Archive for August, 2013

My kitchen rules

Well, they’re not rules as such. It’s more of a theory on how I cook/bake. It’s not even a theory. That makes it sound like a well reasoned method with some philosophy behind it. It’s actually more of a control freak thing. I hate people sneakily adding things to my food that I didn’t ask them to put there.

Things I do not use in my kitchen.

1. Self raising flour
What an abomination! If I wanted baking powder in my flour, I’d bloody well put it there myself. By using plain flour and bicarb, I can regulate how much is in there and control the end result. With self raising, I know they probably mix it together pretty well, but the proportions of flour to raising agent aren’t going to be exactly the same in each batch so you lose control of the end result. I also find my otherwise smooth cake gets bumps all over the surface when I use self raising. Urgh.

2. Baking powder
Again, someone else has mixed bicarb with something else and packaged it for me. If I wanted my bicarb mixed with other stuff, I’ll do it myself, thank you.

3. Salted butter
Stop adding stuff to my food! If I wanted salt in there, I’d have put it myself. Actually, I make my own butter at home most of the time, by whipping double cream, so I know there’s no salt in it anyway.

4. Pre-mixed spice mixes
A generic ‘piri-piri’ spice makes me cringe. A curry powder sets me on edge. When did we start having to conserve our arm energy to the extent where taking five or six spices down from the cupboard became too exhausting and we opted for the catch-all curry powders? If you have some curry powder or garam masala or dried herb mix in your cupboard, I’d like you to go and get it out. Read the ingredients on the label. Next time you go shopping, just buy those herbs/spices individually. You may find there’s something in there you like loads, oregano, for example. Next time you make something that requires dried herb mix, you can put in more of the oregano and less of the other stuff. Take back control of your dinner! These generic spice mixes mean giving control of the taste of your dinner to someone who has no idea what you like eating. I do have a few mixes I’ve made myself in a salt and pepper mill. A Moroccan one, for example, which had cracked nutmeg, blades of mace, chilli flakes, whole allspice, whole peppercorns, etc, so when I’m making Moroccan food, it gets all crunched in there, fresh, and hasn’t been ground months ago, half way across the world.

5. Table salt
Another energy-conserving thing, I think. It’s far too much effort to have lovely chunks of rock salt and crush them over a plate of food or use a grinder. One must have it pre-ground into tiny dots and just sprinkle it. I despair. Let’s get back to grinding.

6. Margerine/vegetable/olive oil spread
The spread things that are a mix between butter and vegetable oil are pretty atrocious. If I wanted vegetable fat in my butter, I’d bloody well put it there myself. The olive oil spreads that are being advertised as super healthy, eurgh. If the olive oil in there was good high quality, they’d be selling it as proper olive oil and getting a lot more money for it. The olive oil that makes it’s way into the spreads is like the offcuts of cake that you nibble to test it. It’s the waste product. If I wanted to eat olive oil so much, I’d just get the good stuff out of the bottle in my kitchen.

7. Bolognese sauce
Omg, the easiest thing ever to make at home. Half tomatoes into a pan and heat gently til they break down. And any herbs or spices that you like and season well. Done.

8. Vanilla extract
Easiest. Thing. Ever. And so much cheaper to make the proper way. Enough of this £10 fancy Dr. Oetker stuff. The amount of extra ingredients in that stuff is ridiculous. Vanilla extract is just vanilla pods preserved in vodka. On my shelf is a bottle of good quality vodka jammed with scored vanilla pods which has been slowly brewing for over a year now. It’s that simple. When it gets low, I add more vodka. When it starts to look pale, I add more vanilla pods.

9. Grated cheese
Pre grated cheese… Vomit! What an awful awful invention. It’s dry, the texture is hard and plasticky. I mean, it’s just an atrocity. Take a block of cheese and grate it. It takes about 30 seconds. Are our lives really so busy that we need this time saving device? The cheese that you get pre grated is barely even worth it. It’s a waste. I’d much rather have no cheese at all. There’s no flavour. There’s no freshness. Pre grated cheese is like one big sorry mess. Can we ban this via an act of parliament please?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of my little rant against the food industry. I’d like to think it’s because I’m terribly Mother Earth-y and love to make things from scratch but I think it’s more personal than that. I think it’s more about being annoyed when people think they know what I want. How dare people put salt in my butter?! Did they ask me?! No! How rude!

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The handbags and the gladrags…

It’s Friday morning and here I am again, writing about the time I jumped on a bandwagon, cause Emily and Ashley told me to. I’ve no idea what I’m going to write really, so let’s just see what happens.

