Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The GBBO Challenge - Biscuits; Lemon, Thyme and Salt Shortbread

I wasn't that keen on biscuit week - the recipes I mean, not the show.  I LOVED the show; I just wasn't that inspired by what I saw, baking wise.  I think biscotti are over rated, I really didn't fancy those in the technical challenge and I thought the boxes were fun but not that hard really... How many variations on a gingerbread are there?  I say that from my comfy sofa of course; I'm not the one fashioning a box from biscuit...

I was surprised that only one baker chose a savory biscuit so I thought I'd give one a go.  I've always loved the citrus/herb combo that one of the bakers used for his biscotti (orange and rosemary polenta cake is a favourite of mine).  I'd perhaps have entered these biccies into a showstopper somehow.  A sweet biscuit for the box, holding a salty, tangy biscuit in the middle, with a punch of lemon and softened by the thyme.  Maybe I'd have called it 'The Paul'.

And maybe if Marie had gone salty on her shortbread she'd have lived to see another day... just sayin' (I jest of course).

Anyway, for my second challenge, I give you the contents of my would be showstopper:

Lemon, Thyme and Salt Shortbread

  • 280g plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • Finely grated zest 1 lemon
  • 1-2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
  • 160g unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks, mixed with one large egg and 2 teaspoons water.
  • Fantastic quality sea salt/rock salt

1. In a large bowl, mix in the flour, salt, lemon zest and thyme, before rubbing the butter in with your fingertips to create a yellow, rocky, crumbly mix.

2. Make a well in the middle and add all of the egg mixture, reserving 1 tbsp for washing with later. Using your hands, bring the mixture together.  It may still be a little crumbly; if so, turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until it comes together.

3. Pat into a round about an inch thick, wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge until firm, about 30 minutes.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle, trimming the sides and cut into fingers - mine were about 4inches by half an inch.  Place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment, brush with the remaining egg.

5. Sprinkle the fingers with a little salt on each (you may want to try the salt before - my hand-harvested salt is very strong, so I only needed a little), and bake at 180 degrees centigrade until the shortbread is golden.

6. Leave to cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

These lovely shortbread fingers are great served on their own with drinks, with hummus or other dips, or just as a snack.  Perhaps you could try cutting the dough into circles as a base for canapés - let me know your ideas.


Linking Up With
Best of Worst

Monday, 17 August 2015

How To Survive A Night Out As A Mum

How to survive, you might ask?  Thrive more like.  But for me, it's all about survival.  The anticipation of a child free night, followed by fun and debauchery to be sandwiched in by hangover hell makes the entire night out after children an ordeal worthy of a survival kit - so here we have it.

1. Choose your comrades carefully - you need to be judged like you need a hole in the head.

2. Buy your own weight in paracetamol, bananas, Yop! and bacon.  You'll need supplies the next day and you wont want to be going to the shops for it during hangover hell.

3. Don't get too giddy; try and keep in mind the last time you went out and threw up in the taxi on the way home due to excitement inspired over indulgence, I-may-never-taste-freedom-again-so-I'm-having-another-cocktail drink-a-thon.  You'll need that £40 taxi clean up fare for point 11 (bribery).

4. Get ready a nano-second before you leave the house lest you be covered in chocolate from the bribe you gave your kids to behave for the babysitter/to reduce your guilt.

5. Series record Peppa Pig/Hey Duggee/any crap they love - see point 11.

6. Refer back to point 3 - keep that giddiness in check.  Remember those old(er) ladies you used to see downing the Pinot with their equally desperate-to-have-a-good-time-to-prove-I'm-not-past-it mates, over excitedly gawping at your latest pull whilst you thought 'That'll never be me'?  Yeah, that.

7. In a grown up, completely classy way, ask for a tonic water in between each drink to help with Hangover Hell.  You're friends will be mightily impressed that you're managing this (and you can always nip to the ladies and slip a nip of gin in there when no one's looking).

