Friday, 14 June 2013

Four years ago today....

It amazes me that in four years, my daughter has changed from the babes in arms, completely dependent, chubby little sweetheart into the bundle of energy, talkative, caring little girl that she is today. I know that I have also changed in those four years but I look at her and am just in awe... not because she is the cleverest (which of course she is!), or the most advanced (again, goes without saying!) but just because she is her own person who has her own ideas, her own imagination and most of all, knows her own mind. It might not be of the same as mine that often, but I wouldn't change her for the world!

Children are ace and I know just how lucky I am to have two, such special people in my life so, at the risk of switching everyone off my blog for life, I just want to record it now that they are two of the funniest, sweetest and loopiest people ever and by far, my most favourite!

The last time I threw a birthday party for my daughter at home, it was carnage - think every toy in the house out, food walked into every square inch of the house, broken stuff, kids just everywhere! I was determined not to repeat it but you can't not celebrate, especially when you're four! I even went a bit baking mad and made four different delights; lemon and blueberry muffins, coconut macaroons, millionaires shortbread and for the birthday girl, Devils Food Cake! I was up until silly o'clock last night but completely worth it - you can almost see them all in the picture at the back right, minus the birthday cake which I need to download!

I have been quite slack in all other cooking areas lately - haven't made bread for ages and the soup has been off the boil a little too! In my defence, life has really kicked in lately and I am pooped as well as not seeming to have any time. But I might have to knock something out this weekend although am currently trying out the 5:2 diet (where you fast for a couple of days a week). It's supposed to help  you lose weight round your middle as well as improve your defences against dementia and the like. So far, so good - I should probably get some scales to see if it's having any effect though..

Right, it's late - I'm waffling.

If we didn’t have birthdays, you wouldn’t be you.
If you’d never been born, well then what would you do?
If you’d never been born, well then what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!

You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.
Or worse than all that… Why, you might be a WASN’T!
A Wasn’t has no fun at all. No, he doesn’t.
A Wasn’t just isn’t. He just isn’t present.
But you… You ARE YOU! And, now isn’t that pleasant!
Happy Birthday To You!

Dr Seuss

Monday, 20 May 2013

Veggie Cakes and all things Rocky!

It was a busy week in my world last week, hence why I'm a bit behind in my posting. I am also, as you will see, a bit behind in my baking as well but not being the hardened drinker that I used to be, one night on the tiles pretty much rules out the rest of the weekend.

It is the Rocky Horror Picture Show's 40th Anniversary this year (I know!!) and so it felt right to reunite with some fellow fans and head to the tour. Oh, what fun - it's been a long time since I have let myself loose quite so much, helped of course by being dressed up and having a rather healthy dose of red wine before, during and after (not forgetting the vodka once that all ran out). Here are two of my favourite images of the night of two of my favourite people (sorry, lovelies!):

BEFORE:                                                          AFTER:

                   THE END!

As you can imagine, suffered somewhat following and so the weekend was spent sorting out the house and generally rehydrating myself. On the baking front, I took on the challenge posed by my Facebook group, to make something with beetroot. Really not something I have ever even tried before, let alone baked with but, you gotta try these things. I chose a Beetroot Seed Cake and whilst it wasn't completely right (half got stuck in the tin and it's a little bit crumbly), it tastes really good and I LOVE the addition of how crunchy the seeds make it. I will be doing that again!

I managed to knock up some soup for the week too - some Thai style Chicken Noodle. Another first for me, cooking with coconut cream, but has a really nice heat to it which you notice and does make your nose slightly stream but doesn't make your mouth hurt. Really unusual, but pretty typical of thai food - well, the stuff I've eaten anyway!

That was about the total of it this week so in the coming week, I am going to up my game by cooking something very egg based (the challenge) to which I have an idea, as well as a treat for my work team and perhaps something with my daughter as we're home based this coming weekend - although have to fit it around two birthday parties and a visit from another old friend. My social life has never been so full, hmmmm!

