Sunday 29 May 2011

More Overnight Oats

As you read this I will be on my holidays, living it up in New York. With an impending trip this week's ONO were all about using it up.

Monday: Chocolate soy milk, plain yogurt and raspberries (this was FULL OF WIN).
Tuesday: I know it was guava juice and plain yogurt but I can't remember what fruit....I was late for work and ended up wolfing it down whilst doing my morning email, reponding. -- it came to me in the end: good, ripe, British strawberries.
Wednesday: Coconut yogurt, chocolate soy milk and blueberries
Thursday: Guava juice, plain yogurt and blueberries
Friday: Chocolate soy milk, plain yogurt, banana and some walnuts. I put the banana in just before eating because I am funny about banana and don't like to too soft or ripe.

On Thursday, I actually chose ONO over the selection of croissants and pain au chocolat school laid on for a training breakfast - it really is that good. (I might have snaffled a pain au chocolat for breaktime, mind you).

I will take a moment here to blow a trumpet for Total 2% Greek yogurt. I can only get it in my local Asda and they don't even sell it online which is very irritating as it means I have to actually go out and be among the public to get it. It is worth it though. It has a lot more velvety creaminess than the 0% version with none of the guilt associated with the full-fat version.

Incidentally, I reckon the full-fat version, like milk, can still only be 4 or 5%. There's no need for guilt over that, is there? I've evidently been conditioned.

Anyway - if you are a fan of Total and ever see this one for sale, don't hesitate. You'll never look back. And it's perfect for ONO.

Saturday 28 May 2011


Too late, I had a revelation - there are not enough hours in the day to go out for a long night of celebratory end-of-term drinks, pack for a week's holiday in New York and complete a decent Weekword entry.

Although, last night I also had the revelation that I am never the drunkest person anymore. I was comforted by this, as I gave a fireman's lift to a young male teacher who had this dubious honour and was passed out. However, it might mean I'm a grown up.

Sorry I didn't play properly this week.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Tuesday Ten

Ten things I've been reading this week

1. This article about a couple who are choosing to raise their children gender-neutral.

2. This news story about an escaped white tiger. The police spokeswoman is a genius.

3. This book about American girls trafficked in the sex industry. It's written by a woman I sort of know which makes it even more interesting.

4. The Book Thief. Set in Nazi Germany; I'm going to make my students read it next year for background on their study of Hitler.

5. My exam board contract, very carefully. They've gone and changed it. Gits. Expect more exam board whinging next month (I'll save it for then).

6. Scott Adams' blog. This man does a good job of offending people, though I treat his blog like the casual stream of consciousness mine sometimes is....sometimes you ruminate things that might be better kept in your head. This is my favourite of his posts.

7. This diabolical article in the Daily Mail - really, when I first read it, I thought it had been written as a spoof. Made me quite annoyed. I have to wonder if any of these primary-age children (ie, not old enough to be on Facebook) would ever have seen the pictures if some busybody hadn't printed them out and posted them through letterboxes.
I hate the Daily Mail.

8. The supplement with this month's Elle on summer beauty and how to get holiday-ready. Notwithstanding the ash cloud, I'll be in New York for brunch this Sunday and after we get back from that adventure it will be a mere 8 weeks before the big Australian adventure! Which leads me to....

9. Australia guides. Anything I can get my hands on about making the most of it. Getting quite excited now.

10. Assessments. Lots of 'em. I should have marked a dozen in the time it's taken me to blog, too. Le sigh.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Sunday Baking: Coffee Walnut Cupcakes

One of my good school friends has a particular liking for coffee-walnut cake and so I decided to oblige him this week, as I had an idea and wanted to see if it would work.

For the base I used this recipe for chocolate cake, but with extra flour instead of cocoa and with only 1 tsp bicarb - I think I have used too much in the past because the flavour hasn't been as good. I made superstrong coffee to add to the batter. I also added a tsp of coffee grounds and a cup of walnut pieces.

