Lots of things to be done and a recipe or two, you can read if you like – it’s right up to you!

This is a time of year when our newsfeeds are full of new year’s resolutions and memories of the year gone by.  It’s a time when we make decisions about the coming year and feel full of excitement and ideas and plans.  Well, after our feverish few months running up to the festive period I actually took a couple of days to sit back and do nothing other than drink hot chocolate, watch Christmas films and snuggle on the sofa with a blanket, a cup of tea and our dog – which was great but then, as usual, I had to get up and get on with things (I am well known in our family for being rubbish at sitting still) and so I’ve been making plans for the Little Lemon for next year, tidying and sorting, and making yummy things for our Christmas guests like these Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies from Donal Skehan’s website (I discovered him recently on Pinterest and his site is full of divine-looking food). This is the best recipe for chocolate cookies I’ve ever found – they were definitely the most delicious cookies I’ve made and they didn’t last long with our guests (I might also have eaten quite a few of them!)

choc_cookies

 

I discovered this delicious-looking cake on his website, made by Kate Packwood of the Wild Flour Bakery in Ireland.  I’m planning to fit in a bit more baking in the new year in amongst all the fudge-making for our markets so this might be a good one to start with:

Wild-Flour-Kate_25Doesn’t it look amazing?  Speaking of cake, back in November we made the wedding cake for our dear friends Gemma and Ian whose wedding took place in the beautiful Tudor Barn in Burnham.  It was a three-tier cake (chocolate, ginger and butterscotch) with a cream cheese icing and decorated with winter flowers and berries to match the bride’s bouquet:

ramoway_cake

 

Early in the new year we’ll be creating some new flavours of fudge – every now and then someone who comes to our stall will suggest a flavour that they’d like us to try out (this is how our celebrated Salted Caramel fudge came about) and quite a while ago a lady asked us about passionfruit fudge which she’d had in New Zealand.  We’ve also had requests for liquorice and for pistachio; up until now we’ve not been able to track down the perfect ingredients but we’ve managed to do so, so look out for some exciting new additions to our collection!

While I’ve been writing this, George has been asleep on my lap and my legs are full of pins and needles so I’m off to make myself a salted caramel hot chocolate, but I’ll leave you with possibly the cutest selection of pics I’ve seen this year:

animals

 

Happy New Year!

 

 

Around the world in 412 days

Exactly four years ago today, my husband and I boarded a plane bound for Marrakech, the first stop on a fourteen month journey around the other side of the world. I can’t believe it was that long ago – we had such an amazing time (laughs, excitement, adrenaline, slight panic, elephants…) and made good friends along the way. I thought I’d share some of our memories with you; it sounds a bit cheesy but it really was a once in a lifetime experience.

Below are some pics from our time away, as well as an explanation of how we ended up shoving our lives into a backpack and trekking through South East Asia, Australasia and the US.  And if I’ve rambled on too much and you’d rather just look at our blog from the trip to see more pics and hear about our adventures, you can scroll down to the link near the bottom!

nine

Left to right: A helpful sign on Ko Phi Phi, Thailand; getting ready to jump out of a plane in New Zealand; in Beijing for Chinese New Year; Flinders Street station in Melbourne; giving an elephant a bath in Luang Prubang, Laos; visiting a minefield in Cambodia; the beautiful landscape in New Zealand; climbing a glacier in Franz Josef, New Zealand; sitting in ‘Central Perk’, LA. 

Simon had always wanted to go travelling and I had thought about it a few times, but life sort of took over as it has a habit of doing.  I’d spent three years at university as a mature student taking my teaching degree and we’d also got married so we both thought we’d probably missed our opportunity.  Our change of heart happened during my first year of teaching; my school was a difficult one and it became quite apparent that twelve hour days and working over the weekend was going to be the norm.  I loved my job but I believe really strongly in having a decent life outside work and I had to make an important decision about whether or not to continue in education (those of you who know me well will know that I did go back, after our trip.  It seems that education is something I’m really passionate about and it’s hard to escape!) So, fairly early on in that school year we said “sod it” and decided to go.  I needed to finish my year at school, and then we had to start saving.

We’d spent over a year saving like mad, doing two jobs at a time as well as any other freelance work that came up (this is how I ended up working in theatre), and not going out much.  Everything had been so crazy in the final few weeks before our departure as we had to pack up all of our stuff and store it, organise mobile phone contracts etc, and we both worked right up until a day or two before we left.  That first day, we were both exhausted but really excited about what the coming months would bring.

