Tuesday, 14 December 2010

signs of christmas around here



the weekend's baking


This weekend I spent a lot of time doing my favourite thing. Baking. And lots of it. It was my beautiful friend Hannah's birthday, so of course, I had to make cake. (Hannah, by the way, has recently become a Mummy to a beautiful daughter, Rachel, who I must photograph sometime - Han can we arrange that, please?)

Having checked with Hannah's husband and found that her Mum had made her a chocolate cake, I scoured my recipe books for ideas that weren't chocolatey.

I decided upon Orange Cupcakes with Orange buttercream frosting, and Caramel Cupcakes. One flavour just didn't seem enough, and I was more than happy to have an excuse to make different kinds of cake. The recipes came from the Primrose Bakery recipe book, written by two inspirational women, who set up their cake business in their homes, before branching out and becoming very popular, selling to the great store, Selfridges. Someday I hope to be like them. 

They turned out a little like this:




After baking a batch of each, I was on a roll, so carried right on and made some mini versions of the orange cupcakes that were tiny and perfectly bitesized. The only difference with the miniature ones was that I piped fresh cream with orange zest on top for the icing instead of buttercream. There is something about miniature cakes that I just love. Maybe it's that you get the same tasty hit as you do with a normal sized cupcake, but without so much concern as to how it will add to your wasteline...


As a side note to any of you who have been wondering what on earth has happened to my Bake2010 blog, it all fell by the wayside a bit when we got married. I kept planning on posting about our wedding cake, but never quite managed to before doing another lot of baking, so I decided to just post what was coming out of my oven here rather than there. Sadly I have lost count of how many cakes I have baked, as I thought might happen once this year got a whole lot busier with wedding planning. I'm not seeing it as failure though, as I have not stopped baking, I've just stopped counting...

Friday, 26 November 2010

snow!

Quite unbelievably, for the last 4 hours, snow has gently been falling from the skies, lightly peppering the land in the south west with its beauty. Even though I know it will probably be gone after one sleep, I am still loving it and feeling like I'm in Narnia as I walk under street lamps with my head tilted skywards, feeling the weight of the tiny flakes on my eyelashes.








I'll be spending my weekend writing an assignment and perusing the Christmas treats on offer at Christmas at the Orangery. I've wanted to go to this Christmas market for the last few years, so I am very excited about going this year. The snow has made me feel like I really need to start getting ready for Christmas and I think I might start by making a list of all of the tasty festive treats I'd like to bake. If there's anything you'd like to see me baking, please do tell in the comments section - I always love getting new baking inspiration!

Happy weekend! And wishing any Americans who might be reading this a very Happy Thanksgiving.

capacity




About four years ago, in 2006, I started to run. I ran with my good friend Ros and we would chat away the miles, not realising how far we were running. 

The more we ran, the further we went. We pushed ourselves beyond the boundaries that our bodies and minds knew, learning physically and spiritually as we went. We ran in all weathers, greeting the dawn of the day in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Morning was our preferred time for running - with Ros being a Mum of three and I being a university student with a job - we had children and work to attend to.
Four years on, and I often wonder at how we did it. Let me explain a bit how things have changed. Until a year ago, I was running regularly, rarely having a break of more than a few days for my body to rest. This changed when I met John. In the early days of our relationship, I was living on far less sleep than my body had ever been used to, still working my two jobs that started at 8 in the morning and ending at 7 in the evening. They were long days and with this wonderful new man in my life who I needed to give time to, my capacity for running changed.

When we got engaged in March of this year, I felt a shift in my capacity again. I was now planning a wedding in any spare minute I had, working at school and childminding, and trying to maintain a relationship in a way that meant we didn't spend every moment together wedding planning. I physically felt like I did not have the strength to run. During those months, I consoled myself in the fact that my body was being exercised through my daily cycling to work. In those months of engagement, running would not have served as a means of strengthening me spiritually, it would have felt like a chore, something that I thought I should do rather than something I enjoyed doing.
Now, eight months on from our engagement, we are now married, and I find my capacity changing once again. I remember once asking my church leader if he had found his capacity increasing as he grew older. At the time of asking the question. I felt like my life was very full with different responsibilities and roles and could not envisage the day when I found it easier to juggle so many balls. In his wisdom, he explained to me that in marriage, your capacity increases. You are joined with another person to become one. In that process of joining and growing together in marriage, you are strengthened and enabled by the different skills and abilities of your spouse. This is something that I have found to be very true so far in the very short time I have been married. When one of us feels weak, the other is able to buoy the other up, spurring on where one might have otherwise stopped.

