The Cake Diary on Tour: The Cotswolds

The Cake Diary on Tour: The Cotswolds

This bank holiday weekend I was lucky enough to visit the lovely village of Moreton in Marsh in the Cotswolds with two of my best friends. Driving through the Cotswolds on our girly road trip was like being in a picture postcard, sweeping roads through rolling hills punctuated with villages of light stone cottages. The narrow streets were lined with traditional pubs adorned with floral hanging baskets, antique shops and artisan bakeries. Thankfully the area has been protected from Supermarket eye sores and new build blocks of flats. As soon as you arrive you slow down, physically and mentally, absorbing the peace and quite. This, however, was to be a weekend of contrast, our village surroundings were quaint and slow paced but we had tickets to Jamie Olivers’ Big Feastival, held on Alex James’ Farm. Combining our love of food & drink with our love of music, neatly packaged in chocolate box beauty.

The Festival brought us a weekend of true indulgence and discoveries in Tea & Cake. Even the sweetest of teeth would have found something to satisfy them; from cake pops at The Baking Tree to the aptly named Bad Brownie…..pure chocoholic filth! Artisan breads and cakes at The Celtic Bakers or pretty cup cakes by Primrose Bakery. I would have needed a week to sample everything they had on offer but there were plenty of Tea options to wash it all down. IMG_4325

Trusty Teapigs were on hand with flavours I know and love but I also discovered The Teashed. Not only do they make teabags they also have crazy bubble teas containing bursting bubbles of fruity flavours in each cup, it’s an interesting sensation. I could write a separate blog in itself to cover the other delicious dishes on offer; halloumi fries, gourmet burgers, duck wraps and so much more! Perfect laid back days chatting flowed into dance filled evenings where we could let our hair down. Each night we escaped the hustle and bustle of the farm back to The Bell Inn B&B to recoup and recharge, laughing all the way.

Our B&B was just a few doors down from a stunning little tea shop called Mrs. T. Potts, soon to be known as The Cotswold Tearoom, I figured it would be rude not to! My two friends took little convincing to pop in for some lunch and a slice of cake. It’s wooden framed bay window flanked by stunning hanging baskets makes the Tearoom look welcoming and bright. The sign depicts “Mrs. T. Potts” as you would imagine, a voluptuous nanna figure complete with pinny and matching bonnet! Although she is fictitious the staff are just as welcoming and friendly faced.

Inside the decor is clean and bright with pine furniture and painted wooden chairs. The olive green from the window frames is continued throughout, complimented by creams and a natural stone fireplace.

Being a warm day we chose to sit outside in the pretty courtyard garden. The menu was varied and even included a Roast Pork Dinner, as it was a Sunday, but we opted for sandwiches to refuel us after a busy weekend. My BLT had freshly cooked, crispy bacon, refreshing lettuce and a decent dollop of mayo sandwiched between soft wholemeal bread. A decent doorstop sized snack! A lot if their ingredients are locally sourced supporting local farms and businesses which makes it all the more tasty.

Tummy full I perused the cakes on display; apple and cinnamon, Bakewell Cake, Scones with clotted cream & chunky chocolate brownies. The generous sandwich had beaten me so I ordered a slice of coconut and lime cake to go. Unbeknown to me before we chose this spot they specialise in gluten free. As I pointed out in my last Cake Diary this is not usually an option I go for but I didn’t let it deter me and got a cup of Earl Grey to enjoy with it. I’m afraid to say the tea was a necessary lubricant as the cake was far too crumbly for my taste. I like a cake with body and depth, a sticky lemon drizzle or a hearty ginger cake and although this cake was light as a feather it didn’t give me the satisfying bite I craved. The flavour, however, was amazing. The coconut was strong and sweet which complimented the desiccated texture. This was balanced by thick, zingy lime icing across the top, more of that please! It was a refreshingly light cake but I’m afraid it left me wanting. This tea room is a celiacs dream as there are an array of GF options to enjoy with their chosen brew. For me, personally, I will be sticking with gluten for my next slice!

So Gluten Free I can live without but my Girlfriends I can’t. This weekend has been like therapy, blowing away the cobwebs of banality that build up over time. Having the opportunity to share thoughts, laughter and questionable dance moves with those who never judge is time to to be treasured. So do it this week, arrange that catch up you‘ve been meaning to and make your soul smile.

