Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of 2011

At the end of each year (or probably more accurately, near beginning of the new year by the time I can get around to doing so), I like to scrapbook about the good, the bad, and the ugly events that shaped the year.

As scrapbooking alludes me at the moment, I'd like to journal about it digitally so I can come back to it later... so here goes:


The GOOD:
My family came over to visit from Australia, spending Xmas 2010 and New Year 2011 with us.

Our great apartment in Strasbourg, right in the middle of the city.

Exploring the Christmas markets in Strasbourg.

The travel we got to do through the Frenchman's work: Bordeaux and Lyon (contributing to make the Little Sausage one of the most well travelled foetuses ever). 

Moving to Brighton and discovering an unexpectedly cool city.

The Little Sausage was born in June in Brighton.

Baby weight coming of within a month...

De-cluttering and getting rid of unused stuff - we've got a bit of a way to go, but slowly getting rid of excess stuff and donating it to charity. I'm not into useless stuff anymore and hate having it filling up the little room we have. I've gone minimalist, contrary to my upbringing and the rest of my family.

Celebrating a "Jedi Baptism" in France with the Frenchman's friends and family. Two parties, lots of gifts, and a lovely time spent welcoming the Little Sausage to the fold.

Starting a market stall, and although it was a bad location, the experience was interesting and something I can say I did.

After finally doing something about it, my skin has probably not looked this good in many years.

Discovering the delights of the BabyLiss Big Hair - laugh you may, but my hair looks good and I'm no longer leaving the house with wet hair.

A good haul of presents this year: I got everything I wanted and asked for and am grateful to have spent it with people I love, a roof over my head, and good food on my plate.


The BAD:
The constant moving: Nice - Strasbourg - Brighton.

The mouse problem in Strasbourg: hearing hundreds of tiny scratchy feet above your head at night and finding little mouse poos in the kitchen was not my idea of fun.

Staying with a friend in Brighton during the last two weeks of pregnancy while waiting for the keys to our new apartment.

Finding out our great apartment in Brighton had not so great neighbours. One smokes pot constantly (which wafts into our apartment), and the other likes loud music. Enough said.

The lack of snow, or the generally warm winter so far (apparently the second warmest winter on record for the UK). *insert sad face*

No Christmas tree or much in the way of decoration. Since our apartment is so small and the decorations are in storage, we sadly decided to leave the decorating for this year. 

... still a bit too chubby - must work on that.

Childcare allowances here in the UK are virtually non-existent and it is not worth Mothers returning to work. They even reported this on the news and said that working mothers would be the hardest hit during the recession and the high unemployment levels. Full-time work is not possible for me because of this and defeats the purpose of us moving to the UK (among other things). See point below regarding me working part-time.


The just plain UGLY:
Ringing in the new year (2011) with food poisoning thanks to the horrible overcharging and crap-serving restaurant in Nice we went to on New Years Eve. That was definitely not morning sickness.

Being so far away from the Frenchman (from December 2010 until June) while he spent an exhaustive 13 hours on an overnight train to be with me on weekends (or me to him).

The horrendous UK moving company that managed not only to over charge us but hold our things to ransom, damaging most of it in return. Knowing that we had a (literally) newborn baby and that we were sitting on camping chairs in an empty apartment, they delayed delivery by more than two weeks on top on the delays we had already experienced. Most stressful experience of the year!

Discovering that UK retail employers aren't as open to employing mothers as they claim... I said I could only work weekends, as the Frenchman got special permission to get weekends off so I could work. They readily agreed that this was perfectly fine with them, and then subsequently made a fuss when I was not able to be flexible with working during the week. Hence, I am no longer employed because of this.


I am making an effort to look at the positives, so I hate to leave this post with a huge list of negatives. I need to find something happy to leave you with. So, below are pictures of the Jedi Baptism for your enjoyment...




* faces blurred to protect the identity of the others in the photo.

Friday, 23 December 2011

A quiet Christmas


This years festivities will be pretty low-key for us here in Brighton. My family is half a world away, and the Frenchman's are in France. Luckily, my sister, who lives and works in London will come down for a few days. Since our apartment is so small, we don't have much room for a full size tree. For me, the lit and decorated Christmas tree is one of the highlights of the season and I am a bit sad we don't have one this year. Instead, we have a small plastic tree from IKEA which looks pretty realistic, so it's not too bad. I tried to make it as festive as possible using the few decorations we bought this year or were able to find easily. All the major decorations are still packed away and too difficult to get at easily from storage, so this will do for this year. 