The week after we returned from our honeymoon, I started my PGCE - Post Grad training to become a Primary School teacher. The course splits my time between lectures at university in Bath, and teaching at a school in Portishead. Where I was once able to cycle to my jobs, I now have to spend about 5 hours a week driving. My mode of transportation slows me down completely and reduces my physical activity to the point where I have started to feel like I need to run again. I need to get my body moving, to remind it of what it is capable of. To stretch my complacent limbs and feel the gentle ache of good exercise. My capacity is once again changing due to other areas of my life slowing down.

On Tuesday evening as I ran, I thought about how the slowing down and settling of my life has caused my capacity to run to increase once again. In one sense I am now travelling greater distances than before, but in a way that requires nothing of my body.  In making my body redundant, it's as though I am realising what it needs to be doing to feel more alive and well. As I ran, it felt like my body was remembering how to respond well to being pushed physically. I loved the feeling of my feet and my heart pounding to the rhythm of the music in my ears. All that I could feel was my body responding to these things, as though running on autopilot, not having to consciously take every step as my body yelled at me to 'stop!' because it hurt. 


The memorable quote made by Eric Liddell in the film Chariots of Fire came to mind while running through the streets of Bristol: 

'...when I run, I feel God's pleasure...'

There is pleasure to be had in running and I love that I am starting to remember that pleasure again, where for so long, that pleasure has been replaced by complacency & weariness.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

chocolate courgette loaf



Simply said in pictures. A lovely chocolate loaf, slightly moist with a gently crisp crust. The chunks of chocolate provide a little surprise with every few bites. And it has courgette in it. You'd never know...


Monday, 22 November 2010

apple sauce




For the last couple of weeks, our fruit bowl has been full to the hilt with a lovely bunch of cooking apples that needed using. Alonside this, I have had the desire to bake. It'd be accurate to say that this is a pretty much constant desire, but these days I have far less time to satisfy my baking needs. So, on Tuesday evening, I carved out a bit of time after school and coupled the apples together with my baking needs and made apple sauce. The main reason for making apple sauce was so that I could then bake this recipe for Chocolate Courgette loaf / cake posted by the lovely Summer Harms last week.

So off I went on a hunt for an apple sauce recipe and found this one. It is so easy to make - you just pop everything in a pan and leave to simmer - there's even enough time for a run while the sauce is simmering away! Coming home to the smell of apples and cinnamon is quite simply, wonderful.


The brilliant thing is, you can make a batch of apple sauce for chocolate courgette cake, then put the rest in jars for presents! Oh how I love these jars....


Next up: How the chocolate courgette cake turned out.
If you're not completely converted on the concept of using vegetables in cake yet, I assure you, they totally work and you feel like eating cake is a good, healthy thing to do!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

as winter rolls in


I am... 
drinking hot water to warm my belly
donning my ski socks to soothe my cold toes
hugging hot water bottles
buying these mittens
wondering how much earlier I'll need to leave to scrape the ice from the car each morning
wearing a quilt over my knees at my desk
appreciating that we have finally worked out how to get the shower hot
wondering how much longer we can last without heating
enjoying eating soup, soup and more soup for lunch 
listening to Brooke Fraser's new album
very much looking forward to Christmas time

Thursday, 11 November 2010

remembrance



Today at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month we observed a two minute silence at school to remember and respect all of those who lost their lives in the Great Wars this world has seen. For as long as I can remember, the image of people wearing poppies to comemorate this occasion, has been familiar. I never questionned why it was a poppy that was the flower of choice, and it is only in the last few years that I have gained a greater appreciation for the symbolism of the poppy. 

