Saturday, 27 September 2014

Gluten free pistachio cake



Yesterday I left you with this picture.


It's a gluten free pistachio cake.  Whenever I bake gluten free cakes I add ground almonds to keep the moisture level up.  Gluten free cakes can taste chalky and no one wants that in a cake.  My step mum has to eat a gluten free diet and so when she joined our family a whole new challenge came into baking.  I found gluten-free flour very odd at first (and made some shocking disasters).  I've played about with honey, milk, cream, fruit and nuts to keep it moist and ground almonds are by far the best.

You want a cake to taste like a cake, no matter whether it has gluten in it or not.  It's really not fair to hold up your hands and say sorry it's a bit crap….I used gluten free flour. (Fine, you might not be eating it, but other people have to.)

Anyway….back to the cake.  

I decided, whilst the blackberry bread was proving for the first time, that I wanted to make a cake for Cara, my baby brother's girlfriend.  She has recently got some rather wonderful A-level results and got into the University of her choice, so we'd been invited for a hog roast with her family (It was a "meet the family" type of thing.  I'm surprised we could be trusted to meet her family.)

Problem was………I didn't have any ground almonds.

I DID have a packet of pistachios though, so thought that if I blitzed them then they'd probably have the same effect….being nuts, and all….

Cara is a big fan of a multicoloured cake, so green seemed like a logical decision.


On Sunday morning I set to work icing it.  I wanted to use buttercream as I recently learned that if you want lighter buttercream you should keep beating as it gets whiter the more you beat it. (Please tell me I wasn't the only one who has only found that out……..?)

You can't really tell from the pictures but it was a really light cream colour….I was really impressed!


The swirls were done by piping a vertical line of blobs and using the back of a teaspoon to "sploosh" (very technical term) one side down.  To make it easier I had a mug of boiling water that I put the spoon in between the lines.

The top might be a bit wonky but I was so pleased with the way it turned out.



Someone else thought it was "ok".

It's a wonder it wasn't eaten by the boys before it reached Cara.  







It was joked about, before it was cut, that I might have mucked up the order of the layers……nothing like support from your family, is there?


Monday, 22 September 2014

Weekend caking



Saturday, for us, was grey and dismal.  I hate having to put on lights in the day…it just seems so unnatural but I found myself having to.

I've been feeling really "low" for the past few days and just wanted to mope about in my pj's feeling sorry for myself.  Oli was at his dads and I was missing him and our local park has been closed due to vandalism.  The weather being as it was really wasn't helping my mood.

But there was no time for moping on Saturday.  I had a visitor.


Susie B came for lunch (and brought oh so much cheese with her).

She says she wanted to see me but it was the boys she was after.

It might have been the cuddles she was after, but I think it was actually to dress the smallest little man as a caterpillar.  (We have since learned that it would have been far easier to do this with a sleeping newborn than a wriggly six month old.)



It's very rare that I see Susie and we don't bake….and if we're not baking then we're sewing…

So when the boys were snuggled in bed for a nap I put the kettle on and we had a think about what to make over a much needed cup of tea.



We settled on Blackberry Loaf from the Hummingbird bakery book.  (Well, it was blueberry loaf but I have blackberries coming out of my eyeballs……not literally, that'd be worrying…)

I've been having real problems with bread and was getting down heartened about it.  

I have figured out my problem and have a little word of advice for all would be bread makers out there…..make sure you check your yeast isn't out of date/dead. …..it proves far better if it is live yeast.  (Yes…I was using dead yeast and wondering why it wasn't proving.  I'm never going to live that down now…)


 With live yeast it did what it was supposed to do, thankfully and here is is, fresh out of the oven.



It was rather darn good.



We also baked the layers for a gluten free pistachio cake, ready for me to bake on Sunday morning….but that deserves it's own post.


So thank you Susie for cheering me up and helping me trash my kitchen……..funny how I don't post any photos of what happens post baking...

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Foraging

My neighbour invited me blackberry picking with him and promised me a large haul.

I was slightly sceptical that we'd get that many, it being a few weeks after blackberry season was at it's peak, so thought we'd get a few, but that the majority would have already been foraged.  

"Ah, but this is somewhere that no one knows about" I was told.

So I donned my wax jacket and Dubarry boots (thorns are not fun) and we scaled mountains and rivers…bears and scorpions to find this foraging paradise.





I got a little too obsessed with the alpine strawberries…"Look, I'm a giant"…and most didn't make it into the bowl.

When I got home the boys eyes were like saucers in amazement with the sheer number we'd picked, and pretty soon their chins were stained red with berry juice and they were very happy little boys.





Friday, 5 September 2014

Slugs and snails and puppy dog tails


Is that really what little boys are made of?

Girls are sweet and play nicely with barbies and cuddly toys and make jewellery with colourful plastic beads.  They'll learn ballet, in their pretty pink tutus. They'll skip in wild flower meadows, hand in hand, picking posies and singing.  They sit quietly and read books about rainbows and unicorns.  They are never dirty, never spill their food and can't stand the sight of mud.  They are loving and kind.  They will grow up unable to do anything physical but will be able to soufflé like the best of them

Boys are rough.  They fight and have an abundance of energy that can only be expelled by being loud and running about.  They don't skip through meadows…they bulldoze their way through it stamping on flowers as they go.  Boys do not sit still.  They are rude, talk back and fidget.  Any talk that isn't about poo is something they don't want to be part of.  They play with Lego and building blocks and with diggers in the dirt.  They play football and Rugby.  They will grow up to do manly jobs, drink beer and eat a lot of red meat.

I have three little boys (have I ever mentioned that).



I feel like boys get a hard time for being rowdy and rude….and, on the other hand, that "being a boy" is an excuse for any bad behaviour.

Don't get me wrong, boys don't always get the raw end of the deal….the cooler toys are always in the "boys" section (I mean, how ridiculous is it that toys seem to have a gender?) and there's far less focus on how they look/how much they weigh as they grow up.
Is a toy used with a child's genitals…?  If no then it is a toy for ANY child regardless of gender, if yes then it's not a toy that children should be anywhere near.

My boys will be brought up to respect others.

To be polite and caring young men.

To be able to cook for their future partner (Yes, Mr B, that is a slightly pointed comment.)
They'll learn that their worth isn't in how much money they earn, or how attractive they are, but from their self respect and how they treat others.

Being the mother of boys I'm going to go through the situation of their partners parents wondering if they're "good enough" for their little girl (or son….).  I want to bring my boys up so that their partners parents either don't have that worry, or who, when they meet my son, they realise how well toward they are.

My little brother went through a very difficult stage as a young teen (sorry B, but you were simply horrible at times…you were also ok..*love you*)  He has grown into a wonderful young man and I couldn't be prouder of him and all he has achieved.



Children can be difficult….and I'll be ready for the teenage rampage….but I feel that if you have brought them up with your values then they will generally end up as a "goodun".  I fully expect to be challenged and at times despair at their behaviour, but they are my boys and I will always support them to become the best young men they can be.

There will be no gender stereotyping.  Dolls are equal to Lego in this house.  

…well actually nothing is equal to Lego…….NOTHING!

Their gender has no bearing on how I bring them up.  Society might have them all figured out but I haven't yet.  They are all completely different…already that is clear to see, but they will always be my sons….whether they're Scientists, Captains of industry or Jazz mavericks is inconsequential, so long as they do what they want then I am happy.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Passion fruit curd




My all time favourite cake has to be courgette cake with passion fruit curd and a cream cheese icing, chopped pistachios sprinkled on top.

I think it's a Nigella recipe but I was given it by a friend, who in turn had got it from their friend.

Passion fruit curd is sweet and sharp and goes extremely well with cake.  The only thing is there isn't much of it about.  You're not going to be able to toddle into your local Sainsburys….or even Waitrose….and be able to find it alongside the likes of lemon curd, strawberry conserves or honeys.  I've seen it in a few fancy farm shops and deli's but that's about it.  

So it makes a lot of sense to make it if you need it.

It's not cheap to make….passion fruit isn't exactly most peoples everyday fruit and with that comes a certain price tag….but it's really worth it.



