It’s that time of year again, when I get to bake a special cake for Andrew and Tom (they share the same birthday). Last year for Andrew’s first birthday, I made a three-part cake in the shape of the letters ONE, because he wasn’t really into anything specific like a character from a book or TV programme. This year was very different – I had several characters to choose from, such as Brum, Fireman Sam, Noddy, Bob the builder, Postman Pat…… and Thomas the tank Engine. I decided that Thomas was the easiest to turn into a cake because of his shape, so I set to and created an edible Thomas.
The cake was a classic sponge cake, with the following ingredients:
330g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla essence
I made this sponge mixture in the usual way, by creaming together the sugar and margarine, then beating in the egg, and finally adding the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence and stirring until well combined. I poured this mixture into two loaf tins and 4 holes in a muffin tin. They were beaked at 180ºC (fan) for around 10 minutes for the muffin-sized sponges, and around 40 minutes for the loaf-sized sponges, until a knife inserted into the centre came out clean. I then let them cool fully before I started anything else.
Next it was time to cut the cakes up to model the shape of Thomas. I began by cutting the top off both loaf cakes, to make them flat on top. I kept one loaf as a rectangle to make the base of the train, and cut the other loaf and muffins up to use to build up the rest of the train. I stuck all the bits together using jam.
Once this cake model was finished, I set about decorating it with icing to make it into Thomas. As I don’t have much time these days, fitting baking, modelling and icing in around feeding Joel, I bought ready-to-roll blue royal icing and ready-to-squeeze blue buttercream icing. I rolled out the royal icing to a couple of millimetres thick, and draped to over the cake. Amazingly, it fitted just nicely except a few jagged edges which I trimmed off before sticking the edges to the cake using jam. I made sure I pushed the icing into all the corners, so I didn’t lose any of the cake shape. I used the small amount of trimmings to make the little blue hump on his top a bit behind the funnel, by rolling them up into a ball and sticking it on.
The two ends didn’t get covered, but that was fine for the face end because it’s not blue, and for the back end I cut the rectangle of icing off the roof of the driver’s cab and stuck it on the back using buttercream icing. The roof of the cab is black, so I covered it with melted dark chocolate, as I did for the ring around the face at the front too. For the wheels, I used liquorice Catherine wheels and stuck them on with a blob of buttercream icing. For the very front of the train, I melted some white chocolate and added some red gel food colouring, and smeared it onto the cake. Once all the cake was covered, I used red and yellow writing icing to draw the lines and number one onto the body of the train, and blue to draw on his face features, with white chocolate buttons for eyes. The funnel was half a Quality Street chocolate covered toffee finger stuck on with a blob of buttercream icing.
Then all that was left to do was stick 2 candles in it and bring it out for tea on their birthday! Andrew immediately recognised it as Thomas the choo choo, which meant a lot to me – I’d done a good job it seems 🙂 Not only did it look like Thomas, but it tasted good too, and that’s the most important thing about a birthday cake.
One of the presents that Father Christmas brought for Andrew was an Ikea children’s baking set; it has a baking tray, pie tin, biscuit cutters, rolling pin and Bundt tin (if you don’t know what this is, hang on, I’ll explain shortly!) – all perfect mini replicas of my own adult-sized baking equipment. When he opened it, I thought the Bundt tin was particularly cute. This is a circular tin with a hole in it, to make ring-shaped cakes; it is a traditional shape in Germany for certain types of cake, and it’s there that I first saw such ring cakes.
When I was 14 and in Germany on the exchange trip organised by school, my exchange partner and I baked a Marmorkuchen, or ‘Marble Cake’ in its classic shape – the Bundt tin. We went on to become good friends and are still in touch today, albeit less frequently than back then when neither of us had such busy lives. For our wedding, she and her husband bought us some typically German presents, including a Bundt tin and a German cook book with various cake recipes in. I’ve mainly used this tin for baking Marmorkuchen, and when I saw Andrew’s mini version, I thought that this would be the first thing that we’d bake in it. We also made a Mummy (and Daddy) sized one at the same time!
So what is Marmorkuchen (Marble Cake) anyway? Don’t worry, it’s not rock hard, well not unless you do something seriously wrong! It’s a basic sponge mixture, half of which you keep plain (vanilla flavoured) and the other half of which you add cocoa powder to for a chocolate flavour. You layer each half of the mixture in the tin, plain first, chocolate second, and then use a fork to swirl them together, to make a marble effect once the mixture is cooked and you cut a slice from the ring. It’s a simple recipe which looks very pretty and a bit different from the usual sponge you might bake.
I’ve given the recipe below. I’m not sure where to buy Bundt tins in this country, but there must be some lurking online somewhere. It would work just as well in an ordinary cake tin or loaf tin, just without the interesting ring shape. The recipe is based on one in the German cook book that I was given, but slightly adapted – there is no rum in it, which, if I remember rightly, in Germany you can buy in little capsules for using in baking cakes such as these. I think it works without it though, as there is vanilla flouring in it anyway.
375g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
25g cocoa powder
splash of milk
Pre-heat the oven to 160 C )fan) and grease the inside of the Bundt tin.
Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs until smooth.
Add the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence and mix until well combined.
Put half the mixture into the Bundt tin and spread it around to fill the ring.
Add the cocoa to the remaining mixture and mix until well combined, and add a splash of milk if the mixture gets too stiff, to loosen it up.
Put this mixture into the Bundt tin and spread it around to make a layer on top of the plain mixture.
With a fork, make circular motions from top to bottom and back to top in the tin, so that the plain mixture below comes up and is swirled into the chocolate mixture and vice versa, all around the circle tin.
Bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes – check it is cooked by inserting a skewer and it comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin and turn it out onto a plate when cool. Enjoy!
