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Baking Birthdays Family Kitty Milestones



I think, at least I really hope, that Kitty had a wonderful third birthday.


It felt a little bit like Christmas in some ways; the excitement building in the week and days beforehand (and that’s both parents and daughter) as invitingly noisy parcels started to arrive in the post or at the front door, only to be squirrelled away she knew not where in anticipation of the big day.

There were the discussions about birthday breakfast (Mickey Mouse waffles and “bluebellies”), birthday lunch (pork pie and olives) and birthday supper (sausages), a special trip to the supermarket to choose the cake she took to nursery today (Disney Princess traybake) and of course, her birthday cake itself (“Peenk! And Purple!”).  And when H took Friday afternoon off work and we all headed to the park for a little photoshoot and a lot of playing pirate ships, her joy was complete.

We showed her her video, and as the first picture scrolled she turned to me with awe;

“It’s me! And that’s me too!”

She sat transfixed.  I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction.

Saturday morning started with smiles all the way from Devon as my sister and her family showed Grandpa exactly why he really really should buy some sort of a device with facetime on it (hint hint Dad) when they called us to send their love and Happy Birthdays, and we discovered, not for the last time that day, that Miss Kitty, outgoing in so many things, will hide in my shoulder if anyone other than Mama and Daddy sings Happy Birthday to her!20130921-DSC_0322

H’s parents came to spend a couple of hours with us, and the power of the interwebs also brought her lovely godmother all the way from London to our lounge, followed by her aunt from Scotland a few hours later.  I love that even though our family is so widespread we all get to be there in virtual reality to celebrate together; peeking through little windows into each others’ worlds.

We’d covered the lounge floor with pink and purple balloons, and she was so distracted by checking out which ones had princesses on, and booting them up into the air where they drifted to land around a bemused Elma that it took her a little while to notice that one of the armchairs had grown a pile of presents overnight.


But not that long…!




The little camera bag is Mama-made, as is her birthday dress, and they deserve a post of their own sometime.  H had found a Doc McStuffins doctor’s set which she couldn’t get out of the box fast enough, and has been carrying around with her ever since; I’ve never had so many check ups in such a short space of time in my life but I’m happy to say that my “heart-beep” is good, and my eyes and ears have been given a clean bill of health.

And thanks to some fabulous recommendations from my fellow What We’re Reading bookworms and her Grandpa’s excellent taste in literature, we now have a wonderful pile of new stories to explore.

At teatime we unveiled the cake; lemon sponge layers with purple buttercream, pink lemon icing and a scattering of pink hearts, all topped off with fairies from a cupcake decorating set my sister gave me years ago, and that all important number 3.


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It was (and is) delicious, even if Madam has a tendency to consume rather more icing and rather less cake than her mother might prefer.

To run off all of that sugar, and for a little fresh air all around, we drove down to one of Kitty’s favourite playparks just before supper, and the late afternoon sunshine, and the relative emptiness of a park that late in the day put the seal on a wonderful day.

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Both girls took turns on the swings, and Kitty was off climbing cargo nets, running across bridges and scooting down the slides, before home for supper, bath, several new stories, and bed.

It was a simple birthday, no big party with a big fanfare, and aside from the presents and cake, not even that different from our normal family Saturday.  But somehow it seemed a perfect fit for my newly three year old; a day filled with her choices and enjoyed by us all.


Baking Birthdays Elma Family Kitty

Happy Birthday to us!


I’m usually a stickler for rigorous adherence to the proper date for important celebrations. Christmas presents aren’t to be opened a minute before 25th December and birthdays should be a proper surprise on the day itself; although the cards and decorations can stay up for weeks. But every rule has its exception and I find that mine, unsurprisingly, relates to cake.

Raspberry Mascarpone layer cake, birthday cake

More specifically, my birthday cake. A triple layer raspberry mascarpone filled almond sponge with pale pink icing and a smattering of raspberries on top was not going to make it to London intact, not even if baking paper, tinfoil, bubble wrap and a sturdy cake tin all stood guard.

So we had birthday dinner on Thursday night, a full 15 hours before I turned a year older, but the cake, the cake was good!

Raspberry Mascarpone layer cake, birthday cake

And on Friday morning we opened a few cards and fled rapidly in our different directions. Kitty and H caught the train to join us on Friday evening and we all met up at our hotel to open birthday cards and have a little duvet picnic before two exhausted little girls were tucked up and put to bed.

