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.
I made it a bit more special by soaking the fruit in a mix of sherry and brandy overnight before I started.
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.
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.
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.
Almost into the third week so here’s two weeks in one before I have to do three weeks in one!
There was a fifth birthday in our house this week and lots of parties to celebrate so both weeks the baking in the house was cake. Last week I made pumpkin cupcakes which were also seasonal.
This week it was birthday cake.
This is just a regular sponge cake made with the same weight each of self-raising flour, sugar and butter or margarine as 3 eggs plus a teaspoon of vanilla essence. The batter was split into three bowls and each one coloured with a different gel food colouring. When baked and cooled it was iced with shop bought buttercream icing and covered in rainbow sprinkles.
Pumpkins are in all the shops at the moment. It’s a bit soon for carving if you want them to be still fresh on Halloween though plus I hate all the waste so I’m always looking for ways to use what’s emptied out for carving. This recipe requires pureed pumpkin which can be made by baking the pumpkin then removing the seeds and skin or by removing seeds and skin and then boiling the chopped up flesh. It needs to be well strained to remove as much water as possible before being pureed.
I used this recipe which is easy to follow and required things that were already in my cupboard.
The wet ingredients are mixed in a food processor then added to the dry ingredients.
I found it a bit of a liquid batter which made a challenge for getting into the cupcake cases. Best method seemed to be pouring from the bowl which also works your arm muscles! Which explains the messy cake tray.
I needed to make dairy free icing rather than cream cheese icing but apparently failed to photograph after I iced so this is the finished cupcakes. Without the icing, they were almost like muffins. The taste team approved as did the party guests. If I get time and another pumpkin I might try for a low sugar version.
I’ve had a couple of new projects I’ve been working on and one, in particular, that has been pretty full on, for good reason, the last few weeks. I’ve also been thinking about the future again and continuing to support my small (and not so small) people through life’s challenges. It’s all good but I’ve not been doing so well at really filling my own cup so I’ve got the resources to keep on giving out. I know I need to change that but the inbuilt guilt is a struggle so I was pretty relieved to read this article
and realise I’m not going crazy and I’m not alone, think my husband was relieved to find that I wasn’t really going to run away with the circus either.
This weekend was pretty busy but we managed to get everyone together at the table for dinner on Sunday. So these brownies were for pudding and were declared yummy by the members of the taste team who weren’t too full or too keen on having a lolly.
This week’s baking involved another flashback. This time to University days when I used to make this Chocolate Fudge Pudding as a treat for my friends because it’s pretty cheap to make but really indulgent and super yummy. Just the thing for people who need lots of energy, a bit like my kids who are always hungry, especially after a day at school.
This week’s musings have been about if we’re possibly causing a problem for ourselves. If we tell small children to smile and pretend not to be sad as they go into school so they can get a sticker and then we wonder why our teenagers are unable to express how they feel and talk it out but rather tell us they are ‘fine’ and then start self-harming or develop an eating disorder! (To be clear I’m talking about ‘we’ as a society, not my own family). So no, I’m not happy about the accidental wee in my bed this morning but yes, I am going to keep cuddling my children whenever they need me to (or let me in the case of the teenagers).
On to the recipe, chocolate always helps me feel better.
Chocolate Fudge Pudding.
1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix it all together until it’s a brownie type consistency batter and pour or spoon into a greased 6″ square tin.
In a separate bowl mix together:
1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons sugar
Sprinkle over the batter.
Pour 1 1/2 cups of boiling water over the top and bake at 350f 175c Gas 4 for 40 minutes.
When cooked the cake is at the top and the sauce underneath just like magic. Tastes like magic too and even better with a little ice cream or cream.
Prioritising has never been a strong point for me I’m good at getting bored easily and forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. I may have mentioned before I need lists. This is never more true than on weeks like this one when my youngest started full time school and suddenly I was already busy every day of the week. I’m trying to take things slow and appreciate the small moments so that all of the things that need to be done don’t become overwhelming.
