Chocolate Easter Nests

  

Tuesday 31st March

Today has been all about the money: Daisy earns her first 50p before 7am. I am lying in bed sandwiched between two children. Nobody should be awake yet in my book. I have my eyes shut resistant to the knowledge that I’ll have to get up soon; ignoring the jabs from children’s elbows and legs.

“Would you like a massage, mum?”

My eyes snap open. Daisy knows the way straight to my heart. 

“Yes!” I say quickly before she changes her mind. 

“It’ll cost you 50p,” she negotiates. 

I shake her hand, deal done, and quickly turn over so she can begin. She’s very good. She’s had plenty of practice.

I lie facing Ollie. His bottom lip goes out:

“I just wanted to massage you too,” he says sadly. I’ve never been so popular.

So once Daisy stops, I turn over and Ollie starts his ‘massage’  The day is really looking up. Ollie’s massage consists mainly of kisses to the shoulder but I’ll take what I can, plus he doesn’t want paying for it. 

Mid-morning I decide to face the music re: my outstanding library fines. It’s an on-going, life-long issue. The problem started in adolescence. Unfortunately it’s in the genes (mother’s the same, if not worse); and although he’d like to deny it, I’ve married a man who is the same (on Graduation Day, he had to rush to the library first to pay off his fines before they’d let him join the ceremony). 

The problem stems from the fact that I  am such a lover of libraries; I should learn not to go back, but I can’t. I seek their forgiveness (in the form of hefty fines), and then before I know it, I’m back again withdrawing a stack of books: books on gardening; on cooking; on keeping your own chickens; on how to take better photographs. You name it, I’ll take it out. Sometimes they’ll just sit on the coffee table looking pretty; and other times I’ll surround myself in bed with them. Going to bed with a stack of cookery books is one of life’s great pleasures. 

The problem comes with returning the books. I’m happy to take them back, but there’s always one that gets lost; or the three weeks whizz by and I’ve forgotten to renew them.

The thought of finding all our combined library books today makes me feel tired, so I sit on the sofa and make a game of it. For every library book the children find, they receive a marble; every marble is worth 10p. 

I think somewhere along the way I have been conned: our own books added to the pile on the guise of being library books, or something like that; because by the end, Daisy has amassed £1.50 worth of marbles, and Ollie, £1.00. 

At the library the kids frolick in the children’s section, climbing on the wooden fire engine; while I brace myself to speak to the librarian. I have bought a replacement Wombies CD to cover the one we lost. I hand it over dutifully and am told that there is now only an outstanding balance of £22.50 to pay (let’s hope Tom doesn’t read tonight’s post..) These are fines accrued while I faffed around, not getting my act together about ordering another CD from Amazon. Infuriating, really. 

Afterwards I am much in the need of  caffeine and sugar. We go home to make the chocolate nests. 

Normally we would use shredded wheat, but I have a weakness for the crunchy, chocolatey-ness of nests, so we go for a gluten-free, me-friendly option.

The basic recipe is below. I have to confess to making a greater quantity of the chocolate mixture (chocolate, butter, golden syrup) as I like a thick coating on those flakes. Feel free to mess around with the chocolate mixture to cornflake ratio.

I ate one still warm with a cup of tea. Just what you need after a financial trauma at the library, (no doubt I’ll be back within the week though; some people just never learn). 

  

Ingredients: makes 12

  • 100g chocolate (just plain for dairy-free or 50/50 plain and milk for children)
  • 50g Pure spread or butter
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100g (gluten-free) Cornflakes
  • 36 mini chocolate eggs
  • baby chicks, optional 
  • 12 cup cake cases 
  • A 12 hole muffin tray

Method

Place the 12 cup cake cases in the muffin tray.

Place the chocolate (broken up in to pieces), the butter and the golden syrup in to a heat-proof bowl. 

Stand the bowl on top of a pan of simmering water and stir until everything has melted.

In a large mixing bowl, put the cornflakes.

Pour over the chocolatey mixture and stir gently but thoroughly so all flakes are coated. 

Spoon the chocolatey cornflakes into each case. Make a little dip in the centre with your finger. Place three mini eggs in the centre with a chick. 

If you can resist eating them immediately (I couldn’t), place them in the fridge for 30 mins to set. 

Puff pastry: Quick Pizza Slice & Cinnamon Stars

  

Monday 30th March

It is the first day of the Easter holidays. There’s no bread in the bread bin. It’s lunch-time. I open the fridge. It’s groaning with veg. I quickly shut it again, but not before a box of ready roll puff pastry has caught my eye. 

