Monday, 30 January 2012

chocolate brownie

Today as I walked out of the house for school, it was snowing. It didn't stop snowing all morning. It also didn't settle. But my children loved it. We played hide & seek and caught snowflakes in our mouths & mittens and did a whole lot of learning about it all. 

So, snow means that it is cold around these parts, which makes me want to go into hibernation. It also makes me want an endless supply of hot drinks & chocolate. As I don't have any chocolate in the house, I'll post about the chocolate brownie I baked last week while I decide whether I want some enough to leave my cozy little nest to go and get some.

Gluten Free Brownies
200g dark chocolate (minimum of 60% cocoa solids)
100g / 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp
250g / 1 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (always use extract rather than essence for the best flavour. If you only have essence, I'd be inclined to omit this from the recipe.)
60g / half a cup rice flour (or plain/ all purpose flour if you eat gluten)
60g / half a cup cocoa
70g / one third of a cup dark chocolate chunks. (I cut up a bar of chocolate rather than using chocolate chips, as I think that chips are a little too small to be appreciated in the brownie.)

1) Grease & line an 8" square baking tin & pre-heat oven to 180C / gas mark 4 / 350F
2) Break up the chocolate and place in a glass bowl, along with the butter. Melt over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave, then leave to cool for about 10 minutes.
3) In a separate bowl, or in a freestanding mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until light and frothy - about 4 minutes.
4) Beat in the cooled butter and chocolate mixture to the sugar and eggs.
5) Beat in the flour and cocoa until just combined.
6) Gently stir in the chocolate chunks.
6) Pour into the prepared baking tin and bake for 18 - 20 mins or until just firm to touch - be careful not to overbake, as the brownies will continue to cook when out of the oven from the residual heat
7) Enjoy - warm or cold with cream, ice cream or no cream, whatever your preference!

Friday, 27 January 2012

stationary love

I love stationary. Especially the letter writing kind. There are so many beautiful combinations of cards & envelopes to send a little love in. For a good number of years I made all of the cards I gave, but then came the day when I had a little more money to spare & could no longer resist the wealth of talented card makers out there.

The only problem was, and still is, that when I'm buying cards for other people, I inevitably want to buy one for myself too, so that I could still appreciate the beautiful designs after giving them. 

Then I found myself buying cards that I never even intended on giving to anyone - purely for my own enjoyment. I have a couple in frames in our spare room.

At the end of a year / start of the new year, I like to stock up on my card collections, so thought I'd share with you some of my current favourites:

+ The paper bird box was a hidden treasure I found in the January Sales in John Lewis, filled to the brim with lovely colour combinations of cards & envelopes {the envelopes pictured are from this set}

+ Modern Printed Matter is a little Etsy shop I came across a number of years ago, and recently rediscovered. I love her designs

+ Over Christmas I designed a thank you card & got 50 printed by overnightprints for a very reasonable rate.

I love having a big card stash, ready for writing a note at any given moment. A blog I recently discovered is called Today's Letters and they have a quote on their blog header which reads:

There are many things that can change a life...a letter is one of them.

I wholeheartedly agree with this & think the idea of a postal service is a brilliant one. I am truly thankful for the Royal Mail, who faithfully take my letters to wherever I want them to go. Whoever thought of posting letters was a genius.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

on healthy cake

A couple of years ago I stumbed upon a baking book entitled, 'Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache.' I adored the sound of this book, and had a quick flick through to discover pages filled with beautifully styled photography. In all honesty, I didn't take in what the focus of the recipe book was. I saw cakes + photos and that was enough. I managed to exercise a little restraint, and waited until my birthday, when I received the lovely book as a gift. It was only then that I discovered that all of the recipes for the cakes contained vegetables. Aside from carrot cake, this was a new concept to me.What's more, butter is a rare sight in Harry Eastwood's baking recipes. Again, another new concept.

I have now baked a number of the recipes from this book (including our wedding cake) and I have to admit, that every time I gather my ingredients & start combining them, I can't help but think to myself, 'what, no butter? How is this going to work? This doesn't feel right. Wow, look at all those vegetables. Is this going to taste like cake?' And, quite wonderfully, they always do taste like cake.

