Eton Mess Cake- The Clandestine Cake Club A Year Of Cake Bakealong June 2016.

I’m a member of the internationally renowned Clandestine Cake Club and regularly go along to local events in Yorkshire. I’ve been a member for over 3 years now and have made a lot of friends through the club. We take a cake each along to the event and try tiny pieces of each other’s cakes. If we can’t eat much, we take cake home at the end to share with family or work colleagues. Last year I was excited to hear that two of my recipes were to be published in the second Clandestine Cake Club cookbook “A Year Of Cake”. My Welsh Honey and Camomile Bara Brith and Mojito and Coconut Tres Leches Cake recipes were featured in the book, much to my surprise but happiness!

Lots of yummy recipes are featured in the book including ones created by friends.  One such recipe I’ve been desperate to have a go at baking is the one my friend Clare submitted for the book, her take on a British classic pudding in cake form- Eton Mess.  Containing some of my favourite pudding ingredients, such as meringue, strawberries and raspberries mixed with cream. Clare’s cake uses buttercream and jam to sandwich a traditional Victoria sponge together and the Eton Mess part of the cake is it’s photogenic topping. Clare’s recipe also contains another ingredient I love which works perfectly with strawberries and raspberries, a luscious addition of white chocolate chunks. 

Last Saturday afternoon I was at home for once. It’s been a crazy few weeks with every weekend spoken for and work has been chaotic. Baking was my chance to unwind and enjoy a bit of “me time”. I wanted to bake a cake to celebrate my daughter passing her college course. She is now a qualified make up artist and is off to uni to study media makeup and prosthetics in September. We are all very proud of her as she aims to follow her dream. Baking cakes of course is one of my ways of congratulating her! Everyone at home loves pavlova and cake so I knew the Eton Mess cake would be a big hit.

To bake the cake I started off by baking the sponge part. This is done in the usual way that you make a Victoria sponge and it wasn’t long before I was creaming butter and sugar together with my handheld electric mixer. Clare suggests using margarine instead of butter so I used Pure Non Dairy spread which I swear by for baking sponges and cupcakes. It makes them very light. Then in went four eggs one by one which were beaten into the mixture. As I started to add some self raising flour and baking powder I realised I hadn’t got the cake tins out. My cake tin drawers in my kitchen are getting very messy and it takes me ages to sort through them to find the right size tin. I was annoyed that one of the tins had fallen down the back of the unit and got wedged between it and the drawer below. Hubby would say it was my own fault for having too many cake tins! I don’t agree! 

Finally having found the tins I was looking for I got them greased and the mixture in them ready to go in the oven. For once I remembered to set the timer and being as I have a fan oven I wanted to check them after 20-25 minutes. This is when I realise I’m not that good at multi tasking. I put some washing in the machine and another load out on the line. It took me ages to do this as there were loads of pairs of socks and pants to hang out! By the time I’d gone back inside I realised it was time for the cake to come out of the oven. Thankfully got it out just in time!

Now for the decoration part. For the cake topping I needed to make some mini meringues. I’ve only made meringues once or twice before, it’s something I’ve never really done a lot of. I always thought of them as being fiddly and complicated. But Clare’s way of whisking the egg whites until they are stiff then adding caster sugar a teaspoonful at a time was a great help to get the right consistency. I have always tipped in the sugar and wondered why I couldn’t get them to keep the egg whites stiff enough. Also, to add into the meringue mixture you mix in some cornflour and white wine vinegar. I was impressed with my shiny meringue mixture and then got my baking trays ready. I prepared up my piping bag and my large star nozzle. The meringue piped easily onto the trays and there was more than enough to go on the cake as well as having some left over.

I was really impressed with how my meringue stars turned out.
There were lots of leftover meringue stars once I’d decorated the cake.

Now for the cake assembling and decorating time, the bit I was looking forward to the most. I decided to use whipped cream in place of buttercream in the recipe. I had a small pot of cream in the fridge which needed to be used up and I didn’t want to waste it. I whipped up the cream but there wasn’t enough to fill the middle of the cake along with some strawberry  jam. So instead the cream was just spread on the top of the cake with the jam in the middle. Once the cream was spread on I put meringue stars around the edge of the cake and filled the middle with raspberries, strawberries and white chocolate chunks.

View from the top- a heavenly combination of meringues, raspberries, strawberries, cream and white chocolate.
Ta-dah! A classic cake perfect for a summer celebration.
Lush meringue stars.
We didn’t get to eat a piece of the cake until the following day but it was worth the wait!
The cake got eaten over the next couple of days. By Wednesday it had all gone!
Although the cake had been baked on Saturday afternoon for my daughter, we didn’t actually get to enjoy some until the day after. My daughter had been working all day Saturday and went straight to a friends’ house to a party and sleepover. Then on Sunday morning she went straight to work and didn’t get to eat her cake until Sunday tea time. I kept the cake in the fridge due to the cream in it and it kept it fresh. An extremely popular cake all round and one I would love to bake again in the future.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Couch to 5K- My Story.

