Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Prison Break

A few days before Christmas the husband and I took Mum and Dad for a night in a prison cell in Oxford....No, they hadn't midbehaved, far from it, but a night in the Malmaison was their christmas present from us.

If you have never been you really must. The prison was still being run up until 1996 when it was all converted into the sumptuous hotel and surrounding restaurents and shop complex that it is now.
The original landings and stairs are still in tact, and all of the original cell doors remain. Each bedroom and bathroom suite is made up of three old cells, with arched ceilings and high windows with bars up and shuttered windows.

The bedrooms are beautiful inside and come complete with chaise longue, mini bar and the most amazing room service menu. Not that we needed that as we had a fabulous meal in the restaurant in the cellar!
Me stealing toiletries from the bathroom. In the vain hope they may bang me up for longer...?!

Another reason we decided to stay in Oxford is that Mum and Dads Christmas present to us was a trip to lake Como in Italy for Christmas. Oxford being halfway between home and Heathrow seemed like the perfect start for our Christmas holiday.

We had five days in a beautifully elegant hotel right on the Lake, with breathtaking views and scenery.

On the first day we went to a traditional Christmas market in Como itself, which was very interesting. Pigs trotters, anyone?!

The sunsets were amazing....

And the villas were spectacular- this was my favourite!

Obviously we had to do lots of work related research, so plenty of cappuccinos were consumed!

Below is Bellagio, the most beautiful village. We caught a boat outside our hotel and went over to Bellagio a couple of times. On Boxing Day the village was full of Italians, meeting for coffee, socialising, walking by the Lake. Everyone we came across was dressed BEAUTIFULLY. Fur coats hats and boots galore!

This was our hotel, taken first thing in the morning from our balcony. The colours changed throughout the day, the light was amazing.

It was just what the doctor ordered, being away for Christmas. Away from work and home and bad memories of a rubbish year. A great big Thank You to my very fabulous parents for an extremely generous present. We appreciate it far more than you realise.
I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas, have managed to banish the sniffles sneezes and flu from your homes and raise a glass of Limoncello to 2009. (god, have you tried that stuff? 30% alcohol-evil but fabulous!)

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bakey Cake-iness

Blimey, I'm really getting back into this blogging lark, am I not?!

Well today has been a bakey kind of day. In fact, all week has been a mass baking fest in the No.9 kitchen. With a few angels thrown in for good measure.

As many of you are aware by now, I am a massive fan of recipe books. Really cannot get enough of 'em. There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting down next to one of my teetering piles of recipe books and having a flick through, finding things I haven't baked before. So today, I baked these.....

Please note the fact that I got through a cup a tea, a cappuccino and a glass of water whilst creating! I have no idea what the scissors were for though...

I have never made a carrot cake before. Can you believe that? I think it's mainly because I'm not a huge fan of carrot cake. I would always go for chocolate cake, or fruit cake over carrot, but I am obviously not going to be eating this one myself! It has lemony cream cheese icing. Yum. Maybe I could be persuaded to sample a teeny slice...just for research...

The strudel cups are dee-licious. Seriously good. I made up a lot of the recipe, but basically it consists of filo pastry, half a jar of mince meat, ground almonds, lemon zest, chopped nuts, a sprinkle of cinnamon and some sultanas and sugar.

This is my trusty Bara Brith (Welsh tea loaf)...sells VERY well and lots of people come back for more. Oh dear, I don't mean to brag, it's just such an easy cake to make and very popular. It basically consists of fruit soaked in strong tea overnight and then flour eggs and sugar added. It freezes really well and tastes fabulous with a little butter spreaded on.

We have been selling these hearts and stockings for one of the girls who runs the crochet and knitting classes for us. They're made from recycled jumpers and blankets and filled with lavender. Clever eh?! (Not as nice as the ones over at the Ragged Roses house though- these ones are a bit scratchy!!)

These are my favourites, our stained glass Christmas decorations. We have hung them in the front window of the cafe and when the sun shines they twinkle beautifully. Several people have made purchases already (including one of the girls who works for us- we paid her her wages and then she gave us most of it back again!)

Despite all of this I am still not feeling Christmassy!

