Viva Cuba!

Looking back on when and why I first became fascinated with visiting Cuba, it must have been a combination of studying Spanish at school, and an exhibition on the iconography of Che Guevara that was on at the V&A back in 2006. My topic of choice for my A-Level speaking exam was Che, when I researched his life and the adopted country he fought for, and so it began. Throughout university, like a student of the 70s, I had the exhibition's poster on my wall, the famous photograph of Che's face gazing out into my room. During this time I also became really interested in urban agriculture, and discovered how Cuba is world renowned for growing food in the city. All in all, I became mildly obsessed with this communist island isolated in the Caribbean!

As plastered all over the media in recent years, the country is on the brink of change. With its progressive relationship with the United States, it felt like it was now or never to make the trip. We wanted to see what we could of authentic Cuba, avoiding the resorts and staying in the casas particulares, or B&Bs, of everyday Cubans that there are in each town or city.

Cuba truly is an island of contrasts: every city and town we visited was vastly different from the next. Even with its social structure there are distinct differences in wealth of the citizens, but what doesn't change is the friendliness and inquisitive nature of the people. Plus what we discovered (to our delight) is that the food wasn't as disappointing as we had expected, in fact quite the opposite!

In a place where very few people speak English and it does feel like you have stepped back in time by at least 30 years, the trip wasn't what I would call relaxing, rather more of an adventure, but that was what we were looking for. First stop: Havana!


Fifteen Bakes

This year I've still managed to fit in a baking session in amongst my studies; it's often just what I need to forget about the everyday and still quench my need to be creative and make something- even better that you can eat it! As well as sticking the recipe, I love to tweak things a bit, and there's been the baked creations from family and friends too. So this year:

1.   Apple cake
2.   Scones   by my Dad
3.   Apricot and yoghurt loaf cake   from Waitrose
4.   Victoria sponge
5.   Chocolate jumbles   adapted from Nigel Slater
6.   Lemon and lime drizzle cake   adapted from Mary Berry
7.   Apricot, honey and pistachio   from Twigg Studio
8.   Hazelnut and chocolate banana bread   adapted from Nigella
9.   Eton mess
10. Orange blossom flapjack   from Honey & Co - The Baking Book
11. Gluten-free chocolate cake   from Doves Farm
12. Vanilla biscuits   from BBC Good Food
13. Birthday Bake Off creations   by my colleagues
14. Cinnamon, cardamon and orange bundt   adapted from Honey & Co - The Baking Book
15. Winter berry pavlova


Wedding Biscuits

Last weekend we celebrated the marriage of my oldest friend Alana to her man Liam in our village church and at a beautiful venue after. Being at this time of year, the manor house was decked with gorgeous decorations, and the occasion for celebration really got us into the Christmas spirit.

For the wedding I made a collection of bride and groom heart shaped cookies that Alana had spotted on Pinterest earlier on in the year. For the biscuit base I made a basic dough and added vanilla essence for the brides and orange zest and cinnamon for the grooms, a more Christmassy flavour.

I had never done any icing like this before so YouTube videos and blogs were really useful in learning techniques. Sweet Ambs creates absolutely beautiful biscuits and has fantastic pages on royal icing consistencies and decorating techniques. I have invested in a narrow piping head so making patterns like on the free-hand swirls on the dress and the pearl necklace were much simpler (squeeze-stop-swipe). For the "flooding" of the base colour I just snipped off the end of the piping bag. It's important to use royal icing as it contains dried egg whites which means the icing will dry solid.

These biscuits were really fun to make and with the baking equipment that I'm collecting up, I'm hoping to decorate more in the future. They're great for making gifts - I've have made some snowflakes for Christmas - and with the biscuit dough, the flavours are endless.


Weekends of Weaving

Over the last couple of weekends, Mum and I have let our creativity run wild and joined the Introduction to Weaving workshop at The Handweavers Studio in north London.

From the off, we were let loose on the looms, trying all sorts of patterns with cotton, silks, wools and paper on both table and floor looms. Huck lace, waffles, twill, point threading; you name it, we tried it. Over the four days of the course we also learnt how to prepare a loom from scratch, giving us all the skills we need as beginners to go away and start this hobby at home. Above are pictures of the samples that I, Mum and the other weavers created.

It has been a wonderful workshop to be part of, meeting fellow crafters from all backgrounds who were there to learn a new skill. The course is fantastic and Dawn was a great teacher, whose enthusiasm for weaving really rubbed off on all of us. Unlike knitting, which I love, weaving has quite expensive set ups costs, with the loom itself and the other equipment that's required, so I am going to have a think if this is something I want to get into. 

My ambition is to be able to weave scarves and blankets, so a larger loom is what I will look to get one day. In the meantime I'm going to keep collecting (p)inspiration of the endless possibilities of what you can create with this wonderful way of producing textiles.