Monday, 7 July 2014

Farewell for now

This is a post that has been on my mind for some time. Recently I've been questioning the meaning of blogging, and the point of it all. It seems like everyone has a blog nowadays and so it's hard to 'stand out', as it were.

It's not that I want to achieve international fame. But realistically, where do I see this blog going? A book deal? A cooking program? None of those things really excite me. In fact, I can't think of anything worse than blogging as a living. I admire those who do so for their courage and determination - running a blog is hard work! - but it's not for me. 

In addition, blogging is really difficult. Of course, it all depends on the author, but for me, one post requires a lot of work. Thinking about a recipe, making it, taking photos before my family had eaten the food (and I'm not a natural photographer), uploading photos, writing a post, writing the recipe, any links, formatting the post.... One blog post alone could consist of three hours of work. And realistically, I don't have that time. I want to focus on baking and cooking without worrying about what it will look like on a camera lens; without panicking when a recipe goes wrong because I have no back-up posts; without the pressure that comes with blogging. 

It's been a hard decision but I've been thinking over it for the past two months and I think it's time to call it quits.

I'm not saying that I will never blog again (my enthusiasm for writing is too much for that). I'm simply going to take a little break over the summer and see where my path takes me. I may return in the autumn - and I could be writing about anything and everything from food to clothes to books. As Fitzgerald famously said, "Life was beginning over again with the summer" - 
and this summer is a time for me to explore where my passions really lie.

Thank you for taking this journey of exploration with me! You can still see what I'm up to via my Instagram page or see what inspires me via Pinterest

Monday, 30 June 2014

June Favourites

I have to admit, I really enjoyed doing a favourites post last month. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I think I'll make it a regular thing here on CIC! It's a great way for you to get to know me a little bit and it also means I get to go on Pinterest specifically for 'research' purposes...

Anyway, here's a little collection of things that have inspired me and brought me joy this month. 

The Great Gatsby. A standard summer read, perhaps, but one that you shouldn't miss. I still haven't seen the film (!) but I've read the book a few times and each time I open it I am sucked into Gatsby's world of glamour. Fitzgerald's descriptions are fantastic and he conjures up a brilliant image of a stifling hot summer, where tension and suspicion rear their ugly heads. 

I can't wait to study this next year! 
Image here.

Tigers about the House on BBC 2. It's a three-part series documenting the journey of two tiger cubs over their first four months... whilst living in their keeper's house! I love tigers and I don't know how many times I uttered "cuuuuuuuute!" as I watched this! Just look at that face.... 

There is also an important message with the series - if we don't act soon, Sumatran tigers will die out. We can all do a little something to ensure the survival of the species. Find out more here and here!

This fresh and natural beauty look. Whilst I love a strong lip as much as anyone, it can be a bit of a hassle having to reapply lipstick after every meal. Whether you're lying on the beach or exploring a city, you'll want to look chic yet natural. It's better for your skin too - so lay off the foundation and let your skin breathe!

Quiche. I think it's a love-it-or-hate-it thing. You can guess which side I'm on! Perfect hot or cold, with a green side salad. This goats cheese and tomato version sounds divine.

Cold drinks like this Watermelon and Raspberry Lemonade. Definitely on the to-do list when I next see a watermelon - it looks so refreshing. 

What have you been enjoying this month?

Monday, 23 June 2014

Apricot and Almond Tart

Do you ever go through phases of wanting to bake a certain cake? You'll either bake it as soon as possible, or keep putting it off until, by the time you're free, you'll have set your sights on another recipe.

This was one of those moments. I had a sudden longing for an apricot tart, filled with moist and fragrant frangipane and juicy apricots. The season for stone fruits is short here so I knew I had to make the most of it whilst I could!

This tart is very easy to prepare. Halve the apricots and leave them to soak in a little sugar and the tiniest bit of sherry. (Don't worry, you can't taste it!) Bake the tart case - either make your own pastry, use ready-made or (if you're really short on time) buy one of those nifty pre-baked cases. Then all you have to do is whip up the frangipane, pour into the tart and add the apricots!

I baked this on Saturday night for Father's Day and it went down a treat. We served it cold, with mascarpone because it needed using up, but it would go equally as well with vanilla ice-cream, cream or plain yogurt. Hold off on any sauces, though - you want the delicate flavour to shine through. 

