Thursday, 27 February 2014

around here

loving the long shadows cast by the low morning sun this week
baking lemon & blueberry muffins
reading Winnie the Pooh to Ruby, after finding the complete collection for £3 in a charity shop
watching crocus' and daffodils springing up everywhere
planning what to bake with my bowlful of eggs (ideas welcome - feel free to leave a comment!)
dreaming of Summer days & sewing up some Summer dresses for Ruby
enjoying the city I live in, particularly the 'Here Gallery' and work by local artists

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The 52 Project: 8/52

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

Ruby, this week, you have discovered your hands in a new way that is highly entertaining, and mildly dangerous. You are constantly moving those arms of yours, batting the bell that hangs down from the play frame that one of your Grandad's built you, and scratching your face when you sleep. These days, your hands frequently find their way to your mouth, and you happily suck away on them, making the most marvellous slurping sounds. You turned 12 weeks old this week, and I think I finally accepted that you are no longer a newborn baby. You are strong in so many ways and continue to bring much joy to our days.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Dining with The King's

Ever since we have been married, John has done the vast majority of cooking in our house. He's great at it, and far more creative than I am at rustling up something delicious with a few ingredients. Up until now, we haven't really planned meals. I do the food shop on a Monday and before I go, I ask John if there's anything in particular he'd like me to get. More often than not, John doesn't have particular meals in mind for the week ahead when I ask him, so I just go ahead and buy a reasonable amount of fresh produce, store cupboard essentials (tinned tomatoes, beans, pulses, etc), and one kind of meat. Then John works his magic on these ingredients throughout the week.

But since Ruby was born, things have been changing. Much to my surprise, I have found that I have had more of a desire to cook for us. Part of this desire comes from my enjoyment of time alone in the kitchen, and with Ruby around, it can take a little while to start and finish any kind of baking or cooking. So, the prospect of John coming home and looking after Ruby while I rustle up dinner in the kitchen, holds great appeal to me.

For such a long time, I have intended to document some of the meals that we eat, so that when inspiration is lacking, I can look back at past ideas and revisit some of our favourites that might have been forgotten. One of the reasons I have been so slow at actually getting round to this is because I find savoury food so much less photogenic than sweet treats. That, and sweet treats can sit around for a few days, whereas once we have cooked our evening meal, we usually want to eat it there and then, rather than photograph it!

So I'm keeping it simple and photoless this time around, and I'm just going to share a list of some of the things we have eaten over the last couple of weeks, along with a few links to some of the recipes that I have used, or adapted. I started out by creating a Monday to Friday meal plan for you, but John looked at it, and declared that I wasn't giving an accurate representation of what a week's worth of meals looks like, because we will often have leftovers. Regardless of how I present this list, I hope that these meals might bring you some new ideas of things to try in your kitchen, as well as helping me to remember what we eat.

At the moment, we don't eat a great deal of meat. When we do eat meat, I tend to buy a whole chicken, roast it, and then get approximately three meals out of it. This is cheaper than buying breast fillets, and seems to be the only way of buying free range chicken in a supermarket, and we prefer the texture and flavour of roasted chicken. We eat a fair amount of chorizo, which serves us well in that it is a brilliant flavour enhancer if you want to have a simple dish, but something that's a bit more exciting than just pasta and vegetables.


chickpea curry (similar to this recipe)

homemade pizza (we use Jamie Oliver's recipe for pizza base & love it and always use mozzarella)

pasta with kale & chorizo in a tomato based sauce

salmon with zesty lentils (we use salmon fillets rather than smoked salmon)

vegetarian hot noodles with cannellini beans as main source of protein

thai green chicken risotto (made just as you would make a curry but with arborio rice)

chicken fajitas

tuna & potato fishcakes

wholemeal pitta pockets stuffed with anything and everything


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Chocolate Chip Shortbread

I have baked this recipe at least half a dozen times this year, and every time I have made them, I have had every intention of sharing the recipe here But, we have managed to eat the entire batch before I have taken any photos. So this time, I was determined to take some photos. It might have taken me three days from making the dough to actually baking and photographing it, but I got there in the end.

Normally when it comes to baked goods, homemade wins every single time for me. I am pretty sure this has a lot to do with being raised on home baked goods, which just taste so much better than shop bought cakes, that have a whole load of added preservatives. However, when I tasted Costo's chocolate chip shortbread a few years back, I was smitten, and as much a I wanted to replicate the recipe, I wasn't convinced my shortbread would ever taste as good as theirs. The problems with Costco's shortbread are two-fold:

1) You have to be a member at Costco.
2) They only sell their choc chip shortbread in packs of 24 (approx). And that is just plain dangerous because it requires a whole lot of self control to not keep eating just one more.

