All posts by Sarah C

Jerusalem Chicken & Cardamom Rice

  

Sunday 12th April

  

We arrive home from our travels oop North. So much changes in a week. The cherry tree outside our house is suddenly covered in white blossom; the rhubarb patch in the back garden has new leaves shooting up everywhere; and I am relieved to see that the raspberry canes have survived my severe pruning and new shoots are appearing. 

  

The children run from room to room, delighted to be home. The cat follows them, flopping down for a few minutes at the top of the stairs before trotting after them to the next location. 

Tom and I take advantage of them getting on and have a cup of tea in the garden down by the vegetable patch. As I have a captive audience, I take this opportunity to outline my ambitious plans for a walk-in chicken run. I’ve been taking the softly-softly approach vis-a-vis keeping chickens, but I’ve become more brazen recently. I told Daisy that I wanted chickens for my birthday (9th JUNE, PEOPLE!!), to which she replied:

“Not a chance, mum, not a chance.” 

I have a little more confidence than her. 

I go to bed that night alone (Tom is engrossed in The Vikings). It’s strange not to have my little side-kick next to me (Ollie), throwing his leg over me; nor to hear the loud honking of the geese over Rowntree Park as I fall asleep.

Monday 13th April

7.30am. It’s back to school. Daisy is standing by our bed in her school uniform (unheard of), trying to negotiate an early morning episode of Horrible Histories. She seems to have forgotten that the holidays are over.

The phone rings. It’s Tom making sure I’m up. I’m not. He’s almost at Swaffham; Ollie and I are snuggled up in bed. I’m not sure when he appeared. He can be stealthful when he wants to be. We’re going to be horribly under pressure, but getting up and starting the school routine again seems an awful proposition.

There’s a minor riot when I discover there’s only muesli for breakfast. The cupboards are bare from our week away. Poor Daisy has only one option for lunch: last night’s leftover takeaway pizza. In some weird role-reversal she asks for carrot sticks with it, or at least a banana, I do a big sigh and say:

“Can’t you just have a Twix instead?” 

Ollie is squawking because someone has dressed him in long shorts and he’s cold. 

“It’s spring-time!” I say, as if the shorts are an intentional choice rather than the only choice because all his other clothes are dirty. I put some long socks on him to compensate, but he’s not stupid, he knows this is not a good look. 

Somehow we all make it out of the door but Ollie cries all the way to preschool.

 For dinner I need to cobble together something from what we have in. I find some chicken drumsticks and thighs in the freezer, and we have rice and raisins in the cupboard. The only vegetables in are onions in the fridge; Ollie will be delighted. 

This one-pot chicken dish is easy to make and is perfect comfort food for that back-to-work/school kind of a day.    It is based on Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe but I have added greater quantities of the spices, and have cooked it a bit quicker. We all reconvene at 6.30pm around the kitchen table, glad to have got through the first day back. 

Ingredients

  • olive oil, 4 tbsps
  • medium onions, 2, finely sliced
  • chicken thighs & drumsticks, 1kg
  • cardamom pods, 12
  • whole cloves, 1tsp
  • ground cinnamon, 2tsp
  • currants or raisins, 30g
  • basmati rice, 300g
  • boiling water, 550ml
  • parsley, coriander, dill, 5g of each chopped. 
  • salt and pepper
  • Greek yogurt, 100g (optional) 

Method

Using your largest casserole dish (which has a lid), fry the onions in 2tbsps of the oil over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally, until the onions as golden and caramelised. 

In the meantime, put the chicken in a large bowl with the other 2 tbsps of oil plus the cinnamon, cardomom pods, cloves, 1 tsp of both salt and ground pepper. Rub it all in with your hands. 

Once the onions are cooked, remove them from the pan and put into a bowl. Wipe the pan clean, heat it again on high and sear the chicken for 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan. 

Pour away most of the oil leaving only a millimetre. Add the onion, rice, currants and 1tsp of salt. Stir it all around to coat it in the oil and spices on the bottom of the pan. Push the chicken pieces into the rice and pour over the boiling water.Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes. 

Check the chicken is cooked. If the meat doesn’t come off the bone easily, leave the casserole dish to stand for 10 minutes with the lid on, off the heat. 

