Helsinki: Big Ships, Small Islands, Moomins + The Best Coffee

5 September 2014

In my last post I shared images of our 'base camp' in Finland. It was, as the photographs show, in the middle of nowhere and a rental car was pretty much essential. Despite it's romote idyllic location we were only a 30 minute drive away from the images you see here: Helsinki. It really was the best of both worlds. Helsinki didn't disappoint as far as capital cities go. It is spotlessly clean and well maintained. There is some striking architecture, family-friendly museums, great places in which to eat and drink and the harbour with its gateway to all Helsinki's beautiful little islands. It's a very special place.

We took a boat trip to a near island, the price of which was included in our travel pass.

And we were mesmerised by the giant ships that came and went.

When visiting any city overseas we like to try out the public transport. Helsinki station was a stunning building both inside and out.

Helsinki isn't vast, and we managed to cover most of it during our time there. The Design Museum was a highlight. The proud Finns consider good design a part of everyday life. The local supermarkets all stock Iittala, Arabia & Marimekko kitchenware - in fact they don't really stock many other brands. But then why would they?

We took a trip out to the 1952 Olympic stadium and visited the fantastic Tove Jannson centenary exhibition which celebrated the fascinating life and work of the novelist, painter, illustrator and, as she is best known, author of the Moomin books for children. Did you know that the Moomin stories go back as far as 1945? Moomin's are very much loved in Finland and there are two Moomin shops which Lily and Arthur both took a shine to.

Helsinki is great for food and drink. Then there was the coffee. It was seriously good. Helsinki has lots of independent coffee shops, including Johan & Nyström by the scenic harbour. Not only did they serve the best coffee, but they also provided an excellent stock of design magazines and cookbooks to flick through. 

We ate at falafel cafes and a restaurants that offered a vast vegetarian buffet where you paid for your meal by weight (the plates, not yours). We had liquorice & lemon ice cream (devine), blueberry chocolate, rye breads in every shape and size, nordic berries and chanterelles and of course, there was always room for a cinnamon bun. 

Finland: The House, The Woods, The Lakes

3 September 2014

We've been back from our Finland trip exactly one week: though it seems like an age ago now. We arrived home and got straight back into the daily swing of things within 24 hours: the kids completing their last few days at summer school and us back at work with 'to do' lists as long as our arms.

We're desperately trying to hold onto that holiday feeling: the relaxed clear headedness that you get while away from it all. Finland was what I call a proper break. 

This was our base: a beautiful wooden summer house in Kirkkonummi surrounded by woods and lakes, that our friend and her family generously offered up to us for our stay.

We had quality family time, enjoyed the beautiful surroundings, made new discoveries, enjoyed new experiences and ate lots of cinnamon buns. Yes, the cinnamon buns were really something.

If you ever get the chance to visit Finland, go for it - you won't be disappointed.

The Simple Things

1 September 2014

We've just come back from the most amazing family holiday in Finland. I've lots to share with you about our time there, so watch this space.

In the meantime, I wanted to share my first official / credible / national piece of Buttercup Days press. My Blackberry, Almond & Cardamon Cake photograph is featured in the new (September) issue of The Simple Things magazine. The Simple Things is one of my favourite monthly reads. It never finds its way to my recycling bins; back issues live on my bookshelf as I like to dip into them from time to time.

I was bowled over when they contacted me to ask if they could use one of my food photographs from this blog to illustrate a recipe and as if that wasn't a big enough scoop for me they also asked if I would like to feature in their regular 'My day in cups of tea' feature - the pictures used in that article are mine too. 

Seeing this new issue the day I reluctantly flew back from our holiday certainly made returning home a little easier.

Thanks, The Simple Things - you've made my month.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake | Finland

15 August 2014

We are currently in the middle of a courgette glut. They've been roasted, grilled, stir fried and grated into salads. The kids are on summer holidays and that means that I am constantly being asked for food, so I baked (not for the first time) this Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake. I like it served as a pudding too; perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some strawberries. I like to think, that for a cake, it's a little bit virtuous.
The recipe comes from my now sticky and page-splattered copy of The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings. Below is the original recipes, which I have followed with much success, however I have more recently made the tiniest of tweaks by grating the courgette rather than chopping it. It disguises the healthy bit from little eyes. If you do go down this road, grate the courgette into a clean tea towel and ring out any water before adding. The recipe makes a big cake - perfect for a crowd. But if you have no crowd to feed, just split the mixture between two tins and make two smaller cakes. On this occasion, I wrapped up the second one for my cake-loving neighbour and made his day, but it can also be frozen.

