26 August 2011

Bake Off 4: Marbled Chocolate Cupcakes

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So the next cake request from my work colleagues was for a marbled chocolate loaf. I actually ended up coming across a recipe for Marbled Chocolate Cupcakes which looked really straight forward to make, so here it is....

Serves 12 in muffin cases

  • 175g soft margarine
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 55g melted chocolate (I used Green & Blacks Dark Choc)
  • Put 12 muffin cases in a muffin pan
  • Put the margarine, sugar, eggs, flour & milk in a large bowl & use an electric hand whisk, beat together until smooth. Tip: to stop the flour going up in a white cloud I used my hands to mix the sugar, marg & flour first, before adding the wet ingredients.
  • Divide the mixture between 2 bowls.  Add the melted chocolate (melt for 45 seconds in the microwave) & stir together until well mixed.  Using a teaspoon alternatie the chocolate mixture with the plain mixture, put four teaspoons into each muffin case.
  • Bake the cupcakes in a preheated oven 180C for 20 minutes or until well risen & springy to touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • Marbled Chocolate Cupcakes
  • Enjoy with a cuppa tea!

Verdict - yum scrum!

23 August 2011

Bake Off 3: Vanilla Cupcakes

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I couldn't wait to make some cupcakes, always good fun when playing around with icing and food colouring.

Makes 12-16 cupcakes - I ended up making 24 in small cupcake cases from Tescos


For the sponge:
  • 80g butter
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 240g plain flour (I actually used self raising and it was fine)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 240ml whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 large eggs
For the vanilla frosting:
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 160g butter
  • 50ml whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • Food colouring
  • Sprinkles
  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C and line muffin tin with muffin cases.
  2. Using a hand held electric whisk slowly beat together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until the ingredients are well mixed and resemble fine breadcrumbs.  Be careful - the flour does go everywhere!!
  3. Mix together the milk, vanilla essence and eggs by hand in a jug. With the whisk on a low speed, pour 3/4 of the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are fully incorporated.  Add the rest of the milk mixture and beat again on a medium speed until the batter is smooth.
  4. Spoon the batter into the muffin cases, up to about 2/3 full. Pop in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until the sponges feel springy when you touch them.  Leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin and placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Vanilla cupcake sponges cooling on the wired rack
  6. To make the frosting, whisk the icing sugar with the butter on a low speed using the electric whisk until fully combined and sandy in consistency.  Add the vanilla essence to the milk and pour into the butter and icing sugar while still mixing on a low speed, then increase the speed to high and whisk the frosting until light and fluffy.
  7. If you wish to colour the icing divide into separate bowls and add a teaspoon of the food colouring.  I tried yellow, blue and green (mixing both blue & yellow), I ended up with daffodil yellow, smurf and pea green, I also left a few natural butter cream.
  8. Once the cupcakes are cool, add the frosting, smoothing and swirling with a palette knife (I only had a standard knife, but seemed to do the job). Decorate with coloured or chocolate sprinkles & enjoy!

Pea green and daffodil yellow
Smurf blue & pea green

Plain butter cream
The vanilla cupcakes took a good 90 minutes from start to finish as there is quite a bit of clearing up when playing around with the food colourings.

The verdict - the cute cupcakes seemed to get the thumbs up from both work colleagues and my parents.  The only issue is transporting iced cup cakes...the icing did end up on the seat of my car when taking over a batch to my folks.

So, what next?  I've been challenged to bake a marbled cake, which isn't in the Cake Days book - eek.... Watch this space to see what I'll be serving up next.

20 August 2011

One week & counting....

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This time next week I will be at Reading Festival and I’m just a tad excited!

There’s a number of reasons why I’m excited:

1) The line up: The Strokes, Pulp, Two Door Cinema Club, Bombay Bicycle Club and new band I’ve been listening to Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zero;

2) I’m going with my best friend (aah!) Rachel, it’s our 30th birthday present to one and other and

3) We’re going on a day ticket so we don’t have to worry about slumming or glamping it, although I do have a new pair of violet Hunter wellies that I will be proudly showing off if its pi**ing down!

The line up - eek!
I’ll update you post festi…and in the meantime, just because I can and if you didn’t quite catch it – this time next week I’ll be at Reading!!!

