Sunday, 28 December 2014

The 52 Project: 52/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2014.'
Dear Ruby,
We have spent the last week celebrating Christmas with both sets of grandparents in Bournemouth and Herne Bay. You have managed to sleep through all of the gift giving and present opening, danced to Christmas Carols at Church, eaten half your body weight in cheese, and decided that walking is way more exciting than crawling. (Obviously, I am exaggerating about how much cheese you have eaten, but you do love it, and it has featured highly in your snack times.) Both of your grandparents had much bigger Christmas trees than we have at home, which has been a lot of fun for you as you pulled on the branches to reach up to all of the sparkling, shiny baubles.
Sadly I didn't manage to take many photos of our Christmas celebrations this year. I took this last portrait of you in when we fed the ducks in the freezing cold with Daddy and Grandad. You have started making a distinctive noise whenever you see any kind of animal, and we have loved seeing your intrigue in animals grow recently as you point and make your 'hmmm, hmmm' noise at each and every kind of animal you see.
Here's to celebrating the end of your first full year, and the beginning of another, full of adventures and discovery as you continue to explore the world around you.
With all my love,
Mama xx

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

#lifecaptured project: what feelings does twilight arouse in you?

For many years, I have had this desire to capture beauty, and ever since my Father bought me my first SLR camera for my seventeenth birthday, I have loved the way that I can use photography as a way to try and capture the beauty I see around me. Twilight evokes a mixed response in me - I love to try and capture the colours that change so rapidly in the sky at that time of day, but often feel a frustration at just how fast the loss of light at twilight feels during the Winter months.

As twlight falls, I am often in the process of preparing dinner for my daughter. I have learnt that the more prepared I can be with cooking, the better, as this is a time of day where Ruby is often tired and frustrated. Recently, we have started a lovely routine around dinner time and twilight, where we go up to our bedroom and sit in the rocking chair. Ruby rocks back and forth on my lap, inviting me to sing yet another song that I have made up about Ruby in the rocking chair, before quickly become distracted by the view out of the window. Our bedroom windows are covered with Ruby's handprints. In the mornings, she stands on the windowsill in the back bedroom, watching the birds fly around the chimney tops and pointing at the trees swaying in the breeze. The front bedroom holds the perfect invitation for watching twilight as the sun sets to the West, and I am learning to love this time of day, as I watch my daughter finding peace as she watches the world go by at twilight.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The 52 Project: 51/52

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

Dear Ruby,
After a week full of early morning baking sessions (which involved you surreptitiously having your first taste of chocolate cookie dough), we are spending a few days with Granny and Granddad, and some of your Aunt's and Uncles, in Bournemouth. In a quiet moment this morning, you reveled in the opportunity to reach up for the ornaments on the Christmas tree. You love baubles, and pull down any on the tree that are within your reach. This week you have started to walk so much more - it is incredible to turn around to find you just walking, as if it's the most normal thing in the world for you to do. (I realise that, of course, walking is perfectly normal, but when you only took your first steps a few weeks ago, I still marvel at your new skill.) You had your first taste of a traditional Christmas dinner today in the form of turkey, roast potatoes and pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon). You mostly chewed everything, spat it back out and tried again. Here's to enjoying many more Christmas dinners together in the years to come.
With all my love,
Mama.

#lifecapturedproject: the kindness of a stranger

When I recall the kindness I received from a stranger recently, the presiding image etched in my memory is of me standing by my car in the middle of the road, my hands on my knees, bent double with laughter and tears spilling over.

It was a sunny Saturday morning in the middle of Autumn, and I was full of excitement and anticipation as I drove across the city to a writing workshop. I had never attended a writing workshop before, let alone one where the focus was motherhood. I am still so very near the beginning of my motherhood journey, and yet I knew that there was so much that I would like to write about. Regardless of the nature of the workshop, I knew that there would be plenty of words spilling out from my pen that morning, and that three hours was probably not long enough to write down everything about motherhood that I wanted to.

My husband looked after our daughter for the morning, and I was looking forward to having this uninterrupted time to learn and write and be inspired by other mothers. The workshop was taking place in South Bristol - a part of the city which I do not know very well. In all honesty, the more I drive around this city, the less I like driving. For so many reasons. But on this occasion, I had silently acknowledged that driving in an unfamiliar place is much less stressful without a baby. Unless. Unless finding a parking space is pretty much impossible.

