Wednesday, 29 February 2012

happy sights

Happy Leap Year Day! How funny to think that we only see this day once every four years. It has been a glorious day in Bristol today, feeling positively Spring-like. Here are some of the happy sights I have been enjoying today.

Colour is the common theme coming through: 
Colour + Light + New signs of life make me happy.
Oh, and that cat? Well he was just a bit scary. He stared me down with his squinty eye so my response was to take his photo. I think his whiskers look sad. 

Monday, 27 February 2012

chocolate chip cookies

For a good number of years, cookies were something I loved to eat fresh from the bakery, but never thought I'd be able to achieve the same consistency if I tried baking them at home. I had good reason for thinking they wouldn't work, as I had attempted baking cookies on a number of occasions that had failed quite spectacularly.

Then, one day, a friend told me her mum had passed on a recipe which was meant to be great. I asked if she'd mind sharing it and that was how I ended up with this recipe in my hands. It was also the first time I baked with condensed milk. Since that day, condensed milk has made its way into my mixing bowl on countless occasions. It is a simply brilliant ingredient for baking with, especially cookies. An added bonus (though perhaps only psychologically) is that the addition of condensed milk means you don't add any sugar to these cookies. So really, they are quite healthy. 

(Disclaimer: if you bake & eat a batch of these cookies and consequently your jeans feel snug, I cannot take any responsibility for the weight game that may or may not be attributed to vast cookie consumption.)

These cookies are dangerous. They are like Pringles - once you pop you just can't stop. (I have eaten two so far while writing this post - one per paragraph - and I could quite happily continue along that road.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies yields approx. 21 medium sized cookies
225g / 8oz dark chocolate
50g / 2oz unsalted butter
225g / 8oz self raising flour
70g / 3oz white chocolate chips or chunks
400g can condensed milk

1. Melt the chocolate
2. Stir in the butter to melted chocolate until butter melts
3. Stir in condensed milk and leave to cool for 10 - 15 mins. (If you skip the cooling stage, the white choc chips will melt from the heat of the chocolate.)
4. Stir in flour (no need to sieve)
5. Stir in white chocolate chips or chunks
6. Chill for 20 - 30 mins
7. Preheat oven t0 180C / gas mark 4
8. Grease 3 large baking sheets
9. Remove cookie dough from fridge and scoop heaped teaspoons-full onto trays. Leave plenty of space in between to allow for spreading
10. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes
11. Remove from oven and leave for 2 mins to harden slightly before removing from trays

These cookies are chocolatey, dough-y with the lightest crust, and ever so more-ish. Like I said before, don't blame me for any weight gain after baking these. They are so easy to bake,  and I'm pretty sure you could freeze the dough so you can always have a supply on hand. One day when we have a freezer that is bigger than your average microwave, I will most definitely be keeping a supply of cookie dough in there for any and every occasion. Yum.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Grenoble Highlights Part Cinq

On our final day of skiing & boarding in Grenoble we returned to Saint Pierre, along with John's brother, Andrew. It was another wonderfully warm day - perfect conditions for skiing - except for the last part of the slope at the end of the day which was essentially ice-skiing. Part way through the day we were accompanied by another skier - he was the six year old son of Andrew's colleague - and having been on skis since he was two years old, he was unstoppable. Quite literally. We had originally hoped to ski with the whole family, but one of their six sons had broken his hand, so was out of action.

