52 photos – week 25

For this week’s photos we have the Naked Chef and a crazy climber. Andrew doesn’t like wearing clothes (as I’ve blogged about before), so he does many activities in life (of course only at home) naked. This picture was take as he was baking ‘World Cupcakes’ with Granny. Joel is happier to wear clothes than Andrew is, but is a kamekaze climber who will get up on anything that he can manage to when I’ve taken my eye off him for 10 seconds. The photo of him here is at the park, on an official climbing frame with a squashy floor to land on, for a change!

week25a week25b

Stone cakes

You may be thinking that these are somehow related to rock cakes. They’re not. The name came about when Granny made some cakes a while ago that she filled with jam and cream, and so when Andrew came to ask what they were called, she said “well, I guess we could call them scone cakes Andrew, because they’re a bit like scones with jam and cream”. Since then, Andrew has remembered, or so he thinks, the impromptu name of these cakes! We say ‘scone’ to rhyme with ‘stone’, and as the word with ’st’ is a frequent word in his vocab, that’s what’s stuck in his mind.

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When it was showering outside one afternoon this week, I asked Andrew if he wanted to do some baking whilst we waited for the shower to pass before going in the garden. His reply was a very enthusiastic YES! When I asked what he wanted to bake, his request was ‘stone cakes’. So that’s what we did. The recipe is very simple – a basic sponge, with some raisins (like a fruit scone), with a filling of jam and buttercream. Like so many bakes, I find simple turns out to be very tasty, and is perfect for getting little ones involved.

Stone cakes Collage jpg

Ingredients

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g butter (or margarine – I usually use marg but butter is what Granny has in for baking at their house where we’re living still)
  • 2 eggs
  • 120g self-rasiing flour
  • 60g raisins

Filling

  • Strawberry jam
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 50g butter

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin with cake cases (9-10), and preheat the oven to 180 C.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and a little flour, to stop it curdling, and beat until well combined.
  4. Add the flour and raisins, and mix until the mixture is just combined and smooth.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases until 3/4 full.
  6. Bake for around 15-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.
  7. Leave to cool completely.
  8. Meanwhile, cream the butter and icing sugar together to make the buttercream icing.
  9. When the cakes are cool, cut a small, round piece out of the tip of each one.
  10. Place a teaspoon of jam and 2 teaspoons of buttercream in each hole, then replace the piece of cake that you cut out, as a kind of ‘lid’ (that’s how I explained it to Andrew when he helped me make them!)
  11. That’s it, they’re finished! Eat and enjoy 🙂

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Creative Challenge
Mini Creations

Cupcake of the month (November): lemon

When I was packing up the recipe books the other day, I came across my cupcake calendar that has a recipe on for each month of this year. I said back at the start of the year that I would make a type of cupcake based on the cupcake of the month in this calendar each month, and I did until August. Then somehow I just forgot! I think the calendar got buried in all the books on the shelf and I’ve had lots of other crafty things to do, including doing more sewing projects (mainly nappy related).

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So I thought I could just about squeeze November’s recipe in before advent begins. Tom was pleased because the recipe was for lemon cupcakes, and lemon is his favourite cake. The cake sponge is quite unusual in flavour and texture because it is made with soft cheese as well as margarine, and it does have an almost cheesecake-like flavour to it, though the texture is still more like sponge than cheesecake. I found that the amount of lemon suggested in the recipe wasn’t much, so I added quite a bit more than it said and we didn’t think it was overpowering.

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I hope to be back for one last cupcake of the month recipe in December, depending on how packing goes and if I get time and space to think about it!

Ingredients (makes 6)

Sponge

  • 90g margarine
  • 90g soft cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 90g self raising flour
  • 75g sugar
  • grated rind of half a lemon

Icing

  • 10g margarine
  • 50g soft cheese
  • 120g icing sugar
  • grated rind of half a lemon

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin with some cupcake cases and preheat the oven to 170 C (fan).
  2. Cream the margarine, soft cheese and sugar in a large bowl until soft and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and a handful of flour to stop it curdling, and beat until well mixed.
  4. Add the flour and lemon rind and mix until just combined.
  5. Place the mixture into the prepared cupcake cases, and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  6. When they are in the oven, make the icing, by mixing together the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
  7. Allow the cakes to cool completely before placing a teaspoon of icing on the top of each cake and letting it run across the top.
  8. Eat as fresh as possible (I stored them in the fridge).

