So…

As children we feel that life is ours to keep. That we are invincible, that love is easy to find, that living is easy, fun and carefree. Our minds are inquisitive and full of wonder.

As adults we find that living isn’t easy, fun and carefree, that love doesn’t find us at a click of our fingers and that people are definitely not invincible.

But we have to be strong and be there for those who need us in whatever form they want because that is living – sharing yourself when the chips are down, loving unconditionally, being there.

Living isn’t about material haves. Living is about those things you can’t touch but feel in your heart.

 

Expect to see more in future!

IMG_20150403_153340LOOK, look what I have been given for my birthday! Yes, I’m 40 next month and to ease the pain my lovely mum has bought me a Kitchenaid stand mixer!

Mingo The Mixer arrived 2 hours ago and so far I have made brownies and now a white bloomer is kneading.

Diet?  What diet?  If Nigella can rock her curves then so can I!

What shall I make next?  Do I need the mincer attachment,  what about a different whisk? It’s all so exciting!

Ali x

Well, Shazbot!

I imagine most of the western world has heard of the untimely passing of the great Robin Williams by now.  It’s so sad and hard to believe that someone you grew up laughing with has now gone. He made us laugh, made us cry and now he has made us think.

Depression is a cruel disease, stripping away your joy, your love of anything and everything. Taking away your life. You tend to exist, not live when depression takes hold, everyday tasks become huge obstacles and if something unexpected should happen, something as small as a friend knocking on the door, it throws everything off kilter.

I spent 15 years on antidepressants. At some points in these years I was doing just fine and no one would know, at other points during this time I wouldn’t leave the house, answer the phone or socialise at all.  Being alone and hiding from the world was my way of living with the black dog.

6 years ago things started to change for me, I became involved with helping new mums breastfeed their babies. Through this I started to see how I could make a difference, that I wasn’t worthless, that there was a purpose to everything.

I stayed on the tablets though, not ready yet to let go of that safety net, besides my life was about to go through some huge changes and I’m not sure how I would have coped. Slowly I started to live again, something that wasn’t actually welcomed by a few people. I started going out and doing things for me. Things that made me happy, like dancing, meeting friends, smiling again.

More life changes followed, including the breakdown of my marriage and moving 140 miles back to the south coast which has always been home.  I was still taking the tablets, again I wasn’t ready to feel or deal with my emotions.

18 months ago I stopped taking the Prozac, don’t know why.  I can’t think of an out and out reason for knowing I didn’t need them anymore. I just knew I didn’t want to feel numb, that I could now cope with my emotions, that I wanted to be me again.

I’ve not looked back, I love my life. I have an amazing family and the most wonderful friends that I could wish for. I’m meeting more and more fabulous people and seeing the beauty in everything.

Depression sucks. You can’t ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull yourself together’ as gets suggested so many times. Some people are lucky, they can unchain the black dog and let him run far, far away and know he won’t come back. Others cannot. If someone you know reaches out to you and tells you how they are feeling, be there for them.  Ask them what you can do and avoid the clichés.

RIP Robin Williams, thank you for the giggles.

Simply Cook – A Review

cookboxThere’s a new thing on the home delivery food scene … recipe boxes.  They come with all the spices, oils and condiments you need to make a delicious, easy and exciting meal for 1-3 people (or 5 in my case as I added extras to bulk it up for the family).  Having seen Simply Cook advertised on Facebook I thought it sounded interesting.  I’m always a sucker for anything new to do with food! The £10 price tage seemed quite high so the 50% discount code was the excuse I needed!

The box was delivered 3 days after I ordered, it wasn’t small enough to fit through the letter box so that could be an issue for those who work outside the home.  Inside you get 4 individual boxes, each containing 3 little pots of spices, oils, and stocks/condiments.  You also get 4 recipe cards which have a handy tear off bit with a shopping list on.  The impatient cook in me wanted to open all the little pots to sniff and taste but I managed to hold back!open boxThe first recipe I tried was the spiced butternut squash risotto.  Not a new recipe for me, but I wanted to start with something familiar, something that I had a frame of reference for.  Usually I would roast the squash whilst cooking the risotto, this recipe asks you to cook half the squash in with the rice, and fry the other half with proscuitto ham and pine nuts. You get a spice mix, garlic paste and vegetable stock in the kit all of which smelled amazing separately and out of this world together … all I could hear was ‘mmm, that smells great’ and ‘When is tea ready mum?’!pumpkinrisotto cooking

I followed the recipe to the letter, wanting to give it the fairest test.  However once the rice was cooked, the squash was still too al dente for my liking … so I spent 5 minutes fishing out the squash and newked it in the microwave to finish it off.  Next time I would definitely roast it as usual.

