Sunday, 30 March 2014

The 52 Project: 13/52

Dear Ruby,
This weekend your little feet touched grass for the first time ever. Your Auntie Sarah held you as your feet touched down on the grass that had been warmed by the Spring sunshine, and you looked down at your feet with a slight curiosity in your expression. You scrunched up your tiny ten toes and held them in this position for the entire time that your feet were on the ground. I can't wait for a Summer filled with picnics on warm grass, and time spent with you exploring the world around you with your fingers and toes (and taste buds, I am sure).

Friday, 28 March 2014

Four Months

Dear Ruby,
This week has felt like the turning point in counting your age by months instead of weeks. I've seen a lot of babies this week who are younger than you by a number of weeks, and I am having to accept that you are no longer a newborn baby. I remember as a child, hearing my next door neighbour refer to her baby as being 12 weeks old, and wondering why she didn't just say '3 months old', but now, I understand. Having a newborn baby is such a fleeting season, and I suspect that my neighbour was all too well aware of this, as she counted the number of weeks that she had known the joy of carrying her last baby in her arms rather than in her womb. There's something about counting in weeks that feels more tangible, and comes so naturally in those early days, when every day feels like a milestone. I remember we went on our first outing as a family when you were four days old. When you were seven days old, we went shopping as a family to try and find clothes to fit my post partum body. I gave up on clothes shopping and settled on doing something that felt far more achieveable at that stage - feeding you in Starbucks. We celebrated our first Christmas with you when you were almost four weeks old, and took you on your first holiday with our friends when you were nine weeks old. But now, the weeks are becoming harder to count and each month is going by incredibly quickly.
The quote, we write to remember' frequently comes to mind, and watching you grow and learn and change is making me realise how quickly we forget. Just the other day, I asked your Daddy how old you were when we stopped swaddling you at night time. Neither of us could remember. This is why I am writing down these small things now, so that in the future when we have made many memories together, and these early days are not so fresh in my memory, I can look back and remember, and tell you how our days were. 
There is a lovely predictability to how our days will go, when we spend time together at home. You wake up each morning so happy and chatty. I love that moment first thing when I stir from sleep as I register the quiet yet distinct change in your breathing that takes place when you transition from being asleep to being wide awake and ready for the day. I look over to you, lying on your mattress next to our bed, and you greet me with one of your beautiful smiles, give a little wriggle and kick, and I scoop you up to feed you. We love the way that even after sleeping for twelve hours, your energy only extends to being awake for an hour and a half, before you need to have a sleep again. It only takes you a few minutes to drift off to sleep, with a stroke of your nose, a jiggle of your legs and some white noise, you relax into your slumber. 
When you are awake, you love to spend time lying on your back under the play frame that one of your Grandad's made for you. In the time that you have had the play frame, you have learnt how to control your arm movements, and you can now confidently grasp the toys we hang for you to explore, catching them with your tiny hands, before swinging them again. We read stories together - today I introduced you to the classics from my childhood - 'Peepo' and 'Each peach, pear, plum', both by Janet and Allen Ahlberg. I remember reading these as a child and being intrigued that these books were written by a husband and wife team, and being fascinated with their surname. It's funny, the memories from my childhood that are triggered, now that you are here. We often go for walks together, and sometimes with our friends, Hannah and Annabel. Invariably, you fall asleep on our walks, but you are just starting to be a bit more interested in what's going on around you, so you rest your chin on the left side of the sling, sucking away on the fabric while you take in your surroundings. When you're tired, you just pop your head on my chest, nestle under the fabric of the sling, and quietly drift off to sleep.  
The other day, we started a baby massage class together. This is something I had intended on doing with you when you were much younger, but it hasn't worked out until now. Watching you smile and wriggle and chat away during the class made me grateful for the age you are now - you are able to stay awake for so much longer and are just so much more engaged than I think you would have been if we had started sooner. I saw a two week old baby at Church last week, and silently marvelled at how much you have grown and changed since you were two weeks old. There is a slight sadness in acknowledging that your newborn days are behind us now, but there is also such great joy in seeing you grow and change. Keep growing strong, my Ruby-Roo.
With great love, your Mama.

