Harry Potter 20 years - my story {plus treats}

After being on social media yesterday and reading and watching all the hype about Harry Potter and how it's been 20 years since it's release I just felt like sharing my part of the story.

I discovered Harry Potter later then most. I was flying to my sisters wedding in Hawaii when I bought my very first Harry Potter book. We had a 5 hour lay over at the airport when my 17 year-old self start whining to my mom that I was bored and couldn't I get a book?

So I was browsing the book store  in the airport and they had a big display of Harry Potter books. Remembering my friend Sally reading Harry Potter one day at school I picked it up and read the back. I can recall the memory clearly. Having always enjoyed books about magic and creatures of the dark I thought hey this will be an easy and relaxing read for vacation and I was right!

After that it was a bit fuzzy about where I started reading, but I knew I was hooked while sitting next to the pool and laughing out loud. My little sister had asked what I was laughing at and I was trying to explain to her how amazing and funny this book was. Because we had other things to be doing while exploring Hawaii I hadn't sat down and read it all the way through.  While waiting to board I was reading the last few chapters in the airport when my Uncle asked me what I thought so far.

I couldn't say enough. To when he admitted he was already on book two and that his cousin Mary Grandpre was the cover artist!! I was in awe. By the time we got back to Minnesota I had finished Philosopher's Stone and immediately bought Chamber of Secrets.

I was in a dilema after this because Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire were only available in hardback. We didn't buy hardbacks, it was a lot cheaper to wait for the paperbacks. See here I did buy both books from our Kmart (only store in our little town) in hard back with my own money. Weird? anyway I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.

That is how I got addicted to Harry and his story.

I was in college by the time the 5th book was published. I pre-ordered it, but there was no midnight picking up thing going on in my town and so I had to work the day it was released. I was working at a Movie Gallery (now I'm showing my age, I worked at a movie rental place.... how times have changed) and the mall was across the street. It was dead and the guy I was working with wanted to leave to get something somewhere and so we made a deal we'd sneak off of work to get the things we wanted. I snuck over and got my book which came with a sticker of the cover (which is on a sketch book at my parents house) and cool Harry glasses. Work was still dead and I started it while working.

By the time the 6th and 7th book came out I was living in the UK. For The Half-Blood Prince my husband took me to the Waterstones to pick up my copy. He didn't believe me that the line would be long so we didn't leave until like 10:30pm and were like the last in line. But it was fun being with a lot of other Potter fans!

When Deathly Hollows came out I had made good friends with Cathy, who was also a fan. I was pregnant with my first born and my Muggle t-shirt was a bit too tight because at 4/5 months I was already showing. We were dropped off my our significant others and left to hang out with all the other Harry Potter fans. Once we collected our books we didn't talk just read sitting on the steps next to the prison waiting for the boys to pick us up. I stayed up so late and I had to work the next day. As I finished my shift and was waiting for my ride I was still reading my book and this lady walked past and said you've gotten really far! I was like yes yes I have!!

This is a long post, but it's just crazy for me to think that all of this has made such an impact in my life that I remember it so very clearly.

I have read the series more then once and it's probably about time for another read. It doesn't matter how many times you read it, every time you pick it up it's like visiting it again for the first time, but it feels like you're coming home.

My story isn't one of where it saved me or got me through a hard time, but it's my story and I love reading and hearing other people's Harry stories.

When and where did you first fall in love with the Harry Potter series? If you aren't able to answer that question I hope that after reading this post I can be a part of your story.

*links to the recipes of the above pictures are underneath the pictures!

Gravity Cakes! by Jakki Friedman & Francesca Librae

I was sent Gravity Cakes! to review! It's a book for beginners and master bakers and cake decorators alike! There is literally something for everyone! Each project has step-by-step instructions and photos to guide you through! Gravity cakes are fun and give the wow factor to any cake!

It gives you everything you need to make these amazing cakes! It tells you the types of equipment and ingredients you will need as well as the recipes to make the base cakes and frosting and/or icings for said cakes. 

Then it's broken down into easy, medium, and advanced level of cakes so you can work your way through! Building your way up or give yourself a challenge either way the book has so much for you to choose from! 

Here is an inside look: 

*I was given a copy of Gravity Cakes! by Jakki Friedman & Francesca Librae to review by the publisher, Robert Rose. Retails at £18.95 and available now from your local book retailers or online! All opinions are my own, I was not given any other compensation nor was I asked to give a positive review, please see my contact/policy page for more information.

