Thursday, 30 April 2015

mini meringues


Last Friday I hosted a Stella & Dot jewellery party at our house. Naturally, I wanted to make some cakes for the occasion, but as we were going to be handling jewellery, I thought it'd be best to make some bitesize treats that were going to be less messy than eating an entire cupcake. As I already had a jar of homemade lemon curd in the fridge, it made sense to make these mini lemon meringues, as they go together beautifully.

In the end, they weren't quite as bitesized as I had hoped, but they were still delicious, nonetheless.

Mini Lemon Meringues
ingredients (makes approx. 30 mini meringues)
135 egg caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
lemon zest (optional)

method
1) Pre-heat the oven to 90C / 200F / gas mark 2 & line a couple of baking sheets with grease proof paper / baking parchment.
2) Whisk the egg whites until frothy.
3) Gradually whisk in the caster sugar, beating well after each addition. Whisk until you have a glossy meringue mixture, and stiff peaks form.
4) Stir in the vanilla extract with a metal spoon, followed by the zest if you're using it.
5) Fit a piping bag with a star nozzle, and put the meringue mixture in the bag.
6) Pipe the stars onto the baking parchment.
7) Using the back of a teaspoon, gently flatten half of your meringues, so that you will be able to sandwich them together with lemon curd.
8) Bake in the preheated oven for 2 hours, then leave to cool completely.
9) Dollop a small amount of lemon curd onto the flattened meringue halves, then top with a meringue star.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

around here // flora part two


After I had published my last 'around here' post about flowers, we went to Bristol zoo, and I couldn't help but take more photos of the abundance of beautiful flowers there. They have combined colours in such a striking way in each of their flower beds. I realise these pictures depict more individual flowers than the entire beds, but believe me, they are stunning.
Can anyone tell me what the little pink flowers are called in the penultimate photo?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The 52 Project: 17/52

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

Dear Ruby,
I love seeing your joy, and your Dad is pretty great at bringing it out of you. Hearing you laugh is a beautiful thing, and I hope that our home is a place where you find plenty of laughter. This week has been filled with sun cream, taking drinks from your friends, eating strawberries and adventures with your grandparents. Here's to remembering the small and simple things in life as well as the milestone moments.
All my love,
Mama xx

Saturday, 25 April 2015

lemon drizzle loaf

I think of lemon drizzle cake as a reliable, no fuss, what you see is what you get kind of cake. It might not look particularly pretty, but it tastes beautiful. The cake would be delicious without the addition of drizzle, but going the extra mile and pouring lemon juice and sugar over the top of the cake once it has baked, adds just the right level of moisture to this cake. It is so very good.

Lemon Drizzle Cake
ingredients
200g unsalted butter at room temperature
200g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
3 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
zest of three lemons
50g full fat natural / Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp / 30g lemon curd (I make mine - here's the recipe)
juice of 1 lemon
75g granulated sugar

method
1) Pre-heat oven to 150C (fan) / 170C / gas mark 2 / 300F. Grease & line a 2lb loaf tin.
In a large bowl, weigh out the butter and sugar. Add the lemon zest. (I can highly recommend investing in a microplane zester if you don't already have one. They are utterly brilliant.) Beat together until the butter and sugar are light and fluffy.
2) Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
3) Sieve in the remaining flour and baking powder, then beat until every thing is combined.
4) Add the yoghurt and lemon curd, then mix.
5) Scrape the mixture into your prepared tin, then bake for 40 mins. After 40 minutes, cover the cake with some foil or greaseproof paper to prevent burning, then bake for another 20 minutes. Check that the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes away clean, the cake is baked and ready to come out of the oven. Place on a wire cooling rack and leave to cool for 5 - 10 mins before drizzling..
6) Make the drizzle by juicing one lemon and stirring in the 75g of granulated sugar. Pierce the top of the loaf with a fork so that the drizzle can seep through the holes into the cake. Pour on the drizzle, then leave the cake to cool in the tin.

