Saturday, 30 November 2013

Giving thanks // a little announcement

Back in October, I started reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, which is so much more than a book that you might read and then forget about. It is a call to live fully in every single day of our lives - not just the joy filled days - but the mundane, grief filled and downright difficult times in life - through giving thanks to God in all things. One of the ways that I like to celebrate life in both the small and beautifully ordinary moments, as well as those moments in life of greater significance, is through taking photos and sharing them on this little space & Instagram. Because photos can speak so much more of the profundity of beauty than any words that I could ever conjure. 
So, I have been thinking a lot about giving thanks, as the words of One Thousand Gifts  have been circling my heart, and all the more so with the approach of the American holiday of Thanksgiving. While this is not a holiday we celebrate in England, we share life with some wonderful Americans and Canadians, who have brought this celebration of giving thanks over to the UK, and for the first time last year, we shared in a wonderful Thanksgiving feast with a great gathering of friends. Whereas once upon a time, I was oblivious to when this celebration took place for Americans, it has now become an annual tradition, which John and I look forward to with great eagerness. As the sun rose on the morning of Thursday 28th November, there were a few things going through my mind. One of those things was that today was the day that Americans would celebrate Thanksgiving.

Another of the thoughts in my head as the sun rose is that this would be a particularly significant day of Thanks Giving for us. For it would be the day that our daughter would be born, as I was enveloped deep in the process of labour as the sun rose in the morning sky. On this day, we would get to meet the precious little life that we have been giving thanks to God for over the last nine months, and the moment we would meet would be greeted with the crescendo of our ever-growing thankfulness to God for the blessing of a daughter. And so it is with great joy and Thanksgiving that I can share with you that our daughter, Ruby Elizabeth, was born on Thursday 28th November.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

healthy(ish) snacking

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Guy Fawkes night with friends, who kindly hosted us and filled our bellies with all kinds of delicious foods. One of the snacks they provided were home-roasted pumpkin seeds, and oh my, I loved them. So I decided to give it a go myself. I was reliably informed by our hostess that the trick is to soak the seeds in heavily salted water for a good few hours before roasting, otherwise they just don't taste as good.
I rinsed the seeds through a sieve and separated the pulp, then filled the bowl with water. I then added about half a cup of salt (I just poured an approximate amount in), and thought that it probably would have made far more sense to mix the salt in before adding the seeds, but there was no going back, so I just enjoyed the swirling patterns of the seeds as I mixed the salt in.
After soaking for about 8 hours (they probably don't need this long, but it's quite convenient to do them overnight), I drained off the water and patted the seeds dry with kitchen towel. Then I dredged them in lots of black ground pepper, a little olive oil and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, before baking for 30 minutes at 200C / Gas Mark 5 / 350F. You can season these with anything you want - the first time we had them, they were just seasoned with the salt they had soaked in, and were delicious, or you could throw in some chilli powder to give them a good kick of heat.
Ours had a little too long in the oven, so some of the seeds were a bit well done, but I still devoured them, and found myself wishing that I had another pumpkin so I could make these again.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Baby DIY: sewing a cushion cover

Sewing is proving to be a great distraction and good use of my time in these last days before our baby joins us. Yesterday I whipped up seven new cushion covers for our sofas, and today I made a little one for the baby's room. The main panel of fabric on the cushion is from the Children at Play fabric line designed by Sarah Jane, who makes the most beautiful fabrics from her illustrations of childhood. I edged the panel of Children at Play fabric with a selection of six different fabrics from my stash.
The length of my cushion was 48cm, so I cut down the panel of Sarah Jane fabric to measure 34cm, which gave me the measurements for the rectangular panels that would go at the top and bottom of the cushion. I decided to use 6 different fabrics for the panels, so each rectanglular panel measured 9cm long x 7cm tall before sewing. In hindsight, I should have cut off more of the white space from the main panel, and used bigger rectangles of my other six fabrics to make more of a feature of them.
After stitching together each of the rectangular panels, I then stitched them onto the top and bottom of the main panel of fabric. I wanted this to be a envelope cushion to save making a trip out to buy a zip, so for the back, I cut two panels of fabric with a total length that was 16cm longer than the length of the cushion to allow for the envelope overlap. 

