Tuesday, 11 December 2012

It's Beginning..

...to look a lot like Christmas. i feel like christmas properly gets under way when the wreath goes on the door. the outside of the house says it's Christmas and inside it's time to go in to full preparation mode! Sam has decided he "really wants to get in the Christmas spirit this year" so Christmas music has been filling the house from 8am, a favourite being Sufjan Stevens.

last year i put whole orange halves in the wreath
this year i used baked orange slices
making these lovely decorative oranges fills the house with lovely smells, especially if you add cinnamon

  • slice a few oranges thinly

  • place on a rack (not tray) and sprinkle half of them with cinnamon
  • bake in the bottom of the oven at 135C for 1 hour and 107C for 1.5 -2 hrs
  • keep an eye on them so they don't turn too brown

you can use these as decorations in the wreath, hang on string etc
my kids decimated most of mine so i put them in a bowl and they make lovely pot pourri
the kids loved cutting and breaking them in to pieces

i got some energy yesterday despite my flu setting in and made Christmas pudding. it was really easy and fun to make and i loved the brandy smells filling the house. the recipe is on my previous blog post.
this week i'm joining in with The Gallery. Head over there to see other posts with the theme It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas.

Monday, 10 December 2012

bah humbug

so i'm feeling a little overwhelmed by christmas and paralysed by my To Do list. i can't figure out where to start and how to prioritise my tasks. they are all fun christmasey tasks but they do need to get done. i foolishly agreed to bake 80 mince pies and 40 cookies for the local preschool because i'm on the committee and haven't done anything all year. we are having a christmas drinks party so i'll need lots of mince pies for that... plus extra for general consumption over the next few weeks. 
we are hosting christmas this year. i have never cooked a christmas lunch or christmas pudding so it's all a new adventure. with a huge list of ingredients, i did look longingly at the £5 christmas puddings in tesco today and think why not? why not just buy one? how easy would that be? why torture yourself with having to make one? but i couldn't do it. something in me said it HAD to be homemade. as with the pizzas for the kids at our house party... why not buy pizzas.. i couldn't bring myself to do it... and the granola and bread for the christmas period..... so now i'm left looking at mountains of ingredients and zero baking-labido... help!
i have a headache and sore throat and feel totally unmotivated to do anything other than sit on the sofa and watch tv... while maybe writing and re-writing the odd To Do list. i will get an early night and tackle it all afresh tomorrow. sorry for the bah humbug blog post.

to help me feel better (and more in control) i will at least start by recording here the recipes i have chosen for my first few baking exploits.

mince pies:

pastry (makes 12)
rub together with finger tips: 200g flour (sifted), 120g chilled unsalted butter and 40g caster sugar, (optional - 75g ground almonds) until the mix resembles breadcrumbs
gently stir in 1 large egg, then push together to make a pastry ball
add a few drops of water if micx is too dry to stick together
wrap pastry in cling film and put in fridge for at least 1 hour

to make the pies:
roll out the pastry and cut with a round cookie cutter
put the pastry rounds in a cupcake tin and add a large teaspoon of mincemeat
cover the top with a smaller round or a star shape
brush with a little milk on the lid of the pies and put in the fridge for 40mins
bake at 180C for 20mins

here are last year's pies. they were a hit. 
let's hope i can get some mince pie mojo tomorrow and start baking!

Here's is the BBC Rich Christmas Pudding i'm going to attempt:

Make this pudding a couple of months (2 weeks will have to do!) before Christmas day. Feed it with booze regulary for the flavours to develop.
  • Ingredients

    225g/8oz golden caster sugar
  • 225g/8oz vegetarian suet
  • 340g/12oz sultanas
  • 340g/12oz raisins
  • 225g/8oz currants
  • 110g/4oz candied peel, chopped
  • 110g/4oz plain flour
  • 110g/4oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 55g/2oz flaked almonds
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 1 level tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 level tsp mixed spice
  • 5g/1 level tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 150ml/5fl oz brandy

Preparation method

  1. Lightly grease 4x600ml/1 pint or 2x1.2 litre/2 pint pudding basins.
  2. Mix together all the dry ingredients.
  3. Stir in the eggs and brandy and mix well.
  4. Spoon the mix into basins. Put a circle of baking parchment and foil over the top of each basin and tie securely with string. Make a string handle from one side of the basin to the other so it is easier to pick the basin out of the pan after cooking.

