Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Monthly Munch: February 2015

It's beginning to almost feel like spring is coming!  We have snowdrops and crocuses in the back garden, and hopeful-looking buds on the daffodils in the front.  There have still been plenty of cold rainy days, but we've celebrated Theo's first birthday and Pancake Day to keep us cheerful.

Toby

- enjoys creating things and draws some really imaginative pictures.  He wanted to make a car out of a box, so he told me which bits to cut out (not forgetting the lights and exhaust!) and he stuck them all on.

Attaching the rear windscreen

Barely fitting in the finished vehicle!
 - is excited that they are "doing science" at preschool.  Apparently stretchy green noodles are involved.

- likes it when I put my Pilates exercise video on.  The other day I caught him perfecting Downward Dog in the hallway.

Hips in the air!
-welcomed all our visitors enthusiastically and had them playing Snakes and Ladders within minutes of their arrival.

Quotes:
Graham: "I like those trousers, are they brand new?"
Toby: "No, they're brand old."

"I saw that a long time ago.  I think it was before I was born."

Theo

- is exploiting his mobility skills to the full and getting into everything.

Can I get into this?
 - crawls over to meet Graham when he gets home and gives him a hug, which is just so sweet.

- makes a beeline for the front or back door if you open it, to look outside.  I think this may be my new favourite photo of him.

Gorgeous face!
 - has started waving objects at us with a hopeful expression, so we'll tell him what they're called.

- loves all kinds of musical instruments, especially Graham's guitar.

And I promised you a banana photo, didn't I?

Thankful for

- a completed DIY project; Graham and I attached the fabric to those cupboard doors, and were very pleased with the result.

That's Toby being a cowboy and swinging a lasso, too.
 - catching up with friends from Bristol.  We had visitors on two consecutive weekends!

- playing a piano duet with my Mom - the first time I've played in public for a scarily long time.

Recipe of the Month - Banana Birthday Cake


The cake part of the recipe is basically Nigella Lawson's banana bread, which is the only banana bread recipe I've used for years.  I have this vague memory of a banana cake with luscious caramel fudge icing - so vague I'm not sure the cake even ever existed, but I find myself trying to recreate it occasionally.  This seemed to be a pretty standard caramel icing recipe, but in the interests of not putting everyone into diabetic coma, I left out the icing sugar (butter, sugar, and two cups more sugar?  Yeowch!) and made it more of a glaze instead.


Banana Cake
4 oz sultanas
boiling water
4 oz margarine
5 oz sugar
2 eggs
3-4 bananas (depending on size), mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.  Put the sultanas in a small bowl and pour boiling water over to cover.  Leave to soak while you do the rest.
Melt the margarine and beat in the sugar.
Beat in eggs, then add the flour, baking powder and bicarb, mashed bananas - and don't forget the drained sultanas!  Stir it all together thoroughly.
Put in a large loaf tin or a 9-inch springform with ring insert if you're feeling fancy.  Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour.  When cool, ice with a drizzle of glace icing or plenty of caramel glaze.

Caramel Glaze
2 oz butter
4 oz light brown soft sugar
2 tbsp milk

Bring the butter and sugar to the boil in a small saucepan.  Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Add the milk and cook for another minute, still stirring.  Leave to cool for about 10 minutes until thickened enough not to just run off the cake.  Spoon over the cake and leave to set.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Shrove Mardi Carnival Gras Tuesday

We had a proper mash-up of a pre-Lent celebration this year.  Toby got the idea that it was a party, and wanted to decorate, so I dug out some carnival beads that we got as freebies a few years ago.  He also made a picture.



All that somehow put the idea into my head to go Cajun for dinner (New Orleans Mardi Gras and all that) so I tweaked my menu to include blackened fish (recipe below) and a very approximate vegetarian version of dirty rice.  The real thing, I discovered, uses chicken livers to provide the "dirty", which are not ingredients I tend to have lurking in the fridge.


And then, of course, we had to have proper English pancakes for dessert.  With lemon juice and sugar, which is traditional, and with applesauce, Greek yoghurt and golden syrup, which is not.  But tastes fantastic.


The one thing I did not do, I realised, was any shriving.  Confessing my sins and receiving absolution.  Starting Lent with a clean sheet.

