Sunday, 27 December 2015

A thousand to one

Merry Christmas!  A lady from my Dad's church asked me if I had written a poem about the Christmas star.  I said I hadn't, but I would be happy to try.  Since it has now been shared with its intended recipients, I thought you all might like to read it too.

A thousand stars were shining in the black and brilliant sky
When the Eastern kings were searching for a meaning from on high.
A thousand stars were shining, but the wise men followed
One.

A thousand lamps were beckoning in the dwellings on their way
As the magi journeyed onwards through the long and weary day.
A thousand lamps were beckoning, but the wise men searched for
One.

A thousand sparkles shimmered in the stable bare and cold,
From the flasks of richest perfume and the gleam of purest gold.
A thousand sparkles shimmered as the wise men honoured
One.

A thousand lights of Christmas now shine out in radiant joy,
All in cheerful celebration of the birth of Mary’s boy.
A thousand lights of Christmas, but they all reflect the
One.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Christmas cakes


I finally got around to icing the Christmas cakes, but I think the mince pies will have to be a new year's event instead.  Well, and why not?  Following the tradition of recent years, I baked a large square cake from Nigella's recipe in How to Be a Domestic Goddess, cut it in half and iced each part separately.  This has the dual advantages of providing more icing and making the cake keep better.  Not that it ever seems to keep that long.

Long thin cakes lend themselves to long thin decorations, do they not?


Or else to digging out that old standby, the Christmas cookie cutters.  Every year I think I might do something really fancy, and then I run out of time and think, well, the important thing is that it tastes good!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

A difficult time of year


No, it's not been an easy Christmas.  I wanted to feel it, you know, all the joy and goodwill, but it's been hard work from start to end.  It always seems harder, doesn't it, when everyone else is out enjoying themselves and you're stuck in a dreary grind of endless details.  Like you're in a little gray world of your own.

You wouldn't believe how much paperwork there's been.  I'd put that application in from my parents' address months ago.  Never thought it would come to anything, but all of a sudden I got a call to say there's a council flat available down there.  I couldn't say no, could I?  Not in the circumstances.  Even though it only meant moving to the other end of the sodding country.  So we packed up quick as we could and stuffed the Astra as tight as a Christmas turkey, and then - then what happens?  "Oh I'm sorry sir, there's been an administrative mistake.  You can't move in until the end of January."  Fat lot of good that is, when the lease runs out on our old place in mid-December.

You'd think someone could have put us up, wouldn't you?  No, everyone was away or had family coming to stay.  Merry festive season and all that.  I'd found some cheap hotel, but when we got there they knew nothing about our reservation, and were very rude about it.  We ended up in the roughest B&B you can imagine.  I thought we'd have been better sleeping in the car, but it was a good thing we didn't, as it happened.

Why?  Well, you know all those horror stories of the husband having to deliver a baby on the way to the hospital?  We didn't even get that far.  Oh yes.  Right on the stinking carpet.  I was absolutely bloody terrified, I can tell you.  He came out all right, though. Mother and baby both doing well, as they say...

No, but there's more.  We'd just about got the mess mopped up, when someone started hammering the door half off its hinges.  Turned out to be the down-and-outs from the rooms upstairs.  I thought they'd come to complain, but you know, as soon as they saw the baby they were transfixed.  You should have seen it - these rough guys all huddled round cooing over a tiny bundle.  So I went off to make everyone a cuppa, but when I got back I couldn't even get into the room.  Three more lads had turned up, kind of Arabian looking, but what they were doing there God only knows.  They didn't seem to have much English.  To be honest I was so exhausted by that point I didn't much care.  I just wanted it all to be over so I could get some sleep.  They left us some pricey-looking presents, though.  Is that some kind of foreign thing?  Giving expensive gifts to complete strangers?

Yeah well, it's over now.  We moved into the flat yesterday.  Mary's been amazing through the whole thing, and Baby J's cute as can be, but I tell you something.  I hope I never have another Christmas like that one.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Christmas scribbles

My writing muse has been working elsewhere this week, but I felt like it was about time for a new blog post.  So, a few quick Christmassy scribbles to keep you entertained.


