Boy Lacer’s hottest ever birthday / Peyton and Byrne British Baking review

I am seriously confused today, the weather is an extremely hot 27C and it’s very nearly October (if you can bypass the typical Daily Mail babes in bikinis, I love the old photos of the last time Britain was this hot at the end of September, way back in 1895) , Mr. Lacer had a day off today and my dad was visiting as well, so I’m having trouble remembering what day it is, let alone what month. But today is Boy Lacer’s 6th birthday, so of course I remember.

Unlike me and Girl Lacer (we both have birthdays in holiday periods), Boy Lacer is usually at school on his birthday but if you’re going to be at school (or work) on your birthday, I guess a Friday is a pretty good day to do it, so today almost felt like the start of an unofficial Bank Holiday just for us (and with Bank Holiday weather to boot). The kids were still in school today mind you but their school is pretty fun, so I don’t think they minded to much. Whereas me and Mr. Lacer did shopping and housework first thing (after of course the whole getting up, opening presents – Hot Wheels, a book about castles, a Portal T-shirt, a copy of The Tiger Who Came to Tea and a tiger torch and of course the going to school thing) and then went out and had a late pub garden lunch with my dad in the sun before pick up time and more present opening (more Hot Wheels and some Lego).

Of course most children being sent to school on their birthday would be desperate to play with their new toys as soon as they got home from school, nope, not Boy Lacer, all he wanted to do (after opening the second batch of presents) was to go and play Portal again and by the time Girl Lacer and Mr. Lacer were setting up some of Boy Lacer’s Hot Wheels toys (which look pretty cool, I have to admit) and Boy Lacer had moved on to some cr*ppy looking Flash games, he still wasn’t more than slightly interested. This was the boy who’s been drooling over Hot Wheels ads for months. I know I shouldn’t be surprised and I’m not really, it’s all a significant part of his autism and we’ve seen this sort of behaviour before. The notable time was one Christmas as a toddler he refused to play with any of his new toys, instead playing with his beloved blocks  that he’d got for his birthday from his Grandad a few months before – there’s quite a lot of video from that particular Christmas and for most of it you can see Boy Lacer in the background playing with his blocks, whereas Girl Lacer is trying to play with everything at once. Back then we didn’t know about Boy Lacer’s autism (although we did know he had muscle tone problems and were just glad he was sitting up) but the brick building we can now see is just an extension of his computer game playing today, he loves building things and puzzle solving, I just wish he could see that there are building opportunities and puzzle solving opportunities beyond the computer sometimes.

Anyway, we had pizza and cake, the cake in question was an adapted Victoria Sponge from the Peyton and Byrne British Bakingbook. The cake had been ‘ordered’ by Boy Lacer some months before, being inspired by an old ad in our local gym for children’s birthday parties, that had a picture of a cake with sweets on top, although he was quite specific that he didn’t want the precise sweets that were in the cake in the picture, which were Liquorice Allsorts, which he doesn’t like. He also specified that the cake was to be “yellow with jam in the middle” i.e he wanted a Victoria Sponge and absolutely none of mummy’s attempts to make a chocolate birthday cake again (because I know everyone in the family loves Victoria Sponge, I just can’t make them very well and I am much better at making chocolate cake).

So this morning I grabbed the first of my far too many baking cookbooks to hand, glad that it was Peyton and Byrne book as although I had not yet cooked from it (despite having it for ages, the shame), I love their cafes, they alone, if anything, are a good reason to visit the National Gallery (they run the cafe there) and their cakes in their cafes aren’t too sweet and I . . . am . . . meant . . . to . . . be . . . on . . . a . . . diet after all (and I know I’m going to eat some of this cake). And guess what? I managed to make a victoria sponge that was actually nice! Not perfect mind you, it sank a bit in the middle and I could imagine Paul and Mary from the Great British Bake Off tut tutting over my presentation but it rose, was light, buttery and a bit too sweet (I can easily see not all of this cake being eaten and it ending up in the food recycling bin), but overall it was delicious and easy to make. Although I knew of the egg weighing victoria sponge method, I’d never tried it before (you weigh the eggs in their shells and then add the same weight in sugar, flour and butter) and it resulted in a thick, creamy, luscious (oh so calorie laden) batter.

