A nice way to spend Sunday and how to make a fat-free, sugar-free, flour-free cake.

Strawberry or raspberry roulade

Roulade

I like Sundays. I like the fact that I don’t have to go to work (although very occasionally I swap with someone who wants a Sunday off. This means I get the Saturday off and I like non-working Saturdays even more than Sundays).

The day began with a lazy lie-in, but I was up in time to greet the Ocado delivery man at 9.30. It’s rare that I get my shopping delivered, mainly because I like food shopping, but a voucher for £15 off a £50 online shop, a whopping 30%, seemed too good to miss. By choosing some of the half price or two-for-one offers, I ended up with £69 worth of food for just £36. Given my recent ‘using up what I had in the freezer and cupboards’ challenge, I did need to do a bit of stocking up. I also popped to Tesco yesterday to buy a few things that I can only get there. Apart from fresh fruit and veg, milk and bread, I shouldn’t need to shop now for at least a couple of weeks.

Shopping put away I turned my thoughts to cooking. My eldest son and family (including three sons) were coming for tea – a little birthday tea for my grandson who had his second birthday whilst we were away last week. I never think of cooking as a chore; I find it quite relaxing.  I made a salmon, broccoli and potato bake and a rhubarb cake using the recipe for apple cake that I’ve been using for years. I substituted rhubarb for apple and ginger for cinnamon. It tasted fine but another time I think it needs a little more of each. For the baby, ten months old, I made a cheese and potato pie. Mummy had offered to bring something for him but I think if you invite people to tea, you should be prepared to feed them all! Then I made a salad including a ‘red slaw’ which consists of thinly shredded beetroot, red onion, red cabbage and balsamic vinegar. Very tasty! Also for the elder grandson (ten and a half) I cooked some baby sausages as I know he enjoys them.

Now to the unlikely sounding free from fat, sugar and flour cake which I also made today.  Trust me on this -it’s really not bad at all. I’ve served this to friends many times and they always seem happy to have a second piece!

Strawberry/raspberry Roulade :  Separate 4 eggs and beat whites until stiff.  Beat yolks and add 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder and 3-4 tablespoons sweetener. I don’t buy anything with aspartame sweetener so I use Natvia, a natural plant based sweetener. This definitely improves flavour of cake over the usual artificial taste. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla essence. Fold the yolk mixture into egg white. Spread over parchment lined Swiss roll tin. Bake at 160-180 for approx 15 mins. Cool, remove from tin and gently peel off paper. Spread with a small tub of 0% Total Greek yogurt* and cover with fresh strawberries or raspberries, crushing them slightly. Carefully roll it up. Sometimes it cracks, sometimes not. It will last in the fridge for a couple of days.  Defrosted raspberries may also be used but eat soon after as the juice is inclined to make the sponge soggy.

Natvia

*I must fly the flag here for Total yogurt. I not only use it in this roulade but in several other ways too.

  • As I dislike buttercream I make a delicious cake topping by mixing Total with icing sugar and coffee (just make sure you keep the cake in the fridge as the ‘icing’ is inclined to go a bit runny at room temperature).
  • Make a very quick mackerel pate by mashing a cooked smoked mackerel fillet with a squeeze of lemon juice and three tablespoons of Total. I like it coarse with flakes of mackerel but you could put it into a blender for a smoother finish.
  • Add to mashed potato to make it creamy without adding calorific butter.
  • As a substitute for cream in any recipe (quiche, creamy sauces etc.)

Total

I always made my children’s birthday cakes but I’m afraid I bought one for today. I wasn’t sure how I’d be fixed for time so ordered it from Ocado. Clearly, since I made the rhubarb one and the roulade, I could have made one but I have to say that we did enjoy the very chocolaty ‘Cedric the Caterpillar’. Grandson loved blowing the candles out. He is adorable but a very lively little boy so we were quite tired afterwards, but I just remember how it must be for his mum and dad who spend a lot more time with him, of course! I can’t help reminding my son that he was exactly the same and according to his other nanny, his mum was also a handful.  Is that what they call Karma?  The baby and the big boy are much quieter, calmer children, as were my other two.

I hope you’ve had a nice Sunday too.

