Friday, 31 October 2014

With the change of seasons from Summer to Autumn, I have been struggling with getting up while it is still dark. Remember that post where I talked about my early morning exercise class, and how I needed to keep it up through the long Winter months because it does me good on so many levels? I had to keep reminding myself of that as I lay awake at 4.30am and tried to talk myself out of having to get up to do exercise. But my alarm faithfully went off (funny how good they are at their job, isn't it?!) and I left the house while it was still dark.

On my walk home from my early morning exercise class, the sun was bright and low in the sky, and the morning dew hung from every surface. I love to capture the beauty around me with my camera, and as I bent low to take a photo of raindrops on flowers, it occurred to me how water is a magnifier. We need the rain for so many things, but one of the added benefits of the residue it leaves behind is that it magnifies beauty. This was such a refreshing thought to me, after three days of heavy rain, which has left me feeling quite miserable.

Here's to enjoying the beauty that is all around us, and allowing it to bring a bit of perspective.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

sticky toffee pudding cupcakes

I recently had a request for some sticky toffee pudding cupcakes, so got to work experimenting to see if I could make a cupcake that was as enjoyable as the dessert. I was hopeful that I could make a delicious cupcake, using toffee sauce as the filling of the cupcake. What I found was that once the toffee sauce had cooled, it tasted far sweeter than it did as a hot sauce when poured over the pudding. So, I made a caramel sauce instead of toffee, and this worked perfectly. The cupcakes were topped with cream cheese frosting, with some of the caramel added to create a more cohesive caramel flavour throughout the cake.

For many years, I didn't even consider attempting to make caramel, as boiling sugar just seemed too
fickle for me - it seemed to be very easy to burn, or turn into rock hard toffee, that I just didn't bother with it. That all changed recently when I came across Top With Cinnamon's recipe for salted caramel. In the last few months, I have made this recipe many, many times, and it has worked beautifully on every occasion. The flavour and consistency are beautiful. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of honey, and this seems to add something subtle, yet wonderful to the flavour. What's even better is that you don't need a sugar thermometer to make this work, which was yet another factor which had previously put me off making caramel.

To make things simple, rather than re-writing the recipes that I used, I will just share the links to them, and add detail where necessary.

1) Sticky Toffee Cupcake recipe
I used light brown sugar instead of muscovado, as this is what I had, and knew it would still give a gentle caramel flavour.

2) For the caramel:
I made 1.5 x the quantity that Izy states in her recipe here and this was enough to fill 10 cupcakes, flavour the frosting, and drizzle some on top. On this occasion, I didn't want salty caramel, so I just left that out. (Plus a little extra to eat with ice cream!)

3) For the frosting:
300g icing sugar, sieved
50g unsalted butter at room temperature
125g Philadelphia (full fat cream cheese)
A couple of dessertspoons of caramel

+ Beat together the icing sugar and butter until there are no obvious lumps of butter.
+ Add in the cream cheese and beat / mix until you reach the desired consistency
+ Add a few dessertspoons of caramel to taste. If you're planning on piping the frosting, don't add more than a few dollops of caramel, otherwise the frosting won't be able to hold it's shape.

Baking Notes:
+ I used a cupcake corer to remove a piece of cake to make room for filling the cupcakes with caramel. You can use a knife to achieve this too!
+ To drizzle the caramel in neat lines on top of the frosting, I made a miniature piping bag out of baking paper (cut a triangle, fold into a cone, then fold over the top). 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

On words.

'What was that thing we did where I talked to you...?' I hold this conversation mentally in my head with my husband, no actual words spoken. This question, which lacks all elements of conventional speech, forms in my mind as I remember the feeling of enjoying a good conversation. No subject, no object. Just a string of words that come together as my brain desperately tries to grasp at memories of conversations with my husband, from just two days before.

These days, this is my normal. This loss of words and difficulty in making the connections between my thoughts and the words that come out of my mouth. But it is not desperate or tragic to me that I struggle to remember and find the words I need to hold a normal conversation. It's more fascinating than desperate. Sure, it's often frustrating, and I frequently feel pity for those I am talking to who don't really know me enough to join up the fragments of information that my conversation offers. 

And it's in this space of sleep deprivation and sustaining a life other than my own that I grow ever more grateful for a husband and friends who know me well enough to make sense of the sentences that come out of my mouth, with great gaping gaps punctuating the dialogue, where words should be. 

I continue on with this unspoken conversation with my husband, internally processing in the hope that I might just remember what it is I am wanting to remember. And it finally comes to me. We spent the evening painting some shelves that he had carefully crafted, layering on the primer before the paint, and we talked. About raising children and our childhoods. About Church and our friends. About everything and nothing. We talked and we worked and I loved it. Until the fumes got to me and I had to stop for the night.

