Lemon and Poppy Seed Cupcakes

With a little bit of bite from the lemon, crunch from the poppy seeds and the super sweet icing these cupcakes are just delicious and surprisingly easy to make!

They are also perfect for a bake sale as they stay really fresh in the tin for a couple of days so can be made in advance (don’t ice until just before the sale).

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For this cupcake recipe you will need:

100g (4oz / 1 cup) of self-raising flour *
2 large eggs
100g (4oz / ½ cup) margarine
100g (4oz / ½ cup) sugar
zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2 teaspoons of poppy seeds

I have found I cannot buy good self-raising flour in Canada, so use all-purpose instead.  For this recipe I substitute 2 teaspoons of all-purpose flour for 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

For the icing:

100g (4oz / ½ cup) of softened butter
200g (8oz / 2 cups) of icing / confectioners’ sugar
2 – 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of poppy seeds

Makes 12 cupcakes

  • Heat the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5 and line a 12 hole cupcake tray with paper cases.
  • Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the eggs, margarine, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice.
  • Beat well until all of the ingredients are combined (I use an electric stand mixer to do this, but it can be done by hand with a bit of effort!).  The mixture should look pale and fluffy.
  • Add the poppy seeds and beat a little more.
  • Spoon into the paper cases.
  • Bake for approximately 20 – 25 minutes (until risen and lightly browned).
  • Remove from the cupcake tray and place on a cooling rack.
  • Whilst the cakes are cooling, make the icing.
  • Begin by beating the softened butter (I would recommend using an electric mixer) until it is pale (almost white) in colour.
  • Add the icing / confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the poppy seeds.  Beat well until combined and creamy.  If the icing is a little too thick add another tablespoon of lemon juice and beat a little more.
  • Pipe onto the cupcakes (make sure they are properly cooled first, or the icing may melt).

I also made biscuits for the bake sale.

Bake Sale Biscuits

With Hurricane Sandy here, and some truly awful wet and windy weather this week I have been very glad of an excuse to stay at home, and have been busy baking for a Halloween bake sale, in support of the United Way.

Luckily the threatened power outages have not put the oven out, and we now have plenty of cake to eat as the storms blows…..

As well as biscuits I have also made Lemon and Poppy Seed Cupcakes.

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For this biscuit recipe you will need:

225g (8oz / 2 cups) self-raising flour *
1 ½ teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon of mixed spice (or all spice)
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
100g (4oz / ½ cup) butter or margarine
50g (2oz / ¼ cup) sugar
100g (4oz / ½ cup) of corn syrup

I have found I cannot buy good self-raising flour in Canada, so use all-purpose instead.  For this recipe I substitute 2 teaspoons of all-purpose flour for 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

Makes approximately 15 – 18 biscuits.

  • Heat the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5 and grease and line a couple of large baking sheets with baking parchment.
  • Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, spice and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the butter and rub together until the mixture takes on the texture of breadcrumbs.  This can be done by hand or in a stand mixer.
  • Stir in the sugar.
  • Add the corn syrup and stir through until the mixture starts to come together.
  • Knead to form a dough.
  • With a little flour on your hands (as the mixture is pretty sticky!) divide the dough into 15 – 18 equal pieces.  Depending on how big you want your biscuits you can make more or less.
  • Roll the dough pieces into small balls and place onto the prepared baking sheets (as the biscuits will increase quite a bit in size whilst cooking make sure they are well spread out) and flatten gently with your hand or the back of a spoon.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 7 – 10 minutes, or until golden brown.  Watch the biscuits carefully as they can overcook quickly.
  • Lift carefully off the baking sheets and place on a cooling rack (I tend to use a metal spatula to do this).  The biscuits will still be soft at this stage, but will firm up as they cool.

As they are for a Halloween sale, I have topped them with a sprinkling of edible black glitter to add a spooky touch of bling!

This recipe is adapted from a biscuit recipe my sister gave me – thanks, Ann.

Ruby Slippers

With Hurricane Sandy dominating the news, I am feeling pretty anxious (terrified!), as this will be my first experience of a Tropical Storm.  I am not really sure what to expect and how best to prepare in case the storm should affect us as currently forecasted.

I have followed all of the usual “how to prepare” guidelines; we have a stash of bottled water and canned food; I have packed ice filled ziplock bags around all of the food in the freezer to keep it frozen for longer if the power goes out (now I will just need to fight the irresistible urge to open the freezer every couple of minutes to check the contents are still frozen!); torches have batteries that actually work (never before known in our house);  and, candles are ready to be lit.  But most important of all, I have dusted off my red ballet pumps and they are waiting by the door ready to slip on.  Now, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, should I be blown away as the winds pick up, I know I will be able to find my way home.

