Sunday, 28 July 2013

Birthday Cake and a Day Out in Oxford

We spent the day with my mum on Saturday to celebrate her birthday. Dad had sent me an email requesting a birthday cake for her and I was more than happy to oblige. I made her a chocolate cake using a basic victoria sponge recipe.

175g margarine or butter
175g caster sugar
150g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
3 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream the marg and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at time, adding a tbsp of the flour and cocoa powder mixture with each egg to prevent the mixture curdling. When this is all mixed in, fold the flour in with a metal spoon (I did this all in the mixer which has a metal mixing paddle). Add enough water to make it a dropping consistency. Divide between two 20cm tins which have been greased (I also added a circle of greaseproof paper). Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees centigrade) for 25 minutes.

When a skewer comes out clear (make sure you don't open the oven door too soon as the cakes will collapse), remove from the oven and leave to cool. To make the butter icing, mix 120g margarine or butter with 200g icing sugar and 50g cocoa powder. Sandwich the cakes together and cover with the icing. I decorated the cake with chocolate buttons.

I love the plate that it's on - it was my granny's plate and I use it all the time for cakes. Mum enjoyed her birthday cake although my ds said that it was too light and he preferred his granny's (my mum's) cakes. You can't win them all!

We spent the day in Oxford - lots of people but we managed to find some of the quieter areas, down the smaller roads and by the river. We managed to beat the weather as it didn't start raining until we were back in the car. Here are some pictures of our day.

I love the architecture in Oxford and the wildlife is pretty special too.

We tried to save this snake from the canal but it wasn't playing ball so we left it have a swim. Just outside Christ's College we came across a border of lavender which was covered in honey bees - it was an amazing sight and this photo doesn't really do it justice. It's good to see so much wildlife in an urban area. After all this visiting, today was definitely a day of rest.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's been a busy couple of days visiting family so I spent today pottering. In reality I did three loads of washing, narrowly missing the rain shower, and not much else until this afternoon. The time has come to defrost the freezer but before I do that, I need to make sure we use up the freezer contents - easier said than done. I bought a cheese sauce from Waitrose a couple of weeks ago for 25p and froze it when I got home. I used it today to make a vegetarian lasagne. I'd taken it out of the freezer before I checked the fridge for vegetables. When I did all I found was mushrooms and a couple of onions but I still managed to make the sauce with the addition of frozen peas.

My ds is taking part in the Challenge this week and was very disappointed that I hadn't been baking for the week as he wanted to take extra for his packed lunch. To be honest when the holidays start, I fall out of my normal weekend routine and forget to make the baked goods for the week. Feeling a little bit guilty, I've just made a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I like to think that these are healthy as they're full of oats but I don't think I'll get away with that thought.

200g margerine or butter
1.5 cups dark brown sugar
0.5 cup caster sugar

Cream the marg and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add 2 eggs and 1tsp vanilla extract and mix well.

Mix in

1.5 cups plain flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda 
0.5 tsp salt

Add 2.5 cups rolled oats and 2 cups chopped chocolate of your choice. I used cadburys milk chocolate. Mix well. Place tablespoons of the mixture onto baking sheets - I put 6 on each sheet to allow room for spreading (4 baking sheets, 23 cookies).

Bake in an oven preheated at 180 degrees centigrade for approx 10 minutes. I took the first batch out too soon so I've just it them back in for a couple of minutes.

They're really yummy and just waiting to be added to the packed lunch box tomorrow.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Happy Holidays

It's finally here - the start of the school summer holidays in the UK. School broke up for me and the kids on Wednesday and I've had some time for relaxing, visiting family and cooking since. My ds has been taking part in The Challenge which is an amazing experience. If you have a child who is 16 or 17 and live in the UK, they can apply to take part in this. He's had a week in Ambleside taking part in outdoor pursuits, a week at a university working with volunteer organisations and learning about photography and he's just about to do four days planning a community based project and all for princely sum of £50. I can't recommend it highly enough. In between ferrying him around, we've visited family in North London and today I topped up the dukkha which had run out.

