Sunday, 19 May 2019


Angus turned ten last weekend. We were all up very early, John and I blearily watching him open his gifts in a sun drenched kitchen while drinking cups of tea. By 9 am he'd opened his cards and presents, built a Lego set and eaten a plate of waffles. Later that morning he celebrated with his friends, going to Flip Out for an hour of intense bouncing and jumping, followed by the all you can eat buffet at Pizza Hut. I've eaten better meals but if you show a group of ten year old boys a pile of pizza, a salad bar, several "unlimited-refill" fizzy drink options and a make-your-own ice cream station, then they will be very happy indeed. Bella came too and was very good about it all, I actually think she may have had fun although she rolled her eyes about having to spend the morning with all Angus's friends.

His gifts included sports wear, Lego and books, all his favourite things. His Leeds Utd football top was a hit, (although we are not feeling quite so celebratory about the end of their season...) and his San Jose Sharks hat was put on straight away, even while wearing his pyjamas. He was given a child's Fit Bit-style watch, and loves telling us at regular intervals how many steps he's done that day, regardless of whether we've asked or not. Not to be outdone. Barry the Badger was given a bath and received a few new clothes in honour of the big day.

The cards this year were excellent.  

Lots of badgers, and Bella painted him one.

The birthday cake was, as ever, traumatic. Angus had requested a chocolate cake covered in white chocolate buttons. Very simple you'd think, wouldn't you? The first was underdone in the middle, despite me testing it with a skewer, and when I cut it in half the centre was completely raw, there was no way I could ice and serve it. The second cake was overcooked and bone dry, when I'd cut off the burnt bits and covered it in icing. I didn't have the time or energy to make a third, so we sang happy birthday and blew out the candles in the afternoon when my family all came round for a little tea party, and I just kept offering drinks in the hope that no-one choked in a crumb. My sister brightly said, "the icing is really good!" which I think says it all. I struggle with chocolate cakes, at least making one that is moist but still firm enough to be iced and decorated. I think in future I will just make a gooey chocolate fudge cake, something that is covered in frosting and looks a bit of a mess but tastes amazing. 

Thank goodness for a cake topper in the shape of a badger wearing a party hat and bow tie, and holding a balloon. It was a brief distraction from the awful cake. But it was a lovely day, all in all, and so far ten is shaping up well: we still love badgers and reading, especially if they are fact books about natural disasters or explorers, we still love the outdoors and sports, and the Xbox, of course. 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

April's Cookery Book

Well, this book was a trip down memory lane. Published in 2008, when Bella was a toddler and before Angus was born, I completely associate this book with being a stay at home mum with very young children. Just one flick through it, and I was back in our kitchen in Leeds in the world of play groups and coffee mornings and nappies. One recipe in particular in this book, the cheese and ham muffins, was my go-to lunch recipe when my friend and her children would come for lunch. We had a standing Tuesday lunchtime date and would take it in turns to host, meeting with all our children before taking them home to be put down for naps. The muffins, I remember, were easy to prepare, delicious warm, and enjoyed by babies, toddlers and adults so a win. I cherish those memories and those weekly lunches, coffees, and play dates with my friends back then which, frankly, kept me sane. 

Tana Ramsay's Family Kitchen is a solid, practical cookery book, arranged into useful chapters like "cooking from the cupboard" and "trying new tastes", along with the usual breakfast, lunch, dinner and pudding. The only reason it's still on my shelf is that there are a couple or recipes in it which I use all the time which mean I haven't yet donated it to the charity shop. One of those is baked pumpkin, pancetta and pea risotto, although I use butternut squash instead or pumpkin and bacon instead of pancetta. It was a revelation to me that you could bake a risotto, instead of standing over the hob stirring for half an hour, and I use that recipe a lot.

But, looking through this book with fresh eyes last month, I really struggled to find things I wanted to cook. The tone felt patronising at times, the desserts seemed babyish, and there are so few imaginative meat free recipes. I realised that I, and my family, had perhaps outgrown this book. However, I persevered and found some little gems within those pages which we had fun trying out.

The first was "lime and ginger salmon fillets with noodles".

The fish is marinated in honey, mustard, ginger and lime juice before being pan fried and then put to one side. 

While the fish is cooking, you boil noodles and broccoli and then, while the salmon is resting on a plate, use the remaining marinade to make a sauce in the pan with some melted butter. 

It's a simple recipe which all comes together very quickly and everyone liked it. I would have preferred a little more sauce to mix in with the noodles and broccoli, but I guess the need to keep things plain goes back to catering for young children and their need for things to not be "mixed in" but easily separated and identified. (Actually, Bella and Angus can still be a bit like that now....)

Next we have "chicken in a pot", or pot roast chicken. This was ideal for a Sunday night dinner when I want to feed everyone something hearty and a bit more special than weeknight fare, and have time to spend a bit longer in the kitchen, but can't be bothered to cook a full on roast dinner. 