It's a central tenet of the Christian faith that we are all sinners.  But I guess I can't be alone in not feeling much like a sinner.  Yes, I make mistakes.  Yes, there are things I wish I hadn't done.  But that no-health-in-us-miserable-sinner thing?  Um.  Well.  Not really.  Do you?

So I was sat here wondering what to say about that.  Is it OK not to feel like a sinner?  Is there anything we can do about it?  And are you just all waiting for me to get to the blackened fish recipe anyway?

But on the desk I am sitting at, there is a photo of a cross.  On the base of the cross is an inscription.  I had to lean forward to remind myself what it says.  It reads: Christus regit.  Christ reigns.  Christ is king - king on a cross.

Despite how it can often feel, Christianity is not about manufacturing suitable emotions.  Christianity is a statement of fact.  Christ reigns.  I do not.  However sinful I do or do not feel, Lent is a time of moving myself from a throne to a cross, in order that Christ may move from a cross to a throne.  There are deliberate acts that can help me to do that, that have been developed by the church down through the centuries.  And one, unsurprisingly, is confessing my shortcomings.  Shriving.

I may have missed Shrove Tuesday this year.  But maybe I'll own up to being a sinner after all.





(And yes, here's the fish recipe.)


Blackened fish

Adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe.

Stir together:

1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

At this point, if there's only 2 of you, you can halve the spice mixture and put half in a jar for another time.  Then add just half the ingredients below.

To the spice mix add:
2 cloves garlic, mashed or grated
2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 tbsp lemon juice (1/2 lemon)

Use the mixture to coat four fish fillets, of whatever variety you prefer.  Heat a good heavy non-stick frying pan.  Cook fish 3-4 minutes on each side until spices are blackened and fish is cooked through.  Serve with lemon wedges. This has a definite kick to it. so reduce the cayenne if you're not into Cajun spiciness!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Happy First Birthday, Theo!

Yes, a year has rushed by, and our curled-up little bud of a baby has unfurled into a walking, talking  cruising, babbling, genuine one-year-old!


The birthday itself was low-key, which I think is only fair when the chief player has no idea what's going on.  Graham's parents came to visit, and we are seeing mine soon, so the birthday boy gets to show off his new skills to his grandparents.  And eat cake. 


Grandad brought a cake, which we ate for lunch, and I made a banana cake.  It had to be banana, really, for this one.  I'm not sure we yet have photographic evidence of Theo trying to stuff half a banana in his mouth all at once, but that will have to be remedied.  He is very good at it.

And since it was his birthday, I feel entitled to sing Theo's praises for a few minutes.

We love his infectious giggle and cheeky smile.

We love the tuft of hair that sticks up between his double crown.


We love the way he can entertain himself with toys for half an hour at a time. (Oh yes!)

We love his careful attention and single-minded determination.

Determination here applied to taking all the coal off the electric fire and - if the state of his face is anything to go by - trying to eat it.  Of course, when I got the camera out he started moving too fast to get a non-blurry photo.)
 
We love his bright blue eyes - and still are amazed that he got them!

We love his funny noises and clapping hands.


We just love him - from top to toe!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Pasta with sausage and greens

It's a rush blog this week, so you get a recipe.  Because that's quick and easy.  And so is cooking this.

Pasta is a problem in our house.  Well, not so much the pasta, as what to put on it.  Graham doesn't like creamy sauces, and Toby isn't that keen on tomato ones, so that kind of leaves... pesto.  Or recipes like this where you just stir all the bits into the pasta, and it somehow has enough flavour and juiciness not to need a sauce.



Pasta with sausage and greens
200g pasta
1 lb sausages
1 onion, sliced
50-100g spring greens / kale / whatever, sliced
1/4 tsp dried thyme
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Cook pasta and drain, reserving a little of the cooking water.
In a large pan, fry the sausages.  When cooked, remove from the pan and slice on the diagonal.
In fat from sausages, fry the onion until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the greens and thyme and cook 3-4 minutes more.
Add the tomatoes and sausage to the pan, and just let warm through.  You don't really want the tomatoes cooked, just not stone cold.

at which point it looks like this
 Stir in the cooked pasta and vinegar, with a splash of pasta water to moisten it all up.
As usual with my recipes, this serves two hungry adults plus a couple of small boys, but it's the kind of thing that is nice for lunch the next day too.