Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I think I've started something

Yesterday was a bit of a different day for me at work.  I'd invited Anthony Nolan to work to try and recruit people for the Anthony Nolan register.

I'd seen a blog by Alice Pyne earlier in the year (http://alicepyne.blogspot.com/) in which she described her bucket list.  The thing that has always been at the top of Alice's list is "To have everyone eligible join a bone marrow register."

Alice's courage in the face of her cancer at the age of 15 was inspiring, and moving.  Her first thought is trying to get people onto a bone marrow register benfitting others with cancer.

I looked at how many people worked with me in the same building.  There must have been a few thousand.  It must be possible to get some of them to sign up to a bone marrow register.

I got in touch with Anthony Nolan and we set a date.

Yesterday I discovered how difficult it is to find new people for the bone marrow register.

In advance I had done some pre-event activity by walking some corridors and telling people about the event.  There was an e-mail that arrived in everyone's inbox I figured that some people might need additional motivation so I baked brownies for the first 50 sign ups.  Anthony Nolan said that 50 was their target for the day.  I thought that was easy.

The charity support team arrived in two parts, one in time for a ten o'clock start and the other an hour later.  There was a limiting factor of time as the Anthony Nolan crew could only be with us for just four and a half hours.  But I still thought we could hit the target of 50.

Then the day started.  I went corridor wandering again to drum up support, looking for 18-40 year olds who didn't have one of the many health issues that would exclude them.  It was then that I realised we have a dearth of "young" people at work.

I spent the whole of the four and a half ours on four inch heels, walking and standing, and talking to people about Anthony Nolan and why they should sign up.

There are the willing volunteers, the willing but scared, the scared and unwilling, the plain uninterested and the weird group that fake interest, say they'll come back and never do, or they fake a medical condition that excludes them.  For the record, fainting a bit a while ago is not epilepsy.

By the end of the session I was in severe pain having bruised my soles by spending too much time vertical in silly heels.  I had also shifted a fair few brownies.  And the really good news is that we hit our target of 50 sign ups.

It would have felt like failure if we hadn't hit 50, but because we did hit 50 I can call it a big fat success.  The next challenge is to try to achieve the same, or even better results, at Dunton and Dagenham.  And I wonder whether any of our agency partners (where there are loads of young people) might also be interested.


Saturday, 26 November 2011

Recipe selection - cakes

Here are a selection of recipes for the cakes that were available for my recent British Vintage Homeware party.  This is going to help me because I'm forever searching for recipes.


Apple, cinnamon and walnut cake

Killer Brownies

Banana and Chocolate Muffins

Orange, carrot and raisin spiced muffins - Hannah made carrot and raisin spice but I prefer the orange and carrot ones.


Apple spice muffins - I usually add raisins but forgot this time


Gluten free, polenta, lemon and pistachio cake

Lemon and lime cupcakes



Lemon and lime cupcakes

This is an adaptation of a Hummingbird Bakery recipe.  The original recipe is for lemon cupcakes but I was lacking a lemon or two but happened to have a lime or two so I substituted.

Makes 12 American-sized cupcakes or 18 UK-sized cupcakes.  An American cupcake is baked in a muffin case and a muffin tin.  A UK cupcake is baked in a slightly shallower tin with a cupcake case.


  • 120g plain flour
  • 150g caster sugar (I use granulated)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp of a mix of grated lemon and lime zest
  • 40g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 120ml milk (recipe says whole milk but I used skimmed)


  • 250g icing sugar
  • 80g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 tbsp of a mix of grated lemon and lime zest
  • 25ml milk (recipe says whole milk but I used skimmed)


Preheat the oven to 170˚C or 150˚C if you have a fan oven.  If you're as slow as I am and your oven gets up to temperature quickly then you can leave this step until later.