Our final evening in Grenoble was spent with the lovely family with six sons, along with numerous other friends of theirs. It was a truly wonderful evening on so many levels. Conversations flowed freely in French, English and German, while enormous quantities of food were prepared and eaten. Warmth was provided by the biggest wood burner I've ever seen, that also heated a beautiful brick seat. The 4 year old son knelt up at the table with a row of unopened beer bottles neatly lined up. With a bottle opener in hand, he carefully popped off the caps of many a beer bottle, then carefully distributed the contents into tumblers, dutifully refilling glasses that were looking a little empty while the 5 year old made sure we had a plentiful supply of snacks at all times. I marvelled at the family's hospitality - they were clearly well prepared for visitors - with a never ending supply of delicious chocolates to accompany our after dinner coffee and liquers (which came in any shape or size we fancied it). Their home was full of life & love and we went home with full hearts & contented bellies. I couldn't have imagined a nicer way to spend the last evening of our trip.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Grenoble Highlights Part Quatre

On Friday we went back to Villard de Lans, but started the day around the other side of the resort, so the scenery was totally different. I think this was the most beautiful day. The views from the top were breathtaking. Sadly, my photos don't do the view justice. I had camera trouble on every front. My main lens for my DSLR developed a major problem just before we flew to Grenoble, and my little camera has developed a scratch on the lens, so I was somewhat limited but still snapped away regardless.
 {snow. mountain. cloud. sky. beauty.}
 {see the layer of white behind us? That's cloud, not snow. It looked good & strong enough to walk on.}

There is something strangely liberating about seeing a strip of cloud hanging above the mountain you're about to ski down, and being able to see where the cloudiness begins & ends. To know that you'll be skiing in sun where you can see everything clearly, then your visibility is going to get tricky as you ski through the clouds, but before you know it, you'll come back into the sunshine again and all will be clear. I suppose it's a bit of a methaphor for what life can be like. All can appear shiny & sunny & clear, but you know hard times will come. When you're in the midst of the hard times, it is almost impossible to see how things will change (because we cannot see the days ahead). But hope can remain that things will become sunny & bright again, and that hope is made ever stronger by the promises that God gives.

Grenoble Highlights Part Trois

Thursday found us at the lovely resort of Villard de Lans. John's pronounciation of this was brilliant. In fact, all of his French pronounciation was brilliant. On with another day of skiing we went. The weather was wonderfully mild & the runs were fun. 

In the evening, Andrew took us to a fabulous French restaurant, named La Ferme a Dede. (I can't work out how to add grammatical accents in Blogger, so if anyone is offended by the lack of them, I apologise.)

This restaurant is all about the cheese. I don't think I've ever eaten so much cheese & cured meats at one time before, and I didn't even opt for the raclette that John & Andrew shared. Just look at the size of their hunk of cheese! I reckon it weight at least 1kg. Seriously.

The clever (and pretty) raclette heats the cheese and it slowly melts onto the unsuspecting spuds below. Brilliant invention.
I loved the style & ambience of La Ferme a Dede. There were collectors items & quirks absolutely everywhere (look at the photo of John & the cheese - see that rack above his head? It was packed full of curiosities that I would quite happily have taken home with me, if it wasn't classified as stealing. The reastaurant was full to the brim from our arrival right through to our departure. People clearly love this place and it was not hard to see why.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Grenoble Highlights Part Deux

We decided to have a rest-day on Wednesday to give our muscles a bit of a recovery. it turned out to be a wise choice for that day, as the skies were cloud filled, and skiing in cloud is not our favourite thing. 

After a morning of reading & snow flurries, we followed our noses until we found the cable car to take us up to La Bastille.

{view from the top & a rather windswept John - as you can see - the wind forced his smile into a slight grimace!}

{Amazing ice sheets hanging in a tunnel at the top of La Bastille. We made a hasty exit when we spotted huge chunks of ice on the tunnel floor and did not want to meet our demise in an ice collison!}

On our way back to the apartment, we got slightly lost and stumbled upon a Chocolaterie - Bochard. For some strange reason, we resisted the temptation to go in and buy a treat. They had florentines the size of tea plates & macaroons as tiny & perfectly formed as a baby's fist. My mouth is watering just remembering the sight of them. They also sold chocolate that would set you back 50 euros per kilo! Brilliant! The kind of shop that dreams are made of.

We returned to the apartment and had a lovely reading hour, where I finished The Hunger Games trilogy. I would highly recommend reading this. I've read the three books in record speed which is a fun feeling.

