
Remove the cover from the tomatoes and onions that you've left overnight. Drain well but do not rinse.  Add to the vinegar mix plus 3 teaspoons/15g pepper.

Bring to a gentle boil. Then turn down to a simmer and cook gently until thick and brown.
Stir occasionally.

When your chutney has reduced by almost half, and is thick with hardly any liquid left, it is ready to pot.

Spoon the hot chutney into sterilised jars.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A weekend 'Up North'.

It seems ages ago that I received a message from Lynn Hill – founder of the Clandestine Cake Club – with an invitation to join others at An Organiser’s Group (AOG) day in her hometown of Leeds, but the summer sped away and the date, 29th September, came around swiftly. Hubby Bernard and I planned a long weekend away around the date and we set off with our ‘things to do’ list and the trusty satnav pointed us in the right direction.

Our first stop on the agenda was Hardwick Hall – of ‘more glass than wall’ fame – and we were not to be disappointed. This Elizabethan National Trust property, near Chesterfield, is a stunning house set in the most beautiful countryside. It was Bess of Hardwick’s masterpiece of an idea to construct the building and, to this day, it is a living memorial to such a formidable woman who died centuries ago. We toured the various upstairs rooms  – with walls covered from ceiling to floor in the finest of tapestries – before, finally, venturing ‘below stairs’ to the servants’ working areas and my particular interest - the kitchen. It was so interesting to be able to see and touch the huge ranges which must have cooked the most sumptuous meals of their day. What sweet creations were produced? The glorious copper pots and pans gleamed in the sunlight that streamed in through the windows, and I wonder whether these cooking vessels looked so magnificent and untarnished in the 1600s?
On Saturday morning, at the Queens Hotel, I joined approximately 60 other CCC organisers for the first ever joint meeting. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was given a ‘full to the brim’ goody bag filled with items donated by Kenwood, Steenbergs, Renshaws, Kitchen Craft, Eddingtons, George-East and Creative Party, before making my way to a vacant space. Thanks to my new table companions - organisers from Lancaster, Cottingham East Yorkshire and Newark & Sherwood - the day passed quickly in a blur of cake chat and cake eating. It was a real pleasure to meet Lynn Hill in the flesh - we had only emailed each other up to this time. She is such a hard-working inspiration and I am so pleased that her baby of an idea has grown into a fully-fledged and thriving community of bakers.  It was a huge success and I hope it will be repeated in 2013.
Sunday took us to Harrogate – a town that has long been on my wish list of places to visit. It was a blustery, rainy sort of day but we enjoyed walking around the town and diving into the various shops to miss the showers. Of course (can a duck swim!), we couldn’t miss the opportunity of sampling afternoon tea at Betty’s.
We were shown to our pre-booked table which looked out to the park below. Outside, passers-by looked like Lowry characters as they leaned into the wind with their umbrellas almost blowing inside out but we, warmed by the aroma of tea and cake, felt particularly pampered. A pianist played whilst we were served the most delicious finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, together with small morsels of delicate patisserie to follow. Pots and jugs of tea and coffee flowed in abundance, brought by ever-helpful staff – just a perfect and delightful treat of an experience.

Homeward bound the next day we detoured a little and visited Chatsworth in Derbyshire, which also has a connection with the Countess of Shrewsbury, i.e. Elizabeth (Bess) of Hardwick. Yet another magnificent stately pile that has survived the test of time and continues to be a ‘home’ for the present Devonshire family.
I wonder where the love of all things cake will take me next?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cake and Bake Show - more lowlights than highlights

Mary Berry with Alistair Appleton

The first ever eagerly anticipated Cake and Bake show took place last weekend at Earls Court in London. I had bought tickets some time ago, along with my daughter Laura and her mother-in-law Chris and we expected a full day of baking demonstrations, sampling and shopping.
Unfortunately, it seemed that the trade stands were dominated by the art of sugarcraft - which didn’t particularly interest us – as well as the ever popular cupcake wrappers, boxes, sprinkles, etc. We were therefore disappointed that the general alchemy of cake-making seemed to be missing along with the equipment and utensils to aid in their production.
We felt that the exhibition layout wasn’t wonderful and navigating the awkward shape with an oversized programme and map wasn’t easy in the overcrowded areas. Indeed, for the first few hours, in most cases stands were 6-deep in ticket-holders and therefore it was impossible to view any of the items being demonstrated or for sale. Stands also ran out of promotional items before we got to them and, in fact, shut-up shop early.
Sadly, we felt that the Earls Court organisation wasn’t up to scratch either – long, long queues at the entrance, long, long queues in the refreshment areas – which were overpriced and under-stocked – and, of course, long, long queues for the loos.

Edd Kimber

During the afternoon we did manage to glimpse Eric Lanlard in the distance on the Baking Mad stand, saw Patissier Claire Clark, and Edd Kimber (of Great British Bake Off fame) signed a book for me before we ventured over to the Demonstration Kitchen and were lucky enough to see Mary Berry demonstrate three of her recipes. She was introduced by Alistair Appleton– sometimes seen on Escape to the Country – and was joined towards the end by Paul Hollywood.

