Tag Archives: Books

Banana and Toffee Cupcakes

24 Jan

A couple of weeks ago I bought ‘Cupcakes’ by Sue McMahon for my friend for her birthday. She’s just got into baking and this book stood out from others in the book store as it was filled with recipes that I thought she’d actually cook. Do you ever find that with recipe books? There are only a couple of recipes you’d actually attempt and the rest are too complicated or are filled with random ingredients?

Anyway, I was saying to Josh how good it looked and how many of the recipes I would like to try and so being the sweety he is he bought it for me as a surprise! AND he used one of his own Christmas vouchers so we wouldn’t break our new year resolution. Lovely, lovely man.

I’ve already made a few of the cupcakes [much to Josh’s delight – I’m not sure how altruistic the gift really was!!!!], and would definitely recommend this book.
This week I made banana and toffee cupcakes. The cupcakes include mashed banana and I wasn’t sure if I really liked them at first, but they have been growing on me.
I think I boiled the toffee for too long too as it doesn’t look like the picture in the book. It’s still very tasty though.
Let me know if you try them and if you like them.

Toffee and Banana Cupcakes

For the toffee topping

–          100g butter
–          125g condensed milk
–          50g caster sugar
–          1 tbsp golden syrup (and one extra for eating when no-one is looking)

For the cupcakes

–          100g butter, softened
–          100 soft light brown sugar
–          2 medium eggs
–          100g self-raising flour
–          1 ripe banana, mashed

1. Make the topping:
Place the butter in a large bowl and melt it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir in the other ingredients and cook the topping for another 4-7 minutes in the microwave. I let mine boil for quite a while and I think I did it too much, so keep an eye on it and stir after every minute.
Leave the topping to cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 190⁰/375⁰F/Gas 5

3. To make the cupcakes, beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and flour and beat until the mixture is smooth. Fold in the mashed banana.
Divide the mixture between 12 cupcake cases and bake for 15 minutes.

4. Leave the cupcakes to cool and then spread the cooled toffee topping over them, and scatter over some chocolate sprinkles.

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Christmas Catch-up

2 Jan

We had a wonderful Christmas break down in Devon. Josh and I grew up together and our parents still live in the same town so it makes visiting easier.
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New Book

4 Sep

My parents-in-law gave me the Self Sufficient-ish Bible by Andy and Dave Hamilton as a late birthday present. It’s a book that has come from the successful Self Sufficient-ish website and forums, which are absolutely great and choc-full of useful facts.

Likewise this book is a mine of information and takes you step-by-step through many practical tasks, from making a chicken ark to sewing a wrist rest for your computer desk (I’ll soon be doing this, using some of Josh’s old jeans, as I would like one for work).

I doubt this is a book for the hard-core self-sufficient (as the name suggests), but the facts and figures included are very interesting for anyone, and it covers topics from housing to holidays to bringing up your children.

Day Off

10 Apr

Had a nice day off yesterday. Despite waking up at normal work time as per usual I spent the morning pottering around and reading (book by Cathy Kelly – yes it is chick lit but I’ve only just discovered her and she’s good!)

 

My sister-in-law is up visiting us this week so it’s been good to catch up with her and we went out for a hot chocolate while Josh was in lectures.

Josh and I then went out for a nice walk along the river. We didn’t go far but saw sand-martins, sandpiper, red kite, kingfisher diving for fish and lots of swallows.

Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems very early for them to be around. It doesn’t seem long since they left, and considering we had snow at the start of this week it doesn’t make much sense for them to have left at all!

However, Josh is currently reading Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selbourne and in one of the letters White shows his excitement at swallows arriving ‘as early as the 11th April’. As this book was written in the 1700’s I don’t suppose we can put it down to climate change!

 

Anyway, then it was back to the house to cook vegetable spaghetti bolognese and prepare for the wine and cheese party we had in the evening.

