Pumpkin Patch

A sharp knife and a small squat pumpkin doth make… Some pretty leaf shapes and an Autumnal pumpkin!

(I don’t normally post so soon after the one – yesterday – but couldn’t resist taking some photos and showing you all the finished product!).  It was my first ever time carving a pumpkin, and I wanted an Autumnal theme rather than a particularly Halloweeny theme, so that I could use it through the week.. Plus I think it’s prettier! 🙂

I changed the display on top to the bookcase to something a little more stark (I got rid of the red flower, my Peace Lily and my little green glass in order to make the candlelit lanterns more effective).  The ‘Home’ sign is nicely lit up with both lights on either side.

I was surprised at how easy it was to carve the leaves (J was also impressed by my carving skills!), though the knife was a little difficult to wield as it was longer than felt comfortable to use (however, it had a good serrated edge, so it was necessary).

I drew the pattern on the pumpkin before I even cut off the top and hollowed it out (I know that you’re not supposed to do that first, but I was impatient!)

Here’s a couple of more ‘spooky’ photos, where the pumpkin candle and the little star lantern were the only lights in the room (poor J was waiting by the sink  in the dark to re-commence washing up, whilst I took these!)

Happy Autumn! xx


Italy Part 1: Verona

So, some of you may not have noticed (due to my sly use of scheduling posts to publish – such a useful feature!), but I disappeared off to Italy with J for a week in mid-October.  I hadn’t been on a proper holiday in years (I suppose the need / want to work in summer holidays and student terms just didn’t make a holiday work for me, and until getting a full-time job, the issue of holiday funds had always been a slight problem.

I finally managed to persuade J to take time off work at the same time as me, and off we galavanted to warmer climes and sunnier spaces (albeit a slightly stressed and tired Sarah, in much need of this holiday!).  We decided on Italy as I’d never been there, and J had enjoyed the holidays there when he was younger.  Although he’d been to northern Italy, he’d not been to Verona or Venice.  It was more my idea to visit Verona than his, but I’m glad we did both, as both cities are so different from each other, and gave us two very different experiences of Italian city life.

This post is all about Verona though, so I’m not going to say anything more about Venice just yet (shh, that’s going to be talked about in a blogpost next week!).

We had decided to spend eight days in Italy in total (Saturday – Saturday), so bright and early on the 8th of October, we set off from a slightly chilly Cardiff and travelled to Gatwick, and from there, by plane to Verona.  I was particularly nervous about the plane as I hadn’t been on one in fourteen years (the last time I had flown was when I was nine years old, on a 10-hour flight to Orlando, Florida).  However, the plane was fiiiine.  And quite pretty too once we escaped from all the clouds of Britain and flew into the nice sunny areas of mainland Europe.  Plus it was only a 90 minute journey, so it went by really quickly (plus I fell asleep).

So at 4pm Italian time (GMT+1), we arrived on Italian soil, got a taxi to our nearby hotel, dropped our bags and ran out and explored lay down for a nap (or at least I did… ah me of little energy!).  We decided to just find a place to eat that evening and go back to the hotel again afterwards, to conserve energy for exploring on the Sunday.

The Sunday was spent visiting lots of touristy areas of Verona, albeit accidentally in the case of Juliet’s balcony (I realised when we were eating lunch that we were literally around the corner from the house, so it would clearly be a shame not to hustle our way through the crowds to catch a quick glimpse of it before we headed onwards).

Juliet's Balcony

The most of our time that day was spent exploring the Teatro Romano di Verona, an ancient Roman theatre to the north of the city, which we accessed via Ponte Pietra, one of the oldest bridges in the city.  The theatre was built in 1BC, and is now used regularly for plays and operas (much like the larger Arena in the centre of West Verona).  The museum encompasses both the Roman theatre, and the remains of the Roman buildings built above it, which house a collection of Roman stonework and other artifacts found around Verona.  It also had a beautiful view of the Western area of the city across the river.

The city has lots of tall houses, and large open piazzas (not the food…. they’re like large pedestrianised squares, some with parks in the middle, like Piazza Brà, and some with a permanent market, like Piazza Erbe, and others just with a statue or monument of an important Italian figure).

