Black Forest Christmas Cake

Black Forest Christmas Cake

  Christmas cake isn’t as popular with the younger generation, most of my friends say they don’t like Christmas cake.  I am, massively misguidedly, including myself in that ‘younger generation’.  At some point I will have to re-categorise myself as middle aged but I’m not ready for that yet.  Last time I started work in an office I tried to be all pally with the recent graduates.  One of the gang.  One of the cool folk.  I think pretty quickly their glazed expressions meeting my hilarious stories of how my baby unplugged the stereo at baby sensory put paid to my notions of being young.  Or hip.  Or of having much of a life at all.  They wouldn’t be baking Christmas cake, they’re out in cool bars with cool people having cool fun.  Although I expect they don’t say cool.  Although the whole home-spun geek chic is apparently cool now so maybe just maybe I can rely on that to fit right in with the cool kids?   Anyway, cool or not,  I’m not one to blow my own festive trumpet, well I am, but everyone who has tried my chocolate cherry Christmas cake has enjoyed it.  That or they are too scared of me to tell me the truth, but nobody has gagged on it and most people have asked for seconds, which I always take to be a good sign.

It’s not so different from a traditional Christmas cake as to be crazy, I’m not a Christmas purist as such, but there’s some variations on a theme too far.  Sticky toffee Christmas pudding?  No.  Ginger & soy glazed turkey?  No.  This is a good solid fruit cake, it’s lots of dried fruit soaked in booze but it has the addition of chocolate and cherries which just seems to give it a more moist and moreish flavour.

I believe that it is loosely based on an Italian wedding cake.  Not having actually ever been to Italy let alone an Italian wedding I’ll have to bow to greater wisdom than my own on that.  I first saw the recipe in a Christmas issue of the long defunct Easy Living Magazine and have adapted it over the years.

I normally decorate it very simply – just a layer of marzipan and clean white fondant icing over the top and some fondant stars.  Although I must admit that last year I went a bit mad in the kitsch section of my local cake decorating store and it looked as if Christmas 1974 had thrown up on it.  What can I say, galloping golden babycham-esque deer and miniature snow frosted pine trees excited me muchly.  Then I doused the whole lot with a lot of edible glitter.

Because I’m not exactly an organised blogger (HA!) I don’t seem to have any photos I have taken of previous Christmas cakes finished.  But you’re presumably not a complete and utter retard and will have, at some point in your years on planet Earth, seen a Christmas cake.  Make it look like one of them.

I usually make the cake mid-late November and it sort of matures.  Actually I’m not convinced that’s not actually a myth,  one year I made it the week before Christmas and it tasted the absolute same.   To me it makes sense to make it and shove it out of the way, before the unstoppable beast that is Christmas gains momentum, on a quiet November afternoon.   Then it’s one less thing to do when you are trying to sort all the Christmas shopping, parties etc etc etc. Oh and you don’t need to keep dousing this with booze.  Once it’s cooked it’s cooked. 

A note on the shopping for the ingredients.  The dried sour cherries and blueberries aren’t stocked everywhere.  Waitrose definitely have them although helpfully not with the baking ingredients.  It is somewhat like an episode of the Crystal Maze trying to track them down in store.   Do not give up my intrepid friend, the path to true cake nirvana is never smooth.  *rum fumes from the fruit soaking next to me clearly getting to me*.  The sour cherries were with the salted peanuts but the blueberries were deemed healthy so were with the ‘if you buy these lentils you will live longer’ section.  Go figure.  Order online, save yourself the ball ache.

My disclaimer with Christmas Cake is that you will make it, give away loads to various greedy relatives, stuff yourself silly with it in the week after Christmas, then at some point in January lob it in the bin in an ill-founded ‘this year I will not eat cake’ resolution.  You will then later in January when it’s freezing, light for only about an hour each day and you’ve got a stinking cold, really really regret it because a piece of this cake would definitely help.    I would say don’t do that, but it’s as much a part of Christmas as buying 100 Christmas cards then realising you bought 100 already in the January sales for the 10th year in a row and now have enough cards to send to pretty much everyone you’ve ever spoken to.


350g sultanas

100g dried sour cherries

100g dried blueberries

200g glace cherries

175g dark chocolate (break up into chunks)

200g unsalted butter

125g light brown sugar

250ml booze.  I have used rum this year, in the past I’ve used sherry, you could use brandy too

4 large eggs

Grated zest of 1 orange

1tsp vanilla extract

175g dark chocolate chips

200g plain flour

2tbsp self-raising flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of salt

  1. Put all of the dried fruit in a large saucepan, add whatever booze you’re using and leave for a couple of hours (or overnight) to soak in.
  2. Add the sugar, chocolate, butter to the pan and heat over a low heat until it’s all melted – simmer for about 5 minutes stirring frequently for about 5 minutes.
  3. Set aside to cool completely.
  4. Heat oven to 150c – grease a 20cm/8inch square cake tin and line base and sides with a double layer of baking paper – extend it above tin
  5. Put the cooled fruit mixture in a mixing bowl and add beaten eggs, orange zest, vanilla,  chocolate chips and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add the flours, bicarb of soda and salt to the bowl and mix.
  6. Pour into the tin and bake for an hour. Cover the top of the cake and bake for another 1-1.5 hours – until firm and a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Cool it in the tin then wrap in foil and then wrap in cling flim until you’re ready to ice.

