Art Challenge – Day One

prior park school art challenge

25 day art challenge

Boy Self Portrait

Boy Self Portrait

Boy broke up yesterday. Nine long weeks stretch ahead…..

Last year, we managed a reading challenge. This year, his art teacher has set an art and creativity challenge. 25 days of pictures!

And I’ve decided to join in too, here’s our first. The topic. Myself.

Boy has adopted the literal approach.

Seeing as I was going to use the exercise as an opportunity to free up my own creativity, there was an awful lot of muttering under my breath and paper being screwed up this morning.

A concentrated period of looking in the mirror hasn’t done much for my mood. Nor has trying to carry off a stylistic paper cut in the style of Matisse (cunningly hides the heavy jaw and shadows under the eyes).

Maybe I need to keep telling myself, it’s a journey, not a destination. Still, looking forward to getting out with my sketch pad again!



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Late May Bank Holiday Week End

stone Avebury

standing stone Avebury

We had a lovely day visiting Avebury. Sunshine, lots of cow parsley and buttercups. The stones (of course) and some lovely lunches with the WI at the village hall (so much better than trying to cram into the NT tea rooms….)

Field in Avebury, view through the cow parsley

Field in Avebury, view through the cow parsley

yellow flower


Boy looking away

Outside NT barn

boy in boden hoody looking puzzled

Deep in thought

boy at avebury carrying tablet

The digital age arrives at Avebury

Boy walking towards Silbury Hill, Avenue, Avebury

Boy walking towards Silbury Hill, Avenue, Avebury

Bunting Avebury WI

Bunting Avebury WI

A table in the village hall

A table in the village hall

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Better with cake?

Life is better with cake, says Mr Kipling.

I am tempted to echo Mandy Rice-Davies. Well, he would. Wouldn’t he?

Mr Kipling (and his extended family) have been making cakes since 1967. The original intention was to sell baker-standard cakes through a supermarket. The idea caught on. In 1976, Mr Kipling became the leading brand in the UK, a position it has held since.

This Easter holiday, Mr Kipling and BritMums are inviting us to write about our #betterwithcake moments.

Vintage Delight (c) Shereen M

Vintage Delight (c) Shereen M

Had I been quicker off the mark, there might even have been a package of iconic Mr Kipling cakes in it for me. (French Fancies, Battenberg, Cherry Bakewells, Angel Slices…the list goes on).

True to form, however, I’ve come late to the party. All the cakes (the nice Mr Kipling ones at least) have gone. For a moment, I picture myself, morose. I am staring at a plate, empty but for a few crumbs and a solitary, broken, iced party ring biscuit.

Boy, if possible, is more disconsolate. Mummy, you see, has been on a mission to make sure we eat more healthily. This means cutting down on our sugar intake.  And, like Mr Kipling, Boy is very much of the view life is better with cake.

And not just any cake. Whilst I’ve been experimenting with coconut oil, raw cocoa and miniscule amounts of maple syrup, Boy has been badgering me for an apple pie without the skin and hard chunks. My cakes, apparently, don’t quite hit the spot.

If Boy are I were to list our favourite #betterwithcake moments, there’d be some discrepancies.

Jensen (2)
Mylist (2)All, however, is not lost.

So far as healthy snacking goes, it appears Mr Kipling is on the case too. He’s phasing in only sustainable palm oil, there are no trans fats,  and all of his cakes contain clear traffic light labels to let you know what you’re eating. As his website points out, cakes need sugar. And a little bit of what you fancy, as part of a balanced diet, won’t hurt you.

Well, Boy would agree with that.

I can see some advantages too. No feelings of guilt as I slip an occasional apple pie into Boy’s lunch box, especially as he’ll be working those calories off at cricket camp.

After I’ve waved him off, I plan to retire to the greenhouse with a cup of coffee. I may even allow myself a tiny French Fancy.

This post is an entry for #betterwithcake Linky Challenge, sponsored by Mr Kipling. Learn more at



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Easter Week Two

yellow american yellow car in cricklade high street

Cricklade High Street

Stroud Farmers Market

At Stroud for Farmers Market

We’ve had a quieter week this week. (Well, I have). Boy has been in tennis camp two days (glorious sunshine, yay).

However, we have also had some family fun. We have

  • Visited Stroud and the Farmers’ Market,
  • Seen the fritillaries in the Water Meadows and enjoyed some yummy cheese scones (us) and chocolate cake (Boy) at the Fritillary Tea Rooms,
  • Watched a real feel good family movie, Blind Side, with Sandra Bullock,
  • Broadened our linguistic skills and culinary knowledge with a Polish Day. Bernie supplied the language tuition and we enjoyed some dumplings and borscht (and ice cream) at Karczma Polska in Wood Street Swindon,
  • Eaten lots of eggs courtesy of Buffy, Scully and Hanna Bella, who continue to lay well,
  • Discovered a dead wood vole in the drain,
  • Treated the chooks to some wriggly maggots,
  • Marvelled at the cherry blossom, the hyacinths and daffodils,
  • Started sorting through our wardrobes in anticipation of some more sunshine!

Next week, Boy is off to Cricket Camp for three days. As yet, we have no trips planned. However, we hope to fit in some play time and at least one trip!

cherry blossom


Polish for chicken

Learning a little Polish

A nice break

At the Fritillary Tea Rooms Cricklade

Retreat sign in Stroud

Visiting Stroud

Boy on bridge

Pensive by Thames Cricklade

branch of pink cherry blosson

Cherry Blossom Cricklade

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Easter Week One

Back of boy in blue jacket on farm

Boy at Farmtastic

This holiday, I have a plan. No, really.

A schedule of (a) days when I am working and Boy goes to Big Adventure or sports camp,(b) fun days and (c) family days. I’m trying to be equal-handed, see.

Amazingly, this week we’ve kept to plan. In between spurts of writing, proofing and chasing errant builders, we have-

  • Watched Cinderella at Shaw Ridge (because I liked the costumes and sets. Boy was easily bribed with popcorn),
  • Relived our own childhood at Weston Super Mare on a trip with Barnes Coaches (on what must have been the windiest day of the year),
  • Made paper with Swedish artist, Laura Behar, at the Brewery in Cirencester (where we had a great time, it’s been years since Boy and I have done anything arty together, and it was nice to share some art in more adult setting),
  • Had loads of chocolate (Boy), made sugar free chocolate with raw cocoa and coconut oil (me),
  • Enjoyed hot cross buns on Good Friday at the Village Hall,
  • Had fresh eggs for breakfast courtesy of Buffy, Hanna Bella and Scully (thanks girls),
  • Fallen in love with the alpacas at Farmtastic at Grittenham near Wootton Bassett.
handmade paperh

Hand made paper with Laura Behar

Grey Bantam

Pekin Frizzle Bantams at Farmtastic

red orange chicken head

Appenzeller Barthuhner (I think)

old pier burnt pier weston suer mare

old pier Weston super mare

Lama head in profile

Lama at Grittenham Farmtastic

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LONDON calling

London without the A-Z

When one is tired of London, one is tired of life. According to Dr. Johnson, at least. Dr Johnson, however, never tried negotiating the Northern Line in Rush Hour with two bags of groceries and an anxiety ridden toddler in tow.

To be fair, escalators, bendy buses and the Shard had yet to be invented when Dr  Johnson was busy penning his famous Dictionary.  Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure eighteenth century London had its challenges….

Dr Johnson, however, was an unencumbered gentleman about town. A London girl myself, my view of the capital was similarly rose-tinted, until I tried sharing my nostalgia with Boy.

Boy goes into meltdown at the moving walkway in our local M & S, so I don’t know why I ever thought he’d take the gyratory escalator at Kings Cross in his stride. (I became that bête noire of commuters; a woman with a screaming child locked between her knees, standing on the wrong side of the escalator.)

London Waterloo Interior Rush Hour 2, London, UK - Diliff

Boy doesn’t do crowds that well either. Our forays to London have involved lots of walking and (when the rain, or Boy’s complaints, become too much) taxis. Like some dumbed down version of Cinderella, we find ourselves rushing across Hyde Park or down the Edgware Road to beat the peak time rush home.

Tots 100 and the Royal Garden Hotel, however, are offering one lucky blogger and their family the chance to spend a luxury weekend in the capital. That sounds like bliss to me, a chance to relive my childhood with Boy at a more leisurely pace. (I might even get to fit in a bit of retail therapy and check out the Royal Garden’s Health Suite!)

So, with apologies, to Dr Johnson and his Dictionary, here’s my letter-by-letter guide to the perfect London weekend.

L is for lounging

And  I’m not talking about a takeaway curry on the sofa whilst watching back to back episodes of Homeland. I’m thinking palm courts with marble floors and tinkling pianos. Afternoon tea has to be one of the most underrated meals of the day.  I love the cucumber sandwiches (no crusts), the chink of bone china, the scent of Earl Grey and Darjeeling, and the tiers of cakes and miniature pastries. What better way is there to refresh yourself between flurries of shopping and sight-seeing?

O is for otters

And not just otters. Boy loves animals. I don’t think we’d be able to spend a whole weekend in London without another visit to London Zoo. What’s more, ZSL are introducing something new and exciting for the summer, a sunset safari. Without having to rush back home, we’d  watch the sun go down and hopefully spot a tigress on her twilight prowl.

N is for Negroni

Negroni is my favourite cocktail. It’s made with gin, vermouth and Campari, garnished with a twist of orange peel. Our local is definitely more of a Newcastle Brown type of place. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it’s nice to live it up a bit. So we’d head for the hotel’s Bertie’s Bar and make time for an aperitif (with an orange juice spritzer for Boy) before heading out for…


I love how cosmopolitan London is. You can eat your way around the world. Lebanese around Bayswater Road, Indian in Mile End, haute cuisine in Mayfair, or the ubiquitous pizza just about anywhere. For a family friendly treat, though, you can’t beat China Town. We’d splurge on crispy duck and Boy would love getting to grips with chop sticks and dim sum.

O is for orangery

There’s a great one just a stone’s throw from the Royal Garden. We’d spend the morning exploring Kensington Palace. Boy has a bit of an obsession with Queen Victoria, so he’d love discovering her childhood home. I’d have some serious girl time at the Fashion Rules exhibition. Then we’d all chill out in the palace gardens, before refuelling over lunch at the Orangery Café.

N is for night-time

After the zoo, we’d head west. With no last train to worry about, and knowing we can enjoy a lay-in and leisurely breakfast the next day, we’d not hurry back.

We could opt for a show, but London itself is one big show and, on our special weekend, it would be a shame to miss it. We’d take a tour (or maybe just a night bus) and look at the lights. We’d watch the reflections on the Thames at Embankment. Finally, we’d wend our way back to our hotel, and a nightcap perhaps, before collapsing under freshly laundered linen.

This is my entry in the Tots100 Win a 5 Star holiday at the Royal Garden Hotel Competition.




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Real Egg Sandwich

open egg sandwich on rye bread

With thanks to Buffy and Hanna Bella, Team Chicken

With thanks to the Medicinal Chef, Dale Pinnock, for the inspiration.

Simply take two fresh free range eggs (freshly lain, in our case, by Buffy and Hanna Bella), hard boil. Add to a generous dollop of probiotic yoghurt, a tablespoonful both of cream cheese and soft blue cheese, a handful of chopped cress. Mash and season with black pepper, salt and smoked paprika (if so desired). Serve on a bed of rocket and rye bread.

Enjoy (and you can also be a little bit smug as it’s really healthy).

Joining with Honest Mum’s #Tasty Tuesdays (I’ll be working hard to avoid all those lovely cakes and desserts!)
Tasty Tuesdays on

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Net nanny turns the tables

broken tablet screenLast week, I lamented how my #magicmoments were becoming more infrequent. Perhaps that was unfair, it’s just that they’re changing in nature.

This week, the joke was on Boy (in the nicest possible way).

Although we try and limit Boy’s screen time, it’s fair to say we meet with more than a bit of resistance. It didn’t take long for him to circumvent net nanny. And, recently, a virtual high security lock on his tablet has appeared.

Privacy issues aside,  the code breakers got to work. And this is the result.

Well, it brought a big smile to our faces and a grin to Boy’s (after he’d twigged that he doesn’t have a monopoly on pointless downloads and general tomfoolery.)

No tablets were hurt in the making of this video, and only a smidgin of nine-year old pride! And those giggles still make me smile.

Joining with Oliver’s Madhouse for some #magicmoments this week.

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Silent Sunday

boy holding ripe tomato in hand

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Back to School, but not yet….

jensen at schollSchool days are the happiest days of your life.

Well, that’s what my Dad used to say. The words, though, depressed the hell out of me. School meant double maths, cold showers and lumpy tapioca for lunch. If that was as good as it got, I couldn’t see much of an incentive to grow up.

Thankfully, Dad was wrong. Looking back, I like to think his words were laden with irony. A shared joke, had it not washed right over my nine-year old head.

A mother myself now, I know better. Dad was speaking through a haze of nostalgia.

For me, Boy’s first day at school has a bitter-sweet poignancy. He looked so grown-up wearing a mini blazer and tie (real, no elastic thanks to Health & Safety). Pride struggled with fear. Would he make friends? Would he eat his lunch? (Fleetingly, I wondered whether they still served tapioca).

Of course, he was fine. Boy came home with a big smile and something new and special called homework.

And, guess what? They had fish fingers and chips for lunch. With ketchup. And salt. Lots and lots. (Unlike me, the school dinner ladies had not introduced sauce rationing or taken the condiments into protective custody. Not only that. Their custard was pink!).

Relieved, and only a tiny bit crest-fallen, I ticked off another milestone successfully negotiated. school boy in prior park prep school uniform

Over the years, Boy’s enthusiasm has waxed and waned. On the whole though, he likes school. (Although he’d rather eat a bowl of cold tapioca than admit it). Sure, there are mornings when he pulls the duvet back over his head and does a passable impression of Bart Simpson. Homework has lost its novelty value.  There are the occasional tears. But I try not to dwell on those days.

Instead, I think about Boy too engrossed in a game of playground football to come home, the Boy who still looks forward to fish fingers on Friday, who regales me with tales of the revolting Victorians, and who covers me with Vimto and peppermints when he tries to recreate a science experiment at home.

Boy, however, like most nine-year olds, has yet to discover the pleasures of nostalgia.

Off to Asda, I tell Boy I used to shop there with my Mum when it was Carrefour. Boy yawns.  Inside the store, he sighs audibly and rolls his eyes at the Back to School posters.

I’ve only just broken up, he tutts.

Part of me agrees with him. It’s too soon to think about going back to school. Let’s enjoy the holidays while we can. However, my sympathy dissolves as we battle over what goes into the trolley. (You’d think, after five years, I’d have persuaded Boy that the only real difference between Heinz and the own brand of ketchup is the price).

I’m growing bored with fish finger sandwiches for lunch, and baking cakes that disappear under a sea of sprinkles. Seven weeks of no-school starts to feel like a very long time.

Perhaps Boy too is having second thoughts. He drifts towards an Aladdin’s cave of coloured lunch boxes and stationary. Skylanders Swap Force Snack Pot

How cool is that? he asks, picking up a Skylanders snack pot. A pair of trainers catches his eye.

I stop myself from telling him about the annual trip to the school uniform shop when I was a child. The lined exercise books and the smell of must that seemed to cling to your satchel all year. (Our family nostalgia never extended  to the school uniform shop).

Gently, I steer Boy towards the school wear section.

We’ll be quick, I promise.

There’s a lot of black and grey, which, after the tropical prints and Brasil 2014 T shirts,  I have to admit is a bit depressing. But it’s good too, as it means they have Boy’s size. No pleading with crusty shop assistants to go and check in the stock room. No ordering elusive bits of kit, and enduring a three-month wait.

Trousers, socks, pullover and swim trunks all go into the trolley. There’s even a splash of colour. (I’m pleasantly surprised to discover George do red polo shirts, something I’ve struggled to find in the past!) Shorts are out of stock, but I can order those on-line using Asda’s free click-and-collect service.

(To be honest, if I’d known about click-and-collect, I’d probably have done my entire shop online, secure in the knowledge that Asda offer a 100 day no quibble satisfaction guarantee).

And the best bit. It took less than five minutes, leaving us to enjoy the rest of the holidays stress-free. More happy memories. (Well, apart from the argument over the ketchup).,1&iccEmbed=0This post was written in collaboration with George @ Asda.

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New Chick on the block

buff coloured pekin bantam pouletMy recent silence on the blogging front has been down to the above. Boy’s first pet, some five years after Norman Cat sadly left us.