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I can start by telling you about a bandwagon I didn’t jump on. I didn’t jump on the Take That bandwagon when one of the popular girls in juniors, Amy, decided she loved them, as did a lot of other girls.

I did, however, jump on the PJ and Duncan bandwagon (that’s Ant and Dec to most of you). I don’t know if they had their own bandwagon, as such, but my friend Hannah liked them, hence I liked them. Her and I went to quite a few of their concerts.

My other friend, Ruth, and I once wrote them a letter before one of their concerts. We must have been about 11 years old. We were all into learning dance routines off Top of the Pops or making up our own so this one time we had tickets to one of their concerts. We had matching outfits ready for the concerts, by the way. O yes, matching outfits. We didn’t do things by halves, Ruth and I. We had black tight fit t-shirts that said ‘Right On’ in silver lettering, a white denim skirt (yes, white denim), black pump things with a bit of a heel, a pale denim jacket and a little black over-the-shoulder handbag thing. All matching. Boy, did we look cool!?

And we wrote them this letter which was something along the lines of “Do you need backing dancers for your next concert in Liverpool because we’re really good and already have dance moves to all your songs so we could be your dancers.” I’m also pretty sure Ruth asked PJ to send a pair of his pants with his reply.

We never got a reply. Which surprises me.

Actually, talking of having matching handbags, Ruth and I jumped on that bandwagon bigtime! We decided, when were maybe 15 years old, that it was time for us to join the world of grown ups and have handbags.

Our first foray into the handbag world was filled with nervousness and there was a lot of discussion about how best to go about it. I think Ruth’s first one was a cute grey fluffy backpack type thing. I’m not sure what mine was, probably more of a shoulder bag. We experimented with what exactly to put in it. I remember us both being like, “What on earth do people have in them?” So Ruth went on a discovery mission and looked through her Mum’s handbag.

I remember her being like, “Ok, she had a pen in there,” so we both ran off, got a pen, put it in our handbags and felt like we were real grown ups cause we had proper handbag items.

We were in such a rush to grow up, Ruth and I. We spent hours poring over Argos and Next catalogues, looking through the ‘home’ section and deciding how we would decorate the flat we would live in. Even down to the design of the taps in the bathroom. We had a little scrapbook where we cut out all the things we saw that we liked and stuck them in then spent ages looking through it all.

When we were about 17 and people had starting ‘going out’ drinking and clubbing, we decided to jump on the ‘clubbing’ bandwagon but in a comparatively rubbish way. My mum and her then-boyfriend were going for a drink at a kind of upmarket fancy pub-club place called Yates’ on Allerton Road (the cool girls at school went all the way into town to the proper over-18s clubs whereas Allerton Road was just a shopping road with one or two gastropubs at the end) so Ruth and I went with them.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. My first Big Night Out was to a slightly fancy gastropub with my mum.

Mother and boyfriend went and stood a little way off so as not to ruin our Cool Factor and it was at this point that we decided to give ‘drinking’ a go. I think we probably got some kind of bottled soft drink thing with about 0.2% alcohol content that wouldn’t even get a toddler tipsy. I was doing a bit of dancing cause I’d heard that’s what people did when they went out. Ruth, however, was having none of that silliness. She sat on a high stool while I bobbed about and sang “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!” in her face (while also changing the word ‘roof’ to ‘Ruth’ and feeling terribly clever).

I can’t remember if we Talked To Any Boys on this occasion (another bandwagon I was pretty keen to jump on) or even if we stayed out past midnight. I imagine we didn’t. I’m pretty sure we just walked to the car and drove the five minutes back home and got into bed.

When I’d be in school after this occasion and girls would sometimes ask who’d started Going Out Clubbing, I would always pipe up.

“O yeh, I have, yeh. I’m mad for it, me! Can’t stop going out! Yeh, I love all that. The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!”

It was quite a long time, after this one evening out before I actually did start clubbing and we all know how that turned out.

Why I do the things I do

Why do I……?

-Wash my hair twice with shampoo before conditioner.
-Cause the hairdresser did it once and it felt really soft afterwards.

-Not drink alcohol.
-Cause it turns me into a TOTAL idiot. And nobody needs to see that crap.

-Not stack dirty things up, like bowls or plates or tubs.
-Cause my dad once pointed out that it makes the underside of everything dirty as well, meaning double the cleaning.

-Sometimes plait or twist my hair in to a hairband then tie it on the side.
-Cause I think it makes me look a bit like the picture of Meg on the front of my copy of Little Women and she was considered the prettiest. Hence, the hairdo means that I also will be the prettiest.

