Friday, 27 September 2013

English crumpets

I love to send and receive post, and I know that I have mentioned it in the past, but there is nothing quite like packaging up a parcel and sending it to distant shores, or another part of the country, and bringing a little bit of snail mail joy to someone.So, when I was asked by a friend if I might be willing to put together a special package for her friend in Italy, I was more than happy to oblige. The lady in Italy loves crumpets, which are not available to buy in Italy, so the friend living in England thought it would be a nice idea to send her a recipe, along with the ingredients to make her very own crumpets. I was very grateful to my sister in law and her Italian boyfriend for their time and skills in translating the English recipe into Italian. I have a lot of admiration for people who can speak more than one language, which includes rather large proportion of mine and John's family!
I had never made crumpets prior to being asked to prepare this special package, but was more than willing to have a go at making a batch of the delightfully holey, squishy, yeasty treats. If you'd like to read a little about the history of crumpets, Wikipedia can help you out, as always.) Preparing the batter felt like a mixture of making pancakes, and making bread dough. The method is really quite simple - all that is essential is that you have plenty of time on your hands, as the batter needs to rest for a good long while before it is ready to be cooked.
Crumpets make me think of cold, Winter days and open fires to toast them on. I know that they can be eaten at any time of the year, but there is something so wonderful about having a family tea around the fire, toasting fork in hand, and crumpets freshly warmed from the blazing fire. (Note to self: we need to open up our chimney breast and build a fireplace, asap.) 

450g plain (all purpose) flour
1 tsp caster sugar
14g instant yeast (2 sachets)
350ml skimmed milk
350ml cold water
1 tsp salt
half tsp bi-carbonate of soda
oil for cooking

1) Sift the flour into a bowl and add the sugar & yeast.
2) In a pan, heat the milk until it's just warm to the touch, then combine with the water. Beat the liquids into the flour to make a batter.
3) Cover the mixing bowl with cling film and leave the batter to stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
4) Beat the salt and bi-carb into the batter, and leave to rest for another 10 minutes.
5) Heat a griddle or a heavy based saucepan over a low heat. Put a little oil on some kitchen towel and grease the griddle / pan and your crumpet rings.
6) Using a ladle, fill the crumpet rings half full with batter and cook over a low heat for 12 minutes. You can tell when the underside is cooked by the bubbles that form on top and the texture of the batter. Once bubbles have formed and popped across the entire surface of the crumpet, and it looks like the batter is drying out on top, they should be ready to turn. The crumpets in the photo below needed about 3 more minutes of cooking time before they were ready to be turned.
7) Remove the crumpet rings and flip the crumpets over to brown on the top side. Cook for 2-3 minutes to give them a lovely brown glow.
8) Continue until you have used up all of your batter.
9) Serve immediately with butter and your topping of choice (I love peanut butter, or marmite or cheese), or leave to cool, then heat in the toaster as desired. Personally, I preferred them heated in the toaster. John loved them both ways and devoured almost the entire batch with incredible speed.

A couple of notes:
+ I used these poachette rings to make the crumpets - they worked perfectly and did not need greasing, as they are covered in non-stick coating. This is obviously not essential, but was a useful feature, and they didn't cost any more than metal rings without non-stick coating.

+ A heavy based saucepan or griddle is essential for the crumpets to cook properly and evenly. There are a lot of non-essential items in baking, but I would say that in this instance, it's not worth trying to make these if you only have a cheap frying pan / skillet - I tried both our good quality frying pan and our old, cheap one. In the cheap pan, the crumpets burned on the bottom and were raw in the middle - not a good combination!!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

twenty minutes / beauty and growth

A while back a friend gave me a book called Organised Home. At the time, I was lodging with a family and their five children, and lived in one room of their home. Having just one room meant that I spent very little time doing household chores. I cannot remember whether or not John and I were engaged at the time, but regardless, I felt excited about the prospect of one day having a home to look after. One of the principles in this book that stuck in my mind back then, was to allocate twenty minutes to get a job done. The author was not suggesting that all household jobs only take twenty minutes, but rather, she was emphasising just how much can be accomplished in that short space of time, and by simply setting aside a short period of time where the end was always in sight, the task of keeping on top of things can feel far less overwhelming.

Recently, I have been reminded of the helpfulness of this principle. On the days that I am feeling particularly tired from pregnancy and work, it is very easy to see hours slip by during my time and home, and nothing gets accomplished. So I have been trying to remind myself just how little time it takes to get certain things done. It takes twenty minutes (or less) to...