For icing

3tbsp apricot jam

500g marzipan

2 x 500g packs of white fondant icing

1 .  Warm the jam in the microwave with a tbsp of water and brush over the cake.  Roll out the marzipan and cover the cake with that.  Then brush with water and top with rolled out fondant icing.  Then decorate how you see fit!



Hooray for school uniforms. Or not.

So, the kids are back at school. I now have two full-time school boys. Setting aside the ‘wahhhhh, my baby is grown up and gone, I miss him so much, wahhhhhhhh, he’s too little to be at school all the time, wahhhhhh, oh feck it’s 3 o’clock I’m going to be late to pick them up, sheesh that school day goes quickly doesn’t it’ issues for a moment……… two little school boys means even more school bloody uniform.

I have issues with school uniforms. I’m pretty sure all parents do. It’s not that I don’t agree with it in principle, I kind of get that all the pupils wearing the same instils a school identity and makes the kids look smart(ish). Although I’m not wholly convinced that they wouldn’t learn just as much, and be more comfortable to boot, in a pair of joggers and a tshirt.  At my primary school there was no uniform and I turned out OK. Oh wait, there wasn’t a uniform at my primary school UNLESS your mum was a teacher herself and sent you to school in a pseudo made up uniform of her own invention. Not even making that up. They all had cool brown cuordoroy flares and a tank top on (it was the late seventies after all) and I had a random school dress. Rocking the non-uniform uniform. Non-conformity through conformity. I seem to remember quite liking it. Even after I had put a hole in the back of it climbing underneath a barbed wire fence and it was patched up. I think this had something to do with the fact that I read so much Enid Blyton I was obsessed with boarding schools and they loved a uniform.

OK – back to the present day. How much school uniform do you buy for your kids? I was utterly gob-smacked when a mum at school said hers only have 2 sets of uniform each. My children have messed up their school uniforms before they even leave the house in the morning. When my eldest started school I used to give him his breakfast in his pyjamas and then send him up to get dressed. It was a disaster. He would go back upstairs and I would go to check on him 15 minutes later to find him sitting with one sock on and a sweatshirt on his head in some kind of turban style playing with some hot wheels cars and a dinosaur. If I refuse to let them come downstairs until they have their uniform on then at least their hunger for breakfast sustenance keeps them roughly on task getting their clothes on. It does mean that they are covered in jam, weetabix, toothpaste and milk by the time they leave the house though. I’m pretty sure their teachers think that I use breakfast cereal as a new and avant garde alternative to fabric conditioner. Although to be fair, why I bother actually sending them in to school in a clean uniform each day is a mystery. I don’t need to ask them what they’ve done at school because through some cunning clothes forensic archaeology I can determine exactly what paints/pen that they’ve used, if it’s been PE then they will possibly be wearing someone else’s shoes or have their clothes on backwards (particularly special to put a polo shirt on backwards and not realise) and their dinner choices are clearly reflected in the stains. Luckily the school uniform is cheap at our school so they have a sweatshirt for each day of the week and thanks to the beauty of unethical child labour in other countries (that was meant IRONICALLY people) the price of a polo shirt in all the major supermarkets makes them akin to a Jay cloth in their disposable nature.

Who in God’s great world decided that WHITE would be the best colour for school shirts/polo shirts? White. I ask you. Would you dress your child in white for any event other than their own christening? No. Hell, since having children I don’t think I own a single piece of white clothing myself.   Not only do they show every last speck of the muck-fest of the school day, you can’t wash them with your other laundry and then, because you no longer own any pale colours, you have to do ridiculously tiny white loads of laundry with unfeasible amounts of Vanish in them just so your progeny can look like a tiny bank manager. I actually think HOURS of parent’s lives could be saved by all school kids switching to black polo shirts. Navy at a push.

Just shopping for the uniform is a pain in the arse too. If you buy it at the beginning of the school holidays, when all the shops have every single size available, you run the risk of them having a humungous growth spurt over the summer and it not fitting come September. If you leave it too late then the shops are guaranteed to have sold out of the size that you need.   I thought I had everything the boys needed in plenty of time this year. Indeed I was smug about it. On the very first day of the school holidays I had washed and dried the PE kit and put it all folded neatly back in the PE bag. The day before school started I double checked the PE bag only to find that the pumps were a size and a half too small. They’ll have been too small for the best part of last year too.   Upon questioning why he hadn’t thought to mention it my eldest said that as long as he hadn’t needed to move around too much in PE they hadn’t hurt ‘too many’ of his toes.

The ideal way to spend the last day of the school holidays is to drive around every shop in South Manchester trying to locate a pair of size 13 school pumps. After a summer of wearing crocs or sandals, upon trying the few pairs we could locate on he did a walk in each shop akin to a Chinese woman in the late 18th century who had just had her feet bound, before collapsing to the ground theatrically declaring that they all hurt his feet too much and he was happy to do PE in bare feet. Apologies to any M&S shoppers who had their browsing interrupted by a rather loud argument about whether white pumps were only for girls or not. A particular apology to the old man and his wife who had their trolley hit by a 6 year old hurling a white pump across the aisle whilst shouting ‘I hate shops’.

