Monday, 30 September 2013

A Tale of Two Apple Cakes

Rafa has recently become happy to be in his pram - two weeks ago when we went out with him in it he just wailed ‘I’M ABANDONED, I’M ABANDONED,I’M ABANDONED!!!’  - not relaxing.
It is lovely to carry him in his sling, but my back appreciates the break - so on Saturday morning with the weather still lovely in Edinburgh it was a pleasure to linger at the Cramond estuary after the husband did the parkrun. However, hanging about in the sunshine by the water to show Rafa the birds, boats and little waves (ok he was asleep, but we enjoyed it) did leave us rather short of time for other Saturday tasks. 

Edinburgh Park Run - Cramond, September 2013
With friends dropping over in the afternoon, the baby to be fed again and me wanting to get out for a run of my own, the task of baking a cake for afternoon tea fell to the husband. Baking cakes is not something either of us does often - but we had a recipe left behind by my mother - and a pantry with ingredients - so it seemed to make sense to bake rather than buy. 
Getting back from my very pleasant run along the sunny canal bank I was impressed to find: One - the smell of a cake baking, and : Two - no baby wailing. 
As I got through the door however there was an overlay of burn to the pleasant baking aroma. Since we have a rule of no babies in the oven, and the husband was playing with the baby I checked on the cake - and it was rather black on top. 
On questioning it seemed that the husband had mixed up centigrade and fahrenheit.
It was a little crispy in places but otherwise quite tasty. It all got eaten in one sitting and one of our guests was even kind enough to ask about the recipe.

On Sunday with the weather still lovely we made up a picnic, put Rafa back in his pram - where he promptly fell asleep and went for a walk along the canal. As featured in the previous post the blackberries are out at the moment - and after lunch our forward momentum was interrupted when I found a good crop. I thought I was going to be berated by the husband for meandering, but instead he joined in the picking.  There were a few traumatic incidences with thorns, wasps and nettles but we managed to pick quite a good haul.
When we dragged ourselves back inside it seemed only logical that I attempt the cake this time - with blackberries as well as apples.
First issue I had was a lack of scales. When I asked the husband how he had dealt with this he just shrugged and said he had guessed - resulting in rather too much sugar but otherwise a cake - which though burnt was a very tasty confection.
I made my own estimations and spent a pleasant hour peeling apples and mixing my ingredients in the kitchen while the husband napped with the baby.
Somehow the results were tasty, not burnt - but rather solid. My cake entirely different from the one produced from the same recipe the day before. We ate some of it for pudding with custard that evening.
After bathing and feeding the baby that evening we complemented ourselves on a perfect cheap Sunday-and we acknowled that we both still needed to work on our baking skills - and perhaps invest in some scales.

If you have scales - or skill at baking, have a go at the recipe below and perhaps you can let me know what the cake is supposed to turn out like.

German Apple Cake -

100grms melted butter
100grms castor sugar
200grms self raising flour
2 eggs
2 apples, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced
70grms raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp demaera sugar
lemon juice

Preheat oven 375 f / 150 c
Grease 18cm spring tin
Melt butter, place in a large bowl.
Stir in sugar, sift flour and stir in. Add one egg at a time. Stir till it forms a soft dough.
Press 2/3 dough into tin.
Cover with apples.
Add remaining dough.
Bake for one hour. Cook 15 mins before transferring to serving plate.   
(the blackberries were a very tasty addition, even if the actual cake I baked was a bit of a brick)

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

a poem for Rafa

I am thrilled to announce that our lovely son Raphael has arrived in the world. I have been busy getting to know the little fellow and occasionally snatching some sleep - so have not managed to write so much as a shopping list of late. Luckily as well as the safe arrival of our son we have also been blessed by having my mum come from Australia to meet Rafa and help his parents out. She has  written a poem for Rafa - which I am publishing here with her kind permission.  

A story of blackberries
I came to Edinburgh to meet you,
To be family in real time and space
To breathe you in to my heart and mind
Tiny new person of many countries  

A new child
There are so many questions
What will the world hold for you Rafa?

When you were just 10 days old your mum and I took you for a walk
Along the canal path in the baby carrier
I took a picture
Of Sandy picking early blackberries

Rafa and Rover picking Blackberries on Union Canal - Edinburgh

It reminded me of when your mum was just one week old
Her Dad and I took her
To collect apples and blackberries
from an abandoned orchard
there is a treasured picture of this time.

Rover and her Dad, apple and blackberry picking, Murrungowar - 1981.

Blackberries are a weed in Australia
A curse on some landscapes
Where they are out of control
Despite campaigns to eradicate them
With poison, burning and slashing.
They belong here in Scotland though,
A wild food great for foraging
Your other grandma arrived on her first visit
To meet you with a blackberry pie
Telling the story that once upon a time
Many people went to collect the fruit
But now a friend was the only one.

These events came to mind
When a man at the Book Festival – (Graeme Gibson)
Spoke of the way people were changing nature
Less birds, animals and plants
He told us that in the dictionary now
Apple and blackberry are no longer about fruit
But computer brands and gizmos
That tie people to their work 24 hours a day
Your Dad has one of these
I have a picture of you with him
Walking through the Edinburgh Fringe
On the way to register your birth.