Z's birthday cake

I don’t think I’ve written about the Peyton and Byrne book before , so to give it a quick review before I go, yum, if you like the Peyton and Byrne cafes you will like this book, with many of the things you see in the cafes appearing in this book (such as the jammy dodgers and the gingerbread men). Although I’m moaning that the victoria sponge was too sweet, I don’t think Oliver Peyton has gone too OTT with the sugar in these recipes and although it’s obviously not a healthy baking book, I’ve seen worse and whether I’m on a diet or not, when I’m eating a cake or a biscuit I always prefer to actually taste what I’m eating and not to be just overwhelmed with sugar. There are chapters on biscuits, cakes, fairy cakes, fruity cakes, tarts and pies, breakfast goods, buns, special occasions and basics, so if this were to be your one baking book you wouldn’t be too stuck (there are even some bread recipes in the bun chapter). It’s hard to say I know, when I’ve only cooked one recipe from this book but the recipes are clear and easy to understand (and the whole design of the book is lovely, sort of matching the homey, slightly old-fashioned, utilitarian feel of the cafes). I have way too many baking books, which is perhaps not the best thing for someone in need of some weight loss but at least with books like these I can live vicariously through print and photos and imagine all that baked goodness, either that or torture myself.

Butternut squash and spelt salad

Spelt and squash salad

Adapted from a Hugh FW recipe (from his new veg book), his recipe has more veg in (which would have been nice) but I was working with what I had.

Serves 2

Ingredients

1/2 butternut squash cut into 1 – 2 cm cubes

Olive oil

1 packet of Food Doctor Easy Grains spelt (I would have honestly have used ‘proper’ spelt but couldn’t get my hands on any)

Parmesan

Lemon juice (approximately 1/2 a lemon’s worth, perfectly fine to use lemon juice from a bottle, I do most of the time ;) )

1 clove of grated garlic

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 190 C.
  2. Peel and cut your butternut squash into 1 – 2 cm cubes, place in a large roasting tin and toss with approximately 1 tbsp of olive oil and the garlic.
  3. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, remembering to turn the cubes occasionally.
  4. Just before the butternut squash is ready, heat up your spelt according to the packet instructions (you could easily use proper spelt, in which case follow the packet instructions as well).
  5. Toss the spelt, butternut squash and lemon juice together and then serve with a sprinkling of parmesan.

Enjoy! I think it’s quite moreishly nice and satisfyingly filling.

PS I’ve just started a diet and I hate it.

PPS I could easily see this recipe being adapted with other roasted veg, aubergine sounds particularly nice.

 

Zombie Felties

I had a SENCO / speech therapist / TA meeting at school earlier this week regarding Boy Lacer, they asked me what he was into at the moment (so they could incorporate it into some sort of reward system) and I was genuinely stumped; Gruffalo? Nope, been there done that, although he still likes that a bit. Chuggington? That’s so last year (or two years ago really, that one was the method of bribery in nursery). I did tell them he liked Portal (to a sea of blank faces), I should have elaborated further that he likes the idea of shooting portals so that he can travel from one place to another and he would love to be able to make real Portals or failing that have a play at Portal 3 (not yet coded). I should have also said that he quite likes zombies (although currently nowhere near as much as Portal of course).

thrilla

He also, if he’s going to like any music at all (other than the Ting Tings – are my kids the only two fans of the Ting Tings left?) he would say that he likes Michael Jackson (thanks to his old Reception teacher), he particularly likes Thriller (wonder why?).

Hence for his token handmade birthday present (his birthday is later this week) I’ve made him Thrilla from Zombie Feltiesby Nicola Tedman and Sarah Skeate. And I am quite pleased with the result, although I wish he were a bit bigger, I’ve had to add a hanging loop because he’s going to loose it otherwise in his sea of soft toys and I think Thrilla will look good hanging on his chest of drawers anyway.

