A sprinkle of magic …

I was wondering how long it would take until someone in my family asked me to make another ‘Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart’, like I made a couple of days after Christmas. I think I followed the instructions exactly as I did the first time I made it, only this time, the caramel was a disaster. I think it was a combination of the heat being too high and me stirring it too much, but all the water evaporated and I was left with buttery sugar, or sugary butter depending on your view point. It seemed like such a waste to throw it in the bin so I had a little taste. What was a disaster became the triumph that will be forever known in our household as ‘fudge sprinkles’!

Having re-made the caramel, I was able to present the tart to my family with this wondrous addition. Needless to stay, it went down really well and I don’t think I’ll be able to serve this again without it’s additional accompaniment:

 

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Spoilt for choice …

It’s been a relatively mild winter here so far, so much so that there are various buds beginning to appear. Now, I’m no gardener but I do love my postage stamp sized patch of England and it always amazes me when plants continue to grow year after year, under my haphazard care or maybe I should say despite my haphazard care.

This morning I noticed the beautifully soft buds of a willow (?!) beginning to appear and I thought they would make a lovely subject for a painting. I took my trusty camera out and took the following photos:

   

The last one is my favourite.

Not having enough time (or daylight for that matter) to paint in between getting home from work, getting tea ready and going out to a meeting this evening, I decided to have a play with an APP that I recently downloaded for my Mac laptop, it’s called ‘Big Aperture’ and this is what I was able to do:

Which is your favourite?

I really like ‘rusty’ and ‘ancient’ (hover over the images and the ‘effect’ name should appear), then again, the original is still very appealing!

A place to plan …

There have been times when I’ve wanted to plan a picture both in terms of the design and the colour ‘scheme’. I’m not yet confident enough to simply paint onto a large white, scarily blank piece of paper – I need some props onto which I can lean my very meagre but growing, knowledge of what makes a ‘good’ picture. To this end I bought myself a small ‘Moleskine’ watercolour notebook this morning and this afternoon, in between a bit of baking, some shopping for our newly redecorated spare room and framing some pictures for our ‘new’ room, I planned a picture.

I wanted to use this photo that I took of Bristol docks a couple of months ago, but have been a bit wary of how to approach it:

 

 

Instead of potentially wasting a large sheet of quite pricey watercolour paper, I used my watercolour notebook. I was able to use some watercolour pencils to give an idea of shade and colour:

 

 

The next time we go somewhere picturesque, I’ll be taking my Moleskine notebook and a few watercolour pencils with me.

 

 

 

 

Here’s to the year of the dragon …

We’re off to a Chinese New Year party tonight, our contribution is some Chinese Fortune Cookies. My eldest pointed out that this is the first time he’s seen a ‘Year of the Dragon’ since he was born – I’m not sure how he can be 12 years old later this year, there are times that it feels like 5 minutes ago that he was a baby! Between the four of us we’ve worked out that we are a dragon, a horse, a dog and a rooster.

Anyway, back to the cookies, the mixture was almost batter like and they only took 6 minutes to cook in the oven. The ‘fortunes’ range from pearls of wisdom such as ‘A closed mouth gathers no feet’ to ‘he who laughs last is laughing at you!’. A vast range of cookie fortunes can be found online.

Here are the cookies:

 

 

Here’s the recipe:

 

For 12 cookies (plus enough left in the bowl to satisfy a 9 year old!)

 

100g plain flour

pinch of ground ginger

pinch of salt

3 large egg whites

100g icing sugar

1tsp vanilla extract

75g melted butter, cooled slightly

 

First melt the butter, it can be cooling whilst you get on with the rest of the steps. Sieve the flour, salt and ginger in to a bowl. Whisk the egg whites till they are stiff. Add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until combined. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients, add the melted butter and stir until smooth. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Draw 2x 10cm circles on 3 sheets of baking parchment and spoon 1tbsp of mixture on to each circle. Using a palette knife or the back of a spoon, spread the mixture in an even layer to fill the circles. Put 1 baking tray onto the middle shelf and back for 6-8 minutes or until the edges just start to turn golden, the second baking tray can go on the bottom shelf of the oven about 3 minutes into the cooking of the first tray. Once the first tray of cookies is ready, remove it from the oven, move the second tray up to the middle shelf and place the third tray on the bottom shelf. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, flip them over, place the fortune across the middle of each cookie and fold in half. Bring the points of the cookies together to make the fortune cookie curl and leave to cool in a muffin tin – this will help the cookies keep their distinctive shape.

As each tray comes out, put another prepared tray in. 12 cookies only took about 30 minutes from start to finish.

Melt in the Mouth …

There was a near disaster in our house tonight – we ran out of biscuits! With two very rapidly growing boys, this does count as a near disaster, there was only one remedy: home made shortbread.

I followed the recipe in Mary Berry’s baking book:

I doubled the quantities (don’t want to run out of biscuits again too soon):

200g plain flour

100g semolina or cornflour

100g caster sugar

200g butter

Mix the flour and semolina/cornflour together, add the butter and sugar and rub together to form breadcrumbs, carefully continue to mix until the mixture just begins to bind together, knead briefly, roll out to your preferred shortbread shape and place on a prepared baking tray, or press into a prepared baking tin, bake for roughly 25 minutes at 160 * or until the shortbread just begins to turn golden.

Allow the shortbread to cool in the tin before turning out and slicing.

Try to have some left over to avoid a biscuit deficit disaster the day after baking.

These meltingly tantalising biscuits were delicious, they literally did melt in the mouth. They were very quick and easy to make, even after a very full on day at work.  I have a feeling I’ll be making them again soon.

A very special place …

I’ve had a morning off today, quite a rare occurrence at the moment and I was really excited about painting over my Arc de Triomphe sketch/colourwash that I used and added to on my computer yesterday. I wanted to make some subtle and some not so subtle use of  colour but I knew I would have to be careful. I lived for a year in Paris when I was a student, it is a truly amazing place and the Arc de Triomphe has particular significance for me as it was on the rooftop that my husband proposed to me 13.5 years ago.

 

This is the result:

 

 

 

I am really thrilled with how this has turned out, the use of technology yesterday helped me to decide how I was going to paint this today.   Am now off to work, pleased with how my morning off turned out.

Mixing media …

Following on from the relative success of the pictures in my previous post, I decided to have a go at mixing my media. First of all I painted the background, once this had dried I drew a very simplified version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on top. I used a photo I had taken during our last visit, just over a year ago. I then took a photo of this and downloaded it on to live brush, on my computer. After much ‘playing’, this is the end result:

Not only do I have this copy on my computer, but I also have a canvas with the background and the Arc de Triomphe drawn onto it, maybe, if I have time tomorrow, I’ll see if I can create another picture, just using paint this time.