8. Whilst the temptation to go out with a bag that isn't the size of a pram is oh-so-tempting, think again.  We aren't as young as we used to be. You'll need: Paracetamol, phone, keys, purse (obvs), flats (and room for your heels once you've kicked them off to prance about to Abba), a hairbrush (I can't pull off that tousled look the young uns are going in for), make up (I didn't sleep last night; concealer is a must for mums) and spare cash for when you leave your purse in the ladies.  Also see point 7.

9. The second you step through that door get a pint of water, a banana and a couple of paracetamol in you.  You'll thank yourself the next morning.

10. Take off your make up and brush your teeth; you want your family to be kind to you the next day and you don't want to look like Kiss without make up whilst working on point 11.

11. Bribe everything that moves.  Husband/Partner - to get out of bed with the kids (do whatever it takes here but remember you can't go back on a promise or you'll be screwed next time - possibly literally).  Children - to shut the hell up and watch Peppa Pig re-runs (see point 5).  Other close family - Repeat after me 'please just take them away, all of them, and find food whilst your at it - go to Maccy D's - I'll pay!'

11. When you wake up, inhale carbs like there's no tomorrow and knock back that Yop!  It's kill or cure but sometimes, needs must.

Disclaimer.  None of this is referring to personal experience, despite photographic evidence to the contrary.  None of it.  Nada.

Linking Up With
You Baby Me MummyFriday Frolics

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Our Home - Barn Conversion Before, After And Next Steps

In my last interiors post I wrote about my sons room; how small and dark it is, and what we've done in the meantime to spruce it up before we can get it extended; what with architects, planning permission, getting quotes and winter weather to contend with, it'll probably be next summer before it's done.

But that gives me time to plan.

This barn has been through some changes over the years; here's how it began life, as a cow shed:

Barn Conversion

And here it is right now, after a massive conversion project:

Barn Conversion

I love the contrast of the two, how you can see our finished home in the outline of the original building.

You can't see from the photograph, but one side of the barn, most of the main living spaces, dining and kitchen, are full height, the other side has two of the bedrooms and a study upstairs and underneath this space, downstairs, are two bedrooms and the main bathroom (and for the full picture, the end of the house contains our bedroom above a living room but goes across the whole house).  The study is open to the hall and the double height space (like a mezzanine) but the bedrooms aren't.  They go all the way to the roof so they slope into the eaves creating small dark spaces.  The same can be said for a portion of our bedroom (although only one corner that we can't use).

So we will be extending into the eaves and adding an extension out of the roof line to creating two double bedrooms from two currently very small, barely single rooms and a lovely large dressing room for us.  Not to mention the plans of a balcony off our bedroom to make the most of the uh-mazing views!

View from our bedroom

We called in the architect who did the original plans and asked him to come up with the drawings for this round of planning; and here they are (sorry for the quality; they are pictures taken of drawings).

Barn Conversion

Barn Conversion

Barn Conversion

So that's what we hope it will become!

Next step: planning permission.  Wish us luck!

Linking Up With
Home Etc
Best of Worst

An (im)perfect Day At The Beach - Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday - how I missed my weekly giggle at a life less than perfect (mine and yours!).

When you take the kids to the beach, you hope the long drive will be rewarded with perfect weather (tick!), splashing in the waves (tick!), giggles and fun all round (tick!), and lovely sand free lunches (tick!) - oh, no, hang on...

Yes, that is a sand beard you see...  Mum of the year award goes to.....

Linking Up With

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Hobbies That Were - A Rant

Today, as my husband left me with an overtired screaming child to pursue another hobby, I got to thinking  about the hobbies that have been tried, tested, spent on and then forgotten over the years I've known him - a not too princely 9 years and two months.  All the money spent on having all the gear but, ultimately, no idea.  All the time spent online and in forums to get the latest know how.  All the energy wasted.

So, here goes, a run down of the hobbies that were.