Finishing it off with butter and parmesan made for an unctuously creamy and flavoursome risotto.  The salty proscuitto and sweet pine nuts add a wonderful depth of flavour and fabulous mouth feel as you eat. A crisp, cold white wine would have complimented it perfectly too. pumpkin risotto cookedI was very impressed with the obvious care and attention that had gone into developing the recipes, the blend of flavours is sublime.  Easy to cook and very satisfying to eat.  If my 4 food critics enjoyed it then it must have been good!

Tomorrow I’ll comment on the next recipe from the box – Cajun chicken and sweet potato mash.

Happy eating!

 

Warning: This entry may make you drool.

I’ve got my foodie mojo back and it’s great.  But not so great for my waistline which I’d quite like to keep as it is, please and thank you.  It’s also not good for my kitchen fairy who has to do all the tidying up (me).  I’ll never be a tidy cook.brownieingredients

It’s been a while since I’ve had a foodgasm.  You know, when you bite into something so deliciously edible that you are willing to forego all other pleasures just to take another mouthful … OH. MY.

This recipe had been floating around Facebook land this morning and it just spoke to me  –  ‘bake me, eat me, love me’ … I had to do it and I wasn’t disappointed.  Absolutely no disappointment involved in these brownies whatsoever.  You’ve broken up with your boyfriend? Make these.  You’ve been sacked? Make these.  You need to do housework? Definitely make these instead.

Using the instructions on the above link I began to construct the pretty layers of gooey mixture and crunchy pretzel.  Lots of little hearts all wrapped up in chocolatey lurve! However, there wasn’t enough mixture for the size tin I used so I had to whip up some of my own brownie mixture using this recipe. 

I used a tin of condensed milk to make the dulce de leche topping.  I boiled the unopened tin in a saucepan of water for about 3 hours and let it cool before using.  I think 2.5 hours would have made a slightly softer caramel sauce.

saltedcaramelbrownieslab

Because the dulce de leche was quite firm I spread it on the brownie slab before it had cooled and then sprinkled with Maldon sea salt. It really is a taste explosion.  First the incredible sweetness from the caramel off set by the sea salt.  Then you get the crunch of the pretzels wrapped up in the soft, comforting blanket of rich, dark brownie.  You need to make these.  You really do.

saltedcaramelbrownie

I did worry slightly that the pretzels would soften, and they do when warm but as the cake cools they crisp up again.  Such a clever recipe and one I’ll be making again, and again, and again.

heartbrownies

 

Still waiting

My oven is still broken, I’m getting antsy now. I need to bake! Ah well, at least my starter is getting super active with all this feeding.

I’ve been reflecting back on the last year of living in this house over the past few days.  What a year it has been,  full of ups and downs – much like a rollercoaster. However you can either scream when you hit the bumps or hold your hands up and enjoy the ride!

I don’t want to come across as a militant single parent. Yes it’s tough at times but parenting is. Whilst I don’t love being the only adult in the house, I am extremely proud of how my little family are turning out, all of us are growing, changing, adapting.  I love how we are very similar yet so very different. These differences are what make us special. We should embrace them, allow them to develop.

I hope I can bring a sense of belonging yet individuality to my children. I want them to know that it is ok to be different.  I hope I’ve shown them how to respect the opinions and beliefs of others when they differ to theirs.

Being a parent is tough, fun, rewarding, exhausting, loving and hard work. It’s the best job in the world and I feel very privileged to have been given this chance.

What does every baker need?

Yes, that’s right. An oven, preferably one that works!  I had such plans for this week but my oven had other ideas.  Currently waiting on the landlord to repair (prefereably replace with an Aga but that’s just me dreaming again) the said appliance so I’ve been breadless for the past few days *insert sympathetic comments here*

So what can I do with all this spare starter that I carefully remove before feeding the remainder? Make pikelets of course!  Do you remember them, those soft fluffy uneven circles of Sunday teatime happiness?  A cross between a crumpet and a drop scone, these little treats are easy to make and even easier to eat … (yes, the diet will have to start again soon)

