Sunday, 23 October 2011

Sloe Gin


For the past few years round about this time of year, J and I have discussed trying our hand at making sloe gin, usually prompted by seeing an abundantly-laden bush whilst out walking. Last weekend, we began such a discussion once again, but in contrast to previous years, we started picking some sloes from the bush that triggered the discussion, which we duly carried home. Every day last week, I planned to go back to the same bushes, which are not far from our house, to pick enough to make some sloe gin, but never got round to doing so. But today, we did make it and came home with loads of sloes. This evening, we put together our sloes, gin and sugar, using the easy recipe/proportions on the great blog, A Trifle Rushed (for the sloe gin post, see here). Our proportions are not as well measured as they are on A Trifle Rushed, and vary from bottle to bottle (just slightly competitively we’ve made a note of who did which bottle), but I thought I’d share what we did here. Closer to Christmas, when we crack them open, I’ll let you know how they taste. Apologies in advance for the pictures – it was evening when I took them and I lost the natural light…

For now, I’m praising God for, and raising my glass for a virtual clink in celebration of a job starting tomorrow!

What you’ll need (for each bottle of sloe gin):

1/3 bottle sloes

1/3 bottle white sugar

1/3 bottle gin

What to do:

1. Go out and pick some juicy looking sloes.


2. Prick each sloe with a cocktail stick.


3. Fill each bottle about a 1/3 of the way full with the pricked sloes (as you can see we interpreted that measurement quite loosely!).


4. Pour about a 1/3 of a bottle of sugar on to the sloes.


5. Fill the bottle to the top with gin (sorry – I didn’t get a picture of this stage…).

6. Swirl it all around to mix together and then leave to one side. You may need to re-fill the bottle slightly as everything settles over the next couple of hours.


7. Shake up the bottle once or twice a week to mix everything together and leave somewhere to mature and become yummy!


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Cultivating Quietness

“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee way; and “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift.” (Isaiah 30:14 ESV).

We live in such an instant, active world, with so much stimulation and challenge for every sense all around us - emails, texting, the internet on one’s phone and one’s computer, music, the radio and TV, cars and trains and buses all filled with people on the move going somewhere, shops and busy streets and shopping centres, work pressures, pressures to be places on time, pressures to be a good friend, a good employee, a good boss, a good parent, a good daughter or son, a good spouse, pressure to wear the latest clothes, to drive a nice car, to live in a good house, to own the latest gadgets, to climb the career ladder, to a be a good citizen, to contribute to those in need, to exercise and eat healthily and so many more things than I can list in one short blog post. None of these things are bad in themselves (and most are actually quite good), but they can feel unceasing.

Which makes me wonder … when was the last time you just let yourself be? When was the last time you allowed quietness to be a part of your day? When was the last time you stopped talking to God and started listening instead?

2011-10-16 15.45.03

It’s been a couple of weeks since I handed in my PhD thesis. It was an awesome day. A day of rejoicing and of phoning and texting various people to tell them how happy I was (and that was only in the first half hour after submitting). And then on the following Monday a different kind of reality took over and I moved from being someone who was finishing off a PhD thesis and applying for the odd job that looked good to someone who was spending every day looking for jobs, applying for jobs, sending my CV to recruitment agencies and signing up with recruitment agencies. The few times that I’ve done temp work in the past I’ve got work pretty fast and I went into this post-PhD period thinking this time would be the same. And in many ways it is – it has only been a couple of weeks since I handed in my thesis and I’ve got a few possibilities I’m waiting to hear back about. But I’m very aware of each day that passes without significant progress and that makes time seem to go slowly. A couple of weeks has seemed like a month. Then towards the end of last week I realised that with each slowly-passing day God is teaching me something. It is a lesson in trust, in waiting and in cultivating quietness. I realised that it had been a long time since I’d actually sat down to listen to God without a fixed end-time in mind, rather than just talk and quickly read my Bible because there’s lots to do and I need to get on. Although it is a challenge to sit and be still, to cultivate quietness, and to make time and space to listen to God, it is balm for my soul, it restores and encourages me, and gives me strength to keep going. It reminds me how important it is to cultivate times of quietness in my life - as the verse above says, strength is found “in quietness and trust”.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Triple-Layer Chocolate Celebration Cake

Those of you who read this blog regularly may have noticed that I’ve slacked off a little bit in the past few weeks, and there has been a serious lack of baking and cooking posts. The lack of these posts on the blog reflects a lack of activity in the kitchen, and J has been a fantastic provider of last-minute-I-really-need-to-do-this-so-please-can-you-cook-tonight meals as well as a support in countless other ways, whilst I finished my PhD thesis, which I submitted at the end of last week. God was so good to me throughout my research and provided in countless ways so that things worked out right to the end.


