School fair cake competition

School baking competition

I adored baking as a child. I was always whipping up little cupcake creations in the kitchen after school, although I’ve never lived down my toothpaste decorated banana cake made aged six.

There’s always heaps of baking activity at my kids’ school. We have a lively Friday cake sale and all the PTFA activities tend to be fuelled by homemade cakes. So this year, inspired by the Great British Bake-Off I decided this year to host the first ever baking competition at my children’s summer school fair.

Once planned it was very easy to do. I divided it into three categories: nursery to year 2, year 3 to year 6 and grown-ups. The kids were judged by decoration only and the grown ups on decoration, taste and texture. They had to enter with a sponge or fairy cakes and the theme was London celebrations 2012.

I felt fair and serious judging was critical to the competition’s success and tracked down a representative from the West Ealing WI who agreed to come and judge the cakes. We were also very lucky to have Lucy Lovelly from Vanilla Frost Cakes on the panel too. I rustled together some fabulous prizes from and was donated a voucher from the great Kids’ Cookery School in Acton – a must go place for budding little chefs. So with the high calibre judges and lovely prizes in place all that was needed was a large promotion campaign to get all the kids baking in time. I pinned a poster around the school, emailed all the class reps and added a note to the PTFA newsletter with the details. Then I just had to wait, somewhat nervously, and see what arrived on the day of the fair.

The fair opened at 12pm and the cakes started trickling in from 11am. The love and detail that went into decorating the cakes was staggering. We were all really impressed. The WI’s arrival caused a ripple of excitement and once they’d donned their sashes and set to work we knew the judges meant business.

There was an air of excitement around the tables too as the kids watched the judges and awaited the results! After a tense hour the winners were decided. I made my way to the mic to make the announcements. The winners were thrilled, the cakes were sold off in moments to hungry onlookers, raising lots of money for the school. The rainbow cake we sold for £1 a slice – not a colourful crumb was left by 2pm. The kids had the option to take their cakes home – some did (can’t blame them after all the hours they put into the decoration) and many were happy to donate. Take a look at the gallery of pictures of all the entries and the stunning winning cakes!

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Thank you to Katie Bryson from Feeding Boys and a Firefighter and Emma Drew from My Vox Songs for the beautiful pictures. Katie whipped up the most delicious red velvet cake – my personal favourite. The icing was melt in the mouth delicious. I was too busy faffing about with my clipboard and talking to the excited entrants to take many pictures.

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Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant

The little boats arriving

Colourful boats

Heading up the Thames

1,000 boats paddled, steamed and sailed down the river for The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Thames PageantThames Pageant.

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Neon night at Coldplay


Coldplay at Emirates last night was a sea of beautiful bobbing bright neon.
Stad rock gigs are epic in size and we were high up in the gods of Emirates (in cheapskate seats) but the neon wristbands brought a real sense of intimacy and excitement to the gig. 60,000 fans all flashing pink, green and blue. Great show!


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What I learnt at Cookery School

Learning to chop an onion
I was delighted to be invited to the Tesco Real Food magazine cookery event last week, where 5 blogger s whipped up at Jubilee street party spread at the Cookery School. I’m a self-taught cook and conscious of my hazardous chopping skills and limited knowledge of the basics so was ready to learn some new tricks and tips from the inspirational principal of the school Rosalind Rathouse (@RosalindsW1).

The top 11 things I learnt at Cookery School

1. A sharp knife is essential for good chopping and slicing.

2. When chopping, always keep your hand on top of your knife so you don’t cut your finger off. It sounds obvious but I sometimes find my fingers wandering around my onion or carrot. Luckily my knives are so blunt they can’t do much damage.

3. Place used knives into the little side sink away from the pots and pans. I’ve scratched my hand before in the sink so will always remember to do this from now onwards.

4. For whizzy, professional looking chopped herbs, bunch together into a ball and then chop in a circular motion listening for the crunch.

5. Blanche onions in hot water then stick in the fridge before adding to salads, couscous etc. It takes the overpowering taste away.

6. Taste as you cook – very obvious.

7. Don’t double dip to taste or contaminate your surface with dirty spoons. Keep a little rankin handy to put store used utensils.

8. Poach chicken. This took minutes. It’s simple to do and a very healthy way to cook chicken. I’m going to try this for sandwiches, chicken salad and picnics as it’s much less messy than roasting.

