Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls

I need to write this post because I will almost certainly forget the recipe. Hopefully, when Tom says he'd like cinnamon rolls for Christmas-day-breakfast next year, my internet searching will lead me back here.

Tana Ramsay's Family Kitchen contains a recipe for Danish Pastry Pizzas (a.k.a. "pizza snails", in our house). It's a bread dough, spread with pizza toppings, rolled up like a swiss roll, and sliced into spirals. These are baked, and make individual rolls, which are perfect for packed lunches, picnics, and snacks.

I wondered if using cinnamon sugar instead of pizza toppings might work. It isn't an enriched bread dough, but the results are still really good, especially when eaten fresh and warm :-)

Tana's dough recipe:
300g strong white flour
1 tsp fast-acting yeast
1/2 tsp caster sugar (or a bit more, for cinnamon rolls)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil (sunflower's probably better than olive oil for sweet recipes)
200ml tepid water

for pizza rolls:
4 tbsp passata
100g ham
1tsp oregano
125g grated mozzarella
salt & pepper

for cinnamon rolls:
30g melted butter
half a cup soft brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
(you could add dried fruit & glacĂ© cherries. or chocolate)

  • I use an electric food mixer to make the dough, so just add all the ingredients and switch it on. 
  • Once mixed and kneaded, leave the dough to rise for 40 minutes, by which time it will have almost doubled in size.
  • Punch the dough down and roll it into a rectangle the size of a large chopping board (40x25cm). (dried fruit, glacĂ© cherries & chocolate can be kneaded into the dough at this stage)
  • Spread the filling ingredients evenly over the dough (passata, then ham, herbs, mozzarella and seasoning, or melted butter then cinnamon sugar mixture and any extras), and roll it up like a swiss roll, starting at one of the long edges. 
  • Cut it into 12 pieces, and put them onto a lined baking tray spiral-side up.  I like the cinnamon rolls to stick together as they cook, so put them close together in a buttered lasagne dish. Pizzas work better spaced out, so that they are still individual portions when they expand. 
  • Cover the rolls with oiled clingfilm and leave to rise while you preheat the oven to 180C (...or while you go out to a toddler group. or overnight in the fridge on Christmas Eve). 
  • Brush the tops with milk, and bake for 20-25 minutes. 

I went a bit overboard with making these, so ended up with stale leftovers, -which made a fantastic bread and butter pudding.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


I made these candle holders by wrapping old crochet doilies around jam jars and popping a tea light inside. I'm sure there were raised eyebrows when I requested these doilies from a musty bag of old textiles, but I love how the light shines through the lacy patterns. 

I've seen patterned tights chopped-up and stretched over jam jars to create a similar effect. I think it'd be especially lovely with some cosy cable-knit cream tights, but am reluctant to buy tights just to decorate jam jars!

All this lantern-making started as a dark-Friday-afternoon craft with my boys. We stuck tissue paper and sequins onto jam jars. I sprayed the jars with repositionable spraymount, which made this a much less messy craft project than if I'd let them loose with pva glue or glue-sticks (...nothing wrong with a bit of mess, but sometimes projects that take longer to do than to clean-up are what's needed).

Monday, 22 October 2012


We borrowed and renewed the library-copy of this book so many times that I decided it was time to buy our own. Recently, it's developed extra meaning for me, as we've started along this journey of speech therapy with Westboy.

The ingredients of the book are pretty much perfect: a boy called Ben, a penguin, a lion, a page-turning story line, sweet and quirky illustrations, humour, and a happy ending. 

Ben is given a penguin as a present. "Hello, Penguin!" he says. When Penguin doesn't respond, Ben tries all the tactics he can think of to try to engage him in conversation, from tickling him to firing him into outer space strapped to a rocket. Unfortunately, despite Ben's creativity and persistence, Penguin still doesn't say a word. 

Just as Ben loses his cool and gets frustrated with Penguin, a lion appears on the scene. The story takes an unexpected twist, and culminates with Penguin saving Ben, and breaking his silence.

