Last weekend, it felt like we were really starting to see the first signs of Spring.

With a soul-crushing inevitability though, this week has turned out to be cold and wet and grey.

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We keep talking about things that will happen when we move. Whilst the weeks are slipping from me, lost in a blur of meetings and telephone calls and spreadsheets, I feel like our lives are on hold.

I’m gradually un-stocking the kitchen and trying not to panic when I see the empty shelves. I wander from room to room, mentally making a list of what we are and aren’t going to have a place for in any new flat. I spent far more time than anyone should debating whether I should buy some more loo roll or if we have enough to last us until we move. There’s always that phrase ‘until we move’, ‘when we move’.

Which is slightly ridiculous as we’re unlikely to be moving any time before the start of the summer.

And then, there’s everything that I think is going to be different when we move. I will keep our new flat tidy – I won’t leave shoes scattered throughout the flat. I’ll make the bed every morning before I leave for work. We won’t ever get to the end of the week and discover that we’ve run out of clean underwear because we forgot to do the washing.

I have a picture in my head of what life is going to be like when we move. I know the reality is not going to be anything like that. Realistically, there are plenty of things that are never going to change about me and about our lives. We’re still going to spend our evenings, curled up on the same sofa together we are here, our same blue and white plates balanced on our knees. Moving house doesn’t make you any more of a different person than the start of a new year or getting a haircut does.

It’s liberating though, to think that maybe I can use the move as a catalyst for some smaller changes in my life. I like to make a lot of what we eat from scratch (within the confines of the practicalities our jobs and lives demand) but I’ve got lazy in the last couple of months, affected by the same ennui that makes me reluctant to do anything that doesn’t involve looking at floor plans online and trying to decide what colour curtains might work in our hypothetical new bedroom. When we move, I hope that we can get into some better habits. Starting, of course, with chocolate.

~

Cashew butter cups

Yield: 20 – 25 cups

I’m certainly not the only person to have made these or a variation of some nut-butter filled chocolate cup. Shanna posted some delicious looking peanut butter cups last year and I’m not sure I can stop thinking about these salted caramel peanut butter cups since I saw them before Christmas. Because cashew butter is quite rich and creamy, and because I was using a mix of milk and dark chocolate, I decided not to add any sugar to the filling which was definitely the right choice because they are the perfect balance as they are. I used a touch of coconut oil (which you can’t taste at all) to firm up the filling a little – I’m sure butter would also work if you prefer. They are difficult to stop eating but curiously satisfying. 

  • 140g (2/3 cup) cashew butter (you can make your own if you prefer) 
  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 200g (8oz) chocolate (I used a mix of milk and dark but you can use whatever you prefer)

In a small pan, melt together the cashew butter, coconut oil, vanilla and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature while you make the chocolate cups.
Set out 20 – 25 mini cupcake cases on a baking tray.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.
Using a teaspoon, coat the bottom and the sides of the cupcake cases all the way to the top (this should use about half your chocolate). Chill for 10 minutes or so until firm to the touch.
Add a generous teaspoon of the cashew butter to the cups and top with another teaspoon of chocolate, allowing it to spread to the edges of the cups. You might need to quickly warm the chocolate again if it starts to go a bit hard.
Chill the cups again until the chocolate is firm. I find these do better in the fridge because my cashew butter was fairly liquid.

I’m starting to understand why moving house is the third most stressful experience in your life. 
We’re only at the start of the process and already the brownie consumption in our (hopefully soon to be former) flat has sky-rocketed

In some ways, it’s bit like the start of a relationship. I spend most of the day staring at my phone, willing it to ring. I go for a long walk round the office or go on a lengthy trip to the stationery cupboard to try and trick someone into calling me with good news when I’m not there to answer. The other day, I refreshed my email so many times that I was locked out of my email account.

And then there are the meltdowns. 
I like to consider myself to be a pretty laid-back person; I’ve never seen the point of worrying unnecessarily about things that you can’t do anything about. But there’s something about this whole process of viewings and conversations in which you reveal the most intimate details of your life with a total stranger and decisions about whether our sofas would fit in a room that seems to have left me slightly unhinged. 

Part of the problem is that I have spent most of the last month either thinking or talking about properties. I have written long checklists of what I want (and don’t want) and we’ve had endless circular conversations about what each of us is prepared to compromise on. We spend all evening on various property websites, studying floor plans and staring at photographs of other people’s homes. I wake up in the middle of the night consumed by worry about something insignificant (Where will I straighten my hair in the mornings? Will the letter box big enough for Amazon parcels?) and have to add it to my ever-growing list of questions.
On Sunday morning, after a particularly epic meltdown on Saturday night, we sat in bed and made the latest in a series of complicated spreadsheets to determine what we could and couldn’t afford. Having come to a reasonable conclusion, my sanity demanded that I get up and do something completely different with my morning before I analysed the figures to the point of madness. It was only natural that I headed straight to the kitchen. The familiar rhythm of cracking eggs and stirring together ingredients did more for than even the best spreadsheet could. 
Really though, I made brownies because I knew that I would need them to help me make some big scary grown up phone calls this week. 
~

