The inclusion of muscovado sugar gives these classic cakes a delicious caramel flavour
Singing and sewing all the way to Australia and back
Erin Franklin is an awe inspiring young woman. I have known her since she was about ten years old, when I was introduced to her Mum and we became good friends. Over the years I have spent many a happy hour drinking tea in her farmhouse kitchen, with various comings and goings all centred around the hub of the house. I watched as Erin grew up into a beautiful young woman, and marvelled at the textile projects that were often strewn across the kitchen table, and the incredible drawings that her Mum showed me from time to time. When I was setting up my business in around 2007, I asked Erin and her sister Esme if they would model some of my ready made hand knitted accessories and bags, and thankfully they were game! As the girls became more busy during their GCSE and A level years, I saw less of them, but they still modelled for me from time to time. In 2013, Erin and her lovely friend Tori modelled for my first collection of patterns, and when I learnt that they were both studying Textiles A Level, I roped them in to help me in my workshop with preparing yarn and kits for sale. Their contribution was invaluable. They both had a natural eye not only for design but also for organisation - something which is not my strong point!
I am delighted to welcome Erin to my blog today to share her experiences of modelling for us, her hopes and dreams, and to tell us a little bit about the incredible year she is having in Australia.
1. I’ve known you for a long time, Erin, but can you remember when I first approached you about modelling and what your initial thoughts were about the idea?
I remember you first approaching my sister and I to model a couple of your hats many, many years ago! As I was much younger then, I think I was a lot shyer and, as happy as I was with the idea, very glad that my sister would be doing it with me!
Early photo shoots with Erin, 2007 - 2009 (above)
2. What was the first photo shoot like and how does it compare to the last one?
The first photo shoot was very different to the ones we have done more recently. I think, for you and I both, it was all very new, and we were definitely experimenting and learning along the way. There weren't many things to shoot and it was all much simpler. Whereas the last few shoots have been at really beautiful locations and they've lasted much, much longer because of the huge number of things that we have had to shoot. Unlike the first shoot, there are now outfit changes to be done and we are both used to what we are doing so everything seems to run a lot slicker. That doesn't mean that there aren't any stressful moments though, things can still go wrong and camera batteries can still run out!! (Libby: Yes, that was rather silly of me not to have a spare battery pack - lesson learnt!)
More recent photo shoots in 2014 (above)
3. Which was your favourite garment or accessory to model?
I think my favourite thing to model is the hats because there are always so many to swap around and choose from! Wearing hats is my favourite thing about winter, along with wrapping up in cosy snoods and beautiful wrist warmers - despite them being nice aesthetically though, it is sometimes a bit of a challenge being wrapped up in a thick coat, complete with hat, scarf and gloves on a hot summers day. (Libby: Yes, I did feel sorry for you last time, when it was a boiling hot day and you were wrapped up in winter woollies for hours! You didn't complain at all though.)
Some of the hats Erin has modelled for us (above)
4. Have you modelled for anyone else and is it something you would like to do again?
No, I haven’t modelled for anyone else - I don't think it's something I would pursue personally, but if I was asked by anyone else I definitely wouldn't say no because I love doing it!
5. You and your friend Tori have also worked for me in my workshop helping to prepare products for sale. You did an amazing job at organising the space, labelling and sorting products and making everything generally spick and span. Where do you think you get this organisational streak from?
I think my parents are both very organised, not necessarily in the same way as me, but I would say I definitely get it from them. My parents are very creative and both have a good eye for detail and I think I have inherited this from them too - I am a huge perfectionist and love things to be tidy. It's just natural for me to want things to look nice and neat, down to the tiniest detail.
6. You have a keen interest in textiles and did Textiles A Level. Do you think it is something you would like to pursue as a career at some point in the future or keep as a hobby?
I really love textiles, it is one of my main passions but I don't think I will be pursuing it as a career. As I said before, I am a huge perfectionist and when I create with textiles, it often takes me a long time to make something perfect - I never stop anything until it is up to my ridiculously high level of perfection. This has been frustrating for me, even when studying Textiles at A Level as teachers would be trying to teach me shortcuts and quick techniques and being stubborn, I wouldn’t listen and would do things the long way to ensure every single stitch was perfect. This has led me to think that it would just be best for me to do my own thing with my textiles and this way, I will enjoy doing it a lot more. I don't want my hobby to become something I associate with stress and deadlines, I'd like to keep it as something I like to do in my down time, as a skill to create things for myself and loved ones for many years to come.
