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Archive for September, 2012

I seem to spend a lot of time doing “retros”, “reviews”, “post-match analysis” and “post-mortems” of projects at work. All in the hope of learning valuable lessons to take forward when I repeat it all again. So I think it’s time to turn to those lessons learnt in the better part of my life, the non-work variety! And this week is postively BURSTING with small but perfectly formed revelations ๐Ÿ™‚

Some lessons that Iโ€™ve learnt this week (and still a few days to go!)..

  1. Beautiful flowers, once picked, donโ€™t last long

    I threw a big fabulous launch party last week in London for an online product we just launched at work. It was a huge success and one of the memories of the night was carrying one of the ginormous bouquets of flowers (that was a display piece) home on the underground, train and then taxi. It was HUGE. I then spent 45 minutes, WAY past midnight on a weeknight carefully deconstructing the bouquet into small vases that I could keep in my flat. The smell was delicious, the colours beautiful, my flat was adorned, the flowers breath-taking. But they’re all rather mouldy now. They didn’t last long. Beauty is fleeting, especially in picked flowers. It’s a good lesson in enjoying the beauty of the moment.

  2. I (and therefore anyone) can bake good deserts (even technical challenges)

    Tart au CitronSpurred on by my previous success with the coffee battenburg, I decided to really push the boat out and attempt a Tart au Citron. I invested in a flan dish with breathable holes from Lakeland. Bought a bag o lemons, eggs, sugar, cream. I even made my own pastry and chilled it first (and then blind baked it for Pete’s sake!). I did have to read the instructions a little more closely this time, but the good news is I DID IT. It didn’t take forever, it was reasonably straight forward and apart from a brief drama when the lemony liquid started coming through the breathable holes, it set just perfectly with that little wobble. HURRAH! Technical challenge two COMPLETE. I’m on a roll (that’s next, the chocolate roulard…)

  3. Wedding planning CAN (is starting to) be fun

    Wedding welliesSo I was starting to have a little breakdown when faced with the price of weddings. ยฃ40 a head and that’s just food, are you crazy?!? I was bobbling all over the place, Suffolk, Oxford, Las Vegas, Gretna Green, Costa Rica… It was becomming a bit much and luckily this Sunday we went for lunch with a group o pals and through frank conversations I decided that actually my simple idea of the local church close to Mum and Jimmy’s Farm would be a great idea. Just hearing someone else saying how much fun it would be made it all feel better again. Then I went online and found wedding wellies and realised that Jimmy’s have a bluebell meadow and it’s suddenly starting to feel doable and, yes, even enjoyable!!! It’s the National Wedding Show next week, let’s see how long the fun vibe continues ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Sometimes being angry is OK

    AngerSometimes I flip out. Often it’s in the morning (I am not a morning person) and inevitably the person who I care about most in the world is the person who gets it in the neck a)because he’s standing right there and b)because I try to contain my emotional outbursts infront of other people so they don’t think I’m a crazy person. Anyway, this morning I flipped out when a joke of his back-fired and it went straight to my insecurity zone and pressed all the red buttons on the flight deck. I was pretty mean in retaliation. Probably more hurtful than the comment which I misinterpreted in the first place. Anyway, the short version of this is that I caught myself and thought “Hmmm I’m feeling anger irrationally and I don’t want to”. I’ve always wondered whether I’m naturally an angry person, it doesn’t really fit with my personality, but I know I’m volatile. Usually I blame hormones, but that’s a cop out. Anyway, I quickly zipped over to the internet and found this site, which I read, and I felt better about having experienced anger. It’s OK. And it’s manageable. Next time, I count to 10…

  5. Say yes yes YES to creative pursuits!

    Djembe drumThis is something I feel particularly proud of, and I can feel instant happiness radiating into my life through saying YES! I’m slowly getting my pursuits count on the scales of my life tipping back in the direction of the creative. YAY! And I feel great about it. It started a couple of weeks ago, when I began African Drumming on a Monday night. This is amazing. It’s a meditation and a mental workout, and a release, and a lot of fun, and creative and a challenge! Then, this weekend I went back to Gwen’s monthly advanced bellydance classes and I learnt how to drive my bellydance moves from different parts of my body – so fun to relearn existing skills from a different angle. Then I had lunch with my lovely friend Aimee and we discussed starting up a hula hooping class in the new year, and THEN I had another chat with another dance friend and I decided to bring Shimmyshimmybangbang back on line as a small performance group, hoping to get a regular slot at an Open Mic night, starting out at Halloween! Just having these plans in place and regular dance opportunities has put a MASSIVE smile back on my face and I feel more balanced in life. Which is good timing as the dark nights are drawing in…

So all in all, a good week (so far) with lots planned. I think it’s partly with the “back to school” atmosphere at the moment – roads getting busy from the school run, freshers starting to turn up with their clothes horses and boxes of snacks from home. It’s good to make plans for the long, dark winter nights and sprinkle them with plenty of dancing, baking, self development, planning.. all the good things…

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As the nights start to draw in, I want to get the cosy vibe happening in the flat, my thoughts are turning to homely pursuits. Which means, amongst other things, baking. I love, love, LOVE baking, although always struggle to follow a recipe. I’m just not a details person. I don’t have the concentration. To me, recipes are like furniture instructions, something to be glanced at to give you a little idea, and then disgarded so you can make way for creative urges and, erm, instinct…

The Great British Bake Off - How To BakeSo I’d been flicking through the pages of my recipe books last week, my favourite being those laden with beautiful cakes and tasty treats, and I was drawn to my copy of The Great British Bake Off (season 2) How to Bake.

