Sunday, 28 September 2014

The 52 Project: 39/52

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

Dear Ruby,
Today you turned ten months old. You are our concrete-crawling, cable-chewing, breadstick-loving, blue-eyed blinking Ruby-girl. You have developed a style of crawling, reserved exclusively for when you're in the garden and want to crawl across the patio in a dress. This involves tucking one leg inside your dress and putting your other foot flat down on the ground to help you scoot along. It's wonderful watching you adapt to do what you need to do. This week, you have had a temperature which made you feel very poorly, but thankfully, you got better just in time for a visit to London to meet your newest friend, Wren, for the first time. Here's to a childhood filled with adventures with friends who are like family.
With great love,
Mum xxx

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Baking & Art


If you have spent more than a couple of minutes on this blog, you might have noticed that I enjoy baking. This Summer, I decided to open a pop up bakery as a way of creating an outlet for my constant desire to bake. As I mentioned in my recent post, 500 Cakes of Summer, what started as a bit of a dream, has turned into a wonderful reality of baking regularly for people whom I have met as a result of starting the pop up bakery. Over the course of my cake filled Summer, I thought a lot about how baking is intrinsically linked with creativity for me, and it is this creative element in cake making that I greatly appreciate.

A while back, I started an art project that I had been thinking about for a while. We had a big canvas left over from our wedding, and after seeing Elise's post on painting song lyrics onto a canvas, I felt inspired to do something similar. So I started this project, writing out the words in pencil that I wanted to adorn this canvas with. But I got stumped at the first sign of failure. My lettering was uneven, and it just didn't fit into the space that I was working within. Defeated, I returned the canvas to the spot where it had sat in our lounge for almost a year since we moved here. (Bear with me, you'll soon see the connection between painting and baking!) The following day, I gathered together the ingredients from my cupboard that I needed in order to bake something tasty. As I settled into the familiar rhythm of weighing ingredients, mixing until the consistency was just right, and the house started to fill with aromas of baking, I found myself thinking, 'this is my art. This is where I can create and feel comfortable with it.'

The truth is, I had always wanted to be good at painting, but I never quite managed to translate the vision in my head into something that looked beautiful with paper and paint. As a teenager, when I felt surrounded by talented artistic friends and family, I would paint (because I needed a creative outlet), and then tear up what I had created and turn it into something else. This was quite a deliberate approach to my art - if I deliberately tore it up, I was less likely to feel disappointed with the picture as a whole.

It took me a long time to make the connection with baking and my need to be creative. As I baked on the day following my failed attempt at painting my giant canvas, it dawned on me that one of the reasons I love baking is because it provides me with an opportunity to create, but the creations aren't permanent. If I like what I have made, I can capture it on camera, to have a lasting record. But if it doesn't work out, it's ok, because it will be eaten and then I don't have to feel like it's been a waste. An added bonus of baking is sharing my cakes with others and seeing people enjoy what I have made. Art and baking bring people a lot of joy, for different reasons. It goes without saying that the enjoyment you gain from a piece of art is far less transient than the happiness you get when you eat some delicious cake. And I am more than ok with the temporary enjoyment that comes with baking, because it means that there is always an opportunity to bake again.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Malted cupcakes with malted chocolate frosting


I buy huge amounts of chocolate for baking purposes, but when it comes to bags of chocolates and sweets, I rarely buy them. However, last week, I saw that one of our local supermarkets had Malteasers on sale for £1, and it took me all of two seconds to decide that I was going to bake some malted cupcakes for these Malteasers to sit upon.

The frosting on these cupcakes is a delicious combination of chocolate and malt. I have a bit of a soft spot for this frosting recipe, as it is the first recipe for frosting that I had tried that was more adventurous than the simple but always reliable buttercream recipe I had grown to love.
ingredients for the cakes (makes 12 cupcakes)
110g unsalted butter
120g light soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 free range eggs
125g self raising flour
60g plain flour
15g cocoa
50g Chocolate Ovaltine powder
125ml milk (semi-skimmed or full fat)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

method:
1) Preheat oven to 160C (fan)/180C/ gas mark 4/350F and line cupcake tray with cases
2) Cream together the butter and sugars for a few minutes until they look pale and well combined.
3) Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4) In a separate bowl, sieve both the flours, and add the Ovaltine powder.
5) Measure out the milk & add the vanilla extract to it.
6) Gradually add the flours and milk alternately to the creamed butter & sugar, in about three batches.
7) Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling them to two thirds full.
8) Bake for 25 minutes, then insert a skewer into the centre of one of the cakes to check they're done. If the skewer comes out clean, take them out of the oven, and transfer the cakes onto a cooling rack to cool before frosting.