Cupcake of the month (May): After Eight

Continuing my cupcake of the month feature baed on a cupcake calendar that I was given for Christmas, this month we have a mint and chocolate recipe, which I’ve given the name ‘After Eight’ for obvious reasons. The recipe on the calendar didn’t involve chocolate, but I think that mint and chocolate go so well together, particularly dark chocolate, that I couldn’t resist adapting the recipe to include it. I also made the cake mixture itself much less sweet than the recipe in the calendar, because the icing is very sweet – it tastes like butter mints or Murray mints – and the bitterness of the dark chocolate goes well with this.

After eight cakes

If you’d like to make these yourself, and I can assure you that they are yummy particularly after eight and the kids are in bed, here’s the recipe which makes 10.

Ingredients

  • 50g sugar
  • 160g self-raising flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 75g margarine
  • 1 tsp mint extract
  • 75g dark chocolate, cut into large chunks
Icing
  • 50g margarine
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1-2 tsp mint extract (depending how strongly minty you like it)
  • green food colouring
  • grated chocolate to decorate

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin by placing cupcake cases in the holes.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar together until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg and milk.
  4. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and mint extract and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and fold in until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cases to about 2/3 full.
  7. Bake at 180ºC for about 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool fully.
  9. Make the icing by beating together the icing sugar, margarine and mint extract, and adding the colouring a little at a time until it gets as green as you would like. Mine are quite Shrek-like, but you may want to go for a more subtle green shade 🙂
  10. Spoon the icing onto the top of each cupcake and spread it around (you could pipe it, but I find that using margarine makes it quite runny compared to buttercream icing).
  11. Finish them off by grating a small amount of dark chocolate onto each cake.

Cupcake of the month (March): vanilla, with little egg nests

cupcakes march 2You may remember that back in February I introduced a new monthly feature on the blog – Cupcake of the month – inspired by a calendar I was given for Christmas with a different cupcake recipe each month. This month the recipe was for vanilla cupcakes, with a slightly more unusual order for combining the ingredients than I had come across before. It’s not exactly the same recipe as appears on the calendar (I always adapt recipes!), mainly in that I halved all the ingredients, used marg instead of butter, missed out the salt, and doubled the amount of vanilla. I bought vanilla ‘flavouring’ instead of ‘essence’ last time I went shopping for it because they didn’t have any essence, and I knew that flavouring wasn’t as strong, so put twice as much in; disappointingly though, they still don’t taste strongly of vanilla, so I won’t be buying that again!march cupcakes

The decoration suggestion on the calendar was a swirl of buttercream icing with mini eggs on top. Although they look very creative, I thought I’d go one step further and combine these relatively plain cakes with another of my favourite things to make and eat at Easter – chocolate egg nests! You can’t beat a bit of shredded what covered in chocolate and honey, shaped into a nest with a couple of mini eggs in it 🙂 Andrew loved helping me make these too, not least because I let him lick the spoon! He was fascinated by the mini eggs and interested to learn about nests and count the eggs into them – he’s very into numbers and counting.right now. We made some small nests (I would make them bigger if we were eating them on their own) that fitted nicely on the top of the cupcakes, held on with a blob of buttercream (that was the ready-made stuff left over from Andrew’s birthday cake).