Put flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and butter in a mixer (I use Kenwood Chef) with paddle attachement (whatever one of those is - I use Kenwood K-beater attachment).  If all of this mixer malarky sounds a bit confusing you can use electric whisk.  Beat on a slow speed until the mixture resembles sand.

Gradually add the milk and beat until just incorporated.

Add the egg until just incorporated and then continue mixing until the mixture is smooth.  The recipe says not to over mix but I never know how that instruction helps.  I guess you should stop as soon as you think the mixture is smooth.

Fill paper cases until they are 2/3 full.  This isn't like a muffin mix.  If these cook properly then they will have a flat top that's at the level of the paper case when they come out of the oven.

Bung in the oven for 20-25 minutes.  Sponge will bounce back when pressed gently when they are done.

To make the frosting, beat together the icing sugar, butter and zest using a mixer or electric whisk on a medium setting.  Once the mixture has come together turn the mixture down to a slow speed and gradually add the milk..  When the milk is mixed in, turn the mixer up to a high speed and mix for at leads 5 minutes.  The longer the mixing, the lighter and fluffier the frosting.

Once cupcakes have cooled down you can spoon the frosting on.  It might be possible to pipe this frosting but piping has never been something that has floated my boat so I haven't tried.

I have successfully frozen these with the frosting, but if you do this then allow to defrost naturally.  A blitz in the microwave would melt the frosting.



Thursday, 17 November 2011

Apple and cinnamon cake/pudding

I've made this a few times and have had more than one person asking for the recipe.  This is even after I completely screwed up the recipe and served something that I thought was terrible.  I think this means it must be quite a forgiving recipe.


  • 300g sugar (I use golden granulated but I'm sure caster is fine too)
  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 120ml cup sunflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 120g chopped walnuts
  • 800g chopped apples


  • Preheat oven to 160°C fan oven or 180°C otherwise.  If you have a gas oven or an AGA then you're on your own.
  • You need a tin that's roughly 25cm x 25cm.If you've bought a tin for my killer brownie recipe then you can use it again for this recipe.  Ideal size is 25cm x 25 cm or thereabouts.  Grease and line the bottom of the tin.  Ideally you should use a tin with removable base as this cake is quite crumbly and extracting from a tin that doesn't have a removable base could get messy.
  • This recipe requires a lot of apple.  I love Bramleys but I'm sure eating apples would be fine also.  When I'm chopping apple I fill a bowl with water and lemon juice.  I peel and chop the apple (in this case about the size of your small fingernail ish) and pop it in the water with lemon juice.  This stops it from going brown when exposed to the air.  I'm not a quick peeler/chopper but even if you are quick you might want to do this too because of the amount of apple you're chopping.I also prepare my apple before starting with any of the rest of the recipe so that most of the work after the peeling is just measuring and stirring.   I also prepare my nuts ooo errr.  I use a hachoir which is a posh herb choppy thing with a couple of blades but a knife is fine.  To be honest if they'd been in the cupboard, I'd have use pre-chopped nuts.   I hate chopping nuts.
  • Before you read on you should read this next bit carefully.  DO NOT use a mixer for this recipe.  Use a spoon and stir it.  I have used a mixer and I killed this.  USE A SPOON.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and bicarbonate of soda. Add the eggs, oil and vanilla, mix well (USING A SPOON).  Add the nuts and apple, mix until all the apples are evenly coated (USING A SPOON). Scrape into your prepared baking tin and level out with the back of a SPOON.
  • Bake for 30 minutes and then cover with foil.  I know this is a faff but you will burn your cake if you don't do this.  I have discovered that a massive BBQ skewer placed on top of foil resting on my baking tin will stop the fan on my oven blowing the foil off.  I've also discovered that picking this skewer up without wearing oven gloves after it's been in the oven is a stupid idea.  Doh.
  • Total cooking time is about an hour in my oven.  You may want to do a skewer test at 50 mins and do the skewer test again at an hour.  If you need to leave it in for an extra 10-15 mints then don't worry.  This will be a very moist cake because of the apple content and you are protecting it from burning with the foil.
  • I have killed this by over-mixing and over-cooking and still been asked for the recipe.
  • Serve warm or cool.  Oh and it freezes well which means it works well for those school cake sales or office cake-baking occasions.
Credit and kudos to Lisa whose original recipe I have translated from American and which is available here.

