Sunday Tea: Tugboat Brews Gingerbread Chai

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‘The Tea’ by Mary Stevenson Cassatt (Museum of Fine Art, Boston)

Hello! Welcome to a new weekly (ish?) feature in which I review a tea in detail. This week, it’s Tugboat Brews’ Gingerbread Chai, a sweet rooibos from deepest, darkest Cornwall that my friend Emma brought when she stayed with us recently.

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Image: Tugboat Brews

My love of a good chai is well documented on the pages of this blog and I’m pleased that we’re finally entering into what feels like it might be a proper autumn (it’d be nice if 2016 did SOMETHING right…) Tugboat Brews does seem to do a good selection of chais-there are three to choose from- and this one is their non-caffeinated offering.

It’s slightly different to other gingerbread chais I’ve tried; the base is a vanilla rooibos, which gives it a delicately sweet flavour that lingers even after the spice has gone. It’s actually pretty lovely, as some variations can be swamped by the rooibos flavour or a too-fiery gingerbread. This chai is mellow and a pretty perk me up for a mid-morning cuppa or a delicious before bed milky chai made the traditional way.

The spices in the tea are simple- ginger and cinnamon (my two favourite autumn flavours in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, FYI) are just the right ratio to make this a comforting chai. Some chais should be gutsy, some should be warming and some should be… comforting. This is a chai in the latter category. Tugboat have labelled this in their ‘hug in a mug’ section and I agree. It’s lovely- and a perfect tea for those who are thinking of embracing hygge in the upcoming colder months.

A few favourite baking books

So everyone’s in a state of GBBO mourning at the moment, aren’t they? As I write, Paul Hollywood has just been confirmed as the only member of the original quartet to have signed a deal to go over to the dark side (well, Channel 4. Which, to be honest, is the next best channel after the BBC to host a show like GBBO- but I know that’s not a popular opinion.) Anyway, this got me thinking- I do own two of Hollywood’s baking books, but I NEVER bake from them. And if you follow me on any social media channel, you’ll know I bake quite a lot. I like the books, they’re very pretty- but they’re just too fiddly and faffy for the type of stuff I like to bake. I’m probably more of a Bezza baker than a Hollywood baker, although I’ve never picked up one of Mary’s books.

But there are some books I use over and over.

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Bake- Rachel Allen

This was the first baking book I ever picked up (I had never seen Rachel Allen on the TV; I just wanted a baking book.) I learnt a few skills here, but I have found the recipes a bit hit and miss. However, as a first book, it was OK. I still swear by the honey cake and snickerdoodles in this, though.

51pxbskes6l-_sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_ Be-Ro Home Baked Recipes

Cheap and cheerful, the Be-Ro book is a proper, old-school classic. This is the book that I turn to when D wants to bake: gingerbread men, shortbread, tea loaves. It’s all the stuff your mum or nan probably made and the recipes are simple and straightforward (and you can get away with using margarine in most of them if you’ve run out of butter!)

510cb-crdgl-_sx258_bo1204203200_ Home Sweet Home- The Hummingbird Bakery

This book is one of the biggest bargains ever- I think I picked it up for a fiver. It’s stuffed full of what I think of as ‘showstoppers’, cakes that I pull out for fancy things and when I want to impress. My go-to brownie recipe is from Hummingbird (although I’ve tinkered with it so much now, it’s virtually unrecognisable from the basic recipe) and the strawberry milkshake cupcakes are seriously good. This is the book that really helped develop my skills onto more than just ‘basic’.

cover Flavour- Ruby Tandoh

I love Ruby’s recipes and have never had one fail. I was lucky enough that she sent me a signed copy of the book after I mentioned on Twitter that I had borrowed it from the library and loved it. Although it’s not really a baking book, but a book with baking recipes in it, I urge you to check it out. I can HUGELY recommend the easy chocolate cake- it is the only cake I’ve ever made that worked every time, and I’ll be making it for D’s fourth birthday in a couple of weeks. I’ve also made a banana cake and the shine theory truffles, which I adapted by adding rose and violet flavouring (I have plans for Christmas editions too… watch out for a future blogpost on those!) But what I really love about this book is the attitude in it- that we should eat what we like, and just ENJOY food. In a world obsessed with clean eating, it’s a refreshing change.

 

 

Super-easy, step-by-step guide to making autumn jelly

I find it hard to resist picking blackberries as I’m out and about; where we live, we have a load of wild fruit growing nearby (a bonus of living on the edge of the South Downs), including apples, sloes and plums. We also have an apple tree in the garden that grows the blandest. apples. ever. They’re only actually any good in jams, jellies and chutneys. Although my apple chutney is quite popular, I haven’t quite got the recipe right yet- but I thought I’d share my autumn jelly recipe with you, along with pictures which I Instagrammed when I was making it.

