Monday, 28 February 2011

iris.


On Friday we had the pleasure of seeing John's parents for the evening. They had come to Bath for a few days, and invited us to dine with them. Sara, John's Mum, bought me an enormous bouquet of flowers - a mixture of gerbera, lisianthus, tulips, iris' and another flower that I have yet to identify. Sadly, I haven't succeeded in taking any photos of the flowers that I have been happy with, apart from these two. 

I love Iris'. They're not my favourite flower, but they remind me of two people that I love, and I like being reminded of people who I don't get to see very often. The first is my Granny. She's called Iris. I love that she was named after a flower, as were two of her sisters - Lily and Violet. Come to think of it, my Great Grandma was named after a flower too - she was called Daisy & lived til she was 108. What a brilliant woman she was. I still remember going to her house when I was very little and playing with a wooden Noah's ark & animals. 

I'm also reminded of my friend Katie when I look at Iris'. Katie was one of my housemates during university and she is now working hard as a doctor. Iris' are her absolute favourite flower and I never tired of listening to her talk about how beautiful she thought they were. I love how we connect memories and people with different sights, sounds and smells, that you can be anywhere in the world, but scent of a perfume, or the aroma of a certain food will bring memories flooding back.

Monday, 21 February 2011

what we see

A few years ago I worked on a Summer camp for gifted & talented children.
One of the great things about that camp was the diversity of people I was working with. There was one particular girl who sticks in my mind. Abi. She was gently spoken, she loved Jesus, was very beautiful and was a talented artist.  

When we were given a day off, we were paired up with someone else, so we would have some company. I was fortunate enough to be paired with Abi. We decided to pay a visit to Canterbury Cathedral. Even though I had spent my life living very close to Canterbury, I realised that I had never really seen the Cathedral. While I had walked past it many, many times, I had always been aware of how many tourists flocked to visit it, and didn't really think twice about going inside myself.

On our visit, I saw the Cathedral through new eyes, not just because I was there to appreciate its beauty rather than just passing it by, but because I was with Abi. What struck me was the way that she saw details. In an enormous Cathedral, rather than being overwhelmed by the grandeur, Abi marvelled at the beauty & intricacy in the smallest details. She looked on and considered the immense workmanship behind the architecture and wondered aloud how long it would have taken the architects & builders to create all of the minute features that come together to make up the comprehensive expanse of the Cathedral. Abi noticed everything that I did not. She drew my attention to the little nooks & crannies, and I loved how she was helping me to see the Cathedral in a new light.

Today, I went for a walk to take a break from studying, and I remembered this trip to the Cathedral with Abi. On a day where the sky is grey and the sun is nowhere to be seen, the world can look a little drab. But rather than being deterred by this, I went out with excitement about finding the small details that I so often miss when I walk without really looking at my surroundings. Amidst the grey, I found sprinklings of colour - from the pale pink house on the corner to the bright red tea towel & silver saucepan that happened to be sitting on someone's front wall. It's surprising what we see when we take the time to look. I even saw some little signs that Spring is on its way.


Tiny hints of colour coming through

 

A tree trunk that I fell in love with for its incredible colours & textures


It was so refreshing to take the time to notice my surroundings rather than letting them pass me by because I am too busy thinking about my destination rather than the journey.

hokey pokey / honeycomb: take 1

Honeycomb has been on my baking to-do list for quite some time now. It's one of those things that I see and think, 'I really must make this some day.' On Saturday, as John & I were deciding what to provide for Church refreshments, Little Miss Honeycomb popped into my head. It seemed like the perfect time to make it.

Heating sugar is something that I have a mild fear about doing. It is so easy to burn & so I tend to avoid making caramel, or anything that involves heating sugar to soaring temperatures in a pan. Sugar in cakes is perfectly safe because it's contained, surrounded by the strength of butter and the powdery disguise of flour, that make it become less dangerous. That, and it's baked in the oven, rather than over a hot hob in a pan without a lid. These factors set alarm bells ringing in my head for a recipe for disaster. 

