Covid-19, Comfort of Home and Lemonade

lemons

Most of my stories on the blog are the stories of the more or less distant past. Stories that happened. Stories that I want to remember. Stories that need to be retold. This story is happening right now. This is how I want to remember it. And hopefully, this is what I will be able to retell in a few years time.

Covid-19 Quote

Each of us has their own way to cope in what they call strange, extra-ordinary and unprecedented times. On one hand there is panic and constant worries and concerns. On the other there is appreciation of good health and safety of those nearest and dearest. I surely became more grateful these days. The fact that I live my life day by day with most plans postponed for the foreseeable future means I focus on here and now and enjoy every meal, every walk and every message that those far away send to say they are safe. Over the last two months we got used to hearing of social-distancing and self-isolating and now we are all practising that at our own homes. Though in my house not all are overly upset because of that – our dog has always been very keen to keep his social distance snapping at anyone who breaks the 2 meters distance and our cat is a real master of self-isolating spending days in the furthest corners of our attic.

We might be in what seems an uncertain place now yet I try to see the brighter side and focus on the positives. After all, I am quite comfortable in my own house, with my family around, facilities at disposal and supplies at the nearby shop. And so as they say in the daily COVID-19 newsletter that I receive from journal.ie wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, and read on…

My Covid-19 Positive List Poster

Essentials

We had to redefine our essentials – essential travel, essential shopping, essential jobs and suddenly the important things seem to have lost their value. For us eggs were very high on the priority list and we got a nice hearty supply of 3 trays from the farm. Lemons topped the list as well as we do use a lot of them to make the lemonade each day. Thankfully, there is no spend or 10 items only limit at the shops as it would be really difficult to choose between carrots, apples or canned tomatoes.

Acts of kindness

One day my 68 year old mother found a packet of biscuits with a note that her neighbour left for her.

Community spirit

#WeInThisTogether brings us all closer on the very local level, as bigger communities of work and school and as a nation. Last week all Europe clapped at 8 pm to say thank you to the healthcare workers. Schools provide distance learning and neighbours invent social-distancing activities to keep the spirits up.

Bucket list

Now it is a good time to think of all the things that we put off: of spring clean, of art and craft projects and of home DIY. I made my list of little tasks on the kitchen board and tick them off one at a time. Hopefully, in a few weeks my house will be sparkling clean and super organized. We have also ordered loads of books online including Love in the times of cholera and I am really looking forward to some quiet reading daily time.

Keeping in touch

While I mostly exchange messages on Whatup or Messenger I still pick up the phone and call my mum on the landline and I absolutely love the AnPost idea sending love Ag seoladh grá postcards that are free to send anywhere around Ireland.

Wellbeing

I am so grateful that we can still go for the daily walks to get the essential amount of exercise. This is one of my favourite time of the day and it really cheers me up and makes me feel good.

Work and personal life blend

If you imagined that working from home is easy and involves less work, think again. If anything, we are more busy and work harder and school@home is intense too not to mention juggling all the household chores that are also more intense with a full house. I try to keep to my routines and my times. I take breaks and then at the end of the working day I switch off my mailbox till the next morning.

New technology

I have never heard of Zoom before and here I am using it to take part in the classes and meet the staff. I am finally exploring Teams and I discovered Borrow Box linked to our local library and even read my first e-book.

Homebaking

First we baked the bread rolls from the recipe here. Then my cousin Eva sent me a great simple recipe for homemade bread and at last I found a good use for the leftover spelt flour and bran that were sitting in the cupboard for a while. And in the meantime my daughter baked her very own nut cake with chocolate chips. I will probably not be baking daily especially as the proper sourdough would still be a challenge but it is very rewarding and encouraging to have your own bread served for breakfast.

Natural remedies

I have always preferred natural remedies such as dandelion cough syrup, and good old garlic and lemons. When we go on our winter skiing holidays we always have a little shot of freshly squeezed lemon juice to boost the immune system. These days we have a tumbler of turmeric, ginger, grapefruit and honey smoothie in the morning and some homemade lemonade at dinner.

home made lemonade

Homemade lemonade

3 lemons

5 tbs of sugar

3/4 l of sparkling mineral water or tap water

lemons

Roll the lemons first to make them more juicy.

Halve the lemons and squeeze into the jug.

Add a few tablespoons of sugar and mix well.

