About Kate

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Homemade Biscuits for Cheese

Sometimes events collide in such a way that you have to just go with the flow and call it fate.  So when Santa left a brand new cookie stamp in my stocking, and a recent cursory examination of the fridge revealed mountains of cheese but absolutely no accompaniment, a spot of savoury biscuit making was the natural conclusion.

But which recipe to choose? I opted for the ever-reliable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s digestive biscuits, though having now baked and eaten most of them, I would suggest they are more like oatcakes (and all the better for that).  Making these is a messy old business; I suspect Hugh’s tumbling locks needed a hairnet during the critical stages.  I’d also suggest allowing some time for your freshly chilled dough to acclimatise back towards room temperature, or you will likely suffer from bicep/wrist strain when attempting to roll out your cookies.  Still, I do love a recipe which includes a full-body workout.

Finished article shown below, shortly before being hoovered up by the photographer (that would be me, I’m afraid).  These look even prettier before they are baked – see below – and I’ll certainly be trying the stamp on plain cookies for max effect.

River Cottage Digestives – Makes around 40 biscuits

  • 250g Wholewheat flour
  • 250g Quick cook oats
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of salt (his recipe calls for 2, but one worked great)
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 250g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1tbsp milk
  1. Combine all of your dry ingredients by pulsing in a food processor.  Add the butter bit by bit and mix to form a dough
  2. Gradually add in the milk – you may want to transfer to a bowl and do this by hand
  3. Wrap in clingflim and transfer to the fridge for an hour (you can leave it for longer and even freeze it at this stage)
  4. Bring the dough back upto temperature, preheat the oven to 180/350 degrees and cut out your biscuits before baking for around 10-15mins, until golden brown.  Whip out of the oven and attempt to wait until they have cooled before eating – this will make them decidedly less crumbly and be less likely to require a trip to Accident and Emergency.
  5. I suggest at least 4 should be eaten in the kitchen to test for consistency in quality before offering to family and friends…

A kitchen for the Mini-Gourmand

It was when we were raising a glass to the completion of our new kitchen that we belatedly noticed Harry stalking around stroking the cupboards and muttering gleefully ‘My new kitchen! What is in my cupboards? I cook now!’

Never one to miss an opportunity to raise an enlightened metrosexual, it seemed an opportune time to focus on completing the toy play kitchen I’ve been making out of bits and bobs in the garage, but which has fallen off the priority list since our house move.

I bought a dresser top from Ebay (a bargain at £12) and painted it with leftover cream Eggshell, then raided the local Poundsaver store for accessories; the sink (lasagne dish), cups, utensils and bread board all cost less than £1, which is just as well as their life expectancy is already in jeopardy after some flamboyant, Heston-style dramatic gestures from the toddler chef de cuisine. The recycled taps and knobs were procured during a visit to the local dump after I wrestled them off an unwanted sink and cupboard, with the wrench and screwdriver I tend to carry in my handbag (ex-Girl Guides are always prepared…).

Harry may be a dab hand in the kitchen, but he is still inevitably a small boy, so guests; be warned that top of the menu is Slug Soup and Worm Sandwiches.  At least you know he’ll have pretended to wash his hands before dishing up…



The finished play kitchen, complete with accessories…and the original Ebay find (below)

The kettle and toaster were an Amazon.co.uk find

The hob (below) was made with CDs and silver-sprayed wooden knobs

The cupboards are filled with empty food packets and a junk store tea set, plus this rather fabulous toy cake stand from Grandma

I admit it; this was just a great excuse to buy and eat a whole camembert.

Hours of fun (and peace…)

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A-List Baking

Say what you like about Gwyneth Paltrow, the girl’s obviously got buns of steel and thighs that could crack a walnut at 30 paces. Previously I have attributed this to a diet of pea shoots and a life frittered away in the gym, so I was delighted to discover that au contraire,she maintains her svelte physique by baking and snacking on jammy biscuits.  Well okay then, we’ll call them gluten-free thumbprint cookies.

