Nellie Knows – The Wokingham Paper – 15 May

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This was previously published in The Wokingham Paper on 15 May 2015

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Another week has flown by and it’s now only a week until half term and the late May Bank Holiday, here’s hoping that the weather is clear, dry and bright for everyone’s plans. I do like it when a new month starts on a Monday however unlike a diet the month carries on! June isn’t far away and is wedged between the month of Bank Holidays and the manic month of end of term activities and the start of the summer holidays. I don’t want to wish the year away but we’re nearly halfway through and I know I am turning into my grandmothers when I say I have no idea where the time has gone!

In the garden

I do know where the time has gone as I have been in the garden when time permits, however I do lose track of time and was in the garden so late one evening last week that I didn’t realise how dark it had got until I walked back into the house. There I was busy untangling the clematis and attempting to train it along the top of the trampoline (as useful and fun as they are they are ugly so I am hoping for it to be covered with pretty pink flowers) not noticing that it had got much darker and considerably cooler! The apple tree is full of blossom this year, maybe this is the year we have a good crop of apples!
Health and wellbeing

We normally go to France in the May half term but our friend is undergoing treatment for brain tumours so it will be too much, but all is not lost as I will be flying out to Bordeaux for a few days next month to hold her hand. When Charch my schoolfriend and the inspiration for my bonkers Husky Trail was very poorly we used to turn up in Cardiff with gifts and she particularly liked the knitted bed socks and Niki McGlynn’s Warming Balm so I will be taking some of that for Mme Cholet. I’ll also be taking some Dairy Milk because that’s her absolute favourite, but I wont be eating it as I must knuckle down with my training for my Husky Trail.

Sledging and sleeping in the snow

I can’t believe I have signed up to go on a Husky Trail in Norway next March because I am not what you would call a natural camper, I don’t like being cold and to be honest as lovely as huskies are they are not my favourite so it’s going to be a challenge. Why am I going then? Well, my schoolfriend Charch died last year and in her last few months she was an inspiration to us all, so I am going to Norway for a week without creature comforts and WIFI to raise awareness of the HeadSmart campaign and The Brain Tumour Charity. All joking aside I am really looking forward to it!

Telly

Having said last week that I didn’t watch much telly I seem to have had a telly overload recently and even carried on watching some Teen Beach movie that the children were watching when they walked out of the room. I’ve been glued to Home Fires and practically jumped out of my seat squealing when my cousin came on the screen. I also shot out of my seat watching Enfield Haunting, but I still watched it. I’ve got a big huge pile of ironing to get through and have a load of stuff on the planner so I will look forward to that. No really I will!

Food and drink

I met up with my friend Naomi Slade the Horticultural Journalist and author of The Plant Lovers Guide to Snowdrops last week over at The Blackbird Cafe in Bucklebury where we enjoyed a fair few coffees and a cake, she kindly gave me a bottle of Dr Grandad’s Apple Juice which is delicious and went down very easily. I have also been making cakes for my hungry lot and as I always take one in to the studio when I am on BBC Radio Berkshire I have been making lots of lemon drizzle and chocolate cake. The children often ask me to make Welsh Cakes so out comes the hot stone and as quickly as they are made they children devour them. I now know why my mother in law bakes when there’s no one else in the house!

Out and about

I have really enjoyed seeing lots of photos on Social Media of people’s walks and bluebell woods. There really is no other smell like it and the sight of the bluebells is enchanting. I have also been plotting our NGS and National Trust visits, I do love nosing around gardens and old houses, but for me there’s no place like home!

Making a statement with stationery from Two Little Boys Ltd

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Have I told you I love stationery?  Well “I love stationery” I’ve said it before and I will say it again “I love stationery“.  Really I do and luckily everyone knows I do so they send me funny cards and notebooks – just because.  One of my very daft friends bought me something for my birthday a few years ago and said “it jumped out at me and I knew it had to be yours” – my friends know me so well!

I met Sarah of Two Little Boys at Spirit of Christmas last year and bought a little book to keep the younger ones entertained at mealtimes during the festive season, well it was such a hit with both children and adults I might have to stock up this year!  Funnily enough during one of my ‘moving furniture around moments’ I had a look through a box which was very festive and reminded me of the fun we had at mealtimes so of course I then had to look through the website again!