But somehow, hokey pokey has a welcoming feel about it. By adding golden syrup to sugar rather than water, as you would if making caramel, somehow it seems less dangerous in its more viscous form. Also, there's the fun part where you add bicarbonate of soda and watch the sugary mixture bubble up until it's almost spilling out of the pan, making the recipe feel like a fun science experiment.
I used Nigella's recipe & tripled the quantities to make a bigger batch of the golden crunchy stuff.

Here's how we rolled:

Having combined the sugar & golden syrup off the heat, I put the pan on a gentle heat and let the heat of the hob work its magic. After about 4 minutes, the sugar and golden syrup had turned into a lovely golden hue, bubbling away gently. The joy of this stage is that it requires nothing of you, except a watchful eye to ensure it doesn't burn. No stirring is required at this point.


Once it has reached the golden, bubbly stage & all the sugar has melted, remove from the heat & whisk in the bi-carbonate of soda. This is the fun bit. The honeycomb turns from a syrup into a foaming, rising froth. There's the added excitement that the mixture might just rise so high that it rolls out of the pan, but thankfully this didn't happen. But I held my breath & my camera, just in case it did.


I made a slight error here in that I re-whisked the mixture before pouring it onto parchment to cool. This knocked all of the air out of the honeycomb, and made it rather flat. I think if I had not re-whisked it, once I had poured it out to set, it would have continued to rise a bit more. Lesson learned for hokey pokey take 2


For some reason, my hokey pokey is not brittle. It's stretchy. And when I say stretchy, it's like seriously strong elastic. It can't be broken, snapped, or cut with a knife. We simply have to tear strips off with our bare hands to enjoy the sweet goodness. 

So, it ended up that we didn't serve this at church and it's still sitting in a neatly folded pile on our working surface. Yep, I did indeed fold my honeycomb up to take up less space. Although it's not really meant to be a foldable food, I quite like this little quirk.

I wanted to try making it again in time for church, this time only whisking it when adding the bi-carb, but I had run out of sugar & golden syrup. 
Hokey pokey / honeycomb - whatever you choose to call it - is so quick & easy to make. I would definitely recommend it if you need a sweet treat to take to a friend. Click here for the full recipe.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Friday's at university always include an English Subject Knowledge class. From the very first of these subject knowledge classes, I felt I was very much lacking in the knowledge department. Despite English being one of my favourite subjects and strengths at school, I am constantly finding out things that I do not know. I suppose that is the whole purpose of this class, but there is something slightly overwhelming when half of the language used in a seminar is unfamiliar. I am meant to know all about split digraphs, phonemes, graphemes & all things phonic; superlatives, prefixes & suffixes and a million and one other words that I do not yet understand. Needless to say, I always leave that particular class feeling like my head is in a whirl. 

After today's class, I said to my friends who were feeling like their heads were spinning just as much as mine, 
'I need to do some baking.'

So I went home and that is exactly what I did. I gave myself a little bit of sweet relief in the form of weighing, mixing, stirring, pouring and baking. My inspiration came from the brilliant Joy. Visiting her blog is always a delight and sure to provide plenty of inspiration, laughs & will leave you salivating and desperate to get into your kitchen. I happened across her Molasses bread, which came out of my oven an hour and a half later. The bottle of molasses from Barbados won me over, as I feel an affinity with the lovely little island in the Caribbean that we went for our honeymoon last year. So, although 'Molasses' in American translates to 'Black Treacle' in British, and my jar of treacle was not as pretty as the Bajan molasses bottle, I felt my treacle would be up to the task.

I made a few adaptations to Joy's recipe, out of necessity. Firstly, I used a mixture of wholemeal self raising flour & normal self raising flour, as I didn't have enough wholemeal. Secondly, I used oat bran instead of cornmeal. As far as I understand, cornmeal is the American version of polenta. I didn't have any polenta to hand, so I used something that looks similar, and kind of has a similar texture. I figured it probably wouldn't cause too much damage as a substitute. 

Thirdly, instead of buttermilk, I used a mixture of greek yoghurt (250ml / 1cup), and homemade buttermilk - 250ml milk & 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar. (You can also use lemon juice if you don't have the vinegar.)

So, those were the main changes.