    Wrapping a pudding for steaming
    2:01 mins
  5. Put the basins in a large steamer of boiling water and cover with a lid. Boil for 5-6 hours, topping the boiling water up from time to time, if necessary. If you do not have a steamer, put the basins in a large pan on inverted saucers on the base. Pour in boiling water to come a third of the way up the sides of the pudding bowls. Cover and steam as before.
  6. Cool. Change the baking parchment and foil covers for fresh ones and tie up as before. Store in a cool cupboard until Christmas Day.
  7. To serve, steam for 2 hours and serve with brandy butter, rum sauce, cream or homemade custard.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

locked out again

sam currently has enormous bruises on his thighs from breaking in to our house. this has been the third time in the past few weeks of us both forgetting our keys! what is going on?! we have managed not tot get locked out for years and suddenly this run of dappiness! this particular time we had already used the spare-key-we-leave-with-neighbours and it was now inside out house, along with our keys. i arrived home at 3pm after being out all day and realised i was locked out. i called Sam and he said he'd make his way home (which would take an hour and a half). so i picked up Z from school and went to a neighbours house. Sam arrived back to realise he did not have his keys either! we used a friend's incredibly rickety and rusty old ladder to break in. i think we should leave keys with a lot more neighbours.
i love this picture.

so here's a quick yummy comforting rustle up dinner when you have been locked out. the kids love it because the coconut milk (with the help of some added honey!) make it slightly sweet.

simple, mild & sweet tuna curry

1. in a wok, saute 3 stalks of sliced celery
2. add 1 tbsp mild curry powder, 1 tbsp honey, 1/2 tsp salt and stir well
3. add 1 tin of tuna chunks, 1 tin of chick peas and stir well
4. add 1 tin of coconut milk and bring to simmering but not boiling point
5. add 1 stalk of broccoli (chopped in to small pieces) and simmer for 4 minutes
optional - for more flavour and spice, add more curry powder, 1 tsp coriander, 1 tsp turmeric and a little chilli powder.
6. serve on basmati rice

Thursday, 6 December 2012

glitter overkill

so this was supposed to be a nice relaxing activity on a cold wet windy winter day. it wasn't hellish but glitter and strong-willed strong-handed toddlers can get a weee bit hellish. they want to cover every corner in thick glitter... as well as the table, chairs, floor, carpet, walls, ceiling, themselves, mummy.... however we ended up with some sweet decorations for the tree. and all feeling VERY very excited about christmas... in our glittery house!
i am hopeless at following, let alone remembering, recipes. that is why most of my food is made up. however the Salt Dough Recipe is hard to forget - half, half, whole. half a cup of salt, half a cup of water and a whole cup of flour mixed together. Add more flour or water for the desired consistency. 
roll and shape. remember to poke a little hole in the top so you can attach thread or ribbon.
 now you can leave these to dry overnight or bake them at a very low temperature for three hours.. or simply zap them in the microwave for three minutes! 
then paint and glitter to your hearts content.
Ta da! ... the oh so christmassy rocket ship and a very glittery yet shy-looking moose posing as a reindeer... bring on christmas!