On Saturday I made Ginger Millies. They are meant to be tiny bitesize cakes, baked in petit four cases, but I have donated all of my pretty cupcake cases to the Graphics area of my classroom, so had no option but to bake big cupcake versions of them. Here's the recipe, loosely adapted.

Ginger Millies {gluten free}
200g butternut squash
100g ground almonds
50g rice flour
2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
4 tsp ginger
100g caster sugar
zest of a lemon

for the icing
125g icing sugar
3 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp water

1) Beat together the eggs & sugar for approx. 5 mins until light and frothy
2) Meanwhile, peel & finely grate the butternut squash
3) Stir in the grated squash, rice flour & ground almonds & mix
4) Add ginger & baking powder
5) Add the lemon zest & gently stir together
6) Distribute between the cupcake cases as you see fit (approx. 2/3 full)
7) Bake in preheated oven for 25mins
8) Leave to cool, then decorate with the icing.

Thoughts: These cakes had far more lemon about them than ginger. I did adapt the original recipe & added extra lemon juice to the icing instead of water, which might have made the difference, but I really didn't taste the ginger in them. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

weekend round up

+ The weekend started off with brilliant skies on Friday evening. I will honestly never tire of this kind of beauty.

+ Saturday morning was perfectly restful with just the right amount of sleeping & reading. 

+ After our lazy morning we decided we needed to get our bodies moving, so went on a 5.5 mile run. Before we left for our run, John tried to talk me into playing tennis as well as going for a run. Funnily enough, that didn't happen.

+ Gluten free baking took place on Saturday afternoon {recipe to follow}

+ Saturday evening - spent with good friends consuming the gluten free cakes, wine & ample amounts of dry roasted peanuts & crisps

+ Sunday was filled with Church, school work & reading time - more of the Chronicles of Narnia. I love how C. S Lewis' voice conveys something in the book that the films cannot do:

'Great was their surprise when a little later, they heard Mr Beaver's voice calling to them from just outside the cave.
"It's alright," he was shouting, "Come out, Mrs Beaver. Come out, Sons and Daughters of Adam. It's alright! It isn't Her!" 
This was bad grammar of course, but that is how beavers talk when then are excited; I mean, in Narnia -  in our world they don't usually talk at all.'

'Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn't find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
"I've come at last," he said. "She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch's magic is weakening."
And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.' 

I love that last line, and that's just the description of Father Christmas, with Aslan it's even better. I love Narnia. 

How was your weekend?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

time to learn

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a course called Making Learning Visible. By the end of the day my head was feeling incredibly full. Do you know what I mean by having the feeling that you simply cannot take in any more information, let alone keep up with taking in all of the wonderfully inspiring things you are seeing and hearing?

This course resonated with the aspects of Early Years Education that I am passionate about, but that can get lost in the weight & wealth of planning & assessing. It gave me a day of invaluable breathing space to step back and remember why I do this job, and what I hope to develop in my children through the learning opportunities I provide. (I know I haven't been teaching for long, but I am incredibly aware of how easy it is to lose perspective.)

There is a close and necessary relationship between what we choose to assess and what we value most in the education of our children. - Prof. Martin Shipman

I found this quote helpful in that it can often feel like what I am required to assess detracts from me engaging with the children I teach, but if I take heed of what I value in the education of children, what I assess should be able to flow out of that. 

I am so aware of all that there is for me to learn about teaching, and am constantly finding inspirational books written by people with a depth of experience that I do not yet have. Yet, in spite of the desire to learn being there, I am not very good at allowing myself the time to read & take note of the wisdom of others. Being a Nursery Class teacher can feel a little like being in a whirlwind that doesn't stop. When we do slow down, it's only for a moment, and even then, there is so much learning going on to take heed of. I need to remember that the learning I allow myself to do outside of the classroom will only serve to grow me as a teacher, which is a good thing to desire. 
Hearing words like this provides a helpful reminder of the importance of me giving space to my own learning, so that I might be able to teach.

books books books

Can you remember the first recipe book you ever owned? Mine cost me 25p from a second hand book shop (the same one mentioned in this post). I bought it on one of the many occasions that my Dad decided to pop in on our way somewhere. It was back in the day when I went through a funny phase of not being bothered by books, and so was nicely surprised when I stumbled across a book about cake. A book that talked my language. It was by Mary Berry, who I knew nothing of at the time, but I now realised she is the Queen of Cakes, so to find one of her gems of a book for pennies was like finding a hidden treasure.

