Sunday, 31 August 2014

The 52 Project: 35/52

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

Dear Ruby,
We have spent the past week on holiday, staying with your paternal grandparents, who have just moved to live by the sea on the South Coast. In all honesty, you seem slightly unsure of the sand, wind and sea combination at the moment. Although, you are more than happy to eat handfuls of sand, much to your Uncle Mario's consternation! Here's to many more hours spent by the sea, learning to enjoy the delights that come with sandcastle building, ice cream eating, sea swimming and shell collecting.
With great love,

Friday, 29 August 2014

Five Minute Friday // Reach

It's been a while since I participated in Five Minute Friday, but today, I have some time to myself and it feels good to just write.
This morning we walked. My husband and daughter, alongside my mother and father in law. We walked through woods, alongside an estuary and up to the peak of a hill that looked out to sea. I had not expected the wind to be blowing as hard as it did, up there on top of the hill. But it did and it was beautiful. As my father in law walked ahead of me with arms outstretched, letting the wind buffet and billow his shirt, I simultaneously reached for the wind with my hands, and wondered at how, sometimes, it feels like I could catch it in my hand, cupped like a perfect sphere, and then throw it back to itself. While I am reaching to catch the wind, I am conscious of how my mind always feels like it is in two places - with my thoughts and thinking of my daughter. Always conscious of her. Even now, as I sit in solitude (but also surrounded) in a coffee shop, my thoughts are reaching for her and her red hair whipping in the wind, while my mind tries to reach, no stretch, for the words to write here. Because these days, writing is a discipline. The time and words don't flow easily like they once did. Raising a baby has scattered my thoughts, and so I will continue this game of reaching and stretching to try and pin the words down into something coherent, while they float off like a balloon on the wind. And while I try to catch the words, I will remember how good it felt to reach for the wind, knowing I will never catch it.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

around here

loving the changing deep grey skies
baking triple layer chocolate cakes
walking with my daughter in the early mornings
appreciating the final colours of Summer
delivering hundreds of cake around Bristol
visiting family in Bournemouth
celebrating four years of marriage

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The 52 Project: 34/52

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

Dear Ruby, the beginning of this week feels like a long time ago. We have some challenging days between us, and I am truly looking forward to our fast approaching holiday. Time to rest is so important, and we are all in need of rest right now. There are a number of moments that stand out to me from this week - both special and stressful ones, but when I look at this photo? All I remember is how I looked through the camera lens as you balanced on my legs, and I marvelled at the length of your beautiful eyelashes. Always take time to notice the beauty in the small things, precious one, it will refresh you and bring a little perspective if you let it.
With great love,

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

37 weeks: then & now

At the start of this year, I decided to take part in The 52 Project, taking a portrait each week of my daughter, to document the year. Before this project, the only time I had ever thought about how many weeks had passed was during pregnancy. As the weeks of 2014 have rolled on, and reached 33 weeks, I thought it would be fun to compare what life looks like now at the age Ruby is (She was born 4 weeks before the start of 2014) to how it did at this stage during my pregnancy. 

 Then: I was stockpiling the freezer with soups to get me through Winter lunches.
Now: I am baking like there's no tomorrow for the Mum's of Bristol.
 Then: I loved taking photos of the sky.
Now: I still do.
 Then: I had an enormous belly.
Now: I have a perfectly proprtioned baby (weighing in the 91st centile for her weight) with cheeks that are perfectly edible.

Then: I was struggling to walk further than a few metres, but trying to get out for fresh air anyway.
Now: I've been enjoying morning walks along the railway path, showing Ruby the wildflowers. 

I loved being pregnant, but looking at the size of my belly and remembering how that felt, I definitely prefer having my baby on the outside rather than the inside!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The 52 Project: 33/52

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

Dear Ruby, 
I took this photo of you just after dinner at the end of the day, when your hair was looking a little wild, and you have a little smudge of yoghurt under your nose that we didn't quite manage to clean off. We tend to undress you for mealtimes to save your clothes getting totally covered in food. The other day I chuckled to myself as I said to you, 'It's time for dinner! Time to take your clothes off!' Just to clarify, this is not a normal thing to do once you're past a certain age. But for now, I think it's perfectly acceptable. You are so close to being a fully fledged crawler, little one. You travelled your furthest distance to date this week, as you chased a little red ball across the hall at my post natal exercise class. What a wonderful moment it was to see your little hands and legs moving in synch to get where you wanted to go. 
With great love,

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Rich Chocolate Cake

I grew up eating my Mother's most wonderful chocolate cake. The sponge was beautifully light, the icing perfectly fudgy. My Mum would sandwich together two 8" sponges with her lovely chocolate fudge icing, then layer the top of the cake with some more. My preferred method of eating this cake was to separate the layers so that I could get the full enjoyment of chocolate fudge on each half of the cake. This chocolate cake was the epitome of cake to me in the years that I lived at home. At the time, I never realised how fortunate I was to have a Mother who would whip up a cake at the drop of a hat, and always make double quantities, so there was always spare cake in the freezer.

