Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cooking For One In A House Of Three

I am not a big foodie, but I do like to cook for the family sometimes, especially when I see a tasty recipe I can take elements from, or adapt to suit my sometimes picky food tastes (I hate onion), but cooking for myself if my parents are out is a different matter.

You'd think it would be easier cooking for one than three right? not always the case, and one of the reasons I think is a lack of motivation. When I am cooking for myself, for some reason, I can never think of any ideas, and it takes me a lot longer to make my dinner.

I'm not a big ready meal fan either, I just don't like some of the ideas, and a roast in the microwave just isn't going to cut it! Apart from the very rare chicken curry, (one thing that does make the grade), I would rather cook something for myself.

So apart from my lack of motivation, and ready meal apathy, what else is wrong? Well, my failure to ever be able to cook a decent egg of any description doesn't help! I'm always a bit worried it won't be cooked enough, and therefore end up with rubbery scrambled egg, or a fried egg with a rock solid centre! I'm sure I could think of a few other fails as well, but that's a whole other post!

I also live in a house of three, so the weekly shopping is for three, which means there are some things that just wont fit into a meal for one, such as joints of meat, and some things that have already been earmarked for family meals.

So what do I fall back on? Sometimes I go for fish and chips, more often than not I opt for a plate of pasta or rice, with tuna or ham, or sometimes something a bit more random like lamb chops, or chicken cordon bleu. I'm never going to starve (there's always potato waffles in the freezer), but I do miss out on a decent dessert though. I follow a cake recipe and end up with something mouse size!

Some might read this and think its just lack of practice, others may think, why don't you go to the shops and buy something if you're stuck. Either or both could be true, but it's still a challenge at times to cook for one.

I can content myself with two things though. Firstly my 'family meals' have gone down really well so far, secondly, I can still cook a lot better than my Dad!

Keep your eyes on the blog for more baking, food, and some perfect snacks for a night in!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Katy Sue Designs Flowers Silicone Mould Review

Flowers Silicone Mould
I celebrated my birthday on June 12th (Happy Birthday to me!), and decided I'd treat myself to something new and crafty to make things with. For the first time I made an order with Create and Craft, and was pretty impressed with the service. The item arrived quicker than expected, so I've already had time to make some things.

I chose the Flowers Silicone Mould from Katy Sue designs, which can be used for chocolate, and sugar paste/icing work, though I bought mine to use with Premo, an oven baked clay. The mould arrived and looked very durable and sturdy, so I think it will last me a long time, and I was quite impressed with the detailing on each different flower in the mould as well. There are four different flowers to choose from, so you can have fun making up lots of different arrangements.

Why Not Try Using Embossing Powder?
It took me a few goes just to get used to the technique of folding the material away from the sides, but this is a tool anyone can have a go at using, with good results.

My tip would be to check the amount of Premo/Fimo you use. A little will go a long way in moulds this size, but you don't want to make the flowers too thin, as I discovered, when one of mine bubbled and boiled into a heap of mess when I baked it. If you have a little bit of depth to the flower you can make the most of the 3D effect, and ensure easy baking.

It's best to make up a batch of flowers before you head to the oven, and then you need to be on red alert. The Premo packet suggested putting the oven at a temperature of 130c for 30 minutes, but these flowers are very small, and my oven can get hot. So I tried 120c and kept a close watch. They were ready in 4-5 minutes. I've put a picture of the results below.

The Results!
My silicone mould retailed at £7.99, and while at first I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend the money, I don't regret it. If you can get a good quality result, from something you are likely to use again and again, I think it's worth investing in.

You can find out more about Katy Sue Designs, and their products here. Don't forget though, if you want to do both food and clay work, buy separate moulds for each.

Have you tried any silicone moulds for your craft projects? or found any gadgets that you just can't live without? leave a comment below and let everyone know.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Guest Post: Giant Cupcake Mould Review

These City Days likes cake, and let's face it, who doesn't?! so as blog host and founder, I decided to bring in a guest blogger to bring you all things baking. So please say hello, comment, and sit back with a cuppa and look out for plenty of cakes and bakes.

