Making Puff Pastry

I recently had a free weekend and the sudden urge to make pastry. For the first time. Thanks to Ottolenghi’s cookbook, I had a rough puff pastry recipe and the encouragement that it “isn’t so difficult.” (Thankfully, I hadn’t noticed the slightly less encouraging statement at the start of book: “Cakes and pastries can sometimes go horribly wrong, they are almost impossible to resurrect and they do take time to prepare.”) So I dove in.

It was a time-consuming process, but by the end I was thrilled with what I had done. I used half the puff pastry to make Ottolenghi’s cheddar and caraway cheese straws, which were delicious. (The trick is to eat at least half a dozen without contemplating how much butter went into them!) And at the end of the day, I still had the other half of the puff pastry and complete freedom to decide what to do with it. :)


I cut my hair today, on a whim. And by that I mean I was holding the scissors — I didn’t stop by a salon on a whim. :)

My husband thinks I’m crazy for cutting my own hair when there are several salons in our little town. But I like to remind him that haircuts, like so many other fashion things, are so much easier for guys. If a guy knows what lengths he likes on the top and on the sides, it’s almost like ordering a haircut off a menu. But haircuts for women are so different — and can easily go so, so wrong.

I’ve only had one hairdresser who I fully trusted with my hair. When I remind her that I’m no-fuss with my hair (meaning almost always no product, no blow dryer, nothing but brush and air dry) she always gives me a great cut. She knows what works with my fine, fairly thin hair. And she happens to be in my hometown, so every once in a while when I’m in the US visiting family I take a little time to go see her. It’s always worth it.

I’ve had enough hairdressers who didn’t get it — who gave me short cuts that required daily maintenance, or layers that made my hair look even thinner — to make me a bit hesitant to try someone new. Which probably sounds silly when my favorite hairdresser is on another continent. But I also have quite long hair now, with no plans or wishes to change styles dramatically, and so it doesn’t really feel worth the hassle. A trim to take off a few inches can be done in a few minutes in front of the bathroom mirror — it hardly feels worth a whole trip to the salon.

So today I did just that. I took off a few inches, some split ends, and some of the shaping to make my hair fall in a nice blunt line right in the middle of my back. I’m really happy with it, and it took less time to cut it than to write this post about it! The only downside is now I don’t have an excuse to visit my hairdresser during my upcoming trip to the states.

Mount Snowdon

Ever since we moved to North Wales, we have been talking about walking up Snowdon. We live minutes from one edge of Snowdonia National Park and are already familiar with many of its awe-inspiring walks, but our plans to walk up the highest mountain in Wales kept getting thwarted with rain or other interference. Until last weekend.

We scoped out the possible walking paths — I had been eyeing the Pyg Track, but we finally decided on Llanberis Path as it was rated the easiest (although the longest at about 9 miles round trip). I relied on this handy overview and comparison of the different paths, but we also appreciated the longer descriptions from the Snowdonia National Park website and Walk Up Snowdown. Those are great resources for planning a walk of your own.

Llanberis Path Marker
Marker where the pavement gives way to the “real” rocky path up the mountain

A week or so before our walk up to the summit, we went on a walk partway up Llanberis Path with some friends — but with a 5-year-old setting the pace we didn’t quite make it halfway before turning around. So last weekend my husband and I set out on our own to try to make it to the summit. We started out at 2 p.m. (we aren’t by any means early risers) and at a leisurely pace we got back to our car a little before 9 p.m. The descent was actually slower going than the ascent, thanks to tired legs and aching knees.

Cliffs over Llyn Du’r Arddu
Rock wall overlooking Llyn Du’r Arddu

Near the top of the mountain we were rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding landscape, punctuated by waves of clouds (obscuring nearly everything around the mountain) carried by the constant, strong, chill wind. That wind was no fun at all, and after a few minutes at the top I found a nice little wall to huddle next to and peer around before we headed back down. The only really disappointing part was all the trash, though. Clearly there isn’t a lot of education about “pack it in, pack it out” among the tourists who visit Snowdon, and we saw tissues, empty cups, and wrappers strewn about everywhere.

Looking over Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw near the summit
Looking over Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw near the summit

All in all, though, it was an enjoyable walk and I’m quite curious to try one of the other paths up the mountain one of these days.

Coming down the Llanberis Path near sunset
Coming down the Llanberis Path near sunset

Garden Update: Pieris and Spirea

Warm weather and occasional rain is doing wonders for my garden. Just a couple weeks ago, I was staring at the tiny yellowish balls covering this tree/shrub and wondering what they were all about:

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Today, I stepped outside to a million tiny white flowers — they look a lot like spirea, although I’m not certain about that:

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I love how there’s always a touch of color around the garden. As one flower fades, another is always ready to show itself off. We rent our home, so we didn’t do any of the planning or planting — I just do my best to identify and care for these beauties.

In the front garden, some red valerian (Centranthus ruber) had taken over a section underneath the window. It was there when we moved in, so up to now I just left it, thinking it was intentional.

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Today I was finally brave enough to trust myself (and my discovery that this is a weed that grows everywhere around here if you let it) and take it out. I figured that if it looked terrible, I could just wait a few months and the red valerian would undoubtedly be back. I’m pretty happy with the result — you can really see the pieris that was hiding on the end before:

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Both of those shrubs are looking pretty scrawny, so I’m hoping the extra space and light will help liven them up a bit. We also did quite a bit of similar work in the back garden, cutting back shrubs and hedges that have grown an astounding amount in the past year and a half, and uncovering smaller shrubs that were mostly hidden. There is still more to be done with that, but I’ll be sure to take some pictures and share them once we’ve made more progress.