Harry and I unashamedly customised her recipe in her recent book ‘My Father’s Daughter’, having been delighted to find something so suited to our natural kitchen style, namely a cookie that is actually supposed to be a greyish-brown colour when finished, and also to have a very dented and uneven appearance.  I must ‘fess up that here the similarities end, as Gwyneth confidently predicted a batch of ‘around 50′ cookies, and our efforts yielded, well, 12.  This portion control could explain many things.  Still, H and I will maintain our belief that a proper cookie is one of a size which requires both hands to get a good grip.

Recipe follows… they taste wickedly, addictively good.  Eat one and then give the rest away. Quickly.

Step One: Combine all of the ingredients except for the jam.  Roll into balls and place of a baking sheet.  Demonstrated here by my beautiful assistant Ted Glen, of Postman Pat fame.

Step 2: Make a thumbprint dent, then add a healthy dollop of jam in the centre of each

Step 3: Bake in the oven for 20 mins.  Use this time to either a) kill yourself on the treadmill in preparation for the carb onslaught or b) make a large pot of coffee and locate a comfy chair and a plate.

Step 4: Admire, consume, repeat.

Recipe:

4 cups of Barley flour

3 cups of chopped almonds (we used pistachio nuts instead – we love them)

1 cup of Maple syrup

1 cup of oil

Pinch of salt, teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Jam – any flavour you like.

adapted from Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s  ’Lalo’s Cookies’ recipe

MadHatter’s Cake Stand

I spent last Summer vaguely lusting after the gravity-defying cake stands which popped up in every style magazine and chic home store (Anthropolgie does this kind of thing beautifully).  I convinced myself that it was exactly the kind of thing I could knock up at home on a wet Sunday, using thriftily purchased remnants of china from the charity store, to eventual gasps of awe from anyone who came to tea.

In the event it’s taken me about 6 months to acquire enough cups and saucers, within my self-imposed budget of no more than a couple of pounds for each, not least because I eventually opted for white porcelain pieces… somehow there’s a fine line between uber-stylish retro chintz and just full on mis-matched, chipped 70′s china, and I definitely kept finding the latter. Colourful egg-cups from Pip Studio provided a little burst of zingy colour in the otherwise-white ensemble.

So here it is, the finished result, albeit with a distinct cake deficit in this shot; we are still recovering from the cupcake frenzy of last week, so it may be some time before I can picture this properly laden with sugary delights. n.b. For anyone who is similarly inspired and reaching for the hot glue, there’s a definite knack to cobbling one of these together; my ‘how to’ notes are below…

Materials and methods:

  • 3 or 4 plates of differing sizes; I used a saucer, side plate, dinner plate and an optional under plate to rest it on
  • Selection of cups, mugs or egg cups all with flat rims – pile them up before glueing to check for wobble; they should sit happily and steadily before you attach them
  • Epoxy resin

To make:

  1. Compose your cake stand and try a number of different combinations. Decide which direction you want any handles to point in, and ensure you have enough height to layer cakes or biscuits on each tier. Step back and look at it from different angles before making your final decision.
  2. Clean each piece thoroughly and ensure they are fully dry.  Rub a little fine sandpaper over the base and rim of each piece you will be glueing, to increase the hold.
  3. Mix the epoxy resin together and apply to each piece in turn, working from the bottom and allowing each piece to set before adding the next layer.  Take great care to centre each piece, both aesthetically and to minimise the risk of any wobble
  4. Allow to dry fully, then test each join by pulling gently – the last thing your grand hostess-y entrance needs is to be marred by the sudden loss of the bottom tier of your cake stand at the moment critique….
  5. I used a spray of orchid in the egg cup at the top, but depending on the occasion might also use easter eggs, coloured hat pins, berried twigs etc – or for a true Madhatter touch, twisted and bent cake forks and spoons (but there’s a whole other load of trips to the charity shop before I manage to acquire those).

 

Hearth of the Home

Tonight’s the night, at long last! Sparks will fly, flames will ignite… but before I am accused of over-sharing, let me reassure you that I mean this in the most literal sense.  After months of preparation, we now have two open fires, one with a wood burning stove, just itching to be lit. Armed with firelighters, kindling, kiln-dried logs, scented wax pine cones and seemingly every other conceivable piece of fire-starting equipment, we are determined to raise a glass of weekend-is-here wine to the accompaniment of the crackle of logs and the warming glow of the hearth. All that remains are the two necessary precautions of alerting the local fire brigade and gaffer-taping our toddler son to a comfy chair, and we will be ready.

