Birthday 2015

I’m having a ridiculously extended birthday- It was well over a week ago now, but I went out for dinner on Friday with Mark, followed by pub, while nanny Sue babysat, then on Saturday (actual birthday day), I had lunch with my fam, and after whinging for about two ages that I couldn’t be bothered to go, I dragged myself out and was very glad I did- not quite for my birthday, but some friends were going to StreetFeast in Dalston, so I went along for the ride. It was a hell of a lot colder when I left the house than I thought it was going to be, so as StreetFeast is sort of semi-outside, I took a quick dive into Westfield and Stratford to panic-buy a jumper!

For those not in the know, StreetFeast is a collection of bars and food stalls. My main regret of the evening is that I got too involved in the cocktails (which were admittedly a bit disappointing but pretty deadly) and didn’t eat enough food- I only ate one measly portion of gyoza, which were fricking amazing- I was burping the coriander dipping sauce for about three hours afterwards, and am not ashamed to say that it wasn’t altogether unpleasant! After the deadly cocktails, we took a cab back to the motherlands and went to an awful awful nightclub which was full of teenagers, and danced to Busted. I’m cool like that.

On Sunday, after a birthday party for Mark’s grandad (and a buffet, obvs), I went out with the family Ad for Prezzos, thus ending my food-based birthday weekend. And it’s not over yet- Mark bought me a groupon thing for cuban food in Camden, which we’re going to redeem soon, AND we’re off to the theatre with my sister and bro in law, and there was talk of lunch before that. It’s a good job most of my trousers are elasticated.

Four years later

A couple of weeks back, we celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary- Time has totally flown, and this year obviously is a bit of a bigger change than most what with the arrival of young Mr.

After three years of anniversary year-related presents (you know, wood, paper, cotton, that sort of stuff), we made an executive decision to not buy presents from now on and instead to go for a cool day out, which would involve eating somewhere posh. Happily, last year, I was very generously given afternoon tea for two at the Savoy, as a thank you for a conference I organised, so that was that pretty much sorted.

We dropped Sid off at Mark’s mum’s for a few hours and hightailed it to town. I kinda wanted to go to the London Transport Museum, but when we got there with only a couple of hours before our tea reservation and discovered it was fifteen quid a person to go in, I satisfied myself with a look around the gift shop instead! After a bit of a bimble up the Strand to Trafalgar Square, we had just enough time for a very quick whizz around a couple of rooms in the National Gallery which was mercifully free of charge, but absolutely rammed! Still, was nice to do something vaguely cultural before we stuffed ourselves with cake.

The Savoy was, as expected, ridiculously posh- the sort of place that feels vaguely intimidating and where they have someone in the toilet waiting to hand you towels and stuff. We started off picking our menu- the classic afternoon tea or for a tiny supplement, high tea, which involved more savoury stuff. We chose the classic version, a decision which I’m still kicking myself about weeks later- I’m infinitely more savoury than sweet and am basically an idiot. We decided to upgrade to pink champagne too in homage to the fact that we had pink bubbly for the toasts for our wedding.

First came sandwiches. Little tiny finger sandwiches. I’ve never had such an impressive ham sarnie- seriously, it was something else! Then scones, with clotted cream and home made strawberry jam and lemon curd. We got extra cream and then extra scones. Course three was pastries. In what can only be described as abject gluttony, I asked for one of each of the six on offer. Then got overwhelmed, panicked and couldn’t finish any of them. Around this point, the tea started flowing- There was a choice of about eight million different types and I always go for English Breakfast, because I’m boring, but this time I went for ‘afternoon blend’ which was basically the same thing. By the time the pastries had been cleared away, I started feeling more than a little sweaty, and decided not to take any of the last course of ‘Savoy Signature Cakes’… until our waiter came over and I stupidly asked for a slice of banana and chocolate. When that arrived at the table, I was seriously considering doing a Mr Bean and mashing it up and hiding it in the vase of flowers. The shame! The gluttony and shame!

We really wanted to go up to the American Bar for a cocktail afterwards, but I’ll be honest, I felt like I was going to go bang, and so we reluctantly waddled towards the station, promising ourselves that we’d go another time- Maybe next year!