I had reached the venue on time, popped in to let them know that I had arrived, but I just needed to park my car, and off I went again to find a space. Half an hour later and I was wishing that I could have just cycled instead and avoided the frustration of finding somewhere safe, legal, and preferably free to leave my car. I spotted a road that I hadn't yet tried in my half an hour of exploring, and turned down it. I very quickly wished I hadn't, as it was very short, very narrow and had nowhere easy to park or turn. But I had to turn the car around in order to get out of the road. I started to attempt my turn, but quickly realised there was a very high chance of me crunching the cars surrounding me. I asked a man for help and he looked at the back end of my car, smiled, nodded, shrugged and walked back inside his garage. No English. No confidence in communicating with gestures. No help. Oh help.

By this point, I had managed to rotate my car until I was horizontal across the road, all the while, desperately praying that no-one else would come down the road while I was stuck, and that I would manage to avoid causing damage to any other cars. After each tiny maneuver, I hopped out of the car to check how much space I had. Barely any was the answer every time. I stood in the road looking at my car, wedged between two rather expensive vehicles, and all I could think was, 'I am stuck. I am completely stuck, and I can't get out of this mess alone without causing damage.' And then the hot tears started to sting my eyes and blur my vision.

Just at that moment, a man came along, and thankfully, he didn't ignore me. Or perhaps, he couldn't ignore this slightly odd sight of a woman on the edge of tears standing in the middle of the road. Without hesitation he asked, 'Are you alright?' At which point I burst into tears and said, 'NO!' in a slightly hysterical manner. And this is when I found myself doubled over, laughing and crying, all the while thinking, 'this poor man. I really am ok and I don't need him to do anything, except perhaps move my car for me..' It's amazing what you are willing to entrust to a complete stranger when you are completely stuck. He put his arm around me and reassured me that all would be ok, and I wondered at how many people would stay this calm in the face of an hysterical woman.

I asked if he could help me get out of the mess that I was in. He took a deep breath, looked at how little space I had, and said, 'Yes. But it's going to take a while.' I had to put my trust in this stranger that he would see me out safely. When I couldn't see how little space I had but he was telling me it was safe to keep inching towards another car, I had to trust that he was being truthful. He was willing to give of his time and patience to help me out and I was so incredibly grateful for the kindness he showed me.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Lemon Curd Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream


This morning, as I was loading up my basket with lemons, I mentioned to our greengrocer that I was going to make some lemon curd. I asked him if he had ever tried it, and he had never heard of it. I tried to recall the first time I ate lemon curd, but it's a flavour that my taste buds have been familiar with since childhood, so I could't quite remember just how long ago I discovered just how delicious it is. My Grandad used to make the best lemon curd around, and I wonder if my first taste of the beautiful citrus curd was from a batch made by his very talented hands.

I have come to love filling my cupcakes with things - like salted caramel, jam, chocolate ganache, raspberry cream, and now, lemon curd. I definitely get more enjoyment out of eating a little cake with something slightly gooey in the middle, rather than having just a big old hunk of cake topped with icing. Although these cupcakes would be perfectly good without lemon curd in the middle, it definitely makes them that bit more wonderful, in my humble opinion.

If you would like to make these with lemon curd, I would recommend using this recipe, and halving the quantity. This will give you plenty of lemon curd for the cake batter, filling the centres of the cakes and adding some to the icing, and you'll have a little leftover to spread on toast.

ingredients (makes approx. 18 cupcakes, or 2 x 8" round sponge cakes)
225g unsalted butter at room temperature*
225g caster sugar
225g self raising flour
4 free range eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1-2 lemons, depending on personal preference
1 heaped dessertspoon of lemon curd

method 
1) Pre-heat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4 and line cupcake trays with cases
2) In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well combined and fluffy.
3) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure all mixture is incorporated.**
4) Sieve in the flour and baking powder, and mix until all of the flour is incorporated.
5) Stir in the zest and lemon curd
6) Divide the batter between the cupcake cases (or tins, if you're making a large sponge cake instead). I tend to put a rounded dessertspoon of mixture, plus a little extra.
7) Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
8) Remove from the cupcake tray as soon as possible, and leave to cool on a wire rack.
9) If you're filling the cakes with some lemon curd, use a cupcake corer or a knife to cut out the centre of the cake, then spoon lemon curd into the hole until it's level with the top of the cupcake.

