Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Pastry, schmastry

So, following on from making some mini cupcakes for my mother-in-law's drive-in at the golf club, she asked me if I could bake 70 mini mince pies for another do there.

Leigh spotted a 24 hole mini tart tin in Lakeland, so we bought this in preparation and it also comes with a handy dibber tool to press pastry into the right shapes. I tried a sample batch last weekend and despite a bit of dibber sticking to the pastry, they actually came out okay. Not so for the real run last night.

Yesterday afternoon I put a batch of the mince pies in to try and save time in the evening - 24 spaces in the tin, 3 batches should do it. For some reason, I deviated from my previous batch and used spray oil to grease the tin and cooked the pies at a higher temp for a shorter time. They stuck. Not disasterously, but still didn't come out as cleanly as the sample batch.

Still, I thought, should have time to do another 3 batches in the evening. As the pastry was so short, I thought that this might be causing the problem. So tried another pastry recipe with half butter, half lard. Still no real success, and come 10pm I still had a third batch to prep and bake. The second batch had not come out cleanly either, and thinking it might be because I wasn't leaving them long enough to cool, I left them to the next day. Feeling a bit disappointed, I decided to leave them and the final batch to the next day.

So this morning I removed the last half of the second batch from the tin. Really stuck this time! The third batch were prepared and baked, and stuck even more! Out of the 24 little pies, only 7 were even half acceptable!!! Fed up is not the word. But, still short on mince pies, I made a final fifth batch in the afternoon and went back to my original recipe. I greased the tin with butter and used my fingers to really get the tin as covered as fully as I possibly could.

Pastry still delicate but came out much better than before. Fortunately this meant that out of my 5 batches of 24 I did in fact manage to salvage 80 mini mince pies and finish the process feeling a bit less depressed!!! They're not as good as I had hoped, but neither have I had to spend the entire evening tonight as well baking mini mince pies. Which is a relief.

The annoying thing is that all along the pies tasted great even though the pastry collapsed. I think that if they had been burnt or underdone I might not have minded redoing them so much, but I just could not work out what was going wrong! Still, hopefully this recipe will work again next time and I can try and make the pastry better again.

(Oh yes, and please ignore my incredibly rubbish dredging with icing sugar - there are certain things I really should not be allowed to do!)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Added extras

I've added some extra detail to Leo's towel (nuts in the corners and a loop on the hood), and after a few days' trial have made the hood slightly smaller so that it fits better. It even survived its first wash in the machine. Fab.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More crafting!

More hooded towels actually - a robot towel for Leo (still a work in progress - it needs something else on the hood and perhaps some 'hands' on the corners?)

and a Gruffalo towel for my brother-in-law's nephew

Leo is 2

My baby boy is 2 - well...not til Tuesday really, but we had a party for him on Saturday. I can't really believe how quickly the last 2 years have gone and Leo is a tremendous little boy. He's really into robots at the moment, so our creative inputs for this year are a crocheted robot from Leigh (now named Robert!) and I tried to make his birthday cake look like Robert...mostly successful. It took a surprisingly large amount of black food colouring to even get to this shade of grey - given my propensity for heavy-handedness when it comes to somewhat delicate cooking techniques I was very cautious adding the colouring, but it turns out I could have been much more slapdash and reached my desired colour a lot quicker!!!

Crunchy Raspberry Oat Slice

Another delicious recipe from Time to Cook Online – I think it’s quickly become one of Leigh’s favourites! I didn’t have any plain wholemeal at home and refused to buy a 1.5k bag just to try this recipe so we made it with half plain white flour and half wholemeal strong flour. Also we used pear and vanilla butter as filling the first time and damson cheese the second to use up some of our cupboard preserves. Delicious each time!

90g demerera sugar
125g wholemeal flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
125g rolled oats
125g butter
250g seedless raspberry jam

1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan.
2. Grease a 20cm square cake tin or slice tin and line with baking parchment
3. Put all the ingredients except the jam into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the butter is incorporated and the mixture looks like rough breadcrumbs. NB it is better to use the machine in a series of short bursts rather than letting the blades run for a minute or so to avoid over-mixing – you need to keep some texture.
4. Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the cake tin.
5. Put the jam into a saucepan and warm gently. Pour the warmed jam over the base mixture and spread evenly.
6. Scatter the remaining oat mixture over the top of the jam and press lightly.
7. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned.
8. Allow to cool before removing from tin and cutting into bars.

Friday, November 11, 2011


How wrong is this - I took my 3-year old son to his first school disco this week! I am getting so old!

It really took me back though and it was great. Zachary had a fab time and is quite the groover if I may say so myself - he even won a disco game they played (a bit like musical chairs but with mats). I didn't realise how competitive I was for him...it started off easily with about 40 children playing so I wasn't too bothered the first few rounds. But as the number dwindled and then became less than 10 I began thinking he might just win it and got really nervous and competitive for him. And he won it! Amazing.