Elma asleep

And right on cue the cavalry arrived, well to be precise, the Honourable Artillery Company.

It’s very reassuring in these turbulent times to see that an artillery company in the British army can put on a cracking display of explosions, and from our window we had a grandstand moonlit view of the fireworks with the lights of the Shard glowing away in the background.






So that’s how we finished our thirty-third birthday, our fourteenth spent together, sat by the window of a room on the Premier Inn’s eighth floor, in a little puddle of moonlight, drinking a cool beer (H) and eating Waitrose salted caramel chocolate cookies (that would be me), as our beautiful daughters sighed and dreamed, and dreamed again, talking over the minutiae of our every day; work, parenting, the girls, H’s art, my knitting. It wasn’t flashy, and apart from not having to do the washing up, it wasn’t even that different to any other evening (although it was nice not to have to wash up, don’t get me wrong), but it was quietly lovely, and the cookies were excellent.

Baking Cooking Recipes

Five Feasts


Delicious things that we’ve been eating from the internets (and a magazine)

Tiger Bread (from Bread magazine)

I can’t find a link to Bread magazine which is frankly a travesty. I can’t imagine that they are entirely without a web presence but it seems that for the time being they have decided to hide their light under a bushel. Or my Google-fu is weak, which is entirely possible.

The only extraordinary ingredient to this loaf is the rice flour in the crust, but thanks to some recipe or other we had a barely touched packet lingering at the back of the cupboard just waiting to be discovered and put to use. On a complete tangent, wouldn’t it be great if flour companies could take a leaf out of the jam pot cookbook and make little ‘sample’ sizes of unusual flour, 100g or so, so that you could try out whatever it was that made me buy rice flour, buckwheat, or dark rye in the first place (to name but a few) without my spending the rest of its sell by date wondering how to use it up or justify the cupboard space.

Anyway, the bread. Delicious to eat and incredibly tactile to make. After shaping a nice white bread dough you mix together rice flour, plain flour, a little yeast, salt, sugar and some water to make something that’s supposed to resemble wallpaper paste. I’ve never wallpapered so I went for ‘gloop’, vaguely reminiscent of something we used to play with at playschool that involved water and shredded paper; was it a glue? Then you smother this nice smooth dough with a thick layer of the gritty gloop and bake it.


and lo – wallpaper paste becomes tiger (or “gi-giraffe” according to Kitty)

It’s beautiful to look at, and as I said, disappears at a rate of knots, but is almost impossible to slice neatly, which may account for the speed of dispatch. Next time I’m going to use a bread tin and just wallpaper the top of it. Less fun, slightly more practical -oh dear, that sounds worryingly grown up.

Coconut Rosemary Carrots and Lamb T-bones from French Foodie Baby.

Kitty adores carrots.  I am certain that she will be able to see well in the dark or have curly hair or whatever it’s supposed to be; this little girl puts them away in preference even to roast potatoes (although I think I saw the Yorkshire Pudding start to edge it last Sunday).  But while she would quite happily have them peeled, sliced and boiled for every meal, the rest of us like a little variety now and then.  But what to do with them? I ask, and the internet answers.

Helene’s blog is a fount of wonderful recipes, beautifully photographed, and really easy to follow, and this is no exception.  I would never have thought of baking carrots in coconut milk steeped with rosemary, but the result is a fragrant parcel of tender little slices, with just a little twist on a familiar taste, perfect for introducing another new taste to Kitty, and a lovely accompaniment to Cornish lamb T-bones.

Peepo Flowers, riffed off the Peekabo Bread from A Beautiful Mess.

You knew all this savoury stuff wasn’t going to last didn’t you;  this cake had my name on it from the start.  My one and only attempt at a surprise cake (green and white checks for H’s birthday) was either a bit of a wobbly disaster or I invented giant piles of cake pops as a ‘thing’ long before they caught on the pages of cupcake magazines.  But this, this looked doable.


I used an M&S madeira slab cake for the centre flowers, and for the raspberry cake I subbed the plain flour plus raising agents for a similar quantity of self-raising.  I also halved the sugar as the original recipe had double what I’d ordinarily add to a 2 egg cake.  We even managed to get most of the raspberries in the batter despite some small marauding fingers.

The finished raspberry cake was more of a muffin consistency than a true sponge, but it tasted good and held up to the madeira flowers nicely.  I’d love to try this with homemade cake in the centre next time, but it’s going to need to be something sturdy to stand up to the slicing and dicing – any suggestions?

Homemade Creamsicles also from A Beautiful Mess.

