Follow your dreams…or else…

At some point late on Friday night, I was trying to pull a big box down off a high shelf in my room when my extremely heavy, wrought iron “FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS” sign fell and smacked me in the face, giving me a fat lip.

The irony is not lost on me.

fat lip

I believe that you make your own luck, to a certain extent, so I hadn’t expected that the universe would take matters into it’s own hands if I became complacent about chasing the rainbow.

I’m hearing it loud and clear though, so mission “take over the world, bake some super cakes and somehow acquire a unicorn” is back on.

…*hangs head*

So…I’ve been toying with different titles for this post. Until 5 minutes ago I was torn between

A) Shot down in a blaze of filo.

and

B) That awkward moment when your jaunty nautical display is making a mockery of you & your attempted-pastry crap-pile.

Upon re-living the fiasco on TV tonight, I went with “…*hangs head*” because it really sums up my feelings at the moment. I always knew pastry week would be my Everest but I could have made things easier for myself. I just don’t know how to do things normally, there’s always a new idea, there’s always a voice in my head telling me to do something different. The times when this approach has worked for me actually far outweigh the catastrophes but television is unkind in it’s nature and now I feel like a bit of an idiot. It turns out no amount of preparation can give me time management skills!

My nerves and terrible time-management got to me in a big way and far from my low-stakes home baking I let the pressure of the situation send me into a panic. Usually when I feel things starting to go wrong with a bake I take my time, google possible solutions, put it to one side and revisit it after a cup of tea or just bin it but none of those are an option in the Bake Off tent! The second I started to get flustered the cameras moved in en mass, which gave me shakey hands and made me even less productive. Once Anna starts visiting your station more frequently, you know you’re in trouble (as much as I loved our little chats). 40 minutes from the end of the challenge I knew my Bake Off journey was over and by the time Anna said stop baking I was mentally preparing to get my coat. Having to go through the formalities of judging and elimination was painful but unfortunately there isn’t a back door.
DSCF1726DSCF1728DSCF1729DSCF1730

Given the immense talent of the 10 bakers ahead of me, I don’t think there was anything I could have done to stay anyway. Ranging from lovely to intimidating, their pastries all looked and tasted fantastic. I just wish I could have stayed at Camp Bake Off a bit longer. Getting to know these brilliant people, who also happen to be tremendous at baking, has been such an amazing experience. The idea of competing with them was daunting from the beginning and completely went against the atmosphere in Tinnakilly while filming. I have made some truly wonderful friends.

12bakers

Part of me feels like I should be more disappointed with myself and the poor pastry performance but I’m so lucky to have been one of the 12 and though I was knocked out early, I remain very proud. I never would have considered applying to do it 5 years ago, it’s a miracle I got as far as I did and I have to say that the whole process gave me so much confidence. I wouldn’t change it for the world! Far from disappointed I am absolutely chuffed with myself (so much so, I made myself this badge!)

 badge

That said, I was really looking forward to biscuit week (among others)! I’ll post the recipe & pictures of what I was planning to make for each episode anyway.

Never one to waste a recipe!

Sweet Coconut Bread (& Some Bonus Coconut & Raspberry Muffins)

coconut#1

 

I’ve started making coconut bread by the truck-load of late (I heard it’s popular with rugby players, so I was hoping for a Field of Dreams kind of scenario).

I’ve toyed with a few recipes, the Paleo coconut flour bread I found on the Guilty Kitchen blog is brilliant, link here (http://guiltykitchen.com/2013/04/15/paleo-sandwich-bread/).

Mine is more cakey (and definitely not Paleo-approved!) but very easy to make. This recipe makes two loaves so after a few times making it I started making one loaf and pouring the rest of the batter into muffin cases and adding some fruit. With the bread, it is a little dry, that’s just the nature of coconut, so I usually serve with my rhubarb & vanilla jam (LINK HERE) but with muffins, the fruit adds the necessary moisture to be eaten alone.

