Monthly Archives: April 2015

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Spring Along The Frome Valley Walkway

Fleeting Blueness, Rocking Dog

Fleeting Blueness

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Extract from Spring. Gerard Manley Hopkins

We are truly fortunate to live literally on the Frome Valley Walkway. The walkway stretches for 29km and runs from the centre of Bristol through to the base of the Cotswold Hills.

I love walking various stretches of it everyday with Real Live Rocking Dog. Each season brings with it an amazing variety of flora and fauna. Spring has come bursting in with a carpet of pungent wild garlic and Bluebells. Ferns are slowly unfurling with the warmth of dappled sunlight, and vibrant Kingcups enjoy their drying bogland. Inevitably the change in season will bring with it Himalayan Balsam and Wild Foxgloves and Cow Parsley.

I came upon a truly spectacular fungi yesterday. It was quietly growing on a fallen tree, with some of it’s rust coloured discs the size of dinner plates. It was so perfect.

Wildlife includes frequent sightings of the surreally lapis blue Kingfisher, Squirrels, Damsel flies, Moorhens and Coots. Less frequently we have been delighted to spot Herons, Deer, Freshwater crayfish and recently a weasel.

Most mysteriously for the last three years there has been a large white rabbit in a field close to the walkway. It all feels a bit Alice in Wonderland … but I celebrate the fact that he (she) continues to survive despite a serious lack of camouflage!

Walk This Way, Rocking Dog

Walk This Way

Blubell'd Glade, Rocking Dog

Blubell’d Glade

Wild Garlic, Rocking Dog

Wild Garlic

Magnificent Fungi, Rocking Dog

Magnificent Fungi

Dunking Ducks, Rocking Dog

Dunking Ducks

Wild Cherry, Rocking Dog

Wild Cherry

New Batch Of Rocking Dog Recycled Gift Labels

Looking For Presents, Rocking Dog

Looking For Presents

Yesterday I made a batch of recycled gift labels. My magazines were piling up and in need of a cull (World Of Interiors and Country Living make good gift tag fodder). I was in need of an easy craft task after a night where sleep didn’t come easily. However, at 4.45 am the dawn chorus was truly glorious, as was the dawn with the promise of burgeoning verdant spring greenness.

Back to the task in hand. Images were chosen and cut with a paper trimmer (which gives perfect straight edges). These were mounted onto recycled brown luggage labels using Pritt (don’t accept impostors!) Many were then given a stamping treatment before being given strings which complemented the style and colour of the images. As I am going to be selling these, I grouped tags of the same genre in quantities of five.

Simple job, surprisingly time consuming, but somehow quite satisfying!

These tags would look pretty on a present wrapped in vibrant crisp tissue paper, or tied onto a bottle of bubbly. Equally one of these labels could be attached to a plant or hand tied bunch of flowers. The idea could be adapted to make lovely, yet inexpensive place names for a party or wedding. The tags could be deliciously tied around a napkin or to a chair, indeed a gilded pear, apple or frosted fir cone. Go Wild!

Summer Fruit Tags, Rocking Dog

Summer Fruit Tags

Stamped & Waiting For String, Rocking Dog

Stamped & Waiting For String

String Chosen & Cut, Rocking Dog

String Chosen & Cut

Rocking Dog Afternoon Tea.

Freshly Baked, Rocking Dog

Freshly Baked

Rocking Dog loves making scones. I made some absolutely terrible cannonball ones for my Mum’s funeral nearly thirty years ago and was determined to never repeat the baking catastrophe! Yesterday afternoon relatives, one of whom is my second cousin (? correct me if I am wrong Chalmers!) dropped in. I rustled up Buttermilk Scones, with homemade Rhubarb Compote and clotted cream. The savoury scone version was a mature Cheddar and Rosemary scone which I served with mustard butter and thick ham. I love serving the warm scones still on the wire cooling racks. Of course a little vintage china always adds to the ambience and romance of afternoon tea.

The secret of light scones is surprise, surprise light handling.

