“Good Things Come To Those Who Bake”

Until a few months ago, I had never seen an episode of The Great British Bake Off. I was immune to its immense popularity and presumed it to be twee and dull, never even having attempted to, you know, actually watch it before passing judgement. It is particularly odd that I made it this far in the show’s run without even seeing a snippet of Mary judging someone’s soggy bottom, given that I lived with a Food Science and Nutrition student during series one and two. I think I had the genuine excuse that I was trying to finish reading and analysing Moby Dick before the turn of the next millennium.

But all changed a few months ago, as I was flicking through the channels unable find anything worth staying on. I have been watching an increasing number of cooking shows over the last few months, (which isn’t exactly hard, there is a strong case to be made that BBC should be renamed British Baking and Cooking with the amount of chef-fronted shows on the menu every night), and on this particular occasion decided to finally give in and see what all the fuss was about.

Well, oh my god. By the end of the hour I was completely hooked. Excuse the over-baked pun, but this show just has all the right ingredients. Mel and Sue are hilarious, both on and off camera (apparently if one of the contestants is having a proper meltdown they start swearing so that the footage can’t be used). Mary has long been a baking hero of mine, thanks to her recipe for banana bread that I have been using since before I even knew how to scramble an egg. Paul is good in his Simon Cowell-lite role – he’s the one you want to impress with your flavours and crumbs. And of course the main factor, the sponge that makes all this icing worthwhile, is the contestants. They are not there with any hidden agenda, to play games, or bag themselves a front cover Heat magazine interview. They are there because they are already very talented, and want to get better.

I loved them all. I really liked Howard, who reminded me a bit of Jeff Goldblum. I thought Glenn was brilliant at keeping the mood light and was sad when he had to go. I shed a tear for Christine’s departure. I loved the finalists and wouldn’t have minded who won. I had a soft spot for Ruby because of all the unjustified criticism she got online, which seemed to stem from her honesty and self-deprecation on camera. It didn’t help her case that she is young and beautiful and obviously clever to boot.

After the final aired, I felt lost in that way particular to those of us when a show to which we have become too attached ends. I still get that feeling every time I finish the Buffy box set, even though I know I’ll end up watching it all over again in a year or two. There was now a void in my Tuesday evenings. To get over my heartbreak, I decided to bake (it has not been good to my waistline). I love a good bake. It is satisfying in a way that I don’t find cooking – probably because the sugar involved in cooking is minimal to none – and I like having something to show for my work, that will last a few days rather than a few minutes on a dinner plate.

I have started making bread, which is not as difficult as I thought. Admittedly I’m still making fairly basic loaves, but it only takes so long because you have to keep letting it prove* for hours. Below is a picture of the first loaf I made, using a recipe from the newspaper. I enjoyed making (and eating) it so much, that I have since bought and been using recipes from series three runner-up James Morton’s book, Brilliant Bread. It’s really very good. (The book, I mean. I wouldn’t say my baking’s really good yet. Certainly not publicly. Modesty becomes one, etc.)

bread

And this is James’ blog, which is very fancy and has loads of other interesting recipes: http://bakingjames.co.uk/

*BBO, Before Bake Off, my ignorance was such that I thought prove was a term more suited to the courtroom than the kitchen.

It is too soon for books from this year’s bunch, but most of them have blogs. I made some cheese, onion, and sage scones following Kimberley’s advice at her blog www.butimhungrynow.com

CHEESE, ONION, AND SAGE SCONES

scones

She says not to overwork the dough and that combining the ingredients should take about 30 seconds, but I wasn’t very good at this bit. They weren’t too complicated to make otherwise, and fairly quick. Just make sure that they are cooked all the way through when you take them out the oven! I’ve been enjoying mine for breakfast the last couple of days.

I sent this picture to Kimberley on Twitter to thank her for the recipe, and she replied! How chuffed was I? Does this make me a fan girl? Is this how Beliebers feel when Justin notices them?

   

My next Bake Off-inspired effort was a recipe from Ruby’s blog: www.rubyandthekitchen.co.uk – a good old WordPress account!

