Sunday, 28 December 2014

The 52 Project: 52/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'
Dear Ruby,
We have spent the last week celebrating Christmas with both sets of grandparents in Bournemouth and Herne Bay. You have managed to sleep through all of the gift giving and present opening, danced to Christmas Carols at Church, eaten half your body weight in cheese, and decided that walking is way more exciting than crawling. (Obviously, I am exaggerating about how much cheese you have eaten, but you do love it, and it has featured highly in your snack times.) Both of your grandparents had much bigger Christmas trees than we have at home, which has been a lot of fun for you as you pulled on the branches to reach up to all of the sparkling, shiny baubles.
Sadly I didn't manage to take many photos of our Christmas celebrations this year. I took this last portrait of you in when we fed the ducks in the freezing cold with Daddy and Grandad. You have started making a distinctive noise whenever you see any kind of animal, and we have loved seeing your intrigue in animals grow recently as you point and make your 'hmmm, hmmm' noise at each and every kind of animal you see.
Here's to celebrating the end of your first full year, and the beginning of another, full of adventures and discovery as you continue to explore the world around you.
With all my love,
Mama xx

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

#lifecaptured project: what feelings does twilight arouse in you?

For many years, I have had this desire to capture beauty, and ever since my Father bought me my first SLR camera for my seventeenth birthday, I have loved the way that I can use photography as a way to try and capture the beauty I see around me. Twilight evokes a mixed response in me - I love to try and capture the colours that change so rapidly in the sky at that time of day, but often feel a frustration at just how fast the loss of light at twilight feels during the Winter months.

As twlight falls, I am often in the process of preparing dinner for my daughter. I have learnt that the more prepared I can be with cooking, the better, as this is a time of day where Ruby is often tired and frustrated. Recently, we have started a lovely routine around dinner time and twilight, where we go up to our bedroom and sit in the rocking chair. Ruby rocks back and forth on my lap, inviting me to sing yet another song that I have made up about Ruby in the rocking chair, before quickly become distracted by the view out of the window. Our bedroom windows are covered with Ruby's handprints. In the mornings, she stands on the windowsill in the back bedroom, watching the birds fly around the chimney tops and pointing at the trees swaying in the breeze. The front bedroom holds the perfect invitation for watching twilight as the sun sets to the West, and I am learning to love this time of day, as I watch my daughter finding peace as she watches the world go by at twilight.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The 52 Project: 51/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'

Dear Ruby,
After a week full of early morning baking sessions (which involved you surreptitiously having your first taste of chocolate cookie dough), we are spending a few days with Granny and Granddad, and some of your Aunt's and Uncles, in Bournemouth. In a quiet moment this morning, you reveled in the opportunity to reach up for the ornaments on the Christmas tree. You love baubles, and pull down any on the tree that are within your reach. This week you have started to walk so much more - it is incredible to turn around to find you just walking, as if it's the most normal thing in the world for you to do. (I realise that, of course, walking is perfectly normal, but when you only took your first steps a few weeks ago, I still marvel at your new skill.) You had your first taste of a traditional Christmas dinner today in the form of turkey, roast potatoes and pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon). You mostly chewed everything, spat it back out and tried again. Here's to enjoying many more Christmas dinners together in the years to come.
With all my love,
Mama.

#lifecapturedproject: the kindness of a stranger

When I recall the kindness I received from a stranger recently, the presiding image etched in my memory is of me standing by my car in the middle of the road, my hands on my knees, bent double with laughter and tears spilling over.

It was a sunny Saturday morning in the middle of Autumn, and I was full of excitement and anticipation as I drove across the city to a writing workshop. I had never attended a writing workshop before, let alone one where the focus was motherhood. I am still so very near the beginning of my motherhood journey, and yet I knew that there was so much that I would like to write about. Regardless of the nature of the workshop, I knew that there would be plenty of words spilling out from my pen that morning, and that three hours was probably not long enough to write down everything about motherhood that I wanted to.

My husband looked after our daughter for the morning, and I was looking forward to having this uninterrupted time to learn and write and be inspired by other mothers. The workshop was taking place in South Bristol - a part of the city which I do not know very well. In all honesty, the more I drive around this city, the less I like driving. For so many reasons. But on this occasion, I had silently acknowledged that driving in an unfamiliar place is much less stressful without a baby. Unless. Unless finding a parking space is pretty much impossible.