Writing this blog has become harder for me since having a baby. Not just because of the time it requires to start and finish a blog post, but because I struggle to have cohesive thoughts that are worthwhile sharing. Sometimes I will sit down to write, but just cannot find the words to articulate what I would like to communicate. But I still have photos and when the words are lacking, I love that I can share pictures as a means of documenting life. I keep coming back here, to this blank white space and a blinking cursor, waiting for my words, because it forces me to make connections between my thoughts. While the process might be slow, I enjoy it, and it does me good. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

Westonbirt Arboretum

This weekend, my sister came to stay, and on Sunday afternoon we went for a little adventure to Westonbirt Arboretum. The Arboretum is particularly beautiful during Autumn, and we followed the seasonal trail to try and enjoy as much of the Autumn beauty as possible. Ruby loves being outdoors, and it was wonderful to see her enjoyment of this place that I love.

One of the first things we saw were these enormous tree trunks that had been cut down and lined up. My sister saw them as an invitation to do some handstands, so that's exactly what she did.

It can be very advantageous for Ruby, having a Dad who is as tall as some of the trees. It makes for an even greater sensory experience!
 I think the red leaves are my favourite.
When we found another horizontal tree trunk, we sat on it to eat our lunch, then jumped off it, naturally.
Our daughter is not yet walking independently, so she is rather ill-equipped in the shoe department. But who needs shoes when walking amongst Autumn leaves? There's far more fun to be had with bare feet.
The end.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The 52 Project: 43/52

Dear Ruby, 
Today we went on an adventure to Westonbirt Arboretum with Auntie Sarah. I first visited the Arboretum ten years ago when I had just moved to Bristol, and I had never seen so many red leaves in my life. It was breathtaking. We visited the Arboretum together many months ago, when you were tiny and spent most of the time asleep in your sling. So it was a lot of fun to take you today and watch you enjoy the Autumn leaves. You also loved seeing all of the dogs that were there, enjoying long walks with their owners. 

We have laid low this week, after you contracted hand, foot and mouth virus, and needed a lot of quiet days, enjoying plenty of books, cuddles and fresh air. Here's to being thankful for your happy temperament which is returning after a week of many tears, frustration, and one night time drive at 3am when you just wanted to play!
With great love,

Thursday, 23 October 2014

telephone table DIY

When we moved into our house last year, we were starting from scratch as far as sourcing furniture was concerned. Aside from the basic storage in our daughter's room (wardrobe & chest of drawers), we haven't purchased anything for the purpose of storing her toys, save for a few baskets. Something that I have been mindful of as Ruby has got older and more mobile over the course of the year is that I want her to be able to independently access her toys, which means having them displayed at an age-appropriate height. John was willing to build some shelves which would work for this purpose, but then I spotted this old telephone table in a secondhand shop for £10, and knew that it would be perfect for our daughter's bedroom. The seat is just the right height for her to be able to pull herself up to standing, and it is sturdy enough that it won't topple on her as she puts her weight on it. The shelf underneath provides a great amount of space for a selection of toys for Ruby to access as she pleases.
I knew as soon as I saw the telephone table that I wanted to change the fabric on the seat. As you can see in the 'Before' photo, the original fabric was rather dull and tired, and a bit dirty too. I recently discovered the Dashwood Studios 'September Blue' line of fabric, and have plans to make some cushion covers for Ruby's room from a couple of the fabrics. I liked all of the designs in the September Blue range, so it was an easy choice to pick a fabric for the seat that would co-ordinate with the cushion covers (yet to be made).
This was an incredibly simple bit of DIY - all it required was unscrewing the cushion from the wood, cutting a piece of new fabric, stapling it over the existing cushion, then screwing it back together. In theory, I think I could have finished this in about twenty minutes. In practice, however, it took over two hours to complete, simply due to life with a baby.  I love the prospect of Ruby sitting on the forest of trees and birds, with her nose buried in a book, getting lost in the wonderful world of stories.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The 52 Project: 42/52

Dear Ruby,
My sweet girl, the developmental changes that you are going through at the moment have challenged me to be more spontaneous to help us get through the afternoons where all you want to do is be in my arms. There are a few things that have saved the day more than once when you are close to tears:
1) The dishwasher. You love to climb up it and inside it - this has progressed from a couple of weeks ago, when you would tentatively put one knee on the open dishwasher door. Now, you climb inside and pull yourself up to standing using the top drawer, while simultaneously pulling out the cutlery.
2) Going for walks. Today, three outings to the library and walking around the garden was just the right amount of fresh air to keep us both sane.
3) The garden. Being outside calms you like nothing else. Our garden doesn't have much in it, but you are so enthralled by the pools of rainwater that have collected in plant pots, that you are engaged in exploration for as long as I let you cover yourself in soil and water. The birds often attract your attention, and you frequently stop what you are doing to point skyward. Seeing how much enjoyment you get from being outdoors, compared to the frustration you feel when we're indoors and I'm trying to cook dinner, is a helpful reminder for me to prepare food in advance so that we embrace the things that you enjoy.
Keep exploring the soil, little one, but perhaps don't eat too much of it...
With great love,

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Around Here

visiting the local city farm with my sister.
brewing coffee in a tiny stove top pot.
loving the colours of Autumn.
napping outside.
enjoying morning shadows at breakfast time.
admiring those blonde eyelashes.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The 52 Project: 41/52

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

Dear Ruby, 
Your ability to climb has progressed in leaps and bounds this week. Your biggest climbing accomplishment occurred yesterday, when you managed to climb up the stairs, while Daddy, Auntie Sarah and I were completely oblivious to your adventures. We discovered you on the landing, with a look of satisfaction at your achievements on your face. 

