Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Cake 2012

I decided to try a holly wreath cake this year. My cake is always quite moist (and when I mix it appears to be more nuts and fruit than cake!) and I think it was probably that which made it very difficult to cut out the central space!! The suggestion in the magazine was that the section you cut out could be iced as a separate mini-cake - yep, by the time I had managed to drag the cake out from the middle of the wreath, it looked nothing like a mini-cake. Still, gave me a great chance to sample it!!!!

The ready to roll icing worked very well, although it is a bit icing sugary (I needed that to stop it sticking to the rolling pin!) Just need to work on a way to make it look all lovely and glossy and not covered in my fingerprints!!!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The march of time

The headteacher at Zachary's school is retiring at Christmas and there was a whole-school disco in her honour this evening. Watching Zachary dance, with a total lack of self-consciousness and complete freedom just made me wish that I could keep him 4 and a half and that lovely for a bit longer...

On a slightly less maudlin note, a whole hall full of 4 to 7 year olds dancing Gangnam Style is totally hilarious!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Leigh bought a kite-making book recently. We made our own kites today and they were fab! Made from tissue paper and bendy bits of bamboo from a window blind (I kid you not. Apparently it's the only way you can buy bamboo reed) they were light as a feather and flew really well in the breath of wind we had this afternoon.

Took the boys to the park to fly them and actually had a satisfactory flying experience when neither of them broke (the kites, not my children). Which was a miracle. Looking forwards to the next ones now!!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

New chickens and new jungle gym!

We bought 2 more chickens today! So that brings us up to 5 with new Wolverine (Leo's choice of name - he would not compromise!)

and Princess Peach (it was a close call between that and Ms Marvel)

They are both lovely amber hybrids. The chicken lady also had some lovely bantams which Leigh was really keen on, but she advised that introducing bantams to an established flock of bigger birds would potentially be disasterous unless we had somewhere separate for the smaller birds to sleep (which we don't) - or we were building a flock from scratch and buying bantams and bigger birds at the same time. So big birds it was and lovely they are too. All the chucks are in for their first night together.

Leigh's dad also came round this afternoon to help build a new adventure area for the chickens to make the most of their new walk-in run. Here are some photos of the new arrangement and it's brilliant! The chickens love climbing up the big tree branch in the middle and Leigh's put some treats high up to encourage them to try to get to the higher levels. It looks great, they've not lost any floor space, just got some new climbing fun!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Om nom nom...

The breadmaker is going great guns - the onion bread came out the same second time around, despite the amendments I made, so that's how it's supposed to be! I've also made gingerbread cake (too salty but that was wholly user error!), apricot and almond bread, pesto and pine nut bread (yum!), banana and walnut teacake and tried a white 'sandwich' loaf rather than the straightforward white loaf. All lovely. Still lots more to try!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"If he'd had another life, he'd have rescored that bit"

Yep, first rehearsal for the next concert last night! It is good to be back at rehearsals, but it is the final sign that summer is over.

The next concert is in November - we're playing Strauss' Death and Transfiguration (which apparently Derek the conductor has "played a couple of times, but I've never conducted it. This is the first time I've looked at the score"), Schumann piano concerto and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique - about which Derek made the top comment - it was in relation to a particularly nasty passage of col legno (basically using the wood of the bow to make a tapping sound rather than the hair). He said that that passage is a mess, it always sounds a mess, whichever orchestra is playing it! And apparently Berlioz would have re-scored it if he could have!!!

Music is difficult but very atmospheric and will be ace.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Fun in the sun (or I am a child!)

We've just spent a couple of days with my sister and her family in Norfolk. Had a lovely afternoon at High Lodge in Thetford forest - the children all particularly enjoyed the wonderful music trail, and there were HUGE slides too.

Then back to Becks' house for a BBQ with my Mum, Chris and my Auntie Pat. All was going well until out of the blue my auntie says "Rebecca, do you trim your bush?" Cue momentous silence for a couple of beats until I realised she was talking about the decorative bay tree they have in the garden, with (and this is the honest truth) no idea about any other interpretation.

Seriously could not look at my sister or Leigh for fear of massive hysterical laughing and embarassing my auntie. Bless!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Two days down

School seems to be going remarkable well (touch wood!) - at least the first 2 days have been fine. Highlights appear to have been

discovering he's not the only Zachary in his class - he told this to me outside the classroom this morning behind his hand with a smirk as though he was telling me a naughty joke or something

being able to choose his lunch - this is a relief. We were wondering how the prospect of school dinners would go down - obviously our hope being that he will discover lots of new things he likes to eat. I think he's appreciating the difference between holiday club where there was no choice, and school where he feels like he can have anything he wants!

going out to play - not one, but two times (plus hand gesture)

being able to take a water bottle into nursery - he loves drinking it as we're walking along, must be the new status symbol...

and 2 stickers on his first day. Brilliant!

