Tag Archives: birthday

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.

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.]

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What to do in London when you’re two

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Seven hundred and thirty

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Dear Henry,

Today is your birthday, and you are two. Tomorrow I will write one of those photo-heavy posts about what we did today, and how you shouted ‘WHOA’ every time the underground train set off, and roared at the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum, and used every cunning wile you could think of to make us let go of your hand so you could fly off and explore by yourself.

Tomorrow, that is. Tonight – because I don’t have very much left of your birthday, and you’ve been in bed for hours – I just want to write about you.

How can I stop you getting bigger if I don’t write you into a page? Your babyhood is close enough that I can still remember the smell on the top of your head, and your fierce little cry that was more like a shout. But you couldn’t have been further from that today. You wore skinny jeans and lace-up trainers, all the better to run away with. Your eyes were huge under that little-boy haircut; you kept turning back to check that we were keeping up, and just as excited as you.

You are always excited. Or furious. Or in some passion or other. Sometimes you want something without knowing what it is, and whine until I remind you to stop and use your words. I love watching you search for the right thing to say and pull it out with a flourish (‘please-a-haf, gink o’ dooce!’). You use words like a box of wonders. You talk all day, and repeat anything we ask if you think it’ll get you a laugh. You make me laugh a lot. You’ve got a good line in silly faces and exercise moves (Sarah taught you lunges), and can work a room better than either of us.

I sometimes call you Henny-Pen in public. I’m sorry about this. Also, sorry: I dress you with one eye always on button-up shirts and braces. You might never wear a shirt with a cartoon character on it. You might want to get your own fashion sense, sharpish, because at the minute you’re making do with mine.

Today I woke up early and thought about the day you were born (this is one of these sentimental things that will annoy you when you’re older). How I dressed and undressed you like you might break, and looked at you in your hospital crib without knowing what I was feeling. I assumed I would love you. I had no idea what a tidal wave that would be, how it would rebuild me entirely, leaving me new and bruised and tentative. It wasn’t always comfortable. It isn’t always now. But it became a part of me just as you did, and I could never argue with the rightness of it, or the rightness of you.

Two years, and ten thousand miles. You are my box of wonders, little boy. You may not always need my hand in the T-Rex room, or anywhere else. But it’ll be there if you want it, and if not, well. I’m glad I get to watch you run.

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Boy with balloons

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We started Henry’s unbirthday by giving him a haircut that broke my heart.

Unbirthday because his birthday is actually tomorrow. But we held a little family tea party for him on Saturday evening. He has no clue what a birthday is, but he knew he had new hair, and people kept giving him exciting things, and suddenly there seemed to be no restriction AT ALL on cake. Add in the bunch of helium balloons I let him jump around with for an hour, and this Saturday just sky-rocketed to the best one of his life. I watched him dance on the edge of two, with short boy’s hair and a giant smile, and felt like I couldn’t hold him still for a second. He has a bike now. We’re stuck into boyhood, and there’s no going back.

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I knew that with Teds in the house and my mama visiting I wouldn’t have much inclination for party planning. And so it proved. It took a whole two days just to decide what birthday cake to make him, and I didn’t get much further than that. I settled on a Hummingbird Bakery Hot Chocolate Cake in the end, adapted from their Hot Chocolate Cupcakes, mostly because Henry would lick up hot chocolate from the floor if you let him. (I don’t let him.) He also calls it ‘hot cocky’, which is not at all awkward, particularly when he’s asking for some of Daddy’s at the top of his voice.

Anyway.

It’s called a Hot Chocolate Cake because there’s hot chocolate powder in it, instead of cocoa. I can’t say it tasted overwhelmingly of hot chocolate, but it did have an interesting sort of malted flavour that went well with the chocolate frosting. It turned out to be the sort of frosting that doesn’t ever go smooth, so I textured it like wallpaper from the eighties and hoped the chocolate sprinkles would cover the rest. I rather liked it, in the end. I recycled bunting from his party last year, and we made a trip in the morning to pick up a bunch of balloons. We made miniature scones, which we ate with jam, cream and strawberries, and put out cheese and crackers and chopped up vegetables. We opened presents and ate, and that was all. By gum, it was lovely.

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I will write a happy birthday post when I have made my peace with this boy being two, which might be never, but I will try my best. More later; I have leftover birthday cake to eat. What else is 11pm for?