To sign off with another one of my favourite people:

"What is there to forgive?. . .Ignore forgive and concentrate on living. Life for you is short; far too short to allow small jealousies to infringe on the happiness which can be yours only for the briefest of times."
Jasper Fforde

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Why do I leave it all until Sunday night?

Title says it all really - I am still in the throes of baking which isn't ideal seeing as I have the school run, work and the dentist to contend with tomorrow! Ah well - you're only young onc.. oh, wait a minute!

Life this week has been pretty hard but good in places. Things are still tough on the separation front - but for those who've been there, done that.. I think it always will be. With children, it's the hardest thing knowing that no matter what, the person that changed it all will be in the rest of your life whether you really want it or not.. and at times this week, it was a definite 'not'. Facebook has an awful lot to answer for!

On the plus side, weekend with the kiddies and so we ended up going to the funfair in town where for a small entrance fee, all the rides were free and you could meet the legendary Peppa and George Pig. Of course, weather was shite so we were either frozen, windswept, wet or all three. Kids had fun - have discovered my son does not take being removed from the kids carousel (you know the ones with buses and motorbikes and taxis on them!) well at all.. Luckily it was towards the end of the day so we just stayed on... for what felt like forever! Luckily, instead of the normal banging tunes, the guy in charge was playing 'Help' by the Beatles so I could sing along!

On the baking front, well - it's been a busy one. I belong to a rather excellent group on Facebook called 'Whats for Dinner Mum' (I have no idea how to link to groups on FB, so I do apologise in advance if you end up nowhere!) and the last couple of weekly challenges have been baking orientated, so have given them a whirl..

The swiss roll challenge didn't go badly except I used the wrong flour - I through in loads of strong bread flour instead of nice floaty light self raising flour - so it worked and looked ok'ish but wasn't especially airy like it should be! Kids ate it though which I would say is a good sign, but they will eat almost any form of cake! This week was scones and I thought I'd try savoury.. hmmm - not my finest hour but they tasted ok (cheese and parsley ones in case you're interested!) but I wasn't sure if scones work like cakes - in that once the oven is opened, they sink like stones? I think they look a bit anaemic and could've done with a little bit longer... Next week, beetroot - uhm....

For me, I made tomato soup (well, mediterranean tomato soup except I didn't have plum tomatoes and forgot the onion), florentines for my friends at work and some sticky date flapjacks for the kids. I haven't tried the flapjacks yet - still baking - but am actually a bit concerned as the middle went sort of like tar. I am hoping they taste better than they looked before they went in.. actually they should be done about now! Do you like the way I tried to make my 'too big' baking tin, the right size.

Anyways, enough waffling! I made the 'mistake' of getting my daughter a Dr Seuss compendium for Xmas (from my son) so bedtime now takes twice as long as I tongue twister my way through such delights as 'Fox in Socks', 'The Sleep Book' and my personal favourite, 'If I owned the Circus'  - Sneelock makes that story the best of the bunch. I am delighted my daughter seems to love a good book though as:

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” 
Anna Quindlen

Sunday, 5 May 2013

I'm back - better than ever!?

It has been four months since my last post as things in my personal life went a  bit haywire.

 If you read my last one, I was planning for my husbands 30th birthday, full of the joy of Christmas and had just finished celebrating my sons 1st birthday. The day before New Year, my husband decided he didn't want to be a part of our family anymore and left and it's been a bit of an uphill battle ever since.

I am blessed to be surrounded by lovely, genuine friends as I have found it incredibly hard to pick myself back up - I might come across as cold to those who know my husband, but this is a desperate self-defence mechanism to stop myself breaking down. It still hurts - a lot - but I need to move on, if not for me then for my fabulous children!

So, as you can probably tell - this blog is going to be more personal than before, less stats and facts based and more a way for me to express myself as well as allowing me to waffle on about baking and the like!

I never did make a birthday cake for my husband. In fact, I didn't bake for weeks or try anything new - just got by! However, a few weeks ago, the 'creative' part of me decided enough was enough and I needed to get back into it. And I have branched out!!

