Wednesday, 29 June 2011

layers of lace

My latest bunting project is a fun, quick and very pretty one. A friend from my PGCE course is getting married in August, and decided on lace bunting. On Monday, she came round, along with two of our other friends, armed with vast amounts of lace from her mother in law to be's airing cupboard, ready for a date with our scissors.

Here's how it's looking....

Oh, I love weddings & making pretty things for them!

Monday, 27 June 2011

'F' is for florentines

One of the very first times I spent with John involved florentines. 

It was a beautifully sunny April afternoon, which we had spent with a group of people on the Bristol Downs. I think I had been running that morning, and had an insufficient lunch, so I was rather peckish. 

All five of us popped into a little cafe beside the Downs to stave off hunger and quench our thirst. I was far more intereted in the cake than anyone else was, but I didn't mind, I needed food & that was my main objective. The trouble was, there were too many types of cake to choose from. I settled with my default option of chocolate cake. The thought did cross my mind that maybe I should offer to share my cake, but I am ashamed to admit that I kept it all for myself. I was still super hungry after my cake, and wondered out loud whether I should have a second cake. John jumped in & suggested we could share, and we both agreed that the florentine looked seriously appetising. It was huge, and delicious, and my first ever taste of florentine. I tried to use my sugar-skills to work out the ingredients list, and determined to try & make some.

Fast forward two years to last weekend, and I find myself eating florentines with John again. This time, made by our lovely friend Becky. I had forgotten how delicious they are. How could I have let two whole years go by before trying to make them myself? Well, on Saturday, I decided it was high time to remedy the situation. 

I had found a recipe by accident when looking for my cranberry & white chocolate recipe, & was delighted to see that condensed milk was required - a firm favourite baking ingredient in my kitchen. I went out and bought an orange the size of a newborn baby's head, ready to make candied peel, along with the other ingredients I requitred.

Then, I discovered that it takes about five whole hours to make candied peel, so I scrapped that idea and bought it instead. 

My overall verdict was that they had a different flavour to Becky's, and I put a little too much mixture in each one, so they didn't end up flat & skinny looking, but tasty all the same. 

Florentines: makes approx. 30
200g / ml condensed milk
50g unsalted butter
50g brown sugar
4tbsp plain flour
{300g dried mixed fruit. I used the following combination:}
65g candied peel
65g desiccated coconut
70g dried cranberries
30g chopped unsalted pistachios
70g sultanas

I doubled the original quantities to use up my condensed milk, so you could very easily halve the ingredients for a smaller batch.
1. Preheat oven to 180C / Gas mark 4. Grease the bases of a muffin tray or 2 if you have them.
2. Melt the butter & sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat.
3. Stir in the condensed milk & heat until bubbles start to form.
4. Remove from heat, sieve in the flour & whisk by hand to get rid of lumps.
5. Stir in your chosen selection of dried fruit.
6. Place a teaspoon of mixture into each hole of muffin tray, or onto baking parchment if you don't have a muffin tray.
7. Bake for about 12 mins until they go golden around the edges. Remove from oven & leave to cool in trays.
8. Melt 100g of dark chocolate and spread over the bottom of each florentine. When the chocolate is almost set, pull a fork over the chocolate for decorative effect.
9. Keep them to yourself to enjoy, or share with friends!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

making me smile this week

One of the great joys in working with children is the way they express sentiments. Children can be the most encouraging & thoughtful characters. I am well aware that children are most definitely not always positive, cheerful and encouraging, but today, that's what I'm focusing on. On my last day of school placement last week, the class presented me with this beautiful card, complete with individual self-portraits inside.

One of the quieter girls in the class presented me with a card that had this lovely message inside:

When John read this, he laughed out loud & procalimed that she can't have met many teachers in her time. I know that I am far from being the best teacher in the world, but I love that this was her way of expressing her affection.

One of the teachers who I had the pleasure of working alongside on my last placement gave me this book:

I hope that I will thrive as well as survive.

Sunday has brought us sunshine, so I took a little stroll, and brought home some pretty wildflowers to put in my latest charity shop treat.

And last but not least on my list of things that have made me smile: drinking tall glasses of chilled water & eating mini milk ice lollies - a favourite from my childhood. I love finding joy in the little things in life.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Goodbye, Bath Spa

Today marked the official end of my PGCE. I have now passed the tests, written the essays and ticked all of the profile characteristics which allow me to become a Primary School Teacher.

Whenever major seasons in life come to an end, it always takes a little while for it to settle in. I have not yet got my head around that I will not be going back to the beautiful Bath Spa University, or that for the next couple of months, my time is completely my own. Relaxing feels like a funny thing to do because for the last 10 months, there has always been more work to do.

