Am I missing out?

Last time I wrote around here, I was talking about appreciation. How important it is that we remember to appreciate the people around us and the things that we do have. It’s so easy to lose sight, and it’s important to take a breath every now and then to remind ourselves of how lucky we really are.

But there’s something that often stands in the way of that. On our paths to zen we encounter, in the modern age particularly, FOMO.

Fear of missing out. Yup, it’s so prolific it has it’s own acronym. That’s when you know a concept has made it to the big time.

Oh man, I suffer from FOMO so much you wouldn’t believe! The amount of times I scroll through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and see people I know living glamorous, exotic lives while I shove instant noodles into my gob, is unreal. It’s enough to put a girl off her carbs (and it takes a lot to put me off carbs). All joking aside, it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, not living life to the full and (dare I admit it?) wasting my youth.

But before I descend into the shame spiral of being in my jammies at 2pm on a Saturday, I have to remind myself that it’s all posed. Social media is a particular representation of reality. Think about it, you aren’t going to post a selfie that shows just how long it’s been since you’ve washed your hair, or just how tired you really are. You’re going to run through the shower and put some slap on first, right? It’s the same across all of social media, no matter what people are posting about.

A brief visit to a coffee shop can become a thirty minute photo shoot, if you want it to. A catch-up with old friends can be an elongated selfie sesh, if that’s your thing. I love a selfie and an insta-snap as much as the next girl, but if I have to sacrifice that to get to work on time, or really talk to an old friend, then that’s fine by me.

My online presence might not be as inspiring as some, but I’m ok with that. Because in the physical world, I’m doing my best. I care about the people in my life and I try to make time for them, weather we’re doing something worth posting about or not. After all, it’s not the version of ourselves that we project, but the version that people actually interact with, that counts.

Besides we all know that sometimes, instant noodles on the sofa are all that will scratch that itch. Am I right?

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Food time: Mediterranean wraps

Happy Monday, beautiful people!

Today, I have something a little bit different, and a big bit exciting to share.

Today, I have a recipe for you. Well, I call it a recipe to make it sound swanky, it’s more of a lunch idea.

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(Action wrap shot. Photo by me.)

How does a Mediterranean wrap sound to you? Yummy, right? It features healthy veg and halloumi cheese and it’s super easy. It’s quite cheap too, which is always nice.

There are a couple of things to watch out for: halloumi is addictive. There will be some snaffly bits. You must do your best not to snaffle them, because if you manage not to, one batch of cooking can last you almost a week of lunches. And that little bit of genius is worth the restraint. (I think. I didn’t manage it, myself. I had to have crumpets for lunch, instead, for a couple of days. Quel domage…)

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(Halloumi, YUM. Photo by me.)

So here you go…

Mediterranean wraps (makes 4 servings)

You will need:

  • 1 aubergine (or egg plant for any American readers)
  • 2 courgettes (or zucchini for any American readers)
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Dried thyme
  • Crushed chilli flakes
  • 1 block of halloumi
  • 4 wraps
  • Sweet chilli sauce

Preheat the oven to 150ºC (ish, none of this needs to be precise).

Slice your aubergine and courgette thinly and scatter on baking trays.

Sprinkle olive oil, lemon, thyme and chilli flakes over the vegetables. I wasn’t specific with quantities, you don’t need to be either, just go wild.

Bake the veggies for 15-20 minutes, or until they are looking a bit juicy/gnarly/crispy (mine were all of the above).

Meanwhile, drain your halloumi and pat it dry. Slice it into 5mm thick slices and fry in a dry pan on the hob. If more liquid comes out during cooking, soak it up with some kitchen roll and chuck that goo away. We want our cheese toasty.

When the underside is mottled orangey brown, flip each piece of halloumi. Remove from the heat when both sides are equally toasty and scrummy.

