Monday, 31 December 2012

A home-baked January?

One of the things I have enjoyed since starting this blog is rediscovering my love of baking. I have particularly enjoyed writing the posts on the costs of baking from scratch. This has all set me thinking, and I have decided to set myself a challenge for January. I tend to go through phases with my baking; at times I can bake every day and then I go for weeks without producing so much as a biscuit. To be honest, my cupboard usually has quite a lot of shop-bought stuff lurking on the shelves. So for January I intend to bake all the family's cakes, biscuits, puddings and bread.

This isn't quite such a challenge as it sounds; I own a venerable but reliable bread-maker. I also have a few days' worth of cakes and biscuits in the cupboard and freezer. However with DH working from home, and two growing children, not to mention my own over-consumption, we get through a fair few biscuits in a week! I am obviously going to have to bake in bulk. If anyone has any simple recipes for biscuits or cakes that freeze well I will be very grateful!

Today DD and I made a start on using up the store-cupboard cakes. Every year we make a cheap-skate yule log using a value brand chocolate swiss roll and chocolate butter icing. (I did of course make double quantities of icing and freeze the leftovers!) 

Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Somerset Christmas

We spent our Christmas with my Dad and my brother's family, which is why it has been a little quiet around here this week. They all live in the Somerset levels, and Dad lives at the foot of the iconic Glastonbury tor. It is a very beautiful area and very different from the equally lovely but crowded corner of the South East where we live. The pace of life seems to slow as you go along the A303. (Usually the traffic does too!)

This is the view from the end of his road!
Like most of England, Somerset has had a very soggy few weeks. I now know why the area is called the Isle of Avalon!

Fortunately Dad lives slightly above the flood level, and, apart from a few hairy moments driving alongside an overflowing river, we were unaffected. The sun did break through occasionally.

We had a lovely week catching up with family. DS had his birthday on the 23rd, my brother's wife had her birthday on the 24th and of course it was Christmas on the 25th so it was a time of many celebrations and much food!

We are now back and easing into the New Year. Today is also six months since I started blogging, and it has been a very interesting journey. I have been challenged, encouraged and inspired by all the wonderful people I have come into contact with, and I am looking forward to the next six months!


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Double figures!

Tomorrow is DS's birthday, when he reaches the grand old age of ten! I can hardly believe quite how quickly the last decade has flown by.

It has always been a bit of a challenge making his birthday special so close to Christmas. He hasn't had a party for a few years, but we do usually manage a special meal. As regular readers of my blog know, I love baking. It has been particularly galling when I have resorted to shop-bought birthday cake. So today DD and I have spent the afternoon producing our take on a Super Mario cake. 

Inside it is a marble cake. The grass is produced by mixing green food colouring with dessicated coconut, and I cheated by using ready to roll coloured icing! The leftover icing will go in the freezer. 

DS will see all of his grandparents tomorrow, and everyone will make a big fuss of him. He has never complained about having his birthday this time of year, and for years was convinced that all the decorations and parties were for him!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Yesterday DH took the day off. Enjoying our child free state we went off to a tearoom. It is in a farm which has transformed itself into a tourist attraction but it does a nice line in toasted teacakes!

On the way in, past the animatronic winter woodland scene, we found a nativity scene with a difference:

I particularly like the sheep, but I think that Jesus may have been in the sun too long!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Lurking in the garage...

Last year we emptied most of the contents of our loft into the garage. We were about to do a loft conversion as DH works from home and needed an office. As we stacked boxes we promised ourselves that we would sort them out as soon as possible. Needless to say, that wasn't quite how it worked out! So this weekend was the weekend when we made a start. After all, what else do you do the weekend before Christmas?!

Tucked away amidst the boxes of books, camping gear and yet more books was a box intriguingly labelled "antique tea set". Worryingly, I had absolutely no recollection of what it was, or how we got hold of it! It was a strange sort of lucky dip to unwrap it all, and find a beautiful 12-setting tea set in perfect condition, complete with sugar bowl, milk jug and sandwich plates.