Labelling the bastard uniform is also a job of unrelenting misery. The first one you do makes you have a ‘look at me I’m a real mum now’ moment (because obviously the first 4 or so years of your child’s life you feel like a massive imposter) and then all the ones after that are tedious. I’ve had sew in ones – which take forever. Have used the sharpie method on things and now have iron on tapes.   Some genius on facebook shared her top tip for ‘ironing’ them on with hair straighteners. I think I was a bit tentative with this method mind you, as some have come off already. Possibly my reticence to somehow transfer the names of my children and a picture of a bike onto my straighteners and therefore my hair played a part in this.

Anyway, by week 3 you wonder why you bothered anyway. How is it possible for them to lose so many clothes at school? How can you lose your own trousers? Admittedly I did once lose my own school skirt after PE once but, in a scandal unbeknown to rural 80s Dorset, it turned out that it had been stolen by a girl envious of my long a-line topshop grey skirt (which I had saved my allowance for). Her criminal school uniform larceny spree soon came to an end when she wore said skirt to school. Why steal something you can only wear to school? Justice was mine all mine. I was reunited with my topshop finery. I don’t think small children have such criminal tendencies mind you, they are just small foolish things who have a lot to learn (errrr, hello, if they didn’t then they wouldn’t be at school?!) and when faced with a pile of grey trousers which all look the same they just grab any old pair.   This I can understand. What I can’t understand is who exactly are the parents that just keep the uniform that isn’t theirs? Who is it that when they’re doing the washing thinks ‘well it says Emily Smith in the label but hey my Billy wears the same size so fuck it we’re keeping it’. Who does that?

Just getting them into their uniforms in the morning is somehow ten times harder than getting them dressed on any other day. In the school holidays I would send mine upstairs to get dressed and within 10 minutes they would return in approximately the right number of clothes. Admittedly some of the colour combinations would make Stevie Wonder’s eyes hurt, but hey clashing is the new matching in some fashion circles. Or so I’m told.

My children are massively different to each other. Despite being very different to my own sister this still surprises me. Having two boys in less than two years I just assumed they would be similar. Nowhere is this illustrated more than with school uniforms. My eldest, and I’m not at all exaggerating here, until he was 6 would only get himself undressed if it didn’t involve using his own hands. His method for pyjama trouser removal was to writhe around on his bedroom floor using some kind of friction method. A very unsuccessful method I might add. At least twice a week he still puts his school trousers on back to front. He will also have got his head stuck in his polo shirt by attempting to put it on without unbuttoning it and then had massive screaming hysterics that he can’t see. He also likes to wear his pants back to front and I’ve given up making him put them on the right way because frankly life is too short.

My youngest, Mr Independence, won’t let you help him at all. Since pre-school he’s insisted on doing every single button himself. This takes FOREVER. If one pesky button eludes him he has a perfectionist hysterical meltdown which he can only snap out of by laughing at the sight of his older brother staggering around the landing wearing back to front pants and a polo shirt stuck on his head screaming ‘help, help, my eyes aren’t working’.   Although this morning the little one was taking a while, when I went into his room to chivvy him along I found he had taken all of his socks out of his drawers and was thumping them each in turn shouting ‘get back in there you naughty socks’ and then he started thumping his own bottom.

*wonders if I have particularly weird children, or are all families similarly bonkers*

So, once they’re finally dressed, breakfasted, cleaned teeth then there’s the final push towards assembling what they need to take with them.   Water bottles. When did they become ubiquitous? When was it decided that if children don’t have access to a full litre of water each and every day at all times they will shrivel up in a corner with the brain function of a slug that has had salt sprinkled on it? The water bottles will get lost at school at least once a week, leak in the bag on the way to school twice a week minimum, never return home with more than a tiny sip drunk out of them (which actually isn’t a tiny sip at all but the amount that has leaked in the bag on the school run), no matter how you label it the label will come off in the dishwasher, it will get kicked around the playground at least once also. I’m pretty sure that the teachers find them even more annoying than parents do. Book bags. Ooops, remembering that yet again you haven’t read all of this week’s reading books. The myriad cheques and forms that need to be submitted weekly. Until my boys started school I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even owned a cheque book for over 5 years. Now I seem to be writing cheques weekly.

Shoes and coats. They are the daily last straw. They can’t be found, they suddenly hurt, they’re unsurprisingly really hard to put on without using your hands, they’re too scratchy, they want to wear a bobble hat (in July), they were found and now somehow even though nobody has left the hall they’re missing again.

If there is a morning in your house where all of the above has been accomplished without at least one member of the family crying or shouting then I salute you. There hasn’t been one in my house.

Maybe the point of school uniform is to make you so heartily sick of the sight of your children that by the time that 8:50 comes along you cannot wait to hand over the little darlings to their teachers to whom you are eternally grateful.