She has quickly acquired a triple barreled name, Lydia Cuddles Buffy. Long story, how we decided on a chicken as the most suitable pet. And, unfortunately, the early days have not run entirely smoothly (due to bullying issues and discovering a wound on one of Buffy’s “friends”….not to mention the sudden appearance of a neighbouring farm cat in search of a make your own KFC).

Boy’s pleasure in stroking his own first pet, however, makes it all worthwhile.

Because of Boy’s cystic fibrosis, we hesitated before agreeing to another pet. However, now that he is a bit older, we are hopeful that the message about washing hands after handling animals has finally rubbed off. The downside is that the chickens are messy (though nowhere near as bad as having to deal with the results of a Creon underdose in a nappy). I have made a point of telling Boy that I will have to do all the mucking out. (Wet straw is a complete no-no for him because of the spores it harbours can cause problems for his lungs). Strangely, this is proving quite a task as Boy is keen to get involved in all aspects of chicken care! Most afternoons he has taken up a position in front of the hen-house watching their antics and keeping an eye out for Mr Fox.

As the hens settle in, we are hoping some form of normality may return. (The poorly hen is now recovering and the flock seem to have accepted her back). Boy’s confidence grows and hopefully at some point we’ll be able to enjoy a few fresh eggs!

Deciding to let Boy have his own pet was a hard call. However, we are hopeful that the benefits outweigh the risks. Boy is thrilled, and his confidence is growing.

As he grows up, I am finding the #magicmoments are fewer. (Or, perhaps, it’s me, needing to work harder at rediscovering the magic in everyday things). The smile on his face when I put Buffy on his lap though, pure magic. I wish I had taken a photo….but I needed both hands free to manage the chicken!

head of buff coloured pekin bantam Joining with Oliver’s Madhouse for a truly #magicmoment.


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Skinny steak with thin cream

This is my summer night-in treat. Dead easy and diet friendly. (If you’re not counting the calories, feel free to dress up with fries or a jacket potato dripping with butter……) Although the sauce is really creamy, and tasty, because it is made with low-fat yoghurt, it’s low in calories. And the mustard gives it a real kick

steak in creamy sauce

The trick is to ask the butcher to cut the fillet really thin. About 3mm is ideal. I allowed two slices per helping (four in total for me and OH).

For the pan fry, you will need

  • Fillet steak
  • Handful of oyster mushrooms (washed, scrubbed and sliced)

And for the creamy sauce…..

  • 150 ml low-fat plain yoghurt
  • A handful of herbs (I used marjoram and coriander)
  • 1-2 teaspoonfuls of mustard according to taste.

Blend the sauce ingredients and set to one side. Then dry fry the steak. I do this in a large deep, frying pan lined with tin foil (with a lid). Keep the steak at room temperature and get the hob really hot before frying. Add the mushrooms once it has started to sizzle. You’ll find that the oils from the meat should be sufficient to coat the mushrooms.

How well done you like your steak is very personal. Despite loving (nearly) all things French, I like mine well done. So it’s three minutes on each side!

Just before you’re ready to take off the hob, add the sauce.

Serve with baby spinach or a simple green salad. (Or any higher calorie yummies).

Voila. Low fat, high protein, perfection.
Belatedly joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. And catching up on my weekly foodie inspiration!

Tasty Tuesdays on

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toy parachutist

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boy in school blazer eating a donut

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Chocolate dipped fruit

Boy broke up from school yesterday, so we have been in end-of-term frenzy.

Now eight weeks of summer stretch ahead of us. Lots of opportunities for fun, shared projects and some childcare crises!

One of our resolutions, however, is to spend more time in the kitchen. Together. In a good way.

chocolate and nut covered strawberryToday we set out to make a recipe in my latest find, Healthy in a Hurry by Karen Ansel and Charity Ferreira. It’s a variation of their Chocolate dipped bananas from the Quick Fix Ideas for Dessert section. It didn’t work out quite as intended, but when you’ve got a 9YO grunge meister as your sous chef that isn’t entirely surprising.

jensen in apronIt does have a number of pluses though. First off, it’s very easy.

It’s also very tasty. And (as the title promises) healthy….or it would be if Boy had stuck with the dried fruit and chopped nut toppings. But, hey, what’s the point of baking if you can’t go mad with the sprinkles?

You will need

  • A banana
  • Large ripe strawberries
  • A large (200g) bar of chocolate (dark is best)
  • A handful of hazelnuts
  • Any other toppings you fancy….even sprinkles if you must. I also used a handful of dried apple, toffee and mixed fruit (one of the healthy snack sachets from Sainsburys).

child with pestleTo make the dipped fruit

  1. Wash and dry the fruit. Peel and slice the banana.
  2. Crush the hazel nuts using a pestle or the blunt end of a rolling pin.
  3. Lay the crushed nuts and other toppings out on a plate.
  4. Break the chocolate up and very slowly melt it in a double boiler or microwave (heat on low, stop and check and stir every 30 seconds).
  5. Dip the fruit in the molten chocolate, then roll in the toppings.
  6. Place on greaseproof paper and put in the fridge for 2 hours.
  7. Serve cold and enjoy.

chocolae dipped fruitchilds hand covered in chocolateMessy, but worth it!
Belatedly joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. And going to catch up on my weekly foodie inspiration!

Tasty Tuesdays on

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Chocolate and avocado cupcakes

This week’s #TastyTuesday is a bit of a cheat, a beta version.

Boy and I experimented with the concept of an avocado cupcake. OH (being a traditionalist) instantly went into yuck mode.

Green cake, he bemoaned.

Why ruin a good avocado? (He likes them spread on toast, with bacon. Like I said, a traditionalist).

chocolate cupcake with cream icing and chocolate curlsWe took a recipe from Will Cook for Smiles.  We substituted wholemeal spelt flour for the flour and changed the proportions so 1/4 was cocoa powder. (To give it my favourite taste and get rid of the green factor). And, of course, we added chocolate curls.

It tasted yummy, but like  a lot of the other comments said, the icing was on the runny side. We also found that the quantities of flour and milk didn’t quite work out. (We ended up adding more flour. More cakes, so that was great. But not quite right). Subsequent attempt, same problem.

We tried again, omitting the cocoa powder and adding an overripe banana in place of the milk. Yummy. But we gave up on the icing and ate those with custard.

finger of boy dropping chocolate curls onto cake

I shall return. And, when I do, the cupcakes will be perfect. Well, here’s hoping.

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. Look forward to getting my weekly foodie inspiration!

Tasty Tuesdays on

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purple flower

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Lydiard Green (F is for fields…possibly)

Wanting to catch up with Podcast’s Alphabet photography project, but up to my armpits in rotten timbers and crumbling plaster. I took this yesterday from the backgarden. Summer at last!

tractor bailing view taken from orchardThe view is from Lydiard Green, looking towards Godwin’s farm.

Hopefully, I will soon have time to enjoy the view with a G & T, and My Chicken magazine.

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Summery strawberry muffins

For a super summery snack, you can’t go far wrong with a muffin. And this recipe makes the most of the delicious strawberries that are now in season.  (Apparently the rain and then the sunshine have made this month’s strawberries extra sweet!)

stawberries on a plate with muffinsI’ve also used wholemeal spelt flour to give the muffins a bit of a heavier wholesome feel. And the black pepper makes it that bit more sophisticated, without being overpowering.

They make a great finale for a picnic or an al fresco lunch. Or why not enjoy on their own with a cup of Lapsang Souchong or Tetleys (depending on your preferences)?

To make the muffins, you’ll need

  • 200gr SR wholemeal spelt flour
  • 150gr granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground black peppers
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsb ground sea salt
  • 80ml vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 80ml-120ml milk
  • 170gr washed, destalked, chopped and hulled strawberries
  • 12 muffin or cupcake cases

To make the muffins

  1. Preheat oven to 400F/GM 6/200C. Line tin with the cup cake/muffin cases.
  2. Sift the soda, baking powder, flour, salt and pepper. Return the flour husks to the bowl, add the sugar and mix all well together.
  3. Whisk together the oil and egg. Add 80ml of the milk. Whisk.
  4. Mix together the two mixtures, adding the egg/milk combination to the mixing bowl gradually, folding in with a wooden spoon. At this stage you may need to add more milk, or (more unlikely) more flour to get the right constituency. The mixture should be a sticky batter, scoopable, not as thick as pizza dough, but slightly thicker than your usual cake mix.
  5. Pour/scoop into the twelve muffin/cake tins and bake for 15-20 minutes. Check after 15 minutes….you can tell when the muffins are ready as you should be able to put a skewer or knife in them and for it to come away “clean.”
  6. Remove from oven, allow them to cool slightly, then remove to an iron rack to cool further.

strawberry muffins

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. I am also entering this post in the Rix Recipe Blog Competition. Check out the link here. You may also want to take a look at their seasonal recipes.

Tasty Tuesdays on

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Courgette and lime cake

The last few weeks have seen us focused on the garden and making the most of the sunshine.

Here’s my #TastyTuesday offering, a really summery light vegetable and fruit cake. Perfect for those summer garden parties, and a doddle to make. It’s based on two recipes, one submitted to the River Cottage community and another from Woman & Home, with a few twists.

courgette and lime cake

  • Extra lime zest and a bit of juice added to the mix.
  • I soaked the mixed fruit in rum first for that extra kick.
  • I used a single cake tin, rather than two sandwiches and iced the top.
  • I used half white SR flour and half wholemeal spelt, for that mushy wholesome taste
  • I added some white chocolate instead of nuts to the icing. (Oh and the obligatory chocolate sprinkles!)
  • I also ended up changing the quantities as I wanted to keep the cake really moist but without it going too doughy (and I was conscious that I was adding more liquid in the form of the lime).

Anyway, it worked out beautifully and we enjoyed said cake yesterday evening (with lots left over for me to snack on today!)

To make the cake, you’ll need

  • 60g fruit
  • Dash of rum
  • 125ml olive oil
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 3 medium free range eggs, at room temperature
  • 300g self-raising flour (half white, half spelt wholemeal, or adapt as you like)
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 250g courgette, finely grated, (about 2-3 courgettes),
  • grated zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of 1/lime

For the icing

  • 200g full-fat cream cheese
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 100g icing sugar
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  • courgette ribbons, chocolate sprinkles, to decorate

 To make the cake

  1. Preheat your oven to 180/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Line the bottom of a round cake tin and grease the sides.
  3. Soak the dried fruit in the rum.
  4. Grate the courgette and lime vest, half the remaining lime.
  5. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, olive oil in a large mixing bowl.
  6. Sift the flour, baking powder,  bicarbonate of soda into the mix. Fold in.
  7. Fold in the courgette, grated lime and fruit.
  8. Pour carefully into the cake tin.
  9. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Check regularly. Ovens can vary massively! When it looks golden on top, test with a thin knife or skewer….it’s ready when it comes away clean!
  10. Cool a bit, turn out on a wire rack and cool some more.

To make the icing

  1. Slowly melt the white chocolate using a double burner or in the microwave (set on low, use 30 second bursts, stop and stir, repeat until nearly all melted. Do not overcook…it will go on melting when you have removed it from the microwave!)
  2. Work quickly, add the cream cheese, icing sugar and lime juice to the chocolate and beat like hell.
  3. Smooth over the cake top.
  4. Dress with courgette ribbons, sprinkles or anything else you fancy!

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday.

Tasty Tuesdays on

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Alphabet Project, B is for…..

Another late entry for PODcast’s alphabet linky. (I promise to start thinking about C now!)

Buttercups. I love them, and I’m lucky enough to look out onto a field of them. For the time being at least.

field of uittersupsI have been out, snapping, trying to get my perfect shot. And I’ve failed. I wanted a single shiny buttercup, close up (I’m talking mega, sci-fi huge here) with a field of soft focus yellow buttercup (in the style of a watery Monet) in the background.

Or, deferred success perhaps. Weather permitting I’ll be out there later this week, hoping the sunshine and battery pack holds out. Meanwhile, this is my best shot so far!

For more info on the link, and to check out Charly’s amazing shots, visit PODCast #AlphabetProject.

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silent sunday

close up of pale seeds and flowers

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Alphabet Photography Project

I’m linking, at the last-minute, to PODcast’s Alphabet Photography Project.

arch in a hedgerow in hookThis week is A. I was struggling with A, until I remembered this picture.

(Allium, I had initially thought. Then I saw that White Lily Green had taken a beautiful shot which made my humble and slightly bedraggled flower pale in comparison).

So it’s A, for Arch. I snapped this with my camera phone on a Winter’s walk (lost, due to a number of unofficial footpath diversions!) There are a lot of ancient hedgerows around here, twisted into strange and mystical shapes.

Many of them, sadly, are disappearing, along with the flower meadows and cow pastures….and it’s on my bucket list to take some pictures of them before they go (along with blowing the dust off the Nikon and doing a proper photography course!).

For more info on the link, and to check out Charly’s amazing shots, visit PODCast #AlphabetProject.

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Taste of summer soup

Inspired by this month’s BBC Good Food magazine, the abundance of mint in the garden, and a packet of frozen peas hiding in the back of the freezer, I present my summer soup. Great for lunch in the garden, served with a slice of soda bread. Or the prelude to an al fresco dinner perhaps.

summer soupThe prosciutto is a tasty and interesting variation on the pea and ham theme, but you could just as well substitute Parmesan shavings for a vegetarian alternative.

For a very generous serving for two (plus a little one), you will need

  • 2 leeks, trimmed, washed and thinly sliced
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 200 g frozen peas
  • 150 g pot plain yoghurt
  • Stock cube, to make up 500 ml stock
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint
  • 2 slices prosciutto, excess fat trimmed off.

To make the soup is very simple, but you will need a blender of food processor (we just use a simple stick blender, same one we used for LO’s purees!)

  1. Bring leeks, sweet potatoes and stock to the boil. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add peas and continue for another 5 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.
  3. Cut prosciutto into pieces. Dry fry until crispy and reserve.
  4. Add mint to the vegetables.
  5. Take vegetables off the heat, blend in batches if necessary, adding the yoghurt as you blend.
  6. Serve in bowls, garnished with the prosciutto and a sprig of mint if desired.

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday.

Tasty Tuesdays on

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silent sunday

farm seen through cow parsley

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Wild gardening

First off, I have to confess I am not a born gardener.

Sure, I like to potter, admiring others’ hard work before retreating to the patio with an ice-cool G & T to watch the sunset. But the hard graft that goes into gardening, the necessary committment and trust, less so.

pill box and field in Lydiard Green

view from the patio

However, it’s nine months since we moved in. And the much neglected garden has started to stare back at me. I’ve tried repositioning my deckchair so that I don’t actually have to look at the empty border or the stinging nettle patch. But I need shade and, now that the weather is improving, I’m running out of options.

So operation garden has begun.

To be honest, the patch outside is currently more of a meadow than a garden. In some ways, not a bad thing. I love the banks of buttercups and champion, the rampant cow parsley, cuckoo flowers and ox-eye daisies. (I’ve even taken to transplanting some cowslips, courtesy of Cricklade Bloomers). But I think it fair to say that a little bit more cultivation wouldn’t go amiss.

So I’ll be looking for inspiration (and trying not to get discouraged at how lovely everyone’s real garden is looking!)

cuckoo flowers

cuckoo flowers

Dandelion head close up

Probably too many of these…

I love the idea of growing some of our own food. The concept of Plot to Plate. However, a vegetable patch may be a step too far. At the moment.

I’m chuffed by my herbs though. I planted these in a fairly random manner in some tubs when we moved in. I water them on my way to the patio, or when I put the washing out. Then, largely, forget about them.

mint plants in tubTrue, the sage has sadly died. However, the mint is running riot.

OK, reading up on this gardening thing, that’s something of a mixed blessing. The problem seems to be in preventing mint from taking over.But I’m chuffed. I’ve had pea and mint soup this week. The peas were frozen, but the mint was my own and I’ve even added a sprig to my cocktail!

Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?
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Award winning fruit cake

Fruit cake with certificateLast week saw some frantic activity in the Hamlet. And more particularly my kitchen.

It was the week of the Village Show. And I was having one of my Kirstie Allsop moments.

Tales of my trials and tribulations may follow (the scones that were so bad that the judges wouldn’t even taste).

My fruit cake, however, was a triumph. I borrowed the recipe shamelessly from Delia. I really wanted something relatively quick and light. And this one ticks those boxes as it uses crushed pineapple to give it moistness.

I adapted the recipe slightly to make it a bit extra special by swapping some of the dried fruit for Kirsch soaked morello cherries. I wanted something a bit more classy than the usual glacés. (I am sure there are gourmet glacés in the world, but they haven’t made it to our bit of the Back Woods yet).

The result? Well, let’s just say I can now call myself an award winning baker. (There’s no promotion like self-promotion, right?)