Two Little Boys offers a wide range of stationery to fit all moods, events and circumstances as well as their fantastic How to range.  I really like the I’m going to be the boss and this is my plan folder and as I have some exciting plans for Nellie Pom Poms the folder fits so well.  I showed it to a friend of mine whose son is off to university and she is going to be ordering the How to survive university ring binder which she has said she will fill with recipes and washing instructions, another friend is on a mission and this is ideal!  To be honest there’s something for all of my friends!

I can remember getting pencils with my name on when I was younger and these pencils are now my grown up pencils, I’m not a connoisseur of pencils but these ones don’t crumble when you sharpen them which is a great big fat bonus in my book!  They also don’t bleed as some pencils do and were easy to rub out, these are all important issues when filling in a new diary!  The pencils would make ideal birthday gifts or new term stationery purchases.  Gone are the days when my lot want pink and girly, now they want something that not everyone has but wants

Speaking of children there’s also a selection of games and books, I’ve yet to use the full set of IOUs but there are some that I will reward myself with!  Thinking back to our wedding and our young pageboys they would have loved the range of Wedding Gifts for Children, we had disposable cameras that they took charge of and when the photos were printed it was like an album of out of focus Mix & Match.

There’s a notebook for every occasion and when I posted a photo of my new notebook recently lots of people asked where I had got it …… there’s a whole heap of Things and I probably need them all!

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Thanks Sarah for sending me a box of goodies, they’re all great and I will be adding the website to my favourites.

Nellie Knows – The Wokingham Paper :8 May 2015

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This was previously published in The Wokingham Paper on 8 May 2015

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As I have said before I do love May with its Bank Holidays and this past weekend has been a crazily busy weekend not just for us but countless other families as they enjoyed a 3 day weekend. We didn’t get to the May Fayre this year what with one thing or another but I heard it was good and the weather was brilliant. Let’s hope we have a dry spell for the next Bank Holiday and half term! We were glued to the telly on Saturday following the arrival of the new Royal Baby, Princess Charlotte looked so gorgeous in the photos. I’m certainly not broody and I don’t envy anyone who has a newborn with broken nights as I love my sleep so much, but I do love a cuddle with a baby. Thankfully a friend had a baby on Thursday so I can have a cuddle and then hand him back. I try and have an early night at least once a week which is my way of recharging the batteries and also gives me the chance to read without interruption.

Books
I’ve got a massive pile of books to review which include If You Go Away by Adele Parks, Yellow Room by Shelan Rodger, The Silent Hours by Cecsa Major and M. D. Murphy’s Dark River Melody. I love reading and once I get started I struggle to put it down. I’ve thankfully passed my bookworm habits onto my children who all enjoy reading and one of them was the inspiration for the name of a character in Christina Jones’ Love Potions so that book is always going to be special. Whilst sorting out a box that had been in the back of a cupboard until recently I found the Jilly Cooper books we all read at school as teenagers, as well as Shirley Conran’s Lace!

In the garden
A few weeks ago I had great plans for one of my borders but now that everything is flowering I will leave it and just remove the dandelions and nettles, I will have to get to the dandelions before the children do as their seeds are the last thing I want anywhere near my garden! I really do relish being in the garden and like nothing better than a cup of coffee outside first thing, with the lovely weather it has been so nice to sit outside in peace knowing that as soon as someone stirs then the rest of the house will follow. Breakfast is the loudest meal of the day in our house and every week my lot change their mind about what cereal they actually like, but thankfully they all like fruit so we have heaps of it in a bowl as well as frozen blackberries we picked from various hedgerows last autumn which I throw into a smoothie or yoghurt or make into a summer pudding or crumble.

Telly
Speaking of hedgerow fruit leads me nicely onto Home Fires and Jambusters, I see that Jambusters by Julie Summers is the No 1 bestseller in Women’s studies on Amazon which makes me hugely proud. We enjoyed the first episode and are looking forward to the next 5 Sunday evenings as the plot unfolds, the cast is amazing and the location is Cheshire where a branch of my family live so I have a certain fondness for it. I’ve recorded The C Word but will have to find the right time to watch it as a friend who had breast cancer now has brain tumours and it will be rather close to home. I don’t watch much telly but I do enjoy watching reruns and films, we watched Paddington at the weekend which was great fun and if you’ve not seen it then I would recommend it!