*Side bar – I wonder if teachers have a special module on their degrees/PGCE that teaches them how to supervise a whole class of 30 children all changing into PE kits and back again? I’m presuming that they are not shrieking ‘for Christ’s sake, how have you managed to get both of your legs into one of your trouser legs and have you woken up so stupid this morning that you didn’t realise that you have put your brother’s coat on by the fact that it’s 3 sizes too small and doesn’t cover your arms????’ Or maybe they just drink gin in the staffroom at playtime*

And I’m fully aware that these school uniform woes pale into insignificance compared to the perils of high school dress codes….. tough times ahead!


Prize winners

So, over October I participated in Sober for October for Macmillan.  It’s a long story – if I had time I would blog it but I don’t.  The edited version is that I got drunk quite a bit, did a lot of crochet, had prizes stolen and became a local media sensation *slight exaggeration* *OK a massive exaggeration* The whole experience has been pretty bonkers to be honest and most of all it has shown me what a wonderful lot people on instagram are.  Online friendships get a bad reputation but I think this proves how lovely they can be.

My current total is £1,350 raised through the coffee morning I had and the donations to the raffle.  I’m proud and gobsmacked.  There will be a bit more too as I am using the compensation money from My hermes to pay for the postage of the prizes.  Which should leave a bit left over!

Anyway – without further ado – here are the winners.

If  your name is on the list then well done!  Please can you email me your address to and I will post out asap.



star blanket from @pollypet – winner Laura Godfrey

Liberty print necklace – winner Nicola Sutton

Hat and bootie set – winner Helen Simmons

Owl hat from @sarh – winner Ala Awaysheh

Pedros-plaques needleminder – winner Suzie Beans

Black crochet bobble hat – Emma Ingham @flowergirl72

Word art from @sayitwithshapes – winner Clair Bradley

Wool mermaid – winner @prettylittlejewels

Vintage china – winner @karengresswell

Flower art print – winner Rebekah Norman @beksysnormz

Yarn bowl – winner @jodiesue

Hand made doll – winner @justjuggling

tea-cosy – winner Terri Dent @cakemuncher

Silver earrings – winner Caroline Oliver @agapanthus

Pearl and silver bracelet – winner Danielle Rigby @riggleberry-uk

Hand-painted fox plate -winner  Emma Wadsworth @easily-emmaclaire

Norfolk Bakes brownies – winner Debbie Parrott

hand drawn print by @traceychorley – winner Debra Waltham @debwal124

Knit me up white bunny – winner @sarh

‘This house believes’ sign – winner Claire Jaffe @claireej

Bird necklace – winner Laura Mackay @lauramaggiemack

Pink stone necklace and earrings set – winner Blanche Handsley @blanchie

Christmas bunting – winner Rosie Carpenter

Knitting sets – 3 winners – @gooseberryfool @funkykeepsake and @sharonhowe

Green elephant print scarf – winner Sandie Osborned @sandpants

Niki Cotton postcards – winner @Kerry_rob_bob

Star necklace – Danielle Hamilton @scranatron

Rose quartz – western heights necklace – winner Jenni Little @jenilouise

House shaped chalk board winner Kate Jones @katejonesRR

Love Heart – winner Sarah Whitmarsh

Pink crochet bunny – winner @frankeeb

Purple wool wreath – winner @ruralmummy

Snickers Brownies & Home Alone

I’m home alone this week.  Picture me in that classic Macauley Culkin pose of a scream while holding my face in my hands.  But so far no-one has tried to break in and steal anything (although clearly just by typing that I will now be up half the night with nightmares!) and the only booby traps have been me falling over on yet more bloody conkers on the playroom floor.  My husband works away a lot.  He always has done, since before we had kids,  in fact before he met me.   Pre-kids it never bothered me at all – in fact my job meant that I was away a lot and working long hours.  Since we have kids – although we are grateful for his salary and I appreciate how hard he works – the days/weeks/hours spent working away from home are frankly pretty hard on all of us.  His job is feast or famine.  Either he is away loads or he’s here working at home – which isn’t perfect with small children in the house either.  So anyway, I will spare you the full CV of our lives but all you need to know for the purposes of this blog post is that he’s away this week.  Not here.  In London.  I am here.  So are the kids.  So technically I am not home alone, but I am home without another person who doesn’t think that goolie bumps isn’t the best entertainment ever. (See this post for more details on goolie bumps)

*disclaimer to be inserted here – yes I am aware that there are many single mommas out there – these wonderful ladies don’t have a husband riding the London Express back on a Friday night bearing flowers (hopefully) and a willingness (hopefully) to deal with small people.  Ladies, you rock.  I have the utmost admiration.  In fact I have a suspicion that you are actually super-women who have special powers.  My hat is well and truly off to you.