The Cotswold Tearoom, 4 High Street, Moreton in Marsh   TEL: 01608 238123

Cake Diary: Fred & Ginger

Cake Diary: Fred & Ginger

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I LOVE breakfast. Mainly because my tummy is rumbling as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, due to this I must confess I have never been for brunch! Some of you may have recoiled in horror at that fact but this weekend I found out what I have been missing out on. With a free Saturday morning stretched out ahead of me I figured there was no better way to fill it than with food and friendship. My good friend of 25 years was my partner in cake today, or should I say the Ginger to my Fred!

As I was veering away from the norm I continued this theme by heading to Fred & Ginger, technically a coffee shop in contrast to the tea rooms I would normally frequent. Situated on the main high street in the village of Kings Langley, alongside plenty of quirky stores capable of draining your purse. Lot’s of goodies on offer from homeware to jewellery, and artwork to retro sweets.

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Photo Credit: fredandgingercoffee.co.uk

We managed to nab a table outside in the fresh air, being a popular yet cosy spot it was quite crowded and muggy inside. Juxtaposed with the surrounding historic buildings the interior is modern with an industrial twist. Tables of old floor boards, smartened up just enough, are surrounded by unrefined metal framed chairs. A general sense of reclamation and up-cycling done successfully with clean lines and trendy accessories. The muted colour scheme is lifted with accents of copper, beaten metal and pops of green from unfussy plant life. Naked Edison bulbs are draped from the ceiling on plain black cable, no frills or flounce here, even the staff are clean cut and trendy.

The atmosphere is relaxed, with dogs welcome there was one at nearly every table! You would expect chaos as dogs, children and food collide in a confined space but there remained an air of civility and decorum. As distracting as the puppies were I managed to focus on the food counter for my first brunch experience. I opted for avocado and tomato on toasted sourdough, check me out being all Gwyneth Paltrow!DSC_0306

The tomatoes were sun blushed and just sharp enough to cut through the creamy avocado. It could have done with a bigger kick of herbs or black pepper but I would have willingly devoured another slice…..or two!

The tea menu wasn’t extensive, but what did I expect for a coffee shop?! My normal tipple of choice is Earl Grey but as today was a day of trying new things I went for Chai (rhymes with pie). I am lead to believe that in many parts of the world ‘Chai” means “Tea” so it is, apparently, a little confusing asking for “Chai Tea” as you’re essentially asking for a cup of “tea tea”! But tea snobbery aside the brew was delicious. I chose to drink it black but you can add milk. The flavours of cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla were subtle with just a whisper of christmas. Unfortunately there are no home blends or loose leaf here, but they supply Tea Pigs which is more than acceptable to me.

Being brunch the sweet treats on offer were mostly pastries but I was intrigued by the pear and cardamom loaf which I felt would compliment my chosen brew. Unfortunately the cardamom was so subtle I may not have known it was there had I not been told, however, I appreciated the large chunks of soft, sweet pear throughout the slice. This kept the cake moist (sorry but there is no other word for it!), surrounded by light, crumbly sponge. In fact I noticed the sponge was very crumbly.

With each mouthful I became more suspicious, the mildly grainy texture on my tongue could mean only one thing…… Gluten Free!!!! Staff confirmed my suspicions and I have to confess I wouldn’t have chosen this cake had it been marked up as gluten free (personal preference). That would have been my loss as, despite the distinctive gluten free texture, the cake was fruitfully satisfying. Another tally for the day of firsts.

As we approached lunch time the cafe got very busy with people queuing out the door. Despite this we were never made to feel rushed or in the way. Strangers sat alongside each other on long communal tables. Even if I had been dining alone, as many were, it would have felt like a very social experience.DSC_0319

Another pot of tea later and it was time to leave behind the delicious looking lunch menu salads and the fresh batch of tantalising cakes that were brought out from the kitchen. Everything is made on site and that freshness is evident on every plate. I departed feeling satisfied but not guilty about an over indulgence, Fred & Gingers feels more like a refuel stop for after a yoga class or power walk than a naughty afternoon tea treat. So grab a friend, your dog or a good book and soak up some trendy Westend cafe vibes in this historic village setting.