1. I have not had a mince pie yet.  There is a mincemeat samosa recipe that I'd like to try, but we have been drowning in cake recently because we hosted a Christmas social and everyone brought ridiculously calorific and amazingly huge cakes from Costco and refused to take them home.  This is some kind of conspiracy.

2. We have, however, had Christmas cupcakes, decorated by Toby.  He had a great time doing them.  Meanwhile his little brother demolished an entire cupcake and tipped washing powder all over the floor.


3. On a related note, putting up the tree feels like the sort of thing that should be a family activity, but trying to deal with two excited boys tying the lights in knots and throwing baubles at my head tends to make me stressed very quickly.  Once we had the tree sorted, I waited until they were in bed and spent a lovely peaceful evening arranging the rest of the decorations.



4. Graham's mum knitted us a lovely nativity set which has been carefully arranged on our fireplace.  Theo, however, is convinced that baby Jesus' manger should be standing on end and tucked away behind Mary.  We keep trying to tell him that Jesus is actually the main character.


5. Toby had his first school nativity play this week.  He was one of the wise men, resplendent in a purple cape and - bizarrely - sunglasses.  One of the lines of the song was, "We're the guys with the camels, we're the guys with the shades" and if you have any idea why, you are very welcome to enlighten me.


6. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and ice a Christmas cake.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Monthly Munch: November 2015

It's been one of those months where we've felt a bit battered.  As well as the violence in Paris, we've had news of several friends suffering from severe injury or illness, which has torn at our hearts.  Moreover, the weather has blown us around, soaked us, hit us with hail, and even tried to snow on us slightly.  Despite all that, some chinks of sunlight have found their way through, both metaphorically and literally.  When you live with two small boys, there are always going to be some giggles.


Toby

 - was very excited about going to see fireworks for Bonfire Night.  He was the one jumping up and down and cheering.
Fun with sparklers...
...and light sabres.

- is doing really well with learning cursive handwriting.


- announced that he "loves green beans" when I went to have a school lunch with him.  Something I had not previously suspected.

Quotes:
When my Dad was getting all intellectual in his sermon and talking about the relationship between the knower and the thing known, Toby whispered to me, "There's a Noah in my class!"

He asked what was for dinner.  I told him, and he responded, "Yuck. (pause)  I don't know what that is, so I'll just say Yuck anyway."  You see why I was surprised about the green beans.

Theo

- wants to help with vacuuming but is just a little scared of the noise.

"I've got this, Mum."
- has mastered going up and down the stairs in a standing position, without holding anyone's hand.

- will make quite a good attempt at echoing our words, but still thinks that "da doo da cah bah!" counts as conversation.

"I do laundry, too!"
- went from merely waking up several times during the night to not wanting to go to bed, not wanting to have a nap, and basically not wanting anything to do with sleep whatsoever.  Fortunately he seems to have settled down again now.

Thankful for:

- a nice "date" with Graham (and Theo in tow) at Park Bike Works in Derby.  We were there before the lunch rush, so it was a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and we were very impressed by the food.

Entirely unrelated photo of chickens

- getting to go to my first blog conference.

- no need for fillings, despite the visit to the dentist being my first in... um... far too long...

Recipe of the Month: Carrot Cornbread



This is the time of year for soups, chillis and stews, and this goes very well with any of those.  My boys love cornbread because of its slight sweetness - even without any added sugar - so this recipe gives you the secret satisfaction that comes from sneaking vegetables into something they will eat without any fuss.  Albeit a lot of crumbs.  Of course you can grate the carrots and mix everything up in a bowl, but a food processor is quicker and completely blends the carrots with everything else.

