Category Archives: Travel

Rocking Dog Christmas Cake Quick Fix!

snow dome cake, rocking dog

Snow Dome Cake

Good morning! Hope everyone is feeling cool, calm and collected. I hope presents are deliciously wrapped, fridge decadently stashed, Christmas frock selected, and coiffure and manicure booked! Yes it does sound as if i’m stuck in a 1950’s Hollywood time warp and no no no, apart from the wrapped presents I haven’t scored highly on any of the other counts!

However, I did manage to get cakes made a little while ago. We try to get down to the beach for a barbecue (Sand Bay near Weston Super Mare) between Christmas and New Year to blow away the cobwebs and to be generally very silly. We usually take salmon and good sausages to burn on the disposable barbecues, a freshly made Greek salad some French stick, homemade soup and nibbles. Pudding is usually a hunk of Christmas cake which we eat through chattering teeth! When the BBQ’s have done the business we fill them with sand and use them as foot warmers. Some of us go in search of the sea (a rare sight) whilst others play with Real Life Rocking Dog and other doggy friends. Like Zac Efron who incidentally still hasn’t been found, the beach barbecue is fast becoming a Ferguson tradition.

Back to the cakes! for a good last minute cake Nigella Lawson’s Easy Action Cake is foolproof. The majority of the ingredients are heated up in a pan, fruits don’t need days of soaking and the baking time is pretty respectable. Pictured is the way I cook my cakes – tips from my lovely Mum. So it’s lining the tin with baking parchment and then with the mixture poured in, wrap the cake in a double layer of brown paper, held in place by non-plastic string. The top of the cake also has a layer of brown paper stapled in place with a hole to let steam escape. Finally I put the cake into the oven with a thinnish layer of newspaper under it. All these papery tricks ensure the cakes do not burn or dry out. To me the smell of baking newspaper really makes me feel Christmassy. Admittedly a candle from Jo Malone is a more attractive proposition … but the newspaper reminds me of home and my mum.

To decorate or not to decorate that is the question. I like my cake served nude of almond paste and icing, personally I love it with some Farmhouse Cheddar. My snow dome cake was executed VERY quickly. I am ashamed to say I bought ready rolled almond paste and icing, gummed onto the cake with apricot glaze. Decoration… crudely piped “Oh Christmas Tree”, Indian blingy braid and some bottle brush Christmas trees….Simple!

Oh well just to get through Christmas Day to get the much loved day on the beach and the wedge of cake! PS. the nude cake is safely stashed in a tin ready to be paired with some yummy cheese.

beach cake, rocking dog

Beach Cake

brown paper packages tied  up with string , rocking dog

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

snow domed, rocking dog

Snow Domed

Taking Stock Of The Year

sweet sphinx, rocking dog

Sweet Sphinx

Yes it’s that sort of time of the year when we are swearing at tape that we can’t find the end of, wrapping paper that tears oh to easily and frantically searching for long stashed presents. I think it’s also the time when we start taking stock of a year which is nearly at its close. Happy moments, great views, lovely food,sunny days, embarrassing moments, funny times and sad times, we do some mental arithmetic to decide whether on balance it’s been a good year or one we’d rather forget.

I wanted to share one of the high points of my year, an amazing installation in Brooklyn “A Subtlety”. As any American would say “it was awesome!”. Kara E Walker a New York based artist created this monumental sized and thought provoking work.

The curatorial goes- “A Subtlety or The Marvelous Sugar Baby” – an homage to the unpaid overworked Artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the New World on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

Walking into the vast sugar impregnated building, the sheer size of the negro sphinx was both breathtaking and imposing. The powerful 35ft high figure of carved polystyrene was encrusted in white sparkling refined sugar. She told her story without words, of slavery, race, sugar refining, wealth inequality, sugar consumption and power. Accompanying her were a series of human scale basket carrying children. These “Sugar Babies” were coated with thick dark brown syrup obtained from raw sugar during the refining process. As a consequence of changes in temperature and humidity the figures were literally dissolving into resinous sticky pools.

I found the installation very moving, especially living in Bristol with its well documented connection with the barbaric slave trade. I was also moved by the fact that this building would soon be making way for flashy apartments, penthouses and coffee houses. Built in 1856, by 1870 it was refining over half of the USA’s sugar, 1,200 tons every day. I couldn’t help thinking it was one of those Battersea Power Station scenario’s. I only hope it will have a last minute reprieve like it’s London cousin.

