(Ex-Easter Egg) Chocolate Fruit Baskets

Tuesday 7th April

It’s just me and the boy. We are in York (the Homeland) for the week and have delivered Daisy and grandma onto the 10.34 to Edinburgh for their two-night away jaunt. Daisy’s only reason for wanting to go to Edinburgh is that it’s in ANOTHER COUNTRY; one her father has never been to. It has become a race: who will get there first – father or daughter.

As soon as Daisy crosses the border she wants to phone Tom to give him her triumphant news. Grandma, as ever, has the Ordnance Survey out so can just about pin-point when they cross onto Scottish soil.

As for Ollie and I, we are heading down to Rowntree Park where I spent many of my formative years. Ollie comes to a standstill on his scooter by the pond; geese are blocking his way.

“There are swans, mum!” he says anxiously. He has a great fear of swans  after I foolishly quoted Adrian Mole to him once: ‘A swan can break a man’s arm, you know.’ Since then he’s been understandably petrified.

“They’re geese, not swans, come on.” I say, pushing him on, but he has his foot on the brake refusing to budge. We’re supposed to be meeting people at the playground and of course we’re running late.

“Look they’re getting cross now! Just keep moving and don’t stop!”

In hindsight this is not something you say to a child with a big-bird phobia. He lets out a scream and whizzes past the geese. He’s so frightened that he scoots non-stop to the playground making us not quite so late.

At the playground, the children we are meeting have already formed a pack. This is the problem with not arriving on time. Ollie goes off on his own for a bit, then trails around behind the boys wanting to be part of the crew. I keep an eye on him.

They are creating a den in some bushes up on a bank. Suddenly Ollie looks like he’s in the thick of it so I relax and get on with the main reason for being here: catching up with old friends.

We’re only just scratching the surface, chat-wise, when one of the other boys comes to report that Ollie has done something in the den that should only be done in a toilet. I’m horrified. Wild-weeing is one thing, but this? It cannot be true. I hurry up to the den. All the other boys are standing outside awaiting my arrival.

I go inside and have a look. Unfortunately the report is correct and I have to remove the offending article with wet wipes in case anyone stands in it. I give Ollie a dressing down but it’s difficult to discipline in front of an audience.

“Are you cross with him because he didn’t wipe his bottom?”

“Will he have to go home now?”

I have to take questions from a group of boys, arms folded, who want to know the exact ins and outs of the offence.

Ollie appears to think the telling off is worth it though because the misdemeanour has earned him serious kudos amongst the gang: I’m only just back at the picnic table, muttering to myself, when one of the other boys comes racing over to say he wants Ollie to come round to his house NOW.

By this point the adults are all in desperate need of a cup of tea, and the boys are so dirty from playing in the soil that they look like they’ve spent a day down the pit. Leaving seems like a good idea to everyone.

After a clean up with wet wipes.

On the way home, Polly, my friend, asks if I have any good ideas for using up a surplus of Easter eggs. She’s seen one where you melt down the chocolate and make ‘baskets’ out of it which you can then fill with healthier things like fruit.

Back at hers, we’re only halfway through the first cup of tea when a pillow fight gets out of hand and the boys need something to calm them down. We set about experimenting with the chocolate baskets idea and it works surprisingly quickly and easily. Afterwards the boys have something to eat which gives them the energy to carry on with the next round of fighting games.

Ingredients

  • chocolate, any you want to use up: Easter eggs, chocolate santas etc, in a variety of white, milk and dark
  • silicone muffin cases
  • paint or pastry brushes
  • fruit, chopped up (raspberries, pineapple, kiwi, grapes, satsumas)
  • Greek yogurt

 

Method

Break up the chocolate and place in a bowl. Use a different bowl for each type of chocolate: milk, dark, white.

Melt the chocolate, either in the microwave or in a bain-marie.

Give each child a silicone muffin case and a paint brush. Get them to paint the inside of the case thickly in one type of the melted chocolate.

Place the silicone cases in the freezer for five minutes.

When the chocolate has solidified, paint on another layer of chocolate, preferably of a different type.

Pop back in the freezer for another five minutes. 

Take them out and carefully peel back the silicone case.

 

Now fill the chocolate case half full with Greek yogurt and top with fruit. Drizzle with any remaining melted chocolate. 