Well, my recipe books were in need of a sort out. I am grateful to have ample cupboard space for them all, but it was get a little dangerous, each time I opened up the cupboard, I put myself at risk of being knocked out by a great weight of books. So yesterday, when I arrived home from my training course (more on that later today), feeling inspired & motivated, I blitzed the cupboard.

I couldn't help but take a couple of photos of my book stash - there are so many books that it would've been unsafe to put them all in one pile.

There are all sorts of treasures here: 

a selection of vegetarian cookbooks from my 9 years of vegetarianism 
a book stashed with recipes I have accumulated from here, there & everywhere
books purely about chocolate
books about baking with vegetables
a couple of Tessa Kiros books that I have spent literally hours reading, where there is story after story of food & family
charity shop books
presents from friends & family who endorse my love for baking
a war time baking book (bridal shower present)
collection of recipes from friends for my bridal shower, compiled by the wonderful Hannah 

The list could go on & on. I love the history behind books, and hope that someday I will be able to pass these treasures on to loved ones.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

story time

Towards the end of last year, we had a conversation with our good friends Tim & Becky, where they discovered that neither John nor I had ever read the entire Chronicles of Narnia. To rectify this, they bought us a beautiful box set of the Chronicles for Christmas.

We devoured the first book, The Magician's nephew in about two sittings, then started on The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. This book is taking us a little longer to read, mostly because of my ability to fall asleep in a matter of minutes, no matter how exciting the book (or film, or company...) I look forward to this reading time together, even if I am not so good at staying awake for much of it! Last night we settled in with Rolo's in one hand (John) and wine in the other (Hannah) for another little snippet of C.S Lewis' brilliance.

Even Moses, our adopted hamster, joined in. He's far better at staying awake than I am, so at least John had some company once I had drifted off to dreamland.

Friday, 13 January 2012

viennese biscuits

So it's Friday afternoon and I want to bake. Something simple, something homely, something pretty & something tasty. I think viennese fingers will do just the trick.

They're quick, they're easy & it would probably be possible to bake them with your eyes shut if you wanted to give yourself that kind of challenge. {They took 25 minutes to get from raw ingredients to warm biscuits on the cooling rack.}

I found the recipe here. My only suggestion would be that if your mixture is stiff, perhaps try adding a tiny slosh of milk to soften it. I think that my wrist & hand muscles have increased in strength from trying to push the mixture through the piping bag. It was seriously stiff. I popped my piping bag in the oven for a minute or so, which softened the mixture, but I am not sure I would recommend this. Just stick with adding milk if necessary and save the bother of getting fat wrists.

I think these light as air buttery bites will go perfectly with a cup of hot chocolate after an evening walk tonight.

For my gluten free friends - I think these would work just as well with rice flour.

chasing the light

Yesterday afternoon, at about 3pm, I was doing a little still life photos shoot in our living room. As I moved my subjects closer to the window to get as much light as possible in the dimly lit room, I looked at the skies and longed for a more colourful & less grey back drop. I searched the skies for the slightest glimpse of blue, and had to take a photo to remember that little bit of colour. Even though I knew it wasn't an exciting photo, I decided to blog about it, because I felt like I needed to drink in every little glimpse of colour.

A little later at 4.20pm, I was aware of our flat filling with light. I did a quick run around to every room, looking at the sky to the East, then to the West, amazed that despite the greyness of the day, there was colour at dusk. 