-Sometimes cut my hair myself.
-Cause it makes me feel a bit retro and Bohemian. And sometimes I don’t have enough money for the expensive hairdressers nearby but am too lazy to walk any further.

-Not eat stilton even though it’s quite nice if I eat it by accident.
-Because it’s mould, people. Mould. If the thing that is growing on my cheese was growing on my bread, I’d throw it away. And so, I think, would you.

-Not allow celeriac in my house.
-Because it is boring and has a stupid name.

-Not trust raspberries.
-Because you buy em on Monday. They look lovely. They look tasty. Oo, you can’t wait to get stuck in! You fridge em. You open the fridge the next day to make raspberry jam.. those damned raspberries are mushy and growing mould already! Not to be trusted.

-Not go to the doctor.
-Cause I’m too tough.

-Not wear gloves for washing the dishes.
-Again, too tough.

-Not check my stats on my WordPress site.
-Cause I’m too cool (for this, read: there’s probably only been 1 pageview whereas I’m imagining there’s thousands.)

-Order my food from an online organic fruit and vegetable place and have it delivered.
-Cause I’m cool and environmentally aware (for this, read: too lazy to walk down to the shops.)

-Bake a cake every morning at home even though my job is to make cakes all day.
-Because you can never have too much cake in your life, people! Never forget this.

-Have the windows open all year round.
-I read something once about this man having no roof on his house so he could sleep under the stars and saying he woke up some mornings and was covered in snow but he loved it and he was in touch with nature more. I haven’t taken the roof off my house but leaving the windows open all year is my version.

-Scoop my spoon away from me when I eat soup.
-Because my friend Alison and I decided when we were 17, that we wanted to be sophisticated. So we read great works of literature, hung out in bookshop cafes, went to the theatre every week and discussed it at length and ate our soup ‘properly’. Although I realise that it was a little childish, a part of me still hopes someone sees me eating my soup ‘properly’ and thinks, “Gosh, she’s terribly sophisticated.”

-Use my ring finger to put moisturiser or anything on my face.
-Because my grandma told me that’s how you keep your skin on your face young and fresh and it stops you getting wrinkles when you’re older.

Day trip 5 – Wolferton

Morning all. Welcome to another guest post from the fabulous Rambler5319. Enjoy!

This is another of my days out from the holiday. This time it was to Wolferton. Never heard of it? I think most people won’t have. The village is built round a kind of U-shape made by the main route through. The approach roads to the U-shape actually form a X shape (check the satellite view on Google). Imagine the bottom of the X joining the top of the U and you’ve got the idea. You can drive down by turning off the main A149 and just keep on the same road and it will bring you back via the U and the other part of the X-shape to the A149 a little further along.

Why is the place interesting? Well primarily because this is the place which was used by the Royal Family when they travelled by train from London to their Sandringham House about 3 miles away. Apparently Queen Victoria’s son (the future) Edward VII had asked her to buy Sandringham House for himself and his bride to be, Alexandra; and she did! Within 2 years though he decided it wasn’t big enough so had it enlarged.

Wolferton Station is where the train stopped and the Royals and their guests would be picked up either by horse & carriage in the early days or by motorised transport in later years. Those guests included crowned heads of state from many foreign countries. As I walked along the platform I realised I was walking where Queen Victoria had walked (Prince Albert had died the year before it opened). Rasputin also visited on his way to see King George V but the king wouldn’t see him and told the station master to send him away! Other visitors over the years who have walked this platform include: the King & Queen of Denmark, the King & Queen of Portugal, the Emperor & Empress of Germany, the King & Queen of Spain. Just a year after it opened Edward VII (Prince of Wales) married Princess Alexandra (of Denmark) at Windsor and they travelled to Sandringham via the station at Wolferton. When it underwent a reconstruction in 1898, amongst other things, royal waiting rooms were added so that they (and any guests) had somewhere to sit in case transport was delayed getting to them or they needed somewhere to wait for a train if they were leaving the area. (The station closed in May 1969; it had been open for 107 years.)

Around the time the station opened there were about 30 houses in the village and a population of 179. It appears to have peaked around the time of the 1901 Census at 234 (and 46 houses) and is presently around 100 according to a recent press report.

After the station closed the property was split up and sold off as private housing. Initially it was run as a museum but proved financially unviable. It was sold again and the man who now owns the west side platform turned it into a restoration project. It is brilliant! You get a real sense of how much time & effort he’s put into it – and it shows. The place is spotless and a pleasure to walk around.

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Just along from this is the way in. Note the small sign on the post saying it’s ok to go in and walk around.