ingredients for the frosting
170g unsalted butter at room temperature
60g cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g icing sugar, sieved
30ml milk
115ml double cream
30g Chocolate Ovaltine powder
1 tsp good quality vanilla extract

method for the frosting
1) In a measuring jug, mix together the cream and ovaltine powder.
2) In a large bowl, beat together the cocoa and butter.
3) Next, start adding the sieved icing sugar to the cocoa & butter, a little at a time, alternatiing with the milk & vanilla extract.
4) Once these ingredients are thoroughly mixed, gradually add the cream & ovaltine mixture, and beat until you have a beautifully smooth consistency.
5) Pipe or spread frosting onto your cooled cakes & enjoy the deliciousness that your fair hands have created!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The 52 Project: 38/52

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

Dear Ruby,
This week, you have started doing this hilarious and endearing thing, where you do an exaggerated blink with a great grin on your face, and wait for us to do it back. Initially, Daddy and I were the only ones you directed your special blink at. But then, Granny and Grandad came to stay, and you realised you had a captive audience watching you in you highchair, as you paused mid-munch to do your special blink. I have no idea how long this will last - for all I know, I will have forgotten all about it by next month. So I wanted to write it down, because these are the sweet things that bring laughter to our days and I want to remember them. 
With great love,
Mum xxxx

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Dear Ruby

Dear Ruby,
These days, you crawl like a champion. This makes taking photographs of you a great challenge. As soon as you see the camera, you drop whatever you're doing and crawl as fast as you can towards me. There are so many moments that go uncaptured because you get distracted by the camera, and I am learning to be ok with that.
We tend not to bother with plates and bowls at meal times, because when we do. you throw them on the floor as though you'd be taught about the Greek tradition of smashing plates.

I have resorted to giving you a pre-dinner snack on more than one occasion this week, when you inevitably seem to reach a point of being unable to cope without being in my arms. Watermelon has come to my rescue, and thankfully, we have got plenty more stored up in the fridge. Here's to enjoying fruit as a starter to every meal. Which means your face looks like this before dinner has even begun: (Yep, that's a bit of yoghurt up your nose. It's just how you roll, and you're very comfortable with it.)

When we're in the kitchen together, your favourite thing to do is tip the basket of onions and potatoes over and eat the skin off the red ones. Always the red onions, never the white. We find remnants of red onion skin all over the house, and it makes me smile, because if it wasn't for you, we'd only find onion skins in the kitchen.
You have learnt to use the click-clack car track with incredible speed, and your excitement when you spot your toothbrush in the bathroom is second only to how much you love it when Daddy arrives home from work. Ruby, we have such fun with you. You know how to make us laugh, and we love the joy that you bring.
Keep growing strong, little one.
Love,
Your Mama.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

500 Cakes of Summer

Last week, as I set about gathering some ingredients to bake cupcakes with, I realised that I am down to my last few cupcake cases. This felt like cause for a miniature celebration, because those cupcake cases represent the work of this Summer. Back in July, I had purchased 500 cupcakes cases to fuel an idea to run a virtual pop up bakery via Facebook during August. I had no idea if it would be a success or not, but either way, it gave me a good reason to do what I love: Bake.

So, to discover that I only had 10 cupcake cases left was quite exciting. Even though I know that I have baked a lot of cakes in the past month, and I have kept a record of every single one, to tangibly see that I had ploughed through my ample supply of cupcake cases was a fresh reminder of what I have achieved this Summer.

You can see from the photos that chocolate featured highly in my baking, but just to give a rundown of all of the flavours I have baked, here's a little list:

*********************************************************************************

Chocolate cake cloaked in chilli chocolate ganache
Rich chocolate cake, cloaked in chocolate fudge icing
Vanilla cupcakes with white chocolate cream cheese frosting
Chocolate Orange cupcakes
Carrot cake & cream cheese cupcakes
Vanilla cupcakes with a light chocolate fudge icing (recipe found here)
Lemon cupcakes filled with fresh lemon curd, topped with lemon buttercream
Chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream
Rich chocolate cake filled with salted caramel & chocolate ganache
Very light chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream
Lemon & Raspberry cupcakes topped with lemon & raspberry cream cheese frosting

*********************************************************************************

It has brought me a lot of joy to bake cakes for so many people, and to make some wonderful, unexpected connections as a result. Here's to a future filled with baking many more cakes! Later in the week, I will be sharing a bit more of the story behind my love of baking.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The 52 Project: 37/52



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

Dear Ruby,
This photo captures you as we so often see you - carefully balanced with both of your feet just hovering above the ground. Many people express concern that they think you're about to wobble over, but after watching you maintain this posture for a few minutes, their concern is allayed. Ever since you could sit up independently, you have balanced with this wonderful poise. Your strength amazes me. We spent the day at Huntstile Farm, celebrating Katy and Richard's wedding. Daddy was throwing bean bags at a coconut shy , and you watched him so intently, taking it all in, before having a taste of some pebbles. 
With great love,
Mum xxx

Thursday, 11 September 2014

on strength.

