Tuesday, 28 January 2014

around here



 
Lately, I have been...
walking through plenty of mud in Chew Magna and Dulwich Park
spending time with family in London
surprised by the boldness of rats in broad daylight
reading this book on Montessori
playing with my new camera (Canon 700D)
bathing Ruby in the kitchen sink & smiling at the way her little feet pop out over the edge
inspired by this blog and excited about the fun we can have with our daughter
appreciating the sight of fresh flowers in our home
listening to this song (Wild Heart by The Vamps) and slightly embarrassed at how much I love this cheerful tune by a very young boy band...
eating home made bread dipped in oil & vinegar. A firm favourite around here
planting some David Austin roses

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The 52 Project: 4/52

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

Ruby: Eight weeks old, relaxing in your Father's arms at your Grandparents' house in London.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Letters to Ruby // Week 8

Ever since I was a little girl, I have enjoyed writing letters to people. One of the ways that I am documenting these early weeks with Ruby is through writing her letters on a private blog, which I plan to make into a book for her at the end of this year. I love the idea of Ruby reading a book of letters to her that will mean different things to her at different stages of her life. Every now and then, I will share one of these letters with you.

______________________________________

Dear Ruby,

Today at 4.44pm you will have been breathing outside of your home in my womb for 8 weeks. This morning as we go about our day at home, my mind effortlessly runs through the things I want to remember. This is one of the reasons that I write to you, my little one, because these small moments that mean so much to me now, will feel like distant memories in the years to come. So, I write to remember, and for you to discover what life was like when it was just you and me at home each day after your Dad had left for work.

You are loving the mobiles that have been given to you my our friends and relatives, and this week, we have seen you come alive in a new way as you lie in your Moses basket, kicking those strong legs of yours, cooing at the animals that sway gently above you. I want to remember these quite mornings, where it's still possible for me to hear the tiny hiss and crackle of the milk warming on the stove for my morning coffee, as you lie calm and content to take in your surroundings.

It's been about ten minutes since I lay you down in the basket to enjoy the mobile for the short period of time that you are awake, and I can tell that you are starting to get sleepy by the little sounds you are making. So, I scoop you up and pop you in the sling, this place that has become so familiar for both of us in these first eight weeks. You are instantly calmed, until I sit down to sip on my coffee.

I want to remember how you still like movement to help you settle into your slumber. I stand up from the table, responding to your whimpering from the sling-cocoon, and set about making bread in my Kenwood Chef, smiling in the knowledge the that whirring sound of the dough hook rotating will not stop you from sleeping. Quite the opposite, in fact. While you were still growing inside me, I spent many afternoons in the kitchen baking, the Kenwood Chef whirring away, and you would always be calm, sound asleep in utero. I like to think that the familiarity of these sounds still resides with you.  Sure enough, as I move around the kitchen and set the mixer to its task of kneading the bread, you start to calm and settle, not quite into sleep, but the familiar weight of your muscles relaxing and your eyes staring into the distance tell me that sleep is not far off. I know that these days where you need movement to help you settle will not last, as you adjust to being out in the world, where everything sounds and feels different. I cherish these times where I move and you sleep on me.
By the time I have combined flour, yeast, salt and water, sleep has taken over your little body and your head rests heavily upon my chest. I take a trip upstairs to gather your clothes that need washing. As I load the washing machine with a miniature mountain of your clothes, I remember that the bed sheets need changing, and head back upstairs to gather them up. I smile with thankfulness that I am now able to walk up and down the stairs without any of the pain that had become my constant companion in the last trimester of pregnancy.