I then hemmed one side of each of the back panels, before placing them right sides down on top of the Children at Play fabric, ready to sew them all together. For the back panels, I used the same fabric that I used on the reverse of the baby quilt I made at the beginning of last week, as I had some leftover.

Where it's possible to avoid using pins, I tend to do so to save time, so the only point in sewing this cushion that I used pins was to pin the three layers of fabric together at the overlap / closure on the reverse side of the cushion so they wouldn't slide out of place when sewing the three fabrics together to complete the cushion.
Once I had sewn along all of the edges, I snipped the corners off to give a neater finish once the cushion cover was turned the right way out. I remember my Mum teaching me this sewing tip when I was a teenager,  but what I didn't gather in her explanation was that you must not snip through any of your stitches, otherwise you just end up with holes where the corners should be. Funnily enough, I learnt the hard way about that one. Feel free to question my common sense!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

One use for Instagram photos / make your own stationary


I love writing letters, and I love stationary. As a young girl, when I received a set of writing paper and envelopes for birthdays or Christmas, I would delight in the prospect of filling the paper with letters to Auntie's, cousins and pen friends. Somewhere along the way, I started to make cards to accompany my writing paper. I liked adding a bit of visual beauty to the simplicity of the letter writing paper. It has been far too long since I exercised any creativity in making cards from scratch, and the days when I would pick out pretty papers to cut & layer & collage with feel like a bit of a dim and distant memory. But my love for making things by hand has remained, and I am so thankful for the ease and versatility of digital photography, which can so easily be transformed into stationary.

Ever since I started using Instagram a year ago, I have been determined that I would do something more than just sharing the hundreds of tiny snapshots of the beauty I see in the world around me online. So, when I saw that Photobox had an offer on to print 50 Instagram photos for £6, I jumped at the chance to turn the tiny digital images into 5 x 5" prints. I've had a couple of Ikea frames lying around for years, waiting for a couple of 5 x 5" photos to fill them, since long before I knew about Instagram, but knew that I loved photos in a square format, so I purposed to finally fill those frames with Instagram prints, and I destined the rest of the photos to be turned into cards.
So, with the help of some photo mount spray and some perfectly sized recycled brown kraft cards and envelopes, I created a whole new set of greetings cards to restock and refresh my letter writing resources. I think I might just have to make this a regular habit.

Monday, 18 November 2013

A quilt for Baby King

I love quilts. For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of having a big wooden chest, filled with cozy blankets and beautiful quilts to keep my family warm. So I couldn't quite believe my luck when I married a man whose Mother makes the most beautiful hand stitched quilts. While I do not have the patience to hand stitch a quilt together, I have always intended on making a quilt (or two) for our baby. There is a whole lot of inspiration on the wonderful web when it comes to quilts (particularly this blog), and a while back I created a quilt inspiration board on Pinterest. For the most part, I pinned quite simple patterns, as it was far more realistic that I might actually start and finish a quilt in time for our baby's arrival if I didn't try something too complicated. True to form, I left it a little close to my due date to start and finish this quilt, but sometimes a little deadline helps to get the ball rolling.
The original pattern for this quilt comes from See Kate Sew and was brilliantly clear and easy to follow. I altered it ever so slightly, just to reduce the size of the quilt, but otherwise, I just followed the pattern on Kate's blog. I loved the fact that this quilt accommodates babies' ability to distinguish between strong contrast, rather than colours, as well as being beautiful. The fabrics I ended up using aren't as effective in creating the contrast that Kate's quilt does, but I still love it. I purchased all of the fabrics above from Poppy Patchwork, a wonderful local fabric shop that I love - you can also place orders online if you don't live locally. I also included some pink silk fabric that was left over from our wedding bunting, and the dark grey fabric was originally a pillowcase that I found for £1 in a second hand shop. 
The method for making this quilt is very simple - cut up a whole lot of triangles, stitch together in rows, then stitch the rows together until you have a completed quilt top.
I made the bias binding using some more pink fabric that we had used at our wedding to display photos on. I love that some of the fabrics have a bit of history to them from our life pre-baby, and that one day I will get to tell our daughter the stories behind them. To learn how to make bias binding, I followed the instructions on this video - I am very much a visual learner and I am so grateful that there are so many useful videos available online to help me learn new skills for free.
For the quilting, I stitched through the horizontal lines, and the diagonal lines going from left to right across the quilt. I could have kept on going and quilted the diagonal lines from right to left as well, but I was happy with the look and feel of just doing one set of diagonals.
This is the fabric that I used to back the quilt with. I liked the different shades of pink and felt they complimented the varying shades used in the triangles on the front of the quilt. Now all we need is for Baby King to arrive so her quilt can be put to good use.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