Ingredients: we picked just shy of 1kg of blackberries and used about 500g of cooking apples. A lemon is also needed at this stage. I try not to pick fruit by the road, as cars can affect the berries. Obviously I buy the lemon!

Blackberries from the local woods, apples from garden. Add some spices and BOOM…:

First things first- wash the berries and apples and roughly chop the apples and lemon and put them in a pan with about 300ml of water.

Jelly making: stage 1 #autumn #jelly #apples #brambles #cooking #food:

I had so much fruit that I needed to use two pans! (Make sure they’re fairly heavy, btw.) Bring the water to the boil and then simmer for about 40 minutes, until the mixture has thickened. Keep an eye on it, keep stirring it and make sure that the fruit doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Stage 2: straining. The fruit has been cooked for 40mins. I'll leave this now…:  Next, the messy bit! I always think this looks a bit like the aftermath of a horror film (and be aware that blackberries WILL stain wooden worktops. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.) Anyway, empty the pans out into a sieve-I prefer a plastic one-and place it over a bowl in order to collect the juice. Last year, I left the fruit to drain overnight. This year, it took a couple of hours. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Stage 4: you need to measure the juice... then add 450g of granulated sugar per… This is the juice that will be turned into the jelly. Conventional wisdom states that you should add 450g of sugar (I usually use bog standard granulated, but am looking into using jam sugar to see if it speeds up setting) for every pint of juice. I had a pint and a half, so used about 625g of sugar. I also add spices: cloves, cinnamon and ginger- about a tsp of each- but you could use more or less according to your tastes.

Stage 5: add the sugar, bring to the boil. Then boil rapidly for 5-10 mins.:  Next, next you need to bring the mixture to the boil and then-in theory- boil rapidly for 5-10 minutes until the jelly passes the ‘set test’: drop a small amount of jelly onto a cold plate (I stick a couple in the fridge before I begin boiling the fruit) and prod it with your finger. If it has a ‘skin’ and you can leave a trail in the jelly, you’re set. This took a bit longer to get to setting point- 20 minutes- but it was worth it!

Stage..6? It took 20 mins to get setting point 😡 Anyway, it's done! Good stuff…:  Skim the cloves and the foam on top and pour quickly into warm, sterilised jars. I sterilise jars by running them through  the dishwasher. If they cool before I need them, I’ll fill them with boiling water until I need them.

As soon as you’ve poured the jelly in, stick a lid on (I don’t bother really with those jam seals in jars- it hasn’t caused a problem before…) and label it with the date. Leave to cool in a cupboard. Once opened, store in the fridge. An open jar lasts about six weeks, if it’s not eaten first!

Homemade autumn jelly on toast for the first day of autumn! It tastes GOOD…:  Let me know if you have a go!

Bluebird Tea Co. Autumn 2016*

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One of the best things about being back in the blogging mindset is that I get to write about tea again, which is quite honestly one of my favourite things. Bluebird’s output of autumn teas is usually strong and 2016 is no different (which is a relief in a year when everything else seems to have been a bit… hit and miss!)

There are four new flavours: Choco Pops, Lapsang Chai, Bananas and Custard and a rooibos Earl Grey. Happily-excitingly!- the annual favourite Spiced Pumpkin Pie makes a return too. I was sent all of them except Bananas and Custard.

Choco Pops

I can tell you that this blend of Ceylon and genmaicha (Japanese toasted rice) with chocolate chips/sprinkles/powder does indeed taste like the cereal so beloved of hyperactive kids everywhere; albeit a slightly more grown up version. The genmaicha adds a nuttiness that compliments the chocolate and the light tea lifts the overall flavour so it’s actually a bit sophisticated. Despite the inclusion of sencha green tea, you can add milk- and I urge you to try it. This tea was especially nice one evening when I was writing and needed something sweet, but not so much it made my teeth ache. Lovely stuff. (I’d actually be tempted to make this up like a hot chocolate with just milk and no water. Maybe add a couple of mini marshmallows to really make it fun.)