While Westboy says plenty of words, it's often very difficult to understand what he's saying. I can relate to Ben, drawing on every strategy he can think of to help Penguin communicate, trying to get his Penguin to "SAY SOMETHING!", ...and throwing the occasional frustrated tantrum over it all. 

Progress with speech therapy so far has been painfully slow, and I've found it difficult watching him struggle so much with something, while feeling pretty powerless to help.

In the past couple of weeks, he's been referred to an Early Years Language Centre at Mab Lane school, and after half-term he'll start going there every morning. He'll get intensive speech therapy and specialist help with developing communication skills. He's met his teacher a couple of times and she's fantastic. She understands what he's saying, -which is utterly amazing and a new experience for him. I'm hopeful that he'll make great progress with help from her and the rest of the team. The main challenges for me are getting used to the idea of him leaving his wonderful nursery, and sending him on a minibus to school!

(I'm feeling much more optimistic than when I wrote this. The Community Paediatrician's written report is much more tentative about the diagnosis of learning disability than he'd been during the appointment. Blood tests have also shown that the lead pipes in our house don't appear to have caused problems, which is a great relief).

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Week in Pictures

Westboy had an audiology appointment last week, and his hearing hasn't deteriorated in the past couple of months, which is great. His concentration when he's doing hearing tests is totally amazing for his age, and he's adapted to wearing his hearing aid so well. 

Nana looked after Westboy & Westbaby while I went to a Signalong class. She did a great job, and I enjoyed learning some new things and remembering signs I used to know. I'm starting to incorporate some signs into our day, and hoping that it'll help Westboy to communicate when we can't understand his speech. He's been referred for intensive speech therapy and to an Educational Psychologist (after doing badly in a verbal reasoning assessment the speech therapist administered). It's amazing finding out what resources are available if children need them, but each referral stings, as it reminds me that most children don't need all these appointments, assessments and interventions. 

This was a breakthrough...!!! I've been (unsuccessfully) encouraging Westboy to draw people and faces for a while. I walked into the kitchen one day last week, and found him with his trousers round his ankles, felt-pen smiley faces drawn on his knees (he'd even done them upside down so that they're the right way up to everyone else). After pointing out that rolling up his trousers might be a better way to show off his knees(!), I took some photos (...& suggested trying paper next time).

I re-covered our kitchen chairs, swapping very grubby cream fabric for a cheerful cherry red. It was a satisfying & cheap way of making the room look different. Hurray!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ten on Tuesday: wheelbarrow-races and cheesy-cakes

1. Thank you so much for the support following my last post. I feel very cared for and really appreciate everyone's kind messages. I know I was treading a fine line between authenticity and over-sharing (I wonder if there should be a similar 'rule' to 'do not text when drunk' about not blogging when emotionally raw?!). I'm still finding things tough, but am out of the crisis, ...and bits of my house that are usually a mess have been organised into Orla-Kiely-covered boxes, so it's not all bad ;-)


2. Today is my gorgeous husband's birthday, so we've had a lovely relaxed long-weekend, with trips to the park (with the boys) and brunch at Moose Coffee (without them). 

3. I made a "cheesy birthday cake" (according to Westboy). (New York Cheesecake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, -which is an unpredictable nightmare of a recipe book as every set of instructions seems to be missing a vital piece of information, but thankfully this was a success).

4. The boys & I have had some wonderful times with Nana and Grandad over the past couple of weeks. Particular highlights have been wheelbarrow rides round their garden and puddle jumping in a nearby country park.

5. I loved making this stencilled wrapping paper. Wondering what to stencil next...

6. On Westboy's first day back at preschool, he sang all the way through the streets, riding on the buggy board. One verse, (to the tune of "The wheels on the bus go round and round") was: "I'm going to do a standing up wee... all day long". There are some times when I'm glad that his speech is difficult to understand ;-)

7. Speech therapy is TOUGH. It's horrible watching him find something so difficult (especially something that most people don't have to think twice about), and not being able to intervene.

