Lavender & Lovage by Karen Burns-Booth {book review}

Part travel diary, part memoir, part history & all cookbook, Lavender & Lovage is an invitation from Karen Burns-Booth to join her on a personal culinary journey through the memories of the places she has lived & visited.

That is an excerpt from the back of the book and it gives a brief idea of what this book is all about, but it's so much more. With books it's always hard to describe what's inside to make a potential reader pick the book up, buy it and take it home with them. It's hard to tell them what they will feel when reading it because books, yes even cookbooks, resinate with people for different reasons.

One of Karen's first memories is of food. As she tells us the story of her first bowl of sweet sticky rice, on a hot day during the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong in the 1960's, we get the feel for the rest of her story. If you couldn't guess it features food.

In Karen's book, like her blog, food is the constant. It's the rest of life that is the variable and makes this book a real gem amongst all the other cookbooks out there. I had the pleasure of meeting Karen at a Food Blogger Connect conference back in 2014. It was a brief 'hi what's your blog name?' and I have been a follower before that encounter and since.

The break down of the contents follows most traditional cookbooks with breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and everything in between. Karen's style is all her own, but the way the book is laid out and the passion that shows through reminds me a lot of Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater respectively.

Each recipe has an introduction and tells us where the recipe is from (the index is broken down by continents and countries.) Not only do we get the intros, but some of the recipes have memory snippets, taste notes, travel notes, or historical recipe notes. A few of the recipes even have more than one of these in various combinations depending on the recipe.

As mentioned already this book is more then a book of recipes, it takes you places you may or may not have ever been. The photography is beautiful and all of them are the author's own photos. If everything I have just written doesn't convince you or you want a taste of what to expect the book to be like visit Karen's blog Lavender & Lovage.

It's one of those books that you will keep for years and refer to time and time again. If you or someone you know is a big foodie you can't lose by picking up, yourself or a loved one, a copy of this book.

*I was provided a copy of Lavender & Lovage: A culinary notebook of memories & recipes from home & abroad  to review by the publisher, Passageway Press, retails at £31.37 and available now on Amazon (Kindle edition less, but the physical book is beautiful)! 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.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes and/or Dessert Bowls {recipe}

This is the first Thanksgiving, I think since I moved to the UK, that I haven't made pumpkin pie. It felt a little odd, but there were no complaints with the alternative.

This recipe suits cupcakes if you don't happen to have a 6 cavity dessert shell that makes cake bowls! After a quick look around the 'ol internet they don't seem to exist any more if you come across one pop a comment below and let us all know!

The special tin isn't necessary though because the recipe makes great cupcakes and when topped with the cream cheese frosting and toasted walnuts and drizzled with salted caramel it's perfection all in one little cake.

Cupcakes aren't generally something that is thought of as a dessert, but as a birthday treat or a snack with coffee. However, I would argue that cupcakes make a great dessert, who can say no to an individual cake?

I mean they can... but I don't understand those people.

No matter if these are baked as cupcakes or dessert bowls or, if you adjust times slightly, as a tray bake the cake itself is a good cake. It's a nice texture and the spices are popularly paired with pumpkin because they work well together.

So, if you are looking for an autumn or winter treat that fills your kitchen with the best smells give this one a go!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes or dessert bowls

4 large eggs
400g sugar
200ml vegetable/sunflower oil
1 can (425g) of pureed pumpkin
325g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Heat the oven to 170C and line your cupcake tin or grease your 6-cavity dessert shell tin with butter or shortening.

Beat the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin together. Then beat in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, bicarb, salt, ginger, and cloves until just combined. Using a medium ice cream scoop fill your cupcake cases or your 6-cavity dessert shell tins. I made a dozen cupcakes and 6 dessert bowls; you could probably get a dozen and a half cupcakes or about a dozen bowls. If you are making bowls you don't need the frosting below, just fill with ice cream or whipped cream and sauce and nuts and whatever you want to top it with!

Cream Cheese Frosting
100g cream cheese
70g butter
1 tsp vanilla
300g icing sugar
walnut halves, toasted (optional)
salted caramel drizzle (optional)
ice cream (optional, but highly recommended)

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together. Slowly beat in the icing sugar until combined and smooth. Place about a tablespoon or so of frosting on top and smooth out with a spatula.