Colourful Veronese Houses

In baking-related fun, we did in fact come across a statue of Garibaldi in the park that we ate our lunch in on the Sunday:

We also visited the Arena  on Sunday afternoon (Verona’s massive amphitheatre, conveniently situated just round the corner from our hotel), and whilst J seemed to have fun walking energetically up and down the large steps, I struggled a little bit (I partly blame it on the fact that the steps were knee-height for my little legs, and partly on the fact that the strange and slightly dangerous coincidence that my shoes had no grips on the soles, and some of the stones were similar to polished quartz – eek!).

The Monday was a lot calmer, as we’d seen most of the sights, so we decided to meander along Verona’s town walls, and find the Gardino Giusti, to the east of the city.

Verona's Town Walls

The gardens were hidden away behind a grey building, which looked like all other buildings along the street.  This made it even more magical to see such greenery hidden behind the tall walls.  The gardens stretch up the hillside, with a spectacular view at the top of the entire city of Verona.

Of course, the food in Verona was fantastic (I ate pizza and gelato, and for some reason, be it no stress or maybe the way they produce dairy over in Italy, neither foodstuff made me feel ill… so I ate lots of both…!).  The gelato in particular was amazing.  It’s not like British ice cream:  It’s far more creamy in texture, but also lighter, so it feels far more refreshing than sickly.  The flavours are also far better:  the chocolate is far less sweet, slightly bitter even, like dark chocolate, and the melon flavour was as refreshing as eating a chunk of real melon itself.

One of the charming aspects of our hotel room was the fact that the decor was painted onto our walls:  butterflies were hand painted above our electric sockets and on one entire wall of our room.

The view from our room was also beautiful, and we were woken up the first morning by the church bells ringing rather chaotically right outside of our window at 7.45am.  Here’s the view from our window below:

San Luca

The three days felt like they were action packed but were hugely enjoyable.  Verona felt very open and spacious (especially in comparison to Venice, but that’s for another post…!).  One of my favourite moments of Verona was eating outside one of the many restaurants that spread out onto the pavements of Piazza Brà, right outside of the Arena and the night fall and the busy footfall of people in the evening, going to restaurants and bars.

Piazza Brà

And if all this sounds confusing (‘how did they see that… where is that?’), here’s a little, slightly crazy-looking map of where we ended up wandering on Sunday:

Verona - Sunday adventures

… And on Monday:

Verona - Monday adventures

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(Goodness me, what a lot of words… those who made it to the end of this post without looking away, yawning, and hoping that the next paragraph was the last paragraph, well done! A virtual cupcake goes out to you in gratitude for putting up with my bloffling – see, blog and waffling in one word, what can I say, I’m a genius too ridiculous for my own good).

Cupcake crazy

Just a short post this time, and some gorgeous photos courtesy of Ruth Morris, of Albatross Archive.  I was asked if I would like to come along to the SWIGEN festival on Saturday 22nd October in Cardiff.  So I made cupcakes… Although the stall didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, the day was really fun, and I got to see a lot of great Cardiffian bands, which are definitely worth checking out:

The festival ran from 12pm – 11pm, and was in aid of Shelter Cymru and Oxjam Cardiff.  More info that on here, and here.

So here are the beautiful photos (thankyou again Ruth for allowing me to use them on my blog!)

I had a very definite idea in mind when searching for a tablecloth. Thankfully the Kitchen shop in Cardiff (my shop heaven!) had exactly what I was looking for: a green and white polka dot vinyl (wipe-clean) tablecloth. Hurrah!

Cupcake Label Flags

Entire Cupcake...

Half Cupcake...

All gone!

And a rare photo of me (albeit in the background!)

More cupcakes

The cupcakes I made were as follows:

  • Vanilla:  vanilla sponge and vanilla buttercream icing, topped with pink and white sugar sprinkles.
  • Vanilla chocolate:  vanilla sponge and chocolate buttercream icing, topped with half an Oreo cookie.
  • Chocolate: chocolate with chocolate buttercream icing, topped with half an Oreo cookie.
  • Chocolate Orange: chocolate with chocolate orange buttercream icing, topped with some orange matchmakers.
  • Lemon: lemon sponge with lemon buttercream icing, topped citrus sprinkles and a sugar lemon decoration.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

So… Back to the flat and the furniture hunt (a few months back admittedly, but I never had a chance to post it at the time)…

I’d been looking for a nice solid wood bed for the new flat, and had come across several similar types, all with a variety of prices.  The first one I’d set my sights on was the Ikea version of this rustic bedframe, which was selling for £199, but having heard from several people about the odd sizings of IKEA beds and how they don’t quite fit conventional mattress sizes, I was a bit unsure.

