Cake for breakfast

SAM_0885

And so we discover that time, that fickle mistress, halts for no man, and no matter how sunny your good looks are, EVEN YOU WILL BE TWENTY-NINE IN THE END.

Or, in other words, Tim had his birthday this week, which means I’m not the only one in this house officially on the short slide to thirty. HARDEE HAR HAR.

SAM_0899

We had a lovely day. We decided to keep Henry in nursery in the morning, because it would make it more likely that family naps could happen (and they did). But before that there were presents, bunting and cake for breakfast. I don’t know why we haven’t just done cake for breakfast every birthday morning before this, by the way. It makes everything better. Maybe it’s a special milestone in adulthood, being able to decide that cake is a meal without any regrets? If it is, we are there.

SAM_0895

I found this root beer float cake on Joy the Baker’s glorious site some time ago, and bookmarked it immediately for Tim’s birthday. He is the sort of chap who drinks his own weight in the stuff every time we head across the Atlantic. Last year my sister got him a boxful of different brands in murky brown bottles, and he sat us all down and conducted serious taste comparison tests. With a spreadsheet. Love him.

Anyway, it’s a fabulous cake – the root beer comes through quite beautifully, and not too strongly – and I am a convert to bundt tins, because no more ugly first slices. My version was a little rough and ready, mainly due to the fact that a) I made it at 11pm, and b) I can never be convinced that it’s worth the effort of sieving cocoa powder and icing sugar, until my frosting comes out in pimples, and then I remember that it is. To make it a proper root beer float cake I stacked Cornish vanilla ice cream into the hole in the middle, which I think is the best labour saving device invented since I gave up the sandwich and started just eating peanut butter and jam off the same spoon.

SAM_0889

We took the boys swimming in the afternoon, then around dinner time left them with Tim’s lovely mama to go on a birthday date. We tested out some digital radios for our kitchen in John Lewis, then went for obscenely good steak (mine came with beef dripping sauce. Hnnnnggghhhh) and watched Interstellar at the cinema, groaning from our overstuffed stomachs.

Bloggy2

Interstellar is astonishing. It almost tries to cram in too much, and has some usual Nolan problems (some clunky dialogue, a twist a minute). But the visuals, the themes, the scope of the thing, Matthew McConaughey’s beauteous craggy face…oh my. We were overwhelmed.

We have a happy day whenever this guy has a birthday. Like steak and root beer and the great McConaughey himself, he only gets better with age.

Photo 13-11-2014 07 41 29 am

A science-y kind of birthday

Just a quick one about Henry’s birthday, before August is properly over and all my posts turn into meditations on apple crumble.

I didn’t organise a party this year, because we thought we’d be moving house in the middle of it. Then we weren’t moving this month after all (and do not even talk to me about that) but by then it was too late to coordinate everyone’s schedules. So instead of one medium-sized family celebration he had… three small celebrations, one after the other. I think he came out of it rather well.

When I asked Hen what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted a chocolate cake, and to see his friends. So we held a Favourite Dessert party the night before, with all his best little people, to tick them both off. For the birthday cake, I made The Cake Hunter‘s Ultimate Chocolate Cake that morning. It is an INSANELY good, easy recipe, and I will never need another chocolate cake in my life. The cake actually tastes of chocolate – this is rare, I find – and even though I’m not much of an icing fan, there’s something fudgy and incredible about the frosting. I doubled the frosting quantities, as I wanted to frost all the way around the outside (my cakes tend to need hiding), and threw on gold and silver stars at the end. It turned out pretty well.

SAM_9728

We put up the bunting from Teddy’s party (I will be doing this until one of them is old enough to mind) and bought napkins, pots and dessert flags from the supermarket, which has seriously impressed me this summer with its party gear. In the middle of all this flour-tossing and sugar-inhaling we had a disaster: Teddy tripped over and smashed both his lips against a colander he’d taken for personal use. Oh, it bled like the River Styx, dear readers. I was about two soaked flannels away from taking him to A&E, rambling on the phone to NHS Direct with one hand, wiping nameless gunk out of his mouth with the other. In the end it dried up all of a sudden, and he seemed totally fine. So we all changed our clothes, cleaned everything up, and ate some desserts.