The results are as follows: a quick, delicious lunch AND pudding; plus an activity for a younger sibling to stop him annoying the older one when she has a friend around OR whatever other scenario is going on at your house at the moment. 

Ollie made the cinnamon shapes completely on his own. He even cracked the egg for the egg wash; only pausing once to ask:

“Mum, who is the main character in the story – God or Jesus?”

I am not sure what story we are on. The Easter story? The story of Life? I plump for the safe option:

“God!” I say cheerfully, “because he is the daddy.”

He seems to find this a satisfactory answer and goes back to choosing which animal shape to give to his friend, Violet. Through a process of elimination, he arrives at the snail. A cinnamon snail, lucky Violet!

Pastry Pizza Slice

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • one sheet of ready puff pastry, 375g
  • red pesto, 3tsps
  • grated cheddar/mozzarella mix, 2 handfuls
  • cherry tomatoes, 10, quartered
  • tinned sweetcorn, 4 tbsp
  • pitted green olives, 10, halved

To serve

  • feta cheese, cubed
  • basil leaves, torn

Method 

Preheat the oven at 200 degrees/ gas mark 6.

Unroll the puff pastry. Cut it with a sharp knife into three even rectangles.  Put two of the rectangles on to an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper. Reserve the third rectangle to make cinnamon stars.

Spread 1.5 teaspoons of pesto on both rectangles, leaving a 1cm border on either side. 

  

Place the grated cheese on top of this. Then sprinkle the tomatoes, sweetcorn and olives on top.

  

Bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes.

Once out of the oven, sprinkle with feta and basil and enjoy! 

Cinnamon Stars

  

Ok, so this is more a menagerie of cinnamon animals rather than stars, but you get the idea.

With your spare rectangle of pastry, allow your child or yourself (very therapeutic) to cut out a variety of shapes.

 Brush each shape with egg wash (one egg cracked and beaten), then dip in cinnamon sugar: 3tbsp of soft light brown sugar mixed with 1 tsp of cinnamon (normal caster sugar would also be fine).

Place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Bake at 180 degrees/gas mark 4 for approx 20 mins. 

These are surprisingly delicious with a cup of coffee. 

  

My inspiration came from: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2014/02/puffed-pastry-pizza/

http://www.gatheringbeauty.com/2013/12/cinnamon-pastry-star-party-snacks.html?m=1

Ferrero Rocher Cake

  

Sunday 29th March

I am sitting at the kitchen table yesterday afternoon with a friend, Sadie. I tell her excitedly that I’m going to make a Ferrero Rocher cake for our friend, Helen’s, birthday lunch the next day. 

I get out my phone and show her a picture of the planned cake. She reads through the recipe, which is more than I’ve done. 

“Wow! There are a lot of stages.” she announces.

“Is there?” I say anxiously. Inside I’m cursing myself for not thinking this through. I’m always lured by a pretty picture, the method is an after-thought. Such an approach has got me into many a baking tight spot. 

As a consequence, I find myself at 7 o’clock this morning, getting up and switching on the oven. By 7.30am the sponges are baking. Ok it’s 8.30am in the world-that-puts-the-clocks-forward, but to my body it is 7.30am. On a Sunday. This is absolutely unheard of and quite frankly, wrong. 

Daisy does a Cleese-esque double take when she’s sees me in the kitchen, still in dressing gown, peering into the oven. 

“Mum! It’s so early! You’re always cooking. Don’t you want a break?”

“Yes!” I say, a little too sharply. The thought of Ollie still languishing in my nice warm bed is grating somewhat. 

The morning rushes by. We are due to leave at 10.30am, but at that time I have de-bunked to the shed which is the coldest place I can find. I have covered the top of the cake in chocolate fudge icing, then piped on the hazelnut cream (will be making that stuff again!), and placed the Ferrero Rochers on top. 

The only problem is the kitchen is like a furnace because the oven’s been in for hours. I turn my back and when I look again, the Ferrero Rochers have slid off in a landslide of chocolate fudge icing.

“Nooooo!!!” I scream, hands to face; so near and yet so far. Hence the move to the shed to reassemble. 

 

At 11am I am panic-stricken. We should be there right now! The cake is done but the kitchen looks like a bomb’s hit it. I call the kids:

“Quickly! Get your shoes and coats on and get into the car!” 

