Monday, 31 December 2012

favourites of 2012

{favourite view: Correncon, Grenoble}
{favourite trip to see a precious friend & her new baby: Goiania, Brazil}
{favourite weekend away with friends: Broadstairs, Kent}
{favourite trip to the beach: Woolacoombe, Devon}
{favourite holiday: American roadtrip}
{favourite cupcake: lemon sponge with lemon and raspberry frosting}
{favourite sewing project}
{favourite Winter coffee indulgence}
{favourite baby photo shoot}

I love looking back over my photos from the past year, remembering wonderful occasions that had slipped to the back of my memory, and being constantly amazed at how quickly time passes. I looked at many photos from 2012 and wondered, 'has it really been nearly a year since that happened?!' To try and sum up the year in a few sentences does not feel achieveable, so I will let the photos speak for themselves, with just a few of my favourite memories from 2012.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

shortbread snowflakes

A couple of weeks ago, when Christmas baking was in full swing, I made plans to sell some baked goods at a Christmas craft fair that my Church was organising. I enlisted the help of Fiona, the same wonderful lady who helped me bake my wedding cake, and together we baked batch upon batch of gingerbread, shortbread, brownies, cupcakes and more. Some of our treats were bought and devoured, and many more were not. What do you do when you have baked goods packaged up and covering every surface of your kitchen? Give them away! John and I had a lot of fun distributing cakes here, there and everywhere (while enjoying a few for ourselves), and I learnt the valuable lesson that at a Christmas craft fair, people are looking for gifts  to give, not cupcakes to consume as they shop!

The recipe I used to make these shortbread snowflakes is essentially a very luxurious shortbread.  The addition of double cream gives the dough an incredibly soft texture that I would happily work with all day long.
225g unsalted butter, room temperature
125g icing (confectioners) sugar
65ml double (heavy) cream
500g plain (all purpose) flour

1 tsp vanilla extract or a vanilla pod if you have one

1) In a large mixing bowl, beat together the icing sugar, double cream, butter and vanilla extract until combined.
2) Gradually add the flour until it is mixed in completely. The dough will be quite stiff by this point.
3) Wrap the dough in cling film and flatten / roll with rolling pin until it's about 1/2 an inch thick.
4) Chill in the fridge for about an hour, or leave for up to 2 days if making in advance.
5) Pre-heat the oven to 180C / Gas mark 4/ 350F and grease a few baking trays.
6) Remove dough from fridge, unwrap it and place on a floured surface. Roll out to about 1/8 inch thickness.
7) Cut with your choice of cookie cutter and place onto prepared baking tray.
8) Bake in pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until just turning golden at the edges.
9) Place baking tray onto cooling rack, and allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the tray, to give time to harden.

Notes: I found that the thinner the dough, the more the snowflakes kept their shape, and didn't swell while baking. However, you have to be far more watchful over the baking time when the dough is thin, as they are far more prone to burning.

Friday, 21 December 2012

cranberry & white chocolate cookies

These cookies are synonymous with Christmas baking for me. I love the way the bright red cranberries look like tiny jewels dotted all over the cookies. This recipe makes an enormous batch, and I love that - they go a long way. There's always enough to share with your family, friends, and colleagues.
I baked a triple batch of these chewy cookies for a Christmas Craft Fair the other weekend. It turns out, a triple batch was way too much! The recipe uses condensed milk, which gives a wonderful flavour and I am sure it's the secret ingredient for the chewy, soft texture that I love in a cookie. Plus, they are brilliantly quick to make, which is always a bonus when a recipe is delicious and fast.
ingredients (yields approx. 30)
225g caster sugar
170g condensed milk
150g white chocolate chips or chunks
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
350g self raising flour
100g cranberries (or a few handfuls until you're happy with the distribution!)

1) Preheat oven to 180C / gas mark 4
2) Cream the butter, sugar and condensed milk together until well combined
3) Add the flour (no need to sieve) and stir to combine
4) Add chocolate chips and cranberries
5) Scoop large teaspoonfuls of dough onto a greased baking sheet, well spread out
6) Bake for 10 mins, or until just turning golden around the edges.
7) Remove from oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes on the baking tray before transferring to a wire cooling rack.
7) Eat!

Monday, 17 December 2012

...weep with those who weep...(Romans 12)

As I walked through the corridors of my school this morning, the sunshine filling the place with light, I could not begin to imagine what the children and teachers at Sandy Hook school went through on Friday as Adam Lanza made his way through the school, gun in hand, taking the lives of so many people.

At church yesterday, our pastor reflected on what has happened in Connecticut, and reminded us that when Jesus was born, King Herod issued a decree for all new born baby boys to be killed, because he feared the Son of God taking over his kingship. We often omit this part in telling the Christmas story, but I am remembering with much sobriety and humility, that Jesus was not only born in a lowly manger, he was born into a world in desperate need of help; a world in great need of Jesus to rescue us.

