Friday, 30 May 2014

three seeded loaf

Tuesday morning started at 4.30am. Keeping hours like these makes me think I could be a baker after all. In one of the moments where I tried to gather my head from the drunk-swimming sensations that came in waves throughout the day, I thought about what I would do in that moment if I were able to do anything at all. A memory came to me of our trip to America in 2012. The last place we stayed on our road trip was the beautiful Millenium Biltmore Hotel. One afternoon, while Becky and I were waiting for John and Tim to return from their trip to Six Flags, I went for a wander with a copy of Kinfolk under my arm. Earlier that day, Becky and I had our first experience of an Anthropologie store. I have never spent as long in a shop as I did in Anthropologie on that day. While there, I had picked up a copy of Kinfolk and felt like I had found my dream magazine. Here was essentially a journal of beautifully curated articles, featuring the kind of photography and typography I love, brought together around the themes of food.

So it was with this excitement about reading the pages of Kinfolk, that I set off in search of the nearest coffee shop. (Wondering how I get to talking about bread from here?! Stay with me, we’ll be there soon…) In this particular volume of Kinfolk, there were pictures of bread, not always the recipes, but featured because they were part of the story. Stories of picnics, breakfasts shared with neighbours, fresh bread shared with babes, and shared at the heart of meals with friends. I felt so inspired to flex my baking muscles beyond making sweet treats, and to learn how to work with yeast. I even dreamed of the blog series I could write about Bread: The Simplest of foods, the finest of flavours as I sipped my coffee in LA. In my baby induced, sleep deprived state, this was the place that I wanted to go back to. Not so much as LA, just the opportunity to sneak away to a coffee shop by myself with a new copy of Kinfolk to read and be inspired by.

When we returned home from our American road trip, I went back to baking bread in our trusty breadmaker, always with the thought, 'I really must try and make bread by hand.' It wasn't until we were about to move house last year, and my bread maker gave up on us, that I finally turned my hand to making bread from scratch. My younger brother gifted me Paul Hollywood's book, 'How to Bake', which made the process so very clear and simple. 

So for the last year, I have been making my bread by hand, and have been thrilled with the results. I have had the occasional flop, like the time when Ruby was two weeks old and I prepared the dough, left it to prove, knocked it back, left for its second prove then went to bed and forgot about it. This resulted in over fermentation and a very quirky shaped loaf:

I am just starting to feel confident enough to try adapting bread recipes, and this three seeded loaf is what I came up with this week. I have enjoyed eating it for lunch, slathered with soft goats cheese and Major Marshall's chutney (made by John's Aunt Martha).
Three Seeded Loaf
250g strong white flour
150g wholemeal bread flour
25g unsalted butter at room temperature
5g salt
7g yeast
40g / half a cup flax seed
60g / half a cup combination of sunflower and pumpkin seed
250ml cool water

1) Place all of the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer.
2) Gradually add the water - you might find you don't quite need all 250ml, or that you need a little extra. You want the mixture to be combined well but not sticky. If you have a sticky dough, just add a touch more flour.
3) Knead the dough for 5-10 mins, until it is smooth and stretchy. If your dough is sticking to your hands, put a bit of oil on them, and it'll work a treat at releasing the dough from you!
4) Remove the dough from the bowl, and lightly oil the bowl. Replace the dough back into the bowl, then cover with a tea towel, and leave to prove (rise) for at least 1 hour. The dough will still be fine if you leave it for 3 hours.
5) Once your dough has doubled in size, knock the air out of it by kneading it slightly. Shape the dough into your desired loaf shape. If you are making a round cob loaf, place the dough onto a lightly oiled baking tray. If you're making a tin loaf, place the shaped dough into the tin.
6) Put the dough inside a plastic bag, or large plastic container with a lid, if you happen to have one spare. If you're using a plastic bag, make sure that none of the bag is actually touching the dough, and tuck the bag around the tray or tin, creating an air pocket.
7) Leave to prove for a second time, for 1 hour.
8) Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200C / gas mark 5
9) Once the dough has proved for a second time, remove from the bag and place the tin / tray in the oven. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

six months

Dear Ruby,

As I write this letter, you are cradled in your Father's arms, having woken from sleep. It is in this window of time between your bedtime and ours that you wake a couple of times with little whimpering sounds, beckoning us upstairs to give you a little help to get back to sleep.