I’ve been continuing to think about how we need to teach ourselves and our children to cultivate positive mental health and good practices and habits to help prevent potential problems rather than just firefight when the problems start to get bad. This week I’m trying to slow down and remember the most important thing happening in my life is my children are growing up. To do this I’m trying to make sure I look at them and listen properly when they talk to me. To spot the times of day they are ready to open up and to focus and listen. It’s not easy especially when all three want to talk at once but just because I don’t always succeed doesn’t mean I’m giving up.
Looking for recipes for lunch box friendly cakes and biscuits made me remember a favourite from my own childhood. Mary Berry (yes always the family favourite cookbook) Melting Moments.
I’ve made one small adjustment because I don’t buy margarine anymore, sometimes I swap for butter but this time I swapped for coconut oil.
It’s a cream fat and sugar add egg and then flour and oats type of recipe. The biscuits are shaped by hand and rolled in oats then flattened on the tray. As with all the recipes in the book pretty simple.
They’re baked at quite a low temperature and for 20 minutes which was just about perfect, the tray on the top shelf slightly more well done than the one on the middle meaning those ones were crunchier and the middle shelf ones were chewier.
The taste team took their responsibilities very seriously and rated them ‘good’ on smell, snap, crunch and chew.
After challenging myself to bake at least once a week for a year, nine months in, I’ve failed for the first time. Last week I didn’t just fail to write I failed to bake. I did bake bread (sourdough) which in itself represents a win, didn’t think I was going to keep that up as well as I have done. But it’s not a win on the baking for fun side of things. It wasn’t a positive choice just something that happened, the week went by while I was deep in the parenting trenches. The last week of the holidays is always the hardest because everyone has had enough of each other and everyone is feeling the nerves of what will the new school year hold. We held it together, just about, but it’s been hard work. Not least because the challenges that teens today have to face and the pressures on them are immense and it’s really no wonder that there is such an increase in mental health issues.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this but I’ve got a strong feeling positive mental health and how to create, maintain and support it is a gaping hole in our society. I’m going to have a lot more thinking and writing to do over the next months and years. Lots of threads in my life seem to be coming together.
This week baking is back and these flapjacks are really yummy but not at all healthy. They did make a great back to school treat though.
I’m fed up with not being able to find sugar free cake recipes that don’t have wither sweeteners or non-standard ingredients in so I’m setting out now to start making up my own recipes that are simple as well as healthier.
I had some pears that needed eating up so my first go was a pear and ginger loaf.
4 Pears peeled poached and pureed
175g Self Raising Flour
1 teaspoon Ginger
1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
All in a big bowl whisk for 2 minutes. Place in greased and lined loaf tin. Bake at Gas 6 for 50-60 minutes.
It was too fatty and not sweet enough and didn’t rise as much as it could have. Not inedible though and a good first step. Next week apples in place of pears and some more tweaks and see where we go.
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.
It’s week three of the holidays. Things keeping me sort of sane through the repetition of the same argument a million times:
My lovely friends who reassure me it’s just the same in their houses and provide solidarity in the trenches.
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”.
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.
50g coconut oil
4 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Molasses
50g cacao powder
Remove from heat and mix in:
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.
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!
It’s been a very busy week of fun family days out and cleaning the house.
Continuing the theme of can I make that with sourdough this weekend we had brioche.
Not sure if it’s just that I’m getting better at reading the complicated recipes but enjoying this blog I found this recipe on as it does seem to be mostly written in plain English.
Having read around I decided to use the mixer as the dough is quite sticky and needs a lot of mixing. After the first rise, the butter has to be massaged in. This bit was pretty sticky and hard work. One of the taste team spotted the bowl of butter waiting to go in and remarked wow that’s a lot of butter! He was right, it’s not a healthy recipe it’s a yummy one though and it is the holidays.
The dough was more workable after a second rise but still quite sticky.
Having made two trays of small brioche and still having dough left I thought I’d try a bigger loaf too in the loaf tin.
The small brioche spread more than I wanted them to but they all looked good. The taste team loved them, although they did remark they aren’t quite like the brioche we buy from the supermarket. Personally, I thought they were tastier!