Afternoon Tea at Kensington Palace Orangery

This post has been on hold for a while! Which seems fair because the birthday treat for Steph was also pretty late.

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A full afternoon tea treat

It was a scorching hot summer day in London and we sought the cool interior of the orangery at Kensington Palace to hide from the glare. Now, i’m not very used to frequenting fancy eateries, and on first glance the orangery did look rather fancy. There were men in expensive looking suits and very well dressed yummy mummies enjoying afternoon treats. Our waiter, however, was new to the job and more than overjoyed at having us to serve. He made us feel very welcome, even though he forgot to bring us plates and we had to sneak over to the shelf and help ourselves when nobody was looking. Sometimes an honest nature and good attitude makes it easy to overlook a person’s mistakes – or perhaps it is just very British not to want to embarrass the waiter by pointing out that he didn’t wait on you very well!  IMG_0929

The afternoon tea itself was lovely. We loved the teacups, which reminded us that we were in a royal venue! They set the scene for a very British experience. Scones that Mary Berry would have been pleased with, except for those nasty sultanas snuck into two of them. The selection of cake was also very quintessential, lemon tarts and Victoria sponge. Looking back it was as if our afternoon tea was foreshadowing the Bake Off final! The cake was all very well done, the passion fruit tart was my favourite and I know Steph would say the chocolate was hers. I shall judge the experience on the Victoria Sponge, because it is classic and if a restaurant isn’t getting that right then they are going wrong. It was a decently moist cake but with a slightly odd jelly-ish filling rather than jam which didn’t really stick the two halves together. A very good try at modernising perhaps, but it could have done with a gooey-er filling.

Ratings:

Atmosphere: 6/7  – really lovely feeling and welcoming atmosphere.

Cake: 5/7 didn’t wow me.

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A Jamaican adventure paid for by my students, Week 2: Ocho Rios

Week 2 was about getting out of Kingston and into the Jamaican countryside. Ocho Rios is the main tourist destination of Jamaica and is a fairly small coastal town with many luxurious resorts. We made sure we spent our time on the beach and by the pool. There were surprisingly few actual tourists about in town except on cruise ship days, giving a nice local feel to the area, but not so good for the Jamaican economy because all the tourists hide in their all-inclusive hotels.

View from my apartment window

View from my apartment window

This does mean that the local souvenir sellers were very pushy at times – I was even followed down the road by a man on a motorbike who it turned out was only trying to sell me a CD. 

Ocho Rios finally tested my teacherly role on the trip when a student fell ill with a stomach bug that looked suspiciously like a hangover. I spent a whole day playing nurse as I tended her bedside and watched Frozen on quiet in the girl’s living room. As a result, I can’t tell you what Montego Bay is like! It did make me feel slightly less guilty about spending my other days in the pool however, where I was definitely not actively teaching anybody anything. 

As a food enthusiast I can’t miss out on telling you the types of food I ate in Kingston. The meals tend to be rather veg low; meat or fish with the stereotype rice and peas. I have eaten so much chicken and rice and peas that I am now on a chicken detox. It was all rather delicious. Jerk chicken was most yummy and not as spicy as I was fearing. I ate sweet sweet honey roast

Some takeaway curry goat

Some takeaway curry goat

plantain and sweet potato. Callaloo, a kale-like dark green vegetable steamed or cooked with salt fish for a deep flavour. Ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica, actually a rather tasteless white fruit but cooked with salt fish for a meaty tasting breakfast. Patties for lunch, like a Cornish pasty but with thin spicy pastry. So many new tastes to explore and enjoy. 

Now my favourite food swiftly became a side dish known as festivals. These are apparently fairly new  to Jamaican cuisine and were invented by adding sugar to the traditional Jamaican Johnny Cakes (dumplings)  and making them into a stick shape, They are, in all honesty, doughnuts. There is no other way to describe deep fried sugary dough. Doughnut like carbs as a legitimate side for dinner? I was very quickly addicted. I had festivals with my chicken, festivals and fresh cooked fish, festivals for lunch. I now miss eating such obviously unhealthy food as my dinner, but I can’t quite justify rinsing off a doughnut and eating it with my roast so I will try to live without. 