Toasted hazelnut brownies
Very vaguely adapted from an original recipe in The Telegraph
Yield: 16 brownies

I bought my ground hazelnuts from a supermarket in France where they are pretty easy to find, I presume because they are used in various fancy French desserts. You can, of course, grind your own. The hazelnut flavour is not particularly pronounced – it’s more of a warm background note – so I think it’s nice to add some chopped hazelnuts either on top or through the batter. These brownies freeze very well. 
Ingredients
  • 300g (12 oz) dark chocolate (I used 70%), chopped roughly
  • 175g (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 120ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
  • eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 30g (just under 1/2 cup) cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 50g (1/2 cup) ground hazelnuts
  • Roughly chopped hazelnuts to scatter on top

Cooking Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 22cm square tin.
  2. Spread the ground hazelnuts out on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes until just turning golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a bowl over a pan of simmering water, slowly melt the chocolate and butter. Make sure that the bowl doesn’t touch the water. When melted, remove from the heat, transfer to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool.
  4. Add the maple syrup to the chocolate mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one by one and the vanilla and continue to mix until incorporated. Sift the cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the mixture and finally fold in the toasted hazelnuts until combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into the cake tin, scatter with chopped hazelnuts and bake for 20-30 minutes. The brownies should still be moist but should be set in the middle; if you stick a toothpick in, it won’t come out clean but it won’t have any raw batter on it.
  6. Allow the brownie to cool before transferring to a wire rack and cutting into pieces.

    I’m pretty sure that I could have an entire blog devoted to chocolate chip cookies and still neither run out of recipes nor get bored of eating them. 

    When I was little (and, if I’m honest, now), I used to find it incredibly strange to think that each generation seems to be able to run faster or throw further than the generation before. That desire to be better – than you are or have been, than everyone else is – seems to be one of the driving forces in life.

    Whether it’s sport or science or technology or anything really, great achievements come from that burning desire.

    And, whilst I don’t pretend to do anything particular great with my time, I still have that desire. When I get to the end of a run, I have Ellie Goulding in my ears telling me that I’ve just run my fastest mile and I give myself a mental high-five (not, I should add, because Ellie Goulding is a friend but because she is one of the pre-recorded voices on the Nike running app I use to log my runs). At work, I sit in my annual appraisal and focus on what I need to do better. How I can be better. Every time I pick up a camera, I have to believe that the photograph I’m just about to take is better than every photograph I’ve taken before. 
    It is a double-edged sword though – that same drive can be as demoralising as it is motivating depending on my mood. Some days, the battle to make today that bit better than yesterday isn’t worth the fight. Some times, it feels like we are destined to live a life that we feel is just not good enough. 
    The trick, and one which I know I struggle with, is to turn that passion into something good and to not beat yourself up when you don’t live up to your own expectations. To enjoy that constant quest for something better and not see it as a failure if you don’t reach your destination. 
    To tie it all back to where I started, I’m always on the hunt for a “better” chocolate chip cookie recipe. I may create something that I’m happy with in the moment but it doesn’t take long until a niggle sends me back into the kitchen. The number and variety of chocolate chip cookie recipes out there attest to the fact that I’m probably not alone in this. This version is vaguely adapted from one of my favourite blogs, Not Without Salt and are as close to the perfect chocolate chip cookie as I’ve come in a long time. 

    ~

    Smoked sea salt chocolate chip cookies
    Adapted from Not Without Salt
    Yield: Approx 16 cookies


    I urge you to read the post that accompanies Ashley’s recipe – as a perfectionist myself, I could relate to so much of what she says. Her variations to her original recipe came about, she says, as the result of necessity as were my changes to her recipe. Browning the butter, for example, makes it easy to make cookies when the urge strikes without waiting for butter to reach room temperature. The smoked sea salt gives an extra dimension beyond the sweet/salty combination that is so popular. It gives, unsurprisingly perhaps, a hint of smoke which makes you stop and think. I used a Maldon smoked sea salt but you could use regular old sea salt if you wanted. 

    Ingredients

    • 115g (1 stick) unsalted butter
    • 180g (1 cup) demerara sugar
    • 1 large egg
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
    • 140g (1 1/4 cup) spelt flour (either white or whole wheat)
    • 40g (1/3 cup) ground almonds
    • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon smoked sea salt + extra for sprinkling
    • 100g (4 oz) dark chocolate, chopped

    Cooking Directions

    1. In a small pan, heat the butter over a medium heat until it starts to bubble. When it has turned golden brown and is flecked with brown specks, take it off the heat and set it aside to cool slightly.
    2. When the butter has cooled a bit, beat it together with the sugar with a wooden spoon until combined. Add the egg and the vanilla bean paste and continue to beat.
    3. Fold in the flour, ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda/baking soda and the smoked sea salt.
    4. Fold through the chocolate chips.
    5. Chill the mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
    6. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
    7. Place large spoonfuls of the dough on a baking sheet lined with non-stick paper or a silicone mat – the dough will be dark and sticky, don’t worry too much about it! Sprinkle each one with a generous helping of smoked sea salt.
    8. Bake for 12 minutes until just set.
    9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking tray for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.