Revival of ‘The Ruling Class’ – bitingly funny

Ticket-Ruling-ClassLast week my daughter, half Scottish, and I went to see James McAvoy’s latest West End theatre performance in ‘The Ruling Class’. I read in the programme that Mr McAvoy had appeared in ‘Breathing Corpses’ at the Royal Court in March 2005, but my daughter was still in primary school and so we missed seeing this ‘exciting young talent’ (that’s a quote from the time by the theatre critic of The Independent). However, since then we have been lucky enough to see him star in ‘Three Days of Rain’ (2009) and then terrify us as ‘MacBeth’ (2013). And now, we have enjoyed watching him lead a strong cast through the revival of the 1968 satirical play ‘The Ruling Class’ by Peter Barnes.

Superb ensemble headed by James McAvoy taking their bows at the end of 'The Ruling Class'.  Directed by Jamie Lloyd.
Superb ensemble headed by James McAvoy taking their bows at the end of ‘The Ruling Class’.
Directed by Jamie Lloyd.

The play has not been given a 21st-century updating, but deliberately offers us the looks and, more importantly, the voices of the 1960s, all strangled received pronunciation (aka the Queen’s English or BBC English). Although I’m not old enough to remember the class politics of the late 1960s, I did recognise and understand the overall context and its resonance for a 2015 audience. As a piece essentially poking fun at the British class system I wondered what many of the younger, overseas visitors made of the play. I was sat between my daughter (21) and a lady who I think had seen the original 1968 production. I think the older lady and I enjoyed the whole experience considerably more than my daughter.

Electrifying - Forbes Masson and James McAvoy. 'The Ruling Class' publicity photograph by Johan Persson.
Electrifying – Forbes Masson and James McAvoy.
‘The Ruling Class’ publicity photograph by Johan Persson.

James McAvoy’s performance as Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney, grabs the audience round the neck and shakes it this way and that as he energetically channels his immense charisma into this larger than life character. The play is funny, the humour dark and vicious, and McAvoy appears to relish playing such an unstable, fluid character. It is no wonder he has been nominated for a Best Actor Olivier Award. Almost equalling McAvoy’s mesmerising performance is another Scot, Forbes Masson, who was both versatile and brilliant in the various parts he played. Indeed, the whole talented cast made for a highly entertaining evening particularly if you enjoy a dose of black humour. The play is on until April 11, 2015 at Trafalgar Studios.

And, finally, if you would like a straight from the horse’s mouth comment on the current controversy about elitism in theatre – have a look at this two minute video filmed at the opening night.

Winter, Seville Oranges and Marmalade

seville oranges marmalade
Homemade marmalade made with Seville oranges.
Every year during January and February Seville oranges (Bitter oranges) arrive in our local fruit shops and supermarkets. I’m not sure if it’s because I recently saw the film ‘Paddington’ (and he does love his marmalade sandwiches), but this year I decided to make some marmalade.

Paddinton loves his marmalade. From the film 'Paddington'.
Paddinton loves his marmalade.
From the film ‘Paddington’.

Of course, alternatively it could be having all the glamour of the Tudors every where you look, that I unconsciously made a few connections – Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots – marmalade! It’s one of those English things we were told at school that the word marmalade comes from Mary Queen of Scots when a French cook concocted a preserve from Seville oranges for a sickly Mary – ‘Marie est malade’. Not true, (doesn’t surprise me) a far more accurate history of marmalade suggests Henry VIII would have known the preserve which was imported from Portugal and made from quinces. Then it appears that gradually this recipe was adapted to use other fruit including bitter oranges.

buttered marmalade teacake
Split marmalade teacake toasted, buttered and topped with marmalade.

I used a BBC Good Food marmalade recipe which I’ve made before. And, in for a penny in for a pound I found an interesting recipe for ‘marmalade’ teacakes (light yeasted buns with dried fruit). It was really a basic teacake recipe with 150 grams of HOMEMADE marmalade dissolved in the milk that is added to the flour to make the dough. The finished teacakes looked nice and were pleasant when toasted and buttered, but I couldn’t specifically taste the marmalade flavour unless a bite included a chunk of shredded peel. Well, you know, why not spread with extra marmalade!

Marmalade-atop-buttered-marmalade-teacakes

A little indulgence on New Year’s Day

Welcome-cheesecakeDo we need an excuse to bake rich, indulgent treats? Sometimes it is easy to believe all the hype in the media that everybody is the same the planet over. But that is plainly not true as we can see in the ‘Blogging World’. Not everyone celebrates Christmas and of those that do not everybody celebrates in the same fashion. We don’t all have turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies.