9. The secret of a great bake is all in the mixing. Cream the butter and sugar or egg and sugar until white. No wonder super-cooks love their KitchenAid mixers.

10. I wouldn’t say homemade custard is simple to make but the taste is sensational. You can turn homemade custard into ice cream too – it’s the same recipe.

11. The top tip of the night was to use the microwave to toast nuts. Microwave for 30 seconds on high, shake and put back in. Keep doing it until you have lovely brown tasty nuts.

A big thank you to head chef Rosalind. As with all great teachers, Rosalind made everything – including whisking custard – look simple. She was a stream of top tips and quick shortcuts and revitalised my interest in cooking at home – and being a little bit braver and more experimental in the kitchen.

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Jubilee street party cook-off with Tesco Real Food

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Last night I was invited to a fabulous Jubilee inspired event hosted by Tesco Real Food magazine in the Cookery School at Little Portland Street, W1. I was cooking alongside top food bloggers Claire from Crumbs, Michelle from Utterly Scrummy, … Continue reading

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My Literary Quiz



Do you know your Austen from your Bronte? Have you devoured the Booker Prize winners? Do your shelves groan with great reads? If you think you’re a book worm, then test your literary knowledge here…

1. Which Thomas Hardy novel is about a man who sold his wife and daughter?

2. The book series, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin was set in which city?

3. Which recent best-seller was based on the horrific Josef Fritzl case?

4. What was the name of the book adaption movie starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio as a married couple living in the American suburbs in the 1950s?

5. Which 80s teen series featured the twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield?

6. What was the name of Salman Rushdie’s book that caused huge outrage and led to a fatwa calling for his death?

7. Whose first two novels are Hideous Kinky and Peerless Flats?

8. Name all five of the Famous Five

9. What was Alice Sebold’s best-selling debut?

10. What was the only book for children by Ian Fleming – James Bond author

11. Throughout the novel, Dickens character Miss Havisham famously wears which outfit?

12. What was the name of Homer’s epic work set in the time before the Trojan War?

13. Which 80s bonkbuster book catapulted Jilly Cooper to fame?

14. Milo Mindbender is a character in which iconic book?

15. Name the world’s most translated, studied and widely read non-fiction diary.

16. The Bennet family appear in which Jane Austen novel?

17. Can you name the writer of The Color Purple?

18. About which otter did Henry Williamson write a 1927 novel?

19. Which classic novel featured the dark and brooding Heathcliff?

20. Who wrote the Twilight series of novels?

21. “I will not drink more than 14 alcohol units a week” – which book character famously said this?

22. The poet Ted Hughes was married to which famous author?

23. Which book is this the opening line from:

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”

24. What was the title of the first Harry Potter book?

25. Which literary characters set out on a journey from the Tabard Inn in Southwark?

26. Which Austen character famously told Miss Bates to shut up?

27. Can you name the 3 leading literary titans of the American Beat Generation? – 1960s writers

28. Can you name the two lead charactors in David Nicholls’ hit book One Day?

29. Who wrote Frankenstein?

30. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” can you match this quote to the classic book?

Scoring: the highest points you can get are 41 e.g in question 4 you’d get 2 points for naming the book and author. You can adapt as you please to your audience of quizzers!

I’ll post the answers below…. No peeking!

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World Book Night


23rd April 2012 is World Book Night and I’m a giver. The book I’ve chosen to give away is an old favourite – I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith.

I read this book just after I graduated from university and was feeling a bit lost. Back at home, not really sure how to break into the job market I had the realisation that life is not always simple and easy! I Capture The Castle takes you into the enchanting and eccentric world of Cassandra. She lives in rambling, run down castle with her brother,sister, ultra glamorous step-mother and father, an author suffering from serious writer’s block. Cassandra is a brilliant character and from the opening line you are drawn into her world.

There’s not enough books with funny, quirky, bright and articulate heroines. Cassandra’s a young girl who gets quite a lot of things wrong, but also is wise and astute.

Her coming of age story really struck a chord with me back in 1997 and I’m looking forward to re-reading it now that I’m so grown up, y’know!

I’ll be giving copies away of this book on World Book Night. I might even throw in a slice of
cheese and glass of wine – maybe a candlelit reading too. If you haven’t read this book then add it to your list right now. Tempted? You can read an extract from
I Capture The Castle on the World Book Night website.

Dodie Smith is best known as the writer of the classic, The Hundred and One Dalmations.

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