For the icing, I wanted to use Camp coffee but they didn't have any in the supermarket so I decided to have a stab at making my own coffee-vanilla syrup. I boiled some strong filter coffee with some sugar, a big spoonful of coffee grounds and half a vanilla pod, split open and scraped, and when it had reduced by about two-thirds I strained it through a piece of muslin and added some more sugar.

Then I mixed 350g Mascarpone with enough icing sugar to make it sweet, and 4-5 dessert spoons of syrup. The icing turned out great, but the cakes could have been a bit more coffee-esque. We'll see how they go down tomorrow.

This recipe made and iced 18 cupcakes.

I also tried another strawberry cake today, because last week's went down so well at school that I was receiving compliments all week, and in fact the two-thirds that I left unattended in the staffroom after lunch had all gone by the end of the day - teachers are gannets! This time I used British strawberries which are finally in the green grocers. The difference is incredible: much stronger flavour and much pinker cake to begin with, so I needed just a drop of food colouring to make it really pink.

I changed the way I did the syrup this week too, since last week it only soaked into the bottom. I mixed the leftover strawb puree with some water and sugar and then when I took the cake out of the oven I sliced off the overflow, skewered the now-flat surface of the cake a few times and then poured the syrup over the hot cake while it was still in the tin, and left it to cool. I followed the principle taught me by my friend's Bosnian mother who taught me to make baklava and made me promise I would only use cold syrup on hot cake, or vice versa.

Then I realised - I never brought my cake boxes home from work last week. This is going to be interesting.

Overnight Oats

There is lately a craze on a forum I frequent for something called Overnight Oats (ONO from now on because it took me three attempts to type the full name correctly). This basically involves preparing porridge but not cooking it, instead leaving it overnight and eating the next day.

Having eaten Weetabix and banana for breakfast for a very long time now, I decided to give it a go this week and (since I am blogging about you'll probably have guessed this part) I am extremely impressed. I've found I'm fuller for longer in the mornings and have enjoyed, thus far, experimenting with different combinations.

The basic recipe requires equal parts of oats and liquid. The liquid can be any combination of milk, juice, water and yogurt. I use half a cup of oats which is plenty; and since I prefer not to drink normal milk I have used the following combinations this week -

Monday: Strawberry puree (leftovers from Sunday's baking foray) with plain yogurt and fresh strawberries
Tuesday: Strawberry puree, plain yogurt and mango
Wednesday: Guava juice, plain yogurt and mango
Thursday: Guava juice, coconut yogurt and pineapple
Friday: Chocolate soy milk, coconut yogurt and blueberries

Friday's was so good I elected to repeat it for Saturday morning, traditionally a breakfast of bacon, which should be an indicator of how much a fan I have become already. I've discovered I like to add a little more liquid than oats to give it a softer texture and that it is possible to make a tub of coconut yogurt last more than two days.

I had fun yesterday picking out some fruit for this week's, since it's berry season now, so tomorrow I'll be having chocolate soy milk, plain yogurt and raspberries.

Mr Z drew a face on a mango this week and pretended it was biting his finger while I was preparing my oats for the next day. In the morning, when I opened the door to the fruit cupboard to get a banana, I found this -

Then the next day, I found these -

I wonder what it will be next....

Friday 20 May 2011


Emma picked this week's word: Catharsis
I believe that a lot of people who blog associate their writing with catharsis. I certainly do.

When I started writing this blog, which was back in 1999 on (I think!) a Tripod site, only a few of my friends were reading it, to my knowledge, and I used to write some very personal things here. I definitely used it as a passive-agressive tool a few times and there's a level of detail in those posts that I wouldn't dream of including these days. The internet is too big and too public now to risk baring my soul; although my old blogs are still online, my reasoning is that the sheer size of the WWW keeps them basically hidden in plain sight.

In a way, then, blogging is not longer as cathartic as it once was: or maybe it is just in a different way. If I try to keep blogging through times of personal angst, I find myself concentrating hard on what I CAN say which often reminds me about what's good in my life.