Most of these photos are courtesy of my father-in-law, who is much better at this sort of thing than I am. Thanks, Jeremy!

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Arrivals

‘Just so you know’, I texted Timothy on Sunday afternoon, ‘I am definitely baking a cake in swimming hotpants right now. I am a vision.’

Sunday was a good day. But not an especially good day to be thirty-seven weeks pregnant. It was hot, and bright, and busy. After three hours of church and an afternoon of preparing for a workshop activity that evening, even wearing a skirt had become too much to contemplate. I switched to the swimming hotpants, did my printing and preparing and mixing of cake like a heffalump in turquoise lycra, and felt pretty good about it, since you ask.

Our activity went well, mostly because I remembered to change out of the hotpants before we left, and we arrived home late and tired and happy. We were in bed before 10.30pm, and unconscious not long after that.

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‘This is my first properly empty week before D-day’, I remember thinking before I dropped off. ‘Shall I nest? Maybe I’ll make some frozen meals’.

Well, I can only conclude that nesting is so entirely out of character that the universe stepped in to avoid such silliness. At midnight I was awake again, with stomach ache. I didn’t think anything of it. We’d never settled on a proper nickname for this baby-to-be (Tim had tried TJ II, with not much success), but I didn’t call him the Bowel-Treader for nothing. I went to the loo, came back, and had almost dropped off again when the pain came back. And then back again. And then back again after that. After half an hour, I got a magazine, retired to the bathroom and started timing the spaces between them. They were fairly regular, but not clockwork, and I didn’t want to wake Timothy – who had, frankly, a rat’s behind of a week ahead of him at work – if all I had was boomerang diarrhoea.

At 2am they were still there, and I hadn’t managed to take in much about the situation in Egypt (in hindsight, I should probably have chosen a different magazine). So I went back into the bedroom and woke Tim.

‘Soooo’, I started, feeling ridiculous, ‘I think I may be having contractions’.

‘Wha?’

‘Contractions. I’m having them’.

‘Oh’.

There was a pause, while his rat’s behind of a week ran fairly obviously over his face.

‘Are you sure?’

I stopped. Suddenly I was horribly sure. ‘Yep. I’ll call the hospital’. And then I added, while the phone rang, ‘I’m frightened’.

Because I was. Your body and mind are helpfully in cahoots, after giving birth, and all I remembered from Henry were a few vivid flashes. The rest of it was coming back to me now, in pieces. In most of the pieces I was making a lot of noise.

The midwife at the other end of the phone was lovely. We were told to wait until the contractions were stronger and more regular, and in the meantime keep moving, get the bags ready, have a soothing bath. I got in the bath, as directed. We tried to have a discussion about where to send Henry, but I was finding it hard to talk. I breathed in time on my hands and knees, and made a valiant effort to be interested in the location of Henry’s vests. I didn’t really cotton on that things weren’t going to plan, however, until fifteen minutes later, when I started wanting to push.

‘PUSH?’ yelled the functioning part of my brain, as soon as I’d verbalised that bit in my head. ‘Push what? PUSH WHAT? GET OUT OF THE BATH, YOU IDIOT’.

I did. I crawled into the bedroom to the edge of the bed, got a nightdress on over my head – stupid fiddly tags – and told Tim to call the hospital again. I remember thinking how blessedly calm he sounded. I am alright, I thought. I am wearing half a nightdress and kneeling on half a towel with my head underneath a flipping baby crib, but Tim is here, and I am alright.

‘She says that if you’re feeling pressure, we need to come in now. If you want to push, I need to call 999 for an ambulance’.

My waters broke. He called 999. Somehow he remembered to take the stairgate off the top of the stairs. Neither of us remembered that I was still crammed half underneath a baby crib, over a cream carpet. And then there were voices behind me, and one of them – heaven bless that woman from eternity to eternity – was offering me gas and air.

‘Can I push?’ I sobbed, ‘I need to. Please, can I?’

‘My love’, came The Voice, ‘if you need to, push as much as you want’.

So I did. Ten minutes after the voices arrived, out he came. And he cried, and I cried, and managed to back out from the corner to sit and hold him. A cheerful bearded face came into view for the first time.

‘Hello there’, it said. ‘Well done. You know, Gareth is a wonderful name for boys, these days’.