Ah - the first, the original, the one he took up when I first knew him.  Most (normal) people would think to themselves 'A new, rather dangerous, tricky sport that I can only do a handful of times a year, and one I've never tried before.  I might not like it, might not stick to it.  Must hire, not buy....'   Noooo, not him.  He hot (cold?) footed it right down to the shops and spent the best part of his monthly salary on boots, bindings, boards and associated apparel to hit the slopes in Andorra with his mates.  Literally, hit them.  He came home with a torn something-or-other on his knee.  He spent the whole time enjoying the apres ski and never hit the slopes again.

Enjoying apres ski with his broken knee.  In his pants.  On a table.  Well, at least he didn't break his spirit
This one was short lived.  He decided he wanted to play golf.  Asked me for lessons for his birthday.  He still hasn't gone.  I live in hope that the third year he has the vouchers will be the year he uses them.  They say hope isn't a strategy.

One of the more recent hobbies.  He ran a few times, decided he didn't have the right gear (and there I was thinking legs were the pre-requisite and he has two perfectly fine, in fact rather sexy, legs - see above) and again, hit the shops, then the road, then the sofa once the mother of almighty blisters appeared on his foot.  The shoes he spent the best part of two hours choosing, on and off a treadmill with a camera trained at his over-rotating ankle gave him a fecking blister the size of Wales.  Trainers, bright yellow running top (lest he not be seen by the man on the moon) and double skin socks resigned to the back of the wardrobe.

Fish Keeping
Yes. Fish Keeping.  Of them all this is the absolute worst.  It sucks money from your pocket, temper from your tantrums and sanity from your brain as you try and get the God forsaken PH level right so the little fishies don't burn alive in a watery grave and the tropical plants don't go brown and sludgy.  There were shrimp that were meant to keep the tank clean.  They failed.  Then there were snails to keep the tank clean.  They multiplied.  Then there were assassin snails, who were, frankly shite at assassinating the millions of tiny snails that were appearing every day.   There was military precision in the amount of food to go in the tanks.  There was cleaning to be done.  Tantrums my three year old would be jealous of were thrown when the new back drop Just. Would. Not. Go. In. Right (it was epic).

Then there was The Death.  The fish who got poorly.  It upset him so much he nearly cried when asking me to get some clove oil (it commits fish murder -  who knew?  I thought they just went down the loo).  Such a sorry sight seeing my 6'3" husband crouching over the measuring jug of water and clove oil and this little fish floating upside down, with the saddest look on his face (my husband, not the fish).  He failed his responsibility to keep this fish alive.  I really felt for him.  I did, truly.  It brought a tear to my eye.  I got over it.  Not sure he ever did.

So when we moved house the fish were sold and the tanks emptied and they were put into the shed in the new place.  I sighed a sigh of relief.  No more spreadsheets detailing the exact measurements of each tank daily.  No more money spent on stupid little tools to help him keep the fish.  No more Sunday night dramas as we can't find a fish (yes, we lost one.  It got stuck behind the decorative backdrop).

But it's returned.  One of the tanks has been resurrected.  It's got water in it.  It's cycling.  HE WENT TO THE SHOP FOR BOGWOOD.  He scoured the beach for the 'right' stone.  Kill me.

But I shouldn't complain too much, at least this is one hobby that's lasted longer than a weekend....

Luckily, cheerleading didn't stick either

For completeness I shall list other tried and abandoned hobbies.
  • Cycling (bike bought ridden twice)
  • Star-gazing (telescope bought, looked through twice. That Brian Cox has a lot to answer for)
  • Photography (camera and lens bought. Used on holiday.  Resulting pictures worse than those on my iPhone).
  • Skiing (yet more unused lesson vouchers.  These are now 18 months old).
  • I know there are others... I'm choosing not to recollect them right now.
UPDATE!!!  A mutual friend of ours just reminded me of another.  Beer making.  That sodding keg sat in my downstairs loo for months before he cracked open a bottle of the brew, took one swig, winced and declared it 'lovely.... but needs longer'.  Never touched the stuff - the beer or the making aparatus - again.  Resigned to the shed.  Again).
Tell me I'm not alone - any tried and abandoned hobbies in your household?