RECIPE
10 passion fruit
2 large eggs + 2 yolks
140g sugar
100g unsalted butter

First you have the fun job of "juicing" the passion fruit.  I do it by sieving the pulp through a sieve into a bowl.  It takes a while to do, but keep going.  It doesn't look like you'll get much out of them but trust me…keep going and you'll be amazed at how much juice comes out.

Melt the butter on a gentle heat in a saucepan. 

In another bowl mix the egg and sugar together.

Add the sugar/egg mixture and the passion fruit juice to the melted butter and STIR as you pour.
The two things that are really important is that you don't get impatient and turn the heat up and that you don't stop stirring.  You need to be in it for the long game.  It'll take a while, and you'll be convinced that nothing is happening, that nothing will ever happen and that you're going to be stuck with a weird passion fruit egg mixture, but persevere.  If you turn the heat up then you'll be stuck with passion fruit flavoured scrambled eggs and if you don't wait long enough then it won't be firm enough and will cause many an argument if you have a baking partner.  It should coat the back of a wooden spoon when it's done.  (It'll still seem quite runny, but it will set as it cools.)

Eat with a spoon, and put whatever's left in the cake.

(If you purely want it for one cake then you can make half the quantity and you'll still have more than enough.)



I made the cake for two very good friends wedding and was horrified (and slightly proud) that it had all gone before I'd managed to get a slice at the afternoon tea.




Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sugar and spice and all things nice


My friend has just had a baby girl.  Now…with a house full of boys I've never had the chance to do the "pretty dresses" thing. (I do get to do the "adorable braces" thing though.)

I was positive that little baby was going to be a boy.  I could feel it in my waters……..well…..it turns out my waters were wrong.

So having a rare free afternoon I really couldn't help myself and threw myself into making the tiniest dress you can imagine.



…I may have cried at how tiny it was…

I know I have my very own tiny person (who is finally becoming a little chunk like his brothers were) but it still shocks me at how small babies are.


My buttons leave a lot to be desired, but hopefully it'll go relatively unnoticed.


To check the fit, I had to call on a certain little Rupert Bear.


….It was a little weird to see….

I often get asked if I'm disappointed that I don't have a girl (very odd question) or if we're planning on trying again because we "might get a girl" next time (because apparently you can choose these things).  Firstly, a little awkward to tell people, if my heart stays this way then we can't have another baby because *get ready for the dramatics* I'd probably die and secondly….why should I specifically want a girl.  I have three fantastic little boys and I couldn't ask for more.  Sure I miss out on giving my daughter my wedding dress one day (but then again if I'd worn my mum then I'd have looked like Little Bo Peep so I'm sure it'll be out of fashion by then) and I miss out on making pretty little dresses for them (although who knows, the boys might want to wear dresses and I'd let them.)  So no…I'm not disappointed with any of my children, surprisingly.  Were I to ever have another (don't worry Mr B, if you're reading this, it's not going to happen) then I'd want another BABY….not a certain gender.  I get asked if I miss the freedom you have when you don't have children, or if I wish I could go out on weekends (I don't….)



To my lovely, wonderful friend, who MADE a whole new person….If anyone makes comments about whether you're going to try for a boy next time, asks if you wanted a girl, or judges your parenting style because Baby A is either "too girly" or "not girly enough", or looks at you with sympathy because you can't go to the pub because you "have" to do bedtime then shake it off and smile. You have done something incredible, and have brought a gorgeous little girl into the world.  

You have a little person who is so delicate and special and is yours.  

I'm going to say it again….you MADE her!  

She is part you and part her daddy.  She's got a huge family who will always be there for her.

