Friday, 16 April 2010


After the earlier suggestion of one of our followers, I've decided to encourage you to try volunteering.

In a doom and gloom recession, volunteer work is not only a great way to make your CV stand out, but a fantastic method for making contacts in your profession of choice.

As a animal lover I spent several blissful months volunteering at Shepreth Wildlife Park outside of Cambridge. The people were absolutely lovely, I toned up loads from all the hard work and really felt like I had helped improve the day-to-day lives of animals. There's nothing as happy as a well-fed pygmy goat.

But, secretly, the best thing was the perks no-one had told me about. Shepreth is home to two tame wolves which members of the public can pay to have a cuddle with. As a volunteer I got to go into their enclosure several times, and went home covered in wolf paw-prints and glowing with pleasure.

Feeding the lemurs was another definite high point, as the furry creatures climb on your shoulders to get the best bits (banana) and will let you stroke their soft fur and furry tails for as long as you keep the fruit coming. Bliss.

I know a lot of my friends have volunteered abroad, which not only makes you feel great, but can be a good way to keep travel costs down. I volunteered at a wildlife orphanage in South Africa, which was hard work and long hours, but meant I got cheap accommodation and a chance to go on some breath taking safaris which I never could have afforded otherwise. Cuddling a baby lion made the hard work all seem worth it.

Now I write copy for the RSPB, fund raise for the Wildlife Trust and write several free wildlife articles for various websites. Whilst this takes a sizeable chunk out of my free time, I never regret it. I've met some wonderful people with the same passion for wildlife, and I will continue with it all for as long as I can.

Have you volunteered abroad? Or in England? Let us know your thoughts.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Guerrilla Gardening

Surely the most hippy way to break the law, guerrilla gardening is a movement about reclaiming unused public land to grow crops or wild flowers. Whilst technically illegal, most members of the public seem pretty cool with it - especially when they fancy picking some fresh veg from right outside their doors!

This week I joined the Cambridge group of guerrilla gardeners and had a great time. We worked on a plot opposite the ADC Theatre, and planted lettuces, radishes, strawberries, peas, thyme and native wildflowers. I'm really excited to see them all come up. I will post my full-length feature about the movement as soon as I've written it!

If you are interested in finding out more about the movement, visit

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Seriously sweet Easter Bunnies

Many people think that meringue is difficult to make, but for a cheap and simple easter treat there really is nothing better.

The trick is to know your process; whatever recipe you use, each step must be completed perfectly, in order, to prevent the fiddly little buggers from, well, collapsing.

I'm not a huge fan of meringue, but love to make holiday treats out of the easily shaped gloop, such as Hallowe'en Ghosts and Christmas Snowmen.

These Easter Bunny heads are simple to make, even if it's your first try at meringue, and always go down well at a party.

You'll need:

3 large eggs (or 5 medium)
6oz (170g) of caster sugar
Half a tsp of vanilla extract (or a little extra vanilla flavouring)
Something for decoration (e.g. chocolate buttons, chocolate chips, glace cherries, thin licorice whips, icing...)

  • Pre-heat your oven to 150 degrees Celcius (Gas Mark 3).
  • First, separate the egg whites into a large bowl and discard the yolks. If you don't have an egg divider, you can use a small, clean sieve or the shell of the egg. Make sure the bowl you are using is scrubbed clean, and avoid letting even the tiniest bit of yolk into the whites.
  • Using an electric whisk, beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. If you've got a 2-speed whisk, start off slowly until the whites turn into foam, then up the speed until the peaks stand on their own. You should be able to hold the bowl upside down (and give it a little wiggle) without the mixture moving.
  • Add the caster sugar slowly and fold in with a large metal spoon. Once the mix is stiff and shiny, add your vanilla and fold again.
  • Line two trays with non-stick grease-proof paper. Grease the paper with margarine or easy-spread butter. It seems excessive, but this will help ensure the bunnies don't stick to the paper as the sugars caramelise.
  • Spoon the mixture onto the paper and shape it. You should be able to get about 20 bunny heads out of the ingredients. Turn the oven down to about 110 degrees Celcius (Gas Mark 1/2) and throw in the trays.
Now, timings can be tricky and will depend on how thick your meringues are, but 20 shapes in a batch this size will take around 40-50 minutes at this heat. If you've made 10 large bunnies, be sure to give them extra time (up to 11/2 hours) to dry through. Check that your bunnies have turned crispy (they can be slightly golden), remove from the oven and leave to cool.

If everything's gone to plan, they should come off the paper without a hitch!

While the meringue is cooking, raid your cupboards for decorations. For today's batch, I found a bag of chocolate chips and two tubs of icing (unfortunately, the blue icing exploded, so my bunnies had to go without whiskers) which were perfect for creating their cute little faces.

I used pink icing to define the ears, create the nose and fix on the chocolate chip eyes, but why not try cherry noses or skittles for eyes?

Sweet Tooth Tips:

  • Even the tiniest bit of yolk can kill your mixture. Separate each white into a cup before adding it to the bowl.
  • If in doubt, add less sugar. Too much sugar will caramelise and turn your crispy meringue into sticky goop.
  • There is not enough grease-proofing in the world to prevent you from adding extra. A tiny bit of marg goes a long way.
  • Don't be scared to experiment. Meringue recipes are deceptively simple and there is so much that can go wrong, but the ingredients are so easy to buy that you can keep trying until you get the perfect batch.