Living in East Anglia there are plenty of Christmas traditions, however the traditional mid-winter celebration and feast predates Christianity. Our weather may not be as harsh as the northern regions, but a mid-winter treat certainly brings a glow of pleasure in the midst of all the grey and gloom.

The New Year was my excuse for an indulgent treat and I baked a white chocolate and stem ginger cheesecake (the Mary Berry version).

Crushed-biscuits

Firstly I made the cheesecake base with melted dark chocolate and butter mixed into some crushed digestive biscuits. Then, I finely diced four bulbs of stem ginger (that is ginger preserved in syrup).

Chopped-ginger

Then I beat together two tubs of cream cheese with half a pot of sour cream and two beaten eggs in the whizzy machine.

Cream-cheese-sour-cream

Finally I mixed in a couple of bars of white chocolate that had been gently melted over hot water along with the prepared stem ginger and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. After pouring all the mixture onto the biscuit base the cheesecake was baked for about 45 minutes.

Into-oven

Delightfully easy to make and delightfully easy to eat!

New-Year-afternoon-treat

Festive gingerbread – take two

Gingerbread-icedWhat was I thinking when I made a tin full of gingerbread Christmas cookies over a week ago – that they would last until Christmas! More fool me and, of course they’ve already all been eaten and now a second batch are required. Just as well I enjoy a Sunday afternoon bake.

It’s quite an easy recipe. After melting together butter, muscovado sugar and golden syrup you mix in the dried ingredients flour, spices and a little bicarbonate of soda.

Mix-in-flour

Following a light kneading the gingerbread dough is given a 30 minutes chill in the fridge before rolling out and cutting into shapes. The recipe I use says 12-15 minutes in a moderately hot oven, but I’ve found if you like a crispy snap then 20 minutes is needed.

Cut-out-shapes

Finally, pipe a few swirls of royal icing decoration. My piping skills are minimal and made worse for this batch as I cut the hole on the icing bag too big, but by then I’d filled it with the icing and wasn’t going to start again. Sometimes near enough will just have to be good enough.

Gingerbread-second-batch

Fun, but also enriching

Well, this week in UK telly land sees the final of the Great British Bake Off. Not to everybody’s taste, but I have enjoyed this pleasant and rather quaint diversion from all the bad news filling the airwaves.

Ingredients

The GBBO has also nudged me into having a go at baking off-piste shall we say. That is I’ve been experimenting and devising new combinations for old recipes. My latest weekend bake was a version of sticky buns.

Yeast cookery isn’t too difficult it is mostly about not being in a hurry. These sticky buns are made with an enriched dough studded with stem ginger and hazelnuts and baked with a coating of my buttery, caramel sauce. It’s the caramel that gives these buns the glossy, sticky finish.

Enriching a dough means adding butter, sugar and eggs which makes a softer, heavier dough. However, the addition of fat and sugar also slows the action of the yeast and therefore the proving time has to be longer. But the waiting is worth it when you sample the finished sticky buns.

enriched dough buns
The bite of the stem ginger cuts through the sweetness of the sticky caramel coating.

GBBO – European Cakes – How about a Dobos Torte?

Cooled-caramelDuring the run of the BBC’s ‘Great British Bake Off’ there are some weeks when I watch and think, yes, I’ll have a go at that. And, naturally, I do like cake. Here are a few photos taken over the course of several hours as I followed Mary Berry’s recipe for a Dobos Torte from her book ‘Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book’.

As you can see my copy (bought 1994) is rather tatty and well-used, but this was one recipe I hadn’t tried. Spelled, in error Doboz not Dobos and hailing mistakenly from Austria when József Dobos was actually Hungarian, this recipe was still worth trying out!

Firstly, you have to prepare the cake layers. In this recipe they are made using a simple fatless sponge recipe although I noticed on the GBBO they suggested a Genoese sponge. Either with or without butter the mixture has to be whisked for some minutes to get the volume. Mmm – I was supposed to get six layers, but obviously misjudged the amount of mixture for each circle and only ended up with five. Of course, each layer was then not as thin as it should be, but still they were quite thin and baked really quickly and so a couple (perfectionists look away now) were OVERBAKED!

Whilst the circles of sponge cooled I made the ‘fancy’ butter cream. This involved whisking egg whites with icing sugar over simmering water, adding to softened beaten butter and then incorporating carefully melted dark chocolate. At this point I thought if I make this again I’ll sandwich with chocolate ganache instead.