A few weeks ago, whilst in the midst of formatting and editing, I started planning how I might celebrate submitting my thesis in baked form. It didn’t take long before I decided it had to involve chocolate and I really fancied trying a cake with more than two layers (but you know, maybe a bit more normal than nine layers of rainbow cake. A coffee cake with mascarpone icing made by my grandmother quite a while ago convinced me that it had to have mascarpone icing, and well, ganache … ganache is just one of the most awesome, delicious things ever. And so this cake was born in my mind long before it materialised in my hand, and shortly thereafter in my tummy. Unfortunately, this chocolate cake turned out a bit dry – in an earlier version I added half a cup of milk and I’d recommend doing the same if you make this, although I’ve not included it in the instructions below (if you do, beat it into the mixture after mixing in the eggs and then carry on as described with the flour and egg whites). I made this using 9-inch round cake tins. All the cup measurements below were made using a 250 ml mug as equivalent to 1 cup. Apologies for the quality of the method photos – I made this in the evening and the light was not good. Now, all I hope is that it keeps in the fridge until Saturday when I’ll have some calorie-consuming help …


For the cake:

What you’ll need:

2/3 cup margarine or butter

2 cups light brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla essence

3 eggs, separated

2 cups self-raising flour

Pinch salt

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

What to do:

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 (190º C or 375º F) and grease the cake tins (I only had two so did them one at a time and washed and re-used one part way through).

2. Cream together the margarine or butter and sugar.




3. Mix in the vanilla essence and then beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. If you want to add milk, add half a cup (not included in the ingredients list) after the eggs and beat in thoroughly.



4. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into the marg/sugar/egg mixture and fold in. If you don’t add milk in the above step, the mixture will look quite dry, as you can see from the photos – don’t worry about it but do make sure the whole thing is mixed thoroughly (and all looks a bit damp) before moving on to the next step.




5. Beat the egg whites until stiff and then fold thoroughly into the marg/sugar/egg/flour/cocoa powder mixture.





6. Divide the mixture into three and spread (it is more a spreading or coaxing operation than pouring because the batter is quite stiff) in the three prepared cake tins.


7. Bake one at a time in the middle of the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes or until just baked. When each layer is done, remove it from its tin and leave to cool completely on a cooling rack.


For the mascarpone icing:

What you’ll need:

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

4 tablespoons brown sugar

10 tablespoons cold water

500 gram (or 2 x 250 gram) pack of mascarpone

What to do:

1. Thoroughly mix the cocoa powder and sugar with the cold water until it forms a runny paste/mixture thing.

IMG_9732 IMG_9736 IMG_9738

2. Tip the mascarpone into a mixing bowl and add the cocoa powder and sugar mixture.

IMG_9741 IMG_9743

3. Beat together thoroughly with an electric mixer and set aside until needed. The mixture should be spreadable. If it starts to get too runny, put it into the fridge for a few minutes to cool.


For the ganache:

What you’ll need:

200 gram bar milk chocolate

300 ml carton of double cream

What to do:

1. Heat the cream over a low heat in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over boiling water. As it is warming up, break up the chocolate into small pieces and then add it to the cream.


2. Stir the cream and chocolate together occasionally until the chocolate has thoroughly melted and been fully incorporated into the cream.


3. Remove the cream from the heat and set aside to cool. I’m not sure exactly how long I put it aside for but it need to get quite cool as if it is too hot it may melt the mascarpone icing during the assembly stage.

To assemble the cake:

1. Put the first layer of the cooled cake on a plate. I put strips of wax paper around the edge of the cake, between the cake and the plate to make tidying it all up later a bit easier, but you don’t have to.

2. Generously spread about half of the mascarpone icing onto the first layer of cake. Add the second layer of cake and then the rest of the mascarpone icing. Top with the final layer of cake.




3. Gently pour the (now fairly cool) ganache over the top of the cake and coax it down the sides if necessary. My ganache was probably still a bit too warm and so melted a bit of the mascarpone icing. I put the plate with the cake on it on more wax paper on a tray, to catch all the run-off of the ganache – it made cleaning up a bit easier!




4. Decorate as desired and then leave in the fridge for at least a couple of hours for the ganache to set before eating. Yum!

IMG_9774 IMG_9788