Top up with sparkling or tap water and serve with a few ice-cubes.

homemade lemonade

Keep well and stay safe

Sonia-signature

Unicorn Cake

Today it is the 29th of February – a very unique date. I started my blog experience exactly four years ago and what a better way to celebrate this anniversary than with a Unicorn Cake post.

This cake must be entirely credited to my brilliant and talented neighbour, Lindsey, who not only gave me the foolproof recipe but masterly assembled and decorated the cake. All this time she insisted the cake is easy and a great fun to make and when you look at the final effect you really believe that magic and unicorn do exist.

unicorn cake

Lemon Cake (makes 6 layers)

2 cups (500 g) butter – softened
2 cup (400 g) white sugar
8 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 cups (560 g) all purpose flower
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
60 ml lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
food colouring paste in 6 colours of the rainbow (violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, red)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluff and pale in colour.
Add the eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla and lemon zest.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and then add to batter with the lemon juice. Mix until incorporated.

Divide your mixture into six bowls and mix in a different food colouring paste into each. You aim to have a smooth and brightly coloured mixtures. You might want to use vinyl gloves for that.

Line the baking form, or forms if you have more of the same size, with baking cases – that will make it easier to remove one layer and place another making the baking quicker. Pour one of your coloured mixtures into baking tin and bake for approx. 10 – 15 minutes. Check if baked with a toothpick, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes (if you are using the baking cases) or until cool.

Horn and ears

a 250 g pack of purple or pink fondant (I got mine here)
one skewer
edible glitter flakes

Roll the fondant about 5 mm thick. With a sharp knife cut out two pointed ears, about 7 cm high and 5 – 6 cm wide. Leave them on the rolling pin for at least 30 minutes to shape them into a curve.

Cut out two thin 5 cm long moon-shaped eyes and some tiny lashes. Make sure to have a left and right set.

Knead the remaining fondant until soft and then roll into an approx. 50 cm long sausage shape that is thicker at one end and getting thinner at the other one. Brush the skewer with a bit a water to help the fondant stick and then wrap the fondant tightly around starting with the thinner end on the top and continuing to wrap as it gets thicker and thicker. See the video here. You want the horn to be around 15 cm high and there should be some skewer left that will attach the horn to the cake. Leave the horn to harden for at least an hour and ideally overnight.

Once properly set, brush the horn and ears with water and then paint with glitter flakes or lustre powder.

Icing and decorating

1.7 kg – 2 kg icing sugar
450 g (2 blocks)  butter – at room temperature
food colouring paste in 6 colours of the rainbow (violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, red)
edible glitter flakes, lustre powder or sparkling sugar

In a large bowl cream the softened butter with the icing sugar. Gradually add the icing sugar and keep beating until pale and fluffy.

Arrange the sponge cakes in the order of the colours of the rainbow. Place the first layer on the cake board and spread a dose of buttercream over the top of the sponge. Carefully cover it with the second sponge and press down gently to attach and level. Repeat until you place the final sponge on top.

Coat the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream to trap any stray crumbs. Place the cake in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes to allow the crumb coat to set. With a spatula evenly spread a thick layer of icing all around the sides and on top of the cake trying to make it as smooth and leveled as you can. Leave to chill and set in the fridge.

Divide the remaining buttercream into four (or more if you want more colours) bowls and mix in some food colouring paste. That will be the rainbow colours for the unicorn mane.

When you are ready to bring your unicorn cake to life, stick the horn on the top and place the ears slightly behind on each side.

Pipe large swirls of buttercream in front of the horn and ears to start the mane, alternating the colours. Pipe more swirls round the cake in little circles starting from the middle. Work your way down one side of the cake to create a lovely and colourful mane effect.

To finish off decorate with sprinkles, flakes or edible glitter and place in the fridge to chill.

Let the unicorn cake shine and sparkle at your party!

unicorn cake recipe

Sonia-signature

 

Socks for Birthday

sockball for a dog

Lucky is a dog who loves balls, balloons and socks. He has a certain knack for finding tennis balls underneath prickly shrubs, in dense thicket, in overgrown ponds and in muddy ditches. He sniffs and he disappears for a while only to come back – proud as could be – with a smelly ball in his mouth. Sometimes he has to put quite a struggle to get the ball: dig it, pull it, fish it or pick it but he never gives up and whatever it takes he gets the ball.
Why does he love socks? Is it the ball-shape of the rolled socks or is it the specific smell? Socks surely are one of his favourite things and his favourite toys which is why we make sockballs for him. Whenever we have the socks that are too small or too old or those single ones that somehow cannot be matched anymore, we roll one on another until it forms a soft chunky ball. It basically is like a fabric onion. The dog can peel the layers one by one as he gnaws on it.