Add the herbs and use a fork to fluff the rice and to stir them in. Serve with a drizzling of Greek yogurt if you wish. 

http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/chicken-with-caramelized-onion-cardamom-rice-shop

St. Clements Pudding 

   

Saturday 11th April

It’s a race against time to leave York. Tom is outside trying to assemble and attach a very complicated bike rack to the car; I am inside trying to pack and decide what to do with the 17 million boxes which contain my past life: school books, photographs, letters, you name it.

I come down from the attic to find grandma and Tom stopping in the hall for a brief chat.

“Come on people! We’re under a lot of pressure! No time to chat!” I shout, making everyone jump.

Grandma scuttles back in the kitchen to make us fried eggs and fried potatoes; a last meal for the road.(Since writing this blog I realise I eat an inordinate amount of fried eggs…) 

  
As she serves up, I boom:

“Five minutes to eat, everyone! We need to get on the road!”

Grandma, who is not a fan of working under pressure, asks what the mad rush is about. She knows we are heading to Lincolnshire to see friends, but really, could we not take things a bit slower?

“We need to get to the Seal Surgery before it shuts!” informs Ollie, cheerfully. It’s actually a seal sanctuary but the idea of a waiting room full of ill seals makes me smile. 

“I thought Mablethorpe was only two hours away? You’ll easily make it,” says grandma. 

“Yes, well, it’s also The Grand National,” I whisper into my food. 

“The Grand National!” grandma develops very acute hearing all of a sudden. “Don’t tell me all of this stress is so that you can watch a horse race!” 

Well actually it is. We’ve placed our bets and I want to see the race, come hell or high water. 

We set off, the car groaning under the weight of a bike and all of our luggage. On the A64, just as we’re picking up speed, the bike rack starts to omit an ear-splitting squealing sound. 

“I know what that is,” says Tom, with an air of resignation. We pull over in a layby and he gets out with some gaffer tape. I have given up all hope of watching the race, so I start fiddling around madly with the radio to find Five Live. It’s the only time of the year I’d ever consider listening to it.

  
We’re just approaching the Humber Bridge as the race starts. We have the commentary on very loud and I’m gripping the dash-board. The kids think we’ve gone mad. It’s extremely exciting: from the off, Tom’s horse, Rebel Rebellion takes the lead and stays there. We’re shouting a lot. At one point, our four horses (we’ve all had a flutter) are the four out front. I can’t believe it!

  
With two furlongs to go, Many Clouds, Daisy’s horse takes the lead and stays there for the home straight. 

“Daisy! You’re winning!” shout Tom and I in unison. “You’re going to win The Grand National!” There’s silence from the back. I swing round. For goodness sake! The child has her head in a book! She shows no interest until she realises that she’s going to win £30, then she’s all ears. A chip off the old block, I think, judging by her ability to pick a winner.

  
We arrive in Mablethorpe at tea-time. The seal surgery will have to wait until tomorrow. I sit on a chair in the kitchen, feet up on the oven, drinking tea, while Lynsey makes us sausage and mash (amazing jalepeno sausages).

As soon as I’m revived from the tea, I work alongside her making the pudding. It was supposed to be eaten in York – St.Clements is the name of my mum’s street – but it goes down just as well here in the depths of Lincolnshire. 

  
The recipe appealed because it is gluten-free. I swapped the butter for Pure spread to make it dairy-free too. Next time I’d like to make a lemony sauce to go with it, but cream accompanied it beautifully too. 

  
Ingredients

  • soft butter/Pure spread, 250g
  • golden caster sugar, 180g
  • honey, 3 tsps
  • eggs, 4
  • large lemons, 2, zest & juice
  • large orange, 1, zest & juice
  • vanilla essence, 1tsp
  • polenta, 125g
  • ground almonds, 125g
  • salt, large pinch

Method

Preheat the oven to 160C / 320F /gas mark 2.5. Grease a 20cm shallow cake tin or oven-proof dish.

Cream together the butter, sugar & honey. Beat in the eggs one at a time. It may curdle but don’t worry. 

Stir in the vanilla essence and lemon and orange zest and juice. Fold in the polenta, ground almonds and salt. 

Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden and just set. Allow to cool slightly before serving. 

Recipe from The Guardian mag last weekend: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/04/oxtail-risotto-st-clements-cake-recipes-easter-thomasina-miers


 

Oven-baked Vegetable Rosti and Eggs

  

Thursday 9th April 

The prodigal daughter and grandmother return from Edinburgh. They’ve had a great time but two nights was enough. Grandma’s opening statement at the station is that she’s never playing another word game again. They’re bickering as they walk into the station car park. 

