Bits and Bobs

gingerchocolatecupcakes

Work has been overtaking my life lately. Time for reading? Yeah right. Time for seeing friends? I don’t think so! Time for going on cultural excursions? I wish! So I apologise for being rather remiss as a blogger of late. Even if I did have time to write anything, I haven’t really done anything worth writing about! I have been toying with the idea of giving up and admitting that I can’t really maintain this blog any more. That would make me incredibly sad, but it would remove yet another pressure that is weighing heavily on my shoulders. Even so, the pleasure it brings me when I do have time to write something outweighs the worry of needing to write something or catch up with replying to comments, so I shall be here for some time yet I think. I just need to work out a better system that ensures I have time to devote to my hobbies as well as my job. It’s not easy finding a balance in the teaching profession, but I need to sort it out soon otherwise the rest of my working life is going to be pretty bleak!

cupcakes

Tonight I decided to give myself a night off. I bought this wonderful cookbook in Tescos the other day; I was just popping in to buy some chicken, but as usual I ended up leaving with a bag bulging with treats that had jumped out at me on my way around the shop. I am a marketer’s dream! The Hummingbird Bakery is typically associated with those sickeningly sweet, incredibly cloying cupcakes piled high with sugary frosting that you see for sale on every New York street corner, but this new collection of recipes offers much more than that. There are a huge variety of American inspired cakes, cookies and desserts, and the pictures are so tempting that even a lazy and ineffectual chef comme moi was inspired to get baking. When I got in from work this afternoon, I had a flick through and decided to make ginger and chocolate cupcakes. A quick search of the cupboards revealed a need to return to Tescos, so off I went to pick up the ingredients. While I was there I bought a cheap Tesco Value electric hand whisk (£5.50!), as the one annoying thing about this cook book is that none of the recipes are particularly achievable by hand, unless you want to spend hours building up arm muscles to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a run for his money!

On my return home, I got going. I thought it would only take me half an hour, but I was very wrong. Those of us without fancy kitchen equipment suffer when it comes to making cakes. My big glass casserole dish and my cheap and cheerful hand whisk had no hope of containing the colossal amounts of cocoa powder involved. One touch of those rotating metal attachments and a minor nuclear explosion overtook my kitchen. Who knew cocoa powder could travel so far, and so thoroughly cover every single surface, including the lining of my nostrils and my hair? After spending half an hour cleaning up everything in sight, I went and got some cardboard from an amazon parcel and rigged up a makeshift screen to contain the cloud of sugary dust as I continued whisking. This worked well and eventually I was able to produce something akin to the description in the recipe. Twenty minutes in the oven revealed some deliciously springy, light cakes that smelled divine. While they cooled, I began the next phase; the frosting. This was another faff with the hand whisk and my cardboard barrier, but the results were impressive. I felt very proud of myself as I finished spreading the frosting on my neat little cupcakes, even if I was surrounded by chaos and a good hour’s worth of washing up. Sometimes, you’ve just got to take one for the team!

bawdenmarch

Speaking of cooking, remember I said I was going to try cooking some 1930s recipes from Ambrose Heath’s Good Food? Well, that’s another thing I haven’t had time for. But, if you’re interested, March has some intriguing dishes. Heath is particularly taken with March’s seasonal meat, duckling, which features in a wide range of meals, including Roast Duckling with Orange Salad, which actually sounds quite tasty. If duckling isn’t to your taste, you could perhaps try Salt Cod a la Indienne, which also sounds promising; the sauce is made from butter and flour, saffron, curry powder, milk, salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. Typically for Heath, there are no exact measurements or instructions given; as such, it does require you to be brave and make sensible guesses to achieve the desired results. I might have a go at making Poires Flambees, which involves cooking pears in alcohol of your choice, sugar and vanilla; I feel you can’t really go wrong with that!

generalimpressions

I might not have been cooking from the 1930s, but I have been reading from the 1930s. My long term reading project is Matthew Hollis’ wonderful biography of Edward Thomas, but as my late night marking sessions have given me little time to concentrate lately, I’ve been dipping out of a recent naughty ebay purchase, E M Delafield’s General Impressions. This is a delightful compendium of some of Delafield’s columns published in the quintessential mid century magazine, Time and Tide. There are some mini short stories, hilarious snapshots of contemporary life, and some particularly interesting essays on men, women and children in fiction. I’m enjoying it very much, and there are definitely some real undiscovered gems in here. When I get a little breathing space, I’ll copy out some sections for you.