I now try to make soup on a weekend too as this gives me lunch for the week and saves me spending lots of money in the work canteen. So far, I have managed Beef Ghoulash, Mushroom and, my favourite Mulligatawny. On the stove as I write is the beginnings of Cocky Leeky - we'll see how that goes. It's interesting though as I have never been that into soup before but I find making my own, makes the difference and, provided it doesn't have half a ton of cream, it's even quite healthy!

I have also started focussing on making some bread to go with my soup. I am not very confident in this area - AT ALL - but I have tried a few things - the oddest of which was some Gorgonzola, Walnut and Pear rolls (a la Paul Hollywood)... I love Paul but I think the pear was a step too far! Yesterday, I made baguettes - and when I pulled them out the oven they were sooooo good - crunchy and fluffy, oh soooo good! Today, less so - in fact a little bit chewy really [sad face!]

As to sweet stuff - as I don't have the children this weekend (we're doing every other weekend), I am going to try and make a couple of bits... Florentines for work and a nice, bog standard Swiss Roll for me and the kids. I bought myself a new tin for the swiss roll - it can't just be me who loves browsing the kitchen aisle in Asda! - but discovered yesterday it doesn't fit in my oven properly.. I will have to cobble something together with a loaf tin and some strategic balancing!

Right - I think I've gone on enough to be honest! So to sign off:

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

Friday, 28 December 2012

Fa la la la laaaaa

Most festive greetings to you – and not sure about the rest of you buy it still feels like Christmas in this house. This is, of course, helped by the fact it was my son’s first birthday today and so we had another fun day of opening presents, eating nibbles for tea and looking at some of the presents for my children and going ‘I don’t remember who gave her that?’ Everyone has been so generous this year and I got some cracking bits and pieces – lots and lots of baking books, you’ll be pleased to hear. Including a nice ‘set’ of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood – amazing!!

I have a plethora (yes – finally got to use it!) of images of my baking so far this week as not only last week’s Lemon Drizzle came out but also my Plum Pudding from a good few moons ago as well as my son’s birthday ‘cake’. The Lemon Drizzle was pretty full on actually as it didn’t rise as much as I was hoping it would so the syrup was really concentrated and I put on too much icing – although that was delicious! I think most people liked it and we certainly had more on Boxing Day. The Plum Pudding was pretty bloody lovely, if I do say so myself. It might look charred but it’s not – and it was surprisingly light (Xmas Pud can be soooo stodgy!) and crunchy and I was pretty chuffed with it. I also had more on Boxing Day. Finally, the most favourite thing I have made my son so far was the Millionaire Shortbread – I have never seen someone so little, ramming it in so fast because he just LOVED the taste that much! Given the indulgences of the last few days, I toned it down a bit and made chocolate chip shortbread. It was pretty nice but not as crumbly as I’d hoped and my son didn’t go quite as wild (although he has been eating solidly for the last three days which might explain it!). Tasty, though my cookie shaping skills need work – the smaller ones were cut into the shape of his name but when I cooked them, they just became this big slab! Ah, well J

So to my weekend bake – I don’t honestly know except it will technically be a week bake as am off to the rugby on Sunday. I’ll be seeing Saracens v Northampton Saints in Milton Keynes and it will be the first premiership rugby match I’ve been to. I went to see Pontypridd once when I lived there, but that is my total rugby experience – so bring it on! It’s my husband’s birthday next week so I think I will do something he fancies so for once, this will be a surprise for all of us at the moment!
So to end..
“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.”
Mary Ellen Chase

Friday, 21 December 2012

When you have lemons, make...

It’s the final week of Strictly and I am sort of excited about it... am pretty sure I still want Kimberley and the gorgeous Pasha to win but would be happy with ABD (anyone but Denise) which is probably a bit mean but I just can't warm to her at all. Am also very excited as I have two weeks of holiday coming up and I honestly can’t wait. Last couple of weeks have been really tough and I am ready for a break. It’s actually been a good week as I got to meet the rest of my team at work. Since our most recent restructure, we’ve been split between Eastleigh & York so it was fab to finally meet face to face. Such a lovely bunch – and Secret Santa was good to me too (yuuuum, jelly beans!)