Bobtail’s Scones (Bobtail was the name my Grandfather, Newsome, called my Mum)

400g Self Raising Flour
2 teasps Baking Powder
120g Cold Butter or Hard Margarine (do not use a spread)
2 large eggs
10 Tbsp full fat milk or Buttermilk
1 level teasp Salt

Any flavourings- chopped stem ginger, mixed fruit, grated cheese, stilton and walnut etc..
For my sweet plain scones I used 2 Tbsp caster sugar

1. Switch oven to 225 C and line a baking sheet with some baking paper or grease with oil.
2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
3. Grate Butter into the bowl and rub the fat into the flour using your fingertips. Raise the mixture out of the bowl as you rub in the fat. This introduces air into your scones and makes them light.
4. Stir in any flavourings at this point. Make a well in the flour.
5. Pour your milk and eggs into a jug and whisk well before pouring into your flour bowl.
6. Bring the mixture together gently using a wooden spoon or your hands. When it has formed a ball, plop out on a floured surface. Do not manhandle! Pat out gently using the palm of your hand (a rolling pin is not required!)
7. Cut out scones using a pastry cutter. Excess scone dough can be gently bought together to form further scones.
8. Place scones on your baking sheet and brush their tops with an egg wash (egg yolk and milk) This will give them a lovely golden shine.
9. The time needed in the oven will depend on how big or small your scones are, look at them after 10 minutes – they should be golden on top and have light golden baked bases.
10. Cool on a wire cooling rack. Eat the same day (but they do freeze well)

Anyone requiring a scone masterclass I would be happy to oblige!

Not Homegrown Yet, Rocking Dog

Not Homegrown Yet

The Savoury Offering, Rocking Dog

The Savoury Offering

If You’re Fond Of Sand Dunes………

Fairground Fodder For Sale, Rocking Dog

Fairground Fodder For Sale

“If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, Quaint little villages here and there…” These are the lyrics from Groove Armada’s “At The River”. I heard it on the radio in 2009 and loved the track immediately, but unfortunately didn’t catch the groups name. So …I went into a branch of HMV and a poor sales chap had to endure me trying to hum and sing the song very badly. I came out of the shop empty handed and somewhat embarrassed. I expect the HMV guy needed counselling for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!

Indeed at the weekend we did go in search of sand dunes and salty air, heading to Dorset and the Chesil Beach. We were chasing the sun, but it was rather elusive, therefore walks were cold and windswept. The Chesil Beach is 29km long and forms part of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Close to where we parked our “Pod” was the area where bombs were dropped and tested in preparation for the Dambusters Raid. On an evening walk around the Fleet lagoon we witnessed weatherworn rusted boat sheds, an indestructible WW2 look out tower and interesting flotsam and jetsam.

Saturday we shared time between Bridport and Dorchester. As ever the street market in Bridport was bustling and lovely. I always marvel at the ginormous cakes in “Bella’s” and love a visit to Old Albion who do a SPECTACULAR range of gorgeous old eclectic things. I especially adore all their original fairground pieces. They also have some gorgeous Fox Terriers in various formats, china, plush pile, playing cards and the most adorable Kennel sign. Alas none of the doggy stuff is for sale- they are such spoilsports those lovely Albion Folk!

We nipped into Bridport on our way home for the monthly Vintage Market– (last Sunday in month April-September). I was very restrained!

The salty air was appreciated, as was the hot chocolate and dry socks. Real Live Rocking Dog had a great time, and I am convinced he can start smelling the sea when we reach Chard. Andyman is not the least bit convinced!

Sleeping Quarters, Rocking Dog

Sleeping Quarters

WW2 Survivor, Rocking Dog

WW2 Survivor

Bella's Big Buns!, Rocking Dog

Bella’s Big Buns!

Windswept RLRD, Rocking Dog

Windswept RLRD

Not For Sale, Rocking Dog

Not For Sale

Homes Needed, Rocking Dog

Homes Needed

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These Shoes Spoke To Me!

They Spoke To Me!, Rocking Dog

They Spoke To Me!

These Shoes inexplicably spoke to me whilst passing through John Lewis on Wednesday. I was shopping for gifts and cake ingredients and certainly not on the hunt for shoes with a perilously high 4 1/2 inch heel! Generally I am not a blingy person and certainly not someone who enjoys tottering around in high heels. Brogues, Converse’s and Hunter wellies are my footwear of choice, so how I came to get my money out for these at the till is somewhat brain boggling!