Keeping fingers crossed that we will get through this and next week with as good an attitude. Next week we start dropping him off at Breakfast club first thing in the morning and they will drop him off and pick him up from school - he seems remarkably matter of fact about it all at the moment. Now it's down to us not to make a big thing of it and just let him carry on as normal.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

First day of school baby!

So here is my wonderful eldest son off to his first day of big school. We got him there and managed to leave without tears (from any of the parties involved!) but it will all be a bit different for him - especially the having lunch at school bit.

Collecting him just after 3 - hopefully all has gone well.

Onion bread - not so great!

Onion bread - interesting! Opened the breadmaker this morning and to be honest, the top looked uncooked - no risen at all and still in the shapes and patterns of dough rather than bread. But it was all cooked - tasty, but quite dense.

As there's no piccie in the recipe book, it's difficult to know whether this is what the bread is supposed to turn out like or whether I've gone wrong. Talking about it with Leigh at lunchtime, we think 1 of 3 things may have happened, which may or may not have affected the bread - 1. my wholemeal flour has been in the cupboard a couple of months and may have lost its 'strongness,' 2. I didn't add any horseradish as we had none and maybe that gives the bread a bit of a lift - yeah, maybe! or 3. the liquid element of the mix may have met with the yeast before official mixing time, which is a no-no according to the book. I made the bread overnight, so clearly the mix was sitting around for a good 6/7 hours before the programme actually began and some of the water/oil may have seeped through.

Anyway, will rectify all these when I try this again and will just have to wait and see if I get a better result.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

New bling, new gadgets!

Lots of things have happened over the last couple of weeks - we have been to Ibiza with the in-laws (which was in no way as bad as it might have been and actually quite relaxing, save for the 3.30am start and 2am finish!), during which it was our 10th wedding anniversary. We swapped gifts before the holiday so that we didn't have to take anything with us - mine was a wonderful eternity ring. Simply lovely.

My Mum gave us some money for our anniversary which was to be used for something we wanted, but didn't necessarily need (and not for chickens!). After some deliberation we went for... a breadmaker! In an ideal world I would be sufficiently motivated to get up at 5.30am and make my own bread for the day, but given that we all live in the real world (and I can't do kneading - see my previous stabs at chelsea and hot cross buns...), the only realistic way we are going to regularly eat freshly made bread is with a breadmaker.

It is swish, elegant and lovely

We tried the rapid loaf the day we brought it home just to try it out, and then a full-time loaf overnight. The rapid loaf was fine, although came out a little pale on top, but the second loaf was much better

Onion bread is in the maker for tomorrow!! 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hello Miss Evelyn!

We've had a lovely day today at my aunt's house - my sister and her troups came along too so we met her new daughter Evelyn for the first time! She was born on 30th June at a massive 11 pounds 4 ounces! We've seen photos, but today was the first meeting and she is totally gorgeous...

Walk-In Run

We're having a bit of a change around with the chickens at the moment. We had got them living in an Egglu Cube, with the bottom third-ish of the garden fenced off for them to peck around in - having experimented with them having full run of the garden and watch it slowly turn into a grassless bog over the winter months, they have been confined to their own area for a while now!

But Leigh wants to get a bit of that garden back and has been thinking about a walk-in run for a while - we have finally gone for it! It's 3m x 2m on the ground but also 2m high, so although it feels as though they have lost some ground space, we can put large logs and things in so that they can climb and use the height of the new run as well. Leigh and I put the run together last night (which was reasonably straightforward if time-consuming - and we both have lots of insect bites to show for our efforts today!), then moved everything around today and the new one is in place - they still have the Egglu for night time and egg laying, but their daytime activities are all within the new run now. The bottom end of the garden doesn't need to be fenced off any longer and the whole area looks bigger just with the old fence gone.

The plan is to plant up some grass seed and also have a vegetable patch to reclaim the previously chickenified piece of garden.

Here's how it looked before...

Here's our handy helpers getting everything unpacked...

And how it looks now


Saturday, August 18, 2012


I've recently visited a couple of local attractions with the boys recently - both places which I have been to before and liked, but this time really impressed me!

The first was Nottingham Castle. Now, to be fair, I don't think I've actually been inside since I was at university (which was *cough cough* years ago!) but I had to drop my Mum off at Nottingham station last week and I thought it might be a good place to go for the morning before that. The gardens are lovely and there's a big open space where they have open air theatre productions, but also has some climbing structures and slides with a castle theme. Nice. Inside there are several displays and exhibitions, some which the boys weren't really interested in but there was well enough for us to have a good hour in there. The first room we went in displayed interesting and fascinating objects - and had a huge Noah's Ark display on one wall with lots of sounds to listen to and animals to find under the flaps.

In the long gallery with the painting exhibition (again in itself would not have captivated the boys),  they had added a sensory/musical element which had been designed by a local organisation for the disabled. There were huge square units which you could carry round a specified part of the gallery - when they came in range they would play different musical instruments, and holding 2 of them close together made a duet play. The boys very much enjoyed this, although the blocks were almost too heavy for them to carry!