To make one sockball you will need about ten pairs of socks and you can assemble the toy in minutes. It is sustainable, free of plastic and home-made. It is soft and safe to throw around the house and it can re-assembled if needed. It gives the dog the familiar smell and it is fun to play. So this year for his birthday, Lucky got a bone, a squeaky toy and a few colourful sockballs. He kept the bone for later, he teared the squeaky toy into pieces and he plays with his sockballs every day. After all, those are his favourite things.

Dogs Love Socks

You can read more stories about our dog – Lucky on the blog here, here, here and here.

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Chocolate Cookies for every occasion

I am sure that everyone has their own definition of the perfect chocolate cookies. Mine need to be not too big and not too flat. They should be crispy and cracking when you bite them and then a bit gooey and chewy inside to melt in your mouth. This recipe ticks all the boxes and this is why I stick to it and the only variations are the types of decorations and final touches.

Last time we wanted to make a mix of pink and blue chocolate chip cookies to bring with us to the gender reveal party. And as pink and blue chocolate chips were rather difficult to come by we made our own just by melting white chocolate and adding the food colouring paste. The effect was pretty awesome  and they were as cute as a button, yet as usual the proof was in the eating.chocolate cookies

Coloured Chocolate Chips

1 bar of white chocolate (we picked one with no palm oil) per one colour

1 -2 tsp of food coloring

Melt the chocolate in a water bath. Chop the chocolate into little pieces and place in a bowl that will fit in a pot of boiling water. Leave to melt stirring occasionally but be very careful that no water gets into the chocolate as that will make the chocolate lumpy.

Once melted gradually add the food colouring of your choice and mix till fully incorporated and smooth.

Pour the mixture into an icing tube, or a plastic bag and carefully squeeze little dots onto a baking sheet. Let them to set for approximately an hour.

Continue with another colour.chocolate cookie dough

Chocolate Cookies

150 g unsalted butter (at room temperature)

125 g soft light brown sugar

100 g caster sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 egg yolk

300 g flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

100 g dark chocolate

5 tbs dark cocoa powder

chocolate cookie dough

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Beat the butter with the brown and caster sugar. Add in vanilla extract, one egg and the egg yolk and keep beating until fluffy and creamy.

Melt the dark chocolate in a water bath, let to cool a bit and slowly pour into the mixture.

Mix together the dry  ingredients: flour, bicarbonate soda and dark cocoa powder and stir into the batter.

Finally, fold in the chocolate chips keeping one third aside to add them at the end on the top of the cookies.

Form the dough into little balls, roll them in the palm of your hands and place on a lined baking tray. Add one or two extra chocolate chips on the top.

Bake in the oven for 12 minutes so that the chocolate chips keep their intense colour and the cookies do not get too dry. Let to cool.

chocolate cookies

Put in a cookie jar or in a party bowl for sharing and enjoy.

Sonia-signature

 

 

Who wants to live forever

Rock'n'roll

This is a rather unusual post of mine, yet I wanted to pay tribute to a great star and also tell a secondary school story that all ties in with the AIDS awareness. Back in the early 1990s little did we know of the disease and when we spoke of AIDS it was with fear and distance. It filtered with overseas news of a fatal disease from Africa, a handful of facts and a whole load of misconceptions. On one hand it was seen as a shameful illness relating to certain society groups and on the other it was feared so contagious that many attempts to arrange AIDS Care Centres faced public protests and riots.

