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.

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 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

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?

Monday, 3 November 2014

Soup Season // pumpkin and carrot soup

As soon as the cooler weather arrives with the colours of Autumn, it feels like Soup Season to me. I love eating a warm bowl of homemade soup with some fresh homemade bread for my lunch.
One of the many wonders of soup is that it is so versatile, you can throw most vegetables together,a long with some stock, and it will taste wonderful. For this reason, some of my quantities are a little vague in this recipe! You really can't go wrong with soup. I encourage you to throw a bunch of delicious vegetables together and see what flavours you get. I'd love to hear what your favourite flavours of soup are. This particular recipe made an enormous batch - I had two pumpkins that had been gifts, that needed using up, and a huge bag of carrots that I picked up for 19p. I decided to use all of the carrots so that none got wasted. In my opinion, the bigger the batch of soup, the better, as you can always freeze it, and I love having it on hand for a quick, warming lunch.

1.5 medium sized pumpkins, already roasted
14 carrots
10 apricots
1 onion
4 sticks of celery
1 potato
Inch of fresh ginger
3 cloves of garlic
garam masala
cayenne pepper
2 stock cubes

1) Roast the pumpkin if you haven't already. (For a medium sized pumpkin, this takes about 40 mins at 200C/gas mark 5). (Here's a great recipe on how to roast the pumpkin seeds. I love these!)
In a large heavy based pan, heat a slosh of oil and a little bit of butter.
2) Add the chopped celery and onion, and saute until softened.
3) Chop the garlic and ginger and add to the onion and celery. Cook for a minute or until you can smell the lovely aromas of garlic and ginger,
4) Add the spices - I just did a generous shake of each - but if you're not keen on spices, go easy. You can always add more later. Cook for another minute.
5) Add the carrot and potato, along with the stock cube.
6) Add the stock cube (if using), and pour on boiling water - just enough to cover all of the vegetables.
7) Gently simmer until everything has cooked (about 20 minutes).
8) Meanwhile, soak the apricots in boiling water to soften them.
8) Stir in the roasted pumpkin & apricots, then blitz the soup to make it smooth. I used a stick blender, which are absolutely perfect for this kind of blending.
9) Taste the soup, and add any extra seasoning you think it needs - salt, pepper, garam masala, etc.
10) Serve with fresh bread. (This is my favourite simple bread recipe, although I now use 300g of wholemeal flour, and 100g white flour.)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The 52 Project: 44/52

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

Dear Ruby, 
We have been spending as much time as possible outdoors recently, come rain or shine. You are so content when you are exploring and climbing, and this week has been characterised by a lot of mud and water play. There was only one slightly unfortunate moment when I was hanging out the washing, and you were playing at the other end of the garden, out of my sight. All of a sudden, you started crying, and I found you diving into a trug full of rain water. You had been leaning over the side and put more weight on the trug than it was able to cope with, resulting in your feet coming off the ground. Somehow, you found the strength to hold yourself in such a way that you didn't fall in completely, but you did get very wet! Keep up with your adventurous explorations, little one. Sometimes accidents will happen, but you will learn a lot from them that will help you in the future. 
With great love,
Mama xx