Monday, 17 February 2014

been baking: Cupcakes

My sister Stacey makes just about the best cupcakes ever.  She has spent far too much time perfecting the method and by now she's a seasoned pro.  Apparently it's all in the weighing.

The Cake
150g caster sugar 
150g butter
150g eggs (yes, she weighs them)
150g self-raising flour 
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp milk

Cream the butter and the sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add the vanilla and give the mixture an extra blitz until smooth.  Finally sift in the flour and gently fold in with a spatula.  Now weigh out 50g into each cupcake case and put into a pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes.  

The Icing
200g icing sugar
100g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
optional food colouring

Cream the butter and vanilla until thick but spreadable and pipe over the cooled cakes.  

Monday, 10 February 2014

been baking: Plain Scones

There are hundreds of different flavoured scones to experiment with; chocolate orange, cheese, apple and my usual fail-safe buttermilk, but sometimes like yesterday, when the rain poured down non-stop and the sky never quite lightened, only a big butter scone smothered in clotted cream and strawberry jam will do.

The Scone
225g self-raising flour
1 1/2 tbsp caster sugar
50g softened salty butter
120ml milk
pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a bowl and mix in the sugar and salt before adding the butter. With your hands rub the mixture together until it looks like breadcrumbs. Using a butter knife gradually mix in the milk to make a dough, you might not need to use all of the milk but if the mixture is looking dry don't worry about adding extra milk. It's worth using a knife to mix the dough to give the scone a crumbly texture when it's baked.

Lightly dust a rolling pin and baking surface with flour and roll out a wedge of dough to roughly 2cm thick. Cut out the scone shapes, you should get about six scones out of the dough. Brush a little milk over the top of the scones and bake for 10-15 minutes. Scones harden quickly when cooled so it's best to eat them while they are warm.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

been seeing: Mojo

Two performances really stand out in Mojo (Harold Pinter, 3rd February); Daniel Mays as smart, cocksure cockney Potts, juggling bravado and twitchy fear and Ben Whishaw's strange, fidgety and increasingly pained Baby.  Mojo skittle-skattles with Jez Butterworth's now signature lyrical dialogue and Ian Rickson's direction has echoes of Jerusalem with the loud, sudden opening and closing of acts that invoke a seedy and violent 1950s Soho.  The language is its strength; hypnotic, it sings, bouncing around the stage, passed on from one person to the next in a non-stop rally of bickering, blame and outright fights.      

Monday, 3 February 2014

been baking: Cherry Bakewell Cupcakes

My mum had a craving for cherry muffins at the weekend but I didn't have any ingredients at home other than leftovers from the rainbow cake and a bit of almond so a compromise had to be made and that compromise was Cherry Bakewell Cupcakes.  They are made in much the same way as cupcakes but with a bit of almond added to the mix.

The Cake
100g caster sugar 
100g butter
2 eggs
100g self-raising flour
80g crushed almond   
2 tsp almond extract
20 dried cherries

Cream the butter and sugar and add the almond extract.  Gradually beat in the eggs and then gently fold in the flour and the crushed almonds.  Spoon the mixture into large muffin cases until two thirds full. Cut the cherries into quarters and sprinkle about eight quarters on to the top of the mixture.  Cook on a medium heat for 25-30 minutes.  The cupcakes should go a nice golden brown colour, slightly darker than a plain cupcake.

The Icing  
50g icing sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
handful of flaked almonds

Wait for the cakes to cool.  Mix the icing sugar and lemon juice until thickened but still liquid enough to pour over the cakes.  Finally sprinkle on the almonds.  

Sunday, 2 February 2014

been seeing: The Light Princess, The Weir

I generally shy away from musicals and saw The Light Princess (Lyttelton, 29th January) almost by accident.  This is a feel-good, pretty little thing with a fantastic central performance from Rosalie Craig as the princess who floats but overall the songs are too sugary and immemorable and it lacked that dark wit that is expected from a fairytale. I found myself astonished by the brilliant acrobats and cute puppeteering more than the show itself.  