Food
Last week I wrote that I would be picking up a box of treats from Wellington Farm Shop one of my favourite farm shops, as well as ingredients that I turned into a tasty birthday meal for my husband I also picked up some Spitfire Cheese and some chilli and lime Cheddar, both had a real kick and it’s no surprise that it’s all gone. I really enjoy cooking and when I eat something out I will then recreate it at home. This week it was Mango Curry which was so easy to make. I fried some onions, leeks, garlic and chicken then in a separate bowl mixed Crème fraîche and mango chutney, added them all together and shoved in the oven (which is now working thanks to Kevin of Domestic Appliance Care and Repair) whilst I cooked the rice and prepared a salad. I made a meringue which I bashed up and added some soft fruits to make Eton Mess. I think it’s safe to say that the meal was well received as there were no left overs! On Sunday I made Lamb Curry with a sauce from Mama Eti’s which is an Indonesian street food company run by an old friend from my Holme Grange schooldays, that also went down well and we will be exploring more of the range over the coming months.

Sport
The football season is over but that doesn’t stop my girls kicking the ball around whenever they can. My youngest plays for Wokingham and Emmbrook Girls U10s and is taking part in the Futsal tournament next month, having just learnt the rules for football I now have to get my head around a different set of rules! She recently took part in an inter school football tournament playing against some of her Sumas team which was great fun for the girls and her school came 3rd. My husband used to play cricket and has been glued to the cricket on the box, however none of the girls have shown any interest in the game but they could be tempted to join their friends for the Friday Club Evening at Hurst Cricket Club for an early evening drink or something to eat, between 6pm and 830pm which runs until the end of July. Maybe we’ll see you there?

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Nellie Knows – The Wokingham Paper – 1 May 2015

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This was previously published in The Wokingham Paper on 1 May 2015

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I had a proud moment when I saw The Wokingham Paper on sale in so many shops last Friday, thank you to everyone who has bought it and enjoyed my column and all the local news and features. I had an even more proud moment when my youngest’s team, Wokingham and Emmbrook Girls U10, won the cup on Saturday.  I am the least sporty person and have no idea about the rules of football but I can be heard cheering her and her team on, then getting emotional when they win! I do love May with its Bank Holidays and there is so much going on locally that there’s bound to be something for everyone to see it’s going to be a busy weekend but at least we have one extra day and a shorter week afterwards! I am picking up a box of ingredients from Wellington Farm Shop to prepare a feast for my husband’s birthday and will be trying to memorise a recipe to recreate a tasty feast for him as well as a lemon drizzle cake which is by far my favourite cake ever! I’m also going to be proud and quite possibly emotional on Sunday evening when Home Fires is aired on ITV at 9pm, based on the book Jambusters by my cousin Julie Summers it will be fantastic to see it brought to life and as a schoolfriend’s husband is the Executive Producer I imagine she will be equally proud.

Television
Talking of telly on Sunday, I will also be setting my planner to record The C Word which is on BBC 1 and stars the acting genus and national treasure Sheridan Smith. It is the story of Lisa Lynch who recounted her experience of cancer with engaging candour and published a book based on her popular blog. My youngest has chosen to read The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett for a school project so I imagine we will also be watching that over the Bank Holiday. I don’t watch an awful lot of telly but I do enjoy cwtching up with her and watching films I enjoyed as a child.

In the garden
The weather has certainly got me out there and busy in the garden and I have been enjoying the summer opening hours at the tip (8am to 8pm), I’m yet to find the best time to go but queuing for longer than a few minutes isn’t that bad when I get home and see a cleared space ready to plant something inspired by my great friend Georgie Newbery’s book The Flower Farmer’s Year. I was in Wales again at the weekend for the Glanusk Estate Fayre and NGS Open Gardens event and I have made a note to visit gardens when I see the yellow NGS signs to gain inspiration, hints and tips as well as supporting the work of the NGS. The news in Wales has been dominated by the arson attacks which has angered and infuriated me so much that that I wrote a blog about it and I have made sure that our smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors are working properly.