“But mum!” cries Daisy, incredulous. “You’re still in your pyjamas!”

“No I’m not!” I respond (why on earth am I lying?!) “It’s just my dressing gown over my clothes.”

“But mum! I can see your pyjama bottoms!”

 There’s no getting away from the bleedin’ obvious. I usher the kids into the car, then get dressed in record time.

 I give Ollie the present to hold, and Daisy the cake, poor child. She asks me what I’d do if it slid off onto the floor. 

“Cry.” Is my one-word answer. At the top of Grapes Hill she nearly put this eventuality to the test. I pull out onto the roundabout too early and slam on my brakes. The cake shoots almost off the board, but it’s not me that cries, but Daisy:

“This is too much, mum! I can’t do this!” 

 At Helen’s house, Ollie leaps out as instructed and knocks on the front door. He runs back to the car, opens Daisy’s door then shelters the cake with his superman umbrella. What a team. 

I park up then race in through the pelting rain. Somehow we are the first to arrive. There’s definitely a punctuality problem in Norwich, even by my standards. 

Helen offers me a cup of tea; I’m parched; neither tea nor breakfast have passed my lips yet. As the kettle boils I go to the bathroom, wash my face, and brush my hair. 

When I get back, I can hear Sadie exclaiming from the kitchen,

“She actually did it! She made it! Wow!”

I decide then and there that this will be my new approach in future: show someone beforehand the really complicated recipe you’re planning to undertake. Make them read it all through, then when you produce it, they’ll lavish you with all the praise that you so rightly deserve.

Should you wish to try your hand at this exquisite cake, here is the link:

   http://crumbscakeblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/ferrero-rocher-nutella-cake.html?m=1

I used Delia’s chocolate fudge icing instead of the Asda cake topper she suggests because I couldn’t get hold of it. 

  

Black Bean Tostadas

  

Saturday 28th March 

I am writing this in bed with a certain little man in my arms. It’s like Groundhog Day. Last night I was woken by Ollie shouting from his bed:

“Mama! Mama! Mama!” repeatedly. This comes as somewhat of a shock: as per my mother-in-law’s instructions, I have taught both my children to call for their father in the night. Unfortunately, he is not here so it falls to me. 

“I’m here, Ol!” I shout. “Come to me! Come here!” Subtext: it is 1.30 in the morning, there’s no way I’m getting out of this bed. Unfortunately Ollie appears to have gone deaf in the night because the bleating continues:

“Mama! Mama! Mama!”

I shout back again. Goodness knows what the neighbours make of this racket through the paper-thin walls. Daisy then joins in from her bed:

“Shut up Ol! Just shut up!” 

Oh great, I think, now I’ll have to get up and do something. In my haste, I scramble out of bed without my glasses on. This is never a good idea: I’m as blind as a bat. I feel my way to Ollie’s room then give myself a fright imaging that someone could jump out on me. 

Heart pounding, I shhhh Ollie down. It’s amazing how that works. What’s the science behind it? Maybe it’s a womb-like noise. Whatever, it has the desired effect and I’m back in bed in minutes. 

I’m just dropping off when the whole charade starts again: Ollie wailing; Daisy shouting and me leaving it for as long as possible because getting up in the cold, dead of night really is unbearable. 

I leap up and decide to put Ollie in my bed. On second thoughts, let’s go via the loo. I don’t want to make the same mistake Tom did: he put Ollie in our bed with him (I was somewhere else, the bunk beds?), then woke up hours later feeling very sweaty. Turned out Ollie had wee’d up his back.

We get in the bathroom and Ollie is still wailing with eyes open wide, but he must be half asleep because his aim is appalling and he is weeing everywhere; I am completely out of my comfort zone.

“Look what you’re doing!” I’m shouting.

So I find myself at 2am with the bleach spray out and a cloth. I finally get back to the bedroom to find that Ollie has taken my side and the only warm bit of the bed. I lie in the cold, wide awake. Come home, Tom! I think. All is forgiven! 

These tostadas were eaten tonight after a day of socialising with great friends. We returned at 6pm from a couple of hours at the park. The kids were hungry and I was glad of something that required minimal cooking. 

They played the Batman game while I listened to Clive Anderson interview a grumpy Bill Oddie on Loose Ends. As I chopped  the veg for the salsa, I watched the sky turn an inky blue and I thought, I’d like to bottle this happy moment which comes at the end of a rather lovely day.

