Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Happy Birthday J!!!

I cannot believe it! My baby is not a baby anymore!! He has turned 2 and to sound like the old saying "Hoe time has flown!" To celebrate we went to a farm nearby for a bit of a party and to feed some animals and have a tractor ride. Fun was had by all (though I do believe that most of the adults had more fun than some of the kids!).

To go along with the farm themed party, we decided to buy a tractor cake. However, after shopping around and being told that the cheapest quote would be £47.25 (!!!!!!!), I decided that it could not be that hard to make one myself. So after much research at the local library, I bought a rather fabulous book and decided to give it a go.

Now I need to point out hat I am by no means a fabulous baker, I want to be and I aim to be, but I am new to the world of cooking and baking, a complete novice and am teaching myself to cook and bake from scratch. Prior to doing this cake, I had only ever made a two tier cake, like a victoria sandwhich, once and thought that that was hard!

So after my said trip to the cake decorating shop in the village, I bit the bullet and started the cake.

Make 2 loaf cakes out of a recipe for a madiera cake or such like. I used a reciped for Vanilla custard sponge cake. It worked really well, as it stayed moist yet was easy to carve and strong enough to make a novelty cake from.

500g softened butter
3 cups white sugar
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups custard powder
4 cups self raising flour
1 cup milk
3 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180C and grease two 25cm x 11.5 cm loaf tin
Cream butter and sugar and add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Gradually add sifted custard powder and flour and beat well.
Beat in milk and vanilla extract until combined.
Divide batter into the 2 loaf tins and bake for around 45mins.

Level the first loaf cake and cut 6cm off one end. From this small piece, shape a rectangle that is 2cm high x 6cm wide x 9cm long. This is for the bonnet of the tractor. The remainder of the loaf cake is for the main body of the tractor. Then coat each piece in butter cream or real icing, whatever you like. I used Betty Crockers butter cream and it turned out fab.

From the second loaf cake cut a rectangle that is 10cm high and 9cm wide fro the cabin. Cover this in butter cream. Leave the rest of this piece for the wheels.

Use the butter cream to stick the bonnet ontop of the main body of the tractor. Ice the main body of the tactor in whatever colour icing you want and place onto your cake board.

Then cover your cabin piece and bonnet piece. Place them onto the main body.

The only thing here was that our cabin was a little heavy for the base. Use  dowels/straws, toothpicks or whatever you fancy, to secure it in place. We had to use 6 wooden skewers, but next time we will use straws and a piece of thin card.

Make your wheels for the remaining cake, cover in butter cream and ice. Stick to the tractor with skewers and leave to set.

And Ta Da!!!!

I do have to say, that I am a little bit proud of it! I love the fact that it looks super homemade and a bit wobbly in places ( I think I can honestly say I am not going to make a living from novelty cake making )but we did it! J loved it and we had to hide it until Sunday as he wanted to play with it.

So my first homemade novelty cake. If I can do it, ANYONE can do it!!

The only thing now is we had such a good time making it (Si and myself), that I want to make another. Maybe we could have an all singing and dancing Christmas cake! We will have to see.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Follow your heart not your brain!!

So after a couple of weeks of going through a hundred different thoughts and ideas about what I want to do ( I felt like I was going through career guidance at school again!!), I have have come to the conclusion that the only person that I need to impress regarding my own development, is, shock horror, myself. Given that I am my own worst critic, this is a tall order to meet. I have to be realistic in that we will hopefully be expanding our family in the next couple of years and J is not starting school for a couple of years either, so it would be ridiculous to start trying to complete a degree, or try to give a language or other course my full undivided attention, until we have got to a place as a family, where I can focus on something other than us as a unit. So I decided that as I am the chef of our household, I would throw myself into something I LOVE. Learning how to cook and bake.

So I am following my heart in order to feed my family and my brain. Plus The Great British Bake Off has started and there is no better time in my eyes to try and increase my baking and cooking knowledge, whilst using the medium of media to motivate myself, plus every episode makes me want to bake more and more exciting things (Battenburg here I come!!).

In order to get myself started, I decided that I needed a few things, so I made a trip to my local cake decorating shop in order to stock up on a few "essential" (cough, cough) items that I could not do without. I am not too sure that I definitely needed the icing roller or the three different shades of green food colouring/paste, but I got them.