Greenhouse-by-Eric-Ravilious

Finally, I am starting to plan some fun for the Easter holidays. I can’t wait to see this brilliant sounding exhibition about Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum, and I have tickets to see Peter and Alice, which I am really excited about. If the weather holds out, I’d love to drive down to Charleston for the day and go for a walk on the Sussex Downs, and perhaps I’ll make an overnight trip of it and stay in Eastbourne so that I can go to the Towner Gallery and see some Ravilious paintings while I’m at it. Happy days are ahead!

71 comments

  1. I read about you’re not wanting t continue with your blog. Why don’t you simply blog when you can. We’re all on overload so It’s lovely to read a blog that does not appear every day. You have interesting views, coming from an American, so keep it up on your schedule and not on some blog bible schedule.

  2. Rachel, I haven’t been commenting lately but since you headed this post with my favorite British phrase, I had to say a word! I need to find my lovely muffin recipes (not to sweet! Some deliciously savory!) and send you some. Do you find American measurements troubling? Because I have kind of given up on British recipes, as I cannot find useful equivalencies between weights and measures.

  3. Hi Rachel………….I know you are incredibly busy and working very hard……….but I LOVE your blogs and like Sandra, to hear from you occasionally would be so much better than never hearing from you. You are always brimming over with excitement and so many ideas, you inspire me! Please keep going…..and have a great Easter! Jenny

  4. I have only just recently found your blog, which I might say, is one of the best written and most interesting book (and cake) blog around at the moment. It will be a sad day when we no longer hear from you. I’m sure everyone realizes what a really full (and slightly stressful) life you have at the moment and would quite understand if you give yourself some leeway and wrote less often. So take a break and we will still be around when you next feel like writing. All the best from sunny Australia.

  5. I agree that it would be very sad if you stopped your blog but I am sure everyone would understand if it just appeared when you had the time and could enjoy the momentary escape from teaching.
    Also, this is something i need to take on board myself, one doesn’t have to write screeds! Something short and snappy every so often will probably give (almost) as much pleasure all round, with just the occasional longer treat in the holidays to look forward to!

  6. Mmmmm Cake. Your cocoa powder experience is all to familiar. I hope you feel less stressed soon – Easter holidays are just around the corner. I find with blogging that it balances out, I hope you stick with it.

  7. Couldn’t say it better than everyone else, starting with Sandra, has already said it. Many people would be sadder than you know if you quit. If for awhile you can only do a post a month about your books and excursions, your readers will be grateful for that.

  8. Please, please don’t give up! Just post when you can – your blogs are so interesting. I have picked up on several authors thru your postings. And had trips down memory lane with your excursions to York etc.

    I’m envious of your chance to see Peter and Alice. Let’s hope a production happens down here in New Zealand – but, sadly, it won’t be the divine Dame Judy. Moira V.

    1. Thanks Moira. I am certainly going to be around for a while yet! Yes, it’s so exciting – I’ve had the tickets for months and I can’t wait! I hope there will be a possibility for people outside of London (and the UK!) to see it too.

  9. I have an idea that might work. Why not ask us, your devoted readers to blog for you on the topic u have started? We are all busy and don’t have time for like minded friends and intellectual partners, yet wish we had a few hours to write. I don’t have time to blog daily on a blog of my own but I would love to submit ideas to you if mine appeal. I can’t cook but would love to tell ou about my week the opera. This wouldn’t fit this week but some time it would

  10. I’m all too familiar with kitchen explosions. Someone needs to write a cookbook that includes, in addition to prep times and bake times, cleanup times for all of the bumbling mishaps that slow down all of us non-professionals in the kitchen. Looks like your cupcakes were worth the trouble though!

  11. please don’t stop writing…….we’ve loved so many of your choices – some of which we’ve read and others we take a virtual tour to the los angeles county library to Request Materials (or, last resort because we read So Much and try not to – some online bookseller).

    *wavingencouragingly*

    _teamgloria x

  12. i have been reading ur blog for a year now i
    i hope u dont give up but continue to blog whenever u find time i have known about books and authors a lot by reading ur blog it has given me knowledge as well as pleasure i have read books after reading them in ur blogs u recommend interesting books so continue blogging

  13. Poor you, my sweets! I know how miserable it is when you feel so stressed and time is so short, but will soon be Easter and everyone understands and will be happy to read your posts whenever you have time to write them. Yay for your delicious looking muffins. I have been known to use my biggest saucepan (as long as yours aren’t non-stick and you can live with a few scratches) in lieu of not deep enough bowl and the addition of a tea towel draped over top of any size works well to control cocoa and flour explosions. Also (I squeak this at Miranda every time, poor girl!) wear an apron! Painful as it is, Wash/Wipe Up as You Go (or at least throwing stuff into sinkful of soapy water as you finish with it) makes me feel half the job is gone when you turn to clean it all up in the end. Charleston/ Eastbourne and all your other Easter plans sound so much fun too. Yay for school hols!

