Friday, 31 October 2014

Perspective

I've only been back at school for two whole months, but it feels like an age. I think that the past few weeks have felt the most draining because they've been filled with music rehearsals for the school show, English Lit coursework and endless amounts of French and Spanish vocab.

Last year, when I picked my AS-levels, everyone told me, "You'll have a lot of essays". I shrugged it off with a smile and said, "Oh, I like essays," but I think that now the novelty has worn off and I do  feel a bit exhausted. Think about writing an essay on equality in the home in English. Now how about writing it in Spanish?! 

Taking two languages is difficult, but I have to remind myself of the (hopefully achievable) end result: being able to speak a language fluently.  It's all very well living in the here and now, but when I feel as if my life consists of nothing other than schoolwork and music practices, it's important to look ahead and think of the places I want to go, the people I want to meet and the impact I want to have on the world. I have my whole life ahead of me, and focusing on what I want to achieve in the future helps me to focus on what I actually need to do, right now, in order to be able to meet my targets. 

So, what are my dreams? 

To find a job that I enjoy and one that I feel makes a difference. (link)


To eat good food with good friends. 


To take leisurely weekend breakfasts. (link)


To travel as much as possible. (link)


To live abroad and visit lots of markets. (link)


To obtain joy from the simple things in life! (link)


... I think this picture sums it all up pretty well. 


This post sounds like a mixture between a cheesy self-help book and a careers lesson, which wasn't my original intention; but it's something that was on my mind and I thought I'd express my feelings. Blogging is all about being honest, after all! Perhaps my future will look completely different to how I imagine, but that's alright. The world would be boring if we didn't have change!

What do you do when you're feeling swamped?

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Le marché

For me, markets are definitely one of the highlights of going to a foreign country. And the best markets are found in France. 

We saw stalls full of juicy peaches, ripe pears, miniature bananas and large grapes. 



There was freshly baked bread of all sorts. Sadly I couldn't buy any as it would have gone stale but the smell coming from the stalls was incredibly tempting. 




I'd never seen so many different spices before! And there was such a variety of peppercorns; almost every colour you could dream of. Naturally I had to pick up some herbs de Provence for my family!





There was also a whole stall dedicated to salami-style sausages. Here in the UK we don't go in for cured sausages in a big way so it was really interesting to see that there were so many varieties. My French family kindly let me try a pork and pork liver sausage one evening and whilst I wouldn't eat it on a daily basis, it was good to be able to taste some of the local food. I'll definitely be less afraid of eating cured sausages in the future!



I thought this was a really lovely photo - I think it shows the unpretentious character of the market. In France, visiting the market or the local bakery is just a way of life, whereas at home we tend to go to the supermarket and buy everything all at once. 


I loved how each stall was filled with different foods - some had paella bubbling away for lunch, others sold cheese (I almost picked up a few rounds of goats' cheese) and there were still others selling mushrooms freshly picked from the mountains that same morning. 


The markets alone are reason enough for me to move to France when I'm older!



Lunchtiiiiiiime

Pesto. 

Tomatoes.

Peppers.

Courgette. 

Parmesan.

Is anyone else salivating yet? 

Today's post is about a tart I made for lunch a few days ago, from Izy's new book. I hadn't planned on blogging about it, but it was just so tasty that I couldn't help myself. 

I received a copy of 'Top With Cinnamon: Stylish Sweet and Savoury Recipes" for my birthday in September and have been longing to try out some of the recipes ever since then. The photographs are gorgeous, the author's notes quirky and the recipes themselves are simple yet scrumptious. I'd had my heart set on the Roasted Vegetable and Pesto Galette from the beginning and so when I found myself with an hour or two to spare, a packet of pastry in the fridge (Mary Berry does it too, don't judge) and an extra bag of peppers I decided to give it a go. 