What I liked most though was watching 3,4 and 5 year olds dance without a care about who was looking or how cool they danced. The main dance move seemed to be jumping up and down - on your own or holding hands with a friend, male or female, no discrimination or embarassment here. A few boys were also trying a bit of break dancing (well...bending over, touching the floor and then attempting to spin round in a circle!) and the whole thing was actually rather lovely. It did bring home to me how fast Zachary is growing up though, and while that is a little sad, it's also exciting to think about what brilliant things (staying positive here!) lie in store for him over the next few years.

Men in tights...

Those of you with a nervous disposition (well about men in tutus anyway!) should look away now!

Leigh Mum is to be Lady Captain at her golf club for 2012 and Wednesday was her Drive-In event where she is welcomed as the Lady Captain after making a bit of an entrance and she makes the first tee-off from the first tee. Then there's general drinking, bit of golf and buffet later. Annie's chosen charity for her year in office is Breast Cancer Research and she thought that as her 'entrance' she'd do a Race for Life-type thing, running up from behind the tee with her entourage who were all to be men dressed as ladies (because Race for Life is a lady only thing). Cue much buying of pink costumes for all concerned and some rather tasty "ladies" joining in the Race. I helped out by making 100 mini muffins (to my surprise, only needed 5-egg mix to make this many!) decorated with the pink ribbon symbol. Here are some of the highlights


This is one of Leigh's bakes but it's so great I had to post about it! Leigh spotted a Kransekake pan for sale in Lakeland at the bargainous price of £9.99 and the cake itself looked a bit of a challenge to make but impressive so we thought we'd have a go. Kransekake is a traditional Norwegian cake made of rings stacked in a tower.

Leigh reports that the cake itself is actually quite easy to make - you make one lot of dough and then use that to make all the layers. The pan does a lot of the work because it works out all the sizes you need for the layers! But that's not to take anything away from Leigh - it is delicious!!!

So here we have...Leigh rolling out the dough to sausage shapes and fitting them in the pan

Handy helper number 1 who was greasing and flouring (well, semolinaing) the pans

More dough in pans

Handy helper number 2 who's main contribution was sitting nice and quietly eating a biscuit while all the work went on!

Dough ready to bake

Completed Kransekake!

Recipe :
1 lb / 454g ground almonds
4 egg whites (slightly beaten)
1 lb/ 454g icing sugar
plain flour/semolina for dusting

1. Add the ground almonds to a large bowl and then add 1 egg white to form a thick dough.

2. Sift in the icing sugar and add the remaining egg whites and mix.

3. Place the mixture in a pan and using a gentle heat warm the dough. Stir continually. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and store in a fridge until the next day.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 205C/Gas 6. Roll the dough into the thickness of fingers long enough to fill the tins. Thoroughly grease the forms with cake release (we used spray oil) and dust with flour or semolina.

5. Fill the rings with the dough, then butt and pinch the edges to form a perfect circle.

6. Place the forms onto a baking try and bake for 10 minutes.

7. Allow to cool completely and then remove the Kransekake from the forms.

To build the cake :
On a platter drizzle some icing and then place the largest ring onto the icing. Pipe icing in scallops (using a small round tip) onto the ring. Place the next largest ring on top of the icing and decorate in the same way. Continue to stack the rings in this way. The icing will help to hold the rings in place but to ensure that they are thoroughly secured, slide toothpicks between the layers.

Can decorate further with more icing sugar, glitter, sprinkles...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hide and Seek

We were planning to put Leo into a big boy bed at around his second birthday (about 3 weeks away), however due to a small incident where I witnessed him climbing successfully onto the top of his cot, we brought it forward to last weekend!

Leo is having a little difficulty adjusting to the fact that he can now wander around at night in the bedroom, but we think we're making some progress getting him settled at night.

Picture the scene this morning though. Half 5, Zachary starts calling. He's had a bit of a cough all night so I decide to give him some medicine and go into the boys' bedroom to get it. I look over to Leo's bed, it's empty. He's not in Zachary's bed and I can't see him on the floor between the beds. Stop, listen. Okay, I can hear him breathing and follow the sound to find...Leo curled up fast asleep under Zachary's bed!!! He wasn't there when Leigh checked them at 10 last night....how?....why? I think some mysteries may never be solved!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


As a PS to my last post (and with apologies it's taken me so long to do this), I soon realised why the doctor was running 35 minutes late when we got into the appointment. It's because he's one of those lovely doctors who take their time with you and you feel as though they're really taking an interest and are asking all the questions they need to and listening to your concerns. So I find it hard to be annoyed about the 35 minutes late because we had such a satisfying appointment. Bah!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Leo, the spirit of water

I have long since grown accustomed to Leo's fascination with running water at home - for instance he has a penchant for flushing the toilet, whether or not anyone is presently seated! But I had a bit of an overload at the doctor's surgery this week.

The appointment was for Zachary - the doctor was running 35 minutes late (which of course you never know before you get there) so I had 35 minutes of joy trying to keep the boys entertained and out of the water dispenser. Zachary used the toilet twice - each time while Leo was either a) desperately trying to get behind Zachary to flush it, or b) running the tap as fast as he could before I got there and turned it off, sticking his hands under it and then turning to me and telling me he was wet as though he had absolutely no idea where the water had come from!!!