During my first degree, I studied a unit on therapeutic work with children. One of the suggested readings for the course was a book called Poppies on the Rubbish Heap. 
It was not a light read. It was a book about children who had suffered horrendous abuse. While this book by no means made light of the abuse cases that were contained in the text, it did speak of the inexplicable joy that therapists saw in the children they worked with, in spite of their circumstances. Invariably, this joy was hidden and rarely seen, but to read account after account of child abuse that provoked many tears, the fact that these children who had experienced such dark times still reflected glimmers of a lightness of spirit, was all the more moving. These children were, in the truest sense, poppies on a rubbish heap. 

I find it quite miraculous to think of how bright, beautiful poppies would grow upon land that had seen such slaughter and sacrifice during the war. To me, this echoes the message of Salvation. Jesus Christ causes life to spring forth in us, through all of the muck and mire in our lives. And this is most definitely miraculous.

Today, I learned that all of the 34 million poppies that people wear across England in memory of the soliders who died, are made at a single factory in Richmond. The man who started the factory in 1922, Major George Howson, designed the poppies in such a way that ex-service men and women who had been disabled by the war, would be able to make the poppies with one hand. Amazingly, Major Howson did not think his idea would be a success. How brilliant, then, that 90 years later, the paper poppies worn around the country at this time are still very much a known symbol of remembrance.

The poem that first inspired an American woman named Moina Bell Michael to wear a poppy that would become the symbol to represent remembrance was this:

In Flanders Field by John McCrae


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.





Thursday, 4 November 2010

the rugged cookie




A few weeks ago, John needed to do some baking to provide his colleagues with something scrumptious to celebrate his 2nd anniversary of working with the company. He decided on oat & raisin cookies and happened upon this recipe

I'd like to take some time to tell you about this cookie recipe which I would like to dub 'the rugged one'. 

I used to have a love-hate relationship with baking cookies and biscuits and was sure my solution would be to move to America where cookies were born, where I would be sure to find the secret to the perfect chewy cookie (because these are the best kind). The main problem? The cookie dough always spread over the entire surface area of the tray - having started out as nice neat little blobs of dough - as soon as the dough hit the heat it just went everywhere and I would end up with one giant weird cookie-biscuit that was too crispy around the edges and just didn't really taste right. I had problems, you see? Feel free to share if you've experienced anything similar. I will fully empathize with you, I promise.

My problem was solved, not by a trip to the States, but by the discovery of using condensed milk in cookies. Oh my, how good cookies can be with a healthy serving of condensed milk. However, the only condensed milk recipes I found had some form of chocolate in. This is definitely not a problem as I am a lover of all things chocolate, but when one fancies some oaty goodness, condensed milk is perhaps not the best solution.

So, when John found this recipe, and I smelt the wonderful aroma of oats & cinnamon wafting from our oven, I knew I had to try these babies for myself. So I did. If you follow the recipe from the link, it will yield about 30 odd cookies - I can't remember precisely - but it was a lot. I froze over half the batch because we couldn't eat them fast enough. I made them nearly a month ago and we still have some of the frozen batch left. Now that's what I call a good yield.

Of course, John added his own John Twist when he baked these cookies. Rather than making individual cookies, he made two giant cookies that took up the whole surface area of one baking tray each. I love his style.

If you have some oats, sugar, butter, raisins and spices in your cupboard, I highly recommend you put them to good use and make these cookies. Happy Baking!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

grey skies and stolen books

 
Dear Friends,

Sorry for my quietness at this little space this last week - it has been filled with lectures, studying, teaching and running by a lake taking photos of swans & toy animals. (Sound a little strange? Welcome to the world of teacher training in Bath.)

I am finding that I miss all of the good light during the day for taking photos to post - it is now the case that it is dark when I leave in the morning and dusk when I come home at night, which makes for poor photography.
 
Friday was a particularly grey day when the sky has looked ready to rain for the whole day. Normally I find the grey skies make me sad, but today, they did not. Today, I enjoyed watching the weight of the clouds shift and change until they relented to let the rain fall. I waited all day for the rain, and on my way home it finally came.