Monday, 24 March 2014

around here

appreciating morning rainbows
baking our favourite chocolate cake for birthday celebrations
thrifting vintage wallpaper and classic children's books for bargain prices
walking lots and lots
drinking my favourite Monmouth coffee
starting a baby massage class
listening to the now familiar sound of my daughter sucking away on her fingers
cooking homemade pizza
anticipating a visit from my sister
forgetting a lot
watching The Good Wife
dreaming of visiting England's only Pick your Own tulip farm in Farrington Gurney

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The 52 Project: 12/52

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

Dear Ruby,
Ever since you were tiny, you have slept with your hands above your head, which forever brings to mind the lyrics of a song that was recently in the charts, where the artist sings, 'hands to the sky and throw your head back...' I have no idea how long you will continue to sleep like this, and so I want to document and remember how you sleep now, in this pose that silently speaks of you being in a state of complete relaxation and rest.
Sweet dreams, little one.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Homemade Humous

I don't know if you've noticed yet, but I have rather a sweet tooth. Hence, the volume of baked goods that feature on this blog. I would always choose dessert over a starter at a restaurant, and whenever hunger strikes, my inclination tends to be to reach for something sweet. I had hoped that having a hungry baby would mean the best of both worlds, as it does for some women, who are able to breastfeed and eat chocolate, and lose weight, thanks to the extra calories used up in keeping a baby alive. Sadly, I am discovering that I do not fit into this category of fortunate women. So, I am trying to resolve to be a bit more prepared when it comes to savoury snacks, in a small effort to eat a bit less sugar when hunger strikes in between meal times. Enter, homemade humous. 
I made humous for the first time the other weekend, when we had lots of people round for lunch, and we wanted to provide snacks while they waited for the main course to be ready. Humous is the perfect dip to accompany crudites, and I figured it made sense to have a go at making it, to create a large volume of it at a lower price than I would pay at the supermarket. So I sent a text to a friend who knows what she is doing when it comes to making humous, and followed her guidelines. Humous is one of those things that is pretty versatile when it comes to quantity and ingredients, providing you have the basics in place. For example, I used a good handful of coriander, as I love the flavour of it, and wanted that flavour to be strong, but you could just as easily omit this, and throw in another herb or seasoning to suite your taste.
ingredients (makes 300g)
1 x 400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 x garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
juice of 1-2 lemons
half tablespoon tahini
2 dessertspoons natural yoghurt
slosh of water
slosh of olive oil
salt & pepper
handful of coriander

Place all of the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until as smooth as you would like it to be. Start with a very small amount of water and oil before you blend, then add a little more of either / both, depending on the consistency.
Serve with carrot sticks, pitta strips, cucumber slices, tortilla crisps, or anything else that's edible and can be dipped! 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The 52 Project: 11/52

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

Dear Ruby,
How is it possible that you are already strong enough and big enough to have a shoulder ride with your Daddy?! I can't quite believe it. Today, you have discovered your giggle. What a beautiful sound it is to hear you chuckle away. You are growing and changing so quickly, little one, and I am constantly amazed by you. Here's to another week together, hopefully full of your beautiful laughter.