I also had to drag him away from the water dispenser several times - the button was far too easily accessible - but then he changed tack. Leo then tried to get the paper cups from the top of the water dispenser, which sadly he couldn't reach while standing on the floor (okay, can you guess where this is going??!). He marches over to the table of magazines, where the surgery have also kindly provided small children chairs, picks up a chair and marches back across to the water dispenser at the far side of the waiting area to use it to help him get to the cups. Far too inventive for my liking! I honestly didn't think he'd manage it the first time he tried.. silly me.

The difficulty was that I was trying to read a story to Zachary at the same time - needless to say I got plenty of exercise running across the waiting area catching Leo before any more water was spilt!

Finally, Zachary had to provide a urine sample. So there we are, back in the toilet, me trying to help Zachary aim into the tiny specimen bottle, meanwhile Leo has spotted I'm distracted and has free rein at the sink. One. Wet. Boy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The most cobbled together rabbit costumes ever!

I've been taking Leo to a music group on Tuesday mornings since Zachary started nursery. They had a half-term Halloween fancy dress session this week which I was dubious about taking the boys to for 3 reasons - 1, the cost. One session for Leo is £4, so I was expecting £8 for the 2. 2, it's usually absolutely rammed with children so I was anticipating even more at half term and 3, I don't really do Halloween and was reluctant to buy costumes for the boys which they'd only wear once and didn't want them to be the only ones without.

I ummed and aaahed about it but finally decided we'd go and just use the rabbit ears the boys had at Easter. Then on the day I upped the ante and took my eye pencil to draw on noses and whiskers, put them in white t-shirts and made some bobtails with pairs of socks and flannels!!! It's a rough and ready costume, but the boys loved it!!!

(btw my worries were totally unfounded - it was only £1 extra for Zachary, there were actually fewer children there than normal and there were one or two children without costumes)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Two lovely things I've tried recently

The first thing I tried was a recipe from Rachel Allen for a rustic (it had almost won me over already in it use of this word - rustic to me means 'doesn't need prettying or presentation skills!') cheese and bacon loaf. I found it when I was trawling her book looking for the lovely coconut macaroon recipe that Leigh's made a couple of times.

Here it is fresh from the oven

And cut open.

I wasn’t sure this would actually rise, but it did! Leigh suggested it’s probably a bit more like a savoury version of a loaf cake than proper bread (possibly because it doesn’t toast well!), but it’s still delicious and was good on the second and third day after baking.

320g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
100g Cheddar cheese, grated
100g bacon lardoons, cooked until just crisp in a little sunflower oil and cooled
200ml milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
60ml olive oil

2lb loaf tin

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4/170C ish fan. Lightly oil and line the loaf tin with parchment paper.
2. Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the grated cheese and the cooled bacon lardoons and mix well.
3. Pour the milk into a large measuring jug, add the eggs, mustard and olive oil and whisk to combine.
4. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and slowly pour in the liquid, stirring all the time until it is fully incorporated, to form a fairly liquid dough.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 50 minutes. Remove from the tin and allow to cook for a further 10 mins on the oven shelf to crisp up the bottom.
6. When cooked, it will sound hollow when tapped on the base. Allow to cool on a wire rack before eating.

The other baking was a recipe for 'Breakfast Bars' from Nigella. Leigh has recently been on a trip to Essen for a few days and wanted a snack to take that would last longer than cake. He took some flapjack as well but had seen this recipe which I tried out. I didn’t have a tin the size of the one suggested in the recipe so I used one with slightly bigger surface area. The bars came out okay but a little on the dry side – possibly due to shape of tin? But even when just mixing the condensed milk in, there just didn’t seem to be quite enough for the amount of dry ingredients I had. It’s convenient because the recipe calls for 1 tin, but as I usually keep a squeezy bottle of condensed milk in the fridge over the winter for porridgey breakfast mornings, I could just add a squeeze or 2 more next time I make these and see if it makes any difference.

1 x 397g can condensed milk
250g rolled oats (not instant)
75g shredded coconut
100g dried cranberries
125g mixed seeds (eg pumpkin, sesame, sunflower etc)
125g natural unsalted peanuts (I thought I’d be able to get a pack of roasted, unsalted nuts fairly easily in the supermarket, but could not get any for love nor money! Settled for red skin covered unsalted, which taste fin)

1. Preheat oven to 130C/110C fan/gas ½, and oil a 23 x 33 x 4cm baking tin or use a throwaway foil one
2. Warm the condensed milk in a large pan
3. Meanwhile, mix together all the other ingredients and then add to the warmed condensed milk, using a rubber or wooden spatula to fold in and distribute
4. Spread the mixture into the tin and press down with the spatula, or better still, your hands (wearing disposable vinyl gloves to stop you sticking), to even the surface
5. Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and, after about 15 minutes, cut into 4 across and 4 down to make 16 chunky bars. Let them cool completely.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

3-year olds

Having a 3-year old is at times incredibly infuriating but also completely amazing. Today I was overseeing Zachary and Leo painting. Zachary was painting a tiger - head done, I helped with the outline of a body which he filled with stripes, and then he added 4 legs. I tried to prompt him as to what might be missing from the tiger (how quickly can you guess what happens next??)...by using, what I now realise was a slightly inadequate (incomplete?) description; 'it's attached to its bottom.' Zachary added a willy. THEN a tail.