My day ended on Friday with a trip to the University Library. One of the wonderful things about Bath Spa Library is that it has a room especially dedicated to teaching resources for people like me who are trying to learn how to be a teacher. I have discovered their children's audio books, which I have started borrowing to listen to on the hour long journey to and from home and uni. Having finished listening to 'The Hostile Hospital', a Lemony Snicket story, I went in search of a new audio book. In the process of browsing the aisles of the resources room, I happened upon a lovely old orange book called 'Nonsense songs and stories'. The title alone was enough to allure me, and with a quick flick through the pages to discover simple pencil drawings reminiscent of old childhood books, I added Nonsense songs and stories' to my growing stack of books to withdraw.


There is a clever self withdrawal system at Bath Spa Library, whereby you can check-in and check-out any books you would like to return or withdraw. As I was merrily scanning my books, I discovered that Nonsense songs and stories was so old that it had been missed out when the university phased out the old-school date-stamping system and brought in electronic barcodes. Anyhoo, this story is going on for far too long. What I am trying to tell you is that I ended up inadvertently stealing this lovely old book - having intended on asking a librarian for help, I had carried on checking out all of my other books and popped them into my book bag. Nonsense songs just so happened to end up with all of the other books in my book bag. While I am sure the library probably won't miss this unassuming orange book, I will do the honourable thing and return it after I have enjoyed its contents.


Monday, 25 October 2010

sunset over the village



As many of you will know, I love to take photos. My Canon EOS 450D serves me as a very faithful companion, and I love the freedom it brings to photography in that I don't have to limit the number of photos I take anymore because of the cost involved in printing. While my love for this camera has not grown cold, I have had a hankering for a little compact camera that I can take everywhere with me. There are so many occasions when I think, 'I wish I had my camera with me.' So, although the quality from a compact is not as good as with my DSLR, it means less photo opportunities would be missed if I owned one.

Well, I can now say that I am the proud owner of a lovely little compact camera! It's the Canon powershot sx210. My lovely husband very generously gave me this as my birthday present. So, when John and I went for a run on Wednesday evening, baby Canon came along with us and allowed me to capture the sunset over Westbury on Trym.

Sadly, baby Canon is having some teething problems and the screen is a little bit busted after less than a week, so she's got to go back to her first home to be sorted out. Thankfully, because the fault was not an 'act of God' all should be easily resolved. (This is the actual phrase used in the terms & conditions of the warranty, believe it or not.)

autumn frost






While the cold chill in the air that is descending upon us is not particularly fun, the blow is definitely lessened by the beauty of Autumn. I think I shall be spending most of my day of studying with a quilt wrapped around me and a mug of hot water or coffee permanently on hand to keep me from turning to ice.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

a few wedding details



After getting back from our honeymoon in early September, I had imagined that I would be writing a good number of blog posts to tell you about our wedding. For those of you who were there celebrating with us, it would be a reminder of all of the fun we had; for those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, it would be a glimpse into our wedding day; and for me, it would serve as a visual & written record of some of the details I did not want to forget.

However, life seemed to come at us so quickly that I have ended up documenting the here and now far more than our wedding memories, in an attempt to simply keep up with all that has been happening. I like blogging for that reason - that it provides an outlet for day to day documentation that allows me to use both words and pictures to express my thoughts in a way that I could not with journalling, putting pen to paper. I still love the process of doing that, but I love the creative outlet that I have found in blogging.

So, if you will bear with me, I'd like to share with you a few snapshots of our day.


We had our wedding reception in a little village called Long Ashton. When our guests arrived, they were served Pimms cocktail from under a gazebo which had glass jars strung with pink & green ribbon (our colour scheme) all around the edge. Our wedding cake (which I promise to write about over here very soon) was covered in 150 white roses. These roses were removed from the cake so it could be eaten, then lovingly transported to the reception venue to find new homes in the beautifully hung jars.


I had wanted to have a vintage feel to our wedding, and Sarah resourced this wish wonderfully. We had piles of books, topped with flowers & jars of sweets, that Sarah had gathered from the university library - all of the books had something in their title which reflected our names, John's job as a wind turbine engineer, or love, and they all co-ordinated beautifully with the colour scheme.

I had chosen to have peonies in my bouquet and in the reception flower arrangements. They are my favourite flower, and the first flowers that John bought me were pale pink peonies, identical in colour to the ones you can see in the photo above. I loved having this detail that represented not only my favourite flower, but also John's incredible attention to detail when it comes to taking notice of the things I love. (He had read my blog entry about peonies, before I even knew that he had found my blog, taken note, then sent me a bouquet on our one month anniversary.)


