Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Crap/Unwanted Xmas Gift Swap - Tea Party Write Up

Last Sunday afternoon, had you walked through the door or peeped through the high-ledged windows at a very small and pretty village hall somewhere in the deepest Cambridge Countryside, you would have seen 16 very excitable and smiley guests playing what looked like, can only be described as, an extremely random & festive game of “pass the parcel” with lots and lots of Xmas presents around an afternoon tea table.

And guess what?

That is EXACTLY what we were up to : )  

It was the unwanted (Or as I had nicknamed it, crap) Xmas Present Swap tea party, where my guests were invited along to join me for afternoon tea whilst wrapping up an unwanted or novelty Xmas present, labelled from Secret Santa of course.

The event was even picked up by The Express on Sunday, a National newspaper on news year day, which was very exciting for me indeed!

On arrival, guests were asked to place their gifts under (well in fact, around, as it was fairly small) the little Xmas tree placed on top of the piano at the top of the table of this fabulous tea party venue of mine.

Once everybody had arrived and settled in, ensuring that they had tucked into the refreshing cucumber and ham & garlic jam finger sandwiches on offer whilst slurping on a raspberry & rose sparkling drink in my beautiful little jam jars, I decided on the best ice breaker to get everybody chatting and giggling even more than they were already doing.
As my new gramophone has yet to be presented at The Secluded Tea Party, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to show it off. However, as I only have 2 records for it currently, I wasn’t going to have it on loop all day as I didn’t want to annoy my guests, so the airing of my Edith Piaf “La Vie En Rose” was very important indeed.

So, on it went and off we set playing a very large version of “Pass the parcel”, chucking our gifts around, the cheaters slowing down when they were holding a gift they had felt up and decided they wanted (tut tut tut) and we managed to keep them moving around the table throughout the entire song. Once the needle had lifted to stop the song, the gifts we were holding were ours to open & keep and laugh over just how unwanted they were!

Hehe it was amusing to say the very least. Some (un?)lucky guests were even holding 2 gifts when Madame Piaf had finished belting out her heartfelt song and the gifts included such delights such as a floating lily bath plug, an alien conspiracy book, a wicker heart (my gift from Santa which I actually love!), a mini panettone, a silk scarf, novelty greetings cards in a presentable box for our gentleman guest and a giant mug. 
 One of our guests received a novelty sewing kit which was going to be sent to a family in Krakow where she knew a little girl who would absolutely love it, so it was a nice feeling to know others will benefit from this swap : )

Guests came as friends and couples, as well as some who came alone, there was a real mix, which is what I just love love love about The Secluded Tea Party. Everybody nattered and circulated and some local networking and idea swapping went on over a warm scone and dollop of Forest Berry Jam and a slice of my conjured up Ferrero Rocher Cake which went down a storm. We didn’t need background music, as it was drowned out by the buzz around the table. A smile was permanently on my face for this very reason.

Conversation moved at a fast pace, from Chinese students and tours of Cambridge Colleges to afternoon tea-inspired jewellery right through to zombies and bleeding heart cupcakes (Yes, it has been done with The Secluded Tea Party!). It was varied to say the very least.

One of the highlights of the table this time around was the marbled Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cheesecake which was worth the 2 days of baking, setting and swirling without even a lick of the spoon to taste. The wait was worth it, for both myself and for my guests who had been teased with photos of on Facebook & Twitter beforehand. It was amazingly rich and naughty and worth every mouthful, with some guests demanding that they take some home for their partners as it was too good for them not to sample - Not that there was very much left at the end of the afternoon.

It was like a second Christmas and I had been excited about this for weeks after Xmas had in fact been and gone and once all of our presents had been open and the food had been consumed, we all had that very familiar post-Christmas feeling all over again. The only downside to the affair, but worth it, considering the fun and new friends we all made.

This idea worked so much better than I could ever imagine, I genuinely didn’t want it to end ...

And remember, save your crap and novelty Xmas gifts for The Secluded Tea Party... which will be brought back to Cambridge in 2013, along with our non-expensive New Years’ Eve tea party celebrations that won’t break your bank balance!

Watch this afternoon tea space!