300g carrots
300g fine cornmeal
3 tsp (1 tbsp) baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
250ml milk
2 tbsp sunflower oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Grease and line a 20-24cm (8-9") square baking tin.
Peel the carrots and chop into large chunks.  Put in the food processor and whizz until finely chopped.  Add the remaining ingredients and process again until mixed, scraping the sides down if you need to.
Pour into the tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until risen and firm.  Cool slightly before cutting into squares.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

What is a blog?

Well, what is a blog?  And why am I asking the question now, after seven years of writing one?  You'd think I might have worked out the answer already.  But there's nothing like meeting hundreds of other bloggers to start you wondering again...

Of course, the first shock is that there actually are hundreds of other bloggers.  And that they make so much NOISE!  As I descended the escalator to the venue for Mumsnet Blogfest 2015, the clamour of dozens of voices rose up to meet me.  There was no one in the crowded hall that I knew; but although many others had also come alone, you couldn't have told it from the level of conversation.

Panel session with live link to Margaret Atwood

It quietened down once we had drunk our coffee and entered the auditorium.  The speakers covered a wide range of the writing world; from authors to agents, columnists to comedians, and brand experts to bloggers.  Every discussion was very entertaining, with plenty of humour and some thoughtful comments.  But when it came to summing up what I'd actually learnt from the day, I found myself struggling.  Had anything changed the way I thought about blogging?

The Blogfest venue from Regent's Canal

Scanning my notes again, I realised that the different sessions reflected some very different ways of thinking about a blog.  For some, it was a creative outlet - an expression of themselves that may be influenced by parenthood, but isn't necessarily defined by it.  Others were driven by the delight of writing, and dreamed of translating their blogging into publishing contracts and full-length novels.

From a more mercenary viewpoint, you can regard your blog as a brand, and focus on harnessing the power of social media to provide valued content to your target market.  With all the buzzwords.  Blogging can be big business; companies are keen to get their products recommended, and the community provided by a blog can be the ideal way to make that happen.

Alternatively, several people I met had started a blog purely to provide information - often about nutrition, for some reason - or to campaign for change.  For them, a blog was less about the writing, and more of a platform to connect with others and raise awareness for their cause.

Finally, the cutting-edge bloggers are active on fifteen different types of social media and have jumped gleefully into vlogging; about which I know virtually nothing except that it is, basically, blogging by video.  When somebody mentioned Periscope I had to look it up later, but was somewhat reassured to discover that it's a video app that was only released in May this year.  So I'm not that out of date.  Well, I am.  But not in this case.

Two people talking and one person running away

You may have realised I am firmly in the creative outlet camp.  Moreover, I have an outstanding talent for doing my own thing and entirely ignoring the rest of the world, which accounts for me joining Twitter approximately five years after everyone else in civilisation.  So once in a while, I try to pull my head out of the sand and realise that there are a lot of other people out there doing very interesting things and asking very interesting questions.  (And to be fair, a whole lot of noise, too.)

What is a blog?  All of the above.  And then some.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Apple Treacle Tart

This is one of those scrappy puddings that I conjured up out of a bit of leftover pastry and whatever I could find to throw into it.  Traditional treacle tart is composed of golden syrup and breadcrumbs, which is precisely as sickly sweet as it sounds.  When I spotted a recipe which included grated apple, it sounded as if it might cut the sweetness quite nicely.  So I gave it a try.


Apple Treacle Tart

pastry made with 2 oz butter and 4 oz flour
1 large slice of bread, made into breadcrumbs
1 eating apple, peeled, cored and grated
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons of golden syrup

Roll out the pastry and use to line a flan dish or other shallow dish (I used a lid from one of my Pyrex casserole dishes).  Mix together the breadcrumbs, apple, lemon juice and golden syrup.  I had a whole lemon that needed using, but that did make it quite lemony; try half a lemon if you prefer.  Taste and see if you like the sweetness, and add a bit more syrup or lemon juice if it needs it.  Spread the crumb mixture in the pastry case and bake at 200C for about 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the crumbs look a little crunchy on top, but still nice and moist underneath.  Serve warm with ice cream or custard.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Way of Peace

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

These words are read every day in the Anglican service of Morning Prayer.  They speak of the coming of Jesus at Christmas, as foretold by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  They speak of the hope that we hold, that there can be light in the darkness, peace in troubled times.   And today, many times, they have been spoken by Christians around the world.