A long time ago I came across Rebecca Thuss, a creative stylist, who did wedding photography styling for Martha Stewart Wedding for many years. I was so inspired by her work, and when I saw this, I knew that I wanted something similar at my wedding - it seemed particulary fitting as I am such a lover of cake, and didn't want to limit our guests to just one choice of cake! We used my collection of cake stands and some items that I picked up in charity shops, along with some of Sarah's glassware to present the confectionary.


The tables were laden with glassware & flowers & antique lace squares.


For the place settings we used pages from an old copy of pride and prejudice that I picked up for £2.50. We folded these around the napkins & fastened with the fabric left over from making the bunting, and tucked a sprig of rosemary or sage under the fabric. For favours, we had personalised miniature pencils made, which people used to write us a message in our guestbook - we had placed blank cards inside the envelopes with the guests' names on for this purpose.


John has made me quite a number of origami roses during our relationship, and Sarah took this romantic gesture and added it to our reception through making origami swallows and swans from the pages of an engineering journal and from the Songs of Solomon in the Bible. I loved that John had no idea that his romantic gestures had become inspiration for our wedding decor, and that the birds had hidden information in them that spoke of love & John's profession.

The ribbon tied around the vase says, 'To have and to hold from this day forward' and was purchased from Cox & Cox.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

the John twist




One of the things I love about John is the way he cooks. There might only be a select few ingredients in the kitchen, but let John loose and he is sure to whip up a delightfully tasty meal. John loves to experiment with flavours, adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that. This is often much to my dismay, because, although there's a part of me that loves to experiment with food, there's also the part of me that is happy with the way things are and doesn't want to stray from the norm.

I am noticing more and more when we cook and bake together that there is much banter back and forth of 'let's add a bit of this' and 'no rules apply when I cook, don't worry about what the recipe says!' This presents a challenge to my stubborn character and takes me by surprise when I don't tend to think of myself as someone who likes to be in control. Apparently, when I'm in the kitchen, I do.

Anyhoo, what I wanted to tell you about was the delicious meal John cooked for us last week. In his true style, he added the john twist. This is when John takes a basic concept for a meal, and as he adds his little bit of this, little bit of that, the meal is taken to a whole new level.

Growing up, one of my favourite meals was my Mum's sausagemeat flan. it's a simple, homely, hearty meal that revels in the few ingredients required to come together to create it. I had a lot of reading to do for my course, so John was very kindly cooking for us. Having phoned my Mum for the recipe and dictated to John, he set about preparing the dinner. I was a little anxious that the pastry wouldn't work because the butter was at room temperature and not chilled, andd John had mixed the butter & flour together without adding the egg. Having given John my thoughts on the potential problems while trying to leave the kitchen but wanting to give a helping hand, he assured me that all would be fine.

Was it fine? Well, of course it was. While I was busy reading up on teaching children Science, John had created a delicious sauasagemeat flan. He built on the basics of sausagemeat, onion & a handful of oats by adding apple chutney, wholegrain mustard, and a generous shake of cayenne pepper & smoked paprika. The pastry turned out just fine, despite the warm butter and the omission of blind baking, and to top it all off, John made jam tarts out of the leftover pastry. Brilliant. I need to learn that for the most part, the john twist is a very good thing.

Monday, 18 October 2010

26 years young



This is me as a baby, in the first year of my life

Today is my birthday! This year I am celebrating simply. with just my husband in our home, eating some yummy food & birthday brownie, celebrating another year of my life. it's funny to think that I am now closer to 30 than 20. i am thankful for this life I have been given by God & I am looking forward to the adventures that this next year of my life might hold.

Tomorrow we are going to see the kodo drummers perform at the Colston Hall as a birthday treat (which was a surprise that I completely spoiled...) which I am sure will have me on the edge of my seat, wishing I could drum like a pro.

Wishing you a very happy day!


Friday, 15 October 2010

come, sit awhile & let us read




On Wednesday, in our English class at university, we were thinking about children's literature. The first thing our teacher asked us to do was to think of a memory we hold of being read to as a child. We wrote down our memory of the name of the book, where we were at the time, and who was reading to us.