Miss Sue Flay

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

FoodCycle Cambridge

After a good old natter through Twitter and email with the lovely Jen at FoodCycle in Cambridge, I was intrigued and amazed by this organisation and the fantastic service it offers our own community, that I couldn't leap high enough when I was asked if I fancied joining the kitchen to help prepare a 3 course meal a couple of Saturday's ago. 

FoodCycle is a project that is trying to tackle 3 things: Wasted Food, Food Poverty and Volunteering. 

It's said that there is an estimated 400,000 tons of surplus food that can be reclaimed every year from the food and retail industry, which can be turned into a healthy meal. What did scare us was the fact that certain supermarkets cover their surplus food in blue dye so that it cannot be reclaimed. I cannot imagine how much food there is wasted with just that one company and I never thought I would feel so passionately about NOT using them as a customer, but I certainly have changed my mind slightly. I can see in one way that they are more than likely scared to be sued if somebody ate out of date food and then took legal action and I am guessing this is one of the main reasons, but still, this food could make a difference in certain areas that seem to be ignored by most and it has made me slightly angry. 

The scary figure that FoodCycle mention in regards to people affected by food poverty in the UK alone is 4 million, and malnutrition is a huge problem, not only for the people affected, but this costs the NHS an estimated £13 billion every year. Which is why FoodCycle offer a passionate vegetarian service, ensuring that they help in some way, no matter how.  


The situation is crap on several fronts at the moment and the team at FoodCycle are trying to do something about it. I didn't honestly feel as though I did much and I actually came away feeling a little guilty that I had enjoyed myself so much, as I helped my team for the morning dream and cook up a delicious 3 course vegetarian meal for the beneficieries for that day.  
The food had come from several local food suppliers, supermarkets and outlets that regularly donate their food at the end of the week and we got to work at 9.30am ready to serve at 12.30pm. 

There were 7 of us cooking on this particular day at St. Pauls Church Kitchen on Hills Road in Cambridge, including 2 of my fellow Cambridge Food Bloggers, Ivana at Miss Igs and Jo at Afternoon Tease. It was great to put faces to the names and finally get to meet and chat about food whilst doing what we are all so passionate about. 

Jen had come up with the main dishes she wanted to make and we all adapted them as we fancied, leaving Jen to feel like a spare part and give her a well deserved break for a change. That was a nice feeling being able to do this, as she and her regular team work so well to do this week after week. 

The menu consisted of a Carrot and Vegetable Soup for starters of which myself, Mister Flay and the lovely Berta were in charge of, talking about all things German as our co-chef was from a completely different part of the world, we had great fun getting to know each other as we chopped and boiled away in huge quantities. 
Between the team, we also cooked a Vegetable Crumble with Cheese & Creamy Leeks as well as a gorgeous warm Banana & Caramel Upside Down cake or a Fresh Fruit Salad for dessert. 

We were given the opportunity to chat as a group and learnt a lot in between courses and timing the food around each other, and we learnt a lot about the beneficiaries and how this weekly meal helps them. As well as being given the opportunity to sit and eat each course at the table and chat to the lovely guests there for lunch. 

My youngest and most bossy customer was the cutest 8 year old lad who told me exactly what pieces of fruit he wanted in his fruit salad and wasn't happy until I made sure he got all the cherries and none of the orange slices. Hehe. 

Once we had cooked and served every course, a second team arrived to help clear away and wash the dishes afterward, giving the chefs a chance to finish their own meal or head off. It's very well organised and relies on volunteers to help with each aspect of this service. 

We really enjoyed ourselves, and as a result, have signed up to volunteer again shortly. 

You can do so too, just take a visit and check out your nearest FoodCycle Hub, or even try visiting one of their Community Cafes, which they are currently trying out in London. 

Miss Sue Flay 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Review: A Nice Little Place - Brook Farm

God bless Twitter, that's all I can say!
The mister and I need a pre- Xmas break away to a small part of the country the we hadnt yet experienced, and after a few independent reviews through some twitter friends, we had a booking made for 2 nights at Brook Farm In Shropshire. (Thank you so much Deepa and Karen for the recommendation!)