Ikea Hemnes Double Bed

In comparison, Argos offered nearly the same style of bedstead for £119.99, but couldn’t promise delivery for 35 days… which would’ve meant camping out on my small chair-bed mattress for well over two weeks…

Argos Atlantis Double Bed

So, in the end, I went through the Tesco Direct website, which offered a simlar style of bed again, but with slightly larger gaps between the wooden posts (easier to dust, what with my dustmite allergy!), which came to £150.

Tesco Fairhaven Double Bed

After going through a cahsback site, and using a Tesco coupon for money off, and putting a couple of Tesco vouchers towards it that I’d been hoarding, it worked out as far less than even the Argos bedframe in the first place, AND I could specify delivery for the day I wanted (albeit somewhere in the wide margins of 7am – 7pm… They do promise a phone-call 2 hours before delivery though…)

Fairhaven Double Bed (Chocolate Brown) = £150
– £8.25 cashback through using a cashback site (
www.topcashback.com)
– £14 Tesco vouchers
– £10 (£10 voucher if order was over £100)
= £32.25 off the bed

= £117.75 TOTAL paid  (the £8.25 cashback should be confirmed, processed and paid to my account within 6 months).

In the end, I had a phone-call at 8.30am on Saturday morning, and it got delivered at about 9.10am.

The fact that the bed arrived so early on in the day meant that I was then able to go and buy a mattress in the afternoon.  I decided to go to Dreams, which is one of the big bed and mattress stores in Cardiff.  I had prepared myself to spend a sizable chunk of money – and chunk of time choosing – on a mattress, but I chose surprisingly fast, and ended up with a good deal too:  the mattress was originally £599, but was in the sale for £249!).  It was £35 delivery, but I didn’t mind too much with that much off the original price.  

So putting the amount spent on the bedframe and mattress together, I spent £401.75.. Instead of £784.  Verrry pleased.  

It took a while to put together, and there were some parts that were fiddly (if not downright awkward… like a couple of screws snapping off into a piece of wood – however, after a phonecall to Tesco Direct, they promised to replace said piece of wood and screws within the week).  

Here’s a shot of the wood – the stain shows the details of the wood so nicely:

And here’s another shot of it before it was all put together:

And here’s the finished product in my bedroom (doesn’t it look lovely?):

I absolutely adore my bed.  It’s easily my favourite piece of furniture in the flat (the sofa and oak coffee table come a close joint-second)… It’s lower than what I was used to, as I’ve had a divan bed for the last year, but I’m slowly getting used to that, and I love the fact that there’s loads of hidden storage space underneath it.  The mattress fits the bed frame perfectly, which means it doesn’t move around at all, and it’s definitely the most comfy bed I’ve slept in (yay for being able to choose the firmness of the mattress!).

Oh and if anyone else is thinking of buying something through Tesco Direct, here’s the link to the e-coupons that might come in handy: http://direct.tesco.com/content/specials/ecoupons.aspx

Apple and Cinnamon Toasties

Now that Winter is a-coming, ushered in rather grandly by Autumn’s recent fierce rain and blustery winds (which is all well and good when you’re sitting at home cozied up with a mug of tea, but not so lovely when you’re fighting said torrential rain and gales to get to work at 8am in the morning)… Anyway, having the hint of coldness on the air makes me revert to making comfort food and using spices when cooking.  I’ve recently been very busy so have been eating my main meal in the office, which means I only have to make a small snack for tea when I get in at 6pm each day.  I’m not a massive fan of having sandwiches for tea, and – as my parents brought my trusty, slightly battered from student-days toastie-maker down a couple of weeks ago when they visited – I’ve been using this to concoct a yummy warning snack for myself in the evenings.  My all time favourite definitely has to be an apple and cinnamon toastie.  Super easy to make, healthy, warming and altogether a comforting tea.