If you’d like to have a go at these treats for Easter, here’s the recipe……

Ingredients – makes 10

  • 130g self-raising flour
  • 75g sugar
  • 125ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 55g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 150 dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • shredded wheat
  • chocolate mini eggs
  • buttercream icing (I had some ready-made stuff left over – or you could mix 25g butter/marg with 50g icing sugar)
I don't know how much shredded wheat we used - we just crushed til we had the right consistency
I don’t know how much shredded wheat we used – we just crushed until we had the right consistency

Method

  1. Put 10 fairy cake cases in a fairy cake tin and 10 cupcake cases in a muffin tin.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl, then add the milk and vanilla and stir until smooth.
  4. Beat in the margarine and egg until well combined and smooth.
  5. Pour the mixture into the cupcake cases until they are about half to two thirds full.
  6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Meanwhile, make the nests…. Melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  8. Stir in the honey.
  9. Crush shredded wheat in your hands over the bowl and keep doing this, stirring it now and then into the chocolate, until the shredded wheat is nicely covered and the mixture is thick enough to spoon into the fairy cake cases.
  10. Spoon a small amount into the bottom of each case, and press two mini eggs into the centre.
  11. Chill in the fridge until set.
  12. Once the cakes are baked and cooled, and the nests are set, assemble by putting a small blob of icing in the centre of each cake and pressing a nest down on top of it.
  13. Store in an airtight container and eat as fresh as possible.
I'm sure more chocolate went round his mouth than in it!
I’m sure more chocolate went around his mouth than in it!

Cupcake of the month (February): choc-fudge-nut

For Christmas I was given a calendar which has not only a picture of a different type of cupcake each month, but also the recipe for how to make it. This has inspired me to bake some cupcakes each month, based on the recipe in the calendar for the month. Now, I never follow recipes exactly, for various reasons such as I don’t have all the ingredients in when i want to bake or I prefer another ingredient from the one stated, so each month’s cupcake won’t be exactly as on the calendar, rather it will be my personal take on it. In fact when I shared with Tom my plan to bake cupcakes from the calendar each month but clarified that they would be adapted from the original recipe, he said: “Oh good, for a minute there I thought you were telling me you were going to follow a recipe, shocking!”

I didn’t get around to starting this monthly feature until February because I left the calendar at my parents’ house where we stayed over Christmas – we had so much stuff to take back that it wouldn’t all fit in the car so we left a bag including the calendar behind until they came to visit us in late January. So first up it’s choc-fudge-nut cupcakes, similar to brownies in texture (I know, I recently baked these too, but some went in the freezer for when we have friends round), with a rich ganache on top. These are definitely not for anyone without chocoholic tendencies! And they’re definitely not for toddler mouths with the nuts and that much of a chocolate hit in one go. Have you had your chocolate fix for the day? Why not get it by baking these…..

Ingredients – makes 9-10

Cakes

  • 35g dark chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g margarine
  • 100g chopped mixed nuts
  • 120g self-raising four
  • 100g sugar

Ganache

  • 150ml double cream
  • 150g milk chocolate

Method

  1. Put some cupcake cases in a muffin tin and preheat the oven to 170ºC (fan).
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the sugar and flour and mix until well combined.
  3. Melt the chocolate and margarine in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  4. Add the nuts to this and stir until they are all covered in chocolate.
  5. Add the chocolate mixture to the rest of the mixture and stir until well combined, but don’t over mix.
  6. Pour some mixture into each of the cupcake cases, to about 2/3 full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean; leave to cool.
  8. Meanwhile make the ganache by heating the cream and chocolate on a low heat whilst stirring, until the chocolate has melted and mixed with the cream completely.
  9. Take off the heat and whisk for a couple of minutes until it becomes thicker and glossier.
  10. Leave to cool and thicken in the fridge.
  11. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe a swirl onto the top of each cupcake.
  12. Sprinkle some chocolate sprinkles on top to finish.

Team-GB-inspired Olympics cupcakes

Red, white and blue - Team-GB-inspired cupcakes

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.