I love the simplicity of a good brownie, and the way you can throw other delights into the mix like fruit, chocolate chunks. oreos, caramel, the list could go on. But my favourite way to have brownies is pure and simple, nothing added (especially not nuts - they just don't enhance a brownie in my humble opinion). Just good and gooey is the way I like them. 

This recipe takes all of 15 minutes to whip up, which is such a small amount of time to make something so delicious. I used to think that it was absolutely necessary to use 70% cocoa solids chocolate in brownies, and was a bit of a purist in this respect. But, somewhere along the lines, I changed, probably when the cost of chocolate rocketed, and I discovered you could buy bars of chocolate from Lidl for 35p that works perfectly well. 

Chocolate Brownies
ingredients
200g dark chocolate
100g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
60g cocoa
60g plain (all purpose) flour

method
1) Pre-heat oven to 160C / Gas Mark 3 / 325F
2) Grease and line an 8" square brownie tin 
3) Place the butter and chocolate in a glass bowl and melt, either in a microwave, or over a bowl of simmering water.
4) Meanwhile, whisk the sugar and eggs together in a mixing bowl until pale and frothy.
5) Once the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes before adding to the eggs and sugar mixture and beating until well combined.
6) Beat in the vanilla extract/
7) Add the cocoa and flour (no need to sieve) and mix until everything is combined and you have a lovely chocolatey mixture.
8) Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the surface of the brownie is beautifully cracked and starting to become firm.
9) Place on a wire rack to cool, but leave the brownies in the tin. Once cool, cut into the perfect size pieces - you choose whether you prefer bite-sized or giant-sized slabs.  

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

carrot & lentil soup

One of the things I have been doing in preparation for the arrival of our baby is making food for the freezer that will provide us with a mixture of sustenance and treats that we can enjoy with the minimal effort of defrosting them before eating. Soup has been high on my agenda of things to freeze, as it is so easy to make an enormous batch that will last for many lunch times.

Last week, a friend made this soup for me, and I loved it so much that I made up a batch the following day. The main flavours are carrot, corriander (cilantro) and chilli, but there is the hidden goodness of red lentils, which add a great amount of protein to this soup. I doubled the quantities below, which made about 10 portions, to give an idea of how far this soup goes.#
Carrot & Lentil Soup
ingredients:
2 small onions
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp ginger
1 tbsp curry powder (I used garam masala)
400g carrots (approx. 3 good sized carrots) peeled and diced
100g dried red lentils
1 litre vegetable stock
400g tin chopped tomatoes
handful of fresh coriander

method:
1) Heat a good glug of olive oil in a large saucepan, then fry the onion gently for about 8 minutes.
2) Add the garlic, ginger, curry powder and diced carrots to the pan and fry for 2 mins. If it looks and smells like the spices are starting to stick, add a small amount of water - this works like a dream at stopping spices from burning, and doesn't add the extra fat that more oil would.
3) Add the stock, tomoates and lentils.
4) Season to taste with salt and pepper, then simmer for25 minutes until the carrots are tender.
5) Put the soup into a blender, along with a generous handful of coriander, and blitz until smooth.
6) If the soup is too thick for your liking, just add some water to thin it out.
7) Serve with a sprig of coriander and some fresh bread, or portion the soup up and freeze it!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Teacakes

Way back when I was a teenager working as a Saturday girl in a bakery, one of my favourite things to do at the end of the day when we had to throw all of the leftover stock away, was to tear open a fruit loaf and eat the entire middle out of it. There was something so irresistable about the soft squishy texture of the bread, coupled with a zesty flavour, that I adored. Ever since then, I have loved fruity sweet bread, but up until this week, I had never attempted to make anything similar.