Whack your wrap on a plate. Layer up the courgette and aubergine (I did courgette, aubergine, courgette but it’s not exactly a science) and then put a few slices of cheese on top. I like having an extra slice at the bottom so the last mouthful is super cheesy. Drizzle with sweet chille sauce, wrap and EAT.

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(Neat stacking. About the only thing I do neatly. Photo by me.)

The veg makes it fresh and zingy, the cheese adds some salt and protein and the sauce gives it some kick. Perfect lunch? I think so.

Top tip: if you put all of the fillings in the middle at the top you can do the nappy fold and keep all of your fillings safely inside the wrap. Yes I just said ‘nappy’ while talking about food. It’s ok, you will survive.

Until next time, amigos!

The Bread Diaries

Isn’t bread wonderful? Wholesome and delicious, simple and scrummy, you really can’t go wrong with a bit of bread. Whenever I have a food craving it’s either chocolate or bread. But not that pappy stuff that’s mostly additives. I crave real bread with an actual crust and soft, fluffy crumb. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat shop-bought loaves. I have to, thanks to the restraints on my time and my purse. But they don’t come close to real yummy bread.

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Random photo, I know, it’s cinnamon and blackberry cake, it’s good…)

I’ve only made bread a couple of times in my life. The first time was at school, and it went surprisingly well. Especially when you compare it to my all-butter sponge cakes that lacked, um, butter and my boiled scones (that one was the teacher’s fault, she made me do it). The bread was pretty damn good. But I didn’t make any again for a good ten years. Until mum and I tackled a loaf together. Unfortunately we buggered off to the gym during the second prove, so it proved far, far too long. The goo monster we returned home to was less than pleased…though the bread itself was still yumtastic once baked.

So I decided to have another go. I couldn’t let bread defeat me! I thought I’d start simple with a cottage loaf, Mary Berry’s cottage loaf to be exact (seriously, if you don’t own her Baking Bible, go and buy it now. You can thank me later. Go. Shoo!)

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Here’s a photo of some bakewell tarts for you to come back to, yummy right? Good, I’m glad we agree)

As you may have learned by now, I am the Official Queen of the Slapdash and I didn’t check my recipe before going to the shop. My recipe asked for fast-action yeast. I bought dried active yeast. The recipe said shove it in ­- my kinda style. The tin said activate it in water first. I vacillated between recipe and tin for a few minutes before deciding activated yeast was better than inert yeast. So I soaked it in water, made all the beer-smelling froth and chucked in the extra wet ingredient.

My dough was soggy. I mean really soggy, I could have made prosthetic plague out of it. Add more flour, I thought. Accessing flour with dough-caked  fingers is an interesting exercise that involves lots of elbows, spoons and swearing, but I got there. I never achieved what Mary describes as “a fairly sticky, soft dough” though. I had a very sticky, sticky, dough. I shoved it in the oiled bowl anyway and covered it with cling film to prove. Then I had a chat with mum. Why do I always ask her AFTER I do silly things? She revealed to me that I needn’t have activated my yeast and could have saved myself all the bother. So…at least I learnt something there.

The first prove

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Mmm oily and gooey, how on earth did our ancestors work out this was a good thing?)

An hour and a half later I knocked back my dough. There were lots of little air bubbles, it had a smooth consistency and it was pliable to knead…things were looking up! I shaped it all up, plonked a little ball on top for that iconic cottage look and eventually managed to poke a wooden spoon through without completely mangling my work. Wrapped up once more for a second prove it looked all snuggly and cosy. It wasn’t the prettiest looking loaf when I peeled back the cling film. The top ball had migrated for a rather jaunty affect, but hey, people need to be sure I made the thing, right? Beaten egg was brushed on (any excuse to play with a pastry brush is fine by me) and into the preheated oven it went – with an unintentional good luck kiss from the wire rack above (of course) narrowly missing dough annihilation.

The second prove

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Mary says to put it in a bag, may I just ask, who has a bag that big?)

