Mini’s Harry Potter Themed Birthday – Party Food

This is the last of 3 posts describing how we threw a really easy, quick and cheap Harry Potter-themed party for Mini Minx’s 7th birthday. I’ve already told you about how we prepared for the party and what activities and games we did during the party. This post describes my favourite bit – the food!

Again, to give it a bit of context: this amount of food was for 10 little girls aged around 6 years old. It was just right – there were some leftovers, but not much.

Birthday Tea – Usual Party Food. We made up the usual plates of food (and I’ll detail them below in case this is the first birthday party you’ve thrown and you’re not sure about amounts!) Another ‘usual’ that we did was a Rainbow Plate.

I’m sorry this photo is so lame – the only other photo of it has 20 hungry little hands over it and identifiable faces

Rainbow Plates have been a staple at Family Trout birthdays and all parties since the very first one. I initially made one up because I thought it would look pretty and would appeal to kids who actually like fruit and veg. It’s now appeared at around 20 birthdays since, and is always the first plate of food to be finished entirely. I think that’s enough anecdata to make the case that it’s as essential to the Birthday Party Table as the Birthday Cake itself.

All that was left. I think the girls enjoyed it!

They’re really easy to make: just layer different coloured fruit and veg in their rainbow colours. Our birthdays are all in early Spring, so we don’t have that many brightly-coloured fruit and vegetables to choose from. Nevertheless, Mini’s plate this year contained strawberries and tomatoes, carrot sticks, cocktail sticks of pineapple and cheese chunks (we couldn’t find any yellow peppers or other yellow items at all!), green grapes, cucumber slices, blueberries, black grapes and raspberries.

Yes, that much fruit and veg doesn’t come cheap, but I promise you that it’ll all be eaten.

13 storyteller

Midi wearing Professor Fishface’s story-scarf (!) and regaling the younger kids with stories while we ate

So, what do I mean by ‘usual’ party food?

  • 15 cocktail sausages
  • 15 sausage rolls
  • plate of cream cheese sandwiches (made with 8 rounds of white and brown bread)
  • ham sandwiches (made with 8 rounds of white and brown bread)
  • plate of 10 satsumas
  • bowl of 4 packets of Pombear crisps
  • bowl of 4 packets of Space Invaders
  • plate of Party Ring biscuits
  • bowl each of jelly and cream

We also had a jug of water with slices of fruit bashed into it, fruit juice, and ‘special fizzy pop’…

8 drinksBirthday Tea – Special Party Food. Some of the labels that I printed off for activities were huge. I decided to stick them over the labels of the fizzy pop I had for the party. They went down a wee treat! You’ll get the labels via the links in my previous post. Here’s a Word version of 3 that are big enough to stick on 750ml bottles of pop: drink labels

Lots of online Harry Potter-themed parties have plates of Golden Snitches because they are soooo easy. They also kept my 3 over-excited daughters occupied for 20 minutes making them! I printed the wing shapes that were a free printable from this blog post on a sheet 7 golden snitchesof A4, then got 2 minxes to carefully cut them out whilst the 3rd minx stuck them on to the Ferrero Rocher sweets with a blob of PVA glue (removing and replacing the sticker dots was just too much of a faff when your party starts in half an hour) and stacked them on a plate.

3 candles

Mini’s Cake

Birthday Cake. I’ve done the birthday cake as a separate post because I wanted to go into a lot of detail of how to do it. But I baked and constructed it entirely that morning, so don’t feel that it’s a huge deal. Though if I ever made it again, I’d do it the night before…! Sometimes cutting things fine is just a tad too stressful…

The Aftermath.  So, first question: what was that cake like? Actually, even though I say so myself, it was delicious! 1 inside cake  By the time the sun set that day, we’d given away or eaten the entire cake. It was such a hit that I suspect it will feature in a fair few more of my 3 book-worms’ future birthday parties.

00 pink gin

Professor Fishface out of robes and enjoying a very well-earned gin with the equally hard-working and eternally patient Prof Baldy (photographer and gin-mixer)

0 sunset

Beautiful sunset that night to top everything off

 

 

Mini’s Harry Potter Themed Birthday – the Cake

Yes, OK, strictly speaking this is the 4th of 3 posts (!) detailing a quick, easy and really fun party that we threw for Mini Minx’s 7th birthday party. Well… 3 and a half: this is the birthday cake part of the post about the party food.

I made the entire cake on the morning of the party. What with also supervising the prepping for the activities and helping with decorations, etc., I was very lucky that it all turned out ok, especially as I started making the cake without a real idea of how it would turn out. I really, really recommend that you do the cake the night before! I’ve written this tutorial in case you’d like to do the same kind of cake and would prefer knowing at the start what the finished item will look like! I hope it helps.

So, you really need to read how I put together her original birthday cake: the Hermione G ranger-themed cake because all the techniques and steps I used are described there.

