Thursday, 31 October 2013

around here

While things have been quiet in this little space, life has been full of celebration, anticipation and preparation for the arrival of our precious baby. Last Friday signalled the end of the first school term of the year, and the beginning of my maternity leave. Physically, I was so ready to rest, and mentally, I felt like I needed maternity leave to begin to start getting my head around the preparations that we had planned prior to Baby King's arrival. Here's a little list of recent happenings...

// Baby Shower //
On Saturday, my precious friend Hannah held a baby shower for me. Family travelled from different parts of the country to be here, and friends from across the city gathered to celebrate with me. With photos strung from twine spanning my childhood and John's and postcards of classic children's stories decorating my home, along with the abundance of baby gifts, the prospect of meeting our daughter became that little bit more tangible.

 // Autumn Beauty // 
I love the seasonal beauty which Autumn brings, and this year I decided to gather up a few things to echo the season that is so evident outdoors, inside our home.
 // Baby Clothes //
One of the jobs that my Mum and I have finished this week is sorting out all of the newborn baby clothes into drawers, ready to keep our babe warm and cozy. I was delighted to add this handknitted cardigan to the collection, which Hannah's Grandma kindly made for us. The generosity and thoughtfulness of others are beautiful things.
 // Quilting //
I bought these fabrics a few weeks ago with every good intention to get started on sewing a quilt for our baby straight away. However, the busyness of my last few weeks of school meant that the fabrics just stayed neatly stacked, sitting pretty. Now that I am on maternity leave with nothing more to do than prepare for the birth of our baby and relax, the quilting is going to begin, (I am hoping that by sharing my intentions here, I will manage to hold myself accountable, and put my words into action!)
 // Other Baby Sewing Projects //
While I might have been slack with my sewing, my Mother has been quite the opposite. When she visited in the Summer, she started making a new cover for a second hand nursing pillow that I had purchased, and left me with clear instructions on how to finish the cover. Well, just as with the quilt, this sewing project has remained untouched since the Summer. So this week, my brilliant Mother has kindly finished the cushion cover with finesse.
// First Birthday Photo Shoot //
This time last year I had the privilege of taking photos of my friend's newborn baby. Somehow, a year has flown by, and it's time to celebrate Layla's first birthday. Amy invited me to capture some photos of her lovely daughter attempting a cake smash. Suffice to say, Layla needed a bath by the time she had finished!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

During the Summer months, smoothies featured quite heavily in my diet; I love the fact that they are so versatile – you can throw a great number of ingredients together, blend them all up, and the result is a tasty, nutritious and colourful treat. During Autumn and Winter, soups take the place of smoothies for me, and I love soup for the very same reasons. I especially love the way that the colours of the vegetables that are harvested in Autumn reflect the changing colour of the leaves. Perhaos what I love even more is that with soup, you can make an enormous quantity with great ease, so whether you have many mouths to feed, or just like stocking up your freezer with a seasons worth of warming lunches, making a giant pot of soup is never a bad idea.
 In some ways, I feel like it’s a little bit unnecessary to write down the soup recipes I make, because they are such an inexact Science. Just like my smoothies, I throw together whatever I have and make it work. So really, this recipe is just to serve as a reminder of the flavours I have used, and to perhaps give you some inspiration if you feel in need of that.

Seasonal Squash Soup makes approximately 10 portions

1 butternut squash
1 other kind of squash or pumpkin - any will do
1 sweet potato
2 large baking potatoes
4 carrots
4 sticks celery
2 large onions
4 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 tbsp garam masala (or a combination of spices such as cumin, paprika, etc)
1.5 litres vegetable or chicken stock

1) In a large pan (I used a 10 litre flameproof casserole dish), heat a knob of butter and a slosh of oil gently.

2) Cut up the onion and celery, and cook gently in the melted butter until translucent. 

3) Preheat the oven to 200C / Gas mark 5.

4) Peel your squash and cut into large chunks, then place in a roasting tin, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 - 40 minutes (depending on how big your chunks are) or until soft.

5) Add in the garlic, chopped chilli and garam masala to the pan on the stove and cook for a minute or until you can smell the lovely garlic and spice aromas. 
(NB: I cut up the garlic into relatively large chunks to prevent it from burning. As I was intending on blending the soup, there wasn't a risk of some unfortunate soul ending up with a giant chunk of garlic in their bowl.) 