As the crowds thinned at the close of the day it was then possible to take another, this time ‘breathable’, tour of the exhibition but the disappointment lingered and it was difficult to drum up further enthusiasm. I wonder if others felt the same?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Northampton & District Clandestine Cake Club 'Vanilla' meeting

I wonder how many of us actually enquire where – or which country - we get our baking ingredients from or, indeed, how they are produced? With this in mind, it was a great starting point for our CCC meeting, on 20th September, to utilise the flavour of  ‘vanilla’ in our cakes, which our local member, Vanessa Kimbell, knew something about following her recent visit to Fairtrade Ndali in Uganda.
We met at member Marian’s beautiful village home on the outskirts of Northampton and an enormous thank you must be expressed to her for hosting our meeting. Two huge tables were set beautifully and the tea, coffee, cold drinks, and natter flowed throughout the evening. Our donations for the refreshments were donated by Marian to her personal charity.
During the evening, Vanessa enlightened us about her own first-hand experience of vanilla production and a cookery book swap took place, with the proceeds being used to assist a Ugandan child in her schooling. Our cakes came, as usual, in all shapes and sizes, with accompaniments of cream, soft fruit and even vanilla vodka (mmmmm..... a nice surprise!). Take a look at the photo, close your eyes, and just imagine the scent and flavour of all those confections! It was another wonderful CCC event.
Further photos can be found shortly on the CCC website:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No yeast flatbread

I enjoy cooking but there are times when I run out of steam and, during these moments, I think the hardest part of delivering a meal each day is, in fact, making the decision of what to actually prepare! This weekend was such a time and I thought it would be nice, perhaps foolishly, to include my husband in the Saturday night dinner decision and preparation process to get me over this ‘hump’.  He gallantly took the bait and we prepared together - for the first time ever - a meal consisting of white anchovies steeped in vinegar and herbs with a beetroot and carrot salad as a starter, then a main course of chicken tikka masala with a green salad, all accompanied by our own delicious home-made flatbread. I shouldn’t have been concerned at all - it turned out to be so successful and easy.
The recipe below is straightforward and can be doubled to make a big batch for a larger crowd. You can also freeze them and, when needed, simply defrost thoroughly and warm through in the oven wrapped in foil.
250g self-raising flour
½ tablespoon sea salt
½ tablespoon baking powder
250g natural yoghurt

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in the centre and tip in the yoghurt. Mix to a dough. Dust your work surface with a little flour and knead for a minute to bring the dough together, then divide into 6 equal-sized pieces. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll the pieces of dough out into side-plate rounds.

Using a hot griddle pan, cook each flatbread for a couple of minutes per side, until slightly puffy and lightly charred.

PS My husband enjoyed helping so much that he told me that he will be making another batch – unaccompanied this time – very soon.  Now, maybe, I have to make a decision to turn-off the smoke alarm when he’s flying solo in the kitchen? Don't worry - only kidding!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

‘Good things’ do come in threes.

'Good thing’ number one. I had an unexpected knock on the door a few days ago from the postman. He didn't hand over any post but was thrilled to relay the news that a Mrs Gillian Tarry lived just round the corner - she at number 19 and me at number 29. So, you may ask, what’s this amazing bit of information all about? Well, for those that don’t know, my name is also Mrs Gillian Tarry! What a coincidence, someone with the same name living just doors away. Yesterday, whilst out walking past her house, I noticed a woman – about the same age as me – standing in the doorway of 29 and, you guessed it, I just couldn’t resist introducing myself. We chatted, very amicably, for quite a few minutes and I have resolved to add her to my Christmas card list – it will be fun sending one to Gillian Tarry from Gillian Tarry!

‘Good thing’ number two.  Am I the only shopper in any supermarket that finds the trolley with a wobbly front wheel that travels in only one direction? Today, however, I went shopping at our local Waitrose. On my way into the store I noticed a man, wearing a High-Viz jacket, putting a supermarket trolley through its paces. He wheeled it in one steady direction, then back and forth, before finally zig-zagging down the car park road. What on earth was happening? Well, the mystery was solved when he whipped out an aerosol can of WD-40, sprayed the rolling mechanism, and with triumphant gestures proclaimed the shopping carriage fit for use. Certainly, a ‘good thing’ that I have never before witnessed - I just wish they could now do something about the electric shocks that I have received on a regular basis from supermarket trolleys. Now, that’s another story!

‘Good thing’ number three. My nephew and his family, as well as our daughter and son-in-law, are coming to visit on Sunday and, thank goodness, the weather forecast is set fair. So.....afternoon tea in the garden will be the order of the day and I have decided to make a sultana and vanilla cake to accompany the usual sandwiches, and scones, etc. It’s a recipe that I haven’t tested before but it’s nice to sometimes experiment. It contains the usual store-cupboard ingredients and I will certainly be using rich and intense Ndali Fairtrade organic vanilla - now also available in powder form - which is grown in Uganda. If successful, I will include a photo here and, should you like to know the full list of ingredients and method, just ask.