Friday, 29 April 2011

The Royal Wedding Weekend

It is a truly wonderful feeling to know that we have four days of weekend before work starts again, and it's all thanks to William & Kate deciding to get married on a Bank Holiday Weekend. We just so happen to be in London today, but won't be making a trip to Westminster Abbey to join the hunderds of thousands of people to see the newly married royals in person, so TV will suffice.
Apparently there have been 390 applications for road closures in London, so people can have street parties to celebrate the Royal Wedding. I love the idea of street parties - that everyone from the street comes out into the road to celebrate together, sharing food & drink & frivolities.

This afternoon, we'll be heading South East to stay with my parents for the weekend. There's always something wonderful about going home, relaxing, and dining on my Mum's delicious home cooked food.

Happy Bank Holiday Weekend, Friends!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


While we were in Devon, we spent a day in Ilfracombe. The sun made everything glow gloriously. After climbing the first hill we found, we were greeted by this lady and some bold seagulls who kept us company while we ate lunch.

See? Such approachable critters. They love to help out if you're struggling to finish any food, and call their friends to let them know that food's on it's way.

John likes dislikes this photo because he says it looks like he's conquered something.

We did plenty of walking in our trusty flip flops along the South West Coastal Path, followed by a round of mini golf. I surprised myself at how closely matched John & I were, except for the time when it took me 10 hits to put the ball in the hole. John was somewhat confused by my unconventional swing; I used the club like a hockey stick because that's what felt right, and it worked for me.

John gets on a level with his challenger. I like to think he was having a little chat with the ball in this photo, telling it where to go. Let's just call him the ball whisperer.

King of his castle. Now, he really does look as though he's conquered this castle.

We ended the day in the only fitting way we could think of - with fish & chips. Except I had chicken nuggets, but fish and chips has a better ring to it.

Monday, 25 April 2011

sewing interlude

I whipped up another taggie blanket this weekend. These have become my favourite thing to make for new babies that arrive at church, of which there is a plentiful supply. For those of you who kindly stop by here regularly, sorry this is nothing new, but I wanted to write a little post for posterity, so I can keep track of things I have made.

I like making these so much that I've started making spares, just for fun. There'll be one with more feminine colours coming later this week. Happy Monday!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Docton Mill

On our first day in Devon, we paid a visit to Docton Mill. The clever sat nav failed to find the main entrance, so we followed our noses and found the back door to the kitchen. Once we had been ushered around to the garden gate by the friendly staff, we took the map of the garden and started exploring. This place was deceptively large, considering our humble entry throught the back gate. It felt a little like we were discovering the Secret Garden that lies behind the gate. It was quite simply, beautiful.

The first owners of the mill had nine children and they all shared one bedroom. (This was in the 18th Century, I think.) In the cold Winter, the dairy cow would share the living area with the family to keep warm. What an incredible scene to imagine!

I've just realised that I didn't actually take a photo of the mill - I was too enthralled by the flowers.

See what I mean? It just got better.

Then there were the streams and mini-waterfalls with little bridges to play pooh sticks on.

The path that led to the orchard was lined with the most velvety tulips I have ever seen.

And a green grassy orchard that was just beckoning me to walk across barefoot with a little skip in my step.

Once we had finished our tour of the gardens we indulged in traditional Devonshire Cream Tea. The scones were fresh from the oven, still warm and a little crumbly. We had the biggest tub of clotted cream and we ate it all. De-licious.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Well, dear friends, there is much to fill you in on. The last week has been a fun-filled sun-filled one and I'd like to share some highlights with you. There will be a few recipes, a little bit of sewing, a couple of mini-adventures and a whole lot of sun & sea.

To start off with, let me tell you about Clevedon. I am going to be spending the next 2 months commuting there for my final school placement. Last Friday, Hannah and I took a trip there to enjoy the delights it has to offer. Hannah introduced me to Tiffins, her favourite Clevedon coffee shop, where they give every customer a miniature tiffin slice with their drink – how brilliant is that? 

 And tea served in round glasses? I love them. 

Clevedon is by the sea. The scent of salty sea air reminded me of home. When I moved to Bristol, one of the things I missed the most was being by the sea.

There were some seriously hardy swimmers who had ventured into the waters. Hannah and I watched in awe as the 60-something-year olds emerged from the water. Even on a summer’s day, the sea here is barely warm. We hoped that we might be like them when we’re older. 