In my family, we have always observed the German tradition of Heilich Abend, celebrated on 24th December. This is a time for close family and presents unwrapped in the evening together. Traditionally, the tree is unveiled by the parents to the children at this time, but since we liked having the tree up and decorated for most of December, my family adapted the tradition to suit. 

To me, Christmas is not Christmas unless there are potato dumplings (knödel), red cabbage (rot kohl) and some sort of festive meat, like turkey or goose, drenched in homemade gravy. This year, I was really hoping to get a goose, but since it's just the three (and a half) of us, a whole goose for £60+ was out of the question. Instead, I was able to snag a nice turkey breast roast that will be rubbed with marmalade in the last twenty minutes of roasting.

For dessert, my sister loves Black Forest cake, and so I decided to treat her (and us!) with a Black Forest-inspired Trifle. I will layer chocolate sponge cake with chocolate custard, cherry compote, and mascarpone whipped cream spiked with Kirsch. I will post some photos of it soon. 

So, I wish you all happy holidays and a safe and prosperous new year! 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A New Direction


I want to take this blog in a new direction. I've recently found and devoured a bunch of new blogs and the thing I like most from all of them is the honest, everyday life depicted in each post.

It doesn't matter that nothing "interesting" happens to them. They just post anyway. To them, sharing photos and descriptions of their everyday lives and the cities they live in is inspiration enough to blog about. I am very inspired by reading about their daily lives (and honoured to be invited to do so by them making their blogs public). It is escapism at its best!

With this blog, I only write when something major happens and this is mostly centred around baking. I want this blog to become more of a general account of the life of my family and where we happen to be living at the time, and not just centred around food. I feel that I have some interesting stories to share. If not just for my extended family members and friends who read this blog to stay in touch.

I want to talk about life as an expat, my family life, the stuff I bake/make/find, and more. A sort of visual diary, if you will.

I hope no one will object. In fact, I think this blog will become the better for it.

So in the next few days and weeks, I will introduce myself, the Frenchman, and the Little Sausage, as well as give you a glimpse into our everyday lives here in Brighton. It may bore some of you, but this blog is mine and I can write what I want (*sullen teenage voice intended*). And I hope some of you will be happy to come along!


Gingerbread House Blues

It snapped. The front panel, the most important one, snapped as I tried to lift it. So, I propose to bake it longer so it's not so soft!

In the meantime, I need to bake another batch, so it will have to wait until I can find the time/motivation.


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Where did my pictures go?

Just a quick update to let you know that I will be blogging again soon - long story.

In the meantime, I need to find all my old photos for the past blog posts, as blogger seems to have lost them and they aren't appearing... no idea what happened there and no idea how to fix it other than going back in and replacing each. individual. photo.... not my idea of fun or way to spend my time, but it needs to be done...


Update 14/12/2012: About halfway through replacing all the lost photos... it's a bit of a pain in the arse but it's either that or delete them and I know that although deleting all the photos would be easier and faster, it's the pictures that tell the story, and I like 'em... so that's that. I will work on the rest later...


Update 20/02/2012: I think I've got them all but if not, let me know. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gingerbread House: Part 1 (the naked parts)


So it's that time of year again, the time when I vow to make a Gingerbread House and it always gets pushed back and pushed back until, look at that - Christmas is over! Too late. Definitely next year then. 

And the cycle starts over again. Not this time, my friends!

This post will be all about the naked Gingerbread bits. The dough to the baked pieces. You can make any shape of house and you can customise it using cutters or a sharp knife to make it more elaborate, like I did. One of my favourite techniques is to add crushed sugar candies to make sugar glass windows. Add a tea light inside the finished house and you've got yourself a fancy-schmancy Gingerbread Mansion, fit to be oooh-ed and aaahh-ed over. 

So. Get yourself a nice gingerbread dough recipe and house template off the internet or from a book. Martha does nice ones (yes, that Martha). Any will do. Make sure the baby is asleep and not likely to wake any time soon (feel free to change the word "baby" to anything likely to interrupt you)... and you're ready to go. You don't need to do the whole thing in one go, the baked pieces will keep nicely in an airtight container for a couple of days. I bake one day, and decorate later that day or the next. 