When I left work just before Joel was born, my very thoughtful colleagues (read: friends) bought me an amazing gift – a cookery book all about cake pops and a cake pop silicone mould. Now, I’d heard of cake pops, via a few blogs by other mums, but I’d not got round to figuring out how to make them myself. If you’re not sure what a cake pop is, as I wasn’t when I first saw the words mentioned on a blog, it’s basically a cross between a cake and a lollipop – a small piece of sponge cake on a stick. Traditionally (can an idea so new be called traditional?!) cake pops are balls, but you can be more creative and make various shapes – the key is that they are bite-size, so they look really cute. The book I was given is called Pop Party, and it tells you how to make some incredible looking cake pops that would be fantastic for kids’ (or adults’!) parties. For example there are various animal designs, balloons, mini hot-dogs, mini tiered cakes, to name but a few.
This present has inspired me to have a go at cake pops, though I thought I’d start with something simple rather than going for a fancy design from the book just yet. To make the fancy designs, or balls for that matter if you don’t have a mould to cheat with, you make cake pops by baking a big sponge cake, breaking it up and mixing it with cream cheese, and moulding the stiff mixture into whatever shape you want. Then you can decorate with various icings and colours to create the final design on a stick.
My main reason for having a go at pops this week was that Andrew is going with Daddy to a Christmas party tomorrow that requires him to take some food to share. I thought Christmassy decorated cake pops would be perfect for little mouths to munch on, and the kids would love holding the stick. The mould I was given came with reusable sticks, but since I knew I wouldn’t be likely to get them back in the chaos of a children’s party, I used disposable drinking straws instead for sticks. There were 2 designs: a plain sponge dipped in white chocolate and purple glitter sugar; a red-coloured sponge dipped in milk chocolate and snowflake sprinkles.
Here’s the recipe, for which you’ll need a silicone pop mould (rather than the method of remoulding sponge cake using cream cheese).
Ingredients – makes 28 cake pops (using pop mould)
120g self-raising flour
red gel food colouring
75g milk chocolate, broken into pieces to melt
50g white chocolate, broken into pieces to melt
decorations – snowflake sprinkles, glitter sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (fan).
Start by making the sponge. Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in the egg until smooth.
Add the flour and mix until well combined.
Fill half the balls on one side of the cake pop mould with mixture. Then add red gel food colouring to the rest of the mixture and stir until the colour is evenly distributed and the desired colour. Fill the other half of the balls on the one side of the mould. I found that this amount of mixture made 28, and my mould only does 20, so I saved some mixture for a small second batch once the first was cooked.
Put the other half of the mould (its lid) on, and bake for 20 mins.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely, then remove the balls from the mould.
Melt 25g of milk chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
Dip about 1.5cm of the end of a drinking straw in the chocolate, and push it carefully into the centre of a sponge ball, being careful not to push it all the way through. Repeat with all the other balls and straws, then leave to cool in the fridge until the chocolate sets. This will keep the straw in the ball when you do the decorating.
When the sticks are set, melt the remaining milk chocolate and white chocolate in separate bowls as before. Be especially careful with the white chocolate as it burns easily when melting if done with too high a heat.
Dip the top of each ball into the chocolate – plain sponge in white and red sponge in milk chocolate.
Then sprinkle glitter sugar over the white chocolate and snowflake sprinkles over the milk chocolate.
Stick the straws into an upside down colander to leave the chocolate to set whilst the cake pops are upright.
From what I’ve heard, the Olympics have started! As we don’t have a TV, we didn’t watch the opening ceremony live, and I haven’t got round to downloading it on iPlayer and watching it yet. This is the first time since we got rid of our TV that I kind of miss it, but given how much we’re saving on the licence fee, I’m not too bothered overall. We just don’t seem to get time to sit down and watch TV, except the odd DVD here and there. Although I didn’t watch the opening ceremony, I did feel like I was watching, because of all the tweeting and facebooking that was going on about it. To be honest, I’m a bit miffed about not getting tickets to anything I wanted to see in the Olympics, despite trying in the first and second round to get them. I would have loved to watch any of the swimming events, or anything going on in the aquatic centre, but I didn’t get any tickets in our (limited) price-range budget. It’s such a shame that I didn’t get to watch the one sport I really love when it was here, live in this country, not far from where we’re living, at the Olympics.
But I’ll stop whinging now. One day I’ll go and swim in the Olympic pool myself, just like I did in Sydney after the Olympics there. That will be a great day, one which I’m already looking forward to! Even though I’m perhaps not as involved in the Olympic atmosphere as I would like to be, that didn’t stop me getting in the mood for some Olympics-inspired baking. I had some (OK, lots of) Union Jack cupcake cases left over from the Jubilee celebrations in June, so thought it would be a good opportunity to use some more and get into the Olympic spirit by making some Team-GB-inspired red, white and blue cupcakes. Of course the cases are red, white and blue, but I also went for red and blue sponge (half of each in each cupcake), plus white icing and the three colours in hundreds and thousands. The red sponge came out red, but the blue wasn’t very strong (I’ve found this before with natural food colourings these days, particularly blue), so that bit of the sponge looks more like the usual creamy colour but a bit darker. Still, it’s a nice overall effect with half the sponge one colour and half another colour, even if it’s not amazingly blue like I intended. They taste lovely, which is the main thing. Tom and I sat eating an Olympics cupcake each yesterday evening, whilst Rebecca Adlington was winning bronze in the 400m freestyle in the Olympic pool (so I found out later on the internet). If you’d like to bake something to go with your Olympics watching, the recipe is below.
60g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
blue food colouring
60g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
red food colouring
3 heaped tsp icing sugar
a few drops of cold water
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and place cupcake cases in muffin tins (I made 1 dozen cakes).