for the buttercream
500g icing (confectioner's) sugar
160g unsalted butter
50ml milk
lemon curd
lemon zest (optional - I didn't use this, as I dislike the texture of zest in a smooth frosting. However, if you'd like the buttercream to be very lemony, the zest would achieve this flavour.)

method for the buttercream
1) Beat together the icing sugar and butter until the crumbly mixture starts to come together. (If you're using a freestanding mixer, I would recommend covering the bowl with a tea towel to stop icing sugar flying everywhere.)
2) Slowly add the milk a little at a time, beating until you have a smooth buttercream.
3) I'm afraid I didn't measure out the lemon curd, so I can't tell you precisely how much to use, but it was approximately 2 dessertspoons worth. I would encourage you to add just a little at a time, as the curd softens the consistency of the buttercream, and if you're planning on piping it onto the cakes, you want to avoid it become too runny.
4) Spread or pipe the buttercream onto the cooled cupcakes.

Baking Notes
* Butter temperature:
During the Winter months, I tend to find that when my butter is at room temperature, it is a little bit hard. There are a couple of options as to how you can solve this problem:
1) Beat the butter first before adding the sugar to warm it up and soften it.
2) Pop it in the microwave on a low power for a few seconds. I don't have a microwave, so I can't tell you how many seconds, I would just recommend you watch it like a hawk, as you don't want it to melt.

** Eggs
The temperature of eggs is important in baking. Ideally, you want to bake with them when they are at room temperature, otherwise your batter is very likely to curdle. If this happens, just add a little of the flour to the mixture as you add the eggs.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The 52 Project: 50/52

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

Dear Ruby,
After a week of fighting illness, it has been such a joy to have you back to your happy, calm, contended self. You make us laugh a lot, and particularly love to throw your hands above your head, signalling a rendition of, 'hands up, hands up, hold your hands up high' - a song that you seem to love. And this snow suit? It's pretty hilarious in its own right. You quickly became proficient in wiggling into position to whizz down the slide, arms outstretched like a little penguin.
Here's to many more Winter adventures in slightly more appropriate clothing!
With great love,
Mama xx

Monday, 8 December 2014

#lifecapturedproject: Today at 6pm

I love the way that certain times of day indicate transitions that are always the same, like little anchors that I can rely on for their consistency when much of the day requires a lot of flexibility and willingness to change our plans. Six o' clock signals the end of dinner and the arrival of my husband, returning home from work. With his return comes a wonderful transition in Ruby, who has normally reached the end of her energy, but is always delighted to see Daddy come through the door. 

Today, we were started dinner a little later than normal, due to our bread baking session running into the time when Ruby normally eats. I use the term 'our' baking session loosely, as Ruby's involvement consisted of prodding and pulling the dough. I love that she is at an age where she is becoming more and more interested in what I am doing, and today, I took the dough down to her level on the floor so that she could get her hands involved as I knocked back the dough, ready for it's second prove.  
It felt like things had shifted a little at dinner today; Ruby has barely eaten any food in the last week, due to being unwell, and the times that I have attempted to offer her food have mostly involved a lot of launching food all over the floor. (Her current specialty is throwing food behind her.) But today, she was visibly excited about eating, and devoured her chilli and quinoa, followed by orange segments and greek yoghurt. She has not yet grasped that you don't have to eat the skin of the orange too, but she's getting there. I talked to her about my memories of eating orange segments during hockey matches at secondary school, and she giggled away in response. It was a refreshing change to have laughter at the dining table instead of frustration. And that was six o' clock in our house.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The 52 Project: 49/52

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

Dear Ruby,
We have had a week of you being poorly, sleepy and sad. Today, you ate dinner with a smile on your face for the first time this week, instead of throwing your food all over the floor, which is a sure sign that you are on the mend.
Stay strong, little one.
Love Mama xx

#lifecapturedproject // what do you feel guilty about right now?


Disclaimer: I realise that this post has nothing to do with what I might feel guilty about; in all honesty, the overriding feeling that is dominating how I feel right now is tiredness. So instead of guilt, I have written about how tiredness is taking my memory and how I need to write to remember what I will eventually forget - there is a heaviness to this tiredness that won't last and I am looking forward to forgetting about the heaviness.