When baking is a stupid idea

I saw an awesome ‘cook with children’ feature in Good Food magazine, and decided to make use of my handily placed niece and nephew to make some belated Easter cakes. The cakes in question were chocolate mini muffins, baked in terracotta flowerpots, and decorated with little wafer flowers. After several weeks of faffing around in garden centres looking for miniature terracotta flowerpots, I admitted defeat, bought some orange plastic ones and re-jigged the recipe to make normal sized muffins baked in a conventional tray, rather than pots.

In my head, this was going to be a ‘cool auntie’ thing to do- we’d have fun, get something to eat at the end, and have a lovely educational experience where niece and nephew would learn about weights and measures, and how to crack eggs and stuff like that- It was going to be a lovely, wholesome sun-bathed afternoon. Oh how wrong I was.

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My first mistake was to call Fin and Lyla out to the kitchen before I’d found the scales or got any of the ingredients out of the cupboards. Well used to baking with my mum, they’d donned their aprons and dragged the dining chairs over to the worktop before I’d managed to do anything except get the mixing bowls out.

While I was desperately rummaging in my mum’s cupboards for the flour, the kids were merrily putting the mixing bowls on their heads while laughing maniacally. Deep breath, ok, doesn’t matter- heads can’t be that dirty. I found all the dry ingredients, finally located the scales and we pressed on. Lyla wanted to measure the sugar. Sensibly I decided to help by holding on to the bag. Lyla, being the independent type, was not happy with this and a lot of sugar ended up on the floor. Fin meanwhile busied himself by tasting the flour and the cocoa powder.

Finally managed to get the dry stuff weighed and (mostly) in the bowl, but I couldn’t locate the cooking oil. While I improvised by melting butter, Lyla was emptying out the coffee pods from the Tassimo dispenser on the worktop and Fin took an egg in each hand and announced that he needed to crack them. Aaaagh. Managed to sweep all rogue ingredients over to the other worktop where they couldn’t be grabbed at and got the butter in the bowl. Decided it would be sensible if I measured the rest of the ingredients myself as the kitchen was pretty covered with stuff now, and I measured out the milk. Fin tried to pick up the eggs again. Gave up stopping him and let each of them smash an egg into the bowl. Fished out the rogue bits of shell.

Then it was on to the mixing- Surely that’d be fine. No, of course not- in spite of my protestations to ‘mix it gently’, they took more of a helicopter approach. More ingredients were splashed up the wall, on the floor etc. Mix mixed, I was trying to assist with the dolloping of cake mix into cases, when my mum came back in. While I was busy apologising for the state of her kitchen and trying not to laugh hysterically, the kids were merrily eating massive spoonfuls of cake mix. We eventually got everything into the oven and I sent everyone off to the other room so I could try and clear up the carnage.

Carnage vaguely abated, all that was left was a bit of light decorating. Again, because I’ll never learn, I called the kids in before I’d melted the chocolate, and so by the time everything was ready, both of them had eaten a large quantity of cake. Hey ho. We dipped what was left in chocolate, threw crumbled up flake and wafer flowers at what remained, and actually, the final result, while a bit of a farce to get to, wasn’t so bad. And at least everyone enjoyed themselves!

An abundance of afternoon tea

As alluded to previously, I didn’t want a baby shower. The whole concept of being the centre of attention freaks me out, and I think generally that baby showers are more than a tiny bit lame, much to the disappointment of my sister and friend Hannah, who had put heads together to organise a big shindig.

Sadly for them, I totally put the mockers on their plans and put in a request for a final lunch of freedom, in the form of afternoon tea. That was back in September-time, I think, and after an initial conversation with Lauren about it and a few texts about dates, I kind of left her to it to sort out the details.

Over new year, I found out where we were going, courtesy of a particularly gappy-gobbed friend, which was to the same place I got married, which was such a lovely touch. I still didn’t want to ask any details, as I was scared that there would be balloons and banners involved, so continued in my state of semi-blissful ignorance.

On Friday, through a convoluted series of messages, I ended up going over to my mum’s, where I really should have guessed something was up, but totally didn’t, and was treated to a massive double take when I walked into her front room- My lovely lovely auntie, who lives over in Gloucestershire took the trip over for the weekend especially for my tea. That was my first surprise- and very touched I was too.