Just call him Houdini

Leo has learned a fab new trick - how to remove his nappy. He has been putting this to particularly good use in the early morning just after he's done a poo. Great. I have now learned (the hard way) that when Leo starts calling us at around half 6, it's best that someone attends him immediately to change a dirty nappy!

So, to try and prevent this happening a third time (I know, I don't learn quickly enough!), we safety-pinned his pyjama top to the bottoms - just at the back as I was concerned that he'd play with the pins if they were in front. Come 6.30 the next morning, Leo's calling again. I go in to find him sitting in bed, in the process of undoing his nappy. Pyjama bottoms are off - although still attached to his pyjama top!

Yesterday we put him in a vest that has poppers under his bottom and pyjama trousers. Come this morning, Leo calling, but hurrah, no items of clothing had been removed.

Vest on again this evening. Leigh went to check on the boys at about 9ish and came down to report that Leo was lying in bed naked apart from his nappy. When we tried to dress him again (whilst still asleep), we discovered that the poppers on the bottom of the vest were still done up! It would appear he had performed some kind of very effective shimmy and managed to get the vest off by sliding the whole thing down his body! Feeling slightly nervous about the morning...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cherry Bakewell Cupcakes

I'm trying to refine my cherry bakewell cupcakes and tried making them today based on my cherry bakewell big sponge. So to a 2-egg basic cupcake mix, I added about a tsp of almond extract, 50g ground almonds in 134g of self-raising flour, but no extra baking powder.

When the cakes were cooked and cooled, I took a chunk out of the top of each (with an apple corer - all very easy and neat!) and then added cherry jam to the hole, before replacing the top part of the cake removed to hide the jam. Iced with white water icing and then topped with toasted flaked almonds. Yum!

We made them for the visit of my Mum and other family today, but knowing that 2 visitors don't like almonds, Zachary helped me make a 1-egg batch of vanilla cupcakes which he then iced with lurid green icing - here he is, all proud!

(I should note that I keep typing 'cheery' instead of 'cherry,' - still very appropriate though!)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Moving up

Zachary started a new nursery last week - it's a preschool nursery attached to the Infant School we hope he'll be attending next September. Apparently going to the nursery doesn't affect your chances of getting into the school, but we're in catchment so hopefully as long as I get my application in on time, we should stand a good chance of getting him in.

So the first week back after the holidays wasn't too bad - a few tears a couple of mornings, but nothing drastic and he always came home happy and full of what he had been doing.

This week has been a bit of a mixed bag though and it caught me off guard really. I was expecting problems last week so was prepared then, but I guess Zachary realised this week that this was going to happen on a more permanent basis! Monday he argued with me about going in the car and I had to half drag, half carry him to nursery because he would not walk, and then had to be peeled from me when we got there. Tuesday we got there okay (despite a tantrum at home before we left) but again had to be peeled from my leg. Not good, although he was still coming home happy.

Wednesday I changed the morning routine a bit to fit in some cartoons before we left and that did seem to settle him more. I also gave him plenty of warning that we would be walking, and had a much better drop off. Thursday too so I feel as though we've got a bit more sorted. Zachary does seem to be enjoying himself though - he's brought home some paintings already, and is always very chatty about what he has been playing with. I think he might also be making some friends.

Other than nursery, the week has been generally good but with a few pockets of crapness. Zachary has had some major tantrums this week over seemingly nothing, and has a couple of odd nights, but I'm really hoping that it's all part of the settling in process at nursery and that things will quieten down once he gets more used to the new routine, and feels more confident about what's happening. But I'm really good at trying to assign reasons for his and Leo's behaviours and a lot of the time it's just them being boys and trying to cope with growing up. We'll see how it goes!

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce

I've been wanting to try a sticky toffee pudding for ages - we had friends over for dinner on Thursday so I thought I'd give it a shot.

I've got a recipe for this in my Great British Baking book so I had a look, but it seemed to involved a bit of faffing around with dates, boiling water and bicarbonate of soda, so I tried James Martin's Desserts book. That also involved the use of dates and bubbling up of stuff...but did also direct the pureeing of the dates which I thought might be nicer in the sponge so went for that recipe.

The sponge went well although the boys managed to have a crying/screaming episode just at the point that I was dealing with boiling water and bicarbonate of soda! Also, I was using a 20cm tin (not 23cm) and after noting a faint smell of burning at 35 minutes cooking (!), I found that it was slightly overdone on top. Not to worry, top removed, sponge tasting good, although it did look rather suspiciously as though I hadn't quite done the final stage of mixing terribly well...