All the zombie felties look pretty good and I can easily see myself making more, specially as they don’t really take that long to make. They’re all a mixture of felt, beading, sequins and a bit of embroidery. For Thrilla I had to replace the pink sequins they had used for the brains with pink beads as I couldn’t find any pink sequins that weren’t too bright and shiny, but I think it would be pretty easy to adapt most of the zombies with what you can get your hands on. Other zombie felties include a classic zombie, zombie puppy, zombie duck, zombie bunny (one of my favourites with its red floss guts spilling out), day of the dead zombie, zombie surfer, zombie bride, zombie undertaker (also pretty cool) and vampire zombie (ditto). All the zombies are pretty small but would make good door decorations, large brooches, maybe even cool cake toppers (specially the zombie bride) or a macabre mobile.

PS I did wonder about the aptness of posting this as the Michael Jackson trial starts, about whether it was potentially in bad taste but I used to be a fan of MJ when I was a kid and it’s lovely seeing his music touch another generation, including of course, some of his (I think) best work, Thriller.

A not so quick lunch

This week I’ve menu planned in a few more salads, as I thought they’d be quicker at lunch time, thing is the salad I really wanted this lunch time involved cucumber and I had deliberately not ordered cucumber as I knew there was some down the allotment.

Spot the cucumber (there's three)

I also needed some basil and mint.

It was lucky I had decided to make an early start on lunch, as by the time I put all this stuff together (and decided that the cucumbers really didn’t look too safe to eat – they looked under ripe and I wasn’t going to risk it, I’ve got too many places I need to be this afternoon without making myself ill), it was half past one.

The recipe (herby, peanuty, noodly salad) was from Hugh FWs veg book and was very yummy, give me anything with a citrus, rice vinegar, soy, garlic and chilli dressing and I’ll eat it (I’m not a great fan of green beans). However it may have been quicker just to walk down to M&S and get my favourite noodle salad from there instead!

(And remind me NOT to grow cucumbers again, as although this time I got nearly edible cucumbers – which is an improvement on last time, I really don’t think they’re worth the effort, specially as my favourite bit about cucumbers is the skin and with cucumbers I’ve grown they’re always the sort you need to peel as they’re spiky).

V&A and the ‘Dinosaur’ Museum

It was the last day of the London Design Festival at the V&A today, so me and Girl Lacer went to see the Timber Wave (which is still there till October).

Once inside Girl Lacer immediately wanted to go and have a look at the Power of Making Exhibition, so we went to see that and it was really good. It’s on until the beginning of next year, so definitely worth a look as it has a really interesting eclectic mix of stuff from a giant gorilla made from coat hangers, to a wooden robot, to artificial eyes, to giant knitting (the wool the thickness of ropes), to sugar spun art, to a cake in the very realistic form of a baby, to a collection of very cool looking 3D printers, which were really impressive (I want one lol). There was way more stuff than what I’ve just listed (including some really interesting videos) linked by the fact that everything there had been crafted by someone, even the 3D printers, as those involved crafting the pattern to print out, sort of like a little home factory.

We then went to see the Textile Field in the Raphael room, which was cool and kind of weird, the idea being that you lay on the raised carpet so that you could see the paintings from a different angle.

I think the new angle worked, as laying down, in a slightly raised way, the paintings felt a lot more three dimensional, I was laying in front of a painting with pillars and it felt much more that I could step up and walk amongst the pillars when laying down rather than when viewing it sitting up (although of course Raphael is pretty immersive from any angle).

We then went and had lunch in the courtyard garden by the ‘paddling pool’ (Girl Lacer’s favourite spot) going via the as always gorgeous gift shop, put it this way Father Christmas ended up doing some advanced scouting for stocking fillers ;)

After lunch we went to the Natural History Museum, to of course see the dinosaurs (yawn – sorry but I’ve seen it so many times now).

I've seen the exhibition so many times I've developed a soft spot for this shadow

A quick trip to the mammal room (I like this entrance, it looks like the cover to a book).

And then I took Girl Lacer to see the new(ish) Cocoon (the insect collection), which she liked as it was so interactive. I preferred the occasional view over the rooftops.

