Smile… it’s your birthday!

(My birthday, that is.)
I know you’re all waiting for an update on the cross stitch situation, and I promise I have a post in the pipeline, but for now you’re just going to hve to wait. Today is my birthday, and there shall be no fulfilling of obligations on my birthday, blogging or otherwise!

So, here’s what I ate for tea last night as my last meal in my twenties, because I’m just that fabulous!

You're never too old for a smiley dinner!
You’re never too old for a smiley dinner!

Later, I might post a photo of my birthday presents for you. Or I might not. Right now, Jan is cooking me my special birthday breakfast, then we’re off to Strasbourg for the day… where there will definitely be cake! The French are good at sweet things.

Birthday plans

If you’ve been reading my blog for longer than say a week, you’ll probably have noticed that I have a birthday coming up (and if not, I applaud you on your superior selective reading skills!) As that birthday is, in fact, a week today, I thought it was about time I started figuring out what I want to do. Here’s the plan:

* Obviously I shall be ignoring all healthy eating plans completely. Birthdays do not come with calorie limits! So for breakfast I plan on having a nice fattening sausage sandwich with brown sauce.  I might even shove some bacon in there too. Yum!

* Jan has taken the day off, and he suggested going somewhere. I’m not sure what he has in mind, but wherever we go, I will definitely be tracking down some cake. You can’t have a birthday without cake!

* In the evening I would like to go for a meal somewhere – I don’t do cooking on my birthday! Then I shall ask my friends to join me in the Irish pub for drinks. It’s like a birthday ritual!

*My real celebration will then (hopefully) take place on the Saturday after my birthday…. if Jan actually books the place, that is. If not, I guess the party will be at my place.

So there you have it. Not too bad for a mid-week birthday.

Travel theme: Sweet

I’m jumping on to this week’s travel theme just in time! Until the end of today, Ailsa at Where’s my Backpack is asking people to share their travel photos on the topic of sweet.

We’ll start with the obvious, shall we? What could be sweeter than cake! I had this one in Salisbury on my 27th birthday…

Mmm!
Mmm!

It was exactly as rich as it looks and extremely satisfying!

We all know what Shakespeare said about roses, and this one in the rose garden at Kilkenny Castle is a particularly pretty example:

A rose by any other name...
A rose by any other name…

And finally, how sweet is this little duckling?

duckling

We spied it on a day trip to Strasbourg with Jan’s parents back in 2008. The poor thing had apparantly lots its mummy and was running up and down on the pavement by the river looking rather lost… hence the blurriness of the photo. You try getting a good picture of a duckling that won’t stand still! (And the crowd of people watching it didn’t make things any easier… we moved on after I’d managed to grab my snapshot).

If you’re very quick, you too could join in with the “Sweet” travel theme… the deadline is today. But if you don’t have time now, not to worry. There will be a new travel theme for you to try your hand at tomorrow. In the meantime, go here to see how other people have interpreted the sweet theme.

Chocolate and sour cherry brownies

I make plain old chocolate brownies all the time, so the other week I decided I wanted to experiment with some different flavours. The wonderful Pink Rachael suggested putting sour cheeries in them, and I thought the idea sounded delicious, so I gave it a try.

Brownies, in a tupperware tub waiting to go to work
Brownies, in a tupperware tub waiting to go to work

I basically use this recipe for chocolate brownie cake from BBC Good Food, but adapted slightly. Here’s how I made the cherry ones:

Ingredients

100g butter
175g caster sugar
75g light brown sugar
100g plain chocolate (in Germany, use Schwarze Herren, for the UK Bournville would work)
25g dark chocolate (at least 80% cocoa)
1 tbsp Golden Syrup (in Germany, use the Karamell flavoured Grafschafter Goldsaft)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract/essence (For Germany: If you can’t get vanilla extract, use Vanillezucker. DO NOT use those Aroma things)
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder (or 1 tsp German baking powder – it doesn’t work as well as the stuff you get in the UK!)
2 tbsp cocoa powder
50g chocolate drops
About 30-50g sour cherries

Method

  1. Line a 20 cm cake tin with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/Gas mark 4
  2. Place the butter, chocolate, both sugars and golden syrup in a pan and melt them over a low heat until smooth and lump free
  3. Meanwhile, place the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder in a large bowl. If your butter is unsalted, also add a pinch of salt.
  4. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat them until they’re frothy
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the eggs and vanilla essence
  6. Pour the liqid mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until everything is well mixed
  7. Add the chocolate drops and stir some more
  8. Add the cherries a few at a time, stirring after each addition. I didn’t actually weigh the amount I put in, but basically you want there to be cheeries throught the whole mixture but not have them overwhelm (there should still be some actual brownie between the cherries!)
  9. Pour the mixture into your baking tin and bake on the middle shelf for 20-30 minutes. When it’s done, it should have formed a kind of skin on the top and spring back when you press it down. A skewer inserted into it should come back fairly clean (the brownies are fairly stickly, so a little bit of mixture sticking to the skewer is fine, but it shouldn’t actually be liquid!)
  10. Leave to cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting, otherwise the brownies will just fall apart!