baking notes
+ By beating the lemon zest in with the butter and sugar, you release the oils in the lemon zest, which gives an even greater citrus flavour, than if you were to stir in the zest at a later point.
+ If you don't have granulated sugar, you can use caster sugar for the drizzle. The main difference is that caster sugar is finer, and people often love the greater crunch effect you get when you use granulated sugar on a lemon drizzle cake.
+ It helps to leave the cake to cool slightly before pouring on the drizzle, otherwise you will find that the cake is very soft. So, when you pierce the cake with a fork, if it's too warm, you're likely to crack the cake.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

around here // flora

As I was looking through photos for this blog post, it occurred to me that I have taken far more photos in the last month than I have for a little while. I wonder if this correlates with the arrival of Spring, and how inspired I feel by the longer days, greater warmth and beauty of Spring flowers popping up everywhere. Either way, I am feeling like I have a backlog of images that I’d like to share in this space, which is a contrast to the Winter months where I felt like when it came to blogging, I had a deficit of both words and pictures. Rather than making this an incredibly photo heavy post, I will spread the photos I would like to share over a few separate blog posts. I love Spring. A lot. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

There is an alleyway at the back of our hose that runs parallel between our road and the next. I had rarely gone down the alleyway before Ruby could walk (except for the time when I locked Ruby in the house and didn't have my keys with me, and had to vault the neighbours back fence to get back into our house. But that's another story.)
Once Ruby started walking, it was clear that she loved to take every opportunity possible to explore and walk. So we started to walk up and down the back alley almost daily, as it provided a place for her to walk freely without any of the dangers that walking on the pavements and roads presented. While it is not exactly an inspiring place to walk, with all of the abandoned fridges, door mats, spoons and pots of chinese popcorn (?!), I have just been grateful to have a little bit more space beyond our back garden. Even the smallest change of scenery can help get through the hours in the afternoon that always seem to last longer than any other hours in the day.
Last week on one of our walks, I spotted some flowers populating the alleyway - such a welcome sight among the rubbish. It seemed a shame that no-one except us really gets to benefit from their beauty, and so on our walk on Friday, I took a pair of secateurs with me so that I could bring some of that beauty back into our home.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The 52 Project: 16/52


Dear Ruby,
There's a line in a song by The Dixie Chicks that says, 'she needed wide open spaces'. Both you and I benefit from time in big wide open spaces, and last Thursday was no exception. I took us out for a walk in Stoke Park, because we both needed the benefit of some fresh air. Your mood completely changed the moment you set eyes on the open space and the dogs running towards you. Here's to always going out for walks and running to let the wind blow away our frustrations.
All my love,
Mama 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Victoria Sponge


The Victoria Sponge is such a classic British cake. When Queen Victoria's husband died in the nineteenth century, the cake which had become popular for afternoon tea, was named after her.There is something so satisfying about the simplicity of this recipe, and yet I rarely make it, because I am a chocolate girl through and through. If I'm going to make a cake for us to enjoy at home, it invariably is some form of chocolate cake. So it's always nice when customers requests cakes that are brilliant, but that I rarely choose. I love hearing what other people's favourite flavours are, and to have the opportunity to provide someone's favourite cake for their celebration, is such a priviledge.

Last weekend, I made a 12" Victoria Sponge, and thought I would share the recipe because it worked really well for this volume of cake. I am always daunted at the prospect of scaling up quantities. It feels so much more risky to bake an enormous cake, as the take longer to bake, which means that you have to adjust the temperature and cover up the cake to prevent it from burning while the middle cooks completely. However, this worked beautifully!