The journey began some weeks ago with the arrival of the promisingly-named Gareth The Sweep, who we chose at random for the completely irrelevant reason that he sounded like an extra from Under Milk Wood. In the event, Gareth proved to be a chirpy cockney who vanished up our admittedly spacious chimney breasts and reappeared smuttily the following week having exhaustively cleared all our nooks and crannies.

It has not escaped me that Spring has stealthily marched on whilst we have been labouring through the necessary preparations, so here are a few ideas which caught my eye for when warmer weather arrives and the fireplaces become simply decorative…

Since buying a giant 80cm glitter ball on Ebay from a nightclub which had folded, I’ve been looking for how to use it in the house… genius.

A contemporary twice on the traditional bust in a fireplace; the coral keeps it fresh, as does the angle.

Pumpkins would make a great Autumnal / Halloween accent

Antlers (faux or naturally shed of course..) would look great piled randomly in the hearth, or stacked in a fire basket

Too permanent for a simple seasonal shift, this nonetheless would look great in a disused hearth or – if the logs are cut shallowly enough – as a faux fireplace with a deep surround attached to an otherwise plain wall

Spring has Sprung

Despite last Thursday bringing a small snowstorm and temperatures of -8 degrees, today it seems that Spring has sprung, with a positively tropical 12 degrees and the gentle thrumming of lawnmowers providing a backdrop to the chirruping chorus of Spring birds. Gosh, it makes one come over all poetic.

After Harry and I had turned off the central heating, shed the thermals and taken a turn around the garden to examine all of the dead, frostbitten and unidentifiable foliage, we retired to the kitchen for a spot of Spring baking.

I bought these silicone cupcake cases from spiritual home Lakeland last year, and ‘runaway cakes’ made using the Hummingbird Bakery’s divine vanilla cupcake recipe have become a firm favourite in our house.  Usually though, they are unadorned or covered in a simple glaze, so today we decided to go the whole hog and hatch a batch of chicks.  The war-torn looking ones have resisted a 2-year old’s attempts to gouge out wings and eyes for an interim power snack.  I am choosing to ignore the fact that today’s post brought a letter from the government advising that under-5s need no added sugar in their diets. Well, quite…

Baked using:

  • Hummingbird bakery vanilla cupcake recipe
  • Classic buttercream icing with a hint of yellow colouring
  • Liquorice eyes
  • Banana candy sweets chopped in half for the wings
  • Coloured royal icing for the beaks and plumage
  • Industrial-grade surface cleaner for the clean-up operation…

Walls worthy of worship

One of the best things about having a new home is that once you’ve fixed the incredibly DULL things like boilers, rotten windows and Artex ceilings, you get to justifiably build a stockpile of gorgeous home decor magazines (known as ‘house porn’, I was informed by a hipper, cooler friend of mine..)  The fact that you have no money left after said renovations is irrelevant.  Elle Decor, like all good porn, is about the things you really want but can’t have, and know secretly that they wouldn’t actually work in your real world at all (though try telling a guy that Pamela Anderson would not work in their real world; most will vigorously disagree).

Once again I digress.

So back to my fantasy interiors list, which this week is devoted to the lovely Piet Hein Eek and his utterly gorgeous and preposterously expensive wallpaper.  I know this must be because it is hand-woven by spiders and printed by artisans using the rarest ochres and inks, but £200 a roll still makes me quiver with awe.  Still, behold the beauty of the Scrapwood range, which would look simply amazing on my wall (or inside my cupboards, or as an accent feature in a dark corner, or just ANYWHERE, frankly…).  The only way I will own some is by marrying Mr Eek himself, so I will instead stroke my small sample piece lovingly, and return to reality.

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Valentine’s Day Revival

It’s very easy when wrestling with jobs, toddlers and a crumbling, weary gem of a house to become a little, well, unmoved by Valentine’s Day.  The hustle and bustle of life combined with the unspoken thought that one’s Intended is not only now Intended but actually sort of already In The Bag can lead to a distinct lack of effort.