Rafa and his dad on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

I am hopeful that the toughness of blackberries
Will ensure their survival
So that you too will take your billy
and collect the ripest, blackest and juiciest
of these sweet wild foods.
Then I can add that picture to this story.

Love Nanna Helen

September 2013

Rafa and his Nanna Helen in sunny St Andrew Square, Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Arran lists

While others did more energetic things I spent my first day on the Isle of Arran lazing on the beach. A perfect activity for my first weekend of maternity leave. True the To Do list post work and pre baby arrival has much still to be crossed off it - but relaxation is as high on the important tasks list as buying nappies, learning how to put the car seat into the car, writing a birth plan, stocking the freezer... cleaning the flat...and on and on... (breath breath). 

With an early start - and a taxi, two trains and a ferry we got ourselves from Edinburgh to Arran by around 11am. Getting away from home for a long weekend was the best way to make relaxation top priority - and the fact that we had sunshine made it very easy. If the days were rainy no doubt I would have ended up buying baby kit online - but with the sun out I found a patch of sand and alternated between re-reading Harry Potter, dozing, letter writing and my habitual making of lists. 

World Watching List

cloud catches on the top of Goat Fell
a woman talks on her mobile phone
a one armed boy skips stones
dogs sniff fascinatedly at seaweed
the ferry comes in, depositing more weekend visitors
children come with their buckets and spades and carry on the important work of digging
a ladybird and bumblebee visit me
a small boy is taken for a pee in the tall grass by his father
two swans bob on the bay together
cloud unsnaggs from Goat Fell
the ferry goes out

cloud gazing over Goat Fell

Of course I would not have been in Scotland if at a certain point in the afternoon half the island did not get blanketed by dark cloud. I held out on my patch of beach for a while - but was eventually forced to concede and go inside. Thankfully the sun was back out before too long and the weekend continued in the same pattern - brilliant sunshine broken by rain and then sunshine again.  I am pleased to report that I was well and truly relaxed and did almost nothing whatsoever practical and in the proper spirit of a summer holiday even managed to get sunburnt.


Sights Seen List

Brodick Castle gardens - including summer house, ice house and walled garden

Brodick Castle

Bee watching at Brodick castle

walled garden at Brodick Castle

Machrie Standing Stones

Dramatic skies over the ancient Machrie standing stones

small mole (or possibly a shrew)
seals - and seal sculpture
much bird life
Lochranza Castle and bay

Lochranza in the sunshine

a fisherman and Lochranza castle

Arran Distillery
hairy coos
pretty island villages

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Birds and the Bees.

On a visit to Berwick -upon-Tweed last year my mother visited a pottery and came home with a gift of two little coffee cups - there is a bird cup and a bee cup- a not unsubtle hint to her thirty something year old daughter to get a move on with the provision of grandchildren.

Birds and Bees cups from Tweed Mouth- Berwick.

The birds and the bees coffee cups lesson must have sunk in!

Waddling around at my slower pace, with this growing child on my mind I am more often that not
pre-occupied with the here and now of an aching back, constant need to pee and the unfolding drama of giving birth. On occasion however I manage to get a quick glimpse past all that, to contemplate the sort of world I want my baby to exist in. This is a big picture - small picture kind of contemplation that can take me from pondering disposable v’s washable nappies to the roll technology will play in the unborn ones life and the type of kindergarten they will one day attend. 

Then of course there are the really big things - which bring me back to small things like the birds and the bees.    

I talked a bit about the bird watching opportunities available in my new flat in my last blog. I did not get around to touching on the bee watching I have been doing.
One of the lovely mirror world aspects of living in the UK is the Bumble Bees - these little fuzzy round flying creatures never fail to set off the cute receptors in my brain - and they are out in force at the moment bumbling away amongst the flowers along the canal. Unfortunately the healthy bee habitat of the canal bank is not the norm.   

Union Canal - a healthy bee corridor

Insects tend not to be everyone’s idea of a cute and cuddly animal - they are rather more prone to get squashed than other creatures and more prone to be forgotten about when we think about endangered and vulnerable creatures.
I recently found myself giving little mini lectures to my work colleges as to why it was not OK to kill the bees that came into our workplace - this was received somewhat bemusedly until a few days later one of the girls came in and told me she and her boyfriend had watched a documentary about bees and their currently precarious place in the world - at the end of watching it she apparently turned to her boyfriend and said ‘Sandy already told me all of that.’

I know that stopping a couple of girls from squashing a couple of bees is not going to help much in the larger scheme of things, but with bee’s being the canary down the coal mine when it comes to the health of the world it does seem worthwhile that as many people as possible know we should be guardians rather than executioners of these fuzzy little creatures. The internet has plenty of in-depth information about why this is so if you are on the indifferent or executioner side of things - this Greenpeace blog is a good place to start your re-education.

The difference between how things were ‘in my day’ and how they will be in the tomorrow of our child’s life is mind boggling and I probably have not even begun to imagine most of the differences - but I am pretty sure that no matter what the shape of the world becomes I will always want a world with birdsong out the window and where bees (be they bumble or not) buzz amongst the flowers and crops.