Ingredients (makes 1 x 12" round sponge)
700g caster sugar
700g unsalted butter at room temperature
10 free range eggs
530g plain flour
175g self raising flour
105ml whole milk
2.5tsp vanilla extract

buttercream
ingredients:
750g icing sugar, sifted
240g unsalted butter at room temperature
75ml whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract (if you only have essence, I'd recommend omitting it)
(plus 300g strawbery jam)

method
1) Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Grease and line your cake tin (preferably a loose bottomed one, as this makes it much easier to get the cake out). I read that using sunflower oil to grease the tin instead of butter stops the outer edges of the cake going crisp.
2) In the bowl of a free standing mixer (or a very large mixing bowl) beat together the butter and sugar until they are light and creamy.
3) Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. If the mixture looks like it is curdling, add a spoonful of flour before adding another egg.
4) Beat in the vanilla extract.
5) Sieve together the flours and add about a third to the cake mixture. Beat until combined.
6) Add a third of the milk then beat again until combined, and repeat until you have used all of the flour and milk.
7) Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and place on the centre rack in the oven. Set the timer to 35 minutes. When the timer goes off, check to see how the top of the cake is looking. If it is starting to go beyond a golden colour, cover the top of the cake with foil or greaseproof paper to stop it from burning. Bake for another 30 minutes and then insert a skewer into the centre of the cake to check if it has baked through. If the cake is baked, the skewer will come out clean. If there is a lot of cake mixture on the skewer, set the timer for another 10 minutes, then check again. If there are just a few crumbs clinging to the skewer, bake for another 4 minutes and check with the skewer. I think in my fan assisted electric oven, it took 1 hour 20 minutes to bake completely, but I failed to write it down, so can't be 100% sure! (So helpful, I know!)
8) Once the cake is baked, remove from the oven and place on a wire cooling rack. Leave to cool for about 10 - 15 minutes before removing the cake from the tin. (It will take a few hours to cool completely, due to its size!)
9) If you'd like to sandwich your cake together with another one, start all over again!

method
1) Beat together the icing sugar and unsalted butter until all of the butter is mixed into the icing sugar. It will look very crumbly.
2) Combine the milk & vanilla extract. Then, slowly and gradually add this to the butter and icing sugar.
3) You will find that the icing will come together fairly quickly, but will be quite stiff. It really needs a lot of beating to get it to a spreadable consistency. I beat mine in a freestanding mixer for five minutes. If you are doing this by hand, or with a handheld electric whisk, I would recommend adding a little more milk to help soften the consistency. Try adding a teaspoon extra at a time so you don't end up with an icing that is too runny!
4) Once the icing has reached your desired consistency, you're ready to sandwich your cakes together. To do this, I leveled the top of one of the cakes to remove the slight dome that occurred during the baking process. Then I used a palette knife to spread the buttercream, and topped with the jam. Place the second layer directly on top of the jam, then dust with icing sugar to finish.

Monday, 13 April 2015

sewing for Ruby part two

Last week, I wrote a post about learning to sew a dress for Ruby. After the sewing workshop, I felt so inspired that making clothing was actually achievable that I set about making a second dress, less than a week after finishing the first. I loved the style of the tunic dress I shared last week, but I wanted to make something that would be a little quicker to finish. (I mentioned in this post that I hate leaving things unfinished, but have such a great tendency to do so, that having small projects that are quick to complete is a great help in finishing what I have started.)
I scoured Pinterest and found this lovely looking cross over pinafore dress. I loved that it involved so few steps - cutting six pieces of fabric and sewing four seams - so I decided to give it a go. It felt slightly risky, as the pattern size was for 6-12 months, and my daughter is 16 months, but the blog post assured me that it should still fit - it would just be more of a top than a dress.
If anything, I would say that the pattern is a little too big, even for a top for my 16 month old (and she is not small).
I am pleased to say that this dress really was as simple as I had anticipated. I think it only took me 90 minutes to complete. Ruby had decided to skip her afternoon nap when I had intended on sewing, but I decided to go ahead and sew anyway to help me stay sane, and thankfully she was quite happy to play independently. Except for the times when I sat at the sewing machine and she wanted to keep me company.
The pattern suggests using buttons to fasten the straps, but I decided to simplify things even further, and just use poppers, which were much quicker to attach. I am planning on making at least one more of these tops, and I thing I will reduce the width of the shoulder straps, and also the width of the body. I'll add a little more length so it can be worn as a dress in Summer without being so short that it reveals Ruby's nappy. All in all, I loved sewing this, and the fact that it was so quick to make, made it feel like an even bigger win.

