Friday, 27 January 2017

Matcha Green Tea Cake Mix

Some blogs are full of posts which start: Recently, *big company* sent me three pairs of expensive shoes / five bars of delicious chocolate / a free holiday ...

This is not one of those blogs.

But, recently, a company so small I'm not sure it really exists yet sent me a free cake mix, on the condition that I filled in a survey about it and took a few photos.  Blogging about it was not a condition, but just in case the owner makes it to the big time, you heard it here first!


So the Hope Makes It Easy Matcha Cake Mix popped through my letterbox on my birthday (good timing to start) and the rather pretty package sat on my counter for a few days until I'd assembled the ingredients.  Most cake mixes require a few extra ingredients, but this one needed milk, eggs and butter, plus cream and possibly white chocolate for the icing.  Not exactly all-inclusive.  On the plus side, it helpfully provided a cute origami cup for measuring the milk, a line to show you how much butter to cut off, and baking paper circles for your cake tins.


The instructions looked a little complicated, but were easy enough to follow once you got going.  My little helper broke the eggs and mixed them with the milk for me while I melted butter, then we just had to tip in the bright green matcha tea powder and the sachet of dry ingredients and whisk it all up for a few minutes.  Despite the weird colour, it did smell delicious.



Being an inveterate recipe tweaker, I baked the cake in a rectangular pan instead of sandwich tins, then iced half with buttercream because I knew my family wouldn't eat the recommended whipped cream topping.  I forced a group of friends to be guinea pigs, and after they'd got over the shock of eating a cake that looked like spinach, they all agreed it was very nice.  The only problem was that the sweet icing overwhelmed the delicate flavour of the cake.


For the other half of the cake I tried out the whipped white chocolate ganache from the instructions.  Oh, that stuff was good.  A few spoonfuls may have gone astray between the bowl and the cake.  It still had a tendency to mask the green tea flavour, but the creaminess worked well with the light, fine-textured cake.

I wouldn't usually bother with cake mixes, but it was interesting to try a new ingredient - I never would have gone out and bought matcha green tea - and I was impressed with the quality of the finished product.  So many extra ingredients are needed, though, that you would probably wouldn't pick this up if you didn't already bake, in which case you would be likely to already have a measuring jug and scales.  This suggests it might be worth thinking a bit more about the target customer.

So thanks, Hope Makes It Easy, for the birthday present!  It was fun to try and delicious to eat.  And I will definitely be remembering that white chocolate icing.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Be appreciative. Be generous. Be encouraging.

Be appreciative

It had been one of those days where I felt I was dashing around a lot for very little reward.  Tidying, vacuuming, chivvying the kids around - and now I was in the kitchen starting on dinner while the rest of the family was watching TV.  I'd just finished pummeling the pizza dough into submission when Theo wandered into the kitchen.  He looked at the beige blob in the mixing bowl and exclaimed, "Wow, that's amazing Mum!  You made that!"  A smile broke over my face, and I realised: Yes.  I did make that.  And actually, it is pretty amazing.

What is just as amazing is how a tiny pinch of unadulterated appreciation changes how we feel.  Like the yeast in the bread dough, a few kind words turn a sticky lump of a day into something growing larger and lighter.  So I resolved to try and give that gift to myself and to others more often this year.  To stop and look and say, "That's amazing!  You did that!"  To be appreciative.

Be generous


We are in a slightly odd position at the moment.  We have money.  We just don't have much income.  Obviously, if we keep not having income, we will, in the end, not have money.  This is something we're doing everything we can to prevent, which includes trying not to spend too much of the money we do have, so as to have longer before we don't have it any more.

Unfortunately, this tends to result in both of us viewing the other's purchases with suspicion.  Did you really have to buy that?  Are you sure you couldn't have saved money on that?  And we both end up feeling slightly guilty, a little bit defensive, and somewhat resentful.  That's not a particularly good way to feel.  I realised, even though we're budgeting, we still need a generous mindset.  We don't want to cling on to every last penny as though it will save us.  We don't want to be constantly adding up how much you spent and I didn't spend.  So here's another gift to give this year.  To say, "I'm glad this money could buy something you need."  To be generous.

Be encouraging


"Well done, you put your own shoes on!"  "Look at that drawing you did - so colourful!"  "That's great, you got up all by yourself!"  In early life every little thing is a new achievement, and we do our best to surround our children with a blizzard of encouragement. 

As we get older the expectations kick in.  Too often we find ourselves saying, "Why didn't you do that?"  "Weren't you thinking?"  "You never remember!"  Encouragement changes to discouragement, and instead of looking for the good, we see only the ways in which people let us down.  When I realise what tiny things I praise my two-year-old for (and when he praises me back!), I start thinking that maybe some of the other people in my life could use some more positive feedback.  Toby might look at me funny if I tell him how great it is that he put his own trousers on, but he notices when I compliment him for being polite at the dinner table. 

