I've been baking with them this morning. Baking some celebratory treats to mark the bank holiday and the fact that today my baby boy (elder son) officially leaves school.
He has one more exam after the half term holiday but otherwise he has now left school. He will be going to sixth form college in September but from now until then I will no longer have the house to myself. There have been mutterings about getting a job and a request that I teach him how to cook properly.
It is thanks to Pinterest that I found these two recipes.
A simple shortbread base of butter, sugar and flour is pressed into a shallow tin and partially baked while you make the filling.
The filling is made by blending lots of fresh lemon juice with lemon zest, strawberries, sugar and eggs.
A little flour and baking powder are added.
You then pour this mixture over the shortbread and put it back in the oven. The filling is very liquid indeed and I was a bit alarmed at this point as it seemed too runny to produce anything firm enough to cut into bars.
I needn't have worried, the filling emerged from the oven firm yet wobbly.
Once it had cooled down I cut it into 16 bars. The perfect number for a family of five. Dessert on Friday, Saturday and Sunday plus one extra for quality control.
I take care of quality control. Someone has too.
What you end up with is shortbread topped with a strawberry-lemon curd.
Intensely lemony and strawberry-y.
They will make a lovely fresh summery dessert.
I shall be trying this recipe out with raspberries later in the summer.
If you'd like to try it out I converted the cup measures of the original recipe to ounces and copied the recipe out in my recipe book.
Now for the chocolate. Chocolate in the form of that great Italian invention, Nutella.
The recipe said the cake batter should be quite stiff so that the Nutella could be swirled through it. I felt it was a little too stiff to do this easily. Next time I will add a tablespoon or two of milk to the batter.
You need a generous teaspoon of Nutella on each cake.
Lick the spoon. Do not be tempted to skip this part, it is essential for a baker's wellbeing.
Swirl the Nutella through the cake batter with a skewer or other pointy implement. Lick that too.
When baked the Nutella becomes crunchy on top but remains soft inside the cake.
I converted the cup measures for this recipe too although I actually prefer to use American cup measures for American recipes. I think they're easy to use especially for measuring dry ingredients.
These books were well-loved by all of my children. Although I don't think the boys care about them any more my daughter is unwilling to let them go. I am glad because I don't want to part with them either.
How many times have I read these stories to my children I wonder?
Shirley Hughes was born in 1927. She began illustrating children's books in the 1950s, books like the My Naughty Little Sister stories by Dorothy Edwards and Something To Do which I mention in this post.
In 1960 she illustrated her own story, Lucy and Tom's Day. It was to be the first of many books written for and about small children.
Shirley Hughes' stories are firmly rooted in reality. They deal with the everyday happenings of a small child's life. New wellies, trips to the seaside, birthday parties, baby sitters, losing a beloved toy, helping mummy in the kitchen, chatting to neighbours, playing with siblings, going to the park.
Although a lot of Shirley Hughes' books were written in the 60s and 70s when I was a small child I don't remember reading them or having them read to me. I first discovered them when I was teaching some twenty years ago.
What struck me most about them was that the world she illustrated was my childhood. The setting of these stories is not the rural idyll of Milly Molly Mandy but a city, or suburb exactly like the area in which I grew up. The houses her small characters inhabit are Victorian terraced houses just like ours was. The parks and schools, the high street shops were the same as the ones I visited. Our milkman actually looked like the milkman in Alfie Gets in First (the chap with the beard).
The interiors of the houses had the same cosy, friendly, mis-matched furnishings as our house had.
My mum hung washing on a line in a back garden very similar to this one.
This could be the road my parents live in.
My birthday parties were not outside, not in December, but sandwiches, sausages on sticks and cake were a feature of every one. (My mother-in-law had to abandon sausages on sticks after one memorable party she gave for my husband. Apparently his little friends took the cocktail sticks from the sausages, inserted them into the drinking straws and used them as blow guns).
The big jug of autumn berries and seedheads in this picture reminds me so much of the kind of arrangements my mum used to make.
Shirley Hughes last published a book in 2009. Even her most recent books have a nostalgic but somehow timeless quality. A bibliography of her work can be found here.
If you have pre-school children and haven't discovered Shirley Hughes yet then I urge you to try her out.
My daughter came home yesterday with the news that she would be performing first.
Fantastic! I could go along, watch her, and then push off home returning when it was all but over to collect her.
Even better news came when I arrived at the school. Daughter's friend's mother offered to bring her back at the end. Wonderful, wonderful lady.
Daughter and friends performed well. No inappropriateness, no forgetting their routine, all in time with each other and the music, all confident and well put together. I watched it with a big smile on my face which I did not have to paste on.
They didn't win, the winner was a piano player.
Thank you for all the comments. What a lot there were. I was rather relieved to find I wasn't alone in my dislike of talent contests.
Now that's over I have to worry about younger son returning home today from paintballing unscathed. Honestly who thinks letting a bunch of 14 year old boys shoot each other is a good idea? Apparently younger son's friend's parents do. At least they're paying.
And last but not least of my worries are my elder son's GCSEs which he is in the midst of. He seems to be getting by on the minimum amount of revision. He comes home saying
'It went well, but I ran out of time and didn't do all the questions'
'Aren't you supposed to do them all?'