  1. Follow Step 1 of the linked Hermione Granger-themed Cake post to make a big cake board. It needs to be big enough to hold a 23cm square cake and a loaf cake beside it, plus plenty of space all around.

  2. Instead of making 2 loaf cakes at Step 2, I made a big 6-egg square Madeira Cake and a plain chocolate loaf cake. I wanted cakes that had a bit of substance to them because I felt that basic sponge cakes would be too lightweight.

    Big Madeira Cake:
    Ingredients
    225g butter
    225g caster sugar
    6 eggs, beaten
    300g plain flour
    15ml / 1 Tablespoon baking powder
    grated rind of a lemonMethod:
    a. Grease and line a 23cm square tin. Set the oven to 180degC / 350degF / gas 4.
    b. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s really pale and fluffy. This takes longer than you think! About 5 mins in a mixer. Gradually add the eggs, still beating.
    c. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then fold into the creamed mix. Stir in the grated lemon rind. Spoon into the tin.
    d. Bake for about 1hr 10 or until cooked through and firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.Plain Chocolate Loaf Cake:
    Ingredients
    175g plain flour
    50g cocoa
    10ml / 2 tsp baking powder
    2.5ml / ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    150g sugar (any sugar; I used light brown caster sugar because it needed using up)
    2 eggs
    75g butter, melted
    250ml milk

    Method
    a. Grease and flour a 23 x 13 x 7.5cm loaf tin. Set oven to 180degC/350degF/gas 4.
    b. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarb together. Stir in the sugar.
    c. Beat the eggs into the melted butter and milk. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and stir lightly.
    d. Spoon / pour into the tin and bake for about 45 – 55 mins till cooked through. Cool on a wire rack.


  3. Make up a double batch of buttercream using 2 blocks of unsalted butter (500g), 4 cups of icing sugar, and my all-time favourite method of making Whipped Buttercream Icing.

  4. Turn the cold Madeira Cake into a single, closed book:
    a. Anchor the cake to the right-hand half of the cake board with a smear of whipped buttercream icing. Then slice it in half and spread a thick layer of apricot jam in the middle.
    b. Cover 3 sides of the cake with more whipped buttercream icing and use rolled-out white fondant icing and brushed cocoa to make ‘pages’ as per Steps 8-10 of the Hermione Cake tutorial.
    c. Cover the remaining side and top of the cake with whipped buttercream icing and place rolled-out coloured fondant icing over it to form a top cover and spine. I used a mix of red and white fondant icing because I was running out… Roll out a long sausage of more coloured fondant icing and place along the bottom edge of the white ‘pages’ to look like the bottom cover of the book showing, as per Step 11.

    See the spine detail and the bound pages fanning away from the spine cover of the pink book? I bet you can do a far better job than that! I was really stressing about the time at that stage.

    d. Decorate the spine with fake gold lines and details (yellow fondant icing) if you like or just leave blank, as you’ll barely see it. I also pressed in the cake a little between the pages and spine to make it look like bound pages curving away from the spine, and ‘shaded’ it with yet more cocoa.


  5. Make the chocolate cake ‘book’:

    See how the 3 layers of the chocolate loaf are placed? I was inspired by how the chocolate loaf top puffed up and out as it baked – it looks like the shape of partly-fanned out pages for the chocolate ‘book’.  (Well, it did to me).

    a. Split the plain chocolate loaf into 3 slices. Sandwich the bottom 2 layers with more apricot jam and whipped buttercream icing and put them beside the Madeira cake.
    b. Place the top layer on the Madeira Cake to look a bit like the open pages of the chocolate book – see photo for positioning. When you’re happy with the look, use a smear of buttercream to anchor the sandwiched layers beside the madeira ‘book’ and use a good thick layer of whipped buttercream to hold the top chocolate layer in place.
    c. Now follow Steps 7-11 of the original tutorial to make the chocolate loaf look like an open book. I used green and white fondant icing and a load more cocoa and whipped buttercream (now do you see why I made so much in the first place..?)


  6. Decorate both cakes! I used white chocolate writing icing and a pen with edible ‘ink’ that I bought 8 years ago from a fancy cake decorating shop. It’s still going strong, and is why all the detailed writing on my cakes is in a strange purple tone… I’d spotted a candelabra candle holder in a shop weeks ago that I knew Mini would love, so added some other bits and bobs to the board to make the candle candelabra look a bit more at home: a Golden Snitch that the minxes had made, and a fondant icing wand. Yes, they were all anchored there with the very last dregs of the whipped buttercream icing…

    ‘Hermione’ blows out her candles, watched by 2 of the other Hermiones


  7. Eat! It was a good cake for slicing up and putting in party bags, and the mix of plain and chocolate sponge looked great. It was completely gone within 24 hours (we Greedy Trouts had 2 slices each), so I’d say it was the perfect size for a party of 10 kids.

