Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Getting Better

After weeks of talking about it perhaps the time has come to test the crazy cupcake dream out properly.

I spent some serious time last weekend costing the basic ingredients. Sat on the deck in this glorious spring sunshine I compared the price of basic, own brand, branded and luxury flours, fats, sugars and eggs. I then calculated the cost per batch of cakes, chose a few classic flavours and ordered the ingredients and equipment required. Nothing like getting stuck in and seeing just how many cupcakes can be made in a day, how exhausting/stressful/exciting/much fun it can be. And then of course establishing if anyone wants to eat or better still buy some.

Leaving work tomorrow gives me the ideal opportunity to test things out. 6 boxes of cakes as a gift to colleagues and friends. Four batches - vanilla, fresh lemon, chocolate orange and red velvet. Baked to perfection in 38mm tall funky greaseproof cases, supported in brand new deep muffin tins.

Baking the cakes was the delightful bit - as the ingredients blended together and the cakes magically rose in the heat of my recently repaired rangemaster. The aroma of fresh baking drew Ian in from his studio, but of course they were not yet iced - that was this afternoon's task.

And that was when the "fun" started. No problem with the basic buttercream - in spite of the hand whisk having died last weekend. But the chocolate ganache set so hard it blocked the Wilton #1 nozzle I had finally sourced. Let's just say it's no longer a standard #1. Messing around with colours, cream cheese, more chocolate frosting and still no hand whisk made for an afternoon of hot water, washing up, throwing away endless disposable piping bags and wondering why I ever thought this was a good idea.

But once they were iced, and finished with edible glitter, wafer flowers and other assorted delights - wow! They started to look very good. Definitely getting better at this and beginning to believe there may be a market out there for them.

What do you think?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Bit of a boast

The Perfect Cupcake

Not so much a blog post today - more a blog boast ;-)

I wouldn't dream of saying so myself, but who am I to doubt Dave's comment last night that these cupcakes are perfect? That not only is the icing good (top priority till you reach a certain age surely?) but the actual cake is moist and flavoursome?

High praise indeed and felt worthy of it's own little post and pic. Taking a batch into the office later today so let's see what my wonderful colleagues have to say!

Workwise - just a week to go now. So much lined up in the next few months that even if a job were to appear through the clouds and land in my lap I suspect September would be the earliest I could start. Looking forward to volunteering at Spring Harvest (yes - Butlins here I come!) for Christian Aid the week before Easter. Then at the Olympics, and later in the summer at Greenbelt. Taking on a regional rep role with SAUK, perhaps some office/project work with them too. Writing for the local MyNews magazine and, of course, baking! More about that later - for now off to the office with that batch of chocolate chip and orange perfection ;-)

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Another world

This blog post has been bugging me since I started it at about 8am this morning. "Started" being a fairly loose definition since what I actually did was upload this photo before heading into a day of cupcake research, scarf and blanket making, and the creation of two beautiful (yes, I said it myself) small boxes that will form part of tomorrow's gift offering...

The photo is of the first ever piece of quilting to bear my name. Literally in this case as having sewn it in full view of a not insubstantial crowd at the Craft and Stitch show yesterday I was encouraged to sign my name with a fabric pen and then offer it as a contribution to a (very large) quilt that is to be given to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee. Judging by the number of squares being produced I suspect it will hang on a wall somewhere in Buckingham Palace, rather than being something she snuggles under while watching Corrie, but even so I confess to feeling a bit teary at the thought of this beautiful gift for an elderly lady who has served her job, and her country, well for sixty years. (For reference that is also my response to friends who question my's about the person not the position)

And the blog title - the only other thing uploaded this morning - refers to the Craft and Stitch show itself. Yesterday's visit was my first, at the invitation of my mum and her delightful friend. Those who know me will of course be familiar with my forays into card making, scrapbooking and knitting, even if the latter consists mostly of a production line of knit one purl one scarves. I thought I knew about crafting and stitching, and that the show would have a ring of the deja vu if not been there done that-edness about it. Let me tell you - I was so wrong.

Ladies - and gentlemen - this is another world. A world of knitting yes, of card making and cross stitch of course. But also of quilting that has produced works of art to rival those in the Tate, of decopatch and decoupage, of beads and banners, shiny sparkly things and wool so light and soft it could only have been produced by a herd of alpaca lovingly looked after in Cambridgeshire...