I am still loving my adventures in bread making, and with the extra time I have on my hands while waiting for our baby to arrive, it only made sense to venture further into the bread making domain, and attempt a sweet dough. Enter these teacakes. They make the perfect daytime and night time snack (I ate a good few of this batch at 4.30am on those mornings where sleep is evading me and hunger is palpable). In fact, I liked these so much that I managed to consume the entire batch before John managed to try them, which is quite an achievement in our household.
They are delicious when eaten fresh out of the oven with a slathering of butter, or toasted to add a little crispness, then topped with butter. Basically, butter makes all bread better.

Teacakes
ingredients (makes 8 large, or 16 small teacakes)
500g strong white bread flour
10g salt
60g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
10g instant yeast
50g unsalted butter at room temp
300ml cool water
100g sultanas
100g chopped mixed peel
1 egg, beaten

method
1) Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large mixing bowl.
2) Add the butter and three quarters of the water, and mix gently together (either with your hands or a dough hook on a freestanding mixer.)
3) Once the mixture is starting to come together, gradually ad the remaining water. You might find you don't need all of it - you want the dough to hold itself together but not be wet. If it's wet from too much water, add a little more flour to absorb the excess moisture.
4) Knead the dough for 5 - 10 minutes until it is silky and elastic in texture.
5) Remove the dough from your mixing bowl then lightly oil your  bowl, before replacing the dough back in the bowl and cover wit a tea towel. Leave dough to rise for at least an hour, but it's fine to leave for up to 3 hours if you like.
6) Once the dough has risen and doubled in size, add the sultanas and mixed peel, and knead them into the dough until they are well dispersed.
7) Divide the dough into 8 pieces (I weighed mine to get uniform sized buns - I think each one weighed approximately 145g). Roll each piece into the shape of a bun, then gently roll with rolling pin until they are about 1 cm thick.
8) Line two large baking trays with parchment paper and place each teacake onto the trays, leaving enough room for them to spread a little.
9) Brush each teacake with the beaten egg.
10) Place each tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave to rise for another hour. Pre-heat oven to 200C / Gas mark 5.
11) Bake in the preheated oven for 10 - 15 minutes, or until risen and golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack, or eat immediately to enjoy the luxury of warm, fresh, sweet bread.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

pregnancy @ 37 weeks

Dear Baby King,
As I write this from the comfort of the sofa (where I have no doubt we will spend many hours together), you are having a jolly good wriggle inside me. My laptop rises and falls in waves as you swoosh your back from side to side in the wonderful way that has become so familiar to me during this pregnancy. People often say they miss the feeling of being pregnant, and I can imagine it is for this very reason. There is no other time in life when you get to experience a tiny person wriggling about inside of you, and it is really quite something, Thank you for the regular, daily reminders of the miracle of life, and that you are content in your current home. Yesterday, a waitress in a restaurant put her hand to my belly, and felt you move. Tears brimmed in her eyes at the wonder of feeling the movement of a little person that we cannot yet see, but is so very evident in the roundness of my belly.

While you are spending your last few days and weeks growing bigger and stronger inside me, I have been getting busy preparing for your arrival. Your clothes are all washed, folded, sorted into sizes and put away in your drawers. There is a pile of blankets and quilts stacked and ready to keep you warm, and there is currently an enormous batch of soup simmering away on the hob, which will go into the freezer alongside other meals I have prepared for when you are here. That way, we can free up a little bit of time, knowing our food is ready and we can give you the energy and attention you need. I couldn't help but smile as I folded up your freshly laundered hooded baby towel, thinking of all of the bath time memories we will make when you are here. I am appreciating the simple things, like the sun shining today which allowed me to dry all of the bed linen in preparation for our family and friends when they come to stay when you are born.

You and I have a little night time routine going at the moment where you wake me up at 1am, 2am, 3.30am and 5am. Last night was particularly interesting when I awoke at 3.30am to searing pain in my left leg where cramp had set in. This has only happened once before when we were on holiday in Barbados, and the pain made me fall out of bed - your Dad thought I had broken my ankle when he woke to find me screaming with one leg in the air! Well, last night, as the cramp kept me awake, I discovered that your movements at night time are quite different to the wriggles and kicks you perform during the daytime. I smiled at the thought that I was discovering something new about you, simply because I was awake when I would normally have been asleep.

