Lockdown Expansion

AKA baking frenzy! They were discussing one day on Loose Women (which I’m now watching daily as I’m furloughed!) the trend for women reverting to 1950s house wives during lockdown. Now, I’m certainly not doing that in all its glory – I haven’t touched the hoover any more than normal (never!) and as for ironing, well, I’m pretty sure we own one, but whether it works or not – who knows! However, I have felt an almost uncontrollable urge to bake!

This is not good for several reasons, most importantly, my waistline, but also because the rest of the world also seems to have decided to bake, so getting hold of self raising flour and caster sugar is not an easy feat! I managed to get caster sugar in our local shop but I still haven’t managed to get self raising flour.

This was my first cake of the lockdown which I made for our wedding anniversary on 16th April.

This is the king of cakes in my humble opinion. You can’t beat a simple Victoria sponge, filled with butter icing and strawberry jam and finished with a dusting of icing sugar and edible glitter. It didn’t last long!

The Victoria sponge used up all the self raising flour that I had in the house pre-lockdown so I had to be creative and make something flourless next, so I tried flapjacks. This was my first attempt at flapjacks and they tasted really good, but I think they had too much golden syrup in them so it was pretty much impossible to cut them into individual pieces. Better luck next time.

Next I realised I had plain flour in the cupboard so I searched for recipes using plain flour and stumbled upon a recipe for vintage chocolate chip cookies on the BBC Good Food website. I didn’t measure the salt and I think I probably put more in than I should have but they tasted amazing, so mental note – always put salt in cookie mix!

Ah, the classic Rice Krispie cake but made with Coco Pops instead. I still had no flour at this point, having used all the plain flour in the cookies. I did manageto get a click and collect slot from Asda, they didn’t have any flour of any kind! They did provide me with Coco Pops and marshmallows so these were the next to be made. I don’t know if these count as baking since the only cooking involves melting the butter and marshmallow. I’ve reminded myself that there are several of these left so that’s dessert sorted for later then!

I completely forgot to take a photo of this before I’d cut it! This was a lime drizzle cake made using my Aunt’s recipe and plain flour (with baking powder) that my brother-in-law managed to find for me. It should have been lemon drizzle, but I didn’t have lemons and did have a surplus of limes due to Asda giving me a pack of four in my click and collect instead of just the one I asked for. I think one of the good things to come out of the awful circumstances in which we find ourselves, is that I’m much more conscious of not wasting food. The shock of certain items not being readily available at the beginning of lockdown certainly had an impact on me, hence I didn’t want to waste the limes.

I spread the joy with this cake and dropped off slices to my best friend for her birthday and to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (only fair as they provided the flour). Fear not, social distancing was maintained at all times (in fact I didn’t actually see any of them) and I was legitimately out and about because I was dropping off food to my Dad (who also had a slice of cake).

Oooh, this one was gooooood (even if I do say so myself!) Basically a chocolate Victoria sponge filled and topped with chocolate butter icing. The raspberries needed eating so this saved wasting them, and the giant buttons, well, that’s just good sense!

Just looking at this one is making me want to make another, but I really mustn’t, for the sake of my circumference! Honestly I’ll be able to roll down the motorway when we can finally go back to work!

This doesn’t look very pretty, does it? Again this one was to use up food that was on its way out – in this case, very ripe bananas. It was another BBC Good Food recipe, this time for chocolate and banana cake. It was supposed to use self raising flour, which, as you know, I don’t have, so I substituted plain flour and baking powder, but it doesn’t seem to have worked and it collapsed in the middle! It tastes good though so I’m counting it as a success. It’s turned out as more of a pudding than a cake, if that makes sense.

The chocolate and banana cake called for two whole eggs and two egg whites, which meant I was left with two egg yolks, so, not wanting to waste them, I searched what I could do with egg yolks and lemon curd popped up. Coincidentally I love lemon curd and I ran out a couple of weeks ago and hadn’t replaced it, so I made some. It’s currently cooling in the fridge so I can’t tell you if it’s successful or not, but I really hope so because I used the last of our butter to make it which means we have no butter for our breakfast so we’ll have to have toast and lemon curd sans butter!