From the age of 14, I worked as a Saturday girl in a local bakery, and I can still picture the sequence that we laid out the cakes on the shelves. The gingerbread men and ladies sat on a tray next to the giant cookies. The eccles cakes and belgian buns kept each other company on the shelf below, and the fondant frogs took pride of place in the window, alongside the iced buns. I still remember the day I discovered how good a warm cheese scone tasted, sandwiched with freshly sliced tomato, and if I was feeling decadent, an extra sprinkling of grated cheese in the middle. These cakes, at home and at work, were so familiar to me, and characterised my childhood and teenage years.

Then I moved to Bristol for university, and a whole new world of cake opened up to me, as I met people from all over England and Ireland, who brought with them their favourite recipes from home. Together, we would bake cakes for birthdays and desserts, taking on that all important role of celebrating with cake that our Mother's had faithfully done throughout our childhoods. I remember the first time I tasted this chocolate cake on one such birthday. Our group of friends had gathered at the flat where five of our friends lived. I never envied their flat over my own, as they were the frequent victims of burglaries. This particular group of girls all seemed to be exceptional bakers. I kid you not, every single one of them new how to whip up some seriously beautiful and delicious cakes. Anyhow, on this particular birthday, I sunk my teeth into the most beautifully moist and rich chocolate cake that I had ever tasted. The icing was so shiny, I could almost see my reflection. It was so very different to my Mother's chocolate cake, and yet so very good.

So here it is, the very rich chocolate cake recipe that took me all of half a second to fall in love with, but will never replace my Mum's signature chocolate cake that will always remind me of home.

Chocolate Cake
ingredients (makes enough mixture for one 9" round cake, or two 8" round cakes)
185g unsalted butter at room temperature
375g caster sugar
215g self raising flour
40g cocoa
250g dark chocolate (doesn't need to be 70% cocoa solids)
3 eggs
250ml water

ingredients for the icing
150g dark chocolate
90g unsalted butter
160g condensed milk

method to make the cake
1) Preheat the oven to 160C / gas mark 2-3. Grease and line your tin(s)
2)Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over simmering water, or in a microwave.
3) Sieve the flour and cocoa into a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer.
4) Add the sugar and eggs to the bowl with the flour and cocoa.
5) Once the chocolate and butter have melted, add these to the mixing bowl, then beat until everything has combined.
6) Gradually add the water, stirring after each addition.
7) Pour the mixture into your prepared tin(s) and bake in the preheated oven for 60 - 80 minutes. I have found that the baking time really varies between ovens. In my electric fan oven, it takes 60 - 65 minutes for the cake to bake when I use a 9" round tin. In my old electric oven (not fan assisted) it took 1.5 hours. If your oven tends to bake things fairly quickly, check after 50 minutes, and adjust the end time accordingly. To check if the cake is baked, insert a skewer into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it is fully baked.
NB: If you are using two 8" tins, the cakes will take less time to bake - check after 30 minutes.
8) Leave the cake in the tin on a cooling rack for 10 or so minutes to cool slightly before removing the tin. If you remove it too soon after baking, the cake will crack.

method for the icing
1) Place all of the ingredients in a medium sized saucepan and heat over a gentle heat until everything has melted. If it looks like the butter is slightly separating from the icing, add a little bit of milk and stir. If the icing doesn't look like it's a spreadable consistency, add a bit more milk.
2) Once the cake has cooled*, slather the icing on. For the cake featured in the photos, I whipped the remaining icing to add air molecules, which thickened the icing to a consistency where I could pipe it. If I had tried to pipe the icing without whipping, it would have just slipped right off the cake.

