Dream Bars: chocolatey gooey heaven






I have shared this decadent recipe with you before.  I made these on the weekend and wanted to update the photos and my previous post simply does not do them justice.  If you need a quick recipe which only uses 1 pan (two if you don't want to give the pan a quick wash for the icing) then this should be your go-to recipe if you need to take something to a friend's house or if you are in need of a chocolate fix STAT.

Think chocolatey-oaty-cocountty (yes, these are all real words in my book) goodness smothered in a silky fudgy icing which then sinks into the bars while still hot, creating a gooey brownie type bar which you just cannot beat.

Ingredients

120g Butter
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons Cocoa
1 tspn vanilla extract
120g Flour
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 cup rolled oats, coconut, bran or a mixutre of these (I used oats and coconut)

Method

Melt the butter, remove from stove and add sugar and beaten egg.  Mix well.
Mix in the dry ingredents to the butter mixture. 
Add vanilla.
Spread mixture in a greased tin or baking dish and bake @ 180 deg for approx. 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping.
Melt one tablespoon butter in four tablespoons of boiling water. 
Stir in 1 cup of icing sugar along with 2 tablespoons of cocoa (both sieved).
Mix Well.

Spread over baked mixture while hot.

Go make them now.
You are welcome.

Home is where the heart is

Quoted from "Call the midwife"
A few weeks back I was sitting, staring out the window while Jack played and squealed in his cot.  I was searching for something.  I was yearning for a feeling which I have never truly found here in England.  That is a feeling of being home.  Born in the UK, my parents moved to Cape Town when I was about 6 months old.  I then spent 18 years in Cape Town, my childhood was awesome.  Sunshine, pools, sports, gardens and Table mountain could be seen outside my bedroom window with the beach only a 15 minute drive away.

But as I have told you here, when I was 18 I again was searching for something that I could not find in Cape Town so decided to make the journey back to the UK for a gap year.  That was almost 9 years ago.  Now, lets get something straight: I love the UK - it really is special.  I have made so many friends here, I have become my own person here.  I met my husband here.  We had Jack here.   I have so much to be grateful for - we have a beautiful home, fantastic friends and a comfortable lifestyle.  But having a baby, well, it really hit home that I am not near my family.  My Dad, Christine and Conor currently live in Ireland while my Mom and sister live back in Cape Town.  It really just sucks not being close to my immediate family and sometimes its very hard.

I also just really miss my friends from school.  I have fabulous friends here but nothing quite like the girls I grew up with.  The girls who really know me - who have seen me through my phases of skater girl, biker girl and save the world girl.  The girls who were there for me no matter what, saw me through heartbreak, school dances, endless movie nights and tonnes of giggles.  My heart aches as each of my friends get married and another kitchen tea and wedding is missed.  Or they move house, celebrate milestone birthdays or even when I know they are just all getting together for supper one night.  These are moments I am never going to get back.

I posed the question on facebook as I love getting people's views on things like this, I asked,
"Sitting at the window, daydreaming about moving back to South Africa - would we get jobs? Would we be able to afford a good school for Jack? Would our lifestyle be what we envisage? Saffa friends home & abroad, tell me what you think ☀️"

I got a fair few comments, which I found heartwarming and oh so inspiring.  Here are a few of my favourites:

