We’ve been westward-bound this week soaking up the beauty of the English countryside and catching up with Bake Off friends.
There’s not been much baking from me this week but I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy other people’s scoff instead. I’ve been working outdoors all week felling cherry and pear trees in the rain (see above). Felling in the rain is fun, but you start off with loads of cover and end up with none! It’s always good to get the chainsaw out though and it’s stocked me up on firewood for the winter. My fruit trees at home are coming into their own at the moment; my Victoria plums are ready, as are my blackcurrants, blueberries, white currants and raspberries. The kids love picking their own breakfasts these days and have built up quite a tolerance to unripe fruit through years of impatient scrumping. We’re pretty lucky to have a garden in London with space to grow fruit and vegetables, so we try to make the most of it!
My wife Sarah, our friend Helena and I had a great night out in town on Thursday. We were invited to the launch event of The Paint Republic. I had no idea what to expect but we turned up at Prezzo in Haymarket to find the whole downstairs set up with easels, canvases, aprons and paint. The concept is pretty simple but really good fun. Over the course of a few hours (alongside about 30 other people) you drink beer, eat pizza, listen to music and learn how to paint a picture. It’s aimed at people who like most of us haven’t painted since school and the more you get into it, the more you relax about what you’re creating (my effort below).
I’ve got to the ripe old age of 40 without ever going to an office Christmas party – pretty easy if you’ve never worked in an office! But I reckon this would be a great idea for one, or for a birthday. They can arrange them for groups of 15 or more anywhere in the UK, not just London, and I’d love to do one again. Check out their Facebook page for more information on how to book, here, and get in quick if it’s your job to sort the work Christmas do!
We’re just back from a long weekend in the English countryside tonight. Like a right pair of townies, we made a bit of an assumption that everything west of London is roughly in the same place, but it’s involved a fair amount of driving. On Friday, we went along to the first ever Countryfile Live show at Blenheim Palace. Among the regular nine million Countryfile viewers, half of them are actually urban dwellers like us. It’s perfect Sunday night telly but does give you that feeling of putting off doing your homework as a kid. It’s often the reason I post my blog so late on Sunday evenings as I usually stop to watch it. I go to a lot of festivals and events and Countryfile Live was a fantastic day out. There was too much to see in a day though so I think next year we might want to camp for the weekend and explore even more, or try and get there earlier. It had the best aspects of a super-sized country show, a food festival and a craft fair rolled into one. I loved the chainsaw displays but I’m not sure how well this would go down at work! I’m looking forward to going again next year already. Maybe Timbersports will be my new hobby?! (If you have no idea what Timbersports are – take a look at this…)
We went to Countryfile Live with our friends Heidi and Pip and Heidi’s daughter Emma. Heidi writes the Great British Bake Off Live Blog for The Guardian, as well as the Strictly and Eurovision blogs. Ever since she wrote (nice things) about me two years ago, we’ve become good friends. She also happens to be a pretty awesome baker herself so after Countryfile Live we had a Brazilian-inspired night back at their home in Wiltshire, with marinaded beef, Brazilian truffles and puddings, and a fair few caipirinhas. We put in our best efforts to stay up and watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony on Friday night but I eventually called it a night after Team GB’s parade. They paraded alphabetically, and so in my tired state I was glad we came out in the Gs for Great Britain, rather than the Us for United Kingdom, or I would have been of no use to anyone the following day. Pip is a fantastic carpenter but went back to basics on Saturday morning, turning a big log and a rope into a swing for our daughters, down by the river (see picture above). We all spent the morning swinging and splashing about until it was time to set out on the next leg of our journey (via the awesome Gloucester Services!)
We’d been invited to Shropshire to celebrate the Golden Wedding Anniversary of Diana (from my series of the Bake Off) and her husband Malcolm. Diana is a fantastic cook and spoilt us all rotten while we stayed with them – incredible dinner, cakes and brunch and a treasure hunt for the kids. You eat seriously well when you visit Bake Off contestants! It was so nice catching up with Claire, Jordan, Martha, Diana and all her family. It’s taken all my willpower to resist the offer to stay another night, but now we know the complicated, single-track route through the Shropshire farmland that leads to their house, we will definitely be back.
People are often surprised that the prize for winning Bake Off is only a glass cake plate. But as we said throughout the filming of the show, the real prize is the friendships we made and continue to enjoy. It’s only a few more weeks to wait until the next series starts and I hope this year’s batch feel the same way about each other.
We’re off to France next week in one of the awesome Spaceships campervans in the video above, so no blog from me for a couple of weeks. But I’m planning to do a lot of cooking in the campervan while we’re away, following on from my pretty successful ‘bread on a camping stove‘ experiment earlier this year. I’ll keep you posted on what I get up to on Twitter and Instagram while I’m away so until the next blog, Happy Baking!