Saturday, 13 September 2014

100 Days of Nature - Days 20 through 36...

It's been a really rough few weeks. My mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer last year, about 10 months ago. Despite her stubbornness and positivity, she sadly passed away on 28 August.

I know it sounds peculiar, but I have kept up my "100 Days of Nature" throughout this whole time. It's been a cathartic release, having a project to work on which actually made me get out of the house and think about something else.

I have been avoiding most forms of social media over the last few weeks, but I am feeling a bit braver now, so I am catching up!


Day 20 - my first frog. Dedicated to my mom


Day 21


Day 22


Day 23


Day 24


Day 25


Day 26


Day 27


Day 28


Day 29


Day 30


Day 31


Day 32


Day 33


Day 34


Day 35


Day 36

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 19

Another day of trying to keep to a semblance of normality. Found a little ladybird today.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 18

Very sad day today, but trying to retain some sense of normality, so tracked down a bug for Day 18.


Monday, 25 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 17

It hasn't stopped raining all day and, despite my camera claiming to be weather-sealed, it's new, so I didn't want to push it. I took a little wander around the garden after putting food out for the birds this morning and found this rather lovely web, heavy with raindrops.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 16

I tried out another new park today. Now, it may just be because the weather wasn't as nice, but I wasn't as impressed as with yesterday's park. Better spaces for Frisbee, certainly, but lacking on the critter diversity side of things. Still, I managed to get a few decent captures. This was my favourite for the day - I like her face.


I am sorry to say that I haven't even touched hexagon blanket is almost 2 weeks. Tracking down minibeasts to photograph takes up a disproportionate amount of time!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 15

So, it's been a bad weekend. Won't go into details, but when it rains, it pours. I know no-one reads this blog anyway, but I'm still reluctant to spill my metaphorical guts on a public forum. Anyway, I must have spent about 4 or 5 hours walking today - some people walk to think, I walk to stop thinking. When I have my camera and I'm looking for critters, it just seems to push everything else out of my head - almost like a moving mediation - which was exactly what I needed.


I finally got around to visiting a park near us which has been on my "to-do" list for a very long time. I am so glad I did - it was wonderful! Full of lethargic dragonflies, just begging to have their photos taken!

Friday, 22 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 14

I spotted this little guy on my orange blossom tree, which is right next to my rather sad looking rosemary bush. Looking online, I think he is the cause of my rosemary's sadness! He's a rosemary beetle, and an invasive pest, which I guess means I have to try & get rid of them. It seems a pity, as they are so pretty!


Thursday, 21 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 13

I worked late again tonight, so had to contend with little light, over cast skies AND wind. I was poking around in my neighbours leylandii, looking for critters which were sheltered from the wind, and was so focused on the abundance of webs that I almost walked into this girl. I'm not scared of spiders, but I think having her crawl over my face would give even me the heebie-jeebies...


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 12

I went for a walk just before sunset today. I love walking at sunrise or sunset, on the cusp of the daily shift-change. I am lucky enough to live near a few patches of woodlands, so took advantage of them this evening. The light wasn't good enough to get a decent photo of the few spiders I found, but I did find a little patch of vibrant green moss, which I thought was rather pretty.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 11

I am very grateful to these blog titles - they are certainly helping me keep track of what day of the challenge I am on!

I got this shot of a jackdaw this morning. I would have liked the eye to be a bit more in focus, but he flew off very quickly, so I didn't have time to focus properly.


I submitted the colour version to the BBC Nature Facebook page, because I love the colour of this feathers, but I do also like how it turned out in black and white - he stands out more against the background.


Ultimately though, my love of colour won out!

Monday, 18 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 10

Frequent, heavy showers seemed to keep all the birds and mini beasts away today, so I had to content myself with some lichen I found on a honeysuckle stalk. The wind has not stopped all week either, which is vexing, but hey!


Sunday, 17 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 9

I got a photo in early this today - I didn't even need to go for a walk! I spotted this little squirrel stealing peanuts, then trying to bury them in the garden, this morning. The lighting is a bit odd, but she bolted soon after she caught sight of me through the window, so I had to make do.


Saturday, 16 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 8

The light was awful today (i.e. there was none) and the wind didn't stop. I didn't have my tripod with me on my walkabout, so had to bump the ISO right up to get a sharp(ish) shot. It's a bit grainy because of it, but I can live with that. I like the way the blue flowers reflect on her face.

Can you tell I'm having fun with my macro lens?


Friday, 15 August 2014

100 Days of Nature: Day 7

I was just about to give up today. I could find nothing interesting in the garden apart from grass and dandelion leaves (which, fyi, are not very interesting). Just as I was heading back inside though, a little movement on the wall caught my eye & I saw this jumping spider. I am really pleased with how sharp the eyes came out - I didn't have time to set the tripod up for fear of losing my little arachnid friend, so I hand-held and manually focused. Go me!



Thursday, 14 August 2014

100 Days of Nature: Day 6

Ha, so much for snails being slow! No sooner had I tried to focus, when ol' Speedy here had made a dash for it and messed up the shot! Oh, well, I'm pretty happy with this one - I like the reflection in the bird bath.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 5

Well, I solved the "no time" conundrum by photographing pigeons over breakfast. Unfortunately, wood pigeons are the most exciting creatures to visit our garden.


It is also a Wednesday and, as I finished work somewhat earlier than anticipated, this means that I still get to watch Great British Bake-Off before bed! I've had a real urge to bake something recently too, maybe that's a project for this weekend...