What we did on our holidays

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This is the view from my bedroom window………I wish!  But it was for a few days.  We’ve been on holiday. Being rather fond of the Lake District we decided to spend this past week there. Having always stayed fairly central, we decided to find somewhere a little further south this time and booked a delightful little cottage not far from Cartmel and Grange-over-Sands, which strictly speaking, is not quite in the lake District but is right on the edge.
We found the cottage comfortable, very well maintained and boasting fabulous views. It is the owner’s own holiday cottage and she stays here regularly, which explains the homely touches and the well equipped kitchen; not that I had any great plans to cook very much. The only downside, and one which annoyed me rather more than I would have expected, was that it did not have wi-fi. I missed reading the blogs I follow and I missed being able to post on my own. I did manage one post a couple of days ago but it was difficult as the wi-fi in the cafe we were visiting was very slow and using my ipad for it wasn’t very satisfactory. Lesson learned!
We tend, on a self catering holiday, to eat out at lunchtime and enjoy a snack in the evening. Local cheeses usually feature so a visit to Cartmel Cheese was a must. We were a little disappointed as the young lady who served us did not seem to have very much knowledge of the cheeses she was selling. Her suggestion, in response to our request for a ‘really strong, mature cheddar’, was nice enough but actually fairly mild.  We did better with the Stilton. I know that the so-called artisan cheeses are costly but the prices in this shop were eye-watering so we didn’t indulge in the variety we had intended.
Located on the River Eea, Cartmel is famous for its sticky toffee pudding. Sold in Fortnum and Mason, Waitrose and upmarket delicatessens, the village shop started making it more than twenty years ago and it is still handmade in the village, though now in a larger kitchen.  I can confirm that it is every bit as delicious as expected!
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From Cartmel we drove to nearby Grange-over-Sands which grew from a small fishing village into a town with the advent of the Ulverston and Lancaster railway at the start of the Victorian era which allowed visitors, turning it into a popular holiday destination. Here we walked along the long promenade. Considering we are now in July I had expected to find somewhere a little livelier. It was very quiet. We walked along the very long promenade and through the very pretty public gardens.
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And then we went back to our temporary home and sat in the summerhouse which overlooks the Haverthwaite steam railway.

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In praise of seagulls

Bowness (1)
Located half way along Lake Windermere, Bowness on Windermere (as distinct from the village of  Windermere) is probably one of the most populated towns in the region.  It is undeniably touristy but the lakeside is very pretty and there is something about this place which brings us back on every visit to the area. People watching, boat watching (including the steamers which offer regular trips on Windermere) and choosing an ice cream from the thirty six flavours on offer at the Windermere ice cream company, are all rather addictive activities. On this occasion it’s tiramisu for me and Rum and raisin for husband.
From one of the many benches placed along the edge of the lake, we enjoy the sound of the water as it laps the shore. There is another sound which is forever associated with Bowness – the unmistakable seagulls’ call.

Whilst not wishing to diminish the sometimes devastating impact of living in close proximity to large flocks of gulls, (they have been known to physically attack people and fatally injure animals) I sometimes wonder if I am the only person in the world who has a good word to say for the much maligned seagull (a generic name to describe different types of gull). Variously, and reasonably, described as aggressive, scavenging and evil, these intelligent creatures are known to be diligent and caring parents. They are also incredibly loyal and a distress call by one gull will attract support from many others. We may not like the resulting onslaught of angry birds but what’s not to admire there? And how magnificently these handsome birds (for the gull is an extremely attractive specimen with its snow-white and silver grey plumage), gracefully hover, dip and swoop.

Their range of complex calls are incredibly evocative of childhood holidays and happy seaside days spent with my own children. I had a liking for the sound they made then and I still do. Whilst other students at university complained of unasked for early morning wake up calls,  I loved to watch them  congregate noisily along the banks of the River Severn.

The seagulls in Bowness are bold in the extreme, totally unfazed by the influx of visitors and they think nothing of swooping down to the edge of the lake to steal not only the inadvertently dropped chips and ice creams but to swipe food directly out of the hands of unsuspecting holidaymakers. This behaviour isn’t inherent so perhaps we should look to ourselves for the reasons. We’ve decimated the oceans, strewn our pavements with the detritus of late night fast food and provided a feast of unprecedented proportions by our reckless land-fill wastefulness.

There are calls for culling though urban gulls are currently protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It may not, in any case, be necessary; there exists seven species of gull common to the UK and it may surprise you to hear that their declining number of most of them is of concern to conservationists.

How rare the opportunity to photograph from above a bird in flight. This seagull picture was taken by my husband in Stockholm a couple of years ago.