HO Lungeing Aid aka 'marmite aid'

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My mum read about the HO Lungeing Aid in Horse and Hound back in July, and being a sucker for all things new insisted that we tried it out!

We ordered ours from Sydney Free Saddlery for £24.95 and after a weeks wait it finally arrived. Rather than purchasing the sheepskin, we had an old curb sheepskin which we thread the two pieces of rope through.

Sydney Free Saddlery says: “This is probably one of the simplest aids we have seen, and is extremely popular. It helps the horse to relax and use his back while on the lunge, therefore helping to build up the topline and work through his entire body.”

Barley modelling the HO Lunge Aid
It’s also being promoted on Horse Hero by Laura Bechtolsheimer and her father.
Dr Wifried Bechtolsheimer says:

“This is a very useful tool for young horses as well as for fully trained older horses. For young horses, especially in combination with a cavesson, it encourages the still excitable and unbalanced horse to drop his head to a comfortable level. This has various beneficial effects. Taking the head down will help to calm the horse very quickly. (You will never see an excited or panicky horse trot or canter very far with the head down.) The horse can use its neck to find its balance and therefore will find it easier to produce a natural and regular rhythm. In other words, you will find out that the horse tends to run less but will start going with a swinging back much sooner. Whereas, if you use side reins, the horse is restricted and will feel so continually."

He continues, "the lungeing rope is easy to handle but there are a few important things to remember:

o Check you have equal length of rope on both sides before each lungeing session.
o The length of the rope should allow the horse to stretch out without restriction, but should not be too long so that it can slide too far back on his back or that he could tread on it.
o Never have the rope so tight that the horse is forced to take the head down. This could result in severe injury. If the horse feels too restricted it might try to throw the head up and fall over backwards or the rope might rub under the upper arm of the front legs.”

Side profile of HO Lungeing Aid on Barley
So how did we get on?

We tried it out on Jonty the 5 year old Irish Sport Horse to start with. We’ve had him over a year now and really only in the last few months he’s started going to shows and concentrating on his flat work. He took to it like a duck to water and within minutes was stretching down like Dr B states and swinging along looking quite pleased with himself. In fact he was so relaxed that at one point he tried to reach down for grass whilst in trot, which leads on to a point that you have to be so careful that the horse doesn’t get tangled up. We’ve tried it twice and ridden afterwards in our field on the flat and jumping and seen a vast improvement in the way he moves and his behaviour.

Jonty swinging along
Then we tried it on Barley the 8 year old Irish Sport horse, and it was a very different story. Immediately we noticed in walk he was tense and was arching his back, we proceeded to trot him and he raised his head which made the aid go tight and he panicked backing up towards the hedge line. Calmly we put him into trot and 5 minutes later he still hadn’t relaxed and was very tense and again panicked raising his head which made the rope tighten round his girth. We quietly trotted him on the other rein but knew that this wasn’t for Barley.
 And that’s why we’re calling this the ‘marmite aid’ as some horses love it and some don’t. It could be put down to the fact that Jonty is only 5 and doesn’t really know anything else, whereas Barley is a little more wiser.
Barley in trot - ears slightly twitchy

Let me know if you have any feedback on how you found the HO Lungeing Aid.

16 August 2011

It's Show Time!

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For those who know me well, you don’t often see me for gold dust over the summer months as I’m usually out riding one of my cheeky Irish horses Barley and Jonty after work or at a show at the weekend somewhere in the West Country trying to win a rosette. And for anyone who said it’s the taking part that counts – they’re lying!!

The next 3 weeks are no exception to the rule and for me one of the most exciting times of the year as we have 3 spectacular agricultural shows taking place in our fair county of Dorset.

For those of you who aren’t sure what an agricultural show is, check out this link on Wikipedia  and next time I’m babbling on about a county show you won’t look at me as if I’m talking in double dutch. This line sums it up perfectly ‘Agricultural shows are an important part of cultural life in small country towns’.

Tomorrow kicks off at Gillingham and Shaftesbury (Wednesday 17th August) which is probably the most laid back / rural of the three shows. There’s over 280 traditional livestock events at the Turnpike Showground from horses, cattle, to sheep and has been going strong for over 150 years. So who are you likely to spot down there? North Dorset ladies that 'do' lunch, cider lovers, some of the West Country’s top show jumpers and a few tourists who stumble across the show advertised in the Blackmore Sparkford Mag. We’ll be down there taking part in the Open Working Hunter on Barley as a warm up for Melplash Show…fingers crossed he’ll behave himself after his tantrum practice last night.