Home safety
We have had a disaster in the kitchen, well it’s a disaster for me! I switched the large oven on and it stopped working. Thankfully a friend had hers serviced not so long ago and on her recommendation I called Kevin Harwood of Domestic Appliance Care and Repair who came out to take a look. As the oven is big and cumbersome he sprayed a bit of washing up liquid in front of the legs so that it would move easily without ruining my floor (another helpful hint you will thank me for) and whilst I grimaced at the muck and detritus behind the oven he didn’t flinch. He quickly identified the problem ‘direct short in the terminal block’ and asked if I had smelt smoke. Well, yes but I just assumed it was a neighbouring bonfire. How lucky were we? Kevin said ‘at the first smell of smoke the isolator switch should be switched off, everyone should know where their Isolator switch is for the oven and tell their children’. It got me wondering. My children have now been told.

Food and drink
I popped into Brown Bear Bakery at Holme Grange Craft Village last week and sampled some of their sauces that Michelle had found at the Farm Shop and Deli show. I was bravely saying how much I love spicy food and tried what I can only describe as THE hottest chilli sauce ever, however I did go back a few days later and ordered a bottle of it so I will be trying that our on unsuspecting guests! I’ve also been enjoying Prosecco with a dash of Wiltshire Liqueur’s Blood Orange and can thoroughly recommend that combination! Nice with a bit of cheese, I’m partial to Brie or Goat’s Cheese with Chilli Jam on an Oatcake.

Home improvements
Speaking of guests, they will also enjoy my newly decorated downstairs loo thanks to another local business. I sent a text to 3 plumbers and Dave from Gander Carpentry, Plumbing & Maintenance replied saying yes he could come and quote, would be with me around 130pm. He turned up on time, talked about soft close and dual flush mechanisms, I told him I wanted bog standard (excuse the pun), then he sent a quote and said he could take out the existing loo for me to take to the tip (I’ll be there with garden waste and a loo, look out for me!) and will then be back to fit the new one giving me the chance to decorate with a little bit more space! That’s what I call service!

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Nellie Knows : 24 April : The Wokingham Paper

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This was previously published in The Wokingham Paper on 24 April 2015

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Here we are again! A new weekly paper for Wokingham and it’s all very exciting. As a child I used to read through the local papers and spot people I knew so it’s nice for my children to have the same opportunity although they may gloss over my column!

We’ve just had an enjoyable break from school where we had an amazing week’s skiing in La Rosière, we watched Bradley Wiggins in the Paris Roubaix and had a few sunny days in South Wales, coupled with the school shoe shopping and homework but it’s not long until the next 3 day weekend and then it’s a clear run to half term. However it’s good to be back into the routine of school run and this term I am going to be more on top of the emails that come from school and the letters that often get hidden at the bottom of the book bag.

The summer term is always a fun and busy one, but there is a lot of hard work for the children as well as teachers. This time last year we were stressing over the revision and exam time tables so to have a break from it for a few years is a relief. But after the exams comes the long summer break and if we’re lucky and this glorious weather continues we will have a long hot summer.

Food and drink

As always my thoughts turn to food and what to feed the gannets. With warmer weather and summer months approaching the last thing I want to do is spend hours cooking here and there so I have been cooking for the freezer. There’s nothing worse than opening the freezer and seeing misshapen bags of unidentifiable food and I find the easiest way to fill the freezer is by using the IKEA food bags (other bags are available), filling them and then laying them flat, so instead of a mass of bags you have a neat pile of frozen food. You’ll thank me for this I assure you!

I’ve also been making a variety of barbecue marinades and dips. The regular ones are Tomato (chopped fresh or tinned tomatoes, onion, garlic, honey, Tabasco/dried chilli/fresh chills and Worcestershire Sauce) or Peanut Satay (peanut butter, onion, garlic, honey, Tabasco/dried chilli/fresh chills). Simply soften the onions and garlic, then put the remainder of the ingredients in, boil it up (with peanut butter you’ll need to add water to avoid it drying out), allow to cool and then pop in a freezer bag.

Summer entertaining

We spend lots of time in the garden but the wasps and bees are really annoying. We have lots of honey pots in the garden which are smeared with sticky jam or honey, they are then placed away from where we are eating so we aren’t bothered by them. I picked some more up from Holme Grange Gallery. Another issue is covering food, I’m not a fan of cling film as I always lose the end and tin foil makes my teeth stand on end so I use Bowlovers which are washable, reusable and available from a great website called Hunter Gatherer.