The recipe states that bread is done once golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the base. I don’t know if you have ever been faced with a freshly baked piping hot loaf of bread but it isn’t instantly clear how to access the bottom. I tapped the top, it sounded hollow, was that good enough?

Fresh from the oven

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Looks alright dunnit?)

For my first solo attempt at bread, it wasn’t bad. It smelled good, really good, even if it did look a bit deformed. It actually tasted alright as well, but as soon as I cut into it, I knew it hadn’t baked for long enough. Pressing on the crumb, it didn’t spring back and the crust had little strength or structure. It was pappy but tasty so I’d call that half a win. At any rate, it’s a start, and next time, I will do better. Focaccia’s here I come!

Recipe Time

It’s February.  The weather is dismal.  My water bottle leaked on my way home from uni and made my bum soggy.  What does my mind instantly go to?  Mary Berry’s Dark Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies.  They are heavenly and gooey on the inside, with a thin but crispy crust on the outside.  Chunks of chocolate mottled throughout and the odd crunch of a nut.  There is nothing else I want right now.  But unfortunately, I don’t have all the ingredients for the recipe, and there is no way I am venturing outside again.

So, what shall I do?  I shall share the recipe with you all.

I originally got this recipe from a book of my mum’s.  It’s the old edition of Mary Berry’s cake book.  I can’t remember the name right now, but I know, on the front, Mary is sitting at a table with a cake proudly standing before her.  This book came out on every special occasion and baking day.  We use Mary’s recipes to death in my house because they are quite simply perfect and really easy to do.

Mary Berry’s Brownies have sort of become my Signature Bake (yes, I watch too much Great British Bake Off).  I can’t even remember the first time I made them, but now, if I ever want a foolproof recipe that pleases everyone I know where to turn.  I’ve made these as a “thank-you-for-letting-me-stay-with-you-for-a-week” present, as camping food (although, FYI, if you keep them in a plastic bag and take them to the beach, they do get a bit sweaty; sweaty beach brownie is now my favourite tame insult) and as general guest pleasers.  They are devine.  I now use Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  If you call yourself a baker, and you don’t have this book, I shun you.  Go out and buy it now!  In fact, even if you don’t call yourself a baker, you will after using any of these recipes.

So without further ado, here is the recipe.

Ingredients:

350g (12 oz) plain chocolate (39% cocoa solids)

225g (8 oz) butter

2 level teaspoons instant coffee granules

2 tablespoons hot water

3 large eggs

225g (8 oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

75g (3 oz) self-raising flour

175g (6oz) chopped walnuts (I use pecans because I prefer the taste)

225g (8 oz) plain chocolate chips

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan 170C/Gas 5.  Grease a 30 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in) traybake or roasting tin then line and base with baking parchment.

2.  Break up the chocolate into pieces (try not to eat any!) and melt slowly with the butter in a bowl set over a pan of hot water, stirring occasionally.  Leave to cool.  Dissolve the coffee in the hot water.

3.  In another bowl, mix together the coffee, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the chocolate mixture.  Fold in the flour, walnuts (or pecans) and chocolate chips and then pour the mixture into the prepared tin.

4.  Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 40-45 minutes or until the brownies have a crusty top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Leave the brownies to cool in the tin and then cut into 24 squares.  Store in an airtight tin.

 

Trust me, these are an instant hit, they might not even last long enough to get into an airtight tin!  For a photo, just look at the top of the page, behind the name of the blog.

Happy brownie-ing!

 

Always eat your crusts

As you may be aware by now, I am a baker.  Cakes, biscuits, brownies – I will bake them all and devour them before anyone else even sees them (if given half a chance).  However, I have never baked bread.

Actually that’s a lie.  When I did cooking at school, bread was the only thing I made well.  My All Butter Sponge Cakes had no butter in them (naughty slap-dash 12 year old me!), my jam tarts were burnt and my scones…well I was told to boil my scones as an “experiment” so we’ll blame that catastophe on the teacher.  But when it came to bread – good golly!  I’d never tasted anything so good from my own two hands!  But I haven’t baked bread since then.