(Col - if you're reading this, I love you, I do, and I love that you're a trier and passionate about the things you take on.  Just try not to kill anymore bloody fish).

Linking Up With
Baby Brain Memoirs
The Twinkle Diaries
Best of Worst
Modern Dad Pages
Modern Dad Pages

My Random Musings
Super Busy Mum
Friday Frolics

The GBBO Challenge; Schwarzwälder Kirchtorte – German Black Forest Cake

I've challenged myself.

Last week was the first time I've ever watched GBBO.  I applied for the first series and got through to the auditions, where I'd have to take two bakes for the producers to try.  I chickened out, didn't go.  I was working full time and couldn't afford the time off I'd need (as in work wouldn't have given ii to me) and I'd have been distraught if I'd gotten through and couldn't go.  So I boycotted the series.

Until last Tuesday and I LOVED it!  So I've given myself a challenge; to make one of the bakes each week.  Fun!  I can't go showstopper crazy - who has the time? - but I'm going to do my own version of one of the bakes each week.

In honour of Episode 1 I give you my (friends) version of Black Forest Gateaux!

Schwarzwälder Kirchtorte – German Black Forest Cake 
I asked my German friend Cathrin if she had a traditional German recipe I could butcher, and her mum came up trumps with this traditional Black Forest Cake recipe - so I'm going all traditional on your ass...

This cake is the taste of childhood, when my Auntie Val used to defrost a Black Forest Gateaux just for me on special occasions. Oh how I loved it, the chocolate cake, cherries and gooey cream. Especially when it hadn’t quite defrosted enough and I got a cold cherry to bite through in the middle! 

This version is so much better. I made mine with Cherry Brandy (the recipe says Kirsch, but to all intents and purposes it is the same thing). Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe. Whilst a little complicated, this cake is delicious, light, fluffy, alcohol soaked. Never will a Black Forest Gateaux find its way into my freezer again. 

Thanks Cathrin’s mum – I owe you one. 

For the cake 

  • 140g unsalted butter + 1 tbsp for greasing 
  • 6 eggs 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 200g caster sugar 
  • 65g self-raising flour + 2 tbsp for coating 
  • 40g cocoa 

For the Syrup 

  • 150g sugar 
  • 250ml cold water 
  • 80ml kirsch or cherry brandy 

For the filling and topping 

  • 500ml chilled double cream 
  • 50g icing sugar 
  • 60ml kirsch or cherry brandy 
  • 1 tin of cherries drained and rinsed 
  • Fresh sweet cherries with stems 
  • 100g Dark chocolate 

1. Preheat the oven to 180. With some greaseproof paper, lightly coat the bottoms and sides of three 7-inch round cake pans with the 1 tbsp of soft butter. Sprinkle the flour into each pan and tip them from side to side to coat, discarding any loose flour.

2. Clarify the remaining butter. In a small saucepan, melt the butter slowly over low heat without letting it brown. Let it rest for a minute off the heat, then skim off the foam. Spoon the clear butter into a bowl and set aside. Discard the milky solids at the bottom of the pan. 

Cake batter after step 3

3. In an electric mixer, beat the eggs, vanilla and 1 cup of sugar together at high speed for at least 10 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and fluffy. 

4. Sift the flour and cocoa together and add to the egg mixture a little at a time, folding it in gently with a rubber spatula. Finally, add the clarified butter 2 tablespoons at a time, being careful to not over mix. Gently pour the batter into the prepared cake pans dividing it evenly between the three. 

5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in the pans for about 5 minutes. Then run a sharp knife around the edge of each cake and turn them out on racks to cool out completely. 

6. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by placing the sugar and water in Combine sugar and water in small saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Boil briskly, uncovered, for 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. When the syrup is lukewarm stir in the kirsch or brandy. 

7. Prick each cake in several places with a skewer. Sprinkle the layers evenly with the syrup and let them rest for at least 5 minutes. 

