Thursday, 6 July 2017

FEAST (Cookbook Challenge)




I have a large stash of recipe books - below is only a small selection!  I spend a lot more time reading and flicking through them than I do cooking anything from them.  So my husband set me a challenge to see if I could cook 3 recipes from each book. I've decided to blog it to keep me semi accountable, to remind me what I liked and didn't like and hopefully over time to improve my terrible food photography!



I have always had a cook crush on Nigella and it was an obvious choice to start with one of her many books from my shelf.  I've purchased most of Nigella's books as soon as they came out and watched her tv programmes whilst salivating.  One of the things I like most about her books is that you can read them.  It's not just a series of recipes, there are musings on where the recipe came from, what inspired it, tips on making or adapting it.   I went to a book signing for her latest book Simply Nigella and found her charming and actually very funny answering questions.  I was too embarrassed to ask any but hope I can rectify this if I make it to another signing for her newest book due out later this year. I was also thrilled to discover that she has contributed to the Vintage Mini series with Eating. I took it as a very good omen when I was told my Oncologist looked a little like Nigella and she does a little!  I keep expecting her to whip out a batch of brownies or cookies in our consultations and still always feel a little disappointed when she doesn't! 



Feast is my most well thumbed and food stained book of hers.  It was the cook book of my 20s - any invite to friends almost certainly involved me pulling out Feast to choose a dish to cook. The Cornbread Chilli is definitely a top 5 in our household. So I decided to start this project there but to try new recipes from it that I hadn't made before.

See terrible food photo - with shadow!

I actually started this at Easter when I had my in laws staying so it was the perfect excuse to bake cakes that would get eaten by lots of people.  This is the Chocolate Easter Egg Nest cake and its a perfect easy make as its supposed to sink in the middle like a nest.  Load it up with icing and mini eggs and it was delicious!




It's really hard to make some of this look as appetising as it was to eat!  Ham baked in cherry coke, squashed dauphinoise potatoes and cauliflower cheese.  While the ham was lovely I have a favourite recipe of my Mum's for cooking ham and thus far nothing has topped it!  But I think that is one of the lovely things about recipes and cooking - trying new ones but also savouring and enjoying the ones from my childhood that have been passed down from my Mum or Granny.



I'm a huge fan of a tray bake meal - chuck it all together (often in advance) and pop in the oven!  This one is delicious and very clever as it uses chicken, sausages and other ingredients which give it the flavour of a roast chicken dinner.  It's definitely made it onto the "make again list".



And lastly the absolute winner recipe from the book - Lemon Curd Meringue Cake.  I actually made the curd and given the season made it as Passionfruit Curd as per the variation suggestion.  Was the curd delicious? Yes.  Would I make it again?  Probably not at £1 a passionfruit and needing 8, a jar of good quality passionfruit curd from the local farm shop will definitely suffice next time!  I would however make lemon curd again as its so easy to make and tastes delicious!  Anyway onto the cake - it was divine.  Layers of cake, meringue, curd and double cream - I can't think of anything not to love and am waiting for guests or an excuse to make it again soon.

I've really enjoyed cooking some new recipes as part of this project.  Next up is Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

MAY MEMORIES


I've written here about how I wanted this blog to reflect who I am at the moment and I've decided to try to do a monthly post on what we've been up to as an online journal of sorts. I wasn't sure what to expect from May as I was starting new chemotherapy treatment and the first 6 sessions would be every week.  Thankfully it's all very manageable, I'm working 2 mornings a week, having a very restful Thursday and packing a lot in with my lovely boys the rest of the time!  I've been truly spoiled by my lovely friends who take it in turns to come with me to hang out on Wednesdays at the Day Spa as we've nicknamed it, supply me with meals for the tired days and magazines and lovely cakes for the better days.



LOVELY LYME

My in laws have all moved to Dorset in the past few years - my sister in law and family to just outside Dorchester and my mother in law to just outside Weymouth.  Whilst it gives us a lovely base it does mean we tend to stick to those areas without exploring the rest of Dorset.  So the last time we went I insisted we venture further afield to Lyme Regis for the day as I hadn't been for years.  We started our morning at the Town Mill Bakery which is the most delightful cafe.  Picture long rows of wooden tables, delicious coffee, self service bread and toasting stations, piles of fluffy pastries and gorgeous looking cakes.


Then we walked along the pier before lunch (it's a pastel Instagram dream!), visited the dinosaur museum and watched the street performances.  The children were all happy digging for fossils (or eating stones if you were Thomas) and there were the obligatory ice-creams before rounding up the day with pizza on the beach for tea.