Books

I have recently reviewed A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale which is an outstanding book, based on the story of the author’s grandfather. I have a massive to be reviewed pile and am looking forward to sinking my teeth into them. I can’t read a book more than once but I can’t part with them either which is great for friends when they are looking for a recommendation as they browse the shelves and gain inspiration. I regularly trot into Bookends in Wokingham or Chapter One in Woodley and tell them what I have been reading so that they can order it in. Funnily enough recently a friend suggested a cook book from which I have made a few dishes and I tweeted Chapter One asking them to order it for me. Within minutes a reply came back saying that they would do. I love social media!

Television

Speaking of books there’s a new series coming to ITV called Home Fires and I will be glued to the telly when it is on as it is based on the book Jambusters by an author called Julie Summers who just so happens to be my cousin. She has a cameo role and I am understandably incredibly proud of her.

Shopping

On the shopping front Rococo in Bush Walk has had a refit. The shop looks very smart on the outside and is stunning on the inside. I nipped in today just to browse and came out being able to know the time by looking at my wrist and without gazing at my phone! We often pop in to browse and chat, not always buying something but having a good look to gain inspiration for gifts so when the need arises we pop in or my children can make suggestions to the family as to what I have made a fuss of!

I’ve also been to lots of fairs and picked up a pair of mermaid fins at one fair from an exhibitor Crash Bang Kids who sells a great range of swimwear, garden and pool toys.

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Nellie Knows : The Wokingham Paper : 27 March 2015

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I was thrilled to be asked by the Editor if I would like to be a columnist for The Wokingham Paper, the new weekly paper for Wokingham.  Of course I jumped at the chance!  Here is my first column which was printed on Friday 27 March 2015.  The paper is now weekly and you can pick it up for 50p from shops and newsagents across the Wokingham Borough.

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“It’s a time of new beginnings with a new paper for Wokingham, the clocks going forward, the Easter holidays are fast approaching and gardens all over Wokingham are showing signs of fresh new shoots and lush green grass. What’s not to be happy about?

We really are very lucky living where we do and Wokingham is often quoted as being one of the best places to live. Having lived in the borough all my life I will have to agree. I grew up in Hurst when Dinton Pastures was just fields which subsequently became gravel pits when the aggregate was used for the A329M, now it is a hugely popular country park that attracts heaps of visitors yearly. I moved to Wokingham 25 years ago tempted by the bright lights and by the time I realised the bright lights were infact the level crossing lights it was too late and I’d already put down my roots in the town and it’s where I am raising my family.

The town centre is going through many changes and I would urge you to get involved and have your say. I’m a big fan of independent shops that give a little bit more and I assure you the town IS still open, yesterday I spent 2 hours after school running errands in town and picking up bits, not only did the shopkeepers welcome thecustom they also gave the customers some good old fashioned customer service with a smile. And that to me means a great deal.”

Sport

Popped into John Wood Sports to pick up a stud spanner for one of the girls’ football boots, whilst there they asked about the football teams the girls played for and supported. One of my girls plays for Ashridge Park U14s and one of them plays for Wokingham & Emmbrook U10s and are undeniably proud of their clubs and their achievements. Back in the day girls didn’t play football so it is refreshing to see so many girls getting involved and my husband is often badgered to go into the garden (or next door to retrieve a ball) or the park for the girls to practice their skills.

Books and reading

One of the great pleaures of my childhood was reading. I grew up on a diet of Famous Five and Mallory Towers, then I started reading pony books and the Flowers in the attic series. I still read loads and review books for authors and publishers which has introduced me to many great authors. A number of our local book shops and libraries have author events which are hugely enjoyable and very popular. I regularly keep an eye on Wokingham Libraries, Bookends and Chapter One website and Twitter feeds to see who is coming along and over the coming months I will be arranging a number of events which you will be able to learn more about in this column.
Shopping

One of my hobbies is shopping, not just for buying new things but also finding new things and am often asked where I find things. Quite simply there’s loads of places to look and in supporting local shops I am playing a small part in keeping our town centre alive. Sometimes it might be considered easier to buy something online because it could be cheaper but when you add in the P&P and the time spent finding out how to reclaim your parcel if you are not in then that all takes time. My children often (regularly) complain that I spend too long in shops but I like the personal touch.