And I’m not telling anyone it was my first attempt!


Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday.

Tasty Tuesdays on


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silent sunday

church seen through foeld of buttercups

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Still a supermarket tart

Destination Morrison’s

This Bank Holiday, courtesy of BritMums and Morrison’s, we headed off for a big supermarket shop. The goal; to check out the new look Morrison’s and the savings we could make on our weekly shop.

Boy in cloth cap with shopping trolleySad country bumpkins that we are, we looked forward to our trip with something approaching excitement.

Nowadays, we usually get our main shop delivered by Ocado. OH has it down to a fine art. Or should I say science? Anyway, there are lists, spreadsheets and budgets. No human contact, no surprises.

OH reckons shopping on-line is cheaper, and less stressful. He doesn’t have to worry about the parking, or the car getting pranged by an errant shopping trolley.

Bank Holiday Weekend, however, we all headed off for the Big Shop. We worked out that we hadn’t been to Morrison’s en famille since we moved to the Sticks  nearly two years ago. Boy grew nostalgic, OH ditched his list and started talking about a barbecue and our outing took on a definite holiday feel.

Perhaps it was the novelty factor, but even OH had to admit the shopping experience was quite fun. (Although I suspect the extensive range of ale had something to do with it).

The shop was bright, well-laid out and Boy was taken with the signage and balloons. (Just like the Motor Park, he exclaimed). The staff were bright and cheery too, much like the Motor Park, but without the hard sell.

I’m Cheaper (Yes, really)

Now despite OH’s on-line mandate, I’m a bit of a shopping tart in my other life.

I do lots of furtive  top-up shops. As I don’t actually live near anywhere, these tend to be tenuously linked to whatever Boy and I are doing at any particular time. The High Street butcher and grocer after school drop-off, Asda on the way back from the library, Sainsbury’s when I need petrol, Tesco because it’s open super late.

I think it fair to say (despite a plethora of reward cards) I’m not a very loyal shopper. I’m easily attracted by promotional offers. (Most frequently Choco Leibnitz biscuits for £1). Inevitably, however, on return visits, a couple of days later, I’m disappointed. My bargain is back to its old price. And, worse, I know I could get it in another store. Much cheaper.

I’m not even a dedicated bargain hunter, but still it irks me.

Morrison’s I’m Cheaper is different.

Morrison’s have cut the price on thousands of branded products, everyday. So if you find a bargain one week, you know it will be there the next.

MORR-320-Week14_heroOf course, Morrison’s also still have their own budget range, M Savers. Good everyday staples, at value prices.

Over the Bank Holiday Weekend, I set myself the challenge of making some penny-pinching meals, using my Morrison’s shop and costing all the ingredients.

My two lunches, a kid-friendly pizza, and super cheesy pasta,  cost under a £1 a serving, and we finished off with some remarkably tasty crumbly peanut biscuits (at an unbelievable 8 pence a pop!) Click on the links for some cheap and easy recipes (and to see how far a £1 can go!)

My latent carnivore goes mad on Market Street

If I’m honest, for me, though, shopping isn’t all about saving money. It’s value that’s important.

And Morrison’s scored high with its in-house butcher on Market Street. I buy a lot of my meat from the High Street butcher because I value choice, quality and knowing what I get. Morrison’s is unusual, for a supermarket, in having a proper on-site butcher and actively promoting British produce.

Morrison’s didn’t have the joint of meat I’d planned to cook for our Sunday roast, but the lady serving was really knowledgeable and helpful in suggesting alternatives. (Not something you regularly get in Aldi).

There was also a great range of steaks and burgers. With the sun shining, we couldn’t resist loading up for a BBQ!

barbeque burgers and strawberry saladThe Verdict

Our weekly shop was about the same as it is with Ocado. True, I had to find an extra £20 at the check-out, but that was because Boy had spotted a coveted DVD and OH (having abandoned his shopping mandate) had bagged some honey beer.

Thanks Morrison’s.  You’re too far away to become our regular shop, but we’ll definitely be seeing more of you.

Disclosure: I received £80 in Morrison’s vouchers for my #MorrisonsMum Bank Holiday Shop

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My eight pence biscuit (jam included)

Part of my #MorrisonsMum challenge was to check out their M Savers and I’m Cheaper range.

I got a bit carried away and set myself the goal of making a really good, cheap treat. These score on both counts!

peanut butter cookiesThis recipe, for Peanut Butter and Jam Thumbprint cookies, is borrowed from the excellent Jack Monroe (sadly I couldn’t find the link on her blog).

It uses budget ingredients and tastes truly delicious, especially if eaten warm with a dollop of plain yoghurt. (Just be careful, the cookies crumble).

I bought the cheapest ingredients I could in Morrisons and have costed the recipe. The only exception was I used Happy Eggs. (Don’t get me started on the plight of battery hens…although I have just noticed Morrison’s do their own box of mixed free range eggs so I could have made these biscuits even cheaper!)

Although the recipe says it makes 12 cookies, I found it made 9. Bigger ones, I guess.

You will need-

  • Egg yolk (33p)
  • 50 g butter ( Morrisons British, 10p)
  • 2 tablespoonfuls of castor sugar (Tate & Lyle @ 7p)
  • A little olive oil to grease the baking parchment
  • 2 tablespoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter (M Savers, @ 9p)
  • 4 tablespoonfuls of strawberry jam (M Savers, @ 3p)
  • 8 tablespoonfuls of self-raising flour (M Savers, 5p)

BiscuitThat comes to a grand total of 67p (and it could have been 55p if I’d used Morrison free range eggs). That’s less than 8p (7p) a biscuit! And, unlike packet ones, they don’t taste cheap!

  1. First, pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/GM 4. Lightly grease some baking paper and put on a baking tray.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together (I cheat and microwave it on a low setting for 30 seconds – 1 minute first).
  3. Add the egg yolk, peanut butter and combine well.
  4. Add the flour gradually, combining well with a wooden spoon until it is a soft dough (I end up using my hands and a little extra flour at this stage).
  5. Flatten walnut sized pieces of the dough into individual biscuits, make a small indent in and fill with a dollop of jam.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.


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Pizza, ketchup and a happy Boy

Part of the #MorrisonsMum campaign is to publicise their new I’m Cheaper range. (Over 1000 favourite products cheaper, week-on-week). So this Bank Holiday Week End, Boy and I set off to explore the goodies. Protesting, OH came along for the ride.

heinz tomato ketchupAnd, first off was the mega 700g squeezy Heinz Tomato Ketchup.

Boy spotted the distinctively shaped bottle even before his eyes strayed to the sweets and DVDs, and it went straight in the trolley.

I’m Cheaper, he gloated, trumping OH, who had to stifle his reflex to search the lower shelf for the own brand version.

Boy has a total tomato ketchup obsession. He drinks the stuff.

And it has to be Heinz. Always Heinz.

They’re all the same, OH used to opine. Probably made in the same factory. You know, the one where they wash everything down with nut oil.

It’s the power of advertising. But OH was adamant. To the point once of blindfolding Boy and challenging him to a taste test.

In a strange parody of the Whiskas advert, OH measured out ten spoons of ketchup (five Heinz, five own brand).

Boy sniffed, licked, made some funny faces and gave his verdict.

At this point, I should make it clear that I’m not in the pay of Heinz. But, with a 100% accuracy rate, Boy proved empirically that he really can tell the difference.

So Heinz it is. And, although Daddy insists on smaller servings, at £1.99 for the larger bottle, it doesn’t exactly break the bank.

Ketchup in hand, we set off home for lunch.

grating cheeseIt was sunny, so we made a pizza to eat in the garden.

Boy loves cooking, helping me to grate the cheese, knead the dough and choose the toppings. (No surprise here. Double ketchup for him, while I opted for passata with basil. We do a lot of 50/50 pizzas in our house).

With the ready-made pizza dough, it’s really just a case of adding some water, kneading, adding some toppings and baking. Here’s the breakdown;

  • Morrisons Pizza Base Mix (69p)
  • Very generous portion of Heinz tomato ketchup (14p)
  • Portion of Passata (1/4 jar, 25p)
  • Morrisons Savers Mature Cheddar cheese 50g (grated) (28p)
  • Half cucumber (25p)
  • Morrisons Vine Ripe Cherry Tomatoes (half pack, 35p)
  • Rocket (purloined from the garden)

Total spend £1.96.

pizza slice on plate

Dressed with salad, the pizza served Boy and I for a light lunch. At under £1 a serving, it’s cheaper than most ready-made pizzas, and a whole lot nicer. Plus it’s fun to make. If you don’t have a tomato ketchup fetish, you can even get imaginative with the toppings!

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Cheap and cheesey pasta

This Bank Holiday Weekend has definitely had a food theme. First off, there was the big #MorrisonsMum shop (more on that later.) Secondly, yesterday saw us at the village show, dressing cakes and enviously eyeing up the matching eggs (another post coming on).


We’ve been definitely full-on foodie. However, it’s not entirely escaped my attention that I need to (a) rein back the budget and (b) start eating some proper lunches. This easy pasta meal scores on both counts. I used Morrison’s Savers range and herbs from the garden to keep costs down.

You will need

  • 160 g pasta (31p)
  • 1 onion, chopped. (23p)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped (10p)
  • 2 rashers streaky bacon, cut into small pieces (45p)
  • 50 g cheddar cheese grated (32p), plus a little to garnish if desired.
  • 25 g Savers hard cheese (or use Parmesan) (29p)
  • olive oil
  • 200 ml plain Savers yoghurt (18p)
  • Handful of fresh herbs, chopped, such as Thyme and Parsley.
  1. To make, simply fry the onion, garlic and bacon in the oil until onion is soft and golden. Pour off excess oil.
  2. Meanwhile, boil the pasta until soft.
  3. Add the cheese and yoghurt to the onion and bacon.
  4. Drain the pasta. Return to the pan. Add the cheese/bacon/onion mix to the pasta and mix well so it is coated with the sauce.
  5. Garnish with torn herbs and grated cheese, if desired.

This serves two as a snack or light lunch. (It was perfect for me and Boy). And cost us exactly £1.88 to make, so less than a pound a serving!

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday.

Tasty Tuesdays on

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Simple Summer Smoothy

When we moved into the cottage, I absently planted some herbs in the empty planters.

mint plants in tubAgainst the odds (and my record of plant neglect) several of them have not only survived the Winter, but thrived.

This recipe is inspired by our sudden abundance of mint and a feature in The Simple Things magazine that caught my eye, Grow your own smoothies.

Inspired by Kate at Veggie Desserts (who makes the most amazing puddings and cakes using vegetables) I have also added some kale, hoping it would be a sure-fire way of getting some of Boy’s 5-a-day down him. (It was!)

The mint gives it a lovely fresh summery taste. It’s great to sip on the patio in the sunshine. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m betting it would also make a great cocktail if you added some fizz to it! And, surprisingly, you don’t notice the kale!

All you need to make two smoothies isSummer mint smoothie

  • Large handful of kale.
  • Large sweet orange.
  • 6 tablespoonfuls of plain yoghurt.
  • Approximately 1-2 teaspoonful of honey or maple syrup to sweeten.
  • Handful of mint leaves.
  • 1-2 cups of cranberry juice.
  • Raspberries, coloured sugar and anything else that tickles your fancy to garnish.
  • A blender.
  1. First cut the stalks off the kale and boil the leaves for about 6 minutes, then drain.
  2. Peel and de-seed the orange. Cut the flesh into segments.
  3. Clean and chop the mint leaves, reserving a few sprigs to garnish.
  4. Add all these ingredients to a jug or the blender bowl, add the yoghurt and cranberry juice and blend. Add the honey or syrup to taste.
  5. Serve in tall glasses (you can dip the rim in water and roll in sugar if you like). Add a sprig of mint, ice cubes and some raspberries or whatever else takes your fancy!

Just sit back. And Enjoy.

mint smoothy with green smoothy mint garnishing
Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. Joining too with a Mummytoo’s #RecipeoftheWeek.

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What the Great British Home means to me….

My Home Style is TOWIE GLAMOUR. Well, that’s if you believe the #GreatBritishHome “What’s Your Celebrity Home Style” quiz.

The unpacked cardboard boxes, 1970s blush bathroom suite and burgundy carpet tiles suggest otherwise. In reality, my Celebrity Home Style is more Vicky Pollard than Paris Hilton.

Home, for us, for now, is a work in progress.


We moved in over six months ago, full of ideas. We’d spent over a year looking for the right house. Nothing clicked, or rather nothing clicked that we could afford. (I’m discounting those other houses we fell in love with; the uninsurable one in a flood zone, the one suffering from major subsidence where the seller had literally papered over the cracks and the one where the sellers simply changed their minds. You know who you are).

Resigned to the prospect of having to do A LOT of work if we wanted our dream home, we opted for what we optimistically referred to as a project. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A derelict workshop at the rear of a cottage in need of refurbishment filled us with inspiration. Double-height, the sunlight flooded through. We ignored the cobwebs, the damp and the lack of planning.

We saw the potential. Restored floorboards, a bespoke open plan kitchen with a mezzanine chill-out zone. Bi-folding doors leading to a conservatory, a terrace overlooking the west facing garden with its pleasing rural aspect. Ignoring the incipient smell of cow dung from the farm next-door, we visualised ourselves on our Tuscan-style patio, watching the sun setting over the distant downs.

That was a while back. Six months on, the barn is still full of cardboard boxes, mismatched remnants from two house moves and storage. We’ve yet to find an architect, apply for planning…in fact we haven’t really done much other than buy a lot of Ideal Home magazines and listen to re-runs of Grand Designs.

Right now, though, that hardly matters. I’m just enjoying having some space, a place that really is ours and that one day (soon hopefully) we’ll transform.

This post is an entry for the #GreatBritishHome Challenge  sponsored by Victoria Plumb, a source of quality bathrooms for every type of home. Take its “What’s Your Celebrity Home Style?” quiz to discover what your home says about you

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silent sunday

snakeshead fritillary

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Parma Ham, Leek & Cheesy Muffins

After the chocolate fest of Easter, perhaps it’s time for something savoury! This is a favourite of mine, a great tea-time snack and something which you can pack in your lunch box the next day.

savoury muffiinsThe original recipe (courtesy of my Dairy Diary) says use a handful of chopped spinach leaves, but I have found finely chopped leeks a great substitute and I am guessing that as long as you keep the basic proportions the same, you could use any suitable vegetable!

To make the savoury muffins, you will need

  • 6 slices chopped parma ham
  • Handful of finely chopped leeks
  • 250g(9oz) plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsb crushed black peppercorns
  • 50g(2oz) grated Parmesan cheese
  • Handful of finely chopped leeks, or chopped spinach (remember to wash well first)
  • Handful chopped basil leaves, or other herb
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 275ml (10fl oz) milk
  • 75g (3oz) melted butter (I melt on a very low setting in the microwave)
  • Pinch of salt.

Making the muffins is straightforward, although I “cheat” and use a muffin case rather than oiling the muffin tin…it makes it much easier to get them out and comes in useful if you are using them for a packed lunch the next day.

  1. Ensure all ingredients ready, as set out above. (Don’t forget to chop the veggies and melt the butter!)
  2. Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas Mark 5, line the muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.
  3. In a pan, dry-fry the parma ham for 1-2 minutes until it is crisp.
  4. Fry the leeks in a little oil if using until they are soft. (You can use the spinach uncooked).
  5. Sift flor, baking powder,
  6. Stir flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and a pinch of salt (according to taste) in a large mixing bowl.
  7. Add the parma ham, crushed peppercorns, Parmesan, spinach/leeks and herbs.
  8. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, milk and egg. Fold into the dry ingredients.
  9. Divide the muffin mix between the cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until well risen and golden.
  10. Cool on a wire rack and serve with cheese, Parma ham and a green salad if desired.

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. Joining too with a Mummytoo’s #RecipeoftheWeek.

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.comLink up your recipe of the week


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silent sunday

tree in sunlight

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Easter nests, sweet and savoury….

We have been looking for an unusual take on the traditional Easter nests this week.

brandy baskets angel delight banana mousse easter nests

Guess what? Costco are out of quails’ eggs again, so we’ve had to resort to chocolate (again) and the local hens.

First off, our savoury option.scotch eggs savoury easter nest

I created this using a combination of yorkshire puddings, sweet potato mash and sausage meat eggs, all sat on a bet of spinach.

Sadly, Boy has an issue with eggs, otherwise I would have made proper Scotch eggs (in which case it would have been worth persevering with those quails).

However, these are very simple. The trick, however, is to use really good quality sausage meat. These came from the wonderful Halls in Cricklade, and are made of wild boar and apple! Yum!