Vanilla Pound Cake {an expat story}

My first visit to the UK I was staying in Oxford and to get to the bus station you had to walk through the market. I had never really experienced a market like that and now it's a common thing after having lived in the UK for so long. However, I stopped at this place in the market that was selling cherries soaked in blueberry juice and then dried or maybe it was the other way around I don't really remember because of what happened when I ordered.

I asked for about a pound. The guy was a bit confused and confirmed my request with an "are you sure" look. Having realised my blunder, but not knowing what to say or how to explain, I just stuck by what I said and was like yup! He then continued to weigh it out so it only cost one Great Britain Pound (GBP).

What I had really wanted was a pound in weight - lb. Which in hindsight is like 450g so I probably didn't actually want that much.

It's not very often I have slip up's like that now after 12 years; so, when I was making this pound cake for my friend I hadn't really thought about the different definitions of the word "pound." It can also mean a place where dogs go to die, the dog pound. Anyway in this instance it was the difference between weight and money! I had to explain that the cake had indeed cost me more then one pound to make and that in American a pound cake refers to a type of cake made with a pound of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar.

This pound cake isn't traditional in the use of a pound of each ingredient, but it still uses pretty much equal measures of all the ingredients. It is more like half a pound cake really. The equivalent here is what the British call a Madeira Cake. Basically the same thing.

Vanilla Pound Cake 

260g plain flour
225g sugar
1 tsp baking powder
225g butter
5 eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract

All the ingredients should be at room temperature before starting and grease or line a 2lb loaf tin (23x13) When your are ready heat the oven to 160C.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and butter together until combined. I used my hand mixer and so it might look a bit like crumbs, but should come together when pressed as seen in the picture below.
In another bowl beat the eggs and vanilla together. Add about 1/3 of the egg mixture slowly to the dry mixture, beating well in-between additions.
Scrape down the sides before giving it one last good mix and scrape into your prepared loaf tin. Bake for about 60 minutes, test it by using the skewer test. It shouldn't leave any crumbs or batter on the skewer or butter knife - which is what I use and it should be a nice golden color as seen in the pictures.

Serve with ice cream and fresh berries if you are feeling like an American or jam and custard if you feeling British. Either way it's a great cake that can be paired with pretty much anything! It's a blank canvas cake so to speak and it's super easy to make!

Dear Blog (6) - {reflections over the last year}

Dear Blog,

You're 6 years old today. How do you feel?

I haven't been blogging like I used to. In the past I was at home with my children. Now I work part-time, volunteer, and keep busy with other hobbies. Reading being one of them, which is why I have been trying to fit it into the blog as of late. Check out my instagram as I am currently doing a daily book challenge and I'm loving it! I recently took a refresher life drawing workshop, which just taught me I already know stuff, I just have to be more confident in my abilities!

I am sorry if you've been feeling neglected.

So, that's the update on life stuff.... nothing as dramatic going on as the last couple years have been. It's a bit of a lull and I'm taking full advantage of that, because you never know what life will throw at you next!

Having a look back at last year here is a baker's dozen of bakes and events that have appeared here on the blog and are worth having another look at!

  1. Having just moved into my flat this time last year I experimented with my new oven and made these gorgeous Orangey Orange Cupcakes with Raspberries. My flat is located above an office and I shared with them, on my way out I heard a guy in the back say "These are the best cupcakes I've ever had!" To say the least it made my day! 
  2. There is literally only one brownie recipe I use these days and I am continually adding all sorts of stuff to them. The hottest day last August my friend and I went to London to check out some of the museums and to keep the cost down we packed ourselves lunch. I brought brownies made with double chocolate oreos and since they came with us I titled them "Traveling Oreo Brownies!"
  3. The post that I wrote with all the things I had been baking lately
  4. My visit to the Panasonic Idea's Kitchen! Saw a few familiar blogger faces and had a great time learning about their beauty products as well as having a play in their kitchen! 
  5. Making cocktails and learning how to salsa at Revolución De Cuba with my friend Jacob! 
  6. I gave my blog a new look and made MnM Cookies
  7. Lemon Cake and review of the Lunar Chronicle series is the start of my second attempt to incorporate my love of baking and books... I'm still working at it! 
  8. Publicly announcing my happily single status by post a list of 7 movies I think single people should watch on Valentine's Day
  9. Blueberry scones inspired by my rewatching all 7 series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, proving that inspiration can come from anywhere! 
  10. The treats we had as kids are even better as adults because of the nostalgia and these Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes are just that for me! Minus the Oreo Creme Easter eggs of course. 
  11. My second attempt at mixing my love of books and baking was with these Blackberry Custard Tarts inspired by a young adult novel that goes by My Lady Jane
  12. Finally wanting to get use out of my juicer I asked fellow bloggers to share with me their juice and smoothie recipes
  13. Learning that if you make anything by Mary Berry and give her the proper credit you get more views. 