Either eat immediately or pop in the fridge for later.

 

 

 

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Roasted Leg of Lamb

  

Easter Sunday

Tom’s Roast Lamb: 

Preheat the oven at 190 degrees/ Gas mark 5. Rub the leg of lamb with olive oil and sea salt. Place in a roasting tin on the hob.  Sear over a hot heat until browned on all sides. Make small slits all over and insert with garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary. 

Add 150ml of water to the bottom of the roasting tin and put in the oven for approximately 1.5 hours, or until the core temperature gets to 60 degrees (if you have a fancy thermometer). Leave to rest for 15 minutes before carving. 

  

We sit down to eat at 3.30pm. I have contributed nothing to the meal, except to allow the kids to stay in my bath for over an hour, and so keeping them out of the kitchen. This is at great personal expense to me because it means that instead of being able to read the paper, I have to play Twenty Questions and The Colour Game, where you telepathically try and guess the colour that the other person is thinking of. There’s no skill involved in it at all.  Lovely kids as they are, it is a relief to get out and hide in my room.

We sit down to this delicious meal and it occurs to me that it is a miracle we are eating anything at all, after the disorganisation we began the weekend with. 

Yesterday afternoon: I am supposed to be having a rest on the sofa while Tom takes the kids out for a brisk walk, but I am gripped with such a panic regarding Easter, that I give up the peace and quiet of our lounge for the hell of a supermarket on one of the busiest days of the year. 

On the way I make a mental list of everything needed for a good Easter weekend. Top of the list: meat and chocolate. 

As I drive around the mini-roundabout into the vast supermarket car park, a huge sign cheerfully tells shoppers: We Are Closed on Easter Sunday. Have a Happy Weekend! 

Closed tomorrow! This is outrageous! (I seem to have forgotten that I’m opposed to Sunday-opening). What if I’ve forgotten the mint sauce or another vital ingredient? My panic deepens; foot on accelerator I speed around trying to find a space; nearly killing a few shoppers on the way. 

By the time I get to the entrance of the store, packed with panic-buyers, I’ve broken into a jog.

Chocolate or meat? Chocolate or meat? Which do I go for first? Of course chocolate wins and I career the trolley around towards the Easter egg aisle. I get there and the shelves are empty; the place looks ransacked. Daisy has requested a Lindt Easter egg since February, when we first saw them in Morrisons, why the heck didn’t I buy one then?! Why have I let it get to this? 

I’m hunched over scanning all the low shelves for any possible reject eggs returned by shoppers. Nothing. At this rate she’ll have to have a Darth Vader egg and they’ll be a lot of tears.

I look up and see a Tesco’s employee pushing his way through the throng. I go to ask him when they’re expecting their next delivery in. In his hand he has a cardboard box. It’s like a mirage. It has Lindt stamped on it. 

“Are those Lindt Easter eggs?” I say sounding much too desperate.

“I don’t know what’s in the box,” he replies gruffly.

“Look! It says Lindt there!” I say, then I stand over him, breathing down his neck, until he opens the box. I take two huge eggs from him and hug them to my chest. It makes pushing the trolley very difficult, but I don’t trust anyone in this place;  there’s an air of desperation. 

Next I head for the meat. People are going mad grabbing anything from the shelves. I can’t get beyond the pork section to where the lamb is. I consider ramming my trolley into people’s legs, I Need Lamb!  then I look down and see a leg of lamb that’s been cast aside on top of the pork joints. I can’t believe my eyes. I grab it but it’s becoming almost impossible to push the trolley whilst holding two £10 Lindt Dark Chocolate eggs and a lamb’s leg. 

I find a quiet corner near the FreeFrom foods and look over my spoils. I seem to have picked up EIGHT random Easter eggs in total. None of them very suitable. What is wrong with me?

I’m reminded of my favourite Adrian Mole excerpt where he’s in town at closing time on Christmas Eve and he goes mad panic-buying. When I get home I have to look it up:  

At 5.25 I had a panic attack and left the queue and rushed into Marks and Spencer’s to buy something. I was temporarily deranged. A voice inside my head kept saying: ‘Only five minutes left before the shops shut. But! Buy! Buy!’ 
(The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend). 

I arrive home ladened down with food; feeling wrung out. Tom looks up nervously when he sees all the bags of Easter eggs. 