+ tidy the kitchen
+ make a loaf of bread, ready for its first proving
+ hoover the house
+ hang out the washing
+ put the food shopping away
+ make a batch of cookies (although baking is something I always manage to find time for)

I am also trying to put this principle into practise when it comes to creativity and spiritual growth. Twenty minutes is all it takes to start cultivating a bit of beauty and growth. The task of turning our wasteland into a garden is one that will take many more hours of work, and to me, it is an overwhelming task. So rather than simply beginning, I have become stuck and failed to do anything at all to start to bring life to our piece of barren land. Yesterday, I purchased some tulip bulbs in anticipation of the new life that comes with Spring time. I love seeing flowers appear soon after the Winter frosts start to fade, and I wanted to cultivate some of this beauty in a small way.
It would have been all too easy for me to forget about the bulbs, and remember them in the middle of the Winter when the frosts have set in and it's too late for them to take root and flourish. Instead, I returned home and went straight to the garden to plant my tulips, reminding myself that twenty minutes of my time is all these little bulbs need in order to begin the journey to producing something of great beauty. It might take a while for the beauty to appear, but what a worthwhile investment it will be when they do. I need to keep remembering this in my relationship with God - that even though some days I feel like the time I invest in prayer and reading the Bible does not amount to much, the seeds of Truth that are planted in my heart will take root and start to grow into something beautiful, with the help of the Holy Spirit. And the more I keep being pro-active and productive through remembering that twenty minutes is a small amount of time, the more beauty and growth I will get to see.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Chocolate Flapjack

Flapjack is one of those sweet treats that I think of as a classically British tray bake. There are only a few ingredients required, they are quick to make and serve as a delicious snack for children and adults alike, but for some reason, I very rarely bake them. Maybe this will change as our family grows and we have little mouths to feed. I am sure my desire to bake won't disappear, but I am also sure that the amount of time I have to spend on a recipe will greatly diminish. So I am sure I will be reaching for this kind of quick recipe far more in the future.
A few weeks ago, I couldn't get the idea of flapjack out of my head. They needed to be baked, and they needed to have chocolate in it. Flapjack is perfectly delicious without chocolate, but on this occasion, it felt like a necessity. I remember my Mum making these when we were children, and I especially loved it when she added chocolate chips into the mix. I would always hope that I would get to eat the piece of flapjack that looked like it had the most chocolate in it. Chocolate makes a lot of things better, in my humble opinion.  This recipe uses cocoa rather than chocolate chips, but you could easily add chocolate chips into the mix if you fancied, or omit the cocoa and have plain and simple flapjack. Often with baking, you need to be precise with your measurements for the recipe to work, but with flapjack, there is a lot of room for throwing in any added extras you like - fruit, nuts, chocolate - so long as you keep the basic ingredients simple and steady - butter, sugar and oats.

Chocolate Flapjacks
350g (3sticks) unsalted butter
175g (almost 1 cup) soft brown sugar
175g  (almost 1 cup) muscovado sugar
450g (5 cups) rolled oats
3 tbsp golden syrup
6 tbsp cocoa 

1) Pre-heat oven to 140C / gas mark 2 / 275F Grease a 7 x 11" baking tray or roasting tin
2) Melt the butter, syrup and sugars in a saucepan over a gentle heat.
3) Mix in the oats and cocoa
4) Tip the mixture into the greasted baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. They will still look moist after 20 minutes - this is fine and good.
5) Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before slicing up. If you slice them too early, they will crumble and not hold their shape.

How to tell if flapjack is baked
I have found that there is a little bit of learning to be done when it comes to telling if flapjacks are ready or not. On a few occasions, I have made the mistake of thinking they look far too moist, even once they have had the suggested baking time, and cooked them for longer. This will leave you with crunchy, hard flapjack instead of a lovely chewy texture.

If you notice the mixture starting to bubble, remove it immediately from the oven. Ideally, you want to avoid bubbling, as this is an indicator that the flapjack is losing its moisture and heading towards crunchiness. If you like your flapjack crunchy, then keep baking it a little longer!

If you check your flapjacks after 20 minutes and they look like they would slide around the pan if you tipped it, they probably need another 5 minutes or so. A little bit of movement (think very gentle flapjack landslide) is fine. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

pregnancy @ 31 weeks

31 weeks. It feels like we are in the home stretch now in this pregnancy. We are certainly much closer to the end than the beginning. I know that sounds like a very obvious thing to say, but in some ways, it all still feels so fresh, this feeling of having a life growing inside me, and yet it also feels like such a long time ago now that I was counting through the first 12 vulnerable weeks, when it was all a secret and no-one would know from looking at me that there was a tiny life growing in my womb.  Knowing that we have only nine or so weeks to wait until it is time for our daughter to be born is so exciting – it is not far off, and at the same time, nine weeks feels like forever away.