It was only a start of raising the awareness and educating the society on the risk, prevention and acceptance. To me AIDS got real and materialized when the news of Freddie Mercury’s death hit the world. A star, an idol and an icon, who lived a celebrity life that most of the teenagers aspired to, dies of AIDS. I think most of us asked the question: why and wanted to learn more about the virus, its transmission and safe practices. This death sparkled conversation and we were no longer referring to AIDS as a despicable outcast disease but we talked of AIDS as terminal yet preventable illness.  Rather than distancing ourselves from the risk we realized we would better play it safe if we do not want to waste our lives and die young.Freddie Mercury 1946 1991

I distinctly remember a simulation game that our Biology teacher asked us to play at secondary school. The rules were simple. All the people in the class were to circulate and meet one to one, shake hands and then move onto the next person. Except that three people, known only to the teacher, were pretending to be infected with HIV. They were behaving exactly like anyone else, circulating, meeting people, shaking hands but also spreading the disease. You infected others – for the purpose of the game of course – by rubbing the palm of their hand with your thumb. No one would notice but the person infected would know. And so it continued  and the newly infected person could now spread the disease by rubbing the palm of another when shaking their hands. I was not one of the first few to catch the virus but when I did, I stepped aside and withdrew from the game only watching others playing. In less than 10 minutes the whole class was infected, and only three, myself included, out of 30 made the decision to quit the game rather than transmit the virus.

Worlds AIDS Day
Quite an experiment that was. And a real eye opener that gave me insights not only into human nature but into the scope and span of spreading a disease. I realized anyone could be vulnerable, even if you think you are fairly risk-free. The red ribbon was the first one I wore to pledge support to those affected. Throughout the last 30 years the awareness campaigns largely changed public perception and educated the society, yet according to the latest data on HIV and AIDS released by the ECDC there is still need for early diagnosis and higher testing coverage that can save lives. Surely we all feel, as Freddie did, risk-free and not afraid of anything, but if you have a slightest doubt or worry, you know what to do.

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Wicked Halloween Treats

Halloween Deviled Eggs

I get very excited about Halloween. Wicked, creepy, and deadly inspires me. I can get creative with decorations, food, drinks, party games and of course dressing up and there’s no need for perfection as bit of ugliness, disproportion and roughness suits Halloween just as well. I start my Halloween planning quite early and every year I try some new inspirations but I have a hefty set of tempting and tasty treats that I make year after year as they are an absolute hit at the party. After all, Halloween part screams for wow effect and the X factor and those will surely please the guests. I will not deny it, they might be a bit time consuming, especially the decorating part but they all fairly easy to make and you perfect them over time and year after year.

Halloween Party Pleasers

Deviled Eggs

I found the look inspiration here but I use the frozen blueberries for egg colouring and leave the eggs to infuse overnight.

100 g frozen blueberries

12 eggs

1 tbs wasabi

1 avocado

1 tbs green food colouring paste

1 tbs English mustard

2 tbs mayonnaise

2 tbs lemon

salt and pepper

nigella seeds

Halloween Deviled Eggs

Place the eggs with frozen blueberries in a medium pot filled with water. Bring to boil, cook gently for 5 minutes and leave in the blueberry water for 10 minutes.

Remove the hard boiled eggs to dry but keep the blueberry water. Roll the eggs with a palm of your hand to crack. You want to get lots and lots of irregular cracks on the shell. Return the eggs to the pot and leave overnight so that they can get the blueish pattern.

The next day, carefully peel the eggs and pat them dry. Cut each in half and remove the yolk into a medium bowl. Halve the avocado and scoop the flesh into the bowl. Mash the egg yolks and avocado pieces with a fork and add wasabi paste, English mustard, lemon juice, mayonnaise and green food colouring paste. Season with salt and pepper.

Use an pastry bag with a spaghetti type nozzle or a play dough syringe to squeeze the filling into the egg whites. Arrange on a platter or a cake stand and sprinkle with some nigella seeds.

Halloween Deviled Eggs

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes

from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen

Cupcakes:

250 g flour

2 tbs dark cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

100 g soft unsalted butter (this needs to be at room temperature)

200 g caster sugar

1 tbs (or more) red food coloring paste

2 tbs vanilla extract

2 eggs

175 ml buttermilk

a drop of cider vinegar

50 frozen raspberries

50 Halloween themed mini muffin cases
Frosting:

400 g icing sugar

100 g cream cheese

100 g soft unsalted butter (this needs to be at room temperature)

1 tsp lemon juice

icing decorations knives from Wilton

red decorating gel

Bloody Red Velvet Cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 170° C.

In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl beat the butter with the sugar until soft, creamy and pale. Add the vanilla extract and the red food coloring paste. Add a tablespoon or two of the dry ingredients then fold in one egg and mix until well combined. Add more dry ingredients, another egg and remaining flour mix and keep beating until smooth. Pour in buttermilk and a drop of vinegar and mix well.