Claire, such a loaded question. I think in the end one has to weigh up pro's and con's and make your own sober decision. If you're looking for certainty and comfort then SA is not going to fulfill that. HOWEVER faith, purpose, energy, problem solving, creativity, hard work, risk and opportunity - these are the every day realities that keep me in South Africa. It is an active involvement if one does come back, and again no guarantees, but perhaps the hope of being part of being the change that keeps one here. That's my personal opinion. x
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We have been home 3 years now and it hasn't been easy and many times I asked simon if we could go back! Financially it is harder here because it is expensive but, saying that, I think you would find jobs (all our friends that have moved back have) and certainly would have access to great schools. When my kids spend hours in the pool or we have a wonderful day at boulders beach with the penguins or we head off camping (like today) it all makes sense! You will never know if you don't try and you could always go back if its not for you. Good luck x
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I am very biased...when you are African, you are African...its in your blood and the pull back to African soil can be very strong. I love this place with all my heart and love, love, love living here. True that our beautiful country has lots of challenges, but its all a matter of perspective and the attitude that you have towards it all. There will be PLENTY to find wrong about this place...and you can choose to let that get you down and scare you away...or, you can delight in the many joys of this land, like taking your little boy to Kirstenbosch on a sunny winter's day...and in those moments, all the troubles of the land seem like nothing compared to all the glorious things it has to offer! Yes, the cost of living may be high...buts its not all about money. And, of course you want good schooling for your kids, but good schooling doesn't have to mean ridiculously over-priced private schools. We managed in public schools and I'd say we turned out pretty fine! I wouldn't swop my public schooling experience in SA for private schooling even if you'd paid me for it! Follow your heart...and whichever decision you make, make it with all your heart and choose to make the best of that decision.
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I thought I would share my two cents here. If you wanted decent schooling for Jack then you need to live within certain areas for good government schools. This means an absolute minimum bond of 2.5mil. Schools costs anywhere up to 35k/year and if you wanted private, that would be roughly 80k/year. The cost of livin here is generally very high. Therefore, to have a decent living here, you would need a combined income of an absolute minimum of 50k/month (if you didn't want private schooling and were satisfied to live in a basic home). And this wouldn't be enough if you wanted to do things like overseas traveling etc, as you are looking at about 80k/trip for this. This is only from a financial point of view. That doesn't factor in things like crime, which is a very real thing South Africans live with every day. That said, there is no price one can put on having one's family close by, or living in this country. It has many faults, but it also allows for many opportunities and experiences. The two of you need to just decide what sort of lifestyle you want and if you could find employment that would support this.
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difficult one indeed .... you cannot compare the 2 countries at all. they are both so different and offer different things. you are both still young and jack is young so i say go for it. if you don't try, you will always wonder. if you come back and it doesn't work out - the door is always open for you back in the UK. you live one life ... so live it and love it :)

And I think when it comes down to it my true feelings are hard to find, as beneath all of them are so many emotions and hormones at the moment but more than that the UK has also become a home for me.  Not forgetting the fact that this is Mani's home where his family and friends are too.  I can't ignore the fact too that I am a bit scared to move back to Cape Town - I have not lived there in nearly 10 years, surely I have not got a realistic vision in my mind of what it is going to be like.

Ideally, it would be great to move back for a 2-3 year period before Jack starts school and see what happens but that means really putting our heart and soul into a massive move which might financially make or break us.  It really is so hard, but I keep thinking - we only live once.  I really don't want to look back and regret not trying.  But on the same token we have to be realistic and wise about such a big move.

So the search for the right answer continues, we will do some research and see if it is possible.  Also, when we go over in November for our holiday (Woopppeee!) we can also look into things and find out more information.  Until then, we will enjoy what we have while we have it.  
Life is too short to live it any other way.

A tree for Jack



I am not sure how the idea came to me, but one day while looking out into our garden and thinking about landscaping and how I would love more trees I thought of the perfect idea.  To plant a tree for Jack, to celebrate his birth and something that will grow with him.

We wanted a tree which would blossom in the spring but not a tree that will grow into something enormous that will overpower the garden but maybe something big enough to provide some shade in the summer.  A few weeks back there were cherry blossoms, apple blossoms and all sorts just popping up all over around our village and then I saw a blossoming magnolia tree.  It was beautiful and thats how we decided.  A beautiful tree for a beautiful babe.

And yes, that is a lonesome blossom beneath the tree.  It fell off when we were planting it so we just gently placed it in the soil!

Here is a beautiful blossoming magnolias in case you have not seen one before.

{Source}
Thanks to Jean for digging and planting it for us ♥

P.S. You can see our veggie garden here which is currently thriving, I pick rocket and salad leaves from it most evenings to have with our supper.

Capturing the everday: taking more photos











I am lucky enough to be able to have most of the year off with Jack (hopefully 10 months if things go as planned).  Most days when I have a quiet moment to myself I think about how lucky I am to be able to do this and how important it is to capture the everday.  Yes, sometimes being a stay at home mom can be a bit mundane at times.  But it is worth EVERY minute.

On Monday I was looking through some photos I had taken and realised I was not in any of them - I am always behind the camera and I don't want to look back in a few years or a few decades and regret not being in the photos.  So we had a day of taking photos with the both of us in them - it is hard getting the angle and position right with both the big camera and the iphone but we captured some good ones, and practice makes perfect right?