If I feel like a good old emotional cleanse here are the other things I do -
1. Cry. A lot. In private - I generally find crying all the way home from work (45 mins) to be about right. It has to be in private because then it doesn't have to be justified to anybody else.
2. Talk angrily about the thing that has upset me using a lot of creative swearing.
3. Smoke. I know it's not very cleansing but it makes me calmer, and is all the more effective for the fact I'm not a regular smoker anymore.
4. Bake. It's very methodical and I have control over it. And there is a sugary treat to look forward to at the end.

Sorry I was late to the party this week (although I'm sneakily backdating my post so it looks like I was on time!). Don't forget to go and look at all the other entries this week, and if you want to take part next week go to Heather's blog on Monday and leave her a comment.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Tuesday Ten

I've now been seeing a personal trainer for about eight months and it's having a very positive impact on my life. Hence...

Ten Reasons I love being back on the exercise bandwagon

1. I sleep a lot better.
2. When I lift the 10kg weights in circuits to do bench presses, I can practically HEAR people thinking I'm trying to show off and will only manage one or two, and then I pop off a set of 15 and prove them wrong. And today the circuits instructor complimented me on my plank.
3. It's now FUN instead of a chore!
4. I may not have lost any weight, but I have gone down a jeans size.
5. My arms and shoulders look really toned. I can't wait to break out the strapless tops this year.
6. When I get out of breath now, I get my breath back in a very small amount of time.
7. I can do 20 minutes of exercise on a Sunday afternoon and know it's enough.
8. I make myself work out a lot harder than I used to and therefore I reap the benefits of succeeding even when it's difficult.
9. I feel so much stronger and more energetic these days.
10. I got to buy a new sports bra. And it's pink. And it's a back size smaller than I usually buy.

There are so many I didn't even get to mention how good I look from behind these days ;) all those squats are paying dividends.

I've started keeping an exercise log, because I've decided I'd like to be able to run the Bristol 10k next year (it was this weekend just gone). I went to the gym and tried to run, and managed 5 minutes without stopping, and then another 3 with only a 1 minute break in between which I thought was quite good considering I haven't run since 2006. It definitely feels like that 10k is within reach.

Watch this space!

Sunday 15 May 2011

Sunday baking - Strawberry cake

My year 11 class, who I bake for regularly, have a two hour English GCSE exam tomorrow (their first exam of the season) followed by a lesson with me. Fun for me. I was asked by a student with a haunted expression, "You're baking for that day, right Miss?" so I have obliged.

I whipped up a batch of caramel hazelnut flapjacks as detailed in my last recipe post, but yesterday the green grocer had boxes of strawberries on two for £1.50 + a third free yesterday and so I had to snap them up. Strawberries can be tricky. I don't store them in the fridge if I can help it because they are prone to take on the taste of anything else in there and anyway, chilled strawberries don't taste right to me. When I looked at them this morning I realised I was either going to have to refrigerate them, eat all 3lbs today, or find a cake recipe.

Bizarrely, a lot of cake recipes out there on t'internet are made with cake mix and strawberry jelly. Cake takes almost no time to put together, especially if you use cup measurements instead of a scale, and so short-cut cakes confuse me.
Eventually I found this one but had no vegetable oil (except olive, which I know from experience is no good in cakes...), so I adapted it slightly for me. It made one cathedral-bundt cake and 10 fairy cakes.

3 cups self-raising flour (or if you, like me, only keep plain flour, make it 3 cups + 6 tsp baking powder - this worked fine for me)
2 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup melted butter - this was probably about 6oz. I used what I had melted and didn't need to butter the cake tin.
1 & 1/2 cups strawberry puree - buzz the strawbs in a blender and then sieve. I reckon I blended about a pound and a half but I had more than necessary.
Red food colouring - optional

Easiest cake ever - just bung everything in a bowl and blend until smooth (this is definitely no slower than a box cake, surely!)
I added some red food colouring to give mine a really PINK colour but it was pale pink already. Bake at 180 degrees for about 35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

I mixed half the remaining puree with a good whack of caster sugar (reckon it was about 1 part sugar to 1.5 parts puree) and then drizzled over the cooling cake as a glaze. Looks very pretty and they taste quite good in miniature. Waiting til I taste the cut cake tomorrow for my final judgement, though.

