Monthly Archives: June 2015

Double Chocolate Brownies – A Naughty Treat!

These are a super naughty yet delicious treat. They are one of my favourites and go down a storm with friends and family. They are easily adaptable and versatile and I have taken variations of these to work at least every other week. Needless to say, none ever made it home with me!

The double chocolate brownies take about 10 minutes to mix and around 25-30 minutes to cook (180°C) 

 
Ingredients:

  • 115g butter (you will need extra to grease the tin)
  • 115g chocolate broken into pieces (you can pick white, milk or dark, depending on how you’re feeling!) 
  •  300g caster sugar (I did say these were naughty!) 
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 140g plain flour
  • 2tbsp cocoa powder
  • 100g chocolate chips (again you can pick but I stick with milk.)

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the cocoa powder. Cream the eggs, vanilla and sugar together and mix with the flour and cocoa. Add the butter. Mix until smooth. 

Over a pan, melt the chocolate that you have broken into pieces (115g). Once runny and delicious add to the mixture. 

Pour half the mixture into a baking tin. I use a square silicone (7inch) one as it doesn’t stick. Spread evenly to cover the bottom on your chosen tin. Spread the chocolate chips and cover with the remaining mixture. By having the chocolate chips in the middle, it means the brownie will come out with gooey chocolatey bits in the middle. YUM. 

Bake until the top starts to crack, checking the mixture is cooked throughout. Make sure you leave to cool. (I know how difficult this is!) I like to use my love heart cookie cutter for this to make it more fun. Finish off with a sprinkling of icing sugar. 

Like I said, you could vary this up by adding white chocolate, dried fruits or even nuts. Walnuts are a particular favourite of mine. 

Enjoy! 

BL x

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They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Horace McCoy 

  

I first read this story when I was at university studying an American Fiction of the 1930s module. It shocked me to the core. It still does today. It is a snapshot into life in America during the Great Depression when people were desperate to make it to the big screen, to Hollywood. It’s a tragic, realistic story. 

The narrator, Robert Syverten is a naive, young man from Hollywood who dreams of being a film director. The story opens with his sentencing for murder. The girl in question is called Gloria Beatty, quite possibly one of the more depressing and depressed characters I’ve ever come across. She repeats throughout how she wishes she was dead. This story of how he knows her is intercut after every chapter with short comments from the judge. The font gets larger as the story progresses. It ends with “May God have mercy on your soul.”

Robert meets Gloria when they both have failed to become extras for Central. (The only way to be on the big screen.) She persuades him into taking part in a marathon dance contest. She is adamant that this is the way to be noticed by studio producers and movie stars. 

Robert meets Gloria on a morning when they have both failed to get parts as extras, with each feeling bitter. ‘Let’s go and sit and hate a bunch of people.’ Like Robert, she is struggling to find work in Hollywood. Gloria and Robert enter the dance contest, which is held at a large amusement pier on the beach, somewhere near Hollywood. Naively they enter thinking they could win and really make it. 

Gloria has every reason to be repetitive in her wishes to die. Her parents are dead, she ran away from a farm in Dallas where her uncle regularly made passes at her, she tried to commit suicide, failed, then ran away to Hollywood. She’s not a beautiful character, being described as plain looking and unlikely to ever find work as an actress. She tells Robert that she does not have the courage to kill herself. “It’s perculiar to me that everyone pays so much attention to living and so little to dying. Why are these high-powered scientists always screwing around trying to prolong life instead of finding pleasant ways to end it?” 

The promotors are desperate to increase attendance at the contest, as this will help make them money. They publicise the arrest of a contestant for murder, stage elimination races every evening and a even a marriage. However the couple due to be married should have been eliminated, but it’s fixed so they don’t. 

Two and three weeks pass and the crowds increase as newspapers cover the contest. Some couples receive sponsorships from local businesses, giving them new clothes and shoes. We are introduced to a lady called Mrs Layden. She attends every evening to watch her favourite couple, Robert and Gloria. She also gets them a sponsorship from a local business. However, she doesn’t have a good impression of Gloria, saying “She’s an evil person and she’ll wreck your life.”