The highlight of the week for me was Dunn’s River Falls. A very touristy spot and not cheap at all, but we went early so it wasn’t busy and the guided climb up the waterfalls was a fantastic experience and a good change from the constant lying by the pool or beach. Not exactly a hard life you are thinking, being forced to relax by the pool in Jamaica for free, and I would agree with

Walking up the falls

Walking up the falls

you. I did, however, start to go a little stir crazy towards the end when I became bored of the one street and stretch of beach that Ocho Rios has to offer. I like to walk. Usually I walk for about forty minutes every day. Jamaica is not conducive for walking, there are no pavements on the main roads and when you walk too far up the beach a security guard turns you around before you encroach on a hotel’s private stretch. By the end of fourteen days I was looking forward to coming home to somewhere I could explore without a car. 

 

Thanks Jamaica, in the words of the lego movie, everything was awesome. 

 

A Jamaican adventure paid for by my students, Week 1: Kingston

I had been careful to have absolutely no expectations before I boarded my nine hour flight to the other side of the world. It was as far away from home as I had ever been and I wasn’t paying a penny – awesome. I also had to be a responsible adult in charge of four teenage girls. I think describing myself as out of my depth would have been an understatement. I was downright terrified. Warned not to take anything valuable with me in case it was ‘ripped off me’, I had even left my engagement ring at home and had packed a first aid kit to cover all eventualities. What lay ahead were two weeks where I experienced so many things that I am going to struggle to fit them into two blog posts. 

When we popped out into the Caribbean heat my first thought was ‘wow, where’s the water?’ Driving through Kingston to our hostel really gave us a feel for the city. The two main imaginatively named areas, downtown and uptown, were polar opposites. Downtown is the poorer area, packed with houses whose inhabitants stood outside on the street chatting and cooking food but also where the shops were all protected by an iron grille with a small serving hatch.

A rum punch from the Usain Bolt bar in uptown Kingston.

A rum punch from the Usain Bolt bar in uptown Kingston.

Uptown is more modern and buzzing, with lots of traffic, shopping malls and bars. The most striking feature were the street hawkers who would wander between the cars at traffic lights. This seemed odd at first but by the end of the week totally practical. I wish in England someone would sell me a morning paper and some local bananas directly to my car window during rush hour. 

At no time did I feel in danger. This was the biggest surprise, after being warned of the dangers of Jamaica I found myself walking down a street in central Kingston feeling safe and secure. Jamaicans are very friendly and they want you to fall in love with their country. The most common question I was asked after ‘where are you from?’ was ‘when will you come back?’. 

Up at the monks' retreat in the Blue Mountains

Up at the monks’ retreat in the Blue Mountains

Now, a place that cannot go without mention is the Blue Mountains. A retreat away from the city, a trip up into the peaks was a breathtaking experience. The tropical splendour of the scenery combined with the views back down over Kingston were fantastic. After an almost two hour drive upwards we popped out at a picnic park complete with pagodas and BBQ areas. That was the most surreal picnic I

have ever had, over 3000ft above sea level and at times in the clouds. 

Kingston is not the most tourist friendly city, there are a few attractions to see, but we weren’t there to be tourists. We took the students to Kingston so that they could work with some of the poorer citizens of Jamaica. They taught a summer school for HIV positive boys living in an orphanage. HIV/AIDS is still a taboo in Jamaica but a charity called Mustard Seed provides homes for HIV positive children. We also worked in a home for disabled children run by monks from the

Me and one of the children, Nicola.

Me and one of the children, Nicola.