At this time six months ago, we were in the hospital where you were born. We spent our first night together there, just you and me. You were born at 4.44pm, and a couple of hours later, your Grandparents (my Mum and Dad) and Uncle Ben came to visit. Once they had left the hospital, the midwife brought a wheelchair for me to take me to have a bath. I remember commenting to the midwife that this was the first time that I had ever been in a wheelchair - it's funny to think that this is what I would choose to talk about - as though giving birth for the first time was completely normal, and that travelling in a wheelchair for the first time was the most remarkable thing happening in that moment.

It goes without saying that you have changed a great deal in the six months since you were born. You have gone from this:
To this:
I want to remember some of the sweet things you do these days.

The way you are able to shake the jacket from Peter Rabbit's back with great vim and vigour, in quite an impressive manner.

The way you grab our faces and chew them in the most affectionate way.
The way you have always loved bathtime, but recently, you've taken your splashing to a whole new level, and you try and suck your sponge at every possible opportunity.

The faces that you pull when you try a new food for the first time. We are seeing a whole new range of expressions from you that are, quite frankly, hilarious.
The way music calms you. Whether it's my singing, or the music that plays softly as I give you a massage at bedtime, it distracts you from making tired sounds, and captivates you in a lovely way.

The way you can still fall asleep in an instant, but only when you're in the sling. These days, you like to be rocked to sleep.
The way you chat in the morning, letting us know that it might only be 5.30am, but you have had enough sleep, and are ready to start the day. You don't stop talking until one of us takes you downstairs, and then, you fall quiet.

The way you are entertained for an incredible length of time by exploring the foil blanket that Daddy got after running the Bristol 10k.
The way your face lights up when you see us. You are such a treasure, and bring us a lot of joy, little one. I made a cake to celebrate your half birthday - it was a healthy mint choc chip cake (healthy because it contained courgette and no butter), which was definitely not my finest baking moment. Here's to celebrating many birthdays and half-birthday's with you and getting better at making birthday cakes.
With love,
Your Mama.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The 52 Project: 21/52

Dear Ruby,
Our adventures into the world of food have begun this week. The facial expressions that you make when you have food in your mouth are quite hilarious, ranging from extreme disgust to intrigue, to delight. Here's to a lifetime of discovering the joys of food!

And just because I had a hard time choosing only one photo for this post, here's another. If you look closely, you can see two tiny teeth poking through.

baby photography workshop

If you have been a reader of my blog for any length of time, you will know that I love to take photos as a way of documenting life and recording memories. I have loved photography since well before Ruby was born, but having my very own baby to take photos of? That was such an exciting prospect for me in pregnancy. I could not wait to take photos of my newborn baby in all of her loveliness, but the reality was that I took very few photos of her in the first couple of weeks. This was mostly to do with us not getting out of bed until midday, couple with having a Winter baby. This meant that by the time we got up and I thought about taking photos, it was practically dark, which makes for awful lighting. If we have another baby in the Winter, I think I will be more deliberate in paying someone to come and capture our family in those early days.
Since those first few weeks and months, I have been far more consistent in taking photos of Ruby. However, I often feel a little stuck in a rut in terms of the style and composition of my photos. So, when I saw an invitation on Facebook to participate in a free workshop, run by Misty, a local, talented Mama, I jumped at the opportunity to go along and learn how to improve my photography.
The workshop was a balance of tips on how to take good photographs of our babies and practical application of the principles we were learning about. One of the great things about the workshop was that the tips Misty gave us are applicable regardless of what kind of camera you have - it is perfectly possible to take wonderful photos of babies with a Smartphone (Pink Ronnie's blog is a wonderful example of this). One of the main tips I came away with that I hope will influence the way I take photos of Ruby, is the importance and value of context in composition: We want our photos to tell a story, and while photos that focus on detail are lovely, sometimes they don't tell as much of a story as a photo that includes the surrounding environment does. I realise that the photos I have shared here don't reflect a practical application of this lesson, but as the workshop was taking place in a yoga studio with other Mum's and babies, I decided to concentrate on taking photos from different angles and reflecting the finer features of Ruby and her friends.
Another brilliant aspect of the workshop was that Misty gave us four very detailed information sheets, covering all of the elements that we had explored together as a group, as well as more technical information on aperture, ISO's, use of props and white balance. These information sheets are even more useful to me in light of the short term memory loss that having a baby has rendered me with! If you are local to Bristol and have a baby, keep a look out on Misty's Makey Mamas Facebook page for more workshops (not just photography) in the near future!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

