Thursday, 2 June 2011

Home-made pasta

I bought a pasta machine when I went on holiday to Florence some years ago. It is one of those items that has since found it's way to the back of my kitchen cupboard and rarely gets an outing.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine served home-made pasta when I went round for dinner and it reminded me that I too have a pasta maker. Taking advantage of having a day off work mid-week (it is sometimes the simple things in life that bring the most pleasure) I got out the pasta maker, dusted off the box and had a go at making it.

Pasta is really straightforward to make. A bit of flour and a couple of eggs form the dough, you knead this for 5 minutes, rest it for 15 and then begin the process of rolling the dough through the pasta machine.

This is definitely an activity that you need to practice to get good tasting pasta. My first few attempts saw the dough going through the machine wonky, and if you put too much through you end up with metres and metres of pasta with not enough hands to hold it.

Once you have put the dough through the cutting rollers, the next task is to dry it out without all of the pasta sticking together (otherwise you will end up with a clump of flour paste when you boil it.) I don't know what Italians do, but I found a tea towel on a dish rack worked rather well.

I tested a small amount to see how long to boil it for, 3-4 minutes, although the recipe said longer.

The result was really tasty (helped along by a tasty topping lovingly prepared by my boyfriend) and I was surprised at how easy it was.

I have enough left over for another meal and I will definitely be making this again, perhaps even trying my hand at tortellini or ravioli, yum!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Finding my voice again

I have not written anthing for a long time. I stopped being able to write and I am only just getting the desire to put pen to paper (or rather finger to keyboard) back.

It was a whole series of events that left me unable to think or concentrate on anything for longer than a few minutes; stresses at work, an ever lengthening commute, an illness that knocked me for six and the death of my grandmother.

1 year on from the climax of all these things (I quit my job, got treatment for my illness and started to grieve) and I am slowly beginning to find a voice again.

Over the last few months I have been very busy with trips to London, visits to gardens and generally getting back to normal and I hope to write about all of these things very soon...

Thursday, 15 July 2010


In trying to find where I could buy a copy of the Times Literary Supplement I discovered that they actually have a very comprehensive web-site. Whilst I still prefer to read from paper, until I can find a hardcopy, it will do.

The very first article I read was 'Phyllis Bottome, protest novelist -The mortal storm surrounding a forgotten writer' by Caroline Moorehead

I had not heard of Phyllis Bottome before but the article certainly grabbed my attention. She was born in 1882 (100 years before me and the same year as Virginia Woolf) in Rochester, just down the road from where I live. She lived and travelled all over the world and wrote for most of her life. The article mentioned The Mortal Storm, which was the first of her books to be very successful, partly due to it being printed by Penguin as a "Penguin Special"

On the off chance that I would find a 1930's edition I headed over to e-bay and found this first edition copy for 99p!

The dust jacket (which in itself is unusual for Penguins) is a little torn but other than that it is in very good condition. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I think it will be very interesting, if only for the fact that it was written just as the Nazis were coming to power in Germany but before all of the atrocities of the second world war had happened.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


I just love to bake. I find it very relaxing and if ever I am stressed or need to think something through I am often to be found in the kitchen, mixing bowl and wooden spoon in hand. There is something very satisfying in beating together butter and sugar (I make all of my cakes by hand) then gently adding eggs and flour, baking it in the oven and then 30 minutes later, as the delicious smells of baking waft through the house, a warm golden cake comes out of the oven. I learnt to bake from watching my mother and grandmother and they have taught me all that I know.

I have developed a reputation at work for my baking so when the creative director spotted this blog she had to show me. I casually said that it looked easy enough to produce and the challenge was set, I had to make a rainbow cake!

The cake itself was straight forward enough to make, but the best bit was taking it in to the office and everyone trying to guess what was so special about this cake...

I hadn't told anyone what I had done, so it was brilliant to hear the gasp and "oohs" from people as I cut into the cake and all was revealed.

I photographed each stage of the baking process as I think this is as interesting as the final results.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I am something of a nostalgic person, not for my own childhood but for times past. If I have a choice between something that is brand new or something second hand or "vintage" it is usually the latter that I will go for.