Sunday 26th June 2016: As I type it’s a summer Sunday afternoon and I’m having a quiet sit down after my busy morning.  I can’t quite believe what I have achieved and it still hasn’t sunk in. To many of you, you probably think I’m overreacting or showing off about something which many people do day in day out. But if you had seen what I was like as a child and how difficult it was for me to achieve this little goal mentally and physically, then you won’t be so dismissive.

I took part in my very first Race For Life Event this morning in York and if someone had told me a year ago that I was to run in a 5K race, I would have laughed at them and said “Are you talking to me? I can’t run, my knees always hurt!” Or the other excuse was “I can’t even run for a bus!”  How much has changed in a year. For those who regularly run half marathons or marathons, 5K doesn’t seem like much and nothing to talk about. But for me, Mrs Couch Potato who would prefer half an hour sat on the sofa watching the telly or doing cross stitch, to run anywhere is a huge step.So what made me go for it?

I kept a little diary charting my progress or lack of it in some situations!

A pre race selfie in my kitchen before we set off for the race.

My race number and my back sign . I ran the Race For Life in memory of my mother in law and two uncles.

August 2015:  I am feeling fat and unfit.  I used to go to the gym and swim a bit on and off when I was in  a getting fit mode when my kids were younger. I take my dog on long walks but I just feel I’m not getting enough exercise. I end up cancelling the gym membership I have as by the time I’ve finished work and done everything at home I’m shattered.  What can I do which is free or fairly cheap and I can do without a long car journey anywhere? Several friends have been telling me about downloading the free NHS Couch to 5K app on their phones and had said how it had worked for them. I’m going to give it a try. I can’t run without my knees hurting and I know I’ll be out of breath within seconds. But what is there to lose? Let’s see what happens and I’ll take one session at a time.

I need to look at my wardrobe and see what I can go out running in.  I’m no lycra clad size 8 yummy mummy type and I won’t be running in designer brands. But I can’t go out in my tracky bottoms, they’re what I do my cleaning in and they’re covered in bleach stains!  My trainers are about 6 years old but I keep them for when I teach PE in a bag in my car so it looks like I’ll be buying new ones then.  I look for a hoody.  The hoodies which do fit are a bit tight so it looks like its a new hoody too.  Oh and new headphones as my son has nicked my previous ones. In town the following day with my mum and daughter I go into Next and buy new tracky bottoms, a hoody, a sports bra and running trainers.  I thought this hobby was meant to be cheap, as I hand over my card to pay a bill of well over £100! Another pair of cheap headphones is bought and I’m ready to run…

30th August  2015: The next morning I tell my hubby and kids I’m going out running.  Hubby says “Good for you,” and my kids start laughing at me.  I don’t care, something has come over me.  In years gone by if someone laughed at me or said I couldn’t do it, the seeds of doubt would be in my mind. But I keep thinking lets see how I get on.   Session 1 starts off with a 5 minute brisk walk which gets me to nearly the other end of my village main street.  I had said on Facebook I was going out running so I think can you imagine if local friends see this and then see me walking! Anyway, then it’s running time! It’s only for one minute but with the app playing and talking me through it, the minute was soon up and I was back to walking again.  This was repeated 6 times. When I got back home I felt elated.  I have only run for a total of  6 minutes but it was 6 more minutes than I’d ever run before in my life.  I feel. like I’m on Cloud 9.  I pass a mum I remember from my son’s primary school and she gives me encouragement, she’s doing the same but going in the opposite direction! I’m out of breath and my legs hurt but I did it!

5th September 2015: A couple of days later I’m out running again.  My daughter says to me when I come back in “Have you been out running, you were walking back up the village and you’re not hot and sweaty” I. can’t believe her comment, once again I was doing my cool down 5 minute walk at the end!  She thinks I haven’t been doing it properly!

9th September 2015: Its now taken  me 2 weeks and a lot of huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf to get to the end of Week 1 of the Couch to 5K challenge but I’ve done it!

13th September 2105: Yippeee, I’ve  finished day 1 of week 2, going at a snail’s pace heaving my bulk but getting there! One bloke shouts out of his car window as he drives past shouting “Run, Forrest, run!” at me! 

17th September 2015: I ended up stopping for a couple of minutes as hubby drives past and sees me on his way home from work. He ends up talking to me but luckily having an app you can pause it. I feel great that  now Day 2 of week  2 is completed.

