Sourdough School

The Sourdough School

The Sourdough School

Bread making has always been part of my life, my first solo attempt must have been when I was nineish. I baked with stone ground flour from the local mill, a black painted clapboard windmill that stood on the flat East Anglian plains. I remember climbing up through the wooden machine as it grumbled and creaked like a ship at sea to look through the window at the sails as they whirled by.

Food isn’t just about being fuel to keep me going, I like to engage the senses to savour and hold the moment. A while back I decided to make life as simple and delicious as possible. I don’t eat much bread, but the bread I eat I want to have a good and complex flavor and texture, this sourdough no kneed method looks to be a very clever move.

I have been trying to crack sourdough for a while, experimenting with a variety of methods. But so far, as kind as I’ve been to the dough, it’s been an unreliable hit and miss affair. So when Vanessa Kimbell invited me to join a workshop at her Sourdough School I jumped at the chance of spending a day baking with a sourdough expert. Vanessa runs her Sourdough School from her Victorian house in a walled garden, with a real kitchen garden right outside the kitchen door.

The Sourdough School

The Sourdough School

The day was full with hands on demonstrations as Vanessa took us through each stage of the process, learning how to get the best from our dough. She explained how temperature and different levels of hydration can affect fermentation, as well as showing us the no knead technique.

The Sourdough School, Vanessa Kimbell

The Sourdough School, Vanessa Kimbell

And of course the workshop included plenty of bread sampling, poppy seed rolls with home made jam to start the day, lunch was a delicious pizza, covered with a variety of cheeses, salamis, capers and artickhoke hearts and at snack time there was bruschetta with caponata.

By the end of the session we felt confident about going solo with sourdough bread making. As I drove away, with my jar of sourdough starter on the seat beside me, I was reminded of the journey home from hospital with a brand new baby, precious cargo.

The Sourdough School, starter

The Sourdough School, starter

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Judy’s Hot Milk Sponge Cake

Judy’s Hot Milk Sponge for high days and holidays

I think celebrations was the theme for Thane Princes cookbook club, the inspirational meeting for talking cook books and eating held every month at The Drapers Arms. The thought of family celebrations started a nostalgic longing for my mother, Judy’s hot milk sponge. This was the failsafe cake of childhood, always there for high days and holidays, sandwiched with fresh fruit and cream, just as often jam or lemon curd, always decorated with fresh flowers and leaves.

By the time I was twelve I despised it for its delicious foolproof qualities. I wanted to explore the wide world of cake opportunities. Now years later the wheel has come full circle, I want recipes that deliver unfailingly, I love this recipe for its impressive easiness.

Unconfident about the size of my cake tins, no time for the usual recipe rehearsal, I was up against it. I cracked on, with horror I watched through the glass window of the oven door as the mix fizzed up, swelling over the top of the cake tin. I nibbled at the inelegant muffin top, delicious, so with reckless bravery I decided on flavor alone it could come along with me to the august group.

A cake moist, soft, with the slight bounce of a marshmallow, the group liked it and thought it might be a chiffon cake, such a fancy name, yet so easy. Judy says the recipe is American, possibly from an early edition of the Joy of Cooking, hence the cup measurements. Excuse the unconventional way it’s written, this is how she dictated it to me.

Judy’s Hot Milk Sponge sandwich with cream and fruit

Judys Hot Milk Sponge Cake

  • 1.5c caster sugar
  • 3 eggs

Beat eggs ‘til very light

Add sugar very slowly, beating constantly

Beat 5 mins by hand or 2.5 with mixer

  • 1.5c plain flour
  • 1.5tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp salt

Sift together then fold into egg mixture

Combine and heat but do not boil

  • 0.75c milk
  • 2tbsp butter

Add all at one time to eggs and flour

Fold in quickly and briefly


  • 1tsp vanilla


  • 0.5tsp lemon zest

Bake in an 8’ x 8’ greased cake tin


2 x 8’ layer pans


Muffin tins

Oven 350F-375F hotter for smaller cakes

35mins for layer cake

Judy”s Hot Milk Songe, perfectly easy

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British Flowers

British flowers a lingering riot of gorgeousness

Over the past couple of weeks the garden seemed to linger hoping for one last burst of sunshine before sliding into its dormant phase. Just before total winter shutdown I cut an armful of foliage and flowers.