She's going to have pony rides on her Grandpa's back, help daddy make Mothers day cards and clumsily bring you up breakfast in bed, spilling the OJ everywhere, bake cakes with her Grandma and share her food with Dylan (dog).  She's going to laugh and cry and share the good and the bad times with you.  She's going to test your patience and be a bossy little thing (well she is your daughter).  She's going to be curious and as she figures out how the world works, learning new skills, you will watch in awe.  How could someone who is so tiny and precious and new turn into their own little person, with like, dislikes and her own opinion?  You're going to have kitchen discos and family snuggle time and every night you're going to put that little bundle to bed and have to sneak back to watch her sleep.  You're going to be sitting on the sofa watching her play and suddenly, in a moment, get choked up because of the love you feel for your little family.  You're going to feel like the luckiest person in the world.  You're going to worry about her all the time (what parent doesn't) and you're going to have to kiss a lot of bumps better.  You'll also get to share all her accomplishments, big and small. She'll learn to ride a bike, to read, to sing and you'll be right there with her.  You'll get to make new traditions and teach her the old.  You'll have to go through the torture, every parent feels, of leaving her, for the first time at nursery and then school, knowing that each year she's becoming more and more independent, learning and growing, and will watch her blossom into the incredible young woman she will surely be.

She is your baby, and she is special.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cat Face


This is The Great Catsby (Excuse his name but I'm a sucker for a cat related pun).

My neighbour was having accidental kittens (well her cat was, not her) and she practically forced me to have one. There were threats and steely glares…..or maybe I fell slightly in love with them and asked if we could have one.

Solomon, our family cat was a silver tabby and I think they are the most distinguished looking felines.



Catsby…is….crazy.  Jumping 3 feet in the air and attacking your toes crazy (I assume this is kittens in general…please tell me this is kittens in general….!)  He'll have a mad 5 minutes and then will just flop down, cuddle in close (mostly as close to my neck as he can get) and will purr.

….and that purrrrrrrrrrrr…..it's like a freight train….





He is a little bit rude though.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Howard sleeps…and sits...


……no…I don't get it either…..odd dog……


Then again, he also does this.




He's a quirky little thing.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Thank you




My goodness……the response I got about my illness has been incredible.  In one day I got over a thousand page views.  It might not be a lot for some but flipping heck…….for me that was a scarily large number of people.  

A lot of the responses were from people who I "know", be it in everyday life or purely online, who had known that I was ill, and had been reading the updates from my sister as I went up and down.  The majority were telling me that they'd known that I'd been incredibly ill…….but that they had no idea that I'd been that ill.  I'd tried to write a more condensed account of what happened from my point of view so left out some parts and to hear that the condensed version was shocking was strange.  It's become "normal" in my head, because it happened…and yet, if I were to be on the other side of the screen and read it then yes…I suppose we've been through rather a lot.

To be honest, generally I don't "feel" like an ill person.  I've been out of hospital for three months now and whilst I need to pace myself I can live life with a pretence of normalcy.  Sometimes I forget what I've just been through and how far I've come.  

I get frustrated with myself when I feel exhausted and have to drag my feet up to bed in the middle of the day.  

I get frustrated when I only manage a quick "once around the block" with the dogs.

I get frustrated when I'm so tired that I completely forget the English language.  (I seem to have the habit of calling pheasants "peacocks", foxes "wolves" and the like and have no idea why……)

I get frustrated when I snap at the children for no reason other than they're being too loud and my brain can't process it.

Looking at me I don't look ill….yes, I have scars, but they will fade.  Even I forget it, so I don't judge anyone else who forgets and thinks that I'm a bit of a lazy sod at the moment.  If I think about how I've progressed since coming out of hospital I'm proud…and I need to remind myself to look at it this way, rather than getting angry with myself for what I can't do.

So here goes…

I am home, with my husband, children and pets.  I can get up out of bed every morning with a smile on my face and come down to start a new day.  I get to see my little boys.  I'm sleeping in MY bed…not a sticky, uncomfortable hospital bed.  I can have a bath or shower.  I can move all of my limbs…sit...stand…walk…hold cutlery…lift my head up.  I can cook and bake.  I can sew. I don't have any machines attached to me, either keeping me alive or monitoring me, reminding me that it could all change with the bleep of an alarm.  I can go outside whenever I want.  I can see family and friends and be social…..somewhere other than my bedside.

I am alive.

I'm not a negative person by any stretch of the imagination but it's easy to get stuck on what you haven't achieved or things you're not very good at, rather than appreciating what you are good at and seeing what you've achieved in a day/week/month/hour……  

So here's to being more positive….like this little man.


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