But this recipe? It hits the mark perfectly. I would go as far to say I love these just as much as the Costco shortbread. Perhaps even a little bit more, because they fill my home with beautiful smells, as well as tasting delicious. They might not be as beautifully uniform in size and shape as Costco's, but that only really matters for the short time you are admiring them before popping the buttery goodness into your mouth, so I think I can get over that.

225g / 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
120g / 3/4 cup icing (powdered) sugar
370g / 2 1/3 cup plain (all purpose) flour
150g / 1 cup dark (semi-sweet) chocolate chips

1) Beat the butter until creamy.
2) Gradually mix in the icing sugar, sieving as you go. The consistency will be crumbly.
3) Gradually add in the flour until incorporated.
4) Stir in the chocolate chips.
5) Either squish the mixture together into a log shape, wrapped in cling film, or press the mixture into a tin.
6) Chill in the freezer for 30 mins. Or in the fridge for a little longer. The dough will last in the fridge for a few days if you don't want to bake it immediately.
7)  Preheat the oven to 160C / gas mark 4 / 320F. If you made the dough into a log, cut into 1cm thick slices then place on a greased baking tray. If you pressed the dough into a tin, just place it straight in the oven and bake for 10 - 12 minutes, or until the shortbread is turning golden at the edges.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The 52 Project: 7/52

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

Ruby, you absolutely love bath time. Earlier this week when Daddy was out late and you were unhappy, I resorted to having a bath with you, in the hope that you would calm down and be soothed from whatever it was that was making you fussy. It worked a treat, and you flapped your arms and your legs around with great gusto, for 40 minutes, then fell asleep for the night. 

We normally bathe you in the evening, but I wanted to capture in daylight, your delight at bath time. What I didn't anticipate was the effect the sun would have on you once you were out of the bath. This normally brings on tears as you transition from the warm bath to being wrapped in your towel. But today, I laid you down in the spots of sunlight on your bedroom floor, so that you could feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. You stretched your arms out to the side and shut your eyes, not in sleep but in a state of complete relaxation. And I smiled with the knowledge of just how wonderful the sun feels, and that this was the first time you were experiencing it.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Six things on a Saturday

1. We've been eating these cookies this week. All time favourite in our house.

2. Enjoyed this video shared on A Cup of Jo this week, which reminded me of the Sunday afternoons of my childhood, spent watching the Grand Prix with my Dad.

3. This song has been in my head in the middle of the night at least three times this week ('Happy' by Pharrell Williams)

4. I sang 'To you O Lord' to Ruby and she cried until I stopped singing....(this is not the first time this has happened)

5. I played 'Million Pound Girl' to Ruby and she loved it. Hmmm... (John, you might want to start influencing our daughter's taste in music, before it's too late...)

6. Loved eating steamed salmon with zesty puy lentils for dinner on Wednesday. For someone who used to gag at the prospect of eating fish, this is one of the recipes that is slowly winning me over to being a fish eater.

Happy weekend, friends! What are you eating / watching / listening to this weekend? Feel free to share in the comments.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Portrait Project: 6 / 52

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

Ruby, at ten weeks old, you continue to sleep like a dream, during the day and the night. Although you don't seem to move around much in your sleep, this week you have woken up with many fresh scratches that you didn't have before you went to bed. In this photo, you are lying on one of the beautiful quilts that your Granny has made you, and wearing a dress that was knitted by Jane, one of your Granny's friends.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Granola Bars

The day after Ruby was born, my sister came to stay for a few days. She was such a great help. By the time John and I managed to get up and out of our bedroom, my sister and Mum had filled our house with the sweet aromas of brownies baking and a roast dinner, done all of our laundry and stocked up our fridge with food.

In those first few days of adjusting to life with a baby, days and nights were a blur, but one of the things that was clear and constant was my hunger. Oh my, I had no idea just how hungry I would feel as a result of giving birth, then breastfeeding a baby. I realised quickly that I would need some night time snacks, because by 4am each night, I was feeling famished. So, when Ruby was less than 48 hours old and my sister texted me from our living room while I was in bed, offering to go to the shops, I knew exactly what I wanted. Brunch bars and Tracker bars. Tracker bars remind me of my childhood and long journeys as a family. They are a great source of sustenance. The perfect nighttime snack to fill my grumbling belly.
I have eaten a lot of cereal bars since Ruby was born, and although I no longer need a 4am snack, I need snacks during the day. So, I decided to try and make my own cereal bars. I used Summer Harms' granola bars recipe as a guide and adapted some of the ingredients to suit my taste. Summer has kindly given me permission to share her recipe here.