There used to be more posts to choose from, but it's not always about quantity and I feel like the quality of my posts have changed as I have found my voice and have worked on my photography. Not to toot my own horn .... actually I am tooting my own horn. I am proud of the work and time and how far I have come as a blogger. Why do we live in a world where we aren't allowed to show any pride in ourselves and what we have achieved? So, I am ending this post with this: Be proud of what you achieve in any aspect of your life! 

My Summer Reading List - United Cakedom

We've had glorious weather for the end of spring and in England that may be it for us until August. In this country you can never tell what the weather might do and it's a constant topic for discussion. At some point if you live in England you just have to say whatever the weather will be, will be.

Summer however is the time for travel and holiday's and books are generally apart of any adventure or for those of us staying at home who need books and stories to pretend we are away on holiday!


Anyhow, I have an excessive stack of "to read" books and I have narrowed it down to the ones I like to get through by the end of summer. This is also my list of books I need to read before I allow myself to buy any more books new or used. Because the stack is getting ridiculous.

Wild Wood by Posie Graeme-Evens
synopsis - There are no accidents. There is only fate. 
1981. Jesse Marley calls herself a realist; she is all about the here and now. But in the month before Charles and Di's wedding all her certainties are suddenly blown aside by events she cannot control. 
Finding herself in hospital, unable to speak, she must write everything down. And as if her fingers have a will of their own, she beings to draw places she's never been to, people from another time. Rory Brandon, Jesse's neurologist, is intrigued. He knows the place she is drawing - Hundredfield, a castle in the Scottish Borders - and Jesse demands to see it. 
Unbeknown to them all, Jesse carries ancient knowledge that Hundredfield unlocks. She is key to the mystery that haunts this wild place, and she has a place in the legend of the lady who walks the forests …

- To be honest the cover of this book didn't draw me in. I won it in a twitter giveaway and it was part of a big box of books from the publishers Simon & Schuster. That was a good year or two ago and it's sat on my shelf since. It wasn't until I was looking for something to read that I picked it up and read the back again and became intrigued. I love a good historical mystery!

The Rosie Project by Graeme Smith
synopsis - Love isn't an exact science - but no one told Don Tillman. A thirty-nine-year-old geneticist, Don's never had a second date. So he devises the Wife Project, a scientific test to find the perfect partner. Enter Rosie - 'the world's most incompatible woman' - throwing Don's safe, ordered life into chaos. But what is this unsettling, alien emotion he's feeling?

- This is one of those best sellers I have been meaning to get around to reading. I picked it up at a charity shop, Age UK, for less then 99p! My good friend couldn't recommend it enough!

Heartless by Marissa Meyer
synopsis - Long before she was the Queen of Hearts, Catherine Pinkerton was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

- I am a sucker for twists on classic fairy tales and as I enjoyed the author's Lunar Chronicle series I couldn't wait to get my hands on this title! I bought it from Amazon and if you want to know more about the Lunar Chronicles check out my post here!

The Dead Zone by Stephen King
synopsis - The two things that conjured up that horrible night, were his run of luck at the Wheel of Fortune, and the mask . . .
Meet Johnny Smith. A young man whose streak of luck ends dramatically in a major car crash. Followed by blackness. A long, long time in cold limbo.
When he wakes up life has been turned upside down. His fiancée has met someone else. And Johnny is cursed with the power to perceive evil in men's souls. He's had these hunches since he had an ice-skating accident as a child. Now he has an ability to see into the future. An ability which will bring him into a terrifying confrontation with a charismatic, power-hungry and dangerous man . . .

- Gotta love a good Stephen King book and to be honest I haven't read loads, but I have read enough to know I need to read more! This one I picked up at work there was a book shelf of like leave a book take a book policy and I commandeered this one!

This I Know by Susannah Conway
synopsis - Part memoir, part creative journal, This I Know chronicles Susannah's journey through bereavement and healing, taking the reader on a ride into the possibilities of unravelling - and healing - her own life too. It's a guidebook of sorts, a collection of thoughts and theories, with creative exercises for you to try, and dreamy light-filled Polaroids dotted throughout the text. It's a cosy blanket for your heart.

- I have followed Susannah's blog for years now and I have been coveting this book for ages and I finally bought it used from amazon marketplace.