Start with the blue sponge, as the colour is lighter than the red, so you can use the same bowl to mix the red in afterwards, because small bits of blue mixture won’t affect the colour of the red mixture, unlike the other way around.
Cream the sugar and margarine in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
Add the egg and beat well until smooth.
Add the flour, baking powder, vanilla essence and food colouring, and mix until well combined and the colour is evenly spread throughout the mixture. Use enough food colouring to make the mixture as bold as possible in colour.
Put a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each cake case, so that each case is about a third full.
Follow the same method from 3. to 6. for the red mixture. When it’s ready, add a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each cake case, so it sits on top of the blue mixture, and each case is about two thirds full.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden (even though the top is red inside, I found that the crust on top was quite brown, so I could tell when it was cooked as usual).
Let cool out of the muffin tins. Meanwhile make the icing. Mix the icing sugar with a few drops of water and stir until you have a thick paste. Only add a little water at a time – you can always add more but you can’t take it out once it’s in! (You could always add more icing sugar if you put too much water in, but then you could end up with too much icing.)
Put a small blob of icing in the centre on top of each cake. It will probably start to run down to the edges on its own gradually, but if not then spread across the top with the back of a teaspoon.
Sprinkle hundreds and thousands over the icing and carefully shake off any excess.
Leave the icing to set, and then eat the cakes! Store in an airtight container – best eaten within a few days.
At the weekend we had arranged to meet up with some of my school friends and their families. When we planned this a while ago, we thought a barbecue at one of their houses would be a nice idea for a summer’s Sunday afternoon. As July went on, this looked less and less likely, and there was talk of relocation to a family pub somewhere. However, in the end the sun came out for the weekend, and we managed to have our barbecue. I was put in charge of bringing pudding (more my thing than meat at the best of times, let alone when I’m really not liking the smell of cooking!), so I decided to whip up a quick and easy classic British cake on the Saturday morning before we left to head over to the Midlands.
My choice was the Victoria sponge. You can’t really go too wrong with it, and it’s not too sweet or stodgy, so just what I like at the moment. Once the cake bit of it was baked, I packed the two halves into a tin, as my plan was to do the jam and icing sugar bits the next day at my parents house where we were staying. We had lunch at my parents’ on Saturday, and what should Mum bring out for pudding…. but a Victoria sponge that she’d baked! It was complete with candles for my birthday – a lovely surprise being as I’d almost forgotten about my birthday this year as it’s crept up so quickly with me being so busy. So this weekend became the weekend of Victoria sponges 🙂 Not a bad thing to have two of in my opinion. Mum had in fact put buttercream icing as well as jam in the middle, so not technically a classic Victoria sponge, rather one with a bit of a twist. As the jam she had was quite tart, not too sweet, the buttercream icing was a great complement to it, and I decided to make this addition to my cake for the Sunday too.
What I didn’t plan for was the hot weather on the Sunday! During the three-quarter hour car journey to our friends’ house at lunchtime, the two halves slid apart as the buttercream icing melted slightly and lost its grip on the jam in the sandwiched cake. When we arrived I had to do some patching up, but in the end, after a couple of hours in the cool kitchen, it didn’t look too bad. And it tasted good, that was the main thing!
110g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
jam for the filling
for the icing in the middle (optional): 75g margarine and 150g icing sugar
icing sugar to dust
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, and grease 2 medium round cake tins with margarine.
Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl together until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and vanilla essence and beat well until you have a smooth mixture.
Add the flour and baking powder and mix until well combined and smooth.
Pour half the mixture into one cake tin and half into the other.
Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until golden and springy to touch.
Let cool and remove from tins.
Once cool, spread jam generously over one of the circles of cake.
Mix the margarine and icing sugar for the icing together until you have a smooth paste. Spread the icing over the other cake, the one without the jam.
Put the side with the jam onto the side with the icing to make a sandwich.
Dust the top with icing sugar to finish.
Store in cool place, especially if the weather is hotter than you’re used to!! Preferably just eat it though 🙂
Last weekend we went away for my cousin’s wedding. We stopped off to stay with my parents on the Friday night, and mum had prepared a lovely tea of various interesting homemade salad dishes that were perfect for me and my lack of desire to eat hot cooked food. For pudding she produced a cheesecake that was fridge-set (so no baking involved) and didn’t involved raw egg. Again this was perfect, because it wasn’t too sweet; in fact it was quite tart, and not particularly to Andrew’s liking! He seems to have inherited my sweet tooth (which has disappeared during pregnancy). Then at the wedding reception, what should turn up for pudding but a fridge-set cheesecake, very similar to the one mum had made. None of us minded at all, because we all enjoyed it, and it was just what we needed on what turned out to be a lovely day weather-wise – something refreshing and not too stodgy. I just checked with the chef that it didn’t contain any hidden pregnancy unfriendly ingredients (my main concern is the raw egg that sometimes goes into such things), and he confirmed that it was fine for me to eat.
So these two cheesecakes (one blueberry and one lemon) inspired me to make my own cheesecake using similar ingredients. After all, it involved no baking in the oven, so no smells that I’m not too keen on right now. The secret to making it set in both cases (according to my mum and the wedding chef) is lemon juice. I hadn’t heard of this before, and was curious to try and find out the chemistry behind it (I’m a scientist, this is how I think!) But after some, admittedly not very long, time googling, I couldn’t find anything from a reputable source. I saw a couple of hints at the fact that the acid somehow makes the cheese and cream mixture more solid, which does make sense to me as I think back to science lessons at school. If anyone has a more technical (but still understandable) explanation of how this works, please let me know!