 I blame the fresh air and the sudden burst of sunshine that flooded the park at 5 o’clock; unexpected sunlight and great friends always put me in the best mood.

  

Ingredients:

served 1 adult, 2 children

  • onion, 1
  • cloves of garlic, 2
  • black beans, 400g tin, drained
  • smoked paprika, 1 tsp
  • cumin, 1 tsp
  • cider vinegar, 1.5 tbsp
  • runny honey, 1 tbsp
  • spring onions, 5
  • cherry tomatoes, 10
  • tinned sweetcorn, 8 tbsp
  • avocado, 1
  • lime, juice of 1
  • olive oil, 1.5 tbsp
  • sea salt, to season
  • feta cheese, cubed, 75g
  • fresh coriander, handful
  • corn tortillas, pack of

Method

Chop the avocado and spring onions. Quarter the cherry tomatoes. Put them all to a bowl. Add the sweetcorn, then dress with the lime juice, olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Mix and put aside. 

Preheat the oven and cook the tortillas as per instructions, usually ten minutes.

Heat up a tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan. Finely slice the onion and garlic. Fry over a medium heat for five minutes. Add the spices, vinegar and honey. Cook for another two minutes, then add the black beans. 

Season, heat through, then mash a little with the back of a wooden spoon. 

Top each tortilla with a layer of the beans, then a layer of the avocado salsa. Finish with some cubes of feta and a sprinkling of coriander.

Drizzle over some olive oil and a pinch of salt. Delicious! 


Fruit and Nut Flapjack

 Friday 27th March.

It is the last day of term and no cooking has been going on. I need pay-back for the Morrison’s night off I missed yesterday. 

It is also our last drama performance in school today. Performing to your peers is apparently much more nerve-racking than to parents, and various tears are shed by members of the cast shortly before assembly is due to start. 

The understudies are called in;  I give my ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ speech, then the school starts filing into the hall and it is in the lap of the Gods who will actually appear on stage. 

All credit to the children; the understudies are able to step down and everyone delivers their lines, albeit with shaking legs some of them inform me. I feel so proud of them, I get tears in my eyes. Then I remember that I am supposed to be leading this, and no one wants an emotionally unstable teacher.

After school, and the regulation Friday night trip to the sweet shop, we go to the park in the lovely spring sunshine. Ollie struggles to cycle whilst holding sweets, and Daisy ladens me down with a shoe-box recreation of the Garden of Gethsemane; it is slow going. 

We stay until the sun goes down far enough that it becomes too cold to sit on a park bench any longer. 

On the way home we stop at the chip shop. It is full of other mums with the same, bright idea. There’s a jovial atmosphere and whilst I joke with the woman serving, Ollie performs to two babies in a double buggy who laugh at his leaping around. 

As soon as we leave the shop, I switch into serious-mode: there is nothing worse than cold chips, so I force the troops to cycle/gallop/run as fast as they can. At the bottom of our hill, I send Daisy on ahead with the keys to get the plates and condiments out, whilst I push Bradley Wiggins up the road.

The exertion nearly kills me; I park up the bike in the garage, rush into the house, and…..find the kitchen empty; table not laid. I feel like I might lose the plot. Daisy calls down the stairs to tell me that she’s (having an extended session) in the loo. 

After frantic table-laying we sit down to what is, quite frankly, the best end-of-term tea. I feel I may be on dodgy ground as far as my meat free week goes, but nothing is going to stop me eating that fish. It is of course washed down was a mug of sweet tea.

  

This fruit and nut flapjack is something Ollie and I made earlier in the week. I do not recommend taking it to the homes of small children! I took it to my cousin’s and within thirty seconds her immaculate carpet was covered in a layer of buttery oats. 

I was amazed at her laid-back approach, whilst I was on all fours frantically trying to pick up after four children who seemed hell-bent on grinding it further into the carpet. 

“Oh I’ll send the dog in later and he can hoover it up,” she says.

Clearly this is what I need at home: a dog that permanently follows the kids around and sucks up their mess.

I thought these flapjacks were wonderful, particularly because they are gluten and dairy-free. Tom prefers his more buttery and sweet, so you may wish to adapt the recipe. 

  

Ingredients

  • butter or Pure spread, 225g
  • soft brown sugar, 75g
  • golden syrup, 1 tbsp
  • honey, 1 tbsp
  • oats, 350g 
  • mixed nuts, 75g (I used walnuts and pecans)
  • mixed dried fruit, 75g (I used chopped apricots and raisins)
  • dried cinnamon, 1 tsp

Method

Preheat the oven at gas mark 4, 180 degrees. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm baking tin. 