I had reached the venue on time, popped in to let them know that I had arrived, but I just needed to park my car, and off I went again to find a space. Half an hour later and I was wishing that I could have just cycled instead and avoided the frustration of finding somewhere safe, legal, and preferably free to leave my car. I spotted a road that I hadn't yet tried in my half an hour of exploring, and turned down it. I very quickly wished I hadn't, as it was very short, very narrow and had nowhere easy to park or turn. But I had to turn the car around in order to get out of the road. I started to attempt my turn, but quickly realised there was a very high chance of me crunching the cars surrounding me. I asked a man for help and he looked at the back end of my car, smiled, nodded, shrugged and walked back inside his garage. No English. No confidence in communicating with gestures. No help. Oh help.

By this point, I had managed to rotate my car until I was horizontal across the road, all the while, desperately praying that no-one else would come down the road while I was stuck, and that I would manage to avoid causing damage to any other cars. After each tiny maneuver, I hopped out of the car to check how much space I had. Barely any was the answer every time. I stood in the road looking at my car, wedged between two rather expensive vehicles, and all I could think was, 'I am stuck. I am completely stuck, and I can't get out of this mess alone without causing damage.' And then the hot tears started to sting my eyes and blur my vision.

Just at that moment, a man came along, and thankfully, he didn't ignore me. Or perhaps, he couldn't ignore this slightly odd sight of a woman on the edge of tears standing in the middle of the road. Without hesitation he asked, 'Are you alright?' At which point I burst into tears and said, 'NO!' in a slightly hysterical manner. And this is when I found myself doubled over, laughing and crying, all the while thinking, 'this poor man. I really am ok and I don't need him to do anything, except perhaps move my car for me..' It's amazing what you are willing to entrust to a complete stranger when you are completely stuck. He put his arm around me and reassured me that all would be ok, and I wondered at how many people would stay this calm in the face of an hysterical woman.

I asked if he could help me get out of the mess that I was in. He took a deep breath, looked at how little space I had, and said, 'Yes. But it's going to take a while.' I had to put my trust in this stranger that he would see me out safely. When I couldn't see how little space I had but he was telling me it was safe to keep inching towards another car, I had to trust that he was being truthful. He was willing to give of his time and patience to help me out and I was so incredibly grateful for the kindness he showed me.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Lemon Curd Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream


This morning, as I was loading up my basket with lemons, I mentioned to our greengrocer that I was going to make some lemon curd. I asked him if he had ever tried it, and he had never heard of it. I tried to recall the first time I ate lemon curd, but it's a flavour that my taste buds have been familiar with since childhood, so I could't quite remember just how long ago I discovered just how delicious it is. My Grandad used to make the best lemon curd around, and I wonder if my first taste of the beautiful citrus curd was from a batch made by his very talented hands.

I have come to love filling my cupcakes with things - like salted caramel, jam, chocolate ganache, raspberry cream, and now, lemon curd. I definitely get more enjoyment out of eating a little cake with something slightly gooey in the middle, rather than having just a big old hunk of cake topped with icing. Although these cupcakes would be perfectly good without lemon curd in the middle, it definitely makes them that bit more wonderful, in my humble opinion.

If you would like to make these with lemon curd, I would recommend using this recipe, and halving the quantity. This will give you plenty of lemon curd for the cake batter, filling the centres of the cakes and adding some to the icing, and you'll have a little leftover to spread on toast.

ingredients (makes approx. 18 cupcakes, or 2 x 8" round sponge cakes)
225g unsalted butter at room temperature*
225g caster sugar
225g self raising flour
4 free range eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1-2 lemons, depending on personal preference
1 heaped dessertspoon of lemon curd

method 
1) Pre-heat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4 and line cupcake trays with cases
2) In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well combined and fluffy.
3) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure all mixture is incorporated.**
4) Sieve in the flour and baking powder, and mix until all of the flour is incorporated.
5) Stir in the zest and lemon curd
6) Divide the batter between the cupcake cases (or tins, if you're making a large sponge cake instead). I tend to put a rounded dessertspoon of mixture, plus a little extra.
7) Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
8) Remove from the cupcake tray as soon as possible, and leave to cool on a wire rack.
9) If you're filling the cakes with some lemon curd, use a cupcake corer or a knife to cut out the centre of the cake, then spoon lemon curd into the hole until it's level with the top of the cupcake.

for the buttercream
500g icing (confectioner's) sugar
160g unsalted butter
50ml milk
lemon curd
lemon zest (optional - I didn't use this, as I dislike the texture of zest in a smooth frosting. However, if you'd like the buttercream to be very lemony, the zest would achieve this flavour.)

method for the buttercream
1) Beat together the icing sugar and butter until the crumbly mixture starts to come together. (If you're using a freestanding mixer, I would recommend covering the bowl with a tea towel to stop icing sugar flying everywhere.)
2) Slowly add the milk a little at a time, beating until you have a smooth buttercream.
3) I'm afraid I didn't measure out the lemon curd, so I can't tell you precisely how much to use, but it was approximately 2 dessertspoons worth. I would encourage you to add just a little at a time, as the curd softens the consistency of the buttercream, and if you're planning on piping it onto the cakes, you want to avoid it become too runny.
4) Spread or pipe the buttercream onto the cooled cupcakes.

