Rainbow Cake Recipe

The highlight of our Silver Wedding Anniversary party was Caiti’s cake. (I’ve written a book with that title – OK, it’s spelt Katie’s Cake but only because the editor wouldn’t let me name the heroine after my daughter!) Caiti, the Chef in Wellies, spent most of Tuesday cooking. So did Chris. I got my quiches and flapjacks out of the way early on to make way for the superior chefs! We were all toing and froing in and out of the kitchen all day so I have no idea how Caiti managed to keep the cake secret, but she did. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I cut the first slice. This is what I found:

Isn’t it completely awesome? It’s delicious on its own, or served with vanilla ice-cream or sour cream.

Here’s the recipe which Caiti took from this web page and adapted slightly and then introduced her rainbow colouring.

 

Caiti’s Rainbow Cake, based on Best Birthday Cake

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (500 g) plain flour

2 teaspoons (10 g) baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 g) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups (400 g) sugar

2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups buttermilk (475 ml) (you can make this by adding vinegar to ordinary milk)

 

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of baking paper, then butter the parchment.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda into a medium bowl.

3. In a larger bowl, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well.

4. Beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, beating in well.

5. Divide the mixture into 6, as evenly as you can, for the six layers. Colour each one in turn. Then pour into a cake tin and bake for approx 15 mins until it had risen and a knife poked in came out clean. Using the two tins means you can cook two layers at once.

6. Let the layer cool slightly, then remove from the cake tin to cool properly. Meanwhile, wash and reline the cake tin so you can reuse it for the next layer.

7. Assemble all the layers, with a thin layer of butter icing between each one to help them stick. Butter icing consisting of twice as much icing sugar as butter is a good one to use. Make plenty!

8. Coat the cake with icing, nice and thickly, so you can’t see the different colour layers through it.

Caiti’s top tip: put the layers briefly into the freezer. It makes them easier to handle while assembling the cake.

Yum!

 

Swallows

I posted a photo of four baby swallows the other day. Here it is again, in case you missed it. I’m pretty sure this is the parents’ third brood of fledglings this year. Swallows lay 4 or 5 eggs which take up to 21 days to hatch. Then it’s another ten days until the babies open their eyes, but another ten or so until they’re ready to fly off on their own.

These swallows are hirondelles rustiques – country swallows. As well as these, there are three other types to be found in Limousin –  hirondelles de rochers (rock or cliff swallows), hirondelles de rivage (bank swallows) and hirondelles de fenêtre (window swallows). All four types are protected under the nature protection act of 1976. It’s forbidden to destroy either them or their nests. You face a fine of up to €9,000 or imprisonment if you do.

We all know these days that swallows migrate to and from subtropical Africa, but in the old days, people thought they spent the winter hiding in reeds around lakes. They didn’t believe such small birds could make such enormous journeys. Swallows have been known to arrive in Limousin as early as the 21st of January (in 1991 and 2002), but usually it’s around the 20th of March that they begin to appear. They really do announce the arrival of Spring.

Swallow numbers are declining. According to the species, they have decrease between 60% and 80% since the 1980s, which is extremely alarming. The reasons include destruction of habitat in Europe, droughts in Africa, use of insecticides, climate change and loss of hunting grounds. Last year we lost most of our swallows here at Les Fragnes during the freak spell of cold weather in May that brought snow and strong winds. That was a disaster for French swallows.

Our swallows are country swallows and build their nests against or under beams in barns and other rural buildings. They are very happy to share their environment with other animals. Most of the nests here are in the stable where the guinea pig cages are and in the old woodshed which is now one of the llamas’ sheltering places. There are several nests in the llamas’ other shelter, an open-fronted stable. So it really does seem that the swallows like company.

Window swallows build on houses, along roof edges or above windows. These make themselves unpopular with home-owners because of the inevitable pile of poop that builds up underneath. This is a main reason for their nests being removed – illegally. The simple solution is to attach a piece of wood to the wall beneath the nest to stop the poop falling on heads or pathways, and to clean it once the swallows have departed in autumn. That isn’t too onerous, now is it?

 

Rock or cliffswallows are found on cliff faces, large rocks, barrages (dams) and bridges, while bank swallows inhabit anywhere sandy where they can burrow their nests, usually close to waterways.

We love our swallows and spend hours each year watching them catch insects over the lakes at dusk, or as they sit in long lines on the telegraph wires alongside our driveway. They dive and swoop around us as we do jobs on the farm and it’s always wonderful to see them arrive in spring. We don’t enjoy their departure in autumn so much as it means winter is on its way.

(Info taken from the leaflet about swallows published by SEPOL Limousin. Website at www.sepol.asso.fr/)

A Silver Day

It’s our silver wedding anniversary today. Here we are on our big day 25 years ago, 9th August 1986 at St Mary Magdalene Church in Westerfield, Suffolk. The Church celebrated its 900th anniversary that same year.

I can’t believe a quarter of a century has gone by. We’ve done a lot of things in that time – lived in three countries (and Chris has worked in a fourth), moved seven times, had three children, held an impressive variety of jobs, had ups and downs and triumphs and disasters – but most of all, been happy!

Here’s to our next 25 years.

Perles du Bac – Pearls of Wisdom in Bac Answers

My two teens took their Bacs this year. The Bac – Baccalaureat – is the set of exams kids take at the end of their second and third years at lycée. I blogged about it here.

Here are some pearls of wisdom that appeared in students’ answers to this year’s Bac. Benj and Caiti assure me they weren’t responsible for any of these!