8. I painted the lids of my most useful cake tins (a TJHughes bargain, with 'Jamie Oliver' on the lid) with blackboard paint. Now I can label them with what's inside. Or not, if I want to keep the cake for myself...

9. ...and yes, it really was chocolate & beetroot brownies in there, and they were delicious. (From the River Cottage Everyday recipe book).

10. Some Foy Vance, to finish: 

Linking up with the other Ten-on-Tuesday ladies: SarahJoLucyHannahEsther & Laura.

Monday, 3 September 2012

By Grace Alone

One of my most treasured possessions is a necklace with my boys' names stamped onto silver tags. It was made by the amazing, inspiring Lisa Leonard. Her son was born with a rare genetic disorder, and in this article she says: "In accepting the brokenness I have found hope and beauty. I’m learning that it’s by grace alone we face each day". 

This feels like one of those defining times that I could either blog about, or not blog about... The temptation to stick to superficial posts about spiderman-cakes and toddler-antics is quite overwhelming. I think that I tend to process things internally, which is pretty incompatible with writing a blog. But here's a (maybe too) honest post about what I'm in at the moment. 

The Community Paediatrician diagnosed Westboy with a "mild learning disability" two weeks ago. A different doctor diagnosed "mild developmental delay" in April, which I (perhaps naively) assumed meant that with support (and now a hearing aid) he'd catch up and be ok. This latest diagnosis seems less optimistic, and i'm struggling to come to terms with it. (I'm also not entirely convinced, as the assessment didn't seem as thorough as others we've undergone, -but for now it is what it is!). The combination of permanent hearing loss and delayed development means that Westboy now faces blood tests, MRI brain scans and genetic testing to try to determine the cause. 

Last week, when he grew up he was going to be an astronaut, or archaeologist, or fireman, or Buzz Lightyear... Suddenly the possibilities seem so much more limited. Apparently (and this is when I should be forbidden from Googling for my own good!), he will hopefully grow up to be "quite independent", and able to communicate and look after himself. That narrowing of options makes my heart ache uncontrollably, like nothing I've ever known. Perhaps there's been some mistake?? This can't possibly be true for my sweet, funny, kind boy... And yet, there are so many things that other children his age can do, and he can't. I've really enjoyed the summer: being able to see him for who he is (and how wonderful that is), and enjoy time with him, without the constant reminder of what other children are capable of at every preschool drop-off and pick-up. I feel like retreating into a bubble, to maintain this illusion and protect us (well... just me really, as he is entirely unphased by such comparisons!). This article about battling bitterness in parenting a disabled child resonates with my experiences over the past few months. I'm trying not to become bitter, but often feel emotionally raw instead. 

I know I am incredibly blessed: I have a wonderful husband, two gorgeous boys, and fantastic, supportive relatives and friends.  It's the stuff many people dream of, and would desperately love to have. I am so aware of the pain of  friends who haven't been able to have children, and know people whose children have died, and I simply cannot comprehend what they've been through. My life so far has been amazingly free from suffering. And I'm trying to not take for granted what I *do* have by focusing on what is not, ...but at the same time, I feel such deep distress at losing hopes and dreams for this boy of mine.

My background has been one of academic achievement. Not that my parents demanded it or would've loved me any less if I hadn't done well at school, but I did, and probably built a lot of my identity around that. And now I need to deconstruct my definition of "success", and somehow realign my values. Westboy is such a happy child, he delights in making other people laugh and spreads joy and enthusiasm wherever he goes. He's socially and emotionally skilful, and gets along with other children and adults despite his speech difficulties. He's persistent at communicating, -getting people's attention, using gestures, and getting across what he means in whatever way he can. 

I'm trying to allow myself to feel all of this, without wallowing, because i'd honestly rather distract myself  (usually with cleaning. ooh look, a shiny sink! different types of tea organised in tiny plastic boxes! cleaning products alphabetically arranged! My brain is tricked into believing that i have any control over anything and it's all ok again. For a while at least). Nighttimes are proving especially difficult, as I'm alone with my thoughts and unable to sleep. I try to picture myself resting in God's arms, with his reassurances as each of my fears and protestations surface. 

I've found this sermon series and this interview really helpful in wrestling with some of the questions that this has raised. In particular, shifting the focus away from "why" and onto "for what purpose", based on  John 9:1-3. "As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him". But my natural inclination is to look for causes, make guesses at the future, and retreat into fear. I'm not sure how to pray about it, whether for healing, or for acceptance. I don't want to put so much energy into praying for change that I miss what's beautiful as it is, and just not what I had imagined Westboy's life would look like. Whatever it is, whether things get worse, or better, or stay like this, it's no surprise to God, and his love hasn't changed.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16

Sunday, 26 August 2012

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk

I'm trying to get my head around the principles in this book, and thought that writing a review might help me do that!

The book makes ambitious promises: Peace? Cooperation? Helping children deal with difficult emotions? Teaching independence? Expressing anger without being hurtful? Better relationships? The stories from parents who've used the techniques illustrate just how powerful a few small changes in communication can be. The authors obviously know what they're talking about, and use their experiences with their own children and facilitating groups of parents to make the book engaging and relevant. 

It is a very practical book, with lots of cartoon illustrations, examples, and exercises to practice. At the same time as it being easy to read, I've found applying the techniques really difficult! Maybe that's because I was so eager to read it that I didn't do the practice exercises at the end of each chapter (tut tut!). Maybe it's because reading it coincided with starting speech therapy and another communication course with Westboy, so we were trying to make an overwhelming number of changes at once. Maybe it's because we all get stuck in patterns of communication that are so comfortable and instinctive that they're difficult to change (especially in situations involving strong emotions, bad behaviour, rushing around and feeling flustered!). And perhaps I'm just so tired and forgetful that in the middle of situations when I should use these tips I tend to think "um, what did the book say again?!".

I reckon it's the kind of book that will become increasingly useful as my children get older. With a child aged 1 or 2, bits of the book would be relevant (I can use some of it with Westbaby already), and with each passing year more of it becomes useful. It's probably best to practice these kinds of things before the pressure's on, or certain bad habits form in your communication with children, so I'd recommend it to any parent from toddler-hood onwards. 

The chapter that feels most relevant to us at the moment is "Engaging Cooperation". In the course of each day, there seems to be a relentless stream of getting the boys to do what I want them to do and not do what I don't want them to do. The main things that I've tried to implement so far are not being *too* polite when I'm asking the boys to do things (as long as I'm generally being respectful, saying "please" isn't always necessary and can undermine my request by sounding like I'm pleading). I've started sometimes using single word instructions, rather than longer explanations (So "trousers", instead of "now please pull your trousers up"). Other tips I've used are describing things ("the water is spraying on the floor"), giving information ("walls are not for writing on, paper is"), and talking about my feelings ("I don't like being shouted at").

I like the advice of acknowledging children's feelings and naming emotions, rather than minimising their experiences. For example, I felt that explaining that a blood test Westboy had recently would hurt but not for long seemed to help him cope with it.

The chapter that I found most challenging (in the sense that I'm not sure whether I agree with it or not, and it made me think lots) was called "Alternatives to Punishment". It's such a contentious topic (maybe especially for Christian parents trying to parent with Biblical standards in a very different cultural setting??), and one that I know I don't have all figured out. This book added some interesting thoughts, and useful strategies. The authors' suggestions might become a greater part of my 'discipline repertoire' in the future, as the boys get older. I already try to do things like stating my expectations before issues arise and diverting attention into being helpful, but sometimes it's simply too late for those kinds of tactics to work! I'm still not convinced that ditching all punishment is the best strategy with all children at all times. Time-outs and very occasional smacks have a place in our house at the moment, but I'm open to that changing. So it's a good, thought-provoking discussion, that I'll bear in mind and experiment with, but not implement wholesale.