Line the mini muffin tin with cases and fold the red mixture into the little cases. Put one frozen raspberry in the middle of each cupcake to get a blood spilling effect. Do not overfill the cases as they will raise in the oven. The recipe makes about 50 mini cupcakes so you might need to do it in batches.

Bake for 20 minutes and make sure they get a darker red colour but do not get brown. Leave to cool.

For the frosting beat together icing sugar, soft butter and cream cheese until smooth and thick. Use a spatula to decorate in a swirly move but do not cover the red top of the cupcake completely. Stick the icing knife into each and splatter with decorating gel for the bloody effect.

Bloody Red Velvet Cupcakes

Cheese Mummy

I found this recipe inspiration here but I use mozzarella cheese for decorating as it works great.

2 packs of soft cream cheese

1 pack cheddar cheese (grated)

4 spring onions

pack of dried ham (prosciutto or Serrano)

salt and pepper

2 mozzarella balls – for bandages

1 black olive – for mummy’s eyes

selection of tortilla crisps and crackers

Halloween Cheesy Mummy

Mix the cream cheese with grated cheddar and fold in finely chopped prosciutto ham and spring onion. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange the mixture into a mummy shape on a platter. Peel mozzarella cheese with a potato peeler or your fingers. You aim to have long wide strips that will cover the mummy. Wrap the mummy overlapping the strips. Serve with tortilla crisps and crackers.

Enjoy those treats and have a happy Halloween.

Sonia-signature

You Rock! Rocky Roads

There are some recipes that you make once and stick to them because the food is perfect. This Rocky Roads recipe from Nigella Express Cook Book  is certainly one of those. I have been making them for nearly 10 years and I swear I have never tried better ones. It is a great way to use up any leftover chocolate, though I am fully aware that chocolate is not really the type of food that gets left behind. It is fun to make especially if you have some little helpers around the house. It works amazingly well for any birthday parties and is extremely popular at bake sales. I think there is something very attractive and tempting about bite-size treats that just makes you grab one or two quite spontaneously. And then you pick the third one just because you love it and you know you want more. Lately, I have been makings them for my friends 40th birthdays trying to say it with food that they simply ROCK. Make sure to try this recipe out and see for yourself how very addictive those little rocky roads bars are.

 

Rocky Roads
(recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express)

125 g unsalted butter

300 g of chocolate (a mixture of dark and milk chocolate)

3 tablespoons of golden syrup

200 g Rich Tea biscuits (ideally if you can find ones with no palm oil)

100 g marshmallows (a mixture of colours)

some icing sugar for dusting

sprinkle stars (optional)

Rocky Roads

Break the chocolate into little pieces  and put them into a heavy bottom pot with the cubed butter and golden syrup. Melt on a low heat stirring along the way.

Place the biscuits into a freezer bag and bash them with a pestle or a rolling pin into small bits and crumbs.

Cut the marshmallows with scissors into 1 cm pieces. You can also use the mini ones and save yourself the trouble.

Once the chocolate mixture is melted fold in the biscuits and stir gently. Add the marshmallows and combine.

Line a rectangular (18cm x  32 cm) or square (24 cm x 24 cm) tray with aluminium foil and pour the mixture flattening and leveling as much as you can.

Place in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Once all set, remove from the fridge and take out of the tray onto a cutting board. Cut with a sharp knife into even finger size bits and sprinkle with the icing sugar.

Rocky Roads

Pop into a treat jar, bring to a party or a bake sale and see how fast they are gone.

Enjoy.

Sonia-signature

 

Basic Big and Borrowed Bikes

I have always associated bicycle with freedom. Freedom to choose your way. Freedom to choose your pace. Freedom to feel the air in your lungs and wind in your hair.

Bike Quote: A feminist slogan. Photo: My Mum Ela

I only owned three bicycles in my life:  a kid bike on which I learnt to cycle, the junior bike that I roamed the neighbourhood on, and finally a comfort bike that was found in a rubbish dump and got beautifully upcycled (yes, exactly) by my husband.

My first bicycle was a shiny purple small bike fitted with stabilizers that after a few months were taken off to be replaced – very temporarily – by a wooden pole attached to the back of the saddle. My father would hold on to it while running along me until he finally knew he could let go, stop and see me riding away on my own.