In The Weir (Wyndham, 1st February) four people in a small pub in rural Ireland start to tell ghost stories and in doing so expose something profoundly human and real about themselves.  We see their empathy, their fears and their loneliness as one by one, buoyed by whiskey they gather the confidence to tell their tale.  The small details in Conor McPherson's story are beautiful; Jack's remark about his house being away from the through road gives a sense of the men being caught in time and tied to the past.  This is a quiet play on the surface that finds comedy in the familiar but it is what's not said that has the biggest impact; it is compassion and love for each other that bind the men.  When mysterious newcomer Valerie shocks them with her story she isn't ridiculed or appeased, instead they offer her tale respect and we know that here she's found a safe home.                      

Saturday, 1 February 2014

been watching: January Films

January was a patchwork of family films, some great some not so great (I’m looking at you 102 Dalmatians) but if you can’t watch films about fallen stars or fugitive rabbits at Christmas then when on Earth can you watch them?  So here's a little, jagged and personal run down of what I saw this month.   

102 Dalmatians

I really don’t have much to say about 102 Dalmatians other than how much children’s films have improved since it was made; no more boinging sound effects, no more slipping on bananas. Hooray!   

12 Years A Slave

Everyone should see 12 Years A Slave, it's raw, shocking and horribly difficult to watch at times but it's essential.  After watching it I was struck by the realisation that a film like this has not been made before which is really, completely unbelievable.

A Touch of Larceny

Little known/much forgotten (what ever you prefer) A Touch of Larceny is quietly funny and features George Sanders; close your eyes and it's Shere Khan in all his velvety tones.

It's a Wonderful Life

My favourite film ever (which is a bit like saying the Beatles are your favourite band but I don't care). This bit above with the dancing and the swimming pool, "this is a very interesting situation", "Merry Christmas you old building and loan".  Bliss.  Still, I can't help but feel a little melancholic that George Bailey never makes it out of Bedford Falls.  I like to hope that he uses a bit of that extra money to take a train journey somewhere, I'm sure noone would begrudge him it.

Pet Sematary

Comfortingly silly.  I'm the biggest light-weight and hide behind my fingers at the slightest shadow so this was a bit of a fright-fest for me, but in that unconvincing, 80s gloopy blood way - so, basically, the best way.


I shamelessly love Stardust.  I love the big Take That theme tune.  I love Claire Danes (who doesn’t?).  I love Mark Strong (again, who doesn’t?).  Witches, a flying tall ship, a falling star, dastardly, fratricidal heirs... yep, what's not to love?  Yes, it has been completely rewritten for the film but I kind of like that, it’s funnier and more feel good. 

Star Trek: Into Darkness

I remember watching Star Trek on channel 4 in the evenings after school.  Spock and Captain Kirk would beam in and out (apologies if this is completely incorrect Star Trek grammar) of interesting looking worlds and fight or befriend interesting looking beings.  While I enjoyed looking at it I never really paid attention to what was happening. Anyway, from what I can see, this looks very much like those old ones I used to watch and now I'm wise enough to follow the story.  Enjoyed it too, definite extra bonus.  

The Wolf of Wall Street

Funny, loud, big, fast.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

I’m still in awe of this, even now it looks good and no one has ever come close to replicating it.  Christopher Lloyd’s eyes popping out scared me senseless as a child; it’s one of those images that stayed with me, like in Ghostbusters when the red eyes shine out of the darkness.  Seriously, the 80s made the best tangible monsters and bad guys, CGI just isn’t the same.  OK rant over.  Fun fact: I can’t watch this film without thinking of the time that my friend and I saw Bob Hoskins out and about and she mistook him for her uncle.

Wreck-It Ralph

It's Pixar/Disney so of course it's sweet and heart-warming.  But it's not UP.  Then, I guess nothing else ever will be.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

OK, so confession time - I actually really enjoyed The Lord of the Rings when it was released.  I saw all three in the cinema.  I thought I'd like The Hobbit.  I didn't much; all the craft that went into making the Hobbit timeless and visually identical LotR didn't work for me, it made the whole thing look dated.  This second film was an improvement, not least thanks to Luke Evans and his back story.  

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror is sickly sweet and very dull.  It doesn't help that it was released alongside the far superior Snow White and the Huntsman.