A few favourite baking books

So everyone’s in a state of GBBO mourning at the moment, aren’t they? As I write, Paul Hollywood has just been confirmed as the only member of the original quartet to have signed a deal to go over to the dark side (well, Channel 4. Which, to be honest, is the next best channel after the BBC to host a show like GBBO- but I know that’s not a popular opinion.) Anyway, this got me thinking- I do own two of Hollywood’s baking books, but I NEVER bake from them. And if you follow me on any social media channel, you’ll know I bake quite a lot. I like the books, they’re very pretty- but they’re just too fiddly and faffy for the type of stuff I like to bake. I’m probably more of a Bezza baker than a Hollywood baker, although I’ve never picked up one of Mary’s books.

But there are some books I use over and over.

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Bake- Rachel Allen

This was the first baking book I ever picked up (I had never seen Rachel Allen on the TV; I just wanted a baking book.) I learnt a few skills here, but I have found the recipes a bit hit and miss. However, as a first book, it was OK. I still swear by the honey cake and snickerdoodles in this, though.

51pxbskes6l-_sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_ Be-Ro Home Baked Recipes

Cheap and cheerful, the Be-Ro book is a proper, old-school classic. This is the book that I turn to when D wants to bake: gingerbread men, shortbread, tea loaves. It’s all the stuff your mum or nan probably made and the recipes are simple and straightforward (and you can get away with using margarine in most of them if you’ve run out of butter!)

510cb-crdgl-_sx258_bo1204203200_ Home Sweet Home- The Hummingbird Bakery

This book is one of the biggest bargains ever- I think I picked it up for a fiver. It’s stuffed full of what I think of as ‘showstoppers’, cakes that I pull out for fancy things and when I want to impress. My go-to brownie recipe is from Hummingbird (although I’ve tinkered with it so much now, it’s virtually unrecognisable from the basic recipe) and the strawberry milkshake cupcakes are seriously good. This is the book that really helped develop my skills onto more than just ‘basic’.

cover Flavour- Ruby Tandoh

I love Ruby’s recipes and have never had one fail. I was lucky enough that she sent me a signed copy of the book after I mentioned on Twitter that I had borrowed it from the library and loved it. Although it’s not really a baking book, but a book with baking recipes in it, I urge you to check it out. I can HUGELY recommend the easy chocolate cake- it is the only cake I’ve ever made that worked every time, and I’ll be making it for D’s fourth birthday in a couple of weeks. I’ve also made a banana cake and the shine theory truffles, which I adapted by adding rose and violet flavouring (I have plans for Christmas editions too… watch out for a future blogpost on those!) But what I really love about this book is the attitude in it- that we should eat what we like, and just ENJOY food. In a world obsessed with clean eating, it’s a refreshing change.

 

 

Thoughts from beside Anne Bronte’s grave

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Anne Bronte is the only member of the family to be buried in Scarborough; after her death, aged 29 in 1849, Charlotte made the decision to ‘lay the flower where it had fallen’ and bury her sister quickly (there were three mourners at Anne’s funeral- Charlotte, their friend Ellen Nussey and their old school teacher, Miss Wooler.) The spot she chose would have been picturesque in 1849, beneath the castle walls and with a view out to the north bay. It still is a peaceful spot, albeit the bottom half of the graveyard is now a car park. Nothing, it seems, gets in the way of modernity.

Harbour from the top of the castle #scarboroughcastle #scarborough #sea…:

View of the North Bay and harbour from the top of Scarborough Castle

Although I knew I definitely wanted to visit Anne’s grave, I was taken aback when D and I stumbled upon it by accident on a morning walk (where inspired by the old fellas on their walks to buy papers or to give their dogs a wander, he began to return their greetings with a cheery- and very northern- ‘MORNING!’, much to everyone’s amusement.) Unbeknownst to us, we were staying five minutes away.

The day was warm and sunny, and even D realised we were somewhere that required a bit of quiet. We sat on a bench next to the grave and looked at the view; the sea was calm and the view was stunning. I noticed that there was a spot in front of the grave where the feet of people who were visiting had worn away the grass. I wondered how many people visited the spot every day. I’d been told that there were often flowers on the grave, but there were none on either of the two days I visited. I had looked for wildflowers to put down, but had had no look. Maybe they would have been more appropriate for Emily anyway.