Well, the ole Vanillekipferl turned out ok if a little unexciting. I don’t think it was helped by the fact they didn’t quite look the part – they were more open ended brackets than crescent moons.. think I took the whole ‘roll into a sausage’ part of the recipe a bit too literally! They were tasty enough though, but just like vanilla ice-cream – whilst it’s nice and does the job of an ice-cream, I would never pick it over mint choc chip or honeycomb (oh, goodness – I now want ice-cream in the middle of a cold, wet snap!)

Lemon Drizzle Cake is on the menu this weekend – it’s wanted for Christmas and I’m quite looking forward to baking it. A lady I used to work with used to make the most amazing drizzle cake – she really should have marketed it. I wish I knew her secret but am going to follow a Jamie Oliver recipe which I’ve tried once before and it turned out ok. I’d like it to turn out amazing this time though, so need to find me some poppy seeds and a decent juicer.
And Boy! - hasn’t it been drizzling! Kind of hope it’s not too wet for Christmas and I know there won’t be snow but an icy cold, dry winter’s day would be nice. Still not feeling as festive as I’d like but am hoping that once the weekend hits and we’re only a day or two away, it’ll kick in.

So, brace yourselves people, this could be your last chance to sample my wonderful blog seeing as, according to the ancient Mayan culture – today is the end of the world!!  Or at least there will be a catastrophic event like Earth heading towards a black hole at the centre of the universe, or colliding with the Planet Nibiru (or Planet X, depending on your fancy). Apparently, this collision was prophesised by a lady with regular contact with extra-terrestrials through a communication chip implanted in her head as a child.
Personally, I like to follow the more New Age interpretation that this dates marks the time in which Earth and all who sail on her undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation with today marking the start of a new era. Trying not to come over all philosophical but:

“They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”
Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)



Friday, 14 December 2012

That's the way the cookie crumbles...

With only three weeks left until the final, it felt like it was time for Nicky to leave Strictly Come Dancing this week. If I’m honest, I am quite shocked at just how long he stayed in given that he didn’t really seem that great although I suppose his improvement since that first week was pretty marked. I know his partner, Karen, was new to the show and I hope she’s back (as does my husband who thought she was a schmoking hottie – a la Charlie Sheen) although she did remind me of a vampire.  I’ve kind of got my teeth bared right now as am watching the Masterchef Professionals Final – I saw about three episodes right at the start and then last night when they went to the Fat Duck, so have no favourite but will say all the food looks and sounds delicious! Not sure about stinging nettles and ox heart but I love the sound of Keri’s pistachio cake (will pretend she’s not using olives!) with marshmallows, raspberries and white chocolate parfait – oooo yum!

On to my baking and my first ever attempt at both choux pastry and piping! Well, I wouldn’t say it was a 100% success, probably close to about 78% - as you can see from the wonderful picture here, they almost looked like proper eclairs and they definitely tasted like them. But for some reason, my pastry didn’t really puff up like it was supposed to – not sure why that was but maybe it had to do with my piping in that I didn’t make my sausages thick enough or perhaps as my piping set didn’t come with quite the right nozzle, maybe that had an effect. Ah well – choux pastry is surprisingly easy to make so will have to practice some more, but think profiteroles might be my next attempt.

However, for this week I think I’m going to stick to something quite simple – simple yet totally irresistible, I hope. I will be creating Vanillekipferl, which are Viennese biscuits normally made around Christmas time which are crescent moon shaped and (hopefully) light and scrumptious! It uses icing sugar instead of regular castor sugar to make it melt in the mouth and provided I can make them look pretty, am hoping to kick start the festive feasting in the Stewart household; not that we ever truly hold back but it really feels like Christmas this week, now we’ve got the tree up, so bring on the over-eating, tummy busting few weeks. I did win three months with a personal trainer at a recent charity ball which I will kick start in January so am using that as an excuse to let myself go over Christmas – and why not!