But back to the culinary point, below is the recipe that I came up with. The name ‘Black-forest-inspired’ comes from the fact that it contains chocolate and cherries; this is a winning combination if you ask me, particularly at the moment when cherries are in season, so fresh and juicy. I just guessed at how much of each ingredient should go in to the cheesy mixture, by tasting as I went along. The base is my standard cheesecake base recipe. It turned out very well – nicely soft and fluffy, but solid, and not too sweet. I have to say that it was best on the day I made it. The day after it started to lose its shape and run slightly into the hole that was made by cutting the first slices. It still tasted nice, but the texture wasn’t so cheesecake-y, more like mousse or yoghurt. So the moral of the story is…. eat your cheesecake on the day it was made (I feel we would have been ill if Tom and I had attempted this just between the two of us!)
15 digestive biscuits
300g soft cheese
150ml crème fraîche
juice of half a lemon
100g chocolate (plain or milk), cut into small chunks
cherries, stoned and halved, to decorate
Grease the bottom and sides of a springform cake tin.
Crush the biscuits in a large plastic bowl with the end of a rolling pin.
Melt the margarine in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, and add to the crushed biscuits. Stir until well combined.
Spread the biscuit mixture on the base of the tin, and pat down until firm and smooth to make the base.
Mix the soft cheese, crème fraîche, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
Pour this cheesy mixture over the biscuit base in the tin.
Cover the tin and put it into the fridge to set. I left ours for about 12 hours and it was a good consistency.
Decorate with the halved cherries as your creative side takes you!
Finally I’m getting round to thinking and writing about what experienced at the BritMums Live 2012 blogging conference. I hope I’m not too late to join the linky….. I’ve seen (via twitter) so many people posting on there already. But as I said in my last post, the past week (and the week before the conference) have been incredibly busy with one thing and another, so I’ve only just had time to gather my thoughts and look back it. Luckily I have a pretty good memory, though pregnancy is clouding that somewhat, so I can still remember (most of) what I did.
Granny and Grandad kindly looked after Andrew on the Friday, and Daddy did his usual Andrew entertaining stint on Saturday until I arrived home in the evening. So a big thanks to all three of them for enabling me to go in the first place. This was the first time that I have ever been away from Andrew for more than a working day. I did miss him, and wouldn’t want to do it often, but there was so much going on that my mind was kept occupied.
I travelled down to London with Amanda from The Family Patch, and her husband kindly drove us so it was a much more restful journey for me than getting the train. After a slight hold up on the way (due to a gridlocked service station car park!) we arrived just after Ruby Wax’s talk had started. We decided to go straight into ‘The Hub’ rather than try and creep into her talk unnoticed – I’m never confident enough to do that and risk disturbing someone else’s view or ability to hear the talk. The Hub was a room with several stands run by reps from various companies which might be of interest to mums/dads. I soon got chatting to a few of them whose products interested me, and it was nice and quiet at that point so we could actually hear each other without shouting! I picked up a few freebies whilst chatting, like some Nurofen syringes (which are so handy because you can only get that stuff out of the bottle with that specific syringe and they’re easily misplaced around a toddler-inhabited flat), and a Lego goody bag with a Duplo set that’s perfect for Andrew right now (actually, they had run out of bags on the Friday, so I got one the day after, although I was told off by the Lego rep who I hadn’t spoken to the day before for just asking for a bag without talking to her first – cheeky her, I’d already done the chat!)
We managed to sneak into the main room between Ruby’s talk and the next one, which was a discussion between various top bloggers with different genres of blog about ‘British blogging now’. This was very interesting to hear, particularly as I’m still such a newbie and I’m still getting to know the blogosphere out there. They gave some useful tips from their ideas of what blogging is all about. The tea/coffee break that followed gave me a chance to find my way around the venue a bit more (e.g. locate the toilets – essential when you’re pregnant!) and be amazed at how posh it was! I’m not used to being called ‘Ma’am’ by a gentleman in a bowler hat as I’m welcomed through the door. For an old brewery, converted into a conference centre, it all looked very plush and sparkly. The cake during the break was yummy; the worst part was having to choose between all the different kinds which all sounded lovely.
Once I’d re-energised with a slice of cake, I headed to my first workshop of the conference. There was a choice of four, and I chose the one entitled ‘Crossing the Chasm – how to bring your blog to the next level’, which was given by a group of five top bloggers. I was a little unsure before going as to whether this would be relevant – would the ‘level’ they were going to talk about be the one I’m interested in getting to next? But this turned out to be one of the best workshops I attended. Rather cleverly they talked in general terms about improving your blog/blogging, as well as giving more specific tips for particular different stages of blogging that individuals in the audience might be at. I got a lot out of it, both things to work on in the future, and (perhaps more importantly) confirmation of things that I’m already doing right/well.
That brought me to the end of day one. It would have been nice to stay for the BiBs awards party, but I knew I had quite a trek across London in Friday rush hour to reach my overnight sleeping place (thanks to my brother and his girlfriend). As I’m still getting exhausted by early evening, I thought it would be unwise to stick around much longer with bump, and instead headed to the tube where I stuck bump out in the hope of getting a seat – nobody obliged, but I grabbed one quickly as someone got off a few stops down the line.
Day two started bright and breezy for me, because even without Andrew to wake me up, my own body managed to do it instead. I made the trek back east across central London, and turned up at about 8.20am, just a bit too late to join in with Bloggercise. I felt like I’d done my own muscle workout by lugging around my laptop and overnight bag all day though. A tasty almond pastry and a sit down in the again quiet Hub was just what I needed to prepare me for the long day ahead. The day started officially and promptly with a talk by Sarah Brown (as in the wife of the former Prime Minister) who does lots of work for charity through Piggy Bank Kids. She was an inspiring speaker, who honestly and genuinely spoke about her experience of finding her voice and making a difference. It was so refreshing to hear that these things don’t just happen overnight, even if you’re more publicly well-known than me, and that even as someone who now comes across so confidently as a speaker, she struggled massively with it to start with.