I’d show you pictures but I’m afraid we ate the evidence. Kitty had been carting the ice lolly moulds around with her for about a week when this cropped up in my feed reader and the highlight for her may well have been getting to stir and pour the molten ice cream; she was not keen on the idea of putting them in the freezer and still less the realisation that she’d have to wait for supper time before we could get them out again.

As for the results, American readers will have to let me know whether they’re a childhood staple over the water as I can’t think of anything English that would be an equivalent. I suppose a smooshed up Solero would be as close as you’d get; it’s a creamy orange granita with a blob of cream at the stem. The orange granita part was really refreshing, part way between an ice lolly and full on ice cream but the frozen double cream was a bit chewy for my taste.

If I were to make them again (and a trial run at a pink grapefruit flavour is almost certainly on the cards) I’d leave the cream out or swirl it in completely, the little lump doesn’t do it for me, although I’m entirely prepared to accept that it’s the green fruit pastel element (you don’t really like them, but it wouldn’t be a packet of fruit pastels without them).

Strawberry Rhubarb Apple Tart also from French Foodie Baby


And last, but by no means least, a little bit of show off baking, a layer of apples on a strawberry and rhubarb puree all tucked up in a spelt case flavoured with fresh basil.  Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds, sweet without being saccharine, and with perfectly balanced flavours.

When I make this again, and it is definitely a ‘when’, my only alteration would be to return the puree to the pan and reduce it a little more before I put it in the pastry case, mine was just a little too runny to stay on the pastry once we’d cut a slice, which is partially the reason why there are no photos of the tart post-baking, the main reason of course being that we ate it!

My Pinterest board called What’s for Supper, which is mostly full of deeply calorific things that I want to try, has been around for a while, so I’ve also now added a new one, We saw, we cooked, we ate it, with some of the things I’ve actually cooked, together with my cooking notes.  Hopefully it will prompt me to make some inroad into the ‘make me’ list!

Baking Cooking Recipes

Butternut Squash Pizza


Disclaimer: I hold myself in no way responsible if this post makes you hungry. I’ve only put the pictures together so far but I’ve had to do a little detour to the kitchen for a slice of bread and butter. If you’re reading this while supper cooks, maybe come back later.

Because, yes, hurrah, and all good things; our veg box had a butternut squash in it, the supermarket ably compensated for the effects of all of that snow earlier in the year rampaging through my herb garden, leaving them a little on the bonsai side, and we even found some buffalo mozzarella to add to the mix. So for Mandy, who asked for the recipe, and anyone else who gets a little tired of cheese and tomato, this is how to make my absolute favourite pizza:

Butternut Squash and Sage Pizza


Ingredients :
(this recipe makes three main meal sized pizzas)

for the base

1lb 2oz (500g) strong white bread flour
2 tsp. (7g) dried yeast
0.5 oz (10g) sea salt
2 tbsp. dried oregano
5 tbsp. olive oil
0.5 pint (300ml) tepid water

for the topping

1 butternut squash
1 handful fresh sage
1 ball buffalo mozzarella
smidgen of fresh parmesan (optional)
drizzle of olive oil (optional)



  1. Put the flour in a bowl together with the salt, yeast and dried oregano. Put the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the olive oil to the tepid water and pour them onto the flour.
  3. Mix until it starts to come together as a soft dough, then turn out onto a worksurface and kneed for 10 minutes until the dough is silky smooth. (As just about all prodding and pulling at the dough will help, this is a great step for little cooks to help with; Kit loves playing with it, although I do have to keep a weather eye to stop too much dough disappearing into a tiny tummy).
  4. Lightly oil the mixing bowl, then pop the dough in it, cover the top with clingfilm/ damp teatowl/ spare showercap and leave somewhere warm to prove until doubled in size (1-2 hours ish depending on how warm your house is).
  5. When the dough has risen, tip it out onto a lightly floured worksurface and divide into however many pizzas you want. I make three and we often have leftovers (great cold for lunch the next day).
  6. Shape each portion into a ball, then flatten with your hands. To stretch it further you can either use a rolling pin, or whirl it around in your fingers. We go for the whirling, but we’re not very good so we tend to get slightly wonky pizzas.
  7. Place each on baking parchment on a baking tray and set aside. If you don’t have any baking paper you can just use a smidgen of olive oil on the tray; I use the parchment because I only have two baking trays so I need to do a quick change over when I’m cooking, and the baking paper makes that easy.
  8. Pre-heat the oven to 200 C and gather your topping ingredients.
  9. Peel the butternut squash and slice as thinly as you can. They aren’t the easiest things to cut so use the biggest sharpest knife you have.
  10. Lay overlapping slices of the squash over your base.DSC_0159.jpg
  11. Take a handful of fresh sage, tear it roughly and scatter all over the top.DSC_0164.jpg
  12. Pull the ball of mozzarella into little pieces and scatter over the top.
  13. If you want to, add a smidgen of freshly grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  14. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Precisely how long it will take will depend on how thinly your rolled your pizza base and sliced your squash. I find mine usually take nearer to the 15 minute mark, but it’s better to check at 10 mins than end up with burnt pizza. The cheese should be melted and golden, the crust light brown and the squash soft and tender.