On my last trip to university today, I relished all of the sights and sounds of summer in the Bath countryside. I have loved going to a university that is in the middle of working farmland, has stables (though sadly, no horses) and a mini castle with a beautiful courtyard, full of bees buzzing around.

 beautiful Bath stone
 if I was a bee, I would definitely be visiting these pretties
 there's something about spherical flora that I adore

soft focus

I have already started dreaming in my sleep of the things I will do with my summer holidays, like finding fabric at bargain prices and sewing up a storm, and bake bake baking. I'll be sharing my summer adventures in this little space, so hopefully you'll come along for the ride.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

on clouds, family and flowers

This is the last week of my PGCE course, which is very exciting, but also means that I have not managed to blog about the weekend before now. 

So here's a quick overview of the weekend events...

We set off for Surrey, hoping to leave a wet Bristol behind and find some sunshine. We found a few rays by the time we got there, having driving under heavy black & grey skies for hours. I didn't mind though, because I got to watch the ever changing skies the whole time (apart from during my nap), which is one of my favourite things to do.

It was exciting to be arriving, knowing that my Granny had no idea we were coming to celebrate her 90th birthday with her. Surprises are so much fun when you're in on the secret.

My Granny is priceless - when my Mum & Dad arrived she said to my Dad 'what are you doing here? I only saw you two weeks ago!' 

I could not get over these sugar crafted flowers that were on top of her cake. They were just perfect - attention had been paid to every single delicate detail of the colour, shape and form of the irises.

Irises for Iris

As I took this photo, my Granny was talking to a friend about the WI and how old white sheets make the perfect table cloths for cake stalls at Women's Institute Summer fairs. They reminisced on how it used to take a whole day to do one's laundry & chuckled at the way things have changed. I love hearing about what life used to be like in the years before I lived, told straight from the mouths of those who lived in those times.
After we had chatted & celebrated & eaten vast amounts of wonderful food (there were enough varieties of cake to open up a bakery), John & I headed to London to spend the night at his parents in East Dulwich.
I always love visiting the shops in East Dulwich - there are so many pretty things to pour over. I found two dresses in a charity shop for £12 and these beautiful incense sticks. 

I bought these from a gift shop called Ed, and while I was happily browsing their beautiful selection of gifts, I witnessed a theft! A girl walked out of the shop, setting the alarms off, and two of the staff ran after her. They returned ten minutes later, and hadn't managed to catch her. That must be so disheartening when people decide to steal something that helps to provide your livelihood. 

I also came home with these beautiful flowers grown with love in my mother's garden, and a bay tree from John's parents.

If you've made it to the end of this photo fest, well done, and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings!

Monday, 20 June 2011

my father

This weekend we celebrated my Granny's 90th birthday. When as many family members had gathered together in one room as possible, my Dad made a little speech, thanking everyone for coming, and sharing heartfelt feelings towards his mother, and the blessing she is to so many people.

As my Dad spoke, I watched him with pride filling my heart, and wondered at how these feelings come full circle. As a child, I hoped to make him proud, and treasured his comments towards me that expressed his love and pride. Now, as an adult, I know that I am able to feel proud of him, because of all that he has taught me.

I remember coming to the realisation that my Dad went to work faithfully every day without complaint, so that he could provide for our big family, and thinking with awe that there must be days where he didn't feel like going to work, but he did anyway, because he cared for us. He has taught me a lot about loyalty, faithfulness and steadfastness, for which I am truly grateful.

Because of my Dad, I felt secure in going travelling to the other side of the world by myself at the tender age of 19, because he trusted me & wanted me to go on adventures. When other parents asked if my parents were worried about me, I knew that I could honestly say that they knew that whatever might happen, I would learn lifelong lessons on my adventures, and they did not want me to be hindered by any fears of their own. I can only imagine that this is one of the hardest things about parenting, knowing your own weaknesses & not wanting to impart them on to your own children. I am so thankful that my parents encouraged me to be independent, even when that meant learning the hard way.

Because of my Dad, I am able to laugh at myself & my shortcomings. Because of my Dad, everytime I hear Fleetwood Mac, REM or Genesis, I think of his record collection that I used to spend hours looking through & playing.

Because of my Dad, I went to university to study a degree in Early Childhood Studies, not knowing what jobs might be available to me at the end of it, but trusting in his wisdom that it would be a truly valuable experience for me.

Because of my Dad, I felt calm and secure on my wedding day, knowing that I had his full blessing & support in marrying John. I loved that I had his arm to hold on to as I walked down the aisle

Thank you Dad, for being our provider, our role model, our teacher, our Father. Thank you for your faithfulness to our family, and most of all, thank you for entrusting us to our Heavenly Father.

