Helping a honey bee

Dear Claire,

 

It was so lovely to see you in Oxford, and I do hope it won’t be too long before we meet again. We were certainly blessed with nice weather that weekend. Since our return here it’s been very hot indeed – and much the same for you, I believe!

We’re not the only ones flagging in the heat. The other day a friend of mine shared a post by Sir David Attenborough:

“This time of year bees can often look like they are dying or dead, however, they’re far from it. Bees can become tired and they simply don’t have enough energy to return to the hive, which can often result in being swept away. If you find a tired bee in your home, a simple solution of sugar and water will help revive an exhausted bee. Simply mix two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water, and place on a spoon for the bee to reach.”

The rusty patched bumblebee was listed as an endangered species in the US for the first time last year and according to the UN it’s a global trend, with about 40% of the world’s pollinators under threat of extinction. Yet they are all so critical to us for pollinating the crops that keep us alive! So it strikes me that if each of us helps even one small bee recover, we’ll be making a difference to us all.

jars-2614897_1280.jpgOf course, without bees we wouldn’t have honey. And if for no other reason, that’s worth helping a bee on its way. As Piglet understood well, all good friends need a little honey sometimes.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There, there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

Much love,
Sam

Looking back, moving forward

Dear Sam,

 

Well, what a tonic it was to spend time with good friends! Oxford was looking glorious, with the college gardens and parks at their most colourful, and I loved seeing the profusion of roses everywhere. As well as reminiscing about our student days, it was wonderful to look ahead and make some plans for our blog here at Staircase 9 17, too.  It was lucky that we came across the Turl Street Kitchen when we arrived, as it was the perfect place to start our discussions, with its combination of great food and coffee and its mission to support the local community.

The blog’s Home page has a new look

I’m glad we’ve made a few changes to the format of the blog and, as this year progresses, I’m looking forward to exploring our theme of wellbeing and ways of helping ourselves by helping others. Next month, we’ll start our new Friday Food for Thought series, where we’ll post an inspiring snippet to ponder. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Dr Johnson, once, of course, a student at Pembroke himself,

“Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship.”

Well said!

Much love,

Claire

 

 

A postcard from Oxford

Oxford City Radcliffe Camera

Dear Claire,

 

Just a quick post today because I am on my way to see you in person! I cannot wait to be back in Oxford – looking forward to pubs and meadows and window boxes and reunions – and most of all, sharing some wonderful time with you!

Let’s hope both our trains are on time and I will see you shortly at the station….

train-3010877_1920.jpgMuch love,
Sam

Banana bread – an easy recipe to try at home

Dear Sam,

 

Hearing about your day in the fresh air and your trip to the farmers’ market inspired me to get out to our local market this week, too. Amongst the various stalls is one which sells fruit and veg; I’m always intrigued by a selection they have of produce which is a bit wonky or slightly past its best. Rather than letting all this good food go to waste, it’s sold off at bargain prices and is perfect for cooking up soups, pasta sauces or fruit puddings. I often pick up some battered bananas to make a breakfast favourite of ours, banana bread, and I thought I’d share the recipe with you this time. In fact, I always think about you when I make it, as the recipe is adapted from a National Trust cookbook you gave me about 30 years ago! Here it is:

Banana bread – delicious and simple to make

Ingredients

UK

125g butter or soft margarine

125g caster sugar

225g mashed bananas – perfect if they have gone spotty

1 egg, beaten lightly

200 g plain flour

Quarter teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

Quarter teaspoon vanilla essence

US

4oz or 1 stick butter 

1/2 cup superfine sugar

8oz overripe bananas, mashed 

1 large egg, beaten lightly

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

spotty bananas
Overripe bananas are particularly good for this recipe

Preheat oven 180 C, 350 F, gas mark 4

Grease and line a 450g/1lb loaf tin.

Cream together the sugar and butter until they are pale and light and fluffy in texture. 

Stir the mashed bananas into the creamed mixture and add the beaten egg. It’s likely to look curdled at this point, but don’t worry, that’s fine.

Fold in the dry, sieved ingredients little by little, then add the vanilla essence. Spoon the mixture into your lined loaf tin and bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes. When the banana bread is ready it will spring back when you press it in the centre with your finger.

Let it cool in the tin for around 10 – 15 minutes, then turn it out and put it on a wire rack to become completely cool. Store in an airtight container and it will be fine for 4 – 5 days.

morning coffee
Perfect with a cup of coffee

I love to eat this cut into thick slices spread with a little butter. If you find you like it, it’s worth making two loaves at a time as it freezes very well.

I’ve just checked online and, according to Zero Waste Week an incredible 1.6 million bananas are thrown away in the UK every day! This recipe goes to prove that with a bit of effort, you can turn even the least appealing food into something good. As the saying goes, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade* and I think you could add, if life bruises your bananas, bake banana bread.

Until next time, I will leave you with that profound thought!

Much love,

Claire

* or a gin and tonic.

 

 

Spring planting!

Dear Claire,

 

I hope you had a wonderful trip to Florence – full of good food and wine and sunshine!

I’m happy to say the sun is out here now, and spring has finally sprung. It’s lovely to be able to get outside, walk in the park and breathe in the fresh air – the perfect thing to add a little happiness to the day.

It’s the season for planting, too. I’m not much of a gardener myself, but I know that people who love to garden often say that their garden is their happy place. Little did I realize, until I came across this article recently, that there’s evidence for the garden really being a place that increases happiness, because certain microbes in the soil have an anti-depressant effect!