***

At first I am too numbed to feel anything but relief: blissful and dizzying. We arrive home less than a day after it all started, and it feels like a bizarre dream, except that now there’s another baby. The early hours of the morning find me alone with this tiny person, fascinated with his face and feet and hands. He is entirely his own self. And I feel a wave of fierce, unstoppable tenderness. Oh, I know this, I know it: it is how I feel about my first, adored boy, but this time it’s for my second.

Come in, I tell it, gently. Come on in.

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Unexpected

Look what the weekend brought. Another ordinary day that turned into a birthday for one Edward Francis Jeffcoat.

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The first of anything always feels like an auspicious day to be born, doesn’t it? Fresh beginnings for everything, and the freshest of all for you.

I will try to explain all about it when I can. Until then, please come back for some really fabulous What I Wish I’d Known About Two guest posts, which I’m planning to set going tomorrow. And I’ll be sat in bed with three boys, probably eating chocolate buttons, probably delirious from two hours’ sleep in every twenty-four (forgot about that bit), probably feeling like it’s the best day ever.

Happy July to you!

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It’s my birthday, and I wished for this

This, being…

one insomniac coughing fit so energetic I blew out an eardrum (brills)

two naps, three boxes of chocolate, four new books (better)

one cafe breakfast and a bottle of the best French lemonade we ever had

one birthday cake made from piled-up scones-and-cream-and-jam

and one boy in tractor wellies, one boy popping the buttons off my coat, and one boy holding my hand under the table.

I’ve never had a birthday where I felt worse and enjoyed myself more. Seriously, these boys. They make my twenty-eight.

(I would also really like to be in bed at this point, but I’ve got another fifteen minutes till my next bout of cold medicine. So, like, a million photos? Yep, good idea.)

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And then there was cake

Someone else in our house finally turned twenty-seven yesterday. He’s a good one.

I truly, truly love other people’s birthdays. I’m not much of a party planner – introduce other people into the mix and suddenly things become very stressful, says the introvert (oh do come into my cave, how lovely to see you) . But wrapping presents, choosing cards, making cake and planning surprises get me so excited I look forward to it for months. I spent Monday evening bellowing ‘I’M SO EXCITED ABOUT YOUR BIRTHDAY’ into Timothy’s ear at random intervals. He’d have been excited too, if he hadn’t gone deaf.

Henry and I decided on a photo birthday card for his contribution to the festivities. Posing for photographs is not one of his specialities these days. Let’s just say that two of the spaces had to be filled in with obliging soft toys – which did not jump up and down, grab the camera or attempt to pick my nose mid-shot – and leave it at that.

Question: does it mean you are old if the very best celebration you can think of is more sleep, much food and piles of cake? We got up and opened presents, ate breakfast, watched a couple of movies while I baked his birthday Swedish tea-ring, then went out for steak. In the evening, we dropped Henry off with his auntie and uncle, ran down to London and watched The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre. We ate McDonalds chips looking at the lights on Regent Street, because if we are anything, we are classy. It was perfect, and it wasn’t even my birthday.

Happy birthday, Mr Jeffcoat! We think you’re pretty rad.

(I’ll do a Cakery Bakery post, with recipe, for the Swedish tea-ring later this week. I believe in obesity for all.)

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And then: sunshine

This morning someone nudged May in the ribs and told it to get its act together. And so it brought out the sun.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to live in a country that was sunny in season. I am so unstoppably cheerful on a sunny day. When I wake up and the house is flooded with light I could run around kissing everyone on the mouth, and that includes you. Unfortunately for all concerned, this has been the wettest, dreariest spring I can remember. I had to buy Henry an unscheduled cardigan; that’s how bad it’s been.

Today, blazing and blue-skied, was my sister-in-law’s birthday. Felicity is the kindest, sweetest eighteen-year-old you will find anywhere. She laughs a lot. She’s very cool, but effortlessly includes those who aren’t. She is equally at home talking to adults or tickling baby cheeks, and I don’t think she’s ever slammed a door in her life. If anyone deserves an afternoon in a sunny park followed by a hefty quantity of ice cream, it’s her.

(Today is also my brother Rob’s birthday; he is pretty marvellous too. But he’s a missionary with no blog access at present, so I’ll praise him when he can read it.)

We sat lazing in the heat, admiring the sweet pull-ups some bare-chested chap was performing for us on the basketball court. If only we were as cool as that suckah, we lamented. But otherwise, it was perfect.

Felicity, Ben and Jerry and a Cadbury’s Flake (or seven) would like to wish you happy birthday. They party hard, Flakes – go wild.

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