Half red, half 'blue' sponge (I really can't see any hint of blue in this picture, but the mixture did look blue before it was cooked, honest, even if not amazingly bright)

Ingredients

Blue sponge

  • 60g sugar
  • 60g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 60g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • blue food colouring
Red sponge
  • 60g sugar
  • 60g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 60g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • red food colouring
Icing
  • 3 heaped tsp icing sugar
  • a few drops of cold water

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and place cupcake cases in muffin tins (I made 1 dozen cakes).
  2. 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.
  3. Cream the sugar and margarine in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  4. Add the egg and beat well until smooth.
  5. 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.
  6. Put a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each cake case, so that each case is about a third full.
  7. 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.
  8. 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).
  9. 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.)
  10. 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.
  11. Sprinkle hundreds and thousands over the icing and carefully shake off any excess.
  12. Leave the icing to set, and then eat the cakes! Store in an airtight container – best eaten within a few days.
One Olympic ring.... of cakes 🙂

Fun times and lots learnt at BritMums Live 2012

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!)

Duplo set in the Lego goody bag - perfect for Andrew, he loves it!

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.

My decorated cupcake for the Lego competition

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.

Blogging for the greater good workshop - some fab top bloggers telling us all about using your voice for a worthy cause

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.

Louise and me posing with our bumps (thanks to Kelly for the photo)
Babysigning in the photo booth: top left = cow, top right = dog, bottom left = cat, bottom right = sheep

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 🙂 )

This workshop was disappointing - the title here was misleading

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.

Most of the goodies that I got in the BritMums goody bag, plus a few extras that I picked up at various workshops/stands
Andrew (hand on the right, sneaking into the picture) already spotted a Nurofen syringe and started chewing it! The syringe in itself is great for teething, even without the medicine!

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!

Jubilee butterfly cakes (complete with cherry on top!)

When I saw some Union Jack cupcake cases in Asda a few weeks ago, I thought I just had to buy them, even though baking was not one of my favourite activities back then. It’s still not as enjoyable as it was, but if I do it first thing in the morning, it seems the nausea is not so bad that I can’t face it. The thought of not baking something red, white and blue for the Jubilee made me feel even more sad than feeling sick, so I decided to go for it and bake something classic with a bit of a twist.

Wheat-full version

One of my favourite quick and easy recipes to whip up when we’ve got no treats in is the good old butterfly or fairy cake (whichever term you prefer – I generally use butterfly cake, but I’ve seen more fairy cakes recently). A simple vanilla sponge, hollowed out and filled with buttercream icing, and the hollowed-out sponge used to create the signature ‘wings’ that make it the butterfly cake. For the Jubilee I decided to add some colour by making blue buttercream icing, and, for the cherry on top of the cake, put a cherry on top of the cakes! This adds a deep red and I guess looks a bit like the butterfly actually has a body not just wings.

Wheat-free version (less risen but still pretty!)

The further twist in this royal culinary adventure is that I decided to make one batch of wheat-free sponge, and one batch of wheat-full sponge. My mum-in-law is wheat intolerant, and being as my parents-in-law are with us this weekend, I didn’t want her to miss out on the festive treats. I know wheat free flour is not perfect for making this kind of cake, even the self-raising stuff you can buy – it tends to come out quite stodgy and nowhere near as light as the wheaty stuff that makes such lovely light sponge. But I thought I’d give it a try, and use some Dove’s Organic wheat-free self-raising flour. Handily there was a recipe for fairy cakes on the back of the bag, and it was more or less the same as my usual quick sponge recipe with wheat flour, except it said to add some milk which I don’t usually include. Here’s my recipe…

Ingredients

  • 100g margarine
  • 100g sugar
  • 100g self-raising flour (wheat-free or wheat-full)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • few drops vanilla essence
  • (for wheat-free only: 3 tbsp milk)

To decorate:

  • 120g margarine
  • 180g icing sugar
  • blue food colouring
  • some fresh cherries, half and stoned

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (fan) and place cupcake cases into some muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until nice and fluffy. (Tip: if you’re making one batch of wheat-free and one batch of wheat-full, do the wheat-free first in the clean bowl and then you can use the same bowl without washing for the wheat-full. The other way round wouldn’t work 😉 )
  3. Beat in the egg thoroughly, and add the vanilla essence. (Add the milk at this point for the wheat-free option.)
  4. Add the flour and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases, and fill to about two thirds full. The first difference between the wheat-free and wheat-full batches that I noticed was how runny the wheat-free mixture was when I put it into the cases. This is interesting because the only difference was a few tablespoons of milk, so I don’t know whether it’s just down to this, or whether the flour mixes in differently in some way.
    Wheat-free batter - much runnier than the wheaty mixture