 

Hermione Birthday Cake Tutorial

little girls dressed up as Hermione Granger

There are worse book characters to idolise than Hermione Granger

The youngest children in all families are inevitably influenced by their older siblings, and Mini is no different. She learned to read better so that she could read her sisters’ favourite Harry Potter books. She’s such a huge fan that I am now the only one in the house who’s never read them, nor am mad-keen on everything Harry Potter.

So for her 7th birthday, Mini asked for a Harry Potter-themed birthday party (more in another post) and a birthday cake for her actual birthday that had “something to do with Hermione Granger”. Hmmmm, no challenge for this non-HP fan, then (!)

I decided to do a fairly simple book cake, and call it Hermione Granger’s Diary. I took photos of the process so that I’d remember it for her more complex birthday party cake later that week. And as a bonus, I can use them as a tutorial to show you how easy it was. Remember, I’m not a great cook or a talented cake decorator – if you take your time and follow my top tips, you’ll produce something far, far better. Please share your own hints and tips too!

Hermione cake Harry Potter

Hermione’s Diary Cake

  1. OK, start the day before by baking the cakes and preparing a cake board. Don’t bother buying a board. Just get some stiff cardboard (I cut a bit off a packaging box, but have been known to use a couple of empty cereal boxes) and cover it entirely in tin foil. This makes it look good, gives you something big enough to work on, makes the cake portable, and it’s also easy to wipe crumbs and smears off the side.

  2. Make 2 loaf-cakes and let them cool completely. Maxi suggested I make them both chocolate and orange marble cakes and so I used double the recipe at the link. I didn’t ice them with the drizzled chocolate and I didn’t use food colouring.

  3. Make up a batch of plain buttercream. I used a block of unsalted butter (250g), 2 cups of icing sugar, and my all-time favourite method of making Whipped Buttercream Icing.

  4. Using a sharp knife, cut the top off the loaves on a bit of a slant. This shapes the cakes so that they’ll look a bit like an open book when you press them together. If you were neater than me, you would cut the tops off entirely so that there are no curved edges. If you’re worried about the cakes becoming too thin, you could raise them up by slicing each loaf in 2 and filling with jam and/or cream at this point.

  5. In the interests of thrift, crumble the bits of cake you sliced off and mush them together with a spoon or 2 of buttercream. Effectively you’re making a batch of cake pops, but you’ll use it like mortar to hold the 2 loaf-cakes together.

  6. Put a smear of buttercream on your cake board and place a loaf cake on top (this will hold it down). Squish the cake-pops mortar along the side of the cake, then smear more buttercream on the board and stick the second loaf-cake to the first. Really squish the cakes together.

  7. Now cover both cakes in the rest of the buttercream. Don’t worry about getting crumbs in the icing: it really doesn’t matter because it’ll all be covered in fondant icing.

  8. Roll out some white fondant or ready-roll icing to form the pages along the sides of the cake. I used a 500g block in grand total, but you might need more or less: it depends how thinly you roll the icing. You could be extremely neat and cut them into beautiful rectangles, or you can be slap-dash like me and just wodge them on. I used the excess fondant icing to start to disguise the misshapen bits of loaf-cake, but as I said in (4) above, you could avoid that by slicing the tops neatly and more severely.

  9. Use a blunt edge (spatula, back of a long knife, etc.) along each side to make lots of page marks. The layer of buttercream under the fondant icing will help.

  10. Dip a clean paint brush in some cocoa and use it to brush the edges of the pages to make them look old and dirty. I’m not sure that Hermione’s diary would actually be so grubby, to be fair, but I wanted to try out the technique.

  11. Roll out more white icing and place over the top of the cake. Shape it with your hands so that it looks like an open page. Brush more cocoa along the edges and on the ‘pages’. Roll some coloured fondant icing (or colour the last of the white fondant icing with some food colouring) into long thin sausage shapes and place them around the edges to look like the book’s cover, peeping out from under the pages. Flatten the sausages with a flat edge on top and at the side. If you have any black icing, add a little arch in the middle of the front and back to look a bit like the empty space where the edges of the pages curve away from the book binding. (Or just brush lots of cocoa in that corner to achieve the same / a better effect).

  12. Decorate! I used a pen that writes on icing to write something, and made a bit of a bouquet of roses with a tiny bit of green fondant icing I had leftover from The Boss’s birthday cake last month and some shop-bought icing flowers. I shook some little white chocolate stars over the top to use them up (they’ve been lurking in my cupboard for too many years… I swear they’re breeding…).

  13. Add some candles and go!

3 Easy Christmas Cakes Icing Tutorials

Christmas cake iced with tree and snowflakesEvery year, starting around the end of October, my kitchen smells of Christmas cake. I bake 4 big ones, cut them up into different sized cakes, ice and decorate them, let them dry out, then send them off to brave the Royal Mail to reach relatives. So at any one time in November and early December you’ll find a glass dish full of dried fruit steeping in brandy, foiled-wrapped cakes occasionally being ‘fed’ with more brandy, and chopping boards laden with little cakes in various stages of sugar-covering, all hiding underneath a protective ceiling of foil. Oooooo, the smell is delicious!