Time and again I am amazed and thankful that this baby continues to grow inside me, week after week. I have been thinking a lot about how,, if the little lady was to be born now, she would be alright, and more than likely to survive. And yet, these next nine or so weeks that we anticipate she will stay put, are still so important. To think that my womb is the safest place for her right now humbles me each time I feel a little fed up from the aches and pains of pregnancy.

I am so excited by the prospect of meeting our daughter. I cannot wait to see her face to face, and study her features, taking in every last part of her little self that has been growing inside of me all this time.  To see with eyes what her little limbs look like; to match the sight of her moving with what I can only experience as an incredible sensation now. Her wriggling and rolling goes from strength to strength, and I love the feeling of her acrobatics.

Physically, things have changed significantly over the last few weeks. The waddle in my walk serves as a permanent reminder of the effect that pregnancy hormones have, along with the added weight that a baby provides. Swimming has provided an even sweeter relief than before, the weightlessness of the water giving instant relief to the aches and pains in my bones, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

weekend round up

I am a little slow off the mark with my weekend round up post this week, but I'm just going to roll with it and be ok with being a day late. One of the conversations John and I had this weekend was about what we have coming up over the next couple of months, and looking through our diaries, it seems just a little bit unbelievable that we have barely any weekends without plans before our baby arrives. Whoosh, how time flies.

When I looked back through my camera at the photos I had taken to document the weekend, I was greeted by a very pitiful quantity of images. Susanna's words in her weekend round up resonated with me, and summed up perfectly my feelings about capturing life - that sometimes we can get caught up in trying to document the moments in our days, and this can compromise our involvement in what is actually taking place. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I love to capture the small moments and details in life, especially where food is involved, and in some ways, I wish I was better at capturing those beautiful moments that happen with the precious people I spend time with. So, although these photos give a little glimpse into my weekend, they are a far cry from the true reflection of the time that was spent with people. I have no images that capture the laughter shared with one of my dearest friends and her two daughters that filled my Saturday morning, or of the significant moments and memories made between my husband and I - because I was too involved to even think about taking photos of these precious times that made and shaped my weekend. I only wish my words painted the pictures that photos can do without saying anything at all.

We spent some time on Saturday afternoon doing little jobs around our house to make it more like a home. John put up a blind in our kitchen while I sat and sorted through piles of papers and photos that have been occupying the floor in the baby's bedroom ever since we moved in. Her room is far from ready, but progress is finally being made. We tempered our trip out to buy exciting items such as curtain rails with a coffee - in our first year of marriage we used to go out every Saturday for a coffee, but haven't done so in a long time. I miss that little tradition.
For as long as I can remember, I have been an early riser. Perhaps the years of working as a Saturday girl in a bakery, starting every Saturday at 6am for five years, shaped me into being an early riser, or perhaps I just take after my Mother, who always was, and still is, the first to get up in our family home. On Sunday morning, I relished the hours I had before church to make a smoothie and go for a swim. At least, that was the plan - I arrived at the swimming pool to find that it was shut for a competition. So I savoured the walk home instead, taking in the first signs and sounds of Autumn.
Sunday afternoon was filled with a blissful pregnancy massage at The Relaxation Centre. I was contacted by a friend who was doing a pregnancy massage course there, and needed a pregnant lady in her third trimester to be involved in her assessment, and I fitted the requirements - hooray! What a blessing to receive a wonderful, relaxing, rejuvenating massage for a whole hour and a half for free, and what a wonderful way to end the weekend.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

miniature meringues with wild blackberry cream

These meringues came about after John and I had picked some wild blackberries in a beautiful park that is just around the corner from where we live. I had frozen the berries to give me some thinking time to decide what I wanted to make with them. I am all for fruit crumbles and jam making, but we didn't have enough fruit to make jam, and I wanted to make something a bit more exciting than crumble. After doing some unfruitful (excuse the pun) searches online for recipe inspiration, the blackberries stayed sitting pretty in the freezer.
When Friday rolled around and we had an evening with friends to look forward to, my thoughts turned to what I could bake. I don't like to turn up empty handed when visiting friends, but didn't want to make something so extravagent that would imply I was presenting a dessert that had not been requested, rather than simply saying 'thank you for having us - enjoy these sweet treats at your leisure and pleasure.' To my slight horror, my supply of butter and chocolate had run out. These two ingredients are pretty much mandatory in a lot of my baking, and I couldn't quite believe I had exhausted the supplies and failed to replenish them. So I pondered what I could make that didn't require butter, and that's where the meringues came into their own. They only require two simple ingredients - eggs and sugar - and providing you have plenty of time on your hands, you are ready to roll with the fun of meringue making. And the blackberries? My hope was that they would add the splash of colour and flavour to the meringues to make them a perfect pair.