Hi all, just a few words to introduce myself. I'm Vicky, a 31 year old mum to be from the sunny Isle of Wight, who is obsessed with all things cake! I have a particular affection for cupcakes and butter cream! I'm very excited to have been asked to contribute some baking loveliness to Lauren's fab new blog and hope to include reviews of baking gadgets, techniques, and a recipe of the week in the coming months.
I start this week with a review of the Big Top Giant Cupcake Mould. I lusted after one of these for what felt like an age, but finally got round to trying it this week courtesy of a generous husband trying to keep his wife occupied on maternity leave! In all honesty I didn't hold out much hope for the end result, after all, how often do baking gadgets promise professional results but leave you bereft, surrounded by icing explosions or a pile of burnt biscuits. However, I gave it a go buoyed by the marketing spiel of a cake 'easy to build, assemble and decorate'.
The red silicone mould retails at approximately  £6.00 to £10.00 and is widely available from eBay and Amazon. This is pretty competitive when compared with its tin counterpart, which can set you back £20.00 to £30.00. It comes in three separate parts: top, bottom, and an insert that enables you to create a well for your favourite fillings - cream, jam, or fruit for the more virtuous of you ( not me!). The possibilities are endless.
The instructions are clear but to the point, but the included recipes are limited. However, a quick trawl of the internet brings a plethora of options for all tastes. I plumped for the good old tried and tested vanilla option.
Whilst the moulds are silicone they do need to be thoroughly greased prior to use. You can use butter, but I would really recommend a baking release spray - less mess, more economical, and a better result. Dr Oetker Cake Release Spray is a good place to start and readily available at most supermarkets. You can also use a cooking spray with similar results.
*TIP* Cooking timings are included but think they can be fairly hit and miss, and much depends on the type of my oven you have. Bear in mind the top section needs less time to cook, and you will need to keep an eye on both parts to gauge the bake. As the top can often cook quicker, to prevent a burnt top, you can cover with baking parchment or a silicone sheet.
Having left the moulds to cool for an hour post baking, which for me, as the least patient person known to man, was blooming difficult, I was pleasantly surprised to see both parts of the cake pop out the moulds with ease. All that was left was to trim both cakes to ensure they sat flush and then to go wild with jam, butter cream and the fondant decs ,( see pics) with a bomb site kitchen testament to this!
The Finished Result!
I would really recommend this product to all bakers. Giant cupcakes are as popular as ever for birthday and wedding cakes, with great scope for personalisation. They often come with a hefty price tag if you buy one (£30.00 to £40.00) so I would say have a go yourself.
*TIP* The mould is also really useful for a chocolate piƱata , a chocolate cupcake shell full of sweets. All you need is a couple of layers of chocolate or candy melts, left to cool in the fridge for 15 minutes between each layer. Check out some of the fab You Tube tutorials for more info.
Well, that's all folks and thanks for reading. Get baking!
Check out Victoria's Cakes and Bakes on Facebook, and come back for more things baking soon. These City Days says 'Keep Calm and Eat Cake'.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Penpalling And Post

How many of you are guilty of sending one word text messages, populating your Facebook feed with pictures, and sending a quick how are you via E-Mail? There has been a lot in the press about the decline in the numbers of letters sent, and how people are turning to mobile phones, social media, and e-cards to communicate instead. The first question I would ask is, if we are all guilty of the above, and more, how much effort are we really putting into communicating with our friends and family, and is it really the same as posting something?

I am active on most of the social media channels, and I am an active penpal, which has led me to write this post. I keep in touch with some of my penpals via What's App or Facebook, as some have busy lives and are not as in to letter writing anymore, but for me, the best way to catch up with my penpals is by letter. Whether I can write a reply in an evening, or it takes two weeks, I am writing something private and personal to my penfriends, and having a proper catch up. A letter enables me to say things I don't want the whole world reading on Facebook, and I can chat about a lot of different topics, and write more than I would in any other form. That is why I write letters, and why I love hearing from people all over the UK, and sometimes abroad. A penpal letter means I can share interests, find out about different cultures, and make new friends, and it's something I've been doing on and off since I was 13/14. I love getting post and swapping stories with my penfriends, coming up with little surprises for their Christmas and birthdays, and as someone who doesn't have too many friends locally, having contact through snail mail gives me both a hobby, and continued contact with people.

So I disagree with those who think letter writing and snail mail is a lost art. There are many of us who still love traditional post, and will hopefully continue to do so for a long time to come. What are your thoughts on letter writing and penpalling? Have you made some great friends? do you have any tips or links to share? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Tennis Themed Ice Cream In Time For Wimbledon

One of the things I love about being a blogger is the power to pick and choose interesting stories to write about, and share with all you blog readers, and this one is definitely caught my eye.