Lapsang Chai

Darlings, when it comes to lapsang souchong, I am not the droid you’re looking for. I find that it’s a tea that splits people- either they REALLY LOVE IT or, like me, they have no desire ever to drink it again after the first taste. However, I do love a good chai- and I know that this tea is special to Bluebird, as head mixologist Krisi developed the flavour for the T2 Chai Championships  in Sydney- so I gave it a go. And… it’s not converted me, but I can appreciate it. The smokiness of the lapsang works beautifully with spices and it tastes how I imagine Bonfire Night would, if you could make it into a drink (lapsang=bonfire, spices=fireworks). I made it with local honey and lots of milk and you might well be tempted to serve this on November 5th. I do know know my lapsang-loving friends will love it.

Rooibos Earl Grey

Earl Grey is the tea I drink the most. I’ve tried so many varieties over the years that it became the way I learnt about teas and how ingredients in them work together. When I was pregnant, I was desperate for a decent decaff EG, but none were really up to much. And lo, enter the rooibos Earl Grey! Some are more successful than others, but I would say that the ratio here is right: the sweetness of the rooibos compliments a strong (but not overpowering) bergamot flavouring. Lovely stuff.

img_20160903_123913Set your alarms for September 26th for the return of my favourite Bluebird Tea ever: Spiced Pumpkin Pie! I am eking out my current supply til then and then I’ll be ordering a boatload- it’s sweet, but not too sweet and is the perfect bridge to Bluebird’s always excellent Christmas offerings. (NB: you can currently buy the tea in a latte kit if you can’t wait that long.)

Special mention goes to:

Bluebird is branching out! I’ve been lucky to try one of their candles (Earl Grey Creme, obviously) and their Gingersnap Green Tea soap. Both have been developed with Lu Aromatherapy, a local Brighton business committed to creating ethical products. I can confirm that both smell heavenly and the soap is gentle even on my fussy skin.

Finally, Krisi has a book coming out! The World Atlas of Tea looks super interesting and will definitely be on my ‘to-buy’ list once I get paid.

Happy autumn!

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Thoughts from beside Anne Bronte’s grave

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Anne Bronte is the only member of the family to be buried in Scarborough; after her death, aged 29 in 1849, Charlotte made the decision to ‘lay the flower where it had fallen’ and bury her sister quickly (there were three mourners at Anne’s funeral- Charlotte, their friend Ellen Nussey and their old school teacher, Miss Wooler.) The spot she chose would have been picturesque in 1849, beneath the castle walls and with a view out to the north bay. It still is a peaceful spot, albeit the bottom half of the graveyard is now a car park. Nothing, it seems, gets in the way of modernity.

Harbour from the top of the castle #scarboroughcastle #scarborough #sea…:

View of the North Bay and harbour from the top of Scarborough Castle

Although I knew I definitely wanted to visit Anne’s grave, I was taken aback when D and I stumbled upon it by accident on a morning walk (where inspired by the old fellas on their walks to buy papers or to give their dogs a wander, he began to return their greetings with a cheery- and very northern- ‘MORNING!’, much to everyone’s amusement.) Unbeknownst to us, we were staying five minutes away.

The day was warm and sunny, and even D realised we were somewhere that required a bit of quiet. We sat on a bench next to the grave and looked at the view; the sea was calm and the view was stunning. I noticed that there was a spot in front of the grave where the feet of people who were visiting had worn away the grass. I wondered how many people visited the spot every day. I’d been told that there were often flowers on the grave, but there were none on either of the two days I visited. I had looked for wildflowers to put down, but had had no look. Maybe they would have been more appropriate for Emily anyway.

In a funny way, I think it’s appropriate that Anne is the Bronte who is not buried at Haworth; she was the only member of the family who really had any professional success in a job away from home. Although she disliked being a governess, she was able to cope being away from her siblings. If it was Emily buried far away, I imagine she’d haunt Scarborough like Cathy until her remains were returned to the family vault.

Also, in a lot of ways, Anne is the family outcast. In a literary sense, she’s often left out in the cold. I’ve never met anyone who raves about her work in the same way they do about that of her sisters. No one ever says, breathlessly, that they are definitely an ‘Anne’. So maybe it’s fitting that the quietest Bronte is on her own, and noticed and visited for herself.

A few days later, we were in York when I had a sudden urge to walk down a particular street. It turned out that some part of my subconscious apparently remembered that there was a Bronte-related plaque:

Casual #Bronte spotting in #York. It's now a Next.:

“On 24 May 1849, Anne said her goodbyes to her father and the servants at Haworth, and set off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. En route, they spent a day and a night in York, where, escorting Anne around in a wheelchair, they did some shopping, and at Anne’s request, visited York Minster. However, it was clear that Anne had little strength left.”

I must have walked past it on previous trips to  York, but something drew me back- it’s pretty inconspicuous. After I took the picture and was walking away, it dawned on me that the reason that Anne and Charlotte had stayed on the site was that they were on their way to Scarborough, where Anne would die four days later. Four days had lapsed between finding the grave and finding the plaque.