I have memories of books being an important part of our childhood. I say 'our childhood' because in some ways, it is impossible to separate my childhood from that of my siblings with whom I grew up with. No-one else shared the experiences we did together because they were unique to our family, and I love that. There were books everywhere in our home. I remember once, my older brother John, decided to count how many books we had. He stopped at 2000 I think. The books lined the picture rail in our hallway and every bookshelf had at least two rows of book per shelf. The memories I have of my Mother asking the question, 'has anyone seen my book?' are countless. She would walk around the house with her book & a cup of tea, rarely sitting down with them as she knew that if she sat down, she would get engrossed in the book and find it hard to get up. Still to this day, I am sure my Mother could quite happily live on a diet of books.

Even though books were a big feature of our lives, when I was asked to think of a memory of being read to, initially, only one memory came immediately to the forefront of my mind.

I remember our Mum reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to John and I. We were sat either side of her, snuggled up in our parents' bed. I knew the story well, and I knew that at some point, the White Witch was going to appear and I still remember the feeling of fear in anticipation of her arrival. I remember thinking, 

'I don't know when she's going to come, but as soon as she does, I can hide under the covers, and I know that it will all be ok because Aslan will come and save the day.'

There was a deep comfort in knowing that Aslan would always appear in the story, just as I knew the White Witch always would. He was gentle, safe & powerful. I was amazed at my memory of the feelings I had experienced as our Mum read to us, not realising how deeply set in my memory such things could be. 

As I listened to the memories of my coursemates, I was reminded of other stories that featured in my childhood, which hadn't sprung to mind as I was trying to recall being read to; Memories of Hafferty Hamster, Millie Molly Mandy, Harry's Mad (our Year 3 teacher read this to us), Winnie the Pooh, Dogger, and so many other books that felt like true companions, allowing me to befriend them in my childlike way and read them over and over again.

I really do love children's stories & I hope for my collection of them to grow & grow, and to someday have children of my own to read to, that they might learn to love books too.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

the start of autumn

On Monday, I arrived home from school at dusk. The sky was that brilliant hue of blue that comes with the low level of the sun in Autumn. As soon as I got in the door, I grabbed my camera and went straight back out to the woods next to our house. I needed to be out in the fresh air, breathing in Autumn. Isn't it a wonderful season?


I love how Autumn colours slowly start to take over the trees



I love how the light falls between the trees but only some select rays make it to the ground.


I love how the sky can be so many different hues of blue all at the same time.


I love that my toes and my nose are cold as I write this. I love Autumn.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

sarah's birthday cupcakes



Susannah Blake and Tarek Malouf were my trusty baking companions for the weekend's baking. Even when the industrial oven at Church that was going to give life to my cupcakes failed me, these brilliant bakers did not.

Their recipes stayed true to their word and produced beautiful cakes. 

From The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook I baked...

Black Bottomed Cupcakes (find the recipe over here at my much neglected baking blog)


and 

Carrot Cake (I adapted this recipe to include orange because it goes so brilliantly with carrots, and threw in raisins instead of nuts)

From Susannah Blake's Afternoon Tea Parties I made Coffee & Walnut Cake

As two of the three recipes were for cake, I simply made the quantities stated plus an extra half to make approximately 19- 21 cupcakes per recipe.

For the fourth flavour I made these chocolate classics with this chocolate buttercream frosting which I love, because it has a slight malty taste to it, provided by a dash of ovaltine (well, 50g, so a little more than a dash). The quantities of frosting will make enough to frost about 30 cupcakes.

Here's the recipe for the Coffee & Walnut Cupcakes...


ingredients:

270g unsalted butter at room temp
270g caster sugar
4 eggs
3 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1.5 tbsp hot water
60g walbut pieces

for the frosting:
325g marscarpone
125g icing sugar
2 1/4 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 1/4 tsp hot water
walnut halves, to decorate

1) Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 4 / 350F
2) Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

3) Beat in the eggs one at a time

4) Sift in the flour and stir by hand to combine

5) Fold in the coffee & walnuts

6) Spoon heaped dessertspoons of mixture into a muffin tray lined with paper cases

7) Bake for 20 - 25 mins until golden and springy then transfer to a wire cooling rack

for the frosting...