Baking Notes
* Butter temperature:
During the Winter months, I tend to find that when my butter is at room temperature, it is a little bit hard. There are a couple of options as to how you can solve this problem:
1) Beat the butter first before adding the sugar to warm it up and soften it.
2) Pop it in the microwave on a low power for a few seconds. I don't have a microwave, so I can't tell you how many seconds, I would just recommend you watch it like a hawk, as you don't want it to melt.

** Eggs
The temperature of eggs is important in baking. Ideally, you want to bake with them when they are at room temperature, otherwise your batter is very likely to curdle. If this happens, just add a little of the flour to the mixture as you add the eggs.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The 52 Project: 50/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'

Dear Ruby,
After a week of fighting illness, it has been such a joy to have you back to your happy, calm, contended self. You make us laugh a lot, and particularly love to throw your hands above your head, signalling a rendition of, 'hands up, hands up, hold your hands up high' - a song that you seem to love. And this snow suit? It's pretty hilarious in its own right. You quickly became proficient in wiggling into position to whizz down the slide, arms outstretched like a little penguin.
Here's to many more Winter adventures in slightly more appropriate clothing!
With great love,
Mama xx

Monday, 8 December 2014

#lifecapturedproject: Today at 6pm

I love the way that certain times of day indicate transitions that are always the same, like little anchors that I can rely on for their consistency when much of the day requires a lot of flexibility and willingness to change our plans. Six o' clock signals the end of dinner and the arrival of my husband, returning home from work. With his return comes a wonderful transition in Ruby, who has normally reached the end of her energy, but is always delighted to see Daddy come through the door. 

Today, we were started dinner a little later than normal, due to our bread baking session running into the time when Ruby normally eats. I use the term 'our' baking session loosely, as Ruby's involvement consisted of prodding and pulling the dough. I love that she is at an age where she is becoming more and more interested in what I am doing, and today, I took the dough down to her level on the floor so that she could get her hands involved as I knocked back the dough, ready for it's second prove.  
It felt like things had shifted a little at dinner today; Ruby has barely eaten any food in the last week, due to being unwell, and the times that I have attempted to offer her food have mostly involved a lot of launching food all over the floor. (Her current specialty is throwing food behind her.) But today, she was visibly excited about eating, and devoured her chilli and quinoa, followed by orange segments and greek yoghurt. She has not yet grasped that you don't have to eat the skin of the orange too, but she's getting there. I talked to her about my memories of eating orange segments during hockey matches at secondary school, and she giggled away in response. It was a refreshing change to have laughter at the dining table instead of frustration. And that was six o' clock in our house.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The 52 Project: 49/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'

Dear Ruby,
We have had a week of you being poorly, sleepy and sad. Today, you ate dinner with a smile on your face for the first time this week, instead of throwing your food all over the floor, which is a sure sign that you are on the mend.
Stay strong, little one.
Love Mama xx

#lifecapturedproject // what do you feel guilty about right now?


Disclaimer: I realise that this post has nothing to do with what I might feel guilty about; in all honesty, the overriding feeling that is dominating how I feel right now is tiredness. So instead of guilt, I have written about how tiredness is taking my memory and how I need to write to remember what I will eventually forget - there is a heaviness to this tiredness that won't last and I am looking forward to forgetting about the heaviness.

++++++

It's Sunday afternoon and I am thinking about how to paint a picture with words for you to understand what I want to share. If my writing were a painting, there would be great chunks missing and smudged. This is how my brain feels right now. I say this not in complaint or for pity, but purely, to try and communicate effectively. It still feels new to me, this 'missing' of pieces of information that has happened since having a baby. This inability to recall whom I held a conversation with earlier in a week, or what it was that I was thinking about just a few minutes ago. It feels like there are a lot of missing links in my head, but I am certain it is not madness; just lack of sleep.

In all of the years I have had this blog, all I have really wanted to do with it is to record moments and memories with a whole lot of recipes thrown in. So it feels strange to me now, that I feel like I am losing the ability to tell stories in this space. This is one of the reasons why I am taking part in the #lifecapturedproject, to exercise my writing muscles. Perhaps it is the same with writing as it is with muscle memory and musical memory - that simply the process of doing what I have forgotten how to do, I will remember how to make words come together in a way that makes sense.