Yet there are times when to profess religion seems to make a mockery of life.  There are times when speaking of the tender compassion of our God sounds like a cruel joke.  There are times when each day dawns darker than the one before, the shadow of death overwhelms us, and the way of peace has vanished into quicksand.  What does it mean, in those times, to continue to say these words?

It means nothing if they are merely an incantation, as if by saying them we can make everything all right.  It means little if we throw them at those who are suffering, expecting them to find comfort.  It means more, perhaps, if we find comfort and strength ourselves, to carry on in difficult times. 

But it can mean everything if, through Jesus, we find ourselves showing tender compassion to those facing death.  If we commit ourselves to the way of peace, even when that means loving those who are completely other to ourselves.  If, somehow, we can hold the light of common humanity against the darkness of all the forces dividing us.

And the dawn from high shall break upon us.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Monthly Munch: October 2015

A mixed month.  We enjoyed visits from Graham's sister, Graham's parents, and my parents (not quite all at once!).  We suffered with lots of night-time waking, and sick boys during half-term.  We celebrated Toby's birthday.  I finished work, which made me happy and sad at the same time.  And we put the clocks back, which means it really does feel like winter.


Toby

Look at those cheeky grins!

- learned to ride his bike without stabilisers!

On the Tissington Trail


- is learning phonics with sign language at school.  He regularly gives us demonstrations.

- got a remote control car for his birthday, and got the hang of driving it straight away.


- loves to chat, but sometimes gets a bit stuck while he remembers what to say next: "Well... I mean... well... the thing is..."

Theo



- can sing "E-I-E-I-O" at the right time in "Old MacDonald had a farm".

- dances along to "Gangnam Style" (Oh yes!).

- loves aeroplanes.

Favourite book: 1001 Images of Aircraft
- is gradually starting to produce recognisable words, although "haaa" can mean hot, hand, hair or hole, depending on context.

Thankful for:


- a nice walk along the Tissington Trail


- a good place to work for the summer

- "Thanksgiving dinner" in October with all of our parents

Recipe of the Month - Blueberry Cheesecake Pots


I made these for dessert on Toby's birthday.  The recipe is slightly adapted from a raspberry version in Feelgood Family Food by Dean Edwards.  They're beautifully quick and easy, and because they're so small, you've probably got all the ingredients on hand without having to go and bulk-buy cream cheese.

Base
6 Nice or plain biscuits (1.5 oz)
1/2 oz butter
1/2 oz desiccated coconut

Topping
5 oz cream cheese
3 oz Greek yoghurt
1 1/2 oz honey
blueberries (I used frozen) or other berries

For the base, put the biscuits in a bag and bash them into crumbs.  Melt the butter and stir in the coconut and biscuit crumbs.  Press into the base of four small containers (mine were tealight holders in another life) and put into the fridge to set.

For the topping, whisk together the cream cheese, yoghurt and honey.  Taste to see if it's sweet enough, and add a bit more honey if you want.  Put 8 or 9 blueberries on top of each biscuit base - no need to defrost if they're frozen - then spoon the cream cheese mixture on top.  Finish off with a few more blueberries, and leave in the fridge until you want to eat them.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Jungle Animal Birthday

Finally!  It feels as if we've been saying that Toby's "nearly five" for the whole year that he was four.  But now he is well and truly five years old.  To celebrate, he requested a jungle animal themed party.  We decided to risk inviting seven children to our house - which seems relatively unusual.  Most of the parties Toby has been to have been at the village hall or a soft play area.  Admittedly this way did involve a little more planning, preparation, and moving of breakable items upstairs, but we enjoyed it.  Oh, and the kids did, too.


