Christmas Cake Day.

Standard

Many people will have made their Christmas cakes by now, but I am a little behind this year. In fact it wasn’t until I turned the page on the calendar yesterday, that it dawned on me I hadn’t done it, and we are now into October! I therefore set my fruit to soak last night and this morning, I have made the cakes. As I don’t feed my cakes with alcohol, it’s not such a big deal that it’s a little late this year, but I am told the flavour is greatly improved if they have had a chance to mature. I say I’m told this is true, because I don’t actually like fruit cake or dried fruit of any kind, but, I adore the smell of the spices, and right now, my house smells delicious as 2 of the 4 hours baking has passed.

The recipe I use is one from a book I always remember my Mum using way back. It was from a television series that used to be on in the 1970’s called The Farmhouse Kitchen -http://www.amazon.co.uk/Farmhouse-Kitchen-Dorothy-Sleightholme/dp/0950111317/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412249179&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=farmhous+kitchen . It was made by Yorkshire television, and from what I remember, it was a couple of older ladies, cooking their favourite recipes – I may be mistaken with this recollection, but it was a programme I only ever saw when I was off school sick as it was on in the afternoon. It was from the era when cookery programmes weren’t about celebrity chefs, and strange ingredients, but about recipes being followed that the viewer could go away, and make with some success.   The recipes were good hearty recipes to feed your family.   My Mum had several books from the series, and used them all regularly. Many of the recipes are accredited to viewers who had sent them in. I often go to them if I am stuck to find a recipe. They are however so old that the temperature in them are only in gas or farenheit, so I have to work out what I need to set my oven at in celsius!    Some of the recipes are a great snapshot of the era, with things that these days we wouldn’t think of creating, like brawn, or roast guinea fowl.      Its an interesting read.

Heres the recipe for Christmas Cake.

100g raisins
100g glace cherries – halved
100g mixed peel
450g currants
100g sultanas
2 tabs brandy
4 eggs
225g butter
225g soft brown sugar
225g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
100g ground almonds.

Put the fruit in a bowl and add the brandy. Leave to soak overnight – I don’t use brandy but a ginger cordial.
Prepare a 8″ cake tin.
Heat oven to 150c.
Cream butter and sugar.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well.
Add the flour, spice – I do add more spice than the recipe says as it adds to the depth of flavour, and ground almonds.
Mix in the fruit.
Bake for between 3 and 4 hours, until it is springy to the touch.
When cooled, store in an airtight tin until ready to decorate.

It is a very simple recipe, that I double the quantity to make more cakes. It is packed with fruit but not too heavy. I just know the boys will want to be eating it when they get home from school, so I am going to have to put them out of sight until they are totally cooled for storage.

I may not enjoy eating the cake, but it just wouldn’t be Christmas in our household without a slab of fruit cake sitting on the side!

Always a silver lining.

Standard

I am so tired at the moment, I could very easily just sit down and do nothing, in between the running up and down the stairs to my Mother. I have however decided I need to keep going or I will take forever to regain any momentum on things.

I have been making cheese at a steady pace. With the number of friends that have asked to try it, I need to make sure I have some for everyone or I am going to be in trouble. There is something really satisfying about the cheese making. To turn something as simple as a bottle of milk into a different product with just some time and patience, and the right chemicals, is something else. I am sure my school chemistry teacher would be horrified to think of me mixing any chemicals, let alone wanting a reaction which leads to something edible! If you missed my earlier ramblings about my cheese, they are here – http://jas2jar.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/a-cheesey-obsession/

The other thing I am getting on with is sorting out the house. It is something I have been trying to do for such a long time, that I fear it is a job that has no end, and yet I am determined to give it my best shot. I have totally gutted the living room, removing all items that don’t belong there. I am shocked at how large the room is when it isn’t cluttered with toys, and shoes, and anything else nobody can be bothered to put away! A friend popped in for coffee yesterday morning, and actually commented on how nice the room looked – some might have taken that badly as it usually looks a tip, but I had to agree with her, that decluttering was making me feel good!

