Later this week, like thousands of other women I shall be stirring from my not very countryish home to go to the city for a taste of the country. I shall be on the Persephone Books stand (P22) at the Country Living Fair this Saturday, 2 Nov, 9.30-1. If you are there, do come and say hello, collect a copy of the latest Persephone Biannually and/or place an order for books to arrive home not long after you do.
Phoebe's 18th birthday cake. Last year or the year before when I showed what she'd made, I got a few messages saying something like, 'Phoebe makes her own birthday cake?' as if it were somehow odd that this should be the case. I can tell you it's been this way for many years, as I am positively excluded from the process and Phoebe is perfectly happy to make some mad, happy cake on her own.
She was 18 yesterday and made a huge polylith of a cake made up of rainbow layers cemented with white buttercream and sprinkled with Rainbow Nerds.
This is all that was left this morning after a very noisy evening. I'm glad I can send her off into the world without ever having to worry whether she will be cakeless on her birthday.
The cover of my new book which will be published in January 2014. It's a photo I took at a shoot of a pile of my quilts made from all sorts of different fabrics - which is exactly the theme of the book.
Whether I'm working or writing, reading newspapers and putting off planting bulbs, cooking for two or for many, going to see a film or some flowers, at home or elsewhere, I can think of many more than ten reasons for liking weekends.
Because these are exciting times for creative, independent publishers. Which means now is also an exciting time for readers. The whole book business is in flux, established business models are being eroded, and the opportunities for new publishers are enormous. I love this situation; it's so refreshing to discover so many small run, innovative, design-aware books and magazines. (Who would ever have thought that old-fashioned newsagents* would get a new lease of life and be stocking the likes of oh comely or Libertine or The Gentlewoman, or that there would be fantastic on-line newsagents?)
One tiny press I like is MIEL which is run by Éireann Lorsung who has been a quietly creative and articulate presence on the internet with her blog, website, poems and connections for as long as I can remember. Her approach is thoughtful and delicate with a light touch that belies a deep seriousness. At MIEL she and her partner make beautiful books in small quantities; they even hand-bind their chapbooks which is hard work, I know, but how many times have you ever looked at a book's binding with wonder?
MIEL is experimenting with books, ideas, and the very idea of what makes a book. At a time when it's easy to believe we are all being sucked into a disposable, mass market, paperless reading experience, it's good to know there are plenty of small publishers with vision and integrity who are creating enduring printed books.
*the best real newsagent I know for magazines from all over the world is Wardour News, 118-120 Wardour St, London W1F 0TU.
Apparently, it's been a bad year for the Dutch bulb growers. The long, miserable spring meant that many bulbs didn't reach optimum size and are therefore sub-standard, and the bulb companies are late sending out orders because they can't get hold of good quantities of good size bulbs. It's a particularly poor year for hyacinth bulbs, and several favourite tulips are missing from my order (eg Shirley which failed this year). It's not a disaster by any means, more a tricky season, and it's good to see that you can already plan your spring 2014 visit to the Keukenhof.
After researching, writing and baking every cake in Vintage Cakes, it has taken quite a while for me to want to bake something new and different; for a long time rock buns and biscuits have been the extent of my baking activities. But a slice of a delicious blueberry and olive oil cake in the LRB Cake Shop made me think it was time to grease the tins again.
I thought it must be a secret and/or recondite recipe, so was surprised to find that it is a Jamie favourite (it's Torta di Nada in his book). The recipe he gives makes an enormous cake, bigger than anything we need, so I used two-thirds of the quantities and a 20cm tin, and extended the cooking time. Our cake didn't stay whole long; it's particularly nice warm, and I imagine with would be good with very un-Italian custard. This is my amended recipe to make a good-sized cake that gives 8-10 slices.
Blueberry and Olive Oil Cake
3 large eggs 180g caster sugar 120g butter, melted 40ml extra virgin olive oil 100ml milk 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 280g plain flour 1 teaspoon baking powder generous pinch of salt grated zest of one lemon 400g blueberries
Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin. Put the eggs and sugar in a large bowl or mixer. Using a wooden spoon or an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar for about 3 minutes until thick and pale yellow. Add the add the butter, oil, milk and vanilla and mix well with a spatula. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, add the lemon zest, and stir until thoroughly blended. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid.
Stir half of the blueberries into the batter, spoon it into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and scatter the second half of the berries over the cake and gently push them down. Return to the oven for another 40-50 minutes until the top is golden brown and a skewer or sharp knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, and turn out of the tin.