So, the games.  Some party games are non-negotiable; so I spent half an hour entombing a present in many layers of jungle animal wrapping paper, and Graham spent fifteen minutes sweating over the music player, trying to make sure that every child got a turn to unwrap it.

Apart from that, we had:

- wooden animal shapes to decorate with pens and stick-on felt pieces;


- Crocodile Swamp - jump on a piece of wood when the music stops, to escape the hungry crocodile;

- Guess the Animal - each child had the name of an animal on their back, and had to ask questions to find out who they were;

- dancing to Gangnam Style, the Superman Song, and Music Man (I think the adults may have enjoyed themselves more than the kids);

- and the pi├Ęce de resistance: giant bubble wrap!  SO LOUD! but they loved it.  Eight children jumping on bubble wrap sounds like fireworks exploding indoors, but if you cover your ears for a moment, it doesn't last long.

We didn't have enough table space for so many children, but they didn't bat an eyelid at having to picnic on a plastic tablecloth.  The pizza, mini sausages and grapes vanished quickly and without major incident.  And then it was time for... the cake!


I'd originally thought of a jungle scene for the cake, but getting a miscellaneous collection of animals into artistic positions is actually quite difficult, even in icing.  Especially when you discover you can't actually draw a monkey.  Then I spotted a design with tiny animals peeking out from behind the letters.  Perfect for a short name like TOBY!


Of course I forgot about candles until the last moment.  I hurriedly dug out four.  Four?  Oh no, we need five now, don't we?  Five candles were lit and ceremonially extinguished.  And Toby was well and truly five years old.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

On the gift of a skipping-rope

"Martha, tha's brought me thy wages like a good lass, an' I've got four places to put every penny, but I'm just goin' to take tuppence out of it to buy that child a skippin'-rope."



So says the warm-hearted Mrs Sowerby to her daughter in Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic The Secret Garden.  And the gift of a skipping-rope begins a change in Mary Lennox, helping to transform her from a spoilt and sickly orphan to a strong and spirited young lady.

This quote was jiggling around my mind the other day, because life was hectic.  "I've got three places to put every minute," I thought.  If I wasn't doing this then I could be doing that, and if I wasn't doing that then I could be doing that other thing...

But sometimes, even in those kind of times, there is something that makes you say, "I'm just going to take two minutes out."

Money and time share some characteristics; a certain rigidity and a certain flexibility.  They are rigid because there is, incontrovertibly, a fixed amount of each.  If you have £100 you cannot spend £101.  Even more so, you cannot add even a minute to your day.  You can, if you wish, account precisely for every last penny, every last second.

And yet... when I moved into a student house with friends at university, we made a deliberate decision to be generous with this wonderful, characterful property we had found.  I don't know how many cheese toasties were consumed that year, how many cups of tea were made, but somehow, the food money in the old jam jar always seemed to be enough.

And yet... when I think I don't have time to pray, but I take ten minutes to sit down and do it anyway, everything else still, somehow, shuffles around to fit into the remaining time.

We can't do everything.  Maybe sometimes we don't have money or time for everything we need, never mind everything we want.  But even then, just sometimes, we need to take tuppence out to buy someone a skipping-rope.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Up the apples


Autumn is for apples!  Our generous neighbours across the road have once again been setting out trays of windfalls for anyone to help themselves.  After I'd stewed and frozen a few bagfuls, I decided it was time to try out some new recipes, which you are welcome to peruse below.

We also went along to Calke Abbey's Apple Day, where we got to wander round the orchard and taste some of the dozen or so traditional varieties that they grow.  We enjoyed the Ribston Pippin enough to buy a bagful.  The bag then broke in the unlit and sloping Gardeners' Tunnel, and we had to chase runaway apples down the hill in the dark! 

Apple tasting.  Yes I know I have grass all down my back.
Toby helped out with some apple pressing.  The machine chewed up and squashed down a mass of apples to produce juice, all run on manpower (or childpower) alone.  The juice tasted mostly of bruised apple though, I thought.  Perhaps it would be better fermented.

He pushed the handle round to compress the apples.