I love reading second hand books, especially old penguin classics. I saw this link on The Persephone Post, the blog written by the Persephone Books team. Persephone books are pretty much the only books I buy new, and a trip to the shop to buy one is a whole outing in itself. The blog is rather lovely as it posts one image per day which offers a 5 minute pick-me-up where I can switch off from work with a cup of coffee in the morning.

I am trying not to look at my own Penguin Classics to see what numbers I have. I do have a couple of early editions but most of mine date from the 1950s. I think as soon as I look I will become obsessed with finding and collectin old editions...

Saturday, 30 May 2009

A lovely day off

I took Friday off work to spend the day doing lots of lovely things...

After a very early start I arrived at my Mum's in Ipswich for morning coffee and cheese scones, freshly baked just before I arrived. We had a good gossip over coffee before doing some more baking.

I called into my Grandparents to say hello to them and have a cup of tea in my brown mug. We talked about where they had lived when they first got married and had a good reminisce about the past.

Then it was off to the University of Essex in the afternoon for a Lecture by Hermione Lee as part of The Afterlives of Virginia Woolf season that they have been running. You can read more about the lecture on my Virginia Woolf blog. She is a wonderful speaker and I came away feeling very inspired and studious.

I headed home at 4:30 and despite getting stuck on the M25 at rush hour I was still home earlier than I would have been if I had been to work. It was a wonderfully relaxing day and I just wish everyday could be like it.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A most unexpected pleasure…

Yesterday evening after work, I went to The Chelsea Flower show. A girl who I work with had a spare ticket and knowing my interest in gardens she invited me along. So, at 5:30 sharp we jumped on the tube to Sloane Square and I had my first Chelsea experience. It is an absolutely wonderful event and I came away wanting to give up my job and get stuck into my own garden. I have watched The Chelsea Flower show on the TV for years and I am fascinated at how these gardens spring up in the centre of London for 5 days of the year and then vanish.

There was a huge variety of different gardens to look at. The Laurent Perrier Garden had
the most wonderful group of purple flowers, irises, peonies and tulips. If a tiny corner of my garden could look like that I would be very pleased indeed.

The Daily Telegraph garden was very elegant and again had some lovely purple planting.

The Key garden was a wonderful mix of planting and planters. A gentleman who had once been homeless explained to me the thinking behind the corner of the garden that he had put together. Breaking with convention he had planted edible plants next to poisonous ones, spiky leaves next to soft. He had been given the pick of all the plants and he said it was like being a child in a sweetshop. His enthusiasm really demonstrated the good work being done by the Homes and Communities Agency who put together the garden in partnership with the Eden Project.

My favourite part was in the great pavilion, looking at all of the perfect specimens of every variety of plant that you can imagine. The work that goes in to creating these stalls must be enormous. I learnt that there are over 24,000 named varieties of daffodil

and the secret to growing 2ft long parsnips is a very large bucket!

It is so striking to see a whole group of varieties together, as in most gardens they are mixed in with lots of other plants. There were some wonderful alliums, these are one of my favourite plants but my small patch at home is tiny compared to these beautiful examples.

James May’s garden was very busy and rightly so as it is a wonderful piece of art.

He has taken the idea of a child’s fantasy garden and recreated it, along with the help of children, model makers and Chelsea pensioners, in plasticine. Everything you see is made of plasticine, right down to the soil the plants sit in. The bust, also made of plasticine, is a tribute to the materials inventor William Harbutt.

My favourite garden was entitled ‘1984’

Described as “a modern urban retreat with a nod to the kitsch, built with cost efficiency in mind for our cash-strapped world!” Of all the gardens I saw it was the one that I thought I could replicate in my own garden.

And just for my Dad, there was a Harley Davidson inspired garden c
alled “The Ace of Spades”. It was built in the shape of a spade and the plants, which were all very dark purples and greens, were potted up in old tyres.

I was completely bowled over by Chelsea, I only got to spend 2 hours there, but I had such a wonderful time. It is amazing to think how much time and effort goes in to putting it together. I will definitely be trying to get tickets for next year!