There are good things about him being away.  These are that I can crank the central heating up without him moaning, I can watch whatever I want on telly and that I can arrange for whatever internet purchases I have made to be delivered while he is not here.  That’s about it. *oh and his salary and job security and all that other shizzle too*

We are trying to declutter at the moment and I am drowning in a quagmire of ebay auctions, packaging tape and charity shop collections.  How on earth we have quite so much baby stuff is entirely beyond me.  I think someone snuck it into the house and just put it straight into the loft.  I don’t even remember using half of it.  I was trying to demonstrate the double buggy in its pram/toddler setting to my friend who was buying it last week and I had no memory whatsoever of how to put it together.  In fact my memories of the first year of Mitch’s life are very vague and fuzzy.  That’s what having a husband who works away and a non-sleeping baby will do to you.  Good job I took lots of photos otherwise I would strongly suspect that I was actually in a coma for 2 years.   In many ways I suppose I was. A baby vomit stained, sleep deprived, walking zombie state.  Anyway, I am sorting out baby stuff to get rid of and as fast as I can get stuff out of the loft the boys are greeting it like long lost friends and bemoaning that we can’t sell it as they neeeeeed it, it’s their faaaaaaavourite.  Mitch, who is 4 next month, spent Sunday afternoon curled up on a baby bouncer – which he had positioned under a baby gym, drinking water from a baby bottle and saying ‘Ga Ga’ a lot.

It’s undoubtedly easier coping at home alone now they’re older.  For a start, there’s chunks of time when they’re at school at the same time so I get chance to catch up on chores/sleep/exercise/feel vaguely human again.  Last night after answering yet another dumb question from a prospective ebay buyer ‘err no it’s not PINK you can tell that from the PHOTO you utter DIMWIT, if you wanted a PINK one why have you spent an hour writing me questions and getting me to photograph it from 20 different angles.  Whatever angle I take it from it’s still not going to turn it SODDING PINK you knob’ I was putting the offending article (a buggy if you’re interested. If you’d like to buy it £45 and it’s yours.  It’s not pink) in the downstairs cupboard and trapped my hand in the door.  Bloody hell it hurt.  I took myself into the lounge and bit on a cushion, trying not to scream and/or be sick and my little Mitch came in.  I sent him off to get me some tissues and after an examination a junior house officer would be proud of ‘mummy, it is making blood on your hand’ he wandered off to the kitchen.  Then wandered off to the garden ‘Corey, Corey come and see mummy, she is making blood’ and Corey appeared to give his second opinion that yes indeed there was blood.  Still no fecking tissue though.  Then Mitch decided he needed a poo.  And that I then inevitably had to go and wipe his arse with a bleeding hand.  THAT scenario in a nutshell is why it’s crap when husband is away.

Obviously being woken up in the night AGAIN for hours on end was also less than great.  Add to that my great idea of being Sober for October in aid of my liver Macmillan and then the discovery that on the VERY FIRST NIGHT my husband had cheated and been to the pub in London and I think we can all guess what kind of fragile mental state I am in.

Another great thing about him being away is that we communicate largely through the medium of Social Media while he is AWOL.  *hi Dan, hope you’re liking this post ‘insert emoji that is wife waving to husband in an endearingly sarcastic way’* he learns of our children’s trials and tribulations through instagram and we have semi-public facebook spats when I posted  a link on facebook to this article   about being a stay at home mum and how it benefits the whole family not just the one staying at home – I liked a bit in it where she says she bakes pies to prove she has value to society.  I took that to a whole new level last week – I decided to host a Macmillan coffee morning and went into a baking overdrive that would have made Mary Berry’s perfectly coiffed head spin around and drop off.  In one day I baked snickers brownies, flapjacks, 2 massive banana loaves, 2 different types of quiche, labelled pots of home made lemon curd and finished off with a Victoria sponge.  Phew.  Just typing it makes me feel tired.  The event was great – my instagram friends and my school mum friends all muddled together nicely and we raised £120 for charity though.  I briefly basqued in the glory of being the uber-baker and then collapsed into a sugar and flour stained slump.

The snickers brownies sent my lovely IG friends into a frenzy of peanutty chocolatey lust.  I don’t think I’ve ever had so many likes on a photo so flipping quickly.  A week later and I am still getting some slightly desperate requests for the recipe.  Calm down dears.  It’s just a brownie with some snickers on top.  It is, in the manner of all things that are both sweet and slightly savoury, instantly addictive.   Just warning you.  In fact – I am entirely blaming you for the fact that I now really really want a brownie and am having to sit on my hands to stop myself from making another batch.  I obviously mean that figuratively rather than literally otherwise how the hell could I type this?

Snickers Brownies

IMG_8108 IMG_8110

1 snickers bar cut into very thin slices

peanut butter – I have never measured this – as you can tell from the above photo I just tend to put little spoonfuls on the top, about 15 that are 1/2 tsp each one?  It’s up to you

100g chocolate chips

275g softened butter or margarine (I am a big Stork fan in  cakes)

375g caster sugar

4 eggs

100g SR flour

75 g cocoa powder

pre heat oven to 160 c for fan ovens -and then line a baking tray, I use some of the silicone sheets to do this but you can use greaseproof paper or even foil.

As with all of my favourite recipes you just mix all the ingredients together and give them a good old stir/mix in the mixer.  Pour into the lined baking tray and smooth over so it covers evenly, then decorate the top with slivers of snickers bar and dollops of peanut butter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes.  Keep an eye on it as it might start to brown too much on top, if it’s looking like it’s going that way then cover loosely with foil for rest of cooking time.  It should be crusty on the top but still a bit gooey underneath.