7. What sort of things do you like designing and creating?
I love designing dresses - over the years I have made a few dresses that I have designed but they take up a lot of time that I don't really have at the moment and I would want to be able to give things like garments my full attention. At the moment I prefer to create quick and simple things for other people in little bursts of time that I have. Just recently, I have made 30 little draw-string bags for someone to give away, huge quantities of bunting for a local wedding and I always seem to be making cushion covers for somebody! These little creations for other people are what I love to make most!
8. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Apart from when I would make things at school, I don't really tend to properly design things. Often I will see things online, or in magazines, and just make them from scratch with no pattern, or I will see a problem or opportunity for something to be made and just grab the sewing machine and whip something up!
9. What are your other interests besides textiles?
As well as textiles, I have a huge interest in music. I have my Grade 8 Singing and taught myself to play the guitar too. I love singing in choirs and in youth bands and playing the guitar at home.
10. You’re currently on a gap year in Australia, can you tell us a bit about what you are doing and why you chose to have a gap year?
I chose to have a gap year because firstly, I wanted to take some time out from school. As I did Art and Textiles at A Level, this meant that I was always spending spare time completing coursework, so my last few years were extremely stressful and extremely time consuming. I also wanted to explore the world a bit more whilst I had the chance, I went to Uganda when I was 10 and fell in love with Africa so I knew Africa was somewhere I would like to go back to, sooner rather than later! I also wanted to get some proper life experience before university, as well as work experience that would help me with the university course I want to study.
I am currently living in Sydney, and have been for the past 5 months, as the start of my year away adventure. Here I am living with a family that have 3 children and I am working as their au pair. I look after the kids on weekdays and have the weekends to myself to explore this beautiful country - I am having truly the most incredible time and it is such an amazing way to see another part of the world.
11. Would you recommend Australia as a good location for a gap year, and if so, why?
Australia is so beautiful, so I would definitely recommend it as a good location. I have met lots of people that are also taking a year out here so it is definitely a popular thing to do right now and there are plenty of young people to meet.
12. What do you intend to do when you come back from Australia?
When I come back from Australia, I am doing a quick turnaround and heading out to Madagascar for 6 weeks to work in an orphanage. Not long after that, I will be off to Kenya to volunteer for a charity, called Mango Patch, that teaches African women how to sew, and looks after their children at the same time, so that they can earn money for themselves with this new skill. And finally, once my year abroad is up, I will begin my Paediatric Nursing degree at Kings College London in September, I'm very excited! (Libby: Thanks for sharing your story with us today, Erin and make sure you check back in to tell us all about the rest of your gap year adventures!)
A few years back, I designed a strawberry tea cosy and held a private Strawberry Tea Party in aid of Breast Cancer UK. Last year, I learnt about Prostate Cancer UK's Tea for Victory campaign, which is a similar fundraising idea, with a 1940s theme. I decided to design some tea cosies to help raise money for the event, and have been selling them in kit form for the last year, as well as the patterns, so people can make their own. This year, I thought it was time I got around to holding my own event to raise even more funds, and having found a great central venue in Stamford that was offered to us for free, I decided to make it a public event.
Today, after much preparation, baking, and hard work, not just from me but from my wonderful friends and family, the event finally happened! The event was run like a cafe, and we discovered that running a cafe is harder than it looks! You have to be totally on the ball the whole time, notice who has arrived, and who hasn't been served, make sure you write down the order correctly, then remember to leave them the 'bill' so they can pay! I kept leaving the bill in the kitchen and then dashing back for it only to find it had gone missing and have to write another one! The other thing I kept forgetting was the tea spoon! I even forgot to give one gentleman's a mug for his coffee! He very politely pointed this out when I returned with his bill - that I had left in the kitchen....Thankfully it wasn't all down to me, or chaos would have ensued.