There is a children's book which I love called 'Mile High Apple Pie', and it is written from the perspective of a Granddaughter, living with her elderly Grandmother whose memory is starting to fade. There's this beautiful line at the end of the book, where the Granddaughter is having a painful conversation with her Grandmother, who is starting to forget who her Granddaughter is, along with all of the other details in her life that are getting drowned out by dementia. The little girl looks into her Grandmother's eyes and says, 'I am your remembering.' I have always loved that line the most. We need people to help us remember, and having a written record of the things we do not want to forget is another beautiful way of remembering. In a way, this blog is my remembering; of things past and present. Of small victories and beautiful memories. It's my way of reminding myself that things always change, and the difficult seasons do not last forever. I will look back on my words from these days - these first years of motherhood and remember that surviving on very little sleep might not be pretty, but it is absolutely possible.

And when I struggle for the words to paint the pictures that I would like to share, I will keep turning to my trusty camera to capture the moments, the memories and the beauty around me. Because it does me good to just write & remember.



Friday, 5 December 2014

Christmas Baking // Gingerbread


In 2007 I graduated from university and started my first job working in a school as a teaching assistant. It was supposed to be a stop-gap job while I worked out what career to pursue, following my studies in Early Childhood, but it ended up being so much more than that. I worked with an incredibly inspiring Early Years teacher, who gave me opportunities to simultaneously pursue my love of baking and working with children.

The first recipe that I baked with the three year old's in that classroom was this gingerbread recipe. I have revisited it a number of times over the years, and just love the soft texture of the gingerbread it makes. Every time I make this recipe, I always wonder why on earth I don't make it more. It is incredibly moreish. I challenge you to try and just eat one. I will be thoroughly impressed if you have the restraint to manage this. (Unless you're my Mum, who has the most incredible self-restraint I have ever encountered. She is most definitely the exception to the rule when it comes to the 'once you pop you just can't stop' principle, which was coined by Pringles, but applies to most kinds of delicious foods for me.)

ingredients
350g plain (all purpose) flour
100g unsalted butter
175g light brown sugar (I used 60g light and 115g dark brown sugar as I didn't have enough light brown, and they were just as delicious.)
1 tsp bi-carbonate of soda
1.5 - 2.5 tsp ginger (1.5tsp gives a very gentle flavour - perfect for children who might dislike a strong ginger flavour.)
4 tbsp golden syrup
1 egg (lightly beaten)

method
1) Preheat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4.
2) Put the flour, butter, bi-carb and ginger into a large mixing bowl and rub the butter through your fingers until it has all blended into the flour mixture. (The same rubbing in method you would use to make pastry by hand.)
3) Add the golden syrup, egg and sugar and mix together with a wooden spoon or blade of mixer if using one, until all of the ingredients are combined.
4) Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it's 5mm thick.
5) Grease a few baking trays, then cut out the gingerbread in your desired shapes. If you'd like to use your gingerbread as Christmas tree decorations, use a straw to cut a circular hole in the pre-baked dough.
6) Bake in the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until starting to darken slightly around the edges.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

#lifecapturedproject // my favourite chair

I am writing this post from the comfort of our sofa, with the weight of our daughter resting beautifully on my chest. I am embracing her out of sync rhythms this afternoon-the combined effect of missing her naptime and having a temperature. Normally, at this time of day, she is climbing up my legs while I prepare her dinner, or pulling the contents out of our kitchen cupboards. It can feel rather fraught - this twilight time when bedtime is near but not quite here - and although I could be in for a long night ahead, I am enjoying the comfort of a quilt and the warmth and weight of my baby sleeping on me. This scene holds echoes of the early hours of this morning, where Ruby and I had taken up residence when the relentlessness of her sleep-moaning and snuffles goaded me into finding an alternative place to rest. We ended up in what has become my favourite chair - the nursing glider.

For as long as I can remember, I had wanted a wooden rocking chair. I remember admiring their majestic grace when I was young, and I dreamed of the day that I might own one. To me, these grand chairs spoke of an established home with parents and grandparents who would take up residence in the rocking chair, and all would be well.  While I was pregnant, I purchased a beautiful rocking chair from a friend, and looked forward to rocking back and forth with a newborn baby curled up tight and tucked under my chin. However, once my daughter was born, I found that this rocking chair was not as comfy or as conducive as I had hoped to relaxing nursing sessions where I might slip gently from wakefulness to sleep and back again.