Missionaries of the Poor. Working in these homes was the real highlight of the trip for me. An eye opener for the students and a truly unique experience. I loved working with the children. The conditions of the disabled children’s home, known as Bethlehem, seemed shocking and stark at first. However, when I thought about the poverty of the surroundings in Downtown Kingston and I was given an idea of the relatively low standard of free healthcare in Jamaica generally, I saw them in a better light. The children were kept well fed and clean and, the longer I was there the more I realised, they were very well loved. The monks, staff and volunteers doted on those children who were so much fun to be around. I will never forget their joyful faces and the happiness they gave to everybody around them, despite the stark reality of their situation.

The most important message we all learnt in that week was that life is simply luck. We are all lucky to have been born into developed countries. The only thing between our lives and those of the children in that home is the chance of our birth.

The end of week one; I hadn’t been mugged, I had only used my first aid kit for mosquito bites and no student had done anything untoward, yet. I had survived in a very different country, but more than that, I had loved every second. Now off to Ocho Rios for a week of relaxation! 

Garden Museum Cafe

Would you like to know about a secret quiet space in Central London? Wouldn’t every Londoner? Well I discovered one on Sunday.

We all need a little calm time in our lives, I could do with some right now. I am writing this sat at Gatwick airport waiting to take 4 students on a once in a lifetime trip to Jamaica. They have all flown long haul before. I have not. I’ll let you know how we get on in 2 weeks time.

Just down the road from Waterloo station, attached to Lambeth Palace, is a garden museum. In the museum is a cafe, which is free to enter and set both inside a deconsecrated church as well as the pretty gardens outside it. Charlie and I found our way inside wandering down the south bank and it is in the book!
The cake selection was not huge but it was the most homemade looking cake so far! And with rather adventurous flavours. We could choose between: courgette, ginger and lime; butternut squash or orange almond and rosemary. Charlie opted for the courgette and I went for orange.
We sat outside in the lovely garden and it was so peaceful, particularly because it started raining gently. There was nobody else around and we sat under a tree eating cake. We felt like the only people in the world!
The cake tasted very homemade, which is a compliment. It wasn’t perfectly shaped and iced but tasted like it was lovingly stirred and watched in the oven. I don’t know how you can mix love into a cake but I’m sure that’s what makes home baked cakes different. Charlie’s lime and courgette cake was rather like a carrot cake but green. Soft and crumbly, cream cheese topping, not a particularly strong lime or ginger flavour. Very subtle. Mine was also very moist, I was very impressed with the sponge itself. The flavour was less impressive. I could taste everything and there was rosemary in the cake, but it was a little underwhelming. Perhaps too experimental for their own good?

Ratings:
Atmosphere: 7/7 – try and go on a quiet day
Cake: Me 6/7 Charlie 5.5/7

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Cupcakeathon. Lola’s Cupcakes

Today it is raining, but for this post I need you to cast your mind back to when it was hot. I mean really hot. The kind of hot which makes us British wish for rain. It was that sort of hot Sunday when I had to dress for a one day flying visit to Windsor, to see a priest. Yes that’s right, you may be aware that I am planning a wedding at the moment, and the time had come to go and see the priest.

What do you wear to see a priest on the hottest day of the year? I needed demure yet cool, smart casual but sweat-proof. I ended up in a cardigan, strappy top and skirt. Cardigan = coverage right? Well I thought I had nailed it but from the moment I entered the perfectly cool house of the priest and shook his hand, any evidence of sweat proofing left and I promptly stuck to the armchair I was sat in. I guess I am just one of those sweaty people.(Do they exist or is it just me?) Stick me in an awkward situation and I will swiftly sweat away, not profusely, but like a nice cold pint of cider which fogs up on a hot day. I always have done and always will do. Luckily the priest was very friendly and didn’t notice that my handshake on the way out was slightly damper than on the way in.