“I didn’t think we were doing Easter this year?”

For a moment I’m bewildered. Does he think I’ve just been to Tesco’s for fun?! He’s on edge because he hasn’t bought me an egg. That’s lucky because I seem to have bought one for the whole street.

 We sit down with a cup of tea and crack into an over-priced Green and Black’s Egg. Easter has arrived!

Blog Gear Change

A huge heart-felt thanks for reading the blog this far. We are a quarter of the way into the year and I’ve decided to have a gear change. By this, I mean change down a gear. 

I have been writing at break-neck speed with no forward planning regarding recipes etc; and although this is the nature of a daily blog, I’d like to be able to approach it in a calmer, more measured way. 

So for the next quarter of the year I will be writing three or four times a week instead of every day. The content will be much the same, but it will just give me time to think (and breathe!)

Much love and Happy Easter xxx

Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Buns

Easter Saturday

  

The Easter Weekend: it has taken us all by surprise. We are utterly unprepared. No Easter eggs or leg of lamb purchased; no vases of daffodils or pretty branch covered in decorations; and certainly no homemade hot cross buns. 

I wake in a panic. The kids are already downstairs, limbering up in the kitchen. They received new trainers yesterday (a present) and are very taken with them. Cue lots of laps up and down the hall. They sound like a herd of wildebeests trampling through the savannah; Daisy claims she’s running on air. They overhear me muttering about Easter and Ollie diverts to do a few circuits of the garden in case the Easter bunny has been early.

We start the day with a big clean up. We play to our strengths: Tom does the kitchen, accompanied by loud music; I tackle the mounds of laundry upstairs; Ollie acts as errand-boy running items from one parent to the other; while Daisy sorts things in her bedroom. 

I unearth a bag in our bedroom that hasn’t been put away since Center Parcs. I check all the pockets before putting it away in the cupboard. Inside I find a little jewellery box. Oooo. What’s this? I think. 

I open it and it’s a gold plectrum keyring with thoughtful words engraved on it. How lovely! It must be a forgotten Valentine’s or Christmas present. Something Tom saw and bought for me then tucked it away and forgot about it. 

I call Daisy in as go-between, just in case it’s a surprise that I’m not supposed to know about. She’d like to get on with her room, but she reluctantly takes the box from me and wanders down to Tom, pretending  she’s found it herself.

I hover at the top of the stairs waiting to be called down: Darling! I have something for you! I saw it and thought of you! Instead there are low voices coming from the kitchen (or maybe it’s just hard to hear over the racket on the radio). 

As Daisy comes back up the stairs empty-handed, I begin to panic a bit.

“Awkward!” she says at the top of the stairs, eyebrows raised. “It’s not for you.”

I’m suddenly reminded of the scene from Love, Actually where Emma Thompson thinks she’s getting an expensive necklace from her husband, (Alan Rickman) on Christmas Day, but it’s a Joni Mitchell CD instead (because the necklace has gone to a girl at the office), and Thompson sobs in her bedroom to the tune of Both Sides Now. A heart-breaker of a scene. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2y-8vxObugM 

Fortunately we are not replaying our own version of it today, much to my relief. Daisy informs me that it was bought for Tom by a family member because he plays the guitar, and he’s been looking for it. He’s very pleased it’s been found. I return to the laundry with a mixture of relief tinged with disappointment. 

By late afternoon, we’re starting to get our act together. I find a suitable branch in the garden (harder than you think) and Daisy decorates it with eggs. We clear the table and put on a new table cloth; I begin making hot cross buns for the first time. 

  

Unusually the kids aren’t up for it, and I enjoy the process more than I thought I would(!) chatting to Tom while he washes up. I opt to put chocolate chips and mixed peel in mine, because everything tastes better with chocolate, and it gives them a subtle chocolate-orange flavour. I have every intention, and all the ingredients, to make a gluten-free version too, but two batches of hot crosses in one day? You must be joking! 

They finally come out of the oven at 9.30pm, all ready to be toasted in the morning. The tradition is to eat them on Good Friday, but we are a few days behind on everything this year…..