We were lucky enough to have an Olympian visit our offices this week – the rather attractive Andrew Osagie. What an absolutely lovely man – one of those rare people you meet that as soon as they start talking, you’re at ease and could stand talking to them all day. The drive and desire within him to the best at what he does (the 800m, in case the name doesn’t sound familiar) and his self-belief was pretty awe-inspiring – but then, that’s why he competes at the elite level and is the British No1. I am so sad to see Aviva end their sponsorship as it means, on a purely selfish level, no more opportunities like this, but wider, the foundations that have been laid through the grass roots programmes and opportunities for raw talent to be nurtured through working closely with the ambassadors like Dame Kelly may also be lost.. here’s hoping that’s not the case and we can all feel as proud after Rio 2016 as we did after London this summer.
To make myself feel better about my lifestyle after listening to Andrew, I thoroughly concur with the following sentiment:
“I am not a glutton - I am an explorer of food”

Erma Bombeck


Friday, 7 December 2012

Flash of Lightening!

Finally, we see the last of Michael Vaughan on Strictly this year… As soon as he was in the dance off, it was clear he would go and I can’t even remember who he was against! Oh yeah, Nicky who must surely be next. Although I’m looking forward to this fusion business – although I don’t really know much about it as have always been distracted whenever they’ve talked about it. Has anyone else found it all a bit mediocre this year – DvO seems to have it nailed even though she just seems to be really unpopular on the few forums and blogs I read. I still like Kimberley and Pasha but if Louis starts to show a bit of himself (personality wise, of course!) he could be a contender!

Lots and lots of little gingerbread men – my cutter was so small that I only had room for one raisin for a button and had to use currants for eyes (which kept falling off!) And despite me raving about black treacle last week, the recipe didn’t call for it – I misread dark brown sugar??! I do love gingerbread and this was pretty good but I definitely need a new cutter, a nice big metal man!

I am going to try something very new to me this week which uses a piping bag which is something else I’ll be new too! Chocolate ├ęclairs – oooh, lovely soft choux pastry and gooey cream with a nice thick chocolate topping. I might be being a bit ambitious to tell the truth but there doesn’t seem much to it and so I thought, why not?  And guess who is credited with creating this fabulous treat – none other than Antonin Car├¬me, the chef I wrote about in my first blog!

I have largely stayed away from book ‘crazes’ since Harry Potter and have tended to read a lot of crappy holiday type novels and some good old murder mysteries; got the most recent Susannah Gregory book from the library this week featuring lots of monks trying to off each other – fantastic. Anyway, I haven’t read Shades of Grey or Twilight or the like, but I did start to read The Hunger Games this week and I am so enjoying it. I knew the premise and didn’t expect to get sucked in but it is great and I would wholeheartedly recommend it – been keeping me up a bit too late these last few nights. Just keeps getting better and better. Ok, so that’s enough gushing.

I was out last night at my work'sChristmas do and had a blast. Slightly wish there had been slightly less practically naked, 'here is my arse looking pretty in a thong' women dancing around and maybe a slight balance with some men in sparkly headresses and pouches (at least last year there was one man involved even though he was camper than Kylie!) But it was the first works do in a long time where I've really cut loose and had belly aching fun at - so thank you Aviva! And in celebration of all festive hangovers and and the feasting that Christmas always brings:

"I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food."

WC Fields

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Run, run as fast as you can!

Well it was about time that poor old Victoria was put out of her misery really although, as always, I was sad to see Brendan go. She always seemed on the brink of some sort of breakdown and for fellow followers of the Mighty Mighty Monk Seal blog, officially my favourite blog EVER, I will miss her little dramas and crises but she was way short of the fellow competition – even bloody Michael Vaughen!! Surely, surely, surely this week is his time to leave – SURELY!