Dorothy now took Toto up solemnly in her arms, and …. she clapped the heels of her shoes together three times, saying,
“Take me home ….”
The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

So, if Hurricane Sandy should be heading your way, please stay safe, keep your ruby slippers by the door and remember there is no place like home!

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Power Tool Pandemonium

Something rather strange happened in our house this weekend, I was spotted wielding a power tool!  To be more accurate, an electric drill.  I will happily admit that until Saturday I had never attempted to or felt the slightest inclination or interest in operating a power tool.  When it comes to all aspects of domestic DIY I am in actual fact the very worst sort of backseat driver.  I have a very precise idea of what I want done and how things need to look.  An opinion that I will strongly voice from the foot of the step ladder, cup of tea in hand.  I have never attempted to change a plug and my inability to deftly change a light bulb once saw me sitting in the dark until my flatmate returned from her trip away three days later!

It was therefore with absolute disbelief and blind panic in his eyes that my husband came home to find me in the garage grappling with the electric drill.  Assuming that we must be in the midst of some major domestic disaster (for why else would I have strayed into the never before negotiated murky waters of the tool box) he was to be seen fastening his tool belt and striding towards the house keen to step in and ensure that the sort of havoc my novice DIY efforts were bound to cause was avoided at all costs.

What was the emergency?  No, there was no emergency I was able to reassure him as I tightened my grip on the electric drill. I was simply carving pumpkins!  Further evidence I am sure that I had indeed lost the plot!

I am very pleased to report that despite the general consensus that pumpkin carving with an electric drill, particularly in my untrained hands, was a recipe for disaster and that we would surely end our Saturday in A&E, my Jack-o-Lanterns look fantastic and I suffered no injuries, except a badly chipped manicure.  Admittedly I don’t think the drill will ever be the same again, a couple of drill bits are definitely beyond repair, I am still finding wayward pumpkin pieces all over the kitchen and will probably be picking orange gloop out of my hair for some time!

Rest assured, now that my pumpkins are carved, I am more than happy to restore the DIY status quo in our house and will be returning to my usual role of back seat driver.

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Chatting with Candlesticks

When it comes to advertising I am a bit of an easy target, an advertiser’s dream.  I am happily drawn in by a catchy jingle and the lure of a glossy “life enhancing” product.  At the moment I am particularly taken with a homestore campaign which suggests that their products might talk to me.  Unable to shift this enticing suggestion from my head yesterday I gave in to the temptation and decided I would give the theory a try, so set out to the shops to see what would talk to me!

Browsing I found numerous items crying out for my attention; I flirted with pearlescent cocktail glasses, photo frames, cake stands, Halloween decorations …. in the end there was no real contest, calling the loudest of all was Christmas!  Seduced I snapped up a beautiful glass candlestick and a couple of sparkly baubles.

Did I really need yet more Christmas decorations? Of course not.  But it is good to know that after we have eaten our turkey and opened all of our presents that should the conversation start to lag and the bickering begin then you will be able to find me gossiping in the corner with my new “chatty” accessories.

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p.s.  only 59 days to go!


Pumpkin Soup

I think it would be fair to say that I am currently in the grips of a full blown pumpkin obsession.  At the last count there are a total of twelve pumpkins lining our front path (actually negotiating your way to the door is becoming pretty perilous as pumpkins threaten to trip you up with every step you take).  I am busy dreaming up Jack-o-Lantern designs for Halloween next week and constantly rearranging my outdoor pumpkin display to achieve maximum curb appeal.

Given my current obsession it will be no surprise to learn that at the weekend I insisted that the whole family accompany me on a pumpkin picking mission.  As we had had some pretty wet weather I really should have considered my footwear a little more carefully (welly boots would have been a much more sensible choice than my lovely new and now extremely muddy brown leather boots), but I am aware that they added a great deal to my family’s enjoyment as they were able to spend their time sniggering loudly as I slipped inappropriately dressed across the pumpkin patch!  Infact if I had actually fallen in the mud I believe their outing would have been perfect.  Leaving footwear aside I spent a very happy hour wandering (or more accurately squelching) around the pumpkin patch in search of that “perfect” pumpkin (or ten) and returned home with the car boot satisfyingly full of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes.

In an effort to offset my personal glut of pumpkins I have been making soup.

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For this Curried Pumpkin Soup recipe you will need:

3kg (approx.) pie pumpkin
3 tablespoons of olive oil
3 medium onions (roughly chopped)
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
3 teaspoons of curry powder
½ teaspoon of ground coriander
2 litres (8 ½ cups) of vegetable stock
75g (½ cup) soft brown sugar
salt and pepper

I used a pie pumpkin rather than a traditional pumpkin as I was advised that the denser texture worked better for soup.