By the evening, our bodies were feeling rested & ready for another day of skiing...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Grenoble Highlights

Hello! We're back home safe & sound after our skiing trip. The departure lounge at the airport yesterday was like being amongst the walking wounded - everywhere we looked we'd see people in wheelchairs with broken legs, cut faces, hobbling on crutches, and a whole lot of people with the classic panda-eye look from skiers that forgot the suncream. Thankfully, we managed to stay safe & in one piece.

Please bear with me as I do a little re-cap of the highlights of our trip in photo form. Mountains may feature heavily, but who can say they're not beautiful?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

International Blogging

As I write this, there are gentle flurries of snow tumbling down outside. They're the kind of snowflakes that land on your eyelashes and stay until you blow them away. We're having a day off skiing today, spending some time relaxing and exploring Grenoble, so I thought I'd give you a little preview of the slopes & scenery here.

{Day One: Saint Pierre en Chartreuse}

 {Day Two: Chamrousse}

There is something truly incredible about being on top of the mountains & on a level with the clouds. To feel the temperature dropping as the ski lift ascends and the altitude increases is a surprising (and sometimes uncomfortable) feeling. The air is at its coldest at the peak, but that is where the view is the most incredible & far reaching. There is a fine balance between wanting to get down the mountain quickly to reduce the numbness caused by the cold, and the desire to drink in as much of the view and the blue as possible.

Being amongst the mountains is causing me to think about my vulnerability & fragility, our human desire for comfort & safety, the things which drive us and inspire us, and the gift of a healthy body that allows me to ski. I'll be back soon with more thoughts & plenty more photos.

Au revoir.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

skiing essentials

As I was packing the last few bits & bobs I decided to do one more little post on a few ski slope essentials.

Out of the items I have shown here, it's pretty tricky to choose the most important, so, in no particular order of preference here's a few essentials:

+ snacks. I have a tendency to go out without a snack then get hit by hunger when I'm unarmed. I didn't want this to happen out on the mountains so I have included some granola bars & fruit strings . 

+ hand warmer. A reuseable hand warmer with its very own knitted cover to ensure that my fingers don't drop off inside my gloves.

+ spf lip balm. I cannot stand having dry lips in Winter, and skiing calls for something a little bit more than vaseline. I don't want burnt lips, thank you very much.

+ the little camera. While I will most definitely be toting my DSLR, the little one's coming along for the ride too as back up and to pop in my pocket for those shots that I don't have time to stop & get my big camera out for.

+ sunglasses. They speak for themselves..

When I laid out this little collection, John just chuckled at all of my 'necessary' items. He is incredibly efficient & easy going  when it comes to packing. He makes a concise list & sticks to it. I make endless lists in my head, on my phone & on paper, then don't refer to them when I come to packing. Hmmm. Maybe that's something to work on.

off we go!

Well friends, our bags are packed, and in 13 hours time we will be on the plane on our way to France.  I cannot wait to breathe in the mountain air, make snow angels & feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins as we whizz down the mountains.

Here's a photo I dug out of a photo album from the last ski trip I went on in 2003 when I was fresh out of school. (One of the friends I went with on this trip also has a blog - sadly she's not in this photo - she may well have been behind the camera! Remember this, Vicki?)
{That's me in the red salopette's)

I'll see you in a week's time, hopefully with a bountiful amount of photos of our French adventure. Au revoir!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

adventure no. 1 / ski 2012

Can I tell you a little story? 

Way back in 2002 when I was 17, I went on a ski trip with my school. Every year when the forms came out for the ski trip it was a frantic race to get your permission slip & deposit in on time. Everyone wanted to go. Every year, I wanted to go, and every year, I knew I could only dream about going, because it was an incredible amount of money, and I was part of a big family. I was ok with not going, but of course I still really wanted to go skiing. 