Moving on to the caramel.

‘Photographing making caramel’ = ‘Watching paint dry’
Well, it is a waiting game and then because I was fussing with camera – oohh it so nearly burnt. And, I didn’t want a ‘bin’ episode. Caramel all fine – it should be I’ve been making it since I first made peanut brittle as a 13 year old at school. Don’t think that would get past health and safety these days.

I think the most tricky part when making this cake is achieving the clean cut caramel wedges for the top. You do need to be vigilant and catch the moment for marking and then slicing the top caramel soaked layer.

Time to assemble, invite other cakeaholics round for coffee and biscuits, sorry cake, and cut.

Five-layers

An early bird doesn’t always catch the worm

Queue-outside-DM-shopAs part of a rather clever marketing campaign the folks at Dr Martens had a special few minutes this morning when they opened their stores and sold their classic Monkey boot at its original 1960s price – that was £3 – nowadays £110. Obviously there was a limited stock at this low, low price and obviously there was a long, long queue snaking up to their doors.

My daughter and I launched a two-pronged attack, she went to Schuh at Marble Arch in London and I trekked into to join the queue outside the Dr Martens in Norwich. When I arrived it was already over 100 people long with some determined people queuing since 3.00am, but I thought I’d wait anyway. Even in England where we Brits are famous for queuing you still get the odd queue-jumpers. This pair of lads shuffled up to join their friends and then stood their sheepishly as a wave of muttering rolled over them. As it was no-one this far down the queue got anywhere near the £3 boots, but we were all given 25% off vouchers by a helpful shop assistant at 8.50am.

Despite my failure, all was not lost because my daughter (a true early bird) in London got the boots she wanted at the 1960s price.

At least one early bird caught the worm. Dr Martens Cappers  at the 1960s price of £3. (normally £100+)
At least one early bird caught the worm.
Dr Martens Cappers at the 1960s price of £3. (normally £100+)

Caught in the act!

Me workLike many people who work from home I tend to have the radio on all day long. And, if not the radio then I have an audiobook plugged into my ears. So, it is quite possible for a camera-toting daughter (home for the holidays) to sneak up on me and catch me off guard.

Recently, I’ve been working on smaller pieces, but I decided I must just knuckle down and finish this large scarf. It is inspired by the colours of St Peter’s robes as depicted on the Ranworth rood screen. You can see my photograph of the bottom of the robes (with feet!) propped up in the above picture and a bit more detail at Motif combinations.

Me caught working

At midnight tonight!

CelebrationGosh – a mini celebration here on the old blog – at midnight tonight it will be one year since I started blogging. I kind of started by mistake, experimenting, thinking if you don’t tell anybody then nobody sees it, and I remember being quite amazed when I investigated the stats info and discovered that there had been visitors! Well, I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank all the readers, likers and comment makers for their ‘activity’. And, also to offer an inclusive thank you to all the bloggers I view and read who are so interesting and often inspiring. – Speech over –

A slice of celebration cake then?

Celebration cake

Rag Rugs – Upcycling for the 21st Century

My Kitchen Rag Rug

There is a display at the Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk that shows a 1940s bedroom with an old-fashioned rag rug placed in front of the fire.

Time & Tide Museum.
1940s bedroom fireplace at the Time & Tide Museum.

rag rug
Simple patterned rag rug.

I remember my Grandmother had one similarly placed in her sitting room only hers was to protect her polished floorboards from sparks. And, the little rug disappeared whenever there were visitors.

Now, I said ‘old-fashioned’, but perhaps I should have said vintage or ‘upcycled’. In 1997, remembering that little rug I persuaded my mother to ‘prod’ one for me. She was very patient. I drew out the design on a piece of hessian, provided her with a colour guide and gave her a bundle of old woollen cloth.

Notebook pagesThe rich colours, the dark red, brown and purple, are from old coats bought from charity shops along with some old blankets. Blankets tend to wear out in the middle leaving the edges still thick and useful. I cut off the edges and dyed them to make the oranges and pinks.

The colour guide I gave to my mother - found in my old 'dyes' notebook (bit of luck).
The colour guide I gave to my mother – found in my old ‘dyes’ notebook (bit of luck).

After several weeks, my very, very patient mother finished this three feet by four feet rag rug.

Kitchen rag rug

Originally made for a bedroom in a previous house, the rag rug is now in my kitchen. Ten years on the kitchen floor and it’s wearing very well!