Maybe it’s just a middle aged woman nostalgically trying to recapture her youth! I remember many times in the early 1980’s walking in snow in peephole stilleto’s! (My parents somewhat embarrassedly sniggering behind me, or rather in front of me). I rather think in the coming week these shoes will be winging their way back to John Lewis, that’s unless I can magically find a way of learning to walk in high heels once again. Unlike Nancy Sinatra’s shoes this pair definitely aren’t made for walking!

On the subject of stepping back in time, Andyman and I saw Marc Almond (of Soft Cell) at the Colston Hall, Bristol last night. We formed a sea of predominantly 40/50 somethings reminiscing New Wave & Synth Pop. Personally I loved the music, clothes and make up of New Romanticism. It was a great concert and inevitably ended with Tainted Love and Say Hello Wave Goodbye.

Maybe i’ll just go and try those shoes on once more just for old times sake!

Have a great weekend and hope the sun keeps on shining. Boo Hoo! it’s the last episode of Poldark on Sunday. Aidan you’ll be missed!

Rustic Bling, Rocking Dog

Rustic Bling

Blingy Chair Detail, Rocking Dog

Blingy Chair Detail

Blingy Cushions, Rocking Dog

Blingy Cushions

Last Minute. com Cake!

Hello Kitty's Garden, Rocking Dog

Hello Kitty’s Garden

I was given a Last minute.com cake order by Andyman. I quickly ran up a sponge and then headed for the hills… well Marks and Spencers!

With nothing in mind I sought inspiration from the sweet and biscuit shelves. I chanced upon some boxed Hello Kitty’s left over from Easter. Further scrutinising led to some lovely jelly carrots and coconut mushrooms.

An idea was beginning to form. Hello Kitty’s Garden. My brain quickly thought of desiccated coconut dyed green, the search for ingredients to make chocolate soil and things to pretty up Kitty’s Garden.

Chocolate soil is something frequently seen on “Masterchef”, mine was cheats chocolate soil. I bought Chocolate cookies from the M & S bakery counter, and I visualised these crumbled with the dear little carrots poking out.

Home with my stash, I had a mere half an hour to pull everything together. Aggghhh! on unboxing Kitty I had found she had lost her head. I had to glue her Frankenstein style with glace icing, catastrophe averted! I whizzed up a buttercream (icing sugar, softened butter and vanilla essence) and sandwiched my sponges with this together with strawberry conserve. More buttercream was spread onto the top of the sponge to glue Kitty down and adhere the green coconut. Frouing, my favourite bit then happened. Soil sprinkled, carrots strewn, mushrooms arranged, and baby meringues dipped in glace icing before rolling in coloured sugar strands. I also added some paper flowers which I glue gunned onto skewers, these gave more height to the cake. The cake was given a fringed tissue paper sheath, adding more flowers to disguise paper joins. Voila! Cake decorating in 23 minutes!

Delivery logistics involved taking it to a plastic surgeon who would then take it on its onward journey. I hope he wasn’t too critical of Kitty’s glace icing reconstructive surgery!

Happy Birthday Maisie, I hope hearing “Happy Birthday” on the bagpipes was amazing!

Liz’s Top 5 tips for Last minute.com cakes

1. Visit supermarket/ department store sweet counters, Hotel Chocolat, Thornton’s etc..for inspiration
2. Use a toy as a starting point (I have used Sylvanian Family toys (toys sat on a cake with an edible picnic), Disney characters (eg..Aladdin on an icing patterned carpet).
3. Use Pinterest, cake decorating books, cake websites, cafe’s and cake shops for inspiration. Whilst in Amsterdam I was truly inspired by the cafe/cake shop
De taart Van m’n Tante (The Tart Of My Aunt). My teenage son that year had a sexy black and red cake, complete with a rubber gimp doll on it! I now absolutely cringe thinking about my poor son unboxing his cake on a school field trip. How could I?!!
4. If time is really short, buy a shop bought cake to decorate (swiss rolls can become spectacular caterpillars, or modelled into trains) Tray bakes and loaf cakes can also be decorated ingeniously with a little bit of thought.
5. Colour pastes, though more expensive than liquid colours are very intense and last much longer. Seek out ready rolled fondant icing and ready to mix Royal Icing in supermarkets.