Simply mix a handful of golden breadcrumbs with a tablespoonful of smoked paprika. Beat up an egg with a dash of milk. Form the sausage meat into egg-shaped balls, dip in the egg and roll in the breadcrumb mix, and bake in the oven at 180 degrees/Gas Mark 4 for about 20-25 minutes.

Arrange tastefully (or not) by placing the pudding on top of the cooked spinach, spooning in the mash and laying the eggs!

Easter Banana Mousse NestsBoy, of course, much prefers the traditional chocolate nest and here’s my offering for those of you with a sweeter tooth. You can make the nests a bit more grown-up by experimenting with the mousse mix (a cunningly tarted-up Angel Delight). I’ve even added lots of fruit to get in at least one of Boy’s Five-a-Day!

These lovely little nests are actually those brandy snap baskets you get in supermarkets, lined with mini Matchmaker sticks, filled with Angel Delight and mini eggs! I add a mashed banana and a dash of lemon juice to the Angel Delight.

The fruit and a coulis on the plate to make it that little bit healthier, but it works great with a dash of Limoncello too! If you want to make it extra special and don’t mind the calories, use double cream to make up the dessert and whip well!

Sweet or savoury, have a wonderful Easter!

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 April challenge. If I’m chosen, I would like to visit Longleat.


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Headache comes to the Hamlet

Boy is in football camp this week.

TBirdhis is good on two accounts. First, Boy gets to work those lungs. (Exercise is important to little people with CF as it helps to move the mucus and keep their airways clear). Secondly (and almost as importantly) I get an extra hour’s lay-in.

It also makes for more relaxed breakfasts, although this morning calamity struck. Well, nearly.

One of us left the glasshouse door open last night. (I probably have to put my hand up here, as it was my deck chair wedging the door open). And a bird had got in.

Not much damage on the vegetation front. (One geranium and a tray of chilli seedlings is the cumulative total of my horticultural aspirations to date). However, I was left with the problem of what to do with the bird.

He (or she…I’m no avian expert) looked like a blue tit, a youngster probably, frightened and thrashing against the glass like an Iron Maiden fan.

Now I’m not that into feathers (unless they’re Siberian duck down, safely in my White Company duvet). Or things that move suddenly. So I’m afraid the rescue attempt involved me at arm’s length, a long broom and another bird/window collision.

Bird dropped into OH’s lawn mower bucket. The knock didn’t sound too bad, so I carried the bucket to the lawn and stood watch over it, just in case the fox or any neighbourhood cat got ideas.

I toyed with the idea of taking a picture of the little fellow, but it felt wrong snapping an unconsious bird. (Although, to be fair, it would be the only way I’ll ever take a decent close-up bird shot).

I’m glad to say the little fellow made it, although I’m betting he had one hell of a headache. Sadly, by the time I’d returned with my camera to record the happy moment, he was in the apple tree!

blue tit bird in apple tree against a blue sky

Boy missed all the excitement. And I missed my leisurely toast, but that seemed a small price to pay for a happy Easter ending.


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Tuna, bean and corn salad

This week, we’ve been trying to incorporate more vegetables into our diet, following on from the news that we should now all be consuming seven portions a day, not five! (For an account of how this has gone down in these parts, please read How much fruit and veg? The view from the Hamlet).

tuna kidney bean corn salad

This simple salad (taken from BBC GOOD Food, 101 Low Fat Feasts) scores high on the healthy eating stakes. It is also dead simple and quick to make, an ideal weekday supper.

To make Tuna, bean and corn salad, you will need

  • Can of tuna chunks (drained)
  • Can of sweetcorn (drained)
  • A few jalapeno peppers, very thinly sliced
  • Can ready-to-eat red kidney beans (drained)
  • A couple of handfuls of mixed salad leaves
  • Generous pinch of mild chilli powder
  • Small red onion finely chopped
  • A tablespoonful of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of fresh lemon juice.

Making the tuna, bean and corn salad is simplicity itself.

  1. Mix beans, corn, tuna, onion and peppers. Season to taste.
  2. Arrange salad leaves between two plates or shared dish.
  3. Pile the tuna salad on top.
  4. Mix well together the oil and lemon juice and drizzle over the salad.
  5. Sprinkle finely with the chilli powder.
  6. Serve with crusty bread.

This meal easily serves two, and can be scaled up or down, according to taste and what is available.

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. Joining too with a Mummytoo’s #RecipeoftheWeek.

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.comLink up your recipe of the week


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silent sunday

carrots dug out of ground

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Big purple, little purple

It’s Boy’s birthday, and he’s getting his first proper watch.

Now, when I was a kid, you had a choice of two watches, Timex or Noddy.

purple mini ice watchThings have moved on. Noddy’s had an upgrade courtesy of PBS. And, checking out The Watch Hut, I’m amazed at the variety of kids’ watches on offer. I fall in love with the super cool Ice Mini. And it’s available in a raft of rainbow colours, including Boy’s favourite, purple.

I have a white Ice Forever, my summer watch. Briefly, I have visions of mother and son matching watches, until OH brings me back to earth with a thud.

That’s ever so slightly weird, he points out. And this isn’t about you.

He’s right, of course. Purple it is. A watch wasn’t on Boy’s original wish list, and I’m counting on the colour and the funky design to sell it.

A watch is educational, a practical choice, we reason. And perhaps not the obvious gift for a boy who can’t quite tell the time yet. (We’re still having some big hand, small hand, seconds hand, issues.) But there’s no harm in being aspirational.

Like those, oh so expensive, room-to-grow, Start Rite school shoes, we reason that he’ll soon grow into it, ignoring the fact that he looks like a grey Ronald MacDonald.

And there’s the rub. A watch is our bright idea, not Boy’s.

Good things come in small boxes, I explain to a slightly crestfallen Birthday Boy. Maths isn’t his strong point, but he knows enough to clock the dimensions won’t accommodate his much coveted drum set.

I don’t add that giving a gift can be as good as receiving one. But I’m glad Boy is old enough now for a more grown-up present. I’m relieved too. There’ll be no more line-drying gargantuan teddy bears, too large for the washing machine, or squeezing myself into dusty gaps to look for missing bits of Lego.

Watches are quiet too, another plus. There’s something strangely reassuring about their soft repetitive tick. A sense of order and calm, which you just don’t get from an Early Learning Centre Karaoke deck or that robotic monkey with the New Jersey drawl.

Fortunately, Boy likes his watch. He loves the way it looks, but he also starts to see its myriad possibilities. And he’s not thinking bedtime. He’s head deep in TV Quik making sure he doesn’t miss another episode of Sorry I’ve Got No Head.

Later, when I’m engrossed in work (or, more likely, trying to snatch a few minutes to catch up on Crown of Thorns), Boy demands help to locate a missing DVD. (Unbeknown to him, the Smurfs have joined Mr Bananas, the talking chimp, relocated to a bin bag under the stairs).

I’ll be five minutes, I promise.

Do I actually mean five minutes? Well, not exactly. Who says five minutes and actually means five minutes?

Well, Boy apparently.

Where are you Mummy? You’ve had five minutes and thirty-five seconds.

Six minutes, he corrects, twenty-five seconds later.

I suddenly have the feeling that I’ll be hearing more time checks in the future. A lot.

First watch, like first tooth, is a sign Boy’s growing up, a bitter sweet rite of passage.

purple ice solid watchThe Watch Hut are sponsoring the Best Writer Category in this year’s MAD awards. This is my entry for their competition, telling them about my favourite watch.

Really, it’s a joint favourite. However, Boy already has the Mini Ice. So, I’m opting for the purple Ice Solid, relieved that Boy is still young enough to tell his Mum that matching watches would be cool.

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How much fruit and veg? The view from the Hamlet….

black and white calveThe Hamlet is not at the cutting edge of dietary fashion.

Hardly surprising. Most of the residents here spend their time chewing grass. One day, they’ll end up on a plate. And the humans? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason why Crow Pie has never caught on.

In the (relative) civilisation of the Village, things aren’t much better. There, defrosted petit pois at the Over Fifties Luncheon Club is considered extreme cuisine.

No, the Market Town is where it’s at. It’s the place you go for anything more cosmopolitan than skimmed milk powder or Lipton’s teabags.

This gives Market Town the faint air of a frontier town. The gun slingers may not be that obvious (Mostly, the twelve bores are kept hidden in the back of the Four Traks). There is no tumble weed blowing down the High Street, and a Gastro Pub has now replaced what you could once have loosely described as a saloon. But the place still  has a bit of an edge.

It’s also where you go to catch up on the gossip. Perhaps, in the Olde Worlde Days, locals and out-of-towners would have gathered around the water pump or market cross to swap news. (OH reliably informs me that the cross was, in fact, stolen sometime in the eighteenth century and upcycled into the forerunner of social housing).

Nowadays, most serious debate takes place, fueled by copious amounts of Builders’ Tea and All Day Breakfasts (served until 3pm) in The Greasy Spoon.

And yesterday there was one big talking point.

Fruit and vegetable intake, five a day may not be enough, declared The Guardian, while the DM and The Metro promised eating ten portions a day would cut your risk of dying by 42%.

The Market Town cognoscenti had their own take on the latest research findings from UCL too.

Theories ranged from a well-orchestrated April Fool’s Day joke to a conspiracy by market gardeners and Tesco’s. The consensus; it’s all a load of old hockum. A little bit of what you fancy does you good, one octarian explained.

fried breakfast

Best Breakfast in Town

True, The Spoon’s signature dish is a ten item deep-fried mega breakfast. It may, therefore, not be the best place to go for a balanced cross-section of opinion on healthy eating. However, it made me take a closer look at the claims.

On the face of it, they’re impressive. The UCL researchers looked at the eating habits of over 65,000 people over a 12 year period. In a nutshell, those people who eat the most fruit and vegetables significantly decrease their chances of dying, particularly through cancer or heart disease.

People who eat seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduce their risk of dying by 42% compared to people who have one or fewer portions a day. They are 6% less likely to die than people who eat only five portions a day. (And, for the avoidance of doubt, chips and wine don’t count).

Dr Oyinlola Oyebode, lead author of the research paper, declared that “the size of the effect is staggering.”

The research also suggests that the greatest benefit comes from vegetables, rather than fruit, and that canned and frozen fruit may actually increase the risk of dying by 17% per portion.

Although Dr Oyebode stresses the importance of making any adjustments you can to increase the amount of fruit and veg in your diet, the media has had a field day. The Dailies have battled to tell us how much we should eat. (Seven according to an earlier edition of The Mail, while The Telegraph ups the ante to a staggering ten). It’s as if the Government has somehow duped us into believing that five-a-day is enough.

Thankfully, the NHS has now issued some comprehensive guidance on what it all means.

For a start, don’t rush to throw out your tinned pears and easy chef chopped onions. Preserved and frozen fruit may not kill you after all.

The so-called link between their consumption and heart disease could be down to something as simple as life style or too much sugar. The survey didn’t distinguish between tinned and frozen food. And, guess what? Tinned fruit often comes in sugary syrups.

It also costs less. People struggling on a budget, or isolated by geography, disability or poverty, are more likely to eat proportionally more tinned fruit compared to fresh.

(Sure, you can keep costs down by eating seasonal produce or growing your own. But, let’s be honest. How viable is that in the middle of January, if you live in the Inner City, and you’re juggling shift work with looking after the kids?)

And it’s not just the urban poor who may struggle. If you live in the Sticks, chances are you’ll rely on your freezer and store cupboard for at least some of the week. Your local Costco or village store (if you still have one) won’t offer a daily supply of fresh passionfruit and yams. And, if you don’t have a car, or can’t afford to have Ocado do a weekly shop drop, you’re pretty much dead in the water.

The five-a-day mantra may not be a counsel of perfection. It reflects a belief that we’d find anything more too much. We’d switch off.

Judging by the reactions of The Greasy Spoon regulars, I’d say that’s a very real fear. Most of us have to live in the real world, not a soft-focus ad for Planet Organic.

Calls to make the five-a-day, seven-a-day, or even more, aren’t SMART. Like followers of the worst fad diets, we’d doom ourselves to failure from the start. For most of us, it’s not realistic, not achievable.

Sadly then, the presentation of the latest findings may do more harm than good. However, I take heart from the proprietor of The Greasy Spoon.

This morning, I spotted a new chalk board on the pavement. Home Cooked Specials, with roasties and 5 different vegetables, it promised.

And, if it’s anything like the Mega Breakfast, it’ll go down a treat.

It’s also my favourite post this week so  I am adding it to Honest Mum’s Brilliant Blog Posts Linky.

Brilliant blog posts on

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Lentil and Chorizo Soup

I bagged this spicy soup out of OH’s Metro (with a small adaptation). It’s got enough substance to make a filling supper or lunch, especially if you serve it with some crusty bread or Focaccia.

soup in bowl with garnish of leaves and yoghurt

To make the lentil and chorizo soup, you will need

  • 1 tin of lentils (green, 400g)
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 large chopped onion (or use a generous handful of frozen pre-chopped onion)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Shake of pepper
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 150g pearl barley
  • 500ml good quality chicken or vegetable stock
  • can chopped tomatoes (200g)
  • 100g chorizo
  • Spices, recipe says paprika (1 tsp), cumin (half tsp), coriander seeds (half tsp). I used all of these, and also added a teaspoonful of garam masala, but then I like my food spicy!

To serve (if desired)

  • A few chorizo slices
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Coriander leaves (shredded)

To make the lentil and chorizo soup is easy.

  1. Heat olive oil (20ml or enough to cover the bottom of the pan) on a low heat. Saute the onion, carrot and garlic. I use a large deep stock pan.
  2. Add the spices and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the pearl barley, tomatoes, and stock.
  4. Season with the salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. Chop the chorizo and add to the pan.
  6. Drain and add the lentils.
  7. Add the spices. Mix.
  8. Simmer for about 40 minutes, until the barley is soft.
  9. Remove and liquidise (not strictly necessary, but if not liquidising, make sure you chop the vegetables finely and cut the chorizo into very small pieces…it makes a great broth-type soup).
  10. Garnish with coriander and some of the left over chorizo. Add a drizzle of plain yoghurt if you want to take out some of the heat!

This recipe gives enough for four servings.

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. Joining too with a Mummytoo’s #RecipeoftheWeek.

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.comLink up your recipe of the week


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silent sunday


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Want to visit the Maldives? Then follow your nose…

Dog-tired, I close my eyes, and let the warm water lap over me.

Deep breathes. Muscles relax, and the scent of Rose Otto fills my head.

bare feet in red flip flop jewel sandalsA few seconds is all it takes, and I’m back in Marrakesh. OK, it says Armitage Shanks on the faucet. The bathroom window drips with condensation and a dank London fog, but none of that bothers me. I’m miles away, supine on the blue and white tiles of a hamman, skin soft from agran oil and a hot stone massage.    

Later, I may swap the Rose Otto for something less girly. A cup of freshly ground coffee rejuvenates me, and OH.

So far, though, coffee does not form part of our shared olfactory landscape. Bittersweet, Cafezihno hits the spot for OH. Rio, tales of carnival and itineraries dissected over tiny cups of pure black coffee. For me, it’s my favourite Left Bank café, a leisurely noisette and freshly baked croissants.

Smell does more than make you reminisce. It can hotwire your senses, transporting you to another time, another place.

Little wonder then that clever marketers are in on the act. Leading tour operator, Kuoni, has commissioned an interactive map, which incorporates the scent of ten of its worldwide destinations. Press a button and you get a whiff of Australia, the West Indies or Where Ever.

Could the sense of smell become an innovative way of promoting the travel experience? The company certainly hopes so, and that their aroma map will encourage people to explore new destinations.

antique map of the world and spice routes

Kuoni are also asking for help. They want bloggers to tell them what the scent of the Maldives could be.

Enter yours truly. However, having never visited the Maldives, I feel at a distinct disadvantage. How can I define its signature scent? For me, scent is personal, and inextricably linked to memory.

However, it might be fun to try. I shut my eyes, and picture myself on a sun-kissed beach. I dip my feet in the cerulean sea. I sip ice-cold cocktails, and watch the sun set over palm trees, but something is missing. My dream island is too generic, and strangely odourless.

Wikipedia and Lonely Planet fill in the detail, and not just on the Maldives. I also discover the theory of perfume.   

Like memory, our experience of scent is fluid and multi-layered. Adopting a musical metaphor, three sets of notes ebb and flow over time. More than the sum of their parts, they merge in a harmonious whole.

orchid  and petals on bed maldives spaThe top notes give us our first impression. If the Maldives were a perfume, this would be the heady aroma of its colourful flowers; orchids, bougainvillea, hibiscus and frangipani. They line the powder soft sand path that snakes from our villa to the beach. At night, their petals decorate our bed.