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 4

I am very proud that I have managed this 4 days in a row! Tomorrow may be a challenge as I am in work 8am-8pm, but let's see what happens...


I was on a little walk around the neighbourhood today when my "bug vision" saw this little bug. It was pretty windy again today, so I'm pleased this came out as sharp as it did.

Monday, 11 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 3

I didn't have time after work to go for a walk today, so thought I would see what I could find in the garden.

I am sad to admit that I am not very green-fingered, so there wasn't much to choose from. However, after scouring the lawn for potential subjects, I found this little guy drinking nectar from a buttercup. It was the most chilled out bug of all time - hung on in there despite the wind and even let me rearrange the grass around it a little to get a better shot. If only butterflies and dragonflies were as cooperative...


Sunday, 10 August 2014

100 Days of Nature - Day 2

Well, it is chucking it down out there today, so this one was taken on my phone after breakfast, during a brief respite from the precipitation.

My husband actually spotted this little guy (or gal, or is it both with snails?) trying to find shelter in the bricks.


(Hexagon blanket is coming along well, by the way. Almost a third of the way through stitching the rows together.)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

100 Days of Nature

A friend shared BBC Natures "100 Days of Nature" challenge with me & I couldn't resist - although I'm starting a little late!

Here is day 1. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that it is a bee. I am a little besotted with the little creatures.


This was taken today at the Arboretum at Jodrell Bank. I was playing with my "nifty-fifty" lens - I had forgotten how much I loved that one.

Let's see if I can keep this up for another 99 days...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hexagon wheel

OK, one more shot of these beauties!


Hexagons-a-go-go

After many, many (many) weeks, I have finally completed all my full hexagons - including the nefarious weaving in of ends. 81 of the dudes - check them out!


Admittedly, they don't look quite as impressive in the photo as I feel they should, but I am still mighty pleased with myself. 

Now, I just need to figure how how to actually arrange them...

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Flower garden cupcakes

A colleague at work asked me to bake some cupcakes for a friend who was having a baby. I used to do a lot more baking, but I just don't have much time for it any more; however as it was only for 12 cupcakes, I said yes.

My current "go to" cupcake recipe is Hummingbird Bakery's vanilla cupcake. I had avoided getting their book for ages as I had read quite a number of bad reviews on it, but when a friend gave it to me for Christmas, my decision was made for me!


I think the reason why people don't like it is that the recipes' ingredients and methods are a little unconventional. If you don't read the instructions and just make cakes the way you normally would, these will not work properly! I have never had a problem with anything out of their recipe book - everything has worked perfectly (if you do get this book, I heartily recommend the Nutty Apple Loaf).

The reason I like their vanilla cupcake over the many (many) other recipes I have, is that you don't have to cream the butter & sugar together. I know, it's irrational, but I just don't like that part of baking!

The only potential problem with their recipe is that it doesn't make that much cake. It says 12, but I think that's for the more English "fairy cake"-sized confections. If you want the more traditional American muffin-sized cupcakes (and, let's face it, who doesn't want more cake?), the recipe needs to be doubled, or you have to content yourself with 9 or 10 cakes from a batch of batter.

So, this is my interpretation of their recipe, doubled up to make around 18 cupcakes.

Vanilla Cupcakes

Ingredients

240g plain flour
280g caster sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature (not margarine, the taste just isn't the same)
240ml whole milk
2 large, free-range eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C (150C for fan-assisted ovens).
  2. Line 18-holes of 2 muffin trays with paper cases.
  3. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

  4. Add the butter and beat together until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

  5. Pour in half the milk and mix until the milk is just incorporated.

  6. Add the eggs and vanilla to the remaining milk and beat with a fork until combined. As an aside, I always use Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract. It's a little pricey, but the flavour is great.

  7. Pour this gradually into the flour mixture, beating the mixture as you do so.
  8. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times as you are beating the mixture to ensure everything is nicely incorporated.
  9. Continue mixing for another minute or so until the mixture is smooth - resist the temptation to over-beat, it results in rubbery cakes!

  10. Fill the paper cases until they are about (or just under) 2/3 full. This mixture does rise quite a lot, so you don't want to overfill. I always use an ice-cream scoop to fill the cases - it works marvellously!


  11. Bake in the over for about 25 minutes or until done.


    There are a few ways to test for "doneness":
    - The cakes smell good
    - If  you prod them gently, the sponge should spring back
    - If you insert a skewer into one, it should come out clean with no liquid or crumbs clinging to it
    - The cases should be hugging the cakes tightly and pulling away from the sides of the muffin tins
  12. Cool the cakes for about 5-10 minutes in the tins, then take them out and put them on a cooling rack to cool completely.
For these ones, I was asked to just top them with buttercream. I always find regular buttercream very sweet, so I decided to spread it on the top rather than pipe it - I thought this would create a better cake to icing ratio! I did guess a bit at the quantities for the icing, but this seemed to work.

Basic buttercream icing

Ingredients

300g icing sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
A few splashes of whole milk

Method
  1. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl.
  2. Add the butter.
  3. Beat together until the mixture looks crumbly.
  4. Gradually, add a little milk (you don't need much) while beating the sugar mixture. Add enough that the mixture comes smoothly together (it's a little magical).
  5. Continue beating for about 5 minutes until it's smooth and fluffy. You can add any colourings or flavourings at this stage too.
I made some flowers and leaves from sugar paste to go on top of them.


 Along with a generous helping of edible glitter, they looked quite sweet :)