This is my second attempt and I can say that practice makes perfect. They can be tricky suckers to build. You will need time and patience, as well as a good deal of royal icing to glue it all together. Dressmakers pins help. They hold the thing together while you juggle with the piping bag. Trust me *insert evil laugh here*

You will need to double up on your recipe to have enough dough to cut all the pieces you need. You will most likely need (for a basic house like mine): 2 x roof pieces, 2 x gabled sides, 2 x front/back pieces. My pattern didn't include a chimney, but I cut one out using left over dough. Simple enough.


Gingerbread dough recipe
Adapted from 'The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits' (1992 edition) by The Australian Woman's Weekly

Makes double

250g Soft butter
210g Brown sugar
2 eggs
750g Plain flour
2 teaspoons Bicarbonate (Baking) Soda
5 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons Golden Syrup or Molassis

Preheat oven to 170 degrees celcius.



Cream the butter and brown sugar using a paddle attachment on your mixer until light in colour and creamy.




Add the eggs, and whip until the mixture is light and airy. Add the golden syrup until combined and then slowly add the combined dry ingredients. 







When all have just come together, but the mixture is still crumbly, this is the point I change to a dough hook attachment and knead on the slowest speed until it forms more of a dough consistency. 



Divide into three, form into balls, and start rolling the first one until it is about half a centimetre thick. 







Place the template on to the dough and cut using either a sharp knife, a pizza or pastry roller, or even a long pallet knife. I used a pizza roller. It worked pretty well. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have all the pieces you need. 




(Don't press the paper too much on to the dough as when you peel it away, the dough goes with it! Or cut the template out of greaseproof paper and you should be able to peel it away, no problems. In this case, I just flipped this piece on to the baking tray, ruined side down and the other side was just fine. Or brush with water and sprinkle with Demerara sugar to "rough up" the texture. Looks nice too!)



If you have windows cut into your dough, a nice little detail is filling the gaps with crushed boiled sweets or candies. They will melt in the oven at the same time the dough bakes and you will have yourself stained glass windows!




Bake for 10-12 minutes and keep an eye on it. Because of the high sugar content from the golden syrup and the brown sugar, it can burn pretty quickly, so make sure you set a timer. When the dough looks even in colour and set, it's time to come out of the oven. Cool them on a rack (except for the ones with the sugar glass windows, leave them on the sheet until cooled otherwise the candy glass will ooze out) and wait until completely cooled before decorating. 



Stay tuned for Part II where I attempt to glue the whole thing together and try to make it look pretty!


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Irish Soda Bread


I'm on a (baking) roll!

The Little Sausage is being good to me, and napping nicely today. I like to watch River Cottage Everyday in the background, while I'm doing other stuff, and the Bread episode where they bake Irish Soda Bread caught my eye. Being on my to-do list for a while now, I knuckled down and got it made. It couldn't be more easy. I substituted wholemeal flour instead of white flour and it worked quite nicely. I could see this being eaten with a nice sharp cheddar and some chutney.


Irish Soda Bread
Adapted slightly from a recipe from 'River Cottage Everyday' by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

500g Wholemeal Flour
2 teapoons Baking soda
1.5 teaspoons Sea Salt
400mls Milk with one tablespoon white vinegar stirred in (or Buttermilk if you've got it) 
Extra flour for the tray

Preheat oven to 200º celsius.























Combine the dry ingredients into a bowl (or the bowl of a mixer) and slowly add the milk until just combined. Turn out onto a floured bench and shape into a ball.

Place on a flat tray and bake for approximately 45 minutes until you tap the base and it sounds hollow.




It's as easy as that.

Serve while warm with salted butter. It would be great with jam too.



Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Coconut Macarons


It's grey and rainy outside (yes, I did just post about how lovely and sunny the weather has been lately. Now we're back to Autumn again). It's the perfect weather to do some baking. With the Little Sausage napping, my daily Skype session with my family done, I got down to the serious business of making macarons. 

So, my third attempt at macarons were a semi-success. Ok, so they're not perfect. But very very tasty! The consistency was spot on, crisp yet chewy on the inside, creamy sweet buttercream filling sandwiching them together. The crunch of the slightly toasted coconut, satisfying. Yet for some reason many of them cracked, making them technically inferior. Too bad. I get to eat the ugly ones.


