Friday, 28 December 2007

Where I was

Epping Forest - April 2007

Thames Chase Park - May 2007

Caerfai Bay, Pembrokeshire - May 2007

Spiers House Campsite, Cropton Forest, North Yorkshire - July 2007

Lower Bentham, Lancashire - August 2007

Dial House Hotel, Gloucestershire - August 2007


Wanstead, East London - September 2007


Kew Gardens - October 2007


South Woodford tube station - November 2007

Friday, 21 December 2007


This post is inspired by C who woke up nice and early at 6:30 this morning in order to complete an entire workbook of multiplication and division sums "for fun" (honestly his idea, not mine...but I suppose the genes will out).

4 cups of coffee + 4 paracetamol + a handful of strepsils = no cold symptoms at all
4 children + 1 large bowl of popcorn = a full hoover

1 small child + 1 new camera = high battery usage
(2 x 5 year old girls) + 1 large tub of beads + elastic = 42 bracelets

(3 x 8 year old boys) + mud + ice + large sticks = the best fun in months

4 children + 1 large basket of DVDs = no agreement on which film to watch

4 children x 2 days = takeaway curry + large bottle of wine


As the holidays have started there are more children around than usual. It has been great fun!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Packed lunches

I make so many packed lunches, that when the school holidays start I am always ready for a break. Thinking of imaginative sandwich fillings, or sandwich alternatives, saps my energy and enthusiasm as the months go by.
I have two great books that give me inspiration as the term wears on. Annabel Karmel's Lunchboxes looks beautiful and has loads of ideas for salads and savoury things as well as pages and pages of sandwich fillings. The Pret A Manger Salads and Sandwiches book I use for its wonderful and substantial salad recipes, although the book is half full of sandwich recipes as well. Their lentil, bacon and walnut salad with a balsamic vinegar and mustard dressing is gorgeous.
Here is my list of favourite sandwich fillings:
  • egg mayonnaise and ham ( I make the egg mayonnaise with half mayo and half salad cream, to make it slightly sharper and less sickly)
  • cheese, tomato and basil - an old one but a good one
  • cream cheese mixed with pesto, chicken and pine nuts
  • tuna mayonnaise, with chopped sun dried tomatoes, sweetcorn and spring onions. O would eat this every day if I let her
  • Coronation chicken and sliced tomato
  • hummus, avocado and red pepper
  • ham and sliced, sharp apple
  • grated cheese and grated carrot with marmite
Even by the end of term, when inspiration is flagging and we are all having plain old ham sandwiches far too often, our lunchboxes are still things of beauty and never fail to make me smile - even when the morning is dark and freezing cold.
Mine is the Cath Kidston spotty roses one. O has the pink marshmallows and C has the Dalek one, which growls "Exterminate!" at me when I zip it up. G leaves too early for me to make him a packed lunch each day (to my secret relief - four packed lunches each day might send me over the edge) so the gorgeous strawberry one is a gender neutral spare, for whoever has left their lunchbox behind the previous day.
You can get hold of other funky lunchboxes here, here, here or here.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Finally feeling festive

I'm starting to feel Christmassy now - it has taken a while.

It all started with the wonderful icy weather that came our way this week. I can't feel Christmassy when its raining, or when its blowing. I need frost or snow. Sadly both are not really very common in London...but when they come its wonderful! Freezing cold, brilliant white and blue winter weather is my absolute favourite type of weather.

I drive along the edge of Epping Forest on the way to school each morning, and I very nearly made us all late on Wednesday because I wanted to stop and take photos of the thick sparkling frost that had appeared overnight. C & O were horrified that they might be late though, so I let them off lightly by embarrassingly wielding my camera in the playground instead.

The cold weather has meant that hot puddings, stews and pies have all had to be made. There have been many meals involving roast parsnips, which to me are one of the defining tastes of winter. And I love remembering when I eat them, that the harder the frost the sweeter the parsnip.

There was also a less successful experiment with a hot pudding. I rarely cook hot puddings - stewed fruit is my usual offering - but it was so cold that I started to fantasise about a warm, steaming, sponge pudding with a sticky sauce and a slowly melting scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. I went for one of those scary recipes that start with making a basic sponge. You put the sponge mixture into a large dish with a good sprinkling of sugar over the top, then you pour over a jug of boiling water over the raw sponge mixture, slam it all into the oven and the sponge mixture steams while the sugar and water turn into a syrupy sauce....Its an odd and alarming method, but all my recipe books swear that it works. Maybe I used the wrong shaped dish?