You begin by browning bacon and onions, before removing them and then browning the chicken in the same pan. Now, browning a whole chicken is no mean feat, let me tell you. It's like wrestling with two forks. Then you add carrots and leeks, the onions and bacon, plus stock, chopped tomatoes and herbs before bringing the whole lot to the boil and then putting it in the oven for an hour. 

Half way through the cooking time you remove the lid, letting some of the liquid evaporate and the breast of the chicken brown a little. At the very end, you remove all the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and put them on a serving plate, before thickening the liquid left in the casserole dish into a gravy.

It's wonderful, as you would expect. The chicken is moist, the vegetables tender, and the gravy full of the flavour of bay and thyme. We ate it with roasted new potatoes. There was a lot more left over then I'd expected, quite a lot of meat, vegetables and gravy, and so we turned them into a leftovers risotto later that week.

I felt uninspired by the puddings chapter in this book but the "tea time treats" section was full of good ideas for cakes, lunchbox treats and the like. The "almond and apricot yoghurt-coated bites" caught my eye - little homemade cereal bars, topped with a yogurt icing.

Omitting the almonds (nut free school) I mixed rice crispies, chopped dried apricots and dessicated coconut in a large bowl.

Next, melt together syrup, sugar and butter and let them boil a little to become more syrupy, then mix into the dried ingredients. 

Then these sticky morsels are baked until they form round biscuity, chewy bites onto which you are supposed to drizzle a little icing when they have cooled. 

Except mine didn't work. They came out of the oven as crumbly and sticky as they went in, and could only be eaten with a spoon. I must not have let the syrup boil for long enough, so I baked them again, but still there was no way on earth I could call these lunchbox treats.

I scraped the lot into a tuppaware container where is was absolutely lovely scattered on top of Greek yogurt for dessert all week, sort of a DIY Muller Crunch Corner.

So, I am wondering now whether to hang on to this book or not. On balance I think it's earned its place on the shelf, certainly for a few stand-out recipes, although I would certainly substitute a lot of the meat for vegetarian options now. But our children, at almost-ten and twelve and a half, are no longer the small people wanting easily-identifiable food served on their yellow plastic Miffy plates. However, they are not quite old enough yet to embrace the kinds of food that John and I want to eat - they still remain suspicious of lentils, wary of chilli and flat-out refuse to eat aubergine. It's tricky, finding meals that everyone likes, that are easy to prepare, healthy and also budget friendly, isn't it? Thank goodness for pasta pesto. 

Monday, 6 May 2019

Bank Holiday Weekend

Thank you so much for your nice comments on my shawl, I am glad you liked it. Sadly I haven't worn it yet, as it's felt too cold and I've chosen thicker scarves. Thicker scarves needed in May, honestly! It's not been the best of bank holiday weekends, all things considered. John has been at work the last three days, Angus has been unwell with an ear infection (which is now thankfully clearing up), so neither he or I have had much sleep, and there is that lingering anxiety that falls over the house when a child is unwell, making going anywhere or doing anything difficult, especially when one parent is working. The days felt long. While dry, it's still unseasonably cold and I'm kind of fed up with it now. I almost felt like I wanted a hat on when we were at the beach at on Saturday. 

But I don't want to whinge at you, because actually everything is fine really and we did do some nice stuff over the weekend, in amongst the appointments and chores and administration of painkillers. May is a good month, with two bank holidays and everything starting to bloom around you and the trees in full leaf in the brightest green.

I pottered in the garden a bit, pulling up the daffodils and tulips I should have dealt with last month and planting some sweet peas. I do love a sweet pea.

It was, if you sat in the sun and wore a coat, just warm enough for a coffee outside too. Just.

I pottered indoors too, moving around pictures and making changes here and there.

This little barometer, which belonged to my late Grandfather, has been hiding in Angus's  bedroom for the last year. 

I decided it was wasted up there and have moved it to the hall where we can all look at it every day and see if it's correct, which it is.

I made cheese scones for the first time and they rose. I feel like this alone deserves a mention here. I used this recipe.

The best thing about cheese scones is when they are still warm and the butter melts in. 

We had a really nice walk on the beach on Saturday afternoon. So much seemed to be in bloom, there were wild flowers everywhere you looked. 

The weather was all over the place, sunny then cloudy and windy too. We still got ice creams from the kiosk even though it was cold and the wind blew my hair into my Mr Whippy, and a chocolate cone proved more effective than Calpol in improving Angus's mood. 

We seemed to watch a band of rain move around us while we walked (I do love a dramatic sky) but amazingly didn't get rained on.

Today we visited Portsmouth Historic Dockyard which was a really nice day out with family, even if I did get a bit lost on HMS Victory, and bang my head a few times on the low ceilings. And now I am looking forward to collapsing on the sofa and watching the final episode of Line of Duty, which aired last night, so I've been avoiding all radio and TV today because I don't want to find out who, or what, the mysterious "H" is too soon, and I'm really hoping it's not a big let down.

I hope you had a nice bank holiday weekend, whatever you were doing. We've got another one to look forward to at the end of the month too, how lovely is that?