For the past few days we’ve been basking in real summer warmth. You know the type, when it’s almost too hot to do anything, when the dogs spend their days sprawling in the shade, the most energetic thing they do is to open and close one eye, just in case they should miss something. When the lizards scatter across the terracotta tiled roofs and when the frogs in the pond lay motionless in the sun, so well camouflaged one could almost miss them. The chickens take it in turns to indulge themselves in the dust bath and our newest addition, the ducks, spend every waking hour on the water. Read more
Happy hens = lots of eggs. That’s my theory and it seems that ours are thriving once again. It may be cold and wet, as winter has us firmly in her clutches, but our girls are laying contentedly. Oh and our daffodils are about to burst into flower even though we are currently shivering and snow covers much of Europe. Talking of the white stuff, I am sending our warmest thoughts to anyone in Chicago; I cannot imagine such cold.
Cupcakes and kisses, flowers and chocolates, you would be forgiven for thinking I am a hopeless romantic, that February 14th is one of my favourite days of the year – alas no, it’s not me but our two youngest daughters aged 8 and 10 who are obsessed with Valentine’s Day!
Browsing in shops in La Rochelle this week there was very little evidence of Valentine’s Day. Just a glimpse here and there of a red heart, a little reminder delivered with understated elegance.
The chocolatier offered exquisitely presented chocolates
sometimes with a hint of passion
The Florist, the Parfumerie – so simple, so chic, so French.
Our 14 year old is currently making stunning little figurines with oven-bake modeling clay and I borrowed some of the red and sat and made kisses and hearts, lots of them, it was strangely therapeutic! I put them in a little box which I covered and decorated and the next day they went in the mail to our eldest daughter at University in the UK. I told her a little package was on it’s way and she must not open it until Saturday, “but why not until Saturday Mama? I don’t understand” she said. We message and send a long line of kisses everyday but I just wanted her to feel extra special, to have a few extra kisses.
On the subject of kisses, how it tugs at the heart-strings when our little ones don’t really want to go to school, don’t want to leave us for a few hours, what do you do? Sometimes I blow them a couple of extra kisses, they catch them, it’s a routine we know well. I tell them to pop them in their pockets for later, so that when they feel a little low, a little insecure, they have those extra kisses warming their pockets – they can take them out and use them when they need to.
Sometimes, I write a little message in the palm of their hands, whilst they are struggling with something at school sitting at their desks they can take a little look, knowing I am thinking of them, knowing they are not alone – feeling loved always.
Do we ever need an excuse to eat cake? Probably not but this was an excuse to be a little more creative than usual. This is my standard cake recipe, I use it regularly whenever I make cupcakes or cakes. I always use spelt flour, we love the slightly nutty flavor it gives, but this recipe works just as well with plain or wholewheat flour. The cakes are a very light and fluffy sponge, not heavy at all as is sometimes the case with wholewheat flours. I don’t normally spend hours piping icing onto my cupcakes, they don’t usually last long enough to warrant such effort and to be honest they taste so much nicer without the extra sugar! However, these are special occasion cupcakes, I colored the butter icing with a little juice from some defrosted frozen raspberries and it produced a fabulous color without any artificial chemicals and gave the icing just the smallest hint of raspberry.
6ozs/170g butter, softened
6ozs/170g wholewheat spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons cocoa powder and 3 tablespoons water
(if using Spelt flour or Wholewheat flour I add 1 tablespoon milk)
Ok, so this is where I break all the baking rules. I put all the ingredients together in the mixer and beat on the lowest setting until everything is combined. Then I beat at top speed for about 30 seconds until the color changes and is lighter. You will just have to trust me on this one, I have been using this recipe, which is my own for many years and it always works, the cakes are mouth wateringly light. Place in cupcake holders and bake at 180C/350F for 12 – 15 minutes.
For a classic Buttercream Icing
5ozs/140g butter, softened
10ozs/280g Icing sugar
1- 2 tablespoons warm water
a few drops of vanilla essence
For the Pink Icing, I replaced the vanilla essence with the juice and pulp of a handful of frozen raspberries. I let them get really soft and then pushed them through a sieve straight into the icing mixture.
I then used a standard icing nozzle for the vanilla icing and a petal tip nozzle for the roses.
A little decadent but worth every second to see the smile on my children’s faces
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So this afternoon I have a recipe that is perfect for children to make. Our two youngest girls made these fabulous little Muesli balls at the weekend with a little supervision and today they made them all by themselves. Hmmm – I think she thought I wasn’t watching!
1 Orange, Mandarin or Clementine
100g chocolate melted
a little icing sugar for sifting
Finely grate the peel of the orange or mandarin or clementine (whichever you have to hand) into a bowl and then squeeze in the juice.
Add the Muesli.
Pour in the melted chocolate.
Stir the mixture well, then shape into balls each about the size of a walnut and put them into baking cases.
Sift over a little icing sugar.
Leave in the fridge for at least half an hour before eating.
I love that my children are learning to cook from a young age and take an interest in what they are eating. These are so delicious for adults and children alike. The orange gives them a wonderful flavor and the darker the chocolate the more grown up they become. We used 70% cocoa chocolate and I could serve these after dinner to a group of adults – the only bad thing is they don’t last long – but then they are so easy to make I’ll just have to ask them to make another batch…..