 

Président Mitterand died from cancer of the womb.

Physics was discovered by accident in antiquity by Larry Stottle.

The earth would be covered in ice if it weren’t for the volcanoes inside it warming it up.

When a baby is born, it gives a loud cry, like Tarzan in the jungle.

The points of a compass are top, bottom, east and west.

Coca-cola fields run down the water supplies in India.

At the time of the Cold War, it was very cold.

Japan is a big island lost in the middle of the sea.

The surface area of Japan is bigger than France, smaller than New Zealand and about the same as Cuba.

General Aïe Zenhower commanded the disembarkations in 1942 in North Africa. (The French say ‘Aïe’ for ‘ouch’.)

The armistice is a war which ends every year on 11 November.

A septuagenarian is a shape with seven sides.

Socrates was forced to commit suicide himself.

There are two sorts of gas – natural gas and supernatural gas.

In towns, the problem of security is a problem of insecurity.

When there is trouble in the world, the UN sends in the Blue Baseball Hats. (The student wrote casquettes bleus rather than casques bleus = blue berets.)

 

 

Politically Incorrect Food

France isn’t known for its subtlety so it’s not really a surprise to come across some food items that make you wince slightly.

I’ve blogged about Banania before. This chocolatey drink is an institution in France, although it’s slowly losing its place on the supermarket shelves. I’m positive that a new image would do wonders for its sales. I only bought my first packet for blogging purposes. I’d avoided it like the plague up to till then because of the cringey packaging. Let’s be honest, it’s not a flattering portrayal of a little African boy, is it? It’s long been the source of controversy, with accusations of racism and colonialism being aimed at the manufacturers. I’d rather see a photo or graphic of some smiling modern-day kids from different ethnic backgrounds, or just a bowlful of the product. Let’s hope common sense will prevail soon.

On the left in the photo is a packet of biscuits called ‘cigarettes’. This looks like a good way to get kids smoking! Cigarette biscuits, or Russian cigarettes as they’re also known, are very tasty, all crunchy and almondy. They’re often served with ice-cream. A couple of breakfast cereal manufacturers have broadened the idea a bit to produce chocolate-lined cigarettes like these for kids to slurp their morning milk up through. They’re a nice product, but a really naff name. And they don’t look particularly like cigarettes anyway.

And finally for today (I’m pretty sure I shall return to politically incorrect food as an occasional blog subject), a jar of Bonne Maman jam. Bonne Maman literally means ‘good mummy’, but the Bonne Maman US site says it translates as ‘granny’. I’m sure there’s a subliminal message there that you’re only a good mummy or ‘granny’ if you make yummy jam! I imagined this name to go back into the mists of time, which would explain its tweeness, but in fact it only dates from 1971 although the manufacturers, Andros, had been producing the jam since the Second World War. Bonne Maman now accounts for 35% of the French jam and preserves market. I can see why, it is utterly delicious jam and comes in a fantastic array of flavours. So it’s a real success story, despite an offputting name. (And for the record, I do make my own jam too, but with varying degrees of success!)

Birthday

It was my birthday on the first of August. And despite the fact that I’m now in the last year of my forties, it was a great day!

Caiti made me some beautiful presents. I’ve tried several times over the years to teach her how to use the sewing machine, and to knit, as these are things I love doing. I feel duty bound to pass on what Mum taught me, all that mother to daughter stuff. Now, in the interests of equality, I did try to initiate Benj in the useful skills of sewing and knitting, but that go nowhere. There was every danger he’d sew himself to the machine as he treated it like a racing car, revving it up as fast as it would go. And on the knitting front, well, we settled for pompom making. I went into Innishannon School several years running with some other crafty mums to teach the whole class to sew and knit. Most of the boys turned out to be very good. But not our Benj!

Back to Caiti’s pressies. We did some sewing a little while ago, and suddenly she’s taken to it. My machine vanished up into her bedroom and then on my birthday she presented me with these wonderful homemade goodies. There’s a padded camera case, a fabric-covered notebook and a truly brilliant Kindle carrier. Aren’t they fab?

We went for a reasonably long family bike ride, past the peculiar truncated tower at Tercillat. We passed a plum tree spilling its small yellow fruit on the ground, so, of course, we stopped and helped ourselves to windfalls. I can’t resist plums.

I had several dips in the pool, amidst the usual farm-related chores and some writing. And to finish the day, a traditional Dagg family birthday tea with Pringles, tomato tart and pizza, cake and ice-cream. This year Caits made me a buckwheat cake with chocolate frosting and a chocolate, toasted hazlenut and melted Snickers filling. It was as awesome as it sounds. Buckwheat, sarrasin, is gluten free and has a lovely rich, nutty flavour. On the downside it’s more fattening than ordinary flour, but it’s more filling so a little bit goes a long way. After eating a slice of the cake with Caiti’s cookie-dough icecream, no-one of us had room for the chocolate hazelnut tart Caiti had made as well. Possibly you’ve guessed that I like chocolate and nuts!

Our friends Pat and Roger, who are here for a month in their holiday house nearby, joined us under the gazebo for the celebrations. Benj and I had erected the pavilion, the People Republic of China’s best, during the afternoon. It was brand new but started falling apart during the process, so we were frankly amazed that it was still standing come teatime. We took it down quickly today as a stiff breeze had got up which our gazebo was not going to be able to withstand for long. I think we should have gone a little more up-market when we made our purchase.

Catch-up day today, then back to ‘normal’ tomorrow. See you then.