We have had some really exciting news today...two official looking chaps came into the cafe this afternoon and said that we has been nominated for a Business of The Year award. Apparently the winner is going to be announced next week. I don't expect for a minute that we will win, but one of the guys said that he is amazed, given how long we have been open, that we have been nominated at all. I have been beaming ever since. Yay!

Well maybe I am feeling a little bit festive....

Monday, 8 December 2008


Well good afternoon folks. It's taken me a while to keep up with the rest of the blogging world and do my list- kindly passed on by the lovely Alison AGES ago. Sorry about that, but I got there in the end. Really must work on my list of Celebrities I admire. I am not great with celebrities, it must be said. Anyway, here goes,

7 Things I plan to do before I die:
1. Have a family
2. Visit my brother in Canada
3. Buy a VW camper van and use it as our family car. Whilst wearing love beads, obviously.
4. Learn to dance so I can impress people at weddings (as well as get invited to more weddings)
5. Open a huge cafe with a florists in one corner, book shop in the other and a deli/gift shop/crafty section thrown in for good measure.
6. Learn to sew more than a button on.
7. Live by the sea

7 Things I do now:
1. Make a lot of soup
2. Sleep whenever I can
3. Cut out recipes and tips from magazines. There are piles everywhere.
4. Have too many baths.
5. Drink pink wine on Saturday nights
6. Chat to my customers
7. Smile a lot. Even when I don't want to!

7 Things I can't do:
1. Run further than the end of the road
2. Diet successfully. I give up, life's too short
3. Stop going on about something when it's in my head.
4. Walk past a bookshop without going inside
5. Smell/touch/eat Tuna. Bleurgh.
6. Bring myself to buy a pair of crocs. I just can't do it.
7. Stop buying knickers.

7 Things that attract me to the Opposite Sex
1. Someone who is smiley
2. Sarcasm-but good sarcasm, not nasty sarcasm
3. Smelling nice!
4. Good Manners
5. A good sense of humour
6. Honesty
7. Glasses

7 Things that I say most often:
1. Morning!
2. What can I get you?
3. Really?
4. Have a good weekend
5. What shall we have for dinner?
6. Rubbish
7. How Lovely!

7 Celebrities that I admire:
1. David Mitchell- he makes me laugh hysterically. I love his sense of humour
2. Gordon Ramsey. Grr. Hmm, I think I may have changed 'admire' to 'fancy' for a second there...oh well.
3. Victoria Wood
4. Ummm
5. Hmmm
6. Errrrr
7. ?

7 Favourite Foods:
1. Marmite on toast (you knew it was coming Kim!)
2. Rob's Risotto
3. Strawberry Pavlova
4. Roast Vegetable soup
5. Toasted teacakes
6. Lobster
7. Scallops

I have been particularly rubbish at using my camera of late, so apologies for no piccies. Slapped wrist. I shall put it in my bag now.
I am not yet feeling remotely festive. Is it just me?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

How are you feeling? Souper thanks!

I meant to share this photo weeks ago, taken at the market in Cheltenham. Don't they look fabulous? Something far more appetising about clementines with leaves still attached than those without, for some reason...Hmm. Very Christmassy though!

Thankyou so much for all of your get well wishes..they must have worked! hurray! I am feeling A LOT better now, thankyou muchly.

It was so so lovely to go back to work this week. I had lots of smiles and cuddles from regulars, and lots of 'we missed you' type comments, which thrilled me no end.

It feels rather good to be getting back into the swing of thing, kicking the coffee machine, 'testing' new cake that is being made, inventing Christmas waffles recipes, etc.

Today was the second knitting and crochet morning, which was just great. Such fun to see a group of ladies having a whale of a time. Today was crocheted scarves, and despite being sorely tempted into joining in, I resisted. I struggled with the urge and then reminded myself that I have just had two weeks off...maybe next time! I don't want to become unpopular with our lovely staff for being a lazy bugger.

We have been making lots of new soups this week, Roasted Vegetable, Lentil Potage and Parsnip Ginger and Leek, to name but a few. I succumbed to yet ANOTHER new recipe book the other day, 400 Soups! But I am putting it down to being a work essential, obviously...I am not sure if it's a good thing, but I seem to constantly smell of soup! Could be worse, I guess.
Now, what shall we have for dinner tonight?

