Sunday, September 27, 2015

word of the week #39

A very quick entry for this week's word of the week, because we are in New York!! After literally months of planning with endless help from my fabulous parents and some incredible secret keeping from The Husband's colleagues, on Wendesday night The Husband found out that we would be spending his 30th birthday in America!!

He somehow had no idea (and is now rethinking his notion that nothing gets past him!) and was a little gobsmacked to realise that we would be leaving early the next morning. Never without drama, Millie decided to get very ill on Tuesday and ended up being admitted to the vets and I genuinely thought I might have to cancel the trip but luckily she was home by Wednesday evening and is currently back to mischief and being pampered by my parents!!

I'm so glad it all came together, and now we are off to see the Statue of Liberty and indulge in some cannoli in Little Italy!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

project 365: week 38

This was the week I finally forgot a photo!! With 100 days to go as of last week, I'm afraid that on Friday night The Husband and I started watching a film, and I completely forgot. I scoured for anything that could feasibly count as a picture, a screenshot, an emoticon, and alas I didn't have a thing. I'm resisting the urge to declare the whole thing cancelled now that I haven't got a perfect record, and instead think it is probably a bit more realistic for me to get to the end of the year without all 365 days! And it give's me a reason to join in again next year!

256. Oh Great British Bake Off and the mystery flaounas. These were actually quite fun to make, but I really didn't enjoy the flavour. More on that when I write them up (which I will do soon, I promise!!).

257. The train station roof, including the reflection of the lights from the train carriage, lined up perfectly. Lots of early starts this week, and I've been quite enjoying the early train. In fact, on Friday, which shall forever now be known as "the missing day", I tried to take a picture of the sunrise but got thwarted as we pulled into a station and the view got obscured. So I can console myself with the fact that the intention was there!

258. The roses from my Grandad still in full bloom, long outlasting the flowers I got myself a week later. I shall have to switch allegiance to his supermarket!

259. A trip to my Auntie's to see some family, including my cousin's beautiful sons, who are always such fun to be with. I had a great time playing trains and boats, then a fish and chip supper, and this gorgeous sunset over the sea too.

260. Thursday night snuggles with The Husband and the beagle, catching up on Great British Bake Off, having managed to avoid finding out the results beforehand.

262. Please avert your eyes from the toes much in need of a pedicure, and instead gaze in sympathy at the poorly foot, and the fact that I missed the chance to run my first 10k race, although the injury perhaps suggests I wasn't quite ready for it. I'm not sure if the home-made strapping really helped all that much, the temptation to peel it back off was too strong to resist, so it didn't last all that long!

word of the week #38

I had visions of a bullseye, or maybe an arrow in flight for this week's doodle, but then I left the coloured pencils downstairs, and so had to make do with the pens in my bedside drawer instead!

I chose this word as I feel I am in the midst of a number of big events and deadlines. At work, a few things have been happening over the last week, and I have been trying to work towards them. There have been a few long days, some big meetings, and a few more next week, I have been taking on a bit more responsibility and so far it has gone quite well.

On a slightly less positive note, this weekend was the weekend I was supposed to run my 10k. Feeling a little unprepared, The Husband and I went out on Monday and ran just over 10k, for the first time ever. It took me longer than I had hoped, but I was thrilled to have done it, spent the next few commutes into work making a running playlist on my phone, and was looking forward to completing the course, and being gentle with myself instead of setting an unrealistic target.

Then on Thursday night I noticed a bit of pain in my foot, it was still there on Friday morning, and by the time I got home on Friday night I had a fully established limp. I have inflamed the tendon, brought on, I'm guessing, by the sudden ramp up to 10k on Monday, and am feeling a little foolish at managing to self-sabotage my own run. I didn't want to force on through it, particularly as we are away for The Husband's birthday next weekend, and I didn't want to risk spending his big 3-0 hobbling about.

I'm trying to refrain from feeling despondent, and instead thinking that, most importantly, I ran my first 10k! It may have, in retrospect, been a little too much, too soon, having never managed more than 6k before, but I did it. And it has also convinced me, after a few weeks of feeling a bit bored of running, that I do want to achieve my target to run one before my 30th in February. I still have five months, and I have found a few 10ks in December and January, so there is hope for me yet, as long as I take it a bit more gradually this time!

The other target, is The Husband's birthday next week. I have been trying to plan our celebrations, and some gifts, and I am looking forward to it all coming together, and getting to celebrate with him next weekend. It will be nice to share with him the things that I have planned, and to feel like the special occasion is finally here after looking forward to the surprises in secret!!