Coconut Macarons (Macarons noix de coco) 

Recipe from 'Leçon de Cuisine: Macarons' by Sébastien Serveau

For the biscuits:
110g Almond Meal / Powdered Almonds
225g Icing Sugar / Powdered Sugar
120g Egg Whites (from approx. 4 medium eggs)
50g Caster / Fine Sugar
2 tablespoons (approx.) Shredded Coconut

Buttercream:
100g Soft Butter
150g Icing Sugar (more if needed)
1 tablespoon Malibu Coconut Rum
2 tablespoons Shredded Coconut

Sift together the almond meal and icing sugar into a bowl. 

In a clean mixer, whip the egg whites, slowly adding the caster sugar until stiff peaks form.

Fold the dry almond/sugar mixture into the egg whites until well incorporated.

Pipe small rounds (about 3cms or just over 1 inch in diameter) onto your lined baking tray. 
Sprinkle with coconut.

Leave to rest for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 150 degrees celsius.

Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray.




While the macarons are cooling, whip together the butter, icing sugar, Malibu, and shredded coconut until light and fluffy, adding more icing sugar if needed to create a smooth fluffy consistency.

Once cool, spread with a small teaspoon of buttercream and sandwich together. 

Extras can be stored in an airtight contain in a cool place (or fridge) for up to 2 days.





Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Experimenting with Macarons


I baked my first chocolate macarons about three years ago and they turned out pretty good.

Each had the elusive "foot" that macarons are supposed to have, they were light, crisp, shiny, and very very good.

Then, just yesterday I attempted them again. And lo and behold. They sucked. Only some had a slight "foot", they were dry and brittle, and not at all what a macaroni should be. It's always disappointing when you spend the time and effort baking something and it just doesn't work. I'm tempted to give it up and go back to the same recipes I know will work and I'm good at. But then I'm stuck making the same things over and over again which I'm ashamed to say, I have been doing for the last few months. 

Enough of that, I say!

Today I will attempt Round 3 of baking macarons. This time, I'll be baking Coconut Macarons and I will follow the recipe to the letter. That said, the recipe is in French and I am not French. I can read it pretty well, but not perfectly, so maybe that will be my downfall.

Here goes!

Results will be published, good or bad...

Stay tuned!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Summer in Autumn


It's 25 degrees (celsius) on the first day of October and I've got the windows open as far as they'll go. There's a gentle breeze coming in and it's a beautiful day. The whole week has been in the mid to high 20s and everyone is talking about Indian Summer. The shorts and t-shirts have come out (just last week I had the heaters on I was so cold!). Even the Little Sausage is in a short sleeved body suit today.

Naturally the Brits are flocking to the beach and dragging out the barbecues. Any ray of sunshine and they make the most of it! After all, this summer has been a bust. We could count on two hands how many truly warm sunny days we've had this year. My tan is pretty much non-existent and my tiny flat has no balcony. Sadly, no barbecue for us today.

I'm working on a project. Since we're trying to avoid putting Little Sausage into childcare, full time work is out of the question for me. I've managed to get a part time job working 10 hours over the weekend at a retail store (while the Frenchman stays at home to babysit), it's not enough to sustain us and I've been thinking of ways to supplement our income. Internet/home-based business comes to mind and I've been making the necessary phone calls and emails to try to make this happen. In what, you ask? Baking, of course!

So I'm starting a home catering business and I'm hoping to get a stall at the local Farmer's Market. It's a start. The dream is to have my own bakery shop/café, so hopefully this is a stepping stone on the way to making this happen.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Brighton


So here it goes - We're in Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom.

The UK, you say? Yes. We moved back in June after an exhaustive few months in France. Last you heard from me, we were in Nice. A couple months later, in Strasbourg, which was missed on the blog completely. Long story short, we moved to the UK and on to greener pastures as they say.

So, here we are in Brighton. A new start. A new baby. Yes, baby. Thought I could slip that one in. Surprise! The Little Sausage, or Petite Saucise, as we call her was born in Brighton in June, about 2 weeks after moving here. Not the best time to move, of course, but necessary.

More to come soon! Promise!