We’d spent plenty of time perusing our Lonely Planet books (we have quite a collection of them) deciding where we were going to go – it was a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop; the world was pretty much our oyster and we had no restrictions on what we could do.  We also had no time limit – we would keep going until our money ran out! Some countries were ruled out by their restrictive entry regulations – I seem to remember that for us to visit Nigeria we would have to prove to them that we had several thousand pounds in the bank, and a letter from someone living in the country to vouch for us to stay where we said we we going to.  It all sounded a bit too much like hard work and with so many places to go, we decided that anywhere that made it hard for us to go wasn’t going to be that high on our list.

So, we’d made a rough plan of the countries we wanted to see and a (very) rough itinerary, but the only thing we’d booked before we left was our flights to Marrakech and a couple of nights’ accommodation in a Riyadh.  The rest of it we’d figure out once we got there – and this way meant we had a lot more freedom about where we went and how long we wanted to stay in each place.  It turned out that this was the best way to do it – we had so much freedom (which was partly what the whole travelling lark was about) and on many occasions during our trip we just decided in the morning where we were going next and booked it there and then (thank heavens for the internet!)

marrakech

Right at the beginning when we were very pale and pretty ‘green’…

Marrakech was a bit of a culture shock (it was November, we were very pale and were carrying enormous backpacks – it wasn’t until a month or so later that we began to look like seasoned travellers) but after our first day there we began to become a little more confident. We only stayed for a few days in the end, before deciding that what we really needed was a week of relaxing on a beach somewhere to wind down from our crazy year.  After that, the real travelling could commence!

In our fourteen months away, we did some incredible things, visited eighteen different countries (Thailand several times, Australia and China twice), jumped out of an aeroplane, rode elephants, climbed the Great Wall of China, saw the Beach Boys in concert in Manila, climbed a glacier, blagged our way into a red carpet film premier in LA and much more besides.  Oh, and we’ve also visited every Disneyland on the planet!

I could write pages and pages about our trip but I think the best way to tell you all about it is for you to read our blog – head on over to http://bigadventure.simoncrowley.com and take a look for yourself…

The Little Lemon, the Little Fox and lots of Duckies

I know I’ve not written for a while and have been meaning to for a few weeks but I hadn’t realised until I checked yesterday that it’s actually been about six weeks since I wrote about our weekend in Monza, and the main reason is that we’ve been rushed off our feet making giant mountains of fudge which is never a bad thing! This is the Little Lemon’s first festive season so we’ve jumped in feet first and booked ourselves in for eight markets and a wedding cake, all before the middle of December. Sound crazy? Well, maybe a little bit but it’s been so much fun so far that despite not being able to move for crates of fudge in our house we’re really enjoying ourselves.

We’ve twice had friends round for the evening to help us cut and package fudge in return for dinner, which is an alternative to Tupperware evenings (although now I come to think of it, it’s probably not that different) and we’ve been busy putting together our gift boxes too. This weekend, our Canadian friend Chaps who is on tour in Paris with Cirque de Soleil came to visit us and was not deterred at all by us roping him in to help at Lighting Up The Manor (setting up a state of the art show in a ginormous tent all over the world is nothing compared with setting up the Little Lemon…)

blue_gift_inst red_gift_inst small_gift_instNext weekend we’ll be at the Duck Pond market for Saturday AND Sunday; the last time we did a two-day event there was the Medieval weekend in August which was brilliant, and this time there’ll be Christmas music and mulled wine! Can’t wait.  After that we’ll be back at the Little Fox for an evening market (“The Starlight Market” which just sounds lovely and Christmasy) and then another two-dayer at the Duck Pond in mid-December. Phew. Oh, and some dear friends are tying the knot at the end of this month and we’re delighted to be making their cake for them. They’ve chosen beautiful autumnal colours for the wedding – imagine deep reds, burnt oranges, winter berries and leaves and you’ll get an idea – and the decoration of the cake will complement the bride’s bouquet. We’re very excited about it!

hello_christmas

We’re so pleased that the Little Lemon has taken off so well, and even the website is starting to garner more attention with online orders coming in and people tweeting us lovely messages about our fudge.  So, come mid-December we’ll have a chance to sit down and rest our aching feet, spend time with loved ones and enjoy a few days off, but until then it’s going to be a real whirlwind of a time. A big, Christmasy whirlwind covered in tinsel and baubles, of course.