20th September 2015:  I’m running a bit faster today and have now completed week 2 now, yayy! I  meet a lovely couple walking past. The man says to me “the bus stop’s that way,” which gives me a giggle!

29th September 2015: Yayy! Getting easier each time!

4th October 2015: Struggling a bit today but at least I’ve completed week 3 now!

13th October 2015: Can’t believe I can now run for 5 minutes at a time, did 2 x 5 and 2 x 3 today. Feeling shattered but fantastic!

26th October 2015: I’ve done it! Sixteen minutes running in total again. At the end of the summer holidays I couldn’t run at all! Now look at me!

9th November 2015:Just realised week 4 has taken me nearly a month to complete. Just too much going on. Found it much easier this time, got a running playlist linked to my app now! Feeling fantastic. It really eggs me on having music to motivate me. Friends are very  helpful with suggestions about what they have on their playlist!

14th November 2015: Update on Facebook: ” I did it, so happy done day 1 of week 5 now. Ran 3 x 5 minutes.  Really enjoyed my run today. Was laughing at a man going past on his bike. He shouted out “Want a ride on my bike?” It was tempting, lol! I feel focussed!

I didn’t get much running done in the lead up to Christmas and New Year. So much going on and it didn’t stop raining. I kept thinking about going out running but one look at the miserable weather made me stay indoors! I get out for walks with the dog. Maybe the dog should come running with me but I don’t think running  with a massive Labrador is a good idea! 

17th January 2016: Yayy, i did two lots of 8 runs with 5 mins walking in between. I thought I’d be collapsing but I’m still here!

At the end of January I set myself a challenge to run in this  year’s Race For Life in York. I have 6 months to sort myself out for raise some  money for cancer research. Over the last few years I have lost my mother in law and two uncles to cancer. This is a way I can do something. I sign up and register for the race. 

 9th February 2016: A landmark achievement. I ran for 20 minutes WITHOUT STOPPING today! I’m still alive and I didn’t collapse with a heart attack!

20th February 2016: Better get my act together for Race For Life . I run for a total of 16 minutes today, so pleased as I couldn’t run anywhere last year. I’m feeling so happy and proud right now.

27th February 2016: Week 6, day 1 just done. I’m getting there slowly.  From a snail to a tortoise pace now!

Another month goes by without running. I have a busy time with work and struggle to get out to run especially as it’s still dark quite early. I also end up with a chest infection so any exercise would wear me out. Even walking the dog makes me exhausted.

6 April 2016: Week 6 day 2 completed. I’m running at a snail’s pace today.  First time I’ve been out since I had my chest infection. I have 12 weeks until the Race For Life, better get my act together!

16th April 2016: 25 mins non stop running in the wind today. Wish I could get myself faster though, still running like a snail. At least I can run though it’s very slow! I try to encourage my kids to come out with me but it doesn’t work out. 

 24th April 2016:Week 7 day 2 completed. Those. calf muscles are really aching today but I feel like it’s working. I try a different route and love pushing myself to run even further.

28th May 2016: First run I’ve had in a month because of yet another chest infection and a nasty cough. Not happy that while I’ve not been out runing  the  really reliable and user friendly  NHS Change For Life Couch t0 5k app on my  phone has been replaced by a crappy BBC one. Instead of the friendly Laura  encouraging me through the headphones I have Sarah Millican telling me to run! Don’t get me wrong I like Sarah Millican but the appkeeps cutting out and crashing and won’t play my music properly. Judging by all the rubbish reviews on the App store I’m not the only one who thinks it’s crap! Despite this I put up with it and I feel fantastic.

3rd June 2016: Week 8 day 1 completed, 28 mins non- stop running today plus a wolf whistle from a guy in a passing car. Haven’t been whistled at for over 20 years though usually it’s being sarcastic.

8th June 2016: Just to prove I did do my run this morning I posted a selfie of me at home after I’d done the run. Couldn’t track my progress on the shite app but at least I feel fantastic.

A running selfie to prove I went out even when the app crashed.

24th June 2016: No running for 2 weeks, have had such a busy couple of weeks at work and was away last weekend so never got out. It’s my last run before the Race for Life this Sunday.  I do 5 minutes warm up, 30 mins run non stop and a 5 minutecool down. It’s still enough distance to cover 5K but I feel fantastic and am determined to give it my best shot on Sunday.

Feeling shattered but happy.
Finally the day of Race for Life came. It was a warm day with patches of blue sky poking through the clouds. I was relieved it wasn’t too hot or it wasn’t chucking it down with rain. That would have made my first charity run harder. We got to York Racecourse in plenty of time and parked up. My husband, son and even the dog came to watch me and encourage me! 