British flowers lovely detail

British flowers even the shot rocket looks lush in chrome yellow

British flowers, these bright cosmos go on forever, such good value

British flowers, I love these beads of green

British flowers, there always something out there

Over at Common Farm Flowers they have flowers from the garden everyday of the year, British flowers are very magical.



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London Creativity and Wellbeing Week

Having spent impossibly long hours staring at blank walls in hospitals with a friend waiting for his appointments with doctors, craving distraction from where we were I couldn’t miss out on going along to a couple of events celebrating London Creativity and Wellbeing Week. Many would consider a hospital not the usual place to view an art exhibition, however increasingly research based evidence shows the beneficial effects of artworks in healthcare environments improves wellbeing and clinical outcomes. I wouldn’t choose to spend time in a hospital but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity of going to a couple of events to find out what was going on.

The first event I went to was at the curators tour of paintings to view part of the charity Paintings in Hospitals collection at University College Hospital. The charity hires art works out to hospitals and a selection of the paintings available for hire are displayed in a hospital corridor. It is used by patients, staff and visitors and it was uplifting to see artworks used to change the mood of the environment to make it a more approachable less medical space.

Original chunky hard wear has been kept

I’m fortunate I’m a good sleeper but I can well imagine how distressing sleep disorders can be to people unlucky enough to be affected by them. The Centre for Sleep at the Royal Brompton Hospital is a newly designed clinic based in the Old Fire Station. Repurposing of a building can give liscense to much knocking about with the subsequent loss of integral character. Not so with the sympathetic restoration of sleep clinic building, which has saved the glorious design features like the tall fire station doors along with the hose drying flue and the chunky functional hardware.

Artwork includes signage

Glass installation divides the reception area

Not only that but there is a wealth of thoughtful artwork by cartoonist Steven Appleby who worked closely with the arts team producing a rich collection of imagery based on the understanding of sleep. The design of the spaces with clear signage and artwork humanise the environment. The space in the reception area is dramatically divided by a large glass installation over 3 meter high. There are also images describing sleep patterns some drawn directly on the walls others framed layered pictures.

Artwork painted on the wall

Layered dream like pictures

With questions currently hanging over quality of care in the health service, I came away from the experiences feeling the artworks are not trying to be like a cure all pill to pop, but carefully considered environment makes hospital a more human experience for both patients and staff.

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British Flower Week

Hand tied posy for my girl, all sorts of garden gorgeousness in there, roses, lemon balm, chives, fox gloves, clematis

In the fresh sunlight, with gardens and kerbsides bursting into ebulient flower, this has always been my favourite time of year. I want to capture some of this vitality and bring this outside gorgeousness into my home, that means vases brimming with British flowers mixed with leaves and grasses.

A herb scented tussie mussie with roses, thyme, chives and ferns for my ma

In my mind it’s always been a big question why on earth do we import so many cut flowers, when as a nation of keen gardeners we are entirely capable of doing a very beautiful job ourselves. When I had an allotment any diversion away from veg growing into flower growing was frowned on, this notion seemed daft to me, to get vegetables you need insects and enticing them in with flowers seemed like a fairly obvious ploy. Thankfully the importance of supporting insects with flowers in crop production has been recognised, things are hotting up, dare I say getting exciting.

Last year over on her blog Goddess on a Mission, I spotted Vanessa Kimbell had zealously taken up the cause of promoting British Flowers. The mission was to raise awareness that we have been squandering air miles importing cut flowers ignoring an amazing product growing on our doorstep. We can take advantage of the crop and divert some of the budget spent abroad on cut flowers back to the UK. And through research I discovered all sorts of wonderful goings on, Georgie Newberry at Common Farm Flowers, can do flower farmer extraordinaire is the energy and dynamism behind establishing the weekly Twitter chat  #britishflowers. Interest is growing, people realise they can have year round beautiful bunches of British Flowers and even brides are seeking them out.

No waste here tiny egg cup bedside posy made with the scraps, even the thug alkanet can look dainty

This week is British Flower Week, let’s hope in the future they become a fact of life and we no longer have to ask for them.