Autumn planting

Despite saying I’d missed out on an Autumn / Winter salad garden from Rocket, as they were out of stock, I noticed that Rocket’s window box garden was pretty much just salad, so I ordered that instead. It came yesterday, giving me just enough time to unpack the plants before school pick up, so I had to drag the kids up the allotment to start planting after school (and finishing digging over the beds I was going to use, oops). Girl Lacer helped (whilst Boy Lacer played with my iPhone) and although two pairs of hands certainly made things go quicker, some of the digging over isn’t quite so thorough and some of the plant spacing a bit squiffy but never mind.

The main salad bed, which yes, is once again right next to the rabbits' back door (the fence), yes I know, where I said I wasn't going to grow salad again but it was the easiest bed to dig over, hopefully the netting, otherwise known as the rabbit guard in this household, will help.
The other leafy veg bed (tatsoi and rainbow chard)

Whilst up there I spotted that a few of the plants I had given up on were actually trying to vainly produce something. I had noticed this a few days before –

tiny butternut

Although by the time we were down there yesterday it was looking a little mouldy. But the plant is still trying . . .

I have a feeling nothing much is going to come from it though but still not bad for a first try and specially not bad considering this was a rare (for me) attempt at growing from seed.

Another surprise was that one of my aubergines had actually fruited! But by the time I went round to take a photo, just before we were going home, this had happened . . .

Still though, not bad for something I was convinced wasn’t going to do anything.

Other plants beginning to look good include my red cabbages, pretty pest damaged around the outside leaves, they’re at least beginning to look like cabbages in the middle.

Here’s to more growing!

Peperonata

I spent the morning prepping (oh for when my main part time job is my only ‘proper’ job, only 9 months and counting), I finished around lunch time and I was starving but I wanted to eat something nice (not the usual cheese sandwich and besides we had no cheese) and all the things I’d menu planned for took a while to make (I need to be a better menu planner), so I picked the quickest thing to make – peperonata, which still took a good half an hour to make, so in the time it took me to make it I polished off three slices of toast and a large glass of apple juice, so I wasn’t so hungry after that! Not that peperonata is the most filling thing in the world anyway and I would have (if I’d been able to control myself) probably have served it with toast anyway, as a meagre replacement to the homemade bread which technically would have been so much nicer with this but if I’d gone down that route I’d have been eating lunch some time round school pick up time.

Peperonata
Eating outside, enjoying the last rays of sunshine / waiting for the delivery man

The recipe was from the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Veg book and mmmm I think I prefer Bill Granger’s version of peperonata, Granger’s version isn’t quite so tomatoey (in fact trying to remember if his version has got tomato in at all). Hugh FWs version is more like a pasta sauce than a pepper stew, which is lucky then that I made extra, guess what the kids are having for tea tonight?

(For the record it actually tasted quite nice, although it was quite heavy on the onion to – I may have to dilute the oniony-ness for the kids with lots of cheese or something with it for their tea tonight. And it was worth the effort of making something nice, just wish ‘something nice’ didn’t take quite so long to make.)

Ladybird Me Books and other fine examples

I am still unconvinced by ebooks, at least for me that is, although I think they’d be great for non-fiction stuff (all that being able to highlight and add notes and it being a lot more easily searchable would be great), I still love the feel of a real book (and the fact you can read it in a bath and curl up far more easily in bed with it). There’s no temptation with them either, no I’ll settle down to read this book but ooh I’ll just check my twitter feed and my e-mail first.