Miniature Meringues with Wild Blackberry Cream
ingredients for the meringues
4 large egg whites
125g caster sugar
125g icing (confectioner's) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
ingredients for the blackberry cream
2 large handfuls of fresh blackberries. If using from frozen, defrost first
250ml / 1 cup double (heavy) cream
finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1) Pre-heat your oven to 100C / Gas Mark 1/2 / 230F, and line two baking trays with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl (preferably stainless steel), or the bowl of a freestanding mixer, whisk the egg whites until they resemble fluffy clouds, and stand up in stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted.

2) Beat in the vanilla extract if using. You could alternatively add a vanilla pod if you are feeling fancy, and would like gently speckled meringues.

3) Gradually add the caster sugar to the egg whites, 1 tablespoon at a time. It is important to add the sugar gradually to ensure the sugar crystals disperse evenly and have time to be incorporated. Continue to beat until the mixture is thick and glossy.

4) Sieve in the icing sugar and gently fold in with a metal spoon or a spatula until it is fully incorporated.

5) At this stage it's up to you to choose how you present your meringues. You could either make a giant one to create the base of a pavlova, spoon dessertspoon-fuls of meringue onto parchment for individual meringue nests, or pipe the meringue using a star or round tipped nozzle to create miniature meringues, which is what I opted for.

6) Bake the meringues for 1.5 hours until the meringues are a pale coffee colour, and have crisped up on their bases. Turn the oven off, and leave the meringues in the oven to continue gently cooking while they cool.

To make the blackberry cream:

1) Blitz the blackberries in a food processor until smooth.
2) Whip the cream until thickened, being careful not to over whip.
3) Fold the blitzed blackberries into the cream, along with the lemon zest, and enjoy watching the cream transform into a beautiful shade of purple!
4) Spoon or pipe the blackberry cream onto a meringue, and sandwich together with another. Alternatively, let your friends enjoy scooping out the cream and loading up their meringues themselves with as much or as little purple creamy goodness as they like!

Monday, 9 September 2013

weekend round up.

Hello friends, and happy Monday! As I write this, I have a most enormous mug of coffee keeping me company - it feels fitting and necessary as the afternoon draws to a close and I feel like I cannot quite shake the feeling of tiredness that has accompanied the school year starting again. We have only been back at school for a week, and I am remembering how all-consuming teaching is when it comes to my mental capacity. So, it is refreshing to sit for a few moments and remember the slow pace of our weekend, and cherish those memories just a little bit more.

On Friday afternoon I whipped up some meringues and some wild blackberry cream to share with friends who we haven't seen for too many months.
We caught up around the fire pit and the evening flew by - I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I looked at my watch and saw that it was close to midnight - a sure sign of a good evening when you have no concept of just how many hours have passed since you began talking.
{a rare photo of me captured by Ben - I highly recommend looking at his blog for amazing images. He has a great gift in capturing the character and detail of all his photographic subjects.}

Saturday was a wonderfully slow and steady day, beginning with breakfast and plenty of coffee with my wonderful friend Hannah, and ending with a trip to Tyntesfield, which is a National Trust property. (For those of you who don't live in England, or are unfamiliar with the National Trust, they are an organisation that started back in 1895 with the aim of saving the nation's heritage and preserving lots of England's beautiful open spaces, woodland, coastline, and much more.)
We took advantage of an offer from the National Trust to go for free, and so didn't feel like we hadn't got our money's worth when my pregnancy pains limited how much walking we did. I became ever so slightly enamoured with just how beautiful Dahlia's are, and added them to the list of flowers to grow in our garden.

I also loved the character of the luggage tag labels that were hung around The Orangery, with the use of the English names of plants and fruits alongside the Latin names.

Sunday was just as leisurely as Saturday. I began the day with a swim - I have missed being able to swim first thing in the morning since school started - so took advantage of waking early and having enough time before Church to ease out the pregnancy aches with a swim.
The afternoon involved eating shredded chicken & guacamole pitta pockets, enjoying the company of friends, eating warm cookies (this recipe) and ice cream, while watching The Intouchables - if you haven't seen this film I would highly recommend it, and fully embracing the opportunity to just rest.