The method is easy but needs to be planned in advance - the pepper and tomatoes take about forty minutes to roast in total. However, it's well worth it, and I even was able to skin a pepper for the first time in my life! After that, the pesto is spread onto the pastry base and topped with cheese, the roasted vegetables and little courgette discs. Oh, and add another sprinkling of Parmesan, obviously. Fold the sides of the tart up (it doesn't matter how they look, which is one of the great things) and bake in the oven until you can't resist the pesto-cheese-tomato smell any longer. 


I won't post the full recipe on the blog, but you can find her book here. It's a great book to flick through when you need some inspiration. I've already planned to make her ultimate cookies and raspberry frangipane cake! 

(This post is not sponsored. I just wanted to tell you about a great new book!) 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Mid-term break

My Instagram followers will know that I recently spent a week in France, on an exchange organised by my school. Each pupil was paired with a pupil in France, and we went to stay at their house and experience a little bit of French life for ourselves. 

We went to Aix-en-Provence, in the south. I’d visited many areas of France before but never Provence, so I was looking forward to the trip. 

We arrived on one sunny evening in Nice airport. One look at the palm trees and we realised we were abroad! The bus journey took about two hours, which whilst on one hand seems like a long time, it wasn’t enough to prepare us for meeting our partners! Before stepping off the bus I felt a strange mixture of excitement and fear. (Well, primarily fear.) What was my partner like? (I’d only sent her a few emails in the previous week.) What about her family? What were they going to feed me? What were we going to talk about? And - most of all - what if I didn’t understand anything they said? 

My fears were soon laid to rest, however. I stayed with a wonderful family who really tried to make me feel at home. They introduced me to new foods, took me round their local town and made sure that they included me in dinner table conversation. My French had definitely improved by the end of my stay, which will be a great help when it comes to exam time! Even if I didn’t know a word in French, I was able to mime or describe the subject in another way so that they could understand it. 


If you decide to go on an exchange, make sure to speak the language as much as possible. You will reap the rewards! It’s also a good idea to have  a little slip of paper and a pen on you at all times because you will learn lots of new words, even in seemingly everyday situations. 

Here are a few tasters of my trip. 



A windy day at the beach.


A pretty water wheel. 


Cooling walks alongside a river. 


 Old buildings in Avignon.



Cafés in Aix. 


I'll be posting a few more photos of my trip later in the week, so stay tuned! 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Maple Pecan Bundt Cake

I've been waiting a long time to make this recipe. 

Three or four years ago, when I was first getting into baking, Mum and I split the cost of Nigella Lawson's new book 'Kitchen'. I would flick through the pages slowly and carefully, looking at flavour combinations and the mouthwatering photos. Every time I looked through the book, one thing stood out to me - a Maple Pecan Bundt Cake. 




However, two things barred my way: the fact that I didn't have a Bundt tin for a while, and the price of maple syrup. 

I did buy a bundt tin in Ikea a few years ago, but it sat in the cupboard, neglected... until one fine Saturday morning. I longed to make the cake that I had looked at for so long and I decided to go for it.  I even had the best excuse in that I had opened a bag of pecan nuts for my banana muffins and the nuts needed to be used up!



On reflection, maybe I should have bought a different tin - perhaps one with more angles and peaks. But I totally forgot about the appearance of the cake once I'd cut into it and tasted the gooey, nutty filling. It's absolutely divine with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk! 





Eat, and enjoy. 

Maple Pecan Bundt Cake 
For the filling:
75g plain flour
30g soft butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150g pecans, roughly chopped
125ml maple syrup

For the cake:
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g soft unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
250ml sour cream

icing sugar, for decoration
flavourless oil, for greasing
One 23-cm Bundt tin

1. Heat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease the tin using the oil, then leave upside down on a piece of newspaper to let any excess oil drain out.

2. Make the filling by rubbing the butter into the flour, as if you were making a crumble. Stir in the nuts and add the maple syrup. Mix well until all combined. 