Sweet Stash!, Rocking Dog

Sweet Stash!

Chocolate Cookie Soil, Rocking Dog

Chocolate Cookie Soil

Aren't I Cute!, Rocking Dog

Aren’t I Cute!

Real Live Rocking Dog Has A Bouffant!

HAMISH!, Rocking Dog

HAMISH!

Real Live Rocking Dog had a bouffant on Monday. We have a dog who sports a Jekyll and Hyde Persona. One look is teddy bear curly and the other spookily lamb sheared! Wire Fox Terriers do not shed their hair and need to be either hand stripped or clipped on a regular basis.

With the advent of the warmer weather it was time to take Hamish for the his first haircut of 2015. We are fortunate enough to have one of the best Wire Fox Terrier breeders practically on the doorstep. The husband and wife team take Hamish in hand and give him a morning of pampering (?!!!). By all accounts Hamish is pretty grouchy and not partial to pedicures, eyebrow sculpting and general bouffanting! I’d love to be a fly on the wall.

Bill paid, Real Live Rocking Dog is treated to a good run (well mincing walk) at Snuff Mills. Without fail, within ten minutes of arriving through the park gates Hamish treats himself to a drink, the white coiffured loveliness is long forgotten!

Drinking Bowl, Rocking Dog

Drinking Bowl

Spring In The Park, Rocking Dog

Spring In The Park

Lime And Lovely, Rocking Dog

Lime And Lovely

The Rhubarb Glut. Homemade Ice Cream.

Delectable Dessert, Rocking Dog

Delectable Dessert

A little while before Christmas my beloved Kitchenaid Artisan mixer decided it had simply had enough! For a while at least I tried to soldier on without it….but whisking meringues by hand is no fun, Yorkshire Puddings definitely suffered and baking dwindled. An expensive Shopping trip ensued and of course there was the difficult debate of what colour to choose! Purchased 16 or so years before, my previous Kitchenaid came in two colours, white or black, and a much cheaper price tag! Somewhat boringly I chose a graphite matt finish machine but excitingly it came with the bonus of a free ice cream churning bowl.

I am not a new convert to making ice cream, in fact I have a dedicated ice cream making machine. It has given good service over the years churning out ice cream for various parties and weddings when I was running my catering company “Heaven’s Cake”. Favourite flavours have been Gooseberry and Clotted Cream, Brown Bread and Sour Cherry and Praline. I would often serve the ice creams in spectacular ice bowls which encased borage flowers, roses, herb sprigs, fruits and pansies.

My new Kitchenaid Ice Cream attachment is proving simple to use and produces wonderful smooth ice cream. Unfortunately the fit of the beater feels as if it’s a bit of a Friday afternoon bodge job….but i’ll forgive the annoying design details.

I personally love Skye Gyngell’s basic ice cream recipe. To that you can then add your own flavourings. The recipe can be found in Skye’s “A year in my kitchen”. This is a well used tome, with the pages almost automatically turning to Skye’s recipe for “Roast chicken and bread salad with sour cherries and roasted red onions”. It is utterly divine, and great to serve for an informal alfresco lunch or supper. You may be alarmed by the list of ingredients -but it is SO worth it!

As with most ice cream recipes a custard needs to be knocked up using egg yolks, cream, milk, sugar and a vanilla pod. This needs to be cooked very carefully otherwise the mixture separates and your ice cream won’t be so delectably smooth. If I see the custard getting a little bit hot and bothered I simply remove it from the heat, stir it, and return it to the heat when it has cooled a little. Poured into a plastic tub the custard then needs to be chilled thoroughly. Eventually the mixture can be poured into your just out of the freezer ice cream bowl, with the beater already going. After about 20 minutes the mixture will have really firmed up and you can add your chosen flavouring. A further few minutes churning and you’ll have soft clouds of ice cream. If you want a firmer ice cream the mixture can be boxed up and put in the freezer for a couple of hours. For the rhubarb ice cream pictured, Skye’s book gives the recipe for the rhubarb compote to add to her ice cream base. I reserved a little of the compote for drizzling.