On Sunday (or teaday as it was known), I was talking to my mum about who was coming and she mentioned that Chris and Michelle, one of her very close friends and her daughter would be in attendance, Chris, coincidentally, is the mum of my best friend, Carly who lives in Portsmouth. After innocently enquiring whether Carly would be coming too (I hadn’t wanted to ask because Portsmouth is a fair old way from us), devious lying mother said she wasn’t, which I totally swallowed, only to do double take number two in the car park at Orsett Hall, when lo and behold there she was!

So onwards to tea- I’m pleased to say that there was no fuss or unnecessary attention- just me, my closest friends and family, and a massive amount of cake. Mark’s mum was on holiday, but sent me a voucher via my sister in law, for a manicure and pedicure, which I’m hugely looking forward to booking for maternity leave, as my feet are gross. And everyone heeded the ‘no presents’ rule (save for Mark’s nan who is a massive rebel and Carly/Chris/Michelle who left me a brilliant bag of ‘things you never knew you needed’- stuff like tiny scissors and calpol and things, but left it in mum’s car, so I didn’t have to open it in front of people, which I totally hate!)

I was having such a lovely time, that I didn’t even take any photos, save for this one ridiculous one of my family, on the camera’s timer, right at the end of the day, after everyone else had left.

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And three hours after it all started, we were off home, stuffed full of scones and sandwiches and with packages of leftovers, which we shamelessly took back to mum’s and troughed!

Eating everything in sight- the breakfast sandwich edition

I go through definite phases in healthy eating-ness. Sometimes I am virtuous, in a salad, porridge, grilled fish and steamed veg kind of a way, and sometimes I am utter poo. Currently I am utter poo.

I’m going to blame the biscuit tin at work- We’ve had a couple of conferences and meetings, and there are always acres of spare biscuits that find their way up to our offices, which of course I must eat. I’ve also had a silly amount of takeaways, a potato sack’s worth of crisps and found this brilliant cookie spread in tescos (basically vanilla nutella with bits of cookie crumbled up in it), which have turned my virtuous snack of choice (rice cakes) into something akin to a biscuit. Sigh. Must try harder!

This little breakfast number, while not my greatest achievement, does have the added bonus of having bananas AND strawberries… and only a little bit of chocolate- Given my recent form, this is practically health food

Chocolate and Banana Toastie

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Want a recipe? (if you can call this a recipe!)

OK, two slices of bread
Three cubes of galaxy (chopped in half)
Half a mashed banana
Strawberries for a garnish.

Smear your mashed banana on your bread, strew the galaxy cubes betwixt the mashed banana, top with second slice of bread and whack into your sandwich toaster (I use the George Foreman grill).

Add some strawberries on the side, so you don’t feel too guilty and promise to start eating healthily again tomorrow.

 

 

Food guilt

It started with a goats cheese salad

A lovingly prepared goats cheese, beetroot and pumpkin seed salad, which I was meant to be eating for my lunch. Instead, I have a crappy supermarket sandwich and a bag of crisps. And why?, I hear you cry… well, its that pregnancy thing again, isn’t it!

Quite early on in my pregnancy, I read a book called ‘Expecting Better’, which was basically about how the government-defined guidelines on what you can and can’t consume in pregnancy are somewhat over-cautious, plus a summing up of the research, so you could make an informed decision on what you think is worth the risk of eating. So for the last 22-odd weeks, I’ve been basically flagrantly disregarding the  NHS list as and when I fancied it, as long as I had an awesome statistic or two to back myself up.

Up until now, my absolute veto list started and finished with the following:
-Liver and liver-related products (too much Vit A is bad for babies, so I’m told)
-Excessive amounts of tuna (Too much mercury is equally as bad)

And from the list of doom, I think I’ve had…

-a small piece of brie somewhere around week 6 and a brilliant Marks and Spencer goats cheese salad
Reasoning- Listeriosis= bad for babies- it causes miscarriage and all kinds of bad stuff. So I look at the figures. In 2011, there were 147 cases of listeriosis in England and Wales, 27 of which were in pregnant women. There were 724,000 births in 2011, which in very vague terms, which a statistician would probably tell me aren’t statistically viable, means the vague chances of getting listeriosis are only about 0.004% – pretty teeny weeny really

-Runny eggs
I’m not going to feel guilty about this one- salmonella apparently only affects you, not your baby, and the number of cases of salmonella from eggs in this country was pretty small