School is nearing the end of term, and I went to two nativity performances in one day on Thursday. Both were wonderful, sweet and hysterically funny at times. Spot my very tall angel in the picture below!

And now, finally, the tree has gone up and we are in the home straight. A few weeks ago I went to Liberty with Mum for a bit of fabric shopping. We stopped by in their Christmas department and were in awe at the wonderful baubles. I could have bought all of these - so pretty.

But a tastefully toned or themed tree doesn't really do it for me, I like the fact that all the baubles and decorations we have gathered over the years have stories around them. There are the mini glitter balls given by my sister-in-law last year, that remind us of the annual Strictly Come Dancing excitement around Christmas time. There are some strawberries, given to berry-mad O by my Grandmother. There is a giant, iridescent blue bauble that was a present from G's brother when we first bought this house. It requires an especially thick and sturdy branch to hold it up. And there are two ceramic stars painted by C & O at Gill and Nat's shop.

This year, C is even tall enough to reach the top of the tree, so the tree is no longer weighed down with baubles at the bottom that later have to be redistributed by me further up the top.

Its time to start wrapping those presents!

Friday, 7 December 2007

Stewed fruit

I always want to call this something less reminiscent of school dinners or mass catering - the name doesn't do justice to one of the tastiest breakfasts or puddings I know. But any alternative I have tried - jewelled fruit, tempting compote - sounds pretentious and daft. So stewed fruit it is. This is easily my most frequently cooked recipe - it is rare not to find a bowl of stewed fruit in my fridge at any point

Stewed Fruit

Stone, skin, wash and chop the fruit as necessary. Put into a large heavy-bottomed pan with a little water (about half a cup for each 500g of fruit) and sugar to taste. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit collapses. You may need to add a little more boiling water form the kettle if it looks very dry, but go carefully - you don't want it watery.


Allow to cool and serve with natural yogurt, custard, vanilla ice cream or just by itself. The blackberry and apple version is incredible with a wicked spoonful of clotted cream on top.


Good fruit for stewing:

  • bramley (cooking) apples
  • plums, greengages or damsons
  • rhubarb
  • dried fruit such as prunes, apricots, pears or dates
  • raspberries or blackberries
  • cherries
  • fresh peaches or apricots
  • cranberries
  • bramley apples in combination with any of the above

I do as my mother always did, and always serve the stewed fruit in a large, cut-glass dish - perfect for showing off the incredible colours of the stewed fruit.

This nicely seasonal cranberry and apple version was finished off for breakfast this morning, with natural yogurt dolloped on top. Yum.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

This week's quotes

A list of things I have heard this week, that have made me laugh:
  • "Guess what! My mummy's got a baby in her tummy, and the baby's NAKED!!!" (O's friend, running into the playground on Monday morning).
  • "What do you mean they found it hard to balance? Don't they have a sense of balance from going skiing?" (an appalled work colleague, after I had told her about C & O's first time ice skating)
  • "Well it turned pink and then exploded..." (a very earnest woman on the tube, leaning across the carriage to talk to her friend)
  • "I am absolutely not ever going to do that" (me, in an important meeting at work, sounding like Charlie & Lola)
  • "You and Daddy love beer. You should marry beer" (O, to me, at breakfast time. C then clarified things by saying, "No - Daddy loves beer, Mummy loves cider")

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Time eaters

Here is my list of things that take far longer than you would expect:
  • Cutting out fabric for sewing - why have I still not grasped that it takes three times as long to pin the pattern and cut and press the fabric as it does to sew everything together? I should really not be surprised about this by now.
  • Teaching children how to blow their noses properly - how on earth can they bear to wander around sniffing or talking as though someone's poured cement into their heads? Bleurgh.
  • Going from East London to West London - its the same city, so it seems all wrong that it takes over an hour and a half to get from one side to the other.
  • Learning to dance - I've been trying to dance well for twenty five years now, and last summer I had a moment when I thought I might have cracked it...but it was just a moment.
  • Persuading a hen to get back into her run, when she's quite happy digging holes under the laurel bush, thank you.
  • Taking the perfect photo. This picture is, I think, the twentieth attempt at the acorn. But I love it!