The middle notes come next, the heart of the perfume.

I look to the crystal-clear sea, where we swim and snorkel, the coral reefs and thilas where I chase butterfly fish and snappers with my camera. Ocean breeze; fresh, slightly salty, that sense of  feel good that fills my lungs as I race across the sand.

Finally, the base notes. These give real depth to the fragrance. They linger. It’s the scent that I will carry home, coconut.

Hanging from towering palms, in giant clusters, coconuts are virtually odourless. However, ripened, flesh scooped out, grated by the traditional hunigondi, or squeezed into oil or milk; they release their sweet creamy aroma.

maldives beachThis scent pervades our day. At breakfast, it combines with the delicate aroma of salt fish in our Mashuni. Later, we find it in the coconut water and kurumba ices, which cool us on the beach. We taste it in the curries, and the honey we pour over our desserts.

Leaving OH to explore the atoll, I investigate the other uses of coconut too. A body rub with coral sand and coconut milk, a massage with warm banana leaves and Maldivian virgin coconut oil.

I try not to think about the weather at home, or the dank London fog.

One day, weary, I’ll relax in another bath. Eyes closed, I’ll breathe in the scent of coconuts, and find myself back in the Maldives.

This is my entry for Kuoni’s Scents of Adventure Maldives Blog Competition.

It’s also this week’s labour of love so I am adding it to Honest Mum’s Brilliant Blog Posts Linky.

 Brilliant blog posts on

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Rich cherry and chocolate loaf

I often end up serving cake as a pudding. It satisfies my craving for something sweet. It can also “rescue” a cake from a multitude of culinary mishaps. There isn’t much lashings of custard can’t put right!

This week though I’m turning this tendency to a positive. A coulis with some edge to turn the cake into a bit of a treat for dessert. Enjoy one day as a cake, the next as a special pudding. (And, of course, it works well as just a cake.)


To make the cherry and chocolate loaf cake, you will need

For the cake

  • Half cup unsalted butter or baking fat (softened)
  • One and a half cups of sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence
  • One and a quarter cups of self-raising flour
  • Two thirds cup of cocoa powder
  • Half cup chocolate chips
  • cup of cherries
  • Three quarters cup of plain yoghurt
  • 3 large eggs

For the coulis

  • Quarter cup Water
  • Two cups cherries, fresh or frozen (defrosted)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • Couple of dashes of your favourite liquor, for example Kirsch works well.

To make the rich cherry and chocolate loaf cake is easy.

  1. Line a large to medium sized loaf tin with baking paper.
  2. Set oven to 350/176/4. Preheat.
  3. Cream together the sugar and butter.
  4. Gradually fold in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Fold in the cocoa and half the flour through a sieve.
  6. Add the cherries and chocolate. Mix.
  7. Add the yoghurt and vanilla. Mix.
  8. Add the balance of the shifted flour. Mix well.
  9. Pour into the tin and cook for 60 to 65 minutes or until a knife inserted into the cake comes away clean.

For the coulis, just do the following

  1. Put cherries, sugar and water in small pan and bring to the boil.
  2. Boil for 5 minutes.
  3. Add liquor if using.
  4. Blend, cool if desired, or serve warm!

Serve the cake just as it is or dose liberally with the coulis, hot or cold.

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. Joining too with a Mummytoo’s #RecipeoftheWeek.

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.comLink up your recipe of the week


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silent sunday


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Spring comes to the Hamlet

Outside the kitchen door, there is some serious avian activity.

a line of geese outside a gateThe resident wood-pigeon, cruelly nicknamed John Prescott because of his attitude and supersized feather Puffa, is at it with a chippy robin. Meanwhile, under their radar, sparrows are busy up cycling our new box topiary.

Finally, the floods have receded. Next door’s ducks have vacated our back lawn. A gang of equally mouthy magpies now loiters on the grass instead. I watch them shooting the breeze, dropping twigs down the chimney and precision bombing the cat.

Over the hedge, the farm cranks into life. OH gives up timing his commute to avoid the gritting lorry. He leaves five minutes early, and resolves to practise mindfulness when stuck behind a tractor.

The local cockerels are stepping it up a gear too. We awake to daylight, and what sounds like a high-octane rehearsal for Chicken Run meets The Sopranos.

Unlike most eight-year-olds, Boy seems unfazed by the noise or lengthening days. Mornings, I find him fast asleep, wrapped tight in his quilt like an Egyptian mummy. He still clings to his microwaveable cuddly pig, which he refuses to relinquish.

OH tries to prise the pig off him, unsuccessfully. Pointing to the red line creeping up the thermometer, he mutters something about switching the central heating off. Boy clings all the more tightly to piggy, and I pretend not to hear. 

(In temperature control, OH remains steadfastly a towards person, switching the heating off as soon as we nudge into double figures. Anathema to my away from mindset, I protest. The heating should only go off when the risk of frost has passed).

daffodils in rain Boy, happily, is oblivious to the battle that rages. For him, spring is all about having to wear short trousers and playtimes on the grass.

Last year, he couldn’t get enough of Spring Watch. He watched, transfixed, the metamorphosis of egg to chick. Together, we sat on the edge of our sofa, counting the young fledglings out, and, hearts fluttering, counting them back. A bird box camera was top of his wish list, until the dark winter nights returned and he reasoned he’d get more use out of a wii u.

This year, I wonder whether Boy will have the same enthusiasm, or whether moving to the country will have changed him (and not only because he’s heard mummy muttering some very nasty things about the chicken). 

Now we have space. Boy can kick a ball as hard as he likes, without worrying about breaking windows, or denting a car bonnet.  He can fish for minnows and pond skaters in the stream, or hang upside down in the willow tree. This is the life we dreamed about, when we were kids.

boy in red hoodie on stileSo it comes as a shock to learn what Boy misses, apart from his friends. Street lights, the Corner Shop, and riding his bike on the pavement.

About to remonstrate, I stop. Mother, like son, they say.

It’s spring, but I’m missing the magic. I urgently need a leg wax, heel balm and a hardcore pedicure. Things, once slipped effortlessly into my lunch hour, now need advanced planning, and a thirty-mile car trip. Things I never really appreciated when they were on my doorstep.

Familiarity may not always breed contempt, I tell myself, but indifference can be just as bad.

Now there are fields, and trees, and birds all around us. I wonder what Boy will make of them. Will he keep his love of nature, his sense of joy and wonder, or will he take them all for granted?

I question my own incipient cynicism. I even start to regret some of the bad things I said about the chicken.

However, this morning, I find Boy already out of his duvet, piggy on the floor. His smile hits me; a left hook straight to my heart.

Mummy, mummy, he cries, pointing out of his bedroom window. Look!

I half expect to see another stray duck, or a vengeful chicken, but I’m wrong.

It’s better than Spring Watch!

And he’s right.

I’d forgotten the sheep in the field opposite, or maybe she’d become so familiar, I hadn’t noticed her growing heaviness. Now a lamb wobbles, uncertainly, at her side.

Together, Boy and I watch, in awe, as the lamb takes its tentative first steps, and I remember why spring really is my favourite season.

    wooly sheep looking at camera

two lambs







This Tale from the Hamlet was written for the Mumsnet Sanctuary Spa Linky.

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Juicy Altogether Orange Cake

half a juicy orangeThis cake uses a single sweet juicy orange. Fruit, pith and skin, all go into the food processor. Hence the name, Juicy Altogether Orange Cake.

I owe this one to my dawning realization that (a) it is Lent and (b) my conquest of all things rich and creamy has been continuing, unabated, long past Pancake Day!

Time for some culinary sack cloth and ashes. Or, at least, something that’s a bit easier on the waistline.

Enter my Good Food Healthy Eating Cookbook. And some more good news. A cake that is (relatively healthy), with just 266 calories a slice, before any icing. (Admittedly Good Food says it serves 12, whereas OH and I divided it into 6, but I’m betting you guys have more self-control!)

From my jaunts around other #TastyTuesdays and #RecipeoftheWeek posts, I discovered Inside the Wendy House and “borrowed” the concept of coconut based icing. TBH I am not a big lover of the overly sugary pink or white icing you see on wedding cakes and Barbie-esque cupcakes. I was looking for something a bit different, less cloying. But, if you don’t like coconut, or just want to keep it simple, substitute a light sprinkling of icing sugar instead, or just leave it plain!

Orange cakeTo make the Juicy Altogether Orange Cake, you will need

  • 1 medium sweet juicy orange
  • 175g butter, softened
  • 175g light muscovado sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • Half teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g ground almonds

For the coconut frosting, you will need

  • 125ml coconut cream
  • A teaspoonful of icing sugar
  • A teaspoonful of maple syrup
  • Yellow food colouring
  • Teaspoonful of chopped hazelnuts (optional)
  • Teaspoonful of candied fruit peel (optional).

To make the Juicy Altogether Orange Cake is very simple.

  1. First set the oven to gas mark 5/190 C and grease a round 23cm/9in, 5cm/2in deep cake tin . I line the bottom with baking paper and grease the sides with a dab of olive oil, on kitchen paper, which I wipe the sides with.
  2. Cut orange into chunks. Remove pips. In a food processor, mash to a fine puree (pith, skin and flesh, everything but the pips!).
  3. Tip in the butter, sugar, eggs, ground almonds and flour and combine until smooth (you may have to divide into two batches, as I did).
  4. Pour into the tin and smooth out the top.
  5. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is risen and the top is brown (a knife should come out of the centre of the cake clean).
  6. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack.

To make the coconut frosting

  1. Whip the coconut cream, add in the syrup, colouring and icing sugar and continue to whisk until it is stiff. NB. Add the colouring gradually until you get the shade you want. The syrup will turn the coconut creamy slightly greed, omit and double up on the icing sugar if that is your taste.
  2. Spread over the top of the cake.
  3. Sprinkle with hazel nuts and fruit if desired.
  4. Chill well before serving.

orange cake with cocnut cream icingEnjoy and feel virtuous!

Joining with Honest Mum’s #TastyTuesday. Joining too with a Mummytoo’s #RecipeoftheWeek.

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Rose Harissa

rose tomatoes chillies and spicesChillies will be hot in 2014 according to Schwartz’s Flavour Forecast.

Not surprising given we’re at the tail end of the wettest Winter in memory. We could all do with some warming up!

Travel agents have got this sussed, trading shamelessly on the feel good factor. This year, the glossy brochures hit our doormat before we’d even cleared away the Christmas baubles and mulled wine. Aspirational reading for the cold dark nights, to get us through the gloom of February.

Now the first tentative signs of spring see me flicking through those shiny pages with renewed vigour. Temperatures may still be hovering just above freezing. An early morning frost may just have killed off my first seedlings, but Grazia is telling me I should be checking my bikini line and planning my beach wardrobe.

OH, eyeing the glossies, preempts the heavy thump of next month’s Mastercard statement hitting the doormat. He offers up a reality check, gratis.

We now have a mortgage and child in tow. If we get to the beach this year, it’s going to be Bognor, not Cancun.

I stop him before he elaborates. I get it. My summer’s going to be more Primark, than Yves St Laurent.

For a moment, the joys of motherhood pall. How I miss those pre-child days, when a 3am wake-up call was always planned, a prelude to an early morning flight to Barcelona or Rome, not a bleary-eyed trip to the kitchen for another bottle of formula. And as for long-haul…forget it.

So now I’m an armchair traveller. There’s no tan, but the tickets are cheap. And I get to take a lot of trips.

coloured jars chemist apothecary marrakeshEyes shut, heating turned up, in the nursery rocker, OH and I are back in Marrakesh, a city of extremes and sensory overload.

At first light, we awake to the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, the sun beating off the city’s red walls and, in the distance, the snow-capped Atlas mountains.

We repeat all the tourist things. We dodge donkey carts and mules, get lost in the maze of souks, haggle over leather Babouches and pouffes that we know will look incongruous back home. We watch the snake charmers, tooth pullers and water carriers at Djemaa el-Fnaa square, breathe in the scent of the spice market and the more pungent stench of the medieval tanneries.

And, when it all gets too much, we retreat behind the cool stone walls of the riad. We bathe in the pool, lounge away the afternoon in a marble alcove with a copy of Bowles’ Under the Sheltering Sky, or simply watch the world go by, sipping endless cups of sweet, rose-scented coffee.

At night, rejuvenated, we venture out again.

Transformed, Djemaa el-Fnaa becomes the biggest pop-up cafe in the world. Resisting the aroma of roasting lamb, the night air heavy with charcoal and tumeric, we enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice before heading for La Maison Arabe, where we feast on pastilla and tagines.

I order Chicken marinated in Rose Harissa, my absolute favourite.

rose harissaI carry the fire of the chillies, the delicate scent of the roses home with me. Unlike the leather slippers and pouffe, the harissa is good after the holiday, even back in the Real World, in Blighty.

It warms me up in Winter, reminds me of sunnier times and even goes down a treat in our caravan in Bognor.

Here’s my recipe for homemade Rose Harissa.

For the Harissa Paste, you’ll need

  • A handful of vine ripe tomatoes (halved)
  • A handful of chilli peppers (deseeded and chopped)
  • A smoked garlic clove, peeled and chopped
  • A teaspoonful of smoked paprika,
  • A teaspoonful of cumin
  • A teaspoonful of ground corriander
  • A tablespoonful of olive oil
  • Rosewater

For the chicken, you’ll need

  • Chicken joints
  • Fresh mint leaves
  • Greek yoghurt
  • Olive Oil

Simply drizzle the oil over the tomatoes, chillies and garlic and roast on a low heat for half an hour or so.  Dry fry the spices to release the aroma, then remove the vegetables from the heat,  mix the vegetables and spices together, add a tablespoonful of rosewater. You can also add some rose petals if they’re in season. Blend with a food processor until a smooth paste. Add more olive oil if necessary.

Adjust the ratio of chillies to tomatoes depending on how hot you like it!

Rose Harissa marinaded chickenTo make into a marinade, combine two tablespoonfuls of the paste with equal amounts of olive oil and thick greek yoghurt. (This makes enough for four joints). Whip together, then marinade chicken joints in the mixture for ten minutes. Remove and cook under a very hot grill. Crisp the skins up by grilling for longer on the top side.

Just before they are ready (about 40 minutes, depending on the cut), sprinkle some torn mint leaves over.

Serve with couscous, and a green salad.

Sit back, enjoy and imagine you’re in Morocco.

This post is an entry into the Foodies100/Schwartz Flavour of Together challenge. Why not share your favouite flavour experience with Schwartz?





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Pineapple, pear and white chocolate cake

Easy moist cake which doubles as a pudding

This is based on another the recipe from A Girl Called Jack’s 100 Delicious Budget Recipes. 

I have to declare that I upped the ante a bit by using a luxury brand of white chocolate and some fresh juicy pears and tinned pineapple instead of tinned peaches, but the point is it’s an easy to make bake, which is great for a treat, pudding or school fete tray bake. And you can easily experiment and ring the changes!

pineapple pear and white chocolate cake

To make the pineapple, pear and white chocolate cake, you will need just 6 ingredients and a tray bake tin (roughly 2ocms by 20cms).

  • 250g butter
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 200g fruit (small tin of pineapple rings drained and flesh of one ripe pear)
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 200g sugar

Making the pineapple, pear and white chocolate cake is very simple.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C
  2. Grease the tin (I rub it with a piece of kitchen roll dabbed in olive oil and line the base with grease-proof paper).
  3. Cream together the sugar and butter. (Tip: Soften the butter first and cut into cubes)
  4. Beat in the eggs gradually and keep beating until the mix is smooth.
  5. Sift in the flour and stir well together.
  6. Chop up the drained fruit and add to the mix.
  7. Chop up the chocolate (or put in a plastic bag and smash with a rolling pin). Add to the mix and stir well.
  8. Pour into the tin and bake until golden (about 40 minutes). Test by putting a knife in the centre…it’s ready when it comes away clean!
  9.  Leave to cool for about 15 minutes before cutting. And enjoy!

This makes 6-8 slices.

For CFers: If you divide into 8, it gives you about 34 grams of fat a slice. (If you’re on a diet, try not to concentrate on the fact that it counts towards one of your five-a-day!).

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Easy Soda Bread

Easy Soda Bread (no yeast or proving required!)

soda bread loaf cut on plateAfter last week’s Beer Bread success (courtesy of Mama You Talk and a previous #TastyTuesday link up) I have been experimenting with soda bread.

It’s another quick-bake, no yeast, bread and is really simple.

I got the recipe from A Girl Called Jack’s 100 Delicious Budget Recipes (which, after pancakes and bread, is rapidly becoming my new obsession). (£6.49 in Sainsbury’s – I’m not on commission or anything, it’s just a really good book).