Today I started on the dining room. In our house this room flows from the living room, and is also the home for the computer and pets – turtles and fish. It amazes me that nobody thinks dumping things on the window ledge doesn’t look right, but I have removed so much stuff I am shocked. I have even dared to throw out some of Old Persons plants that clutter the place – not the nice looking ones, but the ones that have seen better days. It is amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it, and when you have nobody under your feet to distract you!

Before all the problems over the last few weeks, I had started tiling the kitchen. I have now put this job on hold, as I don’t want to be covered in grouting and up a ladder should I get upstairs shouting for attention. The bit I have done does look good, and makes the room look so much cleaner and fresher. Ideally I would love to rip out the whole kitchen and start again, but finances wont stretch to that just now, so it is a case of making it look good and hoping it will last!

The areas of the house not touched are looking messier and messier as I move things from one place to another, but I think if eventually they have found no home then they will be going in the charity bag or the bin. Ruth is no longer welcome in my house as I am removing anything that isn’t used or needed – I think Hubby better not sit still for too long or he might be out!!!!!!!!

I have never been a half full or a half empty person, but instead, I believe that whats in the glass is more important. Right now, I might be tied to caring for my mother, but it has given me a perfect opportunity to get a shift on with all the jobs that need doing in the house.

Happy Two Fat Ladies Day.

Standard

Today is my Mums birthday. She is 88 years old, hence today being Two Fat ladies Day! She has been through an awful lot recently, with being told they weren’t sure that she would live if they operated on her hip to realign it, to her abscess, leading to her recent hospital stay. Her body hasn’t been having the best year! Mentally as well, she has been suffering, with the recent deaths of her only brother, and her cousin. Its been a tough year for her, but she’s made of strong stuff, and while she might moan and groan – a lot, she can usually find a funny side of most situations.

Happy birthday Old Biddy!

wpid-wp-1396165979253.jpeg

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

 

IMG-20130315-00079

IMG-20121002-00025

IMG-20120928-00005

IMG00764-20111007-1334

IMG00059

Its been a long few days.

Standard

I am shattered! Both physically and mentally exhausted, looking after my Mum.

Last week the doctor diagnosed that she had an abscess on her bum – I cant help but want to laugh everything I say that, but I know I shouldn’t. http://jas2jar.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/suddenly-her-age/
She brightened up a little as the week progressed, but was in agony every time she moved, and not wishing to go into too much detail, the smell coming from her, as the pus sack oozed made me wretch on more than one occasion.

By Friday, she had finished the course of antibiotics, and was no better, so I called the doctor and asked for someone to come and see her. After getting him to call and speak to her, they eventually agreed to send someone out. When he saw her, he was shocked at the size of the abscess and immediately said she needed to go to the hospital, and he would arrange transport. It was a relief to see it taken seriously, but also a worry that it had festered this extra week.

I organised her overnight bag, and then the waiting game arrived. A dear friend collected the boys from school, as I didn’t want to go out and the ambulance not be able to get her. When it got to gone 4pm, I phoned the surgery to find out what was going on, and to check that the doctor had actually remembered to organise the transport. I was told that the call had been for within a 4 hour timeframe, but that was 5 1/2 hours that had passed, so she would chase them. It arrived within half an hour, and they tucked her into the bed and whisked her away. D was really worried to see his Gaga taken away in an ambulance, but he realised she had been poorly so it was for the best.
I received a phone call from the staff nurse on the ward a while later to say that she had been seen by the surgeon and he wanted to operate as soon as possible because of the size of it. We therefore decided not to go in that evening, as she would have been out of it.

Saturday morning the phone rings at 7am – luckily the boys had already been up over an hour by then, and it was an update from the ward. They had operated the evening before and they were happy they had removed all of the problem, but they would be keeping her in a couple of days to make sure it was clean and they had got it all.

I went into see her that evening – I don’t think it is an environment for children, and especially not 2 ASD boys who would either be bored instantly or looking at everything and likely to switch off someones machine!!! She looked so much better, as she had a little colour in her cheeks, but she looked tiny, and old. She said the antibiotics they were giving her were making her light-headed, but if she coped with them overnight, they would set her free the next day. She certainly seemed in good spirits.

Sunday morning I got a text from her to say the boss had been round and was releasing her. He told her that what they had removed was the size of a baked potato, but it was nothing more than an abscess – obviously they were concerned it could have been cancerous. I therefore got together her coming home clothes and went for her just after lunchtime.