As I walk into the bedroom, the scent of a sachet of Spring Dress aromas greets me, and I think how it's these small details that don't really matter to anyone other than me, that I want to remember. You see, I have loved perfumes and sweet smelling homes for as long as I can remember. As my daughter, there will be some things about us that are similar, and as I drink in the fragrance that fill our bedroom, I wonder whether you will be like me in your enjoyment of beautiful scents. A home is characterised by so many things, my precious girl, and one of these things is scent. Each home has its own distinct smell, and I hope that the way you remember home as you grow up brings with it fond memories and happy scents. I will write to you another time about my favourite fragrances, but for now, I want to remember how I fill our dining room with the smell of Spring Dress as a tiny candle heats the oil and water to fill the air with wonder, and as we cozy up in the living room, I light the Fairy Dust candle. To me, these scents speak of comfort, calm and familiarity, and I hope that our home is always a place where you feel safe and comfortable.

I love these days where you are my constant companion, and I will forever hold them dear. It is a joy to be your Mama, little one.

With all my love,

xxx

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Lentil Soup

When I was eleven, I decided I wanted to be a vegetarian. This was highly impractical for my poor Mother, who cooked healthy meals from scratch, every day for our family of six. One of the conditions of her permitting me to be a vegetarian was that I would have to eat lentils in order to get some protein into my diet. I really disliked lentils at this stage in my life, and, now that I love them, I wish I could turn back the clock to make life easier for my Mum when it came to cooking for me. 
Now that I am an adult, many of my tastes have changed, and although I am no longer a vegetarian, I will quite happily eat lentils on a regular basis. We eat very little meat in our diet at the moment, and this is as much about the cost of meat as anything else. When it comes to eating lunch, I would quite happily forego this meal, and just snack my way through the afternoon, or eat a bowl of granola instead. However, now that I have a baby to feed, I am growing ever more conscious of needing to eat well, as I am nourishing not just my own body, but my daughter's. So I am endeavouring to be more organized by making healthy soups to eat for my lunch, so that when the midday hunger hits, it will only take me a few minutes to heat up something that is a little more full of protein and vegetables than a bowl of granola is. I love throwing a handful of lentils into a pan of simmering soup, knowing that I am adding protein to my meal, for the cost of just a few pennies. So, this is the soup I will be eating for my lunches this week:


Lentil Soup
ingredients
250g / 1 cup lentils
2 sticks of celery
1 onion (red or white)
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
half a sweet potato
3 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped finely
pinch of cumin seeds
a splash of red or white wine vinegar
1 tsp hot paprika
850ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 cm of chorizo, chopped (optional)

method
1. In a large saucepan or frying pan, heat a glug of olive oil.
2. Chop the sweet potato and chorizo (if using), and fry over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.
3. Once the potato and chorizo have softened, remove from the pan.
4. Chop the onion and celery.
5. Add the cumin seeds to the pan that you used for the chorizo and sweet potato, along with the onion and celery. If the pan is a little dry, add a slosh of water, as this will add moisture but not fat. Cook for about 10 mins.
6. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
7. Add the chopped tomatoes, stock, paprika, vinegar and lentils to the pan and cook for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked.
8. Put the chorizo and sweet potato back into the pan and stir through. If you like chunky soup, serve as it is. Or blitz the soup in a food processor if you prefer a smoother texture.
9. Serve with a sprig of coriander if you like it!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The 52 Project: 3/52



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

Ruby, you turned 7 weeks old this week and I am still amazed by how much you sleep during the day. When you are not sleeping, you are such a happy baby, and you love to kick those long legs of yours constantly. The days when your legs were curled up and quite still seem long gone. Your legs are so long that you are already growing out of your 3 - 6 month old baby gro's! I have started to resort to putting you in footless baby gro's and tiny socks to solve this. You were born with a full head of hair, which attracts a lot of comments from people. I wondered whether it would fall out, as newborn hair often does, but yours seems like it's here to stay, and just keeps growing.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