quinoa & goat's cheese salad

On the days that I managed to be a little bit organised and plan my lunches ahead of time, I make quinoa. I love the stuff. So much so, that I am planning on branching out from my favourite granola that I have eaten for breakfast since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and try some of Summer's blueberry and banana quinoa. To make that happen, I need to set myself a reminder on my phone to put the quinoa to soak in water and lemon juice before I go to bed, and I have not yet managed that yet. On the days that I am not organised, I tend to gravitate towards granola (even if I've had it for breakfast, I love it that much), or peanut butter on toast, which clearly doesn't have as many nutritional benefits as this healthy salad, but I can't help myself.

Quinoa & Goat's Cheese Salad
This isn't so much a recipe, as an ingredients list, because once you've cooked the quinoa (there's instructions on the packet), you just add everything else in whatever quantities you like. If you haven't eaten quinoa before, you can have it hot or cold, but my preference is to eat it cold, which is another reason to be organised and make it ahead of time.

half a cup of cooked quinoa (makes enough for 2 lunches for myself)
cherry tomatoes
sundried tomatoes
spring onions (scallions for my American readers)
raw carrot
as much goat's cheese as you like. I love the soft, creamy variety.
splash of balsamic vinegar

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The 52 Project: 20 / 52

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

Dear Ruby, 
This week, you started swimming lessons, and had your first experience of being submerged under water. You handled it like a pro and still seemed full of energy when we got out of the pool. (Unlike the first time I took you swimming and you cried like I've never seen you cry before because you were so exhausted by the experience.) You love having showers and baths, and this week I finally captured some of your glee that we see in you when you've got water pouring over your head! And just because I'd like to, here's a couple of extra photos:

Friday, 16 May 2014

Molten Chocolate Pots

Last night, John and I both fancied something sweet for dessert. We toyed with the idea of baking some cookies, but would have needed to go to the shops to buy cocoa. I was determined to make something with what we had, and so we went back to the drawing board. John came up with the idea of chocolate covered granola, which didn't hold great appeal to me, and I came up with molten chocolate pots, which John only likes to eat cold.

So, we declared a dessert race. We would both make our respective desserts, and see who won. Since John's chocolate granola literally just involved melting some chocolate and pouring it over granola, he was certain he would win. And if speed of the recipe determined the winner, then yes, he won. But if the winner was the one who got to eat chocolately goodness first, then I definitely one. Hands down.

So, these molten chocolate pots are really quick to make (but not as quick as just melting chocolate...). They are beautiful both hot and cold. The recipe makes 4 - 5 desserts, so unless you have friends round, or a larger family than us, they can last two days, and you can try them both ways. When they're hot, they have a crispy brownie-like top layer, and a molten puddle of fudgy chocolate underneath. When they're cold, they are just like a beautiful chocolate fudge.

125g dark chocolate (doesn't need to be 70% cocoa solids but if you like it dark, go with it.)
125g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
35g plain (all purpose) flour
splash of vanilla extract (only if you have good quality vanilla. If you only have essence, leave it out.)
3 eggs

1) Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark 5.
2) Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water, or in a microwave.
3) In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar for a couple of minutes until they are pale.
4) Stir in the flour and vanilla extract
5) Pour in the melted chocolate and butter, and combine
6) Grease 4 - 5 ramekins and dust with sugar then divide the mixture between them.
7) Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Once you've removed them from the oven, place the ones you're going to eat in another bowl so you don't burn your fingers as you enjoy the molten goodness. Unless, of course, you have a lot of restraint, and can wait until they're cool before eating them!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Around Here