Put the butter, sugar, golden syrup and honey in a large saucepan. Cook on a gentle heat until the butter and sugar has melted. 

Take off the heat. Stir in the oats, nuts, fruit and cinnamon. Mix gently but thoroughly. 

Pour into the tin and press down with the back of the spoon to make sure it is an even level. 

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. 

Cut it into squares ( I did 15 ) and leave to cool in the tin.  

Adapted from: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/8840/funky-flapjacks

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

 

Thursday 26th March

 I wake up with a cold. It was the stress of yesterday’s drama club performance that’s done it. The house is freezing and the driving rain outside is not making it any easier to get up.

I put my dressing gown on and go downstairs to put on the heating. The cat races alongside me, determined to trip me up. He gets to the bottom, then meows violently as I try to get past.

I’ve really had enough of him. He brings nothing to the table, as far as this family is concerned, apart from constant pestering for food. I decide to actually do as the vet says and weigh his food out for the day.

I’m just pouring biscuits onto the scales when Daisy arrives in the kitchen. I congratulate her on her good acting the day before. She kindly returns the favour by suggesting that the speech I made to parents at the start of the performance was ‘boring and went on a bit.’ Maybe I could just say nothing and let them get on with the acting, she volunteers. 

Brilliant. A cold plus ‘constructive’ criticism; what a way to start the day. I might just go back to bed now. 

We drive down to school because I can’t face getting soaked. I break it to the kids that we might not be going for our post-swim tea at Morrisons tonight. Tom is going away for a few days and I think it would be nice to eat together.

Daisy begins to sob loudly. I’m not sure if it’s Morrisons or Tom’s departure she’s upset about. 

“I don’t want daddy to leave!” she wails, “we need to do him a special last supper!” The Easter theme is permeating all areas of our life at the moment.

Daisy wants to choose what we have for dinner. I agree, but get in quickly that it’ll need to be vegetarian. Through her tears she suggests tomato soup. Not the first ‘last supper’ that would spring to my mind, plus I’m not a massive fan of tomato soup; it leaves a burning sensation at the back of my throat, or maybe that’s just the Heinz type?

As it is, I get my own way and make vegetarian shepherd’s pie for the first time. I have great memories of this dish; a classic of my sister’s. 

The last time I ate it was in the scorching August heat of Spain. She and I sat outside in the shade, long after everyone else had left the table, chatting and eating spoonfuls straight from the dish, until we were so full we had to lie down on a blanket for a siesta.

This version has many changeable ingredients (lentils for chickpeas etc); but two things that give it real flavour are the red wine and the sun-dried tomatoes. They came in a jar, cheap as chips, from Aldi. 

  

Ingredients

  • onion, 1
  • garlic, 3 cloves
  • celery, two sticks
  • leek, 1
  • vegetable oil, 2 tbsp
  • carrots, 2, peeled 
  • swede, 100g, peeled 
  • green lentils, 2 x 400g tins
  • coriander seeds, 1 tbsp
  • wine & stock, 500ml (I used 150ml wine, 350ml tomato & herb stock)
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • sun-dried tomatoes, 10
  • flat leaf parsley, a handful
  • 1kg potatoes (eg: Maris Piper)
  • half a swede
  • butter / Pure spread. 
  • grated mature Cheddar
  • salt and pepper

Method

Peel the potatoes and quarter them. Put them in a steamer. Peel the swede and cut into similar size pieces. Put into a pan of boiling water. Place the steamer on top and cover. Cook the swede and potatoes for approximately 20 minutes until tender. The swede may take longer, hence not cooking together.

Once cooked, drain the swede and mash it with the potatoes and a couple of tbsps of butter. 

Meanwhile, thinly slice the onion, garlic, leek and celery (or get the food processor to do it). 

Fry in the oil over a medium heat using your largest saucepan. 

Cut the carrots and swede into small cubes. Add to the saucepan. 

Crush the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar and add to the pan. 

Cook everything through for a good ten minutes. 

Roughly chop the sun-dried tomatoes. Add these and 2 tbsp of the oil from the jar. Cook for a few minutes. Add the lentils.

Sprinkle in two tbsps of flour. Stir so it absorbs the juices. Gradually add the wine, stirring throughout . Add the stock as well, slowly. 