A few months ago, I replaced the beautiful rocking chair with a second hand glider chair. It was well worn and previously loved by another owner, but I knew that it would be perfectly comfortable. This chair that rocks and reclines has become my favourite chair. It's the place where I sit while my daughter tries to climb up onto the windowsill and point at every house and car that she can see. It's where we sleep when she is congested with a cold and needs to be upright. I have prayed and sang and laughed in this chair, and while it might be a little ugly, I love it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

#lifecapturedproject

This morning I came across the Life Captured Inc. blog, and on a slight whim, I have decided to follow their writing prompts for the month of December. I am looking forward to writing in a bit more detail about the little things that characterise my every day life.

December 1st writing prompt: Describe a moment from today that you always want to remember.
There are days in our weeks that have a rhythm mapped out, a familiar regularity to them that help me to feel like I have little markers that indicate the passing of time in a simple way. These are not complicated or fancy things, just the daily tasks that need to happen every week to keep our household running and our tummies fed. Monday's are for laundry and food shopping. Today, the forecast is for an overcast day, but, all importantly, there is no rain on the horizon. I constantly flit between a stubborn refusal to admit that I live in one of the wettest parts of England, and a hope that there will be just enough breeze to dry our washing in the shortened hours of daylight that December brings. With the laundry blowing gently on the washing line, we head out to buy our food for the week.

These days, food shopping is more involved. Rather than popping my baby in the sling to sleep or quietly gaze at all the supermarket offers, she now sits up in the shopping trolley, pointing at everything that catches her eye, initiating conversation through her non verbal cues. She loves this time, this chance to ride around in a trolley. As I sit my daughter in the trolley, I wonder if I will always think like this; always thinking about how she is changing and what she used to be like.

On our way home, we pop into the greengrocers where we buy our fruit and vegetables. As always, we are greeted by Ahmed, the kind shop owner who always gives Ruby a medjool date to enjoy on the journey home. Today is just a little bit different; normally we walk there, but as naptime is not yet imminent, we go there in the car, straight from the supermarket. The shop is always quiet when I visit on a Monday morning, and today is just the same. We are the only customers there. I know Ahmed well enough to be comfortable with sitting Ruby on the floor while I walk around the little shop, gathering aubergines, parsnips, clementines and other colourful delights. Ahmed expresses concern that Ruby will get cold on the floor, so picks her up and takes her to sit in his armchair behind the counter. I want to remember how comfortable she is with this; reclined on the faux-fur cushion with a giant satsuma in her hand, just watching Ahmed go about his job while I potter around the shop. This daughter of mine who is always looking to climb, makes no attempt to get down from the high perch Ahmed has gifted her with. Instead, she is content to just be. To relax and observe. Today as we leave, we are given an extra gift-a British apple for Ruby to munch on, and for the whole journey home, she munches steadily on her apple, making contented noises to express her enjoyment of her snack. As Ruby helps me unpack the shopping, I smile as I remember Ahmed's advice to handle the scotch bonnet chilli's with great care; his fatherly concern for Ruby coming through as he tells me how much the seeds can burn when we touch them.

I want to remember these small details of our Monday's. The simple things that punctuate our quiet beginnings of each week.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The 52 Project: 48/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'

Dear Ruby, on Friday this week we celebrated your first birthday! What a wonderful occasion. We had a small gathering of family and friends on Saturday to celebrate your first year with us. You are so loved, little one. I think this might be the only portrait from this series with someone else in the photo with you. The only photos I have of you by yourself this week are of you lying face down in a pile of tupperware boxes that you had just unloaded from the cupboard. I thought this photo of you with Grandad was much more endearing! You slept through the first two hours of your birthday gathering, and then woke up to greet your guests with your wonderful pointing finger. We love you, sweet Ruby!
All my love,
Mum xxx

Friday, 28 November 2014

now you are one.