Beat all of the ingredients together then either spread or pipe onto your cupcakes in whatever fashion you desire. 
(Maybe avoid using a round piping nozzle like I used, as someone commented that they looked like something that you would never want to eat...!)

I transported the cupcakes safely in trays purchased from here  and served the cakes on slate tiles, labelled so that the party guests would know what they were eating.


I added my own very small touch to the boxes with custom stickers from moo.com.



If you would like the recipes for carrot & orange cupcakes, I will happily post it over on my baking blog, but did not want to inundate this post with numerous recipes.


It was such an honour to be asked by Sarah's husband to bake cupcakes for her as a surprise & I loved seeing them all lined up in neat rows in their boxes - such a satisfying sight.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

cream.




For the most part when I bake, it turns out alright without any major disasters. I am often amazed at how on earth I manage to pull this off with my track record of little mishaps in life which tend to be attributed to my clumsiness.

Every now and then, something slightly spectacular will happen when I am in the kitchen, and they always seem to happen when no-one is there to appreciate them with me.

I'd like to tell you about one of those times that happened to me just the other day. It was Saturday evening and I had taken over my good friend Ros' kitchen for an epic baking session, making 60 odd cupcakes for Sarah's birthday. As I was preparing the double cream for its iminient date with a bowl of marscapone, we had a little unexpected encounter with the rest of the kitchen. By that I mean that the cream decided it wasn't ready to date just the marscapone, she wanted to try out the rest of her surroundings first.

Being discontented with the home I had given Miss Cream of a tall, slender measuring jug, and even more unhappy that in preparation for her date with Mr Marscapone she had to be whipped and whisked a little bit, Miss Cream decided to make her feelings known. As I started to whisk Miss Cream, she stayed in her measuring jug home for less than 3 seconds before erupting. I never knew 200ml of cream could go quite so far. By this I mean that Miss Cream went all down my top, jeans & socks, all over the hobs, the floor, the recipe book, the working surface. She even found her way into the ridges of the bread bin and inside cupboard doors. To my utter amazement, not a single drop landed in the bowl of marscapone that was ready and waiting patiently to have the cream added once whipped.

I stood still in the kitchen for a good 5 seconds, mouth wide open, before the laughter of disbelief kicked in and the disappointment that Ros would not get to see her new and improved creamy kitchen, as I had to clear it up before she got home because it really is impractical to bake in a slippery creamy kitchen.


Thankfully, I had enough cream left over to make it back up to the right quantity, and Miss Cream did her job properly the next time. Or perhaps it would be moreaccurate to say that I was more sensible and put the cream in a bowl that was big enough to contain the cream, which I totally knew I should have done the first time but didn't want to wash up the bowl that I needed. That'll teach me to cut corners next time.

Tune in later if you'd like to see the cupcakes that I baked...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

today



Today I...

learnt how to tie a clove knot

learnt how to lash pieces of wood together to make a frame

made a 'smelly cocktail' at Forest school which I called marzipan magic - who knew that leaves could smell of marzipan?!

spent a lot of time searching for signs, colours and textures of Autumn and realised that they are everwhere
got lost in the library

read all about the history of the English education system

ate some fluffy chocolate torte

watched Jamie's American Food Revolution
the end.

home made apple syrup



This little recipe was created by John, my husband, last weekend while I was cooking Sausage & Apple Casserole.

He came up with a brilliant idea which meant the apple peel would not be wasted. I have fond memories of eating apple peel on Sundays before lunch, as my Mother prepared apple crumble. While she lovingly cooked our lunch in the kitchen, the rest of the family got to munch on long strips of apple peel, filling the huge hole in our bellies ever so slightly while we waited for lunch to be ready. As we don't have a house full of children, even with a bit of apple peel munching, there really was too much for John and I to eat by ourselves.

So John made apple syrup. Brilliantly simple and Brilliantly tasty.
Apple Syrup

Simply put however much apple peel you have on hand into a sauce pan with some water, sugar and a bit of cinnamon and let it simmer until it becomes a syrup.
Pour a small amount of syrup into a glass and add water, ice & a squeeze & slice of lime.