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Remember me?!

Oh it really is hard work being poorly. I have tried so hard not to feel sorry for myself but am soooooo bored.

You know those periods in life when you seem to spend weeks on end dashing from one thing to another, with lists of things to do, normal life rushes past and sometimes, just sometimes you think, "Ooh, I'd love a duvet day" or "How wonderful it would be to have a day or two at home to do XYZ..." well I have had DAYS at home, ill, sleeping, coughing, sleeping, reading, sleeping...and still haven't tackled X Y or, indeed Z.

What started out as a nasty cough ended up with me being admitted to hospital, wired up to drips, injected with all manner of lotions and potions and frankly quite poorly.

The lovely LOVELY husband has been a fabulous carer. He turned up at the hospital armed with new pj's, books, digestives (have to have digestives when you're poorly, it's the law) tissues, toiletries...you name it. The only benefit of being in hospital was that I had my own room because I was infectious. Shhh! It's true, I really was. Gastric flu. Hmm, not pretty...But I did have my own television. Good grief daytime television is crap. But also addictive. I really care who wins Rosemary Shrager's School For Cooks this week...

My Dad has stepped into my cafe shoes and has been working his socks off, making soup, serving customers, hosting birthday parties and crochet lessons....all of the things that I had organised and was so desperately gutted to have missed. Still the birthday party was a success, my lovely Mum baked fairy cakes and made sandwiches galore and apparently a fabulous time was had by all. The crochet lessons (thankyou for the PR, Julia!) were good fun, apparently, and the Happy Hookers (!) will be back next week for another session.

I am hoping to be back on my feet by the weekend, and normal life shall resume once again hopefully.

Thankyou so much for all of your get well wishes, I really am touched. Your blogs have all kept me entertained in my deepest darkest moments!

I promise not to leave it so long next time....x

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Time Flies

I can't believe how quickly the weeks are flying by at the moment. It is the first time in a long time that I can honestly say that I do not know where the time goes.

We have had a fabulous week at the cafe. The sun has shone, people have sat outside and enjoyed the weather and everyone has seemed happy. It is amazing what a little bit of sunshine does for the spirit. (yes, the lady in the photo did agree to it! She asked if she could put a bit of lipstick on but I assured her no one would see that close up to notice)

The Macmillan Coffee Morning on Friday went without a hitch. Mum and Dad came and helped out and we had a steady stream of generous customers between 9am and 11am. We raised the grand sum of £130 and were absolutely delighted with ourselves and all of the lovely people that gave so kindly to such a worthwhile cause.

We set out loads of cups and saucers, flapjacks and danish pastries and did it 'canteen' style. We had time to circulate, chat to customers and hand around cakes. It's amazing how people will be 'forced' to have another piece of cake with a bit of encouragement!

This afternoon I have been making Elderberry Cordial, after stumbling across a recipe a while back. The hedges surrounding our allotment still had plenty of berries, despite the council giving them a haircut! Have you ever removed dozens of berries off a plant with a fork? Very satisfying experience, I must say. So easily pleased...Use a fork to remove berries and put into a pan. Add a little water and simmer until the juice all comes out..I mashed them with the back of a spoon a little to help them along.

Strain off the juice, return to the pan and add 1lb of sugar for every pint of liquid. Boil the liquid until it turns into a thick syrup.

And bottle!
Now the idea behind this stuff is that it is supposed to get rid of colds and lurgy if they should appear. The berries are rich in antioxidants which help cholesterol, diabetes, ulcers and colds! I must say that the berries don't smell particularly pleasant until you add the sugar, so be warned if you try it!

This morning after a trip to the allotment we went to Worcester for a wander and I bought some fabulous pumpkin lanterns from Lakeland to hang in the windows of the cafe. They have battery operated lights inside, so are completely safe and re-useable. I can highly recommend them for childrens bedrooms or living room windowsills if anyone is feeling Halloweeny! (I realise it's a while to go yet but I am trying to get prepared-hell, I've even been thinking of what we can do for Christmas and Easter...)

I am now off to watch Strictly and dance around the house, pretending I am wearing a ballgown. There's an image!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Muffin much going on here except a bit of baking

Sticky toffee muffins, to be precise..