The Race For Life event was a great atmosphere. It really drove it home to me about how everyone there who was taking part was doing the race in memory of or to support cancer sufferers going through treatment at the moment. It was lovely to see children taking part as well as whole families. I wasn’t entering as part of a team but it made me think that I could do that another time.  Once we were warmed up we were asked to make our way to the starting line. Runners went first, followed by joggers and then walkers. I thought I’d probably be running/ jogging. And then we were off on the dot of 11am! I felt all choked up seeing all the visions in pink around me all taking part together to do our bit to fight cancer. 

At first we were running on grass which was tough going for me. All my runs had been on hard surfaces and I wasn’t used to it. About 10 minutes in and I slowed right down. I felt like packing it in and just walking the rest of it. I thought of what people would think if I didn’t run it, so I had a massive gulp water and stayed at my slow  jogging pace. We got nearly to a full circuit and I saw that the 10k runners had to go to the left, all the 5ks to the right. I didn’t know how far I’d run but I honestly didn’t know if I could carry on. Then we saw a couple of volunteers cheering us on with giant foam hands ready to high five us. Just seeing people clapping and cheering was a massive boost. 

 Then I saw the boost and encouragement that made me realise I could do this. My husband and son were stood there cheering me on and I was suddenly filled with a burst of positive energy. Onto some Tarmac now which made all the difference. Surely it couldn’t be much further now. But then I saw a post saying 2k. Have I only run 2k? I thought.  How much further? The remaining 3k or so was around the perimeter of the racecourse following the service road. I kept to my slow running pace although my calf muscles were beginning to ache like mad. 

What kept me going was to look out for the furlong markers around the racecourse. I kept thinking, now let’s run to the next furlong marker.  Then I reached that, thinking let’s aim for the next one and the next. Eventually I had reached the 4K marker and it was the final bit. I was now back running on grass and could see the finishing line. I had never run in a race a before and words cannot describe how I felt seeing my family cheering me on. Doing something I thought I could never ever do in life after being teased and bullied at school for being rubbish at PE and for coming last in Sports Day running races.  That moment was up there amongst the highlights in my life, from getting my teaching degree to getting married and giving birth to my two children. I will never ever forget that feeling. 

Running at snail speed as caught on camera by my husband.
A big smile on my face knowing I was reaching the finishing line.
So what next? Well I’ve decided I’m going to keep on running and aiming to run for longer distances. Friends have told me about local Parkruns so I am hoping to go along to one as soon as I get a free Saturday morning.  Who’d have thought it, eh? 

Double Chocolate Fudge Shortbread

Last week was a very busy one and I found myself going forwards meeting myself going backwards. I’d been away in London for the weekend with my friends watching Wet Wet Wet play at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea and then it was a busy week at work.

 On Wednesday though, I had been in a school an hour away from me and when I got home I just wanted to switch off. Baking is one way I do switch off and forget about the stresses of everyday life. Once I’m in baking mode I’m in my own little world where I feel comfortable. When I feel like baking it’s difficult to decide what to make but I love baking biscuits. They’re quick to prepare and don’t take long to bake.

Though there are some times when you think great. I can do this. Then there are other times when life gets busy and you think why did I bother? This last Wednesday was one of those occasions. I’d decided on something chocolatey and started to get the ingredients together only to find my husband and daughter had eaten scrambled eggs at breakfast and used the last of the eggs up. So it had to be a cookie dough without eggs in it as there was no way I was getting in the car and going out to buy eggs especially. I knew my usual shortbread recipe didn’t have eggs in it so I thought that was the way to go. Then I realised it was a crumbly dough so would need chilling. After a bit of experimentation I came up with a double chocolate cookie shortbread dough with chocolate chips in the mixture.

I softened butter and rubbed it together with plain flour and some Cocoa powder. When this was turned into breadcrumbs I then added some caster sugar. The mixture was then worked together into a ball and then I mixed in a bag of plain chocolate chips. The ball of dough was then wrapped in cling film and was meant to be left in the fridge for an hour or so. 

Only it didn’t happen! I put the dough in the fridge and soon forgot about it as I ended up taking my son and his friend to York and didn’t get back home until much later. By that time it was too late to bake the cookies and for the next two days I would be teaching. Baking would be the last thing I would have time for.  

It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that I had the time to do something with the chilled dough.  My son saw it in the fridge and wondered what it was. I rolled it into a long sausage shape which unfortunately looked like a gigantic poo and sliced about 20 equal pieces off it to form identical cookies. 

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Dough, don’t laugh about its appearance!
The cookies were then put on three baking trays which I lined with baking parchment. They went into the oven for about 10-15 minutes. 

The unbaked cookies on the baking sheet ready to be put in the oven.
When the cookies came out of the oven I had to leave them to harden slightly before I tried to move them onto a cooling rack. If I’d done it straightaway the cookies would have broken. While they were cooling down I found a bar of plain chocolate in my baking cupboard and I melted this in the microwave. The cooled cookies were dipped in melted chocolate and left to set. As they were setting the melted chocolate dripped down the sides and through the gaps in the rack. I found a plastic mat to stick underneath to catch the drips.  

