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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Amazing Chocolate Pudding

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.

Sift:

1 cup plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons sugar

Add:

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

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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.

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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.

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Moments

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.

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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.

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Failing the challenge but not at life

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.

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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

3 Eggs

150g Butter

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.

 

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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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!

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.

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.

Perfecting a recipe

So very tired this week. Having a poorly child for a week really takes it out of you. Have massive admiration for people who have to combine parenting with paid employment elsewhere. I’m so fortunate to be able to take things at the pace I need to after being team-no-sleep for a week. Having said that, being able to get out of the house and miss the drama and tears involved in convalescing may also have its benefits. Today I’ve been a let down to my daughter as I have failed to take her to the pirate swimming pool, failed to let her play in the play area (after she said she didn’t want to until 2 minutes after we passed it) , failed to allow her to eat ice cream rather than her lunch and made her wait an unacceptable amount of time before going in the hot tub (yes we have a hot tub -please don’t judge us it came with the house).

So today I was baking with the kitchen assistant in the kitchen. Fortunately, she was occupied with her own project and let me have peace for working on my apple flapjack recipe. Full story in tomorrow’s special occasion blog. But for now here’s a sneaky peak. It’s very sticky!

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Right at the other end of the scale to the last lot of flapjacks this time I thought I would try to make flapjacks with no refined sugar taste as ‘normal’ as possible.

Made two lots one after the other.

Melt:

50g butter or coconut oil

2 Tbsp Honey

Mix in:

150ml apple sauce (mine is homemade just by peeling coring and chopping Bramley apples and cooking with a little apple juice until soft then whizzing up in the blender)

Then mix in 200g Oats

Place in lined tin and bake for 20-30 minutes at gas mark 5 (I used 4 but my oven is extra hot)

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The taste team (made to do a blind taste test) couldn’t really tell the difference between the butter ones and the coconut ones, they just thought both were very strongly apple flavoured and the butter ones even more so than the coconut.

I like them which is the main point, so far they’re not keeping me off the other item available with a lot of sugar in it but I think they have potential.