Baking Cooking Family Recipes

Rebuilding a recipe book


If there was one culinary constant in my childhood it was this, the All Colour St Michael Freezer Cookery Book:
It’s a classic of 1970’s style, including such recipes as “Chicken breasts a la Kiev”, “Chicken and mushroom vol-au-vents” and “French fried potatoes”, all presented and photographed with such an overwhelming harvest gold haze you can practically feel the polyester velour backdrop. Mum had a whole cupboard of cook books, but with the exception of the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cakes book, I don’t recall her ever consulting another.

It was published in 1976 and must still have been popular in 1978 when Mum and Dad married, I wonder whether it was a wedding present? She ended up with two copies, one in our house in Devon, and the other in the school accommodation we lived in while Dad was teaching.  When my sister and I set up our own homes, and she and Dad retired, she gave one to each of us, and promptly spent so much time on the phone to Zee double checking the recipes that she gave Mum another copy.  They are all three a little battered, fall open at certain pages, and are liberally sprinkled with Mum’s notes and adaptations; changes to method, or notes on oven temperatures and timings.
If I want to make a childhood favourite and I can’t remember off the top of my head, I open up St Michael, and whilst I’m unlikely ever to attempt the gelatinous wonder that is “Tomato and herb ring” any time soon, this is one cookbook from which I won’t be parted.
But there are a few things that aren’t there, the recipes that Mum knew off by heart or ‘shock horror’ got from somewhere else. They’re my nursery favourites, the food that reminds me of being cosseted and nourished as a child, the ultimate in comfort food. I want to be able to cook them for my little family, and so there’s only really one thing to do; culinary reconstruction.

Actually, that’s Plan B, Plan A, when the Riverford box arrived with a glut of baby spinach, was to phone Zee to ask if she had the recipe for Spinach and Almond flan.  Her answer?

“Isn’t it in the St Michael Freezer Cookery Book?”

(I rest my case)

And after a little experimentation, I’ve concocted something that, if not exactly the recipe Mum used, produces the taste I remember.  Family, friends, passing internet acquaintances and the googlebot, may I present to you:

Spinach and Almond flan a la Gill


for the pastry

6oz (150g) plain flour
3oz (75g) butter
1oz (25g) ground almonds
1 egg

for the filling

1oz (25g) butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
8oz (200g) spinach (whole if using baby spinach, centre stalk removed for grown-up spinach)
1oz (25g) flaked almonds, plus a small handful for sprinkling on top
2 eggs
1oz (25g) cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pint (300ml) full fat milk
pinch of salt and pepper


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C.
  2. Put the flour, butter and ground almonds in a food processor and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (alternatively rub the butter in by hand).
  3. Add the egg down the funnel with the motor running and keep it running until the pastry just comes together.  If your egg is small or it just doesn’t seem to be working, add cold water, a spoonful at a time.
  4. Wrap the pastry in greaseproof paper and pop it in the fridge for at least 20mins.
  5. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Sauté the onion in the butter until translucent.
  6. Add the spinach to the frying pan and cook over a gentle heat until it has wilted.
  7. Add 1oz of flaked almonds, stir, and set aside to cool.
  8. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a metal non-stick tin approx. 20cm x 30cm.  Don’t grease the tin, that way lies a soggy bottom.
  9. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and season.
  10. Put the spinach and almond mixture in the pastry case, then pour over the egg and milk.
  11. Top with grated cheese and a small handful of flaked almonds.
  12. Bake at 180 C for 30-35 minutes until the pastry is a light brown and pulling away from the edge of the tin and the cheese has turned golden.
  13. Allow to cool for a few moments before serving.  It tastes pretty good cold too, if you can make it last that long.