Tis’ the Season…….

Tis’ the Season…….

…….to be jolly and laugh with friends and family

……..to be thankful for all the love and support that surrounds you

……..to eat, drink and be merry. Treat yourself and relax

……..take pleasure in the gift of giving

……..show respect and thanks to all those working the Christmas period, many of them keeping us safe and healthy

……..reflect on the past year, take stock and look to a bright future

This year I finally took the plunge and started this blog. It has brought me hours of pleasure visiting amazing venues with those close to me. I have also found great satisfaction in retuning my creative side and spending time writing. I have challenged myself with photography projects and grown in confidence as I learn. What a year it has been!!

I’d like to thank you all for reading, it means a lot to me that something I do can bring pleasure to others. I am so grateful for the kind comments and support along the way.

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, I hope you get to enjoy some time together over the festive period and roll on 2017 with all the new adventures it may bring!!

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Cake Diary: Timbers in Essex

Cake Diary: Timbers in Essex

Before the chaos of the festive period began I went to visit my Mum who now lives in Essex. Despite it’s bad press and tacky image on TV Essex is a beautifully green county where you can swap your heels for hunters and enjoy the countryside. Mum wanted to visit a small craft centre she had often driven past to see what was on offer and with the promise of tea and cake I did not take much persuading.

The Blake House Craft Centre is just outside Braintree in Essex and consists of converted farm buildings housing a variety of businesses including a reclamation shop, holistic health centre and haberdashers. You can find bespoke pieces of furniture and nicknacks for the home, have your tarot cards read or treat yourself to a piece of handmade jewellery. Conservatory and new kitchen show rooms sit in juxtaposition and seemed a strange addition for a “craft centre”. Never the less it was a pleasure getting lost in the personality of each stable showcasing their wears.

The centre piece is an imposing 17th century timbered barn housing Timbers Restaurant. The building is stunning with its exposed beams and wonky walls. Inside is dimly lit with a sense of history. The high ceilings let you know you are in a barn and you can picture the towering sheaves of wheat, barley and oats that would have been housed here from the harvest. Dark wood and lanterns give slightly more atmosphere than is required for an afternoon snack and the sight of the dark patterned carpet elicited memories of the good old British pub (thankfully our feet did not stick to it and there wasn’t a lingering smell of cigarette smoke from the 90’s).

The serving counter and till area doubles up as the bar in the evenings, with the only fluorescent lighting in the room dowsing the staff there was a sense of a working mans club. Bottles of spirits and beer on tap stood proud next to stainless steel tea pots and a display of the teabags on offer. It felt an odd combination but the cake counter looked divine, with lots to choose from. The one that caught my eye was a spiced parsnip, maple and pecan cake!! What a combination! Mum ordered the St Clements cake, which would have been my second choice.

Around us people were eating their Sunday roast (which looked amazing) and up on the mezzanine floor a large party was enjoying the full afternoon tea. Although it was busy there were plenty of staff so we did not have to wait long to be served. Delicious slices of cake on delicate vintage plates were served next to pots of Twinnings tea. It’s a shame the cups were not of the same nature as the sturdy white cups had more of a little chef feel that an afternoon tea vibe.

The parsnip cake was a delight, lightly spiced with sharp cream cheese icing, drizzled with sweet maple sauce. A fabulous alternative to my favourite carrot cake. You can’t usually convince me to eat a parsnip, not even roasted in honey! However it seems if you bake with eggs and flour and smother it in icing I don’t take much persuading. The St Clements was more sweet that citrus but the icing was zesty and the sponge light. I found this slightly drier that the parsnip cake but by no means too dry to enjoy.

I was torn in my opinion of this venue as it felt dated, however I loved the decor that was sympathetic to the buildings origins; antique farming equipment and copper pots around the wood burner. I fear Timbers is trying to be all things to all people, serving hearty breakfasts and Sunday roasts, afternoon teas and real ales as well as putting on evening entertainment and an a la carte menu. I can imagine their clientele is loyal and local, with families able to bring along all generations for good food and entertainment. Perhaps a little ambiguous in comparison to the dedicated tea shops I have visited, however I cannot fault the quality of the food, all the cakes are home made and fresh, served by friendly staff who were happy to help.

We sat in the candle light enjoying our treat and catching up on life, which is imperative when your family is not on your door step. The venue becomes irrelevant when the company is so important and perhaps that is why this business is thriving. After all if it aint’ broke……..

Timbers @ Blake House Craft Centre, Raine, Braintree, Essex, CM77 6RA     TEL: 01376 552553

Missing: The Disappearance of Chelsea Bun

Missing: The Disappearance of Chelsea Bun

via Daily Prompt: Missing

When I was at school I used to see Chelsea Bun every day. Warm and curvaceous she stood out amongst the other sweet treats on offer in the canteen. One of our dinner ladies even nick named me Chelsea after my addiction to this baked delight. Not for the light of appetite she does not leave you wanting, filling you with rich dough and dried fruit. There was something satisfying about picking the sugar crystals from the glazed top and crunching each one between my teeth. Then carefully starting to unwind the swirl revealing a layer of sweet cinnamon dusted over soft bread inside. Flavours of warm spice mingle with sweet currents and candied peel as the swirl wraps you up like a blanket. Licking sticky fingers clean I’d mop up every last sugary crumb, a clean plate every time.

But where has she gone? These days you’re more like to see her gaudier sister, Belgian Bun, dripping in white icing and topped with a cherry. The classy Chelsea Bun is a rare sight in bakeries and supermarkets alike. If I happen across her by chance I have to snap up the opportunity to relive those teenage days when carbs didn’t matter. My senses send me back 20 years and she never fails to put a smile on my face.