It would be oh so easy to be cynical or sceptical, to dismiss all of this as tools - or toys - for those who have nothing to do but lunch and leisure. As one of the stallholders said to me "I get to play all day - and it is wonderful". So tempting to turn one's nose up ever so slightly and retreat to the "real" world of the office, of sitting in front of a screen, checking emails, attending meetings, printing papers, reading reports, grabbing overpriced coffee and sandwiches, spending up to three hours - or more - crammed on the tube, eating dinner then collapsing exhausted into bed ready to start all over again tomorrow.

Of course the pay off for such a life - literally - is the cheque at the end of the month. But redundancy has a funny way of forcing you to reflect - after the shock, denial, guilt and anger have diminished - and it is possible to begin to view such a life as the one W.H.Davies was describing when he wrote, "A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare."

No easy answers tonight. I'm definitely not criticising or standing in judgement on anyone whether they choose to work in the home, the office, some other workplace or not at all. It's not for me to judge and I know from experience on Twitter this week that taking a controversial stance can lead to abuse I neither want or need over this subject which I am still thinking through.

In some ways this blog is like a diary, but as I recently said to someone who keeps their own handwritten journals, I do not live with the fear of it being found and read - it's already out there. It's also useful writing "practice" and for someone who wants to Write. Bake. Create. it is probably a necessity. In some ways Friday's revelation filled in the final point of the triangle - I have no doubt of my need to write, ability to bake and desire to create. But as I mentioned in passing I have actually put the "c" word into practice today in the making of the decopatch boxes and crazy embellished scarf.

More photos to follow, along with exciting news of publication of my first piece in local news magazine. Please comment - love to hear your views!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Write. Bake. Create.

I hesitated before writing that subject line. Wondering if perhaps I should first copyright it. Someone said to me today that it would be a great name for "my business" and I've been holding that thought ever since.

Reason I came up with it? That same person (you know who you are - thanks!) asked me a couple of questions about what I want to do in my working life and what I need to learn from this situation. In the midst of the stuff about flexibility, working from home, being my own boss, managing staff; and alongside the angst about whether I am actually not very good, or not as good as people kindly tell me I am, not as good as I was led to believe, or not as good as I had managed to convince myself I might be during those long months of rehab, three little words found their way onto the virtual paper. Write. Bake. Create.

I used to think I enjoyed writing. More recently it's become what I do and I've come to realise that a lot of the time the enjoyment comes only after its finished. There's something in the challenge, as you craft random thoughts into sentences and paragraphs, build a description, an argument, a report, that is akin to excitment - perhaps even enjoyment. But wrestling restrictive wordcounts, phrasing things in a way that will engage and hold the readers interest, making them smile, or respond in some other way, then releasing something so personal into the ether for others to catch and comment upon is a scary risky business and "enjoy" isn't necessarily the best word to describe it. But if it's what you do - who you are even - then you have no choice as if the words don't find their way out they continue spinning round and round in your head, begging to be listened to...

Baking is something else. Sieving flour, creaming butter and sugar, whisking eggs and releasing the essence of pure vanilla into the feather light misture is pure joy. Spooning the resulting mixture into beautifully crafted cupcake cases and then watching as, in the heat of the rangemaster, it rises into perfect peaks of soft sponge is like watching a miracle occur before your very eyes! And then the opportunity to unleash your creativity in decorating them with soft fondant, fresh buttercream and frosting - what's not to love?

When it comes to how to earn a living yet another idea is bubbling and brewing away. Something to combine blogging, books and baking in a cauldron of creativity - watch this space!

photo: victoria sponge baked by Sarah Anderson - must be in the genes ;-)

Monday, 5 March 2012

Busy busy...

Mmmmmm.... cupcakes! Most of you who read this blog know how I love to bake, and some of you may have been one of those friends who've suggested I might sell them. If that is you then thank you - you are way too kind.

Time off this week is perhaps a taster of what it will be like to have no permanent job to get up for in a few weeks time, and therefore also an opportunity to explore a few possibilities. One of them being to take the advice of Woman and Home magazine (ouch - that still hurts) and think about things I enjoy doing, that I'm passionate about, that I'm good at.