After getting lost in the backstreets of my home town, being a bit late, meeting the priest, explaining why I wanted to get married in my own church back home, walking across Windsor in the heat, dodging the triathlon taking place in front of the station entrance and missing a train, I finally made it back to the air-conditioned safety of a carriage. Here I could escape the heat and found myself having a little train nap to recover from a busy day of travel and excitement.

It has been a while since I have eaten cake; wedding planning and working many Saturdays has not been cake friendly. So imagine my excitement when I crossed Waterloo station towards the Jubilee line entrance and saw this shining in the distance!

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Amazing! Lola’s Cupcakes hasn’t been reviewed yet so Charlie and I excitedly bought 4 cupcakes just for us! I gave them each their own photo shoot. We eventually chose Banoffee, Raspberry, Chocolate Truffle and Peanut Butter but there was a ridiculous amount of choice. They were the perfect after dinner pick me up to remedy a hot stressy day and prepare for a week away with 32 school children on PGL. More on PGL later.

Review time! I wasn’t sure what to expect because Lola’s Cupcakes has expanded a lot recently and I’m always wary of the quality of mass produced cake. I was pleasantly surprised. I must start with the Banoffee cupcake because it was the best. The best cupcake ever that is! It simply had that moist texture that cupcakes don’t normally have. It tasted just like I imagine a slice of the cake would, and the slightly cream-cheesy icing was perfect. A good banana and toffee flavour with chunks of chewy banana as well. YUM!

The chocolate truffle cupcake was second up with a delicious chocolate ganache topping to die for and decorated with actual chocolate truffles. A gooey chocolate filling finished it off. The sponge, however, was missing that moist cake texture and was verging on the dry. The raspberry and peanut butter were both very good cupcakes. The buttercream was flavoursome and tasty with a creamy texture. Both however were slightly dryer than I would have wanted. Although I am very fussy, and they were by far the best cupcakes tasted so far!

4 Large cupcakes sitting in a box...

4 Large cupcakes sitting in a box…

Ratings:

Banoffee: 7/7!!!                 Chocolate Truffle: 6/7              Peanut Butter and Raspberry: 5/7

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Paul

Frangipagne

Summer Term is meant to be the quiet term. When we calm down before the summer holidays. I feel busier than ever at the moment. Working lots of weekends coming up means less cake time, but I hope to make it up during summer. Today’s blog is a rather belated write up of cake from last Wednesday when I was still on half term and had the time for cake related shenanigans.

A long overdue catch up day out with Steph. Steph and I are both going to be brides in the near future so we had a trip to one of my favourite discoveries in London, and a place that has already featured on this blog, the V&A. We were off to their new Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 exhibition to pick up some tips. If you have never planned a wedding before – and I haven’t yet either – I can let you know from my experience so far that it is far more stressful than you think. I have only just begun my journey to the aisle and I am sure I have already spent more hours in the planning to plan stage than hours there will be on the day itself. Yes, I have spreadsheets that plan my planning. That is perhaps all I should say on the matter at the moment.

The final week of May was not a sunny one this year and I had had to dig out a jacket and some tights for the occasion, a definite step back from summer. A nice lunch Al Fresco in Kensington was not such a welcome idea so we headed to Paul instead for some extravagant french patisserie hidden away in their upstairs dining room. It was warm and decorated with some rustic looking pottery that made me feel right at home. I love a good ancient looking pot. A light lunch of quiche set us up nicely and we both had to have an orangina or two, because, well, when in Rome… Then came cake time. What a tough decision it was this time around, such yummy French desserts to choose from. Steph went in for the classic Tartelette Chocolat, a one person chocolate lover’s paradise.I always have eyes bigger than my stomach so in the name of cake blog I went for a frangipane because it is essentially a CAKE IN A TART! The original hybrid. Who cares about the Cronut when you can have a sweet pastry case filled with almond flavoured cake and topped with more almonds? Heaven! If only I had snuck in some amaretto to go with it. I even bought some little choux pastry buns on the side because choux pastry is SO French.