At least once a week I want to get the big camera out and put the timer on and capture the everday.  It is these photos that I will look back on fondly and remember what a special time it was being at home with the babe. ♥

Chocolate Cake #5 and the verdict is out





To end the quest of my search for the best chocolate cake recipe I tried this old recipe from a friend I went to school with.  And I was not disappointed.  It was so light and fluffy and just deliciously spongy.  The batter, once mixed and poured into the tins was almost like marshmellow because of the buttermilk and bicarb reacting to each other.  Just divine.

Here is the recipe:

240g flour
125g butter
125ml hot water to which 5ml instant coffee is added
250ml buttermilk
5ml baking powder
2 eggs
5ml vanilla essence
180g castor sugar
60g cocoa
5ml bicarb
1ml cream of tartar*
Pinch salt

*I did not have any cream of tartar so this was omitted from the recipe.

Mix cocoa and coffee mixture together.
Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, add eggs one by one beating well each time.
Add the cocoa mixture.
Pour the buttermilk on the bicarb and stir well (watch out as this will cause it to froth!)
Sift flour, salt, baking powder and cream of tartar.
Stir in dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk.  Lastly add vanilla.
Pour mixture into two greased sandwich tins and bake at 180 degrees for about 20-25 minutes or until firm to the touch.

I used the icing recipe from chocolate cake #4 as it was one of my favourites.

I rate this cake 8/10.

It is hard to choose one cake out of the five I made as they were all different but if I had to choose one which would be my go-to chocolate cake recipe that was easy, no fuss and tasted like a good chocolate cake should it would have to be chocolate cake #4.

Although, it would be just as easy to combine all five recipes and make up my own recipe - I think I will have to try that and see how it turns out!

Now - what can I bake next?



You can see chocolate cake recipes numbers here:  #1, #2, #3 and #4

5 years



Today marks five years since we lost little Grace.  Not one day goes by where we don't think of her and the joy she brought into our lives.  She was such a courageous, funny and awesome little soul, so full of spirit even though life was hard for her in her final year.  She just took life as it came and smiled no matter what.  What an admirable person she was.

Forever in our hearts my little tisty.  Forever.

♥♥♥♥♥

Chocolate Cake Recipe #4








You would think after four chocolate cakes (actually more since I have made #1 twice) that we would be getting sick of chocolate cake but let's be honest shall we?  No one can ever have enough chocolate cake, its always lovely with a cup of tea and cheers the soul after a hard day.  I just love having cake in the house and I love having friends and family round to share it with.

This recipe is good.  I really enjoyed this cake, the texture, the taste, the icing was divine and it is rich but not intensely so.  It is really yummy scrummy.  I found it after finding and reading this article on The Guardian's website and I am glad I did as it was quite interesting to read - it goes into details about chocolate cakes, the ingredients and the difference methods of making chocolate cakes.

Here is the recipe: (I didn't have chocolate chips or oreo cookies so omitted these on this occasion).

50g dark chocolate, melted and allowed to cool slightly
250g butter, at room temperature
250g light muscovado sugar
½ tsp salt
100g cocoa powder
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
250ml milk
50g chocolate chips

For the buttercream:

140g butter, softened
50g cocoa powder
200g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp milk
5 Oreo cookies

1. Grease and line the bases of 2 x 20cm springform cake tins with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan) 350F / gas 4. Cream together the butter and sugar with ½ tsp salt until light and fluffy.

2. Sift together the cocoa, flour and baking powder. Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time and beat until well combined, then fold in half the dry ingredients followed by the melted chocolate. Fold in the rest, followed by enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency, and then the chocolate chips. Divide between the two tins and bake for about 25–30 minutes until firm in the centre.

3. Allow to cool completely on a rack, then make the buttercream. Beat the butter until fluffy, then add the cocoa, icing sugar and salt and, if necessary, a little milk to loosen the mixture. Put one of the cakes on a serving plate and spread a third of the icing on top. Place the second on top, then spread the rest of the icing over it.

4. Blitz the biscuits to a fine crumb in a food processor and sprinkle them over the cake.

I think to round it off I will make one more - anyone have any suggestions? Do you have a go-to recipe for chocolate cake?

Happy Baking ♥

P.S. It is World Baking Day on Sunday - who will you bake for? Follow them on instagram, twitter and facebook. I am baking a cake for a charity event on Saturday in our village.


Our vegetable garden










I have always wanted a little vegetable patch - and when we moved into our little house with a big garden I was so excited to have one.  Nearly 2 years later it has happened thanks to Jean, my sister's boyfriend.  I am so very chuffed with it, me and Jack venture out into the garden everyday to check on it and to see it growing.

