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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Notes on Pocket Money


Money and boys is a limitlessly torturous combination. What could be worse than an indecisive, under-financed eight-year-old in a shop full of toys? Possibly an over-stimulated, furious, tractor-weilding younger brother. Or both, screeching in unison as you bolt for refuge in haberdashery. In trying to give my older boys an understanding of the value of money, I introduced the idea of pocket money (£2 per week) and it has got me exactly nowhere, bar intermittent trawlings of Poundland, and routine fury. These days they save, or rather we all forget, for months on end, and then I am suddenly, without warning, held for ransom for an Ipod Touch. The whole thing is impossible and I would whole-heartedly recommend steering well clear for as long as you can. I wish I had.

If you do give them money, make sure they have something very good to store it in. I had thought our best were two terracotta piggie banks from Brazil, given to the older ones when they were tiny, when the only currency money had was its potential suck/ choke value. Last weekend they went under the hammer (literally) as the nagging was starting to gnaw away at the potential enjoyment of just about anything done as a family. The haul from the middle one’s far out-weighed his brother’s: cue mumbled confessions about stealing loose change, moral outrage, fighting, and raging arguments about ownership, crime, and punishment.

As I said, best avoided, but if for the  sado-masichists out there, here are three of the best money boxes I have come across in my research for my column:

Better still, go to the bank and get some plastic coin bags for free…

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Notes on Advent calendars

work in progress

all my own work

What began as an idea for a group project progressed to solo, late-night sewing marathon, and has ended in an enormous argument over who stole the chocolate money from number 17. And it is only December 2nd.

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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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