They haven't been road tested yet. Or even cafe tested, but that is where they shall go tomorrow. I finally managed to find some muffin cases that fit the holes of my muffin tins. They are pretty silver ones purchased from a very cool cake decorating shop in Oxfords undercover market-do you know it? You must go! A VERY inspiring place (the market, not just the cake shop) The List Writer and I have spent a couple of very happy hours ambling around there.

Talking of inspiring, I need some ideas please! I am holding my first birthday party at the cafe in November for my friends little girl. We are having a Cake Decorating Party. Oh yes, pink and glitter and hearts galore, no doubt. But if anyone has any suggestions (not too expensive please) as to ways to cater for small fluffy girls then I would be grateful. Ta muchly.

This Friday we are holding our first event, a Macmillan Coffee Morning. 9am until 11am if you're passing?! We have been bullying our regulars into coming along, and have seen several people jotting down the information as they have gone past, having not been able to miss the ENORMOUS poster I have put in the window. So if you fancy a coffee and a piece of flapjack we will be there.

The toblerone cookies sold out in two days. I didn't get to try one, but had lots of vigorous head nodding when I did that annoying thing of asking customers if everything was OK the minute they took a bite. Hate it when people in cafes and restaurants do that.

Thankyou for the handcream suggestions! I may pass on the udder cream for now though (?!), as my lovely Dad bought me some cocoa bean hand cream from the Body Shop which is doing a fabulous job.

Had better go and do the washing up now.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

That Sunday Feeling

Good grief. Can you believe here we are, Sunday night yet again? Time to finish the ironing (or at least one pile of 'essentials' anyway) throw some bleach around the bathroom, do some much needed grocery shopping and tidy the house.

Sundays are funny aren't they? Rob and I still refer to them as school nights, and I have to admit that even though I now have my own business I still get that tummy churning thing on a school night that I did all of those years ago. I am sure it will get better in time, but you see I am a bit of a perfectionist. I just want everything to be perfect at work each day, not give anyone any reason to complain, and want all of our lovely customers to leave with smiles on their faces.

So far so good. And yet whilst I realise that we must be doing OK, with lots of regulars and customers saying encouraging things, I do worry that if I become complacent, if I start to relax, then something horrible may happen. So for now I shall continue to get up at stupid o clock each day, carry on worrying (carry on losing weight-see there are benefits!) and then we should be fine. Oh dear, maybe I need to see a shrink...

I do thankfully still find baking relaxing, and here are todays experiment, GIANT toblerone cookies. Hmm, they really are rather enormous, you know. Rob has road tested one and confirmed they are good. So tomorrow shall have them sitting prettily in a glass cake dome. And someone may even buy one!

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I haven't been to the allotment for a while, due to time constraints. I do thankfully still have time to step out of our kitchen doors and onto the patio though, reach an arm through into the greenhouse and......tomatoes. They taste sweet, smell fabulous (I love the smell of tomatoes) and are keeping us in lots of tasty meals. Pasta bakes, spanish omelettes, bolognese sauces, soups, etc.etc. There aren't masses left but we have done well from just three plants. The cucumbers have done brilliantly as well. I just stuck three plants in a grow bag and put them on the patio. We have had huge amounts of cucumbers off them-I can highly recommend them for next year!
Sorry the picture is a bit blurry!

Since opening the cafe my hands have suffered dreadfully. Whereas I used to sit behind a desk for a living and spend my days slathering handcream on, now I spend most of my time washing them. Obviously I can't use hand cream at work (doesn't tend to taste that great on a bacon baguette) so they have become dry and old looking. Rubbish. All is not lost. On our trip around a very well known supermarket today (OK, Tesco!) I found white cotton gloves. Which always reminds me of WH Audens Poem...'Let traffic policemen wear white cotton gloves'

So tonight, when you are all sat watching telly, reading books, surfing the internet or lying in the bath, I shall be sat here with mountains of hand cream on and my white gloves. Pretty attractive, I'm sure you'll agree...(please be aware that I was giggling hysterically whilst Rob took this picture)

I hope no one rings the doorbell.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Soup and Cycles

This is part of the enormous piles of vegetables my lovely Dad harvested from the allotment for us this morning. Pretty impressive, eh? even more so to me, considering I haven't stepped welly on the plot for weeks. It's not for lack of wanting to, more down to pure knackered-ness (and rain) on my part.
So tonight we shall be dining on corn on the cob, potato wedges and leftover quiche and coleslaw from the cafe! Tomorrow shall be spent cooking up pots of soup, some of which will come back home and some which will be hopefully be sold to the masses!
We have unusual courgettes and gourds, heaps of potatoes, beautiful leeks, kohl rabi, parsnips and sweetcorn. Yum.