I have finally managed to catch up on blog reading, and replying to all of your lovely comments too, which was another target for this weekend. Thank you to all of you that have visited and written such kind words, I have been a bit behind in getting back to people, and I haven't sent them by email this time, I have just replied on the blog, so do please know that I do appreciate all of your visits, and hope you will pop back again!

The Reading Residence

Sunday, September 13, 2015

project 365: week 37

259. Although not initially feeling my best after the superhero party the night before, Sunday turned into a lovely day. There was breakfast with friends, who kindly provided the bacon sandwiches, and cuddles with their baby - the perfect antidote to the morning after the night before. There was baking of pitta breads, and a visit to see my Grandad, where this beautiful rose was one of the many growing in his garden.

260. On a trip across to Cumbria with work, and one of my colleagues very kindly drove us, which meant I could sit and enjoy the beautiful views. The heather was a glorious purple, and I'm even more excited about the holiday cottage we have booked in the Lake District in December now.

261. The superman t-shirt The Husband bought as part of his Clark Kent outfit is now in regular use. It made me giggle seeing it discarded in the bedroom, like a behind-the-scenes look at superhero life!

262. Another I-nearly-forgot day, this lampshades have had plenty of screen time this last twelve months, as one of my go-to shots last thing at night.

263. This lovely lady hasn't been on here for a while it seems. She is as beautiful as ever, although I wonder if she knew in this picture that she had the vets the next day, she looks like she might! The Husband took her for her booster injections, and apparently she looked so scared the vet gave her lots of treats, I think she might cotton onto that one for future visits!

264. Here's the beautiful roses my Grandad got me, aren't they a fabulous shade. When my mum gave me her bunch today, I had a bright orange t-shirt on, and looked wonderfully co-ordinated as I walked home with them!

265. This picture was the best of a bad bunch, as The Husband helpfully photobombed all of the others I tried to take, you'd never guess he was turning 30 in a matter of weeks! A great family night out for dinner and a brass band concert, with The Husband, Mum, Mal and Grandad. It was a really fun evening, and the city was looking particularly beautiful in the sunshine. 

word of the week #37

I struggled for a word this week, it has gone by so quickly! It has been a nice week with some good days in work and some lovely evenings with family. I can't quite believe we are halfway through September though, the year seems to be flying by. There has been an abundance of flowers this week, and it is lovely to have the house filled with colour. The red and white gladioli were past their best today but there are roses aplenty. A huge bunch of bright pink ones that were reduced, and are cheering up the hall and the kitchen. A small white bunch from last weekend are in the study, and my grandad surprised me with some beautiful two-tone roses in a glorious orangey-russet, they look like the colour of autumn. They are on the windowsill over the kitchen sink, and tonight my mum gave me the matching bunch my grandad bought her. She goes away tomorrow and wanted me to enjoy them so they are now on my dressing table ready to start my week with a smile. I love having flowers around the house, it feels like a little luxury, although I think I could do with some extra vases!

On a slightly separate note, after enjoying Italian lessons so much last year, The Husband and I have signed up for another set of night classes. I'm really looking forward to the calligraphy weekend course I've chosen, but the weekly course we've opted for is a drawing and painting one. The flowers above suggest that I have an awful lot to learn. I'm hoping to improve from my current skill level, which feels not too far removed from primary school art, but I'm wondering if the photography course might have been a better bet - maybe I'll do that next term!

The Reading Residence

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Great British Bake Along: Gluten Free Pitta Bread

As is fast becoming tradition, the first part of this week's technical challenge required me to source some unheard of ingredient in order to make the recipe. This week it was that store cupboard staple of psyllium husk powder, which I ended up purchasing online immediately after watching the show. I found it at a website that sells all sorts of powders and supplements, for what generally appear to be people far sportier than me. The powder was cheap compared to other places, and they did next day delivery which meant my weekend baking tradition could continue. Unfortunately they have since started sending me emails entitled "your journey starts here" featuring images of people with large muscles and tiny clothes. I feel like I have inadvertently joined a club which I really am not supposed to be a member of, but it is an intriguing insight into an alternative, protein-powder fuelled universe. Quite how anyone can start a journey based around something that looks like this is quite beyond me:

Just be grateful I didn't include the after picture, whereby, having left the powder to "thicken" I came back to a solidified, gelatinous mass that was an unappealing shade of brown, rather like a quivering lump of set chicken stock. It certainly didn't conjure up images of freshly baked bread.

