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!