The cookies were topped with a melted chocolate icing and some chocolate covered fudge pieces.
As a finishing touch I sprinkled on some chocolate fudge covered pieces I’d found in Marks and Spencer’s the other week. They were in a little tub in the food hall baking section and I thought they might be nice on some cupcakes. I found out that the little piggies in my house had opened the tub and a few were missing. I thought I’d better get them used up before the rest ended up being troughed. Though I tasted one and they were so yummy I was tempted to have another.. And another! 

Some edible glitter to add the finishing touches.
With the chocolate covered fudge pieces on top of my cookies there was just one more finishing touch- some edible glitter! 

I’m ashamed to say I had a real diet fail of epic proportions with these cookies. I took one look at them and grabbed one to eat there and then! I was lucky some managed to come off the wire rack and into the biscuit tin!

Though they went down well with my family, I think the cookies would be great plain or with the dipped melted chocolate on top. Decorating is entirely up to you!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Almond and Coffee Cake- The Cardamom Trail.

A few weeks ago I got a copy of Chetna Makan’s new book The Cardamom Trail.  Chetna was a semi finalist in the 2014 series of The Great British Bake Off . Her bakes were unique in that she added in the spices she grew up with and then gave them a unique twist.  I love adding different flavours to recipes and some of Chetna’s creations seemed so mouthwatering.

It took me a while to get round to trying out a recipe from the book.  It was so difficult to choose which to try out first but I needed an opportunity to get the mixing bowl out.  Last Wednesday I was at home and once again the urge to bake something overcame me.  I had picked my son up from school from his GCSE exam and was trying to put off doing the ironing. As you do! My mind wandered to what I could bake.  I’m trying not to eat too much sweet stuff (famous last words) but I knew I was going to be teaching in one of my regular schools the following day and I sometimes take cake in for the staff to try out.

As I browsed through the book several recipes leapt out at me.  But one which stuck in my mind. It was for an Almond and Coffee Cake which sounded delicious. It was also one which contained ingredients I already had in my baking stash. Including a mountain of flaked almonds and ground almonds which needed using up as soon as I could.

Chetna says “I love the combination of almonds and coffee. Normally it is associated with rich desserts, such as gateau opera but in this cake the sponge is made with ground and flaked almonds which makes it light. The richness comes with the buttery chocolate icing and can be topped with yet more almonds!”  So not only will the cake taste fantastic, it will be simple to decorate with a sprinkling of almonds. 

In the gorgeous photo of the cake it is shown baked as a bundt. Though for those who don’t have a bundt pan, the cake can also be baked in a 25cm diameter circular cake tin. Me being a bundt addict and an avid collector of all things bundt I was keen to get out one of my pans. I chose my square one which was a Christmas present to bake the cake in and  made sure it was properly greased with Wilton Cake release.

First some butter and sugar was creamed together with my hand held electric whisk. Then I added three large eggs, beating them well after every addition. Then in went some self raising flour, baking powder, ground almonds, some coffee and milk. The coffee was actually 2 tablespoons of very strong coffee dissolved in boiling water. This was all mixed together and well combined. In the mixture went into the bundt pan but I was concerned as the mixture only seemed to fill half the pan. Really it should fill three quarters of the tin so maybe the tin I used was too big. I hoped the cake would rise a lot in the oven!

Baking is normally a relaxing experience for me but today I was a bit impatient to get the cake out of the oven and finished off. Looking back it was getting near tea time and I had to sort out other jobs. Why do I do it? I forgot what time the cake went in the oven and didn’t set the timer. Then with that I looked at the cake too early. 

When the cake was ready it looked like it hadn’t risen much. Maybe the bundt tin was too big. At least it was one where it didn’t matter if the top half was missing. Thankfully also the cake came out of the tin in one piece!

Then it was time to slap the icing on and I mean slap or throw it on! I made up the icing by  melting some butter in a small pan on my hob. When it was melted I took it off the heat and mixed in some icing sugar and some cocoa powder mixed into a paste with boiling water. The icing was runny  but was ideal to spread on the cake and clung to the grooves of the  bundt. The final finishing touch was to sprinkle the flaked almonds on top of the cake!

The following morning I took the cake into work. It went down well but I left the cake there so I don’t know what happened to the rest of it. I collected an empty box the next time I was in. I didn’t try any myself though. I need to try it again, would be a perfect cake to bake if you have friends round for a cuppa or to donated to a coffee morning.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Graeme Clark’s Gig at Siempre Bicycle Cafe, Glasgow- A Review. 