Friday, 17 June 2011

a little note

 Hello friends,

Blog posts this week have been a little sparse, haven't they? It's just been a week full of school & evenings filled with friends, with little time for any photo documenting & blogging in between. Here's a little list of a few of the things that I have appreciated this week..

John's delicious cooking
children excited by my teaching - wonderful feeling
laughter with friends
Forest school fun
this new-to-me fabric website, thanks to Helen of Simply H Designs
Adele's latest single - I love her voice
the scent of the sea & sight of children rafting
the prospect of the summer holidays starting in less than a week
the memory of swimming & sailing in the Caribbean on our honeymoon

Happy Weekend everyone! We are off to spend time with family for a special celebration which I'll tell you about next week.

I'll leave you with a photo of the glorious Caribbean sunshine, as the British skies are a far cry from being a beautiful blue at the moment.

Monday, 13 June 2011

sunny saturdays...

...are the best.

We took full advantage of the glorious sunshine on Saturday and went to Portishead for an afternoon by the pool. There's a lovely little lido right next to the sea for those who aren't brave enough to swim in the ocean & prefer somewhere other than pebbles for sunbathing on.

It felt like it was the summer holidays, lounging around, reading in the sunshine. Going for a swim, drying off under the hot sun. The holidays aren't here just yet, but it was nice to pretend. 

I loved how the clouds were clustering yesterday. I don't think I will ever become bored of watching the clouds.  

 See? Beautiful cloud clusters. Gathered together all in a row.

We ventured up a set of steps outside the lido as we were leaving to go home, just out of curiousity. The vista that met us included this set of wind turbines. I love how these great big energy creating structures bring a smile to John. Can you guess what John's doing in this photo? Well, as I am not patient enough to wait to see if any of you can guess, I'll just tell you. He was calculating the RPM of the turbines. The average turbine turns 14 revolutions in a minute, which is exactly what this trio of turbines were doing. I love how I would probably never have known this fact if I had not met & married a wind turbine engineer. (Does anyone else ever want to say 'turnbine' instead of turbine? Every time I type, it comes out as turnbine. Curious.)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

When I heard the news that a friend of mine was expecting a baby girl, I decided that I would attempt to make something a little more adventurous than a taggy blanket, which was becoming my go-to baby present for any new baby arrival that I knew of.

I decided to attempt a dress. This was my biggest sewing challenge to date, and has become my biggest sewing accomplishment. If someone had sat me down and showed me how to sew a dress, or anything else that requires more than just sewing in straight lines, I would have probably attempted this a long time ago. When it comes to following patterns, I struggle a little. I had to read, and re-read each instruction goodness knows how many times before getting clear in my head what I needed to do at each stage of the process. 

I know that it is not perfect, but I don't think it's really possible to make something completely perfect, and I am ok with that. I decided to cut out a couple of mini bird shapes from some scraps of matching fabric and attached them to a baby grow for a little extra something.

I will most definitely be making more baby dresses in the future, and who knows, I might even attempt something in adult day. At the moment, that still feels rather ambitious!

Monday, 6 June 2011

an evening without John

Earlier this evening I was at the gym, pounding my feet to the beats and wondering what I should blog about. 

I thought you've probably had enough of me talking about baking & food, because that seems to be all I have done lately. Sewing? well, there's been a fair bit of that lately, and there's definitely more to come, so I wanted to avoid overload there. Running? Maybe. But the composition of the post about running didn't flow in my mind.

I returned home and resigned myself to the prospect of no blog post today. Then, my friends, the moment presented itself. But before I share the full story, let me bring you flowers, because the story is not a pretty one, and I like to share pretty pictures.

One big floppy rose deserves another: 

I know these are definitely not my best ever photos, but really, I didn't want to start with a photo of what's to come.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, I had just returned home from the gym and was cooking dinner as John was out for the evening. I thought I would do him proud and cook a proper meal, rather than settling for a bowlful of freshly baked granola. So I cooked up a simple yet tasty pasta dish with pepper, spinach, gorgonzola, chorizo, creme fraiche...that kind of thing. I decided to multitask and make carrot & coriander soup for lunch tomorrow and this is where things started to go wrong. The soup caused a distration from the main task in hand. 

Then two friends started talking to me on facebook. Distraction number 2 = danger ahead. As I munched away at my food, still talking on facebook, I thought to myself, 'this chorizo tastes ever so slightly odd. Must be my imagination'  and carried on eating. I was one mouthful away from finishing when my nose alerted me to a very distinctive and disturbing smell. 'what on earth is that? kind of smells like plastic but my saucepans are metal so that can't be....'