I have been thinking recently that I really should consider changing my name from 'Garden girl' to 'Cafe girl' or similar. I seem to have spent less and less time doing any gardening and more and more time thinking up lists of recipes, what to order from suppliers, interesting sandwich fillers, new cakes to try etc.etc.
HOWEVER, now, obviously, I will darn well be sticking to Garden Girl, because LOOK!!!

Pretty amazing, I am sure you will agree. My very own, beautifully hand painted Garden Girl mug. The very lovely Moss Stitch (still can't do links, but do look on my side bar) sent this fabulous present to the cafe this week. The postman was quite scared when I snatched the box out of his hands as he approached the cake counter. Several customers were trying hard not to look as I carefully unwrapped (ie. ripped) the sellotape off the box, and unravelled the bubble wrap that was safely packaging the delights within. Can you see the bumble bee on the handle? Can you? And another inside. Sigh. It is so very beautiful, I have used it for every cuppa since.

This was the amazing handmade card that came with the mug. I am going to try and find a box frame for it and put it on the wall of the cafe. Ms Stitch, you are very very clever and thoughtful. Thankyou so much, I am delighted with it. xxx

We decided to drag our bikes out from the shed this afternoon, having been inspired my The List Writers latest interest! I love cycling along the roads where we are so used to driving or walking. It has been a year since we last used them, which is shameful!

Somehow being on a bike, you observe things you wouldn't normally. People smile at you as well, probably because of the massive grin I had plastered across my face (they probably thought I had escaped from somewhere-I had, the laundry).

I felt like a big kid as we whizzed through the back streets, wind in our hair, cheeks rosy. Fresh air and a bit of exercise were definitely the tonic I needed this afternoon. If you have a bike gathering dust and cobwebs somewhere I can recommend you dig it out, pump up the tires and go for a spin. Smiles guaranteed.

Back to the laundry. Have a fabulous week everyone.x

Sunday, 7 September 2008


THIS is my most favourite place to be at the moment. Ah yes, Sleep, the thing I seemed to do without for so long, despite craving it so much, is back!

I realise that it is incredibly sad to be tucked up in bed by 9.30pm most nights, but after chatting with Mrs Cowboys and Custard in the week and sharing our views on snoozing, I am no longer ashamed to admit that actually, my first thought on waking most mornings is 'I can't wait to go to bed tonight'.

I love being snuggled up, chamomile oil sprinkled on pillow, lavender pillows (courtesy of Mrs Ragged Roses) plumped up on the fireplace, duvet pulled up to my chin and then...Zzzzzzzzz.

No longer do I lie awake staring at the ceiling for hours on end. Instead I quite literally fall into a deep slumber the minute my head touches the pillow. I drift off to the scent of chamomile and lavender, thoughts of cake recipes, menu changes, best selling jacket potato toppers dancing through my head.(ooh, the romance!)

10 hours of standing up, smiling, making pots of tea, unloading dishwashers, making sandwiches, chatting to customers, grinding coffee beans, stirring soup, wiping tables, re-stocking fridges, ordering stock, hoovering and mopping floors,....etc.etc.etc. makes for a good nights sleep...as does this....

My Cath Kidston sale bargain from a couple of years ago. Two nights ago we succumbed to its beauty yet again. It lives in the spare bedroom for several months of the year until the weather turns and we feel the need for an extra layer. Two nights ago we were really chilly and decided the time had come! I love the print on this side in particular. It is pink with white spots on the reverse side.