In Stockholm I chanced upon an exhibition at the Nordiska Museet about how Sweden became sugar eaters. It represented Sweden’s increasing sugar consumption from the Middle Ages to present day. Candy coloured I think it was prettily telling everyone to wise up!

the doomed domino, rocking dog

The Doomed Domino

melting sugar baby, rocking dog

Melting Sugar Baby

swedish candy, rocking dog

Swedish Candy

Return Visit To Stockholm

creative cafe window, rocking dog

Creative Cafe Window

Feeling very inspired after a long weekend in Stockholm.
It is a truly wonderful city, and I feel privileged to have arrived there in the lead up to Christmas. Think gingerbread houses, clove studded oranges, red and white gingham, clear twinkling fairy lights and Nordic pines. Of course it’s much more than that with its amazing archipelago of little islands complete with red and white wooden boat houses, its heart warming glogg and delicious things to eat. Of course the only fly in the ointment is the cost of everything. You simply can’t afford to get tiddly and merry there! However, I was feeling very merry  even without lashings of festive alcohol!

The Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) is well worth a visit, especially if you’re a creative. The permanent Swedish Folk Art section was eye poppingly gorgeous as was the exhibition about traditions in Sweden. How lovely to be there for a large nativity production, especially with the grand piano echoing its rumbustious melodies around the vast building.

Walking- lots of it, a Smorgasbord boat trip, people watching and marvelling at Scandinavian design and decoration were truly enjoyed.

Now to get back to reality- a tyre fitter is on his way to sort out the car which suffered a blow out two miles from home. An hour on a motorway embankment at midnight, together with being delivered back by tow truck ended our idillic weekend, but even that couldn’t dampen our spirits! Christmas decoration in the Rocking Dog household may be a little bit Scandi’ this year… watch this space!

nativity, nordiska museet, rocking dog

Nativity, Nordiska Museet.

cake frou at nordiska museet ,rocking dogt

Cake Frou At Nordiska Museet

gingerbread mansion, rocking dog

Gingerbread Mansion

Thoughtful Presents

my mum, rocking dog

My Mum

With Christmas Shopping seemingly in full throttle everywhere, I was having a good think whilst sewing today. Sometimes it isn’t what we spend that makes a present so very special. It is very often the simply amazing thought that ithe giver has given to producing the perfect gift.

The most thoughtful gift given to me was one sent to me by my Mum in 1980. Strange but true I was in the army and my basic training in Aldershot was sheer hell! Marching, parade inspections and ritual humiliation were gruelling. Daily room and kit inspections at the crack of dawn were stressful as were ghastly maths lessons with Major Legg. I was miserably homesick. One day a parcel arrived out of the blue, in it was an insignificant soft scoop ice cream tub. Contained within, was a letter, a tea towel hand-embroidered with my name, rank and number, a posy of flowers from the garden and some home baking. I simply bawled- but then felt so much better! I have such lovely memories of receiving that oh so thoughtful present from my Mum.

Another Successful present story now. Two years ago I made a return visit to the beautiful little Protestant Cemetery in Rome, It is sometimes called the Cimetero deli Inglesi (Englishmen’s Cemetery) and it can be found close to the 3BC Pyramid of Cestius. It really is a wonderful verdant oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Rome street life. Box hedges, basking cats, Pomegranate bushes, palms and calmness together with wonderful epitaphs sum up a visit here. It is here too that the poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley are buried. It was on Keats’s grave I found a large pine cone and I hatched a cunning plan to take it back for my lovely elderly neighbour Molly, who adores poetry. I must admit that during the day it was very tempting to offload my sappy and sticky cone!
Back on home soil I wrote a little excerpt from “Ode to a Nightingale” on a luggage label and tied it onto the cone. Putting it into a simple brown paper bag, I took it to Molly and I had no idea that she was going to be SO happy with this  gift. It was as if I had given her a large gold nugget! So sweet.

Thoughtful presents, contemplate which presents you have been overjoyed with, and perhaps the ones you haven’t !

protestant cemetery rome, rocking dog

Protestant Cemetery, Rome

keats's grave, rocking dog

Keats’s Grave

pine cone gift, rocking dog

Pine Cone Gift

Eat, Pray, Love.

orvieto shop salamis

Orvieto Shop

Eat, Pray, Love.

Just thought I’d share a little more of Italy before returning to Rocking Dog makes.
The Eat – a wonderful shop in Orvieto selling salamis, cheese etc… I loved the window for it’s simplicity. Many products were wrapped in utilitarian brown paper with labels to match. The only “prop” was a taxidermy’d wild boars head. That bought back memories of the boars head my brother in law borrowed for us for a Burn’s Night. The owner apparently later swapped it for a stuffed penguin!
The Pray – Loved this grotto at the entrance to this nursery school in Orvieto. As a four year old would you be scared or comforted to see a Madonna watch over you entering your classroom!
The Love – loved this figure on the facade of a building in the beautiful hill top town, Citta della Pieve.

wrapped cheeses italy

Wrapped Cheeses

grotto orvieto mary

Grotto in Orvieto

relief citta della pieve

Relief – Citta della Pieve