So today I've been thinking, amongst other things, about cupcakes. I've even gone so far as to create a website from which I could advertise and sell them. And a facebook page to use for marketing - heck tomorrow there will probably be a twitter account. croxleycupcakes ;-)

If nothing else I've improved my website building skills, and whilst online I've also explored how to self publish an ebook - lulu looks like the way. (I thought she was a 60's singer who famously appeared on a Take That song but seems she has other talents...)

Neither of these ventures are going to make me a fortune - well they might but I'm not banking on it. But if something along these lines were to succeed in bringing in enough cash to live on, at the same time allowing me more time for the other avenues I want to explore then that could be a good thing.

I've not yet spoken to one person who regrets being made redundant. Maybe that says a lot - many friends and colleagues who used the experience to take risks, explore opportunities, dare I say it have some fun and kick back a little.

And possibly eat cupcakes?

Sunday, 4 March 2012


Unusually I have started writing this post with neither a title nor a photo in place.* If truth be told I'm not really in a blogging mood - if there is such a thing. But having said I'd blog more often I feel I ought to do just that so here we are.

Not altogether sure what we're going to be sharing either - on the one hand my head's full of the usual myriad of ideas/stories/subjects/sentences. On the other I've nothing to say. Maybe today's one of those days when you just open the laptop, launch the browser, log into blogger and allow your fingers to wander over the keys, watching the screen to see what words appear and whether they in any way connect with what may or may not be going on in your head?

This weekend I attended the funeral of a very good friend's father. My heart goes out to the whole family but the service was lovely and a celebration of a long life very well lived which I hope brings comfort to them and his many friends. One thing that the priest said, seemed to say often in fact, was we must make the most of every day, spend time with our loved ones, go for it and have no regrets. That last bit may be my own addition but it's often been said that we regret the things we don't do far more than those that we do.

These words and that thought resonate with the experience of the last few weeks and bring a fresh sense of opportunity to my current situation. Perhaps too it wasn't a coincidence that Woman and Home magazine (contemplating deleting that -surely evidence of middle age? what happened to the Cosmo subscription?!) ran an article this month on the opportunities redundancy can offer, and how to earn money from your talents and be paid to do something you really enjoy. A Twitter friend said much the same to me this morning. Perhaps a lump sum that allows you to take time out from paid employment is in fact a God-given opportunity to breath, to wait, and to see what the next chapter might look like.

But but but but but - I have at least four job applications pending now. What happens if one of them leads to a job offer, to a return to full time paid employment and commuting? What if there is no time to stop and wait and breathe? Will the recognition that taking time out to do that might be a good thing be enough? Would it be foolish to turn down the offer of a job that would offer financial security? How do you discern the right thing to do when at every turn you can see signs and reasons and opportunities and openings?

This isn't what I thought this post would be about - but then again if you don't know what you're going to write about what can you expect? Time now to think of a title and find a photo ;-)

* the title and photo came to me after I finished writing - photo taken in Barry yesterday morning, and yes - that is Ness's slots ;-)

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Everything changes...

Anyone else noted how I love to title my blog with a lyric or three from Take That? Not always a conscious decision if I am honest, maybe their lyrics have an uncanny knack of capturing the zeitgeist, perhaps they are drilled into my subconscious, maybe it's nothing more than chance that means my blog posts begin with words from the greatest band in the history of the world (discuss...)

Meanwhile, to change. Apologies for lack of posts recently - have been totally taken up with job applications. Completing forms, attending interviews, coping with rejection, feedback, disappointment. It's been hideous and I am not yet ready to blog the detail, I need to find a way of expressing the learning and understanding of how it is to feel hurt and rejected without sounding negative, critical, harsh or unreasonable.

What I would like to place on record is the sense of freedom and liberation there is to be found if you can move beyond the disappointment, rejection, hurt and anger. I'm not saying that all is well - put it this way I am still thanking God for waterproof mascara. But I am beginning to see the openings and possibilities, one of which was the agreement today that I will write for our local news magazine on a monthly basis. This possibly and perhaps makes me almost a journalist - woo hoo ;-)

Money - lack of it - is clearly going to be an object. Massively. I've yet to see how we'll manage with that one but know many who do. Increasingly "Less is More" is the refrain in my brain and I'm excited to see how this works out in practice.

I'm planning to blog more and would value your comments and feedback, feels like there is a lot to learn and looking forward to it.... x