Hello and welcome to my Little Willow blog, well welcome to those who might stumble across it anyway as I have yet to give this address to anyone :) I thought I might try and see how I get along with just writing in it first. It's all a lot of random stuff, but hey, hopefully there'll be something interesting for people

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Children in Need

Pudsey cake
How the year flies by! Children in Need was upon us once again last Friday (19th November). Myself and my colleague Sara decided to organise a few things to do in work to help raise money for this worthy cause.

We planned and executed a huge cake sale - with any cake you could imagine, including cupcakes, cake slices, biscuits and cookies. Everything looked fabulous and the vast majority of cakes were homemade by some lovely volunteers, ourselves included. We also held a 'Name the Teddy' competition (Edward), had a tombola and held a raffle for 2 beautiful pudsey cakes made by another colleagues mum who is a professional cake maker.

Victoria Sponge Cake
I took last Thursday off work to spend the day baking (well half a day) as I had planned to do so many things and pretty much spent at least 7 solid hours baking, frosting and decorating! I made a victoria sponge cake, carrot cake cupcakes, sugar cookies (in many different shapes), chocolate chip cookies, fairy sponge cakes (decorated Pudsey stle with yellow icing and hundreds and thousands) and a couple of "cheat" Betty Crocker boxed cupcakes. So as you can see, I had my work cut out for me! My mum was a huge help -she made all the boxed cakes for me while I got on with the "proper recipe" cakes. I had a fun day making everything though.

Vampire Hayley and Punisher Rob
Some of the team also dressed up for the occasion - some using the open theme and coming as anything and others wearing red and blue, or wearing a Pudsey t-shirt and Pudsey ears. We had a vampire, The Punisher, a musketeer, a goth and an Egyptian, so quite an array of interesting costumes.
Egyptian costume

I really enjoyed getting into the mood of Children in Need and selling the cakes and to top it all off we made an astonishing total of £655.08!!! £100 of this was a very generous donation by one person. Who'd have thought so much could be made by selling cakes??

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes
Cake Sale
To give you an idea of what we sold, in addition to the above mentioned cakes I made we also had - apple muffins, chocolate fudge brownies, pumpkin muffins, marble muffins, strawberry muffins, chocolate muffins, red velvet cupcakes, chocolate fudge cake, lemon drizzle cake, Tom and Jerry cakes, Christmas Princess cakes, Magic Wand cakes, blueberry cake, jam cake, Shrewsbury biscuits, crunchie cupcakes, fruit cake, gingerbread men, chocolate gingerbread cake, victoria sponge cupcakes. I'm sure there are more that have slipped my mind-  but can you blame me after seeing that list?
Pudsey's Little Helpers

Tombola Prizes

More Cakes!

Sugar Cookies
Last hug of Edward the Teddy

More yummy sugar cookies
Selection of cakes

I hope you all had a good Children in Need day - I think it'd be best if we started organising next year's event now!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Write in

I went to a write-in thing at Waterstones Liverpool 1 last night where fellow writers from the Liverpool region would congregate to write. Only 4 of us came and I was only able to stay for an hour, but the people I met were very nice and I'm glad I went along. All of them were vastly beyond my meager word count, but they were very supportive and are trying to get me to get to 10,000 words by the end of the month as they think this is perfectly doable. It might be, I don't know, but I can only give it a try -though I do feel slightly defeatist already in that I know how many things I have planned for the remainder of the month, none of which are conducive to writing. But I will try and stay positive and give it a go. I'm just under a third of the way there.

As you will see from my lovely word counter below (or not as I can't get it to work properly :( ), I am now up over 3000 words woo! Triple what I anticipated.

Anyway I just wanted to say that it was nice to meet up with other writers and especially others who are involved in this challenge, even if it did make me feel very inadequate lol

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Baking Review - Carrot Cake/Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Today I made some carrot cake cupcakes using a carrot cake (cake) recipe - hence the long name at the top, from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I thought I would give it a go to see how it would turn out. I used the exact ingredients and method as though as I was making the cake, except for the decorating part (oh and I also removed the walnuts).


300g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs
300ml sunflower oil
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
300g carrots, grated
100g shelled walnuts, chopped plus extra, chopped and whole, to decorate (or just leave this step out)
2 quantities Cream cheese Frosting (or 1 if making cupcakes - or even half as it does make a lot of frosting)

You will need three 20cm cake tins, base-lined with greaseproof paper (if making the cake) or you will need 12-18 cupcake cases, depending on how large you want your cupcakes to be


Preheat the over to 170oC (325oF) Gas 3

Put the sugar, eggs and oil 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 slight split). Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well mixed.

Stir in the grated carrots and walnuts (or not) by hand until they are all 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 walnuts and a light sprinkling of cinnnamon.

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

Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attacment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on a 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 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.