SAM_9732

The day after was Henry’s actual birthday. First, a few presents from friends and admirers to open over breakfast.

SAM_9745

Then we did as birthday celebrators do, and went to London. If our great capital consisted solely of a Tube network, and all you did was ride round and round till you were dizzy, he’d still think it was the best day of his life.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

As it was, we also had Shake Shack for lunch, along with a very serious conversation about whether Shake Shack or Five Guys do the better burger. Tim and I come down on opposite sides of this divide, like poor Littlefoot and his grandparents from The Land Before Time, and I’m not sure we will ever bridge the gap. We put a lit candle in his burger, because if you can’t have a burger cake when you’re three, when can you, eh?

SAM_9804

SAM_9821

SAM_9829

PS, I love Covent Garden. There was a chap dressed up in full costume and paint as the Mad Hatter, drinking tea from vintage crockery, all SUP GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR A TUESDAY.

SAM_9833

We’ve been to the Natural History Museum (‘dinosaur you-see-um’) a few times now, so we thought we’d try the Science Museum this time. He loved it. A word to the wise for parents of toddlers: you need to hit The Garden in the basement (the bit for under-sixes), the cars and planes on the ground floor, and then the Launchpad on the fifth floor (with all the hands-on experiments), and that’s all. Everything else is beyond them, and will only make your feet tired. We discovered this so you don’t have to.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Know who else was hanging out in the Launchpad that Tuesday? STEPHEN HAWKING. ACTUAL STEPHEN HAWKING. It’s seriously impolite to stare at famous people, I know, but HELLO. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tim run so fast.

Happy belated birthday, Henny-Pen. Sorry I often call you ‘Hen’ in public and in front of people who don’t know your name. It makes you sound like a chicken. I know, I know. You can carry it off.

SAM_9826

One thousand and ninety two

SAM_9754 - Copy

Dear Henry,

Today you are three. Today has been a good day.

It’s getting harder to write about you properly, because describing you is becoming a challenge. The sweeping generalisations we hold up to babies – he’s loud; he’s busy; he’s a good sleeper – are poor greyscale things when held up to the patterned light of a three-year-old. You are multi-layered and contradictory, full of depths that surface and take us by surprise. You are increasingly a person. This is something we will both have to get used to.

Let’s just write you into this page a little. You talk. And talk and talk. You don’t say ‘I fell down’, you say ‘gosh, that was a tumble’. You don’t say ‘it’s dark’, you say ‘look, Mummy, outside it is dark and werry gloomy’. We laugh at you and with you a lot. Following your thought processes is like trying to catch a spark in blackness. It is difficult, but oh, it illuminates such lovely things.

You are passionate and emotional, as I think all toddlers must be, and we are learning to navigate this together. Not always very well. You love dinosaurs, books, trains, racing cars, Winnie the Pooh (a bit left-field, that one). You still run everywhere and only from the waist down. You whizz so fast on your little balance bike that I have to sprint alongside you with the pushchair, watching your hair stand on end. You can say seven wordless things just by raising your eyebrows. As of this morning, you do not own a single pair of trousers that fit.

I think now that all of my children will be special to me in their own way, and nothing will ever take away from the miraculous firstness of you. You were the moment I heard a jagged newborn cry through my own exhaustion and pain. The point at which everything in my head and heart changed all at once was marked, indelibly, by you.

I watched you open-mouthed, astounded, that first long night. I still do. I think I probably always will.

Today we have ridden trains, conducted serious experiments in the Science Museum, eaten chips in Covent Garden. Today we bought you pick-and-mix, and every time Teddy pulled on your sleeve for a foam banana, you very quietly and kindly passed one over to him. Today has been a good day. I hope you’ll remember some of it.