To serve I made some simple coconut macaroons from Nigella’s “Domestic Goddess”. It proved an economical way of using up some of the egg whites leftover from the egg yolks needed for the ice cream. Gluten and dairy free, they are a good recipe to have in the repertoire. Approximately 10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook they’re a doddle! Prior to baking I pimped my macaroons with some little flecks of 24 carat gold because I love a bit of bling to match the serving plate!

Feeling like summer already!

Skye And The Rhubarb, Rocking Dog

Skye And The Rhubarb

Magic Machine, Rocking Dog

Magic Machine

24 Carat Macaroons, Rocking Dog

24 Carat Macaroons

Made. Roman Holiday Bucket Bags.

Roman Holiday Bucket Bag, Rocking Dog

Roman Holiday Bucket Bag

Rocking Dog has been busily sewing. Hot off the press are some Roman Holiday Bucket Bags. The name for these bags came from the fabric I used for these creations, “Roman Holiday” by Mulberry. This iconic company were no doubt inspired to design this fabric to pay homage to the 1953 film of the same name, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The 1950’s saw beautiful bold prints in cheery colours. These were used for full skirted cotton dresses, duster coats and for home furnishings. After the years of wartime austerity these fabrics must literally have been a breath of fresh air!

This modern Mulberry material utilises bold print and imagery which harks back to joyous 50’s print. My fabric bolt was originally destined to be made into a blind, a Roman one of course! However, I am continuing to try and scale down my material mountain and decided this particular fabric would make great bags to take essentials to the beach. Lined with a contrasting medium weight gingham, and with Petersham ribbon shoulder straps they are totally unique and made from my own Rocking Dog pattern.

Packed with sunglasses, sun cream, Kindle (or book), edibles & drinkables, and sarong you’ll be ready to hit the beach!

Getting Started, Rocking Dog

Getting Started

Ready To Hit The Beach. Rocking Dog

Ready To Hit The Beach.

Travel Label, Rocking Dog

Travel Label

Road To Rome, Rocking Dog

Road To Rome

Roman Ruins, Rocking Dog

Roman Ruins

1950's Roman Coach Trip, Rocking Dog

1950’s Roman Coach Trip

Stupendous Supermarket Style!

Stupendous Supermarket Style!, Rocking Dog

Stupendous Supermarket Style!

It has been widely reported that of late we as a nation have been shopping very differently. Apparently more of us are doing smaller, more frequent trips to the supermarket and less of the marathon trawls in huge superstores. Of course more of us are doing online shopping to avoid altogether the misery of supermarket trips. I am very embarrassed to say that a few years ago when I was teaching Home Economics to A Level students in a Bristol School, I spoke about online shopping, whilst secretly thinking “this will never catch on!”

Regarding my own shopping habits, I haven’t given over control to order pickers, mainly because i’m a self confessed control freak! I therefore battle on with shopping as infrequently as possible! I am now a pretty committed Lidl shopper, having previously been a loyal Sainsbury’s customer. Smaller shops, smaller bills, and better bread have influenced my change.

Lidl often has some pretty spectacular product events. One week you can purchase a horse blanket and jodhpurs, another week everything you’d need to go off snorkelling or sawing down trees! This week it’s performance running gear…. ashamedly I gave the aisle a wide berth!

Yesterday I headed to Sainsbury’s and decided to make a rare trip around the “Tu” clothing rails. I chanced on some fabulous embroidered PJ’s. Heavily embroidered in citric green these lovelies would easily pass for something that you’d pick up and put down quickly due to the hefty price tag in Anthropologie. These Sainsbury’s PJ’s came to £18. I really adore embroidery and covet my Indian wedding arches, saris and French monogrammed smocks.

Have a lovely weekend whatever you are planning to do.

PS Price flash- British butter in Lidl 49p (250g)

I Love This, Rocking Dog

I Love This

......And This, Rocking Dog

……And This

......And This!, Rocking Dog

……And This!