Shotguns and Chelsea Buns

Last week I encountered a chain of bad luck. One due to my own clumsiness, one actually due to sheer bad luck, and all of which culminated in me bombarding my few Twitter followers with tweet after tweet after tweet last Saturday morning, every single one of them moaning about the traffic jam I was sat in for an hour and a half. There were four key factors that led up to this moment:

  • First, last autumn a girl I was working with wrote an article about her experience on a grouse moor for a new website, ladies-shooting.com.
  • Second, I started this blog.
  • Third, a couple of months ago I was embarrassed by my mother’s proficiency and persuaded by work to rediscover my Twitter account – which I duly linked to the blog, rechristening it @TheFirstFrost – and started ‘tweeting’.
  • Fourthly and finally, due to a diagnosis of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, I have recently found myself living back in Greater London – temporarily I might add – and thus with a slight lack of anything even vaguely country to write about.

These circumstances all combined to stick me in the worst traffic jam I’ve yet experienced as a driver. I shall explain.

A friend at work encouraged, persuaded and bribed us all to ‘follow’ @William_Powell on Twitter. So that evening, I logged onto my dormant, near extinct Twitter account and did just that. Embarrassed by the fact that my mother was more social-medialy active than I was, and armed with a brand new shiny phone and my brand new shiny blog to talk about and shamelessly promote, I decided to pay attention to my neglected Twitter account. I promptly set about hunting for people to stalk – I mean ‘follow’. Amongst my victims were my colleagues, including the girl mentioned above who wrote the piece about the grouse moor. Sheep that I am, I also set about following people they were following, picking out anyone who seemed familiar, interesting or with an interesting name. Being a lady (or woman at least) who likes shooting, I opted to follow owner of the website she wrote for, @ladies-shooting. Little did I know it would bring me one step closer to that awful traffic jam.

City-bound as I was (and still am for that matter) I’ve had to actively hunt out things to write about, and so I derived my first benefit from Twitter. @ladies-shooting kept tweeting to the world about a clay shoot happening one weekend with the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club. I looked into it, and discovered that it is a ladies-only shooting club, where everything you require is provided, from guns to tuition, good company to cake, and I swiftly signed up.

The day before the shoot saw disaster number one. I set about making a ginger cake to take along, a very simple but very lovely, until-now failsafe recipe, requiring plenty of sticky ingredients – I finished off a tin of golden syrup in the making, which my dog very much enjoyed cleaning out.

However, one foolish and distracting phone call mid-bake meant that I forgot to add the key ingredient of my ginger cake: the ginger. After two minutes in the oven, I remembered, whipped the mostly-uncooked mixture out of the oven, and grated in my stem ginger, stirring it as little as possible before returning it to the oven. Sadly my last-ditch effort to gingify the cake meant that it sank in the middle, quite drastically; the Titanic of cakes if you will. Ever the optimist, I decided that I would cut the cake into squares, ice it, and no one would ever know of my ginger omission and its results. I released the sides of the springy cake tin, inverted it onto a plate, and removed the base of the tin. I then placed a cooling rack on the exposed bottom of the cake, and with one hand on the rack, one on the plate, set to turn it right way up onto the rack to cool. At this point my carpal tunnel kicked in: I dropped the lot. Half the cake slid off the plate onto the floor (much to the dog’s delight) and the rest smashed onto the counter. The cake was, even for the eternal optimist, ruined.

Not to be deterred, I reminded myself that there was nothing about Saturday’s shoot saying that you had to bring a cake, simply that you could if you wished. Next morning, I set off in plenty of time to drive to the Oxfordshire Shooting School to join the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club for the first time, sadly empty handed but armed with my ear defenders. Traffic caused by an accident earlier in the day caused everyone on the M40 to be diverted off at my junction down the A40, the road that I needed to drive down; and so we reach my traffic jam. I sat and crawled along, occasionally lifting my foot from the clutch as I reached the dizzying heights of 8mph, only to be shown a sea of red ahead of me as all cars hit their breaks and we ground yet again to a halt. I spent longer in that traffic jam than the entire journey should have taken. And so I tweeted my little heart out, simply as a means to keep myself amused. I also encountered a traffic sign that I don’t recollect specifically seeing before, and perhaps it was the petrol fumes, but it greatly amused me, surrounded as I was by stationary vehicles:

None of us had much need to be wary of tractors; unless one planned to drive over us all and crush us into real traffic jam (tasty and spreadable, with absolutely no pips!)

Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only one delayed, and when I finally made it to the Shooting School I was just in time to join a group on their first peg, and managed a decent score of 20/30 across all three targets. There was plenty of cake provided by luckier (or simply more organised) members of the group and we stood and sat around, chatting away drinking tea from beautiful china cups with matching saucers. All in all, it was well worth the wait, though I will aim to arrive on time next time.

