Cacao -it’s a bit like chocolate

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It’s week three of the holidays. Things keeping me sort of sane through the repetition of the same argument a million times:

  1. My lovely friends who reassure me it’s just the same in their houses and provide solidarity in the trenches.
  2. The mantra my lovely mum passed down which got her through our childhood (although obviously, she can’t have needed it much as we were all angels). “It’s not me it’s them”.
  3. A lot of chocolate.

I’ve also just had a health check due to my ancient age at which I discovered I am simultaneously ‘obese’, have slightly raised (from ‘ideal’ not average) cholesterol and am at very low risk of developing heart disease. Which is good motivation to keep up with finding ways to eat more healthy food (or at least a bit less chocolate).

I think this might be the most healthy version of my flapjack recipe so far.

Melt:

50g coconut oil

4 Tbsp Honey

1 Tbsp Molasses

Add:

50g cacao powder

Remove from heat and mix in:

150g Oats

Into a lined pan sprinkle over 50g cacao nibs and bake in a preheated oven gas mark 6 for 20 minutes.

Cool and cut into squares.

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Tastes less chocolatey than previous versions but still yummy. These are probably not sweet enough for you if you’re used to eating ‘normal’ amounts of sugar but for those who have already cut down, they’re sweet enough.

Taste team accused them of having funny rubbery bits on the top!

 

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Sourdough Adventures

I’ve not missed the gluten I’ve cut out of my diet in many places but I’ve been missing the taste and convenience of having bread or toast for breakfast. Plus thinking always of ways to increase the list of healthy things my children want to eat.

I read the headline of an article from a satirical news website saying “middle-class children overdosing on sourdough bread” and realised I was letting my middle-class children down in so many ways. I’m sure they would like to write you a list, lack of instant access to exactly what they want when they want it being top of it!

Joking aside sourdough bread seemed to be a good place to start trying to increase the fermented food products in our diets so I thought I’d give it a go. I read many pages of recipes and descriptions and started a starter which went mouldy. Fortunately, I’m lucky to have friends who are much further ahead in the pursuit of healthy kitchens than I am so I took some advice on Instagram and read some more pages. But I pretty much stuck to this recipe just for the simplicity compared to many recipes.

The loss of my first ‘sourdough mother’ due to mould meant I learned two important things 1. don’t use tap water 2. mix with a non-metal spoon not sure whether both are necessary but definitely one is vital as the second lot of starter went much better. Also, don’t go out and have too much fun and then have to make your loaf up in a delicate state (apparently, I hear, not that I would ever do that).

So after the starter comes the ‘sponge’ basically just add more flour and water and leave it overnight (or until it’s thick sticky and bubbly).

 

I was a bit concerned about how sticky the dough was going to be when I first added the flour but it turned out to be lovely to knead.

Ended up having to clear up most of the extra flour I’d put on the worktop as it wasn’t used in the kneading process.

The first leaving to rise was very slow (the second picture is nearly 24 hours later) but the second loaf I made it rose loads much quicker so I think maybe my ‘mother’ just needed another 24 hours to get more effective.

The second rise photos show I don’t have a proper proving basket but I may well get one if I keep up making sourdough as the flat shape although it looks ok is not the easiest shape to slice and make sandwiches with.

The mess on the top is from not enough flour on the tea towel in some areas and too much in others.

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Had to leave the house to take the 4-year-old to one of her weekend parties while the loaf was in the oven so I had to ask my husband to take it out when it was cooked.

Must have tasted good as it was half gone by the time the party was over. It is quite sour but seems to be digestible. Hoping to make more well-risen loaves in future. Which seems like it’s going to work out based on loaf number two which was an experiment with a loaf tin that didn’t go perfectly but was definitely a lot more risen.

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Cheese and Chocolate Chips

You’ll be relieved to hear I’ve not mixed the two things together. Last weekend -the long weekend- we were busy, so baking didn’t happen. I realised when looking through my photos for this post I did do some more baking last week too so there are two posts ready for this week.

I’ve been thinking about how to not get completely exhausted and frustrated while doing household tasks and cleaning this week. Half term is always a time there’s so much more to be done and it can be easy to let things slide for a day and then have regret the next day. In our house, we are trying to teach our children the household tasks are the joint responsibility of the household. So the older kids have a list of chores to pick from before they go off and do their own thing each day and the youngest is beginning to learn to tidy up her own things after she finishes using them. Still, many of the household chores fall to me as does keeping a mental picture of what needs doing and how long it was since all the different tasks were last done. The most helpful thing I’ve found apart from doing little and often and listening to good podcasts or radio shows is thinking about why I am doing something, who am I really doing it for. More often than not I find I’m really doing things for myself. It’s me who doesn’t feel comfortable surrounded by dirty dishes or with piles of dog hair over the floor so really it’s me who benefits from those things being sorted out. I think it’s important to teach my kids to do the laundry and to cook and clean so they are positive members of any future household they belong to and can look after themselves when they are ready to leave home. But I find it much less stressful if I remember they aren’t there yet they’re still learning and sometimes I have the energy to teach but sometimes I don’t but I still want things done so I chose the things that matter to me and let the other things slide if I’m happy in my surroundings that’s what’s most important.