Was it worth the effort?

Theo was just excited about the tractor and trailer in which they were putting all the leftover apple bits.


And so to the recipes...

Apple Meringue Pie

I adapted this from a recipe called "Apple Amber" in the classic 1000 dessert recipes.  It tastes really good, but be warned - the filling is not set when it's hot!  If you leave it to cool it will slice in a proper pie fashion; or you can leave out the pastry, as in the original version, and just scoop it out with a spoon.  Either way this is a great autumn alternative to a lemon meringue pie.

mmm, pie!

Pastry
3 oz butter
6 oz plain flour
iced water

Filling
1lb 8 oz cooking apples, peeled and sliced
3 oz sugar
1.5 oz butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or a cinnamon stick)
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsp caster sugar

Make the pastry, either by rubbing the butter into the flour or using a food processor.  Add enough iced water to bring it into clumps, then turn out onto a counter and knead lightly to bring together.  Put in a bag and leave in the fridge for half an hour.

Put the apple slices in a saucepan with the sugar, butter, and cinnamon, and cook gently until the apples have broken down.  Give it a good stir to get rid of any lumps.  At this point I put mine in the fridge overnight, and beat in the egg yolks the next day.  The original recipe suggests that you can beat them straight into the hot mixture, but it's the kind of book that doesn't always go into detail.  You may want to leave it to cool first.  Anyway, let's assume you've got the egg yolks in there at some point.

For the meringue, whisk the egg whites until stiff.  Whisk in half the caster sugar until glossy, then gently stir in the rest.

To put it all together, roll out the pastry to line a 9-inch pie dish.  Line with greaseproof paper and add baking beans, then bake at 200C / 400F for 10 minutes.  Remove the paper and beans and cook for 5-10 minutes more until just done.  Turn the oven down to 150C / 300F.

Pour in the apple filling.  Top with the meringue and bake at the lower temperature for about 35 minutes until the meringue is golden.  If it's getting too dark you can cover it with foil.  Serve warm (with the caveat about the runny filling) or cold.


Chocolate Apple Betty
This was an extremely delicious-sounding recipe from the Autumn 2015 National Trust magazine.  I wouldn't usually put dark chocolate and apples together, but why not?  I reduced the sugar content slightly, as brown sugar and chocolate and golden syrup sounded awfully sweet.  And I only had wholemeal breadcrumbs, so you can use those if it makes you feel virtuous.


Filling
1 lb 8 oz cooking apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1 oz butter
2 tbsp water

Topping
4 oz fresh white or wholemeal breadcrumbs
3 oz light soft brown sugar
3 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2 oz butter
1 oz golden syrup

Put the apples in a saucepan or ovenproof dish with the butter and water.  Stir over a moderate heat until they start to soften, but aren't completely mushy.  If they're in a saucepan, tip them into a baking dish.

Mix the breadcrumbs, sugar and chocolate and sprinkle over the apples.  Melt the butter and syrup together and drizzle over the top, trying to coat as many of the crumbs as possible.

Bake at 190C / 375F until the apple is soft and the topping is crisp and golden.  Serve with cream or ice cream.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

National Poetry Day: Light

Today is National Poetry Day

Poetry is the fine dining of literature.  We spend most of our days tossing together the everyday pasta of prose, finding a few quick metaphors in the fridge and splashing in a dash of humour to add to the flavour. 

But sometimes we want to spend the extra time to make a meal to linger over.  We pick out the best of our rare similes and assemble them artfully, paying careful attention to rhyme and metre.  The restrictions force us to pare down to the essentials, letting the flavour of the ingredients speak for themselves.  The intention is not just to sate the appetite for words, but to stroke the senses and stir the imagination.  To create an occasion.  A poem.