May three be good to you, little boy.

You are good to us.

SAM_9781 - Copy

On losing Two, and trying not to be sad about it

SAM_0428

Second birthday. The cheeks have it.

He is on the verge of being three. Hanging onto Two by his fingertips. You can see Three coming in those long skinny legs, the bony bottom in little underpants. Three is in his self-awareness, the jokes with a random punchline, the sentences with multiple clauses. There are Threeish days he wants books with more words than pictures, and days he wants me to pull stories out of my head. I can smell it on the days he sleeps till 7.30 instead of 6am, and doesn’t want a nap because it’s obvious he doesn’t need one.

You’d think this would be good news. It is, it really is. Two has been a marvellous, multicoloured fire-storm. I have sensed for a long time that he and I are very similar, and I’ve butted heads with Two so often we have bruises. I can see the seeds of logic in Three. There’s the unremarkable everyday use of the toilet coming (!!!), and the point at which he can get himself a seventh glass of water. I can see, very VERY distantly on the horizon, a day in which he can put on his own socks.

SAM_3576

But oh, there is sweetness here I am not ready to give up. Two, with his chubby cheeks and flannel Thomas pyjamas. The process of watching him pull words from the air, awestruck with the discovery that things have names, and mispronounce them hilariously. Not ever again in his life will he forget how to say ‘porridge’. He won’t ever need my hand again to go down the stairs. That was Two’s thing, and Two has almost gone.

Three goes to nursery in September. We’re still waiting for the confirmation letter to arrive, but it should come any day. He’ll be someone else’s for five mornings a week, and he is so excited to go. Me, I’ve spent these sunny weeks holding onto Two with both hands: picnics, day trips, library books, lots of mornings jumping off walls and poking things with sticks, as much time as I can wangle with him wedged on my lap. For these last few golden weeks he is all mine, all day, and this life I make for him is the only one he knows. It was never going to last, and it shouldn’t, either. But I will close my eyes and breathe in Two for every minute I still have him.

Three is coming, lovely boy, and just wait till you see what you’ll find there.

Three is coming.

SAM_6717

A little post-birthday fanfare

I’ve kind of lost the plot since our big group stomach bug last week (you know what they say: the family that shares gastroenteritis together, stays together). But I didn’t want the week to go by without giving a nod to this guy’s birthday.

SAM_0856

Which, incidentally, was completely rearranged by said gastroenteritis, but you’d never know it from him. He’s not the whinging type, even when a Five Guys burger is at stake. (We are not the same.)

Let me tell you a story about Timothy. Just a little one. A few Sundays ago we attempted an afternoon nap, except Edward, who attempted a different cross face every ten minutes. Tim had had the boys a lot the day before – and he always, always does the early shift when Hen bounces out of bed at 6am demanding porridge – so I took Teds to settle him. After two hours, I’d rocked a lot, huffed a lot and slept not at all, and wasn’t best pleased about it.

‘It’s not FAIR’, I hurled at him once he’d woken up. Yes, really.

‘What’s not fair?’

‘Babies. I spend all day and night looking after them, and the one time in the week when I could have a proper nap, Edward won’t sleep. Why won’t he sleep?!’

Perhaps, you idiot, because he wasn’t tired? In my defence, interrupted sleep is the very boil throbbing on the nose of my existence, and, like any throbbing boil, it makes me more unreasonable the longer it’s there. As you see.

Tim took both boys away, and I huffed in bed by myself for the next hour, pointedly ignoring the chaos downstairs. Eventually I heard a knock on the door.

‘Hey’, he said, gently, a rack of homemade scones steaming in one hand, ‘are you coming downstairs?’

I did. We ate them for tea with butter and jam, watched Babe for the twenty-seventh time, and laughed a lot.

If I could choose just one thing for you to know about him, it would be this: that given half a chance he would bundle up your temper tantrum, take it downstairs, puzzle over how to make it better, and then get out the flour and start making you scones.

Also: they are amazingly good scones.