Then on to the sauce. The sauce recipe in the book sounded really easy - at this stage I should have backed away! Butter and sugar (used caster sugar) melted, cream in and brought to the boil. And it boiled and boiled but didn't caramelise! About 15 minutes later it was incredibly thick, barely browner than when it had started and still tasted of cream and sugar. I poured it into a tin and it hardened into a weird chewy yet powdery substance...

With hindsight I think my mistake was to stir the mixture while it was boiling so I'll have to experiment with this next time. Yesterday though, time was short and I had all the ingredients so I just whipped up a batch of Nigella's butterscotch sauce which worked well.

On reflection, it was tasty, but quite a bit of work making the elements separately rather than a self-saucing pudding - must find new recipe to try!

75g soft butter
175g dark brown demerera sugar
200g self-raising flour
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp black treacle
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g pitted dried dates
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

For the Toffee Sauce –
100g sugar
100g butter
200ml double cream

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/400F/gas 6. Grease a 23cm tin thoroughly with 25g of the butter, then dust the inside of the tin with flour.
2. Using a food mixer, blend the remaining butter and sugar together. Slowly add the golden syrup, black treacle, eggs and vanilla extract to the butter mixture and continue mixing. Turn the mixer down to a slow speed and then add the flour. Once all the ingredients are combined, turn off the mixer.
3. Place the dates in a saucepan with 300ml water and bring to the boil. Puree the water and date mixture and add the bicarbonate of soda. While it is still hot, quickly add this mixture to the egg mix. Once the mix is combined, pour into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is just firm to the touch.
4. Remove the pudding from the oven and allow to cool, then turn out of the tin and cut into squares.
5. To make the sauce, melt the butter and sugar together in a small pan, add the cream and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.
6. The sponge and sauce can be made in advance and the sponge can even be frozen. Both can be plated up and reheated in the oven.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mary Anne's Melting Moments

I have been avidly following the current series of the Great British Bake Off and one of your favourites is Mary Anne. Lovely big home-style baking - the Ploughman's loaf in particular looks fab!

Mary Anne has a blog - Time to Cook - and has been posting up some of her competition recipes including the lovely looking Melting Moments from the biscuits episode.

The recipe is here so I'm not going to copy it out for the blog. I thought the biscuits came out reasonably well, although we had some interesting moments along the way. Essentially it was a two-handed experiment again - I made the biscuits and Leigh made the (quite fabulous) depression-era buttercream.

So for the biscuits, I started off on the wrong foot I think by using butter from the fridge rather than at room temperature! I microwaved it for about 10 seconds to soften and then beat it in the Kitchen Aid with the icing sugar for the full 5 minutes. It felt very soft at the end of the 5 minutes, certainly soft enough to pipe, but then I added the flour and cornflour and the whole thing ended up just far too stiff to pipe. So, note to self, start with butter at room temperature!

Leigh suggested adding some milk to the mix which I did and it did soften enough to pipe reasonably. The next hurdle was that I couldn't see any indication on the blog post as to how big the biscuits should be. So I guessed, drew round an egg cup and then when I found I was barely going to get 15 biscuits out of it rather than the 24 suggested by the recipe, that I must have been going too big! Never mind, into the oven and they looked good coming out, although on eating later we found that some of them had not cooked through completely, and that they perhaps weren't as crisp as they should have been - all probably due to the issues with the mix and that they're bigger than Mary Anne's obviously were.

But, not disasterous. Leigh made the buttercream, which to be honest looked iffy after the cooking stage, but once it had been whipped up for 10 minutes, looked fab and tasted lovely. It was left in the fridge overnight as I wasn't going to put them together til the next day.

We sandwiched with the buttercream and lemon curd (delish!), although had I been patient and waited for the buttercream to soften out of the fridge before trying to spread it on the biscuits, I could probably have got more in - as it was, at least half the mix was left (not that anyone ate any of it with a spoon from the mixing bow.l or anything...).

I have got a photo to put on, although not to hand at the mo. But I was quite pleased with the first attempt - and there's certainly lots to work on for the next batch!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Weey milk

Just before dinner tonight, we put on a DVD of Leigh and I in HMS Pinafore, which we performed with the Ipswich G&S Society pre-children. Zachary and Leo seemed to quite enjoy shouting and pointing at the screen when they saw us and it led to a discussion over dinner about where Zachary was in the DVD.

Having tried to explain the concept that he was not even a baby then, that he didn't yet exist, we then got on to babies growing in mummies' tummies, not daddies' tummies and how it was the same for animals... At this point, Leigh realised that Zachary was using the whole thing as an excuse not to eat his dinner and I told him that he needed to eat up before we continued the conversation. So, at this point Zachary pipes up with something along the lines of 'and then they put a pint of milk under their bottoms and you get weey milk.' Non-sequiter, I thank you.