 

 

Fred & Ginger Coffee, 38 High Street, Kings Langley, Hertfordshire   TEL: 01923 262420

GBBO (The Great British Baking Olympics)

GBBO (The Great British Baking Olympics)

Olympics, Shmolympics; the real competition starts here people! GBBO (The Great British Bake Off) is returning this week, like the old friend you rarely see but as soon as you get together it’s like you’ve never been apart. Seeing the white tent standing proud as the plucky theme tune fills my lounge fills me with fond anticipation. You may think me strange but there are certain GBBO rituals I like to adhere to:

– All chores must be done; washing up, dog fed, feet up – no distractions
– Don’t talk to me……unless the sentence involves the words “tea” and “would you like another cup of…”
– Tea must be brewed and accompanied by a slice of something appropriate (ideally co-ordinated to the bake of the week)
– Yes I have sky + but I don’t want to pause it, rewind it or skip any of it, there’s no need when there are no Ad breaks….it’s on the BBC for a reason (and there it should remain I might add).

So our bakers will make their pilgrimage to the hallowed tent and our journey begins. A quintessential British institution where we can enjoy watching everyday people trying to achieve baking perfection, us Brits love an underdog so the more incapable they are the more endeared we are to them. Like poor Dorret whose black forest gateau mousse oozed through her fingers and slid off the plate. We all felt her pain as she exclaimed “It’s not just a cake”

When they are not tugging at our heart strings the contestants never fail to deliver a drama. Who needs Eastenders or Corrie when GBBO tackles hard hitting controversy such as using the wrong custard or removing someone’s ice cream from the freezer!!! *gasp*

Thankfully Mel & Sue are on hand with words of wisdom and comfort. Like the naughty Aunts we all wish we had their charm and cheek lighten every drama. They have, in my opinion, the best job in the business. Without the pressure of the contestants or the responsibility of the judges they still get to sample all the delights on offer for, well, no real reason other than they want to! I’d be interested in their post GBBO fitness plan that’s for sure.

Presiding over all are our judges never letting us down by plucking obscure baking challenges from around the globe. That knowing glint in Paul’s eye as he swaggers around the tent. I can’t help but forgive his arrogance……have you seen those hands knead dough??!! Every bad cop needs a good cop and the lovely Mary Berry obliges, even with the worst bakes you can see her trying to find the positive. She is a national treasure, not to mention a fashion icon so what colourful ensembles will she be treating us to this year I wonder?

Served up with a large dollop of double entendre I can’t help but wonder if global viewers pickup on this very British wit. It all started with soggy bottoms and by series 6 we had people with uneven balls and a lesson on how to fan plums!! *blush*

I’m not always one to be patriotic but The Great British Bake Off fills me with British pride and hopefully this year’s clan: including a nurse, a pastor, an aerospace engineers and a selection of teachers won’t let us down. So grab a cuppa, get comfy and ready, steady, BAKE!

Getting Stoned (holistically speaking)

Getting Stoned (holistically speaking)

Would you consider yourself a person of faith? I know many people who would say “no” as they associate faith only with Religion. I suspect if you look a little deeper, as I did this week, you may discover some hidden away.

There is a spiritual and holistic centre in my home town and every time I pass the trinkets adorning the window displays always catch my eye. I thought it was about time I ventured in. Called The Enchanted Oak it evokes memories of the Enid Blyton books I read as a child. Images of a majestic oak tree, deeply grounded and protective of those sheltered by its branches.
I browsed open minded at the trays of beautiful stones, not really knowing what I was looking at. Every tray was different with stones that were brightly coloured, plain and understated, smooth to the touch, rustic, sparkling or layered with many colours. It’s hard to believe the earth produces them naturally. Tall glass cabinets showcased the larger rocks. Many were in a more natural form and appeared to me to have just been plucked from the mine, others were smoothly shaped into hearts or pendants. A stunning piece of Amethyst was brought to my attention and I learned how Amethyst is an “all-purpose” stone which encourages emotional and spiritual balance. This piece was jagged and complex containing a reservoir of water deep inside, within it a tiny bubble like a spirit level for your soul.
I was guided by a friend who knows me well (and also knows her crystals), I had been sharing with her the defences I build when it comes to relationships. I can be quick to withdraw when times get tough and my first instinct is always to protect my heart. Even in a long term relationship (which I am in) it often feels like those first few months when the thought of letting yourself love completely fills you with fear. Armed with this knowledge I was directed towards various stones with properties to assist me. I picked up a few and looked at the shapes and colours but one caught my eye; a smooth wedge of Rhodonite. I knew little about it but held it in my palm as I perused the other displays.