The number of couples that break down physically and drop out increase. The crowd cheers and takes a sharp intake of breath whenever someone falls or trips in the race. Robert is consumed with claustrophobia and repeats his desire to be outside and to see the sun. Gloria too is starting to show signs of struggling. There are a couple of occasions where they narrowly miss out on being disqualified. Robert starts to tire of how bitter Gloria is, saying “Sometimes I’m sorry I ever met you. I don’t like to say a thing like that, but it’s the true. Before I met you I didn’t know what it was to be around gloomy people.”

After 879 hours of dancing, with 20 couples left, the contest is shut down when there is a murder in the dance hall’s bar. Unfortunately, a stray bullet from the shooting hits and kills Mrs Layden. The promotors decide to end the competition and give each dancer left $50 for their efforts. It is believed they would have been closed down anyway, after opposition arriving before. 

Robert and Gloria go outside for the first time in five weeks and sit looking out at the ocean. Gloria takes out a pistol and asks Robert to shoot her. He does. There doesn’t seem to be much a fight or moral dilemma regarding this choice. He reverts back to a memory of when his grandfather shot his beloved horse after she broke her leg. The police push Robert to answer why he shot Gloria. The fact that she asked him to caused them to mock him. “They shoot horses, don’t they?”

American readers of the 1930s were not impressed with this book one bit. Sales were low. It was, however, read in the existentialist circles of France. McCoy’s story here was one of many to be published during this time showing the Great Depression and its effect on people at that time. 

It’s a grim and gory tale, yet it’s one that is physically impossible to put down. It  is short yet packed with drama, tragedy and desperation. A must read for anyone interested in American and/or Existentilist literature. 

BL x

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Class of 2015 – Goodbye To A Group That Changed My Life. 

I’ll apologise now because this isn’t the type of post I would usually write. It’s not about books or bakes! I’ve been thinking and working on this post for a few a days now, yet I can’t seem to formulate it. I know what I think and feel, but it’s like I’ve lost the ability to spill the words out over the page. In fact, I feel like I’m constantly tripping over the words I’m desperately trying to find or use. I’ll do my best. Hold onto your hats, this one is emotional! 

I started teaching back in 2012, being thrown right in at the deep end and training on the job. My first class were a top set year 9; very bright and able, eager to do well, desperate to achieve their potential and then some. I was terrified. What if they were smarter than me? What if they asked me something I couldn’t answer? Or worse, what if they didn’t like me? 

I remember my first ever lesson. I was teaching Gothic Literature and exploring the Victorian period. Three years later, they are the top set GCSE group. I remember our last lesson, analysing and comparing the language used by Sherlock Holmes and Watson. We worked our socks off to turn D grades into A*s, to make U grades into C grades. Every child in that class should pass at C or above. Without a doubt they deserve it. Something was happening before my very eyes. They were maturing, growing and glowing in their intelligence. I feel so lucky to have seen them progress over the three years. 

But it’s more than this. They made the teacher I am today. My feedback from observations and marking was always outstanding. I am not big headed or arrogant enough to think I’m the best at this job or the most amazing teacher. Of course I’m not! There are people out there who are more intelligent, more inspirational and more experienced than me. But, I owe this group a lot. They kept me on my toes, they constantly questioned and analysed, they demanded their books were marked every week so they could improve their skills. And yet, I can honestly say they made me a better person as well as a better teacher. 

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine. They were challenging in their own way. Laziness was their biggest problem. The ‘I’m smart so can pull it off in the real exam miss’ line was well quoted, whilst I was stressing about this weeks book trawl or mock exam results. 

At the end of the day, I do this job because I want to make a difference. I want to give children the best possible start in life. It’s a big scary world out there! (Not the most ambitious vocabulary used by an English teacher!) They need to be prepared for it. Surely that’s why we all become teachers? We want to inspire, to change lives, to give them the skills for real life. 

So, whilst I’m very excited about moving to a new school with new challenges, I will always remember that group. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget them. It’s like your first house or your first love. Whatever happened, you never forget it. I like to think I made a difference – just a small difference to some of their lives. By the amount of tears and thank yous on the last day, I have a small feeling that I did something right. 

  

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Chocolate Butterfly Cakes With Butter Cream Icing 

Yesterday was one of those days that I will remember for the rest of my life. Being as my lovely Year 11’s had finally finished all their exams, it was their last day at school, and my last day there as a teacher, I decided, for old times sake, to bake them a little treat. 

This was one of the first things I baked as a girl with my grandma. There’s always such fond memories from making such lovely, little cakes. 