Just as I was taking the pics outside a guy had just come out of the gate and stopped to talk to me. Turns out he actually worked on the line back in the 1960s. It was great hearing about the “old days” when he was a guard and especially since the whole line has gone; he really brought the place to life with his stories of how things were.

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And behind over the road was the signal box also now in private hands.

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Here’s where the track used to be between the platforms.

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You can see that the platform on the right belongs to a different owner and is fenced off. Would have been nice to see the whole station refurbished but you have to accept that not everyone likes people walking through their property.

Here is something interesting. In case of fire there were five buckets of water hanging on the wall. The notice, if you enlarge it, simply says that they must be kept full of water and used only in case of fire. I’m thinking you couldn’t do much with 5 buckets but I suppose it depends how big the fire is.

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And a luggage trolley

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And a bike

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A little reminder of how we used to fill our cars with petrol. The pump of course was operated by the garage owner not by you. Self-service petrol was still some way in the future.

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Check this next sign out.

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A car cost 1/- (5p) for a day; for a week 2/6 (12.5p); for a month 7/6 (37.5p); for 3 months 20/- (£1); and for 1 year £3. Yes a year’s parking, all day, for £3! Pity it was undated but clearly from a long time ago.

Next is a list of all the companies who have operated trains which called at Wolferton (on the King’s Lynn to Hunstanton line). Check out the note underneath that list – the guy responsible for getting the railway built (Henry LeStrange) died just a couple of months before it opened in Oct 1862.

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Next are a few signs of railway memorabilia.
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Note on this display the sign under the Ladies Room – well thought out that one.

On this next one I hope you can see the long narrow sign in the centre. Failure to shut and fasten the gate could cost you a fine of 40 shillings (£2). Now remember the car parking fees. It was only £3 for a year’s parking

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Even in a fairly small village station like this the Station Master has his own office.

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But there’s more. A short way from the station was the station master’s house – a substantial detached property! This was definitely THE job to have round here in days gone by. One Master who retired in 1925 had done 40 years in the post!

On the way out of the village I saw the sign. It was donated by George V in 1912. If you enlarge the post in the area to the bottom left of the horizontal bar with “Church” on you can just about see that info. The main part of the sign illustrates the Norse legend of Tyr (a god of war, son of Odin). I’m not sure why. Anyway the story goes that the gods decided to restrain the wolf (Fenrir) by using shackles. However the wolf was too strong and broke every one. Cutting a long story short the gods then got a special shackle of rope made from rather odd ingredients. Fenrir said he would only allow them to bind him if one of them would put their hand in his mouth. Tyr volunteered and after the wolf was bound and couldn’t break free he bit off Tyr’s right hand (although some sources don’t specify which hand). However on the village sign Tyr is shown putting what appears to be his left hand in the wolf’s mouth; so the beast was tamed, but Tyr lost his hand! I’m not sure what the other elements of the sign represent. Interestingly the Anglo Saxons spelling of Tyr’s name is Tiw which led to Tiwesdaeg, and hence to our modern Tuesday.

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The station has been owned by Richard Brown since 2000 and he’s done a fantastic job of renovation & restoration. It’s really worth a visit.

Oh and as well as my photos I picked up a couple of bookmarks (free of charge).

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More Phoebe stuff

Ok, it’s time to let you know what’s happening with Scandalous Innocent and there is an awful lot going on. After the non-mystery of finding the gold necklace with Phoebe’s name on it, we kind of finished off with Phoebe and Leo and suddenly jumped to 1803.

And you’ll never guess what happens? There is a woman called Phoebe living in the house that the earlier Phoebe and Leo lived in. She has a daughter. Her husband is dead. A man she hates cause her mother tried to get her to marry him three years ago turns up on her doorstep.

She’s like, “What do you want, loser?” He’s like, “Shut up, stupid woman. Totes done a bet with your brother last night while he was drunk and won this house! Yehhh! Woop woop! In your face!”

She’s all angry but it is her brother’s house so there’s not much she can do. Before he leaves the house after telling her this news, he grabs her hand, twists her arm up her back, drags her towards him and kisses her.

Niiiice. Smooth work, Viscount Ransome. O yes. That is his name, by the way. Rhymes with handsome and apparently he is. His nickname is also Buck Ransome.

The subtlety of this book is what I most enjoy.

Anyway, her name is Phoebe and she hates a man who keeps snogging her. Ring any bells? Sound like the first half of the book?

So what do we think happens here? The first person who gets it right wins a cake. So did you get it right? Yeh, he basically wins her over by saying she’s allowed to stay in the house while he owns it so long as she marries him.