Thanks to all the help we had in marketing the event, we had a steady flow of people all morning. At several points, every seat was taken, and some people couldn't even get in the door. This was a shame, and with the benefit of hindsight, I would have put the 'cake and kits' table at the front of the room, which might have encouraged a few more cake only or kit only sales.
I was particularly touched by the contribution of a member of the public who brought in two orchid plants that she had grown herself, to donate. It was such a lovely idea, and we sold them both.
I am delighted that together the people of Stamford and beyond have raised the grand total of £400 for Prostate Cancer UK! The actual amount in the cash box came to £395, but I thought I would top it up to £400 to make it a round number!
Thanks to everyone who came along and who donated so generously. I would also like to thank my Mum, my Dad, my husband, Liz, Jennie and Claire, the lady who donated the orchids and Emily from 'Cake That', who donated a box of beautiful cupcakes. Thank you to the local media who publicised the event, and to Rachel at Ewe Wool Shop, who told all her customers about it. I hope that everyone who came thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and will be as thrilled as I am to hear just how much we raised for Prostate Cancer UK today.
Halloumi and Pepper Couscous Salad
My daughter breaks up from school today and is having a friend over to celebrate. She put in a request for her favourite pudding, chocolate surprise pudding, earlier in the week. So really I have no excuse for discovering at 5pm, when I already have the butter sugar and flour measured out, that I haven't got any cocoa powder - the essential ingredient which creates the surprise.
There follows a moment of panic in which I flick through pudding cookbooks in search of a similar pudding recipe that doesn't use cocoa powder. This moment is followed by the realisation that all decent chocolate pudding recipes contain cocoa powder OR ridiculously large amount of chocolate, which I also don't have. Whilst weighing up the choice of jumping in the car and driving to the supermarket, ten minutes away, which would be, let's face it, a 30 minute round trip at least, for 2 tbsp of cocoa powder, or facing the disappointed faces, I suddenly had a brain wave. What is the closest thing to cocoa powder that I have in the house? Green and Black's Organic Hot Chocolate Drink. I decided to take a risk and substitute this for the cocoa powder - and face the consequences if it didn't work!
Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, of course. The verdict? This version was given 8/10 whereas the normal version always has 10/10, so if you have cocoa powder, use it! However, if not, then Green and Black's is a good alternative.
This recipe is one my Mum used to make all the time when we were kids, and I believe it came from her mother, so the actual origin is unknown. I am giving away a very special family secret by sharing this one with you. I hope you enjoy it!
Chocolate Surprise Pudding
1. Place all the Cake Ingredients, except for the milk, in a food processor or whisk together with an electric whisk. You will need to stop and scrape everything into the centre with a spatula half way through. When thoroughly combined, add the milk and whisk again until mixed in.
2. Tip the mixture into the prepared dish and smooth over with a spatula.
3. Sprinkle the dry sauce ingredients over the pudding to cover.
4. Pour over the boiled water. In preparation for placing in the oven, put a baking sheet on the bottom shelf of the oven (this catches any drips).
5. Place the pudding on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for approx 30 mins. Check after 20 mins. If the sauce is bubbling up the sides and the top is browning too quickly turn the oven down for the last 10 minutes.
The pudding is ready when the sponge is firm all the way through. You can test this with your finger in the centre of the pudding and it should spring back. It should also start to split to reveal the sponge beneath. If you are not sure, carefully insert a skewer into the centre. It should come out without liquid sponge mix on it. (it may have sauce on it though).
Spicy and Fruity Couscous Salad
Half way through the week the contents of my fridge tend to be a bit random. Lunch today was therefore an improvised effort made with leftovers and bits and pieces found in the cupboards and the fridge, but it was so good I have to share it. I ate it first to check it really was as good as it looks.
The basis of the recipe is the spicy dressing and the couscous. You can vary the other ingredients combinations depending on what you've got available, but try and pick a combination of fruit, seeds and salad veg.
I've got a lot on my plate at the moment, both with work and home life, and to try and relax and breathe out, baking is the filling in my work/home sandwich. On Saturday, I made a cake to take to my cousins house on Sunday. The recipe is adapted from an old one I scribbled down years ago in my favourite recipes book, and I've forgotten where it came from originally. Last time I made it, I didn't have enough ground almonds, so substituted some flour, and we all agreed it was delicious, so it has no become another recipe in its own right.