Every day you get the hiccups at least once, sometimes as many as four times in one day. I used to wonder how people knew when their babies had the hiccups in utero, but there is no mistaking the rhythmic twitching of your lungs hiccuping away - your mama is an expert in this department - and they have definitely become stronger these last few weeks. You are now full-term, which means you could choose to make your entrance into the world any time from now, and your body would survive just fine. It is so incredible to me to think that any day now you could arrive, and yet you might just stay inside of me for another month. And so, we try and be as prepared and patient as possible for your arrival, knowing that you will come when the time is right.

I am praying for you, little one, and the hours of labour we will go through together to bring you into the world. So much thinking and talking around birth is focused on the experiences for the Mum's, and I think we can easily forget what a huge experience it is for you. Everything you have known in your little life so far suddenly and dramatically changes as you experience what it is like to breathe in air, feel different temperatures and experience the comfort of our skin rather than the comfort of swimming around in amniotic fluid. We will have to take a lot of time to learn about each other, and to understand how you communicate your needs to us, but right now, I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing. Here's to the adventures that lie ahead of us and celebrating the prospect of doing life together with you.

With all my love,

Your Mama

Monday, 4 November 2013

our weekend

Over the past six weeks, our weekends have been seriously busy with many fun trips, as well as exciting weekends at home, like last weekend with my baby shower. While I have loved each and every one of the busy weekends, I have been looking forward to slowing down the pace of life and staying at home for the few weekends in November before our baby arrives. We had made the decision that this weekend, we would forego our friend's annual birthday bonfire in light of my heavily pregnant state, and the amount of driving that would be involved in heading up North for the celebrations. But the lure of seeing friends and celebrating a birthday with a bonfire one last time was too great, and so we swiftly packed our bags and drove up to Liverpool on Saturday morning. Now, England might only be a small country, but there sure is a difference in temperature between the South where we live, and the North. It was cold and the rain was pretty relentless. But the intensity of the grey skies made those moments when the sun decided to shine even more glorious. 

Amazingly, the rain did not hinder the bonfire and fireworks fun, and the men kept themselves thoroughly entertained with cooking apples on the fire, shooting fireworks in a slightly dangerous fashion, and piling on wood to keep the fire burning throughout the evening.

Every time we go to Liverpool, we pay a visit to The Tavern, which was established by an American and they serve the most delicious breakfast's and brunches. I am a creature of habit when it comes to brunch, and I always opt for eggs benedict, but as runny yolks are not advisable for pregnant ladies, I had to choose an alternative of a stack of blueberry pancakes. Delicious, but a far cry from my love of eggs benedict. My mouth is watering at the prospect of being able to eat the delicious combination of poached eggs, bacon and hollandaise sauce once this babe arrives.

As we drove back down South, the weather transformed from heavy rain and hailstones to glorious Autumnal sunshine. I love watching the world go by from the passenger seat while John drives and I take far too many photos of fields filled with sheep, blue skies and trees that are holding onto their Autumn coloured leaves. We relished this last journey as a family of two, and rather than rushing to get home, we took a leisurely break for a coffee & hot chocolate at the motorway services, and talked about the birth of our baby who could come at any time. Oh my.

Friday, 1 November 2013

quick chocolate dessert

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I love to bake. I love the process of combining ingredients together to make something that is far greater and tastier than the sum of its parts. I don't mind if a recipe entails a bit of hard work and time, as baking is something that I love to do to relax. However, there are those occasions when I have the desire to make something from scratch, but am running low on time and energy. John and I were introduced to this delight by a friend the other week who knows that I love chocolate puddings, but John dislikes them hot. This is the perfect happy medium for us both when we fancy something sweet and chocolatey for dessert, and John loves it, and has requested that I make it on multiple occasions over the last few weeks since we first tasted it, which is high praise indeed from a man who prefers savoury to sweet.

It's incredibly quick to make, but requires just a little forethought to allow time for the desserts to chill in the fridge. The combination of these ingredients is a creamy, slightly moussey dessert.


ingredients for 2
125g marscarpone cheese
125g chocolate - any variety works. we've made this with dark chocolate orange and milk chocolate with honeycomb chunks
150ml double cream

method
1) Melt the chocolate
2) Stir in the marscarpone and cream (no need to whip)
3) Distribute the mixture between 2 ramekins and chill until needed

See? Seriously simple, presenting the perfect (totally unhealthy) dessert for when you are short of time or just looking for something simple. For a healthier alternative, you could just eat a bar of chocolate and skip the marscarpone and cream!!