I decided that I needed drop everything & go to a good spot to watch the sunset. As I was on the verge of lugging my bike down the stairs, my phone rang. It was my good friend Hannah, and I knew that she would take no offence at me saying, 'I'm just dashing out to catch the sunset!', keeping our conversation brief so I could find where the light was falling. 

I was so eager to drink in as much of the glorious beauty as possible that I didn't notice I was cycling with a completely flat front tyre! I'm so glad I decided to take the moment to spontaneously run out of the house, because this sight soothed my soul no end.

Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:3-5 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

out of the mouths of babes

Hello Friends,

Well, January has definitely hit, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that school has most definitely hit. I find that teaching doesn't seem to leave me with a whole lot of head space, or capacity to talk in sentences that make sense, which is why things have been a little quiet around these parts. All I can say is that I am thankful for the delete button on my laptop so that I might at least make a little bit of sense here. 

I don't talk much about teaching on here, mostly because of the need for privacy & protection, but today I wanted to share a couple of lovely moments with my children. For those of you who don't know, I teach in the Nursery Class of a Primary School, so I have 30 children in my care (including triplets & twins. Truly brilliant.) 

Today we went to visit the new chickens. It was very exciting being in such close proximity to four flapping chickens, with 9 children & myself in a space that was less than 2 metres square. I asked the children what they thought the chickens should be called. One boy thought for a moment and then said,

'Cocky....yes, Cocky, and Rocky, and Locky and...........Socky!' 

{little hand drawing the window of Rapunzel's parents' house}

As we walked back to our classroom, he bobbed his head from side to side, with his curls bouncing as he went, saying in a sing-song way, Cocky, Locky, Rocky, Socky, over and over. Can you tell he's just discovered rhyming?
At the end of the morning, we sit down as a whole class and sing, or read a story. My twins had requested that we sing Great Big God, but miraculously, the cd had disappeared when we came to singing, so I had to belt it out acapella. You have to have a level of boldness when it comes to Early Years teaching, as singing is something we do daily, and there is no room for timidity in singing if you need to be heard. Thankfully, the children are very forgiving, and would never tell you if you were a bit out of tune. 

Back to Great Big God. I told the class the name of the song, and one of the triplets asked, 'Who's God?' So I gave them a 30 second run down on who God is, then taught them the first action of the song, which is to point upwards, as though we are pointing to heaven, because this is where God lives. One of the other triplets then said, 'Like where Lola is?' 
I had to try very hard not to laugh at this point, as Lola (not her real name) has not died, but she has moved to Devon, so can no longer come to our Nursery. 

Of course, this provided a great teaching opportunity to talk about rhyming words, as heaven and Devon rhyme, and gave us a good chuckle once the children had gone home. I can just imagine the conversations that happened when the children went home and told their parents, 

'Mrs King told us about heaven today, where Lola's gone.'

Children are brilliant. The End.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

vanilla & raspberry cream cake

So, the cake I blogged about on Wednesday was a bit of an experiment, and I want to write down the recipe before I forget what I did.

The recipients had requested a cake that was a bit like a raspberry roulade but looked like a cake, not a pudding. After much internet browsing for inspiration and finding very little by way of raspberry roulade cake, I made up my own version.

It went a little someting like this:

Stage One
Vanilla sponge
225g / 8oz unsalted butter
225g / 80z caster sugar
225g / 8oz self raising flour
3 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract (good quality makes all the difference. Believe it or not, I got asked for ID in the supermarket when purchasing my new bottle of extract because it contains 35% alcohol. Oh my. I had to laugh & reassure the checkout boy that I did not intend on downing the bottle of extract. )

1. Beat together the butter & sugar for 5 mins
2. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition
3. Add the vanilla extract
4. Sift in the flour & baking powder then mix gently
5. Pour the mixture into 2 greased & lined 8" tins and bake at 180C /gas mark 4 for 35mins or until the cake is lightly golden and coming away from the edges of the tin

Stage Two
Raspberry Cream
150g raspberries
300ml double cream
100g icing sugar

1. Sift icing sugar into a bowl
2. Add the cream & raspberries, then beat together until thickened

Stage Three
Regular cream
Whip 300ml of double cream together until thick enough to pipe & put half of this in a piping bag, leaving the remainder for icing the cake.