Then I went to another workshop on photography – how to use lighting and household objects to take better pictures for your blog. This was a fantastic presentation, given by Julia Boggio, professional photographer. She talked us through some pretty basic concepts of light, positioning and using various filters (like a white shower curtain or a little black dress) and compact mirrors to reflect light. I learnt a lot from this, and photography is something that I’d like to work on, particularly for my food shots, so I’ll try to put it into practice and achieve some good results. Not only was she an excellent and easy to follow speaker, but also she revealed at the end that she had taken all the amazing shots she showed us on her iPhone, to prove that you don’t need expensive specialist photographic equipment to get great photos. I was definitely inspired by this talk and, when I get around to it, will be constructing a white screen and transparent mat to start using for photos of objects.
A well-timed tea/coffee break (I don’t know why I’m calling it that when I didn’t drink any tea or coffee – still not fancying it for pregnancy-related reasons) meant that I could refuel with some yummy cake and visit the ladies. Talking of cake, I also came across the cupcake decorating competition at the Lego stand, so gave it a shot. Even if I didn’t win the grand prize of a load of Lego that I’m sure Andrew would have appreciated at some point, it was a tasty thing to come away with. It was then time for more workshops.
The second and third workshops of the day ran back to back, so there was a lot of info to take in before the lunch break. For the first, I chose ‘Blogging for the greater good – using your voice for a worthy cause’. This was a discussion, with time for questions from the floor afterwards, between some amazing bloggers who do great works for various charities. Although my blog isn’t officially involved with any charities at the moment, this is something that I have been thinking about recently, particularly since taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt. I do feel passionately about spreading the word about breastfeeding, and I wondered whether I could do more through the blog for this than what I’ve so far written. The speakers gave some very useful advice, were inspiring in what they had themselves achieved for others, and also confirmed some thoughts that I’d had myself, so it was just what I needed. I’ll have more of a think, again when I get time, about what I could do along these lines.
The next workshop I attended was completely different. It was more of a technical talk about Google+. I’d seen the g+ symbol on quite a few blogs, but had never had chance to figure out exactly what it was and why I would want to use it. The speakers talked us through how it is another social networking tool, but explained how it is different from facebook and twitter. As I had my laptop out anyway, I was convinced enough to register there and then. Admittedly I haven’t had a chance to do anything else with my account other than create it, but I hope to one day find some time to sit down for an hour or two and get it set up properly. With only 24 hours in a day and only a small fraction of that available for blogging, I have to prioritise what comes first. Although Google+ looks interesting and useful for connecting with other bloggers, there are currently more important things to do in my blogging time, like actually doing some writing, since that’s the bit I love 🙂
It was definitely time for a spot of lunch after that morning of mental action. I should have guessed that a venue as nice as that would provide more than a sandwich buffet for lunch. Indeed as I walked towards The Hub I could smell that lunch was more than cold finger food. Normally I would be impressed by this, but since I can’t stand the smell of cooking still, it was a turn off. But I knew I needed to eat something, so thought I should brave the queue and see what there was – maybe there was some bread or salad lurking in amongst the hot dishes? All the meat dishes looked too meaty for someone who doesn’t really eat meat, so I moved on to the veggie end of the table. The choices were something with goats cheese (not allowed), a korma curry (not a massive fan of korma anyway, but definitely not into curry at the mo) or a pasta thing with a cheese I hadn’t heard of. So I decided to ask the staff if the pasta was suitable for pregnancy. The lady was very helpful and went off to ask behind the scenes; after a few minutes came back the answer that the pasta wasn’t suitable, and the only thing I could have as a pregnant veggie was the korma. Great! I explained that I really wasn’t feeling well enough to want curry, and without hesitation she offered to get me a salad made up. Within 5 minutes appeared a salad – an ‘interesting’ combination of flavours I have to say, with rocket, watercress, olives and blueberries, and a chilli dressing. Olives have never been something that I’ve enjoyed eating, but I thought I would try one, just to confirm that I still didn’t like them. But I was surprised to discover that I actually liked it! Amazing what pregnancy does to your taste buds – I’ve completely gone off one of my previously favourite fruits, bananas, but now I like olives! So I ate up the whole salad willingly.
During my time waiting for the salad to appear, I bumped (pun intended) into the lovely Louise Lloyd of Team Lloyd who is also pregnant. She had tried to organise a bump meet-up for any pregnant mums there, but despite initial interest on twitter before the day, it only ended up being the two of us. I think there was just too much else going on. Nevermind, it was great to meet a fellow pregnant blogger, whose blog I really enjoy reading, in person. After I’d eaten and chatted to Louise and her friend Kelly, we all decided to enter a competition run by Acer to win an Android tablet. I was feeling quite left out as I seemed to be one of the only ones there who didn’t have an iPad or iPhone, so I thought it would be a handy prize if I won. To be in with a chance of winning you had to stand in a photo booth and pose how you wanted for four different photos. I decided to do some baby signs, thinking it was a bit different, but sadly I didn’t win.
Lunch was followed by two more workshops. The first one I chose was all about how to make money with your blog. It took me a while to decide on this because the other choices also looked relevant and interesting, and I don’t want to make money from my blog at the moment. But in the end I thought it would be useful to go along and find out more about making money, in case I decide this might be a route to go down in the future. Although the main speaker was very fast, I did manage to get enough info out of it to confirm that I don’t want to turn this blog into anything commercial. She said, as I thought, that parenting blogs are not usually the right place to make significant amounts of money, but that niche blogs that spin off from them can make quite a bit. For now blogging is something I do for fun, and I really don’t want to bombard my readers with adverts and marketing, because that would go against why I started doing it. But I might find in the future that I could look into making money from blogging and writing, using another blog or website set up for that purpose.