I love to eat this with my homemade hummus, olive oil and fresh bread. To make this, put 100g of cashews in the oven at 160 degrees centigrade for 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove and chop. While they are browning, put 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds and 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds in a dry frying pan and toast.

Pour into a pestle and mortar and grind the spices so they look like this

Toast 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds and add to the ground mixture.

Mix in 1 teaspoon of dried crushed chilli and 1 teaspoon of flaked sea salt and add the chopped cashews. Leave to cool and put in a sealed glass jar. This can last me up to a month - try it, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

School Trips

Some of the most memorable experiences children have at school are the extra activities they take part in. We have just had activities week at school (hence why I haven't posted all week as I've been so busy). We put on a wide variety of activities that include free ones so everyone has the opportunity to take part. I took a group of students to PGL Marchants Hill for two separate two day trips and I can highly recommend it. The facilities, food, activities and location were great. School trips and extra activities are vital for students to develop out of the classroom. I firmly believe that all children have a right to take part in these activities which is why we work so hard each year to make sure that there are activities that everyone can afford to take part in.

The four days I spent on the activities trip pushed everyone to their limit. Children who were scared of heights managed to have a go at the zip wire, climbing, abseiling and the giant swing. They were so proud of themselves (and I was so proud of them too). I even managed to conquer my fears and went on the giant swing. Both times, I had a child sitting next to me and supporting me through my fear. I am honoured to be working with the youth of today - they are amazing. We also managed to take some time out to see this amazing view before going off to play robot wars (involving a lot of flour and water).....

It was about 8pm when we arrived at the view point amidst cries of 'I wish I brought my camera so I can instagram it'. I also took them back the following morning at 8am so they could do just that.

As you can imagine, I've spent most of the weekend recuperating and as I crawl towards the end of term, I'm going to hold onto the memories that have been created of these special days.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Music Festival and Vegetarian Sausages

We hit the hottest day of the year yesterday and it just so happened that this was also the day of Ripley Rocks - our local music festival to raise money for the Scouts. As both my children have had wonderful experiences with cubs, scouts and explorers we always help out during the day. The music was great but it was so hot - I thought I would melt into a puddle on the ground at various points during the day. Hats off the the BBQ crew as it was even hotter on that job.

After the exertions of yesterday, today was much more of a lazy day. I had some bread left over and was just about to throw it in the bin when I thought I would find a recipe that used breadcrumbs. I searched for vegetarian sausages and found a recipe which not only involved breadcrumbs but carrots too. I haven't tried carrot based sausages before so I thought I'd give it a go.

350g carrots, peeled, chopped, cooked and cooled
220g breadcrumbs
175g cheese (I used cheddar)
1 onion sliced and lightly fried
1 egg
parsley and sage (but I had marjoram and oregano in the garden so used that instead)

Put everything in a food processor and pulse until everything has combined. Divide into twelve and form into sausage shapes (I used some plain flour at this stage to help with the rolling out as the mixture was quite sticky). Leave to chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Oil a baking tray and bake in the oven (preheated to 200 degrees centigrade),  for 20 minutes, turning once. I cooked six and froze the other six for another day. I had them with a green salad and the left over potato salad from yesterday's picnic. DH and DD had there's in rolls. And the verdict - lovely taste although my dd said they were too cheesy. I think this is definitely a recipe that will be used again). 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Muffin Baking

I spent the early hours of Sunday morning baking for the afternoon synagogue celebrations. As it turned out (which it always does) there was plenty of food despite everyone worrying that ere wouldn't be enough. I decided to make two different types of muffins - raspberry and jam filled. I used a basic muffin recipe for both:

225g plain flour
100g caster sugar
3tsps baking powder (only 1tsp if you use self raising flour)
Half a tsp salt
8fl oz milk
3fl oz vegetable oil
1 egg

Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix the wet ingredients in a measuring jug. For the raspberry muffins, mix the fruit into the flour mix then combine with the wet ingredients. Don't over mix as this makes the muffins quite dense. Divide the mixture between 12 muffin cases and bake at 200 degrees centigrade for 20 minutes.