Dear Ruby,
Today is your first birthday. Although you will never remember this particular birthday, I am treasuring the opportunity to remember this time last year, as I laboured to bring you out into the world. I will take photos, as I always do, to help us remember what our memories might forget, so that when you are a little older, I can tell you all about it and you can make the connections between my memories and the photos of you on your first birthday.
At the beginning of this year, when you were just five weeks old, I started taking weekly portraits of you as a way of documenting your first year. Alongside these portraits, I have written letters to you. Some are very short, and some are much longer. I also spend much of my thinking time writing letters to you in my head. Some of these make it onto paper, and some never will. These letters are filled with stories about us, things that I pray for your heart to know, and with my love for you. I often picture you as a ten year old, curled up under a quilt, reading the letters I am writing to you, and wondering what on Earth your Mama is talking about. Other times, I imagine you as an adult, reading these letters with many more years of life experience behind you, creating a deeper understanding of all that I write.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved receiving and writing letters, and I would love to leave you with a legacy of letters, because words and love outlast the time we have on Earth, and something that I value is having memories recorded. There is something so special about opening up an envelope, filled with words that have been written especially for you to read. In these years where I have the privilege of spending my days with you and making memories that you will not remember, letters feel like the perfect way for me to document the memories we make, and the things that I would like to share with you. So it only feels fitting that I write you a letter on your first birthday.
The other morning, you were feeling slightly poorly, and didn't have as much energy as normal. Rather than being your normal adventurous self, you wanted to stay close to me. So we sat on the kitchen floor and enjoyed cuddling and playing the little games that we play a lot these days. I gave you a kiss on your nose, then asked you for a kiss. You obliged with a gentle kiss on my cheek, accompanied by your wonderful smile. In that moment, I thought how much of an honour it is that I get to raise you, and enjoy your company. You are so lovely, Ruby, and it has been a wonderful year of getting to know you.
You spend much of your time pointing at things and climbing on anything that stays still for long enough and presents enough of a challenge. But right now, the thing that you seem to enjoy doing most of all, is emptying and clearing everything you can reach. At the table, once you have finished eating, you swipe away every last bit of food that's nearby. On the shelf, you pull off all of the books, pine cones and Russian dolls until all that's left is a giant pumpkin. (This one only gets left behind because it's too heavy for you to move with one hand - you still need to use one hand to steady yourself while you use the other to do all of the clearing.) You open up the kitchen cupboards and pull out everything, which means the tupperware cupboard gets cleared, cleaned and reorganised at least twice a day.
Motherhood is everything that I anticipated it would be, and at the same time, it is so full of unexpected surprises, beauty, frustration, and learning. I pray that as your Mum, I would always have a heart that is willing to learn, and quick to apologise. While I was pregnant with you, I spent those nine months getting to know you in the sense that I was so familiar with your kicks and flutters, so that when you were finally born, at 4.44pm on 28th November 2013, I already felt like I knew you, and yet, I knew that I would spend a lifetime getting to know you. It still astounds me that I know you better than anyone else knows you, and yet I still have so much to discover about you. We are only one year into this journey together as a family, and I am so excited to learn what you love to do. It brings me great joy that I get to introduce you to many of the wonderful experiences that this world has to offer, and that I get to witness your uninhibited enthusiasm and concern for each new thing that you encounter.
There have been songs that have punctuated our first year together, and I am certain that whenever I hear them I will forever recall the memories that are attached to these songs. Like 'Storms in Africa' by Enya. I listened to this song during pregnancy and while I was in labour, and then it became the soundtrack to your bedtime routine when you were very little. After bathtime, I would give you a massage and we would wind down the day to this song. As you have grown and your needs have changed, we no longer listen to this at bedtime. Instead, Daddy sings you to sleep in a beautiful and slightly entertaining way that I cannot replicate. I have loved the process of developing rhythms as a family - working together in similar and different ways to communicate with you and love one another well. Here's to another year of growing and learning and loving each other.
Happy Birthday, my precious Ruby-girl, it is my joy to be your Mum and celebrate you.
xxx

Monday, 24 November 2014

Ruby // lately

climbing backwards up slides
helping with the laundry
playing with pastry forks
walking in the sling (when you refuse to go in the buggy)
loving the dehumidifier at bedtime, just like your Father
watching me bake bread and joined in with knocking back the dough
sleeping with a wine cork

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The 52 Project: 47/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'

Dear Ruby,
When I think back on what this last week has been like, my presiding memory is of our kitchen floor being covered in tupperware boxes. You are very adept at opening cupboard doors and emptying everything within your reach out onto the floor. At the Doctor's surgery this week, you cleared all visible surfaces of books and papers, much to the amusement of the other patients in the waiting room. You continue to climb as much as possible - up ladders, over your friends, under and over tables, into cupboards, here, there and everywhere! This week is your last week of being less than one year old. Here's to a week of reminiscing the anticipation your Dad and I were experiencing this time last year as we awaited your arrival, and looking forward to celebrating your first birthday at the end of the week.