    Wheat-full mixture - less runny and 'batter' like than the wheat-free stuff
  6. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the cakes are slightly golden on top. Test they are cooked through by spearing the centre with a skewer – if it comes out clean they are done.
    Wheat-full - more risen than the wheat-free

    Wheat-free - less well risen than the wheat-full
  7. Leave to cool.
  8. Meanwhile, make the icing. Cream the margarine and icing sugar together in a bowl until smooth. Add food colouring and mix until it looks blue enough all through.
  9. Transfer to a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle.
  10. Using a small sharp knife, cut a circle out of the top of each cake, going about half-way down into the cake. Remove this circle and cut it in half.
  11. Pipe a generous amount of icing into the well of each cake, filling the well and spreading out on to the top of the cake.
  12. Place the two halves of the removed circle at an angle onto the icing to look like two wings.
  13. Finally, the cherry on the top of the cake is….. a (half) cherry on the top of each cake! (placed in between the two half circles)

    Cherry in the middle of two wings
  14. Store in an airtight container, preferably in the fridge if it’s warm (probably not a problem this bank holiday weekend!)

Overall I’m very pleased with how they turned out, especially the wheat-free sponge. It is of course stodgier than and tastes a bit different from the wheaty sponge, but still perfectly edible and not bad for a cake that is classically so light. The worst part is actually the icing, because it was very runny, I suspect because I had to add lots of food colouring for it to really look blue! (Ah this didn’t happen back in the day when colourings were all E-numbers, not like the natural stuff that’s the only thing available these days 😉 ) So when I piped it ended up spreading out further than I intended. The first batch I iced were the wheat-free ones, and between doing these and the wheaty ones, I put the icing in the freezer for half an hour to try and thicken it up. This worked pretty well, so at least half of the wheaty ones turned out better, though the more I held the piping bag, the more the icing got runny again, so the later ones weren’t as good again. Anyway, this is probably me being a perfectionist. The main thing is they taste good! Have you baked or cooked anything special for the Jubilee? Has anyone else used these Union Jack cupcakes? Have a great long weekend!

Runny icing on a wheat-free cake, but still looks yummy!

Pink and white rock cakes

We were at our usual Friday morning breastfeeding support group meeting last week, and amongst the homemade goodies to eat there were some lovely apple and cinnamon rock cakes that a friend had baked. This reminded me of baking rock cakes when I was younger, and especially the time that a friend and I made some but forgot to put the sugar in. They still tasted fine, just not sweet, so we passed it off as suitable for my dad who’s diabetic. This got me thinking that I could make some with no or not much sugar in now, and they would be a very toddler-friendly treat. As we were going through the fruit aisle at the supermarket on Friday afternoon, I spotted some lovely looking raspberries for a reasonable price, and that gave me the inspiration to do some raspberry and white chocolate rock cakes. The raspberries would give colour and flavour without being too sweet, and the classic combination with white chocolate would be perfect, bringing a bit of sweetness to them, without the need for extra sugar. So here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 100g fresh raspberries
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped into chocolate chip sized chunks

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC.
  2. Combine the flour and margarine using your hands, until it becomes like breadcrumbs in texture.
  3. Mix in the raspberries, white chocolate and egg until you have a nice thick sticky mixture.

    Nice and thick sticky mixture
  4. Spoon blobs of the mixture onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray, set a little apart from each other as they will spread. Don’t make them smooth, just leave them ragged – the more ragged the better, as they’re supposed to look like rocks, and taste much crispier and crunchier with a rough surface.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until golden.

    Just gone into the oven
  6. Let cool and eat as fresh as possible! Or freeze if you don’t think you’ll eat them all soon enough 😉

    Finished pink rocks - ready to be eaten as fresh as possible 🙂