In a funny way, I think it’s appropriate that Anne is the Bronte who is not buried at Haworth; she was the only member of the family who really had any professional success in a job away from home. Although she disliked being a governess, she was able to cope being away from her siblings. If it was Emily buried far away, I imagine she’d haunt Scarborough like Cathy until her remains were returned to the family vault.

Also, in a lot of ways, Anne is the family outcast. In a literary sense, she’s often left out in the cold. I’ve never met anyone who raves about her work in the same way they do about that of her sisters. No one ever says, breathlessly, that they are definitely an ‘Anne’. So maybe it’s fitting that the quietest Bronte is on her own, and noticed and visited for herself.

A few days later, we were in York when I had a sudden urge to walk down a particular street. It turned out that some part of my subconscious apparently remembered that there was a Bronte-related plaque:

Casual #Bronte spotting in #York. It's now a Next.:

“On 24 May 1849, Anne said her goodbyes to her father and the servants at Haworth, and set off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. En route, they spent a day and a night in York, where, escorting Anne around in a wheelchair, they did some shopping, and at Anne’s request, visited York Minster. However, it was clear that Anne had little strength left.”

I must have walked past it on previous trips to  York, but something drew me back- it’s pretty inconspicuous. After I took the picture and was walking away, it dawned on me that the reason that Anne and Charlotte had stayed on the site was that they were on their way to Scarborough, where Anne would die four days later. Four days had lapsed between finding the grave and finding the plaque.

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Anne’s death, coming as it did so soon after those of Emily and her brother Branwell, seems so tragic. Her apparent strength in the face of death seems brave and admirable (although it seems that Charlotte’s claim that her sister welcomed and longed for death are wrong; Anne wrote in a letter that she had many things she still wished to accomplish.)

On Sunday, 27 May, Anne asked Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicated that death was close. Anne received the news quietly. She expressed her love and concern for Ellen and Charlotte, and seeing Charlotte’s distress, whispered to her to “take courage”. Conscious and calm, Anne died at about two o’clock in the afternoon, Monday, 28 May 1849.

There’s a plaque on the side of the Grand Hotel commemorating the place of her death..

I mused on the life of a quiet, shy woman who had written books that challenged early Victorian views of women. I wondered whether she would have been happy with the choice of her final resting place, or whether she would have preferred to be buried in the church at Haworth. And then, my thoughts interrupted by the chattering of an excited child desperate to get down to the beach, I walked back home in the sunshine.

Happy birthday, Charlotte Bronte

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Today it’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. As a Yorkshire woman (despite being born in Wales and currently living in Brighton, I have my county written in my bones like Scarborough through a stick of rock) and a literature fan- as well as simply a reader- it feels important to mark this anniversary.

Despite Charlotte not being my favourite of the Brontes- in her letters, I find her to be sometimes maddening and I imagine that she might have been a high maintenance friend- without her, we wouldn’t know anything about her extraordinary family. After all, she was the one who discovered Emily’s cache of poems and overrode both Emily’s furious indignity and Anne’s reluctance to have the work published. She may have been stubborn (and maybe slightly overbearing to her younger sisters?), but she opened up the world of these three isolated women to the rest of us.

It’s because of this anniversary that I’m working my way through all of the Bronte material I can lay my hands on, as part of my self-set Bronte Challenge. I’m currently reading- and enjoying- Jane Eyre, a book I’ve never got on with before. This time, something has clicked, and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because of Jane’s determination to make the best of her life, despite her shortcomings, or the fact that as a woman in my early 30s, I get the mindset that Charlotte herself felt as she wrote the novel aged 31. I used to despair at Jane’s repeated reiteration of her plainness, but having read about Charlotte’s preoccupation with her health (bordering on hypochondria at times, although with siblings perishing around her, not wholly unwarranted) shortness and her teeth, I get where that came from. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Jane Eyre when I was younger. Late to the party? Yes, I guess so. Most of my friends read the novel when they were younger. But I came to it with a more grown up view of the world and it worked for me.

So today, in honour of Miss Bronte, I’ll curl up somewhere with a cup of tea and my copy of Jane Eyre- and I’ll thank her for forcing her sisters to share their work with the world.