Friday 13 May 2011


I picked this week's word: SINISTER. Today is Friday 13th (the only Friday 13th this year) and so it seemed apt, although I must say that nobody has mentioned it at all, so perhaps the whole concept seems a lot less sinister when it's sunny and bright outside.

Sinister is one of my favourite words because of where it comes from. It was the Latin word for left, but also meant awkward. Meanwhile, dexter means right, and also auspicious. Consequently, left handed people were "sinistra" and the word has a negative feeling to it. At the same time, our word for right is a homonym which can mean the right-hand orientation, or correct. And if you can write with both hands you are ambidextrous, which literally means "both sides right".

I really feel like language has been sending a message to lefties for a very long time. I'm not one, by the way; I just like the idosyncrasies of language.

Please visit these amazing blogs and read their entries and tell them how much you love them:

Emma at the Gift Shed
John at the Healing Seed
Carmen at Tales of a Biomouse
carola bARTz (who had good intentions but found life got in the way of her posting!)
Joye at Joyeful Art

I'm going to tag Emma to pick next week's word so go over to The Gift Shed to see what she comes up with.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Tuesday Ten

Ten Material Wants (it has been a while since I've done this one, honest)

1. This protective skin for my Kindle.

2. NYDJ Jeans. I have heard good things about how flattering they are on the chub. I intend to purchase these in NY at the end of the month.

3. Something new and fancy for my skin, like a serum. Skin looks like it needs a pick-me-up lately.

4. Interweave Knits a subscriber, I would have expected to get this before they had it in my LYS, but it still hasn't arrived.

5. A travel hairdryer. To, yknow, use on my travels.

6. This book of short stories, which I read many times when I was a kid and haven't been able to find since.

7. A bottle of Hendricks gin. Best for summer drinking.

8. A new pair of large and dark sunglasses. My favourite pair are just a little too big and now, after three years of putting up with it, I have reached the end of my patience.

9. A new electric whisk that does not sound like it has sand in the motor when I am using it (my current electric whisk was a present from my grandparents for my 18th birthday, so it has served me well).

10. Olympics tickets! I applied for two pairs, but I am not especially hopeful. However, I would like to know one way or the other because if it's a no, I can get myself a little present from this list with the cash I have saved.

Weekword: Sinister

I think nobody else has nominated a word so I am jumping the gun a little here and offering one of my own for you all to ruminate on.

In honour of this week holding a Friday 13th, I'm picking the word SINISTER.

If you want to join in, please leave a comment and make a post on your blog about this word by the weekend. On Friday I'll post a list of people taking part. Please feel free to join in even if you haven't done before! I'm really looking foward to seeing what people come up with :)

Friday 6 May 2011


This week, Carmen over at Biomouse picked the word GYPSY.

This clip (I hope the embedding works - if not it can be viewed here and I should warn it has a little bit of bad language in it) is from a documentary about gypsy weddings. Recently there has been a six-part series of this documentary, following gypsy brides and looking at their culture and lifestyle in this country.

I found it FASCINATING. I could have watched double the number of episodes - it was so interesting to see into their communities a little bit. It was also really interesting to watch other people's reactions to what is evidently a very misogynistic society.

My reaction was somewhat different. There was a lot of disgust at the stereotyping of women, who are often expected to leave school very young to care for siblings, marry at 16 or 17 and dedicate their lives to cleaning their homes and raising children. I got a bit annoyed at the judgement.

Now, I feel like I have to pick my words carefully here because I don't want to seem as though I am condoning a society in which girls are forced out of school before they can read properly and where domestic violence cases are shockingly high. However! The judgements made in some cases got my back up, because they suggest, by proxy, that the "norm" is infinitely better. There are some positives to the way they live, not least the strong family bonds they build up. These young women also seem quite confident - more confident than a lot of girls I work with, some of whom I'm certain have been subject to something akin to "grabbing" themselves but quite probably given in for fear of being stigmatised for not giving in.

