Saturday, 28 May 2016

Happy Birthday Little One

To my lovely little Niece,

Your Auntie Zan loves you a lot, little one. Thank you for playing with me on your birthday - I really enjoyed your picnic in the park, playing on the swings with you (over and over again) and watching you try and steal someone else's toy. We had lots of fun wandering through the tall grass when everyone else was having a nap, and you had fun clapping along to your own birthday song, twice! The highlights of my day today was when you had an affectionate nibble of your cousins's finger (I don't think he enjoyed it too much) and also when you ate and then rejected a spring onion. You were surrounded by lots of people who love you too, and it looked like you had an awesome day.

This birthday is special because it's your first, and your mummy and daddy have really been wonderful and brave in the 12 months. You don't know it now, but you were quite the crier, my little one. Your mum and dad deserve a medal for never buying a single pair of earplugs or sound proofing the house. Your aunties, uncles and grandparents are so proud of your parents for looking after you, and so very excited to be celebrating your first glorious year. I hope that I can be part of each one of your birthdays in some way as you grow up!

Happy birthday little one. Even though you are very little, you already have a big heart. I look forward to more adventures with you and many more smiley selfies in the future!

Much love,
Your Auntie Zan :)


Friday, 20 May 2016

"Argh Lobsters!" - Reflections from a walk by the river

   From a distance, I could see three figures and a big yellow object, bobbing up and down in the river. They were happy, or at least that was the tone I could hear in the gentle breeze, so I pretended not to be too interested as I wandered closer. I know this river quite well - it's not super deep (just too deep for wellies) and provided they watch where they step, they weren't going to hurt their feet on the rocky shores.
   Very soon I could see that it was three boys, maybe between the ages of 10 to 12 who were using a large yellow bin as a boat. It wasn't a very good boat because it was a bit too deep and an odd shape. I pretended to pick at rocks as I wandered closer. Two of the boys ran past me in a panic.
   "It's okay" I told them "I've seen you already."
   They paused and looked at me and I carried on "As long as you drag it out of the river when you're done, then you're golden".
   A brief look of relief flashed across their faces. "Okay, we're just going to get our stuff." And sure enough a few minutes later, they returned to their friend who was guarding their boat and dumped their bags and coats on the rocky shore of the river. It was a warm day.
   The two bag boys waded back into the river and judging by sounds of struggle over the next few minutes, they were working out for the first time how to get the third boy into the boat. It was kind of hilarious and I laughed out loud as the lad hit the water for the second time having missed getting into their improvised boat.
   My attention was caught by a bird nearby who was fat and chirpy, so I took a few pictures of it while in my periphery, I watched the lads get the third boy into the boat unscathed.
   "Hey lady, look!" I turned around, and sure enough he had managed to get in, and was holding two thumbs up at me.
   "Brilliant", I said with half a laugh. He was so pleased with himself.
   I walked on ahead thinking, "My work is done here, they wanted an audience which I granted, they are safe. My play advocating role is complete" until all of a sudden I heard the unmistakable words of-
   "Argh, what the **** was that?"
   "Argh lobsters!"
   "There are loads of them!"
   "Hey lady, are there lobsters here?"
   I started laughing really loudly. "There are crayfish here, which are like little lobsters"
   "But they're massive". He held his hands out urgently about a foot long and asked "Will they hurt us?"
   "Probably not" I said, laughing some more.
   One of them screamed and the boy in the boat scrambled out and all three of them half ran, half fell back onto shore. They started throwing rocks at the boat, in a vague attempt at rebuking the lobsters.
   I walked on, comfortable that the play frame was over. As I went around the meander of the river I could see that play in the boat had resumed but the boy in the boat had no control over it as the other two pushed it about. At that moment, I decided to make a paddle.
  This is the river that flooded last Christmas. There is a lot of debris nearby - tyres, fences, the odd bike and at least two toilets. A veritable haven of adventurous play, really, but has only recently been discovered by the young people in the area. As I walked along, I sourced a long stick for my paddle handle, and also found a flat wooden piece with a hole that fitted perfectly into the knot of my stick. I latched the whole thing together with long strands of plastic bags that litter the area. Two new young lads ran past me as I headed back to the yellow boat and I distinctly heard them say "They're probably further down there."
   On my return to the yellow boat, it was much further down the river and there were now about 6 boys. They had gotten the boat stuck in the bed of the river and were trying to work out how to unstick themselves. A lot of tipping and shouting was involved, and of course, the one boy that was still in the boat was defenseless and at the mercy of his boisterous mates. I waded into the water, holding the paddle out in front of me.
  "Oh, she brought us a paddle!", said the boy in the boat.
  "Oh, we saw her making that before!" exclaimed a voice from behind me as I passed the paddle over.
  "Oh, this is well mint! Oh, sorry that your wellies are wet" said the boy in the boat as he watched the water rush into my boots.
  "Oh, they're super wet" I said, laughing as I headed back to shore with a squelch, squelch, squelch.
  A couple of the boys laughed as I poured the water out of my wellies on shore. The rest of them had managed to release the yellow boat and proceeded to push it towards the far shore to tackle their next risky manoeuvre. I noted that along with the increase in number, the average age of the boys had increased too, so as I wandered off home, I decided that they could collectively deal with further risks or troubles they might meet on this hot Spring day. Even though my wellies were wet from the inside out, it was worth it to be on the periphery of this play engagement.
   I could see the paddle being used to poke things gingerly from inside the boat as balance was restored to the boy who had too many friends outside of his temporary plastic ride. They were so present in this engagement, immersed in nature and free of adults, rules and shoes! I have never met any of these young people before, but I feel like I met their genuine selves for a moment that day. They were being curious children. They were playing.

Three boys and a yellow boat.

Monday, 2 May 2016

A Tale of Two Bakes

1.

I've been wanting to experiment with baking for a little while now, and I took the opportunity while we had no bread at home to try some bread experimentation. All the recipes nowadays seem to try and help you shorten the bread making process but I know that flavour and texture comes with time. Having seen many cooking shows and knowing that bakers can't possibly be doing everything at the last minute in the bakery. I decided it was a good time to try this experiment. So I took a simple white loaf recipe, did the first prove as normal, and then left it in the fridge overnight for the second prove. I think it was a success - here was my handsome loaf:

The crust was crispy and lovely - I was pretty impressed with it.

It was quite a closed textured bake but light, and sweeter than my other bakes have been, even without any sugar added!

My mum and dad really enjoyed this loaf so I think it's safe to say that this loaf was a complete success. Knowing that I can prove the loaf overnight is kinda awesome - I can be way more flexible in my bread making. Yay for bread experimentation!


2. 

I thought it was high time that I learnt a new type of dessert and went with a lemon meringue pie. This always looks absolutely delicious in shops and so I thought it would be an excellent type of sweet try out. Here's my first ever lemon meringue pie:

It was a bit messy because my arms got tired of whisking the meringue a bit too early and it wasn't as aerated as I'd like.

There were some awesome layers though - meringue, lemon and pastry. Never tried sweet pastry before so this was also a great opportunity!

It was harder than I thought it would be (I don't have a food processor and usually hand whisk everything) but the outcome was pretty good I think. I shared it with my friends from college during board game night and they really seemed to enjoy it so yay! Having done the Bake Off Bake-Along with me for 2 years, it's been pretty cool to share these baked creations with my fellow baking friends. 

I was fascinated with the lemon portion of this dessert - who knew that cornflower and eggs could achieve such lemony goodness! And the sweet pastry - so lovely, light and crisp! I will definitely be making this again, hopefully with even higher, prettier meringues! Hoorah! :)