Lately I have been...

baking my Mum's chocolate cake recipe
experimenting with milk chocolate ganache & discovering it's runnier than dark chocolate
remembering how much I love early mornings when I've had enough sleep
reading outdoors
watching Ruby sleep outside in her pram
drinking lots of water and coffee
sewing a lot in preparation for a little venture I am planning
listening to William Fitzsimmons on repeat
thinking about introducing Ruby to food
walking as much as possible
eating lentil lasagne and loving it
digging up our crazy little garden

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The 52 Project: 19/52

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

Dear Ruby,.I have always loved watching you sleep, and for the majority of the last five months, you have been an incredible sleeper. However, that has all changed in the last few weeks. We used to be able to just lie you down with some white noise when you were looking tired, and you would just drift off to dreamland. These days, getting you to sleep is a delicate dance, quite literally. If I didn't share this role with your Father, I would have biceps the size of Ayres Rock. This evening, as your Dad rocked and swayed with you in his arms, he described the process perfectly:

'It's like lighting a fire. It requires a lot of hard work and preparation. And then there's the transfer where it could all go wrong.'. 

Tonight's transfer was not simple. It involved my jumping deftly onto your bed to feed you, with one hand in yours and the other on your chest for comfort , while you held your left foot aloft and your whimpering subsided. All the while, the white noise still thrumming away. Here's to us learning how to dance with you in just the way you like it.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Children's Books

Long before I was even pregnant with Ruby, I had started a collection of children's books. I used a lot of them in my Early Years teaching, so they haven't just been gathering dust on the shelves. We started reading to Ruby when she was a few weeks old, and I have loved watching her interest in books grow over time. Initially she seemed most interested in the sound of my voice, whereas now, at five months, she looks intently at illustrations, pats the pages, and explores how the pages move and turn. Sometimes this also involves putting books in her mouth, which is highly entertaining to watch:
Repetition and re-reading the same stories is a really important element of children developing skills in story sequencing, being able to predict what happens next, and understanding of story structure. However, as we only had three or four board books, I was getting a little tired of the repetition. So, I finally joined our local library. It is less than five minutes walk from our house, so I am sure Ruby and I will be visiting many, many times over the coming years. I think I definitely take for granted how brilliant the library service is - you can borrow 20 books at a time, for free. Just brilliant.
Many of the books I already owned before Ruby was born are aimed at 3 - 5 year olds, and while I have enjoyed reading these to Ruby, I have been keen to find some board books, as their sturdiness and smallness lend themselves to small hands more efficiently than the other books I own. Bristol has a wonderful number of second hand book shops, and all of the hard back books I have found, have been in the second hand shops. The books in the photo below show a selection of some of the books that I have found recently.
Something I have recently started doing when we read together is to use objects that are associated with the book in some way. For example, we've borrowed a book from the library about bath time, so on the nights that I give Ruby a bath, I sometimes read her the story about bath time, with a rubber duck to create an object reference point. I also use the Makaton sign for 'bathtime' alongside the duck to help Ruby create further connections and points of reference. With the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I will present Ruby with her Hungry Caterpillar tactile toy, which she loves to put in her mouth, creating another age appropriate sensory element to the story.
On a personal note, I have been thinking a lot recently about how Ruby will learn from the example that John and I set, and will be influenced by what she sees us doing. With regard to reading, I can honestly say that I rarely manage to finish a book, because I don't prioritize setting aside time to read. It feels like a luxurious way to spend time during the day, and by bedtime, there is no hope of me staying awake long enough to read more than a couple of lines. Needless to say, I would love to change this, and be a bit more disciplined about making time to read. I want Ruby to grow up with a great love for stories and reading, and I know that my actions and attitudes will influence this, be it in a positive or negative way. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Pistachio Chocolate Cake with whipped ganache frosting