It isn't clear from this photo that the china is a pale peach colour rather than the traditional white. There is rather a lovely vintage pattern:

I set out on some detective work. The china was wrapped in the "Poole Advertiser" from 1995 so I immediately traced it to my grandparents. My Poole-based Grandad finally sold the family home at around that time. Initially I thought that it was their golden wedding present, as it was so pristine, but a quick search for the pottery mark on the internet revealed that it had to be their wedding present, making it around 73 years old!

I am now in a quandary about what to do with it. I love it. When I look at it I think of my Grandma, who was a bride at the start of World War Two. She was an incredible woman, who managed a greengrocers until she got married at the age of 31. My Grandad was 7 years younger. I imagine that raised a few eyebrows at the time! However, I doubt that I can keep it in as good condition as she did, and I don't have anywhere to display it. All advice gratefully received!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Festive chicken wear

I have been enjoying knitting up my chook jumpers, intended for hen-pecked battery chickens. The first offering was rather dull so I decided that what every fashion conscious chicken wants is a Christmas jumper!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Tuna fish cakes

After our main meal yesterday I had some left over mashed potato and sweetcorn. I never get the quantity of mashed potato right. Why is that?!  So, inspired by Shara at Mama's Mission II, I adapted my usual salmon fish cake recipe to use tuna and sweetcorn.

To start off I boiled and mashed some more potato. The quantity doesn't matter too much; I normally make as much as I would for a normal meal. You need enough to bind the fish together and if you have too much you end up with fish flavoured potato cakes! I added one 185g tin of tuna, the leftover sweetcorn and some seasoning to the potato, mixed it together with my hands and shaped into 8 fish cakes.

It doesn't look very appetizing at this stage!

Then comes the fun part! I set up bowls of flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs in a production line. 

Each fish cake gets dunked in each bowl in turn until you end up with something that looks like this:

These are then fried until the breadcrumb coating is crisp on each side:

They can be served with salad but this time of year we have ours with veggies. They make a tasty, simple meal. I used a value brand of tuna, (still caught by pole and line), so it was also ethically sound and cheap. I like it when these two things combine!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Mince Pie tasting

I had a fabulous evening yesterday. I am part of a small group of six Mums from church who meet to chat and pray. Last night we decided to have a mince pie tasting. I really love mince pies, so this was almost my perfect Christmassy evening. We all brought different brands of mince pie and did a blind tasting. We had pies ranging from the budget brands up to artisan bakery offerings. I and another friend brought semi-homemade mince pies. I say semi-homemade as I used shop bought mincemeat. I usually make my own, but as the apple tree failed to produce any fruit this year I didn't get round to it. Boxes of apples sitting in the garage tend to motivate me!

Mine were very basic mince pies made with standard shortcrust pastry. My friend was more adventurous than I and did exciting things with orange juice and a star cutter. I felt a bit like I was entering a WI competition as the different pies were sampled, along with cream of course! And the results? We didn't like the artisan bakery pies at all and everyone preferred the homemade pies. Yay!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Sealed Pot Challenge

I stumbled on this over at Sft's entertaining blog "Life After Mortgage". It is such a brilliant idea that I just had to sign up. The basic idea is to save loose change in a sealed pot. Hopefully after a year this will be a reasonable amount of money which can be put towards a specific goal. 

I have decided to save up towards a family trip to the theatre. I would love to take the kids as it is something that we have never done. I looked into going to see a production for my birthday in September, but couldn't justify spending that much money at the time. Don't get me wrong, we are very fortunate in that we have a reasonable income, I just like to use it wisely! 

I had great fun making the pot. It started off life as a jar of hot chocolate! I have decided to collect all the 50p and 20p coins that come my way. It may be we have enough to go and see the local amateur dramatic society, or it could be a trip to London to see a musical. I'll find out in a year's time!