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Making Home, Home

Use starry chive flowers to decorate cheese and chive scones

There’s  been a whole lot of shuffling around and reorganising going on at home, much tweaking of the interior and finally with lots of cushion cover making it’s all just so. But jiggling around with the visuals only goes partway to making home, firing up all the senses is my objective when I’m designing a space. Filling the kitchen with the smell of fresh baking comes high on my list of making home, home. But I’ve found it’s a dangerous path to follow with the near inevitable consequence that much necessary cake eating to check quality control results in piling on the pounds.

And how can I resist putting them on this battered salver with lion paw feet

The washing machine packed up, it lives  in the utility room. It’s all a bit of a squish in there and before the engineer came, to make repair easier one of my sons friends came over to help move it out. After lots of two bad mice shoving and pulling from us at last it was free. To thank him for his help I wanted to give him some beer, so I asked what  kind  he’d like best? He looked at me and said, I love your home baking, please can I have a homemade cake instead of beer? I’ve known him forever and he’s known my cakes all that time so I was tickled pink by his request. It’s a perfect skill swap solution, I’m a feeder and he’s tall and willowy. His heman brawn for my cakes, yes please I’d love to say thank you with some home baked deliciousness.

Nothing like spreading warm cheese and chive scones with butter

Cakes and brownies will go his way, but today, cold and blustery I decided his cricket tea called for comfort food, I made cheese and chive scones, perfect still warm spread with butter. And don’t worry I haven’t taken the liberty of rampaging through cricket tea tradition, chocolate cake will be along soon.

I tinkered about with a cheese scone recipe from The Big Book Of Baking, adding chives and cutting the dough into rounds before baking.

Cheese Scones

  • 50g butter
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 125g grated mature cheddar
  • 1tsp mustard powder
  • 150ml milk
  • 3tbsp chopped chives

Preheat oven to 200C

  1. Line a baking sheet with Bakewell paper
  2. Sift the flour, salt, mustard powder and baking powder into a bowl.
  3. Rub the butter into the flour mixture ‘til it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Stir in the cheese and chopped chives, then add the milk to make a soft dough.
  5. Lightly dust the work surface and roll dough to between 2 and 3 cm.
  6. With a 5cm pastry cutter cut out rounds.
  7. Gather up the spare dough roll out and cut more scones.
  8. Put cut scones on baking tray and brush with a little extra milk.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15mins until golden brown.
  10. Put the scones on a wire rack to cool.

Cheese and chive scones, perfect on a murky blustery day

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The Gala, Kingston


The Gala Kingston, Art Deco detail

The Gala, is a huge box like Art Deco building dating from the early 1930’s, a factory to entertainment from the pre telly era. Designed by Robert Cromie one of the foremost cinema architects of the time it’s an incredibly bold statement that rears up shadowing the surrounding terraces of 19thcentury shops and houses.

The Gala has few windows

There is great affection for this monumental building, industrial sized, built from house bricks, the extreme mix of scale, adds to the heavy, brutal look. The few openings in the unrelenting brick structure are punctuated with superficial decoration, made up of horizontal and vertical bands and floral clusters. This simplicity of style creates high drama, which is used effectively, visually enlarging the building as well as signposting the entrance while increasing the visitors anticipation.

The Gala, Kingston

There is congruity of design, the exterior features repeated in greater detail on the interior. The design scheme of the more highly embellished interior space retains the feel that it is superficial decoration. There was a wealth of original detail, read the fascinating report on the original palatial decor here. And of course no cinema was complete without a mightly Whurlitzer organ, oh I’d love to have seen that!

Over the past couple of years the future of building has been in the centre of intense, heated debate. To see this monolith being destroyed piecemeal by the previous owner, carried all the distress of witnessing a great hapless beast being taken to it’s knees.

A couple of weeks ago the new owners CNM Estates invited interested local residents to have the rare treat of taking a look inside the boarded up building. On a cold, dark winter evening a long queue formed outside the derelict building as we waited to go in. Then it was our turn to put on hard hats and high viz jackets, before we went through the tiny side door to be plunged into the darkness of the rubble strewn hall, a vast, sloping, overwhelming space, like being in the belly of a whale. Afterwards there was a busy meeting for local residents to view development possibilities and to workshop ideas for the space. The suggested plans are here, take a look and send in your ideas.