6) Peel and chop the rest of the vegetables and add to the pan to cook gently for 10 minutes or so. If the vegetables look like they are going to start catching on the bottom of the pan, add a splash of water rather than oil to prevent sticking.

7) Add in the stock and leave to simmer for 15 - 20 minutes or until all of the vegetables are cooked through. 

8) Put the squash into a food processor / blender, along with the other vegetables, and blend until smooth. Then add extra water if needed to get the soup to your desired consistency. Season to taste.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Autumn flavours // apple & lemon cake

I adore this time of year. The freshness of the morning air that can only be described as crisp. The colours of the leaves turning to goldens, reds, oranges and everything in between are just glorious. And the way the boughs of trees hang heavy with fruit, ready to shed the life they have grown over the past months means deliciious, locally grown food on our table.

I was very grateful for a friend who has an apple tree in her garden, who willingly allowed me to go and pick the ripe fruits from her tree last week for my baking and chutney making exploits. The majority of the apples went into this apple and lemon cake that a friend introduced me to a number of years ago now, and it has remained my favourite apple cake recipe every since.

The quantities listed below make enough mixture for an 11" x 14" rectangular pan, which is a big old cake. Alternatively, you could halve the quantities and make a 10" round cake.

Apple & Lemon Cake
225g self raising flour
225g plain flour
340g unsalted butter at room temperature
340g caster or granulated sugar (or mixture of brown and white sugars works well too)
225g sultanas
680g apples (either dessert apples or cooking apples work fine)
4 eggs
zest and juice of 2 - 3 lemons
demerera sugar for sprinking


1) Pre-heat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4 / 350F. Grease and line your cake tin / pan of choice
2) Peel, core and chop the apple, then cover in the lemon zest and juice. 
3) Combine the flours, sugars, eggs and butter in a mixing bowl and beat until well combined.
4) Add the lemony apples & sultanas, and stir until incorporated.
5) Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.
6) Leave the cake in the tin to cool for a few minutes before transferring to cooling rack.
7) Sprinkle the top of the cake with demerera sugar while still warm.

Monday, 14 October 2013

weekend round up

This weekend was chock-full of activity with a few moments of rest thrown in. John came home on Friday to find me acting like an exhausted, defeated, pregnant mess, which was absolutely not a pretty sight, and helped me to conclude that I really should take more afternoon naps. I revelled in the quiet early morning hours on Saturday, and enjoyed the productivity that comes far more naturally to me in the mornings, than any other time of day. 

Saturday morning was spent at a nearly-new sale for babies and children's items. This was my first foray to such an event, and I had been warned that they can be slightly crazy affairs, where people will fight you for the brilliant bargains, and for the first few minutes, I wasn't quite sure if I could hold my own against all of the other Mum's with their babes in slings. Thankfully, I had my friend Hannah with me, who helped me to start the ball rolling, and I managed to come home with a lovely selection of baby blankets, vests, babygrows and post-pregnancy clothes.

For the last few years, John and I have made chutney with fruits kindly given to us from friends whose fruit trees have borne an abundance of fruit, which they gladly share around. We make the chutney in September or October, so that by the time Christmas comes around, the flavours of the chutney have matured and we can share the jars of goodness amongst friends and family to open and enjoy with cheese and biscuits over Christmas. I have been especially looking forward to chutney making this year, as it represents us being one step closer to being prepared for Christmas, ahead of the moment we meet our baby. The prospect of tending to our baby, knowing that Christmas preparations have already been tended to, excites me no end. So, Saturday afternoon brought with it a trip to stock up on hexagonal jars which make me think of honeycomb, then got our hands thoroughly dirty as we de-stoned the damsons.

On Sunday, we drove to Goring to celebrate the life of John's Granny, who sadly passed away last month. Their lovely cottage was filled to overflowing with friends and family who came together to remember her life. John's Grandad gave a moving speech, reflecting on the life of his wife, whom he has spent the last 67 years with. What an amazingly long marriage. I hope and pray that John and I are blessed with as many years together as his grandparents have had.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

pregnancy @ 34 weeks

Dear Baby,

Your mama is a teacher, and each year is very much split into chunks of time to distinguish between the terms and holidays, so I always have an awareness of whether the term is going to be five, six, seven or eight weeks long. However, I have never been more acutely aware of time being measured in weekly milestones as I have while expecting you.