She was sitting out of bed but looked in pain. She said it wasn’t her bum, but her hip. She had been walking to the loo, which was across the corridor and it had just given out. It was lucky she was near her bed, and she had grabbed hold of it to stop herself going over. She said it had made a horrific cracking sound and then she had shooting pains. The staff on the ward weren’t concerned about it, but did supply her with a wheelchair to get to the car. As she went to put weight on it, it just gave way. I got her home, and with a bit of a struggle got her to her bed. She was in pain trying to swing her legs up to get in, but with some help we got her tucked up.

She was up to the loo a couple of times in the night, and luckily our passage has a rail along it so she had something to hold onto, but I was still out to see she was ok.   the pain on her face was obvious.

This morning we had to phone the surgery, to get a nurse out to change her dressing, and to ask for a doctor to come and look at her hip. Trying to get someone out was like pulling teeth. The nurse queried if the dressing needed changing today, although the hospital had said it needed doing daily because of where it was, and the doctor didn’t see the need to call, but with some persuasion agreed to pop in.

The doctor was the first to arrive. She believes that possibly during the op on Friday night they jarred the hip, and that’s why it’s so painful. She has therefore prescribed her some much stronger painkiller. She has told her she needs to move about as much as possible, and I don’t think she really got how much pain there is. They will get a zimmer frame and a commode to use until she is fully mobile again. Hopefully once the painkillers kick in she might feel more confident to try to move, but I’m not going to force her, unless she feels ready. The nurse then arrived and changed the dressing. She said they didn’t have a commode available but if they could locate one they would bring it over, and that a request had been sent to OT for the zimmer, but that might take a while before they get out to her.

She isn’t happy they aren’t taking her pain overly seriously. I think she thought they would take her back in, and she would shift up the waiting list for her realignment! We will see if the new painkillers do anything, or if I will be having another argument to get someone out to her in a few days. Tomorrow is her birthday, but I’m not sure it’s going to be celebrated until she is feeling a little more up to life.

A little treat.

Standard

As I said the other day, we are changing the way we eat thanks to my refound zest in the kitchen. It is helping us all, as we are getting much healthier options. I have invested in several new cookbooks – it doesn’t take much to persuade me to buy a cookbook! I have bought some of the Weight Watchers books, as I am following their eating plan, I thought it was a good idea! I suppose I am quite a fussy eater, in that I know what I like and I know what I don’t like, and it takes a lot for me to try something out of my comfort zone. Since having the kids though I have been far less open about my likes and dislikes. I think it is important that they develop pallets of their own, and not have their minds set against things because we have told them we don’t like them – Hubby is a great example of someone brainwashed as a child into not liking certain foods, he honestly believed he didn’t like a lot of things he had never tried, simply because he was told they weren’t nice, or simply wasn’t exposed to them. I suppose everything we do as parents does influence our children, either positively or negatively, as we try to teach them right from wrong, but I think it is important that they learn many things from giving it a go.    I have often served food I don’t particularly like, just so they can try it, and they very much have their own likes as a result.

As we adapt our eating habits, I have made a real effort to make sure there are snacks and nibbles available for the children, and the adults too! Crisps and sweeties are no longer found in our house, but instead, there are rice cakes, and fruit snacks. I have also been making cakes, and biscuits. All three of the lunch bags I make daily, like something sweet, a pudding, in them, so I have been looking for ideas, that aren’t loaded with fat and sugar.

One such recipe I found in the Weight Watchers Cook Smart Baking book. It is for Golden Raspberry Cakes. To be honest the picture in the book doesn’t look too appetising, but the recipe sounded good, and so I thought I would try it. They looked much better in reality than I had expected them to!

2 eggs – separated
200g low fat natural yoghurt
150g apple sauce
100g dried polenta or cornmeal
3 tabs artificial sweetner
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
150 g raspberries

Mix the egg yolks, yoghurt, apple sauce.
Stir in the polenta and sweetener.
in a separate bowl whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar to a soft peak.
Fold the batter into the egg whites.
Spoon into 8 cake cases.
Gently push the raspberries into the buns.
Bake for 20 mins at 180c.