Allow to simmer for ten minutes; the sauce should thicken. 

Preheat the oven at gas 6 / 200 degrees. 

Check the carrot and swede cubes are cooked through, then roughly chop the parsley and stir through. Pour into a large oven dish. 

Place the mash over the top and add grated cheese.

Place in the oven for approximately twenty minutes until the topping is golden and crispy. 

Inspired in part by http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/vegan-shepherd-s-pie/#0fuJbXtxbjiA7Dtr.97


Herby Chickpea Burgers

 

 Ingredients

  • 600g chickpeas (one & a half tins)
  • spring onions, 5
  • turmeric, 1 tsp
  • cumin, 1 tsp
  • grated fresh ginger, thumb-sized piece
  • garlic cloves, 2
  • grated lemon zest, 1
  • Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp
  • fresh coriander, handful
  • fresh mint, handful
  • large egg, 1
  • salt, half tsp
  • sundried tomatoes, 4 (optional)
  • plain flour or gluten-free flour for coating the burgers, 4 tbsp
  • vegetable oil for frying, 1- 2 tbsp

Method

Put all the ingredients in a food processor. Blitz but don’t go mad – you want the burgers to keep some texture.

Put a large frying pan on a medium heat with a tbsp of oil. 

Shape the mixture into burgers. Coat in flour. Fry for approximately 15 minutes, turning halfway through.

These go incredibly well with sweet chilli sauce. 

  

Wednesday 25th March

We walk home feeling relieved (or maybe that’s just me): the end-of-term drama performance has been shown. Certificates have been issued; doughnuts eaten. 

It is late by the time we get home because I have stopped for my regulation post-drama cup of tea at Kerry’s when picking up Ollie.

“What’s for tea?” The kids ask when we get home. 

“Burger and chips!” I say brightly, then add under my breath, “chickpea burgers,” hoping that no one will hear. 

On Monday, spurred on by all the talk of Meat Free Week on Twitter, I decide (on behalf of the family ) that we will jump on the band-wagon and eat no meat for a week.

I would like to improve my vegetarian repertoire and I agree wholeheartedly with the purpose of the campaign: 

WHY GO MEAT FREE? IT ENCOURAGES YOU TO THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH MEAT YOU EAT, WHERE YOUR MEAT COMES FROM AND THE IMPACT EATING TOO MUCH MEAT HAS ON YOUR HEALTH, ANIMALS AND THE ENVIRONMENT. https://uk.meatfreeweek.org/home

So with this in mind, after a tiring day when I should be getting fishfingers out the freezer, I raid the cupboards to create the ultimate chickpea burger. 

Daisy, meanwhile, is full of talk of Easter after her trip to the local church. She has a homemade Palm Sunday branch, a crucifixion book-mark, and her favourite: a paper plate folded in half with a door cut out, to represent Jesus’s tomb. 

Ollie looks confused; the Easter bunny hasn’t been mentioned once. 

“Easter is about Jesus, not the Easter bunny, Ol!” Informs Daisy. “Jesus was born at Christmas, then died at Easter.”

She omits the fact that there were 33 years between these two events.

“Poor baby Jesus,” whispers Ollie, his bottom lip wobbling. 

Daisy goes upstairs to retrieve The Children’s Bible that Nanna bought her. 

“Come on Ollie, I’ll read you all about it,” says Daisy, returning again. I’m very grateful to have the kitchen to myself but I’m worried about the cheerful brutality that Daisy will be issuing the Easter story with. 

Within five minutes they are back, hovering around me. Ollie has been upset by something to do with Egypt; Daisy wants to know what kind of bad behaviour merits you going to Hell. 

I pause and take a breath. The kitchen looks like I’ve tipped out all the cupboards and thrown the contents around, which essentially I have; not for the first time, I wonder why I have embarked on this today. 

We finally sit down to eat at 7pm (thank goodness for the earlier doughnuts), just as the cat decides to display more of its bulimic tendencies: it wolfs down a pouch of cat meat, vomits it all up, then minutes later claws a hole in the cat biscuit bag because it is ravenous again.

Aside from this, and the fact that I am getting into hot water with my explanation of Hell, it is a very tasty meal. Previous chickpea burgers have been a bit bland, but these pack a punch of flavour (and so they should, I’ve thrown everything into them!). Daisy and Tom both enjoy them and the home-made oven chips are the perfect accompaniment. Most burgers of this ilk call for bread crumbs, but as these are dairy and gluten free, I have omitted them, and they seem none the worse for it, just a little lighter. 