Ingredients

2 slices of bread, very thinly buttered on one side

1 bruised / battered / seen-better-days apple (I have plenty of these as I always carry an apple around in my bag in case I get peckish, but often they get replaced, as they get battered quite quickly!)

½ tsp cinnamon

… And, if you need a little sweetness, a teeny tiny dusting of sugar

Recipe

  1. Switch on toastie maker.
  2. Whilst the toastie maker is heating up, peel and core the apple, then slice thinly.  Place the bread butter-side down, layer the slices of apple on top of the bread (they will all fit… they will!), sprinkle the cinnamon – and sugar if required – over the apples, and place the second slice of bread on top, butter side-up.
  3. Put in toastie-maker for 5 mins (or until the bread is nice and golden and crispy).  Remove it carefully, and then let it sit for 3 minutes before eating (I’ve learned the hard way, as I’m often impatient.  A burnt mouth does not a good snack make).
  4. Enjoy!

Paper Leaf Wreath

After seeing a tutorial for a paper wreath on the internet, I decided to make my own out of the scraps let over from my previous paper project (see here).  There’s not really much to say to be honest, as there are so many tutorials out there for paper wreaths already.

Paper Wreath

I chose a fairly simple design, which involved cutting out hundreds (or at least, it felt like that many!) of leaf shapes, folding them in half lengthways (to create a 3D shape – this is important, otherwise you just get a boring flat wreath!).  I then arranged them in bunches of threes and stapled them to the cardboard circle I’d made out of a cereal box.  Once I’d completed the circle, I then stuck leaves in areas that looked a bit sparse, so to make the wreath look fuller.

Paper offcuts from bunting

Cardboard template

Stapling the leaves to the wreath

I think it looks quite effective hanging up with a ribbon, and considering I still have the majority of the book I bought, I’m thinking of trying out a different style to hang elsewhere in the flat as well!

Cost of item: 

Ribbon: Free (already owned)

Cardboard: Free (scrounged from an existing cereal box… My Frosties are now sitting boxless on the shelf!)

Paper leaves:  Free (scraps left over from previous paper project)

Total: Freeee! (Yay!)

(and I’ve already had an order off a friend to make her one for her house for Christmas!)

Coffee Cup Cake

… Not a coffee-flavoured cupcake, but a ma-hoosive cake shaped as a coffee cup!

Yep, I branched out from my normal cupcake-making, and decided to do something a bit more special for J’s birthday.  I couldn’t post this before, as it was a surprise.  When I told him that there would be a cake,and asked if he had any particular preference on flavours etc, all he said was “you make good cakes, be inventive”.  So… I was, or at least tried to be!

It did take a fair amount of work, I’m not going to lie.  It’s the first proper decorated cake that I’ve ever made really… I normally either make cupcakes for people’s birthdays, or a normal-looking large cake, nicely iced.  This cake was neither of these.

My initial idea was to be safe and do something similar to a normal cake, but to decorate it like a present.  But them I thought some more, and came up with… a cup of coffee (it may have helped that that I was drinking one at the time that the idea came to me).

J likes his coffee a lot, so it was appropriate, and he likes the coffee buttercream that I have previously used on chocolate cupcakes, so that’s how I decided on the flavour of the cake.  I would make my chocolate fudge cake recipe, but in 1.5 times the amount the recipe specifies, so that I could make three layers of cake (rather than the normal two layers), which I would then arrange on top of one another, and sandwich with coffee buttercream.

The recipe for both the buttercream and the chocolate fudge cake are really easy, and the cake is one of my all-time favourites. It’s more moist than a lot of chocolate cakes, because of the golden syrup that is added, and it is a lot lighter in texture too, which would balance out nicely in a large cake.  Thankfully, despite the cake texture feeling light, it’s solid enough sponge to cut and to stack on top of eachother without any problems at all.

Once the cakes had baked, I let them cool on a wire rack until they were cold (less likely to break when handling and cutting).