Apparently, they even swim in the sea on Boxing Day in the middle of Winter. Rachel was pretty impressed too, as she only has experience of swimming in her mummy’s tummy so far, and the sea is a much bigger pool to play in than the womb. What an exciting prospect for her - see how excited she is!

 Check back later to hear about our restful adventures in Devon. Oh what fun we had.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

not-so-vegan chocolate cookies

Here's how those late night cookies turned out early this morning. Considering my rather ad- hoc approach to them, altering all kinds of ingredients, they turned out pretty well.

There's something very satisfying about adapting a recipe & finding that your ideas worked. If John had been here, I think he'd have been proud of how much I mixed things up & didn't do proper weighing. But, had he been here instead of China, I probably wouldn't have been having this late night baking adventure.

The not-so-vegan chocolate cookie
2.5 cups / 650g plain flour
1/2 cup / 125g cocoa
1/2 cup / 125ml applesauce
1/4 cup / 60ml sunflower oil
1 cup / 250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp bi-carbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg 

1) In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cocoa, bi-carb and salt
2) In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, egg, apple sauce, oil & vanilla extract
3) Combine the wet & dry ingredients together, mixing well
4) Stir in your chocolate chips of choice
5) Wrap the dough in cling film or baking paper, and chill in the fridge for 1 hour or overnight
6) When you're ready, preheat the oven to 170C/ gas mark 4-5 & grease 3 baking trays
7) Take large balls of dough, roll them in granulated sugar, pop them on the tray & flatten slightly. They don't really spread so you don't need to leave too much space.
8) Bake for 8 - 10 mins. When they're done, the tops will be cracked and the centre still slightly soft.
9) Enjoy!

{If you'd like to see the original recipe, it's over here at joy the baker's blog.}

late night baking

I'd like to invite you to take a little trip down memory lane with me. Care to join? 
Great! Let's go.

Remember earlier this week I told you about the fabulous new recipe book that arrived as a surprise on my doorstep? Remember that I wondered aloud who I might distribute cakes to that would flow forth from my kitchen as a result of this book? Well, one friend of mine happened to leave a comment on that post stating that we would be having Saturday morning breakfast buns together. As I write, it is 11.52pm on Friday evening, which means that breakfast buns need to be ready by tomorrow morning. 

I like to keep to my word, and sometimes that means embarking on late night baking adventures. Tonight is one of those nights. I know that for some of you, this is not late at all, but for me, it is way past my bedtime. Having spent the afternoon and evening with my dear friends, The Poulson's (the parents of beautiful baby Rachel - remember her?) and subsequently staying out way past supermarket closing time, I was limited to the ingredients in my kitchen. One very crucial ingredient in my baking is butter. The proper golden type. I normally have a plentiful supply on hand, but I used up my last 80g earlier today making lemon curd (another recipe for another day). So, I was searching through Cake Days in the hope that I might find a recipe that didn't need butter. I never thought I'd say this, but Cake Days has let me down. 

As I was calculating how early I would need to rise to go to the supermarket for butter supplies to bake some breakfast treats tomorrow morning, all before 9.30, the solution popped into my head. Joy's vegan chocolate cookies. Vegan = no butter + no eggs (I only had 1 egg left). Perfecto. Not quite breakfast buns, I know, but I think that chocolate cookies can be a permissable accompaniment to breakfast every now and then.

Scrolling through the ingredients list I saw apple sauce on the list. Remember this post on apple sauce? Well, it just so happened that I had one jar left at the back of my freezer. Hallelujah. 

Then I spotted flax seed. The only time I have had any of this in my possession is after running the Bristol half marathon - it was one of the goodies in their gift bags. I never knew what to do with it, so I am ashamed to say that it eventually ended up in the bin. I had no idea what I could use as a substitute, but figured I'd work it out as I went along. Speed is of the essence in late night baking sessions, so there was no time to stop and think. My solution? Egg! I'm definitely not a vegan, so why on earth couldn't I use my solitary egg to add moisture to these cookies? I cracked the egg into the fray and hoped for the best.