We live in a broken, messy world, which is also full of beauty, but if we refuse to acknowledge the brokenness, we are really missing the point. I am reminded of the prayer that Jesus told his disciples when they asked Him how to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come, 
your will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven....

O Lord, would your will be done in all of the brokenness, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Earth is only a temporary home, but the years that we have living on Earth can be of great significance.

There are many people who have spoken about the Connecticut tragedy in light of the gospel in a far more powerful and truth-filled way than I have - if you'd like to read any - I would recommend following the links to the writers that David Cooke refers to.

Monday, 10 December 2012

lemon biscuits with cream cheese and raspberry dip (icing)

Last week I bought a bagful of beautiful, bright lemons. I know they are not particularly seasonal, but I couldn't resist them. So, home they came. After making a lemon drizzle cake, I still had plenty of lemons left and so baked a batch of lemon biscuits, based on this recipe.

ingredients for the biscuits
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
250g icing sugar (confectioners)
65ml double cream
zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
500g plain (all purpose) flour

ingredients for the icing
225g cream cheese (my personal preference is always full fat Philadelphia)
50g unsalted butter
500g icing sugar
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
small handful of raspberries (approx. 10)

1) Beat together the butter, icing sugar, double cream, zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract until combined.
2) Add the flour gradually, mixing until combined. The dough will become quite stifft. Flatten the dough and wrap in cling film. Chill for an hour, or overnight.
3) When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 180C / Gas mark 4.
4) Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick, then cut with desired cookie cutter shape. (I used a 1.5inch cutter.)
5) Place biscuits on greased baking sheets and bake for 10 - 13 mins (until just slightly golden around the edges).
6) To make the filling, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and beat until creamy, about 2 minutes more. Add sugar and lemon zest, grapefruit zest, orange juice, and salt, and beat for additional 3 to 4 minutes.
NB: The icing was a little too runny to be piped, so perhaps increase the amount of sugar until it reaches desired thickness, or just serve icing as a dip!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Christmas Crafting

Hello, one and all! It's been much quieter on this little blog than I ever intended - and for those of you who pop by each day to check for updates - thank you & sorry that there has been nothing new for a while.

One of the blogs that I love to read is written by Jessi Connolly over at Naptime Diaries. Jessi creates beautiful prints with Scripture from the Bible, and has designed the perfect advent calendar for Christmas. I purchased the downloadable version to save on international shipping, and I love it.
Before I had even printed the calendar, I knew I wanted to add a little something to the pegs to make them a bit more exciting. After seeing fabric covered pegs on Lucy's blog, I knew this was the perfect plan. So I sifted through my Christmas fabric stash, and came up with these lovely fabrics, left over from making stockings last year.

The other brilliant thing about this Advent Calendar is that they have been designed to correspond with some of the Advent Bible Studies written by the #SheReadsTruth ladies. I highly recommend these daily Bible Studies to help quiet your heart from the commercialism of Christmas, and get back to the heart of it all. Jesus.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Five Minute Friday / Wonder

This is the last Five Minute Friday post of the year! Although I have only joined in with this writing fun a few times, I have loved the challenge of writing a post in five minutes, and the thoughts the word prompts have provoked.

There is a certain awe and wonder that lies in our hearts. I think of the wonder expressed every day by the precious three year olds I teach. They cannot help themselves. Their awe at the world and all they see around them comes spilling forth. Some quietly gasp as they look at their reflections, uttering, 'that is fantastic' at the image they see looking back at them. There is no sense of pride in these words. Just unbridled wonder. Others exclaim aloud as they feel the wonder in the sensation of taking a risk; hurtling their little bodies down steep slides, exhaling excited shrieks as they feel the adrenaline rush. As I think about the wonder in children, more and more memories come to mind of their wonder that they share so openly with me. Where does that wonder go as our experiences in life grow through each year we live? What if, as adults, we were as open with our awe and wonder as children?       

Monday, 26 November 2012

key lime pie

I received a request for a key lime pie recipe, so here is the one I used from The Hummingbird Bakery (with a slightly reduced amount of whipped cream - I used 350ml instead of 450ml). It's a very straightforward recipe, which creates a lovely thick crust, a perfectly limey middle, finished off with fresh whipped cream. I recommend eating little slices!