 I know my blog is usually about my love of cooking and baking but I occasionally like to write about other things as well. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a huge Wet Wet Wet fan. Their music has been a big part of my life and has seen me from studying for my GCSEs, right through to the present day as a forty something wife and mum of two teenagers!  More recently I have been able to see them live on several occasions which is always a fantastic experience, leaving you with on a massive high for days afterwards.

Graeme Clark, Wet Wet Wet’s bass player performing in his recent solo gig at Siempre Cafe, Glasgow. Photo copyright of Dot Liddell.

The same happens when I go to one of Graeme Clark’s gigs. Graeme Clark is better known as Wet Wet Wet’s bass guitarist but he is also very adept on an acoustic guitar and can sing. He has been working on solo projects for the past four years or so now in between working with the Wets. His music style overlaps a little with that of the Wets mainly because he contributes heavily to their music writing.

In 2014 I was lucky enough to see Graeme play live in two venues near to me in North Yorkshire. He played to a packed Selby Town Hall in May of that year and two months later as I had enjoyed the gig so much I went up to Stockton on a very hot summer’s evening to see his show at the ARC.

So, it was exciting when Graeme announced on his Facebook page that he was going to be performing a solo gig at Siempre Bicycle Cafe in Glasgow. It was part of the line up for the West End Festival which takes place in June. Being as it was a Sunday night and I wasn’t working the next day, I was determined to go and asked my friends if they were up for it.  You bet they were! Now as I’ve mentioned before in my gig review posts about the band, I have a fabulous group of friends who I have made over the past couple of years. They are affectionately known as my Wettie mates and we have a great laugh on our #wetsroadtrips as they get called on Twitter . I’m the driver usually as I don’t mind driving on motorways or doing long distances.  My car has now been nicknamed the Wets Wagon and it is going to be on another trip this weekend to London to see the band play at Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

Last Sunday lunchtime my friend Dot and I set off  from York, picking up our friends Julie and Laura from Teeside on our way up to Glasgow. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and just the perfect day for driving up to Scotland. I wasn’t nervous about driving there as I have driven to Glasgow a few times before over the years. I was more worried about the long 225 mile trip home after the gig. Still, the adrenaline and lots of caffeine would keep me going! I had my iPod playing on the car stereo with a GC playlist which featured all his songs from his first album Mr Understanding and his two EPs Catching Fire and Dry Land. On the way back we would have an extra treat! Graeme’s brand new album The Thought Collector would be available to buy at the gig.

Graeme’s playlist playing on my car stereo on our way up to Glasgow. Photo by Dot Liddell.

 The traffic was fine getting along the A66 and onto the M6 and then the M74. I was so relieved there wasn’t too much traffic and I began to feel less anxious about getting us all there in good time. We had time to stop for half an hour at Annandale Water. It made me feel as if I was going on holiday when we stopped there, it’s usually where I stop on our way to holidays on the Isle of Arran or Mull! Only this time I was having something to eat and a good catch up with my Wettie mates instead of moaning at my teenage son for buying Krispy Kreme doughnuts, then feeling sick later!

The obligatory Welcome To Scotland road sign . I had to move over into the slow lane and slow down to 60mph so Dot could take the picture. Photo by Dot Liddell.

 We got to the venue at about 6pm. It was on a busy road in Glasgow’s West End. I didn’t know the area but as we drove there I recognised round by the Botanical Gardens and Great Western Road where I stayed when I was a student on my travels. It was bustling with people out enjoying themselves and the sunny weather. It’s what it should be about. If only we had more days like that.

When we found Siempre Cafe we had to walk round to the side entrance which was next to the subway station.  As we got there we heard music playing and a familiar voice coming from inside the cafe. It was Graeme doing his sound check!  Later on, when he had finished he realised there was a queue of people waiting outside and he came outside to say hello to all of us.  We then went in and got ourselves sat down ready for the gig to start. We felt very lucky as we were given a free glass of wine! As I was driving I could only have a couple of sips so I had to stick to my diet coke!


Me and my lovely Wettie mates on the front row. Photo copyright of Dot Liddell.
Graeme was joined on stage with Iain Duff .

To open up the show we watched contemporary folk duo Fiona Cuthill and Stevie Lawrence. I loved their music with Fiona on the fiddle and Stevie playing a guitar or a bouzouki. Watching a fiddle player in action is mesmerizing, and I was envious. I had violin lessons at school but was so rubbish I gave up after a year and stuck with playing the piano instead!

Graeme is very entertaining and chatty towards his audience between songs. He talks about how his songs come about , all with a great sense of humour added to them. Unlike some famous people whose egos and self importance could fill a room, this is not the case with Graeme. He seems a very genuine, natural and down to earth bloke.