2014-03-20 12.30.48I poured off 300g of my starter and to that I added 3 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder and a splash of milk.  Whisk it all up and it starts to bubble straight away.  I put a little vegetable oil in my frying pan and was able to fit 3 spoonfuls of mixture in at a time.  The pikelets are ready to flip when they look like this …

2014-03-20 12.34.00How did I eat them?  We had them with a little bit of butter dreamily melting into the holes and drizzled with copious amounts of maple syrup (me) or honey (my daughter).  You have to ensure that you have enough butter and syrup on them so you end up with a buttery sticky mess dribbling down your chin 🙂

2014-03-20 12.49.00

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I cleaned my starter jar the other day too, it doesn’t matter that it gets gunky and a bit dry around the top of the jar but it irritates my very very mild baking OCD.  It made it easy for me to be able to show the best point to feed your starter.  This photo shows you how the starter looks just after feeding with fresh flour and water …2014-03-20 14.35.13You can then watch the starter bubble and rise in the jar … it’s quite fascinating really (yes, I’m becoming a bread geek. You don’t need to tell me, I already know). When the starter has finished feasting it will slump back down and look like this ~ 2014-03-21 13.28.11See how the level has dropped back down? This is when you know it is time to remove half and reresh with more flour and water.  You can use the starter you’ve removed for your recipe, use it to start another batch of starter,throw it away or make pikelets, pancakes, bacon, maple syrup, butter, cream.  Oops, went off on a little foodie daydream there!

Tomorrow I’m planning a day of juicing and experimenting with flavours.  I shall let you know how I got on.

Dangerous Ingredients

Are these the most dangerous ingredients you can find in the kitchen? Migraine inducing, tooth achingly sweet, waistline expanding total yumminess!

dangerousingredients

Today I was in need of a chocolate hug and this chocolate fridge cake (recipe here) certainly gives you that. No cooking required apart from melting the chocolate so you get the satisfaction of preparing something delicious without all the faff (and the washing up!) … the hardest part is waiting for it to set in the fridge!

chocfridgecake

I’ve been making this for years, sometimes I add raisins and sultanas.  You could add a splash of rum or similar to the chocolate mix but not too much or you’ll end up with sloppy biscuits. How about some coconut? I’ve even added a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter before … this gives a softer, slightly velvet texture to the finished cake (I left out the cherries for this version).

I’d love to know if you try it, and whether you make any different additions.  I just thought, how about leaving out the marshmallows and cherries but replacing them with fudge chunks! Mmhmm 🙂

It’s a short post from me today, Monday has been a busy day and now I must sleep so that I can wake up tomorrow and be the kind of woman that the devil is scared of!

 

Can I have another one … ?

brownies

They taste like heaven!

I couldn’t ask for better endorsement for my new brownie recipe, could I? Brownies are our celebration cake, what the children ask for at birthdays instead of a traditional cake.  Today we were celebrating my 10 year olds success with her school in a recent dance competition 🙂  These are gluten free, sticky, chewy and downright naughty!  You can find my recipe here.

fougassepre

I made a rosemary and olive fougasse and a couple of chocolate orange loaves using the sourdough starter.  We had the fougasse with minestrone soup for tea, it went down a treat.  I can safely say however, that olives are not all of my children’s favourite food!

The fougasse rose beautifully, it was deliciously fluffy and light … nothing like my first ever sourdough loaf which was tough enough to be used as a house brick! The olives add a juicy saltiness that worked well with the soup.  I added 1tsp finely chopped rosemary to the dough mix, next time I’ll add 2 tsp as I wanted a more fragrant loaf.

Food brings people together … ‘the family that eats together, stays together’.

fougassebrokenfougassebaked

This is the chocolate orange loaf, it’s tasty but the orange flavour isn’t pronounced enough so more tweaking is required.  I’ll post the recipe when I’ve perfected the flavour.  Going to try some different orange extract next time and it’s an excuse to order from one of my favourite places, Lakeland Limited!chocorangeToday I was asked why I bake when I’m so busy raising my four children on my own and running a small business.  It’s not a question that has a simple answer.  Baking gives me time to put those errant thoughts in my head straight. Kneading bread dough for 10-15 minutes gives me the time to reflect, work out what is important, to let go of and accept those things that I can’t change no matter how much I want to change them. Yes, it would be easier to buy bakery foods from the supermarket and I’m not a slave to the sourdough (we still have plastic bread for school lunches) but  I wouldn’t get the satisfaction and the calm within me if I didn’t bake. It’s a sense of achievement.