In the meantime however, I made the cup handle by using sugar floral paste (which you can buy from all good cake / kitchen shops, or online here), which is pliable and easy to mould, and once hardened won’t become soft over time like normal icing can sometimes do.  I rolled a small amount of the sugar paste out, and moulded it into a handle shape, making sure that each end of the handle had a flat area which I would use to stick it to the cake.  I set this aside then for about three hours.

coffee cup handle

I then returned to my cake, and used the natural dome of one of the layer to my advantage, turning that layer upside down and using it as the bottom of the cup, as the dome created a nice natural curve up from the plate.  I then needed to get rid of the dome on the remaining two layers, so carefully sliced off the tops of the cakes to make them level and therefore fitting together more easily when stacked.  Once stacked on top of eachother, I carefully cut a circle out of the top layer ( so that the top layer was shaped like a ring) and then carefully unstacked the layers in order to add the buttercream.

When covering with the frosting, I first used it to sandwich the layers together, and then to ‘crumb coat’ the outside of the cake.  This technique – that I’ve only recently discovered – is used a lot in cake-making to ensure that icing or fondant covering the cake is less lumpy and that the holes in the cake are filled and smoothed out by the frosting first.  It also seals in any loose crumbs in the cake (you can have a look at this video here for a tutorial!).  It looks a bit messy, but it’s supposed to be thin enough for cake to still show through.

Once I did that, I put the cake aside to set for an hour before applying the icing.  I didn’t want the crumb-coat to completely harden, and I wanted something for the icing to stick to slightly.  I used plain white ready-to-roll icing for the covering, as that was the least time-consuming way to ice the cake.  I rolled it out enough to cover the entire cake, laid it carefully over the cake, and then smoothed down the edges of the circle, slowly cutting away excess icing, and folding in areas and wetting the fold with water and rubbing gently so that the line was disguised.

As you remember, I had cut a hold in the top of the cake, so to cover that with icing, I simply cut an ‘X’ mark in the middle of the icing covering the hole, and gently folded the icing to cover the sides of the circular hole.  I then rolled a separate smaller circle of icing, which I placed at the bottom of the hole (I knew this wouldn’t show once I filled in the hole with the ‘coffee’).  I then wrote on the icing using icing pens, added the now hardened fondant cup handle (which I did using a dab of water as glue, and propping up the handle with some cardboard until it had set), and set the cake aside – yet again – and waited an hour for the icing to set.

icing in place...

In the meantime I made more coffee buttercream, this time adding two dessert spoonfuls of milk to the mix (to make it slightly runnier).  This meant that once I poured the frosting into the hole in the cake / cup, it would set without any unsightly frosting knife marks etc.  Once the icing had set, I poured the frosting in, and then carefully topped it with a swirl of plain buttercream frosting (I took a spoonful out before adding the coffee), and dusted it with chocolate powder, to imitate the look of a coffee in a coffee shop.  Once the icing had set, I was able to lift the entire cake onto a clean white plate, which acted as the ‘saucer’ for the cup!

J was amazed, and I even added birthday candles round the edge of the cup (not the full amount though – only five!) and sang him happy birthday.  The cake went down really well, and has stayed incredibly fresh after three days, so I’m really pleased with it (we’ve still got another 5-6 days at least before we finish it, and that’s only if we each have a piece every day!)

... prrrretty!...

So, what do you guys think?  I’m wondering what other cake ideas / shapes I should make next… nothing too crazy yet though (I’ll have to plan an extraordinary amount if I want to make a giraffe cake!).  Have any of you tried making and decorating cakes in the shape of objects?

——–

Recipes:

Chocolate Fudge Cake (I used 1.5 times this quantity for this extra-large cake, but this makes a normal sized cake!)
175g self-raising flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g castor sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

150ml (1/4 pint) sunflower oil

150ml (1/4 pint) milk

2 tbsp golden syrup

  1. Preheat oven to 180’C, and grease cake tin.
  2. Sieve flour, cocoa powder and bicarb into bowl, add sugar and mix.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add eggs, milk, oil and syrup.  Beat with whisk until smooth (this does make a considerably runnier cake batter than normal.  Do not panic!)
  4. Spoon into cake tins and bake for 25 – 30 minutes until risen and firm to touch.  Remove from oven and let cool before turning out onto baking rack.
Coffee Buttercream filling
200g butter (I use Stork – vegetable margerine)
400g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
1 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp milk
  1. Add the coffee powder to the hot water and stir until dissolved.  Let cool until room temperature.
  2. Mix butter and icing sugar and vanilla essence until blended and changed in colour to a light yellow, then add the coffee mixture and blend.