I made her orange and white chocolate loaf cake, which, even though I made it and shouldn’t boast like this, is seriously drool-worthy. It’s more to do with Ruby’s techniques than anything to do with my skill to be honest!

cake 2 This recipe uses lots of zest and juice. This is my mix after adding orange and lemon zest to the butter and sugar.

You need to have a fair bit of time on your hands to make this one if, like me, you don’t have a food processor. Altogether,

cake 1with the time it took to get my ingredients prepared, combine the mixture and bake (plus injury time to patch up the bit of my thumb that I grated along with the oranges), it was about two hours.

This was my cake straight out of the oven. You might be able to make out from the picture that it has been perforated with a skewer. Ruby has this genius tip to pour a mixture of heated sugar and orange and lemon juice over it all once it’s baked. It makes for one great smelling cake. Oh, and you also have to add on a bit more time to wait for the cake to cool, before you can add…..

……MELTED WHITE CHOCOLATE!!!!! Seriously, you have to try this

WHITE CHOCOLATE AND ORANGE LOAF CAKE

cake

“The Goddess from her Chamber Issues, Arrayed in Lace, Brocades and Tissues.”

I never really used much make-up while I was at school and university, and only boast a modest collection since taking a more active interest in various lotions, potions, colours and creams over the last year. Any new additions have always been lumped with the old stuff in an unused (albeit rather brightly coloured and fetching) wash bag, then onto a windowsill where it invariably gets dusty and the majority of it neglected, as I settle for reaching for the products on top of the pile.

make up bag

This is the bag in question on the left, and below is an example of another problem caused by squishing everything together. Nicely packaged makeup like this lipstick gets covered in gunk; I think the culprits in this instance are a mixture of loose eye shadow powders and pencil sharpenings.

lipstick

 

After having a clear out recently I found I no longer had any use for a plain desk tidy, but didn’t want to get rid of it. It sat on my floor for a few days, near the bin though not quite confined to the rubbish heap. I can’t remember how the thought came to me, but suddenly it seemed like it might be the ideal contraption to put all my makeup in. It could display all my stuff and keep it separate, prevent anything getting muckier, and ensure that I might actually make use of something other than my usual mascara/foundation routine.

This is how it looked with everything packed in:

make up holder

I was quite pleased with how it turned out, because halfway through assembling it all I realised that reaching for things in the back two compartments might prove tricky. I managed this by putting all my foundations and ‘eye tools’ in the second tray, which could be stood upright, and used the third section for a big box of eye shadows and stacked my nail varnishes on top of each other. The first bit has a couple of creams and small pots that I like to use regularly, while I used the side holders for my brushes on the right and lipsticks on the left.

This is the view from above:

first section

section 3

section 2

section 4

Then it was time for the fun part….what else is there to do with a plain storage device other than to decorate it?!

craft bags

I had loads of little craft bits and pieces hanging around because I spend way too much time and money in the local art shop. I had some of these ‘craft bags’ (left), and also used lots of sequins plus a few decorative flowers. Everything was attached using standard PVA craft glue. I made it slightly difficult for myself by decorating while the makeup was already in the holder. I had put it all in first to check whether this idea would work, and then couldn’t be bothered to take it out again! However, it did help me to keep my design to a minimum and not go completely overboard like I usually do in these situations.

Here is the finished holder:

completed holder

The quote I have added on the black piece of card is the first and last two lines from The Lady’s Dressing Room by Jonathan Swift. It is a poem about the vain attempts of women to present a beautiful, superficial image of themselves to the world, but also mocks men’s expectations that this ‘illusion’ is real. quoteThe poem is very funny if you want to go and read it, and these lines, I feel, are an appropriate addition to my makeshift ‘vanity case’!

Buying plain storage devices is not only cheaper, it allows you to personalise it yourself. My mum first gave me the idea with some standard Ikea drawers that she got me when I was young – an MDF box with eight small compartments. She stencilled on some patterns and filled them in with acrylic paints as a birthday present. When I was looking for something to keep all my arts and crafts materials in earlier this year, I bought a plain cardboard box and then went rather overboard with the glitter glue and felt-tips:

desk tidy

I suppose the moral of the story is save money on cheap storage, and then spend what you’ve saved on important things like sequins and mini felt creations. Wait, no, that wasn’t it…..