Granola Bars (makes approx. 24 large bars)
ingredients to toast:
2 cups / 180g oats
1 cup / 120g flax seed
1 cup of mixed seeds / 100g (I used sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup / 80g dessicated coconut
1 tsp cinnamon

ingredients to add to toasted mixture
1/2 cup / 100g dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup / 170g honey
2 tsp treacle (molasses)
4 tbsp / 35g unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla paste or extract
3 tbsp peanut butter (I used crunchy)
1/2 cup / 80g of mixed peel
1/2 cup / 80g of cranberries
1/2 cup / 80g of sultanas
zest of a lemon

1) Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark 5 / 400F.
2) In a bowl, mix together the 'ingredients to toast' list. Then spread out the ingredients on a rimmed baking tray (measuring 13" x 10") Bake for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through the roasting time to prevent the uppermost ingredients getting burnt.
3) Heat the sugar, honey, molasses and butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat until simmering. Stir in the peanut butter and vanilla extract.
4) Remove the toasted ingredients and pour back into the mixing bowl.
5) Add the dried fruit, mixed peel and lemon zest to the toasted ingredients then stir.
6) Add the melted sugar mixture and stir thoroughly until all of the ingredients are combined.
7) Grease & line the rimmed baking tray, then press the mixture into the rimmed baking tray. I found my tray wasn't quite big enough, so put the remaining mixture into a loaf tin, which worked perfectly.
8) Place another sheet of parchment on top of the mixture, then use a rolling pin to flatten the top.
9) Leave the bars to set for 2 - 3 hours before slicing and eating.

Thanks again to Summer for letting me share this recipe. I will most definitely be making these again!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Our weekend // Adventuring in Wales

I love the quiet rhythm that my days have taken on since our daughter was born, but I especially love the weekends when I know I will get to spend time with my husband and our friends. I remember the first time I read about the characteristics of extroverts and introverts, and smiled a big smile as I realised what I have known since I was a child but had never put a name to - I love to be around people. I am recharged by spending hours on end chatting with friends, and so I was particularly looking forward to this weekend. A good friend of ours is celebrating his birthday this week, and so in celebration, he invited close friends who are now scattered around to country, to spend the weekend in Rhossili Bay, Wales. 

To make the most of our weekend at Stormy Castle, John took the day off work on Friday so that we could get to Wales by lunchtime. (For the benefit of my international readers, although Wales is technically another country, it is only a 12 mile drive from the city I live in, to the bridge that takes you into Wales.) After a hearty lunch in The King's Arms, we went to Stormy Castle, which is situated on top of a hill with wonderful views of the ocean. On Saturday, we went to the nearest beach for a walk, and experienced an incredible array of changing weather. The howling wind was constant throughout, while the sun gave way to rain and a rainbow, followed by sleet and hail. We got thoroughly drenched to the skin in the rain, while Ruby slept through the entire adventure and stayed warm and dry in her sling.

We returned to Stormy Castle and changed into dry clothes, then settled in for a calm an quiet afternoon. The rest of Saturday was spent drinking coffee, chatting and watching Pacific Rim. Ruby was the only baby on this weekend, and so she had plenty of attention and conversation with our friends. I would love to know what she was thinking about when these photos were taken.
Sunday brought beautiful blue skies, so we went back to the beach for another walk. There was just a handful of other people enjoying the beach with us, and I couldn't get enough of the glorious views and the gentle roar of the ocean.

By the time we returned to Stormy Castle to prepare for going home, there had been more rain and sun, so we got to enjoy yet another rainbow. I came home feeling thoroughly refreshed, with a resolve to make more trips to the countryside and the ocean. While I love city life, there is nothing quite like going on adventures to places where the pace of life feels less frantic, and driving on roads with fewer cars and no traffic lights. Not to mention the way the sight of miles and miles of green fields and the sea has can refresh my soul.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The 52 Project: 5/52

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

I don't know what happened this week, but I barely took any photos. Perhaps it was because of all of the rain we have been having, where the sky never really wakes up from its grey slumber, and so there is very little natural light. Or maybe in the comings and goings of the week, I didn't take enough time to capture the moments. The portrait this week is far from perfect from a photographer's perspective , as Ruby is out of focus, but it still captures the moment perfectly. Ever since Ruby was born, she has been captivated by this cyclamen plant. Each time we change her nappy, she will lie in this spot, staring at the cyclamen, totally entranced. Now that Ruby is smiling, it is intriguing to see how her delight in this plant continues. And in the years to come, it's these small moments that are so likely to fade, that I want to remember.

So here she is, nine weeks old and smiling at the crazy cyclamen that desperately needs repotting.