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Category Archives: Baking

Bread, bread and more bread!

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve become a little bit obsessed with baking my own bread. I think this is partly due to re-runs of the Great British Bake Off and partly because I’m trying to start making things that are better for me – baking cakes is brilliant but doesn’t help with my diet and I seem to have stalled at a size 12 😦

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It started badly due to a typo in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a domestic goddess. The recipe stated a tablespoon of salt. A TABLESPOON! Now I haven’t made bread for a while but even so if I’d been using even a 5th of my brain that should have rung alarm bells. Apparently though this is what happens when you have kids, you stop paying attention and accept what’s written at face value. In fact the other day I got in the car to drive to the corner shop (it was raining) and automatically drove halfway to the supermarket before I even realised what I was doing. The bread did actually rise though by rights that much salt should have killed the yeast but was definitely inedible. The next couple of loaves were better – I slightly overcompensated and put almost no salt in before getting it right but ended up with yummy bread in a pretty plaited shape (above). Not perfect but very tasty. Tonight I was in a hurry so didn’t plait the loaf – instead it’s round(ish).

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The kids have loved baking bread and the ex-science teacher in me has loved talking about the yeast making bubbles in the bread so it gets bigger. My husband is getting homemade bread for his sandwiches everyday and keeps winding me up that we’ll be living the Good life pretty soon.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Baking, Parenting, Uncategorized

 

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From the Seychelles to Center Parcs in 5 years

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Once upon a time we had a fairy tale wedding in a castle and a honeymoon in the Seychelles. Beautiful white sand beaches, cocktails at sunset and glorious sunshine. To be fair there was no internet and my husband would have been happier if the local hospital hadn’t been on the next island but in general it was an amazing holiday. This year was our 5th wedding anniversary so naturally we wanted to do something a bit special, but the addition of two little people means that a 10 hour flight to the middle of nowhere is a lot less appealing and a bit too pricey. Instead we went for the less glamorous but much more practical Center Parcs in Sherwood forest. We’ve been before and knew it would be a child friendly, comfortable holiday with a reasonably short drive that potty training toddlers could cope with.

We agreed that we wouldn’t get each other presents as we were spending a decent amount on the holiday, but I found out the day before we left that my husband had been all romantic and got me something as a surprise. Because I never know what to get him I decided to make a cake, although naturally I’d run out of everything so had to make a mad dash to Sainsbury’s.

Apparently the 5th wedding anniversary is wood so I made a rectangular cake and cut it into a number 5. The morning we left involved packing the car and decorating the cake with the “help” of 2 toddlers. The wood effect icing and the ivy were my idea, the butterflies were my 3year old’s.

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Times change and so do holidays but we had a wonderful time as a family. The sub-tropical swimming pool was brilliant, the restaurants had crayons and colouring books for the kids and the wildlife was wonderful for entertaining little ones. At night we sat in front of the fire and just enjoyed relaxing.We had such a good time my son didn’t want to leave. In fact he spent the next week saying he wanted to go back.

I look at the last 5 years and so much has changed. We have two wonderful children, a grown-up house in suburbia and are well on our way to being “middle aged”. It hasn’t always been easy and anyone who has suffered sleep loss from a small baby will understand that it really really really is so much harder than you ever believe it will be. Like most people I always thought parents were exaggerating and that my baby would be different and perfect. But however hard it’s been there are moments when you sit quietly and see how worthwhile it’s all been. I can see the light at the end of the (sleep deprived) tunnel and wouldn’t change it for anything.

 

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Sweet treats and bribery

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Like all parents I want the best for my kids, I want them to have a healthy diet but I also want them to be able to enjoy treats. I find well timed bribes can work wonders and we are currently attempting potty training with the incentive of a “bedtime cake” for my son if he manages to stay dry for the whole day.

The problem I have with treats is that I am (slightly) fussy about what my children eat. When they’re older I’m sure they’ll point out my double standards to me – I am not a health nut, I eat chocolate and crisps; at the cinema my favourite pick and mix sweets are the neon green apple cables that are packed full of e-numbers and sugar – however, all that aside I don’t give my kids branded chocolate, they never have crisps or icecream in the house and they only get biscuits occasionally – usually when they have friends to play.

My husband would say I’m strict whereas I would say I’m careful. If we are at friend’s party or playgroup and everyone else is having sweets then of course our 2 don’t get left out. I’m not that mum who insists that her children sit on the side while all the others get cake and icecream, but I do see a massive difference in behaviour when my little darlings are up to their eyeballs in sugar. On the way back from a recent birthday party our 3 year old was manic, he kept trying to reach across to his little sister and consequently wasn’t sat safely in his car-seat; cue a massive telling off from daddy and the admission that maybe they do behave a lot worse when they’ve had too much of sugar.

The compromise I’ve settled on is that we make a lot of our own treats. Gingerbread biscuits, cupcakes, brownies etc. If I know exactly what has gone into something I am happier to give it as a treat. I do have a few blind spots – the food colourings and sprinkles I add to the icing for instance, but I hold my hand up about this and am not trying to pretend my cakes are completely additive free. A major advantage of making your own treats is being completely in control of portion size. I can cut my brownies into toddler sized pieces, use mini cutters for biscuits and – as I discovered this week – make teeny tiny cupcakes in petit four baking cases.

I am completely in love with these tiny cakes as they are a way of giving my children something that is recognisably a cake without worrying about splitting it between them or being tempted to have a bit myself. I got to play at icing them prettily and my son got to shake the sprinkles over them which he loved. Both my children enjoy baking and I find it a lovely rewarding way to spend time with them. I find I can cope with mess much better if I end up with something tasty as a result, than if the only outcome is salt dough squashed into the carpet. Fingers crossed they continue to enjoy baking and cooking as they grow up…

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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Baking, Parenting

 

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Hearts for my valentine

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Love it or hate it, last week it was difficult to avoid Valentines day.

Whether you decided to go for broke with dinner, champagne and roses or to ignore it completely because you resent the commercialism, you must have been hard pressed to miss the oceans of roses as you walked through the supermarket doors, and the conveniently placed cards by the tills.

This year my husband and I opted for something in the middle. With 2 children and a 5 year anniversary next month, the days of exclusive restaurants and pre-dinner champagne have gone by the wayside, replaced with a candle lit “dine in meal for 2” and a bottle of Asti.

The key thing for me when we decided to stay at home was that we should still have a romantic evening that felt different to a normal night in. This meant candles, music and something a bit special. The candles and music were easily sorted – heart shaped tealights spotted while doing the weekly shop and the Love Actually CD that was still on the side from last year when we did something similar. The final touch came in the form of home-made cupcakes with heart chocolates, inspired by a random picture on Facebook and the novel Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

The thought of making my own chocolate hearts appealed to me. Reading a book filled with descriptions of tempering and making chocolates somewhere in the french countryside fills you with romantic ideas of creating mountains of delicious truffles in the blink of an eye. Having said that the reality of 1st time chocolates would probably be less successful, so I decided to compromise on cupcakes which I know I can make well, combined with the easiest type of chocolates I had found to make.

Over the last few years I have taught myself – quite successfully, the art of cake decorating; from swirly butter cream cupcakes to Christmas cakes and Thomas the tank engine cakes, I’ve spent a decent amount of time and “fun money” on a hobby that pays dividends at birthdays and special occasions. The cupcakes are easy, combine Nigella Lawson’s fairy cake recipe with Hummingbird Bakery vanilla butter cream and you have calorific cupcakes to die for. The tricky bit was the chocolates which I had never tried before. I opted for Wilton Candy Melts, not real chocolate but a candy available in different colours that can be moulded. A tray of heart shapes and red candy was all I needed to get started and within an hour I had some presentable red hearts to go on top of my cupcakes. Ok so they had a few air bubbles in them and I cracked the mould a bit getting them out but overall I was pretty pleased with the results. With a bit of practice I think I could start regularly adding little moulded candies to my cakes and maybe even have a decent go at making real chocolates in the future.

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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Baking

 

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