For the jam filled muffins, follow the recipe above. Fill each muffin case half full. Add a teaspoon of jam to each case.

Cover with the remainder of the mixture and bake as above. Here they are after baking.

These are such simple things to bake so if you haven't tried baking before, this is a good place to start. There lovely fresh from the oven - warm and gooey. There also great heated up in the microwave after a day or two - 30 seconds should do it. I've been playing with a new app called Pic Collage and this is the results of my efforts.... it makes me feel hungry just looking at all the pictures together.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Picnic in Guildford

It was a hectic day yesterday ferrying people around, synagogue in the afternoon for the rededication of one of the scrolls which was very special and out to dinner in the evening. Sometimes it's important to stop and take a time out and this is what we did at lunchtime. Guildford has a castle (well the old keep is still standing) surrounded by beautiful gardens. We found a shady spot above the castle in the bee friendly part of the park. The place was full of flowers that bees would love and the views were fantastic. We bought some bits and pieces from the supermarket round the corner and spent the time munching and recharging our batteries.

Normally we go shopping in Guildford and don't take the time to find its hidden corners but yesterday was different and I'm so pleased we took the time to find this little corner.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Day Out in Portsmouth

We have been planning this day out for a while. We wanted to take dd's German exchange student somewhere with a variety of different things to do. We had talked about Cambridge but it's a bit of a drive from us so we settled on Portsmouth. The plan was to visit the Naval Dockyard and HMS Victory (Nelson's ship), potter around the shops in Gunwharf Quays, stop for a bite to eat, wander over to Southsea then back home. We managed to fit everything with a bit of a diversion at the end of the day - more on that later.

We arrived in Portsmouth in the morning and spent at least an hour wondering around HMS Victory, soaking in all the history. Just one look at all the cannons and you could really imagine the noise and confusion when the boat was at full pelt. I even stood where Nelson eventually collapsed - now that's real history.

The ropes were a work of art and the anchor was huge (necessary I suppose for the size of ship). I can highly recommend this as a day out in the south east. While we were on the deck of the boat, I asked one of the guides of the ship had been used as a basis of Pirates of the Caribbean. Although the answer was no, the ship in the opening scenes of Les Miserables was based on HMS Victory. And, not only that, the scenes were filmed in the naval dry dock a hop, skip and a jump away from where we were standing. Now that is an interesting piece of information.

After HMS Victory, we wandered around the Naval Museum then had lunch at Pizza Express overlooking the harbour. The sun was out, glinting on the water, and it felt like we were sitting on the French Riviera. It can't get better than that.

We wandered around the shops after that. Portsmouth is a naval city and Gunwharf Quays is a redeveloped area of the city. It used to be a rundown dockyards but now it is full of shops, restaurants and flats providing jobs and money for the city. I haven't bought new clothes for quite a while but I managed to find 3 dresses, a tshirt and hoodie for very reasonable prices. Two of the dresses were £10 each which is unheard of.

At this point we were all feeling a bit tired but we still had some time to visit the arcades and Southsea beach. We love the 2p machines in the arcade and spent a bit of time there, watched the hovercraft coming in from the Isle of Wight then paddled in the sea. It was a really hot day and the water was a welcome release but the stones on the beach were not.

We have a sleeping dragon as an ornament at home, bought on our travels to Wales, who we call Desdemona. Everytime we visit a beach, we collect a pebble to place next to here as a memory of our travels so Desdemona now has a Southsea pebble to sleep next to. Here are some of our pictures of Portsmouth.

A fantastic day out. Ds wasn't with us as he was away on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition - 3 days hiking in the South Downs. Unfortunately, he was affected by hayfever for the first time ever and his eyes had completely swollen up. He had spent the day following the boots of the girls in front of him as he couldn't see any further - poor thing. We received the call while we were still in Portsmouth so we had a change to the planned end of the day and drove to the campsite (just north of Brighton) to pick him up and bring him home. We've been bathing his eyes (that now look like a bad case of conjunctivitis they were so badly affected by the pollen) and I hope that a good night's sleep will improve them. It was lovely to have him back with us and it's a bonus he's with us for the rest of the weekend.