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/chocolate-chip-hot-cross-buns

Kefir Challenge – Part One

  

Good Friday

Kefir. My sister first mentions it a few years ago when I’m staying with her in Spain. It is a fermented milk drink made by combining kefir “grains” with (normally) milk. The grains act as a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter and when combined with milk, produce a drinkable yogurt with amazing probiotic benefits. 

So far, so good. My sister has been taking it for some time, and has felt all the better for it. 

When ingested, Kefir colonises the digestive tract with 35 different strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts; in comparison, most shop bought natural yogurt has only a few.

Kefir has many health benefits: it boosts the immune system by keeping healthy bacteria in the digestive system – 80% of the immune system is in the gut;  it reduces symptoms of IBS; it can improve lactose intolerance; and it has (anecdotally) worked wonders for people with eczema and other skin conditions.

So what’s the drawback? I think. I need this stuff in my life! My sister casually mentions that kefir can’t be bought (true at the time); you have to ferment the grains at home and feed them every day, until you have a thick, yogurty, sour-tasting substance which you drink daily. 

Well, that’s my love-affair with kefir over with then! The thought of having anything growing or fermenting in my fridge makes me feel, quite frankly, sick.

 Clare mentions it enthusiastically from time to time over the years, but I just smile politely and make my excuses.

More recently though, mentions of kefir has been cropping up here and there; more people are reporting good things about it, and it’s back on my mind again. My digestive system is certainly not great: since having children I haven’t been able to tolerate dairy or gluten; plus my immune system is shot to pieces. All in all,  I’m probably the ideal candidate to give it a go, and yet the whole fermenting thing…..

A month ago, I go to pick up Ollie from pre-school. Emma, who runs it, corners me excitedly.

“Have you heard of kefir?” she wants to know (we have these kind of interesting conversations).

Oh here we go again… I think.  Except this is different. A company called The Chuckling Goat are producing their own kefir from their small goat farm in Wales. The kefir is made with goats’ milk (better for me) and most of the lactose disappears during the fermentation process. 

The farm sends you a 21 day course  which is apparently plenty of time for your gut to become repopulated (for the long-term) with good bacteria. 

I sign up as soon as I get home. It isn’t cheap, but if it improves things, it’ll be worth it. 

Three weeks later, seven pints of goats’ milk kefir are delivered to me. They all go into the fridge; every morning on an empty stomach I must drink a third of a pint.

Day One: The first morning (I can’t lie), is awful. I expect the sourness, but not the thick consistency and the ‘fizzy’ sensation on the tongue. All through making the kids’ breakfasts, I’m feeling rough at the thought of it. 

Day Two: I persuade Ollie to have a sip (evil mother!). He doesn’t bat an eye-lid. I decide I’m being a wimp. This time I don’t gulp it (to get it over with quickly!); I imagine it’s the amazing drinking yogurt that I had as a child on our holidays to Yugoslavia. It goes down better.

The instructions with the kefir suggest keeping a diary for the 21 days so that you notice any (subtle) change as they happen. 

So this is the stage I’m up to: two days in to a 21 day challenge. If you have any thoughts or experience of kefir, I’d love to know; if not, I’ll see you on the flip side when I’ll be reporting back on the results and hopefully feeling somewhat better….

 

My face on Day One (looking slightly traumatised….)

http://www.homemademommy.net/2012/09/why-i-love-kefir-and-what-are-kefir-grains.html

https://www.chucklinggoat.co.uk


Norfolk Apple Cake

  

1st April

I regret telling Daisy that it is April Fool’s Day. She leaps up with excitement to get the cling film out of the kitchen drawer. She’s had a trick planned for months: to cover the toilet bowl in film so that when Ollie wees it will squirt back in to his face. 

I’m all up for a practical joke, I tell her, but not one that will involve me cleaning up a wee-stained boy at this time in the morning. Fortunately the conversation is curtailed by a knock at the door. I am taking five children for a trip out to my auntie’s. Two have just arrived. 

We set off to pick up child number 5. At her house we have a re-jig. The oldest (9 years old) is feeling car sick because he has essentially been squeezed into the boot with Ollie.