I feel like Westboy's speech and hearing difficulties (hearing loss, phonological delay, developmental delay) has made us more aware of our communication, and has encouraged us to "raise our game". We simply have to get down on his level, get his full attention, face him, and repeat what he says to check that we understand. It's hard work sometimes, so anything to make that effort more worthwhile is valuable. This is a book that I'd thoroughly recommend, and one that I'll be rereading, taking notes on, practising, and hopefully applying to my communication! I'd love to discuss it with other mums, and have some accountability as I re-read it s-l-o-w-l-y, do the exercises, and start applying more of it in my parenting.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Ten on Tuesday: communication difficulties, mostly!

1. We've just had a beautiful week in Devon, staying with Granny & Gramps (Tom's parents).

2. My phone stopped working while we were there. I had been thinking that I ought to cut down my time on Facebook and suchlike (eek), but was unimpressed to have an unexpected media fast forced on me.

3. My phone was also my camera, diary, notebook, shopping list, satnav, address book, and much more besides. Too many eggs in one basket. Ouch.

4. I've borrowed an old mobile, so can at least send and receive calls and texts now.

5. We've decided that Westboy is going to have an extra year at preschool, and then go to the Christian Fellowship School. (We decided this several weeks ago, but I hadn't put it on here, so am including that for anyone who was wondering...!).

6. It's such a relief to have made a decision, and to feel like the 'pressure' is off. I hadn't expected to take this route, but am very happy with it.

7. Westboy's having a hearing aid fitted this week. Tests just before our holiday showed that he has permanent hearing loss in one ear. It was a shock, but I reckon it explains a lot about his speech, development and behaviour. I'd been bracing myself for a big grief reaction (or something?!) when we went away and had time to process the information, but I actually just feel excited that he'll be able to hear sounds that he currently can't hear (& hopefully pronounce them too, in time).

8. Nana & Grandad (my parents) have moved to Cheshire, and we had a wonderful first visit to their new house yesterday. It's so good to have them living closer :-)

9. I'm tired. Blood tests were fine though, so it isn't my thyroid medication or iron levels. Just life.

10. The cars are still there. Nothing suspicious on the database. grrr! Useful to know about the 101 number though! Thanks for the tips.

Well, that was a bit of a serious Ten, sorry everyone! More Tuesday-bullet-point-blogging may be available at the blogs of SarahJoLucyHannahEsther & Laura.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Ten on Tuesday: catch-up time

I'm determined to manage a ten this week! The last few Tuesdays seem to have passed in a blur.

1. Since I last blogged, Westbaby & I have both had a virus. His landed him in Alder Hey for 3 nights, with suspected meningitis/tonsillitis/
measles. It highlighted how WONDERFUL it is that: a) the boys are generally healthy, b) we have an amazing children's hospital nearby, and c) dry shampoo & iPhones exist.

(obviously feeling MUCH better!)

2. Westboy had his 4th birthday last week! He had a full brass band play "Happy Birthday to You" in Southport Botanic Gardens, where we were having a church picnic. I attempted to use "proper" cake decorating gel colours for his birthday cake: a Spiderman face/mask that he took into nursery. I was really pleased with how it turned out, but the gloves I was wearing split while I was colouring the icing, so my hands ended up a vibrant shade of red.

3. Westboy and Daddy went to London the weekend before his birthday. The trip involved buses, trains, boats, underground trains, dinosaurs, a playground, and ice cream, so was pretty much perfect from an almost-4-year-old boy perspective. Tom's started this tradition of taking each of the boys away on their own for a weekend around their birthday. So very sweet!

4. I spent that weekend with Westbaby, who was missing his big brother and daddy, and cutting a new tooth. Ouch.

5. One morning while they were away, I came downstairs and found a trail of ants industriously filing from the front door to the kitchen. When I opened the kitchen door, I discovered that the floor was covered in thousands of ants. It looked like something out of a wildlife documentary. In my kitchen. So I did the predictable thing: stood on a chair and phoned my husband. We both thought we had some ant poison somewhere, but I couldn't find it, and it probably wouldn't be much use against the crawling swarming masses. So I mopped the floor with vinegary boiling water. (Joseph was strapped in his high chair throughout this, objecting noisily). Happy ending: no more ants.