Apricot and Almond Tart (serves 8)
175g shortcrust pastry (i.e made with 125g plain flour and 55g butter)

6 apricots
1 tbsp caster sugar
Splash of sherry 

100g caster sugar
75g butter, softened
3 medium eggs 
150g ground almonds

Flaked almonds, to decorate

1. Heat the oven to 190°C and roll the pastry out until thin. Press the pastry into a 23cm (9 inch) flan tin. Prick the base with a fork and cut any overhanging edges off - but not too much because the pastry will shrink. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and bake for another 10 minutes until crisp. Leave to cool.

2. Prepare the apricots by cutting them in half, removing the stone and placing them in a bowl. Mix with the sherry and sugar. Leave for at least 30 minutes.

3. Beat the butter with the sugar until pale and creamy. Stir in the almonds and beat in the eggs. Pour into the cooled tart case. Place the apricots on top of the almond mixture. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake at 170°C for 45 minutes to an hour, until it is golden brown with minimal wobble. 

4. Cool on a wire rack before decorating with more flaked almonds. Store in the fridge if not eating immediately. 

Monday, 16 June 2014

Summertime.... and the living is easy.

Wow. After four horrendous months of revision, comfort eating and leggings, my exams are finally over for good. I know that GCSEs won't seem like a big thing to many of you university girls; but as my first public exams I was more than a little nervous!

Thankfully all of them have finished now and I've been embracing a new, easy-going style of living. 
I usually wake up late. I'll breakfast slowly, perhaps whilst reading a new book (I was able to pay a visit to the library the other day - yay!). I'll gradually get dressed and then wander downstairs to do some cleaning / organising / tv watching / Instagram stalking. (You get the idea!)

One of the first things I did after leaving the exam hall was to write a bucket list for this summer. A tad cheesy (especially when coupled with my attempt to draw tiny pictures to accompany each goal), but something that was incredibly satisfying. 

I'll just share a few of my favourite ideas here. Hopefully they'll get you in the mood for a summertime of adventure!

1. Go on holidays and get a tan. 

In a little while we'll be heading off to Sicily and the South of Italy. I'm so excited! The holiday wardrobe has been updated (filled with little sundresses and leather sandals), the weather forecast has been checked  (28°C+) and all that remains to be created is a summer playlist - any suggestions? 
My family have never been to Sicily before and so I'd love to hear if you've any suggestions for places to visit around the Northern Coast of the island. 

2. Make peach frozen yoghurt.

This recipe has been in my head for  a while now, but I've always refrained from making it because it hasn't been warm enough and I could only find tinned peaches. I was worried that they would affect the consistency of the yoghurt so I'm looking forward to trying it with fresh fruit in the coming months. 

3. Have a picnic.

If you're as addicted to Pinterest as I am, I'm sure you'll have spotted some of those enviable picnic photos floating around. You know the ones I mean - gingham blanket, perfect quiches, summery salads and sparkling pink lemonade? Whilst I've had one picnic already this year (read about it here), I have a yearning for more - and it would make the most wonderful day out. 

4. Learn how to play 'Clair de Lune' on the piano. 

One of Debussy's most famous works, this piece is beautiful and one that I've longed to play for a while. When I have an hour or so to spare I'm going to dedicate it to playing through a few lines and getting the notes absolutely perfect!

5. Try burritos / tacos. 

When a new burrito place opened in Lisburn last year, I promised myself I would go. Twelve months later I still haven't tried their food! After hearing a good review by a friend of mine (and inspired by Rose's trip to a taco place) I've resolved to go at some point during the next few months. 

(I've just realised that it seems as if most of the bucket list is about food. Oops! That's not true, really - I just decided to spare you from the boredom of reading about clearing out the attic.)

So, what about you - what are your plans for the summer? 

All pictures via Pinterest.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Hello, Summer....... and goodbye, summer body.

I've entered the last week of exams and I can almost taste freedom. What does freedom taste like? I here you ask. Well, wonder no more, because I have a brand new recipe that is (in my opinion) one of the most perfect foods known to man.

Mars Bar Brownies. 

I'll just let that picture sink in.

Soft, chocolatey brownie. Melted, gooey Mars Bar. You may as well go the whole hog and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

I know that you'll all hate me for posting this recipe so close to bikini season. But, let's be real here - we can't live on salads and smoothies alone (and believe me, I've tried!). Keep your healthy breakfast, nutritious lunch and hour of cardio/weight training the same, and then indulge yourself after dinner with a little square of chocolatey goodness. 

After all, you deserve it. 