Ollie embraces Daisy solemnly. He has missed her a lot. I am hoping this means an armistice on the sibling-fighting for the rest of the holidays. 

We get back to the house. It’s lunch-time. I make a pot of tea, then start on the rostis. Grandma sits in the green wicker chair and tells me about their Scottish adventures. They went to the castle and the zoo, and on an open-top tour of the city (twice); but the highlight of Daisy’s trip was pretending to be blind, stumbling around the hotel corridors.

Grandma is surprised the police weren’t called: she went to the bathroom at one point, and came out to find Daisy behind the curtain, gesturing wildly to people at the bus stop below, acting as if she was being held against her will. There was a kerfuffle and grandma had to forcibly remove her from the window as she was starting to attract the attention of passersby.

 I feel partly to blame; I’ve been positively encouraging her to practise her miming skills outside of drama club. Not quite to this end though. 

The rostis are supposed be a quick lunch, it’s just some grating and shaping, but the whole thing seems to take hours. Partly because it’s hard to cook and talk at the same time, and partly because grandma has unearthed boxes of my childhood stuff which must be sorted. 

The first box I open contains a whole filing system. I’m shocked! I had more of a grip on life admin in my mid to late teens than I do now as a fully-fledged adult. I resolve to go home and be more organised. 

  

Perfectly preserved in my filing system is the Cascade form from when I was 15. It states the computed-generated best-fit career choices for me based on my interests and school subject choices. I scoffed at it at the time, but it’s proved to be fairly accurate regarding teaching, with a bit of drama thrown in. 

  

We sit down for lunch. It’s mid-afternoon and we are ravenous. Daisy is surprised at how tasty the rostis are. I like them but want to have a go at making them without egg. Ollie refuses the rocket, the feta, the sweet chilli, or the fried egg. His plate looks very empty with just one rosti in the middle. 

The kids need a run-around so as the sun is beginning to set, we drive up to Huntington churchyard to see the plot where my grandparents ashes were buried in September. As we leave the house, Ollie points out a huge hot air balloon at the end of the road. Halfway round the rinroad he spots it again; and as we come into Huntington village it looms so low, that we think it might land. 

  

The grave plot looks over the river – one of great-grandma’s favourite places to walk – and as we get closer, we see that someone has planted daffodil bulbs.

  

It’s a beautiful evening so we make the spontaneous decision to walk along the river to my grandparents old house. The children gallop ahead and I spot a water vole (or rat?) and the first catkins of the year. (I have to stop here  on the nature commentary as this blog is becoming less about food and more like SpringWatch).

We walk for an hour and when we get home, muddy and tired, the kids have a bath followed by Heniz tomato soup and tinned peaches for pudding. One home-cooked meal is quite enough for one day. 

Vegetable Rostis and Eggs

 

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • baking potatoes, 2
  • carrots, 2
  • onion, 1, thinly sliced
  • olive oil, 3tbsp
  • medium eggs, 6
  • rocket, handful per plate 
  • feta cheese, 40g crumbled

To serve

  • smoked paprika, to sprinkle
  • chilli sauce, to drizzle

Method

Preheat oven at 190 degrees / Gas mark 5. Grease a large baking sheet with a little oil ( you may need two sheets).

Grate the potato and carrot. Place in a large bowl. Add the onion and combine. Tip the vegetable mix onto a clean, dry tea-towel and squeeze gently to extract as much moisture as possible. 

  

Return to the bowl. Add one beaten egg, plus seasoning and mix well. Take a small handful of the mixture and press into patties between the palms of your hands. This is easier said than done. (I added half another beaten egg to the mixture to get it to adhere better). 

Place the patties on the baking sheet. Don’t make them too thick – you don’t want them raw in the middle. They will seem a bit fragile but they stick together during cooking. 

Cook for 10 minutes. Turn over and cook for another 10 minutes. When they are golden, put a frying pan on with 2 tbsp of oil to start frying an egg for each person. In theory you can crack eggs onto the baking sheet and oven-bake the eggs. I’ll try this next time. 

To serve: place the fried egg on top of a rosti or two. Sprinkle rocket around the plate and some cubes of feta. Sprinkle some smoked paprika and a large drizzle of sweet chilli sauce. 

Original idea from Sainsburys magazine, May 2015. http://www.sainsburysmagazine.co.uk

And if you’re serious about your rostis, you’ve got to read this: 

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/oct/13/how-to-cook-perfect-rosti

(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.

 

 

 

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.

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