We all like to have our efforts noticed and our failures overlooked.  And that's one more gift to give.  To say, "Well done, I saw what you did."  To be encouraging.

What gifts will you give this year?

Saturday, 7 January 2017

12 photos of Christmas

It's time for some Christmas photos!  Not the best photos in the world, it has to be said, and remarkably lacking in all the other people we saw over the season.  We spent Christmas with Graham's family, getting very well cooked for by his sister, his parents, and his aunt and uncle.  My parents came to stay the day after we got home, and left the morning of New Year's Day.  A quick tidy-up and we were ready for our second annual New Year's Day party, catching up with friends from the village and from church.  But here's some photos of other things...

Our treat before Christmas was a visit to Lichfield's A Cathedral Illuminated.  Six projectors provided an awesome 20-minute light show on the west front of the cathedral, including giant rolling baubles and singing angels.
 Inside were dozens of decorated Christmas trees (I liked the one with teabags), a nativity and hundreds of paper angels.

Look at all those presents!  Toby especially was very excited for Christmas this year, and could hardly wait until everyone was up and ready to open presents.  This is his and Theo's collection.


OK, so we were all a little excited.


The highlight of my Christmas - straws!  The boys had been fighting over sharing one red twirly straw for weeks.  Now they have two each, and I don't have to remember whose turn it is any more.


Toby's space station, which was the subject of several letters to Santa.  It required more building than I expected, but at least it kept us awake after Christmas dinner.


Theo is all into his playdough, so he was pleased with some new moulding tools.


Party hats at Christmas dinner!  Toby had fallen over in the playground just beforehand and felt a bit funny, but he'd definitely recovered by the time we got to the pudding stage.



More presents: we all rather enjoyed Theo's new marble run.

And one of Toby's favourites was a kitchen science set.  Here's the classic vinegar-and-bicarb volcano.

And finally, a Christmas pie.  We didn't have leftovers, of course, but minced beef together with some onions, carrots and parsnips which didn't get eaten before Christmas made a delicious pie.  And I had to have some fun with the spare pastry!


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Paying for a pink razor

How much would you pay for a pink razor?



Not as much as before, fortunately, with Tesco's recent announcement that it is reducing the cost of its women's disposable razors to match men's ones.  However, you're probably still paying over the odds if you favour shampoo, deodorant or body wash aimed at women.

In fact, once you open your eyes, it appears that the number of products that women pay more for is simply staggering.  If you can bear to read it, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs put together a 76-page report detailing just how much more a female customer is likely to pay over the course of her lifetime.

Perhaps, like me, your initial reaction is, "Why don't you just buy the men's version then?"  But of course, the issue runs much deeper than that.  Paula Cocozza, in The Guardian, comments that spending 50p less for men's shaving gel just "make[s] you smell like a cheap man".  Cheap or not, the all-pervading fear these products are playing on is the idea that you might be mistaken for the wrong gender.  If you don't smell right, wear the right thing, or have the right bottles in your bathroom, you somehow become less womanly.  Or manly.

It runs deep.  I have to confess that all my razors (of the non-disposable sort) have been purple, curvy, and probably more expensive than the chunky blue kind.  It would feel a little odd to go out and buy a designated men's razor.  From a biological point of view, it's obviously quite useful to be able to tell which sex a person is without actually having to peer down their trousers, so the innate preference for identifiers of your own gender is not, as such, a problem.

The problem is that this preference is being gouged deeper and deeper by forces seemingly outside our control.  As the New York City study points out: " Individual consumers ... must make purchasing choices based only on what is available in the marketplace."  Anyone who has raced round shops trying desperately to find just a plain red T-shirt will vouch for that. 

Like many parents, I have snorted disbelievingly at the toy shops selling girl and boy versions of everything from trampolines to push-along carts, but until now I hadn't considered that it might be cynically setting us up to make gendered purchase decisions for the rest of our lives.  A little girl who has everything pink and sparkly from babyhood is surely less able to resist the messages that tell her she must pay extra for the beauty-enhancing women's cosmetics when she grows up.  And a little boy who rather likes pink will quickly squash it down in favour of the comic book heroes and macho packaging that he's told he should prefer. 

An article from The Atlantic claims that gender stereotypes in marketing are as strong as they've ever been, merely "repackage[d] ... to make them more palatable".  If it's not OK to think of a woman as only a housewife, let's make her a princess instead.  If a man isn't just about working with his muscles any more, he'll still be flattered if we pretend he's a super hero.  We can only buy what we're being sold.  And what we're being sold is a whole idea of who we are, and of what being a woman or a man in today's world means.

So how much are you paying for a pink razor? 

More, it seems, than you might think.

Image attribution: By David Monniaux (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons