Sunday, 30 September 2012

Almost healthy Blackberry Muffins

Thanks to the lovely Clairejustines for the Creative Monday prompt, kicking me into action with this great Autumn recipe. It is adapted from a version dreamt up by Saint Dan (unsurprisingly as he is my baking guru). My children love blackberries, DB won't allow me to pass a patch without scoffing a handful and Pickle is more interested in the harvest. We harvest them little by little as we go on walks, popping the in uneaten ones straight into the deep freeze until we have a batch to cook with. This way it stays fun. This recipe is a worthy treat with iron and minerals to give you a feel good glow.

200ml milk - I used soya but cows milk is fine
75g wheat germ
100g dark muscavado sugar
3/4 table spoon of black treacle
1 teaspoon of dark agave syrup (I prefer this combination rather all black treacle as it make it a little less overwhelming).
150ml sunflower oil
2 large eggs
200g plain flower
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking powder
75g golden caster sugar
A couple of handfuls of washed blackberries (around 250g)

A finished them with some toasted hemp seeds, my friend loved it but I am not so sure.

Makes about 16 muffins in the large cupcake cases
Heat your oven to 200'c and pop the paper cases in the baking tray.

Heat the milk until it almost boils then pour over the wheatgerm and muscovado sugar, whisk until smooth then leave while you get on with the rest of the cooking. Beat together the oil, eggs, treacle and syrup. Sift together the rest of the dry ingredients (except the berries) and lightly fold into the mix. Finally carefully stir in the blackberries and spoon into the baking cases.

cook for bat half an hour until the kitchen smells delicious, they look a lovely nutty brown colour and the are firm to touch.

I made these for a Macmillan coffee morning and the went down really well. It was a lovely way to use some of our hedgerow harvest.

I used to always go for blackberry and apple crumble which I love, but I think this is a worthy recipe too. I hope you like it :)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Am I happy?

As a reader of Dawn's excellent blog The Moiderer I was interested to read about her new book. The description starts "One day, when my daughter was around 3 years old, she started asking "Are you happy mummy?".

Am I happy now? For the first time in years I can say 'yes'. There has been no seismic shift, just another a combination of good fun, appreciating the ups and working at it. It is no secret that I was terrified of getting post natal depression again, fear that again - when all else seemed to be going so well - I would find myself quietly crying as I pushed the buggy along.
Last time the depression crept up on me but now the has veil had lifted and I can feel things, and that feels good! Sure I get tired, at times I find the treadmill of nappy changing a little dull - but that is eclipsed by the good.
It is funny how sometimes an insignificant moment can shine a light on your life. I remember the moment when, eleven years ago getting out of the bath, I new with certainty I could spend the rest of my life with the Hubster. Similarly, the other day I was carrying DB back to our living room and I caught myself laughing as we chatted wordlessly. Yes, I had just changed a nappy; no, nothing dramatic was happening that moment - but my paradigm had changed and that was momentous - I was happy!

I was inspired to write this by Mich at Mummy from the Heart and her Reasons to Be Cheerful blog hop. As I have been blogging for a while I should be more clued up, but it took Mama Owl's prompt to get me up to speed on blog hop netiquette - I hope I have it sorted now. Anywhere here is the linky to help you finds other lovely entries. Thanks again to Mummy from the Heart and Mama Owl!

8 o'clock

Stand back and sigh. The Mummy part of the day is done. Quietly I slip into their rooms and kiss them in their forehead taking care to breath in a their scent in an almost primordial manner. I marvel at the Pickle's long eyelashes and natural beauty, and at slightly bonkers DB's snuffling into his beloved rugby ball.
Downstairs and time to cook. Often we eat at the breakfast bar with the detritus of the day inevitably intruding into our quiet time. Sometimes we go to our favourite local, the Dinning Room. Really our dinning room, it is where we have our date nights. A glass of wine and candle light and we can switch off.

The lovely prompt for this blog was all I needed to tidy up my sewing and set the room for dining again. Thanks Tara! The lovely food is the recipe I described in my last post. If you would like to pop along to see the other gallery posts just click in the badge to the right.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Moroccan-ish casserole

This is inspired by Clairejustineoxox's creative Monday blog hop. If you are coming from their apologies for the title typo - doing too many things at once ;)

Enough for 2 children, 2 adults and extra for lunch

2 lamb steaks or equivalent in diced neck (optional - it is lovely without)
1 onion chopped
1 courgette diced
1 large carrot diced
1 large handful of dried apricots, chopped
About 8 chopped dates
1 cup washed red lentils
1 tin chopped tomatoes
About 2 cups stock, I use Swiss brouillon
1 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp each ground ginger, cumin, coriander
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp of Ras-el Hanout* if available to spice it up, I'd not just add an extra few pinches of any of the ingredients
Cook the onions slowly over a low heat until the kitchen smells divine and the onions are translucent. Add the rest of the vegetables and continue to cook for a few mins. Next add the dry spices, lamb (if using) and fruit and cook until the lamb has coloured.
Add in the stock, tamarind and lentils and still all together. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Finally add the tomatoes. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

If you have the time pop it in the the oven with a lid and leave it forum to around an hour. If you don't have the time just simmer on the hon for about 20 mins until the lentils are cooked. Serve with cous cous. I always use a bowl to make little mounds of cous cous then I can top with chopped pistachios, pumpkin seeds or even pomegranate if I have any around.

I thought that I had served DB far too much but he managed to demolish. success! A happy full tummy bodes well for a good night's sleep. :)
ras-el Hanout: galangal, rosebuds, black pepper, ginger, cardamom, nigella, cayenne, allspice, lavender, cinnamon, cassia, coriander, mace, nutmeg, cloves. I was given a little pouch in my stocking last year so have been using it sparingly ever since :)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Beauty is many things. Just scanning through my photos looking for images of beauty was enough to life the spirits. I am not sure what I was looking for, but I think these pictures tell a tale.

The first picture is one I took many years ago, maybe fifteen. I was on a trip to Spain with my Californian friend Kathy. She had booked the hotel on her corporate air miles as the previous year, when we had been tied by my student budget she objected to cockroaches. We were wondering around Seville late at night and I saw this square; I stretched my camera's ability to take a shot without a flash. The slightly hazey effect gives it a slightly dream like quality, appropriate for that (almost) innocent girl abroad.

I own up, this next picture is not great photography, but it illustrates my daily fix of beauty. As life has ebbed and followed: redundancy, infertility then pregnancy and beyond, my daily dog walk has been my emotional refuge. Every day I watch for signs of the seasons unfolding with simple wild flowers or the hedgerow harvest.

I love trees. Somewhere I have albums of photos of trees and tree trunks from around the world. This is my student's eye view. Imagine it, just lying on a mossy hill looking up at the trees as the clouds float past.

The next two photos are of beauty in action, the Pickle meeting then growing up with her baby brother DB. Need I say more?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


Breakfast is when I can't pretend to be asleep anymore, or when DB has got near suicidal with his attempts to make a run for it. Before I start: tea, the essence of life (or so it seems as I slowly prise my eyes open).

Can you hear that arrrgh - a dithyrambic sigh (I have been trying for years to use that word in anger). My conscious soul returns to my body.

Next wellies over the pyjamas and out to see the chookies. They are rescue girls so they don't lay too regularly, but hopefully enough eggs so we can have pancakes.

Pancakes are great for weekends, it stops the Pickle from sliding away to watch television as we all sit around and watch the chef at work. Once upon a time we used a Delia recipe, but the recipe has been 'cottaged' or randomised, so we make it up as we go along; critical is getting it to the consistency of double cream and adding the melted butter.

Delia's pancake recipe
110g plain flour and a pinch of salt
2 large eggs
200ml mill
75ml water
2tbl spns melted butter

Mix the egg into the sifted flour then whisk half the milk until it is a smooth paste, slowly whisk in the rest of the liquid and finally the butter. What can I say but flipping fantastic (apologies).

Sometimes they are simple pancakes, sometime fruit or sometimes egg and cheese savoury pancakes. The savoury are great before big adventures, or sometimes a great way to use up any left over batter: finish off cooking the pancakes, then you can heat them up later on a low heat and add the egg and cheese in top and carefully cook until the egg white is firm and the yolk still gorgeous and oozing.

Then to finish off breakfast and start the day a fresh cup of coffee, the Sunday newspapers and maybe a magazine or two.

Hold on, I disappeared into fantasy land, along with those 28 hour days with the couple of extra hours to sleep, me time and the extra hour to do all those useful and important things that I never quite get around to. Sounds like heaven, but in the meantime I am very content with my tea and pancake breakfasts.

Friday, 14 September 2012

10 years and counting

10 years ago today we got married. I had never really wanted marriage, having side stepped previous proposals. After being with the Hubster for a few years suddenly I knew that it did matter to me, and I wanted to follow convention and tradition and make our partnership official.

My Dad died the year we married and despite not being religious the bible tied the two events together. At the funeral we had the Ecclesiastes reading:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted....
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Not a dry eye in the house!

What have I learnt about marriage? Only that it is an ongoing process and I am still a trainee. We have done, "in sickness and in health" and "for richer and poorer", but the killer is "when you have weekends to recover and when are so sleep deprived you don't know which way is up". If you can survive and come together when you are so deprived and your babes keep sneaking into your bed remember to take a few extra deep breathes and try not to snap - it is the sleep deprivation that is getting you not imminent marital break down.