1-xmas-cake-present11-hat-tutorialEvery year I do it and every year I mutter darkly that this’ll be the last year. But truth be told, I really enjoy making Christmas presents that I know will be eaten and not add to a mountain of plastic or clutter; I love thinking about the recipient as I finish off each cake. I know I’m not that great a cake-maker, but I think my relatives know that I make each cake with a lot of love. The trouble with me, though, is that I always leave the decorating to the last minute, so inevitably start applying royal icing before I’ve any clear idea of what I’m going to do. Trust me, inspiration rarely strikes at the right time…

This year, though, I had the foresight to look through Pinterest for ideas before I got out the marzipan. I thought I’d share my take on the ideas with you and tips on how I did them in case you’re tearing your hair out icing 9 cakes, too.

1. Tutorial to Ice a Knitted Hat Cake

Christmas Cake with Mittens by Alina Vaganova

Christmas Cake with Mittens by Alina Vaganova

I thought these little mittens on a cake looked sweet, but I’d no time to make intricate little decorations: a big hat would fit my timescale better. Here’s how I did it:

Start with your fruit cake iced already. I put a layer of marzipan and a layer of ready-to-roll icing on top of mine because I wanted to be able to smooth out the edges. If I had time (and the skills!) I’d have applied a layer of royal icing and left it to dry.

The knitted hat decoration is just coloured fondant icing. You can make your own or buy it ready-coloured and ready to roll.

0-hat-tutorial

 

Knead the coloured icing really well until it’s soft and pliable.

Take 2 golf-ball sized chunks of it and roll them into long sausages.

Twist them together into a long twirl.

Take another 2 chunks of icing and repeat, except this time twist the sausages in the other direction.

Lay the 2 twirls side by side, on a piece of baking parchment or a silicone mat. Pat them up close together until the twists match up.

 

 

 

 

 

5-hat-tutorialCut the pairs of twists to the length you want, then lay the off-cuts alongside. Cut a hat-shape out of the twists.

8-hat-tutorial

Take some white fondant icing and form it into a fat sausage, which will become the brim, and a round ball, which will become the pompom. Cut the ball in half so that you have a nice flat surface to stick to the cake.

Brush the top of your cake lightly with some cooled, boiled water. Then carefully, using a fish slice or spatula, slide the hat onto your cake. Gently pat it to shape. Put the brim at the base, covering the ends of the hat, and place the pompom half at the top. Make sure the flat side was well-moistened with water to help it stick. Either leave the white icing as it is, or mark it in some kind of texture – I pricked mine all over with a toothpick to make a vaguely furry texture because I’d no other bright ideas. (Please add a comment with your ideas so I can do a better job next year!)

9-hat-tutorialFinally, I added a little fondant icing snowflake I’d stamped out. Do this at the last minute so that it’s pliable – if you leave the snowflakes to dry out, they’ll crumble when you press them into the hat.

Leave the icing to harden for a few days before you try to post the cake.

2. Tutorial to Make a Christmas Tree Cake

The Pink Whisk's Stars and Sparkle Christmas cake

The Pink Whisk’s Stars and Sparkle Christmas cake

I was inspired by this beautifully-decorated cake from The Pink Whisk. I’ve linked to their very comprehensive instructions on how to ice and decorate a cake. If you’ve got the time, please go there – if not, then here’s how I did a much-less perfect variation:

Again, start with a fruit cake that’s already iced. I used a layer of marzipan and a layer of white ready-to-roll icing, the same as the knitted hat cake above.

Take a good chunk of coloured fondant icing and knead it until it’s very pliable and soft. Roll it out till it’s around 5mm thick. Cut it to size and shape. Lightly moisten the white icing with some cooled, boiled water, then place the coloured icing on top  (My blue icing was originally a beautiful square, but I have to tell you that I was a bit slapdash about taking it off the rolling mat and putting it on the cake – it stretched. I’d no more blue icing and it stuck a bit too well to the white icing, so I just left it and covered up the wonky edges with snowflakes).

2-xmas-cake-treeNow gently scatter whatever decorations you want on top. Get them into the places you like, using cold clean fingers (!) or the end of a paintbrush or even tweezers, then gently press them into the coloured icing. When they’re pretty well secured, use a rolling pin to gently roll over the top into a more level layer and press the decorations in even more. I used tiny white chocolate stars and some sugar stars in my Christmas tree.

Cover the edges of the coloured icing with whatever you have to hand – I stamped out some snowflakes from more of the white fondant icing. If I’d had more time, some silver balls would have looked great, or best of all, some piped swirls. Aye, maybe next year!

