Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Number 41: Fresh from the Oven does Panettone

This is my first Fresh from the Oven experience...

Fresh from the Oven is a group of (primarily foodie) bloggers who set themselves monthly baking challenges. I stumbled across their host site through my usual random click-throughs, but I loved their cinnamon rolls challenge and asked if I could join in. It is a closed group so you have to have get permission to see the challenge site, so I wasn't at all sure I would qualify, but it has been lovely to be 'let in' ;-)

This month is panettone, the traditional Italian christmas sweet bread. I love sweet breads - they remind me of hot milk bread toast which we used to have when we stayed with our grandparents, and still make me smile when I see the round loaves on the shelves in the supermarkets.

The challenge has been set by Maison Cupcake, who has also really helpfully added two different recipes to her challenge post, with hints and tips from her first run through. But the instructions for panettone are daunting beyond measure. It has three rises in all, needs a special tall tin and gives the impression of being very unforgiving to interpretation. Which for a baker who doesn't need much persuading to be flexible with the rules isn't ideal.

On the good side, it isn't an artisan bread in the sense that you have to save up for a month and go to three specialist shops to get the ingredients. If you make both bread and cakes, you'll have everything you need in the store cupboard.

I ended up using a recipe from the Encyclopaedia of Bread, which I chose mainly on the basis that I have the book and therefore didn't need to print it off, plus it used a cake tin which I thought was worth a try. Unfortunately, I didn't take into account that books have MISTAKES! I know it is bad when I have got a pencil out to tick off the ingredients and stages and I still can't make it make sense.

The first stage is to mix together the yeast with flour and the warm water, to have the first activation and to let it 'go spongey'. It neglected to say NOT ALL of the flour, so I ended up with a dry dough, not a sponge, which was then really hard to mix soft butter and eggs into at the next stage. It looked dreadful, the second rise looked more like a split cake mix than bread and kneading it was just messy, but by that point there was no going back.

I used a double height greaseproof lining for the cake tin, to enable the bread to rise over the top of the tin, which it had done already by the end of the third rise (although still looking a bit dodgy in every other way).

I shoved it in the oven anyway and when the bread came out, well, it was much better than I was expecting. It was a bit dense and cakey rather than light and fluffy, but the fruit had stayed distributed and it tasted lovely.

Really pleased I had a go. And yes, I added cherries as I love them :-)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Number 40: design a website

The sharp eyed among you will notice that I clearly state in my banner that this blog won't be one of my firsts, even though it was (and is) the first time I have done this.

However, now I am reaching a point of mulling over the year (and still determined to do 52 despite still lagging behind) I have realised that I have achieved quite a lot of virtual firsts, which add up to being a definite achievement in their own right.

As well as this blog, which came first, I have
- designed and stocked an online shop at www.folksy.com/saysalice
- created a second crafty blog at www.saysalice.co.uk
- created a website for my small copywriting business
- created a website for friend who has a holiday cottage

Which makes five in total, which from a standing start of none in January is pretty good going I think.

There are also a lot of things I now would not be able to do without a virtual existence so I am really pleased I took the plunge and had a go. I blog films, book, scavenger hunts, photos, cookery and a wide variety of other things, some of which have brought some lovely connections to people that I would never have made otherwise.

So, although I wouldn't have put this as an exciting thing to do, it is a significant one, And it takes me into the 40s - wahey!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Number 39: edit and publish a FILM!

Unfortunately, not one I can show you :-(

Someone twittered last week that there is a project called 'Britain in a Day' which is a film being put together by Ridley Scott as part of the cultural olympiad. There is more info about the project here, but it boils down to people like me wandering around and filming their day on 12 November, submitting the footage to them via YouTube, and having a chance at getting some of it into the final movie.

The whole finished product will be made out of the home movies submitted by people, and all of it will be from Saturday 12 November.

I was lucky enough to get a little video camera for my birthday this year. Even better, it's a waterproof one and Saturday is our family swimming day. Magic.

After filming a fair amount on the day, I then had to tackle iVideo, which is about the most off-putting piece of software I have ever seen. Thank crikey I have a husband who hates to be defeated by anything. He had a play with it first and could then give me the idiots guide...

So, with 5 minutes of edited together footage, I uploaded it to youtube and shared it with the Britain in a Day team. I reckon the odds have to be with me on this one - my luck at getting tickets for the olympics themselves has been terrible, so I'm due one going my way :-)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Number 5 revisited: I saw a murmuration!

I did! I did!
Not these though - my photographic skills, dusk and fog would have been a disastrous combination.
These are from the Minsmere homepage, with thanks.

After my efforts last February at our local RSPB reserve, where the starlings had upped and left the day before, I thought this one was firmly on the fail list.