Today I was invited to a vegan cheese related event which was too good an opportunity to try something new to turn down. So I had a go at making vegan queso dip.

I used this recipe which I picked because it was comparatively quick to make. I have spotted some recipes for cashew cheese which take a while to mature but I’m definitely giving them a try soon.

Basically, this is aubergine dip flavoured with garlic, cumin, nutritional yeast and what is supposed to be chilli powder but I didn’t have any so I used paprika. I chopped too much garlic and had to remove some when I measured and I might use even less if I make it again as it was a bit garlicky for my personal taste.

The only issue I had was it didn’t thicken as much as I expected even after adding extra cornflour. But once mixed with salsa and nachos it was really yummy and cheesy and I couldn’t really tell it was vegan. Not sure if anyone else tried it so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

This afternoon we had a go at vegan gluten free chocolate chip cookies as choc-chip cookies are something super popular with my family.

Had fun cooking with my kitchen assistant except when she was disappointed she couldn’t use the oven herself.

I started with this recipe and then changed it around for ingredients I had in the cupboard.

1/3rd Cup coconut oil

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons almond milk

2 cups Doves Farm Gluten Free Self Raising Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup dark choc chips

Heat oven to Gas Mark 4 (180C 350F).

Grease cookie sheets.

Cream coconut oil and sugar, whisk in vanilla and almond milk.

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Stir in flour and baking powder. Gently combine chocolate chips. 1 cup is definitely too many chocolate chips 1/2 or 3/4 would be plenty. img_20170601_190109.jpg

Make small balls and flatten slightly onto trays at a reasonable distance from each other.

Bake for 12-14 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before eating if you can resist that long.

These are amazing. So good that the fussiest member of the taste team ate two without realising or even minding when he found out they were gluten free and vegan. Will be making them again many times.

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Emotional

DSC_1187This blog is about cupcakes a little bit but it’s also about friends and family and how feelings are ok. I made so many cupcakes this week, vanilla ones, chocolate vegan ones, even gluten free ones which tasted good. Why? Because it was my birthday (an age with a 0 in it) and I wanted to celebrate having reached a point in my life where I have friends I can count on and who I love to spend time with. I wanted a party where I didn’t have to be the centre of attention because my friends know and love me just as I am and where I could show them how much I love them all with cake. Because I’m not always good at expressing myself but I’m good at making cake.

I am also blessed to have many lovely and loving people in myDSC_1188 family (not least my wonderful mum who supported me through all of the stress and shopping and organising and cleaning) and the same day was filled with many emotions as my kind, principled, loving father-in-law passed away. Even when you know that someone is very ill and have plenty of warning it’s still a shock when that moment comes. So there was sadness, I will never see his smile again or hear him say ‘ah they’re alright’ when I tell off one of my children. We will miss him more than we probably know. But there was also relief as his pain is over and he’s at peace now and he died with all his children and his partner and sister around him in his own bed knowing he is loved. And even surrounding the sadness there was joy. The joy that we knew him and have many wonderful memories and the joy that comes from the comfort of your friends sharing the downs as well as the ups with open and loving hearts.

Life is full of beginnings and ends and celebrations and hard times and all of the mundane day to day in-between. But if life is also full of love all of those times and all of those feelings are OK. It’s OK to be happy and OK to be sad sometimes and it’s OK to share that with each other.

Making so many (over 100) cupcakes meant freezing them before icing them on the day.

Which worked really well except that chocolate cupcakes’ wrappers peeled away as they defrosted. The gluten free cupcakes which finally worked well and tasted good were made using Doves Farm gluten free self-raising flour with their own recipe https://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/recipes/fairy-cakes/

I also made vegan and gluten free scones – more on that next week!

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.

Too yummy for photos

This week I made vegan brownies twice and both times they were eaten too quickly and I didn’t get the chance to take a photo of the finished product. Partly the speed of eating because they were so yummy and partly I was distracted as I had a week surrounded by friends and family. So super busy that not only did I not have time for food photography I had little time for thinking.

Yet what did ‘get done’ was very important. I spent time with my children, I listened to them and I gave them opportunities to spend time with friends and I spent time with my friends and that’s good for the soul. Then I spent time with family over the weekend, which is precious especially as you never know when it won’t be able to do it anymore.

Vegan brownies inspired by some of my friends ‘going vegan’ or rather ‘switching to a plant-based diet’. Good for the environment and when you don’t make brownies as your main vegan thing often good for health too with lots of yummy vegetables.

The recipe involves precooking some of the flour and water before mixing into sugar and cocoa powder and oil.

It’s an unusual method, not one I’ve used before but not too difficult or time-consuming. It makes a really sticky batter which is much thicker than I’m used to but makes really lovely sticky sweet brownies which you can easily be healthy and eat just a small amount of, unless you’re like the taste team and get carried away.

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Thank you https://www.facebook.com/itsthehappypage/

When you’re an introvert it can sometimes feel like hard work having friends and family but it’s always good to be reminded it’s really worth it.