My Body Balance attire - bare feet & running leggings

I have become conscious of strength and weakness in a whole new way since growing, birthing and raising a baby. Just as is the case with parenting, every woman's body seems to be different when it comes to the post partum recovery process, and for me, it has felt like a slow journey getting back any of the physical strength that I had before pregnancy. Last Monday, I managed to achieve a bind in my body balance class, which felt like a wonderful physical milestone. In that moment of achieving a yoga pose which required strength, flexibility and balance, I felt strong again, like my body was remembering what it could once do, but with a new strength which I had to work for weeks and months to achieve.

During pregnancy, I was keen to do a reasonable amount of exercise, knowing that it would help with labour and getting back to good health after giving birth. I ran and went to weekly Zumba classes until I was 28 weeks pregnant, then when these forms of exercise were no longer suitable, I started swimming a few times a week, which I did until I was 39 weeks pregnant. I had been going to weekly classes from a year before I was pregnant, in quiet preparation for getting my body ready and strong for pregnancy and childbirth. And yet, in spite all I did to stay strong, it has taken me nine months to feel like I have regained any kind of the strength that I had before pregnancy. 

When Ruby was five months old, I started attending exercise classes at our local gym. Initially, this was slightly challenging to fit in at times when my husband was around to look after Ruby, and one of the only classes that I was able to do was Body Balance, at 6.45am on a Thursday morning. My first thought was, 'there is no way I am getting up earlier than necessary - I need all the sleep I can get!' But then Ruby started waking consistently for 2 months at 5am, so by the time 6.45am rolled around, I was well and truly awake and ready for the day. It's funny how, when change is forced upon you, you sometimes discover that you are capable of more than you realised. 

So I started rolling out of bed just a little bit earlier than felt comfortable, and made my way to Body Balance. At the start, there were mornings when it was so tempting to ignore my alarm, and stay in bed, but then I thought of how lovely it would be to have a little time to myself at the start of the day, and that prospect was enough to get me out of bed. And I have never regretted that early start. About a month into starting weekly Body Balance classes, I realised there had been a shift in my thinking. That initial convincing and cajoling I had to do to get myself exercising was no longer happening. I actually started looking forward to the class.

On Thursday mornings as I bend and stretch, balance and wobble, I am reminded in a very tangible way of where strengths and weaknesses are present in my body. Rather than resenting the weakness, I am learning to celebrate the new strength that I am developing. I am learning to be patient with the body that I have, and delighting in discovering an exercise class which is equal parts hard work and relaxing. 

Every time I find myself feeling ever so slightly disparaging of the way that my body still carries this extra layer of weight that I did not once have, and that my stomach muscles  still haven't pulled back to where they should be, I try and remember, I have birthed a baby. An actual human being has grown inside of me, and that is incredible. When I find myself comparing the slowness of my recovery to the speed of others, I remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy, and I don't want to miss out on the joy of celebrating the life that I have birthed, and the strength I am slowly rediscovering.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The 52 Project: 36/52

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

(This post is a little late, due to a very busy weekend, which left little time for blogging.)

Dear Ruby,
There's a saying that goes, 'a picture speaks a thousand words', and this is so often true. Yet it is also the case that sometimes the stories behind photos add a lot more to them. What you can't tell from looking at this photo is that you had not been particularly happy - you were full of cold, teething, learning how to stand up, and just generally finding life a little difficult. You love the guitar, and so I suggested to Daddy that he could play to you. Your expressions and articulations switched between despair and delight as he played, and eventually you calmed down. I love the way you are so involved in what's happening here, Ruby. Your new found independence in being able to pull yourself up to standing is such a joy to see - you can get to where you want to be so much more easily. And in this moment, you wanted to be right where the sound was coming from, involved in the strumming, watching Daddy so intently. We love you.
Yours forever,
Mama xxx

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Southbourne & Bournemouth.

Last week, we soaked up the end of Summer with family in Southbourne. My parents in law have just moved there, swapping city life in London for a peaceful retirement by the sea. On our first evening there, we took the short walk to the beach to enjoy the sunset and a swim. I did the honourable thing and looked after Ruby so that everyone else could swim!
Beach huts will always remind me of home - my parents also live near the sea, on the South East coast - and the coastline is dotted with these colourful huts. I am curious as to whether other coastal countries have beach huts, or if this is purely an English thing. It's quite fun to walk past beach huts on a busy Summer's day to see the array of decor and beach paraphernalia adorning the interiors of different huts.
Ruby took great delight in crawling around her grandparents' garden, munching on crispy brown leaves and pulling at the long grass. It is a joy to see how content she is in her explorations of the world around her.
The annual Bournemouth air show took place over the weekend. which involved John and his Dad spending much time marvelling at the variety of planes flying overhead on a regular basis, while I dealt with the baby who was woken by their roaring engines. I have to admit, they were pretty impressive though, even if they did wake my baby.

View from Hengistbury Head
John and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary while we were in Southbourne, and thanks to kind grandparents, we enjoyed celebrating with a meal out by ourselves. It was a wonderfully restful week, and I am excited at the prospect of many more family holidays here over the coming years. I am particularly looking forward to watching as Ruby transitions from being a baby who loves to eat sand, to a child who loves to build sandcastles and swim in the sea.