In all honesty, the soda bread tastes a bit more like a very large scone than conventional bread, but it is brilliant served with a warming vegetable soup (our Sunday evening supper) or with blackcurrant jam for a tea time treat.

To make the easy soda bread, you will need just 4 ingredients and a small loaf tin.

  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 300 ml milk
  • 400 gr self-raising flour and a little extra for dusting
  • 1.5 (one and a half) level teaspoonfuls of bicarbonate of soda

The method is really simple too.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C
  2. Grease the loaf tin (I rub it with a piece of kitchen roll dabbed in olive oil).
  3. Mix the lemon juice and milk. Reserve.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Make a well in the centre.
  5. Fold in the liquid gradually until you get a nice firm but soft dough.
  6. On a floured board, knead into a loaf shape, put in the loaf tin, score down the middle.
  7. Bake for about 40 minutes (until firm, and golden, it should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom!).
  8. Serve warm with butter (or cool, and cover in cling film for later).

hunk of soad bread

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A little sunshine

Last week, I took a break from work.

Committment to my New Year’s Resolution (to improve my diet) is wavering. But I’m still committed enough to resist my usual  break-time activity (burying my snout in the biscuit tub). So a thirty minute stroll down the lane and a quick circuit round some fields seemed like a good idea. Right?

(This is the countryside, and one of the big benefits is lots of fresh air, bucolic walks and exercise. Right?)

My trusty green wellies saw me through the slough of mud and flood water. However, I hadn’t bargained for broken ROW signs, padlocked gates and a cunningly disguised Jersey bull.

(I’m OK with cows, heifers and most other life forms. Random bulls though are a bit different. If I’d had my proper glasses on, I’d probably have spotted the horns on top of what I thought was just a large muck heap. I would never have entered the field in the first place. As it was,  Mr Big Horns was slumped in front of the gate like some great lumbering bovine Cerberus. I backed away, slowly, doing my best Steve Backshall impression. I prayed that my wellies wouldn’t get stuck in the mud and that my Miss Dior would mask the scent of raw fear.)

As a destressor, the walk was proving to be less than successful. With so many detours, it was also taking a lot longer than thirty minutes.

Lost, I unfurled my OS map, which now had almost as much muck and manure on it as my boots. It started to rain. Heavily. (It’s been doing that around here recently. A lot). The map had turned to pulp. I put it back into my pocket. Its mapness gone, I wondered if there was any point, carrying around something that was now part clay, part papier mâché,

I was also very late. The rain had eased, the sun was making a rare guest appearance. I noticed how low it was in the sky. Dusk was on its way. I ploughed on, adopting a more relaxed approach to the Countryside Code. I negotiated two more blocked paths, and a broken stile, discovering I can no longer swing my leg higher than my waist. I silently cursed local feudalism and made a mental note to e-mail the Council’s ROW officer when I got back.

Exhausted, I paused. I looked back at the setting sun and breathed in. Perhaps it was worth it, afterall.

stubble fields at lydiard/hookHook Lydiard GreenSunset HookJoining with Oliver’s Madhouse #magicmoments to kick off my week with some feel good factor.


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A wet week in Cricklade

footpath floodedTo say we’ve had a lot of rain here is an understatement. Further West, it’s worse. A lot worse.

But the soil here is clay, which drains badly. The fields aren’t soaking up the water any more. It sits there in pools. And when there’s a big downpour (like there was on Friday morning), there’s nowhere for it to go….a lot of the fields are now submerged.

So far, attempts to get Boy walking have been a partial success. He is no longer keen on walking unless it involves either an activity or a purpose. (Like vegetables, fresh air exercise has to be cunningly disguised). But the rain has added a new dimension to our Sunday ramble. Unofficial footpath diversions apart, Boy revels in the wetness, marvelling at the mother of all puddles. Strangely, he seems quite excited at the prospect of the ditch flooding, checking it each morning (no longer glued to the CBBC Schedule).

The journey to school has taken on epic proportions. I try to remember where all the submerged pot holes are, and assess how far the road is from becoming impassable. However, Boy relishes the strange watery kingdom stretching out in front of us.

For him, it’s a new Avalon, the pinnacle of St Sampson’s rising majestically in the distance. An island fortress surrounded by shimmering lakes….and a perilous causeway (more mundanely known as the B4553) guarded by fearsome dragons (or just very wet cows).

I too see the water-logged fields in a new light, glimpsing the beauty as well as the threat.

And, even when the water gets too close for comfort, Boy makes the most of his reportage skills.

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Winter field Hook

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Chorizo and Pepper Pasta Bake

Easy tasty after school/work supper

This is another recipe taken from BBC’s Good Food, called Spicy Pepper Penne but to be honest, it’s the chorizo that gives the pasta bake its tasty flavour (that and the Parmesan crust),  and you don’t need to use penne. So I think Chorizo and Pepper Pasta Bake more apt.spciy chorizo and pepper and pasta bake

This time it’s from their Healthy Eating Cookbook. (We’re still working off some of the excesses of Christmas). However, for Boy with his high-calorie, high-fat needs, I drop in an extra portion of cheese to his “share”.

If you want to be even-more health conscious, try substituting the chorizo with chopped anchovies.

To make Chorizo and Pepper Pasta Bake, you’ll need-

  • 1 large onion thinly sliced
  • 300 gr penne or similar pasta
  • 3 red/yellow/orange peppers
  • sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 large tablespoonful breadcrumbs
  • 100gr/4oz plain flour
  • 100 gr sliced chorizo
  • 300ml/1/2 pt milk (I used full fat, but semi-skimmed is fine and lowers the fat content)
  • 50 gr grated Parmesan
  • 2 cans (800gr) chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • olive oil
  • Cheddar cheese crumbled (optional if you want to make it richer and add calories).

Making the pasta bake is very easy and takes about 10 minutes to make, plus 20 minutes in the oven.

  1. First, preheat the oven to 200 c, fan 180 c, Gas Mark 6.peppers and onion in frying pan
  2. Cut the onions into wedges,  and slice the peppers (discard the pips and white pulp). Chop the Rosemary and garlic. Cut up the chorizo into small dice sized pieces.
  3. Fry the peppers and onion in a pan with a slug of olive oil until they are soft and tender and starting to turn god, then add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and chorizo.
  5. Season if desired and remove from the heat.
  6. Meanwhile cook the pasta until tender but firm to bite (BBC GF say use penne, but no hard or fast rules on this).
  7. Drain well, add to the sauce and mix well. Add the mixture to a shallow casserole or oven proof baking dish (oil the sides and bottom of the dish first…I always brush with a brush or piece of kitchen roll dipped in olive oil).
  8. Mix together the rosemary, breadcrumbs and Parmesan, then sprinkle over the top of the dish.Drizzle a little oil over the top.
  9. Cook for 15-20 minutes until golden.

Voila Chorizo and Pepper Pasta Bake.

This recipe serves four generously and has approximately 24gr of fat a serving.

For CFers, add grated cheese to part (or all) of the Pasta Bake to increase the fat content. To lower the fat content, substitute the chorizo with anchovies, chopped olives or capers and go easy on the Parmesan.

Best enjoyed with a side salad and a glass of red wine!

Joining with Honest Mum’s Tasty Tuesday. Joining too with a Mummytoo’s #RecipeoftheWeek.

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February…closer to spring

Hard to believe, we are no longer in January.

Boy cheerfully annouced it was February 1st on Saturday. Cold, wet and water-logged outside, nobody much felt like celebrating this fact. New Years Resolutions lay in tatters and we are counting the days until Half Term. (Surely, then the mornings have to get lighter, right?)

But things can change quicker than a blink sometimes.

We found these in my parents’ garden on Sunday…..

Boy thought they meant snow was on its way. I put him straight. The harbringers of Spring.

snow dropsWe call it day, but dank fog
curtains sky, below
a crown of bulbs burn white.

Rain falls. Earth sinks below
its watery core
ghosts of islands emerge.

Joining with Oliver’s Madhouse #magicmoments to kick off my week with some feel good factor.


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Toad in the hole, a tale of two sausages

Without meaning to be ironic, I took a recipe from BBC’s Good Food, 101 Low Fat Feasts, and substituted full fat milk and (for Boy’s portion) added cheddar cheese.

toad in the whole prok sausagesIf you want to be good, stick with semi-skimmed milk and omit the cheese. Because Boy is on a high-fat diet (and is also a fussy eater), I also ended up using two types of sausages from our local butcher, Halls in Cricklade High Street. I opted for chipolatas for Boy and the Chilli and Leek for ourselves. On reflection, I think this recipe works best with a good quality traditional sausage. But don’t be afraid to experiment!

You’ll need-

  • 8 good quality sausages
  • 1 red onion
  • sprig of fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp
  • 100gr/4oz plain flour
  • 1 medium egg
  • 300ml/1/2 pt milk (I used full fat, but semi-skimmed is fine and lowers the fat content)
  • 1 tsp mustard (I used Leith’s mustard with horseradish, which has quite a bite. BBC GF says use 2 tsp  of whole grain. Flavour according to taste).
  • Cheddar cheese crumbled (optional if you want to make it richer and add calories).

raw pork sausagesMaking the toad-in-hole is relatively straightforward and takes about 10 minutes.

  1. First, preheat the oven to 200 c, fan 180 c, Gas Mark 6.
  2. Cut the onions into wedges, then tip into a shallow non-stick tin, about 23 x 30cm, 9 x 12 in. I usually line with foil to save on scrubbing later.
  3. Arrange the sausages on top. Drizzle oil over and roast for 20 minutes.
  4. Chop the thyme.
  5. Meanwhile, sift the flour, then whisk together the eggs, flour, adding the milk gradually to form a batter.
  6. If you want to add the cheese, do so at this stage. Sprinkle it over the sausages.
  7. Quickly pour the batter over and return to the oven for 40 minutes, but check towards the end of this time. Remove the dish when the batter is risen and golden.
  8. Serve with vegetables. Cabbage and broccoli go well.
cheese on toad in the hole

adding cheese

This recipe serves 4. Fat content depends on which sausages you use and whether you opt for full fat milk or not. The low-fat version (using low fat sausages) can be as low as 7grs of fat a serving.

For CFers, using juicy pork sausages, full fat milk and adding the cheese , you can get the fat content up to 25gr easily.


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Burns Night, Drambuie and Raspberry Cranachan

Drambuie and Raspberry Cranachan

It’s less than a week until Burns Night (25th January). We’ll be celebrating Burns Night at Boy’s school with the PTA a week later. However, since I’ve got into the swing of all things Scottish, I’ll be doing a Burns Supper at home on the actual day.

Despite the strong pull of tradition, I don’t think I’ll ever persuade Boy (or OH for that matter) to tuck into haggis, so I’ve been on the look out for some more palatable options.

cranachan raspberry and whisky pudding for Burns NightCranachan, a sort of Scottish Eton Mess, ticks all the boxes. The oats and Drambuie make it truly Scottish. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to source some Scottish raspberries (probably not in February, but who knows. There may be some, grown under cover, lurking in some of the more up market grocers).

Most recipes for cranachan use whisky, but I substituted Dranbuie, keeping the Scottish theme, making it a bit different and adding a bit of sweetness.

You’ll need-

  • 300 gr fresh raspberries
  • 300 ml double cream
  • sprig of mint
  • 2 tbsp Scots Porridge Oats
  • castor sugar to taste
  • 2 tbsp Drambuie (or whisky)
  • 2 tbsp honey (heather honey if you want to keep with the Scottish theme)

Making the Drambuie and Raspberry Cranachan is simple and quick (about ten minutes maximum). The trick is to serve it reasonably quickly after you’ve made it…leave it too long and the oats will go soggy. You should also be careful not to over-roast the oats. It’s hard to tell by looking at them. Take the baking tray out of the grill when you start to notice that nutty smell!

  1. First, roast the oats by spreading them thinly on some foil on a baking tray under the grill. Then cool.
  2. Take half of the raspberries and puree through a sieve. Add a little sugar to sweeten (taste). Reserve.
  3. Whisk the double cream gently, slowly adding the Drambuie and the honey.
  4. Slowly add the oats and whisk very gently.
  5. Pour some of the cream mix into the ramekins, add a layer of the puree, then some of the remaining raspberries. Repeat this layering, garnishing with some of the remaining raspberries and sprig of mint.
  6. Chill for ten minutes or so and then serve.
alternative pudding or dessert for Burns Night

Cranachan – the CF version

For CFers, the cream gives this a good fat content. This recipe serves four easily and gives you roughly 40 grs of fat. You can up the fat content more by adding chocolates or crumbled digestive biscuits to the mix!

Joining with Honest Mum’s Tasty Tuesday. Joining too with a Mummytoo’s #RecipeoftheWeek.

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Talking Tom & Boy

boy in onsie at com[puterOH and I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on what to get Boy for Christmas.

However, to cut a long story short, Boy got his much coveted tablet. And over the past few weeks, even OH has started to agree with me. At times, it feels like we’ve lost a son and gained a digital babysitter.

Obsessed doesn’t come close.

Rationing use of the chargor was on the cards. Misgivings were rumbled, the effect of computers on social skills much debated.

Then I found an e-mail from Boy in my in-box with this attachment. And (despite the annoying screechy bit towards the end) I melted.

Joining with Oliver’s Madhouse #magicmoments to kick off my week with some feel good factor.


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Forget the mushrooms

Just before Christmas, my Uncle died. No #magicmoment there. But, starting to clear out the family home, we had a bitter-sweet moment.

boy smiling in fieldI took Boy for a walk over the fields I had walked as a kid with my Gramp. Despite the relentless march of progress (or urban sprawl, depending on your perspective), not much has changed yet, at this end of the village.

I forgot where some of the stiles are (much to Boy’s disgust, as we doubled back on ourselves). It was the wrong time of year for mushrooms. (Probably just as well. If I can’t remember where the stiles are, I don’t rate my chances of finding the mystical spots favoured by mushrooms without Gramp). Boy showed his townie roots by getting stuck on the stile when we did find it, and diligently ignored all my attempts to get him identifying leafless trees from their shapes. About half an hour into our romp, a persistent drizzle started.

So what made it a #magicmoment?

boy running down ploughed fieldSimply, seeing Boy’s unadulterated joy as he careered down the footpath that runs through the centre of the big field. An echo from the past.

I suspect it may be a while before Boy starts to lose his townie proclivities. (And even longer before he starts to appreciate mushrooms.) But seeing his grin as he ran, pell mell, giggling maniacally, down the field slope, gave me that warm glow inside.

For a moment, nothing else mattered. I just stood in the rain, watching.

There was something elemental and timeless in his joy. A child whooping with fun, oblivious to the rain, or our everday worries, running as fast as he could under an open sky.

Joining with Oliver’s Madhouse #magicmoments to kick off my week with some feel good factor.


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Beyond twelth night…..

Monday morning, 6am, I am feeling decidedly unmagical. And a bit guilty too, as I have just waved OH off to work and am about to crawl back to bed with a big mug of Earl Grey and the hot water bottle.

holly red berries and green leaves against a blue skyNo school for us, until tomorrow. And I am already starting to feel the stirrings of guilt, the unread proofs on my desk, putting Boy on the school bus for the first time…….

Christmas is well and truly over (decorations removed in a panic last night). The holiday brochures hit the doormat two days ago and, if I had any cash left, I’d be planning my next escape.

So, it may be old hat, but I’m revisiting some of the magic moments of the holiday.

christmas tree white in candle lightNew home. It was our first Christmas in the new house. Sadly, Uncle Stuart died the week before Christmas and I had neither the time, nor the inclination, to clear out the barn and erect the giant Christmas tree that I’d planned. However, Boy is resilient. He set himself the goal of making the longest paper chain ever, and almost succeeded. And, together with OH, he made a surprisingly tasteful job of making the cottage look festive.

Fresh air. A mixed one this. The great outdoors doesn’t seem quite so great after our Are we there yet Christmas day walk and a couple of (very wet) afternoons holding the ladder while OH inspected the damage to the roof. But, on the plus side, we’ve enjoyed tramps around Clifton (culminating in the best chocolate cake in the West Country), walks over the fields of my childhood and we’ve seen lots of wildlife (notably deer in the garden and some very worried looking foxes.)

Food. Despite all the celebrity cookbooks, and my good intentions, it was another Iceland Christmas. Actually after the disastrous Christmas Day walk, it was almost a cheese sandwich Christmas Dinner, but let’s not spoil the feel-good factor. Boxing Day was a success, with both sets of parents surviving my cooking. And I’ve had the pleasure of being able to raid the cheese box every evening since.