Stage Four
Time to Assemble

This next step requires a good eye, a steady hand or 3, a serated knife, or a cake leveller if you happen to have one (I do, and it worked like a dream).
Cut each layer of the cake in half.
Put the raspberry cream in one piping bag, and the whipped double cream in another.
If you don't have piping bags, you can use a strong zip-lock bag with one corner cut off.
1. Place the first layer on your cake board.
2. On the first layer, pipe a ring of raspberry cream around the edge of the circle, then continue to pipe concentric circles until you get to the centre.
3. Place another layer of cake on top of the cream and press down gently.
4. Repeat this method on the next layer, starting with the regular cream for your outermost circle if you started with raspberry cream on the previous layer. This will create a chequerboard effect when you cut through the layers.
5. Put a third layer on the top and press down gently.
I stopped at this stage, but if you wanted a very tall cake, you could add another layer of cream, then top with the fourth layer of cake.
6. Cover the cake with the remaining cream
At this stage, I wanted to ensure I didn't get any of the raspberry cream mixed in with the beautiful white cream, so I piped a thin layer over the top / around the edge of the layer which had raspberry cream in the outermost circle. That sounds confusing - does it make sense?
To get a good finish, a palette knife is invaluable, as is a cake smoother, if you have one. (This is essentially a thin piece of plastic that you can use to make a surface completely flat - nothing majorly technical, but brilliant all the same.)

{photo courtesy of Lydia, so I could see what it looked like inside!}

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


On our way to my parents for Christmas we stopped off in London for the night at John's parents. Soon after our arrival, I had a fresh stack of books for my holiday reading, courtesy of John's Mum. One of the books was entitled at Eat Cake. Well, it couldn't have been much more inviting if it tried. A few pages in, I read this excerpt & I was hooked.

People equate virtue with turning down dessert. There is always one person at the table who holds up her hand when I serve the cake. No, really, I couldn't, she says, and then gives her flat stomach a conspiratorial little pat. Everyone who is pressing a fork into that first tender layer looks at the person who declined the plate, and they all think, That person is better than I am. That person has discipline. But that isn't a person with discipline, that is a person who has completely lost touch with joy. A slice of cake never made anybody fat. You don't eat the whole cake. You don't eat cake every day of your life. You take cake when it is offered because the cake is delicious. You have a slice of cake and what it reminds you of is some place that's safe, uncomplicated, without stress. A cake is a party, a birthday, a wedding. A cake is what's served on the happiest days of your life.

Amen to that.

{Vanilla sponge, layered with raspberry cream & fresh raspberries; dressed in freshly whipped cream}

Monday, 2 January 2012

Day Three

{snapshots of 2012 so far}

The Christmas break has come to an end and we are back in our little home, gearing up to get ready for the New Year. I know that we are already on Day Three of 2012 but I don't feel like I've got settled in yet. I need to get my bearings back - back to remembering what day of the week it is - I consider that one of the luxuries of holidays that you have no need of knowing one day from the next. 

We welcomed in the New Year in a civilised fashion, standing on top of Telegraph Hill, looking out across London where we could see the fireworks sparkling around the London Eye in all their glory, with good friends & champagne and a whole lot of good cheer. I didn't take my camera with me for a change, so I am afraid the only evidence I have from New Year's Eve is of the miniature burgers which our friends ate in a pub in Camberwell. {We settled for the regular  huge burgers which weren't quite so cute.}

2011 was the year I trained to be a teacher, and was amazed to land my first teaching post in a school that I love; it was the year that we celebrated our first wedding anniversary & went on lots of weekends away. It was the year that I set up my very own little shop & made my first giant wedding cake. 2011 saw three of our grandparents celebrate their 90th birthdays, and sadly saw my Nanny's life come to an end in her 80th year. 

I have very little idea of what 2012 has in store for us. Hopefully a couple of big adventures (which of course, I will share here), and almost definitely plenty of baking & blogging.