++++++

It's Sunday afternoon and I am thinking about how to paint a picture with words for you to understand what I want to share. If my writing were a painting, there would be great chunks missing and smudged. This is how my brain feels right now. I say this not in complaint or for pity, but purely, to try and communicate effectively. It still feels new to me, this 'missing' of pieces of information that has happened since having a baby. This inability to recall whom I held a conversation with earlier in a week, or what it was that I was thinking about just a few minutes ago. It feels like there are a lot of missing links in my head, but I am certain it is not madness; just lack of sleep.

In all of the years I have had this blog, all I have really wanted to do with it is to record moments and memories with a whole lot of recipes thrown in. So it feels strange to me now, that I feel like I am losing the ability to tell stories in this space. This is one of the reasons why I am taking part in the #lifecapturedproject, to exercise my writing muscles. Perhaps it is the same with writing as it is with muscle memory and musical memory - that simply the process of doing what I have forgotten how to do, I will remember how to make words come together in a way that makes sense.

There is a children's book which I love called 'Mile High Apple Pie', and it is written from the perspective of a Granddaughter, living with her elderly Grandmother whose memory is starting to fade. There's this beautiful line at the end of the book, where the Granddaughter is having a painful conversation with her Grandmother, who is starting to forget who her Granddaughter is, along with all of the other details in her life that are getting drowned out by dementia. The little girl looks into her Grandmother's eyes and says, 'I am your remembering.' I have always loved that line the most. We need people to help us remember, and having a written record of the things we do not want to forget is another beautiful way of remembering. In a way, this blog is my remembering; of things past and present. Of small victories and beautiful memories. It's my way of reminding myself that things always change, and the difficult seasons do not last forever. I will look back on my words from these days - these first years of motherhood and remember that surviving on very little sleep might not be pretty, but it is absolutely possible.

And when I struggle for the words to paint the pictures that I would like to share, I will keep turning to my trusty camera to capture the moments, the memories and the beauty around me. Because it does me good to just write & remember.



Friday, 5 December 2014

Christmas Baking // Gingerbread


In 2007 I graduated from university and started my first job working in a school as a teaching assistant. It was supposed to be a stop-gap job while I worked out what career to pursue, following my studies in Early Childhood, but it ended up being so much more than that. I worked with an incredibly inspiring Early Years teacher, who gave me opportunities to simultaneously pursue my love of baking and working with children.

The first recipe that I baked with the three year old's in that classroom was this gingerbread recipe. I have revisited it a number of times over the years, and just love the soft texture of the gingerbread it makes. Every time I make this recipe, I always wonder why on earth I don't make it more. It is incredibly moreish. I challenge you to try and just eat one. I will be thoroughly impressed if you have the restraint to manage this. (Unless you're my Mum, who has the most incredible self-restraint I have ever encountered. She is most definitely the exception to the rule when it comes to the 'once you pop you just can't stop' principle, which was coined by Pringles, but applies to most kinds of delicious foods for me.)

ingredients
350g plain (all purpose) flour
100g unsalted butter
175g light brown sugar (I used 60g light and 115g dark brown sugar as I didn't have enough light brown, and they were just as delicious.)
1 tsp bi-carbonate of soda
1.5 - 2.5 tsp ginger (1.5tsp gives a very gentle flavour - perfect for children who might dislike a strong ginger flavour.)
4 tbsp golden syrup
1 egg (lightly beaten)

method
1) Preheat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4.
2) Put the flour, butter, bi-carb and ginger into a large mixing bowl and rub the butter through your fingers until it has all blended into the flour mixture. (The same rubbing in method you would use to make pastry by hand.)
3) Add the golden syrup, egg and sugar and mix together with a wooden spoon or blade of mixer if using one, until all of the ingredients are combined.
4) Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it's 5mm thick.
5) Grease a few baking trays, then cut out the gingerbread in your desired shapes. If you'd like to use your gingerbread as Christmas tree decorations, use a straw to cut a circular hole in the pre-baked dough.
6) Bake in the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until starting to darken slightly around the edges.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

#lifecapturedproject // my favourite chair

I am writing this post from the comfort of our sofa, with the weight of our daughter resting beautifully on my chest. I am embracing her out of sync rhythms this afternoon-the combined effect of missing her naptime and having a temperature. Normally, at this time of day, she is climbing up my legs while I prepare her dinner, or pulling the contents out of our kitchen cupboards. It can feel rather fraught - this twilight time when bedtime is near but not quite here - and although I could be in for a long night ahead, I am enjoying the comfort of a quilt and the warmth and weight of my baby sleeping on me. This scene holds echoes of the early hours of this morning, where Ruby and I had taken up residence when the relentlessness of her sleep-moaning and snuffles goaded me into finding an alternative place to rest. We ended up in what has become my favourite chair - the nursing glider.