Ingredients:
250g wholemeal self raising flour
375g white self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
125g oat bran
a shake of salt 
650 ml buttermilk (substituted as above)
125ml treacle / molasses
Method:
Preheat oven to 160C / gas mark 4 / 325F
Grease & line a loaf tin (I used a 4 " x 9 " tin approx.)

1) In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.


2) In a small bowl, combine the wet ingredients.


3) Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. The consistency should be slightly sticky, not dry. 
4) Pour into prepared tin and bake for 1 hour until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.


5) Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.


6) Eat! This sweet bread is quite tasty in its plain form, although after a few mouthfuls, it feels like it needs some kind of spread to accompany it. I ate mine with cream cheese & strawberry jam. Just butter, or nutella would be equally as delicious.



Wednesday, 16 February 2011

wedding of the weekend

On Saturday we headed to the city of Worcester to celebrate the wedding of one of John's university friends. Wonderfully, the sun came out to play, which was so refreshing to see. Oh how I love blue skies, big fluffy clouds & green hills to watch out of the car window.

Having whizzed down the motorway, we arrived in Worcester with plenty of time to pop in to visit John's great Aunt. Neither of us have ever been to her house before, and we enjoyed admiring her spacious living room with solid wood beams that were perfect head height for my tall handsome husband. I was slightly envious of the two comfy armchairs that were placed at either end of the room by the windows - perfect spots for reading as the sun shines through the windows & when the sun moves, you can simply move to the other chair! Brilliant. I can't wait for the day that I have a reading chair. And some time to read.


The wedding was a wonderful celebration. This was the first wedding we've been to since our own and I found it all the more moving to witness the lovely couple say their vows before God and their family&friends, having done so myself just a few months ago. The beautiful bride was German, so for the benefit of all her German family and friends, everything was translated. What was particularly impressive was that the English groom translated his own speech - saying a sentence in German, then in English. It was amazing to witness the joining of two people from different countries in this way and I am in awe of the way God enables us to learn a language that is not our mother tongue.

Sadly we completely failed to get a good photo of the Bride & Groom, so here's a picture of us instead!


Ok, so John says I can't not include a photo of the newlyweds in a post that is about their wedding, so here's the best of a bad bunch. Sorry for the grainyness & poor quality!


I love weddings.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

bath spa university

When I started my teacher training course at Bath Spa University, one of the first things that struck me was the drive. From the entrance to the grounds up to the main house winds a long narrow road that gently undulates, along with the landscape, for one mile. On either side of the driveway are fields where cows and sheep reside, and trees of all shapes & sizes waiting to greet you. My first thought about this place was that I loved that it was in the heart of the country, not in the city that I have become so used to. I loved even more that there was  livestock to add to the beauty of the landscape, and sometimes cause blockages in the drive when they decide to venture out of the fields and get in the way of a few cars. Everytime I drove up the driveway I told myself that I needed to remember to bring my camera to capture the character of this place.

For the last few months, I have been on teaching practice in school full time, so have not had any lectures to attend. Yesterday was my first trip to uni this year, and I finally remembered to bring my camera with me. As there are not many ideal places to stop along the driveway, I had to hop out the car, put on my hazard warning lights and run to the field to take a couple of quick snaps in an effort to prevent as little traffic problems as possible.



While I won't miss the long drive to get me from Bristol to Bath, I will miss the beautiful hills surrounding my university when I finish my course in June.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

meet herman

About two weeks ago, our good friend Ros gave us Herman the Friendship Cake.

When she gave Herman to us, he wasn't actually ready to be a cake. He needed to do some growing first. So, for the next ten days, we carefully tended to him, stirring him lovingly a few times a day, and feeding him every few days with flour, sugar and milk.

Herman thrived from our friendship and soon enough, he had nearly outgrown his bowl and he was ready to be baked into a cake.

Now, in all honesty, before Herman is baked into a cake, he doesn't really shine out as a pretty cake. So, when you look at the image below, please don't judge him. He is still blooming.

Here's Herman after 10 days of feeding & growing. Actually this is just one fifth of Herman. Due to his brilliant growing skills, we split him into 5 parts, giving 4 away to friends (hence the name friendship cake) and baked our one part.


Is your face screwed up and are you thinking, 'eew! why would you want to eat that?!' My reaction was the same. Stay with me here...

