There is always jam

Preserve making with the Saturday Telegraph magazine, and the darling Oscar

Preserve making with the Saturday Telegraph magazine, and the darling Oscar

I am allowing myself a lull. I’ve stopped writing my regular column for the Telegraph and started having bonfires, hoping to find some room for inspiration as I clear out the contents of my office. It’s a distracting job. And although this second I feel at the bottom of the creative pit, it turns out I have produced a few rather nice features over the years. In this piece, published nearly 6 years ago, and which I had quite forgotten about, I bang on about the joys of making jams and jellies as home made presents. I think I will take my own advise and give it a whirl. After all, the sun in shining, the trees are dripping with fruit, and for once in my life I don’t have a deadline….

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Here we go again

boys in the kitchen

Keeping it real in the kitchen

Having spent the past few weeks trawling for craft ideas for my Telegraph page, and with Christmas nipping at my heels, today I confiscated the boys’ ipods and goaded them into getting creative. Without shouting. And curbing my stifling will to art direct their every move. The eventual result, through the over-turned felt tip box, the spilt water, and the whisk licking, was two boxes of chocolate brownies, two and a half jars of very crumbly fudge, and a quite nicely coloured-in robot mask.

Doing almost anything with three growing boys at the moment involves embracing the chaos whilst staying resolutely in charge. And remembering to breath. But they need to learn that life isn’t all about instant gratification, that not everything comes in app form, and that often the most satisfying things are the ones you work unexpectedly hard for. The disciplinarian in me might have been in over-drive today, but the brownies were delicious and the washing up was done by a very willing 10 year old.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies fit for a 10 year old

Melt a WHOLE pat (250g) of butter over a low heat with 275g dark chocolate (about a bar and a half of Bournville). In another bowl whisk together 3 eggs, 275g castor sugar and a splash of vanilla essence, then pour into the chocolate mixture and combine. Stir through 225g plain flour and a pinch of salt, pour into a lined baking tray and bake at 180 for about 20 minutes until just set.


Out of the chaos came something very delicious: Chocolate fudge brownies

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The biscuit resolution

Move over Maryland

Move over Maryland

My boys eat too many biscuits. I know it for a fact. After school they go at the tin at high speed, cramming their sullen little faces with transfats and refined sugar before I can say ‘portion control’.  So yesterday evening, in my resolve to change their snacking and television habits, I yanked them away from Tracy Beaker and suggested we do some baking. There is not much call for fancy shapes and hundreds and thousands in our kitchen; the boys like a no-nonsense face full of biscuit, preferably stuffed with chocolate chips and free from anything purporting to be healthy. No raisins, no oats, no honey. This recipe calls for half a pat of butter, but at least I know it is there and can ration the biscuits accordingly. The butter is melted which makes the mixture really easy to stir into a sloppy dough, even if you are five years old and fending off your brothers with both elbows.

Easy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Half a pat of butter is melted and poured into a bowl, into which you stir 170 grams of light brown sugar (or whatever colour you have), 1 egg, 150 grams of plain flour, half teaspoon of baking powder, 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and as many chocolate chips as you can justify. Spoon into widely spaced dollops on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Cook in a hot oven (190°C) until slightly golden (about 10 minutes), leave to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Ours are finished already.

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smoothie slurping school uniform

weekend breakfast treat

There is a fury about the house as I have put the brakes on the ‘fun cereal’. What started as a means to a lie-in on a Saturday morning (leaving the open box, bowls and spoons on the table the night before) developed into a nasty habit over the summer, with at least three bowls, plus covert handfuls being consumed by Boy 1 daily. Quite apart from the scary amounts of salt and sugar in each perfectly engineered shape, or the shocking spike in rowdiness within seconds of consumption, it was the fact that our dog, who will willingly eat anything, even tangerines and cucumber peel, would not go near a Cheerio that made me take action. She is a dog and she knows they are bad. I am an educated woman knowingly feeding my growing boys junk and then complaining about the consequences. Time to act like a lurcher and turn my nose up. They are back on Ready Brek, with the following smoothie to cheer them up at weekends, when we have run out of milk, or when the bananas have all gone black:

In a jug put:

1 or 2 bananas (the ones that have come back from school uneaten in the lunch box work particularly well)

2 ice cubes (not necessary, but popular for the head freeze factor)

Any or all of the following: old grapes that nobody thinks they want to eat, a peeled, cored and sliced apple, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries (fresh or frozen).

1 spoonful of runny honey

2 tablespoons of natural yoghurt

About half a cup of fruit juice (NB NOT grapefruit)

About half a cup of porridge oats or Ready Brek

Plunge a hand blender into the mixture and blend until thoroughly mixed.

Interesting variations:

1. put the ice cubes in last, do not plunge the blender in far enough, and marvel at how quickly you can pebble dash your entire kitchen

2. substitute all of the fruit (except the bananas) with 4 teaspoons of drinking chocolate powder, and replace the fruit juice with milk.

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Beach Life

hot chocolate by the beach fire

beach boards

YES SIR, I CAN BOOGIE There are moments, at this time of year, when the sea becomes an impenetrable wall of polystyrene boogie boards, and my father reminds anyone listening that wooden ones are far superior. Understated and decidedly retro, wooden boards cut through the surf at a faster rate than their fluorescent cousins.
The, a shop and cafe on the Lizard peninsula, makes the original Cornish belly boards, £40, which it sells alongside kits for making hot chocolate on the beach (£20) and cosy recycled blankets to wrap up in when the tide has turned (£20).

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Children’s notebook: baking

Telegraph logoBaking with children is a complicated dance around the kitchen, elbows out and mixing bowl held high to keep small, greedy fingers at bay.

Cooking with kids

get your pinny on

Now that mine have mastered the hand-held electric whisk, my walls are textured with cake mixture, clinging cement-like to the tiles. But I still love cooking with them, particularly when all ingredients can be mixed together in one bowl, and I can retreat to a safe distance. Better still when everyone is in aprons, and the work surface is covered with something easy to clean. I love just about everything by the Dutch designer Sabine Engel, especially this apple apron, £13.50. read more

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