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Anne’s death, coming as it did so soon after those of Emily and her brother Branwell, seems so tragic. Her apparent strength in the face of death seems brave and admirable (although it seems that Charlotte’s claim that her sister welcomed and longed for death are wrong; Anne wrote in a letter that she had many things she still wished to accomplish.)

On Sunday, 27 May, Anne asked Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicated that death was close. Anne received the news quietly. She expressed her love and concern for Ellen and Charlotte, and seeing Charlotte’s distress, whispered to her to “take courage”. Conscious and calm, Anne died at about two o’clock in the afternoon, Monday, 28 May 1849.

There’s a plaque on the side of the Grand Hotel commemorating the place of her death..

I mused on the life of a quiet, shy woman who had written books that challenged early Victorian views of women. I wondered whether she would have been happy with the choice of her final resting place, or whether she would have preferred to be buried in the church at Haworth. And then, my thoughts interrupted by the chattering of an excited child desperate to get down to the beach, I walked back home in the sunshine.

Postnatal depression, music and me

A weird thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago and because we haven’t had any wi-fi, I haven’t been able to write about it (even though I really, really wanted to.)

Back in July, I was listening to Lauren Laverne on BBC6 Music; as part of the show, she has a weekly feature called ‘Memory Tapes’. I’d been listening to a girl talking about her life and listening to Sigur Ros as she flew over Iceland and I thought maybe I could email in my own memory tape. So I did- and promptly forgot all about it. Except about two weeks later, I got an email back asking if I would be free to be on the show on August 10th. OBVIOUSLY, I said yes.

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Source: BBC6Music

My memory tape had been built around Benn and D, specifically songs that reminded me of key moments in my life with both- and I mentioned in my email (it’s on this page here) that I had struggled with PND. Although I’d never been explicit about my struggle with it online, I have been vocal about it away from social media and the blog. I knew that this element interested the producers of the show and I was determined to talk about it openly. So I did. (Despite the aforementioned lack of wi-fi making it bloody hard work to organise the whole thing.)

Now, I’m a massive fan of Lauren and have been for years, so I was dead nervous. Turns out, she’s absolutely lovely and encouraging. It was a bit weird hearing her do radio stuff before my call was cued in, but I tried hard to focus on what was being asked. I talked about how music was the anchor that threaded together my memories of D’s early months-I have huge swathes of stuff that’s forgotten or unknown to me and I can piece them together through a few songs. I spoke about how I knew I was lucky that I had had an excellent health visitor and GP, but that I knew not everyone was so fortunate. I guess I wanted people to know that you can get through it, but that we need to be more open and less dismissive when someone asks for help with their mental health. It took me months to admit that there was something wrong; when I was pregnant, I’d been assessed by a team as to how likely I was to get PND. They had been happy with my prognosis and I felt a bit of a failure when I realised something was up. In fact, I’d gone to the doctor about something else when it all came out. I am so, so grateful that she picked me up so quickly. It meant that it was nipped in the bud relatively early, although I would continue to be on medication until D was nearly three.

The aftermath of the call was slightly surreal; people sent lovely messages to the show which were read out on air and I had loads of supportive tweets. It felt good to talk about something that has been so important and shaped my life not so long ago. I’m fine now, but I know how it felt to not be fine. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Keep asking until you get it. Don’t be fobbed off.

After the call had gone out, I received an email asking if I minded if it went on the website- they’d had a huge response. Of course, I said it was fine. If you want to listen to it, it’s here. (Weirdly, I sound so much like my sister, it’s *creepy*.) I don’t know if it helped anyone, but hopefully it showed that PND is something that can be overcome with the right support. We need to talk about it more openly and make it less taboo to discuss it; to listen when someone asks for help and to notice maybe when they are unable to.

Howdy… I’m back

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Hey there, cupcakes! Long time no see (unless you follow me on social media, then I probably saw you two minutes ago.)

I took some time out from the blog. I was getting bogged down with political stuff- Brexit, Labour imploding, the imminent rise of Donald Trump- and work stuff and I just… sort of deflated for a bit. I needed to take time out from pressuring myself and one of the easiest things was to let the blog slide a little. It did me good. Plus, I doubt that many people missed me <\insert winky emoticon>

I was also able to think about a few things, make a few decisions and just generally get some head space.

I’m not promising a rigid posting schedule- I don’t think it helps- but I will be posting here when as and when I feel like it. So yeah, I’m back (again)! How’ve you been?