Happy by Fearne Cotton
synopsis - For many of us, life can feel like it's moving too fast with pressure bearing down on us from all sides - whether that's from school or work, family or social media. As a result, we find ourselves frazzled, lost and - too often - feeling blue.
It's a subject close to Fearne's heart. Drawing on her own experiences and including expert advice, HAPPY offers practical ways of finding joy each and every day. Happiness isn't a mountain to climb, it's just one foot in front of the other on the path of life, and here you'll find little steps that will help make the differences that count. With workbook elements to help you start and end the day well; get in touch with your creative side; and find peace through written exercises, simple practical ideas and visualisations, these are daily tricks and reminders to help you unlock that inner happiness.

- Mindfulness and happiness is a trendy thing at the moment. I do think it a bit sad that we are having to read books and seek advice on how to be happy, however my curiosity on what the hype is has me drawn in! I was given this as a gift from one of my best friends.

Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin
synopsis - Tips and techniques for making food look good before it tastes good! 
Takes you through the art and techniques of appetizing food photography for everyone from foodies to food bloggers to small business owners looking to photograph their food themselves
Whets your appetite with delicious advice on food styling, lighting, arrangement, and more
Author is a successful food blogger who has become a well–known resource for fellow bloggers who are struggling with capturing appetizing images of their creations
So, have the cheese say, "Cheese!" with this invaluable resource on appetizing food photography.

- This book is no longer in publication and all my fellow bloggers have always raved about this book so when it showed up on the amazon marketplace for a reasonable price I snagged it right away! It's something as a food blogger I am always looking to improve. So, this is my educational book for the summer!

What are you reading this summer? I love a good recommendation please leave them below in the comments!!! 

*I was not sent or given any of these titles in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own; please see my contact/policy page above for further information.

Japanese Patisserie by James Campbell {book review}

Exploring the beautiful and delicious fusion of East meets West

When one thinks of patisserie you think French or Belgian, but it isn't unknown in Korea and Japan. After taking a trip out there to experience the food and culture and the combination of the two James has been obsessed with Japan and experimenting with Japanese ingredients. James Campbell combined his passion for classic French patisserie and contemporary Japanese flavors and it shows in this book!

He takes us through the ingredients and equipment that we should consider if we are going attempt his recipes with the added bonus of a flavour wheel. The ingredients list isn't that long and is all stuff we can easily source these days in our supermarkets! The equipment list is even shorter and are more extra things to give the recipes the extra touch. Not only does he give us the basic recipes of choux and sweet shortcrust pastry and creme patisserie, but he also gives us some basic techniques before moving on to his sweet treats!

The first chapter gives us small cakes and individual patisserie for treats like - Matcha, Pink Peppercorn & Wild Strawberry Madeleines, Tonka Bean, Milk Chocolate & Raspberry desserts, Lemon & Yuzu Eclairs, and Glazed Buttermilk Scones with Kumquat & Kinkan Marmalade.

The next chapter covers Sweet Tarts and he introduces us to recipe such as - Matcha Creme Brûlée Tarts with Fresh Raspberries & White Chocolate Cream, Yuzu Meringue Pies with Sesame Tuiles, and Miso & Butterscotch Tarts.

Smoked Chocolate Pave with Yuzu Ganache, Miso & Peanut Butter Crunch and Matcha, White Chocolate & Cherry Trench with Hazelnut Sponge are just a few of the recipes in the following chapter of Large Cakes & Gateaux.

It couldn't get any better with the next chapter of Desserts filled with recipes like Layered Panna Cotta with Sake Jelly Fruit Compote & Cherry Blossom, Vanilla Panna Cotta with Boozy Cherry Jelly & Matcha Micro Sponge. 

Cookies & Confectionery is the title of the next chapter and it doesn't disappoint with recipes for Sweet Miso, Sato Nishiki Cherry & Yuzu Fruit Macarons, Matcha 'Kit Kat', and Hot Sake Jelly Shots with Ginger Spherification.

Last but not least is a chapter dedicated to Savouries! Gyoza Chicken Wings Karate-Style, Hirata Steamed Pork Buns, and Panko Doughnuts stuffed with Pork Katsu are just a few of the amazing recipes he has shared with us!

This is just a small look into this exciting culinary journey! As the sub title says it's a "beautiful and delicious fusion of East meets West" and it isn't wrong. There are the traditional classic treats we all know and love with inspiring Japanese flavours. If you are looking for something new and different I would tell you to grab yourself a copy of James' book!

*I was given a copy of Japanese Patisserie: Exploring the beautiful and delicious fusion of East meets West by James Campbell to review by the publisher, Ryland Peters & Small. Retails at £16.99 and available now from your local book retailers or online! All opinions are my own, I was not given any other compensation nor was I asked to give a positive review, please see my contact/policy page for more information.