Anyway, back to the bake! The pumpkin pie was a lovely return to form – I was so pleased as had had some dreadful weeks following the dis-arse-ter that was the plum pudding and haven’t been enjoying dragging out the ole bowls and scales every weekend. However, the pie was yum, yum, yum – oh, so good! Quite reminiscent of custard tart, it is one I will be making again – even the pastry worked and was buttery and ‘flaky’ and very moreish!
Right, enough wax-lyrically about my pie. Am in the mood for some childish treats this week so am going back to one of my favourite things – gingerbread men! I will admit I have probably made these more times than I can count but am going to try a slightly different recipe incorporating black treacle. I always think more things should have black treacle in them – within reason of course! Always reminds me of my gran, sadly long departed now, but she was a demon when it came to treacle toffee (and tablet but that’s a whole different ball game!). I don’t know what happened to her recipes when she died unfortunately but I do have a ‘how to make sweeties’ book which does have a version in it – I just doubt it will live up to my happy happy memories! Once Santa drops off my electronic scales and sugar thermometer, I might start knocking some of these bad boys out – but am happy to wait until the New Year.
The gingerbread man fairy tale (when he legs it from his maker and her husband, a cow and a horse and ends up being devoured by a fox – SNAP) is one of those my daughter became proper obsessed by. Every night for longer than I can remember, we were reading it and she is still so fond of it that we probably read it about once a week – argh! Not only that but we also have the bloody Big Pancake as well – the same effing story but not as cute. I do think this sounds like the best book in the original German: Vom dicken fetten Pfannekuchen. I had completely forgotten that ‘fat’ is ‘dick’ which always made me smile as an immature schoolgirl – however, not as much as the verb ‘to wave’, oh how I chortled!!
I keep trying to eat healthily – thought would try and remove treats and all the crap I shovel down my neck most evening so I can continue to justify baking sweetness every weekend – but my takeaway pizza has just arrived so:

“Life is too short for self-hatred and celery sticks.”
Marilyn Wann


Friday, 23 November 2012

Time to give thanks...

It’s traditional at this time of year (if you’re American) for families to get together and give thanks for the good things in their lives. Rather than bleat on about Strictly (although will give thanks that Richard and Erin finally left – liked him, tolerated him, tired of him!) I thought I would take this moment to give my own thanks for things I am grateful for. So, in no particular order, I am incredibly thankful for my lovely husband and loopy children, Jasper Fforde books, fluffy slippers, dodgy celebrity reality shows (yay, I’m a Sleb is back), chocolate covered popcorn, sleeping more than 4 hours at a stretch (thank you!!) and finally Christmas.. only just over a month to go – yeeha!!
So this week, in celebration of all things Thanksgiving, I am going to attempt Pumpkin Pie – I think this could break me… although the Whoopie Pies almost did. Good golly – they went sooooo wrong, not slightly wrong but let me show you in picture form:

Which ones do you think are mine? Yup – mine are the flatter than pancakes, nowhere near enough cream, stuck to the plate disasters to your right! I don’t even know where I went wrong which is the sad thing – I followed the recipe but as soon as I started to put them on the baking tray, I was clear something had gone horribly wrong. Believe it or not, and am thinking more ‘not’, they tasted ok and I think if they’d turned out right, I would be a big fan. I am going to blame my cold which prevented me making them on Sunday like normal and having to rush job them on Tuesday night. Maybe some time, far away in the future, I might reattempt but will walk away for now!
So, pumpkin pie eh!! My recipe calls for tinned pumpkin – really can’t see that getting stocked in the UK so am going to have to roast and puree one. Given that Halloween was three weeks ago, am a bit worried I might not find one but can always use butternut squash if all else fails? I have never had it so hopefully all my tasters will be just as virginal and not know if it’s going hideously wrong!
I would like to take this moment to say well done to Theresa Nelson from Versailles (in America rather than the French city) who won this year’s bake off at the New Bremen Pumpkinfest. It is also the home of the biggest ever pumpkin pie which was baked in 2010 and weighed in at an absolutely massive 3698 kilos – check out that bad boy! Much kudos to the team and thank you to the official site of the New Bremen Pumpkinfest for the picture!
In a Thanksgiving stylee and about as cheesy as it gets:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Robert Burns