Fabric Notes:
I bought the fabrics for both dresses from a local shop called Fabrics Plus. They also have an online shop, but I find it's much harder to view the fabrics as effectively online as it is in store. I couldn't find a link to he fabrics I used, but I'm sure they're somewhere on the website.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The 52 Project: 15/52

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

Dear Ruby,
You make us laugh a lot, just by being your quirky self. I have said it many times before, but I love watching the way you explore the world around you, and the way you interact with things you find in our home. For a long time now, you have enjoyed putting clothes over your head and walking around with your face covered. But this week, it was the turn of the flower pot. Every time I look at this picture, I chuckle to myself. 
Lately you have loved playing with money. You will often spend many minutes piling coins up into your hands, carrying them around the house, and putting them in drawers. This week, you took money play to a new level, launching coins into the flower beds. 
Here's hoping you learn to hold money lightly in the future when you learn its value, and bestow generosity to people in the same way that you do with the flower beds.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Thursday, 9 April 2015

sewing for Ruby part one

When it comes to choosing things to sew, I tend to stick with projects that don't require me to follow a pattern. In the past, I have made a few items of children's clothing, and got in such a muddle with sewing things inside out, back to front, with elasticated waists and so on, that I have found it far less stressful to stick with sewing simple quilts or cushions. However, I wanted to change all that and learn some new sewing skills.  I am very much a visual learner, and find conceptualising how a pattern needs to be put together incredibly difficult, so I decided that the best way for me to learn would be to have someone teach me.
I asked for workshop recommendations on a favourite local Facebook group of mine, and the outcome of this was that one of the Mum's on the group who is skilled at sewing, offered to run a workshop for anyone who was interested. So, a few Saturday's ago, I spent six wonderful hours with a few friends, learning how to make a dress for my daughter. By the end of the day, I had serious brain ache and my eyes were wrecked from all of the close-up focusing we'd had to do, but I had an almost-finished dress, and I was delighted.
I learnt some new techniques such as how to sew a French seam, how to make pleats, how to sew a buttonhole and how to make a yoke. I found sewing the straight edge of the dress bodice onto the curved edge of the yoke unbelievably hard. and had to unpick the seam at least twice. But with a little help, I got there in the end, and I am sure that next time round it'll be a bit easier. It really is satisfying to see Ruby wearing something that I made myself, and I hope to make a few more items of clothing for her in the near future.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

self portraiture part two.

Last month I wrote about how I would value having some more photos of our family that include me in them, and my plan to use the remote timer to help me get in front of the camera more. It comes as no surprise that it is much harder to compose a shot when you are in it, and so these photos are far from perfect. But, my hope is that my daughter will see these photos when she is older and not think about the poor composition, or how scruffy her Mum looks with mascara smudged under her eye, but see that we were together, taking time to do something we both love.

I have noticed how so many people I know will look at a photo that features them (and other people) and their only comments about the picture is how they are unhappy with some element of their appearance. I include myself in this, but I am trying to move beyond this, because I am certain that in the years to come when we look back at our photos of time spent with family and friends, our focus will have shifted to care more about the memories we made and the precious moments we had together, instead of how we as individuals look in the photos. I am sure there will be plenty of laughter over clothing choices and hairstyles that are perfectly acceptable now, but will appear outdated in time. And that is ok. But I don't want to look back at photos of our family and see that I am not in any of them because I looked a bit of a mess, or was carrying just a bit of extra unwanted weight, because ultimately, those things are not as important as being present.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Herefordshire / Abbey Dore

At the end of March, we went to Herefordshire for the week to celebrate my husband's thirtieth birthday. Six friends whom John has known for most of his life joined us for the weekend, along with their babies. Now that nearly all of our friends are married, we can no longer rely on weddings to bring everyone together for a good old celebration. So it is lovely to have weekends like these to travel from our respective corners of the country and spend time together. We stayed in a beautiful converted barn called Bushmills, in a part of Herefordshire called Abbey Dore.