I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend wherever you are in the world. I'd love to hear how you spend your weekends.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Chocolate Pots

So dd's German exchange student arrived late on Wednesday night which left me as a zombie during the day yesterday and when I haven't had enough sleep, I become grumpy. That feeling started to improve by yesterday afternoon, in part helped by invigilating students in a computer room with air conditioning - bliss and it kept me awake.

We don't normally have a pudding during the week unless I've made something at the weekend and we're eating leftovers. It was only the girls in last night and as we were eating dinner, I suggested we could go for a walk afterwards or maybe pop down to the pub on the river for a dessert. I left the girls to think about it and they were obviously thinking so hard that they forgot all about it. I thought I'd use the time to surf the internet and I came across this post on honey and soy. To be honest, I had book marked it a while ago thinking it would be great to make as the chocolate pots looked so luscious and I can reliably inform you that they tasted luscious too. As I hadn't heard anything from the girls for a while (deep into watching The Big Bang Theory) I decided to make these chocolate pots for pudding. So easy and so yummy.

130g chocolate (the recipe states dark chocolate but I didn't have enough left so I combined milk and dark)
115g butter
half a cup of caster sugar
2 eggs
3 tbsps plain flour

Break the chocolate up in a bowl with the butter. Put in the microwave on defrost for 6 minutes. Stir to combine.

While the chocolate and butter are melting, butter some ramekins. The recipe says 4 but I filled 6. These are left over from when we bought some Gu desserts.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and sugar. I used my hand whisk at this point.

Combine all the ingredients and divide equally between the ramekins.

Bake in an oven pre heated to 200 degrees centigrade for 20 minutes. I think if I had baked them for a slightly shorter period of time they would have been more gooey. Regardless, they were delicious.

This was a really easy dessert to make and saved me money as well - it would have cost us at least £15 for dessert in the pub. Not many steps to something so tasty.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Tidying Up

For months, the small front room has, to all intents and purposes, been my crafting room. I've had a pile of boxes filled with crafting supplies, old shoe boxes filled with finished makes and a pile (in fact a huge pile) of fabric inherited from my grandparents. My grandpa was a tailor's cutter so he had a special love of fabric and he was also a great tailor in his own right and my granny could make a suit without a bought pattern (in fact she used to make her own patterns - she was a really clever lady). The room was gradually becoming messier and messier until this weekend.

We had to prepare the house for my dd's German exchange partner which meant tidying up everything (which was long overdue). The end result is a very tidy room downstairs and most of my crafting resources banished to the garage for the next week so no crafting for a while. So here's some pictures to keep us going until something new is crafted.

I need to make some more of these beach huts as I only have a few left.

And some more owls in different colour combinations - I can feel my creative juices starting to flow.

We'll be out and about from Wednesday for a week so things my slow down on here for a while but be rest assured that we'll be having lots of fun, visiting different places and spending lots of time outdoors. I hope you all have a lovely week and remember to think happy thoughts when you're surrounded by the madness of work.

Crafting Journey

You may have noticed that I've lost my crafting mojo recently and that it's transferred over to the kitchen. I've had a lovely couple of weeks cooking and baking and I hope you've enjoyed the results of my labours. I love spending time in the kitchen as I find it really relaxing (apart from the washing up) and I produce something yummy from it. I made some chocolate chip oat cookies yesterday using a new recipe I found through the various link parties I've been joining - recipe to follow - but I just wanted to remind you that I also craft and my dd put together a beautiful collage of some of my creations.

All I need to do is make it through to the end of the summer term and then I'll have the time to start crafting again. I've just bought some lovely material as I found a new tutorial that I want to try so watch this space. I hope you have a lovely day and if you have the time, pop over the Handmade Monday where you will find lots more inspiration.