There was a lovely room which had been decorated around a boat theme, with a boat reading corner (complete with sail overhead and clouds hanging from the ceiling), a unit with lots of different toys in drawers, some dressing up and some paintings to look at. It was really well done and we could have spent much longer in there exploring everything.

Finally in the basement (below the Story of Nottingham exhibition) they have a room called "Hood's in the Wood." The whole room is decorated as though it is a house in a forest, there's lots of snippets of information about Robin Hood, some TV bits (didn't really see what they were), a kitchen area to explore, lots of dressing up, some colouring and other things. Again it was extremely well put together, interested the boys and both Mum and I really enjoyed it too!

There was lots in the museum we didn't really look at, or only in passing, but it was still well worth the entrance fee and we could have spent much longer there. Definitely going back!

We've also been to Gulliver's Kingdom this week - it's a theme park set into a hillside at Matlock Bath. I have been there before - we took Zachary when he was about one and a half, so he was still relying on the pushchair a lot, and I was about 3/4 months away from giving birth to Leo. So my memories of that visit are that it was very hot, very steep, hard work and Zachary didn't go on very much.

However this visit was totally different - Leo and Zachary are both able to get themselves around now (with just a small amount of carrying for Leo!), and as they are both over 90cm tall, they can go on nearly everything (there were only 1 or 2 really big rides you had to be 120cm to go on) and did! I think the log flume was their favourite and as we started at the top entrance, we were able to work through the park going downhill most of the time, and then used the chair lift to go back up to the top and work down again to the entrance we needed! It worked brilliantly and was a great day.

Okay, so where else can we go and revisit now??!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Milky Fun

The other day we drove past a local park where a Fun Fair was advertised. Zachary read the signs and started asking if we could go - just as we passed the park however, we saw a milk float and both the boys were very excited - oddly!

Anyway, we planned to go to Gulliver's Kingdom yesterday, and to try and explain what it was like I said it was like a fun fair - Leo asks "with a milk man?" And now, everytime a fun fair is mentioned, Leo asks if there's going to be a milk man there! He's connected the 2 random events and now they are forever intertwined. He is lovely!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

2 days down

It has been an interesting and good start to working again.

I had been very apprehensive about starting - mostly because I wasn't sure how Zachary would take to the change in routine. In the past he has sometimes found it a little difficult to adjust to big changes - or at least it has taken some time for things to settle down, but fortunately he seems to really enjoy the holiday club at the private nursery we use and even got to touch a snake and a frog this afternoon (under carefully controlled conditions at 'Zoo Lab' of course!). There's also a pool table in the games room there so I think he's almost in heaven having 'snooking' on tap!

And that's not to say I wasn't nervous for Leo as well - it's just that he generally seems to be a lot more easy-going about changes and dealt with the transition to nursery about 6 months ago much more smoothly than Zachary did when he started at 2. But these are long days now - they're at the nursery 8 til 5, yet based on the 2 days they've had there, both of the boys seem to have settled well - and fingers crossed it continues. There's only 1 day left this week for me at work and then Thursday and Friday I'm with the boys. I do find I am missing them when I'm at work - but it's more that I want them there with me, than wanting to be back at home!

Otherwise, I am really enjoying being back at work although I had forgotten how dull inductions are! At least I haven't spent the first 2 days thinking I've made a huge mistake. I spent most of yesterday being shown systems and procedures, and finally managed to get stuck into some files today. It seems to be coming back to me and it almost (although not quite!) feels as though I haven't been away! It's refreshing to interact with people who don't know me as a mum and work with them on a wholly different basis, and I'm actually in charge of someone! It certainly seems at the moment that the firm had some problems with my predecessor, and I've got a lot of sorting out to do, but providing I'm well organised and proactive about the work, I should be okay. Hopefully things will continue as smoothly as the last couple of days - I've got 3 weeks at work now, then 2 weeks off. One of those weeks is a family holiday in Ibiza with the in-laws and the second week Zachary starts school - another new beginning.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

All change!

I have a job! Some brave firm has decided to employ me and although some of the details still need to be worked out, I'll be starting pretty soon, 3 days a week!

I'm very excited but very nervous too. I'm worried about having to put the boys in more childcare (especially Zachary - he is not good with changes to his routine, but he's familiar with the nursery we'd be using so hopefully that'll help), whether I've forgotten everything I knew, and also that there'll be an expectation on me to be coming in at a certain level of experience. The last 'new' job I had was as a trainee solicitor, so I wasn't expected to know or be able to do much at all, so this now makes me nervous, but hopefully it will all settle down. Also, a large part of this job will be working to expand the department and undertaking a lot of business development. This is not something that I've led before and although I have some ideas, I'm pretty new at the whole schmoozing game!

I found I was strangely emotional after I had the job offer but having had a bit of a cry and talked through some of my worries, I feel better about things now. But I must still be a bit anxious - had my anxiety dream last night. This is the only dream I have ever had which has recurred and it usually happens when I'm worried about something. In it, basically normal things happen until my teeth start getting wobbly and then fall out. It wasn't as bad as sometimes though, only 4 of my teeth this time!