A very noisy but awesome weekend in Italy

After our few days in the beautiful Bellagio on our holiday last week, we packed our bags and headed south to Limbiate, a small town outside of Milan and close enough to Monza to get to the Autodromo Nazionale for the Italian Grand Prix.

I thought we might get away with doing a little less walking for the second half of our holiday but no – at least this time none of it was uphill though.  Our journey to the circuit every day involved a twenty minute drive to the station at Dessio, a few stops on the train to Monza and then a lovely forty-five minute walk through the beautiful old town and then through the Monza Park.  It meant that we didn’t have to battle with the thousands of other people crammed onto the buses to and from the circuit each day, and the park was pretty (plus lots of people walking their dogs so I got my daily fix of fluffy).

IMG_1137The Royal Villa of Monza park

On the Thursday of the race weekend we headed to the circuit and joined loads of other people in the pit lane where we got to watch some of the teams practising pit stops which was pretty cool, and then we walked around the pit straight and bumped into Jenson and Checo (McLaren) just before they jumped into a van to do the track guide for Sky and for the BBC. As the sun started to set, we wandered around to the old banking which used to be part of the track until 1969.  It’s so steep it’s insane – we climbed up it but to get down again we had to shuffle on our bottoms!

IMG_1134After free practise on the Friday, we had a Paddock tour organised thanks to a contact of Simon’s at the Caterham team and the lovely Cyril who let us hang around a little longer than we should have done!  We managed to have a chat and some photos with Simon Lazenby and Ted Kravitz from Sky F1, Eddie Jordan and several of the drivers, which was awesome.  Cyril also showed us around the Caterham garage so we saw the cars being taken apart for the night as well, and then a quick drink in the Caterham motorhome.  It was a brilliant experience and made the whole weekend perfect – hot sunshine, fast cars and a few celebs, fantastic!  The race itself wasn’t one of the most exciting of the season but just being there is exciting enough, and the track invasion as soon as the chequered flag was waved at the end of the race was also totally insane – thousands of fans (many Ferrari, of course) climbing over the fences and running down towards the podium to see the drivers and their trophies, and enormous confetti cannons going off, covering us with red, white and green confetti and streamers.  We got squashed but caught up in the euphoria – there really is nothing like it.  Just being there for the long weekend is brilliant and if I could, I’d be off to a race once a month at least.

We were totally knackered by the end of it all, and were up and out of our apartment at 6.30 on the Monday morning for our long drive back up to Paris where we stopped for 24 hours before heading home to Blighty – ciao Italia!

Paddock_presenters

Top left: Mark, me, Simon Lazenby and hubby Simon Top right: Simon being “interviewed” by Ted Kravitz  Bottom left: with Eddie Jordan  Bottom right: Simon and me in front of McLaren’s motorhome with their ’50 Years’ livery

Paddock_drivers_two

Bottom left: with Roman Grosjean, Lotus  Right: with Jacques Villeneuve

Paddock_drivers

Left: Hubby with Pastor Maldonado (Wiliams)  Top right:  with Max Chilton, Marussia  Bottom right:  with the legendary Nikki Lauda

IMG_1161Two Eddie Jordans…

 

In which we went up (quite a lot) and a three hour walk turned into a nine hour walk

Yesterday was our second day in Italy and we decided to take a walk up one of the mountains here in Belagio.  We were pretty well organised and had a shed load of water with us, a packed lunch and we’d covered ourselves in sunscreen.  The scenery here is beautiful and we chose a three-hour mapped walk up through the forest to the top of one of the mountains.  The ‘up’ started like this:

IMG_1017And there was plenty more of it – it was a beautiful walk (hard work, especially when you’re a little unfit like I am) but after about an hour we were halfway and reached a great panorama where we stopped to take pictures (and get our breath back), then continued on for another couple of hours.  The Italian path markers are a little scatty and the timings are  not quite as accurate as they might be, and so it took us longer than expected to reach the top but when we finally go there, the view was worth it:

IMG_1025

Our original plan was to take a bus back down into Belagio but the bus stop wasn’t immediately obvious and we were feeling brave so we decided to follow the path signs (“2 hours 10” – this turned out not to be entirely true) but we lost the path, marked by red and white slashes of paint on trees and rocks along the way, so we went on a detour through the forest until we found the path again.  Along the way we stumbled through a farm which was part of the pathway and made friends with some horses.

