One of the best: Chocolate Brownie Cake

I recently made this amazing Chocolate Brownie Cake. I could not believe how easy and more importantly how delicious it was. I even burnt it a little (I’d recommend cooking for 30 minutes and keeping a close eye, instead of the 35-40 in the recipe), and it looks just ok, but when you taste it – it melts in the mouth.

IMG_5639This is not allergy friendly sadly – it contains chocolate, eggs, flour, butter, caster sugar and pecan nuts. I’m going to work on a version without wheat flour – it only takes 65g so I’m sure a substitution could be made. I’m also sure it would work fine without the nuts, although they do add some nice texture.

This has already gone into my collection of recipes to be repeated, and I’m sure it won’t be long before it makes a reappearance in our house.

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Books lately – January 2015

IMG_5622One of the things that has fallen by the wayside since becoming a stay at home mother (and giving up the hour long train journey into London and back) has been time to sit and read. This Christmas holiday I have loved getting stuck into a few books and wanted to share some thoughts…

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

It took me ages to pick this up, mainly because I knew from the blurb it would be quite a serious read. I was right, but I’m so glad I got around to it. The writing is beautiful, and I alway love to read about times and places I’m unfamiliar with. This is set in Malaya before, during and after the second world war, as the Japanese prepare to, and then finally invade before being driven out after Pearl Harbour. It follows an English-Chinese boy, Philip. He is torn between his duty to his family, their company, his home of Penang and his duty to and love for his Japanese martial arts master Endo-san.

It is fascinating to see how choices made with the best intentions have devastating results, how cultures collide, and how relationships can be good and also destructive all at once. Philip’s actions and alliances have far bigger implications that he realises. It is very gripping and I’d definitely recommend it. If you’ve already enjoyed it, try The Garden of Evening Mists also by Tan Twan Eng.

The Cookoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

As most people will know, J K Rowling wrote The Cookoo’s Calling under a pseudonym before being outed by the media as it’s author. I enjoyed reading it in the light of this, and wondered whether I’d have spotted the similarity in style which I can now see clearly. This is a fun and gripping murder mystery. It’s not a children’s book (a bit more ‘language’ than in Harry Potter!), but isn’t hard to lose yourself in. Mysteries are one of my favourite genres so I found the ending a little predictable but it was very enjoyable anyway. The biggest draw for me was the two main characters – detective Cormoran Strike and his new receptionist/secretary, Robin. We see the story unfold from both perspectives, which I think adds to the telling. Robin is efficient, keen and observant but doesn’t yet have Strike’s experience. I liked the interplay between the two of them as well – it was good to see their working relationship and friendship developing as both also juggle intrusive personal lives. I’ll look forward to reading more – a follow up book, The Silkworm is out and I’m hopeful there will be more!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

A really interesting book. There is a basic mystery – when Rosemary was five, she was sent to her grandparents’ house. When she returned home, her sister Fern was gone. The first half of the book leads up to a twist which I won’t reveal. At the time the twist was disappointing – it was not at all what I expected and changed the book completely. After a while I decided I liked the twist – it’s unusal for the premise of the story to be so turned on its head, and as a reader it was challenging to let go of my ideas of what the book was, and to enjoy the reality. It became a story about family relationships, trust, morality and loss. In the end the story it became was even better than the one I’d hoped for. The ending was satisfying, and hopeful. Definitely one I’d recommend. I’ve skirted around the main theme so as not to give away anything important, but let me know if you’ve read it and what you think – I’d love to hear someone else’s perspective!

I was excited to receive a Waterstones gift card for Christmas, and have queued up The Awakening of Miss Prim, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Miniaturist to read next. I’ll be back with some more thoughts in a few months…

A Painted Gift

Happy New Year everyone! Today I’m sharing a project I completed just before Christmas as a gift for the little one.

One of his favourite books at the moment is ‘Come on Daisy’ by Jane Simmons. I’d never heard of it before but we got it out of the library the first time we went and then renewed it about five times before finally returning it. The Daisy books were one of the first things I suggested when family began asking for Christmas present ideas for him.

I decided it would be fun to try making a Daisy artwork for his bedroom. I don’t know how long the interest in ducks will last but it made a good project and having it in mind as a Christmas present meant I had a deadline. Always good.

1412 CraftMy first step was to paint the background – a splodge of a few different blues, green and white on a plate, and a nice wide sponge “brush” and I spread it over the canvas until it looked right. I always overestimate how much paint I’ll need. Luckily with acrylics you can cover the plate in clingfilm (pressing it close down into the paint) and it stops it from drying out for a few days. This helps when doing multiple coats of the same colour as well as you don’t need to match the colour you’ve previously mixed.

Once that was done, I drew the outline in pencil and began colouring. The issue with painting the whole background first is that then lighter colours like yellows need a few coats to stop it showing through. When the base colours for each section were done I started the shading – a lighter red on the top of the beak and feet, the darker edges of the leaf and so on.

1412 Craft1Again, my method is keep going until it looks right and then stop. Sometimes the stopping gets missed and I have to go back a bit. I used acrylics and the brilliant thing is if you paint something and then decide straight away it looks wrong, you can usually fix it with water and some kitchen roll.

IMG_5336I added the dragonfly at the end and finally it was done. The whole thing probably took about 3 hours, but with lots of drying time in between. I did it over a week, a little bit every day. In reality the colours are a little brighter than in the pictures. I was so pleased with how it came out and I’m sure the little one will enjoy having it in his bedroom in 2015.

One Little Word: BUILD

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Aristotle

This has rung true in so many areas of my life this last year. In creative pursuits, in motherhood, in marriage, in faith, in friendships…the list goes on.

One of my longest running projects was a record book of the little one throughout the course of his first year. One photo every week for a year, from the week he was born through to first birthday. Some weeks the picture just worked – light, clean clothes and happy baby all aligned for a lovely image. Other weeks were harder – it would be dark by the time I got around to taking the photo, the little one would be tired and when I finally uploaded it the picture would be a little out of focus. I’d look at it, be momentarily discouraged and then I’d stop, step back and look at the final goal. We had the book printed just before Christmas and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result. All together, the pictures tell a story. I see my little boy learning to smile, clap and wave. I see him growing in and out of new outfits. I see his hair appearing and his personality developing. The whole is so much bigger than 52 individual photographs.

I’ve noticed this translating to other projects (what would my felt fruit basket be with just one banana?), to motherhood (which really is made up of so many little things repeated, multiplied and added to) and to relationships (in which every email, smile, kind gesture builds up a friendship).

So, for 2015, my aim is just to keep building. Building memories, creative habits, family traditions, investing in good friendships. I’ve seen the idea of One Little Word floating around before but this is the first time I’ve found a word that feels right. 2015 will be the year I BUILD.

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