For as long as I can remember, I had wanted a wooden rocking chair. I remember admiring their majestic grace when I was young, and I dreamed of the day that I might own one. To me, these grand chairs spoke of an established home with parents and grandparents who would take up residence in the rocking chair, and all would be well.  While I was pregnant, I purchased a beautiful rocking chair from a friend, and looked forward to rocking back and forth with a newborn baby curled up tight and tucked under my chin. However, once my daughter was born, I found that this rocking chair was not as comfy or as conducive as I had hoped to relaxing nursing sessions where I might slip gently from wakefulness to sleep and back again.

A few months ago, I replaced the beautiful rocking chair with a second hand glider chair. It was well worn and previously loved by another owner, but I knew that it would be perfectly comfortable. This chair that rocks and reclines has become my favourite chair. It's the place where I sit while my daughter tries to climb up onto the windowsill and point at every house and car that she can see. It's where we sleep when she is congested with a cold and needs to be upright. I have prayed and sang and laughed in this chair, and while it might be a little ugly, I love it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

#lifecapturedproject

This morning I came across the Life Captured Inc. blog, and on a slight whim, I have decided to follow their writing prompts for the month of December. I am looking forward to writing in a bit more detail about the little things that characterise my every day life.

December 1st writing prompt: Describe a moment from today that you always want to remember.
There are days in our weeks that have a rhythm mapped out, a familiar regularity to them that help me to feel like I have little markers that indicate the passing of time in a simple way. These are not complicated or fancy things, just the daily tasks that need to happen every week to keep our household running and our tummies fed. Monday's are for laundry and food shopping. Today, the forecast is for an overcast day, but, all importantly, there is no rain on the horizon. I constantly flit between a stubborn refusal to admit that I live in one of the wettest parts of England, and a hope that there will be just enough breeze to dry our washing in the shortened hours of daylight that December brings. With the laundry blowing gently on the washing line, we head out to buy our food for the week.

These days, food shopping is more involved. Rather than popping my baby in the sling to sleep or quietly gaze at all the supermarket offers, she now sits up in the shopping trolley, pointing at everything that catches her eye, initiating conversation through her non verbal cues. She loves this time, this chance to ride around in a trolley. As I sit my daughter in the trolley, I wonder if I will always think like this; always thinking about how she is changing and what she used to be like.

On our way home, we pop into the greengrocers where we buy our fruit and vegetables. As always, we are greeted by Ahmed, the kind shop owner who always gives Ruby a medjool date to enjoy on the journey home. Today is just a little bit different; normally we walk there, but as naptime is not yet imminent, we go there in the car, straight from the supermarket. The shop is always quiet when I visit on a Monday morning, and today is just the same. We are the only customers there. I know Ahmed well enough to be comfortable with sitting Ruby on the floor while I walk around the little shop, gathering aubergines, parsnips, clementines and other colourful delights. Ahmed expresses concern that Ruby will get cold on the floor, so picks her up and takes her to sit in his armchair behind the counter. I want to remember how comfortable she is with this; reclined on the faux-fur cushion with a giant satsuma in her hand, just watching Ahmed go about his job while I potter around the shop. This daughter of mine who is always looking to climb, makes no attempt to get down from the high perch Ahmed has gifted her with. Instead, she is content to just be. To relax and observe. Today as we leave, we are given an extra gift-a British apple for Ruby to munch on, and for the whole journey home, she munches steadily on her apple, making contented noises to express her enjoyment of her snack. As Ruby helps me unpack the shopping, I smile as I remember Ahmed's advice to handle the scotch bonnet chilli's with great care; his fatherly concern for Ruby coming through as he tells me how much the seeds can burn when we touch them.

I want to remember these small details of our Monday's. The simple things that punctuate our quiet beginnings of each week.