I turned around to see smoke billowing from the hobs. 'Wow, that soup's really going for it!' I thought to myself. Isn't it funny the things we think, even when we know something is not right?

The smoke was billowing from my empty pasta pan which still had the plastic colander on top. Oh dear. Oh very dear. The following equation went through my mind at this point:

Empty plan + heat = burnt pan. 
Empty pan + heat + plastic = melted plastic & toxic fumes!

Another funny thing - I am nothing of a mathematician or scientist, yet sometimes I think in equations. Fair enough, not particularly scientific ones, but equations none the less.

Next thought, as I covered my airways with my t-shirt with one hand, turned the hob off with another, and wondered how to break away from my facebook conversations without being rude - 'So this is what happens when John goes out for the evening and leaves me to cook! What a great story this will make!'

I dashed outside with the colander and ruined pan, airways still covered, now desperately needing fresh air. What to do next? Ring John, because he will know what to do in his calm, brilliant way. 

Next, run back inside & retrieve essential items from the kitchen - laptop & water seemed essential at the time. I think I had gone into survival mode because water - and plenty of it- seemed highly necessary and important. (Nevermind the fact that I only migrated from one end of the flat to the other, with a bathroom + plentiful supply of water right next door - I needed my big bottle of H2O.)


Once I had opened all of the windows in the flat, I felt it was safe to grab my camera & record the little incident.

Impressive, no?

Lessons learned:
1) stick to granola
2) I am unsure of the spelling of colander, and that troubles me
3) melted plastic really stinks
4) don't try to do too many things at once
5) the chorizo was fine - I was tasting the smell of melting plastic

Saturday, 4 June 2011

the perfect summer cupcake

As I was pondering what to bake yesterday, I was having trouble settling on a recipe. Cookies? No, it didn't feel like a cookie day. Chocolate cupcakes? No it didn't feel like a chocolate kind of day. Something lemony? No, I have already used lots of lemons this week, time for a change.

Then, I received a text from a friend, requesting the recipe for a white chocolate & cream cheese frosting that I have. This was just the inspiration I needed.

These cupcakes have summer written all over them. The light vanilla sponge, topped with chilled white chocolate & cream cheese frosting which has a perfectly smooth texture, finished off with a fresh strawberry. Oh yum.

The Summer Cupcake
ingredients makes 15
115g unsalted butter, room temperature
115g caster sugar
115g self raising flour
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

frosting ingredients
175g white chocolate 
175g cream cheese (I highly recommend Philadelphia)
6 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
6 tbsp creme fraiche
1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas mark 4. 
2) Cream the butter & sugar until soft & fluffy
3) Beat in the eggs one at a time until well combined
4) Stir in the vanilla extract
5) Sift in the flour & combine
6) Fill cupcake cases with a heaped dessertspoon of mixture / enough to fill 2/3 of case.
7) Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 mins until lightly golden on top

for the frosting
1) Melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until just melted
2) In a separate bowl, beat together the remaining ingredients. It will look lumpy at first, just continue beating for a little longer.
3) Stir in the melted chocolate with a spatula 
4) Spoon onto the cooled cakes, top with a strawberry, then place in fridge to set for 1 hour. 

(The frosting is runny when freshly made which means that it covers the surface of the cupcake perfectly and you don't get spreading marks. In my impatience, I chilled the frosting for about 20 mins while the cupcakes cooled - it was still a lovely consistency, but didn't slide onto the cakes in quite the same way.)

Friday, 3 June 2011

sun + strawberries

Are you wondering how to fill your home with the wonderful scent of a British Summer?

Well, wonder no more my friends, I have just the thing!

Last week, I stumbled upon this lovely little glass pot. I saw the strawberries on the front & strawberry compote is what came to mind.

Well, I couldn't resist this pot & the summery sound of strawberry compote which it seemed to be singing to me.

So home I came with the little glass pot & all week long I have dreamt of filling it with a delicious strawberry treat.

As I write this, my kitchen is filled with the mouth watering scent of strawberries simmering gently with fresh orange zest & juice, and a dash of champagne. I can hardly contain my excitement!

I love that this recipe requires a meagre 50ml of champagne. Who has champagne lying around their house? We do!! To be honest, you wanted to make this and don't have any champagne, it would probably be fine without.

Strawberry Compote
100g strawberries
1 tsp caster sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
zest & juice of half an orange
50ml champagne 
chop up the strawberries and place in a gently heated frying pan with the orange juice & zest, vanilla & sugar. 
Warm through then add the champage & simmer until liquid has reduced & a thick sauce has formed.

{I doubled this quantity and it made about 80ml of compote.}

Enjoy with pancakes, or yoghurt, or ice cream, or anything else that takes your fancy! 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

glorious evening glow. enough said.