Gooey Mars Bar Brownies (makes around 20)
150g butter
250g light brown muscovado sugar
75g cocoa powder
200g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 eggs
3 Mars bars, chopped

1. Heat the oven to 190°C. Line a baking tin*  and melt the butter in a pan. 

2. Measure out the sugar into a bowl. Once the butter is melted, pour it over the sugar and mix well. Sieve in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. 

3. Beat in the eggs until you have a thick and glossy mixture. Stir in two thirds of the Mars bar pieces. 

4. Pour the mixture into the lined tin. Sprinkle over the remaining Mars Bars and bake for 20 minutes or so until it is firm but still ever-so-slightly gooey. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin before eating. (Trust me, caramel straight from the oven is NOT a good idea.)

*I used a brownie tin from Lakeland - a worthwhile purchase as it can be used for other things such as roasting vegetables, making traybakes etc. 

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'Everyday Brownies' from 'Kitchen'
- Note that whilst moist, these are not hugely fudgey; the Mars Bars bring enough goo!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Cherry and Almond Scones

Is there anything more comforting than a warm scone topped with butter? Jam and cream are a fantastic addition, of course; but to be honest, I find that the best scones - like many things in life - are the simple ones. There aren't too many flavours, and there is the right carb-to-fruit ratio. (An incredibly important thing. I've been disappointed a number of times by a lack of fruit in my scones!)

Thankfully the majority of scones here in Northern Ireland are pretty good. They've definitely gotten bigger recently, though - sometimes you could almost get away with eating one for lunch! A scone is usually a fail-safe option in most cafés. 

I had planned to post this earlier, but somehow it never got off the ground. For some reason I've become rather disillusioned with blogging lately. It seems as if everyone has a blog now and you have to be a 'professional' blogger in order to succeed. I think it's great that people can make money from their blog; but for me, blogging is just a little hobby. 

Every time I've sat down to write a post over the past few weeks, I have felt dull and uninspired. The words don't flow well; what I think are my deepest thoughts look cluttered and messy; and then there's that question of how much do I reveal? It troubles me, and I'm not sure what to do. Perhaps it will involve a break from blogging. Perhaps it will result in less frequent posts. Perhaps it will change this blog in style, content or layout. Maybe a good spring clean is just what I need!

These are all questions that will hopefully be answered over the next few months. This time next week I will just have one more exam left, and then I am free from school for almost three months - plenty of time to sit, think and ponder meaningful questions!

For now, I'll leave you with a recipe that brought joy to my heart. I know scones aren't the healthiest of foods; but they're not unhealthy either.  Maybe if you put enough cherries in you could work your way up to a full portion of fruit!

*The secret to light and fluffy scones is not to overwork the mixture. Stir it with a knife until it just comes together, then gently press it together with your hands. When shaping the scones, you don't need a rolling pin - just flatten (softly!) with your fingertips. They will only rise a little bit so make them nice and chunky! *

Cherry and Almond Scones (Makes 6 - 7 large scones)
225g self-raising flour, sifted
40g butter
150ml buttermilk (use ordinary milk if you don't have any)
1 tbsp caster sugar
25g flaked almonds
25g glacé cherries
a little milk and a handful of almonds, for decorating

1. Heat the oven to 220°C. Prepare a large baking sheet by dusting flour over the surface.

2. Sift the flour into a bowl. Cut the butter into little chunks, add to the flour and rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, cherries (halved) and the almonds. 

3. Slowly add the milk to the mixture. Take a knife and use it to stir the ingredients together. Once it has come together, use your fingers to press it together gently, picking up any little bits of flour from the bowl. - You may not need to use all of the milk.

4. Turn onto a floured work surface and gently pat down into a circular shape. Take a large circular cutter, lightly flour it and cut out the scones from the dough, pressing down firmly and not twisting the cutter. 

5. Set the scones onto the baking tray. Brush with a little milk and sprinkle a few flaked almonds over the top. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden. Cool slightly on a rack and eat as quickly as possible! 

- Scones taste best when fresh but they will keep in a container for a few days. You can also freeze them.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Cake Break

There was me thinking I was all organised with my posting and then it hits me... I haven't posted a recipe in weeks! 

Apologies. I have been baking (a little bit) but sometimes the photos just haven't been up to scratch, so I thought I'd wait until I'd got a couple of recipes to be proud of.

Way back in February I experimented with a courgette and walnut cake, and, inspired by Jo Wheatley's recipe in the Sainsbury's magazine, I decided to give courgette cake another try.