Monday, 29 June 2015

#lifecapturedproject // how are you feeling today?

I feel calm and tired and relaxed. 
Today is the third day of our holiday in Bournemouth. I am grateful for the way the slow pace of being on holiday allows for me to more fully acknowledge how I am feeling and to respond accordingly. Like so many parents of young children, sleep deprivation has become a familiar feeling, and the weight of tiredness ebbs and flows throughout the day. But today, there is an extra feeling of grogginess that I can't quite shake. I wonder if this is the result of doubling up on hay fever medication in an effort to alleviate the incessant sneezing and itching in my nose and throat. Or was it the early start I had, followed by a run in the sun? Either way, the cause of the tiredness doesn't really matter. What I am grateful for, is the opportunity to embrace the tiredness, and take an afternoon nap.
There is a calmness in the air and the ocean today that has remained, and I am sure that this helps contribute to my feeling of being relaxed and calm. In the few weeks preceding our holiday, that feeling of needing a rest had been quietly creeping up on me. Having time with family and friends to laugh more, eat more and rest more is so refreshing, and fulfills my need to slow down and share life with others. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The 52 Project: 26/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
One of the eventful moments this week involved me losing the car keys. I asked you where they were, and you pointed to the washing machine, mid cycle. Sure enough, you had spotted the car keys, and because my memory is so broken, I couldn't recall if I had put them in the machine by accident, or if you had managed to slip them in without me noticing. Thank you for helping me find lost things. 
You have suddenly started to try and say so many words that I can barely keep up with all of the things you are trying to say. Off the top of my head, this week's words have included: spider ('dider'), Wren ('Nen'), bread ('dead'), bus ('hus') and tractor ('dactor'). I love hearing you talk and work out language. Keep on chatting, little one.
All my love,

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

sewing lately & creative goals

Back in April, I wrote about having a simple creative goal in order to help me complete some of the sewing projects I had already started, and hoped to start. When I wrote that post, my main focus had been to make three quilts by the end of 2015. I made a start on my second quilt for 2015 soon after writing about my creative goal, and got to the stage of having sixteen blocks of the quilt made. Then I hit a bit of a wall, and I realised that perhaps it wasn't so much about making quilts, more, just a desire to make something from scratch and see it through to a completion. 
Soon after making my goal to sew three quilts this year, I attended a workshop where I learned how to follow a pattern and make a dress for Ruby. I really enjoyed learning some new skills and having a lovely dress at the end of the workshop, but it was a fairly complex pattern, and it reinforced my desire to not fuss to much about details, but just to get something made. So I went in search of a very simple dress pattern and tutorial online, and found one for a crossover pinafore. In the last couple of weeks, I have made another one of these crossover pinafore's for my goddaughter, pictured on Ruby below.
I then discovered a pattern for a very simple pinafore dress which a friend of mine had made. I didn't really want to spend money on buying a pattern, but knew that if I wanted to find a simpler pattern than the dress I had made at the sewing workshop, I either needed to wing it and sew a dress based on one of Ruby's existing dresses, or spend a few pounds. I opted for the latter, as I didn't want to risk wasting precious fabric! The pattern can be found here: Reversible baby dress.
Although the pattern is designed to be reversible, I have to confess I went for the lazy option of using poppers to fasten the dress instead of buttons, so it can only be worn one way. I have made two of these - one for Ruby and one for our goddaughter, and have another one in progress.
So, I am a long way off completing any quilts this year, but I am still managing to make things. I just need to make a plan for when and how I am going to sew those quilts, and also maybe an incentive would help. Chocolate. That always helps.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Homemade Ice Cream

I recently discovered that it is possible to by an ice cream attachment for my favourite kitchen took - my Kenwood Chef Titanium. My mother in law had been given the attachment as a gift, and presented us with an array of about seven different ice cream flavours to try. They were all so delicious, that I decided to invest in the attachment, so that we could experiment with making our own. We don't even eat that much ice cream, but I loved the prospect of trying something new, so we went ahead and bought one. 
I have never been a fan of fruit flavoured ice cream, mainly because they taste so artificially sweet, and I much prefer the natural sweetness of the fruit by itself. But homemade strawberry ice cream? Oh my. I love it. It consists of 400g of fresh strawberries, juice of half a lemon, 200ml double cream and 75g caster sugar. Simple. 

So far in our experimenting we have only tried three flavours, and our opinions are as follows:
// Chocolate // Used 50% cocoa solids and the result was quite sweet. Next time, try higher cocoa content (70%?) and less sugar.

// Strawberry // Pretty great. No obvious changes needed, but maybe reduce sugar quantity and see how it changes the flavour and consistency.