    1. Thanks lovely Donna🙂 Your advice is, always, excellent. I am going to try that teatowel and saucepan trick next time I make these cakes! And I always wear an apron🙂 I hope soon you’ll be able to come along on an exciting holiday trip!

  14. I have been reading you for as long as I have been blogging, Rachel, and I’m hoping you will keep your wonderful words going, even if you don’t post as often. Of course, I’m being selfish. I’ll admit it. You write so well and bring books’ characters alive and you have such warm perspectives on so much of what you read and observe. As a granny from across the pond, you give me hope for the world and its readers and I know I would miss you terribly.

    I’ve needed to cut back on my postings as life has gotten in the way, so, I do understand. Just know, your life will ebb and flow with teaching, learning, life itself as it sometimes gets in the way.

    Now, I’ll tell you a little secret. When I’m very busy and have no time to read or write or do what I want to do, I pull out some cookbooks and start turning the pages and soon I as content as can be.

    1. Thank you Penny. Your encouragement keeps me going! I really appreciate your lovely words, as always. I love that idea about cookbooks – I have taken such pleasure from reading through my Hummingbird book and imagining when I might make the recipes!

  15. I would second what everyone has already said – don’t stop blogging, just do it as and when you can! I think it is the time of year as well – as a teacher you’re worn out and just trying to hold it together until Easter when you can have a mini collapse. Sending lots of good wishes for getting through to the holidays.

    1. Thanks Erica. I think this is a particularly tough time in the year for teachers – I need some time to recharge my batteries so hopefully after Easter I will feel more like me again!

  16. I wholeheartedly echo the comments above (and, I’m sure, the thoughts of all your devoted readers): Pleeeeaaaase don’t discontinue blogging. We’re happy to hear from you whenever you’re happy to post.

    I’m quite envious about the Pompeii exhibit. I’ve had a strange fascination with that devastated Roman city since high school. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go there when I visited Italy over Easter two years ago. I never made it that far South. I just have something to look forward to for the next time, I guess!

    1. Thanks Diana. I appreciate your support and understanding.

      Me too – my mum visited as a teenager and has amazing stories about it. I’ve always wanted to go but never had the chance. Though I wonder these days what is actually left, if everything is being toured around the world in exhibitions!

  17. I was at the British Museum yesterday and had a quick preview of the exhibition as it is being installed. Lovely to be there without the crowds. Beautiful and fascinating. Does anyone else remember that amazing exhibition at the Accademia Italiana years ago?

  18. Teaching can be such an all absorbing profession. Those outside of it sometimes don’t understand. I love your blog and am so pleased that you will continue. No one expects you to blog constantly or to reply instantly. I also love your kitchen tale. I have been there many times and had to laugh at your traveling cloud of cocoa dust. We all enjoy you so much and I want to thank you for sharing with us.

    1. Yes, I didn’t understand until I was doing it myself!! Thank you for your understanding Janet, as always. I’m so pleased you are one of my readers!

  19. Don’t lose heart! Periods of crazy work pressure come and go (I hope)and if you post less frequently your readers will still be happy that you haven’t gone off into the ether entirely. Many a regular blog or podcast has had after a while to become less frequent, as the rest of life impingers. But we love the blog, no matter how (in)frequent.

  20. Dear Rachel, please keep blogging. I need you. Around 5.30 I click on my list of Blogs-to-Read-Daily and yours is the very first on my list. I always feel better for having read a Booksnob post.

    I’ve followed you from the beginning and you feel like a friend.

    1. Oh, Chrissy. You make all the stress worthwhile! Thank you- that means an awful lot. Likewise – I really feel I have got to know the people who come here regularly and I would miss you enormously. I appreciate you very much!

  21. Please keep blogging, you need to keep the work life balance, and we need you to help keep ours! Your teaching improves when you do other things in your life- promise, otherwise you lose your little stories that the pupils love.

  22. Oh please keep blogging…it does not have to happen on a schedule or routine..whenever you can. and those cupcakes look heavenly

  23. This will, hopefully be your hardest year teaching, so just keep going with everything. You’ll be a better teacher if refreshed, than an un-refreshed, no work-life balance teacher. I bought that cookbook – the Chocolate pudding pie is amazing, and not too messy. Happy Easter holiday planning.

    1. I hope that is true. People keep saying it and it’s what keeps me going! Oooh chocolate pudding pie? I need to check that one out! Thank you, and the same to you – let’s hope we get some decent weather!

  24. I read your comments with much sympathy. Having worked for years at a prep school, I know how punishing the hours can be and how hard it is to fit in things for you. The first year is the worst, and it does get easier, but I think it is really important to allow space for what you enjoy outside of teaching. It can be all consuming and it is very easy to snip away at life’s pleasures to the detriment of your welfare. You clearly have a talent for writing, so if you enjoy it still, just do it when you are able and don’t allow it become another job to be done. Easter won’t be long!