I'm afraid my blog is not a fine dining establishment this evening.  I tried to put some ingredients together, but they somehow failed to produce anything worth keeping.  Fortunately others are better poetry chefs than I am, and they have left a menu.  You can enjoy the free National Poetry Day book here, with poems new and old on the theme of light.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Monthly Munch: September 2015

This month we have had to adjust to being parents of an actual school student!  The amount of new information has been almost as bewildering for us as for him, but we are starting to get our heads around the mysteries of phonics, online communication and what to take for show and tell.

September sunflowers

We've enjoyed plenty of warm sunny days, so the boys have been getting lots of outdoor play.  At this time of year you feel like you want to soak up every last minute of sunlight before the cold and dark close in.  I've been painting the fence.

Toby

- started primary school!  We've had some tears and fears, but gradually the worries are dying down and the enjoyment is creeping up.  He's already won a certificate for an excellent picture of his house.

Walking to school, first day.

OBE: Our Best Ever

- got to sit in the driver's seat of a winning racecar at Donington racetrack


-achieved a childhood rite of passage by falling off his bike into stinging nettles.  He got stung all up one arm, poor kid, but recovered fairly quickly.


- is really good at swinging himself on the swing.  With just a little push to get started, he can get himself going high.

Theo

- walked all the way to the "big" playground, about 1/3 of a mile - with detours to splash in every puddle, stomp on every drain cover and eat every blackberry.

Beware!  Boy with big stick!


- is into personal grooming.  He points at his toothbrush and says "teee", and tries to comb his own hair.  He still hates having his face wiped, though.

- is great friends with the little girl next door.  He calls her "Pappa" (for Poppy) and runs to give her a hug every time he sees her.

At Stowe Gardens (not a temple)

Thankful for:

- our new car.  The Renault we acquired in a rush when we got back to the UK had lasted far longer than we ever expected (which was about 6 months, quite frankly), but it was at its last gasp.  Graham found a very well-maintained Rover 75 for a great price, which has taken its place next to the MG to give us a pair of classic British cars.

- my great husband, who I can trust to handle all this car-buying stuff.  He does all the research and I try to make intelligent noises when he tells me about engine sizes and fuel economy.  Plus he saved us a ton of money on the insurance, so he's definitely earned his keep this month!

- getting to see the lunar eclipse, even if it did result in remarkably little sleep that night.


Recipe of the Month: Chocolate fruit & nut flapjack


I had the flavours of a Cadburys Fruit & Nut bar in mind - milk chocolate, currants and hazelnuts.  It's actually the second time I've made it now, but the first time it vanished before I could photograph it.  Doesn't look so good when you're taking a picture of a few crumbs...


4 oz golden syrup
8 oz sugar
12 oz hard margarine or butter
1 lb rolled porridge oats
4 oz currants
4 oz hazelnuts, roughly bashed or chopped
4 oz milk or dark chocolate chips

Grease and line an 8"x13" baking tin.  Melt the margarine in a large bowl (2 minutes in the microwave), then add the syrup and sugar and heat for another 2-3 minutes.  Or you can put all three ingredients in a large saucepan and melt them together that way.  Then add the oats and mix really well.  If you're using a wooden spoon it'll definitely make your arm ache, but keep going until it's all coming together in a cohesive lump.  It makes the texture much better, I promise you.  If you're fortunate enough to have a stand mixer, don't give it longer than 5 minutes or it will get too airy.

I admit to going metric with the additions, because chocolate chips come in 100g packets, which is actually about 3.5 oz.  But the main flapjack recipe is so neat in Imperial and converts to annoying half-grams in metric.  So there you go.  Measure out 100g or 3 or 3.5 or 4 oz, or figure it out in cups, or toss in a couple of handfuls.  The important thing is, DON'T PUT THE CHOCOLATE IN YET!  Mix in the currants and nuts first.  The chocolate melts really quickly in the warm mixture, so chuck it in last, give it one quick stir to distribute the chips, and get it in the tin quick.  Give it a good smooth out - it won't spread by itself in the oven, so make sure you squish it into the corners and make it nice and flat.  Put it in the oven at 180C/350F and bake for 18-20 minutes.  Leave to cool before removing from the tin and cutting.