Leave to cool in the tin and then cut into squares.

Then stuff it in your face until you feel a bit sick.  Right, if anyone needs me I’m off to Tesco to buy some more snickers to make another batch.

Slow cooked Boston Baked Bean and Sausage stew

This is basically slightly posher baked beans with sausages in.  Which I used to like as a kid but now I can’t help but feel somewhat suspicious of what is in those teeny tiny frankfurter sausages.  If it was indeed pigs that died to make those sausages I really don’t think they were happy pigs snuffling round a farm being fed turnips lovingly by a ruddy faced farmer called Andrew.  I’m not saying that is exactly how the pigs which made my sausages grew up.  I’m not sure that they were particularly happy about a trip to the abbatoir to be turned into tasty sausagey goodness for my eating pleasure.  But hopefully they were reasonably OK up until that point.  I used organic sausages to make this.  But of course, any bangers will do.

Increasingly I’m getting more into buying organic fruit and veg.  Of course, I do have concerns about the environment and animal welfare but I have to be honest my main reason for buying it is the taste.  I’ve pretty much been consistently disappointed with supermarket meat and veg recently. I’m lucky in that I live near an excellent green grocer and a farm shop.  I’ve also started getting an Abel & Cole veg box delivered.

Last time I dabbled with getting an organic veg box was when I was weaning Corey, about 5 years ago.  I was determined that he would have the best most tasty baby food ever.  He enjoyed a varied diet of the cream of the veg box crop and we ended up eating a lot of kale.  And kale wasn’t even trendy then.  The only person who even pretended to like it then was Gwyneth Paltrow.  Nowadays the world and his healthy wife are scoffing kale and making smoothies from it and pretending they like it.  I have been really impressed with the Abel & Cole boxes though – in a month of getting them we have used every last thing each week without many extra trips to the supermarket or greengrocers and everything has been of the highest quality.  There seems to always be an offer on too so overall  I really don’t think it works out more expensive.  Obviously it does if you normally buy the more value ranges or shop in Lidl.  But for equivalent quality I think its not bad value at all.

Anyway, back to the sausage stew.  We actually ended up having this twice last week.  Once as a prototype version for just the two of us one night then at the weekend I made a huge vat of it for us and our friends who came round for dinner.  It was the perfect friends for supper dish – tasty, filling, not time critical and I served it with a crusty baguette sliced up and some runner beans from the garden.  I did make a kids version at the same time which was essentially the same but with less of the spices.

Like I say, this made a massive vat of the stuff – but we are all pretty greedy so it fed 4 adults and 4 kids with some leftovers.  Not many leftovers admittedly.  But if you want it to stretch further you could do some jacket spuds with it.  Or just be less greedy than us.

I think this would be a fab bonfire night meal.


Warming stew

Warming stew



As many sausages as you think you’ll need – I used about 16 (didn’t actually count them)

1 large onion roughly chopped

2 tins of baked beans

1 tin other beans (I used kidney beans)

Use the empty tin to fill up with cold water too

3 rashers of smoked bacon or a handful of smoked pancetta cubes

4 cloves of garlic

2 sticks of celery finely chopped

1 pepper chopped quite big

3 tbsp. tomato puree

3 tbsp. soft dark brown sugar

1 tbsp. Worcester sauce

3 tbsp. cider vinegar

1 tbsp. wholegrain mustard

1 bay leaf

bit of olive oil


I cooked all of this in my massive le creuset casserole dish.   I love it because you can brown things on the hob in it first – but if you don’t have one just use a frying pan then dump everything into a casserole dish.

Preheat oven to 165 mins.

Brown the sausages in the pan and set aside.  I had to do this in batches.

Fry the chopped onion and bacon for a couple of minutes.  Add the celery and pepper and fry for a minute.  Add all of the other ingredients (including the tin of water).

Give it a good old stir and then whack in the oven for around 90 minutes.  I then take the lid off and cook uncovered for about another 15 mins so that the sausages on the top get a good old colour on them.

The photos above are from when I made a smaller version for just us in the week – I stirred some spinach in just before serving.  I was going to do this when we had guests too but I had drunk Cava and so promptly forgot!





Bonkers for conkers

Like so many things – there’s the Hollywood version of Autumn and the real life version of Autumn. In the Hollywood version there’s a lot of perfect weather where it is just cold enough for a jumper and scarf yet not quite cold enough for a coat, there’s a lot of kicking through perfectly crunchy leaves, pumpkins abound, there’s campfires, there’s hot chocolate with whipped cream on and wonderful Halloween Parties where the whole house is made to look like a scary castle.