I chose vegetables which I knew would be easy to grow in the UK climate - well I hope so anyways!  I chose onions, courgettes, sweet peppers, lettuce, rocket, tomatoes, carrots and beans.  I also bought some marigolds as these are good for keeping the snails and slugs away.

We bought some wood from our local wood merchant and Jean got to work - he is super talented and it was up within the hour.  I just bought the trellis frames and chicken wire from our local 99p store.  Mani put chicken-type wire around the veggie patch to prevent the cats getting in and it seems to be working for now.

I will be harvesting some lettuce leaves this afternoon - since these pictures they have really grown!

So here is to an abundance of vegetables this summer!

Happy Gardening ♥

Taking a moment: spotting wildlife in the garden

Images courtesy of the RSPB website
Life can get hectic, especially with a babe or a young family, hell even without kiddos life can get hectic.  It is just a different type of hectic I suppose.  That is why when I get five minutes to myself I really try to enjoy and savour them.  I take it all in and enjoy the moment for what it is.

Recently, especially since my Gran visited (she is an avid birder) and now that we live in the countryside I find myself sitting by a window or our back door taking in the world outside.  We have an abundance of wildlife on our doorstep and I love learning about it.  I bought myself a pair of binoculars and got bird watching and I love it.

The RSPB website is so easy to use and I find myself searching for the birds I have spotted - it is amazing how many different birds one can spot in their garden if you are looking for them.  Each week I top up my peanuts, sunflower seeds and seed mix as well as put down my hedgehog food (although I did spy a rat a couple of weeks ago which made my heart sank as I thought my hog was back!).  So far I have seen:

- Great spotted woodpecker
- Goldfinch
- Chaffinch
- Blue Tit
- Great Tit
- Coal Tit
- House sparrows
- Blackbirds
- Chiffchaff
- Buzzard

And although I haven't seen him, I have heard a little tawny owl at night too!  Along with the birds,we have a regular visitor in the evening - he is a tiny little bat and I am hoping to build him (OK I am going to ask the hubby!) a little bat house from these instructions.  I would also love to build a hedgehog house and buy a small bird bath too!

The woodpecker is my favourite, he swoops in the air and pecks at the trees and really loves peanuts.  He has beautiful colours and is quite large - I love seeing him flying around.

It is these moments of enjoying the wildlife on my doorstep, watching the trees turn green and hearing the birds sing that I realise how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world.  Our garden backs onto fields which backs onto more fields and our views are stunning.  While I was reading the RSPB website, I came across this "Giving Nature a home" handy guide and downloaded it - its full of ideas.  You can follow the RSPB on facebook, twitter and instagram to keep in touch!

Next time you have a moment, get a cup of tea and really look outside, listen to the birds and enjoy the wildlife around you.



Jack: 4 months old









You are 16 weeks old today Jack and I just love being your Mom - you are the cutest most adorable little human I have ever come across.  I know I am biased but some days I just can't help but look at you and squish you hard into my chest and smell your beautiful baby scent.  You are getting so grown up my boy and its all happening so fast.  You love to sit up now and you have discovered your hands and feet.  Super cute.

You still love bath time and your face lights up when Dad gets home after work - its the best.  One thing I am struggling with though is the dreaded car seat.  You are not a fan of going out in the car most days and this really stresses me out.  It is panic stations when I know I have to get you in the car - I won't lie I try to hide it so you can't sense it but I think you have me pegged.  We have even bought you a mini mobile to hang from your car seat as you love the one in your cot so much.  Lets hope it works.

You are taking your daytime naps in the cot in your nursery now - it is a good start to get you used to sleeping in your big bed so when the time comes in a couple of months the transition from crib to cotbed will be smooth (won't it?!).  Although, lately your daytime naps are not what they used to be because I think you might be starting teething - yes - another dreaded phase - but I have this covered.  Your teether sits in the fridge and as soon as you start sucking your little hands I pop this into your mouth and you are in heaven.  You also love sitting in your bumbo - gosh you look so darn cute sitting in that.

You also are a fan of standing up and bobbing up and down on your little feet - and you are starting to develop a proper little laugh too which literally makes me start to well up - that smile and laugh just brings a tear to my eye - its tears of happiness my boy and the pure joy that you bring into my life, it is just overwhelming at times.  Whilst some days are harder than others I am really enjoying being at home with you my little bug - you are just the best thing ever.  

I think it is safe to say that you have mine and your dad's whole hearts and everyday you do something new that makes us smile and love you even more (if that's possible!).
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