I was initially going to write a post about my lockdown achievements, after we were released from lockdown, but as it’s going on rather longer than I think any of us thought, I’m racking up the accomplishments so I decided to break them down into categories and go for it! So, I hope you’ve enjoyed perusing my kitchen creations and I hope that having written about them will stop me making any more and save the groans on my bathroom scales!

A Weekend in London

I’m currently 40000ft above the eastern coast of Canada enroute to Orlando.

Exciting stuff, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch you up with the goings on of last weekend. Obviously I’m not going to be able to publish this en avion so I’ll try to do it as soon as I get WiFi.

So, last weekend then! I was up and ready early and trotted myself down to the railway station to be at Birmingham New Street for my train to London at 10.10. This was a bit different to past trips to London because Virgin have lost the rail contract so it was my first trip with Avanti West Coast. All ran perfectly though, so far so good. Long may it last.

I arrived at Euston and headed straight for the tube. This was a solo trip, blissful me time, and I discovered that my AirPods really came into their own. So nice to march around the underground listening to music with no pesky wires to get in the way. Love my AirPods.

Jumping off at Tottenham Court Road I navigated my way (thank you google maps) to my hotel for the night, Mimis.

Now I was expecting a bijou room given that it’s description on booking.com was tiny room with tiny rubbish but wow! They really weren’t kidding!

I reckon the whole thing, including bathroom was three metres square! It had everything I needed though, and some I didn’t (coffee machine – yuck!) and, most importantly, it was clean, quiet and two minutes walk from the purpose of my visit! Palace Theatre.

My Dad bought me tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for Christmas – such excitement! Love love love Harry Potter. Which is a good thing because the show is split in two halves, both approximately two and a half hours separated by about the same amount of time so you’re watching it for hours!!

I won’t give away any of the secrets of the show, but I can give you a summary of the plot because you can buy the book anyway.

***** LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS *****

So, it’s nineteen years since we last saw Harry et al and the gang are all grown up. Harry works in the Ministry of Magic and is married to Ginny Weasley and together they have three children, James, Albus Severus and Lily (significance obvious for even the most cursory of Potter fans). Ron and Hermione are married and have two children, the oldest of which is Rose. We pick up the story as Albus and Rose are starting Hogwarts (James is already there). On the Hogwarts Express Albus meets Scorpius, the very blonde son of Draco Malfoy. Upon arrival at Hogwarts, Albus becomes the first Potter to be sorted into Slytherin while Rose finds herself in Gryffindor. This pushes Albus together with Scorpius, who as a Malfoy had to be in Slytherin and the story begins.

Albus witnesses a meeting between Harry and Amos Diggory, now infirm and in a wizarding nursing home (imagine firecrackers going mad and crazy zimmerframes!) and learns the story of how Cedric Diggory was sacrificed in the triwizard tournament and he also discovers that Hermione, now the Minister for Magic, has a time turner. Together with Scorpius he decides to steel the time turner in order to go back in time and save Cedric in a misguided mission to make things right between Harry and Albus who have a difficult relationship, and give Cedric his son back. Along the way they fall under the spell of Delphi who introduces herself as Amos’ niece.

As you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan. They succeed in saving Cedric but back in real time things have gone awry so they go back again to try and put it right and yet again the real time is wrong. Among other things, when time is changed, Cedric becomes a death eater, Snape is alive, Dolores Umbridge is Headmistress of Hogwarts, Albus is in Gryffindor, Scorpius is the school stud, Ron and Hermione aren’t married and Hermione is living underground because she’s wanted for various crimes.

Anyway, the upshot of it all is that Harry and his motley crew have to find another time turner to go back in time and save Albus and Scorpius when they get stuck in Godric’s Hollow on the night that Voldemort gave Harry that scar and it turns out that Delphi is the daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange and had an entirely different motive in helping Albus and Scorpius.