With all my love,
Mama xxx

Monday, 17 November 2014

Seasonal Soup // let'st just call it...orange soup


So, I appreciate that the title of this post is a little odd, but when I was thinking about what kind of soup this is, I didn't feel like any one vegetable was more predominant than the others. It's a good old root vegetable soup, with some chorizo thrown in for good measure and a healthy amount of flavour. This soup came together on a cold and sunny Sunday afternoon, when we had very little food in the house. If I were to make it again, I would add another onion, some celery and more garlic - the quantities below simply represent what I had on this occasion.

ingredients (serves approx. 8 people)
8-10 carrots (peeled and sliced)
1 large sweet potato
1 large parsnip
1 onion
1 clove garlic
6 slices of chorizo
a hearty shake of paprika
a hearty shake of cumin
vegetable stock
red wine (optional)

1) Pre-heat the oven, and place the sweet potato & parsnip in a roasting dish for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. (Halve the sweet potato & quarter the parsnip, and cover with a little olive oil.)
2) In a large heavy bottomed pan, heat a little coconut oil and saute the onion and chorizo until softened.
3) Add the garlic and cook for a minute until you can start to smell it cooking.
4) Add the spices and stir. If the pan is a little dry, add a slosh of water.
5) Add the sliced carrots and stock, then simmer for 20 mins or until the carrots are cooked through.
6) Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven. Scoop the sweet potato out of its skin, slice the parsnip into slightly smaller chunks, then add to the pan.
7) Blitz it all up with a hand blender, or food processor.
8) Season to taste, then eat & enjoy!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The 52 Project: 46/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'

Dear Ruby,
It always amazes me how quickly you are able to calm yourself down after getting upset, simply by pointing at all of the photos around you. We do a lot of that these days - talking about photos. We talk about Auntie Sarah, Uncle Tim, Auntie Becky & Wren (you always wave when we talk about Wren). You have created a game with Daddy that you both love initiating, where you point at the photos up on the landing. Daddy tells you about Yosemite, the trees and Mummy & Daddy, all the while you point at each of the pictures he is talking about. I love filling photo frames that capture our daily adventures together. Here's to making many more beautiful memories to talk about for years to come. 
With great love,
Mama xxx

Friday, 14 November 2014

Recently, I had a request for some chocolate cupcakes that were gluten free and nut free. If any of you have ventured into the world of gluten free baking, you might have discovered that ground almonds are frequently used as a partial substitute for flour. As it was not going to be possible for me to use ground almonds on this occasion, I set about searching for an alternative recipe. What I ended up doing was using one of David Lebovitz's chocolate cake recipes, but substituting the regular flour for rice flour. I kept everything else the same, and the end result was a beautifully light, well risen gluten free chocolate cake.

I wasn't going to share the recipe on here, simply because it didn't feel like it would be a good use of time to rewrite an existing recipe. However, I have changed my mind, after I spent a good twenty minutes of pre-baking time trying to locate the exact recipe that I had used before. (It turns out, Mr. Lebovitz has a number of chocolate cake recips.) Once I had found it, I had to convert the American cup quantities to grams so that my brain could make a bit more sense of the quantities, so I thought after all of that time spent searching and cup-converting, it would be sensible to write it all down here, where I will be able to find it again in about twenty seconds, rather than twenty minutes.

ingredients (makes 14 cupcakes, or a 9" round sponge)
55g dark chocolate
55g unsalted butter
3 tbsp water
125g rice flour
125g caster sugar
125ml buttermilk (I just use normal milk with half a tablespoon of white vinegar added, five minutes or so before I need to add the butermilk to the batter.)
2 eggs, separated
half a tsp gluten free baking powder
half a tsp bicarbonate of soda
half a tsp vanilla extract

ingredients for the ganache
200g dark chocolate
200ml double cream

method
1) Preheat the oven to 170C. Place the dark chocolate and 3 tbsp of water in a heatproof bowl, and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. Once melted, leave to cool to room temperature.
2) Make the buttermilk by combining the milk & vinegar in a measuring jug and stirring briefly. Leave to stand at room temperature.
3) Meanwhile, beat together the butter and 100g of the sugar until well combined, and light in colour.
4) Beat in the melted chocolate, followed by the egg yolks.
5) Sift together the flour, baking powder and bi-carb.
6) Add half of the flour mixture to the chocolate & butter, and mix until combined,
7) Add the vanilla extract and slowly pour in the buttermilk, beating until all of the milk is mixed in.
8) Add in the rest of the flour and mix.
9) In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
10) Gradually beat in the last 25g of sugar, and carry on whisking until stiff peaks form.
11) Add the egg whites to the rest of the chocolate batter, a little at a time, and gently fold in using a metal spoon (so you don't knock the air out).
12) Fill the cupcake cases until they are two thirds full - about 1.5 dessertspoons worth of batter.
13) Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of a cupcake.
14) Once you remove the cupcakes from the oven, transfer them to a wire cooling rack as soon as possible.