3. Tutorial to Ice a Present Cake

sorry, I don't know whose cake this is - I found it at www.dorafashionspace.com

sorry, I don’t know whose cake this is – I found it at http://www.dorafashionspace.com

I think the present cake is easiest of all. There are so many beautiful pictures all over Pinterest, and this one inspired me.

I covered a fruit cake with a layer of marzipan and let it dry. Then I rolled out some white fondant ready to roll icing, brushed the marzipan with cooled, boiled water and placed the icing on top. I smoothed the top and bottom edges in tightly to the cake. Then I folded the side edges in like I would with wrapping paper. What an easy way to finish off the icing – no smoothing or cutting!

Christmas cake iced like a present side viewI gently pressed in lots of little sugar balls. In hindsight I think it would have looked better with a random pattern, and making a pattern took a lot of time. But hey-ho!

I took a big chunk of pink fondant icing and kneaded it till it was soft and pliable. I rolled it out, then used a pastry cutter to cut it into strips. I brushed each strip with water, then stuck them to the top of the cake in a cross shape. I made a bow out of some strips and stuck that to the top.

Christmas cake iced like a present front viewAgain, I left the icing to harden for a few days before trusting the cake to the Royal Mail.

…………………………………………….

I’ve yet to ice our own family Christmas cake. I think I’ll leave that one for the minxes to do!

Battle of the Prinsesstartas

Ah. It seems I never got around to finishing a post last year about the cake I baked for The Boss’s birthday. Well, I did the same one this year: a Prinsesstarta. It was one of the technical challenges on Great British Bake Off a couple of years ago and made a big impression on The Boss. Every year we bake each other a birthday cake; every year I ask for super-lemony drizzle cake and every year he goes for Dundee cake. Till last year. Cackling a little too loudly, he asked for a Prinsesstarta.

Well, I’d seen it made on GBBO and had a detailed recipe. How hard could it be…?

Chuffing hard when you’ve never made a whisked genoise sponge cake or creme patisserie before… After spending all day on the bloody thing, my 2015 attempt virtually ran out the fridge (and out of the kitchen and down the street). The Boss chortled at the mess I managed to hold together with lots of marzipan, which made it lumpy and a bit like Yoda’s face, but declared the taste delicious.

A week later I was away teaching, so he got the minxes together and made another one, as a Yoda cake, to show me how it was done. And of course they were great. Harrumph! So the battle was on…

This year he asked for another Prinsesstarta. I told him to take a running jump: he was going to get a Dundee cake as usual. Secretly, though, I spent 2 whole days trying hard not to cough over it, doing a bit, lying down for a rest, then doing some more. Sod the 2 and half hours limit of GBBO! I’m strictly amateur. I made the creme pat extremely thick by cooking it for waaaaay longer than the recipe said, over a lower heat. I didn’t overwhip the cream this year. The sponge rose beautifully like a souffle because… well, I’ve no idea. Just luck this time. And because I made it in a narrower tin (8″), it was thick enough to cut into decent layers. Finally, I had leftover jam from when we foraged all those wild raspberries last year.

It was an overly-tall cake, but oh my stars, it was delicious! Worth the effort for the taste alone, never mind the happy look on The Boss’s wee face when he saw it. Still, life is too short to make another ever, ever again, that IS for sure!

Mini the Uber Minx

Today was brought to me by the word: “groggy”.

Mini Minx had had a nightmare and crawled into my bed for comfort. I don’t mind that at all, and am glad to be able to cuddle away her bad dreams. I do mind, however, when she spends the rest of the night whirling round and round like a Catherine wheel on my left, while The Boss makes a cocoon for himself out of the duvet on the right. They slept soundly; I didn’t.

When I picked Mini up from nursery, she’d made me a Valentine’s card with both “I love you” and her name chalked inside in pink, and about a million red sticker hearts pasted on the front. And she’d made her daily portrait of me in spatter-paints. Awwwwww! Melts my heart every single time. I suspect, though, that it’s because my purple hair is an easy thing to draw with the materials available to her; browny-gray would be far more difficult with standard issue nursery paints.

Anyway, we hung around the library attached to the school and I read her a quick story before it was time to pick up her sisters for a now-rare Home Lunch. I think Mini must have been as tired as me, because after the short walk home she lay on the floor like an Egyptian mummy with her arms folded, chin out, bottom lip out, and refused to sit up at table. She got short shrift from me – I’d gone all out to make Maxi’s favourite lunch: feta, garlic and oregano baked inside a half red pepper each, resting on a bowl of fried leftover rice and a ton of peas, with a drop of soy sauce, and apple juice as a treat to wash away the garlic taste. Mini tried to eat her pepper-half like toast. When I objected to her table manners, she stropped and whined and tantrummed, eventually giving in and asking me to cut it up for her. When I did, she snarled thank you, then pushed the bowl hard to the other side of the table with a pout. I told her she’d get no other food till dinner time, so to think carefully before she threw it away. She flounced off with her nose in the air, to go and torment her sisters (allegedly biting. Again. Makes my blood boil).