Dinosaur birthday cake mark II

It's my friend's little girl's birthday party tomorrow and I've made her birthday cake today - quite pleased with the result, although the icing looks a little crumby in some places... But I'm happy with it and I hope the birthday girl is too!

I also made some of Mary Anne's melting moments today. This is my second attempt at them and I used margarine instead of butter to try and keep the mix to be piped a little softer. It worked for that but I forgot the vanilla essence and also I think they ended up slightly undercooked. The tops were golden brown, but they're a little stodgy in the middle which I think is just that my biscuits were too thick - need to use a smaller nozzle.

And yes, I used left-over dinosaur icing to fill them with!

Mud pies anyone??

The boys had some fun in the garden this afternoon whilst Leigh and I fulfilled our stereotypes - I was in the kitchen making a birthday and he was in the garden drilling and being manly!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Bubble painting

Aha, I knew it was about time for another example of my ineptitude as a mother! I thought it would be good to do some bubble painting with the boys the other day - you know, the kind where you blow through a straw into a paint and washing up liquid mixture and then rest some paper on top of the bubbles you produce. It's a really great effect and lots of fun. Mostly.

So I had prepared the first container of paint/water/washing up liquid. I (foolishly) put this in front of Leo and asked him to stir it. Zachary asked a question, I looked at him, looked back at Leo who was then pulling a face of complete disgust and had paint dribbling down his chin!

Aaaargh! He'd swallowed, so I made him drink some water and checked the back of the washing up liquid bottle. "If swallowed, seek medical advice immediately." Hmmm. Leo not vomiting or looking particularly ill so I decided against rushing him to ED, and phoned NHS Direct instead. Spoke to a very pleasant young man (look at me all grown up, describing people as 'young men!') who (while trying not to laugh at me, I think) confirmed that poster paint and washing up liquid are on their low toxicity register - phew! He gave me a bit more advice on what to do if Leo started to feel ill but all has been fine. Lesson learned!

Cutie pie chickens

It feels a little odd putting this directly after the last post, but Leigh took some photos of Rogue and Henrietta peck in the doorway to their house a few evenings ago - cutie pies!

Bye bye Bubbles

Sadly, the other of our original chickens, Bubbles, died over the weekend. She had been ill for a while and despite visits to the vets and some antibiotics, she simply deteriorated slowly and there wasn't anything else we could do. As we have now had 3 chickens die over a fairly short period, the vet offered to make some further investigations for us, so hopefully we can find out what was wrong - and if it's something to do with the living quarters then we can make any changes we need to.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Hello new chickens!

We have 2 new chickens! In fact we've had them for a week and a bit now, but our camera was out being repaired so I've only just caught up with photos.

Here are our new additions - Rogue

and Henrietta Peck.

Hex is still doing really well,

but Bubbles has been poorly for a while now. We're not really sure what it is, antibiotics haven't worked, and although she's eating some, it's not really enough. So we're waiting and seeing...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Peanut butter and white chocolate blondies

These are from Rachel Allen and she says in the intro "Tired of brownies? Try blondies!" They are very easy to make although came out quite heavy and dense (possibly slightly overcooked?). Not so much as to spoil them though!

1. Preheat oven to 170C/150C fan/325F/gas mark 3. Butter the sides of the cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a small bowl and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and peanut butter together until very soft. Add the sugar, egg and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Add the flour, baking powder and the chopped chocolate and mix to form a dough.

4. Place the dough in the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 25-30 mins or until golden brown and almost firm in the centre.

5. Allow to cool in the tin, before removing and cutting into squares.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Birthday party

I took Zachary to a friend's 4th birthday party today at a soft play centre in town. Highlights - the birthday boy being asked to leave the centre because he had been hitting other children (not party guests, and he just had some timeout in the car park) and finding my shoes filled with squash when I needed to put them on (thankfully only Crocs and nothing that could absorb the drink!)!

Friday, June 29, 2012

They come in threes

So, we've had Zachary's illness this week (he's well back to normal now), my sister was induced to have her baby today (although at time of typing we have had no news...!) and thirdly I've had a job interview this week.

I put my CV together and approached a recruitment agency back in January to start looking for work but up till this week I've heard nothing at all. I'd started to think nothing was going to happen, and then as we were driving to the hospital I had a call from the agency about a potential job in Burton-on-Trent! Talk about timing. Had an interview today and it seemed to go well - they've invited me back for a second interview which is great! I've started thinking about the changes this will mean for us and the boys if I was successful, but even if not at least I'm back in the saddle and have got the first interview out of the way. I have skills people want and hopefully can put the horrendous training contract interviews I had (the last time I had a formal job interview - about 10 years ago) out of my mind!!!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Viral wheeze

We've had an interesting couple of days with Zachary. I took him to the doctor yesterday as he had a cough and was wheezy and a bit breathless - she examined him, put him on a nebuliser and then because his improvement had not been good enough, we were sent straight to the hospital for more tests and monitoring! It all seemed so quick, but young children can deteriorate very fast.