When they came out, they were light and fluffy, and the fruit had cooked enough to be almost jam like. In the original recipe, half of the fruit was stirred through the batter, but I found it much easier to get it evenly distributed to do by adding it once it was in the cake cases. I have also made these with strawberries, just slicing then before adding, and blackberries make a lovely autumn treat!    I think any soft fruit would be great.

Fresh from the oven, they are totally delicious, but also they are great in lunch boxes. All three of my men devoured them without questioning their contents!

There are plenty of other great recipes in the book – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cook-Smart-Baking-Weight-Watchers/dp/0857204513/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411470121&sr=8-1&keywords=cook+smart+baking   I have to be honest and say I didn’t pay that for it, as I bought it for just £3.99 in my local garden centre! It is a fab book though, and I think well worth the full price for it.

Suddenly her age.

Standard

My relationship with my Mum has been quite up and down over the years. I love her to bits, and I am sure I always will, after all, she is my Mum. Like most close relationships though we have clashed quite regularly over the years. When I was at college, I suppose I was going through a time of self discovery, and we didn’t get on at all, so much so that when I left home, I moved to a ting village in the middle of nowhere in North Wales to work in a hotel. It was a lovely job, and I met some great people. I think however, going to far away, made me realise how much I actually needed my family, and I therefore moved closer to home a couple of years later, finally moving back home when I was offered a job a stones throw from there.

When my Dad died, it made us close. My brother lived away, and so we didn’t see much of him. We therefore started doing things together, and I suppose for the first time in my life, we became chums. When Hubby and I decided to get together, one thing I stated without hesitation was I couldn’t move to the other end of the country without her – and by then I had actually bought the family home so needed to sell it if I moved!!    She agreed to the move, saying it was my time now.

She has become more frail over the past few years, but as much as she sometimes annoys the hell out of me, she has been mentally competent, even if her body hasn’t always kept up with her.

She is presently waiting for a hip realignment, having had the original one put in about 20 years ago. The consultant was quite blunt with her, telling her that because of her age the operation might kill her. Not really the thing you want to hear when you are awaiting surgery, but I suppose they have to give you worst case scenario. I do though think these comments about her age have had an impact on her, and she started to realise she was in the final chapter. Her whole mental attitude seemed to change. We have had a lot of flippant comments about how she’s not going to be about for much longer and things like that.     I think it has made her consider her own existence.

Last week she started complaining about feeling unwell. Now, I am not good with poorly people, and so I said, either go to the doctors or stop moaning – not quite in those words but that was my inference. To my surprise, she made an appointment to see the doctor for that day. The doctor said she had an abscess on her bum – now if it wasn’t so serious there would be numerous joke I could make at this point, but I will choose not to. She has been given antibiotics, and told it’ll take about a week before she feels any better. She started the course of medication on Friday, and on Saturday, she got up as normal, but looked terrible, so I suggested she went back to bed, which she did without complaint. She has now been in bed for 2 days, going into the third. Today I moved her to our bed, so I could change her sheets, and give her a wash. She is still complaining about feeling terrible, and she looks it. She suddenly looks her age. She is a frail old lady who need help to wah and change her PJ’s.    It is a shock to see her looking so ill.    When the child becomes the parent, it changes so many thing.

I suppose seeing her like this makes me think about her mortality, and that is really scary. This year her brother, my Uncle died, and just this past week, her cousin has died. This can’t be doing her mental state much good to see people of a similar age to her no longer with us. The thought of being without her, fills me with dread and fear. I know the day will come but I had never really imagined it before, now, seeing her poorly and helpless, makes me scared.

For now though we will concentrate on getting her better. I will continue running up and down the stairs with cups of tea, and her medication at the appropriate times, and hope that once she gets over this, then she will be back to her usual moaning status!

A Cheesey Obsession.

Standard

During the summer I had a birthday. I am told I am very difficult to buy for, predominately because I never actually want anything! I therefore usually end up with vouchers, so I can get something for myself. More often than not, these vouchers tend to be from Lakeland – http://www.lakeland.co.uk/Homepage.action, because then I buy stuff that I would like and use, and not end up buying things for the kids – but even from them I can find something they want so I treat them. This time I bought ice lolly makers for them – http://www.lakeland.co.uk/16585/Zoku-Orange-Single-Quick-Pop-Maker, and they are brilliant, as they totally do what they say on the box, and you can make an ice-lolly in 10 minutes with the likes of orange juice. I would definitely recommend them.