Bike Quote: Emo Philips, US Comedian. Photo: Grandmother Gienia

Fairly quickly I grew out of the kids bike and got upgraded to much cooler model with high head tube, hand brake and back rack that could be used to carry the extra person. It looked like this and was all I wanted and needed. I could cycle around the estates, very often pretending that the bike was my fellow horse and together we explored and conquered not the nearby streets but rather distant kingdoms or wild prairies.

Bike Quote: Albert Einstein. Photo: Grandmother Zosia

As much fun as that was, in a few years this bike too became the thing of the past as it was too small for a young girl. So it was sold yet sadly enough we could never afford the new one so I got no bike to cycle to school or ride to friends’ houses. Luckily, there was always someone I could borrow a bike from to go for a day trip to the lake or to the mountains. I always felt great to get on the bike and feel the air blowing in my face and even though some of the bikes were too big and not so comfortable to ride, surely you don’t look a gifted horse into the mouth.

karta rowerowa, cycling licence
Bike Quote: H.G. Wells, British author. Collage: Ewa, old cycling licences and Sonia in Switzerland

I think I truly discovered the culture of riding a bike once I was on my summer holidays in Switzerland. The green ways led us through the corn fields and woodlands, along the golf courses and away from the roads and traffic. And even in the city centres the cars would always give way to bicycles. And the bicycles would always stop for the pedestrians. I was amazed by the respect shown and I never felt as safe riding a bike.

Amsterdam, on the other hand, proved way too professional for my leisure cyclist skills. Even though cycling in Amsterdam was the first thing on my to-do-list I never ventured to merge into a cycling lane as I was afraid I will be knocked-down or at least pinged for not knowing where I was going and not keeping up with the other’s speed.

Bike Quote: Greg LeMond, US Cyclist. Photo: Natasha

Is it easy to learn to ride a bike? I can still remember going through all the stages of learning and feeling proud and very grown-up while reaching this milestone. I can still remember watching my husband teaching our daughter. I think riding a bike is one of those basic skills that parents, well mostly fathers, teach their children. Or is it? As parents have less time and tend to turn to professionals for solutions I could imagine in a few years from now cycling schools will be as popular as swimming lessons. Surely, the kids will have better skills but will we not miss something important and will we still have the authority if we leave teaching our children to teachers?

Bike Quote: Mark Twain, American author. Photo: Sonia on her UPCYCLED bike

Many years passed until I got my third bike. As with many things in my life I didn’t search for it, it found me. The bike was dumped in a pile of rubbish, broken and wasted. The handlebar was dented and askew. The wheels were flat. The brake cable was cut. The chain was rusted. The shifter was gone. While most saw a wreck, my husband saw the potential. He brought it home and started to fix and to tweak and to add until he made the bike just for me. It had now bright red brake and gear cables and a wicker basket to carry all the essentials.

bike quote

We were now ready for family trips. We explored lots of greenways, cycled in parks and along the canals. We traveled with bikes to France and rode along the coast of Brittany. Sometimes a bike would break. Sometimes we got caught in the rain and once in a tide coming in. We do get dirty and the bikes ever more so. When we cycle we mostly escape the city, the crowds and stay away from urban areas. We try to regularly cycle to school. Occasionally, I cycle to work or town but I still feel insecure to join the rush hour traffic. I never cycled on the city bikes, yet I would love to give it a try. I honestly do not care how the bike looks like, if it is mine or borrowed and if it’s slightly too big or too small. As long as there is time to explore, look around and take in what you see, I enjoy it.

Sonia-signature

 

Bees and Buzz and Hives

hives

I like to think this recipe is the celebration of bees buzzing around, carrying tiny bits of pollen and making honey to store in their bee hive. I have heard so much about this little sweet treat that I could not wait to try out the recipe. This July we were pleased to host Marysia from Pychotkowo and not only did she bring the forms but also she agreed to share all her know-how with us and she put together the post below.

bumble bee

Bee hives where the bees live

This recipe comes from Southern part of Poland. I always make it for Christmas with my grandma, Baba Kie and there are no Christmas without ”bee hives”. You don’t need the oven to bake them and they are easy to make but its important to have the moulds which are not so easy to find even in Poland. Alternatively, you can try with a really small glass. You can make the dough of walnuts or maybe from cashews.

hives serving

Bee Hives
Makes 12
Walnut Dough

200 g walnuts (powdered, you can easily use a blender to do that)

1 egg white

200 g icing sugar

Chocolate Filling

100 g unsalted butter (at room temperature)

2 tbs dark cocoa powder

50 g icing sugar

Base

wafer or matza crackers

How to make it?