It was very difficult to leave the conversation at this point so after some careful questioning and some quite colourful descriptions from Zachary (which, please note, failed to include the one key word which might have explained everything), we discovered that he was talking about cows. It further transpired that while Zachary knows that milk comes from a cow's udder, he also thinks that that's their willy - hence weey milk.

We gently put him right, but it was very difficult not to laugh!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Rice Crispie cake pots filled with chocolate pudding

This is a mash up of 2 separate recipes we found. I noticed a recipe for Rice Crispie cake pots on the back of a cereal box a couple of weeks ago, and Leigh was sent this recipe by a friend as it makes a very tasty ice cream with no eggs (great for pregnant friends!). If you don't freeze it, it makes chocolate pudding. Fab.

I made the pots and Leigh made the pudding. The pots are very straightforward although I was surprised at just how sticky the mixture was to handle. It was almost impossible to get it off my fingers and shape the pots, but I found that spraying my hands with the cooking spray oil worked very well and helped. The pots were quite thick and I'm not sure whether they should be a bit thinner to allow for more filling, but either way they're very tasty!

Cake pots -
45g butter
300g marshmallows
180g rice crispies
(something to fill them with and sprinkles)

- Melt the butter. Add the marshmallows and heat gently until melted.

- Stir in the rice crispies

- Coat the cups of a muffin pan with spray cooking oil then divide the mixture between them (the original recipe said it would make 16. I made 12 and then used the rest to make balls of marshmallowy rice crispies). Cool and then remove from the pan - I used a small spatula to help ease them out.

- Fill with pudding, frozen yogurt or ice cream. Top with sprinkles and/or nuts and serve.

Chocolate pudding -
450ml whole milk (we used UHT)
15g cornflour
50g cocoa
75g golden granulated or caster sugar
pinch of salt

Mix 100ml of the milk with the cornflour to make a smooth paste. Set aside. Mix together the cocoa powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl.

Heat the remaining milk to simmering point, then pour in a steady stream over the cocoa mixture whisking vigourously to prevent lumps from forming. Return the mixture to the hob, cooking over a very low heat at barely simmering point. Stir the bottom constantly to prevent scorching; it can easily catch so take care. Cook for six minutes, then add the blended cornflour, whisking again to prevent lumps. Return to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes until thickened and smooth.

Strain the mixture into a clean container and cool in an ice-water bath, stirring often to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fireman hooded towel - 2

I have made another fireman hooded towel for the little boy of one of my friends. I have finally finished it and here are some piccies

Here is the finished towel from the front

and from the back. I've added a white stripe to the base as most fire uniforms now seem to have them.

The hood - I attempted to make a vague recreation of the fire brigade emblem of the county my friend lives in...

The buttons - I originally made the buttons from circles of grey flannel, but after the first wash through, discovered that I had not sewn them on properly! They frayed tremendously and were too damages to sew back on. Leigh's suggestions was to crochet buttons, and here are the results. They survived the wash too!

And my favourite addition from the original blog instructions - button and clasp.

2 gripes

First - today we went somewhere new, following directions printed from an appropriate internet vehicle! However when following the directions, there is no distinction between the terms they use meaning "turn at a junction," and "continue to follow the road as it bends." The directions just use "turn left" or "turn right," which lead to some confusion on my part as navigator when we reached a series of turns into roads that did not have names or numbers. How do I know when the directions mean wait til the next junction and then "turn left," or "that last bend in the road was the turn left." Aaaargh!

Second - opened a new bottle of clothes washing liquid this evening. On the back is a helpful grid showing how much liquid should be used depending on how soiled the clothes are and whether you have hard or soft water. Note - all the measurements were in divisions of 25ml - so, 50ml, 100ml, 125ml. And what's the volume of the cap in which you can measure out the liquid? 35ml. How is that in any way helpful?!!!!!!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My son, master of the socially inappropriate statement

Zachary came out with 2 fab ones today. In the Westfield centre, we were sitting behind a man who, let's say had a bit of a builder's bum thing going. Zachary says to me in a loud voice "that man's got a red sore bum Mummy." When I tried to get him to talk in slightly less than a shout he just said "well he has." Nice.

In Asda, our checkout assistant had a slightly discoloured tooth. Zachary spots this, points to her and says "you've got a blue tooth." Nice again. Need to start on the social niceties lessons!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Postcrossing revisited

I am a hoarder. Having 2 children and limited space for knick knacks and memorabilia is controlling my urges somewhat but when I was still living with my mum I basically saved anything that had even a slightly sentimental meaning for me.

This meant that when a couple of years ago my mum moved out of what had been my family home since the age of 9, I had a lot of sorting and clearing to do. A lot. I thought it had all been done, but still when I visit her now, the odd bag or 2 can still be produced for me to sort out! Last time it was a bag full of photo albums (a very cobwebby, dead spidery bag) and this time a box of postcards. There must have been at least 100 there spanning the period between high school and that start of my relationship with Leigh at the end of university.

It has been very interesting and exciting to go back and read a lot of those old cards and to remember the people I was in touch with and what was going on in my life at those times. Some of them speak very much of my age at that time, let us say!!!