The nigella seeds were another ingredient I hadn't used before, but I definitely plan to use them again, as they had a lovely aroma, and added great flavour to the bread.

Despite the mystery ingredient, in something of a revelation, after my previous experience with bread, I absolutely loved this recipe! Now it may be that I did something wrong, because despite the warnings that this would be a sticky dough, I found it really easy to manage. It rose really well, and I found it kept it's shape when I came to portion it and roll it. I had ended up leaving it to rise a little longer than required, as we took the dog out for a walk, and so I think I ended up with slightly bigger pittas than perhaps I should have.

The other thing that was great about this recipe was how simple it was. After the last few weeks of quite labour intensive, and time consuming, recipes, this felt like an absolute breeze, and far more realistic for home-baking. It was a nice change not to give up several hours of the weekend to complete a technical challenge.

The only thing about making 12 pittas, is that they're not quite as easy to use up as cake. It's a lovely gesture to call in to the neighbours with a few slices of cake, or some cinnamon biscuits, but dropping off a couple of pitta breads is just a bit weird. We did our best to use them up, eating some warm from the oven, and then having them with dinner at night, but within a few days they had gone a quite stale.

They weren't particularly pretty pittas, and they definitely weren't uniform. I ended up with lots of shapes and sizes. The flavour was really good, although I think I perhaps rolled them a little too thick as they had a consistency more like a naan bread. We had them with curry one night, and with a beef stew another night, and they worked well with both dishes, although they were a bit denser than normal pitta. I think some of this was down to it having over proved, resulting in quite a coarse, thick bread.

Overall though, I'm glad I had a go at these. I wouldn't have known they were gluten-free, and it was an easy recipe to make. I didn't get a decent pitta pocket in them all, some did, but I think I rushed some of them out of the oven too quickly. While I don't think this was my most successful bake so far, it was good fun, I made something new, and I finally found a bread recipe I enjoyed, which feels like a minor miracle. The next miracle will be tracking down the mystery ingredients for the next recipe!

Paul Hollywood's Gluten Free Pitta Breads
Reproduced from BBC Food

Makes 12 pittas. Prep time over 2 hours. Cooking time 10-30 minutes.

  • 30g psyllium powder
  • 750g gluten free flour
  • 3 tbspn nigella seeds
  • 15 g sugar
  • 1 tbspn salt
  • 21g instant yeast
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 1 tbspn white wine vinegar
  • 6 tbspn olive oil
  • Mix psyllium powder into 300ml of cold water and leave mixture to thicken.
  • Place flour and nigella seeds into a large bowl. Add the sugar and salt to one side of the bowl, and add the yeast to the other side of the bowl. 
  • Crack the eggs into the middle of the bowl, add the vinegar, oil, and psyllium mixture and stir well until a dough forms. Gradually add up to 300ml water (although you may not need it all) to make a soft, slightly sticky dough.
  • Flour a work surface, turn out the dough, and knead until dough is smooth. Return dough to the bowl, cover and leave for an hour and a half, or until dough has doubled in size.
  • Heat oven to 220C/200C Fan, and place three baking trays in oven to heat.
  • When dough is risen, turn out and divide into twelve portions. Flatten and shape each portion into an oval around 4mm thick. Lightly dust the baking trays with flour and place the pittas onto the trays.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly coloured and the dough has puffed up. Remove from oven and wrap in a clean tea towel to keep fresh.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

project 365: week 36

242. The first aubergine in our vegetable patch! This plant has long been the underdog, and didn't look like it would survive initially; now it is full of lilac flowers and I'm hopeful for a few aubergines over the next few weeks.

243. A bit of a theme for the next few photographs, as I seemed to keep forgetting about the photos this week, and kept having to do a few last minute shots before bed. First up was the candle on the dressing table as I got ready for bed on Monday night.

244. The first day back in work after the bank holiday weekend, and it was an early night, tucked up in bed, and enjoying the calm, tidy room after we had managed to clean the house on our days off, ready for the new month,

255. I had actually turned off the lights and was drifting off to sleep when I realised I had forgotten a picture, so apologies for the picture of some cushions on the floor but I was far too warm and sleepy to get back out of bed!

256. I bought two bunches of gladioli at the weekend, and they have brightened up the house all week. These white ones on the kitchen window look lovely, and the bright red ones in the hall are really striking. They always seem really good value, and last really well too.

257. Out for dinner celebrating a good friend's recent engagement. I took this picture of the dessert menu to send to The Husband, because he adores cannoli, and it is not common to find it on the menu here. I ordered it, but it wasn't a patch on the ones we have had in Italy, so he wasn't missing out too much!