'Yeah, but it doesn't matter, I'll still get at least 80%'
How does he know this?
To take my mind off parental worries I made chocolate cake.
It makes a nice contrast with my fit fridge don't you think?
I never use my Brown Betty teapot for tea. I do love it though so I thought it might earn its keep as a flower receptacle.
This Friday I have to attend an event which I am absolutely dreading.
My daughter's school talent show.
I cannot begin to describe how much I loathe Britain's Got Talent and the like.
I avoid them like the plague.
Dross, dross and more dross is my overriding impression of them, closely followed by superficial, superficial and superficial.
They are banned from our television.
For the last couple of weeks I have been hoping my daughter will return home from school and say she has decided not to enter the talent competition.
This is looking less and less likely.
So on Friday evening I will paste a smile on my face and watch her parade around with two of her friends wearing make-up (of which I strongly disapprove) and a hideous t-shirt from Primark (rabbits wearing top hats).
I haven't seen their dance routine yet but I have made it clear that there will be no suggestive or otherwise inappropriate moves. Actually, I haven't made this at all clear as it is rather difficult to explain exactly what I mean by inappropriate to a very young eleven year old. I'm just hoping and praying. No doubt there will be other performances that will involve small girls gyrating their hips suggestively and singing lyrics intended for grown women.
Ah well, it's all in a good cause.
It will raise money for the school.
A school which my daughter is leaving in a few weeks.
Whatever happened to school choirs?
I'd love to go and hear my children sing in a properly rehearsed choir, or perform some choral poetry or do some country dancing.
I remember doing all of those things at my primary school, we even had a maypole that screwed into the hall floor and we learnt how to dance round that.
Maybe my primary school was an exception, but we put on very polished productions at least twice a year; Toad of Toad Hall, The Wizard of Oz, A Midsummer's Night's Dream and spectacular nativity plays each Christmas. My daughter's school doesn't even run to a carol concert at Christmas these days.
Thank you for your enthusiastic response to my last post. I must say I never imagined I'd be envied for my fridge! I have to admit that the healthy eating thing is a new regime. Not that we didn't eat a healthy diet before; there were just too many add-ons in the form of cake, biscuits and puds. I wanted to make it easier to reach for some fruit rather than a biscuit. As you know I love nothing better than a peaceful baking session in my kitchen but I have discovered that a peaceful chopping and peeling session is just as rewarding and I'm still baking flapjacks and muffins for the children, and bread of course.
Yes, the milk bottles have stopped coming and it's back to supermarket milk.
The reasons? Well, firstly the milkman didn't always deliver glass bottles, sometimes it came in plastic cartons like the ones above. Secondly, the rest of my family disliked the layer of cream that coated the necks of the bottles, and thirdly, and this was the deal-breaker, my milk bill for 44 pints came to £28.60, from the supermarket it would be £13.75. Of course I knew it would be expensive, but I hadn't really appreciated just how much. I think I'd rather buy some salmon fillets or a free-range chicken with the £14.85 extra the milkman costs. The plastic cartons are still recyclable.
My second failure is in taking my tubs to the deli to be filled with plastic free foodstuffs. I'm not doing at all well at this. The deli is a car journey away and again more expensive than the supermarket. Less plastic or extra driving? It's a green dilemma to be sure.
At the supermarket I am trying hard to buy things with less plastic but again there is a financial cost. For example my weekly bag of own-brand porridge oats comes in a plastic non-recyclable bag and costs 99p. I briefly switched to a brand in a cardboard box (Scott's Porage Oats), it has no liner either making it a good green choice but it costs £1.75. Soap, is another example. I buy a pack of four bars because they are cheaper than individual bars, but they come wrapped in plastic, likewise packs of baked beans.
It's not all a tale of failure and expense though. These marvellous reusable bags are worth spending money on.
Onya bags. They fold up into a little pouch. I take five with me when I go shopping.
They are about the size of a carrier bag and stronger.
It's a good idea to have the bags already unfolded before you get to the checkout.
They are a bit fiddly.
I also bought some of these wonderful mesh bags to use for loose produce instead of the those thin plastic bags. Fab for either the supermarket or a farmshop and so much easier to open than the plastic ones.
You get five in a little pouch.
You can store your produce in them too.
Another product I bought from Onya was these sandwich wraps to use instead of clingfilm. these are proving very successful indeed. I'm glad I bought a couple of the larger (check) ones for elder son and Charlie to use though as the standard size is only big enough for one sandwich.
So, in summary, the milk is too expensive, the deli is too expensive, not buying in bulk is too expensive but spending a load of money on bags and whatnot isn't :o)
I know, contrary aren't I? But I won't have to keep on buying the bags. They are part of my shopping kit now.
I had intended to show you my beautiful peonies before they went over, but alas, I was too late.
My roses have begun to flower though.
By the way you may have noticed my Pinterest button up at the top of my sidebar. Pinterest is a marvellous website which allows you to go rushing all over the internet collecting stuff you like and pinning it on virtual pinboards. It also means you spend a whole day sitting in front of a screen and not cleaning the bathroom or hanging out the washing.