DIY: Baby Bean Bags


I love fabric. A lot. I probably have far too much of it, but I figure if ever I grow tired of sewing, there are plenty of other people who would happily take my piles of pretty fabrics off my hands. I told myself a while ago that I wouldn't buy any more fabric until I had made a good dent on what I already had, and I managed to stick to this for a while. But that all changed at Christmas, when I saw a quilt that my friend had made, and she reminded me of the website, M is for Make, which I had forgotten about. Visiting that site was a dangerous move. I got just a little bit giddy with excitement at all of the beautiful fabrics on offer and ended up buying a selection of fabrics to make a new baby quilt with. But that's another story for another time.
Today, I wanted to share with you a little sewing project I embarked upon before Christmas. Within my fabric stash, I have a whole collection of perfectly cut 5" x 5" squares, left over from various Moda Charm Packs. I realised that they could easily be transformed into the perfect tactile toy for young children. So, I made a couple of sets as Christmas presents for some of the children in my life, and have plans to make Ruby a collection of these.
I filled them with polystyrene bean bag filler, which makes a lovely squishy-squeaky sound. To add to the sensory experience, I stitched some ribbon tags onto some of the bean bags, and added some crackly paper (chocolate box packaging!) to others, which makes an even better sound than the polystyrene balls!
 After stitching on the ribbons to one of the 5" x 5" squares, I stitched both squares together (right sides of fabric facing each other), leaving a small opening to turn the bean bag the right way out. If you leave yourself a very small opening, it can be a little fiddly to turn it the right way out, and looks a little something like this in the process:
Once the squares are turned the right way out, I filled them with the polystyrene balls using a measuring jug for ease of pouring. To finish the bags off, I topstitched the opening closed using the sewing machine to make them as secure as possible.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Gratitude.

Happy Tuesday, Friends! Lately, I have been thankful for...

The kind and thoughtful comments that some of you left in response to a letter for you. (I have left each one of you a reply in the comments section.)
 A husband who takes photos of the sunrise while I am sleeping, then leaves me notes to let me know that there are beautiful skies captured on camera for me to look at,  just because he knows how much I love the skies. 
 Crackling fires and Chicken Pie on cold Winter Evenings
 For quiet mornings with my daughter who is calm, strong and oh so alert (when she isn't sleeping, which she does a lot of the time.)
 For Winter sunshine and afternoon walks in the woods with a precious friend.
A precious three year old who watch me carrying my baby in a sling and asks to do the same with her doll.
Time with my Mum and her kind and gentle ways.
A husband who makes me granola bars, just so I can have some healthy snacks about the house.

Here's to celebrating the small and beautiful moments in every day life.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The 52 Project: 2/52

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

Ruby, it is a joy to see you interacting more and more with us as your alertness increases. Your expressions are just wonderful, from the incredible sad face you pulled on Thursday as I sang to you, to the happiness and delight I see in you in this photo. 

I know that this photo is far from perfect, but I love the moment between Ruby and Rachel that I managed to capture here. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Photo Walk // muted

In my first Early Years job as a teaching assistant, I worked alongside a very inspiring teacher, and one of the many lessons she taught me was about how our attitude influences children. In Early Years education, one of the fundamental principles is that children should be provided with as many opportunities to learn outdoors as they have indoors. So, in England, this means that Early Years settings should have a free flow environment where children are able to access the outdoor learning environment at any time, whatever the weather. 

As I worked alongside this inspiring teacher, I saw the true outworking of this principle - we really did go outside whatever the weather - we never said, 'Oh it's too cold / too wet / too muddy / too windy' to the children. The teacher set the tone for our team, and that tone was very much one where we embraced the importance of outdoor learning, and did not see any time of weather as negative or detrimental to the children.

Ever since seeing how important and invaluable it is to let children learn and explore outdoors, I have aimed to uphold the same positive attitude that my teacher held, and to not see wet and windy weather as a reason to stay indoors. So, when John looked at the weather forecast for the week, and it looked like we could expect a whole lot of grey days, with no hope of sun in sight, I resolved to still get outside for a walk each day, and find beauty in the dull days.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The 52 Project: 1/52

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

I discovered the 52 Project last week, where bloggers are encouraged to share a portrait of their children once a week on their blogs throughout the year, as a simple but beautiful way of documenting their development over time. I am certain that I will take dozens of photos of Ruby each week, but I like this as an idea of being intentional in documenting the fleeting moments of childhood. 

