Hummingbird Cake

hummingbird cake

It was my husband’s birthday recently and when I asked him what he would like for the celebration, he chose this one. I knew he would. The Hummingbird Cake is absolutely delicious and an outright winner when I make it.

Light, moist and covered in lashings of Cream Cheese Frosting, what’s not to love. I used walnuts in this recent bake, but you can use pecans too.

It comes from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, which is one of my favourite recipe books. A true gem if you have a sweet tooth like me and you’ll find everything from special occasion cakes to traybakes that you can knock up quickly on a Saturday afternoon.

It’s one of my cherished secret possessions, held captive from my step-daughter, who it really belongs to. When she has her own place I’ll give it back to her and get my own copy. Until then…

 

Ingredients

 

For the Cake

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml sunflower oil
  • 270g peeled bananas, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g tinned pineapple, chopped into small pieces
  • 100g shelled pecan nuts (or walnuts), chopped, plus extra, chopped and whole, to decorate
  • 2 quantities of Cream Cheese Frosting

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese, cold

 

You will need:

Three 20cm cake tins, base-filled with greaseproof paper

 

Method

 

Preheat the oven to 170C (Gas mark 3).

 

Put the sugar, eggs, oil, banana and cinnamon in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until all the ingredients are well incorporated (don’t worry if the mixture looks slightly split). Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and vanilla extract and continue to beat until everything is well mixed.

 

Stir in the chopped pineapple and pecan nuts by hand until evenly dispersed.

 

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tins and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

 

When the cakes are cold, put one on a cake stand and spread about one-quarter of the Cream Cheese Frosting over it with a palette knife. Place a second cake on top and spread another quarter of the frosting over it. Top with the last cake and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Finish with pecan nuts and a light sprinkling of cinnamon.

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least five minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.

 

hummingbird cake

Last piece of birthday cake and it was bigger than my cuppa. Win.

 

 

Siena: A Postcard From The Ledge

Our friends go to Tuscany every year and absolutely rave about it. So when it came to booking this year’s summer excursion I was eager to add it into the mix of possible destinations. Which is how I came to find myself standing on a plank, 12 ft in the air, holding on to the ledge of a first floor window this August.

 

We don’t really like to go on package holidays (when I say we, I mean me, SP, doesn’t really get involved in holiday bookings) as we, okay I, prefer to travel around a bit so that we can see more of the country.

 

SP wasn’t keen on the idea of Tuscany at first. “I was thinking that we’d go on more of a beach holiday”, he said, but after a 15 minute period of ‘time out’ he came round and I booked two return tickets to Pisa and dug out my copy of the Rough Guide to Italy.

 

San Gimignano, Tuscany

San Gimignano, Tuscany

 

Pictures of lush green rolling hills, carafes of Chianti and oodles of fresh pasta in mind-blowing sauces aside I couldn’t help thinking of the opening scenes in Quantam of Solace. You know the one where 007 chases a villain through the alleyways of Siena while the world famous Palio di Siena is in full swing. It seemed like a good idea to merge the two.

 

The Palio is a cultural event that has been taking place on the cobbled streets of the Piazza Del Campo since the 11th century. Horses are ridden bare-back by jockeys wearing bright Colors representing the 17 contrades, or city wards of Siena. The event and celebrations surrounding it last a few days, but the race itself lasts just 75 seconds on average.

 

There are two Palio events held each year, one in July and one in August, and our trip coincided with the second event. We arrived on the Saturday having spent a fantastic few days in Florence and checked in to our hotel for the weekend. Il Chiostro del Carmine is a really lovely hotel with charming and helpful staff. It is close to the Piazza Del Campo and was formerly a 13th century convent. This does mean there isn’t a lift, but it was fine for our needs.

 

The practice run for the Siena Palio takes place on the Saturday, but unfortunately it was raining and was called off. Rain stopping play isn’t that great in Siena, it’s quite small and with around 60,000 visitors in town for the big event, you are jostling for a bar stool!

 

Lucky for us, we had found Vivace, which had pulled us in earlier with its street sign promising a beautiful view. We weren’t disappointed, so we went back there and settled in for the evening.  The food here is delicious, the setting is stunning and the service is excellent. If you ever go to Siena, I thoroughly recommend it.

 

20150815_142827

 

Unfortunately, it was more of the same the next day and in between showers we managed to do a little sight-seeing. By early Sunday evening, the day of the race, we joined the throng of people gathered in the Piazza del Campo to learn that it wasn’t going to happen. Luckily for us we still had one more day in Siena and thankfully on the Monday the skies cleared and The Palio was good to go.

 

During my research I had come across this Daily Telegraph article and had bought tickets ahead of arriving in Siena – you can buy them when you are there if you want. You can watch The Palio from the cordoned off area in the centre of the Piazza for free, but at just 5ft 3 1/2 inches that’s not really an option for me and I did really want to see it. I had bought standing tickets in one of the grandstands and from the pictures it looked like it offered the perfect view.