DSCF1747

  • 2 eggs
  • 280ml milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 360g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 165g desiccated coconut
  • 80g butter
  • 75g of raspberries, chopped into quarters (is using for muffins)

Set the oven to 180˚c or 160˚c fan.

Pout the milk, eggs and vanilla essence into a bowl and whisk, just until combined and set aside.

Separately, mix your dry ingredients –flour, baking powder and cinnamon first. Add the sugar and coconut and mix. Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and combine before melting the butter and adding it in.

Once the butter is incorporated, I pour half of the mix into a prepared loaf (greased with baking paper) tin and mix the raspberries into the second half of the mixture. I usually get 12 muffins out of the batter. I place the loaf tin on the top shelf of the oven (will be in for an hour) and the muffins on the lower shelf (taking them out after 25 minutes).

Here’s some photographic evidence that occasionally I’m a good daughter. A couple of coconut & raspberry muffins and a mini rhubarb & vanilla jam pot sent to my Mum for lunch.

tin

 

 

Episode One –The Random Menace (That’ll be the Battenburg)

The Signature Challenge

The morning we began filming felt surreal to say the least. The nerves that prevented me from eating breakfast, the tentative first steps in the tent and trying to adjust to the presence of the cameras were absurd and terrifying to me from the very start. After the introduction, a warm welcome and some top-drawer baking puns from Anna we began baking, something that’s near muscle-memory for all of us. My nerves were going crazy and I totally forgot how to read (my own recipe, which I had written and practically knew off by heart!) or speak. The friendly cameramen asked us questions as we went along and my ability to form sentences went out the window.

I was in a fluster the entire way through the bake, I never relaxed into it. By the time Anna told us there were 15 minutes left I was about 10 minutes behind. With two minute to go I was hurriedly throwing praline at the sides of my cake. With 30 seconds to go I realised I didn’t have enough praline for the back. It wasn’t until after time was called that I remembered that I’d left my chocolate spokes in the fridge. Having the judges approach my station is up there with the scariest things I’ve experienced (I’ve led a charmed life, what can I say?!) and my stomach sank before they’d even tasted it. My friends commented on how sad I looked during the judging but I’ve honestly never felt so defeated in my life! We were all ready for critiquing but it just seemed so relentless as they made their way around the tent. My feedback was fair, they really know what they’re talking about and I have since introduced a lime flavour to my vanilla sponge to lift the taste and taken 5 minutes off the bake time to reduce the drying effect. It didn’t look nearly as good as I wanted it to. Here’s one of its previous incarnations.

tapecake

That bottle of Frangelico was burning a hole in my proverbial pocket so I’ve turned my attentions towards consuming it in more exciting ways (my favourite is below):

http://www.frangelico.com/int/en/recipes/delightful-experiences/nutty-irishwoman/

The Technical Challenge

In we wandered, 12 new friends, walking in formation into a beautiful tent on a gorgeous sunny day. The atmosphere did not befit the beauty of the day –the fear of the impending technical was getting to us and the uncertainty of what lay ahead was so daunting we had silence at breakfast for the first time. We had, of course, been brain-storming and debating the potential cake challenges but to no avail. The involuntary gasps that escaped from the 12 of us when we heard the word battenburg were so funny that it was closely followed by laughter. I think the biggest relief was that we all at least knew what it SHOULD look like!

I can’t remember much of the bake, it’s a total blur and watching it back did nothing to jog my memory! It’s always easier to make something you like and I’m really not a fan of battenburg, I can’t stand almond paste. Paul’s flavours were a really nice touch though, I really enjoy using lemon and rose in sponges so that helped a bit.

To get placed second was absolutely amazing! I was (and I do believe this is my first time ever using the word, so you know I mean it) flabbergasted!

All in all, episode one was such a rollercoaster, each bake is like a rollercoaster in itself really. Roll on episode two!

 

I’M ON THE BAKE OFF!!!!!!