We spent some time in paeds ED with Zachary being alternately nebulised and oxygenised, and then were sent to the children's assessment unit. Ended up having to stay overnight (which did not result in a huge amount of sleep due to machine alarms constantly going off, crying children and middle of the night inhaler administration!), but we're home now and all sorted. Zachary's got an inhaler for today and tomorrow but the hospital seemed confident it was a one-off event. The GP thought he had a chest infection, the first doctor we saw thought it might be due to a cold or hayfever, but the final registrar who saw Zachary this morning said it was a viral wheeze - sounds a bit odd, but apparently it's going around at the moment. Glad to be home and all well.

The only slightly bizarre thing was that each different doctor we saw took us through the whole history of our trips to the GP and hospital, despite (presumably), the previous doctor making notes in Zachary's record. It had the effect of us feeling slightly as though our stories were being checked at each stage and making us feel guilty for not bringing him in earlier ('HOW long did you say he'd been coughing?'!), although I'm sure that wasn't what was intended!

Waistcoats Revisited

So after some searching on the internet I found a good answer to my query - it appeared that I had turned the material inside out once too often. So having unpicked the 5 wrong seams, they have been redone properly and the waistcoats are all turned right way out!

I've made 2 so that I can offer a spare to the nursery and because they're lined, they're reversible too. Aha!

Zachary came home last week and asked whether he was allowed to wear eye make-up as a moustache for the concert - brilliant! (as long as I don't have to apply it anyway!)

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Humpf. Waistcoats. Zachary has been asked to provide one for a costume for his end-of-year concert at school, and after the success of Captain Jubilee and my lovely costume book, I thought I'd make him one. It was all going so well until I got to the instructions for sewing up the sides of the waistcoat - I couldn't really picture what they meant, and the illustrations didn't help! I tried a couple of ways which were definitely wrong and then found something which seemed to work...except I now can't turn the darn thing right way out. Poo. Defeated at the last step.

So, laptop at the ready to see if I can find any internet help, and unpicking tool charged, I am going to sort this out.

Hardwick Hall

Had a free afternoon today and the prospect of the boys running rings round us at home was not appealing, so we ventured forth to Hardwick Hall, making good use of our National Trust membership! It was only about 25 minutes from us so easily somewhere I can take the boys again for an afternoon and was great.

They've recently transformed the old stable block into a 2 shops, a kiosk and a restaurant (moving them from their original positions in the old kitchens of the 'New' Hall) and then there's an Upper and Lower Park to explore as well as the 2 halls. We didn't get to the parks today.

The 'Old' Hall is the house where Countess Elizabeth of Shrewsbury (or Bess of Hardwick, formerly one of Queen Elizabeth's ladies in waiting) was born, and the 'New' Hall was built y her during her lifetime and respresents her wealth and success in life. The gardens are lovely too. The Old Hall is partly demolished, but the skeleton remains and you can still climb the great staircase up to the roof. There are also parts of plaster panels left on the walls so you can imagine what the rooms could have looked like. There were reportedly 96 steps in the staircase, although on Zachary's count, he made 116!!

The New Hall is more of a traditional stately home, but being the National Trust, there were quizzes and trails for the boys to follow, a room with colouring pencils and paper, and dressing up opportunities in some of the rooms - Leo and Zachary looked particularly fetching in their ruffs and pearls! What a great afternoon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dinosaur cake

I have been asked by a friend to make a cake for her daughter's 5th birthday party. Her daughter is mad on dinosaurs, and searching the internet I found a few ideas (that I thought I could make!) - make a round cake into a dinsoaur face, or use the cake as a body and create a head and tail from icing/sugarpaste. There were lots with plain base cakes and lovely dinosaurs painted or iced onto them, and lots with lovely fondant models on them, but I'm sure my artistic skills are not quite up to that!

So I settled on this one...

It looked well within my skills and I found the template for the head and tail back on the original Betty Crocker website from which I think the recipe originated. There was also a recipe for the cake and frosting which I looked at eagerly, only to discover it suggested you use a Betty Crocker cake mix and ready-made frosting. I want to make my own!

I have had a practise run this evening -- made 4 8" Mary Berry chocolate sponges and sandwiched them together in pairs with white chocolate ganache (yes, not jam! Although I'm pretty sure I overwhipped the ganache at the final stage, which hopefully I can correct  for the final cake). I made my own buttercream frosting to cover the cake with and I think it's come out okay - I need to work on covering the cake a bit more as it's still a little crumby in places, and I found it quite difficult to cover some bits. But doing a 'crumb' layer of frosting and then freezing the cake for half an hour helped with the final covering, and overall I think this cake will work for the final event. I may need to go with 9" cakes to make sure we have enough and I have a focus group (my family and 4 friends!) testing the practice tomorrow for more feed-back. My main worry is that it isn't a 'proper' dinosaur, like a stegosaurus or something but I have sent a copy of this picture to my friend so hopefully she can let me know as well whether it'll be accepted!! Wish me luck!