-Alcohol
After an immense amount of reading around this, I decided a self-imposed limit of a unit a week, and always with food was a risk I was more than comfortable with

-Caffeine
Lovely lovely tea. I drink a fair amount of tea and the occasional coffee. Guidelines say three cups a day should be your limit- I might have had four on the odd day I guess- I’ve not kept a strict count

So basically nothing really to write home about, and as you can see, a couple of instances of cheeses from the ‘risky list’- Nothing I felt particularly guilty about at the time, all items were a calculated risk that I decided was worth taking

So why am I feeling unable to eat my goats cheese now, I ask you? I can only assume the maternal part brain that I genuinely never really thought I possessed may have finally wandered in to join the party and is giving the rational side of my brain a massive seeing to- it’s the only reason I can come up with! Come back rational brain!! I miss you!

Post-post note:
And would you believe it, after all that, I found another reference to goats cheese on the NHS website that says soft goats cheese is fine, it’s a very specific type of goats cheese, called Chevre, which you need to avoid. So I could have just eaten the bloody salad all along!

Lazy-girl cookery- chocolate custard

Oh my effing g, i discovered something amazing (and lazy) yesterday. I needed some form of chocolatey dessert. There was no aforementioned chocolatey dessert in the house but there was pots of ready made, microwavable custard, which when cunningly combined with two squares of dark chocolate which I’d forgotten about in the back of a drawer (yes I know, forgotten about chocolate, how exactly does this happen?) made a lovely chocolatey dessert.

Method, just in case you need one: Take lid off of custard pot, break up chocolate, add to custard, microwave for 40 seconds. Stir until the chocolate melts. Eat. Then feel sad because you want more

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The breakfast files

I seem to be amassing quite a collection of pictures of my breakfast. I was in the Debenhams cafe with my sister at the weekend and announced that I was going to take a picture of my breakfast, to document my day.  ‘Why?’ She asked ‘do you put them online or something?’. ‘no’, said I, not untruthfully. Well they weren’t technically on line yet, but if truth be told, I’m a little bit coy about admitting my blogging exploits to my nearest and dearest, in case they thought I was a bit weird. Anyway, I digress- it made me realise that for strange reasons I have taken a lot of photos of my breakfast, so I may as well show some of them off- Here’s my weekend in breakfasts….

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Saturday- the Debenhams cafe extravaganza.  4 items of fried goods of your choice, and a slice of toast. In picture form, Laurens looks a bit more pathetic than mine- the beans were a good addition to pad things out. Service was crap in a way that only a department store cafe can be- slow but sweetly apologetic, but we got bumper portions of under-mixed eggs to make up for the wait.

The reasoning behind our early morning (ish… it was 10.30) shopping trip was ostensibly so we could buy each others’ birthday presents (were born on the same day but 2 years apart- neat, eh?!), but actually it was a cunning ruse so I could get her out of the house for a few hours while her husband, the rest of the fam and the in laws got things ready for a surprise party.  I played my part beautifully, if I do say myself, and she didn’t suspect a thing! SURPRISE!

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And Sunday- home-based fry up and another beany extravaganza- plus a slightly ruined fried egg-i blame Mark for that-it was all gooey on the top. I would like to point or at this juncture that I don’t generally have two cooked breakfasts in a weekend, but this was a special occasion.  Plus we didn’t have any milk or bread so couldn’t have toast or cereal.  Shame that. We complemented our Sunday breakfast by pottering around the garden in the sunshine, indulging in a spot of decorating and doing other lazy Sunday activities while the weather was nice

Cake in a mug

In my youth, there was only one thing that my younger sister would cook. She was and is capable, but for some reason the only thing she’d ever cook for us was a chocolate sponge cake, which was cooked in the microwave, and topped with a tin of cherry pie topping and drenched in double cream. It was AH-MAZING.

Back in the present day, I haven’t eaten this cake for about a decade, but earlier in the week, me and Mark had eaten our dinner, and still had a small dessert-shaped hole waiting to be filled. Unfortunately, we had no sweet stuff in the house, save for a pot of Ambrosia custard. We wanted sweet stuff to go with our custard. The shop is at least a 5 minute walk away, so rather than braving the outside world, we made cake in a mug, which turned out to taste basically exactly the same as my sister’s chocolate sponge of yore. The past was blasted.