And that’s it! Incredibly easy, but also incredibly tasty. Win!

 

Caaaake

Yesterday, we were invited to the post-wedding celebration barbecue of one of Jan’s colleagues (the couple actually got married almost a year ago). I was told I could bake a cake if I liked, so I decided to find something new, but fairly easy to make.

I chose this from BBC Good Food: Blueberry Soured Cream Cake with Cheesecake Frosting

The batter was fairly easy to make. Place most of the ingredients in a bowl and stir until combind. Add the eggs and ssour cream and stir more then stir in half the blueberries, saving the other half to decorate.

After baking, the cake looked like this:

Blueberry cakeIt sunk a little in the middle (should have baked it for longer!) but not too badly.

Here it is the next morning, after removal of the baking paper:

Blueberry cake 2It had sunk even more and also now had a ring around it where I turned it upside down on a plate to remove the paper. Ooops! Good job there was still icing and decoration to come…

Blueberry cake icedAaah, much better! Here’s a view from the top:

Iced cake top view

I also made brownies as a back up – I know my brownies recipe always works! I even experimented this time, mixing the plain chocolate with a little orange chocolate and adding the juice of one orange. The verdict: Delicious, but I could have added slightly more orange. Jan’s colleagues have begged me to send in brownies to work with him soon , so I’ll count that as a success!

The blueberry cake tasted good – not too sweet, and it was cooked through despite the sinking in the middle issue. It didn’t disappear as quickly as the brownies, but with two entire tables of cakes to choose from that’s not really surprising! And by the end of the party, it, too, had been demolished. Success all round! Now to decide what my next brownies experiment will be. The addition of some ginger, perhaps?…

And a good time was had by all

I must apologise to those of you who have been awaiting my tea party report with bated breath (that would be all two of you then!). I meant to do this last Monday, but work and life and things got in the way and I just couldn’t find the time. But better late than never as they say!

So, a quick recap for those of you who’ve forgotten (or just don’t know) what I’m going on about.
My wonderful blogging friend Katy (whose blog you can find here) is raising money for The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, in memory of her friend Michelle’s baby boy Keelan. Katy is raising money by hosting tea parties… and having other people host tea parties for her. Could there be a better way to raise money than by eating cake?! Clearly there could not! Which is why I had to get in on the action and host my very own tea party.

I went for an afternoon tea type event. The entire German-speaking world seems convinced that we Brits drop everything at 5pm every day and sit down for a cup of tea and a scone. I have no idea where they get this from! I’m sure most of us would love this to be the case, but do any of you know anybody who actually does this? No? Thought not. Netherless, I decided to keep the cliche going and have people round for tea (and scones and cake and little traingualr sandwiches) at 5pm on 9th July.

I got up nice and early and started cutting teapot shapes out of colourful paper.

You can’t actually see from the picture, but the non-patterned shapes have tea quotes on them.
Having decorated the living room to my satisfaction I headed to the kitchen, where the carrot cake I had made the night before was waiting to be iced.

The Yorkshire Parkin I had baked the week before was still waiting in its tin. Amazingly we had both managed to avoid eating any of it – despite the fact the Parkin is my absolute all-time favourite cake. I love it even more than the richest and most deliciously gooey of brownies – and that’s saying something!

Yorkshire Parkin

I was secretly hoping people wouldn’t be too keen on it so there would be lots left for me, but (alas) it went down rather well. In fact, I saw one guy take three pieces. Success!
The donations tin was placed prominently next to a plate of melon (a contribution from a guest) and, to my surprise, instead of taking the opportunity to get rid of a few coins almost every guest put in a note! We ended up with 76 euros in the tin. Add to that a donation each from Jan and myself, plus the fiver someone who couldn’t make it gave me a few days later and I was able to transfer 95 pounds to Katy’s just giving page! Much more than I was expecting! And I received more compliments on my baking skills on that one day than I have in the entire rest of my life. Conclusion: The tea party was a resounding success!