Black gull 2

 

Hooray, it’s over!

Thank goodness for that – my shopping challenge is complete.

The last couple of weeks of trying to keep to a pre-determined spending limit in order to reduce my overstocked food supplies have proved very taxing indeed, not least because I’ve had food-shopping withdrawal symptoms! The £90 limit May challenge update and a new one for June was a step too far. Although I managed to keep on track during May, I struggled in June and ended up with a £31 deficit. I could have tried harder, I could have resisted a few of the purchases and we could have eaten a few odd combinations sans vegetables during the last week or so, but I just couldn’t do it.

The exercise has, however, proved that my shopping habits needed a serious overhaul and I believe that I have learned a valuable lesson in shopping more mindfully. There is still a fair amount of food left (especially cous cous which husband has now declared he doesn’t much like) both in the cupboards and freezer so, whilst not setting a stringent budget, I will build meals around the remaining items and look forward to restocking (more carefully) later in the month.

Although I got fed up, I do like a challenge so though I have no plans for a July, I’m thinking about what to do in August. Perhaps a commitment to try two new recipes a week, or maybe three no-meat days each week. What do you think?  Suggestions welcome.

 

Coffee cake disaster

Whilst no Mary Berry,  I know that I am a reasonably competent cake maker so glancing through the glass door of the oven this morning I had expected to see my two coffee cakes rising nicely and browning lightly. I’d no reason to think otherwise; it’s a tried and tested recipe that I have been using for years with no problems.  This was the sight that greeted me:

Coffee cake disaster 1

Should I leave it alone, let the loaf tin do its worst and save the round cake, or should I intervene and have two ruined cakes?  Thoughts of having to scrape burnt cake from the oven floor made me choose the second option.   I scraped away what I could (and took a quick photograph) and returned both cakes to the oven hoping that some miracle might occur. It didn’t.

Coffee cake disaster

I just don’t understand what went wrong because I made the same quantity as I always do and used the same tin. I even checked in the bin to make sure that I hadn’t inadvertently added the eggs twice!

Never one to waste food unnecessarily, I salvaged what was ok from the loaf cake and cut it up into chunks. These are now in the freezer awaiting inspiration – probably some kind of tiramisu-type pudding in due course.  Then I scooped out the centre of the round cake to half depth and filled it with coffee ‘cream’ . I make this by mixing icing sugar, coffee and Total 0% fat-free Greek yogurt as I don’t like butter or margarine. Then I popped the centre back on, put more of the ‘cream’ over it and decorated with walnuts. It doesn’t look up to much but husband will eat it quite happily!

This is the second time of late that something I have made previously without any trouble has gone wrong. A couple of weeks ago it was toad-in-the-hole which turned out heavy and solid. BUT ……. my daughter is staying for a couple of nights so who cares about cake or sausages in Yorkshire pudding  – I have my girl home for a little while and that’s one of the best things in the world.

 

‘Ast-cot’ Ladies Day

Ascot

Apologies for the fuzzy picture (but at least you can breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not your eyesight)! It is the only relevant one I have. I’m the one on the left with the black fascinator. If you know me you’ll notice that I’ve had my hair cut, much to the relief of my hairdresser daughter-in-law whose been telling me for ages that my shoulder-length style was a bad advert for her skills!

Yesterday was Ascot Ladies Day. Entry to the real event would have cost somewhat more than the £6.95 that my friends and I paid to attend ‘Ast-cot’, the mock-version held at  The Bell Inn in Astwood Bank (a village near to where I live).  They did us proud, as did the gym manager and her assistant who arranged the day and handled out bets – more of that in a moment. I love my gym – it’s so much more than a place to exercise.

Royal Ascot has been running as the kind of event we recognise since the early 18th century and in 1922 was described by a journalist from The Times as “the best place in England to see beautiful women in beautiful clothes.” Undoubtedly had he been in Astwood Bank yesterday, he’d have said the same!  In the early days hats were obligatory and the tradition seems to have endured with them becoming more elaborate (if not bizarre) year on year. None of our headgear fell into that category but we all looked jolly smart.

Our afternoon began with drinks followed by lunch and for our very reasonable ticket price we were offered five choices of both main course and dessert. Pub food it was, but very nice pub food; we really couldn’t fault it. I chose the breaded plaice and it must have been the largest piece I have ever been served!  The chips, peas and salad were also generous as were all the other options.  My trifle was home made and delicious too. Then we had coffee and mints.