Finish off the cupcakes by sprinkling or placing the walnuts on top and drizzling over about 2 tablespoons of salted caramel by placing it in either an icing bag or sandwich and just snip the tip. If you made dessert bowls, then ice cream is always a great filler, whipped cream and toasted walnuts would make a suitable alternative in my opinion!

Pumpkin spice is one of my favorite spice combinations and even though you can use it any time of year, it just feels right in the autumn months leading to winter. English winters are wet, cold, and grey a far thing from my snowy, cold, and grey winters back home, but I still like this time of year. I love sweaters and hats with bobbles and my scarf collection is endless I could literally wear a different one every day of winter... well maybe not every day!

If you like winter as much as me please leave a comment below! And if you try this recipe I hope you like it!

Franco Manca - Masterclass in Reading, Berkshire {restaurant review}

Last June/July time Franco Manca opened up a branch in Reading and I was kindly invited along to an evening of pizza and limoncello drinking! I have been back since and I will say what I said then that the pizza from Franco Manca is one of my favorites. The sourdough base is everything and because the menu changes with the seasons it's toppings are always top notch. 

So, when they asked if I'd like to come along to try out one of their masterclasses I was there! This time around I was allowed to get in the kitchen and make my own pizza! Our instructor aka Master Pizza Maker Andrea was full of knowledge and showed us how the sour dough was made before giving us our own blob to turn into our own masterpiece! 

First you have to press it down gently and firmly with your finger tips, it's sometimes referred to as knocking it back, but this is a small piece so it doesn't need as much pressure or energy if you were making a loaf of bread. 

Then gently folding it over your hand you toss it gently back and forth - this does two things. One it knocks the excess unnecessary flour off and two it stretches the dough out ready to be pizza shaped. 

Once it's, as I said, pizza shaped they have a perfectly sized ladle to pour on the tomato sauce and spread in a circle. Then the fun part. Putting whatever you want on it! I choose lots of cheese, some garlic, olives, and mushrooms. 

Very gently you move it on a paddle which then gets placed into their special wood burning oven that is kept at something ridiculous like 500 degrees - it literally takes minutes. Then using another fun tool you check to make sure the bottom is properly cooked before gently sliding it out and turning it around and putting it back in and giving it another minute to make sure it's perfect and then you place it on your plate and enjoy!! 

I couldn't recommend the pesto more, it's seasonal so varies visit to visit, it's perfect to dip crusts in. It's essential, if you like lemons and liquor, to finish your meal with a shot of their limoncello, which is sourced in Italy and brought to the UK just for them! 

If you would like to experience making your own pizza masterclasses, in Reading, are held on the second Tuesday of every month. Classes are two and half hours and cost £30 including food, wine/soft drinks. Book or find out more: or 0118 995 2086.

Classes are also held at their Chiswick, Richmond, and Bournemouth to find out more of the details for those locations check the Franco Manca website here!  

Before we left they gave us a little goody bag with a bottle of wine, some pizza toppings, and a bottle of chilli oil for if we ever get the courage to try making pizza's at home! The book below was from my first visit and if you want to read that full review with more pictures check it out here

*I was invited to attend, but I was not asked to write a review positive or otherwise, no other compensation was given. Please see my contacts/policy page above for more information. 

Homemade Christmas by Yvette Van Boven {book review}

Everyone has their own Christmas traditions, some very classic and some very obscure, but Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without food. If we get down to it a lot of our holiday's and celebrations revolve around food. We indulge and go a bit over the top when it comes to a special day and why shouldn't we?

You may recognise the style of the cover of the book because Yvette Van Boven has several other books out and if you have had the pleasure to own or read them you will know what to expect from Homemade Christmas and if you haven't well there is no reason you shouldn't start with this one!

Not only does the author give us some amazing recipes there are tips to help keep Christmas as stress free as possible. And if you have read any of my older posts from this time of year you will know that this time of year is not my favorite.

Even though I have taught myself over the years to just chill and do what I need to do for my family and myself there is still a level of pressure from ... well do we really even know? Who is in control of all this pressure? Know one really knows.

After reading this book I learned two things. First that with the help of this book I can ease some of that pressure I feel by following some of Yvette's tops tips. And two this book isn't just for Christmas. It's full of heartwarming dishes that are good all autumn/winter long.