258. Driving home from a superhero fancy dress party (in which I coloured my hair black for the night, and wore lycra in public - quite an experience all in all). Instead of sharing a picture of The Husband and I in costume with the internet, you instead get this picture of the console in our new car, which might be slightly less amusing, but we were very excited as this was the first time we had seen it in the dark!

word of the week #36

After a number of weeks looking into replacing The Husband's car, this week we finally got to the stage of buying one. We have changed our mind lots of times about the style of car, but knew we wanted something with plenty of space to accommodate Millie, and all of our luggage, so that we can do lots more road trips in the future.

Having had a few cars that we were looking at get sold, we have, as is always the way, ended up with a car that, for us, is even better than the ones we we originally planning on buying. The model we have bought had a few added extras put in by the first owners, so it has a few toys that make it feel a little more special, and I am particularly excited about the heated seats, which I have kept permanently turned on since we drove it away.

From putting a deposit down on Monday, and many hours of work from The Husband trying to sort out new insurance, and the transfer of our other car, after a few difficulties with the insurance company, we went and picked it up yesterday. We are thrilled with it, it feels like a major purchase and I'm so glad we didn't rush in earlier as we have ended up with very different car to the ones we first considered, and I much prefer the one we finally bought. It was lovely waking up this morning and seeing it on the drive, and we keep finding excuses to go out to places just to give it another go. After nipping out this evening we decided to have a meander through the countryside, listening to music and chatting, and it was a lovely way to end the weekend.

The Reading Residence

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Great British Bake Along: Spanische Windtorte

Oh Mary, Mary, Mary. I used to think we would get along so well, but with this recipe you have broken me. Readers of a nervous disposition should beware, it is going to get ugly.

The first warning sign was the orange blossom water. Half a teaspoon of it to be precise. Mary's recipes tend to include minuscule amounts of slightly unusual ingredients, by which I mean ingredients I have never used before. For the walnut cake it was cream of tartar, which was quite straightforward to find, and at least I got to use another few grains of it for this recipe. Orange blossom water was less easy to acquire. I tried multiple supermarket home delivery services only for them to tell me it was out of stock. I got desperate and started looking for websites that did next day delivery and realised it was probably not that crucial. My wonderful grandad went looking and managed to find orange extract instead, having scoured the shelves for me. The Husband called in for the other ingredients on the way home from work and triumphantly returned with orange blossom water, to a somewhat disproportionate level of glee from me. These recipes are a definite family effort!

Bright and early on Saturday morning I got started. The first issue was realising that my baking trays weren't the right size to fit two discs of meringue on. The second issue was that my largest piping nozzle was much smaller than the suggested one and my discs probably ended up a bit flatter than they should have. The third issue was that filling the piping bag with meringue was a messy business, Millie spent the whole four and a half hours following me around the kitchen hoping to catch the drips, and there were many. So five separate baking trays were lined, piped with meringue and wedged into the oven. This in itself was a tricky process trying to get them all to fit, and a few of the discs required emergency piping after inadvertently coming into contact with the shelves of the oven.

The fondant violets were great fun, once I got going. It was a bit of a pain colouring my own icing before I started, but it turned out quite well, and for the most part they look fairly like violets. However things were about to go downhill.

The next step of the recipe was simple. I was to slide the meringues off the baking trays. This is what happened.

All of them stuck and clung to the baking paper. I cooked them for longer, I refrigerated them, I gently peeled off the paper inch by inch. I tried my best. And I, somewhat deludedly, continued to layer them as instructed, hoping that somehow it wouldn't matter that my already flat discs were now fragments and crumbs. Luckily for me, I am the granddaughter of an exceptional builder, and I was playing with mortar and a trowel before I started school. Hurrah for plastering.

I covered the crushed meringue with a thick smooth layer and hoped for the best. My mum called at this point, I remember laughing, perhaps slightly hysterically, at how badly it was going. She encouragingly reminded me that everyone loved Eton mess. I then put it back in the oven, just in time for The Husband to ask me whether it was supposed to be taller. And still I laughed, perhaps slightly edgily but there was definitely still a sense of humour intact.

But then came the second meringue. It started positively, there was even some excitement at finally getting to use my thermometer that has sat in the drawer unopened since I got it. The Husband offered to help me whisk, and with Millie at our feet we had a sickeningly cheerful few minutes stood around the pan, and even cheered when the temperature hit seventy. I know, twee, but it's ok we got our comeuppance.