Fifteen minutes later and the dough was ready to be chilled. Now, it's time for me to go to bed. I've got an early morning date with some non-vegan cookie dough.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

on running

For the last six weeks I have been going to the gym. I haven't been a member of a gym for the last decade (wow, that makes me feel old), but having reached a complete lull in my running, and lacking in motivation to get out the door and do some exercise, I thought the gym might be helpful.

In many ways, the gym has been very helpful. To be able to see the distance I am travelling, to have a program to stick to, and push myself beyond it when I feel able, to feel the burn in places that haven't felt it for a long while - all of these elements have been helpful for me.

When you have a considerable break from running, there is always that feeling of dread in going back to it. You know it won't be easy at first. You know you will feel like you are dragging your body kicking and screaming, and the only thing that's keeping you going is that tiny piece of will power that has got you out the door in the first place. I have found going back to running on a treadmill, rather than outdoors, has been good for me. Rather than worrying about how long I'm running for, the end has always been in sight, because I've only been doing 15 minute stints. In having this short length of time as my window, the running feels contained, like it's not going to get away from me. I feel like this has freed me up to push myself in different ways - to build up speed and keep it sustained. I have been disciplined with it, and set myself little challenges each time I run, to go that little bit further and a little bit faster. And it has worked.

Yesterday, I ran outside for the first time in a few months. While I knew I'd have a more sustained and harder workout at the gym, I also felt like I needed to fill my lungs with fresh air and to be surrounded by green trees as I ran, rather than walls. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could run forever. It didn't feel like I needed to stop and lie down after 3 minutes, and I wanted to keep going. I didn't know how long I'd run for, or where I'd go, and that didn't bother me in the slightest. It felt like the good old days, and I loved it.

Note to self: I've just looked back at the posts I've written on running, and in nearly every single one, I mention the mental battles I faced. Even at my running peak, I would find it hard, and this is helpful to know. It also makes me think that I did not write enough about the good running times, because I know there have been plenty.

Monday, 11 April 2011

hummingbird love

I got home today to find a package from Amazon on my doorstep. I was pretty sure I hadn't bought anything, but didn't completely trust my memory.

So, I got the most wonderful surprise when I opened the parcel to find this beauty inside. My mother in law knows the way to my heart.

I have The Hummingbird Bakery's last recipe book and I love it. Everything I have baked from it is delicious. I cannot wait to delve into the new delights in this book.
And the images & design - simply perfect. Hummingbird formations in arrays of colour scattered through out the book.

See what I mean? And I haven't even begun on the recipes. Oh, this is going to be an exciting addition to my life. I spent a solid 20 minutes thumming through the book with eyes wide open and wondered who I can distribute all of the cakes to that are now going to spring forth from my oven in light of this book.

The chapters are great celebrations of annual events & seasons, and there's even a chapter entitled Rainy Day Treats. I think there is a cake to suite pretty much any occasion you could think of in here. And when I say occasion, I mean from the smallest to the greatest. I see a Spring weekend as the perfect occasion to celebrate the simple things in life - particularly friends & sunshine. 

Here's to baking for celebrations of the little joys in life.

Beauty in Bath

Friday was my last day at Bath Spa University. In the short 8 months I have been there, I have loved being in such beautiful surroundings. It was a glorious day, providing the perfect backdrop and lighting for photos of some of the signs of Spring popping up in the University grounds. I love that this uni has turrets and stables and cows and sheep. It doesn't get much better than this. 

I have no idea what these little flowers are called, but I love them. There is such beauty and intricacy in creation that I will never cease to be amazed by the new discoveries I make, no matter how small they might be.

And these flyaway, feather like beauties. I love how they seem almost transparent in the sunlight.

I love that since my little complaint about april showers, it feels like summer's here. My freckles have arrived in full force in light of the arrival of sunshine. Hooray!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

butterflies fly away, knots come undone

There are certain situations which hold a surreal quality to them. Job interviews are one of those situations. Your body feels like it's not your own; you imagine what questions you might be asked, and your mind goes blank. Completely blank, like, 'oh wow, there really is nothing in my head right now. Nothing? How can there be nothing?!' and that's before you've even left the house. You get in the car and your legs have taken on a jelly like quality. Somehow the butterflies in your tummy seem to be controlling your legs. 