Before we had even left Cambridge, Sarah, the lovely owner of this gorgeous Bed and breakfast had tweeted me telling me that she would have hot crumpets by the fire waiting for us on arrival should we desire...oh my... This offer of little treats before we had even checked in was just a small insight into what we were gaining with this booking.

Driving through the Shropshire Countryside was noticeable right away and being a farm girl growing up, I felt right at home driving past all the beautiful green, sheep-filled fields and pretty chocolate box cottages and old farmhouses. The scenery was just stunning and it was so refreshing to be somewhere new and ready to be explored.

The satnav naturally took us around the houses, but we eventually found this huge and most welcoming bed and breakfast. Sarah and her 2 lovely dogs greeted us at the front gate, along with her brood of chickens (don't leave the front door open or they will cheekily let themselves in for a nosey hehe!)  and 4 cats all curled up around the stunning fireplace in the entrance lounge area. Sarah told us that she had placed a couple of restaurant and pub table bookings for us in case we wanted to eat and if we didnt want them, no problem at all (wow, just so thoughtful) and she showed us  around and then left us to go and tend to her two cheeky donkeys (who we fell in love with throughout our stay!)

The two lounges within Brook Farm both had real roaring fires and as we had the place to ourself this weekend, we had our own lounge to use and curl up, even given access to her personal library of books which covered an entire wall of the cottage. We were also provided with a beautiful tea and coffee station and various flavoured gins and whiskeys should we desire a tipple or two. How on earth could anybody resist in this truly beautiful cottage? 
It's a home away from home. 

Our bedroom was bigger than the entire first floor of our own house, and we had so much space we didn't know what to do with it hehe. The bed was bliss, the bed is the first thing I judge as its my very favourite place to be curled up and I can honestly say I didn't want to leave this one both mornings that I woke up in it. Sarah's thoughtfulness extended hour by hour, from offering us a cup of tea left outside our bedroom in the morning along with a gentle knock on the door for our alarm, and she even home baked our very first batch of mince pies and left them by the fire In a cake dome wrapped with ribbon. We were beyond lucky with her hospitality, we truly were.

The area was also filled with fantastic charity and antique shops and I spent my pennies and endless trips to the car unloading bags of teacups, saucers, teapots, teaspoons and even a gramophone and records for my Secluded Tea Parties! It was an aladins cave of afternoon tea treats for me and I was in tea party heaven!

The accommodation and hospitality was superb and the breakfast selection was huge and varied to say the least. We had a choice of freshly baked bread, crumpets, yoghurt and honey, fresh fruit, cereal and an array of cooked breakfast choices from porridge to a full English. You could easily fuel for the rest of the day on the offerings at Brook Farm and we certainly did just that, enjoying some lovely pub meals in the evening if and when we fancied it. This was by far the best choice we could have made for our much needed get away and we will be returning for some peace and quiet next time we need it!

Brook Farm Bed and Breakfast was most certainly a nice little place, in fact it was a wonderful little place and we will be returning one day very soon : )

Miss Sue Flay

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Review: Teacake At Shepreth

Thanks to my ultra sensitive cake-sniffing nose and heightened sense of awareness when it comes to new tearoom openings, I couldn't resist but stop by and try out a brand new tearoom which has just opened up outside of Cambridge In the pretty little village of Shepreth.


This pretty little tearoom is situated in the old post office & village stores and since this has now closed down, along with the local pub now too, this has been a welcome addition to the village over the last couple of months. hosted within a grade 11 listed cottage, complete with thatched roof, it's my kind of typically British tearoom.

This quaint little shop is hosted by the ever so friendly and welcoming
Christine and Maurice Prove,
Who were both present on my visit and they were just so knowledgable and chatty when I mentioned my love of tearooms, I could have spent all day with them listening to their stories of how they restored the beautiful furniture and fittings left over from the post office and their plans for the stunning garden at the back later  in the summer.

The menu is already pretty wide, offering a great selection of teas and coffee, sandwiches, cakes, scones and even some every day  provisions such as freshly baked bread, milk and free range eggs to take home with you, which is very handy to note.

