Christmas Cake

Here’s a Christmas lesson, this post was written early and posted late because there are so many things that I’m always trying to do at this time of year. I need to learn to slow down and enjoy the time more.

It’s been an introspective year for me. I’ve thought of so many times in my life I’ like to go back to and tell myself to make different decisions or to make decisions for the right reasons not because of being scared or feeling that there was no choice. But time travel isn’t possible and I’m trying to learn to give myself the same care that I extend to others. To allow myself to know I made the best decisions I could at the time with the information I had. We can’t go back in time but we can go forward with all of the life experience and knowledge we have and make decisions for the right reasons in future.

As I write it’s December 1st and I’m waiting for my Christmas Cake to come out of the oven. It’s at least a month after it ‘should’ have been made and it’s made to a much more simple recipe than the usual recipe I use. But rather than having to try and convince myself it’s not happened that way because I’m never good enough or organised enough or have let anyone down I feel happy it’s done now. I decided to do other things up until now and I decided to make this recipe, not the other one. There really isn’t a sort of person who makes the perfect family recipe Christmas Cake and a sort of person who buys a cake there’s only the sort of person who does what they do with the time they have and deserves to be happy and proud of themselves.

As usual, Mary Berry can be relied on to provide a lovely simple recipe.

I made it a bit more special by soaking the fruit in a mix of sherry and brandy overnight before I started.

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My heirloom electric whisk from the 1980s finally gave up the ghost during the creation of cupcakes for the school Christmas Bizarre so I ended up making this using the food processor as I’ve become much too lazy to cream butter and sugar by hand.

Adding the flour and ground almonds and a little orange essence as we didn’t have almond and it seemed more suitable than peppermint which was the other alternative in the cupboard.

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Had to mix in the fruit by hand after draining off the excess alcohol (which I saved to pour on once the cake is cooked) maybe I should have used a slightly bigger mixing bowl because it was a bit tricky to hold such a full bowl while pouring mixture into the tin.

Once the cake was cooked and had plenty more alcohol poured over the top it is cooled and stored for a couple of weeks before it’s ready for the marzipan and icing.

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Christmas Cake

 

 

 

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Halloween Special Pumpkin Cookies

I’ve been thinking about and feeling frustrated over the way people are valued only by the money they make not their true intrinsic value again this week. But also aware that I’m incredibly privileged to have the time and energy for philosophical thinking.

Parenting struggles have included how to get your child to calm down and go to bed when they are completely full of sugar from the strangest celebration invented yet, Halloween. Which seems to have developed from celebration of spooky scary things to community spirit and neighbourliness with a sugar focus. As much as I suspect the amount of money confectionary producers are making may have something to do with the growth in popularity I still really enjoyed meeting so many neighbours.

We had fun making our pumpkin lanterns but as always I needed to do something with the pumpkin insides so they weren’t wasted. Turns out there’s so much you can do. Curry for dinner, roasted seeds to snack on, syrup for making my own pumpkin spice latte. Last but definitely not least these really yummy cookies.

Oat, flour and spices in one bowl and melted butter, pumpkin puree and maple syrup mixed in another. Then combine the two bowls with each other and add the chocolate chips. Spoon onto a lined baking tray and bake in a medium oven 10-15 minutes.

They’re still a little soft when they come out the oven but a pretty good consistency once cooled and really delicious. A tiny bit cakey so the search for the perfect healthy cookie continues but if I have more pumpkin to use up again I’d happily make more of these too.

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Too much fun, too many nuts

It’s that point in the holiday when parents feel like it’s been going on forever and wonder if we’ve had too much fun and kids realise there’s very little time left before school starts and they need to squeeze in as much fun as possible. Also, the moment when the dreaded feeling we have to go on the school shoe shop occurs and everyone wonders if last year’s shoes will be ok still (they never are).

In our house, we’re facing the last year of school for the first time and the first year of school for the last time. Conversations are on how to keep motivated to study when the long term gain feels far away and there are other things that are much more fun to fill your time with. Lots of reassurance that friends will be made and fun will be had is required.

Everyone wants to know what I will do once I have no more preschoolers at home. The short term answer is “have a nap”. Then after that organise a conference. But in the long term, I don’t know. If I start to think too much I have to start managing anxiety.  Which of course is wasted energy that’s not going to help with anything right now while I can’t do anything solid about it. So I’m learning (always learning) to focus on today, what I’m doing right now and stay present because when the time comes I will find the right path. For this time of parenting, I need to be focused not distracted with possible futures.

I had some pears that weren’t being eaten fast enough so I looked for something to bake with some of them and decided to try out pear and honey flapjacks.

These have sugar in as well as the honey so I thought they might be a bit more indulgent. Turns out I’m so used to low sugar flapjacks now that I found them a bit sweet but the main issue for me was they use the same amount of nuts as oats which seems to be where they fall apart (literally) and I found them too chewy. The other member of the taste team to try them so far loved all the nuts though so I guess that’s more of a taste thing.

Grating the pear was a bit of a faff but other than that it’s a pretty simple recipe.

I made the mistake of thinking they weren’t completely done at the end of the first 30 minutes and then getting a little distracted during the extra 5 minutes so they turned into an extra 10 minutes. Which is why there are a few ‘caramelised’ nuts, but overall they weren’t overdone anyway.

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It’s not really carrot cake

Been struggling to write this week. Feeling a little bit lost and not sure how to put it into words. Last week my eldest had his last ever sports day. No matter how much you enjoy all the moments you can the time when your children are small the time still goes super fast and they are big and growing up so soon.

It’s a long time really until I’ll be finished with small people as my youngest is only just starting school in September but that does mean the pre-school baby days are all gone for me and the countdown feels like it’s on as this time next year we will be waiting for the first big set of exam results and school will be over (just school, not full-time education but still -college is a whole new thing).

It’s been 19 years since I left full-time education and I still feel like I don’t really know what I want to achieve with my life, what I’m going to be when I grow up. Making three people and trying not to ruin their lives before they reach 16 is amazing as well as really hard and often frustrating but even when you stretch it out by having a big age gap it doesn’t last forever. I wouldn’t have my life any other way than revolving around these three wonderful people but I still feel the sense of panic that haven’t really got a plan for what comes next for what it means to be just me when they don’t need me so much anymore. It’s a strange job parenting, you’ve only really succeeded when you’ve made yourself redundant. It’s so hard to want to reach that point, that feeling of success while also never wanting to reach it because it feels like part of who you are is not forever. We will always be their parents and always care for them and look after them of course but it won’t be the same. So who will I be, what will my time be spent on, how will I know I’m still me.

I can’t answer these questions and letting them run round in my head is making me anxious so I know I need to fill my days and really focus on enjoying today and making the most of these moments which are not forever.

This week I’ve made more bread -it was too crusty. Also, I found the cookbook I got for my birthday, so here’s a way of having more vegetables for breakfast. Having made it I think maybe it should be renamed just carrot granola because there’s really no cake involved.

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Drying the carrot was OK much like drying the almond pulp in the previous granola recipe but there were too much of the other ingredients to mix on the tray this time.

Luckily I have such a lovely bowl I love to find reasons to use it.

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I mixed once during baking but think maybe should have mixed twice because it got a little overcooked at the edges.

 

 

 

Still, it tasted good and made a healthy breakfast so that’s what counts.

 

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Chocolate Quinoa

It’s true what they say, who you are matters more than what you say in determining who your children will become. It’s a slow and steady process. I’m six months in to eating differently and paying more attention to my health (some weeks it goes better than others but there are no failures when you don’t give up) and my super fussy eater has not only tried and even liked a few new things but has been reading and thinking about allergies and food that makes you feel better. Now if only I could find a way to cope better with them being really irritating so I could pass that on to them too. Or maybe siblings will just always get wound up by each other no matter what. 🙂

The last few weeks I’ve also started consciously working on not letting anxiety stop me from achieving what I want. I know that doing the thing that makes me anxious is almost always not as bad as not doing it and getting anxious over what might happen. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I need to head back and re-read The Opposite of Worry and maybe get on and write my diary so I can move on to the next part of the CBT course rather than continue to just avoid it by starting other courses. At least the learn to code HTML and CSS course is really interesting and making my brain work hard and being encouraged by my son to give it a go and keep going is super special.

Despite prevailing opinions on quinoa in the household I decided to give a quinoa experiment a go this week. So I made some for my lunch which was yummy and then made the rest into quinoa crispies like this it wasn’t the weather for having the oven on for longer than necessary so I took the opportunity to slow roast some veggies which means that my dinner is under control for today. Not often I’m that organised so feel pleased with myself!

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The quinoa didn’t all get the same amount crispy but it was sticking to the tray more and more so I decided it was time to move on.

To make it into Quinoa Crunch Bars.

These are so simple. I didn’t have (and don’t like) stevia but I’m also used to things not so sweet now. If you’re not used to being sugar-free or don’t want to be then a teaspoon or even half a teaspoon of icing sugar would work really well.

Decided to be extra decadent and put some melted chocolate on top before they went in the freezer. When they came out they looked great.

They taste like a chocolate bar. The only issue for me was a little bit of getting quinoa stuck in my teeth, worth it for the kick for sure. Two of the taste team found them a little too chocolatey but the maybe not so fussy anymore one wanted a second piece!

Three weeks in one go

I’ve been making positive decisions over the last three weeks. Some of them have been decisions to do things other than spending time on the computer which is why the baking has happened but the blogging hasn’t.

It’s been a few weeks of thinking about so many things that are completely out of my control. The things that are either shit that happens because that’s just how the world is and the things that are the consequences of bigger life choices that I’ve made. My heart is very much in one day being able to go back to my job of being a birth doula -if you’re saying ‘a what?’ click here. But not dwelling on that as it can’t happen in the next couple of years is easier said than done. Making smaller positive choices within the confines of what is possible for me right now does help but it doesn’t quiet the longing in my heart completely.

In our wider family we’re being forced to face the fact sometimes people have to leave you before you’re ready to let them go and cancer is really shit. There are positive choices you can make to value and love people but sometimes hard times come and it’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to not be ok.

When things are not ok chocolate cake can’t fix anything but it’s still nice to have some.

This recipe hasn’t got eggs and I made it with almond milk so it was completely vegan. I was also in a hurry and I took it out the tin too quickly so it crumbled but it still tasted really good.

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The next week my project at the insistence of my kitchen assistant was strawberry cupcakes. They tasted amazing, too amazing, the taste team was either not available or apparently don’t like strawberries, except the kitchen assistant who didn’t like the icing and then refused to eat any more cakes. Long story short I ate them all. It wasn’t a good decision but I couldn’t help myself.

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And it led to a very positive decision to stop saying I need to do something about my health and start actually doing something. And so the last week has included a lot of making smoothies and salads and no coffee drinking. I’ve gone a bit hardcore to start off but I’m working on a new lifestyle, not a temporary quick fix so I’m planning to mellow as I  learn.

We did a little Easter Baking. It was fun and I think we did a good job of making them like the picture but I don’t know what they taste like.

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Cupcakes for all

It’s been a long week. This blog and the time spent doing some fun baking is now 7 days overdue. But some weeks it takes all the positive decisions I have to get to the end of each day without giving up and the whole point is to find the fun and the joy not to give myself something more that I have to do.

It’s difficult for me to feel I’ve done enough when ‘all’ I’ve done is parenting and cleaning, cooking etc all week but it’s something I’m trying to call myself out on. I know it’s important to look after yourself to have the energy to care for others but sometimes the most important thing to do for yourself is to go to bed early and ignore the ‘you’ve not done enough’ feelings.

I’ve a daughter with a cupcake obsession and an event coming up so today we were thinking about perfecting cupcakes. Vanilla cupcakes made by weighing two eggs then matching the same amount of butter, sugar and self-raising flour and a teaspoon of vanilla flavour are so simple but work so well.

The kitchen assistant’s style of putting the batter in the cases was a little random but very enthusiastic and I managed to pull them together and the cakes taste good. Now we just have to keep working on our icing skills.

Maybe it’s like with the pancakes and we just need better equipment or maybe we need a good YouTube tutorial.

Once the kitchen assistant was distracted I also decided to see if the vegan brownie recipe would work as cupcakes. They cooked quicker but tasted just as good.

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So tomorrow to find a good gluten free cupcake recipe.

Chocolate and rainbows

When you go through times when things happen that make you feel confused or frustrated or upset, when you struggle to see the good through all the pain it can sometimes feel like you’ll never feel joy again.

Sometimes we expect joy to fall on us with no effort and sometimes it does, seemingly out of nowhere in the laughter of our children or the hug of a friend. But sometimes it doesn’t sometimes you see glimpses of that joy without being able to let it soak in.