Let’s all eat cake…

My amazingly wonderful blogging friend Katy is on a quest. A quest to raise money for a very good cause.
In January, Katy’s friend Michelle lost her baby boy, Keelan, to what was diagnosed as sudden infant death syndrome. Instead of dissolving into a little pool of grief (which is probably what I would done), Michelle chose to remember Keelan by raising money in aid of FSID – The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID). The original plan was to take part in Mile in Memory, walking a mile in memory of Keelan, which Michelle and Katy duly did. The day of the walk ended up expanding into a whole event, with a raffle, cakes for sale, a bouncy castle and general fun for all the family. Bteween them, they managed to raise an amazing £6000 for FSID! I think you’ll agree that’s quite an achievement.

Originally, the fundraising was to have ended there. Then they learned that the FSID has come up with a new fundraising plan. The charity is turning 40 this year and they are asking people to celebrate their anniversary (and raise money) by having tea parties. How could anyone resist the idea of having a good natter of a cuppa and a piece of cake and not even having to feel guilty about it because, of course, it’s all for charity! So of course, after not much debate, the two of them put their fundraising caps back on.
And that’s where I (and you) come in.

Michelle and Katy are going to be arranging tea parties in memory of Keelan, of course. But that’s not the big plan. The big plan is as follows: have other people host tea parties as well, in memory of Keelan and in aid of FSID. The more tea parties the better. They can be small tea parties or large tea parties. Virtual tea partiesm birthday tea parties, teddy bears’ picnics… anything goes. As long as the hosts believe it’s a tea party it will be accepted.

Naturally, I want to help too. I am, after all, in a perfect position on put the “international” into the events. And that’s where I need your help.

The Germans (and quite possibly all continental Europeans) have the idea of 5 o’clock tea firmly fixed in their heads. I don’t know why, but they’re utterly convinced that every British person drops whatever their doing at precisely 5pm every single day and goes off to have a cup of tea and a snack. No matter how often I inform them that I have never in my life gone out of my way to have a cup of tea and 5pm and can’t think of even one friend or acquaintence who has they remain utterly convinced that this stereotype is true. I’ve managed to get them to admit that it doesn’t always rain in the UK and I’m slowly convincing them that English food can actually be quite good, but the five-o’clock tea myth persists. No matter that nobody in the English-speaking world seems to have heard of it – they’ve always heard about it, therefore it must be true. So I’ve decided to embrace the stereotype. Why not? At least it’s a nice stereotype. So, I shall be offering my friends afternoon tea proper British style in memory of Keelan. Starting at 5pm, obviously.

And this is where I need your help! I want you to tell me what foods instantly spring to mind when I say the words “Afternoon tea”. The more traditionally English/British the better. I already have scones (both cheese and plain) on my list, and I even know of a source for clotted cream here in Germany! I’m also thinkin Cheddar cheese sandwiches – cut into little triangles for maximum posh Englishness – shortbread and Yorkshire Parkin (the latter shall be made using my Grandma’s recipe. What could be more English). But I need more! Hungry mouths to feed and all that. All contributions welcome, especially from those readers out there who are not British. What do you think is an absolute must at an English tea party? In this particular case stereotypes are welcome! (But only good ones, please. That’s what we’re trying to reinforce here).

By the way, you too can host a tea party in memory of Keelan. Check out The Dormouse’s Last Stand to find out how…

No more staying up late and living on cake

I am terrible at being on my own. Absolutley terrible.
For a start there’s the whole making meals just for me thing. I walk into the kitchen, examine the food on the shelves, open the fridge, close it again and think about how long it takes to peel potatoes/slice carrots/chop an onions. Then my mind drifts to all the dishes that will have to be used to make a proper meal. Dishes that will then have to be washed up afterwards. By me. And I decide there’s no point in going to all that effort when nobody else is around to eat the food I prepare. And so, in the 5 days since Jan went away, I have been living on potato croquettes (just shove them in the oven and wait!), chocolate raisins, cake (not even home made cake I’m ashamed to say) and those Knorr instant thingies that claim to turn into pasta in cheese sauce or spaghetti bolognese as soon as you add boiling water.

Then there’s the sleeping thing. I’m used to sharing a bed with Jan. He’s here almost every night. When he’s not at mine I sometimes join him at his. On the nights that he’s at his place and I’m at mine I have trouble sleeping. The bed seems to magically grow… surely it hasn’t always been that big? The room feels colder, the flat emptier (actually that last one kind of makes sense. The flat is emptier…I’m the only person in it). But it’s okay, because usually it’s only for one night. When he goes away though, it’s not just for one night, but for a couple of days, a weekend, an entire week…
Which is why, since Wednesday, I haven’t made it to bed before midnight once. And even after getting into bed I’ve chosen reading until 1 or 2 am over going to sleep.

