Monthly Archives: July 2012

Hula Hooping

I am on a mission to get some core stability/strength back, by doing stuff that doesn’t involve leaving the house (I have two young children). I run three times a week, which is great. But not so core specific.

I’ve long wanted to hula hoop as I have a friend who does and raves about it. And then, after seeing  Grace Jones hula-ing at the Jubilee concert...well.  Being able to hula hoop became my summer holiday challenge. I had bought my eldest a hoop in the toy shop and neither of us could master it. This was because, someone told me on line (and I’m so sorry I can’t remember who otherwise I’d credit you!), hoops sold in toy shops are…toys. Too light, too small, and virtually impossible to hula with. She said I needed a weighted hoop and one that, when held vertically, came up to approximately my belly button. (In fact you can see, when she brings it on stage, the hoop Grace Jones uses is big.)

So I bought one, from the The Hoop Dance Co. I got this one – plain, £11.99 (do you NEED flourescent? Do you NEED striped? I don’t think so) in 38″/625g for me and the 30″/550g one for my eldest. The smaller the hoop, the harder it is, so go bigger if you are in doubt.

Within 24 hours my daughter was hula hooping like a pro. And I can do 30 seconds without stopping. Major CV work out…I am half tempted to post a video of us hula-ing.

But no.

Staedtler gel crayons

Staedtler Gel Crayons, £9.25 for six. Not cheap, but worth it.

I knew I was a grown up when I realised that I could buy my very own box of Caran d’Ache felt tip pens. When I was a child, the number of coloured pencils/markers you had were currency. She who had a whole box of them was top of the heap and you could pick your best friend. And Caran d’Ache was the very best you could get. I of course, never had a full set, just a disparate bunch of felt tip pens that I’d accumulated along the way (don’t feel too sorry for me, I had home made pizza every Friday night). I was about 25 before I realised I could buy my very own box of crayons/markers/pencils. And I did. I still don’t let anyone else use them.

I must point out here that I hate cheap crayons and felt tip pens and coloured pencils that hardly make a mark on the paper. 

The other day I got sent a package from John Lewis*. In amongst other colouring sticks – retractable coloured pencils, wax crayons – were these gel crayons. They are brilliant. There’s only six, so no shades of anything, but they are thick, so easy to use (the mark of good colouring stuff, the colours are rich cos they use good pigments), slightly glittery, but don’t go expecting disco balls. They’re not like normal crayons, but look almost like a fat lipstick. True to greedy form, I got them and when the children said “ooh who are they for?” I said, without hesitation: “Me.”

*If you think because I got sent them this is why I’m writing about them, think again. I get sent all sorts of crazy shit and I never write about it. I just don’t do that. No-one tells me what to recommend. But these are great.

Chewy scoop biscuits

 These have just come out of the oven. They are crispy, salty, sugary, chocolately. But not sickly, because that would be wrong.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I keep all my torn out recipes in Muji PP Portfolio books. I have about 12 of them covering different subjects like ‘Everyday’, ‘Pasta’, ‘Fish’ and of course one just for biscuits…

I had cut this recipe out of the Waitrose magazine some time ago and recently refound it. It was the word ‘chewy’ that got me, even though these biscuits aren’t, actually chewy (or I have not found them to be so).

Not that that matters, because they’re delicious, easy to make and – best of all, for me – you can make the dough, shape them and then freeze them so when you fancy home made biscuits you’re only a quarter of an hour away from them. It also means you can cook just a few at a time (important for greedy types such as me).

Anyway, here is the recipe. I didn’t have hazelnuts so I used walnuts. The three types of chocolate is really important, as is the salt (obviously all the ingredients are important. But what I mean is something that seems unimportant, like the salt, is actually crucial in my view).

I didn’t use an ice cream scoop, just shaped them with  my hands into walnut sized balls. My biscuits, as you can see, aren’t flat like those in the magazine.

I found 12 mins was plenty, but my oven is fierce.

If you want to freeze them – and I recommend you do as this dough makes loads, you just shape them and them freeze them spaced out on a tray or plate or something. When frozen, then you can bung them all into a freezer bag (if you bung them all in to begin with they will all freeze stuck together, and you don’t really want that), to pull out and cook – from frozen – whensoever you wish. If cooking from frozen, give them 15 mins.

Dan Lepard’s Almond Layer cake with crushed raspberries

All my own work.

This recipe was published in the Guardian last year. I made it on the day it came out, as you can probably see from the below the line comments (Dan linked to a picture of the cake that I tweeted, for I can no longer bake in isolation, but need to share with the world). Since then I’ve baked it many times. It’s perfect for when you want a proper teatime cake with goo. And it’s not difficult.

The recipe is here. There are a few comments I’d like to make:

I don’t have 18cm cake tins so I use 8″ ones (which is slightly bigger than 18cm, sorry to mix imperial and metric). It’s fine.

I find 30 mins just a bit too much….so check after 25 mins.

I double up the syrup Dan uses to soak the sponges, as I find doing his amount isn’t enough for my thirsty cakes.

You could easily, easily make two not-so-high-cakes out of these, by that I mean slice the cakes in half horizontally. That way you get more cream/raspberries to sponge ratio. Won’t be so towering and impressive, but if you need more cakes.

Put more cream in the sandwich layer than you think you’ll need. It squishes down.

Children also seem to love this. I find this is important when I just want to do one thing.

This is a really delicious cake. It’s so much more than a Victoria sponge. It’s so easy to make (make the cake bits ahead, assemble before you eat it) and is impressive. My friend Kate is so greedy for this cake, I can make her turn all sorts of tricks for it.IMG_0995


Eating and freezing notes: Unless this cake is for An Event, I now make two cakes out of it. That is to say instead of putting one of the cakes atop the other, which makes for a spectacular cake but one that’s fairly high, I slice each in half (see pic above). Or I freeze one of the (plain) cakes for another time. It freezes really well but freeze it before you soak it with the brandy/sugar syrup. Do that when you defrost it and then proceed with the cream/fruit part.