These beauties take approx 10 minutes to mix and then 12 minutes to bake (180°C) 


Ingredients:

  • 250g soft margarine
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 300g self raising flour – sifted
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 50g chocolate – melted (if you’re feeling a bit naughty!)

For the icing:

  • 100g softened butter
  • 225g icing sugar 
  • Splash of milk

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, make sure you sift the flour as this will help them to rise, and spoon out into individual cake cases. The amounts above will make approximately 24 but I’ve usually been able to squeeze out 3/5 more (depending on how generous your spooning out stage is.) You could even make less and use muffin cases for biggest cakes. It’s entirely up to you! 

Bake! Watch how they rise. 

Once cooled, take a sharp knife and cut out a circle in the top. Fill with your deliciously creamy icing. Cut the circle into two to make the butterfly wings and place onto if the icing. Then dust with a little icing sugar. Perfection! 

These are a classic bake, and always a favourite. What I didn’t count on yesterday was one of my students baking me some brownies which were also chocolatey and delicious. By 9:30 I think we were all caked out!  

  

Have a great weekend everyone! BL x

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The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

   

I first heard about this gem of a book when Penguin emailed me with a list of their latest top picks. Something appealed to me, I’m not quite sure what, but there was something about it. So I purchased it straight away. I wasn’t disappointed! In fact, I was gripped from start to finish.

‘this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand.’ There is a distinct lack of punctuation and capital letters. The teacher in me dispairs at this, but it is crucial to the development and the consequences of this novel. It shows throughout the novel the importance of literacy and of learning to the protagonist, Mary. 

The book is divided into 4 sections to represent the seasons in one year. Each section starts with the above quote. She repeats in her first person narration the fact that this is her own story and that her hair is the colour of milk. 

The novel opens in 1830. Mary is a teenager of indeterminate age, born with a dodgy leg and has the ability to offend with her back talking mouth. Her family: mother, father and three sisters have no use for her beyond the hard work in the fields. Work is a reoccurring image in this book. It never seems to end. In fact, Mary is not allowed to sit down during the day unless she was milking the cows. Life is hardworking and always demanding out in the fields. 

The one source of kindness in her life is from her grandfather. He is a cripple as his legs were crushed; making him a permanent invalid. Her father is a man who regularly has violent tempers and beats his wife and children. Mary has spent her life observing the natural world, thus giving her native intelligence (very important for the closing of the novel.) But, she is completely uneducated and illiterate. As a result of this, she knows exactly what is happening one night when she wanders into the barnyard and sees one of her sisters getting intimate with the vicar’s son, but she has no idea what the consequences would be. 

Change comes to shake up Mary’s life and Mary is sent away by her father to work for the vicar. Mary will work for the vicar, caring for his sick wife, and he will pay her father, essentially selling her to slavery. She regularly gets into trouble and pines for home, but life isn’t so bad there. She is treated with kindness and the vicar’s wife cares much about her. Yet there is a feeling of inevitability. The wife is ill, so how long will the kindness last? 

The historical element of this novel is well developed and fairly apt. Being set in 1830/1831, historically, women were dictated to by the men in their lives. As the fourth daughter to an impoverished and illiterate farmer in the west of England, the author places Mary in a long line of literary heroines who are not only at the mercy of the men in their lives, but the victims of the men’s perversity. The very people who should have protected her most, her father and the vicar, are the ones who abuse their position repeatedly. The heartbreak doesn’t end there. 

The vicar’s wife dies, the household servant is dismissed and Mary moves to a new position within the house. She becomes a student as the vicar teaches her to read using the Holy Bible. Mary is obsessed with learning more and the vicar is hooked on Mary. He starts to using her and sneaking into her room at night claiming loneliness as his excuse and right to rape her, in exchange for teaching her reading and writing. 

However, Mary decides she’s learned enough from the vicar and puts up resistance. The vicar turns nasty and fails to understand. He continues to force her and becomes more violent. One skill that Mary has, which ultimately gives her the upper hand, as a farm girl she has killed many animals. The cheese wire in her pocket is her way out. The last time he rapes her, she has her cheese wire. Yet she never really expects to use it. But she has to, to save herself. 

‘and so i shall finish this very last sentence and i will blot my words where the ink gathers in the pools at the end of each letter. and then i shall be free.’