Twenty minutes of whisking later and we still had white soup. And this was, I'm ashamed to admit, where my mood changed somewhat. Three and a half hours in and the thought of starting the meringue all over again was, frankly, upsetting. The Husband tried to suggest that I change the dish to a fruit-filled meringue nest. I fear my response became slightly, ahem, histrionic, as I exclaimed that the whole point of the exercise was to make the exact recipe, and the whole point of the recipe was to make two different types of meringue. The Husband valiantly pointed out that the point of the exercise was to have fun, and bid a hasty retreat, wise man.

With those words echoing, I made another attempt at meringue. I tried to convince myself it was something akin to a facial sauna as I stood at the hob whisking egg whites over steaming water. It was a much more successful outcome, however it was also now one in the afternoon, and I was due to visit family at two. Which might go some way to defend my attempts at icing.

With no clear worksurfaces left, Millie clinging to my ankles mouth open and tail wagging, I made a desperate attempt at piping the meringue (and every other nearby surface). It wasn't tall enough to pipe three layers, so I did what I thought constituted a decent enough effort (my bar was set very low by this point) and shoved it in the oven, then dashed upstairs to shower, as I too was covered in meringue.

Filling it with the fruit and whipped cream mixture was a doddle after all of that, although there was only space for about a third of it, so the rest got taken to my parents' house in a separate bowl. It didn't really look like it was supposed to, but the fondant violets distract somewhat from the mess. It reminded me a little of a rather decorative hat.

So after four and a half hours, seventeen egg whites, five baking trays, a whole lot of cleaning, I had a vaguely decorative version of meringue, fruit and cream. It did get rave reviews from the family, and disappeared in a few short hours, so it was definitely not an entirely unsuccessful effort. The sticking point (fabulous pun) was the meringue falling apart when I tried to remove it from the baking paper, and it all went a bit downhill from there. I did learn how to make two types of meringue though, which I have never made before, and how to make fondant violets, and I got to use orange blossom water. On that note, if anyone has use of an almost full bottle, I have no idea what to do with the rest of it. Next up is gluten free pitta, which is a particularly sticky dough apparently, my favourite!

Mary Berry's Spanische Windtorte
Recipe reproduced from BBC Food

Serves 12. Prep time 1-2 hours. Cooking time over 2 hours.


For the French meringue
  • 8 large egg whites
  • 475g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
For the fondant violets
  • 25g dark purple icing
  • 25g light purple icing
  • 25g yellow icing
For the swiss meringue
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 250g caster sugar
For the filling
  • 600ml double cream
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water
  • 400g strawberries
  • 200g raspberries

  • Line 3 large (or 5 medium) baking trays with baking parchment. Draw 5 20cm circles on the parchment. Preheat the oven to 120C/100 Fan.
  • Place egg whites and cream of tartar in a bowl and whisk with an electric whisk, gradually adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time until glossy and thick.
  • Using two thirds of the meringue, place into a piping bag, and using a large plain nozzle pipe two full discs into two of the circles. In the three remaining circles, pipe around the edge to make rings of meringue. Place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
  • While the meringue is cooking, make the fondant violets. Roll three small balls (similar to orange pips) of the dark purple, and two small balls of the light purple, then flatten the balls to make petals. Arrange them as shown in the pictures, then place three very small balls of yellow icing in the middle and flatten. Repeat to make 13 violets. Leave to set for an hour.
  • When the meringues have dried, slide one of the full discs onto a heatproof serving plate. Pipe with blobs of the remaining meringue, then top with a ring of meringue. Pipe more meringue onto this layer, top with another ring and repeat until all three rings are layered on top of the disc.
  • Pipe the remaining meringue roughly around the sides, and then smooth until the edges and top are covered and resemble a cake. Bake for a further 45 minutes and leave to cool.
  • To make the swiss meringue, place a large mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add the eggs and the sugar to the bowl and whisk until the mixture reaches 70C on a sugar thermometer. Remove from heat and continue whisking until stiff and cool.
  • Place swiss meringue in an icing bag and using a large star nozzle pipe decoration around the base, middle, and top of the meringue shell. Also pipe decoration around the top of the remaining disc and in the centre of the remaining disc. Put the shell and the disc in the oven for a final 30 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
  • Whip the cream and sugar until it forms soft peaks. Roughly chop the strawberries, and stir the fruit and the orange blossom water through the cream.
  • Fill the meringue shell with the cream mixture, top with the other meringue disc, and use small amounts of the remaining icing to stick the fondant violets to the meringue shell and disc. Serve immediately.