Once we found the correct path again, we found another beautiful vista at about 900m above sea-level, then worked our way back down through the forest.  The first part was so steep (and close to the sheer drop) that I climbed down almost on my hands and knees.  We descended 600m in about an hour so that gives you an idea of how steep the path through the forest was, but it was brilliant!  It got a little bit hairy when the sun started to set and we were still amongst the trees, but we made it out while the sky was still pink and with aching knees, ankles and hips (we’re not twenty-one any more…) we headed back to the apartment, showered and strolled – quite slowly and gingerly – to the local ristorante for a delicious meal and an Italian beer.  We tried out our Italian (“grazie mille”) and discovered that the owner of the restaurant had lived in Southend for twenty-one years so his English was perfect but he helped us with our Italian pronunciation before we said our buona nottes and strolled (less gingerly this time for the beer had worked some magic) up the hill to our apartment and into bed.

IMG_1036

 

Day twenty-five of the 30 day photography challenge – strangers

It’s far too easy not to really notice other people as we go about our business every day – I know I’m usually rushing about from one place to the next and always thinking about something as I go (although, oddly, I often seem to notice people’s shoes, no matter how quickly I’m walking…).

When we were at Silverstone in June, we had a brilliant time because there was so much going on but also because everyone there was also having a great time and there was a really friendly atmosphere.  It felt like we really did notice other people more, and there was a lot of friendly banter between us (even the people in the next tent who stumbled home in the early hours one morning and woke us up by shouting at the chap in the tent on the other side to stop snoring).

On the Friday night, we joined our fellow race-goers and campers in the Big Top for a bit of live music and in front of us I spotted a young dad with his little boy, enjoying a bit of guy-time.  I couldn’t help but take this pic because I thought it was adorable.  What do you think?

IMG_0610

Day twenty-four of the 30 day photography challenge – animals

I’m completely smitten by our dog George and think he’s beautiful but I stole myself away from pictures of him for this challenge and chose to share pictures of the gorgeous baby bunny rabbit I met at the petting zoo at the Duck Pond market.  As you can see, it took a few attempts to get him to look at the camera but we got there eventually!  Here he is, sitting on my lap and getting used to being papped:

bunnies

Day twenty-three of the 30 day photography challenge – patterns

I like the patterns found in nature and this one in particular appealed to me – it’s blue skies and sunshine, clouds, and aeroplane trails from the Red Arrows!  If you look carefully at the bottom right hand corner you’ll see a couple of flags from the grandstands – one of them a chequered flag and the other a Union flag (we were sitting amongst lots of other McLaren/Jenson Button/Lewis Hamilton fans that day).  If you look even closer, you’ll see that the bright white swirl in the middle of the picture is in actual fact five Red Arrows – but I just love the pattern of the clouds in this picture.  And it reminds me of English summers…

IMG_0618

Day twenty-two of the 30 day photography challenge – inspirational

I find lots of things which are inspiring – other people, songs I hear, pictures I see, articles I read – but right now I’m reading a book which I bought ages ago and have only just got round to reading.  It’s Brian Epstein’s autobiography, “A Cellarful of Noise” which was written in 1964, three years before his untimely and unexpected death.  Any among you who are Beatles fans will probably know quite a bit about him, at the very least that he was their manager.  In the book he comes across as a very genuine and gentle man, aware of his shortcomings (he’s not afraid to say “I was hopeless at school” or “I was a useless soldier and not suited to the RAF at all”) but bent on doing the very best for the band he so admired.

I think that the Beatles’ story itself is inspiring so reading about Epstein and his part in it is particularly interesting.  I don’t know if the book is still in print (I would imagine probably not) but I was lucky enough to get hold of my original copy from a second-hand bookshop – it’s now forty-nine years old (eek) so I’m taking very good care of it!

IMG_0933

Day twenty-one of the 30 day photography challenge – faceless self portrait

The idea of taking a picture of myself without a head seemed a bit odd, so then I thought about taking a picture of just the bottom half.  When I took this one, it was towards the end of a rather busy day and so I’m sitting on the sofa with my feet up:

IMG_0015