But e-books for the kids on the other hand . . . I quite like them and although Mr. Lacer would say I use them as an excuse to get out of reading the kids a story (in my justification I only do that when I am extremely tired, like last night), I think they can be really fun and interactive if done right. So I have a number of children’s e-books on my iPhone and iPad, I think they tend to better if on the iPad, just because of the size, although having a few on my iPhone was definitely useful in the past when my kids were slightly smaller and we were waiting outside ballet lessons etc. Old favourites include the Dr. Seuss books and an amazing e-book version of the short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

(Whilst searching Youtube for the above clip, I also found this which looks pretty cool, although it’s more expensive than Morris Lessmore, I suspect it to will eventually find its way onto my iPad*)

But new favourite kids’ ebook app has to be Ladybird Me Books (discovered via the extremely cool if you’ve got small kids blog, Made by Joel). I think anyone of *ahem* a certain age will automatically think, when they think Ladybird Books of the extremely cool (in a vintage sort of way) kids books they used to publish in the ’60s and ’70s, well guess what, they’ve turned those vintage books into an app! Complete with slightly browning pages and sellotape marks! I am very possibly a bit in awe.

The kids love this app and have already been requesting extra books to be downloaded from the Me Books Shop. I had already downloaded The Three Little Pigs – principally because I so remember that book from when I was a kid and Talkabout The Park. The Zoo comes free with the app but Boy Lacer very eagerly wanted the dinosaur book to, so I downloaded that as well and it’s already been requested for tonight’s bedtime (the app is free and the books a very reasonable £1.99 each).

Last night they had a look at the Talkabout The Park book, although it is a bit technically young for them (they’re 5 and 7), I had bought this particular book for Boy Lacer as although he is a good reader for his age he needs encouragement with his comprehension and the Talkabout series consists of pictures to talk about (such as in this case pictures of a busy park) alongside some simple games to play. I really really wish they had had this app when Boy Lacer was three and still having extensive speech therapy as I would have found this app even more invaluable as I remember his speech therapist being very keen that Boy Lacer looked at lots of books and tried to talk about what he saw and although he did give it a good go at the time he would have been even more instantly attracted to a book like this that talked back at him and made sounds and was so interactive. And although his speech is better now I think it will still help.

What the kids really liked about the app though was the ability to change and record their own hotspots (the area on the screen where if you touched it, it would make a sound). So this is what they were getting up to with the book last night.

As you can see Girl Lacer doesn’t know her tulips from her roses yet lol. Also Girl Lacer has the see the hotspots button switched on and although I pointed out to her that she didn’t need it on just to read the book and listen to the sounds, she wanted it on because otherwise “she didn’t know where to touch”, even though she has absolutely no problem with other interactive books, I guess because the feature is there to see the hotspots, she’s going to use it. Anyway I doubt she’s ever going to ‘just’ read these books and will want see hotspots turned on so that she can edit them. Anyway going back to the speech therapy aspect, an ebook that actually encourages the child to speak (to record the hotspot), it’s fantastic. Once again oh how I wished we had this app a couple of years ago but it is still going to be very useful. Thumbs up to Ladybird Books and their developers!

*Due to a very generous inheritance earlier this year we actually have two iPads, I have one and Mr. Lacer has one, the kids primarily use Mr. Lacer’s as I am a bit *a-hem* protective of my iPad and I also use it more than Mr.Lacer uses his iPad, who may very possibly have bought his iPad as a distraction tool to try and coax the kids off his computer. However whether I am protective of my iPad or not, it doesn’t really matter as both kids think daddy’s iPad is way cooler than mummy’s iPad anyway, as it has all the cool games on (just as they prefer his iPhone over mine to). I just think it’s funny or perhaps not really surprising knowing us how me and Mr. Lacer have ‘personalised’ our iPads and how his is full of games and mine is full of e-book apps and productivity tools.

River Cottage Veg Everyday and Chilli, Cheese and Rosemary Polenta with Tomato Sauce

For once tonight we weren’t going anywhere after school and miracles of miracles, I felt like cooking, so I dusted down my new copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday and opened it up at what I thought was the most kid friendly recipe I had menu planned for this week, Chilli, Cheese and Rosemary Polenta with Tomato Sauce. I adapted the recipe slightly for the kids, cooking the polenta in two batches, one without the chilli and rosemary for the kids (Girl Lacer hates rosemary).