I can imagine you reading these words in twenty years time, bewildered that I would take the time to write about the first time you climbed the stairs, because these milestones quickly become normal and we don't think twice about them. But one of the beautiful things about parenting is that you get to watch as a tiny human (that is a huge part of yourself) grows and learns and changes before your eyes. I count it as my privilege that I get to raise you and see you go from being able to put one knee up on the bottom stair one day, to scaling all of the stairs in one go the following day.

Needless to say, you continued putting your ability to climb into practise today, as you climbed inside the cupboards that Daddy started building this weekend. Keep taking risks that help you to grow and explore the world, little one.

Lots of love,

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A trip to the zoo & reflections on photography

At the start of this year, I decided to participate in The 52 Project as a way of documenting my daughter's first year. Ruby was only four weeks old when I started taking photos for the project, and I remember writing that I was sure I would have no trouble with taking lots of photos of my beautiful baby. However, I have found more and more that I have to make the deliberate choice to pick up my DSLR, rather than just snapping away on my iPhone. I absolutely love that I can take decent pictures with my phone, and I am sure I have captured many more memories of this year than if I had not owned a smartphone. It has required more discipline than I thought it would to take photos of Ruby with my decent camera, and I have been quite grateful for the challenge.
Last weekend, my Mum came to visit, and we took Ruby to the zoo for the first time. I took along my DSLR, conscious that I still needed to take a photo for her weekly portrait, and I relished the opportunity to just snap away. I was thankful for having my Mum and John there so that I had my hands free to do this. I think this must be a challenge for every parent who enjoys photography that requires more than just clicking a button on a phone - everything about taking photos with a DSLR is more time consuming.

As I took photos of feathers falling through water and the way the light shone through the leaves, I realised that it has been a really long time since I took this kind of photo. It made me nostalgic for the days when I went on photo walks around our neighbourhood, just to savour the beauty in the small details that I would have otherwise missed.
Our trip to the zoo was wonderful for so many reasons - seeing Ruby's delight at the flamingoes and consternation at the armadillo, enjoying the warm sun on my face as we had a coffee break while Ruby slept, and admiring the array of flowers in the gardens. All of these things, I could have anticipated. But what I did not expect was to come away with a fresh reminder to go slow and savour the beauty in the details.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The 52 Project: 40/52

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

Dear Ruby,
This weekend, we went to the zoo for the first time, and Nanny came too. You were fascinated by the flamingoes and mildly disconcerted by the armadillos! You loved looking at the flowers with Nanny and enjoyed crawling all over the grass. It made me grateful for the city we live in and for opportunities to explore new places with you. Your exploring in our home extended to the stairs this week - it's so incredible to see you taking little risks that help you to learn how to do great things.
All my love,
Mum xx

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Welcome, October!

September, you were beautiful and went by at a phenomenal speed. Thank goodness for photos, otherwise I wouldn't have a clue what I did, except for the most poignant moments of celebrating a friend's wedding and meeting my brand new goddaughter for the first time.

Highlights from September (from top to bottom, left to right):
- We finally cleared enough space in our daughter's room for her to sleep in there. As with any transition in parenthood, I am learning that being flexible is invaluable. Some nights we play musical beds to keep our sanity and save us from starting the day at am. This is the season we are in and I am mostly fine with that.

- We started going to a messy play session on a Wednesday morning. It's fascinating to watch the sensory experiences that Ruby is cautious of and those where she delves in mouth first to taste just how great paint feels in her mouth.

- I go for a lot of walks around our neighbourhood and love how many flowers are still blooming beautifully.

- Visiting the new Anthropologie store in Bath. For any American readers who are familiar with Anthro, there are only 4 shops in the UK, so to have one within easy travelling distance of Bristol is incredibly exciting for me. We just so happened to visit on Anthro day when there was 15% off everything in the store, and they were serving drinks, cheese & crackers to enjoy while we shopped. Absolutely love this shop.

- The mornings have become so dark, and getting up for my Thursday morning body balance is definitely becoming harder. But getting to enjoy glorious sunrises makes the walk there very enjoyable. Walking into a room full of yoga mats with this track by Colbie Caillat playing is an uplifting way to start the day. I have to remember through the cold, dark months that exercise is so very good for me and I really do love it.

- We attended my friend Katy's wedding at the beautiful Huntstile farm. Such a wonderful day of celebration and fun. Being in beautiful settings like this farm remind me of how much I love England.

- September was a slightly slower baking month for me than August, but I still enjoyed making black bottom cupcakes and experimenting with new flavours (spiced apple and salted caramel).

- Two week old baby hands of my beautiful goddaughter. Cuddles with newborn babies are my favourite.

- I am sad to see Summer go, but I do absolutely love the colours of Autumn.