Next week is Melplash Show (Thursday 25th August) which again has been going for donkey’s of years – 162 to be precise. I’ve got fond memories of Melplash riding my Welsh Section B 13H pony Music Master in the show pony classes and jumping my horse Wizard as a 17 year old in the main ring, sadly he was a typical Warmblood horse and napped at the strawbales getting us eliminated. So who are you likely to spot at Melplash? Holiday makers making the most of the West Country before the kids go back to school, locals enjoying the cider tent and riders trying to make a last attempt to qualify for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). Barley and I will be one of those making our first and last attempt at qualifying for HOYS this year in the main ring – let’s hope I have more luck then I did with Wizard.

Last but not least is the Dorset Show (Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th September) which was probably the first show I ever went to as a baby. Dorset Show used to be a one day show back in the day, but now is a full on jam packed event with something for everyone from the kids to nana and isn’t just about the livestock, but all round good entertainment. So who are you likely to spot at the Dorset Show? A lot of the local Dorch townies, the BSJA crowd ponc-ing it up in the collection ring, Young Farmers, Tweed crowd and genuine country bumpkins... This time its Jonty’s turn, could be interesting as this will be the biggest show he’s been to, so he’ll either thrive on it or have a few tantrums, I’m thinking it will be the latter!

13 August 2011

Everyone loves a sample sale

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Just those two little words 'sample sale' get me jumping up and down with excitement.  Next week my lovely friend from Mollie & Fred is joing up with The Edge Accessories for a sample sale.  There's up to 75% off and I can't wait, I've got my eye on some Hummingbird Bakery notelets... I'll keep you posted on my purchases.

12 August 2011

Happy 30th Skiworld

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I shrieked with giddy excitement when my Skiworld brochure landed on my door mat this week. Sad I know, but it means that the countdown til the 2012 ski season is on. 5 and half-ish months – not that I’m counting! Half the fun is the build up to the next ski holiday. Where are we going , who’s going, what fancy dress theme shall we do, who’s sharing with who, what will our chalet hosts be like – can they really be better than Abi and Jack from Mottaret or Ben and Sophie from Tignes?

Tignes Spirit in Chalet Tichot

I was also pretty impressed that Skiworld is 30 next year, something we both have in common, but for a ski company a real milestone. I’ve got many good memories from Skiworld holidays. 21 was the first time I experienced a chalet holiday with my family and my best friend’s family in Meribel– so many good memories thanks to Skiworld: ski guiding over to VT, being carried out of a karaoke bar by our hot rep, our jack the lad chalet host. It was because of this memorable holiday that I decided to rep the next season, sadly I left it too late for Skiworld but ended up with another big tour operator and made some fabulous friends – who funny enough we now go on holiday with Skiworld rather than the operator we repped for!! We’ve had some fun times in Tignes and Motterat and I'm looking forward to more good times in 2012 with my ski fwends and chalet hosts.

Ski fwends in Down Town Meribel
See ski holidays for me aren’t just about the skiing – yes, that’s great and I love pushing myself down a gnarly black (usually if I know there’s a good après bar at the bottom), I’m a little fair weather and went its poor viz I will be first or second to suggest ‘who’s up for a sauna or Desparado?'. For me, it’s everything from the chalet – afternoon tea and cake, the roaring fire, banter with the chalet hosts, working out what we’re actually eating, dissing the chalet wine (take note Skiworld – please give the chalet hosts more money for better tasting wine ), to the après bar, trying to find WIFI (very happy that Skiworld now has this in every chalet – big thumbs up!), pub quiz, fancy dress night, downing far too many toffee vodkas – and still being the first group out the door the next morning and of course my ski fwends who make it the best 7 days of the year!

So, Happy Birthday Skiworld and I’ll see you in 2012 for joint 30th celebrations!

11 August 2011

Bake Off 2: Blueberry Crumble Loaf

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Hmmm, I seem to be falling behind on my recipe a week challenge. Country Bumpkin Chic is a busy bee at the moment trying to fit in work, horsey comps, keeping up a social reputation and fitting in the odd date here and there!