Food and drink

According to my friend Fiona I cook like her Welsh Nana cooked, which is opening the fridge to see what’s there and then creating a tasty and wholesome meal for all the family. If she times it right I will send her home with a dish of food for which she is grateful for (funny how she always manages to time it right!). I’m a big fan of slow cooking and have known Netherton Foundry for some years, they have a great range of cast iron cookware which can be found in Robert Dyas as part of the Theo Paphitis SBS selected items. Just this morning I threw in some tomatoes, chopped onion, garlic and carrots together with some mince and seasoning so that by the time the children are home from school or clubs, the homework is done and the kit required for the following day is located I can just lift the lid of the slow cooker and supper is ready.

Birthday Meal with thanks to Wellington Farm Shop

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I’m a big fan of farm shops, delicatessens and small independent shops and regularly hop across the county border to Wellington Farm Shop to meet up with friends, browse the shelves or pick up delicious ingredients.  With a box of ingredients from Wellington Farm Shop I made Pheasant Casserole which went down well.  A few weeks ago I was given a box of produce by them to whip up a feast and as it was Big Welsh’s birthday I chose his favourite pudding as well as a dish I had eaten at friends the weekend before and my favourite Lemon Drizzle Cake (oh what do you mean it’s his birthday and he chooses the cake?).

Regular readers will know that I don’t always follow the recipe but I do follow the ingredients list and then take it from there, this method stood me in good stead for the Mango Curry dish I was going to make as I only knew what the ingredients were as I wandered into the kitchen whilst they were being unpacked!

Shopping List : chicken breasts, onions, leeks, coriander, Creme fraîche, mango chutney, fresh mango, rice, salad, eggs, sugar, vanilla pod/essence, strawberries, raspberries, single cream, mint garnish, flour, sugar and lemons

My box of goodies was handed over and I headed home to whip up a feast, not before having a cappuccino in the cafe!

Mango Curry (made up from memory)

Ingredients: chicken breasts (cut into strips or chunks or kept whole – up to you), onions, leeks, (chopped), coriander, creme fraîche, mango chutney, fresh mango, butter or oil for frying

Fry onions and leeks in butter or oil with garlic, then gently fry chicken.  While that’s doing its thing mix all the creme fraîche with chopped up coriander and mango chutney, how much chutney is personal preference but I spooned in 2 tablespoons.

Mix them together and put into an oven proof dish for 30 mins or so.

While that’s cooking boil the rice and prepare the salad.

Shortly before serving add the sliced mango and pop back in the oven to warm whilst you holler for the family.  Serve with rice and salad.

This was just as nice the next day served cold with new potatoes & salad.

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Pavlova

Ingredients: 4 egg whites, 250g caster sugar, Vanilla essence / whipping cream, fruit

Heat the oven to 150degrees/130degrees fan assisted or gas mark 2.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and add vanilla essence, whisk again and slowly add egg whites, I add in an extra teaspoon of sugar for extra gooey pavlova.

Cover a baking tray with baking paper (for your perfect shape draw round a dinner plate on the baking paper), then spoon the mixture making sure the sides are higher than then middle, pop in the oven and wait, patiently!  After an hour take out the pavlova and leave to cool.  Then do your magic with whipped cream and fruit and garnish with mint leaves.  I’ve never known anyone slice a pavlova without making a mess so it normally becomes Eton Mess in our house.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Ingredients: 225g unsalted butter, softened, 225g caster sugar, 4 eggs, finely grated zest 1 lemon, 225g self-raising flour

Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.  Blend the butter and sugar until smooth, gradually add the eggs – mixing all the time, add the lemon zest and the self raising flour.  Spoon into a greased loaf tin and pop in the oven for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes take the loaf tin out and leave the cake to cool in the tin.  Mix juice of 1-2 lemons and 85g caster sugar to make drizzle.  Prick the warm cake with a fork or skewer and slowly pour over the sticky citrus drizzle.  The cake will soak up the drizzle juice and the sugar will make the crisp topping.  Leave to completely cool in the tin and then turn out, enjoy the first slice in peace as it won’t last long!

A very big thank you to Wellington Farm Shop for my box of ingredients!