Last week, I attended the Bristol branch of the Clandestine Cake Club. A friend introduced me to this group in February, and I loved the simplicity of the idea behind the group: People who love cake come together to share a cake they have baked within a particular theme. The venue of the club changes each time, and is kept a secret until the week before the meeting, hence the 'Clandestine' element.
This month's theme for our group was to use up ingredients left in your cupboard. When I opened my cupboard, the first thing that caught my eye was a bag of pistachios that have been sat there for almost two months, waiting for me to have a moment of inspiration for a recipe that would use them. I turned to Harry Eastwood's book, Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache in the hope of finding a healthy cake recipe that would make a dent in my pistachio supply, and within a few seconds, I found her recipe for Pistachio Chocolate Cake. Perfect. These days, decisions about baking have to be made swiftly. I don't feel like I have the luxury of time to peruse my library of recipe books for inspiration, and so I was delighted to find a recipe that I liked the look and sound of so quickly.
I adapted the recipe slightly, as I didn't have the exact same sugars and flours that Harry Eastwood suggested, and in an effort to save money and stick to the theme of the Cake Club, I just used what I had. I also made a different frosting, as the idea for whipped chocolate ganache popped into my head, and was preferable over the alternative that Harry suggested. It turned out beautifully.
The reason for whipping the ganache is to change the texture of it by adding air. Regular ganache would also be delicious with this, but I love the texture of whipped ganache, and I have found that by adding air, the richness of the dark chocolate is somehow lessened. There are a few of added bonuses that make this cake even more brilliant than your regular chocolate cake recipe:
1) It contains no fat.
2) It's gluten free.
3) It has 2 courgettes in it, so it is practically healthy!

100g ground pistachios + an extra handful of roughly chopped pistachios for decoration
300g finely grated courgettes (2 medium sized courgettes)
3 eggs
40g light brown muscovado sugar
130g light brown sugar *
120g rice flour or plain flour
60g cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
*alternatively, use 170g of light brown sugar / muscovado sugar

250ml double (heavy) cream
200g dark or milk chocolate

1) Pre-heat oven to 180C / gas mark 4 / 350F.
2) Line two 8" round tins with greaseproof paper, and brush a bit of vegetable oil all over them.
3) Shell the pistachios and blitz in a food processor until they are finely ground. It is important to grind them as finely as possible. If you don't have a processor, I am pretty sure you can buy ground pistachios from the supermarket or health food shops.
4) Whisk the eggs and sugar(s) for two minutes until pale.
5) Mix in the courgettes & ground pistachios with the eggs and sugar.
6) Stir in the cocoa, flour and baking powder, making sure everything is combined thoroughly.
7) Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for 30 minutes. Leave in the tins to cool for about ten mins, then remove from tins to cool completely on a wire rack.
8) Once you have made the ganache, slather one of the cakes with a hearty amount of it, then sprinkle with half of the roughly chopped pistachios. Place the second cake on top of the one you have just iced, and repeat this process of layering with ganache and pistachios.

for the icing
1) Finely chop the chocolate.
2) Heat the cream in a saucepan over a low heat until tiny bubbles start to form around the edges. (Don't let it boil.)
3) Remove from the heat then stir in the chocolate to the cream, using a heatproof spatula, until all of the chocolate is melted.**
4) Place pan in the fridge to cool for around 30 minutes, or just until it has stiffened slightly.
5) Remove from fridge and whip for a couple of minutes using electric beaters. Once you have reached the desired consistency, stop whipping! (There's a small chance I did a taste test or two to check the consistency...)

**If you find that the chocolate doesn't fully melt after a couple of minutes of gentle stirring, transfer the ganache to a glass bowl, then place over a pan of simmering water and stir. Just a bit of extra heat will help the chocolate to fully melt.

P.S Just in case you'd like a little look at the lengths I go to to take photos of food with a baby in tow who doesn't like to sleep much during the day, here you go:

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The 52 Project: 18/52

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

Dear Ruby, You discovered your feet a little while ago, but this week, you have started sucking your big toes like a champion. Every time your feet are bare, you grab those little toes at lightening speed and pop them in your mouth, making the most brilliant slurping noises. Here's to celebrating the cute things that babies do, that would look quite ridiculous if ever you saw an adult doing the same thing!