The book is broken down starting with Christmas Stress-Relief Tips (which I desperately needed), The Morning, Drinks, Snacks, Soups, Small Plates, Main Courses, Side Dishes, Desserts, all which are pretty self explanatory. The book finishes up with Pantry aka essential things to keep in your pantry followed by Menus. Which is extremely useful because it breaks it down by menus such as Cold Buffet, Romantic Christmas Dinner Menu, as well Christmas Breakfast and/or Brunch and includes menus for Veggies!!

It's an overall great book. I say that a lot and I fear that it is losing it's meaning, but I do love a good cookbook. The thing is I don't talk about the books that I don't keep or that just didn't interest me much. So, when I do say it's a great book I do mean it. Yvette has a great style and clear writing I don't know why I haven't ever read anything else by her before. Definitely something that will need to change!

Even though I am an American living outside of the US I always celebrate Thanksgiving with my children, in hopes that some of my traditions are ingrained in them. This book has offered me some great suggestions and recipes to try for my up coming Thanksgiving meal. When I do I will be sure to share pictures on all my social media channels. 

Have a look at Yvette's website for her other titles as well as recipes! All the photo's of the food are pictures I took of the book. 

*I was provided a copy of Homemade Christmas by Yvette Van Boven (photography by Oof Verschuren) to review by the publisher, Abrams, retails at £26.99 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.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars - healthy vs unhealthy {recipe}

Baking was really popular for a while, with shows like the Great British Bake Off fuelling it's popularity. It's still popular, but not like it was because "clean eating" became the fad. It's the stupidest thing to call food "clean" because that is suggesting that other food is "dirty."

That might be okay when we describe going out for a dirty burger after a night out or a long day that calls for a food that literally could be dirty. I mean a burger topped with all the good stuff never all stays in the bun. 

But it's not okay to label every day food as clean/dirty, good/bad, guilt-free/guilty, healthy/unhealthy and so on. You may be surprised that I think it's a bad idea to label food as healthy or unhealthy, but it's all the same in your head if you are one of those people who punishes yourself for eating "bad" food. 

A lot of people, of various sizes, have unhealthy relationships with food. Because we are fed so much crap online across all media sources telling us in one article of a new miracle food that cures all and in the next telling us that same food is the cause of all that is wrong with the world. It's really hard to keep up. 

But the thing is we don't need to keep up. Because everyone is different our diets all vary. When it comes to baked goods like cake, cookies, brownies etc... they aren't unhealthy, they aren't bad, and they are certainly not dirty. 

They are exactly what they say they are and even more basic they are food. Plain and simple. 

I was cleaning out my cupboard and came across of a soon to expire bag of rolled oats and I scoured my cookbook collection for a recipe that I could use them up in and came across this one in Sally's Baking Addiction by Sally McKenney. It was adapted to suit what I had in my cupboards.

The reason I had a long rant about labelling food is because this one is inadvertently labelled as a nutrition bar. It could be compared I suppose, but why can't it just be what it is. Tasty. 

It's full of peanut butter and whatever you want to add: chocolate chips, raisins, dried apple, etc... 

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

100g light brown sugar
265g smooth peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla paste
120g whole wheat flour
80g rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
120ml milk
120-200g of chocolate chips, raisins or other dried fruit 

drizzle (optional) - 50g chocolate chips and 20g smooth peanut butter

Heat the oven to 170/180C (depending on your oven) or 350F - line an 8x8 square baking tin with grease proof paper so that some of it hangs over (easier to get out.) 

Beat the brown sugar and peanut butter together for about a minute until it's smooth, add the vanilla and mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides and add the flour, oats, salt, and bicarb of soda give it a quick mix until it all comes together. Add the milk in a steady stream while beating on low, once it resembles a cookie dough fold in your choice of additions. (I used Whitworth's Mix n' Bake Choc Salted Caramel: dried apple, chocolate coated salted caramel, and sultanas. I bought it on sale for 93p.)
Dump it into the prepared tin and press down until even and then bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes depending again on your oven. When done it should be golden on top. Leave to cool in the tin before using the over hanging baking paper to remove. 