So with my new kit, I have also decided to order an organic vegetable box on a weekly basis. This is the best thing I have ever done. Plus I am stupidly excited every Wednesday when Alan brings our delivery. Fabulous. I am making things that I have never ever thought I could. Not only that, I am realising that recipes are not really that difficult, as long as you read it properly. In fact the only reason I made the same 4 dishes over and over ( lasagne, chicken casserole, sausage casserole and beef in ale, in case you were wondering) was because I found the names of recipes and the huge amount  of ingredients really daunting.

One of my first exciting new creations were courgette polpettes and home made naans, which J helped with of course:

As you can see he was not too impressed with the dough!

All I can say is thank you Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall (?????). His recipe for the polpettes were delicious. Even J ate them, which considering they had green veg in them was a miracle. Admittedly they are not the prettiest things, but boy they were good. The only thing I would have added was possibly some cumin to give it a bit more of a kick, but I suppose you could add some chilli if you wanted some added kick. We will definitely be wheeling these out again.

I am so pleased that I have finally given myself a break and am doing something that I am really enjoying. the only problem now is that I may have to take up running in order to burn all of the extra calories off!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Career or No Career? That is the question.

Over the last few weeks, I have been questioning what I want to do with my time now that J is getting to an age where he will be going to nursery for a couple of days a week. I have played about with doing a cake decorating course, learning a language, doing a creative writing course, doing my Egytpology degree, going back to work..... The list just kept on going. After talking to my mum, I came to the conclusion that I just needed to focus on one thing and run with that. The only problem is what to do?

There have been a few things that have happened recently that have made me question what I should be doing and worse questioning my decision to be a SAHM.

 I recently went to a play group with J and was introduced to a group of mums with similar aged children to J. They were all very welcoming and after the usual introductions they began discussing how fabulous they all felt about having amazing jobs and managing to still be hands on mums. To be honest, I was in awe and thought that they were all amazing managing raising thier children and working.  That was until I spoke to them. One of the mums turned and asked me what I did for a living. I responded that I was a stay at home mum. She did not respond verbally, but looked me up and down and then turned her back on me and carried on talking to the group as if I was not there! Now I am 100% sure that I did not come across in any untoward way and that I did not give her any reason to respond to me in the way that she did. All I could do was walk away and play with J until song time and then  make my excuses and leave. I am also quite ashamed to say that I cried on the walk home and could not get my head around what had happened.

Over the last few weeks I have had a huge debate with myself as to what do I bring to the table? If some mums had thought that I had so little to offer to them based on the fact that I did not work, did it make me any less of a person?

Now back in the dark ages pre baby J, I did have a career, a good one to boot. One that I did really well at and one that I worked blinking hard at. However, once I found out I was pregnant, I realised that I was not living the dream and that after my mat leave I would have a very big desicion to make regarding whether or not I would go back to work.  After 9 mths mat leave, we decided that I could stay at home and raise J and any other children we would have. It was a hard decision and not one that we made lightly.

After much discussion with my girlfriends, husband, family and many other people (including a table of people at a wedding we attended - it was the red wine, honest!!), a general consensus was that a person is not defined by what they do professionally, how they look and what they have. A person is defined by how they treat others, what experiences they have encountered, thier actions, what they have learnt, thier friends and family. All of which, the mums at the playgroup could have found out, if they had bothered to talk to me. I also realised that I had made the right decision in being a SAHM. It is not easy at all, some days I really question my sanity when we are watching Monsters Inc for the one millionth time or when J is having one of his tantrums, but it is such a priviledge to be here with the little man and watch him grow up.

However, I have noticed that in recent trips to Tesco, is that I will talk to anyone. I will linger at the deli counter or till point having a chat with one of the assistants slightly longer than I should do, all in an attempt to have an adult conversation. I talk to people doing thier shopping who give me polite smiles that read "back away from the crazy lady!!" Now I do need to point out that I am not some crazy person who randomly skulks in the bacon aisle talking to complete strangers about the weather, but I do manage to talk to a large number of people about nothing! After our last trip to the shops where I needed some points putting on or card and I spent just a moment too long talking about J and his cheeky monkeyness, I realised that I needed some mental stimulation. So again what to do?

I wonder if anyone else is in the same boat and what they are doing. I feel that this could be a time for a little life coaching and a couple of hours of  serious thinking about what I want to do. The only thing I certainly know is that I won't be going back to work just yet and I certainly won't let any more people make me question my decisions. So watch this space whilst I have a ponder.....