The last workshop was a rather disappointing choice, after all the other good ones that I’d been too. But I guess 5 out of 6 isn’t bad! The problem was that the title gave a false impression of what the speaker was going to talk about. It was called ‘Writing about your life for non-fiction and memoirs.’ I was interested to hear about this, because I’ve been saying for a while that maybe one day I’ll write a book about our breastfeeding (and early parenting) experience because we seemed to hit issues that aren’t widely written about beyond postnatal breastfeeding support group literature. However, the speaker only made points that were relevant if you were writing a biography (how is that ‘your life’?) or auto-biography, and focussed on researching genealogy and historic events. By that time I was exhausted anyway, so I switched off for most of it and just played around on t’internet (incidentally the wifi was soooo much faster there than our home ‘narrowband’ connection! – sorry Tom, it had to be said, again 🙂 )
Although there were a couple more things on the program for the evening, both I and Amanda were more keen to get back home to our boys and a good night’s sleep. So, after one last walk round the stands in The Hub, where I was drawn to the freshly-made bread from the Panasonic breadmaker and interested to know how I could be involved in testing/tasting in the future, we headed out of London. Oh, how could I nearly forget? – first we picked up a heavy goody bag full of bits and pieces to take home with us, most of which I or Andrew will find very useful. He’s already enjoyed the Tilda Kids risotto and Winnie the Pooh rice cakes (full marks on a review of taste from him!), and read the children’s books. Lugging in my goody bag, I arrived home to one very happy little (and one very happy big) boy who greeted me with a big hug. The littler one was all ready for bed, and we had a nice long milky snuggle to make up for the time we’d been apart.
Overall I’d say my experience of BritMumsLive was excellent, and I am definitely thinking of going back next year (though it may not work out with an 8 month old baby). I learnt a lot! The only problem I have now is finding enough time to put everything I heard, and frantically took notes on, into practice; that’ll be quite a slow process. My reason for going was primarily to hear some amazing bloggers, who have been around longer than I have, share their experiences and tips, and I wasn’t (generally) disappointed in the quality and quantity of what I heard. For me, the event wasn’t so much about who I could meet (both bloggers and companies), but I was happy that I did get to put a few faces to names and chat with speech rather than online media. I’m sure a lot of effort goes into organising an event that big, and I think BritMums pulled it off well. It seemed like there was something for everyone with all the different workshops, and if I go again, I hope some of the same or similar ones will run so that I can go to the ones I missed this time because they were on at the same time as another one that I chose. So that’s an overall positive review from me!
This week we are having friends round for Sunday lunch, and this reminded me of a pudding that my mum used to make quite often when we had friends or family round for Sunday lunch when I was a child. I don’t think the recipe was ever written down, or at least she taught it to me without looking at a recipe, so it’s a bit like an oral legend that was passed down a generation. If I remember rightly, it was in fact the son of one of her friends who once made it in a home economics lesson (ah remember when it was called home ec. and not food technology or something like that?!) He’d done it as part of a project on food suitable for diabetics, and my parents were interested in the recipe because my dad is diabetic.
In outline it’s a biscuit base (using plain biscuits like digestives which don’t have too much sugar in them, though I like to use Hobnobs too to give it a bit of oatiness), and a topping that’s made from a sachet of dried sugar-free jelly, made up not with a pint of boiling water, but instead with a small amount of water and the rest cottage cheese and double cream. It sets in the fridge like ordinary jelly does. If you’re not convinced that this sounds delicious, let me try and persuade you that it is! I’ve written the recipe below, but I guess the best way to believe me would be to try it for yourself. Go on, it’ll be yummy!
This is the first time I made this since Andrew’s been eating solids, though I’m not sure why I haven’t done it yet because it’s of course good that it doesn’t have much sugar in. The sweetness comes partly from the biscuits which have a little in, and from the sweeteners that make the jelly sweet. And of course the fruit used to decorate it. What other flavours do you think would be nice to try? Do you think a particular colour of jelly would go down well with you or your family?
20 biscuits like Hobnobs or digestives.
100g butter or margarine
150ml boiling water
300g cottage cheese
150ml double cream
1 dried sachet (which makes a pint) of sugar-free jelly (I chose raspberry this time, but you can use any flavour of jelly that you’d like for a cheesecake)
Crush the biscuits into crumbs using the end of a rolling pin and a large bowl, big enough that it catches the inevitable flying crumbs when they’re created from the biscuits.
Melt the butter/margarine and add to the biscuit crumbs.
Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of a suitable dish – I used a circular Pyrex one.
Empty the sachet of jelly into a measuring jug. Add the boiling water and stir until the powder has all dissolved.
Sieve the cottage cheese – I know this sounds odd, but by pushing it through a sieve using the back of a spoon until it’s all passed through, you end up with a nice smooth consistency rather than the lumpiness from the pot. Add the sieved cheese to the jelly mixture and stir well to make sure there are no lumps.
Add the double cream to this mixture and stir until it’s mixed in well.
Pour the mixture onto the base in the dish and leave it to chill for a few hours in the fridge.
Once set, decorate with fruit (I chose red grapes to go with the pink colour of the cheesecake).
Just a quick post to say what a lovely time we had at Ickworth House and Gardens near Bury St Edmunds this weekend. It’s a National Trust property, and as usual we couldn’t fault the location for a fun family day out.
We’re lucky that quite a few of the 512 NT locations are within a half-an-hour-ish drive from us. Before Andrew came along we were members for a year (whilst one of us was still at the under 25 years old price), and almost every weekend we went for a walk in the gardens/fields around one of the properties near us. We decided that we wouldn’t renew our membership when a year was up because (a) we would have to pay two adult prices, (b) with me being on maternity leave and a baby to budget for it was one of those things that no longer fitted within our budget, and (c) we thought we wouldn’t make it too far every weekend when baby was very little, so instead would go for very local walks from home.
Since then we’ve been a few times with each of our sets of parents, either near their houses or near us. This weekend we decided to take Tom’s parents to a NT place they haven’t visited before. We all like walking, and Ickworth has miles and miles of walking paths of various difficulties and surfaces. They even have a designated family mountain bike track, which we’d love to take Andrew on when he’s older. We walked a nice round route through fields and a bit of woodland, nearly getting blown away by the gusty wind at times, but it was enjoyable all the same – made us feel like we’d blown away the cobwebs for sure.
Of course no trip to a NT place would be complete without a trip to their tea room! They always have scrummy lunches and cakes on offer, all freshly prepared there. This time was no exception, and we all enjoyed our food, including Andrew who chose beans on toast from the lovely kids menu (and put the 5-ish-year-old on the table next to us to shame by eating all his when she didn’t finish hers!), and my mum-in-law, who is wheat intolerant, had soup with a wheat free roll as well as a shortbread biscuit (there is usually at least 1 gluten-/wheat-free cake on offer).
Have you ever thought about joining the NT? Are you already a member? Which properties do you like in particular? We’re thinking about joining again at some point, when we think we’ll make good use out of it for the amount of money we’d spend on it.
Yes I know the title is obvious when we’re talking about a baby, but when Andrew turned 1 year old last weekend, it made me think back over the year, and how much he (and we!) has developed. I can remember the first week of his life almost like it was yesterday, and there are many other memories from the 12 months that particularly stick in my mind, for example the milestones he reached like smiling, crawling and walking. As I hadn’t braved it into the world of blogging when he was born, I didn’t share our birth story on this blog. So I thought I’d do a ‘then and now’ post – first look back at his actual ‘birth day’, and then contrast it with the same day a year later, his first birthday.
A birth story might not be every reader’s cup of tea, so I’ll try not to waffle on or get too gory, but if you’re not in the (what might be quite a small) crowd of birth story fans, please feel free to skip this section.
On the morning of Tom’s birthday, we woke up as usual at 7am, and Tom went off to work. I had been on maternity leave for two weeks already, and was 4 days over my due date, getting bored of being pregnant, and wishing ‘Baby C’ would put in an appearance. But I’d had no signs of labour. The midwife came (as planned) at 12 noon to give me and baby a check-up as we were overdue, which involved having a membrane sweep (as I promised no gory details, you can read about this on someone else’s website here). She told me I was already a few centimetres dilated, so baby should be on the way soon.
At about 2pm I had what I think was my first contraction (I say ‘I think’ because it wasn’t as massive and painful as I had been expecting, bracing myself for the worst pain ever). It was short and I didn’t feel anything again for about half an hour. From then until about 7.30pm, I had irregularly timed contractions that were quite painful, but not so bad that I couldn’t bake Tom a birthday cake to take my mind off them. I emailed Tom to say that I was having irregular contractions but that there was no need to rush home. He turned up at home earlier than usual, because he couldn’t concentrate knowing what I had told him, and it was his birthday anyway. But we were losing hope of baby and Daddy sharing birthdays, thinking that this could be a long haul (my first baby, not having had any signs of labour until now etc.)
At about 6.30pm we decided to get a take-away curry, rather than go to the restaurant itself just down the road. Curry had become our staple diet that week, trying (along with pineapple and raspberry leaf tea) the old wives’ tales for natural labour induction. We sat down to eat at 7pm; half an hour later we were about to settle in front of a DVD, with me perched on a hard dining chair, arms over the back of it. Just as I sat down, I felt and heard a big splash beneath me and lots of kicking from Baby C – my waters had gushed all over the chair and floor! In antenatal classes, we’d been told to phone the hospital as soon as my waters broke. So Tom did, and they told us to come in for an assessment, even though we might get sent home again if all was OK.
My contractions were still irregular, but as we got in the car, they suddenly got much stronger, more like what I had braced myself for, and more close together. We arrived at the Midwife Led Birth Unit (MLBU) in the Rosie Maternity Hospital and were promptly shown to a room. I was so pleased because I’d heard that it quickly gets full, though I knew we might not be staying. The midwife assessed me by asking when my contractions were and taking various swabs; the outcome was that I wasn’t properly in labour yet, and because we lived so near the hospital, I could go home and be in a more familiar environment. I wasn’t too keen on moving very far, because just as the midwife was filling in the paperwork, my contractions suddenly got even more intense and more close together.
The next thing I knew, the midwife was going through my ‘birth-plan’ (more like guidance notes than a plan really) and asking her assistant to fill up the birth pool. I was on all fours on the bed, answering questions and asking for things like a drink and help in taking some layers of clothing off, in between the contractions. Just as I was about to ask for the gas and air to be set up, the pool was ready, so I got in for pain relief instead. Not long had I been in the pool when I felt the urge to push – this was a completely instinctual feeling, and my head was saying ‘this can’t be right, it’s too early in labour to push’, but my body was just doing it. The midwife was lovely and said if I wanted to push I should push, and that I knew what I was doing far more than any examination she could do of me would tell us. I liked her faith in me, but still thought it was crazy to be pushing already.
After a few more contractions, I started to believe it more, and thought I might as well go with it rather than resist. I carried on like this for a while, until the midwife made a bet with me (well, no money was involved) – if I got out, baby would be delivered more quickly than if I stayed in. She could see that I was ‘relaxing’ a little too much in the soothing water (it was hardly what I’d call relaxing, but I saw her point), and I wasn’t pushing as effectively as if I were ‘on land’. So I got out, and no more than 10 minutes later, out came our little baby; we soon confirmed my gut feeling that it was a boy, as he was lifted up and placed directly onto my tummy. Timings are all a bit of a blur to me as, needless to say, I wasn’t clock watching, but the one thing I know is that he arrived at the very memorable time of 22.22.