We took advantage of having a large group over and played Cranium 2nd edition. If you have ever played Cranium you will know how crazy and raucous it can get! The 2nd edition has extra categories in it like team backwards spelling (everyone has to do one letter at a time), hand’s on (one person has to use another’s hand to draw), odd two out (out of 6 options) and quite a few more.

A great evening, and now we have lots of cheese and wine to finish up – bonus!

Organic Experiments – a review

8 Apr

According to my blog stats I get a fair amount people viewing my blog (particularly the organic experiments post) because they have been referred by search engines after asking questions along the lines of “do organic toiletries work”, “are organic shampoos worth it?” or “no aluminium deodorant”. 

Well, as people are obviously wondering about these things I thought I would give you an update on my organic toiletries as it’s coming up to a year since I first started using them. Here goes…

 

Organic Hair Care

I use Greenpeople’s Organic Base No Scent shampoo and conditioner. It has a SLS and preservative free formula and contains no parabens or perfumes. I started off using the Aloe Vera shampoo but changed to this type because (a) it was 50p cheaper and (b) I figured fewer additives couldn’t be a bad thing.

I don’t really think that these products leave your hair feeling any better than conventional shampoos in the short term, but I’m almost sure that the build up of residue on your hair is reduced – meaning that in the long run your hair ends up feeling softer and lighter. They certainly don’t have a negative effect, so the fact that you’re not rubbing lots of harmful chemicals onto your scalp and down the plug has to be a huge plus point.

Yes, it is expensive at £8 a bottle, but it also is more concentrated and lasts for a lot longer. I think I have bought 3 new bottles of shampoo in 9 months and I’m still on my first bottle of conditioner (that’s between two people, and I shampoo my hair everyday and condition once a week). I would recommend these products.

 

Organic Deodrant

I use Ice Guard Crystal Deodrant. It is a mineral stick which you wet and rub on and it works by suppressing the growth of skin bacteria.

I would recommend this to anyone, and already have to most people I know! Although it is not an antiperspirant (so doesn’t stop you sweating) I have not found it a problem at all. I have used it nearly everyday for 8 months and have never felt embarrassed or let down by it. In fact it means that we have to wash our clothes less because there is no stale smell left on our clothes from deodorant at the end of the day.

It is completely natural and doesn’t contain aluminium or other additives known to be linked with Alzheimer’s and breast cancer.

 

We also use…

Greenpeople’s Organic Toothpaste and Olivia Soap

 

The main thing I have found is that all the products that the ‘industry’ sells as necessary really aren’t. Perhaps that’s just me being slow and most people know it already but I used to spend so much on junk to make my skin amazing and my hair shiny and now I only use these few products and if anything, my skin and hair are in better condition! Funny that, considering I’m not smothering them in chemicals anymore…hmm…

 

Anyway, if you are interested in living a more ethical/organic lifestyle but are not too keen on trawling your way through scientific based books I would recommend ‘A life stripped bare’ by Leo Hickman. It’s an entertaining but informative read on pretty much everything you need to start off living a greener life.

A Place in My Country

14 Mar

My latest read has been ‘A Place in My Country’ by Ian Walthew. It is a non-fiction memoir about the author’s sudden departure from working in the city to buying a small Cotswold Cottage and finding himself there. 

It’s a fairly narrow snapshot, just one person’s view on country life and the attitudes and issues he picked up from those around him. Although it’s non-fiction it reads like a novel and is great for a curl up with a cup of tea!

It picks up many of the rural themes you would expect from a small village (expensive housing, breaking up of estates and large scale farming etc.) and it was interesting to hear views expressed by local people who would not normally get a voice in these matters.  

It made me a bit sad too as it just highlighted how much the countryside is changing. How local people are getting pushed out of villages due to massive house price rises and how local rural knowledge is being lost.  

We did a lot about this in my course at university, but it’s very easy to be idealistic in management plans…whether they work in reality is different kettle of fish. One argument that we were throwing around is that the countryside should be allowed to evolve (meaning that smaller farmers generally became obsolete), but it’s hard to imagine that this will ever be so because people love to see the idyllic ‘British Countryside’.

This is a difficult issue though isn’t it?  You can’t have it both ways. You can’t want to see small farmers tending the land in traditional ways and creating the ‘nice’ countryside, while continuing to buy cheap food from supermarkets which have been imported or produced on huge, monoculture farms. What’s the point in pouring so much money via subsidies into small traditional farming – just for the aesthetic value, and small amount that it helps wildlife – when large-scale farming is pretty much the only way you can make a decent profit anymore?  
Is small scale traditional farming obsolete? I hope not, but I do think that subsidies are a bizarre way to go about saving it!

 

 

 

Song of the Rolling Earth

19 Feb

I have just been reading ‘Song of the Rolling Earth – A Highland Odyssey’ by John Lister-Kaye. It is an autobiographical work set, unsurprisingly in the highlands of Scotland and documents the establishment of the Aigas field centre based near Beauly, but also includes the interesting history, wildlife and society that surround the Highlands of Scotland. 

I first came across Lister-Kaye when I read ‘The Seeing Eye’ a couple of years ago. This book captures the notes of a true naturalist and completely drew me into a world wildlife and community which I desperately want to experience one day. He is a talented writer who manages to suck the reader in so that you can almost feel the harsh but rewarding life he led. I would definitely recommend this book. 

Song of the Rolling Earth is a more recent book, published in 2003. I have found it harder work that The Seeing Eye simply as it seems more poetic and ‘wordy’ and you have to concentrate to understand what’s going on. However, there are just some points when he describes certain wildlife encounters, or specific people his talent for writing really shines through.  
I was especially struck by his descriptions of the crofters he met when he first arrived in the area in the 1970’s and how utterly different (and preferable in many ways!) their life was from most people’s today. Their life was harsh, simple and completely governed by the seasons and natural forces, but yet they seemed to love it and require none of the technology, travelling, and ‘clutter’ that fills our lives today.
I’m not saying I would want to live in a tiny roughly built croft with only a peat fire for warmth – don’t worry I haven’t romanticised their lives that much, they must have been really difficult  – but just to escape the commercialism, individualism and industry which just seems to be shoved in our faces 24/7 would be great! 

The book also made me want to go to Aigas centre. Maybe to do their ranger training programme (depending on what path we decide to take after Josh graduates) or maybe just for a holiday!

Happy New Year

5 Jan

Happy New Year to all.

Sorry I haven’t written for a while but Josh and I went down to Devon to celebrate Christmas and New Year with our families.
We had a good time but it’s nice to be back in Aberystwyth. I had both the infamous sickness bug, and the flu like bug which was annoying considering I haven’t been ill for months. I blame the sudden change from all organic food to non-organic but Josh says I’m just being dramatic!
 Other than being ill we had a good Christmas and it was lovely to spend time with our families, especially seeing our nieces and nephew.

We also got some lovely presents. Lots of food, some books (including A Life Stripped Bare which I have mentioned before), a Jamie Oliver cook book (which is going to be useful as its sectioned into seasons and has got reasonable recipes which we are likely to get the ingredients for in our veg box), some really good board games and some organic toiletries, including some natural remedy sea salt which I’m yet to try but looks very good! 

I would definitely recommend A Life Stripped Bare by Leo Hickman if you’re at all interested in living ethically. The book is his experience of living ‘ethically’ for a year (according to suggestions made by environmental auditors). He covers everything from shopping to cleaning to banking to holidaying and it is a very easy and entertaining read because, although informative, it is his experiences rather than simply lots of facts about certain subjects. A definite must. 

Also, for those of you that have been asking, our pheasant meal was very pleasant (surprisingly so I thought!). We cooked it wrapped in bacon and sloshed a bit of white wine in with the juices and poured it over the meat at the end. I didn’t find it too dry which many recipe sites suggested I might. Very simple and unexpectedly quick to cook. I would have it again, not necessarily buying it feathered, but I guess if Josh wants to fuss with plucking and gutting it he can! To his credit he kept mess and smell to the minimum!