One of the great homilies is that when you have children remember to take time out for the relationship. We did not have the luxury of free babysitters or the cash throw at it, but i wish we did. With a bit of imagination and candle light to obscure the chaos we have found our own way.

I was once told that you marry your partner not the whole family - wrong! We cope with the idiosyncrasies of our own families and gloss over them, it does not make them invisible to our spouse. Okay, let's get petty and give an example, he goes potty over my mother's inability to cook enough vegetables. He is normally sane and forgiving and generally adores my Mum but this is the achilles heal of the relationship. Likewise his mother is not really being offensive every time she reminds me how lucky I am that she accepts me as she once met some one with the same family background and she did not like her (the worst part is enduring the 20 minute diatribe of the fated incident). Does it matter? If you let it. Now I just play family bingo so I can tick off the predictable and sit back and giggle.

Another of the great sayings is that you can survive many differences but it really helps if you share values. As we do I can honestly say that this has been the elastic that has held us together - that and many childish giggles. As our children grow up I hope we never do.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A tale of Three Cakes

One summer, two birthdays, three cakes. How about that for a score card?
The Pickle was most adamant about what she wanted for her school friends party, so it was only down to me to follow directions. She wanted a chocolate fudge cake, with a pink layer with fudge balls around it, a second layer with a rainbow and a candle in the shape of a six.

I decided on a recipe from the Good to Know website and it was delicious! I tried to be clever, I have never been good with standard icing (and the Pickle hates Royal icing - the stuff you buy in blocks or rolled sheets), so I bought some pink icing from Lakeland. The pink strawberry icing came as buttons in a microwavable pouch that you could heat and pour - the problem was, when we did a quick taste test, it was horrible! My only cheat was the rainbow, which I prepared on my computer and via ebay had it printed out with edible inks on a sheet of icing that I could just pop over the cake. To get the look I had to make three cakes, one for the base, one for the top and one for the rainbow. All in all, I thought that it worked really well.
The next cake was for DB's birthday a few weeks later, a day that we kept VERY simple. Just the four of us, but the Pickle declared a birthday is not a birthday without a cake. I checked with Saint Dan the patron Saint of Elasticated Waistbands, and found a great recipe. if you don't worship Dan you just must buy the book too:

It was meant to be a really simple but unctuous chocolate cake, I tackled the Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake and then fudged the Treacle chocolate fudge frosting (excuse the pun) to use up the left over condensed milk - if you are interested let me know and I will share my recipe because it worked well! Sadly it did not quite fit onto the board I had ready, so I had to get inventive. Instant car eat our heart out.

Perhaps I had been inspired by the technicolor, e-enhanced, sugar doused, mega confections on the vintage birthday book.

Finally, I had a family party to celebrate both birthdays and to get the everyone together. Loads of fun, lovely people, great food, and a very different cake. How often is cake left over? Pickle loves the idea but rarely finishes the full slice, and after a meal they can be rich and I end up by polishing the lot off after a few teething nights and then notice the spare tyre. This time I went for a three tier ice cream cake, coffee, strawberry sorbet, and vanilla with a chocolate ripple - then as I had some egg whites left over I made some meringues to decorate. Saint Dan came to the rescue again with the ice cream base and the faithful Nigel Slater supplied the strawberry sorbet recipe (he combined it with an elderflower and basil syrup but without that I doubled the recipe and wish I had made more). Oh, and then I made some choc ice bears to go on top.

The downside is that it needed to be assembled at the last moment - even if i had to allow to defrost for 1/4 hr to soften - so the effect was less pretty as I was focused more on chatting and less on making it beautiful. Guess what? It was DELICIOUS!
I have come a long way since Pickle's first birthday where I only dared make cup cakes - still a load of practice needed. Somehow nobody is complaining. :)

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Fairy Party

I love a good party. The Pickle starts to plan her party before the tea is properly digested. This year was the year of the Rainbow Fairy!

Have you heard of the Rainbow Fairies Books? Pickle loves them so the whole party was a homage. First step, doctor the book cover. For that we needed to decide what she was going to wear and using a scanner and that ancient technology of a pencil the Pickle was turned into a fairy. It took a while but that took care of the all the stationary.

Theme and look sorted now the imagination gets going. We always start parties with a craft activity - everyone can get involved and it means that everyone is not waiting around, they can get stuck in.
This year I made fairy wings, to be decorated with metallic and glitter markers. Armed with a couple of pairs of pliers wire coat hangers can be shaped onto wing shapes. Each pair was marginally different making them a little special.