For any women out there wanted to get involved in shooting, I highly recommend the club as an in. I knew no one at all when I arrived, but had a thoroughly lovely morning. The range of members is wonderful – there are people from a very country background kitted out in Dubarry’s and tweed, and people like me who really really aren’t. There’s also a fantastic variety of ability – you would not be alone as a complete beginner, and the instructors are prepared for that; but there were also a couple of experienced game shots that were both educational and a delight to watch. As I watched one of the women shooting one of the more challenging driven targets off a tower, she seemed to shoot in slow motion; she made it look elegant and easy, and there never was a better reminder that you have so much more time than you think you do from the moment you call for your target to the moment when you pull the trigger.

Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club has achieved something noteworthy (aside from there being tea and cake provided at every get together); they’ve managed to create a group serious about shooting without shying away from the feminine. Everything from the scorecards to the tea sets used at the end was oriented to women. And watching the lady I described above shoot demonstrated that it is possible to be a phenomenal game shot and be ladylike with it; as with all things, it simply takes practice. I very much look forward to the next shoot, on the 2nd June in Barbury near Swindon, and hopefully I can arrive with baked-offerings next time – if I can manage to bake a cake without dropping it or forgetting any ingredients.

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Lemon Curd Love Affair

I cannot for the life of me remember what inspired this, or even planted the seed in my head, but driving down the M40 one evening, I decided I wanted to make lemon curd. I quickly checked a recipe online (the combined joys of internet on a mobile, and Nigel Slater’s lovely recipes for The Guardian) and stopped off at Tesco Express to buy a bag of lemons. The next day I whisked up about two jars of lemon curd, and provided that you’re patient, and don’t take your eye off it – multi-tasking is not a talent to be boasted of when discussing the art of making lemon curd – it really truly is remarkably easy, and so so much tastier than shop-bought. The first thing I did was lick the spoon. The second thing was to eat a full spoonful. And only then did I make lemon cheesecake cupcakes.

This was also my second venture into Proper Icing. In Summer 2010 I ended up making my first Proper Cake. I had started making a fruit cake for my friend and flatmate for her 21st birthday (fruit cake is a favourite of hers). The week before her tea-party-themed birthday celebrations, she called me and said that her grandmother (the designated cake-maker) was ill, and would it be possible to have the fruit cake as the cake for the Main Event. Worried it wouldn’t be large enough – and also, many people don’t enjoy fruit cake – I knocked up a quick, simple Victoria Sandwich, and then set to icing them. Trying to fit in with the elegant, Summertime theme of the party, I decided to ice them in lilac and white. It’s important to bear in mind at this point that I don’t like icing myself, and we haven’t had iced cakes in many, many years. Mum made us each a birthday cake every year, but long ago she started icing them in coloured white chocolate, as none of us ate the icing. So my experience of proper icing was precisely none, but not to be deterred, I rolled out my lilac icing and set to laying and smoothing it over the cakes. One cake iced in lilac, with a white fully edible icing bow, and the other in white with a lilac equally-as-edible bow, I have to confess they looked rather lovely. And aside from a brief panic when one of the bows shattered the night before the party (my boyfriend of the time, darling that he was, rushed over via the cookshop bringing the emergency lilac sugar paste, and calmed me down as I quickly rolled, modelled and assembled a replacement bow), and an incredibly tense drive from London to Northampton with the cakes on the back seat, it all went remarkably smoothly. Unknown to me, I was in fact paid for the cakes by my friend’s father, though this was arranged between him and my boyfriend behind my back and I was only told about it the next day. But this did officially make these two cakes my first ever commission.

 

At Christmas I delved back into the childhood world of writing icing, decorating the gingerbread men and ladies for my Christmas hampers – more to come on those later. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted to do something more, something easy but something proper; something with roll-y icing. Despite the lack of a captured, icing-enjoying audience, I decided that simple icing shapes couldn’t be that difficult to make. I bought a probably too-expensive set of icing cutters from The Cake Shop near work, and with tubes of writing icing left over from Christmas gingerbread men, I rolled, cut and decorated lots and lots of little icing daisies. My lemon cheesecake cupcakes were simply a lemon sponge, with the homemade lemon curd filling, and cream cheese icing, each topped with two or three icing daisies. And I must admit, they looked lovely (and didn’t taste bad either). The success of the little white-and-yellow flowers was what inspired me to make the sugar roses I described before. As for what’s next, we’ll have to wait and see.[i]


[i] Two colleagues at work have set me some cake-related challenges, so I suspect one of those will be the next Cake Adventure to be featured here. Stay posted.