It’s such a huge relief to finally be able to tell everyone (& type it in capitals)

promoshot

I hear the beginning is as good a place as any (thanks Julie). I filled out the online application for Bake Off way back in January when all of my New Year’s resolutions were still fresh in my head and I naively thought I’d follow all of them through and become a better person before the year was out. I obviously wanted to get to the next stage but hadn’t considered it would happen. When someone from the programme phoned me a week later I felt completely blind-sided. As the weeks went on I slowly began to realise that I might actually make it into the tent! I wanted to meet Anna, I wanted to bake things and I wanted to be a part of the Bake Off world (every time I hear that music I just want to step into the TV). What I hadn’t really put much thought into was the actual being on TV part.

12bakers

After weeks of preparing, studying, excitement and terror, I met my 11 new best buds in the beautiful setting of Tinakilly House. These amazing bakers, along with the production people, crew and hotel staff made such a lovely atmosphere I felt at home straight away. I could have stayed at Camp Bake Off indefinitely……if it wasn’t for the insane nerves I was suffering from about the actual baking element!

My Bake Off buddies and I have grown incredibly close over the last few weeks, having shared the greatest and most bizarre times. I have almost too much to say about the whole experience, a little time has passed since we wrapped the series and I’m still overwhelmed by the Bake Off journey so I’ll be drip-feeding my gushing tales of love & baking here over the next few weeks.

cupcrew

Above is a photo from the launch in the lovely Cliff Town house, Stephen’s Green (the dress was a pile of fabric until 6pm the night before so I’m lucky I wasn’t in my pyjamas).

Me & my fellow brats: Dave, Shane & Hazel.

#cupcrew4ever

xxx

Quick & Easy Rhubarb & Vanilla Jam

jam

I love making jam and enjoy experimenting with new flavours. My favourite so far is rhubarb and vanilla, I know rhubarb and ginger are a classic combination for jam but I’ve never been too enamoured with the taste of ginger myself. With any jam, I just start out with equal parts fruit and jam sugar, adding lemon or lime juice for the pectin content and to cut the sweetness. I’ve never had trouble getting jam to set, I have had the opposite problem though –my pineapple & mango experiment went terribly, it’s like yellow Polyfilla (so I won’t be sharing that particular recipe).

  • So first off I put two or three little plates in the freezer which will be used to test if that jam’s setting later on.
  • Then I pop 500g of rhubarb (cut into 1 inch chunks) and 500g of jam sugar into a big saucepan on a medium heat, let the sugar dissolve and scrape the seeds of one vanilla pod into the mix.
  • I add about 30ml of lemon or lime juice and turn up the heat.
  • After 10/15 minutes the fruit should be softened and it’s ready to start testing. I usually place a teaspoon of the jam onto one of the frozen plates, leave it aside for a minute and press it with my finger (if the surface scrunches up, it’s ready). I test it every 2 minutes until it’s ready.
  • I then pour/ladle into sterilized jars and label with the flavor and date. It keeps for 6 months (although my jars are empty long before that, so I’m taking that as a good sign).

makingjam

As for how to sterilize jars, I’ll let Jamie field this one:-  http://www.jamieoliver.com/videos/how-to-sterilise-jars

And then for decoration:- Back to me!

I love labeling my produce, maybe too much. Is there anything cuter than a little jar of homemade jam, labelled accordingly and wearing a little gingham hat, tied with ribbon? I cut circles of fabric, using pinking shears to prevent fraying and give it a decorative edge. I often pop a rubber band around it and cover this with ribbon, tied around the neck.

I hate to brag but…I OH MY GOD LOOK WHAT I OWN!!!

image

 

I’ve wanted one for as long as I can remember but honestly thought I’d be in my fifties before I got my hands on one but thanks to my amazing family I now have a new turquoise best friend! I turned 30 ten days ago and as the greatest and most insanely generous surprise ever, my Mum, Dad, sister & brother in law, I am the happiest gal in the land.