Happy twenty-eighth, favourite!

Tim's bday

Five cakes for five occasions

Five Cakes post

This week we have discovered that the more people you have in a house, the longer you can keep a cold virus going. We just keep throwing it between us like a frisbee of snotty sadness. I’m a lot better at catching colds than I am at catching frisbees (twice in a week, now! I am the virus winner!), which is oddly making me feel a little better.

Anyway, after I’ve run through painkillers and melodrama, dessert is my third stop during cold season. I had to choose three of my favourite desserts to bring to an activity last week, and I just hope you never have to make such a wrenching decision, dear readers. So much good cake. So much. [tears.]

So I thought I’d try to be useful, and suggest a few shortcuts. Here are five cakes perfect for five occasions – and it should go without saying that all of them will improve your average snotastrophe NO END.

the birthday party: white chocolate and brownie torte

IMG_1487

This is ideal birthday fare: it’s the easiest thing in the world and looks far more impressive than it should (good for crowds), but needs eight hours in the freezer, so can’t be made on a whim (hopefully your loved one’s birthday hasn’t come as a surprise). And with only three ingredients, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it.

I inherited this recipe from my mother-in-law – if you recognise where it’s from, let me know so I can credit it!

Ingredients:

300g white chocolate

600ml/1 pint double cream

250g brownies (I use one of those boxes of mini brownies in the bakery section at Tesco)

cocoa powder

Method:

Line an 8-inch Springform tin with greaseproof paper.

Break the chocolate into pieces, and melt in a pan with 1/4 pint (150 ml) of the cream. Let it cool once it’s melted.

Crumble the brownies into pieces, and pack into the bottom of the tin (not too hard!).

Whip the remaining cream (3/4 pint, 450 ml) into soft peaks, then fold in the chocolate mixture.

Spoon into the tin, clingfilm and freeze for 8 hours (or overnight).

Transfer the torte to the fridge 45 minutes before serving. Dust with cocoa powder.

Read the full run-through here.

the valentine: Sophie Dahl’s flourless chocolate cake

SAM_2012

I may be just shallow, but nothing says true love to me like the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE YOU’VE EVER HAD. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot, and this is the one I keep coming back to. Without flour, the cake relies on whipped egg whites to rise, which makes it moist (I hate that word, but when it fits…) and puddingy. Creme fraiche and raspberries on top, while deeply offending Mr Jeffcoat, counterbalance the chocolate nicely, and prevent it from being too sickly.

The recipe is here, and you can read about the first time I tried it here. The only thing I’d add is that putting chocolate in a food processor always broke my food processor, and cutting it up finely was achey and time-consuming. Just melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave, and follow the recipe from there.

Mmmm. Romance.

the church social: lemon bars

SAM_7270

I do this every time: sign up to bring a dessert to some activity or other, and then forget until the last minute. I owe my friend Kathryn for this revelation: soft shortbread underneath squidgy lemon-meringue-style topping that tastes like happiness. One tray can be sliced into as many pieces as you need, and you can dress it up in individual cupcake cases if need be. Timothy always requests these to bring into the office on his birthday, at which point one of his coworkers described them as ‘like a lemon snog to the face’. I cannot give any better recommendation than this.

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup butter (this translates to about 226g)
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour (I use about 3/4 plain flour and 1/4 self-raising – did it this way by accident once and it worked well)

Filling ingredients:

4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar, any kind
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup flour (self-raising, I use)
1/4 cup lemon juice
Rind of 1 lemon, grated

Method

For crust -
1) Cream butter and icing sugar.
2) Add salt and flour, and mix well.
3) Pat into a 9 x 13 inch lined baking tin. Bake at 170 C for 15-20 mins.

For filling -
1) Mix all ingredients and pour over hot crust. Bake at 170 C for about 25-30 mins. It should be light brown on top and a curd-like consistency.
2) When done, sprinkle with icing sugar. Cut into squares when cool.

