Saturday 24 October 2015

Halloween biscuits

This year I decided to prepare Halloween treats with my youngest students (two ten year old Italian girls) at the international school where I teach. We looked at Halloween traditions, read horror stories for children and made some craft decorations. Browsing on the internet I also found some biscuit recipes that we adapted to our Italian taste. Here are the recipes and the photos of the biscuits we made at school, we stuffed ourselves and had great fun!

Almond bats
You need: 150 g flour, 70 g sugar, 1 egg, 50 g butter, 70 g ground almonds, 1 tsp of baking powder, 3 tbsp of milk and black icing to decorate.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and the egg in a bowl, add the milk, ground almonds and melted butter. Knead the dough and let it rest for half an hour in a cool place. Roll out the dough and cut out bat shapes with a pastry cutter. Set them on a greased oven tray and bake for 15 minutes, 180°C. When they are cool, decorate with black icing, rolling it out and cutting the shapes using the same pastry cutter.
Full moons
You need: 200 g flour, 100 g brown sugar, 50 g butter, 1 egg, half a tsp of ground cinnamon, 1 tsp of baking powder, 50 g of raisins, 100 g of pumpkin puree and icing sugar to decorate.
Prepare the pumpkin puree cutting the pumpkin in cubes and boiling it in some water with  50 g of brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. When it is soft mash it with a fork or using a blender and let it cool. Beat the butter with a wooden spoon in a bowl till it is smooth; add flour, baking powder, the egg, the rest of the sugar and cinnamon. Add the pumpkin puree and knead the dough then chill it for half an hour. Roll the dough out and cut round shapes (you can use a glass or a pastry cutter). Bake on a greased tin for 15 minutes, 180°C. When they are cool, sprinkle with icing sugar.
Stuffed pumpkins
You need: 200 g flour, 100 g sugar, 50 g butter, 1 egg, 1 tsp of baking powder and grated lemon zest.
For the filling: 100 g of pumpkin puree (see above).
To decorate you need 4 tbsp of icing sugar, lemon juice, 1 tbsp of water and green and orange food colouring.

Prepare the dough mixing flour, sugar, egg, melted butter, grated lemon zest and baking powder. Knead the dough and let it chill for half an hour. In the meantime prepare the pumpkin puree (see the previous recipe). Roll out the dough and cut shapes of pumpkin with a pastry cutter. Fill the middle of each shape with a tsp of pumpkin puree and cover with another pumpkin shape. Bake for 30 minutes, 180°C on an oven tray. When they are cool, prepare the icing mixing 4 tbsp of icing sugar with a tbsp of warm water, one tsp of lemon juice and some drops of food colouring, green for the stem and orange for the pumpkin. Decorate the biscuits and go stuff yourselves!

Sunday 11 October 2015

Summer 2015, part 3

The compound where we live is lovely, a piece of heaven. When you enter it you are met with soft grass and high trees on one side and a pond with ducks and even a heron on the other. Town houses of various sizes stretch around a ring of tarmac (which we are not sure we need to drive clockwise or anti-clockwise as there are no signs and people go both ways causing puzzlement when two cars meet face to face). In the centre there is a garden patch beautifully kept. It’s peaceful and environment friendly, as we all have biomass central heating and low electricity lights around the compound (which means it’s pretty dark at night).

The other environment friendly thing I wish to mention is the amazing recycling centre we have in Woking. It was our most visited spot for about two-three weeks after the move (though we kept so much we also threw away big amounts of cardboard, plastic, soil, wood, electrics, etc.). it’s a big recycling place you can drive around and stop near the section you need. There is not only plastic, glass and paper, it’s much more detailed and has furniture, paint, foil, mobile phones, carpets, printer cartridges, tapes and discs or bathroom suite posts. An ideal place for a committed recycling person like me.

Though the village where we live is small, we are lucky we have all we need: a church, GP, dentist, pharmacy and post office. There are also a few nice shops, restaurants and two supermarkets.
Our first concern was to register with the GP, mainly because I take regular medication and needed some checks. The other concern was about my autistic daughter Valentina, she needed CAMHS referral as her meds can’t be prescribed by a GP. The checks with the GP left me puzzled, I was definitely fatter and shorter than I remembered and my blood tests were not completely right. But never mind, I tell myself it must be the effect of ageing, which is natural.

We all had appointments at the dentist’s as well, which resulted in investing a significant amount of our monthly income in tooth saving and maintenance. It’s a sort of annual taxation I have to come to terms with, bad teeth need to be taken care of without a doubt.

My daughter and I couldn’t help visiting all the shops in the main street and buy a few more clothes to update our wardrobe. The two woman clothes shops are interesting; one is more casual-smart, the other has more formal kind of clothes. Both have good quality articles and, if you are lucky, bargains.
I also had a haircut in a hair studio which satisfied me as never before since I moved to England. The fact is that I am so used to Italian style cuts and am in general very picky about haircuts, so it’s difficult to please me. But this time I was definitely happy.

The church is a beautiful Norman building dedicated to St. Lawrence. It has chalk pillars and Norman arcades on the south aisle while elegant capitals engraved with grapes and leaves embellish the columns on the opposite side. The pews are decorated with symbols linked to the origins or interests of parishioners like a cradle, a map of Devon and Cornwall, shamrock and dolphins, croquet and dogs, a loaf of bread, a sheaf of corn, Scottish flag and thistle and so on. The tower was built in 1400 and has an unusual herringbone spire, a remarkable church I think I am going to visit again.
At the Phoenix centre in Woking the stanza group meets once a month; it is a group linked to the National Poetry Society and for me it is an opportunity to meet people who love, write and enjoy reading poetry whilst inspiring each other. I happily joined them hoping to carry on writing in spite of all my working commitments. It’s hard but possible if I keep organized, dedicating all the time I need to my job (which is mainly preparing lessons and meetings), then switch off for a while and devote my soul and heart to art. As I am a teacher, one activity nurtures the other in some way. I haven’t got much time for proper leisure activities at the moment but doing what I like is a kind of leisure.

Last but not least, in Knaphill there is a huge Sainsbury’s I adore. For a busy working woman having a place where you can find everything (from de-ionized water to towels, shoes and all kinds of food, drinks and vegetables) is the ideal thing. More shops are in Woking of course; two shopping centres, theatres and cinemas which is just fifteen minutes drive from where we live. For charity shops, Aldershot in Hampshire is the place to go, where we did lots of shopping for my daughter Valentina, who still enjoys ripping her clothes.

After all of this, I now feel I’m settling very well in my new environment.