Now I thought I had plenty of time but of course life gets in the way or more specifically this time yet another application to Club Penguin and a bored nearly 8 year old who didn’t want to watch a DVD on that old fashioned thing called a TV, no, instead she either wanted to watch it on the computer (I wouldn’t let her as it was nearly Boy Lacer’s turn on the computer) or the iPad (which didn’t work because of server problems). So my nice leisurely late afternoon worth of cooking was a bit interrupted. Luckily, although the recipe needs to be done in stages and requires (for me) a hell of a lot of pans, it was fairly straightforward and I got away with cheating a bit by not letting the polenta completely cool down before frying it. (Sorry I can’t find a link to the recipe and for copyright reasons I will not copy the recipe here but it’s basically chilli, cheese and rosemary flavoured polenta cooled, cut up and then fried till gently brown, the sauce is a very basic tomato sauce made out of tinned tomatoes, the recipe for which can be found in countless books).

The result?

Cheese, chilli & rosemary polenta with tomato sauce
Proper grown up version

The kids hated it? Why? What is so wrong with cheese flavoured polenta? So they half heartedly dipped some bread into their tomato sauce instead. Mr. Lacer (who was at least grateful for arriving home to a cooked meal – it doesn’t happen often) liked it but thought the sauce was missing something (possibly true, maybe some balsamic vinegar or something although I know that by Mr. Lacer saying the sauce was missing something, actually means for him, a large amount of something creamy – he’s not a big fan of tomato sauces). Me though, I loved it, I think polenta normally is a bit bland but the cheese and rosemary in this was amazing (and would be nice not cooled and fried as well- and a little healthier to) and the tomato sauce, although not the best tomato sauce I’ve ever tasted, complemented it perfectly. As with what I remember with most Hugh FW recipes, the amounts are generous and I have enough left over for a lunch for me tomorrow, yay! I will be making this again, just probably not too often, a little unhealthy . . . I can also see myself adapting the recipe to for other flavours (mmmmm mustard or pesto sounds good or ooooh oooh ooooh my favourite, pancetta).

As for the book itself, it is exactly what you would expect from a River Cottage book, so if you’ve already got a River Cottage book, particularly some of their more recent ones, you’ll already appreciate what a quality book this is. The photography is gorgeous, it’s got a nice layout and it even feels nice to hold and flick through as they’ve used some really nice, slightly thicker than normal (I think) paper. Hugh FW writes at the beginning (and I’m paraphrasing here) that he wanted to write a book about vegetables that wasn’t a vegetarian cookbook, although it is a vegetarian cookbook (although quite a few of the recipes use dairy products and eggs so not exclusively vegan), it doesn’t feel like a vegetarian cookbook as it’s not all lentils and nut loaf. I think even the most hardened meat eater could happily cope with this book.

The recipes in Veg Everyday are the typical comforting food you’d expect from River Cottage and several of the recipes (ok at least one) I’d swear I recognised from Hugh FW’s TV shows. I can imagine I’ll be cooking from this a lot (if I ever find the time and/or energy). Recipes I’d like to try include:

  • Aubergine parmigiana
  • Peperonata
  • Squash and fennel lasagne
  • Courgette and rice filo pie
  • Potato dauphinoise
  • Sweet potato and peanut gratin
  • Herby, peanutty, noodly salad
  • Spelt salad with squash and fennel
  • Asian-inspired coleslaw
  • Roasted beetroot soup with horseradish cream
  • Parsnip and ginger soup
  • River Cottage garlicky flatbreads
  • Hot squash foldover
  • Leek and cheese toastie (looking particularly good)
  • Twice baked potatoes
  • DIY ‘pot’ noodles
  • Tomato and mozzarella risotto
  • Quinoa with courgettes and onions
  • Caponata
  • Spiced spinach and potatoes
  • Patatas bravas
  • Spinach and thyme pasties
  • Grilled aubergines with chilli and honey (which is in a barbecue section)
  • Roasted aubergine boats
  • Stuffed peppers with new potatoes, feta and pesto
  • Roasted potatoes and aubergines
  • Roast new potatoes with two mojo sauces
  • Oven roasted ratatouille
  • Potato rosti
  • Roasted tomato ketchup (may be worth growing tomatoes next year)