I loved it. The guy who played Scorpius absolutely made it for me. The way he chose to play the character was brilliant. They were all brilliant but he stood out for me.

During the couple of hours break I wandered off down Shaftesbury Avenue and had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. I had been here once before, but years ago and I couldn’t remember it. It was great. A bit of an odd choice, I guess, to go to on your own, but whatever!

Atmosphere was amazing.

Food was amazing!

London was vibrant and buzzing when I came out of the theatre and that’s the only time I wished I had a companion – a nice glass of vino would’ve gone down nicely. I had an early start the next day though so it was probably for the best.

After a poor night’s sleep (too hot and not enough pillow) I emerged from the hotel before nine am into a very Sunday morningish London. Streets were pleasantly quiet as presumably the revellers from the night before were snoozing away still. Not sure I’ve ever seen London so peaceful – it was lovely, almost like I had it all to myself. I was booked on a City Cruises boat to Greenwich at ten am so I meandered my way slowly in the direction of Westminster Bridge, taking in the sights on my way.

The boat trip was really good, again it was quite quiet and I was first on so I got a seat at the very front (downstairs – I may be from up North in the eyes of Londoners (I’m not, Birmingham is not the North, we’re in the middle) but I’m not hardy enough to be outside for long in January weather) so I got a great view.

The commentary was really funny and informative.

Did you know there are thirty two pods on the London Eye? One to represent each London Borough.

HMS Belfast which was built in the same shipyard at the Titanic in Belfast. She served in the Korean War but now she’s a museum. She’s sitting on what is now one of the cleanest rivers in the world (doesn’t look it, I don’t recommend drinking it) but in days gone by, the smell coming from the Thames, the Great Stink, caused by Londoners disposing of their waste in the river inspired the Victorians to design and build the sewer system. Prior to that the Thames had become ecologically dead. These days it has a thriving eco-system and Londoners’ waste apparently goes to Essex (sorry Essex!)

Apparently most rivers only flow one way, but the Thames changes direction twice a day and it rises and falls five to seven metres. This made London susceptible to flooding so a barrier was built to protect the Thames and Londoners from storms from the North Sea.

The designer of the Shard was offered one million pounds for his design of the tower. He said he’d prefer to take the Penthouse suite instead. He sold that a few years ago for thirty five million pounds. Shrewd!

Once in Greenwich I visited the Cutty Sark, a Tea Clipper that used to bring us tea from China and also wool from Australia. In today’s money the value of a full load of tea was six million pounds. That’s a lot of tea.

After this I made my way up to the Observatory, slowly! It’s flipping steep. I could’ve done with some crampons and a rope! It was worth it for the view though.

I probably should’ve got the audioguide because I feel like I still don’t know much about the Observatory, but I was kind of all informationed out by that point.

This is me in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres.

Phew, I was tired after all this. I did twelve and a half thousand steps both days, which, given that I was sat on a train for an hour and a half each day and in a theatre for five hours on the first day, I think is quite a lot. Could do with a holiday now. Oh ……….. well would you look at that!

It’s Chriiiiiistmas!

The run up to Christmas has been a bit different this year, partly because I’ve had a much longer break before the big man pops down the chimney than usual. I’m normally still at work on Christmas Eve. We always get let go at noonish but have to take a full day’s holiday to book the day off, so it’s a no-brainer to work it really. This year though, the office closed on Friday and I had holiday left so I broke up on Wednesday – a full week before Christmas Day.

We have a tradition at work of having Christmas breakfast sandwiches on Christmas Eve picked up from a bakery near work called Wedges. This year, as we weren’t in, three of us made our way over to Wedges anyway to keep the tradition going. I live seventeen miles from the office, so you can see how much the tradition means to me!

Mmmmm mmmmmm! Lashford sausages on crusty white bread with LOTS of ketchup! Delicious. Lashfords are a Birmingham company who’ve made award winning sausages since 1889.