8. Drain the tinned cherries and rinse in cold water. Dry completely with paper towels. 

9. Whizz the cream until it thickens slightly and sift the icing sugar over the cream. Continue beating until the cream forms firm peaks then pour in kirsch or cherry branding in a thin stream, beating only until the liquid is absorbed. 

10. Make the chocolate curls but running a vegetable peeler down the side of the bar of chocolate. 

11. Assemble the cake. Place one of the cakes in the center of a serving plate. With a spatula, spread the top with a 1/2-inch-thick layer of whipped cream and place the dried canned cherries over, leaving about 1/2 inch of cream free of cherries around the perimeter. Gently set a second layer on top of the cherries and spread it with 1/2 inch of whipped cream. Then set the third layer in place.  Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining cream. 

12. With your fingers, gently press chocolate curls into the cream on the sides of the cake and arrange a few chocolate curls and fresh cherries on top.


Linking Up With:
My Random Musings

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

Friday, 7 August 2015

Is This The End? Hell No.

It's been a funny few days.  I last posted on Wednesday and I've been worrying ever since that I've nothing to post.  Nada.  Zilch.  My mind is empty.  Writers block?  Perhaps, although you'd be stretching it a bit to call me a writer.  Bloggers block.  Absolutely.

It's been two days; I need to get a grip.

But what concerns me is I didn't even engage.  No linky's, no Twitter (a bit but it was forced), no Facebook; in fact, I started my Facebook page on Wednesday (or was it Tuesday) and when I last blogged, Facebook was the beginning of the end for me.  It felt contrived, hard work, and took the fun out of it for me - I fell out of love with it all.  I've been concerned that's the issue, but felt I needed to get out of my blogging sphere and into the outside world.

I've taken myself away from Blogging completely after being immersed in it for what feel like forever (I think it's just under 3 months old, this blog).  Every time the baby slept, I'd get my laptop out.  I'd be thinking about it when changing a nappy, when I should have been playing, when I should have been engaging with my children, and my husband.

Then nothing.  On Wednesday, I just stopped.  I know it's two days, but it was also two extremes.

Is this normal?  Is it in fact the beginning of the end?  Am I being a drama queen?

What have I been up to these last few days?  QT, that's what.  I took my pooch on a long walk with the babe in the Bjorn, I took my eldest to the cinema (Inside Out - he slept, I cried).  I played with my baby, tickled him until he cried (I felt a bit cruel then actually), and I baked; I made liver cake for the dog (vom!), a cinnamon bun cake-type thingy (I'll blog this but need a better name) and made some pea soup for my grandma, upon request.  I spent some time with my beloved grandma (mamma), took her for tea and cake, and saw my dad (and saved him £80 in the process).

So I've been away two days and have been stressing this is the beginning of the end of this blog; the three month itch/boredom block/failure gate I've read about?  The Facebook curse?  Bloggers Block? Two days with no post - am I in danger of over thinking things? I'm ever hopeful that inspiration will strike.

And I bet no one missed me. I bet no one thought 'Living Life/Jemma hasn't posted for a couple of days'.  Why?  Because it's been TWO DAYS and actually, does it even matter?

No.  The fact that I've written this post (and planned my next one once I can think of a name for the cinnamon bun thingy) then I would hope, no, say that it's not over.

You can't get rid of me that easily.

Linking up with
A Cornish Mum

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Wicked Wednesdays - where did you go?

As Brummy Mummy of 2 takes a holiday (how very dare she) I find myself desolate; where is my weekly giggle at my own and others imperfect life?  I adore the #wickedwednesday linky for the simple fact it's a weekly reminder not to take this life I'm living too seriously.

To take the edge off my withdrawal symptoms as I wait for next Wednesday to roll around, I've pulled together this little collage of my #wickedwednesday posts, for your amusement as you have a laugh of how not together I am.

Enjoy laughing at my misfortune.  I look forward to laughing at yours in return next week!