The butterflies took up residence in my tummy a couple of weeks ago, along with a string of knots, as though there were miniature sailors in training, taking up residence in my tummy while they learnt how to tie knots, using my stomach as their training ground. By the time Thursday arrived, there was a whole butterfly farm in my tummy, along with some fully fledged knot-tying sailors.
As I got in the car to drive to my interview, my legs were losing control and my brain could do nothing about it because of the one hundred and one knots that were tied in my tummy. I felt thankful that I didn't have a driving instructor in the car with me, because wobbly legs make for even wobblier clutch control. I checked the clock, once, twice, three times, compensating for the extra minutes added on by the clock running fast to try and make me on time, and wonder why I do this. It just makes me more stressed, thinking I'm late when I'm actually on time. 

I turn on the music, singing along to put my mind on something other than what the principles of the Foundation Stage are. Oh help, I can't remember the fourth key principle of the Foundation Stage Curriculum. Can I ring John and ask him to look, as he's still at home? No, because that might cause me to crash. Then how silly would I look if I failed to turn up to my interview because I've crashed trying to find out a vital piece of information that's temporarily escaped my mind.

Thankfully, I arrived at school in one piece and made it through the next 5 hours of interview time with plenty of butterfly action in my tummy. I'm sure there was a whole farm of butterflies flying around in there, weaving in and out of the knots that were feeling like a permanent feature by now. 

The mixture of butterflies & knots left little room for food in my tummy, so having eaten half my lunch, I bid adieu to the lovely school, possibly for the last time, and made my way to the gym. It seemed like the most sensible thing to do after an interview - go and work off the adrenaline fix & hope that the knots would start to untie themselves. 

After my gym session, I came home, and the next obvious thing to do was some deep cleaning. The kind where you are compelled to pull out pieces of furniture so you can clean the skirting boards and the dust in all of those hidden places. 

Still feeling pretty skittish, and running out of places to clean, I sat down to do some work. While I wanted work to be the last thing on my to-do list right now, sadly I had deadlines for the following day, so work I must. As soon as I had sat down, my phone rang. Deep breath. Should I let it ring for two, three or four times? What's appropriate in this situation? I don't even know how many times it has rung because my phone doesn't go 'ring ring'!! Just answer it. 

As I simultaneously held my breath and said hello, (impossible, right? not with this phone call), the butterflies went into a frenzy. Boy, would I be thankful to know the outcome so they could fly away forever. Quite incredulously, I listened as the marvellous headteacher told me that they would like me to be their Morning Nursery Teacher. I shrieked in response down the phone, then apologised for shouting in her ear. I couldn't quite get my head round this piece of news. Me? Were they sure? Apparently so. 

The phone call ended and the butterflies flew away, the knots came undone, and I giggled to myself with excitement and shock that I had just landed myself my first ever teaching job after my first ever teaching interview. Wow. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

april showers

True to the old saying about April Showers, that is exactly what April has brought us. In fact, I am sure that things have got colder around here since April arrived. I am working at home today, and have been hugging endless mugs of hot water or coffee to warm me from my head to my toes. Except, my head and my toes are still cold, and I have not yet found a solution. The end of March had fooled me into thinking I could go without my slipper socks, and that bare arms were an option. April has told me otherwise. Still, I have faith that things will change soon.

At the start of March, I made this little list, of a few things I was anticipating the month would bring. Here's a little review of where it's at.

1) a completed essay done, and passed at Masters level a wonderful feeling of achievement.
2) a trip to Devon John enjoyed it so much there that we're going back over Easter
3) a new camera lens {maybe, just maybe} I'm nearly but not quite there yet with this one. struggling to justify the quantity of money against my skill as a photographer
4) a birthday of my husband never any question of this not happening!
5) a little bit more warmth hmmm...yes and no
6) time with friends treasured time with friends and family, making it a bonus
7) a trip to China for my husband {time will tell.} time has told us, and John will be there next week
8) a little bit more fitness  been to the gym twice a week for 6 weeks & counting
9) at least one job application  {eek.} yep.
10) an English test. {eek.} passed with 89%
It's a nice feeling to see a line through most of those items, especially the ones which required hard work on my part. I can't quite believe we're a quarter of the way through the year already! How time flies. Here's to hoping that this month might be even more eventful & productive than the last.