for the ganache
1) Finely chop the dark chocolate and place in a glass bowl.
2) Gently heat the cream in a saucepan until tiny bubbles appear around the edge then remove immediately from the heat and pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir with a heatproof spatula until the chocolate has all melted. If there are any remaining lumps of chocolate, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the lumps have melted.
3) Transfer the ganache to a jug with a spout. If you would like to achieve a glossy, smooth finish on your cupcakes / cake, pour the ganache onto the cake as soon as all of the chocolate has melted into the cream. Before pouring, tap the jug on your working surface to gently but firmly encourage any little air bubbles to burst. This helps give a smooth finish.
If you leave the ganache for 30 minutes or so, it will thicken to a spreading consistency, but lose its shine.
If you leave the ganache to cool completely, you can whip it to add tiny air molecules, making it possible to pipe onto your cakes, giving a different finish entirely.
I knew that I wanted to use the ganache when it was still pourable to create a chocolate puddle-like finish, but felt that the ratio of cake to ganache was a little uneven. So, I cut out a middle section of each cupcake, then poured ganache into the hole. Usually when I fill cupcakes, I don't put the cut out piece of cake back on top of the filling, but on this occasion I did, to limit the appearance of the ganache sinking.
As you can see from my slightly long winded notes, ganache is wonderfully versatile, but also slightly fickle! 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The 52 Project: 45/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'

Dear Ruby,
We have had a wonderful week of adventuring with friends at the park, having Grandad to visit, and staying at Little Normead Farm for the weekend. You loved meeting the kitten and watching the ducks waddling around the farm in the morning sun. It is a joy to participate in games of Peekaboo / 'Where'rs Ruby?' that you initiate with us. You cover up your face to hide from us, using all manner of objects to do this, including a giant Autumn leaf, a lemon juicer, your hands and a piece of bread. I love your creativity.

I chose this photo of you eating an apple for your portrait this week, because it says so much about you. Initially, I had sliced a segment of the apple and offered it to you, but you were gently insistent that you would like to have the much larger portion of the apple to gnaw on. So I gave it to you, and you tackled it with patience and enjoyment. You didn't seem to mind that the apple kept slipping from your grasp, or that it required both of your hands to lift it to your mouth. I quite like the fact that you chose the challenge rather than the simple option. I am reminded of another very similar portrait I took of you three months ago, where you are eating an entire bunch of grapes, rather than the single one that I had cut in half for you. Thank you for the constant reminder of all that I can learn from you.
With great love,
Mama xxx

Friday, 7 November 2014

around here

Around here, we have been...
Marvelling at the new morning shadows on sunny days, thanks to the low Autumn sun which casts its glow through our dining room window at breakfast time. I'm dreaming up a photo series based on our shadows.
Walking as much as possible. I have been making a conscious effort to walk as often as it is feasible. Although we live in a big city, there are plenty of places to visit within a 20 - 40 minute walk. I used to have to talk myself into going to the extra effort of walking - it does take a lot longer to get anywhere, but really, that is the only downside. There are some many positives to walking places - Ruby can have an uninterrupted sleep in the buggy, I get some exercise, we save money on fuel and I don't get stuck in traffic. I also love that I get to enjoy my surroundings in a way that I don't get to do when I drive. Some days that means discovering beautiful broken pathways. 
For as long as I can remember, I have loved looking up at the ever changing sky. I love that having a smart phone enables me to capture more of the beauty that I see when I look upwards. I recently watched this inspiring video, and loved this excerpt from it:
'Look at the sky...we so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment with clouds coming and going.....the formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same as it is right now. Open your eyes, look at that.'
Baking: I was commissioned to make a selection of cupcakes, and an 8 inch chocolate orange cake, topped with a spider's web. This job reinforced what I already knew: chocolate is rather fickle and hard to work with. But it is pretty much always worth it.
Exploring: Ruby greatly enjoys emptying bags, containers and cupboards of their entire contents. It is fascinating watching the way she examines each item before discarding it and moving onto the next item in the bag / basket / cupboard.
Loving the colours in nature - especially blue + gold. I love this stage of Autumn where the trees are well and truly shedding their leaves, but the branches are not yet bare.
Cooking pumpkin and carrot soup. So delicious, so healthy and so cheap to make. One batch goes a long way, and I love that about soup.
Dancing with Grandad. Ruby is definitely developing some signature dance moves!
Initiating games of peekaboo with leaves that are bigger than her head.
Sewing quilts and bunting. I'm noticing more and more how I tend to be a bit 'all or nothing'. With sewing, I'll either have multiple projects on the go, or nothing at all, With baking, I am either baking on a big scale, or not at all. With chores around the house, I try and do everything all at once, and then end up not being very productive because I trip myself up with thinking about everything that there is to be done.

What have you been up to lately?