After dropping off Midi and Maxi at school, me and Mini had an exciting (!) afternoon of fighting with 3 beds, stripping and replacing all the bed-linen. What a wonderful opportunity for another tantrum! This one was because I refused to get her summer duvet cover out of the box in the garage (aye, that one under the other 788 boxes) and magically wash and dry it instantaneously for her to use.

By the time we’d done the return walk to school to pick up her sisters at 3.15pm, Mini was in a foul mood: hitting, snarling, whining, pulling toys off her sisters, grabbing their homework. When she smacked at me for scolding her, I bent down and eyeballed my bratty 4 yo:

Me: “Mini, you can’t keep biting your sisters and hitting me! It’s naughty and I’m not having it! No more bratty behaviour! I don’t do tantrums; never have. Stop it!”

Mini pulled away and sighed melodramatically: “But it’s soooo hard being good…”.

I might have smirked a bit…

I see your exasperation and I raise you 2 finger-bogeys. I win!

I see your exasperation and I raise you 2 finger-bogeys. I win!

On a cooking roll, I made Korean slow-cooker beef, with rhubarb and semolina cake. Not together. Obviously. Beef cake would be hideous. Beefcake, on the other hand… Speaking of which, The Boss’s stomach was in ecstasy eating that lot, mine was pretty happy, Midi thought it was just a little snack-ette, Maxi refused it all (pale, complaining of sore tummy, was shortly thereafter showered, hugged and in bed), and Mini used it as yet another opportunity to establish her will.

“It too spicy! It burning my whole mouth off!” she roared. Trust me: this girl eats garlic with most meals, so a 2-clove garlic meal, with half a tiny chili and a single thumb of ginger divided 5 ways is definitely not too spicy. She stropped when she realised we were serious that she had to eat at least all her beef and all the veg before she could have some of the cake she’d baked with me. Poorly Maxi was already tucked up in bed before Mini quickly relented at her final chance to eat cake before it was packed away in the fridge for the night.

I didn’t get a chance to scold her some more, though – Maxi had a sudden meltdown over knocking over a little blue pot of mine that used to hold my paintbrushes nearly 20 years ago. It fell off her shelf, boinked on her head, and smashed on her bedhead. I explained that I’d much rather the pot was smashed than her little head, and that I wasn’t angry (Jeezo, just the opposite: I’m desperate to do some major decluttering, but need to wait till they’re all out the house to sneak it out to the 2-week quarantine of the Cooling Off Area in the garage). Still, this was a disaster of the worst kind to my little 8 yo. I suspect a lot of it was because she felt ill, and perhaps some delayed reaction from last week: half her class were away for a few days on a trip, and the break in routine disturbed her enormously. We’d talked about it and anticipated it, but it still upset and unsettled her while they were away and over the weekend. Maybe the resumption of normality with their return today hit her hard, too? I don’t know. It’s easy to just say she’s being a Drama Queen, but I’m starting to spot that most of these wailing sessions tend to have triggers.

So, anyway, after all that I was really looking forward to a precious one-hour of knitting in front of Broadchurch tonight. Mini had other ideas. She kept running in and out, wanting her dolly tucked up, herself tucked up, her dolly dressed in a blanket like a toga; no, like a dress; no, like a sarong. She’s pretty astute about knowing just when I’m about to blow my lid, and usually picks that time to announce “Mummy, I love you allawaytoamoo nanback, hundred time” (Mummy, I love you all the way to the moon and back a hundred times). Anticipating it, I kissed her and said:

Me: “Good night, Mini! Last time! Bed!! I love you all the way to the moon and back a hundred times”.

Mini: “I love you more” (coquettish smile)

Me: “No, I love you more. To the moon and back the long way, infinite times”

Mini: “No, I love you more – I love you all the way to South Africa!”

Well, by golly, that is a very long way indeed. What a lucky mummy I am!

Cutie Pie

It’s winter, so I’m on a massive bake- and preserve-athon. Every year I say I won’t do it, and every year my greed overrules my mind.

It was all the fault of my local farm shop, What’s For Tea Tonight? Marie, the owner, had made a beautiful display of seville oranges and lemons that tempted me from their huge basket, backed with printouts of a good recipe for marmalade.

“Oh, go on”, I crumbled, “I’ll just have a cheeky wee 700g of oranges”.