To spice Herman up a bit, I added some eggs, sugar & flour, you know, that kind of cakey ingredients....


Next, I added some Hershey's chocolate. This was a gift from our friends who have just returned from their stateside road trip, and I have to say, it just doesn't compete with British chocolate. But it's perfectly good when chopped up and in a cake...



As I had no idea how Mr Herman was going to turn out, I wasn't too worried about adding the right things, as the recipe basically suggested that you can add whatever you like. So, to balance out the American chocolate influence I added some Quality Streets.


A little random? Perhaps. And in hindsight, it wasn't really the best idea I've ever had, as they mostly migrated to the edge of the tin, so that when I removed Mr Herman after baking, the toffee quality streets stuck to the edge of the tin! Ah well, it was worth a try.

To add a bit of a healthy element to Herman to counteract the sugar high, I added some craisins & sultanas. Yum. 
May I present Herman the Friendship Cake:



As you can see, all of the little extras I added have sunk to the bottom. I'm not completely sure, but I think the only way to prevent this is to use some sort of stabiliser, and seeing as I didn't have any to hand, I settled with sunken fruit & chocolate.

I think he turned out quite handsome, considering his pre-baked state, don't you?

If you're interested in having the recipe so you can start your own friendship cake to spread some Herman love, then let me know and I'll pass on the recipe.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Chiddingstone Celebrations

Last weekend we took a trip to John's hometown, London, to celebrate the birthday of Tim, John's oldest friend.

Our celebrations took place in the lovely Tutor village of Chiddingstone in Kent, my home county. While the day was grey, our spirits were bright. Conversations ran high, with barely a pause for breath, throughout the car journey & during the whole afternoon. We heard wonderful accounts from Joel&Marysia, our friends who were fresh back from a 5 week road trip across America. They have returned with a fresh understanding as to why 50% of Americans don't have a passport, having experienced the length and breadth of the beauty of the United States.

I loved the tiny quirks of the village, like the pavement which looked like this





...and the gentle hill on which the pub stood, making it look a little wonky.


The beautiful Castle Inn was the perfect place to spend our afternoon. We had ended up in this little village by way of recommendation of the food served at the Castle Inn. The boys seemed most excited about the prospect of eating freshly made scotch eggs with a runny yoke. Probably a little something like this. Personally, this held no appeal for me, so I opted for the Winter Brunch Menu. When my platter came out, boasting a mini casserole pot of sausage & mash, a goats cheese salad, a tiny bowl of potato gnocci & a bitesize brownie with clotted cream for dessert, I didn't know where to begin. So many delicious flavours, all in one place, just for me! I loved every bite.  


We grazed on the delicious food until our bellies were so very full and the sky was dark, and  plenty of rounds of bananagrams had been played. (I love that game!) A perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

mini milestones

Last week I reached a couple of mini milestones on my course to become a primary teacher. The first was that I had my final observation from my university tutor. At the start of the course (which was a mere 6 months ago), I did not think I would ever become comfortable with being observed. Observed. That word alone is not particularly pretty. When you know that what comes with an observation is someone watching your every move as you try and teach a group of mildy unruly 7 & 8 year olds, and writing continuous notes on all that you are doing, & how much of a good or bad teacher you are, all on a little piece of paper, the meaning of being observation becomes even less fun. In fact, it's a little bit like permissable stalking, come to think of it! Yet, just a few months along, having been observed on a weely basis, I am finding myself become a little more accustomed and a little less anxious with each one.

Note to self: Remember that you wrote these words next time you feel sick to your stomach & like you need to drink a gallon of water in anticipation of another observation.

The second of my mini minestones was that I found out I passed my first assignment. It took a matter of seconds to find out whether my hours and hours of hard work and loss of sleep would pay off and permit me to continue with the course. In these wonderful days of modern technology, results are posted by student number in super long lists. So, you  have to search for the 6 digit number that you have been assigned, rather than looking for the name that is yours. There's something slightly impersonal about that. And they don't even write pass next to your number - it's simply a case of if your number is there, you've passed. If not, expect a letter. Thankfully my number was there. Now onto the next assignment...