// Coconut & lime // Lime was definitely the predominant flavour. We used coconut powder + milk. Perhaps next time try using coconut milk for a richer coconut flavour. Also try less sugar. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The 52 Project: 25/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
Nanny came to stay this week, and you loved having her here. You worked alongside her in the garden, showed her how you pick our strawberries, read plenty of books together, and demonstrated your fantastic swimming skills. 
We ended the week as we often do with an afternoon walk in Stoke Park. In this photo you're negotiating a slightly rocky patch of ground - when you find a little challenge (like walking on uneven rocks), you often repeat the action a number of times, just to ensure you've mastered it. I loved watching you persevere in these challenges you set for yourself. Never stop exploring, and having a go, even when something is challenging, little one.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Summer Wedding Cake

At the end of last Summer, I received a request from a bride-to-be for me to make her wedding cake this June. She knew exactly what she wanted, and I was delighted to oblige. This cake consisted of three tiers (12", 10" and 6") of Madeira sponge, sandwiched together with plenty of strawberry jam and buttercream. As you can imagine, this cake occupied a lot of my thinking, and it was fun to finally create this cake a couple of weeks ago.

As is often the case when I am working on a big project, I fail to take many photos. The work is too all-consuming to allow for me to step back and take photos of the process. The photos in this post are the ones I hastily snapped on my iPhone.

I love how the fruit takes centre stage with this cake. You just can't beat the colours of summer fruits, can you? It was such a relief to arrive at the beautiful wedding venue (Wyndcliffe Sculpture Gardens in Chepstow), with each tier of the cake still in one piece, so that I could stop worrying about them getting damaged in transit. Armed with a shed-load of fruit, plenty of buttercream & my piping bag, I assembled the cake at the venue, all the while praying that the sun would not spoil the fruit before it got eaten! The bride told me that there was only a tiny sliver of cake left over, which was music to my ears. After all, the whole point of making cake is for it to be eaten.

For the record:
This website was very helpful in providing quantities for scaling up cake sizes. In complete honesty, one of the things that is most challenging to me in baking is the Maths, so I was very grateful for the chart provided on this website.

+ I used 900g strawberry jam, and ten quantities of my normal buttercream recipe for the filling and icing the top tier (250g icing sugar, 80g unsalted butter, 25ml whole milk, vanilla extract).

+ To prevent the jam leaking out the edges of each tier, I created a buttercream dam by piping a circle of buttercream around the edge of the sponge, which I then filled with jam. Then, I piped concentric circles of buttercream on top of the jam, and used a palette knife to gently spread this layer, I found this to be the most effective way of distributing the buttercream.

+ The two biggest tiers of the cake were supported with five dowels in each tier to prevent the cakes sinking into each other.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The 52 Project: 24/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
This week you have discovered a love for picking and eating wild strawberries and finding all of the snails in the garden. You can often been found tramping through our flower beds in search of new strawberries to munch on. I made strawberry ice cream for the first time this week, and immediately after tasting it, you sunk your teeth into a garlic clove. Two firsts in the space of two seconds. I'm not sure which one you preferred.
I love watching your curiosity, little one.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Salted Caramel Tiffin

When I was growing up, my Mum used to make us Polish cake. It was this beautifully simple combination of mostly biscuits and chocolate that didn't require baking. I remember finding it so hard to resist the temptation to sneak a piece every time I opened the fridge. But I don't think I ever did, because I thought it would have been too obvious. We all loved this chocolatey treat that my Mum would cut up into tiny mouthfuls (unlike the enormous slabs pictured above!). When I moved away from home to go to university, this was one of the recipes that I had to take with me. I remember making it for my housemates, and two memorable things happened:
1) My friend's asked what was Polish about this cake, and I had no idea. It was one of those occasions where I realised that something that seemed completely normal to me because I had grown up with it, seemed odd to other people. 
2) I dropped my housemate's camera into the melted chocolate. Miraculously, it still worked.

I still don't know why it is called Polish cake, so for the sake of avoiding confusion, I'm calling it tiffin. I honestly can't remember the last time I made this recipe. It has been so long that I had thrown out the recipe book where I had carefully written it, so for future reference, here's the recipe, with the addition of salted caramel. My mother never added salted caramel, but I have developed a bit of a fondness for the sweet & salty goodness this year, and I thought it would be the perfect addition to this recipe.