In the past Graeme has played solo gigs with fellow Wet Wet Wet guitarist Graeme Duffin joining him with his acoustic guitar and also with Iain Duff who plays keyboards and the accordion. Today though it was just Graeme himself and Iain, who compliment each other really well on stage.

For a few of the songs in Graeme’s set, he was joined by Fiona Cuthill and Stevie Lawrence.
Graeme tuning his guitar.
Fiona and Stevie accompanied Graeme and Iain on some songs.
Graeme played a mixture of Wet Wet Wet songs and his solo material.

Graeme’s set included a few Wet Wet Wet songs, such as Goodnight Girl and Love Is All Around. Fiona and Steve added another dimension to the performance with their instruments. Graeme also played Don’t Want To Forgive Me Now as well as a few of old favourite solo songs from Dry Land,  Catching Fire and Mr Understanding. I loved hearing Kiss Of Life and Lost At Sea again. Graeme also introduced us to some new material from his brand new album The Thought Collector. We heard Summer Rain which was a beautiful song and captures the feeling you have when you want to escape from it all! I wondered if it had been written last summer as it did nothing but rain all summer in the UK! But for me, the absolute highlight of the evening was the very catchy Do Those Things To Me which provided a fantastic finale/ encore to the evening with Fiona and Stevie joining Graeme and Iain back on stage.  We were all joining in with the chorus and clapping in time to the music.

Towards the end of the show a bit fell off Iain’s accordion! I don’t know anything about accordions but a piece of it just fell on the ground! He picked it up and stuck it on with duct tape. Thankfully he was able to carry on playing it, the show must go on as they say!

Graeme very kindly let me have a photo taken with him.

Tonight’s show was also an opportunity to get a copy of the first edition of Graeme’s latest CD The Thought Collector. There were only fifty copies available of the album, each numbered and signed by the man himself.  We were all eagerly wanting to hear this new album as Graeme has introduced certain snippets from a couple of the songs over the past year by posting videos on YouTube, etc.

My Wettie Mates with Graeme on a group photo. Photo copyright of Dot Liddell.

Off we set off  for the long drive back home.  I was desperate for a coffee or something to keep me awake. We were also hungry as we hadn’t eaten any dinner. We turned up at the first services going south on the M74 to find only Starbucks open with four packs of manky sandwiches left! We ended up with me just getting a massive bucket sized coffee to wake me up. Finally at about 1am we were eating MaccyD’s back at Annandale Water several hours after we had been there on the way to Glasgow!

As we drove along we had Graeme’s new album playing on my car stereo and agreed it was amazing. It got the big thumbs up from us!
It was getting light as we got towards Scotch Corner which was a surreal experience and even stranger to be putting diesel in my car at 3.30am after we had dropped Julie off. Round over to Laura’s and then on the A19 back towards my house.  It was 4.30am and Dot got in at 5am. None of us got much sleep that night but we all raved about what an amazing time it had  been. We wouldn’t have missed the gig for the world. Now as we speak we are all excited to see Graeme again, but this time with the rest of the Wets at Chelsea!

Graeme’s new album The Thought Collector was playing in my car on the way home from the gig. Wrong album artwork though, must have come off the Ipod! Photo by Dot Liddell.

 Many thanks to my friend Dot for some of the photos, my phone takes rubbish pics!

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Annabel Karmel’s Busy Mum’s Cookbook- A Review.

The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is the latest publication from food writer Annabel Karmel and was published a couple of months ago. My family have grown up with Annabel’s recipes right from when I started weaning my daughter back in 1998 using purees from the Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. I’ve bought several of her books over the years from her Family Meal Planner, to her Kids In The Kitchen inspired books, to her party recipe one. I’ve kept all the books though I don’t think my kids would appreciate butternut squash purees now! Having said that, I regularly go back to recipes from the Family Meal Planner, which has been my lifesaver in the kitchen for the past 16 years.

So, when Annabel brings out a new book which isn’t directed at babies and toddlers, I’m always keen to buy it. I was very impressed with the Busy Mum’s Cookbook as it fits into my lifestyle. I work most days as a supply teacher, a job I love but I’m always shattered when I get in from school.  All the recipes I have tried out of the book so far have fitted into the slot of being suitable for busy parents and not just Mums!

The introduction states: “Many of us stick with what we know and trust when it comes to cooking, especially when our lives are busier than ever! Yet the result is often a collection of six or seven failsafe recipes that families rely upon week in week out!” 

I have easily fallen into that trap. I think I’ve cooked chilli con carne or chicken curry every week for the past year but I do it because I know my son will eat it. Annabel Karmel’s own children have always been a massive part of her cookery career, she tests recipes out on them and there used to be photos of them in her earlier books. Now they are grown up but they still influence her recipes, just like I do when I try to recreate my own dishes at home. 