I love living in Bristol, but going to the countryside is always such a welcome break from city life. It was so beautiful and peaceful, with uninterrupted views for miles. There was a field of sheep right outside the house where we were staying, and some very friendly chickens who came to see us each day. Ruby is always delighted to see any animals, so she was in her element being surround by them.
We took a very laid back approach to our holiday, and did very little besides visiting a few nearby towns and going for plenty of walks in the surrounding fields. We went to Hereford, Hay on Wye and Abergavenny. I think I might reserve an entire blog post to write about Hay on Wye. I loved it there.
View of teh River Wye in Hereford
We were fortunate to have amazing weather for most of the week, and we made the most of soaking up the sunshine and fresh air with morning, afternoon and early evening walks around the fields.
I love visiting new places, but I think I might love it even more when we find places like Bushmills that offer everything we look for in our holiday adventures, and get that feeling that we would be more than happy to return there time and time again.

Monday, 6 April 2015

simple creative goals

This is one of those posts where I ramble on a bit before I get to the point, so if you want to read the nutshell version of this post, here it is:

Endings are important. And so it follows that finishing things is important. I need goals and deadlines and I need to be accountable in order to help me be creative. (That might sound counter-intuitive to sparking creativity, but trust me, it's not.) I want to take more time to be creative, so I'm letting you all know, as this will keep me accountable. 

I was speaking to my husband the other week about why I struggle to get things done at home. I am very much an external processor, and although I have been mulling over these thoughts for weeks, I actually needed to articulate them to John in order to work out what would help make the difference for me. (You would think that I could just externally process by talking aloud to myself, but somehow, it doesn't have quite the same effect as talking to an actual person does.)

One of the biggest realisations for me about why I struggle to get things done at home - both housework and creative projects - is because I don't have deadlines. There is no pressure to get things done. There are no real consequences if I don't do the housework, or if I don't finish off that quilt I started a year ago. No one is negatively affected by these things, Except that I am. Those unfinished projects stay in my mind, and become part of an ongoing list of things that need to be completed. I remember a conversation I had with a good friend many years ago, where she talked about how important endings are. I think we were talking about endings in relation to something fairly significant, such as in the role of a therapeutic relationship between a counselor and a client, or dealing with a sudden death and the impact of an unexpected end to a life, but the principle of how significant endings are has stayed with me. I realise that unfinished sewing projects do not have the emotional ramifications that dealing with a death does, but there is something valuable about the process of bringing things to completion, and I would like to engage a bit more with this in all aspects of my life where I start things and leave them unfinished.

I have mentioned before how I love quilts, and I have this little dream of having piles of handmade quilts all over our house for our children to snuggle under, make dens with, play hide and seek and be inspired by (because I find beautiful fabrics inspiring, and I hope they might too). I have a whole chest of drawers that are filled with fabrics, and I often tell myself that I won't buy any more until I have used at least half of what I already have. But then I spot a beautiful fabric, or a bargain, and that plan goes out the window. While we were visiting the beautiful town of Hay on Wye a couple of weeks ago, I found a few fabrics in a charity shop for a very small amount of money. I had quilt projects in mind for all three of the fabrics, and so I bought them.
So now comes the challenge for me to use them in 2015. My plan is to make at least three small quilts by the end of the year to add to our little collection. That might sound like a fairly small goal, but considering that I have made one quilt a year for the last three years, it feels like enough of a creative challenge to make two more than my current annual average. I will be sharing my progress here to help me stay accountable, and would love to hear from you if you have any creative goals that you are working towards this year. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The 52 Project: 14/52

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

Dear Ruby,
You still love to walk as much as possible, and I still love watching you as you decide where you'd like to walk. Up steps, down hills, you are a champion trespasser in our neighbourhood as you explore everyone's front gardens. Recently, you have started shouting with happiness as you speed along the pavement (which is exactly what you were doing when I took this photo.). This makes for quite a hilarious sight, and I love that you are not yet self-conscious in a way that might make you internalise these sounds of sheer delight.
Here's to many more years of roaring with happiness while you walk.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Friday, 3 April 2015

These are the days...