Presents. Despite concerns about materialism, losing the true meaning of Christmas etc etc, Boy has done me proud. He even saved the bulk of his presents until Boxing Day so that he could open them with the rest of the family.

Christmas 2013OH and I had deliberated over whether to buy him his much wanted Tablet. We held it back until after he had opened his other presents, so that he would fully appreciate the games the grandparents had bought him. Seeing the surprise and joy on his face when he opened it, the day-after Boxing Day, and the heartfelt thank you was a real tonic. And all the more special as he had been so happy and gracious with the more practical gifts (clothes, books etc) he had on Christmas Day.

A bit of a rest. Well, after the Christmas Day and Boxing Day full-on domestic marathon….we checked into the Bristol Marriott for a few days. I love being able to slob out, eat restaurant food, potter around the shops and museums and kid myself that it’s doing me some good, by having an early morning swim and sweating some in the sauna.

Now, it’s back to earth with a bump. I will just have to think of ways to make January (and February) special……

Joining with Oliver’s Madhouse #magicmoments to kick off my week with some feel good factor.


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Sunsets on Asda

This Christmas, we’ll be one down at the table. My uncle died very suddenly. And it’s hard to descibe all the feelings going on in my head. Still too raw, I guess. But, the show must go on, as they say. Boy is upset, but (fortunately) nothing dampens his enthusiasm for Christmas. (He has set himself the challenge of creating a record-breaking paper chain. The contents of my recycle bin, reformed, now snakes through the house and into the barn).

And, however surreal, it feels flitting from the hospital to the tinsel-decked aisles of the local supermarket, it is also a time of new beginnings. Just before my Uncle was admitted to hospital, I bumped into him, looking for Christmas puddings in Asda. He showed me his swollen leg. Unbeknown, a few days later, another clot would kill him.

With feelings still raw, it may seem trite to talk about #magicmoments. Yet they are, ultimately, the bedrock of what really matters.

As the hospital bus dropped me off at Asda, I watched the sun set over the emptying carpark. Bitter sweet, doesn’t come close. But I couldn’t deny its unexpected ethereal beauty.

Perhaps that’s an image I’ll hold in my head, rather than a cold hospital bed.

And, in the future, when I’m at Asda, I’ll refrain from cursing Boy for “borrowing” my shopping trolley pound, or moaning about other people’s parking. Instead, I’ll try and find that still, silent, moment of quiet. And remember my Uncle.

sunset over asda

Joining with Oliver’s Madhouse #magicmoments to kick off my week with some feel good factor.


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From squat to squat

window of cottage in stone houseOther Half gave my old home office the sobriquet squat (for reasons obvious to the obsessively tidy). When we moved, retracing our roots west, there would be no more squat. Our new house would have a dedicated workspace, with enough room for my desk, files and multiple half-empty coffee cups.

Squat, however, continues to haunt me. I have a nice new office, nestled in the nook of a nineteenth century squat.

Like most pre-loved homes, ours has given us a few surprises. Lydiard Green’s quirky past, and our cottage’s place in it, has been one. 

The Wiltshire landscape is rich with history. However, usually the big manors and towering megaliths grab all the attention. Yet the village greens and hamlets have their tales too.

Lydiard Green’s story starts in the seventeenth century with enclosure. Landowners fenced off fields and woods, traditionally enjoyed by the community, for private hunting or agriculture. The Green remained, one of the few areas of common. Dispossessed peasants and graziers settled there, exercising their rights as squatters.

For the next three hundred years, Lydiard Green settled into a quiet existence. With its motley collection of agricultural cottages and smallholdings, the hamlet took on a character of its own. A primitive Methodist chapel, a grocers and butchers appeared in the nineteenth century. However, the hamlet remained resolutely rural; less prosperous, less modish than neighbouring Lydiard Millicent with its fine Manor and Rectory.

Today the chapel is a private home, and the butchers and grocers have long gone. Few of the cottages (our own included) now house farm labourers, or displaced peasants.

Yet, the hamlet retains a unique charm, rich echoes of its past. The brick and stone-rubble houses may lack the uniform appeal of honey-coloured Cotswold stone. (Stone from the local quarry was more salt-and-pepper in hue, flecked with chips of fossils, and the buildings themselves have more than a touch of the makeshift about them.) However, like the squatters who built them, they have those most English of qualities, character and endurance.

Sitting in my study, surrounded by all the paraphernalia of a twenty-first century office, I sometimes think about its first occupant, another squatter, making a fresh start.

Loyiard green looking towards wootton bassett and green hill

Lydiard Green became a Conservation Area in 1993. Thiswas my entry for history category in the wfcap writing competiion. It didn’t get anywhere….but am pleased someoneis raising the profile of Wiltshire’s heritage. And it seemed to fit with Tales from the Hamlet….in the absence of any cute Christmassy animal pictures!

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Wake up and smell the coffee

Tales from the Hamlet, Week 2

Wake up and smell the coffee….

strawberry tart on hite plateFor me, it’s a maxim to live by. This is especially true when it’s cold and dark outside (which it is now, for at least part of both school runs). The world always looks a better place through the haze of a caramel latte, better still with a chocolate and orange fancy in hand.

From last week’s post, you may have gathered there are no trendy coffee bars here. Not much happens in the Hamlet. Three men from Balfour Beatty, taking a break from filing the potholes, hunched over their lunch boxes and a flask of tea, counts as a social event.

However, things are looking up. There is coffee, at the Black Hart. It may only happen once a week. It may carry the sobriquet coffee morning, which sounds uncomfortably redolent of musty church halls and elderly ladies in fox furs nibbling Pennywise biscuits. But it’s a start.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the narrow time box, or the paucity of my social diary, that gives today’s coffee morning the significance of a major expedition. The Hamlet lays a good 2 miles from the Black Hart. This translates as five minutes by car. However, for some reason (more to do with justifying my new, and totally unnecessary, Rohan Striders than carbon neutrality) I decide to walk.

Now, before moving from the Town, OH and I did a lot of soul-searching and research. We wanted a healthier, less stressful, lifestyle. We wanted somewhere rural, a village; somewhere we could enjoy fresh air in the day, and the smell of wood smoke in the evenings. We wanted walks along hedgerows and down cobbled lanes. You get the picture.

Idyllic, maybe, but we were serious. We knew our stuff. We dismissed houses that were ideal apart from their proximity to the main road, and a constant stream of gravel trucks. Before we finally bought the Cottage, we poured over OS detail. We noted, with something approaching excitement, the proliferation of footpaths and bridleways nearby.

We never once thought about pavements.

The Hamlet doesn’t just lack street life, the cafes and chichi shops, the wrought iron bistro tables and chairs that used to spill out onto the sidewalk and punctuate my old route to work. It lacks pavements, full stop.

The provision of a pavement has become the Village’s most burning political issue, more controversial than the proposals to put solar panels in an empty field or to ban artificial flowers from the graveyard. Mostly, for me, it’s a non- issue, especially on days like today, when the sun hangs low and bright on the winter horizon, and I know where I’m going. It’s only five hundred yards to the rickety stile and the footpath, where I can wend my way over the fields, dodging cowpats instead of Fourtrack driving zombies.

brown field ploughed and cut hedgerowEven so, there are moments when I’d welcome a few spare inches of tarmac. Perhaps the pavement campaigners have a point. Right now, I’d feel safer with a buffer between the crease of my Striders and White Van Man’s bumper.  

Today, the footpath doesn’t offer much relief either. The landscape has changed, lost its autumnal softness. Newly ploughed, the field is rutted and mud pocked. With its algae-covered pillbox, it looks like something out of the Somme.

By the time I reach the Black Hart, I’m cold, damp, five minutes late and in serious need of a caffeine fix.

I’m also, ever so slightly, nervous. It’s like Fresher’s Week again, only without the alcohol.

As I walk through the pub’s vestibule, I can see that the coffee morning is already in full swing. Well, sort of.

Actually, what I see is a circle of backs in the snug, a perfect chain of silver pates and blue rinses. There is a single unoccupied barstool, wedged between the table and a walking frame.

OK, it’s not exactly what I was expecting.

However, disappointment soon gives way to guilt, and self-censorship. Don’t be so judgmental, I tell myself, or ageist. After all, I can smell the coffee, and it’s not instant. Indeed, there’s more than a hint of Java about it. I’m not exactly salivating, but I manage to steer myself back to quiet optimism. I may just have run into the cast from a Damart advert, but at least they all seem to share my love for fine beverages.

A little shy, I hover before ordering a coffee at the bar. I smile and wait. Some silvery heads bob up and down, animated, but nobody gets up or turns around.

I wait some more. I check my body language. Arms uncrossed, I resist the urge to fiddle with the conkers I’ve unexpectedly found in my pocket. I ease back on the smiling, conscious that my grin has become as frozen as my feet.

Coffee in hand, I hover, looking for an opening. Where’s the break in the flow of their chatter, the eye contact?

Thank you, I say to the bartender, again, this time in my new person here voice.  

Still, nobody from the table looks up. I clear my throat. Should I wrestle my way past the Hi-Riser and just sit down? I wonder. This is worse than Fresher’s Week. At least, then, I wasn’t the last man standing.

Resolved, I’m making my move when the door swings open. Another latecomer waltzes in, a greyer version of Honor Blackman, in a quilted jacket and Padders.  She jostles past, without looking at me, and promptly bags the last barstool.

Maybe it’s a lame excuse for being, in the words of a purloined psych report, painfully introverted, but I feel like I don’t quite fit in here. I’m even starting to resent the steaming cup of coffee, which I’m clasping like a chalice. It’s only a drink, I tell myself, and it suddenly seems like a lot of effort. If it wasn’t for the anticipation of that first caffeine hit, I could backtrack and leg it out the door.

Finally, somebody looks up. I recognise him, or rather his half-rimmed spectacles and Frank Bough sweater. He’s the man from the Great Pavement Debate.  

I smile, but he doesn’t see me. I go on smiling, until I can feel the corners of my lips fold into a grimace.

Sensing defeat, I try a different approach. I eyeball him, but it’s like staring at a hologram of John Major.

The Pavement Champion keeps on looking straight through me, to the martingale and horse brasses above the empty grate beyond. Then, slowly, he turns back to the table. He bows his silvery head, and picks up the conversational thread, something about missing milk bottles and a traffic cone heist.

Wake up and smell the coffee, I want to hiss.

bare tree branchesOf course, I don’t. I hold my cup closer to my chest. Eyes down, I shuffle off, pretending that my smile was aimed elsewhere, at another mummy coffee drinker, hidden somewhere in the shadows.

For twenty minutes, I fight the urge to leave.

The yummy mummies never arrive, but I sit there, playing with my phone, breathing in the aroma of cocoa beans and thinking about the walk home.

More tales from the Hamlet soon. The search for rural bliss, a decent cup of coffee and like minds continues. 

And (as it’s been a bit grim this week) I promise cute animal pictures and some feelgood factor next week.

This week, I’m joining with Verily Victoria Vocalises Prose for Thought.

 Prose for Thought


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Rural bliss (or just a pile of chicken…..)

That’s the countryside for you.

I stifle the urge to roll my eyes.

Making faces at OH’s back is rude. The wind may change and then I’ll be left looking like Kermit in a bad wig. Worse than that though, I know I am sounding less than upbeat myself

Nobody likes listening to a litany of whinges, unless, of course, they can join in.

Writing this post, then, may be a bit of a mistake. Even if I don’t incite a lynch mob, and I avoid the village stocks, I risk sounding like a paler, less witty, version of Liz Jones.

That’s the countryside for you, OH opines again.

white turkey and brown henCome-what-may, however, I have to exorcise those words. The saying has become a sort of default setting for OH, trotted out whenever I get onto either of my two current bête noirs, next-door’s chicken and (chicken apart) how quiet the Hamlet is.

You remind me of those City women. You know the sort. OH pauses for maximum effect. They think the world ends with the North Circular.

A one-time resident of Surrey, I relax a bit. OH, however, knows how to twist the knife.

One moment, they can’t survive without their 24/7 delis, their double skinny espresso caramel mocha lattes and their spelt and pumpkin seed breakfast muffins. Then they turn thirty. Their biological clock kicks in, their hormones balance out the caffeine and all the bullshit, and they start talking about work life balance.

And what happens next? He asks.

I stay silent. I let him vent. It’s healthy. Besides, I know where this is going.

They move to the countryside. They buy a house next to the village church. Then they spend Sunday mornings complaining about the bells waking them up.

Fair enough. At least, OH is right about the coffee. And, despite some initial dark fantasies (which had started to morph into a feathery splatter movie featuring the George Clooney incarnation of Fantastic Mr Fox), I’m getting used to the chicken.

I know that the chicken, like the bells, were here first. I get it. They’re here to stay. I just hope that, one day, their squawking will wash over me, as the rattle of underground trains once did. (If not, I suspect that the chickens will outlast me).

black and white calveAutumn, any way, is bringing its own comforts. By the time I get back from the morning school run, the chickens have usually quietened down. Instead, I find myself pausing to talk to the cows, and their lumbering calves, before going indoors

An early symptom of Cabin Fever, perhaps, I don’t mention this to OH. I do mention the unremitting quiet.

You see, the Hamlet really is the Middle of Nowhere, but with a road running through it. Nothing happens. A car shunt, a stray commuter braking suddenly to avoid a tractor or disappearing into the mother of all pot holes, is about as exciting as it gets.

But… that’s the countryside.

Bells, screaming chicken, deadly silence, mist floating over the empty fields. (In my more fanciful moments, I imagine myself trapped in a post-apocalypse world populated only by mutant cockerels and Fourtrak-driving zombies).

None of this, however, apparently, matters to OH. The countryside, whether noisy, or dull, is exempt from any criticism because….well…it’s the countryside.

There’s no community, I chirp up. Community, I know, is a good word. Inwardly I congratulate myself on having got my point across without mentioning the absence of decent Broadband, patisseries and nail bars once.

OH, however, has an answer, and, for once, he’s not stuck in his countryside as higher order loop. 

Why don’t you give the village coffee morning a go?

Ncoffee cup with milk jugow a while back, I would have filed his suggestion away with the invitation from the WI to dress up in a pirate theme and join them singing sea shanties. It would hit the recycle pile faster than the flyers from the PCC asking us to spend Sunday morning checking the highway verges for ragwort.

However, even the most fiercely independent woman has to question the quality of her social life when she spends a fair chunk of the day talking to animals.

It’s at the Black Hart, OH adds, so they’ll probably have proper coffee… 

Well, that wins my heart, if not my mind. Friday is coffee morning, then.

It’s hardly Gawker material. However, at least I now have something to tell the cows.    

More tales from the Hamlet soon. There may even be a shot of espresso.

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Our big CF breakfast

pancakes for CFHere’s our breakfast today, a whopping great big 40 grams of fat a helping. I feel it opportune to celebrate today’s announcement about banning school lunches with our latest discovery, super creamy chocolate pancakes. We’ll be thinking of you Dave when we stick our snouts in the chocolate tub!

(As an aside, it’s critical for children with CF to get a high-fat, high-calorie diet because their bodies often can’t process fat efficiently. Low body mass is a common problem and results in poorer clinical outcomes. Politicians take note).

To make this big breakfast you’ll need-

I chunky Kit Kat Bar
2 heaped tablespoonfuls of full fat formage frais
2 or more pancakes (I used the Asda pre-packed versions)
10 squares of chocolate (we used Tesco, value, Asda also does a bargain one at 30-35p a 100grams)
Honey (if desired)
Fruit (if desired)

How to make  super creamy  big bite chocolate pancakes

Simply melt the chocolate squares (we put in the microwave on low for less than a minute). Add the formage frais and blend or whisk well, add the crushed Kit Kat. Either spread on the pankcakes with the honey and fruit if desired, or serve separately and spread according to taste (serve with a spoon so your child can polish off the rest!).

The verdict

Well, it all went. Very quickly. I have the feeling Dave and Cleggy won’t be putting in on the school lunch menu any time soon. But it’s a great way of kick starting the day and getting those vital calories in!

If you add fruit, you can even make it into one of your five-a-day!

boy bites pancake



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CF Week. Highs and lows

Living with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), the highs and lows

logo that says cystic fibrosis is beatableIt’s day 5 of CF Week. And, far from running out of steam, I feel like I’m getting into my stride.

But rather than flood the blogosphere with my ramblings about 50 shades of mucus, poo diaries and hospital food reviews, I’m going to say a few words about some of the highs and lows of life with CF.

And, partly, because I want to end on a positive note, I’m going to start with the lows.

baby with line in and dummy in hospital sleepingLow number one, the diagnosis. The doctors at Tooting were amazing. (A fact I didn’t appreciate fully at the time, when all I wanted to do was get home). But there’s no easy way to break the news. Or to distill the brutal facts of CF.