All that has to chnge now though. I start my new job tomorrow. That means getting up early enough to be showered, dressed, breakfasted and on the train that leaves Karlsruhe at 7:30 am. It also means eating a proper breakfast so I’m not starving by 9 o’clock. And it means preparing something proper to eat for my lunch.

I’m so excited. I can’t wait to be a real, employed member of society again!

Not my day…

I stayed at the boyfrend’s place last night. Then this morning we had a fight. Unsurprisingly it was entirely my fault – nearly all of our fights are my fault. We only partially managed to sort it out before he went to catch a train. He’s gone to his parents, because it’s his Grandma’s birthday soon and because there is some stuff going on with his family that made him feel he should be around. I’m not going to say more than that, I don’t talk about my boyfriend’s private business on here. The only point in mentioning it at all is to explain why he’s gone away, not just for the weekend as originally planned but for a week. So we had a fight and now I’m not going to see him for 7 whole days. What will happen to us when he returns remains to be seen…

Anyway, after he left I walked home in the rain. I arrived in my flat to find that the remains of a cake somebody made for my birthday had gone mouldy. There was no mould on the cake yesterday, today it had a layer of green fur on the top. Wonderful. I’ve taken it down to the rubbish bin outside but I can still smell it all over my flat. And I’ve just discovered that I can’t order a monthly train ticket online because the German rail website will only let me pay by credit card. I do not have a credit card!! It is also possible to pay by direct debit, but only if you register first, which I duly tried to do. After entering all my details I was presented with a letter containing my bank details and asking someone, somewhere to please activate payment by direct debit for my German rail account. Now I’m supposed to print out this letter (xcept I don’t have a printer!), send it halfway across Germany and wait for them to give me permission to pay by direct debit before I can order the monthly ticket, which will then have to be sent to me by post, and whcih I need by 1st September. Even if I had a printer I somehow don’t think this would work. Looks like it’s a trip to the train station for me then. Oh, and I also have to go to the doctors to make myself an appointment because my boyfriend forgot to call and make me one yesterday and I have given up on the idea of trying to phone Germans because I always have to give them my surname and they can never understand it, ever. Even if I spell it out they don’t understand me.  Apparantly I pronounce the first letter wrong. This all may have something to do with the fact that I am not German and neither is my name. At least if I go there I can hand the woman something with my name on and tell her to work it out for herself. (This is part of the reason the boyfriend and I argued this morning. He says it’s “about time I started phoning people  for myself and if I can’t pronounce [that letter] then maybe it’s time I learned”. He doesn’t understand that I hate, loathe and detest speaking to people I don’t know on the phone. It makes me feel sick with nerves even when the person at the other end is English, in German it’s much, much worse. So it’s off to the doctors I go.
Oh well, at least it’s stopped raining now…

Let’s talk about CAKE!

Well, the flat-warming-slash-birthday celebration thingy was a success. Jan made guacamole, which was delicious (and also happens to be one of the things on his 101 things list – yes, he’s doing one too). Almost all of my chilli was eaten, and two people even took some home in tupperware tubs so it must have been good. And I made flat-warming cake, which I am now going to share with you, my internet pals, because it’s just too damn good not to. It is also my entry for the cake category of the Belgian Waffle Village Fete and believe me, it beats aubergine bee hands down.

cakePicture number one shows the basic cake, prior to icing. It was supposed to be chocolate cake. It looks more like my Grandma’s Yorkshire Parkin… all dark and sticky. I blame this on the random German syrupy stuff that I used in place of golden syrup. (Note to people living in Germany – if you replace the golden syrup in a recipe with Grafschafter Goldsaft it will not turn out like you’re expecting. Trust me on this one!) Also, notice how thin it is. I expected it to rise more than that, but apparantly using extra baking powder in the absence of self-raising flour (which doesn’t exist in Germany) does not work. Who knew?

cake2Stage 2 in the cake making process… chocolate butter icing. I had to add extra cocoa powder to mine because it was far too ridiculously sweet, even for me. The recipe called for 175 grams of icing sugar with only 75 grams of butter and two table spoons of cocoa powder. 175 g of icing sugar is just insane!

And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… the finished product.I give you Flat-Warming Cake… or what happens when you let a person with no artistic talent whatsoever loose with M&Ms, little sugar stars and the mini breadstick things from those nutella dip cartons…

cake3It’s supposed to be my building, except one floor is missing because I ran out of space. My flat is on there though – the white window at the top. Also, check out my flower. And my tree. I am totally proud of them… in a half-amused kind of way.