Monday, 14 November 2011

I didn't believe you anyway

We usually have some Greek yoghurt in the fridge, in 500g pots, which the children will eat with honey as a sweet healthy-ish treat.  I don't know quite how or why but it has become usual to eat this treat from a teacup.  Also, in a bid to develop independence (and because I'm lazy), we encourage the children to serve themselves.

This evening Ethan asked for honey and I encouraged him to sort it out himself.

I turned around and he'd grabbed a large pot of double cream out of the fridge and was about to help himself.  I said "Er, no Ethan.  That's double cream.  If you ate that you'd die."

"Really?" he asked.

"No. I was kidding"

"I didn't believe you anyway."

I love the fact that children don't like to feel duped at all, just like grown-ups really.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Economics 1.01

Hannah and Ethan have both been given an "Enterprise" task at school.

They've been given an investment of one pound and they have a school year in which to make that one pound grow.  The profit thus made will benefit a charity of the children's choice.

On Tuesday Ethan has his first Enterprise event in which he can sell things to others in other year groups.

Ethan has decided to follow in my footsteps and bake muffins to sell.  The rules say that the ingredients must be paid for from the initial investment.  So I set about working how cheaply he could make the muffins if necessary.

We opted to make a batch of 36 mini muffins because we knew the children would only be spending very small amounts on items.  I looked up the prices for all ingredients if the cheapest ingredients possible were bought for standard chocolate chip muffins.

So adding the cost of value flour to value eggs, to value this and value that the cost worked out at five pence per mini muffin.  This prompted me to look at how much it costs me to make the normal sized muffins that I bake for school cake sales.

So I added the cost of organic flour to free range eggs to etc.  And I got a bit of a shock.

The school sells my cakes, and all cakes, for 20 pence.  It costs me that to make them.  I might as well just put my hand in my pocket and put the money straight into the PTA coffers.  When I think about the hours I've spent baking for school cake sales it makes me want to spit.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Strictly cheaper

Every year I watch Strictly Come Dancing.  There are things I like and things I think would benefit from improvement.

I like the mix of celebrities and I think the professional dancers are all fab-u-lous (to quote Craig Revel Horwood).  The band is amazing and the make-up and costume departments do an amazing job.  Craig, Len and Bruno are wonderful and the lovely Claudia Winkleman who used to host the weekday show It Takes Two was very funny and used to get the tone of the show just right.


Bruce and Tess really annoy me.  Neither have the talent needed for the job and they get by on looks (Tess) and sympathy (Brucie).  Bruce's constant jibes at Craig constitute bullying and are in poor taste.  And judge Alesha doesn't have the same authority as a professional dancer.  She over-marks and is responsible for the most vacuous of comments at times.

The elimination of the dance off was, in my opinion, a mistake.  We are now in a situation in which really bad dancers, like Ann Widdecombe and John Sargent, stay in because the general public like laughing at people, and not in a good way.  It also means that the Sunday night show is a farce.  It's filmed on Saturday night with everyone pretending it's happening on Sunday.  The judges change their outfits, the presenters change and people like me have found the spoiler on the Saturday night anyway.

When the series started there was almost constant filming of the dance training.  This was often funny, interesting and informative.  Well I think the budget has been cut and there are fewer camera crews available to follow the different celebrities around.  The show now resorts to a scripted unfunny video that is shoehorned into the training schedule.  It usually involves taking someone away from the training room to help them "get into character" or improve their fitness levels or speed.  It's always contrived and more than a bit pathetic.

But I'll still watch.  It's better than X Factor.