Anyway, I ended up getting up extra early on Tuesday (6.15am!!!) to try and bake before work, which all went according to plan until the cooling process where I ran out of time. 

I’ve made a slight adaption to the original recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery which included pecan nuts in the sponge and crumble, here’s by twist on the recipe.

Blueberry Crumble Loaf

Straight out of the oven

Serves 8-10
Loaf tin: 8.5 x 17.5cm with 7.5cm sides


For the Sponge:
  • 190g unsalted butter
  • 190g plain flour
  • 190g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon mixed spices or cinnamon
  • 25ml milk
  • 100g fresh or frozen blueberries (I actually included 200g and it made it extra moist and yummy)
For the Crumble Topping: 
  • 25g plain flour 
  • 10g unsalted butter
  • 15g soft light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon mixed spices or cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C, then grease the load tin with butter and dust with flour or as I did use grease proof paper – makes it hassle free to remove after cooling.
  2. First make the crumble topping. In a bowl, rub the flour and butter together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the remaining ingredients and set aside. (I actually mixed all the ingredients together and it worked ok).
  3. Next make the sponge. Using a hand held electric whisk cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (Note: go slowly; otherwise the sugar will be decorating your kitchen!) Break the eggs one at a time, mixing, well, on a medium speed, after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure every bit of the mixture is used.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and mixed spices/cinnamon, then add in three stages to the creamed butter and eggs, pouring in the milk after the second batch has been added. (Note: if you add it altogether in one go it still works!) Mix well on a medium speed after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl once again to make sure all the ingredients are put to good use.
  5. Increase the speed to medium to high and continue mixing until the batter is smooth and even, then add the blueberries stirring them into the batter by hand and making sure they are evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared load tin and sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top.
  6. Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes or until the sponge feels firm and a skewer inserted comes out clean with no cake batter sticking to it. Allow the loaf to cool before turning it out on to a wire rack to cool completely, then cut into slices and serve with a nice cuppa tea!
Hmmm... tastes nicer than it looks
Anyway as they say in the Guinness advert, good things come to those who wait – and the Blueberry Crumble Loaf got the seal of approval from my male taste testers: 3 work colleagues (extra IT credit points in the bank for me), my dad and a mystery man.

04 August 2011

Bake Off 1: Lemon & Thyme Loaf

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My first Country Bumpkin Bakes Challenge from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book.

Serves 8-10
Loaf tin: 8.5 x 17.5cm with 7.5cm sides


For the sponge
• 190g unsalted butter
• 190g plain flour
• Zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
• 3 teaspoons of finely chopped lemon thyme leaves
• 190g caster sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 25ml soured cream

For the soaking syrup
• 40g cater sugar
• Zest and juice of 1 lemon

• 2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon thyme leaves, plus extra sprigs to decorate


1. Preheat the oven to 170°C, then grease the load tin with butter and dust with flour.

2. Using a hand held electric whisk or mixer with paddle attachment slowly beat together the butter, lemon zest, thyme leaves and sugar to bring the ingredients together, then whisk on a medium speed until light and fluffy. Break the eggs into the bowl one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are well combined.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the creamed butter and egg mixture in two batches and mix together lightly. Add the soured cream and then pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin.

4. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes or until the sponge is firm to touch / skewer comes out clean.

5. While the loaf is cooking you can make the syrup. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan along with 40ml of water. (remember to do this – as I forgot!!). Bring this to the boil, allowing it to reduce by about half, then pour over the cooked load as soon as it come out of the oven.

6. After adding the syrup allow the loaf to cool a little in the tin before removing. Decorate with a couple of sprigs of lemon thyme and enjoy with a cuppa tea!

Well overall the baking went pretty smoothly, although I seemed to totally miss adding the water to the syrup, but that might be due to baking at 8am on a Sunday morning – yes I am mad!

The proof in the pudding is when you ask your family or friends to try it out.

The verdict = my mum thought it was my best cake yet, and she’s tasted a few of my cakes over the years and work colleagues –well they went silent and disappeared before you could say ‘lemon and thyme’.

So what to bake next??

03 August 2011

Country Bumpkin Chic Bakes Challenge

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I do like a challenge, but for me though half the time the challenge is sticking to it!

My lovely friend Helen aka Wild Walks bought me The Hummingbird Bakery cook book Cake Days for my birthday. Being the random creative type I am I was more in amazement with the look and feel of the book than the actual content! If you’ve ever seen it – you’ll get what I mean.

Inside, it has the most amazing recipes for cakes from mojito mini cupcakes, chocolate Guinness cake to butterscotch marshmellow bars. To find out more check out their website, they have 4 stores in London and have even launched an app!

So, what is the challenge – to bake one of The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days recipes each week and share them with my family and friends. There are about 100 in all...so it could take a while to get through if I stick the challenge, but I’m sure there will be lots of willing volunteers on the way.

02 August 2011

Summer Loving at Summer Lodge

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Two weeks ago my parents took me to Summer Lodge in picturesque Evershot in the heart of the Shire (Dorset) for dinner to celebrate my 30th – and I haven’t stopped raving about it to all my friends.

Me and my mum
From the moment we entered to when we left we were made to feel special and given the un-devoted attention by the staff.

The one thing that sticks in my mind which sadly is very rare in a lot of West Country eating establishments is service. Okay, it was silver service which you don’t get everywhere but it’s the little things that make the difference. A smile, polite banter, and making sure everything is okay. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where your napkin is placed on your lap, drinks carried to your table or canapés between every meal.

Apart from service, the food was amazing, Pimms first class and decor delightful – but don’t take my word for it, I insist you check it out. It may be a little on the pricey side, but you get what you pay for.

Introducing Bella Tiaras

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Dorset definitely seems to be the epi-centre of creativity from up and coming artists such as Katie Rand, to interior textile designer Caroline Tucker and now wedding jewellery designer Louise Wash the face behind Bella Tiaras. We caught up Louise to find out all about Bella Tiaras (BT) in sunny Weymouth, Dorset.

When did you launch Bella Tiaras?
Its been going a while, but only officially launched in June 2011, with the introduction of my Facebook page and I’ve been busy sending out business cards with my local hairdresser friends!

Bella Tiaras logo

How did you get started?
My background is in fashion buying, a career which I loved but unfortunately came to an end when the role moved to London and I couldn’t tear myself away from living beside the seaside!

Bella Tiaras started when I was getting married. The original ‘Bella Tiara’ is my own bridal tiara. I was really struggling to find a beautiful tiara that didn’t cost the earth – like most couples we were trying to get married on a budget and I couldn’t justify hundreds of pounds for something I’d wear once (well, other than my wedding dress of course).
Louise Wash Bella Tiaras founder modelling her bridal tiara
I set about having a go on my own and created the exact tiara that was perfect for me – I got so many compliments that it started me thinking about offering it as a service to other brides to be and prom queens.

Interestingly, my Grandmother used to make bridal tiaras as well, so it must run in the family.

Tell us a bit about the Bella Tiaras range?
The range is quite small as I want to be making the tiaras to individual specifications – so I don’t keep any stock other than the ‘prototypes’ shown on my Facebook page – these are all created to show off the style and what’s possible.

Having minimal stock also keeps my prices down as I don’t have investment tied up. The aim is to keep the prices as low as possible, and make Bella Tiaras accessible to everyone no matter what your budget.

Floral stems with fushia bead

Princess Crown

Spiral comb with navy bead

Where do you get your inspiration from?
The ideas seem to come at random moments and it’s often a while before I actually get to sit down and see if the idea works. A lot of the time it’s from watching films or on TV.

Where do you source your raw materials from?
I currently source materials as and when I need them from a little shop in Nottingham – total coincidence that’s my home town as well.

Do you follow any fashion designers?
I love Temperly but don’t follow any particular designers – I’m interested in fashion and don’t mind if that style or influence comes from the catwalk or high street.

Which female celebrity would you like to dress in a Bella Tiaras?
Well, it would have been great to do the Duchess of Cambridge’s tiara but obviously Kate was spoilt for choice with the Crown Jewels!

What type of girl would wear a Bella Tiara?
Any bride, bridesmaid, or prom queen.

What does the future of Bella Tiaras?
I’m hoping to get better known this year and be the ‘go to’ lady for tiaras. I’ve got my best friend’s wedding next year so hopefully she’ll be wearing a Bella Tiara and myself and the other bridesmaids will have coordinating hair accessories.

Where can we find out more about Bella Tiaras?
I have a Facebook page at the moment and my portfolio and contact details are all on there.