We realised we needed to remedy this and furtive, concerted efforts have been made in recent days, with much rustling and the occasional shriek of ‘don’t come in!’ when the other approaches unexpectedly.  The challenge we face is that of how to make grand romantic gestures on the deliberately austere budget we have agreed for such measures.  How dull.

My solution – at least in part – is to go personal with this homemade gift wrap, using a poem from our wedding, the lovely and highly unusual ‘Valentine’ by John Fuller.  Featuring the immortal lines ‘You are the end of self-abuse/I’d like to make you reproduce’, it certainly caused a stir amongst the congregation, and also a fit of choking in the Best Man who hadn’t read it properly before giving the reading.  Still, it has special memories so I played with some fonts and colours and printed it on A3 recycled paper, which just covers a box of the right size for my gift and has a suitably tactile texture. Let’s hope it does the trick..

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Homemade Family Tree

Your toddler years are probably the only time in your life where you are allowed – nay encouraged – to believe that you are the Centre of the Universe, around whom everyone else revolves.  Why not celebrate that with a scrapbook-style family tree? Harry is by now pretty clear on who his relatives are, but sometimes needs reminding.  He’s also fascinated by the connections between them and to him – particularly given that we’re a modern, blended family with all sorts of interconnectivities and the kind of complex histories that only a venn diagram could truly give order to.

We’re making this together (or rather, I make it with Harry issuing commands about who is placed where, wielding the glue stick and frequently peeling people off for a closer look, or to attempting to insert their photos into Postman Pat’s van, or attaching them to the fridge..so it’s hardly a zen, bonding crafting experience, it has to be said). We’ve taken a pretty liberal view of family, including favourite toys and friends as well as those from who Harry is genetically inseparable. It’s a work in progress as we collect photos to add in.  Be warned if you try this at home; EVERY single person who sees it will claim that you have used a terrible picture of them…

Baking for the Exceptionally Brave

Apologies to anyone reading this today (22/6); it was first posted in February and accidentally re-published during a site upgrade this morning!

Much is written about the challenges of parenthood, particularly early parenthood, but there is one topic on which I have yet to find words of wisdom; The Day Your Beloved Child Brings Home Their First Baking Project.  Carefully wrapped in a greasy, dog-eared paper bag, we received this culinary endeavour with appropriate awe and exclamations of pride; ‘You MADE this? wow! All by yourself? Amazing!’ …but it rapidly became clear that words were not enough.

We took a tentative, doughy mouthful each and chewed methodically for some minutes before Harry lost interest, returning some while later to say ‘I licked it already Mummy, it’s yucky’.  Mm-Mmmmm.

This anecdote caused great hilarity on my return to the nursery this morning, where the teacher exclaimed ‘My god, you actually tried to eat it? Are you crazy? Do you know where their hands have been??’  At this point she shuddered, before issuing the final, killing line; ‘Besides, Harry wasn’t bothered about making these, he played with trains instead. You got one of the communal ones’.

Dear God.  This, by the way, is a Cheesy Hedgehog, as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious. I must pass on the recipe to Nigella…

First Snow

Despite the fact that my son was born in a snowstorm and then Christened a year later amidst flurries as deep as he was high, Harry has never yet experienced snow.  The last snow fell when he was still crawling and tottering, oblivious to it all, so this winter he has been feverishly waiting for the kind of glorious, thickly falling snowball-snow promised by all the films and books he’s seen this Christmas.  We were finally rewarded last night with promises of an overnight dump, and Harry got to stand in his slippers in the garden and feel the first few flakes before bed.  He awoke – on a Sunday no less, how good does it get? – to knee-deep snow, of a perfect consistency for exploration.  The first shock was how utterly cold it is (who knew?), and then a whirlwind discovery of snowballs, sledging, frozen ponds and snowmen-building took place in the space of an hour, before hot chocolate was called for.  We took the opportunity to kick back and watch my husband clearing the driveway whilst we drank; there’s nothing like witnessing hard-work to wear you out.

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