There were also a large number of blank cards in the box, ones I had bought on holidays or trips, acquired in shops just because I liked them and I think there are a good few from the Showcase cinema in Nottingham too. So I was wondering what to do with the blank cards (most of them are still in good condition as I thoughtfully stored them in photo albums...) and this reminded me that one of my friends has been Postcrossing recently.

I took up Postcrossing shortly after Zachary was born in 2008, but left it alone after 7 or 8 months because it was getting a bit unmanageable. But I have reactivated my account and plan to see how many of the old postcards I can use.

So of the box of postcards, some I will be Postcrossing with, some I will still be keeping because I really can't bring myself to throw them away just yet and the rest I have no idea what to do with! I am going to scan in some of the more interesting stamps for my Flickr account (although if I then get rid of the cards, I'm starting to wonder why I need to keep a picture of the stamp...still it's not taking up physical room in my house!), but then have a pile of cards.

If I were more arty, there's probably some wonderful collage I could make from them, but I've got other crafty irons in the fire at the moment. I did see that one of my Postcrossing sendees collects stamps so I'm hoping I might be able to offload them on him for his stamp collection - or there might be someone else on Postcrossing who would just like the cards. I don't think there's anything too personal on them....!!

Okay Go

I've posted some Okay Go videos in the past, and here is their most recent one together with another I think I missed off before. The first one is the older and then the Muppet one is the most recent. A bit strange, but cool.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lemon Meringue cupcakes

115g softened butter
200g caster sugar
2 eggs
115g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
grated rind of 2 lemons
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 egg whites

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/(I used 175C fan)/375F/gas 5. Arrange 18 paper cases in muffin tins (pans).

2. Put the butter in a bowl and beat until soft. Add 115g of the caster sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is light and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition, until the mixture is smooth.

3. Sift together the flour and baking powder over the creamed mixture, add half the lemon rind, all of the juice and beat well until thoroughly combined.

4. Divide the mixture between the paper cases, filling to about two-thirds full.

5. To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites until they stand in soft peaks. Stir in the remaining caster sugar and lemon rind.

6. Put a spoonful of the meringue mixture on top of each cake. Cook for 20-25 minutes (mine took 20) until the meringue is crisp and brown.

Leigh bought me a cupcake book recently and this is the first recipe I've tried from it. I keep meaning to actually take some time to sit down and look through it because it's got lots of information on ingredients, techniques and decorating, but I haven't managed to do that yet.

The cupcakes are delicious! Although the meringue didn't come out quite as expected. To be fair, as I was making them I was thinking that it seemed a slightly odd way to make the meringue - I would usually whisk the egg whites a bit, then add the sugar and whisk more to give it a chance to dissolve. Anyway, I persevered with this recipe, tried to pipe the meringue on (to give it a nicer shape), but the consistency would in no way allow this!!! Still, the cakes are tasty and nothing burned, so I can try it next time.

Also, I need to read the intro to the book to see if they give any indication about cake case sizes. I wish everyone would use the same terms for the same size cakes - the book describes using 'paper cases in muffin tins.' I would assume these to be muffin-size cases, but I only managed to get 11 cakes of that size, whereas the book seems to think I could make 18 cakes! Need to read on...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The World Is Your Stage

While I was mooching around Nottingham last weekend I came across Nottingham Contemporary, which I have not visited before. It's an art gallery on High Pavement, but what drew me in was the promise of Family Fun over the summer holidays. School holidays are usually a time when all our usual playgroups stop, so I'm always looking out for things which are on!

Nottingham Contemporary have a family time session every Wednesday, Sat and Sunday (all year I think) when all ages can go and do something crafty in the Studio. As well as that over the summer, there are several interactive exhibitions planned, and the one we went back to do on Saturday is "The World is Your Stage."

Here is the link where you can read the blurb, but essentially there are some props and bits of costume provided and you create a narrative of 10 still frames. There's 5 seconds between each 'photo' being taken and when you haven't got a plan as to what you're going to do, it's not very long to say, get children into the air, or even for them to process you shouting "jump!" at them!!! There are some good sessions here though and some people clearly look as though they'd planned the whole thing!

Here is our attempt -

Nottingham Contemporary 13th August 2011, 12:13:00 from Le Cadavre Exquis on Vimeo.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rachel's Gooseberry and Elderflower triple sponge cake

My friend Rachel made a delicious gooseberry and elderflower cake ages ago, and I have finally managed to purloin the recipe from her - hurrah! So yesterday, in a 'trying to use up eggs' frenzy (only partly successful!) this was one of the things I made (despite now also having half a batch of cupcakes and the remains of a batch of diggers to eat up...).

I have reproduced the recipe as it was provided to me, although I'm afraid I chickened out and have only made a standard 2-layer sponge cake. I am seriously bad at cutting cakes horizontally and will leave that for a time when I need to make a fancy cake - this was really more of a try it session to see if I can make mine half as nice as Rachel's! I therefore, at the last minute, realised that as I would only be buttercreaming 1 layer of cake and not 3, 175g butter was going to be far too much. I used 75g butter and about 3 times as much icing sugar (although to be honest I didn't measure it precisely, just went by look and taste), and that still left me with some over and a fairly thick layer of cream. I reckon 50g butter should be about right and I'll try that next time.