We're off on our summer holidays at the weekend. Our destination of choice this year, Finland, may not be the most typical place for a summer break, but we can't wait! We're going to be staying in a friend's family summer house just outside Helsinki. With pine trees and a lake as neighbours it should be the restful break we all need. When we want to see a bit of life, just 30 mins in the car takes us to Helsinki - we have loads of places we want to visit and things we want to experience and, of course, there could well be a couple of blog posts born there too. 

Chocolate Chip Zuchini Cake

355g plain flour
20g natural cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ ground cinnamon
½ ground clove
115g butter or margarine, at room temperature
120ml vegetable oil
12 oz caster sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
120ml buttermilk
1tsp vanilla extract
340g zucchini / courgette finely diced (or grated)
170g chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 160℃ / 325℉. Grease the inside of a 33 x 23 cm baking pan and line the base with baking paper.

Combine the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter or margarine, oil and sugar in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on a medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and beat until just combined.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, add half of the flour mixture, and mix for 15 seconds. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat for 5 more seconds.

Stir in the zucchini and half the chocolate chips. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the remaining chocolate chips.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool completely in the pan, about 1 hour. Serve will a dollop of good vanilla ice cream.

{Salad Days} Over On Heart Home ...

6 August 2014

You probably won't know it from looking at this blog, but after cakes, salads are one of my favourite meals to create and eat. Sometimes I follow a recipe and other times I will just freewheel it using what I have to hand and it rarely goes wrong. Note to self: I really ought to share more salads on this blog, if only to show I don't just gorge on cake all the time.

Salad is my topic of choice for my latest Heart Home blog feature. I've teamed up some beautiful salad bowls with some of my favourite salad recipes. Perfect for summer food. To read the full feature just click here.

Leiths School of Food and Wine

21 July 2014

Ten days ago I attended a two day course in food photography and styling at Leiths School of Food and Wine. For a while now I have been taking my own images for this blog, broadening my limited knowledge with online tutorials. It has taken me so far, but there is nothing that can match being in the company of someone who has made a success out of food photography. 
Food photographer William Reavell, who has worked on books with Mary Berry, Rick Stein, Antonio Carluccio, Sophie Grigson and Gizzi Erskine, to name but a few, led the course. Every aspect of food photography was covered; from the technical, which covered exposure, composition, lighting and angles, through to the creative side that tackled styling, plating up and propping images.
It was largely a practical course, which is frankly the only way to learn. The class worked in pairs taking it in turns to both style and photograph the food. On the first day we worked on salads and brownies and on the second day it was stir fries and meringues. We worked in one of the Leiths kitchens with a fantastic range of both produce and styling products at our disposal. I was like a kid in a sweet shop.
This post shows just a selection of the images I took during my time at Leiths. I must say, I did feel more at home styling and photographing the cakes, particularly once I saw that edible flowers were on hand. One thing that this course did unexpectedly provide me with was a definition of my style of work. Talking through my photography and styling with Bill, it became clear how I want to take my work forward visually. He provided me with lots of valuable advice which I intend to follow over the coming months. I can't wait to put it into practise now.

A Blueberry Cake {and some new napkins}

10 July 2014

I made this Blueberry Cake for the little local cafe that I supply on an adhoc basis. They requested
something summery and fruity, which is exactly what this cake is. You could easily replace the blueberries with other berries of your choice; raspberries would be a nice alternative.

You see those napkins in I used in the shot? Well, they were the result of a sewing challenge I recently undertook for Ikea. They sent me a sewing machine with all the basic kit and challenged me to produce a set of napkins using one of their new (free) in-store craft patterns. Once I'd selected my fabric (also Ikea), I set to work and just under 90 minutes later I had a brand spanking new set of six napkins. You can follow my challenge and read more about Ikea's free craft patterns over at Heart Home.

Blueberry Cake

175g soft butter
175g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
142ml carton soured cream
3 x 125g punnet of blueberries
200g tub Philadelphia cheese
100g icing sugar 
Preheat the oven to fan160C/ conventional 180C/GM 4 and butter and line the base of a loose-based 22cm round cake tin with non-stick baking paper.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs,flour, baking powder and vanilla in a bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes, or with a hand electric beater for 1-2 minutes, until lighter in colour and well mixed. Beat in 4 tbsp soured cream, then stir in half the blueberries with a large spoon.
Tip the mixture into the tin and spread it level. Bake for 50 minutes until it is risen, feels firm to the touch and springs back when lightly pressed. Cool for 10 minutes, then take out of the tin and peel off the paper or lining. Leave to finish cooling on a wire rack.
To make the frosting, beat the soft cheese with the icing sugar and the remaining soured cream in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Spread over the top of the cooled cake (don’t be impatient as the frosting will melt if the cake is too warm) and scatter with the remaining blueberries or a mix of blueberries and other seasonal berries. Tip: If you want the icing a little thicker, let the frosting in the fridge for a while.