If making the drizzle on a low heat melt the chocolate and peanut butter together and put into a sandwich bag and cut the corner and drizzle across the slab in any way you want. Leave to set before cutting into squares. I cut mine to get 16, but you could cut them bigger to get 9 it's your life you decide! 

*Recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction by Sally McKenney - my review of the book can be found here. There is this guy on instagram that I started following @unfattening who is just amazing at debunking all food related crap as I say and bollocks as he says. 

Honey & Walnut Cake {recipe} *inspired by Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

When I attended food blogger connect a couple years ago one of the speakers talked to us about why we blogged. We were all food bloggers of a sort so besides the obvious of our shared love for food we all had different reasons.

One of my reasons I had said at the time was because I felt like it gave me a place to say what I wanted to say. However, it's never been a place where I shared anything but my love for baking and cookbooks and books. I don't talk about my personal life very much. 

My blog life slowed down as my actual life sped up. 

Blogging and baking were my escape and my way to stay creative in the hum drum of daily life. Then life threw me a few curve balls and even though things have quietened down I have struggled getting back into my blogging/baking life. 

It feels like it was a part of me that I've grown out of or that was left behind. I have tried to get back into it on different occasions, but it hasn't seemed to work very well. On top of that so much has changed. It's not just about being a blogger, it's about being a social media guru. 

Even my baking seems to be resisting me. I have attempted another bundt cake after my last disastrous attempt and once again it didn't want to come out of the pan properly. 

I can take pictures show only the good parts. But that isn't life. I used to have proper tantrums and moods about baked goods that didn't turn out how I intended. Now I think "it tastes good and who am I trying to impress?"

Me and my little family were able to enjoy a slice of cake as an afternoon treat this past weekend and that is why I bake. The cake was soft and springy and had the perfect blend of spices that goes well with a cup of coffee. 

Blogging may be on the way out as YouTube and Instagram take over the internet, but I am going to keep my little corner of the internet up because who knows what the future holds. 

Honey & Walnut Cake

125g unsalted butter, softened
140g demerara sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
90g honey (different varieties will give a different flavor)
45g walnuts, chopped
220g self rising flour, sifted
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp all spice
125ml milk

If using a bundt pan make sure you grease and flour it properly, you can use a tray bake pan or I would use a regular 8 inch square pan just be aware that baking times will be different for different pans, if using a square tins line it with baking paper and lightly grease the baking paper before starting.

Heat the oven to 180C. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Add the eggs a little at a time and beat until just combined in-between each addition. Mix in the vanilla and honey. Fold in the walnuts before folding in a third of the flour. (I weigh out my flour and then sift it directly into the mixing bowl.) Then mix in half of the milk. Then another half of whats left of the flour, then the rest of the milk and the last of the flour. Stir until just combined. Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Again this will vary depending on your baking pan and oven. So, after 30 minutes I would check it using the skewer test and if it's starting to brown to quickly I always place a piece of tin foil/aluminium foil over the top to stop it from browning too much.

Leave to cool in the tin for a minimum of 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely. If it's in a bundt it's pretty enough without frosting or icing, but if using a square tin I would dust icing sugar over it or use a simple icing of 500g icing sugar and a couple tablespoons of water/milk and honey.

Serve with caramel sauce, raspberry sauce, or ice cream!

It seems like there is only room for hobby at time and at the beginning of the year I set myself a reading challenge on goodreads and have already passed it and had to reset it. So, books have taken over my free time and sometimes they mention food, more specific cake! I keep note and if I get a baking bug and depending on what's in my cupboards I used that inspiration. This cake was inspired by mention of a honey cake with a caramel or raspberry sauce in Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton that was featured in July's Fairyloot box.

Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton synopsis - In the ancient river kingdom, where touch is a battlefield and bodies the instruments of war, Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood. The same women who killed her mother without a single scratch.But when Mia's father announces an alliance with the royal family, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Determined to forge her own path forward, Mia plots a daring escape, but could never predict the greatest betrayal of all: her own body. Mia possesses the very magic she has sworn to destroy.Now, as she untangles the secrets of her past, Mia must learn to trust her heart…even if it kills her.

BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks {book review}

Into every generation a slayer is born. A slayer of what vampires? Possibly. However, in this generation a slayer of cake, cookies, brownies, etc..... has been born. She goes by the name of Stella Parks, better known as Bravetart.

I have followed her work on her site by the same name, Bravetart, since I started blogging. I discovered her blog/site when looking for a cookie recipe that made soft cookies and she of course had one, it's still on her blog and you can find it here.

Even back then there were whisperings of a book and now it exists in all it's wonderful glory. The full title of the book is: BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts. Not only do we get gorgeous food photography and recipes we get a history of each one!

I shared this book a while back on my instagram stories because it was a year old (yes I know how behind the times I am) and in those stories I mentioned that the reason I love this book so much is because living abroad there are so many nostalgic treats I miss and now I can just make them at home!

And make them better with the help of Stella because everything is better homemade and she makes everything better!

If I listed everything I wanted to try from this book I would have to list every recipe as if I had the time and money I would do just that. However, I don't have the time or the money .... well not in a short space of time. Anyhow, I will share the top five recipes I plan to try over the next few years..ahem months whatever!

1. Triple Oatmeal Cookies
2. White Layer Cake
3. Coconut Cream Pie
4. Oatmeal Cream Pies
5. McDonald's-Style Apple Turnovers

I don't know how else to say I love this book. So, I will leave the review here with one last sentence.

I love this book; BraveTart.

Learn more about Stella Parks on her site and follow her on instagram here.

*I purchased my own copy of BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks, Wayland, retails at $35 and about £21.25 on as this is a very American style book I am not sure it's available at local shops in the UK, but should be in the USA! All opinions are my own, I was not given any compensation nor was I asked to give a positive review, please see my contact/policy page for more information.

Raisin Cake with Apple Syrup {recipe} *inspired by The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

My life is always torn between books and baking and on occasion they merge.

This is one of those occasions.

The Cruel Prince was released early this year and everyone went mad for it. I love Holly Black, her Curse Worker series being one of my all time favorites, however fairies and the world of the Faerie have never been my first choice in supernatural worlds, genre, or whatever.

The book is clever and deserves all the praise it has received and I will probably read the rest of the series/trilogy but, I will do so in my own time. One thing about the Faerie world that I like best is the food. Note that if you are a human living in Faerie you sprinkle all your food with salt to counter act any spells or enchantments that may have been placed on the food. After that you are free to enjoy the delicious food they provide, the author mentions our heroine or anti-heroine (Holly Black writes a great anti-hero) eating a raisin cake with apple syrup and I literally had a light bulb moment.

Even if you haven't read the book this cake is worth a try. My apple syrup is a little thick and that was due to my timing of taking pictures, life of a blogger. So, the syrup can be made looser or thicker to match your preference.

Raisin Cake:

160g raisins
60ml apple juice
185g self-raising flour
60g plain flour
150g butter, cubed
140g light brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
apple syrup to serve (recipe below)

Heat the oven to 180C/350F - Start by soaking the raisins in the apple juice and leave aside for 10 minutes. While they chilling and soaking up all that juice line the base of a deep 7 in (17cm) round cake tin grease the sides of your tin, I always very lightly grease the baking paper too.

Melt the butter and sugar on a low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. While it's melting sift both of the flours into a large mixing bowl. Once the butter and sugar mixture is done mix with the raisins and then add to the flour. Add the eggs to the mixture and stir with a spatula/wooden spoon until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth it down as best as you can. Bake for 45-55 minutes, use the skewer test to confirm it's baked through. It will brown quicker then it will cook, so keep the golden brown color you want place a piece of tin foil over the top to help stop it from burning or becoming too dark on the top.

Leave to cool and make the apple syrup.

Apple Syrup:

2 tart apples, cored, peeled, and sliced thin
100g sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp water

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan over a medium/high heat and bring to a boil before reducing the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the apples are soft and the sauce has thickened.

If you aren't using immediately take off the heat and place in a separate bowl as I left it and it thickened a little more then I would have liked. But it's all a personal preference!

Then pour over a slice of raisin cake and enjoy!

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
synopsis - Of course I want to be like them. They're beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.
One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal. 
As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong.
But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan . . . 

*All opinions are my own, I bought my own copy of The Cruel Prince from amazon for my Kindle. For more information see my contact/policy page above!