Anyway. Mr Z has just accused me of being on my soap box and since I could wax lyrical about this topic for pages I had better take the hint and stop ;)
The series certainly gave me lots to think about, in more ways than one. I can thoroughly recommend it. Watch out for one of my pupils who appears in the final episode, face pixelated out, tripping over a bride's dress outside a church! We have a fairly large number of traveller children at school. One of them had a full-on tattoo by the age of 13. He had a girlfriend in his class, too, but broke up with her pretty sharpish when he left school on his 16th birthday (with no qualifications - but he was the first generation of his family to stay that long so he didn't do badly). He is 19 now, and married. So, it's not just the women who don't get the choice.

Make sure you pop over to Carmen's blog to read the other entries this week and find out who'll be picking next week!

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Tuesday Ten

Ten Haikus of the Moment

British 'sparagus -
I love thee. Shame your season
Is so very short.

I would like a nap
But instead I must wade through
Year 13 coursework.

Controlled assessment
By year 11 also
Must be marked this week -

Osama bin Laden's death
Makes them out of date.

Wore new shoes today.
Felt about six feet tall - well,
I WAS six feet tall.

In two weeks it is
My Geology exam.
I am quite nervous.

But one week later,
I'm flying to NYC,
Me and Mr Z.


William and Kate,
Your wedding was so lovely.
Thanks for the day off.

Robin on the fence,
Watching the cat. Think its chicks
are learning to fly.

British 'sparagus -
Why do you make wee smell bad?
Small price to pay, though.

Monday 2 May 2011

Cakes: Rhubarb, and Vanilla-Grapefruit Cupcakes

I have been baking today. I like the spring because it brings rhubarb, one of my favourite things. I like to make this cake with it.

12oz butter
6oz caster sugar
4 eggs
1lb self-raising flour
pinch of salt
12oz mixed dried fruit (I use a cherry/berry mix I get in Asda)
At least 12 large spoonfuls of stewed rhubarb

Beat the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, then beat in the flour and the pinch of salt. Stir in the dried fruit and rhubarb. Turn into 2 lined 2lb loaf tins, and bake at 180 degrees for about an hour, until set.

I must say that I don't usually make it in loaf tins, as I only have one small one; it all goes in a big square cake tin and, as a result, always takes ages to set. However, it is quite a soft cake anyway.

I also had a bit of experimentation with some cupcakes before the holidays. I have gotten into the habit of baking for my year 11s, and since I haven't seen them for over a month I wanted to ensure their last memory of me was sweet. So, I made vanilla cupcakes filled with grapefruit curd, a la Cupcake Bakeshop, but with a little twist of my own. Here is the recipe I used -

8oz butter
2 cups vanilla caster sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2-3/4 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the butter until fluffy and then beat in the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, and add the vanilla to the milk. Alternate adding these two things to the buttter, sugar and egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, which should be sifted in. Scoop into cupcake cases and bake at 180 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Make the grapefruit curd to this recipe, but using two pink grapefruits in place of the lemons.

Fill the cupcakes with the curd using the cone method. Top with a vanilla cream cheese frosting - I combine vanilla sugar with cream cheese and a bit of butter, and I added a smidge of red food colouring, for pink grapefruit suggestion. Top with pieces of candied peel.

They went down extremely well. The grapefruit curd is quite tart, which is why I really amped up the vanilla flavour of the cupcakes.

The final thing I invented recently was for the ski trip. I baked toasted hazelnut caramel flapjacks for the journey. We were on the coach for the equivalent of four meal times so I tried to come up with something that would sustain us. I used this basic flapjack recipe, and then poured a quantity of caramel sauce over the top and then pressed in 8oz of hazelnuts I'd toasted under the grill and bashed to pieces. My colleague Adam dared to suggest they were the best flapjacks he'd ever had, so I think it's safe to say I'll be making those again some time soon. Flattery will get you everywhere with me.