Monday, 3 December 2012

meal plan

winter is well and truly setting in and i feel an enormous apetite creeping in - is that the cold? the short dark days? our primal instincts telling us to add layers of fat for the cold season?  i need to turn up the heating and get back on the salads! so it's monday and i have a meal plan. how much time in our lives do we spend thinking about, planning and shopping for our meals? what a weirdly huge part of our lives this fills!
on our weekly shop this week a tired Miss M consumed one kinder surprise egg, an entire punnet of blueberries and a huge bag of Kettle Chips (i may have helped out a little with the chips!), but at least she was happy and stayed in the trolley! i often overspend in the supermarket but we have been rubbish with money for too long and are now trying to stick to a strict budget. two things are helping me massively with this:
1. the iphone app EEBA which is brilliant - it creates envelopes (e.g. Groceries, Clothes, Presents, Travel, Personal etc) and enables you to easily track everything you spend and how you're doing at keeping to your monthly allowance for each category. having it right there on my phone and entering everything penny as soon as i spend it is so helpful. 
2. i am loving the new supermarket self-scanning systems. it enables me to see exactly how much my shop adds up to as i go around and then easily reevaluate and put back expensive or unnecessary items to bring down the total.
so here's our meal plan for this week (these always end up changing as the week goes by and my cooking inspirations change, ebb and flow). I have ended up with two huge cauliflowers in the fridge this week - any good recipes welcome!

Monday: egg fried rice (using left-over rice. we just ate it and it was deeelicious thanks to lots of crushed chilli. we watched the film The Blind Side which is very sweet and lovely)

Tuesday: chicken fajitas (after family outing to buy a christmas tree - woohoo - kids are very excited!)

Wednesday: polenta with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella (kids rejected this last time but it's been a while so i'll try them on it again - may end up doing boiled eggs for them!)

Thursday: good ol fashioned meat (pork spare rib steaks - in the freezer from when our budget stretched to Riverford Organic boxes), potatoes and veg.

Friday: salmon, spinach, tomatoes & cream cheese on pasta (salmon and veg. for kids - they're not so keen on things mixed together in sauces!)

Saturday: bean casserole (house will smell nice in the morning!)

Sunday:  vegetable soup or leftovers or jacket potatoes with baked beans and salad

Lunches: soups (with homemade bread - my new fad), pizza, lentils, salad, quinoa, saturday macaroni cheese, sunday roast(?)

Check out other people's meal plans over at At Home with Miss M for inspiration. It's quite handy when you're running low on ideas.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

so very thankful

i am thankful for family, my kids, my health, in particular my sisters health and her miraculous healing from stage 3 cancer. we spent thanksgiving together and talked of the fact that exactly a year ago we were together and she was showing us her painful and bloated tummy. the doctors kept sending her away with antibiotics or diet-tips. six months later she was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. 6 months on and she today had Scan results showing everything to be looking good and healthy. she has in the meantime recovered from major surgery and trauma and married a wonderful man. i am so so thankful to God for healing and restoring my wonderful and precious little sis who i adore. my sisters are my kindred spirits - i'm feeling thankful today for them.  and all of us love a good PIE! as we are half american we gathered for thanksgiving and i was in charge of pumpkin and pecan pie. yum! i had a slightly stressful pie-making session with little Miss M (too many things on the go at once) but had to relax and embrace the kitchen getting completely covered in dirty dishes and flour!!

for the pastry 
(for 1 pie - double this recipe for 2 pies - you will have plenty left-over too)
1. crumble together with fingers - 450g flour and 250g butter - until well combined
2. stir in 150g sugar
3. crack in 3 eggs and stir until well combined
4. push the mix together in to a ball using your hands - but try to touch it as little as possible
5. wrap the ball of pastry in cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour.
6. using lots of flour on your surface and rolling pin, roll out the pastry to 1cm thick and line a buttered pie dish

these pies are basically a saucepan of gooey melted sweetness poured in to a pie crust.
i made the two pies at the same time so had both the fillings bubbling away.