That made 5 jars-worth of marmalade. As it always does, the heavenly smell of the marmalade cut through the stuffiness of the indoors-smell all houses seem to fill up with in winter. It also cut through a horrible cold I have. And after 6 years of making it every January, I finally made a fairly epic-free batch of marmalade that set, without chopping bits off my fingers, burning anything, spilling anything, setting fire to anything, swearing at the jam thermometer, smashing the set-testing saucer, etc. etc. So I had to make some more! I meant to make red grapefruit marmalade, because 1 big fruit makes 2 neat jars, but with one thing and another I ended up making citrus marmalade: red and pink grapefruit, lemon and blood orange. It ended up quite gently set, but oh my word, it’s a good batch! 5 jars again, and beautifully tangy and aromatic.

So then that set off my cravings for cupcakes. I’ve been thinking of cupcakes a lot. I’d love

Your mother's hungry - better ice another 20

Your mother’s hungry – better ice another 20

to teach the nursery kids more cake recipes, but am sticking to the brief of mostly going for healthy recipes. So I’m fantasizing a lot about really unhealthy, dirty, stuff-em-in-your-cakehole cupcakes. I baked 2 batches of peanut butter cupcakes last week alone. The Boss and the minxes made a fairly runny nutella icing that was far too sweet and sickly for the gorgeous cupcakes. It didn’t satisfy the craving at all, so I had to make another batch so I could try a dark fudge thick icing. Oh yes, lots better!

With my cold not shifting and growing into a horrible cold sore, I sulked and so me and Mini baked a big clootie dumpling yesterday. It’s perfect for baking with children because it’s literally measure out a long list of dry ingredients into a bowl, mix them all together, then bind them with milk, bung in a muslin, then boil for 5 hours. The dumpling swelled to about double its original size and was much lighter than it looks. I grated clementine peel into it instead of orange peel and the flavour really cuts through all the thick cinnamon and gingery spice. Delicious! We polished the lot off after dinner and lunch today, along with an entire vat of custard and cream.

cutie dumplingOh, and Mini’s christened it ‘Cutie Dumpling’ because she misheard ‘clootie’. I definitely prefer her version!

Next up in the kitchen will be some lemon and ginger marmalade and maybe another Delaware Pudding (I’m seeing that suet is featuring highly in my cravings right now…). Before I do, are there any recipes you fancy sharing with me or getting?

A Day in the Life of Mini

After my last little rant, please don’t shoot me, but… yes, there are some serious perks to being a stay-at-home mum. Today I relished one of them.

I’m not sure why, but in our village some people have gotten together and opened up the Village Hall from now till Hallowe’en for a few hours on Tuesdays to serve tea and cakes for a donation. It’s not normally my kind of thing (I’m shy and antisocial), but we’re still new and it’s a great way to meet people. Not brave enough to go on my own, I’d not been planning to go. On a whim, I left the cleaning and tidying, and prepping for some craft teaching I’m doing to pay for the new washing machine (!!), and decided to go with little Mini Minx. She’s always up for meeting new people. She found her favourite satin handbag, put her library card in it, and skipped round the corner with me for a little Mummy-Daughter afternoon tea.

plate of iced empire biscuits

Vampire Biscuits. Always make me and Mini miss our friend Margot, and the brilliant blethers we had over coffee and cake before we moved.

Well, the ladies and gent in there were lovely, engaging us in conversation as we scoffed some homemade goodies. Mini admired the hand embroidered and crocheted tablecloth, but quickly got bored at me daring to talk to someone else other than her. Still, it was such a treat! I warned Mini not to tell her sisters or Daddy in case they’d be jealous. But one of the ladies gave me 3 doggy bags of delicious traybakes to take home for them, so we were rumbled. I guess it’s going to have to be our Tuesday routine now: abandon elder 2 for sports before school, back for a quiet Mini-and-me breakfast, school and nursery with home lunch in the middle, library after school, tea and cake on the way home, homework. I think Tuesday is going to be my favourite day of the week!

Mini is also turning into a devious little sausage. About 4.45pm, as I was furiously stabbing a leg of lamb and shoving garlic into it (late. Too long on Facebook. Dinner Fail), she waggled a big coin in my face. What’s that? Where did you find it?

“I foun’ it on a pavement”, she whispered. “Don’ tell my sisters!” looking all conspiratorial.

I asked her where exactly and when. Turns out she’d spotted it in the road on the walk home while I was shepherding all 3 vaguely into the same piece of space-and-time, had picked it up and put it in her pocket, and “I smile about it all afternoon, Mummy, and I stroked it”. Hmph! A future bank robber when she grows up? “Mummy, can I put it in my piggy bank and make you rich?” Manipulative minx!