Ever since I was pregnant with Ruby, parents have told me again and again to enjoy every moment, because it goes by so quickly. And so I am sure that in the years to come, when Ruby's baby days seem like long ago, I will treasure looking back at this year of portraits that I will have by the end of 2014.

Ruby: This week, at 5 weeks old, you have mastered smiling. Your little legs have unfurled, the memories of how you were curled up inside of me are fading from your body as you grow and get used to being out in the world. You have a little dimple in your right cheek that only appears when you flash us a smile. I want to remember the way you love to sleep in the sling, completely at peace as I go about the day with you as my constant companion.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

Hello, and Happy New Year! I know that at the start of a new year, people often decide to cultivate new habits like eating more healthily, and while I am all for that, my love of baking needs to be satisfied, one way or another, and really the only way to do so is to...bake! 
These caramel shortbreads were the last of the sweet treats to come forth from my oven in 2013. I baked them one stormy afternoon as a small way to say thank you to my husband. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen the reason for my gratitude - the weather was awful on this particular day and I had been taking refuge under a warm quilt. However, I ended up being forced to leave the house, after running out of nappies and milk.

As soon as I had shut the front door, I realised I had picked up the wrong set of keys, leaving me stuck outside in the wind and rain with no car keys. So my husband had to cycle home from work, getting drenched for the second time that day, to let me back in with his house keys. It felt more than a little fitting to bake him something to say a very big thank you and sorry.

I don't tend to make caramel shortbread very often, as I have always thought them to be a little time consuming, due to the different stages of baking. But really, they don't take that long, and the end result is so worth the effort. I definitely intend to make these more regularly, and perhaps next time I will try a salted caramel variation.

I only had 150 grams of chocolate in the cupboard when I came to make these, and after the ordeal that morning of locking myself out, I didn't fancy venturing out again. So the chocolate layer is rather out of proportion to the caramel and shortbread layers in these photos, which is not a real problem, aside from the appearance of the finished treats being disproportionate.
 I want to remember the scene behind the photos here: The natural light in our house was very limited as the afternoon was drawing to a close, so I knew that time was not on my side. I had Ruby in the sling, who was stirring from sleep, ready to feed at any moment. The floor of our living room was filled with scenes of Christmas and babies - cotton wool and changing mats strewn among white tissue paper laid out for the last of the Christmas present wrapping. And so there in the lightest room in the house, I crouched low to the ground with the babe still snug against me, and snatched a few photos as the light faded, and I celebrated the stillness of the moment at the end of a long day, a small chance to take a breath and a photo all at once.

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread
ingredients for shortbread (to fit in an 8" square tin)
250g plain flour
75g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter

for the caramel
1 can condensed milk (397g)
2 tbsp golden syrup
100g light muscovado sugar or light brown sugar

for the topping
150 - 200g dark or milk chocolate
30g white chocolate for the marbled effect

Method for the shortbread.
1. Pre-heat oven to 180C / Gas mark 4 / 350F and grease & line an 8" square brownie tin.
2. Cut up the butter into cubes, and place in a mixing bowl, along with the flour and sugar.
3. Rub the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. If you have a food processor, you can speed up this process and pop all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse until you reach the breadcrumb stage.
4. Press the shortbread mixture into your prepared tin and bake in the oven for 12 - 15 minutes, or until the shortbread starts to turn golden at the edges.

For the caramel
1. While the shortbread is baking, place the ingredients for the caramel in a pan and heat over a very gentle heat. Stir the caramel mixture continuously using a heatproof rubber spatula until it thickens - this took about 20 minutes on a gas hob.
It's crucial to stir continuously to stop the caramel from catching on the bottom of the pan. I have found that using a rubber spatula is the most effective way of doing this. If you find that your caramel does catch a little and has brown specs in it, do not worry, it'll still taste fine!
2. Pour the caramel mixture onto the shortbread and leave to cool.

To finish
Melt the chocolate and pour over the caramel. If you want to create a marbled effect, melt the white chocolate and drizzle over the dark chocolate. I used a skewer to swirl the white and dark chocolate together, creating a marbled appearance.