I release him so he can sit in the front with me. I’m buckling up the younger ones as he leap-frogs into the front passenger seat AND….. ( IF YOU ARE THE OWNER OF ONE OF THESE CHILDREN, PLEASE STOP READING NOW!!!)…..there is a click as he knocks the handbrake. Horrifically the car starts rolling backwards. For a split second I don’t know what’s going on, except that I’m leaning into a moving vehicle. I grab the open door and try to brace myself against it, but I’m no match for the seven-seater. It continues to roll and I’m shouting “HAND-BRAKE! GRAB THE HAND-BRAKE!” Daisy lurches through the front seats and grabs the gear stick (we need a serious lesson on car parts) “NO! HAND-BRAKE!” I’m shouting. Fortunately the 9 year old grabs it and pulls it on. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief and settles back into their seats. I feel like my legs might give way.

My auntie Alison lives out in the woods in deepest Norfolk. We like to go at Easter-time because sometimes her hens lay chocolate eggs. It’s incredible. We turn off the road onto a track that leads to her house; suddenly I shout and slam on the brakes:

“It’s Jesus! Look it’s Jesus!” 

The children all strain to see out of the window. I am offering them the ultimate Easter experience. 

“Look! Look!” I shout. “He’s there in the hedgerow!” 

By now everyone’s unbuckling themselves to see what all the fuss is about. But rather than spotting a man, they see a beautiful, tame pheasant. He lives in my auntie’s garden, often wandering into the house. For some reason he goes by the name of Jesus. (There’s also a partridge called Petunia). 

Once at the house, the kids descend on the vegetable patch where the hens have been nesting. They must’ve seen us coming (we are now up to seven children) as the hens have scarpered, but not before leaving a nice nest of chocolate eggs. 

  

The kids are keen to find the actual chickens though, and hunt round the garden. A cockerel and a hen are spotted in the greenhouse making a commotion. The cockerel’s chasing after the flapping hen. The kids stand, faces pressed against the glass, watching this spectacle. Alison sidles up. “You might want to bring them away, otherwise they’ll be a lot of explaining to do.”

I need to get out in the country more because for a split second I really have no idea what she was talking about; and then suddenly my brain kicks in

“Ooookay kids! Nothing to see here! Move on now, please!”

Of course, Old Big Ears (aka my eldest child) is having none of this.

“What’s going on? What will you have to explain? What’s that cockerel doing?”

“Look! They’re getting a bit violent in there. It might upset the children. Best leave them to it.”

We distract the seven kids with an immediate walk through the woods. They play in the old Nissen huts, running in and out of them. Ollie whispers to me conspiratorially that he has a bullet in his pocket. It feels like one from the outside of his coat. Why can’t I leave him alone for a minute? On closer inspection it is a shot-gun cartridge. He scours the floor for them and is laidened down with fifteen by the time we get home. 

  

Much too early on I suggest a stick competition and the children (with me as back up) drag huge sticks for what feels like miles. The sun is out, but with such high winds, it is freezing. 

  

For the last stretch, Ollie starts losing the will to live and Daisy’s feet get caught round her stick causing a horrible fall. I promise them all warm, milky tea and Alison’s apple cake if they can make it back.

Finally home, we bring out mugs of tea for everyone and I slice into the cake. The kids are more interested in the accompanying decorational chicks and rabbits, but for me this cake is very nostalgic.

  

Alison first made it for me nearly twenty years ago when I came to Norwich to start university. It was autumn-time and she made it with apples that grew in the woods. When it came to me getting the bus home from Dereham, she handed me a large, warm tinfoil-wrapped parcel and a secret £20-note.

Inside the parcel was my own apple cake. I unwrapped it in the kitchen of my halls of residence. No one on my corridor had eaten properly in days, if not weeks. We all fell upon the cake and devoured it in minutes. The apples give it a sweetness and moisture, which is complemented perfectly with the cinnamon. This still remains one of my favourite cakes. 

Alison has done it here in her favourite ceramic bundt tin, but the recipe below is for the normal round tin version.

  

Ingredients

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g soft light brown sugar
  • 180g soft butter / margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 cooking apples, peeled, cored &  chopped into small chunks.

Method

Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin. Preheat the oven at 190 degrees/ gas 5.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. 

Fold in the flour and cinnamon, then add the apple and mix in well. If the mixture is too dry, add a splash of milk. 

Put into the cake tin and cook for approximately 35 minutes.

Remove from the tin as soon as it’s cook and leave to cool on a rack.

Dust with icing sugar. Tastes amazing with thick cream.