pumpkin pie
1. cut a pumpkin in to quarters and scrape out the insides. baste with olive oil and roast at 180C for 40mins. remove from oven and allow to cool before cutting the skin off the flesh and blending the flesh in to a pulp.
2. keep the oven heated to 180C
3. whisk 2 eggs and set aside
4. in a saucepan, gently melt and whisk together: 50g dark brown sugar, 150ml double cream, 1/2tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg, 1/2tsp ground allspice, 1/4 tsp ground ginger
5. add the eggs and whisk
6. add the blended pumpkin and whisk until well combined
7. pour the mix in to the pastry case and bake for 40mins
8. once the pie has cooled put it in the fridge
9. serve chilled with a big dollop of whipped cream

pecan pie
1. in a strong saucepan, melt 125g unsalted butter, 125g golden syrup, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 215g brown sugar. once all melted and gooey, set aside to cool for 10 mins.
2. meanwhile beat 3 eggs and fill the pie crust with 300g pecan halves
3. stir the eggs in to the melted butter mix and pour the mix over the pecans
4. bake for 45 mins
5. serve at room temperature, do not try to reheat.

while the pies were in the oven, i put little Miss M to work cleaning up the devastation in the kitchen

and here they are. pecan pie is unbelievably sweet and delicious. how could you go wrong with butter, brown sugar and golden syrup? pumpkin pie is not so sweet and a bit slimey. i do enjoy it in small quantities and dolloped with whipped cream.
hubby carving up at our thanksgiving feast made by my talented brother. the big dish is a Nigella Lawson stuffing made with cornbread - yum!
after pigging out, we rolled out the pies for breakfast the next day and ate pumpkin pie with all the leftovers for lunch. it went very well with turkey, veg and cranberry sauce. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


so this week i'm joining in The Gallery and posting two photos with the theme of Eyes
Children's faces look so strange when all you can see is their eyes. there is something mysterious and unsettling about masks and face coverings - probably because we can't see the full expression. and yet they hold so many feelings deep in those little eyes.... if you look in hard enough. 
these masks were in some recent party bags and have given us hours of fun

Check out other Gallery entries here:

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

grumpy mum

tonight i felt like the grumpiest mum. i'm tired - a killer for me. when i'm really tired i have a short fuse and cant cope with mess or chaos or crying or whining or being ignored. i need lots of sleep to be good, relaxed, patient, gentle, fun, creative, smiley mum. and i feel terrible on the days when i'm trying but i snap. i'm tired for a good reason. Sam and i went to the cinema last night to see "Rust and Bone." it is a beautiful french film and typically french - slow, disturbing, impending tragedy through the whole film, phenomenal acting and great characters. it is raunchy and violent, tender and gentle. 

despite my bad exhausted mood and grumpy-mummy-guilt, here are three things i feel pleased about at the end of today:
  • i went out with my lovely husband last night and saw a great film which has inspired and stimulated my mind all day
  • we made 12 meters of christmas wrapping paper today - we did star potato stamps with stamping ink. the kids were like factory workers stamping away madly while i rolled the paper along the table. they really enjoyed it.                       
  • i made some delicious soup this evening. i almost bought Covent Garden Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato soup and instead bought the ingredients to make some myself. here's how:
1. cut a medium-sized Butternut Squash in to four long quarters. Scrape out most of the seedy bit. Place on a baking tray and drizzle with oil. place 2 small whole sweet potatoes on the tray and bake the lot for 40 minutes.
2. meanwhile, in a saucepan, chop and saute a large onion and 3 cloves of garlic (slightly chopped/squashed) until the onion is transparent
3. cut the cooked squash in to chunks and add to the onions. squeeze the sweet potato out of it's skins in to the onions.
4. saute for a few minutes and then add 1/2 L of stock and simmer on low heat
5. add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/4 tsp ground pepper, 1/4 tsp mild curry powder, 1/4 tsp nutmeg
6. simmer for 10 minutes
7. add approx 8 fresh basil leaves and blend in to a smooth soup 

Friday, 16 November 2012

in our family...

so the other night i got sick of the kids arguing over everything... especially over who goes FIRST! 
so i got paper and pen and we started with 'In our family... '
together we wrote a list. Little Z got so in to this.. he LOVED it!
here is the list we came up with. let me know if you have any you think we should add.