O yes, Viscount Buck Ransome goes, “I know you hate me but just marry me and that.” She goes, “O but I hate you so much! I couldn’t possibly! Even though you are so handsome and I totally fancy you loads and loads. But no! O, um, ok, maybe. I’m thinking about it. Um. O, alright then. You’ve won me over with your physical bullying and by being slightly threatening.”

So they make out in the Ham House gardens just by the Orangery (that’s where I work!) and then get all filthy together in her little greenhouse among the cabbages and rhubarb. As one does in the 1800s.

It just gets better, doesn’t it? I’ll keep you updated.

The years that you were ours

Dear children,

For years you have been ours. From little tiny babies to walking talking children, we have watched you grow.

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You’ve tested our patience and taught us things we had forgotten in our adulthoods.

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Things like the joy of a cool outfit.

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The tastiness of plastic toys.

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The fun of sitting in a suitcase.

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The apprehension of learning to swim.

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The excitement of being given a present and spending more time playing with the cardboard.

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The uncontrollable laughter that bursts out when you do your hair up the same.

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The simple honest love that children haven’t learned to hide yet.

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The beauty of a small child’s face.

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But you have started to grow now, children. You speak. You walk. You make pictures.
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You make Lego.

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You stick stickers.

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You tell us about school and nursery and make up games for us to play for your amusement. You know our faces and you want us to read you bedtime stories. You come for dinner and look sad when you have to go home. You have likes (the colour green and snakes) and dislikes (having your photo taken).

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But these years have been precious. These were our years.

Last night, you got on an ‘ellaflane’ and flew to ‘Stralia’ to begin your new life. And that’s that. England will be a distant memory. Yaya will remember it better as he is five. Your other family will become real people and we will become the Skype crowd. We will still love you and send you gifts in the post but you will be terribly, terribly far away.

These years have been ours.

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Your next years will belong to someone else.

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Cake day

I bet you’re all hanging on the edge of your seat, wondering what happened after my gluten free failure the other day? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I arrived in the kitchen the next day, eggs in hand, and rectified the mistake. The result was a nice light fluffy sponge with moisture from the plums and texture from the ground almonds and it all went fabulously.

Yesterday, I went into work a bit early and I thought I’d give those gluten free members of the public a bit of choice so I made a chocolate torte. My phone had a freak out so I couldn’t take any photos of that cake but you’ll have to trust me that the experiment was successful. I’ll give you the recipe at the end. I added raspberries and it went down quite well with the public. The first one sold out in an hour! Then I got a bit crazy and adapted the recipe to make a chocolate, orange and almond torte.

Now I tend to think of gluten free cake as Compromise Cake, cause it’s usually a rubbish version of real cake. I resolved to change this in my kitchen and to make cake that is actually nice, not just gluten free nice, which we all know, means ‘rubbish.’

I also attacked the Overripe Fruit bowl and made a banana and plum cake, an apple upside down cake and a savoury apple bread thing that we served with cheese.

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I made a total of 18 cakes yesterday. It was a pretty good day.

Chocolate almond torte
(adapted from BBC Goodfood recipe)
250g dark chocolate
210g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
75g ground almonds
5 eggs, whisked

Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease a round cake tin then line the bottom with baking paper and grease again. Melt the chocolate, butter and sugar down. Take it off the heat and let it cool while you whisk the eggs. Mix them in to the chocolate mixture then fold in the almonds. Bake on 170c for about 45 minutes or until it looks done. Let it cool in the tin. It will sink a bit and the end result is something denser than a sponge and lovely and rich. It is pretty when decorated with icing sugar and small edible flowers.

Adaption 1 – Chocolate raspberry torte

Everything is the same as above except you add the raspberries at the end and when it is finished, decorate the top with raspberries. There’s no hard and fast rule about how many raspberries to add. If you LOVE raspberries, then add loads. If you just want a little hint of something else, only add a few.

Adaption 2 – Chocolate orange almond cake
This one is spongier than the torte as I have added bicarb to rise it and rice flour to give it a lighter texture.

200g dark chocolate
210g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
60g any gluten free flour (I used rice flour)
5 eggs
75g ground almonds
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large orange or 2 small clementine/mandarin type things

Do the same as above by melting the chocolate, butter and sugar together. Then add the whisked eggs once mixture has cooled a bit. Add the flour and the bicarb then zest and juice your orange(s) in. Now here is where you have to use some initiative. Stick a teaspoon into the mixture (or your finger) and taste it. Does it taste orangey enough? If it’s orangey enough for you, then put it into the tin and bake. If not, grab another orange and get zesting and juicing til it tastes how you want it to. 

And so, my dears, go forth and bake! Be plentiful, be chocolatey and be gluten free!