Serves 8 – 10 people

  • Heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
  • Slice the pumpkin in half and scrape out the stringy centre.  Rinse the seeds and leave to dry, they are fabulous roasted.
  • Cut the pumpkin into chunks (with the skin left on), and place skin side down on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for approximately 50 minutes (until the pumpkin chunks are soft and lightly coloured).
  • Allow to cool a little (so you don’t burn your hands) and peel the pumpkin away from the skin (it should come away very easily).
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the onions and garlic over a medium heat until soft (but not burnt), this will take approximately 5 minutes.
  • Add the curry powder and coriander and stir to coat the onions and garlic.
  • Add the vegetable stock and sugar.  Season well with salt and pepper.
  • Finally, add the prepared pumpkin and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and puree until smooth.
  • Return to the pan, add more seasoning / sugar depending on how spicy or sweet you like your soup.
  • Reheat the soup and serve topped with roasted pumpkin seeds, sour cream and a sprinkling of paprika.

To roast the pumpkin seeds I tossed them in 1 tablespoon of garlic oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of paprika and cooked them on a baking sheet for 40 minutes in an oven heated to 180°C 400°F / Gas Mark 6.  Stir every 15 minutes or so to avoid them burning around the edges.

Travelling light

This morning I watched my husband pack for his week away with work in Montreal, and setting aside the small fuss over his missing toiletry bag (not to mention the look he gave me when I kindly offered him my pink spotty Cath Kidston wash bag – apparently this was an assault on his masculinity) the whole process was quick, precise and without deliberation.  I have to admit I was secretly rather impressed by the compact bag which he effortlessly zipped up (I have bigger handbags) containing everything he would need for a whole week away.

This got me thinking about the merits of travelling light, perfectly expressed by One Bag:

If there is a bottom line, it’s that travelling light is simply a more stress-and-hassle-free way to go. You have more time, because packing takes little. You waste less energy hauling stuff. You know what you have, where everything is, and that it’s sufficient..…the one-bag traveller copes by operating from a solid, familiar, well-considered foundation, with fewer unnecessary things to worry about.

As someone who has an admittedly justified reputation for taking a suitcase big enough for a fortnight’s holiday for a family of four on a mini-break weekend, I am however very dubious as to how achievable this approach to packing might actually be for me.

When we moved last year I did try very hard.  I was determined we would be travelling light, de-cluttering, and paving the way for a more organised way of living, maybe even with a hint of minimalism.  At my instigation we filled several large skips; out went the baby bath, the never used trouser press, the travel potty complete with half used pack of wipes, pictures we would never hang again, endless kitchen paraphernalia, a roof box and bars which fitted a car we had owned five years previously, old books, games, clothes……  You get the picture, following the maxim if you haven’t used it in a year or it doesn’t fit, you no longer need it.  Anything I considered too good for the skip I enthusiastically took to the charity shop until on my third trip as I dragged another over-stuffed bin bag through the door, the assistant audibly sighed and suggested that they had enough of my cast offs!

Fast forward three weeks into our stay in Canada and there we were, waiting for our container to arrive.  Tracking its progress daily online, watching the shipping forecasts just in case a freak storm should blow up and sink the container ship, imagining the horror of watching the news to see beach combing looters helping themselves to my shipwrecked boxes.  The novelty (who am I kidding there is no novelty factor) of sleeping a couple of inches off the floor on an ever sagging blow up bed had well and truly worn off.  It was certainly minimalistic, but definitely not a style statement.  Enough was enough where was my stuff!

Anyone who has packed up their home for international shipping, will fully appreciate the absolute joy you feel when you see your container pull up outside your new home, tinged with a wave of homesickness as you realise the last time you saw this it was outside your old home.  Yes, I cried when they broke the transit bolt.  I breathed sigh after sigh of relief as packages were opened and yes, they really did belong to me.  I got embarrassingly giddy with excitement as I unwrapped boxes containing what at that moment felt like life’s essentials; an antique jelly mould and a set of cut crystal sherry glasses (a wedding present) – how infact had these things survived the pre-move cull  to cross the Atlantic – but at that moment who cared!  As I unwrapped, positioned, repositioned, repositioned and tweaked some more, hung pictures and mirrors and filled cupboards, our big empty house became a home.

Whilst I have to agree that, in principle, travelling light is a fantastic concept whether it is a weekend away or an international move I like to have my “things” around me!  So despite any notions I may have about trying to travel light I know that next time I pack for a weekend trip my bags will be embarrassingly over-stuffed and my husband will be heard tutting loudly as he has to pick up yet another excess baggage charge.  And, if we should ever embark upon another international move, I know with certainty that I will need a significantly bigger container.