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The key to my heart!

Just a few minutes later I had to stop my friend and confess I was feeling a little odd. I am always open minded, with a healthy amount of cynicism, but my hand containing the Rhodonite felt heavy and my heart felt alive with static electricity. I took a second to stand back, did I really feel this way? was it just because I wanted to believe in something? Nope, it was real, flutters in my heart and, almost, a shortness of breath.
I approached the lady working in the store and flippantly asked “This rock makes me feel weird! What does that mean?” She was a short lady with a soft, welcoming face. Her right wrist adorned with crystal bracelets of every kind; I felt sure she must be indestructible!
Coming around the desk she enquired “Good weird? or bad weird?”
I explained my symptoms and opened my hand to show her my “kryptonite”. Her smile broadened as her eyes lit up knowingly. “Here we go”, I thought.
“Ah yes, Rhodonite, this is for your heart chakra. If you have any defences up or are closed to love this will be breaking down your barriers to open your heart”
Well that had hit the nail on the head!
“How much do you have in stock?……I’ll be needing all of it!” I half joked.
SOLD!, for only £1 I didn’t feel it was a risky investment. I kept it on my person over the next few days and it brought me level of comfort. I felt a sense of ease where I had previously felt tension. Who knows if it was the Rhodonite or, perhaps, because in that moment I felt that someone understood me and this stone was a talisman of that security.

To quote an 80’s pop star sometimes we just gotta have faith. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a God, a spirit, an angel, a person or a crystal. If it provides you with a hammock in which you can lay, supported and safe, then use it. It may be for just a moment or it may be for a lifetime but don’t be afraid to embrace something new or unknown; it just might guide you to where you need to be.

Cake Diary: The Tea Tree

Cake Diary: The Tea Tree

This week I joined a friend for lunch, and cake, at The Tea Tree in Hemel Hempstead old town. Since being revamped the old town has come into its own with antique shops, a monthly craft market and this enchanting tea room. From the outside you’d be forgiven for thinking The Tea Tree was another antique store with the original“Home and ColoniDSC_0273al” signage (a company founded in 1883!) above the door. The window is dressed with shabby chairs, a mahogany dresser displaying local produce and a well loved selection of teddies from a bygone era. The vintage theme is continued throughout; an eclectic mix of antique tables and chairs with a splash of chintz. You are welcomed with a smile and instantly made to feel at home, it all feels familiar as if you’re visiting a great aunt.

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This homely feel makes sense when you learn that The Tea Tree is a family affair. Lisa runs the front of house, her Aunty quit her job to do the baking and her mum helps out with the pastry side of things. Quite a change from Lisa’s previous life as a dance teacher, but having worked in numerous cafes’ she finally decided to take the leap and set up on her own. With their 2 year anniversary approaching on the 23rd August and every table full on a Wednesday lunchtime it seems she made a smart decision.
My eye was on the homemade cakes but being lunch time I thought it best to be grown up and sample a savoury option from the menu first. My friend and I both ordered Panini’s but due to a late delivery from the “Panini man” we were offered the same filling on our choice of bread as a toasty. The apologies from staff where not necessary as the delicious sun dried tomato and mozzarella on granary hit the spot. They didn’t scrimp on the cheese, it oozed from every side and the tomatoes were plump and zingy, crisps and a small side salad completed the plate. I found it reasonably priced for the portion size but it was significantly cheaper to take away. Being a stones throw from the beautiful St. Marys Church and Gadebridge Park this could be an option on a nice day.

Then came the big decision. The counter was laden with a variety of Aunty baked cakes and biscuits, including a gluten free option. As this was my first official review blog I thought I should start with my favourite…….Carrot Cake. The cakes looked reassuringly simple, no quadruple layered double chocolate, salted caramel with extra cream here. Traditional, homely and hearty to suit the surroundings. There was also a huge array of teas on offer, speciality blends displayed in jars like potions in an apothecary. I wanted something light and refreshing so chose the mint tea. My partner in cake today opted for a traditional Victoria Sponge and a decaf tea.