Steph’s chocolate tart was excellently done. Rich, dark, smooth and gooey ganache filling that gleamed slightly on top. Crisp pastry tart around. Fantastic. The Frangipane was a ‘eat it really slowly so it lasts ages’ type of dessert. Lovely almond flavour, melt in your mouth sponge. The super shiny top upped the presentation credentials as well. The little choux pastry buns whose name I can’t remember or find on the Paul website were enjoyable even though I must admit i’m not the greatest fan of this pastry. I would never normally pick an eclair over a cake but these were sweet and tasty. They could have been crispier I feel as there wasn’t much ‘bite’ to them. Other than that I must owe it to you Paul, in the words of today’s youth, you did good. As the biggest chain bakery I have reviewed so far I was nervous that the products would feel somehow less loved than the effort that goes into a small cafe’s cake, but everything at Paul looked special in itself. So Paul is, as it’s my only French Patisserie so far, the best. I would recommend you go next time you want to eat something that sounds fancier than a Carrot Cake and is guaranteed to taste good, even if it is from a place I have always thought of as the Gregg’s of Paris.

Ratings:

Cake: Me: 6 Steph: 5

Atmosphere: 4  – a decent place to linger but not the cosiest.

Well this blog post was so much fun to write because of all the french words I was able to use! I know that none are accented but i simply can’t work out how to do it on here/ it’s past my bedtime on a school night and I am willing to forgo accent accuracy.

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Nordic Bakery

Rain rain go away come again another day.

Today was a doesn’t stop raining all day kind of day. I broke with my fashion sense and wore my lime green waterproof into Central London. It turned out to be a good idea! It seems like a long time since there had been a day like this, a curl up and stay in bed if you can day. It’s half term for me so I met up with Clare for a catch up. As a dear Norwegian friend is coming to stay tonight I thought the Nordic Bakery in Soho was the perfect choice!

We both braved the rain and fought our way to the Golden Square. The Nordic bakery was rather inconspicuous and when we finally found the door among the camouflage of wood we found a rather sparsely decorated cafe with dark decor. There was a tasty display of cakes and rye bread sandwiches. I tried out a Danish salami and cheese rye bread roll and a Karelian Pie. The sandwich was hearty, heavier than a white bread roll and very mustardy! I couldn’t quite eat the whole thing. The pie was so unusual looking I knew I had to try it! A savoury potato pie with what I assume was a pastry case but it was so thin you didn’t notice it when eating. The filling tasted like buttery mash potato. The whole thing was rather like eating a cold jacket potato skin smothered in butter – a nice experience and I would quite like to see what the rice filling would have been like. Clare went for the quiche, perhaps a safer option, and it was good!

Well that was lunch. We were already quite full by this point but we couldn’t leave without trying what we came for. This is a cake blog, not a lunch blog. So Clare want for the Apple Tosca Bun and I opted for the Tosca cake. Tosca it turns out is flaked almonds cooked in a layer of caramel. Yum.

Clare’s bun looked tasty but lacked the apple taste she wanted. It lacked something special to make it stand out. My Tosca layer was very tasty, not as crunchy as I expected, a layer of nutty caramel on top of the cake. The cake underneath was heavy and slightly on the dry side. If there is one thing I have learnt about Nordic eating it is that they like heavy stodge. I suppose this fits the climate, but it was still a bit too much for me in the English drizzle. My stomach was not happy with me after my meal.

A combination of the rain outside, the sparse decor and two overfull stomachs inspired us to leave the Nordic bakery and seek the comfort of my flat where it was warm, dry and there was plenty of soft furnishings to lie out on!

The Nordic Bakery, good for a hearty take away lunch, not one for a lingering catch up.

Ratings:
Cake: Me 4 Clare 3 – perhaps very good recreations of Nordic baking, but not my cup of tea.
Atmosphere: 3. They gain points for free water but could have been more friendly.

How do you spend your rainy days?

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