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Doorstop Diva

As yesterday was one of those unpromising rainy grey days and I found myself with time to spare kicking my heels inside (well who would want to go out on such a damp bad hair day!), I had a rare burst creativity and had a go at making a doorstop.

I am not a particularly proficient or practiced seamstress (to put it mildly) and if I look at my homemade doorstop with a critical eye, the end result with its wonky seams might be a touch lopsided and somewhat crumpled due to a prolonged struggle to turn it right side out (the hole I left to do this was definitely on the mean side).  However, this aside, I have to say that I am actually ridiculously proud of the end result.  In fact I would go as far as to say that I fear I may have unleashed my inner doorstop diva!

With Christmas looming and what gifts should I give this year never far from my thoughts, all I can say is watch out, as a less than perfect doorstop may well be coming your way!

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There are numerous “how to guides” on the internet for making doorstops in all shapes and sizes with varying levels of difficulty, I found this link particularly useful:    http://tipnut.com/door-stops/

Orange? I am sure it is lovely, but not quite to my taste …..


This week, after the really cold miserable snap over the weekend, we have had some absolutely beautiful Autumn days; clear blue skies, falling leaves (and yes, my lawn does need raking, but I am turning a blind eye and putting that off until next week) and with Thanksgiving just behind us and Halloween less than a fortnight away there are brightly coloured pumpkins on every doorstep.

Reflecting on all this Autumn colour, I had a quick browse on the internet to look into ways in which I could bring colours of the “Fall” into my home.  Orange seemed to be the predominant word.  So, pumpkin spiced latte in hand, I set off to find the perfect seasonal accessories to update my very neutral cream family room.  I considered orange vases, bowls, oversized candles, cushions, throws, even a glossy orange side table, the list goes on ….. After much deliberation and seemingly hours of walking in fruitless circles, looking at the same items over and over again, I came home empty handed.

As someone who rarely leaves the shops until I have made that perfect purchase, the only conclusion I can draw from this unsatisfactory shopping trip is that whilst the vivid orange colours of Autumn are stunning outside, when it comes to interiors they are just not for me.  So, putting all thoughts of orange cushions and throws aside (do I really want to perch on a sofa masquerading as a pumpkin?), I have instead bought a large bunch of sunflowers and will light a few extra candles as I cosy up this Autumn under my cream throw!

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Since I managed to fit in a very overdue run this morning (and in all honesty not a particularly pacey or long one, I know if he had witnessed my efforts, my husband would have remarked that most people were actually walking faster than I was), I am now sitting toes up with a large mug of tea and a piece of flapjack.  The flapjack was really made with school lunches in mind, but right now is the perfect antidote to my unusual burst of energy this morning.

Until I started writing this I didn’t know that in Canada and the US, flapjack, if I haven’t been misled by google, actually refers to a stack of pancakes.  So, just to clarify, this flapjack recipe is not for pancakes but a delicious sticky oat bar.

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For this flapjack recipe you will need:

150g (6oz / ¾ cup) butter or margarine
100g (4oz / ½ cup) sugar
200g (8oz / 2 cups) oats
1 tablespoon (15ml) golden syrup

I don’t tend to use cup measurements, but have attempted to convert the weights into their equivalent in cups and hope I have been reasonably accurate.

  • Heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 and grease and line your baking tray (approx. 30 x 20cm) with baking parchment.
  • Melt butter (or margarine), sugar and syrup in a non-stick pan, stirring continuously, until the sugar is dissolved and the butter completely melted.
  • Remove from the heat and add the oats.  Stir well to make sure they are completely coated by the melted mixture.
  • Pour into the prepared baking tray and bake for 20 – 25 minutes (or until the flapjack starts to turn a golden brown colour).
  • Leave to cool in the tray, then cut into pieces (how big or small is really up to you).  It is best not to try to remove the flapjack from the tray whilst still warm as this may cause it to fall apart.

Depending on your taste there are endless variations to this recipe.  Below are a few of my favourites:

Cherry and Raisin:  add 25g (1oz / ¼ cup) of raisins and 25g (1oz / ¼ cup) of cherries to the oats.

Chocolate:  add 50g (2oz / ½ cup) of chocolate chips (I like to use a mix of white and milk chocolate) to the oats.  Once baked and cooling in the tray sprinkle a handful of chocolate chips onto the top of the flapjack.

Sunflower Seed:  add 50g (2oz / ½ cup) of salted hulled sunflower seeds to the oats.