A large-screen TV was set up on the bar and bets cost £1 per race. I got an insight into how people become hooked – it was so exciting! Which was a bit of a surprise because I’d really gone only for the lunch and a chat with friends. I’ve only been once to the races before and that was for a corporate event at Stratford race course – heavens, it was boring! Anyhow, our horses were picked for each race very unscientifically by drawing a number from a bucket. I don’t suppose this mattered since we all admitted that we had no idea about ‘form’ and ‘going’ (I’m wondering here how on earth I even know the terminology)! My horses won a second and a third place so my total winnings came to £9. Given that I spent £4.50 on drinks (I’m a very cheap date as I don’t drink alcohol), and £5 on bets, the net cost of my very enjoyable afternoon out was £7.45 – how about that for a bargain? Already looking forward to next year’s Ladies Day.

We also raised £40 for Cancer Research which is the gyms main charity. By the way, the recent quiz night which I mentioned in an earlier post raised a staggering £850!!

 

An Al fresco evening

Starlight Express

This climbing rose is called Starlight Express and it is one of the most prolific I’ve ever seen. At the height of its season we have been known to deadhead more than a hundred blooms in a single day.  It was launched in 1997 (the year that we moved into our present house)  to support the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital fund. We planted this one  the following year.  The fragrance is light and I usually choose more fragrant roses but I love the colour. Indian Summer is my all-time favourite. I have one of these in the front garden.

As we went out for lunch today, we only wanted a light meal this evening so, making the most of the slightly cooler temperature, decided that we could eat outside. Our un-shaded south-facing garden has been far too hot over the past few evenings. A light tuna and egg salad was enough.

Tuna & egg

I’ve been baking this afternoon so we followed it with a sticky lemon cake (made this afternoon) served with chopped strawberries and peaches. Chopping strawberries is a little quirk of mine. I cannot eat a strawberry unless it has at least been cut in half. I can tell you exactly where this odd habit arose. I was a small girl in my grandparent’s garden when, one day, I pulled the stalk out of a strawberry and was greeted by a tiny, wriggling white creature – some kind of caterpillar I expect – but I ran in screaming that there was a worm in my strawberry and I didn’t eat them for years afterwards!

Cake fruit

Whilst we sat there enjoying the warm breeze, I thought I could take you on a tour of my garden which slopes upwards away from the house. Leading from the house, French doors open onto the patio which has a few filled pots, like the one below which contains alstroemeria.   There are some lilies still to flower. I know from previous years that they will be stunning.

Alstroemeria

There is also a small border  where we grow sweet peas, I adore their smell. Amongst their roots are Welsh poppies and Nigella.

Nigella

Seven steps, with a rockery to each side lead centrally from the patio to the next level. On the right hand side is a bird bath and two feeders – one contains seeds and the other, fat balls. There are lots of little hidey-holes for wildlife in amongst the plants.

Bird bath & feeder

At the top of the rockery sits a huge California lilac and behind that a purple lilac tree. Both are well past their flowering time now but here is a picture taken a few weeks ago. It’s a shame that the lilac blossom is so short lived.

Lilac

The second level provides lots of little areas for wildlife, several shrubs including a large orange blossom,  the aforementioned Starlight Express rose, and Madame Grégoire Staechelin, another very vigorous climbing rose, this time white with very dark glossy leaves and a strong heady fragrance.  It is a later flowering rose so nothing to see at the moment. The two roses intertwine with honeysuckle and cover an arbour which sits at the top of the steps. We dispensed with the grass a couple of years ago and laid a circular stone area instead.

corner

A few more steps lead to another, much smaller, rockery and the garden shed which started life as a summerhouse. For a tool store cum propagation room it is rather well appointed with lined walls, tiled floor and fancy wall lights! We so rarely used it for its intended purpose that when the old shed got damaged by bad weather, we decided to co-opt the summerhouse as its replacement.

Summerhouse shed

Behind the shed and up another couple of steps is our small vegetable patch where we (I use this term loosely – I NEVER do gardening other than a rare rose deadheading) grow runner beans, leeks, raddish, spring onions, tomatoes and rhubarb. The raddish are not doing well this year – lots of leaves but very little raddish.

Beans & Leeks

I’m off to paint my nails now, ready for tomorrow’s Ascot Ladies Day.