Have you found Petticoat Lanes blog yet? Do go and see her, she is incredibly talented, amusing, thoughtful and has very cute children. As well as a shopping obsession. Petticoats and I have known each other for a very long time now, in fact she used to be my boss! (but a very lovely one indeed) Anyway, she bought her beautiful girls and her Mum to No.9 last week for lunch. It was fabulous to see them, although at the time I recall thinking 'Oh hell, the place is a right bloody tip and we've run out of soup. I hope they don't want soup. And I haven't got any lipstick on' or similar rambling thoughts...Thankfully they didn't seem to mind, and settled themselves in, for hopefully not TOO long a wait, for lunch. And look what she bought me!!

Isn't it lovely? Please note the spottiness of the box the letters are sat on- it matches perfectly our spotty tablecloths. Good eh? A truly thoughtful present. Thanks Petticoats. x

Speaking of thoughtful presents (not that I have ever received one that wasn't...) this arrived this week as well. And oh, it really is SO fabulous after a day spent in a pair of Birkenstocks. The List Writer, you are, as ever, a star! thankyou. My feet smell delicious!x

I have been so lucky to have met several bloggers now, all who have been to visit. In fact whenever the door opens now and I see an unfamiliar face I start to wonder..thankfully two Saturdays ago I knew to expect Mollycupcakes, who very cannily has a mother in law living down the road from No.9 in Cheltenham. I knew she was coming, but that didn't detract from how great it was to see her. I recognised Catherine immediately as she walked in clutching a very lovely red spotty handbag in one hand, and a pretty pink paper bag in the other. Which contained this, for the cafe!

Although it was a No.9 cafe warming gift I think I may sneak it home and keep it in the kitchen. Otherwise it may be used by business partner extraordinaire to whisk tuna or something. He wouldn't appreciate it's pink spotty perfection and would think nothing of lobbing it in the dishwasher, unfortunately.

Before I jump into my P.J's for the night I would like to say thankyou to you all for your very thoughtful comments and emails about the cafe. It's very encouraging to have such supportive fellow bloggers! And extra special thanks to Michele, Dragonfly, Petticoat Lane, Julia and Mollycupcakes for visiting. One day when I am feeling brave I think we should hold a bloggers cafe day!

Maybe next year..when I've caught up on my sleep!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Fancy a cuppa?

Firstly I have to thank Mr GG (as he has become fondly known by several of you!) for his regular updates on the blog of late. I apologise for being out of action (or order, depending on how you look at it!) but he has built up quite a fan base it seems in my absence!

As you are quite possibly aware by now, we are officially....

Thankyou to April for the beautifully crafted sign!
Because I have been up since stupid-o-clock this morning and am fit to drop, I thought I would keep it brief and bore you with a few more pics of No.9....

Thankyou to Tessa for the pink gingham bunting above the till! It has had many admiring glances, and one small princess has requested we keep it there for her birthday party in November!

The 'poseur' tables, which have attracted all of the young trendies...

Colouring pencils, books and paper to keep the small people amused.

Some of the paintings and mosaics created by local artists. The idea is that people will buy them all and we can change the decor continuously, to help change the atmosphere.

Heart shaped blackboard from the fabulous Vintage Amethyst!

And one of the absolute best things about the cafe? Having individual heart shaped marmite sachets. How cool?!! Sigh.

I have been incredibly fortunate to meet TWO bloggers this week. The delightful Mr and Mrs Cowboys and Custard arrived on a surprise visit on Monday morning, and we managed to sit and have a coffee together before the mad rush began. Yesterday afternoon the lovely Dragonfly arrived to sample the Hazelnut Latte. It was lovely to meet you all, and thankyou so much for making the trip over to Gloucestershire, I hope you come back again one day!

Dragonfly has also awarded me with this, which is gratefully received, thankyou!

And this, from Petticoat Lane AND Cowboys and Custard. How fabulous! Thankyou so much to you all, ladies, I am incredibly touched that you thought of me. And I thought it pertinent that I put them .....here, next to the shiny teapots...I just need to find a special home for the marmite first though!

I know it's a bit naughty, but rather than forward my awards to any particular bloggers, I am going instead going to award it to all of you, with my grateful thanks for all of your support and warm wishes over the last few difficult months. You have helped far more than you realise.

I think that's probably quite enough to be going on with! I am off for a lovely long snooze...thankyou once again for all of your wonderful comments, well wishes, cards and gifts. It makes all of this even more worthwhile to know that you're interested!