From left to right - Dog gets his own back | Timber! | Weaning fun | Who invested the tea towel holder? | What happens when you ask to play with the hose pipe | Girls who don't pout, pouting | That'll teach the bugger to steal from my plate | Knackered out | Men!!  Why!?

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Our Home - Woody's Room

When we viewed this house it was perfect - well, perfect besides the two teeny tiny bedrooms... it's a converted barn but as such there is no loft and the rooms go all the way to the roof.  Just gorgeous in the double height rooms; not so great in the two bedrooms upstairs that are in the eaves.  No matter, we thought, we can just extend into the eaves and build out; so long as the extension doesn't go above or beyond the roof line we'll be in permitted development territory, right?


When a building has been converted into a dwelling, these rules no longer apply and we only found out when I called the planning department to make sure.  Good thing I did.  So now we have employed an architect and on goes the long wait until we can do the work.

From left to right: Giant 'W' under a fishermans light | Hanging heart | Eames inspired rocker | train painted by his brother | Memory box | Limited Edition cuddly toys

One of these rooms is, and was destined to be our youngest sons room, Woody, who is 7 months old.  On the bright side, he doesn't need much room right now and when we get the work done (next spring if everything goes according to plan) we can replace the baby furniture (which, to be frank has seen better days) and he can have all new.  Every cloud and all that.

But in the meantime we have been left with a dark, cramped bedroom for our little boy.

Something had to be done.  The room is rectangular in shape with a sloping ceiling and a roof light.  And it's small.

First off, we painted the whole thing one colour and then added interest to the largest wall in the room with some gorgeous dinosaur paper; this wall will be staying when we make the changes so I was happy to invest the £32 per roll in this Harlequin wallpaper.  Isn't it gorgeous?  I replaced the looks-like-it-should-be-in-a-loo wall light the old owners left with this fantastic red fishermans light from Iconic Lighting (£25) and ordered a huge 'W' to go underneath in a complementing red from The Wooden Letters Company; we had our colour scheme.

This, without doubt is my favourite part of the room.  It's opposite the chair I feed him in before bed and it's so lovely to look at.

The chair; we had a lovely, comfy cream armchair that we bought for our eldest's room in our old house, to snuggle up in during those loooooong night feeds.  However, having seen it's fair share of projectile voms, projectile poos and two angry cats whilst it was being stored ready for Woody to be born, it's nothing short of manky - and far too big for the room.  In came this Eames inspired red rocker, a snip at £60 from Lakeland Furniture.   It looks fab and is surprisingly comfortable.  On it sits the cushion my best friend had made for him when he was born, and next to it, a table I upcycled when Seth was born.  On this, we perch his lamp (low lighting at night), his evening bottle, his music box and the little teddy Seth brought to the hospital for Woody.

Over the other side of the room are his drawers and matching shelf; these were in the M&P seconds shop and had we paid full price for these I'd be writing a strongly worded email rather than this happy go lucky post; every little bump leaves a mark and a scuff on these drawers, and given these drawers are designed for children they've got their fair share of those.  If I was hanging on to these I'd be painting them with Annie Sloans chalk paint - whilst the finish is poor, they're actually incredibly well made.  But as I'm not, I replaced the old knobs with some fabulous red ceramic ones from eBay; £6.58 for the ten I needed, including shipping.

Perched on the drawers is his wonderful memory box from NOTHS www.notonthehighstreet.com; not exactly a bargain at £60, but his brother has one and they are beautifully made; it will last a lifetime, as a memory box should.  His teddies are collectibles and again are presents from family for his birth.

On the shelf sits some of the hundreds of baby books we own, all held back with this train money box, painted by Seth to give as a gift when Woody was born.

Finally, look at the hanging heart; bought by mum for Woody when he was born, it sums up our goodnight routine perfectly.

A special room for a special baby boy.  I love what we've done and how we've made a cosy room.... but I wont be sorry to see the small room go...

Linking up with:
Twinkly Tuesday
Modern Dad Pages
Home Etc
Best of Worst