We have a small amount of elderflower cordial left from this year's batch so that has gone in, although no gooseberry jam. I went to get some from Asda, but they had none, so I bought rhubarb & ginger instead which I hoped would be an okay substitute. However today, on visiting the Courtyard in Draycott (has a couple of very nice gifty shops - Vintage Bluebird and Avado - and a great cafe Pumpkinz) I found a selection of homemade preserves including gooseberry jam, so bought it feeling quite pleased! But when we visited Ikea this evening Leigh found some in their food section - £1 cheaper. Bah!

175g unsalted butter
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
175g self-raising flour
gooseberry jam
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp elderflower syrup
Butter icing -
175g softened butter
700g icing sugar
Topping -
6 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp elderflower syrup

Preheat oven to 170C/gas 3/325F. Grease and line 2 x 20cm loose-bottomed cake tins. Cream together the butter and caster sugar. Gradually add the 3 eggs, whisking all the time. Fold in the flour and baking powder, then mix in the elderflower syrup.

Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.

Make the butter icing by creaming together the butter and icing sugar. (I also added a splash of milk) When the cakes have cooled, cut each one in half horizontally. Spread each layer with butter icing and jam, then sandwich together.

For the topping, mix together 6 tbsp icing sugar with 2 tbsp elderflower syrup and drizzle over the cake.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Nottingham in Bloom

I was in Nottingham yesterday having coffee and cakes (at the lovely Divine Coffee House - yes there's a link although the website is on its way, I think there's been a recent change of ownership) with a friend who has a birthday today and spotted a couple of lovely willow sculptures with flower arrangements in the city.

I got home meaning to have a look on the net to see whether there was anything there about them and promptly forgot. However, this evening I have finally got round to tidying my desk (which was a pit) and found a leaflet describing a trail of 8 floral sculptures round Nottingham. They have been designed and created by Topiary Art Design and form part of Nottingham's entry into the East Midlands in Bloom campaign. They'll be in place until September. Clearly I picked it up thinking it might be interesting to look at with the boys - just need to find the others now!

I saw -

Dress - Victoria Street, on the edge of the Lace Market. The dress is apparently "floating in a bed of baby pinks and silvers, Ricinus, Cosmos, Begonia and Verbena."

Shoe - Bridlesmith Gate. The shoe is "hot and sexy with Begonia, Panorama Scarlet." (!)

As an aside, I had to upload these photos from my phone - what a palava! Seriously, I had trouble getting the back off my phone to get the SD card out (not an easy task unless I happen to have one of the boys around to drop my phone on the kitchen floor when magically the back springs open!),, fit the micro SD card into an adaptor, get it into the laptop only to realise the pictures are saved on my phone memory and not the card! Reverse all steps to this point, find out when on earth in my phone menus I can transfer files to my SD card (File Managed, unsurprisingly!), repeat all initial steps, then navigate the crap on my SD card to find the pictures! I really must spend some time one day just sorting out what I have on my phone, getting everything onto the SD and into some kind of order, and then transferring it all to the laptop for safe keeping. Like that's going to happen!!! Still I can dream...

My children clearly want to be in the movies...

Here we have Leo doing his best Oliver impression at breakfast this morning (look, you can even see his lips forming the word 'more' as he holds up his bowl!)

And Zachary is sporting a great Joker look after drinking some quite red fruit juice. Nice.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Cool video

One of my Facebook friends put a link to this video on their page today. It's pretty cool, but couldn't be embedded on Facebook so I've not tried here and am just including the link - http://youtu.be/EN9auBn6Jys

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

World of creepy crawlies

I have come across 2 new creepy crawlies recently. I have taken to looking out for bugs because Zachary loves them and it's a good distraction if he's not really listening or enthused about what we're doing...

So, in a bowl of damsons which we'd been given by Leigh's dad, I spotted a new spider

This is a picture of enoplpgnatha ovata which I'm pretty sure is the one we saw. Apparently it often builds webs on plants, can be lots of different colours, but the ones with the red stripes are nicknamed 'candystripe.'

Then a couple of weekends ago we went for a geocache in Bignalls Wood. We've never been into the wood before, despite it being opposite one of our occasional haunts in Staunton Harold (it's right opposite the garden centre and Ferrers Craft Centre). Had a lovely walk there and saw tons of these little fellows (well...as with the spider, I have used random searching on Google using my remembered description of the creature to locate a likely suspect...)

This is a cinnabar moth caterpillar, which feeds almost exclusively on ragwort. Zachary was so interested in these that he got very concerned to make sure that all the ones he saw on the path were picked up and put on the grass at the side. Unfortunately there seemed to be hundreds of them!!! I think the promise of chocolate or sweets or something eventually distracted him!