Tosca Cake

Excited by another of Wotcha's recipes, I tried her Tosca cake today. It was an interesting make, as the cake is made by first melting the butter, then beating the eggs and sugar for at least 5 minutes before folding in the dry ingredients and finally mixing in milk and the melted butter. I think my tin was not really deep enough (despite being a 24cm tin as requested) as my cake rose to basically the top of the tin (and higher in the middle), before I added the caramel topping! I also think that I should have cooked the caramel on a slightly higher heat for a little longer to colour it more. The topping came out nice and golden at the edges but a bit pale in the middle - so actually if I had cooked the caramel for longer, the edges might have been too brown?

Anyway, the cake is lovely (slightly different texture to one of my usual all-in-one sponges) and the topping is delish. Sorry, still dodgy phone photos!

(a couple of days later, the cake is still good, the topping has gone slightly squidgy and chewy - not sure if this is supposed to happen or is an indicator that I didn't cook the caramel quite long enough)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Farewell Emma Frost

Sadly, another chicken has passed to the great henhouse in the sky. Emma Frost had been off her food for a couple of days and looking a bit tired, but we didn't realise how poorly she was. Bubbles had also been looking a bit peaky so we whisked her off to the vet yesterday. Although no definite diagnosis was found, another dose of antibiotics later and she seems to have picked up again - at least she's back to bullying Hex again about food! Hex meanwhile has been her usual self the whole time, honking round the garden, producing dinky little eggs and generally being a massively greedy beggar!

Bye bye Emma Frost (she's the one on the left)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Successful...and not so much!

I have tried another of Mary-Anne's recipes recently - her Apple Crumble Cheesecake bars. They are essentially the raspberry oat slices which I have made previously, but with fruit puree instead of jam and a cheesecake layer in the middle. They are very lovely...although I did manage to use my food processor, blender (for the puree) and Kitchen Aid all in one sitting so pretty heavy on machinery. But that may just be because I'm lazy! Here's her recipe, and my photo...

You will see that her bars appear to have a thinner layer of cheesecake than mine...I put this down to her using her favourite 20cmx25cm tin, whereas I stuck to my 20cmx20cm tin...

Then today I tried out a new couple of dishes for dinner. Now my boys (my sons that is, I am not including Leigh in this!) are not the most adventurous of eaters - that is, they like what they know and they know what they like! Leo has always been better at trying new things than Zachary and it has taken us a good while to expand our usual run of dinners out from beans on toast, homemade chicken burgers and homemade fish cakes. There are now a reasonable variety of dinners which we can all share and don't make Leigh and I feel as though we're eating the same 7 dinners every week (although toad in the hole and tuna pasta bake feature quite frequently!).

This has led to us not really trying new dinners any more, or at least if they are new, basing them around a staple which the boys like and will eat readily. So the Good Food magazines we get each month are mainly used by us for the cakes and treats, and sometimes bread. I regularly tell myself that I will try to cook one new dinner each week and I regularly fail at this. But tonight I took the bull by the horns and we had sweetcorn and sweet potato burgers with courgette fritters; the reasoning being that the boys like sweetcorn and they can eat the burger buns if the burgers are not popular, and they like pancakes - the fritters are basically just savoury pancakes with courgette in them.

Well, the burgers tasted great (thanks to Leigh who put them together yesterday) but were still an incredibly soft consistency even after being in the fridge overnight so it was a bit like eating mashed potato in a bun. But not a disaster, and the fritters were good too (despite the fact I forgot to season them...sweet chilli dipping sauce anyone?).

Leo managed a fritter (admittedly it was with a BBQ sauce dip...) and a couple of mouthfuls of the burger, although he did announce when he saw it that he didn't like potatoes. Our usual tactic with this is to tell them that it's just the middle of chips and that has had some limited success. Not tonight. Zachary wore his "I'm only eating this because there might be some pudding in the offing if I do" face for the entire meal (except when he was eating the bread), rubbing his eyes constantly as if to emphasise the effort he was making with a dinner which was really not all that nice. He had a couple of bites, but pretty much gave up when he heard there was to be no pudding tonight. Oh well, at least he's getting past the stage where he tries something new, claims to like it and then when he's presented with it a second time, looks really pained at having to eat it!

So, fritters worth a go for a second time (Leigh and me only!), burgers probably not so - tasted good, but consistency just too soft. Onwards and upwards!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cake and Muffins

My 3-cheese muffins (which are best day of baking!)

And a football birthday cake for my step-father (the space at the end was deliberate - for candles!)

3-Cheese Muffins :

150ml sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
1 large egg
284ml carton of buttermilk, made up to 350ml with milk
500g self-raising flour
1 tsp English mustard powder
140g mature cheddar, grated
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
small bunch chives, chopped
25g Parmesan, grated
200g full-fat soft cheese, gently diced into 2cm cubes

1. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6 and oil a 12-hole muffin tin. Whisk the oil, egg and buttermilk. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour, 1 tsp salt, and mustard powder, then stir in the cheddar, spring onions, chives and half the Parmesan.