*It's worth waiting until the cake has cooled before making the icing. The icing will set a little if you make it and then leave it a while before spreading on the cake, which makes it much harder to apply smoothly to the surface of the cake.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The 52 Project: 32/52

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

Dear Ruby,
There have been a few things that have taken your interest a lot this week:
1) Lights. It's as though you've just discovered that there are a whole lot of interesting things to see in this world if you look up. Lamp shades and light bulbs have succeeded in getting your attention.
2) Waving. This afternoon as I carried you around the house with me, doing various jobs (you made it clear that you did not want to be put down), you waved at everything in every room. When you saw your reflection, you gave an extra enthusiastic wave and smile.
3) Grapes. I have offered you grapes to eat a few times, having cut them in half to reduce the risk of you choking on them. But you have had very little interest in eating these. However, you have discovered how to pull grapes off their stalks then pop them into your mouth. It turns out that you are far more efficient at eating grapes when I let you work it out for yourself. (I am sure I will spend a lifetime working out when to offer you help, and when to hold back. Please be patient with me.)
4) My singing. There have been a few evenings this week where you have struggled to get to sleep, little one. One evening when we had both reached the end of ourselves, I lay down next to you and started singing you a lullaby. You instantly calmed down, rested your hand on my cheek and drifted off to sleep as I continued to sing, What a beautiful moment. It happened again the next night. And then the night after that, you lay your hand on my cheek, then proceeded to bite my face. Not so beautiful! 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Treasure Baskets

For some time, I have been meaning to write about the resources that I use with Ruby in her play, so that I have a record to help me remember when our family grows and her first year seems like a lifetime ago. I am working on a post to share with you the rationale behind the resources that I give her. I realise that you might be reading this with a furrowed brow, wondering why I am talking about 'rationale' and 'resources' in relation to an eight month old baby, rather than just toys and play. When you see the photos of the things that Ruby plays with on a daily basis, you will see that many of the items we give her are not 'toys' in the traditional sense, hence my use of the term 'resources'.
The majority of resources that we give Ruby to play with are organised into a few different baskets, and distributed around the house. In this post I will give an overview of some of the treasure baskets that I have created for Ruby using everyday objects that I already had before she was born.

There are so many different textures for babies and children to explore when it comes to fabrics. We have a basket with a variety of fabrics and materials in that reflect the following properties:
+ bubble wrap
+ upholstery fabric
+ 100% cotton fabric
+ shimmery fabric
+ foil blanket
+ felt
+ flannel

Properties that babies and children will encounter as they explore these materials:
+ heavy & light
+ thick & thin
+ shiny & matte
+ bumpy / textured & smooth
+ colours
+ bendy & rigid
The photo above was taken when Ruby was 5 months old and was still mastering the art of sitting independently. This meant that she still spent a fair amount of time lying down, and we discovered that the foil blanket that John received after running a 10k race was a perfect material for her to explore. Ruby would spend extended periods of time happily playing with it - one of the things I love about it is that although the foil is very light, it holds its shape, so when Ruby pulled it over her face, it was perfectly safe, because it did not fall directly on top of her face, but created a tent over her.
One of the first treasure baskets I made for Ruby was filled with a variety of wooden blocks, made by my Father in law for his own children. The basket itself proved to be an enjoyable thing to explore too. 
 So far, the themes I have organised the treasure baskets around are as follows:

+ wooden objects: small wooden spoon, honey twizzler, bowls, minature pots, candle holder, plate
+ colour: jacob's ladder, coloured wooden stacking rings, fabric hoops, coloured ribbons, concentric rainbow)
+ shiny objects: cd, water bottle, measuring cups, food scoops, teaspoon, bell, whisk, funnel, lid
+ musical instruments: homemade shaker, maraca, bells - this one is a little sparse.
When Ruby and I are spending time at home, most of that time is spent downstairs, so I have placed a different basket of treasures in each of our downstairs rooms so that there is variety in each place where Ruby plays. It also means I don't have to think so much about bringing toys from the living room into the kitchen when I am cooking and need something for Ruby to play with. In all honesty, I have found it challenging to rotate the resources regularly enough to maintain Ruby's interest, and feel like I am giving her enough variety. I would love to spend time researching and perusing places like Pinterest for more inspiration, but I have found it hard to prioritise this. I would love to hear from you if you have any great ideas for different treasure baskets, or for things to do with a young baby. Feel free to share your wisdom in the comments!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The 52 Project: 31/52

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

Dear Ruby, 
You are changing so much, my little one. You have worked out how to move from sitting to being on your hands and knees, rocking back and forth, getting ready to crawl. You've cut your two top teeth this week like a champion and I love watching you wave each time we leave the house. Watching you learn and explore the world is such a daily joy, Ruby Roo. Here's to many more adventures of flying high as Daddy gives you wings.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Around here

loving local wild flowers and roses
admiring chairs hanging from ceilings
braving swings and super market trollies for the first time
drinking watermelon smoothies
celebrating weddings with friends
watching One Born Every Minute
baking with a lot of chocolate