In Our Family we..
are gentle
are kind
let other people go first (Little M responded to this one with "No ME!")
share with each other
love cake (Little M's contribution)
play with toys gently
say kind things to each other
take deep breaths when we feel cross
don't grab, hit, shove, push, scratch, bite
say sorry
do cuddles
play with each other nicely and don't do things that are rough
say encouraging things, nice things
talk kindly
say please and thank you
do good things, don't do bad things
listen to each other
read books together
pray together
do things that are really good and dont make people sad
go on trips together
compliment each other (you look lovely in that. you're really good at that)
do what Mummy & Daddy say
use nice voices (no screaming)
say what we are feeling
are allowed to make mistakes
we forgive
we definitely dont microwave our soft toys

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

dorset days

we had a gorgeous half term in a beautiful little village in Dorset. it was the first holiday in four years where i have properly switched off from the kids and read. i read a whole book in four days. it was so satisfying. granted it was a parenting book so not as escapist as i'd like. but it was an incredibly inspiring and helpful book ('screamfree parenting - how to raise your kids by keeping your cool'). it made me want to read more. and made me realise the joys of holidaying with other people with children - the kids just disappeared off with their cousins for hours.
we had lovely days out to the beach - being near the ocean is so good for the soul and the kids could spend hours digging, exploring and throwing rocks in to the sea -

and the woods - climbing, walking, chasing each others shadows and trying to find the patches of sunlight between the trees to stay warm.
my sister in law sent us home with cooking apples from their orchard. they have been staring at me all week.  orchard's and home-grown fruit carry a beautiful, magical weight to them that makes them so special and wholesome and feeling the need to do something delicious with them so great. i managed to make a simple apple turnover (with store bought puff pastry) for friends but there are still lots of apples sitting there - about to rot... ahhh. 
so tonight i had a crumble and pie making party... no i was alone... a fest. the crumble we'll eat with friends this weekend and the pie i'll freeze for christmas.... how organised is that?? yes!! these are useful things to have up your sleeve - pastry and crumble - good old fashioned dessert staples. i've kept it simple but you can experiment with adding berries, squeezed oranges, dried fruit, pears, apricots, chopped nuts.

apple pie:

crumble together with fingers - 450g flour and 250g butter - until it all well combined

stir in 150g sugar
crack in 3 eggs and stir until well combined
push the mix together in to a ball using your hands - but try to touch it as little as possible
wrap the ball of pastry in cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour.

roll out the pastry - using lots of flour and line the buttered dish
peel and slice 4-5 cooking apples and mix the slices with 2 tbspn caster sugar and 1 tsp cinnimon
pour the apples in to the pastry case
roll out enough pastry to cover the top and seal the sides together
cut some lines in the top of the pastry to let steam escape
brush the top with egg white and sprinkle a little caster sugar on top.
bake 180C for 45mins.

 basic apple crumble:
crumble together with your fingers:
100g flour, 75g butter and 75g sugar and 50g rolled oats
chop 2 large cooking apples and put the slices in a round baking dish
sprinkle the apple with 2 tsp caster sugar and 1/4 of a lemon
bake at 180C for 40mins

alternative awesome crumble
i used this topping on a pear and apricot crumble. my friend said it was the best crumble she had ever tasted.
so there we go...
crumble together with your fingers:  
100g flour, 100g brown muscovado sugar, 60g ground almonds, 125g butter and 50g oats
pour the crumble topping over the fruit and bake at 180C for 40 minutes

leftover pastry? 
keep it wrapped in cling film in the fridge and whenever you or the kids fancy a few cookies:
roll out the pastry, cut out shapes, sprinkle with caster sugar 
bake at 180C for 20mins or until starting to turn golden.