ingredients for the tiffin
110g margerine or unsalted butter
2 rounded dessertspoons of drinking chocolate (if you use cocoa, it makes it very rich)
225g digestive biscuits (graham crackers for American readers)
30ml golden syrup
165g dark, milk or white chocolate
about a tsp of coarse sea salt

ingredients for the salted caramel
40ml double cream
15g unsalted butter
40g golden syrup (Karo syrup or King syrup in the US would work fine)
60g caster sugar
vanilla extract (optional)

method for the tiffin
1) Grease and line a 2lb / 1kg loaf tin or a 7" round cake tin.
2) In a saucepan, melt the butter or margerine, along with the drinking chocolate and golden syrup.
3) Crush up the biscuits - I put them in a freezer bag then bash the bag a bit with a rolling pin. Don't go too over the top with you bashing, otherwise you'll end up with lots of fine crumbs, rather than nice big chunks of biscuit.
4) Stir in the biscuits to the melted butter mixture, then press into your prepared tin. Place in the fridge to chill while you prepare the salted caramel. If you're omitting the caramel, just pour over your melted chocolate, then place in the fridge to set.
5) Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in a microwave.
method for the salted caramel
1) Measure the cream into a small frying pan / skillet, along with 7g of the butter and a good pinch of sea salt. Whisk gently over a low heat for a couple of minutes until the cream starts to thicken and bubble around the edges. Remove from the heat and stir in a small amount of vanilla extract (about 1/4 tsp). 
2) In a small saucepan, heat the golden syrup and the sugar over a medium heat. Don't stir it with any utensils, just swirl the pan every now and then to help the sugar dissolve. Allow the mixture to bubble for 3-4 minutes until it turns a slightly deeper golden colour and smells like caramel. 
3) Remove from the heat then stir the cream in with the caramel mixture with a heatproof rubber spatula, then stir in the last 8g of unsalted butter. There's no need to put the heat back on as the residual heat will melt the butter quickly.
4) Add another pinch of salt to the caramel, then pour over the tiffin. Allow to chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes before pouring on the melted chocolate. 

Baking notes on the salted caramel
If you allow the salted caramel to chill in the fridge, the consistency changes significantly. After 15 - 20 minutes, it will become stretchy and malleable, as opposed to pouring consistency, which is perfect for using in brownies. If it's left for longer, it will harden further. It can be kept in the fridge for up to a week. It doesn't go off after this time, but sugar crystals start to form, which doesn't enhance the consistency!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

When I go running among the ancient trees and searching for the places where the light falls beautifully, I am in my happy place. Nine times out of ten, I have to talk myself into going for a run. Even though I know that running makes me feel good, I still need a lot of convincing. Today's run has taken me two days to talk myself into. I always want to give up quickly. But I have learnt over the years to keep going for longer than five minutes because it is always worth it. 

Running has always followed this pattern of paradoxes for me. It's hard but it gets easier. It can be ugly & messy but then there is always some kind of beauty to be found. It can be quiet & loud, exhausting & refreshing. It takes perseverance & pushing, which is not easy, but then any kind of refining process is not pain free but the end product is remarkable. It's these lessons that keep me running. And I keep writing these lessons down because I need to be reminded again and again that it is good for me. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

#lifecapturedproject // describe your family's afternoon routine right now

I have been thinking a little bit today about how different our lives will look like in the next few years. This was mainly triggered by thinking about our government and education, and how, as a teacher and a mother, I have a vested interest in what education looks like. Yet, in this stage of life where my firstborn daughter is only eighteen months old, I am inclined to bury my head in the sand. There is so much about the way our country does education that deeply saddens me, and the prospect of Ruby and any other children we might be blessed with, getting to school age and facing all that education involves, is something I am not ready for. I share this at the start of this post about what our afternoon routine is like because I feel a real gratitude for these early years that I get to spend with my daughter, and for the slowness that I can allow to shape our afternoons.

It is early Summer here in England, and I love that it is warm enough to leave the back door open so that Ruby can go in and out of the house and garden as she pleases. Our afternoon's are punctuated by reading, cooking and tending to our tiny garden. On days when the sun is shining, the front of house is filled with golden light in the afternoon. Around 3pm, we gather up a pile of books, get comfortable on the sofa with the sun spilling over us, and read together. Ruby has started this routine of pointing up to our bookshelves, earnest and insistent that there is something that she wants to look at, but needs my help to do so. She then attempts to climb up the shelves, ever hopeful that she might just be able to reach what is out of her grasp. I lift her up and together we go through the books on that shelf to find the one that she has her eye on. Again and again, she says, 'no, no, no', shaking her head. I am so intrigued by this new routine of hers - she is normally so certain and decisive about which books she would like us to read together. I am beginning to think she just likes the process of climbing and being lifted up and watching me sort through the books.