Today the weather has been a bit like that, sunny one minute pouring with rain the moment after then back to sunshine. My dog is feeling neglected because every time I say shall we go for a walk it pours with rain again and we don’t go. But eventually, we will have go, raining or not. We will have to find our moment of joy whether it’s raining or sunny we will have to work for it. The joy that we work for that we plan that we make positive decisions to seek out is just as real as the joy that comes by surprise and when there is rain and sunshine together it’s there you see the rainbow.

I may have mentioned before that much joy comes in my life from chocolate so today I took the flapjack recipe I’ve been working on and tried to make chocolate flapjacks.

No fruit at the request of the taste team so a little more honey and some molasses.

Melt:

50g Butter or coconut oil

4 Tbsps Honey

1 Tbsp Molasses

Mix in while melting:

50g Cocoa powder

Remove from heat and stir in

150g Oats

Optional 50 g chocolate chips or raisins or glacé cherries.

Bake in preheated oven at gas mark 6 for approx 20 minutes.

They don’t look brilliant but they taste amazing. Seriously considered eating the whole tray before anyone else could try them. Then my husband suggested we not offer them round anyone else after he tried them.

Pancake day special

After a disaster of an attempt to cook pancakes for breakfast, I made a positive choice to learn to make pancakes well today.

I started out blaming my tools and went to get a new pancake pan at the shop. Then I found some new recipes. A ‘proper’ pancake recipe from when Mary Berry made pancakes on The One Show.

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This recipe for scotch pancakes which is also a Mary Berry recipe. And after quite a lot of searching this recipe for vegan pancakes which I made with regular flour and hazelnut milk rather than almond milk.

Other things I discovered while reading up on pancakes are that Shrove Tuesday apparently comes from an old English word shrive which means to confess your sins -all part of it being preparation for lent. Managed to hold myself back from running round the corner to confess all my sins with pancake in pan though. It also seems (based on facebook posts) a lot of mums measure their success or failure as a mum based on whether or not they can provide their children with well-cooked pancakes. News just in, if you’re even trying to make pancakes for your children you’re doing a brilliant job as a mum give yourself a gold star regardless of the prettiness of your pancakes.

Turns out all the recipes although they looked quite different in the bowls

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are pretty easy to cook. Must have been right I just needed a new pan.

We had a lot of fun and despite not all looking the best they all tasted OK.

The taste test team liked the traditional English pancakes best and even insisted they had them for their main meal. The Scotch pancakes second best and they liked the vegan pancakes more than they expected to do. The Scotch pancakes were a little difficult to spread on the griddle and very filling and the vegan pancakes had a little bit of a bitter aftertaste (less baking powder would probably have solved that issue without changing the pancakes too much) and were softer than the other ones.

So now to decide whether to give up anything for lent or not. Would it be a positive choice or a step back in time?

Killing the perfect

I’m reading a book at the moment. I like reading but I struggle with reading good novels because I like to get absorbed in the story and carried away with reading and real life is always getting in the way. But right now I’m reading a book of ideas, it’s challenging but I’m persevering. I reached a point where the book told me to put it down and go kill the perfect person I want to be -in my case the perfect mum and the perfect friend have got to go. I can’t move on until I kill off the people who don’t exist, who I will never be.

It said to not come back until I was done but it’s a long and winding road and I want to read the book. Because, like I said, it’s interesting and challenging. I do know I need to stop trying to be the perfect – that what I’m trying to be isn’t even perfect really just an image in my head built on so many things, many of which aren’t even fully true. I’m so good at recognising how great other people are but I really find it hard to appreciate myself. I don’t think I’m going to be able to switch off the perfect image I can’t measure up to just like that but I’m committed to the positive decision to step back from it and teach myself to be kind to me.

Today’s recipe is applesauce muffins to use up the leftover applesauce from last week’s flapjacks sugar-free and low-fat, how healthy.

They mix up nicely. Only problem I came across was probably because I need some proper muffin tins, the muffins stuck to the inside of the wrappers.

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They rose beautifully and cooked in the time suggested. It’s past the taste team’s bed time so they weren’t available (and are sceptical about apple flavoured thing apparently) but I liked them. They are really not very sweet at all and taste better with a little butter but overall will make a good breakfast I think.