THE COURTS NATIONAL TRUST

We've been National Trust Members since we've had children but use it more some years than others.  Embarrassingly the Courts is less than 10 miles from Bath and we've never been.  The house is lived in by private tenants but the gardens are open to the public and are just beautiful.  I'm currently obsessed by alliums and they had the most amazing displays.







There is a children's forest school play area and we dodged the showers with a picnic and finished up with delicious cakes in the tea rooms.





BRISTOL ZOO

Last weekend we packed another picnic and headed to Bristol Zoo for the first time.  It was a fabulous day out and we were so busy looking at all the animals that I didn't take many photos.  The flamingos were my favourite while James loved the penguins best!  The zoo also has a great playground, small water splash area and a dinosaur exhibit at the moment.  The flowers all around the zoo were beautiful too.





MY BOYS

I've been trying to spend an hour or so with James each Friday just on his own.  Mostly we go to a local cafe and eat too much toast or cake, browse the charity shops with change from his money box for new books and pick up any errands for the weekend. James is particularly used to standing around in flower shops while I spend forever deliberating over what to get! I can't quite believe he starts school in September so want to make the most of these precious days.  




Thomas took his first steps last month though still seems happier crawling everywhere at top speed instead.  His favourite toys are balls or anything that belongs to James rather than him and his favourite thing to do is to climb on anything he can!


And those are my May Memories! 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

BABY QUILTS



So this is another catch up post about the 5 similar baby quilts I've made over the past 18 months.  They all follow Jen B star quilt tutorial downsized but were made in colours to match the recipients nurseries. But taking the photos and uploading them got me thinking about the babies and their very special Mummies that I made them for so that's what I've written about.


Jos' Quilt

Ever since I left university with an on tap supply of similar people who were available for drinks or a chat at a moment's notice, I wondered how adults made new friends.  I wasn't friendless but I didn't find it easy to make new friends and once I moved to Bath I missed my old school and university friends who no longer lived locally.  Gradually over the years I made new friends at work and I made online and real life friends who shared my crafting interests but that was about it.  When I became pregnant I wondered how on earth I would make friends to spend my maternity leave with.  Everyone said that when you had children it was easy to make friends but the idea of walking into a baby group on my own terrified me.  

My sister in law swore by her NCT friendship group and all but signed me up herself.  For those who aren't familiar with NCT its Natural Childbirth Trust who run ante natal classes in small groups for parents to be.  There is obviously a lot of focus on natural childbirth and after just one session I came away convinced I would just breathe this baby out.  (For the record I didn't breathe either baby out and took all the drugs and interventions offered!)  But most people go along pretending they are desperately interested in learning about it all whereas in reality they just want to meet another gang of parents who just might want to be friends with them.


Sally's Quilt
I also signed up to pregnancy yoga (again on the pretence of learning breathing techniques but in reality so that I could snooze for half an hour in the relaxation session at the end).  After a few weeks of talking to the same person each week we made a throw away comment about swapping numbers the following week and meeting for a coffee.  I was so excited and rang my sister in law to say I had finally made a friend.  And then the next week she didn't come to class and I joked to my husband that I had scared her off.  And then the next week she didn't come either and I honestly felt like crying.  At the end of the class the yoga teacher approached me to explain she hadn't been able to come for a few weeks but had asked her to pass on my number.  Hurrah- she didn't think I was a crazed stalker new Mum (or at least she didn't then!).  Over the next couple of months with a couple other yoga Mums we had coffee and dinner and pizza and more coffee and cake so by the time our babies arrived I knew I had a group of great women to keep me company for my year off.   Between the two groups there were 5 of us and in the summer after we had our babies we did Mum & Baby yoga (45 mins yoga, 2.5 hrs in the nearest coffee shop afterwards) and cemented our little friendship group.

Four and a half years later and these wonderful women are still my Mum Gang.  Our first year of maternity leave was spent at baby sensory, swimming, baby massage, baby cinema, coffee shops and play dates at each other's houses.  The babies every cough, wave, spot, developmental milestone and coo was admired in minute detail.  Weaning success and lows, lack of sleep, teething cures, lack of sleep , feeding dramas and lack of sleep were all mulled over and analysed.  Slowly we all returned to work after a year and I wondered if we would all lose touch.  But by then we had more than our babies in common - though all different we had enough common ground that we were now friends because we liked each other enough and not just because we had babies the same age!