6. Westbaby destroys iPhone chargers. Our house is full of them, but I can never find any that work when I need one, so my phone is constantly teetering on the brink of battery death.

7. The boys have recently been introduced to Lego, and LOVE it. Westboy is great at building multifunctional vehicles (e.g. an aeroplane-train), while Westbaby prefers walking on the bricks (must be a bit like fire-walking!)

8. Whenever I ask Westboy who/what he'd like to pray for at bedtime he says Fireman Sam... the emergency service workers who look after us all are getting well prayed for here!

9. Someone has abandoned two rather nice cars outside our house. They've been there for several weeks, without moving. We live on a terraced street and everyone parks outside their own house, so having 'our' space filled is really quite inconvenient. Especially with two small children. Especially when it's raining. Hmph! (The tax disc on one of the cars has expired. Some days I'm tempted to report it and have it towed away. Except that there's always a possibility that it'd just get clamped, which would probably just compound the problem!). Any advice???

10. Westboy told me there was a dinosaur in the living room this morning. I had to pretend to catch, wrestle, and shut it in its cage. Quite a dramatic way to put away an ironing board!

Linking up with the Ten-on-Tuesday crowd: SarahJoLucyHannahEsther & Laura.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Breaking Bread Rules

Right, a yeasty post! (This is supposedly a baking blog, after all...)

Most of my recent bread-making has been using the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" method (or "ABin5"). It sounds amazing, doesn't it? No bread machine, no kneading, minimal effort and time, and yet a homemade loaf of bread?!? 

Well, it does take more than five minutes to produce a loaf, but that's probably a fairly accurate estimation of the time that you need to actually *do* anything, especially if you get into the habit of keeping a batch of dough on the go. There's certainly a lot less work than traditional bread-making, and the results are delicious. It's also interesting to see that the rules of bread-making can be so thoroughly broken, and yet still result in a tasty loaf of bread.

Here's how it works...

  • Chuck in a large bowl: 3 cups lukewarm water, 2 sachets fast-action yeast, 1 tbsp salt, & 6.5 cups plain flour (yes, plain, not bread flour!).
  • Mix until combined.
  • Cover loosely (I have an attractive Home&Bargain shower cap specifically for this purpose!)
  • Let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours .
  • Shove in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
To bake:
  • Sprinkle the surface of the bowl of dough with flour. Take out some dough (the full quantity makes 4 small loaves. Making the loaves too big means they collapse, so keep them small).
  • With flour-covered hands, gently form the dough into a ball, lightly rotating it in your hands and stretching the surface to the bottom (this takes about 30 seconds). Do not knead it or squish any air out! The bottom of the loaf may seem to be a collection of bunched ends, but that sorts itself out.* 
  • Place it on a floured baking sheet and rest the loaf for about 30 minutes. 
  • Heat the oven to max (220C-ish) 20 minutes before baking.
  • Dust the top of the loaf with flour, and slash across the top of it with a serrated knife.
  • Put the baking sheet with loaf into the oven, and pour 1 cup of hot water into a grill pan beneath it.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. (Using wet dough means that the interior doesn't dry out despite a dark crust).
  • When you remove it from the oven, the loaf crackles and 'sings'. Cool on a wire rack.
Store the remaining dough in the fridge (covered but not airtight) until you next want a fresh loaf of bread!

I usually make a half-quantity, which is enough for two small loaves. I then bake both loaves at once, rather than having a fridge full of dough and doing the whole shaping-and-resting-and-baking process for just one loaf (...which will probably be eaten by my family in less time than takes to say "artisan bread in five minutes a day"). The crust seems to keep the loaf fresh for longer than other homemade breads, and it freezes well too.

The book has a huge number of variations on this basic bread recipe. I've mostly stuck to this basic 'boule', but have also used this method to make great pizza and brioche.

*edited to add this youtube clip to show what I'm struggling to describe! He shapes the loaf at 5 minutes.