Rose Cupcake Bouquet

 

 It’s January and I’m having a cuppa at my friend, Mel’s. She’s trying to persuade me to do a cake course where you learn to make cupcakes that look like a bouquet of roses. Lovely idea but this is way out of my league. I politely decline. 

Thing is, some friends know you better than you know yourself. She’s surprisingly persistent and two things swing in her favour: 1) when I started this blog I made a pact that I would take any food-related opportunities that came my way (however much out of my comfort zone they were); and 2) my mother-in-law’s 60th is coming up and true to tradition, I want to make her something homemade. I’ve done the photo albums, the collages, the cakes, and more recently, the knitted scarves (scarves are the extent of my knitting skills); so I am looking for something new. 

Fast forward two months, and I find myself on a Saturday night at Cafe 7 in the centre of Norwich with seven others. We are greeted with hot drinks, delicate pieces of cake, and a slight horror story of a drunk man who  loomed at the glass door and tried to get into the class the previous night. 

  

First we learn to put together the bouquet box with cellophane, tissue paper and fancy ribbon; then as an interlude we ice biscuits using different techniques to create sunflowers, daffodils and even hyacinths. It doesn’t matter that I’m a complete novice, I’m loving it. 

  

Next comes the icing of the buns to make then look like roses. Here we go, I think, the moment where I really show myself up. But Lynne – cafe owner and teacher – is wonderful and patient and even goes so far as to hold my hands (or maybe I hold hers?) while I use the icing bag for the first time. You need strong hands and mine are surprisingly little, but I make up my own method, and they look…..alright!

By 8.30pm our time is up – we’ve been here for three hours and all my cakes and biscuits are sitting in boxes ready to go. Lynne has had the patience of a saint and her husband is standing at the door; they’ve been working since 6am and I imagine, would love to get home. In my new found icing-enthusiasm I am buying some last-minute cake nozzles from Lynne. 

I turn to get some purse and then everything happens in slow motion: my cake boxes are falling and falling to the floor; I have let out a scream; my friends are open-mouthed. It’s a scene of carnage. Thank goodness for Lynne. I can only imagine what she was shouting internally (I JUST WANT TO GO HOME!!!), but to the outside world she is a pillar of calm. She picks up the wrecked cakes and biscuits ( I can’t look; I have my eyes shut), and she goes off and whips up more pink icing while I scrape all the old stuff off my buns then begin the icing process again. 

It is slightly stressful icing under such circumstances – everyone in their coats keen to get home – but the pressure produces pretty good cakes, and even my wonderful mother-in-law is fooled a few days later, thinking they are just a pretty bunch of flowers. 

  

I’ve definitely been bitten by the icing bug, and much to Lynne’s delight, I’m sure, I’ll be frequenting other of her cupcake courses. In the mean-time, I have much to thank Mel, who have me the push I definitely needed to try something new.

TOP TIPS

  1. Use the Vanilla Cupcakes and Vanilla Icing recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook to make these cakes. 
  2. Buy the best vanilla essence money can buy. Something like Nielsen Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Paste (£5.99 for 118ml at Morrisons).
  3. If you live in the area, get down to Cafe 7 and book onto one of their very reasonable cupcake courses: http://cafe7surreystreet.co.uk/page2.html 

  

Camp-Fire Potatoes

  

Monday 23rd March

Today does not start well. Ollie has barricaded himself in his bedroom and is refusing to go to pre-school. He has taken the return from Center Parcs badly. He is worried and angry that other people might move in to our ‘village’ (villa) before we next return in two years’ time. I try explaining renting to him, but it only serves to anger him further.

I am trying to get Daisy ready for her school trip to Holt Hall where she will learn Stone Age survival skills. The letter calls for ‘old clothes’ and Wellington boots; Daisy comes downstairs in extremely stylish ‘old clothes’, perfectly matched with a pair of red Converse trainers. I can’t fight battles on two fronts so I turn a blind eye.

I finally extricate Ollie from his room and get them into the car; we are seriously late. The key goes in the ignition. The car does not start. I try again. And again. Panic rising. Emergency Plan B: The kids scramble out of the car and on to their bikes. I run alongside them like an eager dog, nervously shouting out my anxieties about Daisy missing the school bus if they attempt to slow down.