2 x 397g tins of condensed milk
8 egg yolks
zest & juice of 5 limes
350ml double (heavy) or whipping cream
200g butter, melted
500g digestive biscuits (American equivalent is probably graham crackers, although I understand from Wikipedia that graham crackers are drier and more brittle which might affect the texture slightly.)
1) Preheat oven to 170C / Gas mark 3 / 325F. Grease and line a 9" pie dish or springform tin
2) For the crust: Blitz the biscuits in a food processor until finely ground. If you don't have a food processor, just pop them in a zip lock bag and smash them up with a rolling pin!
3) Melt the butter then gradually add in the ground biscuits to the saucepan until all of the biscuit crumbs are coated in butter. 
4) Press the biscuit mix into the tin, evenly distributing over the base and around the sides of the tin. 
5) Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20mins then set aside to cool completely.
6) Turn the oven down to 150C / Gas mark 2 / 300F
7) In a large bowl, mix the condensed milk, egg yolks, zest & juice together, whisking by hand until well combined.
8) Pour mixture onto the cooled pie crust and bake for 20 - 30mins. When it's baked, it will feel firm to the touch, but the centre will still be slightly soft. Leave to cool completely. If possible, refrigerate overnight for best results.
9) Just before serving, whip the cream, then pipe, dollop or spread onto the top of the pie & decorate with a little more zest.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Last night we gathered with a wonderful group of people to celebrate Thanksgiving (just a day late, but it's never too late to be thankful). This is an American celebration, and we have some precious American and Canadian friends who welcomed us into their celebrations. It was a great evening filled with oh so much food & drink and thankfulness. I could have cried listening to what everyone was thankful for:

Children & their wisdom, God & His great provision, friendship, fellowship, kindness, bravery and so many other things. It was humbling to think back over the year and remember how we have changed, grown, moved forward, welcomed new people into our lives and known God's leading & loving kindness in it all.

John made the same delicious pulled pork that he cooked for my birthday, on request of our friends who were hosting Thanksgiving - we roasted it for 18 hours. Delicious. Tender. Perfect.

I made key lime pie, but in the absence of light, and the midst of celebrating, I failed to get a good photo of it. It was very tasty, but in all honesty, I got more enjoyment from making it than eating it! I loved the simplicity of the process, the zesting of lime after lime, the separating of the eggs, the crafting of the base. There's a lot of unseen beauty in the process of baking that I love. Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrated.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Five Minute Friday / Stay


As I write this, sleep has only just flown from me, my internal body clock waking its clever self from slumber just minutes before my alarm goes off. The memories of last night's dreaming are still fresh in my mind. There have been times in my life where my dreams have been poignant and profound, staying with me for days on end as I wonder at their meaning, what my subconscious is working through, what God is teaching me and showing me. (He spoke to people in dreams in the Bible, and He absolutely still does this now.) Dreams that were disconnected as day dawned, joining back together as a new night of sleep arrived. Back then, when the dreams were vivid, I had to do very little to get the dreams to stay with me once sleep had gone and a new day had beckoned. These days, it's more of a feeling that remains. A blurry feeling of a dream mixed with reality in such a way that I simply cannot remember the details. And yet, the feeling of the dream stays, albeit blurry and fuzzy, fading as the day moves forward, but staying, nonetheless in a new kind of way.


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Baby Layla

I feel like I need to preface this post with a 'hello'. It's been a while, hasn't it? I'm nearly at the end of my second week of term, and the last time I posted was while we were on holiday in Wales. How did that happen? Christmas is starting to feel remarkably close, which I am very excited about, but I can't quite get my head around the fact that this means another year will have passed and we'll be back into January before we know it.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, one of the things I have had the joy of doing in the last two weeks is taking photos of Baby Layla. Do you remember Amy, this lovely friend of mine who I made a wedding cake for last year? She only went and had a beautiful baby girl the other week. On Saturday, I got to meet her 9 day old self, with camera in tow, of course.

If, after seeing these photos, you want to go and find the nearest newborn baby to you and give them a good snuggle / tuck them under your jumper for some extra warmth / eat them, I highly recommend it (providing you have their parents' permission, of course).. Babies are delicious, especially this one.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Welcome, November