The novel starts with this naivety, this simple hard working farming life. But there is always a feeling that something bad will happen. And boy does it. 

Big love x

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To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

 

The first time I read this book was 10 years ago when I was studying for my GCSEs. I remember having to perform the courtroom scene for a speaking and listening assessment. It feels like yesterday! I can remember how it made me feel. It opened my eyes and my heart. I love this book – I didn’t think I could love it more, but ten years down the line it shows me that there’s more I understand in this book now, thus strengthening my love for it. I genuinely don’t understand why it has been taken off all the exam boards reading lists! 

I’ve told the students in my class about this book, about how it changed me and started something special in my life – the love of reading. Slowly but surely my copy of the text is making its way around school, even to the most unsuspecting of characters who claim they “never read.”

With the highly anticipated ‘Go Set A Watchman’ being published this summer, I wanted to read this again in preparation. (Can not wait for this by the way!)

To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the Deep South of America during the 1930s with the narrator being a little girl, Scout. By having a child narrator we get to learn with her and understand the world as she does. The novel deals with the emotive portrayal of race and prejudice. Filled with morals and the teaching of many life lessons through Atticus, this novel succeeds in portraying a specific time and place as well as how good can triumph over evil. The book teaches that prejudice must be met, fought and overcome no matter how difficult it may be. 

Scout Finch lives with her older brother Jem and her widowed lawyer father Atticus. It’s summertime and Jem and Scout are happily playing (a reoccurring image throughout the book), they make new friends and stumble across Boo Radley. Boo lives in a neighbouring house and yet is never seen. However, there are a number of rumours regarding him (such as a murderer and a child stealer). Atticus always reminds them to see the world through other people’s eyes. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Still as true today as it was 55 years ago when this book was written. 

Scout struggles, but perseveres eventually to try and live life using the advice from her father. He is a model father, and uses childlike terms to help Scout understand what her father believes and the sole principle that he has to live his life. 

Then, we meet Tom Robinson, a black man, who has been accused of raping a white woman. Atticus takes on the case of defending him, despite the fact that this causes problems for him and his family in terms of the actions of the community around them. The community, largely white, are incredibly racist and disagree with Atticus. And yet, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” 

The trial takes up the majority of the book and as a reader I went through a range of emotions. I feel saddened that people could do anything like that, that people could dislike someone so much because of their skin colour, or tell lies to show who has the power in the community. I would like to think that today things have changed but this book, 55 years later, still makes me question modern society. 

Atticus proves that Tom is not guilty, and that the woman seduced him. As her father finds out they twist the story as he was outraged that she wanted to try and sleep with a black man. The evidence was overwhelming in support of Tom but the white jury still condemn him to prison. He is later killed as he tries to escape. The woman’s father, furious about being disgraced in court, follows Scout and Jem home one evening and tries to harm them. However Boo, disarms him and kills him dead. 

Boo is revealed for who he really is and boy is he great! Scout learns from Tom and Boo that it is better and more important to see people for who they really are, and now for how others see them. Another reason why this novel is timeless. 

Boo and the mockingbirds are linked. “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Like the innocent mockingbird, Boo embodies that same trait. He doesn’t harm anyone, he just protects. Yet he has been damaged by his abusive father. The is just one of the clever metaphors that run through the novel. 

This novel is courageous, powerful, evocative, emotional. Atticus is inspirational. We all need someone like that in our lives – someone who believes that gVood will beat evil and that racism is unacceptable. He is the voice of moral consciousness in an age when the novel was written and it represented the hopes and dreams of those who wanted to end racism and segregation. Such a beautiful book. The whole world needs to read this. Now. 

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Yummy, Scrummy Cakes

Whilst mooching around Hull City Centre, my friend alerted me to the Trinity Indoor Market in Old Town. How have I lived here for 7 years and not known about this? 

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked inside. I felt like a child on Christmas morning. Laid out before me were fresh fruits, vegetables, meats. There was a quaint traditional sweet shop. 

Then I saw it. A chocolate and patisserie section. It called to me and I willingly wondered over to gaze in awe at the beautiful and tempting delights that laid in front of me. 

To be perfectly honest, I wanted one of everything. Nevertheless, I left with a doorstop sized chocolate brownie and a very enticing banoffee pie. 

Chocolate brownie.  