Alternatively, make with hot water to create your very own apple tea.
Enjoy. 

Friday, 1 October 2010

this is why.



A few weeks ago I started a course that will train me to be a teacher. I have talked before about how it has taken me a long time to reach the decision to go into teaching, and I still have a lot of questions now, as to whether it was the right move.

Yesterday we had a lecture entitled The Creative Curriculum. The man giving the lecture has been a headteacher for twenty years, and working in the education system for thirty years. For some reason, the venue for our lecture was a Church. Our lecturer was not a man of faith in God, but was, very clearly a man of faith in education & children. He quipped, 'I am proud to say that I am standing in a Church, not evangelising about God, but I will definitely be evangelising about education.'


While, from my perspective as a Christian, it would have been wonderful if he had the faith to do both, but even so, I have to say that he was brilliant.


Here was a man who had been shunned from the education system himself during Primary School, expelled for being obnoxious, now speaking very passionately about his love for the children and staff in his school. He defined for us a turning point for him which was all thanks to a teacher he had in sixth form. One day, this teacher changed the heart of a sixteen year old boy who had been deeply affected by his school experience, by responding to him in a way that no other teacher ever had. He made him feel that his soul mattered. That sixteen year old boy was the man who was now standing in front of 140 teachers-to-be, telling us that we need to give to teaching the things that we love.


During my time at university, when it was summer exam season, I would travel up to Stoke on Trent with my good friend Lizzie to stay with her parents while we revised. I remember reading a quote that hung from a mobile in her dining room which read,


Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do it because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

I so desperately wanted to find what it was that makes me come alive so that I might be able to use what I have in some way to make a difference. As I sat and listened today about how as teachers we need to be seeing the impact of our teaching as aiming to grow young children into oak trees, memories of teaching children came back to me; of times when I taught them how to cook & I felt truly alive, my eyes alight with excitement that the children in front of me were learning and loving what I was teaching them; of times when the whole class sat wide-eyed & captivated as I told them stories that were so tangible it felt like we were a part of them; of times where I was able to show a child in some small way that they mattered, that they are brilliant & that their heart is precious. These are the moments that make me want to teach.


In that moment of listening to a seasoned teacher tell me that what children need is for me to give of myself, I remembered that this is what makes me come alive. The giving of myself & all that I love that I might in some small way help children to love learning & love exploring the world that is at their fingertips; to give children confidence to know that they can learn and grow & love the process.


I know that there will be many children that I fail. There will be time after time that I fall short, that I don't give my all and I leave children with bad memories. But my hope is that for the most part, the education of the children in my care will be enjoyable & character building.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

sausage & spice & all things nice



Last week I bought some apples from the greengrocers. They were red, shiny & a type I had not tried before. Sadly, they were the kind that are just so sour that your face cannot help but grimace when you take a bite. They were floury too. Do you know what I mean by 'floury'? It's kind of a funny word to describe apples but sometimes it fits.

Not wanting to waste the rest of the beautiful floury apples, I decided to cook with them. This afforded the perfect opportunity to make sausage & apple casserole. Oh yum. This is seriously good my friends. However, I must warn you, if you are offended by the use of lots of butter in cooking, look away now. I only ever use this much butter when I bake, so as we don't eat this particularly regularly, I am able to overlook the buttery content because it is just so tasty. 

Seriously, try this:

Sausage & Apple Casserole serves 4 


600 ml dry white wine
500g sausages
2 shallots or 1 large onion
4 dessert apples
140g butter 
400ml chicken or veg stock
4 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1) Bring wine to the boil in a large frying pan & poach sausages for 10 minutes
2) Peel & slice the apples
3) Slice the onions
4) Melt a knob of butter in a second frying pan. Remove the sausages from the wine, 
   reserving the wine.
5) Fry sausages in second pan until browned.
6) Meanwhile, in the pan with the wine, add the onion, apples, stock, sugar, cinammon 
   & butter.
7) Bring to the boil then simmer until the apples are tender and liquid is a thin syrup.
8) Add the sausages to the apple mixture and stir to combine.
9) Serve with creamy mashed potato and a good helping of whatever vegetables take 
    your fancy, preferably in-season produce.