My variation to the above was I placed the mixture into 12 muffin cases and cooked them for a similar amount of time (20-25 minutes) as the mixture was obviously thicker than it would have been in a cake tin, despite the smaller volume. Don't be put off by the look of the mixture - it is pretty nasty and definitely reminds you of something you'd rather not think about when looking at food - especially as there is carrot in it...

You could easily spread the mixture into more muffin cases as these ones came out huge and considering I'm making the next batch for Children in Need, I'll be doing about 15-18 instead as obviously we need more cakes to make more money!

I had a bit of an issue with the frosting - it was too thin, despite me beating it for no longer than 5 minutes, as told. The frosting didn't look particularly thin, but when it was put onto the cupcakes, it started running down them a bit :-(
I've discovered that frosting is my weakness I think, I can never seem to get it right, especially when it comes to wanting to use the piping squishy thing I have to put the frosting on with, it just never works right and I'm not exactly sure what it is I'm doing wrong to be able to fix it. Just keep trying I suppose.

The taste test did well though and they are very nice - nice and moist cake and the cream cheese frosting just sets it off nicely

Monday, 8 November 2010


Oooh 2 posts in one day, aren't you all lucky? :p

I had a sudden moment of realisation at the weekend when thinking about my Nano story and that was "chapters". Because I have written very little and those stories I have started, haven't got very far off the ground yet, it occurred to me that I don't actually know how to write a chapter - as in, where do I make the break and the end of a chapter generally has to conclude with either a moment of realisation, a moment of dread or a shock, generally speaking anyway. I realised that with my Nano story, I have just been writing away and I then thought what will I end the chapter with and is there an average length to a chapter? I personally prefer reading a book with quite short chapters so I will probably go with that.

As I didn't have much time before Nano to construct a plot or even much of an outline, I didn't consider what would happen chapter by chapter, but i can now see that this would be a useful thing to do and I can understand why writer's do this. Maybe I will try and do something like this tonight? From what I have written so far, I believe I am coming to the end of a chapter. I also can't imagine how many paperbak pages my story so far would have taken up and whether I am actually as near to the end of the chapter as I thought. does anyone have any idea about how many words are per paperback book page? If not, I'll just count one lol

NaNoWriMo - Week 1

Hello all

We're now a full week into NaNoWriMo and as you'll see from my dismal word count, I'm not doing very well with it. To be fair, I've had a few obstacles, the main one being that I haven't been very well, the worst symptom of which has been massive headaches, which I'm sure all you writers out there know isn't conducive to writing. Thinking up plots and characters became a bit too painful, and after having worked all day on a computer, the last thing I wanted to do was go home and switch on my computer.

My other reason is that I seem to have suddenly become popular and my time has been required elsewhere, away from my story. It's probably the busiest I've been in a while, which is just all happening at the wrong time! lol. I've been to my book club and movie quiz - both of which I did know about in advance but still it prevented me from writing. Although I have to say, the time I spent in Caffe Nero prior to my book club was well spent and got me started on the novel trail.

I also had a family thing on this weekend, 2 of my brothers I don't see often (one lives in Cambridge and the other in America) were both home and I did feel it more important to spend time with them, which I'm sure some of the more serious Nanoers would disagree with lol, but I'm just happy I've already reached my said target of 1000 words.

I do aim to improve my word count though, hopefully drastically, but it would seem that there is a plot against me as more of my time is required over the next couple of weeks, some of which were organised before I'd even heard of Nano and some of which are newly made plans that I would still like to do. I am free tonight though and completely forgot there was a write-in at the Waterstones in town :-( I would have liked to have gone along and met some people from the Liverpool region forum, but there's always next Monday. Looking at the weather, I'm kind of pleased I will be going straight home though! But, aside from watching Dexter, I will attempt to dedicate my evening to my story and hopefully progress it further.

good luck to all taking part...

Monday, 1 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Day One

Wow, this has come about so fast and we're already at the end of Day 1. And what a day it has been for those participating. I've just been on the website and there is an overall wordcount from everyone taking part and just after 1 day of writing, almost 55 and a half MILLION words have been written! There have been some busy bees today. I imagine the rise of the word count will begin to slow down in a couple of days as people's lives take over or they get stuck with a plotline.

I used my time in Caffe Nero wisely tonight and wrote 440 words in half an hour and was very proud of myself as that is almost half way to the amount I said I would aim for in the month. So after my book club, I typed up the words I'd written and then carried on the story and have ended the day with 1078 words written! I feel very happy with that and all those words from just over an hour of writing - so imagine what could be done with a day off work! Not that I have any in November unfortunately.

I uploaded my word count onto the website and was very excited to see that it did translate onto my little word count widget in the previous post. I am however going to repost the widget on each post about NaNoWriMo so no one needs to go looking for it.

The month has started well and I'm pleased with my word count, but it does make me want to go and write some more now (but it's bedtime) so I hope that I haven't peaked already and this will be the best I do. I would appreciate people asking me how it's going and if I've been getting a good word count - purely as a motivational tool.