As the cake was for Sunday, I wanted to bake something for now, and it was a case of flicking through recipe books to work out what I had the ingredients for. I came across a recipe for 'Friands' which, as far as I can tell are light and fluffy versions of muffins. Of course, I had to adapt the recipe, ahem, to accommodate the actual amounts of ingredients I had, so in the process I invented another new recipe. My version also has chocolate chips in.
The friands use a whopping seven egg whites, so I set about creating a citrus curd recipe that would use seven egg yolks. I wanted it to be just lemon curd, but only had two lemons left after the lemon cake, so it had to be a mix of oranges and lemons.
Here are the recipes. I hope you enjoy them!
Libby's Luscious Lemon Cake
200g ground almonds
100g plain flour
4 medium eggs, separated
250g caster sugar
grated zest of one unwaxed lemon and juice of half of lemon
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
25g caster sugar
Libby's Luscious Lemon Cake
Chocolate Chip Friands
Chocolate Chip Friands
Finely grated zest and juice of two large lemons and 1 orange
250g caster sugar
125g butter, cut into small cubes
7 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Large clean jar
The results of an afternoon of baking
February half term is always a strange holiday. We are knee deep (literally for some) in the depths of winter here in the UK, all the more so because of the dreadful weather that we have been having. We are very lucky here in Lincolnshire that we have not been flooded (well, we did have to spend ONE afternoon shovelling water away from the garage). I feel for the poor people in other parts of the country who have lost their homes, or had to temporarily move out, or whose lives have been disrupted in some other way by the floods.
Disruptions come to all of us at some point, and I feel I have had more than my fair share of disruptions recently. As many of you will already know, I am writing a book, but my progress has been hampered by a significant disruption in my personal life, the details of which I cannot go into here and now.
At times of stress and distress, the small comforts of life seem to provide even more comfort than usual. I have been finding that baking and cooking are forms of therapy. Doing something normal, and something that it is intrinsically lovely, is so important for maintaining a sense of wholeness and just keeping going through a crisis.
Today I am fortunate to have all my children at home with me. We have been all doing different things this morning, but there has been a buzz of activity and a sense of company in the house, which I have welcomed. We all came together, as we always do, for a meal at lunch time. Yesterday we had a roast dinner, and there was just a little bit of chicken left over, so I made a chicken soup. I was rather pleased with the results, so I thought I would share it. This is for those people who need a little comfort in their lives. Remember that book 'Chicken Soup for the Soul'? Well, I never read it, so I have no idea what it was about, but I genuinely believe that a homemade meal, shared with family or friends, feeds the soul as well as the body.
Approx. 100g left over roast chicken, cooled and diced
4 slices of pancetta or a large handful of cubed pancetta
1 stick of celery
4 - 5 button mushrooms
1 tsp of dried tarragon (replace with another herb if you don't have tarragon
Left over chicken gravy topped up with boiling water to around 1 litre
1 tbsp olive oil
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Prepare the veg, by chopping it all into small dice. You are not going to blend this soup, so it is really important to get all the veg the same size, as you are making a 'soffrito' (click on the link for info about this) . You don't want it quite as small as you would if you were making a sauce, but smaller than you would chop it for a pie; so about 1cm square is about right.
Chop the pancetta into 1cm pieces and dry fry in a large pan (preferably with a solid copper base). When it is just turning crispy, but not too crispy, add 1 tbsp of olive oil, the herbs and the veg. Give everything a good stir.
Fry the veg with the pancetta and herbs for a few minutes, stirring every so often, until the veg is just turning golden and starting to soften. Don't over-fry. You shouldn't let the edges start to go brown.
Add the chopped chicken and the gravy stock and stir. Bring to just below the boil slowly, reduce the heat immediately pop a lid on and simmer gently for a maximum of ten minutes. Serve sprinkled with the parsley.
I'm crazy about yarn, Scotland, food, my husband and my three girls, and I live in a perpetual state of organised chaos. Some just call it creativity.