I’m not entirely sure that we in England got that Autumn memo. Weather so far has been unseasonably warm and sandals have been lingering on for way longer than we expected. Which does mean that I can crow to my husband that actually I was right and my Saltwaters were an absolute BARGAIN and even though yes, technically, £55 is a lot for a pair of sandals I have worn them every minute of every day from May to September so actually they were virtually free and therefore I will need them in another colour next summer too. (I will have to figure out a way to phrase this argument so as not to dent my annual arguments about why it is NEVER POSSIBLE TO HAVE TOO MANY BOOTS and I will never ever throw a pair away again and no I don’t care that eventually the entire loft will be full of old boots. It is simply not possible to have either enough or too many boots. On this I will not be swayed). I have every confidence that the weather will shortly morph from this unseasonably warm straight into wet and cold. Not the kind of Hollywood rainy shower that is kind of unexpected and fun to run through, holding our coats over our heads and looking all flushed and winsome. No, we are talking the type of rain that is grey. Relentless. Miserable. There’s not much more soul destroying than rainy Manchester in November. No-one on the entire planet enjoys a wet school run.

Yesterday was a nice crispy Autumn day and we went out in the woods and the kids played in the falling leaves. It was pretty perfect. Of course, we spent much of the journey home sniffing suspiciously at a foul smell and then discovered that said leaves had concealed a dog turd Cujo would have been proud of and my husband spent a ‘merry’ half hour cleaning the shite off the tiny trainers in the garden upon our return.

The boys are mad on conkers. Must admit that not much in life makes me more excited than finding a perfect brown shiny conker. It’s up there with finding sea glass but without the added benefit of being at the beach. If you live in Manchester the very very best location for conker hunting is the Southern Cemetery in Chorlton. It is the very mecca of conker hunting, they’re everywhere. It’s also a surprisingly nice place to have a walk. In a gothic kind of a way. It did lead to some interesting theological discussions with Corey ‘mummy in those graves are skeletons aren’t there’ ‘yes’ ‘but not the people’ ‘no their person or soul is somewhere else’ ‘oh yes I already know that mummy, their skins are all floating round in space aren’t they’. Conkers are ace. They’re brown and shiny and lovely to hold. But what to do with them when you get them home? They don’t keep their shine very long and sit in boxes going slightly mouldy. Or in our case they get used as assault weapons between the boys and left where you least expect them just so I fall arse over tit when I get in the shower or try to walk out of the back door. Do kids actually string them on strings and play conkers anymore? Personally my kids seem to be having enough success throwing them at each others heads without encouraging any formal competitive warfare.

I’m not a complete Autumn killjoy. I’m liking the fact I can run outside without wanting to melt, I love me a pair or 500 of boots, I’m also liking the rediscovery of my jumpers and coats.

But it’s still sad to me that summer is gone. Summer is just a lot better than Autumn. People only really go on about Autumn because Winter is crap. No-one really likes winter. Being cold is crap. Christmas is expensive and fraught with family dispute. Dark and cold is crap. Sunny and light is good. Autumn is just somewhere in between. But as I posted last week, hopefully Autumn can be a time of new beginnings too.

From this Autumn, I am trying to actually stick to blogging and writing regularly and hopefully I shall bore entertain you on a Monday with a blog post each week. Banish those Monday blues maybe with a squizz at my waffle? Well, that’s the theory anyway. I also have a theory that I will spend the day on Thursday writing my book. Yes, the book which is currently 2 chapters long. I’m thinking it needs to be longer than that. Of course, this last Thursday I ended up moping around with PMT, working out at the gym and baking a massive chocolate cake. All therapeutic in their own way but none of them actually really getting me nearer my goals.

A few years ago I read the book ‘The Secret’ which basically says if you visualise/say out loud good things happening to you then they will happen. I’m not sure that I completely buy into the concept. For instance if I write ‘tomorrow morning the post man will bring me a cheque for £1,000 in the post’ I don’t actually believe it will happen. But according to the theory that’s why it won’t happen, because I don’t really believe it will and that by voicing my negativity I have already scuppered it.

I do believe that positivity generates good things. Whenever I’m having a meh phase things always get a bit more meh as a result. I suppose I do agree that voicing doubts, even to yourself, can influence the outcome. I was really upset last week at a falling out with a friend – but actually when I stop to think about it I had been talking about the friendship falling apart this year months and months ago, so whilst I was upset at the time I don’t know why as it was hardly unexpected.

So, the theory of writing more regularly isn’t just a theory. It’s GOING TO HAPPEN. I WILL FINISH MY BOOK. I WILL BLOG REGULARLY. I would love it if you’d read and give me feedback. As my book progresses I am going to need lots of input from you guys. Recipes that are tried and tested favourites with your children, anecdotes that will resonate with readers. Come on. I’m going to make this happen.

I’m visualising it now. My book. Finished. Being read and enjoyed by people. I will also have to break the news to my husband that in the visions I am wearing a kick-ass new pair of boots. Actually I have several – some casual ‘I’m an author don’t you know’ pair of desert boots and for the book launch some rather special high black patent ones. Just so he knows.