The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is split up into seven sections each featuring a stack of recipes to suit all lifestyles. 

Roasted Tomato and Pesto Pasta.
Chapter One is called “20 Minute Recipes” and features plenty of recipes which can be cooked in a very short time. Last Monday evening I tried out the Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto on my family. It says the cooking time is 10 mins and the preparation time, 8 minutes. I had to roast the cherry tomatoes in the oven with garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar which took all of 10 minutes. While the tomatoes were roasting the pasta was cooking on the hob. When it had cooked I added pesto sauce to the pasta and mixed it with the tomatoes and mozzarella pieces. Ideal for a a quick weeknight supper.

Golden Syrup and Ginger Loaf Cake
Annabel’s baking recipes are just divine and I must admit I always looked at the baking and dessert chapters first when I bought her earlier books. For every special occasion dinner I must have made Annabel’s naughty but nice version of Tiramisu and baked a lot of her cakes and cookies  for children’s parties. I know sweets and desserts get a bad press but to be honest I can’t see the problem in having the odd treat here or there. So it was great to see a handful of delicious recipes at the back of the book in the Sweets chapter.  Last Sunday I tried out the Golden Syrup Ginger Cake which is described as a “deliciously moist, gently spiced cake (which is) perfect for an afternoon tea treat.” 

 To me it sounded like McVities Jamaican Ginger Cake which I used to eat as a child for tea at my Nana Margaret’s house. I’ve not had it for years. So I was tempted to try baking the cake to see if it was the same. I used my Nordicware Gingerbread Man Loaf Bundt pan which has only been used once before, great to give it another outing. I greased the pan well with Wilton Cake Release.  Flour, caster sugar, cinnamon and ginger were combined in one bowl. In another in went eggs, sunflower oil and golden syrup. They were then mixed together and the batter poured into the tin.  It tasted lovely even though I could have done with more mixture to fill the tin! It looked very small! 

Three Tomato Bruschetta, although only one type was used in my version.
Last Friday night was perfect to sit out and enjoy the gorgeous sunny weather. I had loads of tomatoes to use up and had the idea of making the Three Tomato Bruschettas for my family. Though we only had one type of tomato, this recipe was a lot more fiddly than I thought. I had to peel and de-seed a whole punnet of cherry tomatoes which took a lot of time. The Bruschetta recipe is in the Lunchboxes and Snacks chapter.  Lunchboxes is something I never get right. When my kids were at primary school they had Lunchboxes and I used Annabel’s own Lunchboxes book for ideas when my daughter first started in Reception. Her pasta salads and fruit salads with dips would come back untouched and she used to say “Why can’t I have fruit winders in my lunchbox?” Or “……has Cheesestrings in hers, why can’t I?” I tend to be a bit disorganised with my own lunches, I end up with half a carton of soup or a noodle pot. If I’m feeling really lazy then I buy a sandwich from a local garage with an M&S food shop attached to it. Same goes for my husband, when he’s working in his office, he’s across the road from a fantastic bakery so he nips there for a sandwich or a pasty. The kids follow what their friends are doing in town. So unless I sort myself out, I can’t see myself using the lunch box recipes much!

Chocolate and Oat Cookies

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love baking biscuits, hence my blog name SmartCookieSam. Last Friday I had some spare time and decided to bake some of Annabel’s Chocolate and Oat Cookies. My son is going through his GCSEs at the moment and my daughter has been busy in her college course. What better than a sweet treat to start half term off? The cookies were very simple to make using butter, brown sugar, flour, an egg, some vanilla extract, baking powder, a small amount of ground ginger, porridge oats and dark chocolate cut into chunks.  No sooner than they had been put on the cooling rack, then half of them disappeared! That’s a good sign. If they’re still there in the biscuit tin a few days later that’s when I start getting worried. 

Pasta Arrabiata

My son and husband aren’t massive pasta fans but they liked the Pasta Arrabiata recipe. It was a perfect standby storecupboard supper to knock up after a busy day at work. It went very well washed down with a couple of glasses of wine! I forgot to tell hubby that Arrabiata sauce has chillies in it! 

There was another chapter in the book dedicated to Entertaining. Well I can’t remember the last time I had friends round for dinner. It was probably about 10 years ago. Ever since I went back to work doing dinner parties is the last thing on my mind. Though I have had several parties and get togethers. This usually ends up being buffet food or a BBQ or maybe cakes and lots of drink though! I can’t see me cooking any recipes from the Entertaining chapter soon,  though! 

So, to sum up I was extremely impressed with Annabel’s book. It is going to be well used in the next few years I bet as it was the case with her baby and toddler feeding books. I can wholeheartedly recommend it! 

Happy Cooking!

Love Sam xx