Your Mum

Friday, 14 March 2014

sewing lately

I've been on a bit of a sewing spree this week. All of the things I have made are very simple, but I still find a great satisfaction in making something with my hands and working with beautiful fabrics. The project that set the sewing spree rolling was a collaborative one. I worked with my friend Hannah to make a set of miniature bean bags based on the ones I made before Christmas. I loved seeing the combinations of fabrics that Hannah came up with, for a friend of hers who is expecting a baby.
The bean bags are a lovely sensory resource for young children, from the textures of the fabric and ribbons, to the crinkly sound of the styrofoam balls inside. We also made a couple of miniature lavender bags, which provide another sensory experience, with the scent of lavender. They are filled with linseed as well as dried lavender, which has a nice weight to it, adding another variant to the mini bean bags.
Next, I made a couple of waterproof children's picnic mats. They are quite small, measuring 70cm x 70cm, but serve as the perfect mat to fold up and pop in a bag to take on all of the Summer picnics that I am anticipating will happen in the coming months. One side of the mat is oil cloth, and the other is high quality cotton. I stumbled upon a beautiful selection of oil cloths in a local shop, Flo Jo's boutique. I can't quite believe I have never discovered this beautiful shop before - they have a wonderful selection of cotton fabrics as well as oil cloths and an extensive haberdashery. I would happily have bought each and every one of their fabrics, and will be sure to go there again. And again, and again.
While I exercised some restraint in Flo Jo's, a fabric caught my eye which I had seen on a blog a while back, and loved, but had no idea where it was from, or who it was made by. So, I was delighted when I spotted an entire bolt of the fabric in Flo Jo's. It is a Cloud 9 fabric, and their entire range is just stunning. I already had an old cushion at home that I have been intending on recovering, and so used this Cloud 9 fabric for the front, and part of a thrifted pillowcase for the back.
It's the perfect size to give Ruby a little bit of extra support when she is lying on her tummy, and she seems pretty happy with my fabric choices!

If you have any questions about any of the other fabrics featured in this post, feel free to ask away in the comments - I always love to know where I can find beautiful fabrics so I'm happy to share my sources, but realise that not everyone who reads this blog will want to read a long list of fabric sources.. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

The 52 Project: 10/52

Ruby, you are becoming so alert, taking more and more of an interest in what is happening around you. I took this picture one morning last week, when the light was bright, and you were content to lie on your tummy. (This contentment tends to be rather short lived!) Mornings with you are my favourite time of day - you wake up so happy and full of smiles. In the last week, you have started babbling more, making a wider variety of sounds, which is just lovely to hear. I love your joy, little one.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

tuna & potato fishcakes

I first discovered these fishcakes when I was at university. In my second and third years, I lived with three other girls, and we had a lot of fun cooking together. We made a rota each week, and cooked in pairs each night. I have very fond memories of those times spent in our tiny kitchen, with just four cupboards and a very precarious shelf over the sink, which was the home for all of our pots and pans. In that kitchen, I had my first foray with baking en mass, making approximately 300 cupcakes for a student afternoon tea, as well as coating a digital camera in molten chocolate, and eating raw flapjack mixture, because we were too impatient to let it cook first.

One of the things I loved about our times spent cooking with one another was the small insight that we gained into the homes we grew up in, and the meals that our mother's cooked for us. I had one housemate who had a love for pesto & balsamic vinegar, and another who adored cooking with red wine and cream. My love for baking grew in that home away from the home I grew up in, and those housemates brought me a bread maker for my 21st birthday. That gift changed the way I have eaten bread for the last eight years.

So, this simple recipe carries with it fond memories of my student days, when we ate frugally with a bit of lavishness thrown in every now and then, in the form of red wine and treacle tart.

ingredients (makes 8 fishcakes)
2 cans tuna (320g)
2 large potatoes
1 egg
fresh coriander (cilantro)
3 spring onions (scallions)
lemon for squeezing
sea salt & pepper
plain flour for coating

1) Peel and chop the potatotes, then boil for ten minutes or until cooked through. Mash potatoes and leave until cool enough to handle.
2) Drain the tuna then add to the pan with potatoes, along with the rest of the ingredients and mix.
3) Heat a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan / skillet. You really don't need much oil at all, just enough to ensure the fishcakes don't stick to the pan as they cook.
4) Pour a little pile of flour onto a chopping board or plate (around 20g, although I've never weighed how much I use!) 
5) Take a handful of the mixture, shape into a patty, around 2cm thick, then coat each side with flour before placing in the frying pan.
6) Cook the fishcakes over a very gentle heat for about 8 minutes on the first side, or until they are turning golden brown, then flip over with a wooden spatula or fish slice, and cook the second side for around 5 minutes.
7) Serve with a hearty salad and squeeze lemon juice over the fish cakes for a nice bit of moisture and flavour. 

cooking notes
// Heat // It is important to cook the fish cakes over a low heat, otherwise you end up just cooking the surface of them, and leaving the middle cold, which is not particularly pleasant!