CF is a genetic condition that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. In CF, the gene controlling the transfer of fluid lining the airways and other organs doesn’t work properly. Mucus builds up, creating an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and infection. It can block the bowels (hence the need for J’s operation when he was three days old).

However, repeated chest infections is the most common complication of CF. Over time, the lungs become damaged and scarred.

I remember asking whether CF was terminal (my words). And that was when I first heard the phrase, life-limiting. (It’s become a turn of phrase I hate. With or without CF, life is as limiting as you make it. To a large extent. And, however, the doctors phrased it, Life-limiting was just a more gentle way of saying my baby had little chance of seeing out his allotted three score years and ten.)

At the time, the average life expectancy for somebody with CF was 31 years. That hit me hard. When you’re a kid, 30 may seem like forever. But I was looking at it from the other end, an elderly prima gravida.

J would need to take a plethora of medication, every day, for the rest of his life. He’d need regular hospital treatment, but nobody could tell me how severely CF would affect him.

With hindsight, I can understand how every case of CF is  different. I can see that treatment, a child’s overall genetic make-up, his environment and pot luck can play a big part in how the disease progresses. But at the time all I wanted (or thought I wanted) was some certainty. So I googled CF.

(If I could give parents of a newly diagnosed child one piece of advice, it would be Don’t google randomly. Go to the CF Trust’s web site, talk to other CF parents instead. )

True, there’s a lot of information about CF out there, but much of it is alarmist and out-of-date. I soon became overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all, and not just CF. I started reading about other conditions and diseases. Sometimes OH would remind me, there are worse things than CF. And there are, but this did little to reassure me at the time. It just became further evidence of how unfair and uncaring the world was. I lost faith, for a while.

baby in flopping sun hat on backpack smilingBut CF has a way of catching you out. And the casual kindness of strangers restored some type of faith.

Collecting money for the CF Trust outside Tescos, a mother pushed some notes into my tin. She told me about her baby son. After lots of tests, she discovered he didn’t have CF. But she described something much deeper than relief. It was heart-break and elation, cojoined. For a while, we had shared the same journey. She understood how I felt. And, when I wished her well, I really meant it.

We’ve seen too, the NHS at its best. The nurses and doctors treating Boy have so often gone the extra mile. And we’ve met some wonderful people through CF, other parents, carers, people working to find a cure. As OH puts it, it’s a great club, but I’d still rather not be a member.

Above everything, CF has made me more aware of how precious life is. I will never take good health for granted again. Everyday things take on a new poignancy, the birthday party celebrated becomes all the more special because of the one you missed.

In many cases, the highs and the lows become inextricably linked. For example, when Boy was one-year old,  he grew a bacteria called pseudomonas. We were gutted. Without getting too technical, Pseudomonas is a CF baddy that can colonise the lungs. (I was still in my google phase at that point. I read a lot about pseudomonas and morbidity).

It was another big low, three months of oral ciprofloxin (which gave J loose stools and meant we had to smother him in Factor 50 every time he went out in the sun) and nebulised Colymycin. I held a mask over J’s face twice a day, trying to distract him with CBeebies, hoping he’d take in enough of the drug to fight the infection in his lungs. And, just as importantly, I hoped that he wouldn’t hold the white lies and occasional headlock against me.

But we were fortunate. Boy’s swab results indicated that he’d kicked the bug out of his system. High-fives all around.

giggling baby in car seatFingers-crossed, it’s a scenario we’ve repeated, with subtle and not-so-subtle variations, several times over the years. And each time we get a good result, or see an improvement in Boy’s lung function, it’s a cause for real celebration. If I was feeling poetic, I’d call it euphoria. It reminds me of how I felt eight years ago, in my pre-CF days, when I first saw that thin blue line appear, and Boy was just a hope for the future.

With CF, I’ve come to live in the moment much more, to appreciate the little things. I strive (not always successfully) to focus on the positive. I don’t google J’s symptoms anymore. I try and use the internet more purposefully, to visit the parents’ forum on Facebook and at the CF Trust’s website, to read about people with CF who are making a difference, people like Trunki inventor, Rob Law, and singer, Bianca Nichols.

And, above all, I hope. I believe that we can beat CF. It may not be tomorrow. I’d like to believe it will be in time for Boy to benefit from it. There are no guarantees. However, if the funding continues, the outlook is promising.

wish handmade jewellryPlease do something to make a difference. Join the Organ Donor Register. (One in three people with CF on the transplant list die waiting).

Or buy one of the lovely bracelets Wish Handmade Jewellery have designed. 25% of proceeds from the CF range go to the CF Trust.

Lots of us aren’t flush with money at the moment, but why not support a good cause and treat yourself, or a loved one. It’s a win-win.

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The tooth fairy is dead, her legacy lives on

At last, I’ve finished my personalised message for the loss of J’s fifth tooth. Fingers crossed, he’ll now stop complaining that it hurts to chew anything harder than chocolate (which, strangely, includes brown bread and cottage cheese).

tooth fairy

tooth fairy

Here is the link to my tooth fairy certificate. I hope you’ll like it. I wanted something that wasn’t all pink and frothy (J is a boy and is losing his milk teeth relatively late). And I wanted it to motivate him to look after his teeth (not just use it as an opportunity to extract as much dosh as possible).

Simply click on the link, or the image, and download the word document. You can then insert your child’s name.

I’ve blogged a bit about some of the problems we’ve been having with the tooth fairy in How the internet killed the tooth fairy. Well, when Junior found this on my laptop, it was the metaphorical final nail in the tooth fairy’s coffin.

However, despite the iconoclasm, I thought it worth perservering with the certificate.

  • Sadly, I am so not the mother who stays up handcrafting bespoke notes from the tooth fairy. (I salute those of you who are.) If you want to add a little something, please feel free to pen a special message or to sprinkle liberally with fairy dust (glitter works just as well if you don’t mind the hoovering).
  • J knows I’m bluffing when I do the whole Santa/good behaviour thing. (Has any parent withheld Christmas presents on the grounds of their child’s naughtiness?). He’s on less certain ground here. If the tooth fairy really is mummy in disguise, guess who gets to make the rules? I’m not going to go as far as to equate the number of coins the fairy leaves with how often he brushes his teeth, or opts for a cheese stick over a twix, but you get my drift.
  • Finally, although I am not exactly gifted in the craft department, I wanted to offer a more modern tooth fairy template. I’d really like to do a boy tooth fairy (a winged skater perhaps). Let me know what you think, or if you just think I’m plain mad!
tooth fairy certificate

tooth fairy certificate



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The Croods, five things that really irritate me…..

Our trip to see the Croods

OK, the Croods have broken another box office record. According to Today’s Guardian, the cartoon cavemen have delivered a 12 day total of £10.61 million into the DreamWorks coffers.

croods movie poster

croods movie poster

And, to be fair, Junior loved it. He was so engrossed, he didn’t even make it all the way through his bumper bag of Haribos. (I know, he pressed the gooey remains, as a thank you,  into my palm as we were leaving).

So why did I find the Croods, ever so slightly, irritating?

The Hype

The Croods took marketing to a new level. An additional monument spelling out the word Croods at Stonehenge to celebrate the Spring Equinox.

IMDB joked, “All Druids and Pagans can send their complaints to DreamWorks Animation.”

the Croods at Stonehenge

The croods at Stonehenge

Does anyone else think it’s overkill?

I’m no druid (just an aging hippy). But what’s next? An Easter hologram spelling the name Brian over Westminster Cathedral and an invitation to buy the Monty Python boxed set?

* Shock Horror*  Croods lack historical accuracy

Yes, I know. It’s a cartoon.  And I know I’m a pedant.

Eep Crood reaching out

well groomed for 30,000 years BC

However, the first thing that struck me about Eep Crood was (a) her lack of body hair and (b) her tailored tiger fur hipster pants. This is meant to be the Paleolithic era, right? At least thirty thousand years before Lady Shave and Calvin Klein.

OK, it is fantasy. Different rules apply. Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC and Wilma Flintstone weren’t exactly authentic either. And, if you can have multi-coloured fluffy sabre tooth tigers, why not?

No reason, exactly, except that the Croods make so much of the juxtaposition of the old and the new.

These are people who haven’t discovered shoes or fire yet (the film plays on this, with great comic effect). Eep Crood bemoans the lack of excitement. She rebels against the constraints of the cave. Eep Crood is the archetypal rebellious teenager.

And, for me, that’s the problem. Eep Crood is the product of modernity, but the whole premise of the Croods is the journey to (relative) modernity.

Croods stereotype cavemen (and women)

Admittedly, there are no dumb blondes.

wilma flintstone

wilma flintstone

On the contrary, it’s the women who show most intelligence. It’s Eep, and her mother and grandmother, who are most willing to listen to forward-thinking, but puny, New Guy. Muscular  Grug, the father, and son, Thunk, are all brawn, conservatism and, until the end, little brain. Afterall, “ideas are for weaklings.”

Less a blow for feminism, more a  home goal for the caveman.

Of course, it all comes good in the end. But it did strike me as a bit predictable (in a post modernist way). It would be a more refreshing irony to see a Rugby Jock wearing a T Shirt with the slogan, Speak slowly to me, I’m a Neandertal.

Croods practice elder abuse

At the danger of sounding too politically correct, the repetitious mother-in-law gags wore a bit thin. For a feel-good family film, Grug’s wish that his mother-in-law would get eaten by a dino, or succumb to some other fatality, was a bit too laboured. Croods gran

This is meant to be a warm-hearted film about family values and evolution. So why does the script sometimes feel like it is written by a reincarnation of Les Dawson?

Would I recommend the Croods?

Strangely, for all it’s irritations, I would.

The Croods has some great 3D effects, some genuine comic moments (for example, when Grug befriends the sabre tooth tiger and discovers he’s really “a cat person”). And there’s Belt, New Guy’s pet sloth, with his own sound effects. (Well, they made Junior laugh. Lots).

Belt and New Guy

Belt and New Guy

Sure, it’s not Shrek. But it kept J amused which, with the Easter holidays still stretching ahead, is no mean achievement.



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Lazy Mum’s Chocolatey Hot Cross Bun Pudding

Easiest hot cross bun pudding ever

OK, Jamie has made this something of a traditional Easter pudding. It’s hard to beat Jamie. And I’m not even going to try.

But this one is super quick (less than 5 minutes to make) and easy (I cheated and used ready-made custard).

just out of the oven

just out of the oven

If you want to make it more luxurious, use Best of hot cross buns and add a slurp of Cointreau.

What you need to make hot cross bun pudding

  • 6 Hot Cross Buns (experiment with different types)
  • Marmalade (again, feel free to experiment and use different types. For this one, I used Duerrs)
  • 500 grams of ready-made custard
  • Butter
  • 100 grams chocolate bar (I used Tesco basics which was ridiculously cheap at under 40p)
  • Slug of Cointreau (optional)
  • Brown sugar
  • Pyrex oval casserole dish

What you do to make hot cross bun pudding

Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4

Slice Hot Cross in half and butter. Spread marmalade and put a couple of squares of chocolate inside, then sandwich together and place, face up, in shallow casserole/pie dish. Pour over a good slug of Cointreau (if adding), leave to soak for a few minutes, then pour over custard. Sprinkle sugar over top liberally. Bake in oven for about 40 minutes (check after about 30 minutes).

Serve with ice cream or cream, or just as it is.

It really is the easiest Easter pudding ever.



proof of the pudding

Adapting hot cross bun pudding for CF

I’m still working on this one. As it stands, a sixth of the pudding gives about 20 grams of fat. I add extra butter and chocolate to a portion of the pudding for J. That can boost the fat content, as can serving with marscapone, cream or ice cream.

This Easter I will be making this winner again, great  for a laid back Sunday lunch. Joining with Honest Mum for another awesome #TastyTuesday

Tasty Tuesdays on

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Motherhood; the good, the bad and the truly amazing

Becoming a mother

You’ve changed! A former colleague tells me.

I sense their surprise, and something else. Sleepless nights and a non-stop diet of CBeebies may have fueled my latent paranoia, but I can see them taking in the baskets of still damp laundry, the patina of dust and flour on the granite work tops.

Somehow, I’ve morphed from hot-shot lawyer to pot luck domestic muddler. I can sense what they’re thinking. How did that happen?

I don’t know where to start. I’m happier now, won’t cut it.There’s no evidence base. I do a quick tally of pros and cons in my head.

The changes of motherhood are subtle, I want to tell them. But, actually, a lot aren’t.

Some are rather obvious, visceral even.

Enjoying the icing on the cake (a little too much)

street art

taking a diet too far





Take weight gain. Celebs like Jessica Alba and Heidi Klum may get their pre-baby figures back in less time than it takes me to deep fat fry a Mars bar. But for those of us without access to in-house chefs and personal trainers (not to mention the pressure of an impending cat walk debut or film contract), things can take a little longer.

At least that’s my excuse. Years on, it’s wearing a bit thin. (Sadly, Junior’s arrival kicked the I’m eating for two excuse into orbit).

My former work mate won’t buy it. Even OH cuts me no slack. Just eat less, exercise more. He recites this mantra whenever I embark on a new diet or sign up for another (inappropriately named) fun run.

If only, it was that easy. For a start, I no longer enjoy the fancy gym and brisk walk to work, which usually involved a detour through Covent Garden. Baby boot camp (pushing a screaming baby in a pram around a sodden field) just wasn’t the same.

However, there is a silver lining. For me, it’s not the great people I’ve met in my weight loss class. It’s the food.

Discovering my inner domestic goddess

True, I can no longer pop into Carluccio’s in my lunch break. And I really do miss the little green capers Pret a Manger used to put in their tuna wraps. On the plus side, I now have enough time (and motivation) to cook for myself.

Before J, I was a foodie in name only, an armchair chef.

I may have listed cooking as an interest on my CV. (It sounded more worthy and interesting than the truth; I worked twelve hours a day before collapsing on the sofa with a boxed set of Desperate Housewives and a bottle of Merlot). However, the celebrity cookbooks lay, pristine, under my bedside table, my secret stash of food porn.

It took time, and the ultimate captive audience (a baby) to make the dream reality.

Fed up with watching re-runs of Master Chef, I set out to discover my (very hidden) culinary talents.

Nigella and Mary Berry still intimidated me. Annabel Karmel seemed a better starting point. I mean, how wrong can you go with nursery food?

So I made vegetable and fruit purees.  I froze them in an ice tray, defrosting them, one cube at a time, for weaning. Not the most challenging meal plan, but at least it got me acquainted with the local greengrocer and a food processor.

Cooking, unlike my previous life (doing something esoteric with paperclips and statutory instruments) gives instant feedback. Chuckle or chunder. Fortunately, J was an appreciative diner, for a baby, generous with his encouragement. At least, he smiled when he threw my wholemeal cheesy pasta at the cat.

Things progressed naturally. I can trace my evolution through the scratch-and-sniff panels in my once glossy cookery books. Unfortunately, there’s a concentration around anything with chocolate in the title.

I may not be eating for two any more, but I’m definitely cooking as if I still was.

Believing in fairies

So there you have it, one good and one not-so-good change, neither of which I felt like sharing with my former colleague.

Two changes that pale into insignificance against another realisation. I’ve just written a blog that makes me sound like a cross between Delia and the original Stepford wife.

I’m not, honestly. You can be a feminist and wear a pinny.

Still, it’s hard to explain my apparent volte face, particularly to former colleagues. How can I describe the subtle and, not-so-subtle, changes of motherhood? My experiences in the kitchen, though genuine, are a poor analogy.

What more can I say? Motherhood is a bit like statutory drafting. It’s all in the detail, even the powerful stuff.

Sure, it’s a couple of inches on the waist, a blue cheese soufflé in the fridge (yes, really). But, it’s more than this, more even than the dribble of chocolate on a clean white bib.

It’s the marvel of tiny baby feet and long forgotten nursery rhymes. It’s the smell of hot buttered toast, posset and talcum powder.

Later, it becomes a series of firsts. First words, first walk, first tooth. A voyage of shared discovery. Taking J to see his first lamb born, I see the wonder in his eyes, and relive my own. I rediscover the tooth fairy, Father Christmas and the reason animals go to heaven.

boy with guinea pig

all the excitement of toothill school fair

Teaching J to ride a bike, he falls. I wipe his tears away and clean the grazes. Mummy will kiss it better, I say. I’m annoyed with myself.  Adult me knows it won’t make it better. The lie will find me out. But, in the moment, I mean it. More than anything, I want to take the hurt away, to make things right again.

Being a mother is all the clichés in the Bounty Pack, come true. Now how could I explain that to a bunch of lawyers?




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