Our reading time usually comes to end in one of two ways. Either Ruby climbs off my lap to go and find something else to do, or the oven alarm sounds, reminding me to check on whatever I am cooking. Today, it was granola. I often find the time between 4 and 5.30pm the hardest part of the day. Ruby and I are both getting tired and I am often wracking my brains for what to prepare for her dinner. I particularly love the days when there are leftovers in the fridge so that I don't have to think of something new to cook. (I bake because I love it; I cook because I have to. If only cake was a suitable dinner.) So in this hour and a half lack lustre period, I tend to procrastinate by going for a walk with Ruby, or tidying up - anything that avoids actually cooking. When it comes to preparing dinner, Ruby sometimes joins me to help prepare the food, using her crinkle cutter to chop vegetables. She loves to play at the kitchen sink too, and this tends to happen when I am cooking dinner. It provides the perfect distraction for her, as well as an opportunity to wash her hands while I finish off preparing her food. We sit down to eat between 5.30pm and 6pm. By this point, both of us are excitedly anticipating John's arrival home. Ruby periodically stops eating to look out of the window, saying, 'Dada?' in the hope that he is arriving home for the evening.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The 52 Project: 23/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
You have been using the Makaton sign for 'yes' since March, and this week you have learnt how to verbalise ''yes'. Just as you say, 'no, no, no', you now say, 'yes, yes, yes.' Here's to triple yeses and great enthusiasm being a regular feature around here.
This afternoon, you fell asleep on me. You are feeling unwell, and although it's horrible seeing you poorly and tired, having you snuggled up to me for the best part of two hours was my favourite part of our day. I love resting with you. 
All my love,
Mama xxx

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

#lifecapturedproject // favourite memories with a grandparent

I feel grateful to have memories of all of my grandparents. Sadly, I only have one remaining grandparent (my paternal Granny), but I consider myself fortunate to remember all of my grandparents who have passed away. The memory that came to mind when I read the prompt for today's post was of my maternal grandfather. His name was Donald, and when I think of him, I remember his gentle voice, the way that he whistled so perfectly, and wore shorts and a shirt in the Summer. I remember the way he would read to us, and continue reading aloud, even after we had fallen asleep in his lap. He made delicious lemon curd and baked bread, and loved Jesus with all his heart. I remember the day I plucked up the courage to ask him what his ministerial dog collar was made from - something that I had always wondered about whenever I saw church vicar's or ministers with this mysterious white collar on. He knelt done and revealed the mystery - his collar was made from an empty fairy washing up liquid bottle. I couldn't quite believe it. I remember silently wondering if all vicars used fairy bottles to make their dog collars, or if my Grandad was unique in this respect.
The specific memory that came to mind as I thought about him today, was of a time when he taught my brothers how to make a wooden bird box. I remember looking out of the back door, watching them at work in the space between the flowers and the rhubarb that filled their garden. This memory is over twenty years old, and I have no idea why this memory should come to mind over any other. But there we have it, the curious way our minds recall memories that have been stashed away for years and years. 

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

#lifecapturedproject // what outdoor activities do you enjoy?

As I write this, the view from my window is filled with grey skies and raindrops. This is fairly typical of England in the Summer months. One day it can be gloriously hot and sunny, and then the next day, the sun is nowhere to be seen. On days like today, the last thing I want to do is set foot outside. But I will, because I take my daughter to a singing group every Tuesday, and we always walk.Since having my daughter, I have done more walking than I have in probably the last ten years. At first, I had to talk myself into walking instead of driving, but the more I walked, the more I wanted to walk. Even on days like today, I know that half an hour of walking to our singing class will help me feel refreshed. I also love the opportunity to admire all of the flowers filling the front gardens of the homes I walk past. Invariably, I stop to take a photo.

I started running regularly about eleven years ago. While the amount I run has ebbed and flowed hugely over the years, it is something I still love to do. It gives me time to think clearly, and makes me feel weak and strong and happy and sad and a whole lot in between. I love that about running.

My favourite light to take photos in has always been natural light. A few years ago, I went through a season of going for photo walks. The last time I did this, my daughter was seven days old, and I can still remember clearly how much I enjoyed walking around our neighbourhood taking photos of the things that caught my eye. The experience was made that much sweeter by having my newborn baby tucked up snugly and sleeping soundly in a sling. Although it has been a long time since going for a photo walk, I still love to take photos outdoors, and do so most days.

I feel like there should be a lot more activities to add to this list, and I also think that if I were writing this on a sunny day, it would look very different. But I suppose that I quite like realising how the weather affects what I enjoy doing. All of the things I have written about today are activities I enjoy doing in the rain and the sun. I know that there are plenty more activities that I love to do outside, but I think I need the sun to shine to remind me of these.

(All of the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone 4s. While I love my DSLR, I am so grateful to be able to always have a camera at my fingertips, thanks to my phone.)