If you buy pink tights the budget would be blown out of the water. Instead I found five pairs of the delicious American tan style tights in XL for £1.25. Using only what I had, I used pink food dye and the centre of an old pink marker with some salt (in case this was needed as a fixative in this strange combination), to dye the tights pink. It did seem to work, but I am not sure if it was luck or judgement, I guess if you were worried about dye rubbing off you could buy a specialist dye.
I managed to get a pair of wings from a single leg. Cut each leg in half and tied a small knot at the end (even on the toe as otherwise you have the dark tone of the toe showing up) then popped them over the frame.
It says something about my life that we had some carpet tape in the shed, and this proved ideal to tape up the wings. I wound it around each end, making sure that the cut ends we're properly coved then bound the two wings together adding in a large loop of elastic to act as the arm straps. To do it properly you would take a wide fabric tape and stick across the two wings, but the Pickle was adamant this was to the look that she wanted so I just taped the wings together along the horizontal stems (without the wide ate going across both the wings can droop). I finished off the wings with some felt across the back secured by some white tape.
So we had the fairy wings to decorate and some fairy wands. We have a formula that really works, start the party with a craft activity while everyone arrives, it is such an easy way for even the shyest child to get involved.
This year I was on super economy, I was making invitations etc I decided to go for broke on the party bags. I made bags from some poly cotton sheeting (normally much cheaper than standard material) then for just a few pounds I bought some iron on transfer paper to print the bags with the fairy's names. The paper came from china so took forever - but I had been quite organised. Each fairy was treated by their bag (can you see the loop for holding their wands) and an undecorated wand and pair of wings.

First game was tracking down the lost lollies. Picture the scene: Jack Frost and his pesky goblins have stolen the lollies and our little fairies must track them down (giving them an iced drink and starting the theme early, clever?). They followed a trail of hidden goblins across the garden to a chest where there prize was awaiting. The Pickle has spent hours painting cardboard to disguise the cooler box as a treasure chest, and it certainly did the trick. Later it came in handy too for any tea leftovers that we're scooped in to provide chicken snacks (yes, we have chickens) over couple of days.
Next step Pass the Parcel. I love the Mum who gave me the tip of using different colours of paper and making sure that when they unwrap the layer they put the paper behind their backs - an easy way to remember who has had a turn. In the past I have put chocolate coins in each layer (#fail, the chocolate melts) and most food it a bit dubious as it can be a distraction. This year I managed to rummage around the party box and find 12 random mini prizes to go between the layers so I only needed to buy a few extras.
Next we did the donut game. Eating mini donuts from a strong with no hands. Brilliant! The only nightmare was getting them hung in time during the pass the parcel without ending up with a cat's cradle!
Next time for tea. Over the years I have reduced and reduced the quantities as they really don't each much. I had made sure that the lollies were made from fruit juice and the donuts were small so that there would be space for tea. I had to be really careful alone friend had a peanut allergy - I guess this was useful as it made me really focus on what I was feeding them. I always feed them on rugs in a large tent / gazebo type thing.
Next on for the finale and a treasure hunt. They really have to work for their party bags! I have rambled along for too long now so I will continue in part 2 coming up shortly...
Any hints for improvements for next year, let me know. Xx

Fun, fun, fun

So far my prejudices have been confirmed. You do not have to spend money to have fun. My proof was given on our French holiday. The Pickle is a little hedgehog obsessed - she has never met one but they seem totemic for her - as she says on school mornings when she is struggling to get up 'Don't you know that I am a hedgehog and hedgehogs are nocturnal?'.

You imagine my delight when I discovered 'Nigloland' a hedgehog themed park close to where we were staying. What could be a more perfect birthday treat? We drove just over an hour and sure it was a very impressive theme park. Unlike Disneyland Paris the food is even edible and the marketing is coy enough that every step is not an ingenuity test in child distraction. The Pickle was impressed by the Hedgehog ride we went around twice in succession.

(as I was trying to save Dino boy from extinction my hands were full, no images exist so here is one from
Was this of the highlight of the holiday? Is this the day that the Pickle keeps on chatting about? No not that, nor even the visit to the snail farm but a picnic in the Forrest. We then found a deep puddle and carefully scooped up water and ferried it across a clearing to a mildly dried up mud pit. On hour or so of intense concentration and yippee! Mud, mud, glorious mud! Initially mud oozed between our toes then as I retired from the fray the mud started to fly. I remember my exorbitant mineral mud spa treatments, but the Pickle was doing one DIY, followed by full on mud angels.
Later we walked down the hill, through the vineyards back to the car, while the muddy children came along with a friend. Our fragrant dusk walk was shattered by a pungent pong, a couple of seconds later we hear the crunch of tyres and we saw the car complete with muddy girls. Yes, it stunk that much. Next game, a shower than a bath brimming with bubbles.
Back from planet holiday and our new skates arrived. Skates:10m v boxes: hours of fun - game Olympics won by the boxes as they are currently a row boat and submarine. Happy families :)