Back at the house, the road-side recovery man arrives mid-morning. He opens the bonnet, sucks his teeth and tells me what I already know: the battery is dead. His extensive tests tell him the battery needs replacing; it’s old (the original VW battery), and has exceeded all expectations, but now I must part with a hundred quid and get a new one. 

I agree and then notice that one of those pesky kids have left an internal light on. I think this has got more to do the flat battery than its age. The sceptical side of me thinks I may have been duped, but the man is sincere and quietly spoken; and the fact that he owns a 27 year old red Volvo (my favourite car after a Saab 900), and travels around the Highlands of Scotland in it, makes me forgive him slightly.

Next problem: the blog-site has been on the blink for 24 hours. I’m not going to lie, I feel sick about it. It’s locked me out and I’m worried that all that work, all those words have vanished. I call the person I always call in a crisis: my father-in-law. He is my go-to troubleshooter. 

His knowledge knows no limits. He has remotely fixed our boiler with careful instructions over the phone on a cold winter’s night; he has explained repeatedly the lunar phases and why they occur when I had to teach Year 6; he has answered untold existential / spiritual questions from Daisy (he is a vicar, after all): Who is God’s mother? Where is heaven? What’s the difference between Catholics and Protestants? is always met with the same “Phone Pops” response. 

Luckily for me, he’s also a computer whizz and fellow blogger. His advice today is to delete the blog app and re-upload it. I laugh nervously then do as I’m told. I must trust the man a lot or be mad because I am ignoring the big DELETE THIS APP AND ALL FILES WILL BE DESTROYED warning. Fortunately he wins again and I am back at the writing desk.

At school pick up, Lucas, my pyromaniac protege, comes racing out of Daisy’s class. He’s coming for tea.

“Daisy and I were the best fire starters at Holt Hall!” He tells me. 

“Yes!” I shout far too loudly, and give him a big high five. 

Daisy comes out of school disgruntled.

“We were only allowed to pile up a few sticks,” she says, “and then we had to stand ten metres from the fire in case a spark flew out. They didn’t even use flint to start the fire.”

I worry that my fire-starting lessons, where they are allowed to throw on wood and poke the embers with a stick, may be a little too advanced for their seven years. Lucas asks on the way home if we can have a fire in the garden. I don’t need asking twice: a fire cheers up any day.  

  
I have baked potatoes that have been in the oven for half an hour (they are only slightly warm) I double wrap them in tin foil with a large knob of butter, then bury them in the fire. We let them cook for half an hour, then beg for a tin of beans from our kind, obliging neighbour. 

With a rack from the oven balanced over the fire, we heat the beans in a pan. This does not work. The beans are cool ten minutes in, so I shove the pan in the embers. I am sure this is not advisable but it works. 

  
Most fun is retrieving the cooked potatoes. Lucas pokes around in the ash with a big stick and shouts if he spots something silver. I get them out with a big spoon. 

The potatoes are cut open and eaten with butter, beans and grated cheese. It’s like the food of the Gods.

  
For pudding Daisy and Isla make hot chocolate and we heat it again in the embers and drink it with slabs of Lyons Golden Syrup cake. Camping food if ever I saw it. 

Everyone is very happy, possibly me most of all. 

Fried Potatoes and Eggs



A short post tonight, in fact lack of wifi nearly meant no post at all. We have finally made it to our wonderful weekend away (sixteen of us) to celebrate the big SIX-O of a special family member. 

Above was this morning’s breakfast. To continue last night’s post on baked potatoes, it goes without saying that you should always put a couple of extra spuds in the oven: they make great fried potatoes the next day and give you a meal in minutes. 

I needed some serious stamina today, hence the breakfast. I had to pack and wrap; assemble a cake and do finishing touches to a photo album; all the while sweating away as the heating was on full.  It is an inevitable part of going away that I must always be drying clothes right up until the last minute. Sometimes I even take a bag of damp clothes with us to our destination to dry there. It’s infuriating but some things never change.

This morning while eating my two eggs, fried potatoes and cherry tomatoes, I wrote a timeline of everything that needed to be done and when it would be done. I got up to 11am and screwed the list up into a ball. I was going to have to wing it: according to the list there was not enough hours in the day for what I wanted to achieve.



This photo sums up my last moment of calm until now; It’s been non-stop. But here we are in a house in the woods, far away from any traffic or street lights and altogether with family members, which last happened a year and a half ago, so it’s been very much worth it.