I'm counting down the days until the world's best tennis players hit the courts of Wimbledon, and while strawberries and cream is high on my list of tasty treats when I'm watching the matches, I have to say if I was in London in late June or July I'd definitely be checking out the ice cream on offer at Daphne's Restaurant in South Kensington. I'm a bit fussy when it comes to ice cream and sorbet, and while I'm not completely adventurous, I think the flavours available in the shops are pretty boring and lack variety.

There's no cookie dough or rocky road in sight with this summer ice cream selection though, and they all have a tennis theme as well, which I think is really novel. Daphne's will be selling ice cream cones via a funky pink ice cream cart outside their restaurant on the 29th and 30th of June, along with the 6th of 7th of July, and diners can also head to their rooftop conservatory as part of their a la carte menu. The staff at the restaurant bill their six ice creams and sorbets as "unique and mouth watering", and from the looks of the menu, they have something to suit most tastes. So what can you choose from if you're in the area and in the mood for some gelato?

  • Lob? It Was On The Lime : green tea and lime infused sorbet.
  • Grand Slam Orange Barley Granita: pure orange sorbet.
  • Strawberry and Shortbread Smash: An ice cream mix of fresh strawberries, and some tasty all butter English shortbread.
  • Pimms And Cucumber Sideline Sorbet: An interesting Pimms sorbet with candied cucumber as a garnish.
  • Chocolate And Deuce Dolce Di latte Ripple: Italian chocolate ice cream and toffee sauce ripple.
  • Peach and Prosecco Ace: A tasty sorbet with a prosecco infusion, and made with Italian blush peaches.
I am a real sorbet fan, so I think the orange sorbet would be top of my list, though I think I'd try some of the other sorbets and the strawberry ice cream as well. Now if only they had a mail order option, I'm starting to crave some sorbet now!

If you are in the area on the dates above, look out for the ice cream cart, or find out more at Daphne's website.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Craft Post: Chelmsford Community Pop-Up Art and Craft Shop

One of my items in the pop-up shop

If any of you are in or near Chelmsford, or paying my city a visit, why not take a trip into High Chelmer Shopping Centre and hunt through the treasures in the pop-up art and craft shop. This pop-up shop first appeared in 2012, and was open several times throughout the year. The success and interest in the shop has meant it is back bigger and better, and is packed full of products made or painted by local artists and makers.

The concept was the brainchild of Getting Around Chelmsford/ Shop Mobility Chelmsford, a registered charity providing mobility scooters and other support aids to help mums, the disabled, and anyone with mobility problems for other reasons, such as pregnancy or illness. The charity recently celebrated it's 10th Birthday, and had plenty of cake to celebrate all their hard work.

But back to the shop, which is typically open Monday-Saturday from 10-4pm, and is staffed by volunteers, many of whom are artists stocking items in the shop. I'm excited to say this something I am involved in as a maker, and it's the first time I have sold my handcrafted cards and craft in a retail setting. I was pretty nervous when I went in to set up my space, and had no idea of what to expect in terms of sales etc. This time round the shop opened on the 25th January so I've had a few months of sales come in now, and it's going pretty well.

The pop-up shop is a retail trend that is getting bigger, and something I wrote about for Issue 2 of Crafty Magazine. It was really interesting researching the subject, and comparing it with my own experiences. I can definitely say pop-up retail is the way to go. I am giving back to a worthy charity through a percentage of my sales, have easily made back my joining fee, and have met some new and interesting people, who have been really encouraging, not just of my craft, but of my writing as well. Encouragement, and sales definitely help the inspiration as well, so since I've had my work in the shop I've bought a few new crafty toys, and tried out some new items in the shop. Always a rollercoaster, but you never know who will walk in, and what they will buy, so it's all a buzz.

I've been in the shop stocking up a good few times, and have heard some of the positive comments given to the volunteers and shop manager, and it's lovely to hear. This is a shop that gives a selling opportunity to all kinds and levels of crafter/artist, and opens up retail selling to those who maybe can't afford to rent shop space, or buy a stall at a craft fair. Plus it fills an empty shop with something useful, and in demand, so it's a win win situation at the moment.