{Linking up with Annapolis & Company and the lovely blogging community that is developing as we share our weekends with the world through blogging.}

Friday, 6 September 2013

Five Minute Friday / Red

I saw them for the first time yesterday. The colours that tell the old familiar, yet ever-wonderful story of Autumn. The reds and the oranges - the colour of the leaves that have started to fall ever so gently from the trees that are getting ready, announcing the change of seasons from Summer to Autumn. And this season holds so much more change than the sight that I delight in every year of the trees turning from green to reds and oranges, as I anticipate entering a new season of life that does not hold the beautiful weight of the old-familiar feeling of Autumn.

My thoughts turn from the tree that's shedding its leaves to the bare branches of the prayer tree at school, made by man to hang prayers from the heart to the God who created the beauty of trees in Autumn, and knows our hearts. The branches of the prayer tree are bare and outstretched, ready for the new school year and the leaves which will come to adorn its branches - like nature in reverse - as children and adults come to the quiet space of the church room to be still and write the prayers of their hearts on paper leaves to hang from the prayer tree.

Today, a leaf with a heartfelt prayer was hung from one of the branches, for a precious child with a head of fiery red hair, who is being broken and beaten with words and threats as his peers mock him. The colour of his hair glorious and glowing like fire, has become a target for them to take aim at, and the mothering heart that is growing within me breaks over the pain and bullying this precious boy is experiencing. And once again, I am reminded of the need we have for the great love of God to speak words of kindness and compassion over the broken places in hearts that taunt and tease, rather than celebrating the beauty in the differences in the way we look.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


I mentioned a few weeks back that I had been enjoying baking bread by hand since our bread maker died after seven years of faithfully baking bread, so I thought I would share one of the recipes I have been using to make a basic white (or wholemeal) loaf. It really is so simple, and I am finding that so long as you factor in plenty of time for the bread to prove, it is so worthwhile making bread by hand rather than buying it from the shops.

I adore the simplicity of bread: flour, water, salt, yeast, and sometimes a little bit of butter or oil. That's it. Just four ingredients. So very simple, yet so very brilliant. And the smell of bread baking filling your home? There's nothing quite like it.

Simple White Tin Loaf
// ingredients //
400g strong white bread flour (or wholemeal)
8g salt
7g dried fast action yeast (1 sachet)
25g unsalted butter at room temperature
250ml cold water
olive oil for needing (if doing so by hand)

1) Place the flour into a large mixing bowl / bowl of freestanding mixer.
2) Add the salt and yeast either side of the flour (not on top of each other as the salt can kill the yeast)
3) Add the butter and 3/4 of the cold water and mix together with your hand until the water has been absorbed and a rough dough has formed.
4) If using a free standing mixer, knead the dough for 5-10 mins. If kneading by hand, put some olive oil on your working surface before turning the dough out of the bowl, then knead for 10 minutes. 
5) Lightly oil your mixing bowl, put the dough back into the bowl, then cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place to prove for an hour. It's fine to leave the dough for up to three hours if you like.
6) Remove the dough from the bowl, and knock the air out of it by folding the dough in on itself a few times.
7) Gently shape the dough into an oblong shape, tucking the ends in to create a neat finish. You should end up with a fold going along the length of the dough.
8) Grease a standard sized loaf tin and place the dough into the tin with the fold on the bottom of the loaf so that you don't see it on the finished product.
9) Place tin inside a clean plastic bag & leave to prove for an hour. Preheat oven to 200C / Gas mark 5.
10) Remove the loaf tin from the carrier bag and slash the top of the loaf with a few diagonal lines, using a sharp serrated knife.
11) Bake in preheated oven for 20 - 25 mins. To check if it has backed, turn the loaf out of the tin, tap the bottom & see if it sounds hollow. If it doesn't, pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so.

Monday, 2 September 2013

baby quilt / a collaborative project

Way back in May, I hosted a baby shower for a wonderful friend. Before the baby shower, I had invited the guests to bring a piece of fabric with them to make into a quilt for the baby. I had been to a baby shower before where this had happened, and I loved the idea of women coming together with a whole selection of fabric to create something that will last for years and years.
I wasn't overly successful in getting all of the guests to have a go at making a square for the quilt, so I ended up with a fair bit of work to do in order to finish the quilt off. So, I decided to make a series of hexagons to be a feature in the middle of the quilt. There is something so satisfying about their uniform shape, and provided me with the perfect opportunity to use up some of the smaller pieces of fabric in my stash.
In the last week of the school holidays, I finally got around to finishing the quilt, hence why it has taken me almost four months to blog about it. It is full of imperfections, but made with great love and I am sure that the baby (who is now three months old) will not mind at all that it is not perfect.
Now I need to crack on with making a quilt for our baby. Seeing as my track record for making quilts at any great speed is pretty appalling, I probably should have started months ago!