All I can think about is different things to make in him. Yes, he’s a he –Kevin, after Kevin Costner for his timeless good looks (narrowly avoided being named Kurt after either Cobain or Vonnegut for his art or smarts). We’re like ET and Elliott already, I swear I can actually feel him sitting on the worktop in the kitchen. Myself and Kevin have made all sorts of wonderful things already and I look forward to making such magic with him for years to come.

The Healthy Eating Buzz

Northbrook Bootcamp began on Monday. I wasn’t going to write a post on it until we were at least a week in incase we fell flat on our fat faces (inevitably into a vat of Thai take away). I may be prematurely proud but three and a half days have passed and we are doing amazingly! We are each taking turns to cook dinner in the evenings, exercising as much as we can, counting calories obsessively, going to bed at a reasonable hour and generally staying on our best behavior. It may not seem like the biggest deal to most but for us going one day without eating junk and sitting on the couch all evening is nothing short of a miracle. For me the change is drastic, I did my first 10km run on Monday, have had a minimum of 8 hours sleep each night and have eaten bucket-loads of veg & salad every day -I’m sure my body is crazy confused about what’s going on.

The truth is we’ve made ourselves unwell as a result of all the drinking, eating, lack of sleep and being bold. After countless Mondays weighing up the damage from the weekend, we were starting to see lasting effects of our lifestyle and it was time to do something about it. I don’t think this marks the start of a complete 180 in our reckless unhealthy lives where we become vegan marathon-runners  but if any part of this new regime sticks we’ll be winning.

Wish us luck!

The Long, Long, Longitude Weekend

Well that whizzed by in the blink of an eye! A full three days that felt like a few hours -crazy fun hours (time flies and all that). After years of attending Electric Picnic -a four-day mud-marathon endurance test, three days of great music at a festival where you get to go home and shower every day sounded almost too good to be true. In reality it was no less messy and no more tame. It would have been less traumatic to my body and my spirit had we gone home after the respectable finishing time of 11pm each night. Alas the festival atmosphere was undeniable all the way through, various venues in town and an array of house parties were calling us and, too hopped up on drink, good music & ingested glow stick goo, we were powerless to ignore it.

1012207_10153002947785328_1106760219_n

Dublin was still enjoying it’s uncharacteristically hot July weather so each act was bookended with some flaking out on the grass and reflection (deep emotions and insights through drunken ramblings). Impressing myself with my early arrival, I saw Cast Of Cheers first and they were great, followed by Marcus Foster (may have had a little crush on him and his keyboard player), Vondelpark, Django Django, Foals and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. The stages were just a short walk apart so it was so much easier to fit in everything we wanted to see than at the bigger festivals and there was no need for wellies due to the dry weather and fewer people.

Getting in at 5:30 Saturday morning did very little for our stamina but Saturday’s line up was happening with or without us so after a cooked breakfast, shower and a lot of hugging, we boosted morale enough to drag ourselves to Marlay Park for the second day of revelling (it was actually evening by the time we got there after a Dundrum  mojito & barbecue stop and a brief prosecco rest in Ballinteer on the way). Villagers, as always, were excellent. We caught the end of Trentmoller before the amazingness that was Paul Kalkbrenner.

Sunday’s late start, similar to Saturday’s led to us missing Frightened Rabbit and the Minutes as the nights started to take their toll on us but we made it in for Hot Chip, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, some of SBTRKT’s DJ set and Kraftwerk. Honestly Kraftwerk were slightly disappointing for me, I’d been looking forward to seeing them for so long and actually found them a bit boring. The 3D glasses were fun though!

One of my favourite things about any festival is catching acts you wouldn’t necessarily go to see in a stand alone concert and becoming a fan, Paul Kalkbrenner and Foals really delivered for me in this way. I can’t wait to see them again.

So the three days joined into one big blur of luminous facepaint, whiskey-smuggling and questionable decisions and have resulted in a mud-caked, vaguely human-shaped ball of pained, pukey, paranoid Jenny blob on the couch and that all too familiar faint groaning sound that I can’t stop making. Or at least I think it’s coming from me.