So much so that I’m happily sitting with my second portion of microwave chocolate cake in a week. The first time we stuck to the instructions, making a cake each in a mug using the below. I’m not sure how big the person who wrote this recipe’s mugs are, but they must be like bloody buckets- it was totally impossible to mix the mix in the mug, and it rose so close to the top that we feared spillage… Not to mention the fact that we couldnt fit the custard in, so we had to tip the cake in a cereal bowl, which proved just how humungous the portion sizes really were- totally ridiculous, Geoff! So the next time, we decided that the recipe must serve two and mixed the whole thing up in a glazed flower pot- an unconventional cake receptacle but infinitely more practical!
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The recipe- adapted from Nigella

Ingredients
4 tablespoons self-raising flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil

Method
Find something microwave proof, which is bigger than a mug, beat your egg in it, add the dry ingredients and give a cursory mix, then add the wet ingredients and mix it until it’s vaguely smooth and combined

Microwave for 2 minutes. Give it a poke with a skewer- try and get it so there’s still a little bit of goo inside- goo is good. There will likely be goo on top- don’t let this fool you into thinking it isn’t cooked. If it really isn’t cooked after your poke though, give it another 10 seconds and repeat the poking.

Decant into two bowls. Yes, two- don’t be that person. Top with custard, or if you’re feeling retro, cherry pie filling

Chocolate brownie tarts

It’s been a while since anything more exciting than a vanilla sponge has been baked in the Gem and Mark household, but with Mark’s company instigating another bake-off, the Mr decided to take to the kitchen. I kinda watched, and came in to stir stuff and make a nuisance of myself when I was bored of doing the ironing.

A triple complicated combo was decided upon- A shortcrust pastry tart, topped with salt caramel, topped with chocolate brownie. Sort of like a chocolatey bakewell tart…ish.

We could have made shortcrust pastry, because it is easy, but even easier than that is buying it in a block in tescos, so that’s what we did.

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Phase 1- Tarts. Roll out the shortcrust pastry, cut out rounds and insert into a pre-greased cupcake tin. One block made about 24 tarts.

Prick the bottoms of the tarts, top with little tin foil parcels of lentils or rice or whatever you have knocking around and stick in the oven- gas mark 6- for about 15 minutes or until they’re pale and crisp

Phase 2- Caramel. We didn’t cheat on this- could have just bought a tin of carnation, but there was a pot of double cream in the fridge that needed using, so:

(adapted from the Comfort of Cooking … and in cups because, well I have measuring cups and couldn’t be bothered to translate into proper measurements for the purposes of tidiness. If you don’t have cups, you should probably buy some)

Ingredients
1 cup of caster sugar
1/4 cup of water
3/4 cup double cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt (we used the 1 teaspoon from the original recipe, but it was a wee bit much so would reduce next time

How to do it…
1- Stir together water and caster sugar in a saucepan on a low heat. When the sugar dissolves, turn up the heat, bring to the boil and leave it. DON’T STIR!
2- Watch carefully. When it turns a deep amber colour (mine went amber at the edges first, so be careful not to let it burn!), remove from the heat, add the cream and stir stir stir. It will bubble like an absolute beast!
3- Add the butter and salt and you’re done. What’s not used with the brownies can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Phase 3- Brownies. My ultimate go-to brownie recipe is from a Jamie Oliver cook book. I don’t need another brownie recipe. Bold words!

Ingredients
125g butter
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
40g cocoa powder
33g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten

How to do it…
1-Melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave- check it often and stir, to stop it burning
2- combine the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl the add the chocolatey butter mix. Stir together to combine
3- Pour in your eggs and mix well again

Phase 4- Assemble!
-Add a teaspoon of caramel to the bottom of each tart tin (take out your blind baking parcels first!)
-Top with a tablespoon of brownie mix (try to cover the whole of the caramel surface or it tries to bubble out of the sides. There will be a little bit of mix left over to make yourself a spare brownie for greed purposes. I put mine in a little silicone tray- no need to go to the trouble of lining a tiny tin
-To the oven! Bung it in for around 20 minutes on gas mark 5, or until the brownies are still a bit gooey
-When the tarts are removed and cooled on a wire tray, top with a drizzle of caramel (we put ours in a squeezy bottle, but a spoon will do the job too)

Eat 2… and take one to work the next day