I have been mulling over the words of Ruth Simons that I read on Instagram a week ago. Ruth was talking about the daily acts of living that we all go through – the making of meals, the cleaning up of mess, the tidying of toys, the reading of stories again and again:

‘These mundane and every day tasks are not passing the time until something better comes along; they are preparing and teaching us how to live well now.’
- Ruth Simons.

So often I find myself looking forward to the day when I spend less time on my hands and knees cleaning food from the floor, or wondering yet again how on Earth three of us manage to make so much mess in our house every. single. day. In these moments, I am tempted to feel a discontentment with life, and the seemingly mundane acts of living that are never going to go away. I think about what life will look like in sixty years time, and although my days of spending time on bended knee scrubbing dried cereal off the floor will be long gone, there will still be laundry and cooking and cleaning that need to be done. The need for these chores to be done can never go away, but my inclination towards discontentment is something that can change. I often think about the Proverb in the Bible that says, 'out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks', and I want to cultivate a heart that is content and full of gratitude in all things. Ruth Simons' words made me think about how much time I waste by feeling discontent, and how many opportunities I miss to live well now, simply because I get caught up in thinking about other more 'worthy' things I would prefer to be doing with my time.

.......................................................

These are the days when I think about the quietness and simplicity of motherhood; of the daily predictability that comes with just living. The repetition of meals and naps and mess and stories that can be relied upon by us and by our children to feel unfulfilled and completely secure with familiarity respectively, and in equal measure.

These are the days when I think about the daily sacrifice and energy, patience and love, hard graft and great kindness that my Mother showed day in, day out in for years and years as she raised the four of us.

These are the days where I thumb through the photos that have just landed on my doorstep, showcasing some of the simple moments of our lives from the last few months. The image that stays in my mind is of my daughter aged fourteen months, prodding her little index finger into the bread dough, learning through touch about the properties and process of this simple food that we break daily but that holds profound symbolism for me in relation to my faith.
We bake the bread and we break the bread and I think about how Jesus broke bead with his disciples shortly before he was crucified. And my heart is humbled anew at the way Jesus chose to lay down his life for us.
 
These are the days where my head hits the pillow at the end of the day and I feel a humility and heaviness around this journey of parenting and the precious and precarious paths it often leads us down. In those fleeting moments before sleep draws me, my heart offers up quiet prayers of gratitude at the mercy and kindness of God that I see again and again in the beautiful places and broken parts of our lives that no-one else sees.

These are the days where I hear the bird song that heralds Spring, permeating the air, and I realise that my thoughts have once again, come full circle. That every Spring, I unconsciously wait for this moment to arrive, where I hear their songs louder than any other sound outdoors, and I am grateful for the birthing of beauty in the world after the death of Winter. I am grateful that the death of Winter does not signal the end, but prepares us for the new life that will come; and I think again, year on year, that death is not the end.
 

These are the days where I try and allow the simple moments a little more time to sink into my memory; because these simple things are precious gifts that I can choose to be grateful for; the moments where my daughter smiles up at me from her buggy, her face stained with the sweet juice of a strawberry – the kind offering of the greengrocer for her to enjoy.

These are the days where we read the same stories over and over again, and re-visit the same photos of the spider and the deer at every meal time spent around our dining table. And in that repetition of stories and signing, of spooning food from bowl to mouth over and again, I see beautiful growth in the smallest of ways. I see my daughter learning in ways that seem utterly marvellous to me, but completely normal to others, because that is the beauty of parenting. We get to see and celebrate the way these precious little one grow from tiny babes into toddlers, who are determined to master new skills, in just a few months. These small moments that seem quite miraculous to us as parents are such humbling gifts, that celebrating them and giving thanks to God for them comes naturally. And I see again and again the opportunities for my heart to be shaped in profound ways through the simple acts of living.