An hour ago she woke up with another night terror. I thought we’d sorted them out: every night when I go to check on her, I wake her up slightly about 2 hours after she falls asleep. Tonight she caught me out by having a terror an hour and a half after falling asleep. As usual, she stood on her bed, wailing in terror, lost in her own little world. As usual she ran to the corner of the room and back a few times, screaming. I know not to hold her or stop her, because it seems to make her worse (I guess it translates to something holding her back in her nightmare). So I just gently held her hand, as usual, and whispered the usual ineffectual stuff like, “There, there… it’s ok… Mummy’s here”.

grumpy miniAnyway, all of a sudden, she got very cross. Her brow wrinkled, she balled her hands into fists, and she marched back and forth across her bedroom in strident anger. She sat back down on her bed again, staring through me. “Oh”, I commented, “You’re very angry now!” She suddenly launched herself at me, flung her arms around my neck and accepted a big cuddle. I tucked her back in bed with a soft toy as she rubbed the care label in her nightie and fell asleep with her eyes open.

Mini has the most volatile, scary temper I’ve ever experienced. If she’s suddenly getting mad at her demons, then I’m delighted. I wish I could see inside her little head!

PS my favourite quote from today – she wanted “smashed-up eggs” for breakfast, and she wanted to make them herself. Intrigued, I let her. Scrambled eggs. She wanted scrambled eggs! She’s so violent…

Nursing Deja Vu

Still not much sleep – Mini was in and out of my bed all night long. I had to wake her at 0830hrs, so she wouldn’t end up ‘jet-lagged’, and I was so tired that I cancelled all my plans that involved driving. After yesterday, I banned the TV going on at all today. Perfect baking day, then!

Midi and I made a huge Dundee cake to take to some relatives. “Well, we nearly live in Dundee”, reasoned the ever-logical Maxi. That was fine, but I miscalculated how long it would take to bake. Alas, it meant lunch would be nearly an hour later than usual. Och well, that would give me lots of time to make home-made houmous and naan breads, and chop up some veg for dips.

While I was faffing around with that, the minxes decided they were fed up with loom-band crafting and drawing and wanted to run around the garden for a bit. Excellent! I coated Little Miss Alabaster-Crisp-In-10-Seconds in sunblock, nagged them all to put on sunhats, and insisted that they wear sandals or shoes. Four times I told Mini to “put something on your feet!” and asked her sisters to help me out by sweeping the sharp stones off the pathways and grass and back onto the gravel-bed things around the house.

In perfect synchronicity, the washing machine, oven and dishwasher were beeping at me, demanding attention. I ignored the 3 little humans demanding attention and went in to remove a cake from the oven, whack the grill onto ‘Nuclear’ and put the naan breads under it.

I watched the heavy, metal oven tray warp and twist under the fiery grill. Good grief… The naans puffed up and toasted beautifully. I put the first 2 under a tea-towel and got the 3rd under. Just as Midi came rushing into the kitchen yelling that her sister was bleeding.

Mini hobbled / hopped in to the kitchen, fat drops of blood dripping off her big toe. I turned off the grill and searched in vain for somewhere to put the stupid oven tray. Nowhere (the table was covered in loom bands and paper; the baking and cooking dirty dishes were on every other surface). I sat her on a stool and grabbed a square of kitchen roll. I gave her toe a quick check for foreign objects then pressed the piece of roll to her toe.

“Midi, come over here and be a nurse: press this onto Mini’s toe for a few minutes. Don’t let go. Not too hard. Hold her heel up high for her. Gently. Right. No-one move!”

Then I spent the 5 minutes it took the blood to stop finishing the stupid naan breads and trying to remember where I’d hidden the steri-strips. I was sure I’d not seen them when I’d patched up The Boss’s finger. Mini told me she’d trodden on a stone on her bare feet. So all those warnings and orders to put the shoes on were for nothing. She screamed blue murder when I cleaned up her foot in the bath. She shrieked at the Germolene. She roared when I made a steri-strip out of a roll of leukosilk. She sobbed at the sight of the Omnifix coming out the cupboard. All patched up and kissed better, she pouted that she still didn’t want to wear sandals and that her toe dressing wasn’t good enough to be able to run around outside on in bare feet.

Give.Me.Strength.

Still, it gave me the opportunity to shower praise on Midi for being a lovely nurse to her sister, and to Maxi for helping me clear the kitchen right after lunch (they liked the naans and veg, but hated the boiled eggs and houmous). Lots of days I get fed up with my own voice nagging and scolding.

I am the contrariest kid on the entire planet, and don't you forget it!!

I am the contrariest kid on the entire planet, and don’t you forget it!!

I hauled 2 huge garden tubs-worth of weeds out the lawn-edges, then I hoovered a beach-load of Orkney sand out the car, and used 3 buckets of water and Flash to wipe down the inside. It was truly minging! And I’d cleaned it thoroughly the day before we went on holiday. I tried to let Midi and Maxi loose to clean the outside of the car, but got irritable and bossy as I saw the time to dinner ticking down and they’d managed to clean a single car door window. Mini wanted to clean her scooter, but did a George (Peppa Pig’s squeally brother) whine at not being allowed near the hose. She pretty much whined or squealed the rest of the afternoon and evening.

I think we *all* need an early night. I need to be alert to properly enjoy seeing sunny, happy Mini once more!