2 is the number of weeks at which I knew I was pregnant
3 weeks is how long I waited to take a pregnancy test, just to see in writing that I was most definitely pregnant, even though I already knew.
6 weeks young was the age you were when you travelled with me to my home town to host the baby shower of one of my oldest friends, and you were still our biggest secret.
7 is the number of weeks that your Great grandmother's life was cut short of meeting you.
8 weeks was when we bought your cot, wardrobe and chest of drawers - the first pieces of furniture for our new house which we hadn't even moved into yet.
10 weeks is how long you had been growing inside of me when my sister came to stay and said, 'Please can you have a baby soon?' Little did she know, she would only have to wait another 30 or so weeks to meet you.
11 is the number of weeks you had been inside of me when we got the keys to our new house, which is the place you will come to know as home.
15 weeks was when I baked a chocolate cake and iced the words, 'congratulations you are going to be grandparents' on the top with a shaky hand and a full heart at the prospect of telling my parents that we were expecting you.
18 weeks was the stage of pregnancy where it felt safe enough to tell my school that I was pregnant.
19 weeks is how long you had been growing for when we discovered that you will be our firstborn daughter.
25 weeks was your first experience of a plane ride when we flew to Barbados.
At 26 weeks, your Mama swam among beautiful fish and turtles and wondered whether it feels different for you when I am swimming and weightless.
33 weeks is when the children in my class started to get really fascinated by the size of you growing in my belly, and started to include you in the stories they created.
And now we're here at 34 weeks. You are lying in a great position and you like to wiggle your back from side to side each afternoon at around 4pm, making my belly look quite hilarious. You get hiccups a lot and I only feel your kicks and punches on the right side of my belly. The sight of newborn babies on TV makes me cry and I cannot help but wonder whether you will have a full head of dark hair when you are born, just like your Mama, or if you will be bald and blonde, just like your Dad was as a baby. Keep growing strong, little one, we cannot wait to meet you.

Monday, 7 October 2013

weekend roundup

The last week has been filled with grey skies and no sign of the Autumn rain relenting. There's a part of me that loves the rain, especially when I'm inside and I can hear it thrumming on the windows, or the roof of a conservatory. But, when there are strings of days where it feels like daylight never fully appears? I get a little desperate for the sun. So, when the sun broke forth on Friday afternoon, and carried on shining to the end of the weekend, I was beyond thrilled. And along with the sun came a lot of beautiful moments.

My sister came to stay for the weekend, and we spent Saturday morning with my precious friend Hannah and her daughters, making pizza for lunch. There's nothing quite like little hands learning with food. Rolling, patting, poking, flouring the dough; chopping, slicing and carefully placing pizza toppings over the sauce. Childlike glee at the satisfaction of prodding cherry tomatoes into the dough and shredding mozzarella all over the pizza. Food is always fun, but with children? It just gets better.

On Saturday afternoon, we drove to a little village called Batheaston, which was just beautiful. The ladybirds caught our attention, the afternoon archers fascinated us with their bows and arrows as they aimed at their targets, and the sight of the river & red ivy made everything that little bit more beautiful.

Sunday brought more sunshine, and a morning swim. On my way home, I admired the hot air balloons on their early morning flights around the city, and wondered at how beautiful the city must appear from such a great height. But more than that, I wondered how fresh and thin the air tastes when you're travelling in a hot air balloon. Perhaps I will find out one day.

After Church, we packed up a picnic and went to our new favourite park that's just a few minutes away from our house. Each time we go there, I cannot get over how quiet it is, as though a lot of people have no idea it's there, and Sunday was no different. We easily found a secluded spot with beautiful views, munched down our food then took an afternoon nap. There's nothing quite like napping outdoors in the sunshine. As I awoke from my slumber, the warmth of the sun still gently beating down on me, I had that feeling of being completely at rest. For a moment, I forgot about the prospect of going to work in the morning, and reveled in that wonderful feeling of being deeply relaxed, before picking up my camera to take photos of my husband and sister playing catch. I hope we never forget that play is for everyone, and we will never be too old to play.