// Onions // I have also made these using finely chopped, raw red onion when I haven't had any spring onions, which also works nicely, providing you enjoy the slightly stronger onion flavour.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Chocolate cookies

About eight years ago, someone gave me the Divine Chocolate recipe book for my birthday, and for a very long time it was my absolute favourite recipe book for quite some time. In the last eight years, my recipe book collection has grown considerably, and while this has meant that the Divine Chocolate book was no longer the only dog-eared book that lived in my kitchen, I have always deferred to it for fool-proof chocolate recipes. Every recipe I have baked from this book has been, well, divine, and all of the recipes have worked beautifully.

This cookie recipe was the first cookie recipe I truly loved. The beauty of it is that you don't have to chill the dough, and they only take 8 - 10 minutes to bake. And they look beautiful. There are just two elements that are essential to bear in mind when baking these:

1) You need to use chocolate with 70% cocoa solids. I've tried to use cheaper, regular dark chocolate, and it just doesn't work properly.

2) The 1 tablespoon of cocoa changes everything. I once made a batch of these cookies without it and they just didn't work. Don't even think about omitting the cocoa. 

200g 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate
50g unsalted butter at room temperature
2 eggs at room temperature
150g caster sugar
25g plain (all purpose) flour
1 tbsp cocoa
50g chocolate chips or nuts (optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4 / 350F. Grease three large baking trays.
2) Melt the chocolate, either in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in a microwave.
3) Once the butter has melted, remove from the heat and stir in the butter. The residual heat of the chocolate is sufficient to cause the butter to melt.
4) In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar for about three minutes, or until they have turned pale and frothy.
5) Stir in the melted chocolate and butter mixture with the eggs and sugar.
6) Sieve in the flour and cocoa and stir until combined.
7) If you are using chocolate chips or nuts, stir them in now.
8) Using two dessertspoons, scoop the mixture onto the greased baking trays, leaving plenty of space in between each cookie to allow them to spread while baking.
9) Bake in the pre-heated oven for 8 - 10 minutes, or until the cookies have developed the cracked appearance that you can see in the photo. Remember that they will continue to cook once out of the oven, so don't over bake.
10) Leave the cookies to cool on their trays for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Baking notes

// The mixture will be very runny. This is perfectly normal and not a problem. However, it can make spooning the mixture onto the tray a little...messy. If you leave the bowl at room temperature for 10 or so minutes, it will thicken ever so slightly as the chocolate cools, which makes it easier to scoop onto the tray. 

// If you fancy adding a bit of complimentary flavour to these cookies, you could use orange or mint chocolate. I've tried both, and loved them. Just make sure that you use 70% cocoa solids chocolate.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The 52 Project: 9/52

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

Ruby, this photo sums up the new changes that have taken place this week. You have learnt how to grasp small objects, you have started wearing 6 - 9 month old leggings (at 13 weeks) and judging from your lip-chewing and dribbling, it looks like teething is on the horizon. You have been particularly sensitive this week, being very easily started by sounds like the hand dryer in a coffee shop, Daddy sneezing and the sound of a bin lid banging. All of these things have caused you to burst into tears this week in quite an impressive manner. This week, we have started reading all about the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, which I think might have to become a daily feature - we have just read about Pooh getting stuck in the entrance to Rabbit's home. I can't wait to discover how this story will end! Ever since you were born, you have been a pretty great sleeper, but on Friday night, you slept the entire night, which was a lovely treat that took me by surprise.