2. Use a large spoon to gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry - don't overmix, just lightly combine. With the final few folds, mix in the soft cheese cubes. Spoon the mixture between the holes in the tin (they will be quite full), scatter with the remaining Parmesan and bake for 25 mins.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cheese muffins

I have just made a batch of 3-cheese and chive (ahem - should have been with spring onions too...but least said, soonest mended!) muffins. These were a little bizarre going in - I usually expect a muffin mix to be basically runny, but this was pretty stiff, almost like a soft dough. I don't know whether it was to do with the consistency or I'm not generous enough, but what was supposed to yield a batch of 12 regular muffins has given me 12 regular muffins and 15 mini muffins. Nice. Leigh suggested that they might not rise beyond the shape they were in the oven and he was right! Just sampled one - very nice, although the third cheese (soft cheese like Philadelphia) gives the inside a slightly strange texture and it's difficult to tell whether they're properly cooked because the soft cheese is keeping everything nice and moist. Oh well, just have to see what the troops think of them at lunchtime!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Twice as nice, coconut ice!

Here are the sweetie photos from the weekend as promised!

Interestingly I think the coconut ice was the most popular choice. I chose it for the twin benefits of being pink (and fitting with the charity theme) and because it was easy and no-cook. I wasn't sure how well it would go down as you don't tend to see it around much and you have to pretty much love coconut to eat it! But I reckon 75-80% of the ladies who came through our watering hole on the 9th said that they loved coconut/they hadn't had coconut ice for years/their aunt/grandmother/mother/uncle used to make it for them. Very glad I chose it!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Sweetie time!

Its the big golfing do tomorrow - hopefully the rain will hold off! But the good news is that all the sweets are prepared and ready to go. Very glad I didn't need to do them all last minute (made the coconut ice about a week and a half ago) and also very glad I opted out of having to boil sugar for them!

So we have 80 pieces of coconut ice, 80 dark chocolate truffles and 80 mini strawberry meringues. The meringues were the ones I was most doubtful about but they look and taste good, I only needed 4 egg whites to make over 80 meringues and I have (more or less) successfully managed to drizzle white chocolate over them! I want to post some photos, but our camera lens has gone kaput and we've had to send it away for repair. I'm hoping to be able to upload some dodgy phone photos tomorrow once all's done.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Jubilee Weekend

It has been a weekend of celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee - especially good with the extra Bank Holidays. While I quite like the Queen and the monarchy with all its history, we haven't actually done anything Jubilee'y as a family (except getting Zachary dressed up on Friday), but have still had a great weekend.

We spent Saturday and Sunday down in Norfolk with my sister, her family and my Mum. My sister is very pregnant, due on 15th June, and I saw this as our last chance to see her before things start happening! Also, she probably won't want overnight visitors as soon as the baby is born! It was also a good opportunity for us to drop off our old Moses basket and baby activity mat for them - aha, more space upstairs (although Zachary did say to Leigh's mum today that he would like a baby brother or sister - he said he would move over and share his bed with them. Ahhhhh. ). Watched The Inbetweeners film too - very, very funny ("it'll be a 50 Euro fine. Each time"). We were going to a Jubilee carnival on the Sunday but rain too bad and ended up just having a lovely pub lunch instead.

Yesterday we journeyed out to Bosworth Field - slightly apprehensive that it might be a bit dry and dull. Thankfully, how wrong were we! The reason we chose this particular attraction is that it's on the Leicestershire Stay, Play and Explore ticket which is excellent value, it's the only 1 of the 5 we haven't yet been too...and which will still let us in with the ticket on a Bank Holiday!

So Bosworth Field is the site of the (now named) Battle of Bosworth, which was virtually the final battle in the War of the Roses. It was the battle which saw the end of King Richard III of the House of York - defeated by the forces of Henry Tudor. I vaguely remember bits of this from history at school, but had got a lot of it confused in my mind - fortunately the excellent guided tour sorted it all out. The exhibition was very interesting (mental note to go back when the boys aren't with us and actually read some of the displays), and there was enough to keep the boys occupied - lots of interactive exhibits and some treasure hunts to solve on the way. There was also a Living History area outside (rain held off!) where King Richard and his soldiers marched around and made proclamations, and you could visit and ask questions of the wise woman (and all her potions and herbs) and the fletcher (not sure if that's the right name - arrow maker), have a peek inside King Richard's tent and watch a great archery display (while hearing lots of people sneer at Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!).