Monday, 4 April 2011

the unconventional cookie

Yesterday morning while browsing recipe books for breakfast ideas, I came across a chocolate chip cookie recipe that I haven't yet tried. The description of a chewy texture with an almost nutty flavour had my attention right away. I knew that it needed to be a cookie making day. But with little time before church, I had to put my cookie baking desires to one side for a few hours

By the time the afternoon came, it was feeling most definitely like cookie time. So out came the recipe, my retro kenwood chef and all of the essential ingredients, and in no time at all, the cookies were in the oven.

While I don't tend to use much salt in cooking & baking, this recipe called for half a teaspoon of sea salt. I've read many times how a little salt can bring out a lot of flavour in cookies, and I wanted to find out for myself, so I threw the salt in quickly, not stopping to consider how bad it might be for me...

I could hardly wait for the 12 minutes to pass while the cookies baked away in the oven. They smelt delicious, the dough tasted delicious (I'm not normally one for licking the bowl, but I was eager to get a pre-taste of these babies), and the consistency of the dough had been just right. Not too sticky, not too dry. Perfect. So, it was with great dismay when I opened the oven and saw that the cookies had completely merged with one another, despite having taken the precautions of spacing them well. What was even worse was that the second tray of cookies on the lower shelf had slumped to one side of the tray. That's what happens when you have a funky oven where the rack isn't a proper rack and has to balance on top of a baking tray. Some would say that a bad workman blames his tools, but really, there's not a lot I can do about our oven.

Now, I don't know about you, but when cookies don't turn out right, and you can't get them off the tray properly, it feels like the cookies are giving you permission to eat them there and then. No need to let them cool, because they'll fall apart on their journey from the baking tray to the cooling rack! Even though they didn't turn out looking like perfectly crafted cookies, they were definitely yummy. And that pinch of salt? Definitely worth it. 

I present you with...cookies in a cup...

If you'd like to try baking these and see if you have any success, here's the recipe. I'd love to hear from you if you do try them - maybe you can teach me a thing or two?

Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Bill Granger's recipe)
55g light brown muscovado sugar
65g dark brown soft sugar
55g caster sugar
125g unsalted butter, softened
150g plain flour
100g dark or milk chocolate, chopped
1 egg
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

1) Pre-heat oven to 180C / Gas mark 4. Lightly grease 2 baking trays
2) Beat together the butter & sugars until smooth & fluffy
3) Beat in the egg & vanilla extract
4) Sieve in the flour. Add salt & baking powder. Stir gently to combine.
5) Stir in the chocolate chunks
6) Spoon heaped teaspoons of dough onto the baking trays, making sure there is plenty of space between each cookie
7) Bake in the preheated oven for 12 - 15mins until pale golden

Sunday, 3 April 2011

mother's day

When I think of my mum, so many things come to mind. I think of how she loved us so well as small children. Reading to us at bedtime, cooking us dinner from scratch every single day; answering the endless questions we would ask about anything and everything; going to search for my springy pink keyring that I lost on the beach - going out of her way to find this precious belonging which she had told me to leave at home because she could foresee the heart break that lay ahead. I think of her delicate feminine figure, walking down the garden to put the compost on the heap and getting lost amongst her carefully tended flowers. I think of the long plait running down her back, keeping her long hazel locks out of her eyes. I think of her gentle voice that so rarely shouted at us when berating our misbehaviour. 

Watching my friends around me start to bring children into this world, I see them cope with the tiredness of a newborn, and the way they give their all to meeting the needs of the babe in their arms, and find myself in even greater awe of my own mother and how she did this four times over. I think of all the energy and love she gave us as infants that we will never be able to remember. I love that my Mum and Dad have shared in this journey of parenthood, sticking side by side, a united force throughout. I love that whenever I tried to be sneaky and ask my Mum for something and she said, 'no', I would approach Dad with the same question and his first response would be, 'have you asked Mum?' They could see right through my childishness, seeking to get the desired response from one parent if the other hadn't given it. There was something wonderful about knowing that they were on the same page with decision making. That if one said no, the other would stand by this.

As an adult,  my appreciation of my Mother takes on a new form, seeing her love in a new light, seeing the sacrifices she has made for us in so very many ways over the course of our lives so far. I am so thankful that I have a wonderful, steadfast mother that I can call on  for help, drawing on her fountains of knowledge, that I might grow and learn and become a shadow of the brilliance that she reflects.

Happy Mother's Day, Mum. I love you & all that you do for us.

With love, your daughter xxx