Read the full run-through here.

the Sunday lunch: Nigella’s ice cream cake

Photo 17-06-2012 03 38 49 PM

Och, this one is amazing. Ice cream mixed with biscuits, chocolate and honeycomb, frozen into place and then covered with hot chocolate and butterscotch sauce. Ideal for Sunday lunch because it’s dead easy, and you can fill it with whatever your family or guests like best: peanuts, chocolate chips, different types of biscuit, favourite chocolate bars – even fruit, if you must.

Nigella’s recipe is here, but it’s not an exact science: just a tub of ice cream, your favourite things, and a Springform tin. The recipes for hot chocolate sauce is here, and the butterscotch sauce is here. One would do, but using both makes it a thing of beauty.

Read the full run-through here.

the comfort eat: cinnamon roll cake

SAM_9957

I speak here as someone obsessed with cinnamon rolls, but without the patience (or breadmaker) to make them. I first made this on a rainy afternoon with friends, so heavily pregnant I looked like a giant cheeseburger, and I swear to you I nearly buried my face in it. It’s another tray bake (though you could put it in any shaped tin you like) which is somewhat dangerous: you start off virtuously with a small square, and before you know it, it’s half gone.

The recipe is from The Girl Who Ate Everything, and it’s here. I use a cream cheese frosting rather than her suggested icing, which is at the bottom of the page, here (I generally halve this recipe, because it’s insane). And while I’d recommend checking the cake after the recommended 25-30 minutes, it actually takes just over an hour in my oven. Maybe it’s an altitude thing.

Read the full run-through here.

Head cold, I spit in your face. And eat cake. So much cake. [tears.]

Photo 15-09-2012 06 49 21 PM

What to do in London when you’re two

SAM_0258

We do London on our birthdays. On Monday we got to induct Henricus Rex into the tradition. Did I mention the Big Smoke is covered with trains?

We didn’t start with trains, of course. We started with a vest with a bow tie and braces sewed on to it, like any sensible birthday celebrators. He was catching on to the present thing by this time. The tiny jungle menagerie went down a storm. So did the chocolate chip pancakes.

SAM_0254

SAM_0263

SAM_0279

Then we dressed him up all fancy and headed for the Underground. You should know, if you’re new to the Tube, that there’s an unspoken rule of no talking to strangers and no eye contact. Unless you’re the most excited two-year-old in three counties, in which case it’s ok for you to yell ‘WHOOOOA. TRAIN NOISE, DADDY. GRAMAA. IS GARK. WHOOOOOOA’ in the ear of the chap next to you. I’m sure.

SAM_0288

Once we’d finished annoying random Londoners, we got to enjoy the city proper. It’s a glorious thing, especially with sunshine bouncing merrily off the Thames. We sat on a Sphinx that survived a bomb in the First World War, and was still lounging in place with a few shrapnel holes in the side, all ‘Bombed by the Luftwaffe, suckas. No big deal’. That’s the kind of history I’m in love with, and in London, it’s everywhere.

SAM_0328

SAM_0332

SAM_0333

SAM_0346

Then we made a pilgrimage to the Shake Shack they’ve just opened in Covent Garden, and oh, it filled every one of our burger-and-crinkle-fries dreams. It was the sort of lunch that brings tears to the eyes. A solemn occasion. Teds thought so too.

SAM_0315

SAM_0311

SAM_0319

FYI, the Natural History Museum would like you to know that it’s made for little boys carrying toy tigers around, and adults who would like the Jurassic Park theme tune in their heads all afternoon. Richard Attenborough, get over here in that snazzy white suit and subdue this T-Rex.

SAM_0357

SAM_0414

I am enjoying him so, so much at the minute (Henry, I mean, not Richard Attenborough). Those cheeks. That chatter. The way he pronounces ‘tigers’ as ‘kiders’ and ‘dinosaurs’ as ‘dinnyslaws’. He can have a birthday any old time he likes, as long as we’re all agreed that he never gets any bigger, and there are always crinkle fries. Alright? Alright then.

SAM_0428