Breathing space

Pink lemonade in a glass jug wiht a vase of pink flowers

Dear Sam,

 

Yes, it certainly has been very hot here, too, so I was grateful for your tip for reviving tired bees .  I needed to put it into action when I found an exhausted bumble bee in our kitchen; I gave it some of the sugar solution on a teaspoon and after a few minutes it was wonderful to see it buzz off with a new lease of life.

Spending time with nature offers “precious breathing space” from modern life – Sir David Attenborough

The plus side of the hot weather is that we have more butterflies in the garden than I’ve seen for a long time.  I’m planning on following some more good advice from Sir David Attenborough by taking part in the UK’s Big Butterfly Count .  As he says, what could be better for us than spending some time connecting with nature.  And it can be done from a comfortable chair with an ice-cold drink…

Red admiral butterfly on lilac plant
Some good news – numbers of Red Admiral butterflies spotted during the 2017 count were up 75% on the 2016 result

Speaking of relaxing, it’s time for our annual break here at Staircase 9 17. Enjoy the summer and some family time – see you here again in September.

Much love,

Claire

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