Since my last post, I had a great experience working with a group of families from J’s school on a service project for a local urban farm run by Journey’s End Refugee Services. The farm provides a place for refugees to learn about agriculture and the business of farming, and grow produce to sell or to bring home for their families. I think there were thirty of us, adults and children. Between us we cleaned up debris, built three large raised beds for vegetables, put together a wheelbarrow, and sanded and painted picnic tables. All in three hours one crisp Saturday morning. We got fresh air and exercise, got creative and had fun, and met parents and children we hadn’t necessarily met before. There’s no doubt we all left as happier people that day – and hopefully we’d done a little to help some of our refugee neighbors as well.

img_3654_39813762620_o.jpegimg_3515_39813765740_oimg_3599_41621082851_o.jpegimg_3802_41581093192_o.jpeg

Nothing like planting to work up an appetite – so I’m happy to report that tomorrow marks the opening of our local farmer’s market. Fresh flowers and produce, home baked bread, locally brewed coffee – or beer! – and music and friends on a Saturday morning. Happy spring!

Much love,
Sam xx

A postcard from Florence

Car on road among trees in Italy

Dear Sam,

 

Ciao from Florence!

We’re here for a few days to explore and enjoy some sunshine, good food and gelato.  I’ll take your advice and avoid plastic by choosing a cornet in place of a tub!

When I go on holiday, I like to take a book that suits the destination, so before we left home I downloaded the audiobook of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View from Librivox and it’s proving to be the perfect soundtrack to our trip.

Florence, Italy skyline
A view of the river Arno in Florence, as requested in ‘A Room with a View’.

A presto!

Much love,

Claire

 

 

Treat the Earth Well

Dear Claire,

 

Gosh. It’s quite sobering to think that even the humble tea bag can contribute to the plastic in our oceans. Blue Planet is also popular in the US and the prevalence of plastic in our world has become quite a topic of conversation here, too. It’s all very timely, because this weekend marks Earth Day, and the focus of their campaign this year is ending plastic pollution.

I was  heartened to read recently that since all stores in the UK introduced a 5p charge for plastic bags back in 2015, there has been an 85% drop in the number of single-use plastic bags given out by major retailers – and a 30% drop in the number of plastic bags on the seabed. So such initiatives really can make a difference.

It’s not just Earth Day this weekend, but also the first World Creativity and Innovation Day. So with that in mind I’ve been on the lookout for creative ideas for ways we can limit our purchase of plastics or re-use the plastics we do end up with in our homes. Here are three of my favorites:

  • Turn K-cups into seedling starters – perfect because they already have a hole in the bottom.
  • Switch from plastic straws to paper ones, or better still, go straw-free. Did you know that 500 million straws are used every day in the US? Enough to circle the earth twice!
  • And my favorite: Instead of buying that plastic container for your freezer, go out and treat yourself to an ice cream cone!

ice-cream-2202605_1920.jpg

I particularly like this one because in the middle of April, it’s still snowing in Buffalo!

Love,
Sam

“Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.”
Kenyan proverb

 

The cup that cheers…

Dear Sam,

 

I trust you had a  happy Day of Happiness, too? And, speaking of things that make me happy, I want to talk to you today about something very simple that certainly cheers me up – a refreshing cup of tea.

Blue Planet 2 was mesmerising

Earlier this year, it seemed like the whole of the population of the UK was glued to our television screens watching Blue Planet 2, the latest wildlife programme presented by Sir David Attenborough. Has it been broadcast in the US yet? As well as marvelling at the wonders the series depicted and the talent of the team involved in producing it, we were appalled at the story it told of the damage that plastic pollution is doing to the seas. Like a lot of people, I found that watching it made me rethink the way that I shop, in a bid to cut down on how much plastic I’m buying.  Although our local council has a good recycling programme, it’s clear that the less plastic we consume, the better it will be for the planet.

No more plastic in my tea

That may sound like a digression from the subject of tea, but I was even more shocked to learn that the teabags I’d been blithely putting in the compost bin also contained plastic (as part of the seal around the seams, apparently). So, in a bid to cut this out, I decided to try using loose leaf tea again.  Although tea bags are very convenient, I’ve discovered that I quite enjoy the ritual of making a cup of tea with a bit more effort.  It was also an excuse to go for a browse in a kitchen shop to choose a tea diffuser, which makes dealing with the used leaves a bit easier.

 

Tea leaf diffuser
Tea diffusers come in all shapes and sizes

 

Since I’ve started this, I’ve read that several tea companies over here have announced that they are bowing to public pressure to remove the plastic from their manufacturing process; there are also companies that produce biodegradable bags – this is usually listed on the box.

As I also take milk in my tea, I’m lucky that I don’t need to buy lots more plastic thanks to our doorstep delivery. I think that the milk round has been seeing a bit of a resurgence in popularity recently – as it brings the milk to you in reusable glass bottles delivered (even in the snow!) on an electric milk float, it’s a pretty green option.

So, I think thanks are due to Sir David and the wonderful creatures we all discovered in his programme for doing more to change people’s behaviour by entertaining and educating us than any information campaign could have done.

That’s it for today – time to put the kettle on.

Much love,

Claire

Happy Day of Happiness!

International Day of Happiness

Dear Claire,

 

I’m posting this a little earlier than usual this week, because today is the International Day of Happiness. And I wanted to share these ideas from Action for Happiness for some simple acts of kindness to make a difference to someone today:

  • Offer to help
  • Give away your change
  • Pay a compliment
  • Make someone smile

Here’s something that I hope will make you smile – a memory of that British childhood favorite, Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Happy, narrated by Arthur Lowe.

I hope you have a happy Happy Day – and happy spring!

Much love,
Sam