This time around, I went for a pot of Darjeeling along with a lovely slice of Fruit Tea Loaf from their ever changing cake selection, which came with a pretty little cake fork for a civilised nibble. I had great fun sipping from my mis-matching tea ware and watching the world go by whilst I did so.

This husband and wife team have had a lot to learn, it they are having a ball learning the ropes and what works for them and their customers. Their passion shows and it makes for a fun experience as a customer, as they couldn't be more welcoming if they tried.

Maurice told me that their coffee comes from a well known coffee supplier in London, where you can see queues out of the door for their coffee. Only the best for their new countryside tearoom. 
And rightly so.

I would say the only downfall of Teacake is that there is very few tables currently. So if you are looking for afternoon tea for a larger group, please do be courteous and make the tearoom aware of your plans, and they will try to accommodate you the best they can.
They do, however have plans for the future, so fingers crossed this new 
Cake-based adventure works for them : )

I urge you to make a trip to this very cute cottage for a spot of tea should you ever find yourself in need of a thirst quenching pit stop.
Afternoon tea in Cambridge has never been so much fun! There should be more of these little tearooms in the area, it's so refreshing to have a new country tea room in these parts.

Teacake, 8 Meldreth Road, Shepreth, Royston, SG8 6PS

Tel. 07565 567023

Miss Sue Flay


Monday, 9 January 2012

Recipe: Almond & Cranberry Streusel Cake

I came across this beautiful recipe one day in 2010 whilst looking for a warming cake recipe to bake for my boyfriends' parents when they visited for a cuppa, and this was a jolly good find, of which I decided to dig out again for some friends who were popping over. I can't rate this recipe enough for a warm slice with a pot of tea served mid morning or mid afternoon for a wintery pick-me-up. 

It also gave me an excuse to use my new food mixer for the second time in 24 hours hehe... naturally, the kitchen geekery for 2012 has already begun! The mister thought I was kidding when I got visibly excited about using it - simple things! 

This delicious Cranberry & Almond cake has a vanilla essence, but unlike most sponges, this one is almost like a crumble with an almond streusel topping and dotted with fresh cranberries - dried cranberries just won't cut it for this particular recipe. (I buy them and freeze until needed, this is fine to do and works just as well as fresh from the shelf) 

You can actually make this recipe as a Gluten Free Version, and the blogger who suggests this recipe (Apple & Spice)  does in fact mention that uses Doves GF Flour, so you could try this should you need to try a new Gluten Free Cake recipe. 

The fresh cranberries actually become really juicy and burst whilst in the oven creating little red and pink stains all over the cake, making it look so pretty & it smells amazing whilst baking away. Further more, it's such an easy recipe to follow, that it can't go wrong. Just note, it does take 60-70 Minutes to cook, so do allow for a slightly longer cooking time for this recipe. 

The middle does seem to cave slightly during the baking process, so it's never turned out the oven completely perfect for me, so not the most photogenic cake at first glance, but once you cut this beauty open, the colourful slices are very enticing indeed. For best results, turn onto a plate, and serve 5-10 minutes after leaving the oven, dusted with a little icing sugar should you desire. 

Cranberry & Almond Streusel

Cake Recipe:
Streusel Topping
65g flaked almonds
20g unsalted butter, melted
20g light soft brown sugar

Cranberry Cake
160g plain flour 
¾ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
300g caster sugar 
100g butter, melted and cooled
¾ tsp vanilla extract
230g fresh cranberries

Method – Streusel
Heat the oven to 150C. Grease an 8inch round spring form pan.
Combine the butter, almonds and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Work the mixture between your fingers to form large crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Method – Cake
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium high speed until the mixture is lightened and increased in volume, about 5 minutes. 
With the mixer on low speed, add the butter in a slow stream. Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for another 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.
Gently but thoroughly fold in the flour mixture, half a cup at a time. Then stir in the cranberries.
Scrape the butter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the streusel over the batter. Bake the cake until it is golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1hour 10minutes.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Release the sides of the pan and use a large spatula to slide the cake from the pan bottom onto the wire rack. Cool completely before cutting into wedges and serving.

Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Makes one 8 inch round cake

Miss Sue Flay 

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Cambridge Cake Crawl - Full Write Up

On Saturday 26th November, 9 guests and myself, Miss Sue Flay, walked the streets of Cambridge and went on a Cake Crawl (armed with Secluded Tea Party Goodie Bags to collect our cake-based treats as we went) and guided by my personal knowledge we visited of some of the best places for tea and cake in our very own beautiful city. 

The day was a little damp and drizzly, but it didn't stop us from marching from venue to venue to spend 30 - 45 minutes at each one enjoying a good old chat and tasting some treats pre-ordered thanks to my very organised cake tasting skills ; ) 

We started at Hotel Du Vin on Trumpington Street and the lovely team allowed us to take over their Library to enjoy their delicious Red Velvet Cupcakes, a Fruit Tea Loaf and a Selection of teas... and that was just for starters.... They also sent us away with a cute little bag of treats including a gooey fudge brownie and they even treated us to a teacup full of G&T to fuel us before heading out the door. Bliss. 

We then hopped over to the newly re-opened Fitzbillies, where Tim & Alison had the Chefs table waiting for us in the Bakery itself, what an honour it was too! We got to see them preparing their world famous Chelsea Buns, as well as enjoy them ourselves from the tier left for us to tuck into at our leisure alongside a good strong cuppa. They had even laid a beautiful vase of flowers in the middle of the table and Tim allowed one of our guests to take some professional photos of him whilst we were there. Great fun and a great stop to make on this quick stop cake tour. 

We then skipped up to Kings Parade to stop opposite one of Cambridge's most famous landmarks, Kings College, which is very important to me personally as my Grandfather was once the Head Gardener here, so it always makes me smile when I pass this beautiful college. No matter how cold it was today, we stopped to have a scoop of Benets Homemade ice cream and we even braved the chill and sat on the wall outside Kings College to enjoy this refreshing treat. Some of us had a sorbet to cleanse the palette. 

A quick sidestep onto the Cambridge Market Square to visit the ever so charming Thomas at T&S Foods, where we sampled some of their stunning Caribbean Carrot Cake and took some home with us to enjoy later when we had a need for a second cake fix. He nattered away to us all, mentioning that he in fact produces his food in Norfolk and runs 3 market stalls in the area every weekend. A local star who has been here for years and hopefully many many more to come!

A swift detour to Bill's Cafe on Green Street allowed my guests to enjoy the walk through the picturesque Rose Crescent, of which most of them had never seen or walked through before. This was an opportunity to show off my tour guide skills and show the cobbled streets of Cambridge. All this walking certainly helped to burn off a little of the cake-cals. We had a pre-booked table in the corner of this bustling cafe, where we were served a plate each of their fantastic warm scones, with Bill's Strawberry Conserve and Clotted Cream along with a few pots of English Breakfast Tea to warm the cockles. They also gave each guest a free pot of Jam to take home with them too, which was such a lovely touch to the afternoon. 

We completed our Cake Crawl with a dessert inspired cocktail at 12a Cocktail Bar in the Market Square. This was mentioned to The Host a month or two prior to the event, thanks to his knowledge of my sweet tooth by this point, and the designing of many a dessert inspired cocktail previously shaken up for me. We were seated in a relaxing dark corner, surrounded by Jazz music on the jukebox and some beautifully ribbon-tied scrolls with a choice of cocktails from either Tiramisu, Lemon Meringue or a Cranberry Club. I went for the first option, and oh my goodness, it was sublime! And a refreshing way to end the Cambridge Cake Crawl - We all went off with very content tummies, believe me. 

You can view some of the write ups from my fellow cake crawlers by clicking on the links below, and I am so pleased that they had as much fun as they did. This was a complete trial, but it worked so well and was a great way of getting to know lot's of lovely new faces and I can see them all tweeting and connecting through social media even now, so it's a great way to meet new people. 

Needless to say,I cannot thank the venues enough for helping with this event and being so hospitable and of course, there will be another event similar to this for early 2012, so keep your eyes peeled.... Or email me at: info@secludedteaparty.com 
to get your name on the waiting list for the next Cambridge Cake Crawl

Miss Sue Flay