I fear there may be some baking purists reading this who are thinking I shouldn’t call myself a baker if I’ve only ever made bread once.  And I know full well that my argument of “I don’t have the time” is lame and shouldn’t even be expressed to the light of day.  So why haven’t I done it already?  Well the answer is “I dunno” so what am I waiting for?

I want to start small.  A basic loaf will hopefully be popping out of my oven some time soon (my REAL oven, I’m not talking about the figurative pregnancy oven) and from there the bread world is my oyster (oh dear, so, so many mixed metaphors).

Over the coming year I want to try making all kinds of bread.  My all time favourite is poppy seed rolls.  I think they are called cottage rolls, where you have a slightly smaller ball of dough on top of a larger one and you jam your finger in to make it look interesting.  They will be high on my list of bread priorities.  But in time I hope to be making focaccia, ciabatta and stottie – a firm family favourite from Geordie Land.

There is something infinitely comforting about bread.  Even the simplest white loaf is delicious; sometimes you just can’t get any better than a slice of fresh bread slathered with butter.  I think it’s the softness that I like so much.  It seems I have a soft spot for pappy foods (mashed potato, porridge, risotto, I could go on forever) and bread is no exception!

I also have a theory that the act of making bread will be comforting too.  It is my considered opinion that a bit of bread baking will make the perfect de-stressing activity, so my university house may soon be filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread if last term is anything to go by!  This is my plan anyway, and hey, it’s a pretty harmless one!

So watch this space bread friends, and remember – always eat your crusts!

An Ode to Baking

I thought I’d kick things off with an expression of my love for baking.  Let’s face it, everyone loves a good cake or biscuit, but a lot of people don’t really have the time to bake anymore.  With such tasty options available in the supermarkets, and boutique bakeries and cake shops popping up all over the place, it does seem a bit pointless to bake for yourself if all you want is a cake.

But that’s not all I want from baking.

Baking is a labour of love and there’s something reassuring in the chemistry of it.  I know if I weigh out flour, sugar, eggs and butter properly, and apply heat I will get a basic Victoria Sponge.  That certainty is refreshingly simple.  Things in life aren’t normally like that.  Work is all full of maybes, school and university is all objectivity, waiting and feeling unsure of yourself.  Not baking though.

Of course there are anomalies.  I’ve had biscuits instead of cakes (I blame my rubbish student house oven) but it doesn’t take away the joy.

Tricky baking is my favourite.  My go-to bake is Mary Berry’s Indulgent Chocolate Brownies because there are lots of stages to the recipe.  It takes a bit of brain engagement, not essay level engagement but distraction level, which makes for the perfect escapism.  The results are always divine; soft and fudgey in the middle, a thin crisp crust on the outside and molten lumps of chocolate throughout.  Not only do you get a great way to destress, you then have treats to help you through the rest of your pain!

I recently tried to make Christmas biscuits.  I was feeling the festive spirit and was in the mood for some childishly shaped morsels of loveliness.  The result was a very messy afternoon, a disappointingly oozy biscuit dough and lots of washing up.  But the biscuits (more flowers than snowflakes unfortunately) tasted scrummy and all afternoon I hadn’t once thought about impending deadlines or daunting job applications.  Success!

There’s nothing inherently girly about baking.  I find it all quite physical and demanding.  When I bake at home I’m spoilt by electric mixers and technology to make baking easier, but at university it’s all down to me.  My poor little arm muscles have to work hard to make light and fluffy cakes.  Plenty of guys like a good baking session, especially if they have a sweet tooth.  And when you think about it, most professional bakers are men.

So next time you want to pull your hair out, think of my mantra: Stressed backwards is desserts, so go and make yourself some!