In a large bowl mix powdered walnuts, egg white and icing sugar. You should  not need any mixer,  I always use my hands for that.

To make the filling combine butter with icing sugar and cocoa powder.

See collage below for step by step instruction how to fold the hives.

bee nice hive recipe collageFirst, make a small ball and carefully place it in a bee-hive shaped mould.

Use a spoon to make a small hole in a middle.

Pipe the chocolate filling inside.

Use a round shaped cookie cutter or a glass (2 cm diameter) to cut 12 little bases for your hives.

Carefully take your hive out of the form (don’t worry if the first one will not be perfect)

Seal it with the round wafer.

Continue until you use up all the walnut dough.

Enjoy all year round.

 

 

Sonia-signature

A Lucky Magpie

magpie

One rainy evening my husband brought home an injured bird. He found the magpie lying lifeless and miserable in the bushes on his way back from a dog walk and simply scooped her out and took her in. I must say he has a certain knack for rescuing helpless animals as he already brought home a cat, a dog and once he stopped in the middle of a busy road to save a petrified rabbit that got stuck there not able to move out of the way to safety.  So, as with most animals that come around our house, this magpie just happened to us. I had not a clue how to care for an injured bird and I asked myself whether it would be safe to keep a bird in a house where there is already a dog and a cat, but I thought that we were the best chance the poor little magpie got and she would not make it outside on her own. We put her in a shed for the night so that at least she could get warm, rest and not be bothered by cats, foxes or other birds.

The next morning we examined her it and it was clear she must have been hit by a car as all her left side from leg to wing to tail was injured. She could not stand, she could hardly move and surely she must have been very frightened to be handled by human beings. We gave her some water with a syringe and made her a comfortable enclosure out of a see-through toy basket padded with some old sheets. I do not know much about bird care and the first image that came to my mind was the Thumbelina looking after the swallow, keeping it warm and well-fed. And that we did. We gave the magpie some blackberry juice and she seemed to slowly regain her energy. The next morning, as my mother suggested, we fed her some grated cheese. Oh, she did like this and she opened her beak to snatch bit after bit. Even though, she was still very weak, we could see she was getting better and we knew we were doing the right thing.

magpie

I have a thing about magpies. Somehow, always the very sound of the word makes me laugh and puts a smile on my face as if it was some sort of a keyword triggering joy. Now this is weird enough but it is even weirder if you bear in mind that magpies here are thought to bring bad luck. As in the rhyme that my friend from work, Elisa taught me once goes:

magpies rhyme

Did the magpie bring us sorrow? I do not think so.  Magpies are one of the most intelligent birds. They can recognize themselves in a mirror and, importantly, they mate for life. Watching the magpie to get back in shape was definitely a great joy. She gave us a fright once or twice when we heard her screeching noise and rushed outside only to discover she was being attacked by other magpies. Luckily, our great dog accepted her as a part of the herd now and he would lie down at the garden door, keep an eye on her and when needed chased the other birds or cats away.

Magpie Children Book Illustration
A Children Book Illustration by J. M. Szancer

After a few days we did not need to use the syringe anymore and we would feed her little pieces of cheese, raw meat, ham and fruit. I really liked the morning feeds when she would pick a piece of food with her beak from my fingers. And when she had enough she would still take the food and hide it away for later.

magpie and strawberry

I did like to watch her bouncing in the garden. At first, she moved really awkwardly in a Quasimodo style dragging her wing to the side but over a few days her leg would become stronger and even though she still could not fly, she was moving quite comfortably around the garden, picking worms, hiding from other birds when she heard them and perching on garden furniture and bikes. Day after day she was getting fitter and it was also more and more difficult to catch her to put in her enclosure for the night.

magpie in the garden

After a week or so she started to practise flying. She flew from the garden table to the shed. She flew from the flower bed to the neighbours’ garden. She flew to another fence. She flew to the roof. And eventually she flew to the nearby trees out of the estate and out of sight. We watched her thinking if she was ready to leave. I was wondering if she was good enough to fly away and survive on her own. But I guess, when you are a bird you do not really wait until you perfect your flying, you just plunge into it and try to manage to land best as you can, even if a bit awkwardly, and then you shake it off and try again and again.

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