But yesterday I had a lucky last minute opportunity to catch up with one of my favourite families AND eat chips by the sea AND eat cake AND do the ministry of silly walks with three year olds AND go to Minsmere in the hope of seeing the starlings.

We got there as dusk was already falling, with just enough time to have a quick apple juice and slice of cake before heading out to the nearest hide to see what we could see through the mist. Sure enough, the birds were gathering already and we were lucky enough to see the flocks start to form over the reed beds. It wasn't the hugest display, or the most spectacular, or with a magical sunset background, but it truly was an amazing thing to see. Even though the boys were mostly looking forward to seeing an owl!

The starlings very nearly lost their starring role though, to two amazing roe deer, who stood motionless in the woods as we walked past them. As the light fell they really did look like magical creatures.

What a fantastic day :-)

Friday, 18 November 2011

New film review: A single man

New film review loaded up. Not at the top of my list, but not awful either.
Review under the Film 2010 tab. Look up...

Friday, 11 November 2011

Number 38: new book club

One of the challenges I nearly did this year was to read the top 20 books of 2010, much like the film 2010 thing. I decided against it as I was at the beginning of the Forsyte Saga (9 books) and with an already embarrassingly large pile of unread books awaiting my attention.

Plus I used to be in a book club that has morphed into a film club (see number 24). My track record isn't good.

But I have kind of missed the opportunity to read books that you might never choose for yourself so I started looking for another book club to join. With the added limitation that I wanted one during the day rather than the evening. This is a rare creature as it turns out.

After much googling, I found one run by the Norwich Arts Centre, monthly and during the day. All boxes ticked so far. They put the book listing on the website so you can just turn up on the day without booking a place and it did optimistically say new members were welcome.

So along I went on Wednesday to find a really friendly group of ladies (are book clubs always ladies?). They were not at all academic, which I was a bit worried about and didn't laugh when I chipped in with my random thoughts.

I'm really glad I went and think I'll definitely try to get along to it next month. If there is one theme from this 52 challenge thing that is becoming obvious it that I often end up asking myself 'why haven't I done this before'?

PS - the book we read was The Stone Diaries by Carol Chields. A good one, to be recommended.
PPS - I am up to book 8 of the Forsytes and will miss them when I have finished.
PPPS - the book pile is now teeteringly large...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Number 23 the sequel: flash mobbing

Some of you may remember that I blogged a flash mobbing event back in the summer, which the choir organised for its summer outing to the beach. It was fun, but really quite informal and not something you would sum up as a proper performance.

Which is why the event we have just done for the Forum's 10th birthday merits a mention: it was at the other end of the scale. It was a booked performance, by request of the event management team at the Forum, and they had asked for a proper 'flash mob' style start, with us just milling about like normal library customers.

We had proper songs to rehearse and even had a trial run late one evening in the Forum, to check we all knew what to do. 

The songs we sang were a couple of spirituals plus 'Song for the asking' by Simon and Garfunkel (which I love love love), and 'Don't fence me in'.

It was really amazing to be part of. There was a real buzz about the choir and it came together brilliantly. I think we all wished we had more than 15 minutes to perform, as once we had all gathered together there were so many of us that we could make a lovely sound inside the Forum. Although I have to say that I *really* struggled with our first song. I managed to stand with the tenors and couldn't hold the alto line at all, but that says more about my concentration problems than anything else!

The Norwich Community Choir is an fantastic thing to be part of - now I just have the Christmas carols to learn!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Number 37: cinder toffee

Or honey comb toffee, or hokey pokey, or that-stuff-in-the-middle-of-crunchie-bars. In all honesty, it was so disastrously unsuccessful that it doesn't really matter!

I decided to have a crack at this for bonfire night, to go with the traditional soup, stodge and parkin that we treat ourselves to for the evening. I've seen it made on TV on many a Bake Off / Masterchef / Saturday Kitchen, so all you have to do it follow the instructions, right?

Probably, yes. But what I did was fall into the trap of finding one well reviewed but complicated recipe and one 'chuck it all together, it'll be fine' recipe and thought I'd combine the best bits of each. This attitude will get you nowhere with cinder toffee.

Detailed recipe is probably perfect and can be found here:

Simple recipe here:

Combine the two (bigger quantities and wanton disregard for a sugar thermometer, which I do have but couldn't be bothered to get out of the drawer) and this is what you get:


I was all pleased with myself when I poured it into the tray, as it bubbled all over the place and looked exactly as it ought to. And three hours later this is what I find. It hasn't even hardened enough to use as toffee. 

Note to self - use recipes with good reviews and don't be so lazy. Also, take more photos while the cooking is in progress as by the end it could all have gone wrong!