 

Palio, Siena

 

It did, we had a fabulous view of the race, as you can see from these pictures, but what I hadn’t realised is that instead of being at the bottom of the grandstand and standing on the floor, we were guided towards the top of the grandstand, above people seated, to stand on top of the stand itself. There was nothing in front of us to hold on to (never would have passed health and safety) and along with the pre-race procession we were stood there for around 2 1/5 hours.

 

palio, siena

 

I did try to relax on the plank – there was a woman older than me up there and she seemed okay with it – but I’m obviously a wuss and was stiff as a board and gripped on to a first floor window ledge for dear life.

 

It was a long old wait clinging to the ledge, but once the procession was over and the horses drew up to the starting line, the thrill of the race was worth the wait. It was electrifying. My pulses haven’t raced that much since they used to hold power boat races in Bristol docks.

 

Palio, Siena

 

Mind you, I wasn’t the only one on edge that night. As I said the race is over super quick, and once the first horse had crossed the winning line men and boys climbed over the safety barricades and started jostling for a fight. Nothing serious broke out and I’m sure it’s just Italian machismo and the rivalry that’s been going on for centuries, but still, there was a lot squaring up going on. Perhaps it was all part of the show?  At that point the ledge was the best place to be!

 

If you are ever in Siena at the time of The Palio races, do go.  It’s wonderful to watch and brilliant fun to join in the celebrations. Just make sure you book yourself a seat.

 

Gail x

 

 

 

Welcome To My New Blog!

forty something blogger

Hi, I’m Gail.

 

Welcome to my blog.  Why, you might ask, am I doing this? There are so many bloggers out there already.

 

There are, for sure, lots of great bloggers that I love to read, follow and like, but I’ve found it quite hard to find blogs that I can relate to.

 

You see I’m in my forties. Quite brilliantly I can never remember exactly how old I am (yes this does actually happen to some women) until my husband reminds me. (Hopefully he won’t add a ‘comment’ underneath.) So I want to read about stuff that I’m interested in or things that I’m going through.

 

In my head I’ve not reached the middle of my life’s span, no, I’m still pretty much young in my head and my heart, but I now need a little more help. Choosing the right foundation has reached crisis point in recent years, as has making sure I have the best possible under eye cream, dark circle concealer and sunglasses to hand, at all times.

 

I love to read and be inspired, I’ve been an avid magazine consumer since I was young, and this has obviously now progressed to spending far too much time on the net, reading lifestyle websites, following inspiring bloggers from around the world, and like many, checking Instagram every five minutes.

 

What I’m missing is more ‘girl’ talk of my age group. I do want to look as good as I can and there are some great 40 something bloggers out there, that I’m following, but I don’t always fit into their readership as I’m not a mummy and won’t be going on the school run any time soon. I am a step-mum to my husband’s two teenage children, but as my mum has always said, “I can say what I like about my kids, but god help anyone else.” I respect that, so I won’t be talking about them very much.

 

No, I have always been and still am, a full-time working woman. They say find a career that you have a passion for and I did. I have worked in PR for many years and still enjoy it, very much. I live in Bristol, but mainly work in Bath and also from my office at home, which means sometimes I need to dress up and more often than not I need to just get dressed.

 

I do like to shop, but not as I used to. Hey, no-one needs to dress up to settle down for Strictly. There are a whole new set of rules past 40, say what you want, but they exist and are whispered in the quiet corner of the changing rooms. Thank god for private cubicles, many of us still bear the scars of the open plan changing room of Chelsea Girl circa. late 80’s.

 

Short sleeves are tricky and my daisy dukes are holiday-wear only nowadays, but I don’t want to give in entirely, I just need to find my way around the clothing situation. I make mistakes all the time, but I think I’m getting there, maybe. No matter what your age, as long as you feel good, you can wear what you like, right?

 

What else, well I love to travel. This is a mid-life crisis/meeting ‘the one’ later in life combo situation. I didn’t get married until I literally was eye-balling my forties. That wasn’t planned. I didn’t play hard to get. I just didn’t get together with my husband until I was in my late thirties. We married six months after he proposed, obvs! Since then it’s been a race to fit everything in. When I’m in that retirement home, I’m going to have some bloody good memories, or I’ll die now trying.

 

I also love to cook, my mum taught me, and I’m often inspired from the people that I work with. So you will likely see posts on here of recipes that I’ve tried to make while listening to Graham Norton, Michael Ball or Kiss FM (depends on the menu/company). I’m not good at going off piste with a recipe, but you might be interested (or not) in seeing what I’m cooking in case you fancy it too.

 

So this is me, a forty something blogger. Still learning, but with not much time on my hands, still keen to make the most of what god gave me, but struggling to appear as fresh as a daisy, still grasping life with both hands and not giving in.

 

I can’t be the only one out there, so I thought I would share the journey on a blog, just in case there’s someone else who also doesn’t want to give in! If you’re out there, join me for the ride.

 

Gail x