3. For the cake, measure the flour, bicarb and baking powder into a bowl.

4. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture and then add one egg. Mix well. Add another tablespoon of flour, beat again and then add the second egg. Mix well. 

5. Gently fold in the rest of the flour mixture. Add the sour cream and mix until combined. The batter will be fairly thick. 

6. Spread just over half of the cake mixture into the Bundt tin. Spread it a little up the sides of the tin so that there is a dip in the middle. Gently spoon the nutty mixture into the dip, the whole way around the cake. 

7. Cover the filling with the remaining batter. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until cooked all the way through. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes then loosen the edges with a knife, before turning the cake out onto a rack. Dust with icing sugar when cool. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

City Picnic

I really do think I am beginning to fall in love with Belfast.

Well, maybe 'fall in love' is a bit strong... but over the summer I've been able to explore the Ulster Musem, various restaurants and just generally experience city life. And it's given me a hunger for more! Whilst I love the variety of Victoria Square, there's so much more to the city than just a huge shopping centre and chain coffee shops. (Don't worry Caffe Nero, I'll still drink your cappuccinos.)

I love the idea of discovering hidden corners, of finding individual shops with cute clothes and knick-knacks. I want to be able to experience Belfast as a unique city. It has so much history and recently it's really started to come alive. Unlike the renovations in Lisburn, which have done nothing for the town and caused major pedestrian troubles (lots of uneven paving), Belfast has started to look smarter and overall more interesting.

Anyway... back in August I met up with my good friend Susanne for a catch up. She's just finished her final year at school so I knew that I wouldn't get to see her as often (who am I going to talk to in the corridors now?) and we decided to meet in Belfast for a morning of shopping. 

We hunted for hair accessories, searched for satchels (namely this dreamy blue one in River Island) and even nipped into Hotel Chocolat in the hope that we'd find a free sample or two. After a morning of successful purchases we needed to rest our weary feet and have a good long chat about our problems, summer activities and plans for the future. 

Enter City Picnic. My sister and I had passed this place a few times but had never dared to step inside. It's basically half American convenience store - i.e. it stocks Lucky Charms/Vanilla Coke/Nerds - and half diner. They sell bagels and burgers, filled with everything from chicken to chorizo to mushrooms and monteray jack cheese. 




I chose a bagel, served with a side salad and coleslaw. It was delicious - stuffed full of chicken, bacon and avocado. No flat bagels here! Also, look at the newspaper-filled tray and the little spoons for table numbers... it's just too cute.







Susanne picked the 'firecracker bagel', filled with chicken, sundried tomatoes, cheese and pesto. If I hadn't been in the mood for bacon this would definitely have been my choice! 



We sat for a good hour and a half, talking and laughing whilst sitting at colourful picnic tables and watching the world go by outside. Eventually we decided to leave, and it was with much sadness that we stepped outside into wind-swept Belfast. 

I'd really recommend a trip to City Picnic. They sell a good, filling lunch for about £7 and it's a lovely place. Despite being in the centre of the city it's tucked away on a corner and so it doesn't feel too people-running-everywhere-rushed. Give it a try! 
  

Monday, 6 October 2014

Life Lately - September

It's such a cliché, but... is September really over already?! The month seems to have flown by and I haven't really done anything significant other than go back to school. 

I have, however, tried to enjoy small and simple pleasures, such as:

.... making a frothy chai latte at home with my new milk frother. I'm in love!

... spending some time sitting under the trees in the garden, thinking about the summer and looking ahead to what the next few months will bring. 

.... picking blackberries for jams and crumbles. 

... listening to Jamie Cullum's fantastic piano playing. ('Imagine' is my favourite song on the album so far.)

... flicking through two new cookery books full of gorgeous photography and decadent desserts. 

... watching 'Jean de Florette' in preparation for a visit to France in October (yippee!) .


So, what about you - what's been happening in your life recently? Or what are you looking forward to the most about October?