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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West End News – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

 

It’s been 18 years (wow!) since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in the UK. A lot has happened in this time: 7 novels, 8 films, Platform 9 3/4s opened in London with the trolley in the wall and the Studio Tour just to name a few. 

Therefore, I could not be more excited when I stumbled across this Harry Potter news this morning. I felt like I had ants in my pants. I just couldn’t keep still. Awkward when you’re at work! Cue some funny looks…

What’s caused all reaction? I kind of gave it away in the title… So, it has been announced that Harry Potter will be hitting the Palace Theatre in London’s West End in 2016. J.K. Rowling has teamed up with playwrite Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany to give devoted fans another slice of the Harry Potter action. 

It’s still very much hush hush about the details, but we know it contains untold stories of Harry’s history. Rumours of a prequel have been floating around for months. However, I don’t think anyone expected a play. I certainly didn’t. Rowling always has this air of mystery around her. Are the rumours correct? A prequel implies stories about Hary’s parents. Or, could the rumours be wrong and include parts about Harry’s life after the final novel left it? I doubt that, it seemed a pretty neat, tied up ending to me. There is something about imagining an old man Harry Potter though. 

Tickets go on sale this autumn (seriously why such a long wait?), with more updates on their website coming soon. I’ve already saved it to my favourites with the plan to check daily. http://www.harrypottertheplaylondon.com 

I feel lucky to have grown up with Harry. I was one of those kids who queued at midnight for the latest book, went home and read it so that when I got to school no one could ruin it for me. This is am proud of. What a revolution. I can’t wait to find out more about this play. Moreover, I can’t wait to go and see it! 

  
BL xx

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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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Huffkins – Stratford upon Avon

Something very exciting has happened in my glorious hometown of Stratford. Could it get any better? Well, yes, it seems it can. That’s right, a lovely Huffkins bakery and tea room has opened right in the centre of town on Bridge Street. There was no way I was missing out on experiencing this! 

  

 

It has been stunningly decorated, with the original brick being showcased and the food just looks so tempting and enticing. 

  
  

I couldn’t take my eyes off these amazing cakes. All of which are baked upstairs in the morning. Very impressive! I got there around lunch time and it was really busy and lots of cakes had already been devoured. 

   
I took my Momma and we had lunch. We had a chicken and bacon sandwich which was really tasty. Then we decided to have cakes (naturally). She had a lovely chocolate eclair and I had a strawberry tart. It was quite possibly the yummiest tart I’ve had for a while. Delicious! I didn’t even see the chocolate eclair so I gather my mum thoroughly enjoyed it! 
  

    

Check out their website http://www.huffkins.com for some super duper products. There’s also other tearooms as well as the new Stratford one that are well worth a visit. 

I was so impressed. I absolutely loved it. Make sure you visit if you’re in the area. I will be going back again and again. 

Lots of cake love x

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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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