I am however not wanting to talk about that today, and as usual I digress.

I spent ages trolling through the website, putting everything that took my fancy into the basket before going back and editing it completely to get it to a figure closer to the value I had to spend! I decided to go with things I wouldn’t necessarily spend my own money on, so in other words just something I really fancied – hence the lolly makers, which even though they were in the sale at the time, are quite expensive. The one thing that really caught my eye was a kit to make cheese. Something I had never really considered making before. Cheese comes from the supermarket, and its eaten, end of story! I thought it sounded fun, and so decided to go for it. The kit I chose was from Mad Millie – http://www.lakeland.co.uk/18086/Mad-Millie-Hard-Cheese-Kit It contained everything you needed, from chemicals, to thermometer and press, and the measuring spoons included have fabulous terms on them from dash to smidgen! The only thing you need to add is the milk and a pan to cook it in.

D was really excited by this, as he if a total cheese addict, and was desperate to help, so I put off trying it until a time he could help. It was extremely simple, as long as the instructions are followed. D did all the sciency bits, adding the chemicals, while I got the arm aching job of stirring! We were both really excited when we first saw the curds had set, and then separated nicely from the whey. The press has a pressure gauge on it, so we carefully timed each setting, and were very excited the next morning when we had a rubbery lump, that actually looked a little like cheese! It then had to air dry for a week before coating in wax – that was also included in the kit. We now have a perfect lump of cheddar, maturing in the kitchen cupboard.

We have also tried the recipes for Cheshire, Red Leicester, Havatti, and Colby. Some are waxed, while others air dry to form a natural crust. The havatti, has to be brined every couple of days, and D has been doing it without having to be asked. The cheese kit may have been my toy, but the maturing product has definitely become his baby! Each type of cheese has a different recommended maturing time, and D has marked the calendar with which one is ready on which date!

Yesterday was Red Leicester day. It was the first of our cheeses to be ready, as it was the one that needed the least time to mature. D was very excited – as was I, and we were trying it before breakfast! It looked like cheese, and it smelled like cheese, but I was honestly a little nervous about trying it. We cut a slice and removed the rind, and what we had was more of an edam texture than that of red Leicester, but the flavour was amazing! We had produced cheese! I think we were both proud of our achievements! D has told me he will be having a cheese sandwich in his lunch bag tomorrow!

cheese

I am amazed how simple it actually was to make. You do have to follow the instructions and make sure temperatures and timings are right, but it isn’t overly complicated. The one thing I did do which wasn’t according to the instructions was, I used 1% milk rather than the full fat it stated, but it seems to have still worked perfectly. I might just have to experiment with other types of milk!

Now, when I said it was the first of our cheese we tried, that isn’t quite the truth. We were so taken by the whole cheese making thing, that I was researching recipes for other types of cheese. I came across a recipe for mozzarella, and thought I would give it a go. To say it was beyond simple is an understatement! This is the recipe I used, but there are loads out there http://www.forgreenies.com/make-mozzarella-cheese-in-30-mins-no-microwave-needed. D loved helping with the stretching of the curds, but has asked me to get him some smaller rubber gloves for next time!! He has even invited some of his friends over to have pizza with us next time we make it!!      Even M who isn’t the greatest cheese lover in the world enjoyed seeing how far he could stretch the strand of cheese when he was eating it!

Another cheese we tried making is cottage cheese. I love cottage cheese, probably because of a life time of dieting, it is just a staple food for me. This though was something else. The texture, the look and the smell were just as I would have expected, but the taste is something I can only describe as being clean. It was so fresh in my mouth. D just sat there and ate it from the tub I had put it in, and it didn’t last long!    I will definitely be making this again very soon!

I think I have totally been bitten by the cheese making bug, and will keep trying and experimenting. Over the next few weeks we will be having our first tastes of the different varieties we presently have maturing, and I am positively excited by the prospect. I think I will be making cheese hampers for family and friends for Christmas, so will be busy over the next few weeks!

Now, someone pass me the crackers!