{Lake Llangor}

I love the way the changes in seasons usher in unspoken transitions, from the necessary layering up of clothes to the desire to be cosy and warm, helped by the comfort and warmth of a crackling fire. Today. we have watched the skies mix and mingle, equal parts blue and grey, and I think yet again, how I will never tire of watching the skies. This morning we awoke to the sound of rain pitter pattering on the roof of our little holiday cottage, relishing the old-familiar sound of constant, steady rain that waters & waterlogs this land, only for the sun to break through hours later.
Each morning, we have been running, just short distances, but running nonetheless. And while it doesn't feel like it's coming naturally, it feels good to move. My relationship with running has ebbed and flowed over the years and I feel very much in a season of my body telling me that it needs to move, to fill my lungs with fresh, crisp air, and stamp the proverbial cobwebs out of my muscles that feel a little heavy with a lack of regular exercise. This week I have tried to listen to these messages, which feels that bit easier with the increase in head space that a week off work provides.  Without the mental and physical energy that work requires, there is less of a temptation to listen to that niggling inner voice that tells me to just enjoy a break rather than go running. As I ran this morning, I could feel the distinct drop in temperature, the contrast in sensations that is synonymous with Winter running, feeling like your lungs are cold even though you are breaking a sweat. Memories of running in Winter's past came flooding back, and I wondered at how I used to do this nearly every day. Running for miles, taking in the frost covered berries and leaves, watching my hot breath leave trails in the cold air, returning home with numb fingers and hot muscles. Some things are similar; the mental battle of running for a few miles before feeling like I could run forever, the feeling of the cold biting at my hands and my nose, and while these things remain the same, in their uncomfortable way, they are familiar and sometimes familiarity feels great.
This holiday has been one of great simplicity and consistency. Slow, quiet mornings, routine runs that include a chat with the horses in the field next to our cottage, reading time, enjoying quiet, solitude and just being in the company of each other, followed by afternoons at the local coffee shop, before returning home to make a roaring fire and simple comforting food to fill our bellies. Really, that has been the extent of our week, and I have loved every minute of rest, quiet and coffee.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

out in the quiet

John and I have flown our little nest for the week, taking full advantage of the school holidays, and are enjoying a week of quiet and relaxation. We are staying in a little cozy cottage in Wales at the end of a woodland track, surrounded by nothing but fields, horses and pheasants. I am loving having the time to read and read and read, to run every morning and do little else except enjoy time together with John.
I brought my new birthday typewriter with me, and enjoyed spending the morning yesterday typing as the sun shone through the door and all I could see was the horses out to pasture. 

And I still think that Autumn leaves are the best by far. I only wish they would stay on their branches a little longer before falling to the ground and getting downtrodden.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Five Minute Friday / Voice

It's Friday and I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday for a little bit of writing practice.

As dusk draws in and the last week of the school term draws to a close, I take a deep breath and breathe out slowly as my thoughts circulate at a far greater speed than my exhaling breath, and I think of finding your voice. For me, finding my voice this week has come in a diversity of ways from the whispered morning prayers, the first words that leave my mouth as I usher in a new day, and bring it all before God, bringing a quiet stillness to my heart and mind before the flurry of three year olds that I greet everyday. My thoughts circulate around to the quietest of children in my class, who only find their loudest voices when all is silent, and something within them rises up and out roars a sound like one I have never heard them utter before.

I hear my voice daily - as we all do - but it is only in the reflective process of watching footage of myself teaching that I really hear myself. I hear my voice through different ears because my eyes are tuned in too - watching the quirks, the gestures, the unashamedness of my dancing with the children that become the participatory audience in this acting role of teaching that I put on every day. Hearing so much of my voice makes me crave just a little bit more quiet than I have been allowing, for those moments for the inner voice of the Holy Spirit to refine those rough edges that I hear in my voice - for out of the overflow of my heart does my mouth speak (as the Bible says in Matthew 12).

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

work within your waking hours / baking

When I was 14, I started my first ever job. I worked as a Saturday girl in a bakery in the town I grew up in. I loved my Saturday's there. I got paid a pittance but I was undeterred by the number of pounds I took home with me each Saturday.

Every Saturday I got up at the crack of dawn to start loading the shelves with freshly baked baguettes and loaves of sweet fruit bread at 7am. Whether it was the influence of 5 years of waking up early at the weekend to do my stint at the bakery, or whether it is my Mother's influence on me, I still wake up early on a Saturday, and as soon as my eyes are open, my mind is wide awake and it feels like I should start the day.

{I learned to make these miniature piping bags at the bakery, perfect for decorating gingerbread ladies with dresses or for piping figure 40's}
This Saturday was just the same, waking at 6am. The thought came to me that it just makes sense to work within your waking hours, whatever they may be. Of course you are not going to work within your sleeping hours, but what I mean is that I am realising more and more that the mornings are a good time for me to be productive, and while I would sometimes love to have a little more rest, lazy mornings in bed is not the way my body works. Early nights? I am there, and that's how I get enough rest.

For me, when I wake up and it's 6am, I am learning to embrace that this is the perfect time to bake. So that is what I did this weekend. I whipped up batches of raspberry buttercream, cream cheese frosting and whipped chocolate ganache icing, while making candied carrot shavings for the first time ever - a surprisingly satisfying process where you boil carrot peel in sugar syrup, then roast for a short while, before twirling round the end of a wooden spoon, then roasting until crisp. The perfect way of making a healthy vegetable completely unhealthy! The end result was a tasty selection of cupcakes for a friend's 40th birthday. 
{carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting, candied carrot & chocolate orange figure 40's)
 {lemon cupcakes with lemon and raspberry buttercream marbled together in a beautiful union of pastel shades and delicate flavour}
 {rich chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and whipped chocolate ganache frosting}