As you can tell, Slimming World has been slightly abandoned over Christmas! As well as my sausage buttie today, I’ve had two Christmas parties, but, you know what? It’s been totally worth any pounds that I might have put on (I don’t know yet!)

The steel industry isn’t particularly robust at present so work weren’t able to pay for a Christmas do for us this year, so I arranged our own mini party at Miller and Carter last Thursday. One massive pro of arranging our own party was that we could invite three ex-colleagues, two of whom retired this year and the other who left more recently to pursue other challenges. It was soooooo good to see them and catch up on their news.

Miller and Carter turned out to be a good choice. We had one long table for the ten of us (which turned out to be nine due to a chicken pox related issue). This meant that the people at either end couldn’t have a chat, but the restaurant didn’t kick us out when we finished eating so we were able to switch seats and have a chinwag with people at the other end. We were also able to choose from the festive menu or the regular a la carte menu. I went for the festive menu so I could have turkey because we’re having a chicken for Christmas lunch. It was really good value too at £22.99 for two courses.

It was quite dark so my pic doesn’t do it justice, but suffice it to say, there was nothing left on my plate, not even a sprout!

I don’t often have a dessert out but, well, it is Christmas! This was really rich, but I managed to force it down! Chocolate and salted caramel gold bar with orange sorbet or, alternatively, plate of deliciousness! It was all washed down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon and great conversation and laughs. I work with, and have worked with, some fabulous people. You spend more waking time at work than you do at home so you can count yourself as very lucky if your colleagues are also friends.

The very next day I went on my gym Christmas party. This was an organised do at the NEC and it was a Moroccan Fire night. They’d taken up a whole hall and turned it into a Moroccan wonderland. It reminded me of the entrance to Islands of Adventure in Orlando, but with a champagne bar and a cocktail bar!

When we were seated we were lucky to be right in front of the show area so we had a really good view of the entertainment. There were a couple of performances of aerial ribbons where acrobats perform in the air wrapped up in ribbons of fabric and also some trapeze work – the strength that the acrobats have is really impressive.

These were performed while we had our starters (tomato and basil soup for me) and mains.

Dark photo again! I went for chicken with the usual seasonal trimmings.

The final show, after we’d had our dessert (chocolate pudding with ice cream) was really good but also slightly uncomfortable to watch! I didn’t take any photos, but essentially there was a big arm high up with a wheel on each end with a guy all dressed up in harem pants inside and then the whole thing started spinning. So the guys had to keep running or jumping so they didn’t fall out. For the finale they moved to the outside of the wheels while the whole thing was still spinning and this is about where I stopped watching in case they fell!

There were also fairground rides which was quite exciting. I went on the bumper cars and the flying carpet but, given the fact that rather more alcohol was consumed this evening than the previous one I decided that the waltzers would possibly not be a good idea!

My wine had this little octopus from my cracker on all night!

Yesterday I caught up with my best friend at a local garden centre. Amazingly we both managed to get parking spaces relatively easily. We had a wander round and a chat over a coffee and a cake in her case and a diet Dr. Pepper and some crisps in mine, and swapped our Christmas presents. I managed to restrain myself from buying plants and just picked up a couple of nibbly things which I took round to my friend’s house yesterday evening for another Christmas catch up and pressie swap.

We had some nibbles (see the lack of Slimming World continuing!) and more good conversation. My friend Jane had baked these cute little penguin biscuits.

Almost too cute to eat! Almost! My contribution was some sausage rolls which I’ve also made for Christmas Day. Does anyone else have to leave instructions like this for their husband?

And some banana bread which I’ve also made for Christmas Day …

… along with some blue fairy cakes!

I didn’t do red or green because everything seems to be red or green at this time of year, so blue it was!

Anyway, nearly time to go and pick up poor hubby who’s had to work today, and, according to plane finder, Santa is on his way …

…so I’d better do my last minute preparations.

Merry Christmas lovely readers. I hope you all have a magically festive time and I’ll see you on the other side.