The Gala, interior

In a town known primarily for its wealth of high street chain stores, it’s exciting that this gateway building presents the opportunity to create a destination attraction. Of course I’d like to think there was going to be a great little boutique hotel, a roof garden and a space for visiting exhibitions and conferences. Let’s see what happens.

The Gala interior


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Finishing Touches

Pearly snow flakes

Finishing touches, can make or break a creation, I have always had a passion for mother of pearl buttons, a Pearly Queen at heart. As I grew through childhood my mother moved the buttons from one dress to the next, they were like a constant familiar friend. I loved their natural imperfections with their iridescent shell colours, each a slightly different hue.

Different size shape color and designs

Some buttons very simple, others with their design detail talk of the variety of tools that were used to carve them to make them dance with gem like brilliance in the light.

Stars, snowflakes, flowers, all individual

In their tumbling sparkling jumble they are like stars and snowflakes.

Miniature detail

And in their detail we see the imperfections of the human hand.

They all have a story

They all have their story to tell, from hidden shellfish deep in murky brine to singing in the sunlight with their pale iridescent colours, they will travel with me for a short while.

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I Win The Golden Ticket, A Master Class at Rococo Chocolates

Rococo Chocolates

My prize for winning the Rococo Chocolates competition for bloggers, Let’s Make Christmas with my bay and coriander truffles was the chance of having a chocolate master class with resident ‘Prof du Choc’ Barry Johnson. I felt like I’d won the Golden Ticket.

Barry Johnson at Rococo Chocolates

Though I’ve been busy chocolate making for several years the excitement of a chocolate master class with the best is a dream come true. I want to run and trip and skip, so much to learn, I want to know it all. I am happy creating flavours to make a picture in my head, there’s lots more to master to make my chocolates better, to make moments that explode in your mouth to unfold an adventure. Winning the chance to learn with the best, I upgraded my half day prize to a full day, so I could learn the skills of making luxurious smooth ganache and the tempered crack of chocolate to make incredible, edible magic.

Chocolate tasting

Rococo’s, Barry, calmly took control and showed us a window into another world. As we sampled truffles he taught us about different chocolates, the importance of terroir, choosing the right chocolate to balance with flavours, the aromas and textures of the world of truffles. Tempering, like making mayonnaise, follow the strict rules, it works. Temperature and humidity sensitive, chocolate is about patient alchemy, it’s instinctive.

Tempering melted, warm chocolate on marble

Filling molds with tempered chocolate

Stirring the ganache

I was not disappointed with my day, it was a wonderful experience learning from a world class team and having the company of the other members of the master class who had a shared passion and incredible knowledge of food. One member of our group had built his own tandoor oven in his garden, hardly everyday stuff, you have to travel far for such a topic of conversation.

Too beautiful to eat!

A chocolate Staffordshire cat, something else I might not be able to bring myself to eat

And after making and eating a heap of chocolate truffles, wafers and fish, when we left there was a goody bag full of chocolate ready to be made into new creations. Thank you team Rococo for making me so welcome, my prize was generous, I feel very lucky to have spent a day with the best, I will treasure it forever.

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Valentine Heart For My Love

Valentine heart for my love

The idea for these heart patches is to sew one on the inside of a jacket or coat so it lies against the heart, a little piece of secret love to give courage all through the day.
No I’m not an embroidereer, I wont win any embroidery school prizes and I never was the type to frame up some thing I’d sewn. My inspiration for these hearts comes from Sailor Jerry tattoos and the sailors wool pictures that surround me, I love the their bold can do style.
Embellishment of this kind is simple, embroidery thread at about 30p a pop, a scrap of calico and an embroidery hoop, a bargainacious present straight from the heart.

Heart design transferred onto calico

Draw out your design and transfer onto your calico. Stretch calico over the embroidery hoop and start filling in the colours with embroidery thread, make sure the fabric is well covered and there are no gaps in the embroidery.

Colouring in with embroidery silks

When you’re finished filling in the design, give it a firm border by first sewing round the edge with chain stitch, then cover those stitches with a close blanket stitch.

Chain stitch border

Blanket stitch to finish

When you are finished cut out the patch, leaving a 1 cm border of calico that can be turned under when the patch is sewn into the jacket.

For a very special person

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