    1. Thanks so much, Deborah – it’s good to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel eventually! I agree, and I want to be able to keep this up because it is a pleasure and I want it to stay that way. I just need a bit of a break – Easter can’t come soon enough!

  25. Hi Rachel, I do hope you can continue to blog, but I understand that a fledgling teaching carrer is a huge pressure. Post when you can!

  26. “Work has been overtaking my life lately. Time for reading? Yeah right. Time for seeing friends? I don’t think so! Time for going on cultural excursions?”

    That’s just the perfect description of how I spent February and I also took solace in cooking (sponge cake, nothing fancy). Relegated reading to a second place and don’t get me started on meeting friends, that just seems impossible right now. I’m glad our jobs and experiences as teachers bring us even more together, not only as readers but also as teachers and women.

    1. Me too – it’s good to know we’re not alone, isn’t it? Hope you can find some time to relax and enjoy yourself soon. Not long until the holidays and we will get there in the end!

      1. Nope. Teaching at this academy was part of my year off- while I also write my dissertarion, but human selfishness neverceases to surprise me. He already had another teacher hired when I when to work today… Unbelievable!

  27. Hello Rachel! I do understand the pressure you feel under to keep writing your blog. I’m doing my placement at the moment which, on top of the training and my evening class, means that tumbleweed is blowing through my blog at the moment. But everyone says that the first year is the hardest. After that you’ve got a lot of your lesson material and a lot more experience too.

    You need to decide what’s best for you to do, but maybe you could consider posting here less frequently, and in the holidays when you might have more time to read and write you could stack up a few posts and then release them gradually over the next few weeks?

    PS ‘Who knew cocoa powder could travel so far, and so thoroughly cover every single surface, including the lining of my nostrils and my hair?’ I did, tee hee!

    1. Yes I really do hope that is true, Helen. Otherwise I don’t know what I’ve got myself into! I have thought about that – the idea of ‘banking’ posts is a sensible one. I shall try and do that over Easter. Working smarter, not harder, as the saying goes!

      Hahahaha- you wouldn’t believe the mess! I’m still finding cocoa powder now!

  28. As a teacher it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Like you I wish I had more time for reading and writing. Right now I should be writing reports but it’s Sunday and a person should be able to rest at least one day a week. If I have any advice it’s never make any decision you can easily postpone.

    1. I’m glad I’m not alone. I’m still up, also writing reports! But I do like to keep one day a week free of any work. I didn’t manage that last week but this week I am determined to have a day to myself!

  29. Those cupcakes look absolutely mouth-watering! I love the association of ginger and chocolate. Good luck with work – I’m also having trouble juggling teaching, blogging, and life in general, so you have my deepest sympathy.

  30. I join the chorus : please don’t stop blogging. Your posts are always the highlight of my day.

    Although I do understand how difficult it must be to keep it going, with everything else you have on your plate right now. So my wish for more of your lovely blog is, I admit it, entirely selfish.

    And to be honest, I have thought about starting a blog a few times, but life always gets in the way, so yes, I think I do understand how overwhelming it must be for you maintain such a high quality blog while also completing your teacher’s training. So whatever you decide, I do wish you the very best.

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement Elke. It’s good to know I’m the highlight of someone’s day!😉 I’ll still be here, don’t worry. Just less often, probably.

  31. Peter and Alice…oh what I wouldn’t give to have a ticket for that performance, Rachel! I’ve just opened the Review section of my Daily Telegraph and seen the ad, then remembered your blog post. You lucky, lucky, dog!

  32. I’ve only just read this post, my lovely Rachel. My first reaction, of course, is to shriek “please don’t go!” – but you have to stay sane. I always think regularity is more important the frequency in the blogging world, so maybe you could post once a week for a bit, or something, if it all gets too much?

    Yours is one of the most – probably THE most – adorable, enthused, kind, excited voices in the blogosphere. But that will be true whether you blog every day or once every six months.
    xx

    1. Thank you darling Simon!🙂 That means a lot to me. I do still want to keep blogging, but I think a drop in the regularity will be the way forward. I can’t leave you all behind entirely!

  33. I would be sorry if you stopped blogging altogether, as so many others have said. It’s tough doing a PGCE and tougher still in the first year of teaching (dont want to be scarey). BUT teachers need to do other things, and you blog so well. All said above. I always check your site when I am reviewing for my blog.
    Do it when you can. As much as you feel able!

    1. Thanks Caroline – not scary at all, I know what I’ve got myself into! Thank you for your encouragement – I’m going to do my best to stick around!

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