If you'd like to check out some of the artists/makers who are currently stocking items in the shop, there's a few links below, but do pay the shop a visit when it's open.

Helles Belles Art

  1. Getting Around Chelmsford (More about the charity and their shops)
  2. Chelmsford Community Pop-up Shop Facebook Group
  3. Helles Belles Art
  4. Alison John
  5. My Facebook Page
  6. Handmade By Joli

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Anttix Tornado Retail Tour, Chelmsford, 30/5/2013

With the occasional exception of singers thrust into the spotlight on reality TV talent shows, most pop singers are used to working their way up in terms of gigs, and may be well used to playing small venues, and little in the way of an audience. When you tour retail outlets though things are a little different, and I got the sense that up and coming singer Anttix was a little bit fazed (at first) by the intimate space in the corner of Chelmsford City’s New Look store. He was there for the start of his retail tour to promote his debut single Tornado (out 28th July) and soon got into his stride for his first set, performing Tornado, and another track called ‘Fame and TV’.

Unfortunately the tracks were playing on a loop for quite a while before his performance, punctuated by jingles which included a snippet of his single ‘Tornado’, which I found a bit repetitive, so I wasn’t won over at first. As the songs wore on, I was still hard to please, and just felt ‘Tornado’ particularly needed more of an edge lyrically and musically, particularly in the chorus. ‘Fame and TV fared better on both counts, but I still left the store feeling that I hadn’t heard anything that original that would make a strong impact on today’s pop market. I was almost hoping for an acoustic guitar to appear for a stripped back, less pop formula polished performance.

Saying that, I have seen Anttix sing twice in Chelmsford now, and while I think his tracks could do with a bit more of an edge lyrically, there are some catchy hooks, and some nice guitar parts to dance along too, and Anttix has a voice that was an easy listen as well.
I can see why his fan base is growing by the day, as this is a guy has fun with his music, and wants his fans too as well. As someone who has grown up on pop music (now in my 30′s), I think I am just a lot harder to please than perhaps his fan base is, having heard a fair few boy pop acts trying to make it. All in, happy to come across him at a gig, but not enough (yet) to make me download a single or hit the repeat button.

You don’t have to take my opinion as gospel though, why not check out ‘Tornado’ for yourself and see what you think.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Fling Festival Chelmsford: One Month To Go


Last year I was very excited as a big Olympic fan, when London 2012 came along, it was amazing to see the games in the UK. I was happily glued to the TV, blubbing like a baby over some of Team GB’s success stories, and building up a little stash of Olympic souvenirs. That said, I did miss my local festival The Fling, but it’s back for 2013, and there’s just one month to go until it invades Central Park in Chelmsford.
Apart from praying that the sunshine stays for the big day, the team behind the event at Chelmsford City Council have also promised this year’s event will be bigger, and better than ever. Hmm, when I hear bold claims like this the sceptic in me wonders if it will all end up as hype, but judging by the latest press releases, it’s not just the Fling crowd that will be swelling (double capacity), it’s the entertainment as well!

So what can you expect if you’re over 18 and get your hands on a gig ticket? well old favourites such as the silent disco and wordsmiths tent, and a dance tent which has some new additions to. Along with their old line-up of salsa and hustle, you can also see demos or join in with workshops on burlesque and zumba (can you keep up?!).

Details have also emerged of the main music stages, which instead of the usual single headliner, has a group of bands from London, the South East and beyond.

New Town Kings, Fling Festival 2011
New Town Kings, Fling Festival, Chelmsford 2011
 They include By The Rivers, a Leicester based reggae band, and there will also be some swing/hip hop delights from busy duo The Correspondents, who call in at the Fling before heading to Ibiza, Belgium, Switzerland, and other UK festivals. Between the two outdoor music stages, acoustic tent, and The Loop tent you may also hear the sounds of Machine Gun Men, Extra Curricular, Little Donkey (Panic Award Winners 2013), Last Of The Barstools, Ady Johnson, and Morning Lane. There’s plenty to entertain from the music alone, but add to that some of the best comedians on the circuit, craft tent, the Ideas Hub, food, drink, and some random surprises, and just like me, you’ll be wondering how to fit it all in to one fun packed afternoon/evening.

If you like the sound of what’s in-store, you have just one month left to get your tickets, and find out more from . Hope to see you there!