The chocolate brownie was gooey, rich and intense. It was quite possibly one of the yummiest brownies I have ever eaten. AND it was only £2. Excellent value for money. You could clearly taste quality in this brownie. I couldn’t eat all of this in one go because it was so rich but it tasted just as lovely the next day. Delicious! 

Banoffee pie.   

This was definitely a case of eyes bigger than my belly! Thankfully, just like the brownie, it’s tastes just as good the next day. I was really impressed with this pie. The pastry was sweet and crisp, with smooth caramel and light cream. The added cashews to the top gave another texture to the pie which was a delicious surprise. This was also only £3. 

If you’re in Hull make sure you go and get your cake and chocolate fill. (there’s also ice cream for summer.) I will definitely be going back!

 
They are on Facebook and Twitter – check them out!  

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cocoa-chocolatier-and-patisserie/1514854355450330?ref=ts&fref=t’s

https://mobile.twitter.com/cocoahull

Big love x

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The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Exam season. The most stressful time of year for any teacher, regardless of what subject you teach. Today was the English exam that my lovely Year 11s were sitting. The first year group of my career – they are special to me. I always feel nervous and worry about them all, I am desperate for them to do well. Yet, I could literally burst with pride. They are cool as cucumbers, telling me to “relax miss”  and showing me that they have learnt so much this year. So whilst they are frantically writing remembering all the exam skills we have spent a year fine-tuning, I look back to the start of my career.

I started at the deep end. I was teaching Gothic Literature to a top set, very bright group. Thinking back I know I was incredibly nervous. What if they asked me something I didn’t know the answer to? We started with The Yellow Wallpaper. These students, with some slight changes to the group have shaped me into the teacher I am today. 3 years I have spent teaching them. It has been mostly sheer joy. As a leaving present I bought each of them their own copy of The Yellow Wallpaper (which I signed and dated.) It seems right that today I post a review of this book, which also happens to be one of my own personal favourites.

I can remember the first time I read this incredible short story. I got carried away and it ended far too quickly (6000 words isn’t enough!) I felt a range of emotions when reading this, and still do when I re-read today. Mostly I felt a lot of anger and uncertainty when reading this. It must be the little feminist in me! The fact that the narrator isn’t given a name (or a name that is confirmed. Potentially she is called Jane) still bugs me.

The opening provides crucial information regarding who she is. ‘It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral homes for the summer.’ From this we know the narrator is obviously female as she is married, most likely to be middle class and has a husband named John. These three traits, all in the first sentence, foreshadow the importance for the development of the plot rather than her identity or personal history. As a Victorian story, these highlight the conflicts during this period of time, especially regarding women.

The plot shows how the narrator, unreliable as she is, descends into madness. Her husband tries to be supportive but he lacks the understanding of his wife – typical of the time period. He believes it’s in her best interest to go on a rest cure after the birth of their child. They stay in this mansion which she states has “something queer about it.” They move into a room upstairs which has lots of windows, however they are all barred. There is also tears in the wallpaper and scratches in the floor. The narrator assumes these attributes are from children, yet as a reader I’m not so sure. There is something that doesn’t quite sit right, yet I can’t put my finger on it. (Although it obviously becomes clearer at the end of the text.)

The narrative continues to describe the wallpaper. It’s “yellow smell” and the “breakneck pattern”, missing patches and the way it’s leaves yellow stains on skin and the clothing of anyone who touches it. The vivid description of how the the longer she stays in the room the more it seems to change and mutate is quite astonishing. The narrator believes she can see see a female figure in the wallpaper. The description is so detailed, when I closed my eyes I could easily imagine it for myself.

The wallpaper is clearly a metaphor for the narrator’s own freedom. She believes she needs to peel off the remaining wallpaper to set the woman she sees within it free. On the final day of summer she locks herself in the room and decides she needs to take all the paper down. Yet when John arrives back he has to use a key to get in. Finally, she claims “I’ve got out at last.” This quote will forever stay in my mind. The blurring of the narrator and the wallpaper as they seem to become one is rather astonishing.

This book is truly special in the way it deals with the relationship with madness and Victorian women. The vivid description, the well paced plot, the contextual accuracy makes it a really interesting read. It is important to note that a Victorian reader this text was unprintable and shocking. It’s by no means a pleasurable read. It’s uncomfortable, unnerving even. But it is a superb snapshot into early feminist writing.

BL x

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