Today we went with Leigh's mum and dad to a spot they used to take Leigh and his brother to - Bradgate Country park. Fab - we parked by the entrance which leads to Old John's Tower, walked up to that, on past the war memorial, then we spotted some deer and walked further down past them, back round past the "magic" pond and then out to the car again. About an hour's walk, lovely scenery and Zachary managed it all (Leo didn't!). Another place we shall be returning to - a bit more rugged and interesting looking than some other Country Parks we have visited and there was lots we saw off in the distance in the Park which we didn't have time to explore today. Apparently there are 3 entrances, so we shall have to explore the others...not to mention the Visitor Centre and tea rooms which we didn't find today either!

Friday, June 01, 2012

Captain Jubilee!

Zachary had a red, white and blue day at nursery today to celebrate the Jubilee - meet the Captain!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chocolate, hazelnut and salted caramel tart

(Good Food Magazine April 2012)

I have been wanting to try this since we received the magazine and as we have friends over for dinner tonight, it seemed like a good opportunity!

Wasn't too bad to make, although (and I'm blaming this on the heat!) the pastry was still very soft and sticky even after half an hour in the fridge. I could roll it out, but it was too soft to lift, and when I tried to just turn my rolling out board upside down over the tin to kind of drop it in, it just stuck to the board and needed scraping off! So I put the pastry in as a lump and pushed it out with my hands. Consequently I suspect the pastry layer is going to be quite thick!

I'm not sure I got the caramel quite right either - the recipe said to let the sugar/water mixture boil until it was amber coloured, which I did, but the final caramel (after adding butter, cream and golden syrup) looked a bit pale...

Finally on the 'should have done better' notes, the topping has come away from the edges of the pastry as it has cooled so I think I may also have slightly overcooked it. I found it very difficult to tell whether the topping 'had formed a crust' so to be safe I left it in a few more minutes - I suspect possibly a few too many! Still, it looks and smells great and my husband says the pastry tastes good so we'll see how we go.

I bought some vanilla ice cream to eat with it so we have a back-up pud!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The French Concert

It's not something I've mentioned very much on this blog, but I play viola with the Nottingham Symphony Orchestra, and I love it! I'm not an amazing player (very definitely an orchestral player rather than a soloist!) but I think of myself as being a solid player and I can count well, so I usually know where I am in the music! This has been particularly helpful for the last few concerts, as by dint of some strange confluence of events, I have ended up on the front desk next to the leader... Very scary especially as I have to turn the pages of the music for us so I really need to know exactly where I am all the time.

This is usually fine, except for this concert, our main piece was the music for the ballet Daphnis & Chloe. This is a piece not performed very often - and having played it I can see why! The score is complex, meaning both the players and the conductor have had issues sorting out where we are at any given time. When we did the first play through, I found it incredibly scary as I had very little idea where I was in the music most of the time (let alone being able to play it), and consequently fluffed a load of page turns. This terror continued through a large number of the rehearsals, but by the time of the concert, fortunately I was much more slick!

So, back to the concert - it was a break from our usual programme of overture, concerto, symphony, and we were joined by 3 local choirs and a huge number of percussionists, including a wind machine, and 2 harpists. We played 5 smaller pieces and then Daphnis & Chloe. So picture the scene - Friday night's rehearsal, we only have 1 rehearsal left after this before the concert, it's only the 2nd rehearsal with the percussion and the first rehearsal with the choirs, the harps and the solo violinst for Tzigane. We have had 2 intervening concerts between our last main one and this one, so rehearsal time has been slightly limited anyway and each week we've been practising Daphnis, the conductor has been looking more and more panicked at the amount of work still needed. We have already weathered one crisis to find a replacement celeste player as ours had dropped out! Okay? So not a stressful rehearsal at all.

We started with the Royal Hunt and Storm (Berlioz) - half-way down the first page the thundering timpani were nowhere to be heard. The percussionist for those particular timpani (we had 3 sets for the concert - 2 off-stage!) had not turned up and hadn't given her music to anyone else. Nice. Pavanne (Faure) went well and is beautiful with the choir. As we started Daphnis it came to light that the alto flute player had lost her flute. She turned up without flute having searched everywhere - conductor slowly turning purple. At a pre-arranged time, the concert venue had tea ready for everyone downstairs. Conductor wanted to press on, but he was advised we had to stop. Huffing and puffing, he let us go for a break but you could see he wasn't happy! And then the choir wanted to rehearse a huge section all again. Through gritted teeth the conductor agreed. At this point it's 10 to 10, we have rehearsed 3 and a half of the 6 pieces we are due to play, and the conductor says that he 'just wants to go over the orchestra only bits in Daphnis and then run through Bolero.' The sigh rippling through the room was audible!

Fortunately the concert was stupendous - everything went very well and I enjoyed it all! Roll on the next one.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Have box, will...squeeze myself into it even if it's a bit too small!

Hoorah! We have some sun at last this year - and to celebrate, the gazebo went up for the first time yesterday. And the box was left to its own devices on the lawn. Enter Leo.

Leo enjoys crawling in box, which means Zachary has to have a go - bit of a squish!!!




But wait! There he is outside the box! So who's in now??

It's Leo again - blimey, it's like some kind of magic trick!!!