Thomas' Quilt
We've been through many house moves, job changes, a fabulous hen weekend and wedding and many many many cups of coffee, slices of cake and glasses of wine together.  And then the impending arrival of second babies started to be announced.  Somehow we managed to time most of these babies into a relatively small window meaning a second year of maternity leave off together. But oh my how different it was with the seconds.  No whiling away the hours at coffee shops and baby cinema this time round.  No instead, the babies were strapped into slings while we rang after escaping toddlers at the park or forest school.  Coffees were drank in take away cups while lobbing malt loaf and cheerios at hungry toddlers.  Conversations were frequently interspersed with requests for drinks, snacks or the toilet.  But it didn't seem to matter.  Our second babies just fitted in in a slightly haphazard, neglected way (speaking for myself anyway who has spent the last 2 weeks moaning about Thomas' lack of sleep but failed to notice he had actually cut 2 molar teeth.......)  But I thought it would be nice if each of the "neglected Team B babies" at least had their own special quilt.



Sophie's Quilt

In the past 8 months, despite having busy family lives of their own, these wonderful women have been my rocks.  From practical help with childcare and food, to arranging lovely treats like afternoon tea and spa visits and magazines to read, to always being at the end of the phone or text I literally could not have got through it all without them.  Or at least it wouldn't have been so much fun!  They also just allow me to still be me - we still mostly talk about everyday life, our children, our work or moan about our husbands or mothers in law.  We still sit scoffing cake while pretending to watch our children in their gym class where everything smells like feet.  We still squeeze in nights for dinner at each others houses where there are no children to interrupt us.  And very occasionally we venture "out out". We still all have good days as mums and we still all have bad days as mums. But we know that there is someone else going through it too.

I'm so lucky to have found my Mum Gang and I was so pleased to be able to make each of them a special quilt for their second babies.  In September our oldest all start school and they are all going to different schools.  But this time I'm not worried about losing touch - I know our friendship will last.  And anyway you can be sure I'm going to continue making them all cake on a regular basis to hang onto them!!!


Genevieve's Quilt

Thursday, 11 May 2017

BEHIND THE PETALS




I've been scrolling through my gallery for the last month and it is photo after photo of flowers and blossom and more flowers.  I could do an entire blog post of pictures of flowers (actually who am I kidding - tulips) and it would look like I'd spent the last month in a petal induced haven. But as we all know photographs don't always accurately capture our daily lives.  We choose what to stop and photograph, we choose what to edit, we choose what to share and post.  So I've been reflecting on just why I've taken quite so many photos of flowers and why its helped me find joy over the last month.  This does of course mean that I still get to do a blog post full of photos of lovely flowers!



We all love a photo of flowers - in vases, in gardens, petals scattered on a table, people holding bunches of flowers and gorgeous flower shops.  If you are stuck on what to put on Instagram, post some flowers, any flowers, and people are almost obliged to like it!  I wrote last month about how part of the reason I had returned to blogging was to ensure that I had a place to be true and authentic to myself and to write what I wanted.  So while I'm not about to post pictures of my dirty washing and toy strewn living room, a post full of pretty flowers without any context doesn't accurately capture my life recently.



The bottom line is cancer isn't very floral or photogenic.  True, you get given lots of lovely gifts of flowers but you can't really pretty up the realities of cancer with some creatively strewn petals or greenery.  A month ago after a really good stint on my first treatment I had a scan that wasn't as good.  Everything stops.  They act fast to change things. The old treatment that I'd gotten used to and worked out how to make fit around me was gone.  There were Consultant appointments,  discussions about next options, about funding, about blood results.  It was a very unsettling and frightening time though luckily I still felt well throughout it. 



And so in an effort to not drown in the vastness of it all I continued to embrace the ethos I've tried to adapt since last October. I turned it around. I sought out the things that made me smile, the things that made me laugh, the things that brought me joy.  I went back to the simple things, to appreciating what was around me, to appreciating the beautiful and fun things that are there to be experienced every day.  I slowed down.  I opened my eyes. I rather embarrassingly discovered not one, but two blossom trees in my front garden that I hadn't noticed before! 





And so I sought out flowers.  I got sent them, I grew them, I bought them, I stopped to photograph them everywhere.  I was also lucky enough that the past month was when all the tulips planted back in October in our new garden starting popping up.  I'm still not quite sure about why I've been particularly drawn to flowers but every time I see some I can't help but smile.  I think its partly due to their being inherently part of nature, part of something bigger than us.  The fact that they follow a natural cycle also appeals; you plant them,  they grow and then they ultimately do wither but while they are here they can bring so much joy, much like we all can too.







I've now started new weekly treatment and I'm doing fine.  I'm determined to fit this into my life and to continue my approach of appreciating the simple things in life and turning each day around.   And I'm most definitely still going to be seeking out flowers!