The cafe was busy but service was smooth and always with a smile. It didn’t take long for our treats to arrive on a mismatched selection of retro crockery. The tea cups may have been dainty but, to our delight, the slices of cake were not!! Fork in hand I delved into the denseDSC_0284 yet crumbly offering before me. The carrot cake had a lovely blend of spices to tickle the taste buds and was not too sweet, which balanced out the sugar kick from the icing beautifully. With each mouthful I discovered something new, a large chunk of walnut, a juicy raisin, a hit of cinnamon dusted icing. Satisfyingly stodgy it did what a carrot cake should; filled me up with warm, spicy, carroty goodness.
The Victoria Sponge was ladylike in comparison to the carrot cakes stocky presence, an uncanny reflection of the patrons consuming them some might say!! Beautifully light in colour with a delicate spread of icing on the top and within. The fruity layer of jam could have been thicker but it kept each bite fresh. The cheeky glacier cherry on top made me smile and sent me right back to my childhood, eating them straight from the pot!


Loose leaf mint tea always takes a while to brew and I was a little impatient I’m afraid. My first cup was a tad weak but refreshing enough to cleanse my pallet between full-flavoured mouthfuls of cake. Patience is a virtue when it comes to brewing tea…….lesson learned!

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Lisa (on the right) with her lovely girls

After speaking with Lisa and the girls I found their approach to tea and cake synonymous with mine; a relaxed, happy time to be spent with friends and family. They combine this with hearty home cooking and generous portions which makes The Tea Tree popular for lunch, afternoon tea and private functions. If you fancy a stroll into the past I recommend this little gem. I know I will be returning………the scones looked AMAZING!!!

The Tea Tree, 23 High Street, Hemel Hempstead, HP1 3AA        TEL: 01442 217354

About blogging time!!!

About blogging time!!!

So here I am, tucking into a distinctly mediocre lemon drizzle cake from my local bakery (I prefer the lemon sharp enough to make my lips disappear, I’m afraid this one is more drizzle than lemon!), sipping a cup of earl grey and finally starting my blog!

I feel like it’s been years in the making but you can’t rush into these things. In baking terms my idea “kneaded” time to “prove”……oh dear! I’m always one for a trip advisor review and my friends and I love an afternoon catching up over tea and cake. It seemed the perfect combo, so my blog idea was born.

My first post just happens to fall on national afternoon tea week and I have been discovering there are more variations on afternoon tea that one person can experience in a  life time (now there’s a challenge). It seems you don’t even have to stick with tea, be it builders or herbal, many Hotels are offering Champagne, Prosecco or even Gin as an accompaniment. Everything in moderation my dear.

For those a little more health concious La Suite West at Hyde Park is offering a vegan Afternoon tea accompanied by 100% organic, natural tea infusions. I feel cleansed just reading about it, although I’m not sure that’s what I crave from a cakey treat!

For kids, large or small, the Taj Hotel has a Jungle Book Themed Tea in conjunction with Hamleys and the Born Free Foundation. An quirky menu including Mowgli’s jungle pink guava and basil Jelly, Shere Khans masala chai Eclair and curry egg mayo in a brioche bun. A little pricey at £45 but at least some of the proceeds are going to charity.

If you fancy something a little more relaxing The Montagu Hotel if offering Afternoon Tea alongside an Elemis facial and goody bag. This comes in a tidy £38 per person or £47 with a glass of bubbly! Pretty average pricing for the London Hotels and they all seem to be on board with the National celebration of this British tradition; The Palm Court Park Lane, Fortnum & Mason, and The Dorchester to mention just a few. These prices will guarantee you quality goodies crafted by a skilled pâtissier and there is no question that the surroundings will be plush, however, at these places I often feel a little bit Pretty Woman at the Polo!

Traditional afternoon tea is something everyone should experience to enjoy the glamour and ceremony of it all. However this is not a place I’d like to live, I can visit on occasion and act lady like for a few hours but ultimatley I want to be at ease. The Afternoon Tea Week site is a little London heavy which is a shame. Maybe next year, as it’s popularity grows, there will be more independent bakers promoted.

Whether it’s a country house, a posh hotel, a local bakery or your own kitchen make some time for you this week and enjoy a slice of what you fancy. I know I will be!