Indian Summer – Creamy curried sweet potato soup

I’m sure that the nature of holidays with children is well documented in the blogosphere.  Probably.  I’m a bit too lazy to actually go and look.  But as with all things online and parenting related I am finding that blogs fall into a few rather predictable patterns.  Many seem to be totally review focussed

* We went to [insert name of random resort] and it was all WONDERFUL (by that they mean free) and the kids had a FANTASTIC time because they had this SUPERB toy to play with that is loads better than ANY OTHER TOY EVER (because it was free) and although on the face of it you might assume that is just as pointless and plasticky as all other toys on the market and in fact that the kids didn’t like it as they hadn’t chosen it and it is not particularly pertinent to their interests, well if you assume that you’d be wrong.  No holiday is complete without one.  It kept the kids amused for at least 5 seconds.  And no, how very dare you suggest that I bribed the kids with haribo to get them to hold up the said (free) toy and smile as if all their teeny tiny Christmasses had come at once.  We all had a wonderful time with our free things and in fact life is wonderful [please PR folk give me more free stuff, more I tell you, I will never ever say a bad word about anything you care to send]*

Or the very very wholesome parenting blogs……..

*We spent the school holidays making spelt muffins and doing yoga together in fields during nature rambles*

Ideas for what to do in the school holidays abound.  Some of them great, some of them naff, some cheap, some stupidly expensive.  I started writing this on the very last day of the school holidays.  It was a strange limbo day as whilst it is officially the start of the school term the teachers feel the need for a day without children in school.  Personally I would have thought that children being there was a pre-requisite for the functionality of a school and that over 5 weeks of annual leave in one chunk would be more than enough to make sure that their classrooms were tidy and that they’d caught up with what they and their colleagues had done over the summer.  I can’t actually think of another job where you come back from holiday and then announce that you’ll come in to the office but won’t actually do the job you’re paid to for another couple of days thank you very much.  Sorry to my teacher friends…….. actually no, I’m not.  I know enough of you to know for a fact that inset days are a right old skive.

So, the school holidays are now officially over.  The teachers finally got their act together and let the kids go back to school and instagram and facebook have been full of shiny photos of children in shiny school uniforms holding up carefully written signs and pronouncing what they would like to be when they are older.  Status updates have veered between the tearful ‘oh I miss my baaaaaaabies, why have they grown up and left meeeeee’ and the ‘thank feck that ordeal of non-stop child entertainment is over and I can lie in a darkened room with a gin & tonic in a can and a family size bar of galaxy’.

Like I’ve said, I started writing a fortnight ago and it was meant to be a reflective piece about how we had spent the halcyon summer holidays.  Of course, real life intervened and husband got a stomach bug, both children got colds, I ran a 10k race (check me out!) and then I promptly got said cold.  So in between wiping snotty noses and using the entire Cheshire supply of dettol around the house there hasn’t been a whole lot of blogging (or indeed anything) time.  In fact the whole summer holiday thing seems like an entirely distant idea that may or may not have actually happened and may or may not have had, on the whole, more ups than downs.

Ups – we survived it, we saw lots of friends, the boys made a summer holiday plan of things they wanted to do and we ticked most things off it, we found lots of free activities to do, we had a lovely week in Norfolk and a wet week in Dorset and a visit to London, I went to Harrods, I drank wine or a suitable alcoholic equivalent every day for 6 weeks.

Downs – the boys learnt how to squabble and irritate each other big time, I was utterly exhausted for the majority of the holiday with what seemed like an inordinately large increase in shopping/cooking/ferrying around, I gave up even attempting to keep the house in any other state than terminally messy by the second week and it still looks like that now, my husband ate the cake I bought in Harrods, I drank wine or a suitable equivalent every day for 6 weeks and have continued this into September.

The dust is now settling, the boys are adjusting to new school routines, I am getting used to the varied schedule and whilst our livers are a little jaded our sniffles and coughs have abated to acceptable levels.  Autumn is as much of a time of new beginnings as Spring I guess.  I’m hoping that I will finally have the time to get cracking with writing my book, really carry on with getting fit and develop lots of healthy and yummy recipes. Who knows, I might even write coherent blog posts!

Naturally the same weather gods who think it’s hilarious to watch families shivering in cagoules and jeans in the drizzle on Bournemouth beach on bank holiday Monday think it’s pretty darn funny to crack open the sunshine once the kids are back in school.  So, although our heads say it’s Autumn and there’s things like conkers, apples and leaves on the ground – it’s also sunny and warm and not really Autumn food weather yet.

But in the interests of a halfway house I’ve cooked this soup for lunch.  It’s warming but still has that curry, exotic, sunny taste.  Hope you like it.  Well they do call this an Indian Summer, right????

Creamy curried sweet potato soup



1 onion chopped roughly

500g sweet potato peeled and chopped into medium size chunks

1 carrot peeled and chopped into similar size to sweet potato

100g red lentils

2tbsp of korma paste (I used waitrose own brand)

1.5 litres of hot water

50g creamed coconut (the dried kind that comes in a box) (or you could use a tin of coconut milk and reduce the water amount accordingly)

Salt and pepper to season


In a little oil fry off the onion for a few minutes then add the sweet potato and carrot and fry off for another couple of minutes.  Add the curry paste and cook for another minute or so.  Add the hot water, lentils and creamed coconut.  Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes (until the veg is cooked through)


I use a stick blender in the pan to whizz the soup smooth but you can use a food processor or any blender.


This makes loads of soup and it’s pretty filling so serves a lot of people.  Leftovers freeze well too.
I served it for the grown ups with a bit or sriracha drizzled on top.  My 3 year old liked it with bug hunks of bread dunked in.IMG_7845.JPG