I’d love to know what bake or cake reminds you of your youth, please share in the comments below. If they are still available treat yourself to a walk down memory cake lane.

MISSING

chelseabuns
The lesser spotted Chelsea Bun (not photographed by myself unfortunately)

 

DETAILS:

NAME : Chelsea Bun

HEIGHT : 3-4cm

WEIGHT : 60-80g

Description: Sticky, golden top with swirls of cinnamon and dried fruit

LAST SEEN :

Morrison’s 3 months ago

Sainsbury’s over 2 years ago

My Secondary School in the 90’s

IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

Tea & Happiness

Soul Food Photography

Soul Food Photography

This time last week I had spent the day feeding my creative habit, combining two of my passions; food & photography. I am lucky enough to have a good friend who is studying at The School of Artisan Food and she invited me along to one of their short courses to indulge my photographic creativity. As you may have noticed from my blog I love taking pictures of food but I am the first to admit that they don’t always turn out as I envisage. Having taken general photography courses to familiarise myself with my DSLR I felt it was about time I sought some professional guidance on this area of photography which is fast becoming my passion. The School offers a one day introduction to food photography run by the very talented Joan Ransley.

Since booking the course I started following Joan on social media and her website. I felt an instant connection to her style; simple stunning food on rustic backgrounds. Each shot has a natural feel that makes you want to reach out and touch it, the textures and colours bringing the image to life. Everything looks so fresh and delicious I warn you not to peruse her website on an empty stomach!! In awe of her work and a hunger (not just metaphorically speaking) to produce images even half as good as hers I couldn’t wait to learn from a pro.
The School is situated on The Welbeck Estate, a historic site nestled within Sherwood Forest, North Nottinghamshire. The estate has been developed to support artists and traditional trades. Buildings and barns have been converted into workshops for talented folk who hand make jewellery and art work. Browsing the stunning hand made goods and seeing the artists at work was a really joy. Much of the site is open to the public including an art gallery and Farm shop which is supplied by the on site bakery and brewery. Amongst this thriving creative community is the School of Artisan food which nurtures traditional processes for bread making, Cheese making, brewing, charcuterie and confectionary.
As soon as I arrived the relaxed, creative atmosphere embraced me and I knew I was in for a good day. We were greeted with a selection of teas and pastries made by the amazing on site artisan bakers. I dowsed a buttery, flaky croissant with their home made jam and washed it down with a cup of earl grey to set me up for the day ahead. Joan welcomed us with her warm smile, putting us at ease no matter what level of photography experience we had. Starting with a short presentation we familiarised ourselves with the camera settings we would be using and Joan shared some of her exquisite shots to demonstrate how to set the scene.
It was then time to wrap up warm and head outside where we were working in a stunning old barn, it’s huge wooden doors propped open to let the dusky autumn light flood in. Benches brimmed with props sparking our inspiration, trigger fingers  began to twitch as we were keen to start snapping. Joan set us on our way with a few hints and tips on how to get the “perfect shot” (does it exist?). She made it look so simple I feared it would take me a little longer to achieve something I was pleased with! Thankfully we had a small group so Joan and her colleague Alison were both on hand to assist us with queries and inspire us when our own creativity froze. Playing with light and colour we all soon got lost in our lenses.


Despite rumbling tummies we took some convincing to step away from our cameras to break for lunch; however, given our location it was clear we wouldn’t be faced with a dodgy buffet. Calling it a canteen would be an insult as the cozy lunch room was warm and welcoming. Chunky wooden tables and chairs were surrounded by shelving units displaying cook books and fresh produce. At the far end was a small open kitchen where our chef for the day had rustled up the most amazing lunch. The serving bench was laden with blushing roast loin of Welbeck venison, fresh seasonal veg and the crispiest of crispy roast potatoes. For those with room it was followed by a cheese board with homemade chutneys. This is not your average school dinner!

img_4621
Welbeck Venison Loin

With thawed fingers and toes we headed back out to the barn to continue with our shoot. The food was so fresh and delicious inspiration kept flowing as we tried new angles and back drops. The light dimmed throughout the afternoon so we utilised the courtyard to capture the soft glow of the sun as it retired for the day. Later in the afternoon we were given the opportunity to visit the working bakery to try some actions shots. My senses were overloaded as the noise and warmth of the kitchen hit me. I watched as bakers prepared focaccia and uniform bread rolls, stacked and ready to be slotted into the industrial ovens. The smell of warm, fresh bread made my mouth water but I had to try and concentrate. Faced with new challenges I tried not to get in anyone’s way whilst also achieving the correct lighting, composition & exposure. It was exciting to be in the busy kitchen seeing the breads journey as hands worked the dough bringing the loaf to life.


Exhausted but proud of all of our hard work we reconvened in the warmth to share our best shots and receive feedback. Joan was constructive and supportive with no question unwelcome. She helped us understood why something’s had gone wrong and how to improve. Artists of any kind always see the worst in their work so we all supported each other and praised the fabulous shots we all achieved. It was a real thrill to have my work appraised by a professional.


Looking back at my shots now I can see how my technique improved throughout the day and I am very proud of what I achieved. The school is a creative world to get lost in whilst learning skills you can take home and share with friends and family. I cannot recommend this organisation enough, whether you fancy a wander around the estate with its art gallery and farm shop or you choose to expand your knowledge of artisan processes. In an age of over processed, industrially produced food it gives you a sense of wellbeing to understand where food comes from and how to get the best from natural ingredients. This weekend was good for my soul and I encourage you to seek out some soul food of your own to feed your creativity…….enjoy 🙂