A few minor procedures later (cord cutting, stitching and cleaning me up etc.), and we were enjoying those amazing first minutes as a new three person family. We decided that the names we had chosen before birth were still a good choice now that we’d met him, and so we named him Andrew James. Whilst we were sitting tummy to tummy, he did the very instinctual thing of climbing up and lunging towards one of my nipples, then latched on and started what turned into a very good first breastfeed (you can read more about this here).
After a while I started to feel sick, and placed him in Tom’s arms to give them some bonding time, before I was actually sick. Unfortunately this was a reaction to the injection I’d had that helps deliver the placenta more quickly and less bloodily (stopping gory talk now), which is quite common, apparently, though I’d not heard of this in all the antenatal literature I’d read. I had a shower, which helped me feel a bit better, whilst my boys bonded some more. We then dressed Andrew up warm in some tiny cute clothes that the midwife picked out of our bag for him, and headed across to the post-natal bay for the night.
Tom made sure we were settled and then headed off home until the next morning. Andrew was fast asleep, so I laid him in the ‘fish tank’ which was right next to my bed, and lay down myself at the edge of the bed, close enough to put my arm in and hold his little hands and stroke his little head. I couldn’t sleep a wink, I just lay there watching him and holding him. All he was doing was sleeping, but somehow it seemed absolutely amazing. For me that night was a (long) moment in which I couldn’t stop thanking God for His incredible generosity in giving us this new little life, a perfectly formed miniature us with mini limbs and mini organs all working together to sustain life.
A year later, our day started much earlier; gone are the days of lie-ins – the 7am start of the year before seems like an absolute luxury! After trying in vain to settle Andrew back to sleep with various things like feeding, rocking and head stroking, I decided he must be so excited about his birthday that getting up and playing was our only option. I did the early shift until breakfast, and Daddy took over after that, allowing me an extra hour in bed to regain some energy for my cake-icing extravaganza. Andrew was also persuaded (with not much effort) to have a much needed nap, otherwise I was fearing a lunchtime meltdown.
After our naps, my boys went out to a Dads’ event at a local Children’s Centre, and left me mixing up copious amounts of butter and icing sugar, to ice the cakes that I’d baked the day before (if you haven’t spotted my creations yet, see here). Icing aside, the fact that my littler boy and I could go for a few hours without each other is very different from the year before, when we spent all of the time he was outside of me cuddling and feeding. Although I miss him when we’re apart, I find that I really appreciate some me-time, especially if I know he’s having fun and bonding with Daddy.
Whilst I was in the middle of cake creating, my parents arrived, just in time to help with the washing up and other bits of cleaning. Not much has changed there in a year! When Tom and I had left for the hospital, the kitchen was messy with washing up, which all disappeared and didn’t reappear for a few days after the birth, thanks to our parents. That still seems to be one of their main occupations when they visit.
Back to the birthday celebrations, we headed off to a local pub for lunch. I love the fact that Andrew is such a good eater that we don’t have to worry about taking baby food out with us for meals, because he’ll happily munch away on a small(-ish) portion of an adult meal (it’s amazing just how much he can pack away into his little tummy!) He only has 2 teeth, but that doesn’t deter him. This time he tucked into a bowl of scrummy pasta with tomato sauce and cheese – much bigger than his first ever meal of breastmilk the year before, but on a similar scale of scrumminess, judging by his enthusiasm on both occasions. Sitting still has never been his strong point, and the interesting sights of the pub were soon beckoning him down from his highchair. He walked from table to chair to table and even brushed near the bar. Gone are the days of holding him like a newborn babe in arms, except when he wants to feed, then it’s acceptable to snuggle up to mummy. But that hardly ever happens anywhere other than home, and even then he’ll often wriggle and get into all sorts of funny positions when still latched on.
A brisk walk back from the pub was followed by a present-opening-athon at home. Not that he had any idea of what was going on, and was more interested in playing with the wrapping paper, gift bags and packaging, with the occasional glance at the goodies within them. Daddy enjoyed sharing the limelight with his (relatively small compared to Andrew’s) pile of presents too. It occurred to me that here our toddler was, making up his own mind about what he wanted to do. Even though we had decided to open presents, because that’s just one of the things you do on birthdays, he wasn’t going to sit still and do it orderly, and why should he, it was his birthday after all. This independence was such a change from the utterly dependent on us newborn who arrived the year before.
As the signs of the dreaded ‘overtiredness’ started to make an appearance, we skillfully (after a year of getting to know the signs) averted a meltdown moment by whisking him out in the buggy for a nap. Like sitting, napping has never been one of his strong points, though I do remember just how much he slept just after he was born. They say babies get worn out from labour just as much as mums – how they know that I don’t know, did they ask the babies?! His sleepiness didn’t last long.
The day wouldn’t have been complete without the consumption of the aforementioned cake, but not before we sang Happy Birthday To You (once for Andrew and once for Tom). This year we actually got to eat the cake on the birthday, whereas the cake I’d baked last year for Tom, as a distraction from contractions technique, didn’t get eaten until the day after. Andrew joined in too this year.
Bathtime and bedtime (mine that is 😉 ) drew closer, and family made a move homewardbound. The action this year was definitely centred more around the middle of the day, not like the quiet daytime and sudden action-packed evening featuring the birth. The little fella was zonked and (without precedent) went straight to sleep when his head touched the mattress after a short feed. I wasn’t too far off a state of zonkedness myself, so Tom and I decided that staying up til 22.22pm to mark the official year of Andrew living un-umbillically-attached to me was probably not wise. Again I ended the day by thanking God for the blessing that Andrew is in our lives, and that he (and we) survived the year and is thriving. Then my head hit the pillow – at least I got more sleep that night this year than last.