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The Bronte Project- the books

I’m a month into The Bronte Project- I’m currently reading Juliet Barker’s The Brontes, which Benn referred to as ‘a weighty tome’ (and it is- it’s 800 pages before you even get to the notes) and an edition of the stories Charlotte wrote, in conjunction with her brother, called Tales of Angria.

Tales of Angria - Penguin Classics (Paperback):

I thought I’d list the editions I’m using- although I have a couple of vintage editions of some of the non-fiction, which I’ve listed a newer version if you want to read along with me. None of these links are affiliates, by the way!

Novels-

Jane Eyre- Penguin Clothbound Edition

Wuthering Heights- Penguin Clothbound Edition

Agnes Grey- Wordsworth Classics-it’s really hard to find a pretty edition of Agnes Grey, which reminds me that Anne has an undeserved, neglected position in the Bronte legacy. It also reminded me of this comic by the brilliant Kate Beaton:

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- Penguin Clothbound Edition (I’ve pre-ordered this. Hurrah!)

Shirley- Penguin English Library

Villette-Penguin Clothbound Edition (my grandma has pre-ordered it for me for my birthday- it’s one of her favourite novels ever.)

The Professor-I have yet to buy a copy of this, so I’m not sure which edition I will end up buying (I’m allowed to break my book buying ban for the Bronte Project!)

Non-Fiction

This section may well expand as I discover new books, but at the moment I have on my bookshelves:

The Bronte Myth- Lucasta Miller

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte- Daphne du Maurier (I have an old edition- 1960s?- of this)

The Life of Charlotte Bronte- Mrs Gaskell My edition of this is from 1905, so I will probably borrow another edition from the library; I can’t remember if the print is tiny in my book.

Charlotte Bronte- Claire Harman  This will be another book I get from the library.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means! However, it’s a good resource for anyone who might want to read along, or to dip in and out of Bronteana in a year which is important for Bronte readers and scholars (it’s the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth.) Let me know if you have any thoughts, recommendations or if you’d like to read along with me!

Christmas 2015

Aaaand, breathe.

According to a certain women’s magazine I read recently, they were trying to christen the week between Christmas and New Year ‘Twixmas’. Hmmm.

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Christmas itself has been fun- I kicked off the festivities by spending two hours ENGROSSED in the Sleigh Ride programme on BBC4. Everyone else buggered off home or to bed, but I nobly stuck with it and learnt that there were thousands of Sami words for ‘reindeer’. Twitter was also good fun during the show and I generally felt a warm glow towards all those who were watching it with me.

reindeer

Christmas this year was the first one where D was fully aware of what was going on- he’d had two visits to Santa and was well up for the whole ritual of setting stuff up. We also had the emotional wrench of him giving up his dummies, which Father Christmas was taking for ‘the babies’. D didn’t seem to mind once he realised there was a Paxton (an engine from Thomas and Friends) in return. In fact, our house looks like a holding bay at Toys R Us for Thomas and Toy Story merchandise.

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I really loved that D was into Christmas this year- he appreciated his gifts and was eager to choose presents, too (these mainly consisted of chocolate for everybody, although he also chose hand cream for his grandmas without prompting from me. I suspect it’s because he sees me use the same stuff when I’m knitting!) We did reach the ’emotionally over-fraught’ stage  of Christmas at about 7pm on Boxing Day, so I think he did rather well, all being told.

This year's #Christmas #books. The best present is a book, in my opinion. #booksofInstagram #amreading:

I got lots of books (and a few bits of makeup, as well as a figure of the Tenth Doctor, so all good!) Benn was happy with lots and lots of running gear- I still haven’t been out for a run since my ill-fated Park Run a couple of weeks ago. I regret nothing.

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Christmas dinner itself was OK, probably not groundbreaking, but no-one died/vomited, so I decided to declare it a mediocre success… to be honest, I didn’t really feel like I over-indulged at all over Christmas this (I actually haven’t had ANY alcohol this week, although not through choice or conscious design, it’s just happened that way!)

So now I’m just relaxing, debating whether I REALLY want to start marking Year 10 essays or go for a run, when all I really want to do it hibernate with books and a cup of tea. After all, it is apparently twixmas.

The Bronte Project 2016

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I’m currently reading a book about the lives of the Brontes and I’ve been thinking about their novels quite a bit. I grew up in Leeds and frequently visited Haworth as a kid- I’ve been to the Parsonage a few times too, the last time about eight years ago.

When I first moved to Brighton, I was a bit homesick. I turned to Wuthering Heights, with its familiar dialect and even more familiar landscape, as a way to re-connect with my home county. (I still have students at work coming to me to ask for help with some of the servants’ dialogue, a thick Yorkshire language that reminds me of old men and tradition.) Later, I read a few more books, but I’ve never read all of them- and certainly not all of the poetry.

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So, here’s what I’ve decided to do: starting in January, I will read all of the Brontes’ novels, in order of publication- although I am planning on starting with the collections of the stories written when they were children first. I’m also going to watch adaptations. I’d also like to re-visit Haworth. I’m planning on blogging the whole lot across both of my blogs, this one and The Bookish Badger.

If you’d like to join in, I’ll be reading in the following order:

Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte

Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

Agnes Grey- Anne Bronte

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- Anne Bronte

Shirey- Charlotte Bronte

Villette- Charlotte Bronte

The Professor- Charlotte Bronte

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I’ll also read biographies, poetry collections and other works I can get my hands on. I’d love as many of the books to be Penguin Clothbound Classics as possible, but otherwise I’m going to try and invest in as nice editions as I can afford. I’m also going to read the collection of stories written before the novels were written, Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal.

The Thrifty Knitter (and Reader… and Other Things Too)

I am at that awkward stage of the month where I have enough money to get to and from work-with maybe the odd Diet Coke thrown in- and to pay my phone bill. It’s OK, though, because I don’t need anything extra and the house bills are paid; I know I’m in a fortunate position. I have started thinking though, because D is now in nursery, which is more expensive than our previous childcare and we don’t get the extra help that comes when he turns three (in October) until January. So, with birthdays and (whisper it) Christmas on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about how to save a bit of money. I have form for this- when on my maternity leave three years ago, I had to do some financial gymnastics- but now we own our own house, have a car and live further out of town, so things are a bit more complicated. I’ve written in the past about my love of eBay shopping for clothes, but here are some more ideas I’ve had.

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For example, take knitting and my other crafty pursuits. I have loads of basic materials- yarns, needles, fabric, patterns and books. Do I usually buy more without too much thought? Yes. Could I instead think about what I have and use that instead? Yes. I have tons of knitting books and yarn stashed in most rooms of the house (and garage). I need to start using this up instead of automatically going on Ravelry to find something and then buy new wool. If I don’t have the wool, I don’t make it. Simple. I am going to finally start knitting the jumpers I’ve promised D and finish off a few WIPs.

books

I am a huge believer in libraries. I credit them with helping me through the dark days of early motherhood, when often the library was the only place I could get to. Most of the books reviewed on my book blog are library books and I’m lucky that Brighton and Hove has a brilliant library service. I also have TONS of books on my shelves that have yet to be read. But still, I am a compulsive book buyer and I buy every book with the intention of reading it. People buy me books too, as they know how much I love them. So my goal is to read more of what I have. I’m thinking for every three of my own books for every book I bring into the house- library or new.

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One of the hangovers from maternity leave is that my makeup budget is still quite modest. I generally buy cheaper brands (but, oh, I dream of owning a Chanel lipstick in the ‘Pirate’ shade, because who wouldn’t?) I do have a tendency though to go a bit mad when the new A/W shades are released though… so this year, I have decided that I won’t buy anything new until something is used up. Also, one of the first things to go in any lean period is my Lush habit. I can forgo bubble bars!

These are small ideas and kind of buy into (ha! PUNS!) the idea of consuming less, which is always a good thing. I’ll also be thinking about when and why I go into town- if I want to see friends, can I invite them here and bake a cake, instead of going out and buying a slice for the same amount it would’ve cost to make a whole one? Do I need more tea if I have some at home? I’m finding myself questioning whether I NEED or WANT stuff and find that, often, I can take or leave what I’m looking at. If I can leave it, then I can save a bit more money.

What are your thrifty tips?