Then. In 2001 when the much-desired ski trip letter came out, a wonderful thing happened. I was in my bedroom & there was a knock on the door. I still remember the sound of that knock on the wooden door & the squeak of the handle as my Dad came in to say that he & Mum would like to let me go on the ski trip this year. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! I was just a little bit excited and I am pretty sure I experienced heart palpitations for the first time when I rushed into school the next morning with my friends, cheque & permission slip gripped tightly in our hands as we ran up the two flights of stairs to the staff room to thrust our precious money into the hands of our teachers, in the hope that our speed would secure our place on this years trip. And it happened. And I was an awful skiier. We went to Austria & I spent the first two days crashing into everything that moved, and everything that stood still. My group would be waiting for me at the bottom of the slope, then get moving as I approached so that I didn't plough into them & knock them down like dominoes again. Then we got a different instructor who spoke a little more English than the word follow, which was all our first instructor seemed to say. I also heard the word oop-a-la spoken more times than I could count as we each took our turn in falling over. Markus, our new instructor, picked me out immediately as the one in need of the most help, positioned me behind him on our runs down the slope, and told me to copy exactly how he moved his skiis. And that is how I learnt to ski.

I dabbled with skiing again in 2003 on a trip to San Francisco, spending a day in Lake Tahoe, and again in 2004 with my school friends. I have not been since. Now, I happen to have a brother in law who lives in Grenoble. For a long time I have entertained the idea of combining a visit to see him, and to hit the slopes once again. I am so very excited to say that 2012 is the year that it's going to happen. I cannot tell you how excited I am. The very thought of it makes me want to squeal Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! an awful lot.

Due to my 7 year break in skiing, I thought it'd be a good idea to refresh my skiing memory on the dry slopes. The break has brought with it a lot of rustiness. I went home feeling like I had forgotten it all & I would never be able to use poles again, let alone ski parallel.

Last night, John & I returned to the Avon ski centre to have another go. Thanks to another great instructor, it feels like it has clicked back into place. Hooray! So, on Sunday, we are off on our first big adventure of 2012. Hooray for half term holidays!

Sunday, 5 February 2012


Well friends, it's been a little while, hasn't it?

John was away in the Aix en Provence last week, and I often find that with the change in routine, my blogging wanes. I am incredibly thankful for kind friends who invite me to stay with them when John's away so I don't get too lonely - thank you so much Hannah & Andy.

On Thursday I had the pleasure of visiting an Early Years setting in a little village called Blagdon. It was a beautifully sunny Winter's day, and I was glad I took a camera with me to capture a little bit of the beauty. There has been a lot on my mind this week, and it was very refreshing to have my mind taken up with the very simple thoughts as I drove through Blagdon, that went a little like this:

'wow, look at that blue! and green, and blue and green everywhere! This is wonderful. I love colour. Wow, look at how flat those hedgerows are, such brilliant lines. Look at the angles & shadows on the road! The moon! I love it when you can see the moon and it's fully daylight!' 

Very simple joy from very simple things Very child like? Maybe, but thankfully I don't think God will mind me being so excited about beauty of His creation. 

The roads were so quiet - I don't think I saw any other cars for at least 40 minutes. Just me and the tiny narrow roads. Actually, come to think of it, I did see another car. I encountered it on a country lane that was totally impossible to have 2 cars drive along simultaneously. I had to do some extreme reversing to back up about 300m to the nearest passing place so the other driver could come through. 

We spent Saturday with our friends Tim & Becky, celebrating Tim's birthday. The day consisted of much food, laughter, games & warmth (provided by a wood burning stove).

Hours of Monopoly Deal were played - Becky introduced us to this over Christmas. It's a brilliant game if you enjoy Monopoly but need it to be a bit speedier.
While everyone else played game after game of Monopoly Deal, I read page after page of Catching Fire from The Hunger Games trilogy.

Is it me or does my face look a funny colour in that photo?! Tim & Becky brought a box of our Christmas presents with them that we had left in London by accident - I can now get baking from The Great British Bake Off book - I just need to decide what to bake first!