Now my favourite cake in the whole world is coffee cake, so you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across Mary’s Coffee and Walnut Battenburg (page 21). Hurrah! I wasn’t put off by the little sign above it “Technical Challenge”. How hard could it be?

I had to assemble my tools. I bought a square tin and some marzipan, I was pretty sure I had everything else, on and I made sure I had some baking paper for the “technical” bit. And then I just followed the recipe… Kind of…

Well, I didn’t have any walnuts, and I didn’t really measure out the paper for the tin, I just kind of went with the flow, doing a bit of improv origami to get it to fit in the tin. I did measure the quantities of flour and sugar and butter though. Used three small eggs instead of 2 large ones…

The best bit was after the two sided cake was cooked and cooled and I got to do some chopping and sticking, a bit like sticking bathroom tiles on a wall and then wrapping up in a marzipan blanket. I was pretty pleased with the result…

Battenberg cake

It looked a little rough around the edges, certainly not as perfect as the picture in the book, but when I cut through it, it was pretty close… AND it was a technical challenge, although I’m not sure I’d progress through to the next round of The Great British Bake Off!!

Still, it was, pretty much, the most delicious cake I’ve ever baked (in my humble opinion). And I reckon I could whip another one up in a jiffy, so here is my simplified (not quite so technical) version of the recipe for those recipe-dodgers out there (for the real version, please buy the book, it’s beautiful!):

  1. Make sponge mix

  2. Seperate into two bowls, put some vanilla essense and milk in one, some milky coffee in another

  3. Construct a paper divide down the middle of a square cake tin

  4. Pour each bowl of mixture into one side of the seperated tin

  5. Cook for 35 minutes, then cool

  6. Cut into blocks and build a checkerboard wall, sticking together with coffee butter icing (this was the most fun!)

  7. Roll out marzipan and wrap and roll round the cake like a blanket

  8. Chop and EAT!

So, if you’re a little “technically challenged”, or just don’t have the patience for measuring ingredients, I urge you not to be intimidated by the pages of details and the beautiful pictures. Yes, they are there to inspire you and lead you to the “Home baking” aisle to get that pack of white marzipan, but don’t let a lack of walnuts put you off, you can do it too – make a slightly wonky battenberg with missing walnuts and a less “checkerboard” than Mary would approve of. It’ll still taste bloody de-lish with a nice cup of tea

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St Giles Fair OxfordIt’s official, summer is over. At least in Oxford. The St Giles Fair, a huge wonderful monster of a neon fair, passed through town at the start of this week.

Yesterday afternoon, I strolled through the fabulous chaos on my walk home from work. Gawking at the crazy rides which threw screaming teenagers up in the air, just inches from the historical colleage brickwork. Inhaling the glorious sickly sweet smell of candy floss on a stick.

And this morning I made the same walk in reverse, as I headed to work, and it was all gone. Not a trace left behind.
St Giles Fair symbolises the end of summer in Oxford. So now, with summer over, it’s time to embrace autumn.

I LOVE autumn. I think the transition months are actually my favourite. I start to get excited about autumn half way through summer. I’m naturally a person who likes to wrap up in layers, preferably woollen, scarves, legwarmers, thick socks, woolen dresses, fingerless mits, hoods, fur lined boots, ear-muffs. Yes.

Feet in leavesI love kicking leaves and I’m pleased that I’ve seen small piles of them already, in their gorgeous burnt colours, and I gravitate towards them and walk through them. Soon there will be more.

I love a bright blue sky and a fresh breeze. Perfect for me is bright even to wear sunglasses but cold enough to have a body warmer and scarf. Heaven. The skies seem to retract at this time of year and become somehow higher. The clouds wisp and the brilliance of the sky makes picture perfect scenes of the Oxford colleges in their cotswold yellow brick at every turn.

So tonight, since it’s the day after the end of the fair, and also inspired my the arrival on my mat of October’s Country Living (all about Autumn; pumpkin soups, walks in the country, pulling out the knitting needles…), I decided to do a meditation on Autumn, Blue Peter style.

There was a 5 back-to-back episode marathon of Falling Skies in our flat tonight (we just bought the Season 1 DVD), so I amused myself by pulling out my back issues of CL and other mags and starting to cut and paste, old school style, anything that reminded me of the things I love about autumn. It was very cathartic, and a dose of colour therapy and gave me pause to linger on the things I love and look forward to over the next few months… And I FINALLY got round to doing some scrap-booking. Hurrah!

So, here is the result.

Autumn scrapbook

And I can keep looking at it, and go back into my meditation.

So I’m excited about pulling on my bedsocks, making my own squash soups, baking more cakes, dusting off my knitting needles, planning a Halloween party, getting my winter woolies out, going for walks in the parks when the leaves are falling, taking photos as the season changes, snuggling in at the weekends and reading more books… ahhh…

And I’m not sure if the badger is symbolic of autumn, I just loved this picture!

Happy autumn ๐Ÿ™‚

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