Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Homemade Christmas

My mission to make more Christmas presents this year, instead of going mad in the shops, isn't going too well; I'm missing a bit of the knitting pattern so I'm having to guess it, and I haven't even found material for my sewing bits yet. I'll probably end up staying up the night before again, frantically trying to finish it.

I'm home in Durham for the week because we're at the in-laws for the holidays, and while Mum was rooting around in Gran's loft for the Christmas tree today she came across a bag of things that her gran had knitted her when she was a girl.

There was a family of rabbits, a cuddly elephant with an embroidered rug, a couple of beautiful dresses and some tiny hand-knitted undergarments for mum's Sindy dolls.

Best of all though was a patterned beret-style hat that is just right for Ella. No matter how much I practice I'll never be able to knit such delicate things.

Ella modelling the hat

I thought I'd bake some Christmassy goodies too, which I'll have to leave until next week, but we're in charge of Christmas eve supper this year (onion tart with salad and Mark's tasty crumble), so I'm not sure there'll be room in the kitchen. The good news is that now Logan is officially allowed to eat wheat he can help me with some of the baking! The bad news is that I'll have to let him lick the spoon :(

Advent day 15: All that glitters

10 sleeps...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Funniest moment of the day

We were sitting in the Globe theatre, halfway through the tour guide's spiel about outside noise disturbing performances, when we were interrupted by the sound of many feet stamping past and cries of "What do we want?...When do we want it? Now!"

We all assumed students, but no, it was the annual Santathon. Genius.

Manga Shakespeare, anyone?

Cake of the day #8: Afternoon tea at Shakespeare's Globe

Mum bought Mark and I a Red Letter Day last Christmas, for a tour of Shakespeare's Globe theatre on the Southbank followed by afternoon tea. We finally got round to it today - I wanted to be able to appreciate the cakes without a baby in my tummy! - but it was worth the wait.

The tour was interesting, although it was disappointing that we couldn't go backstage or explore behind the scenes. The tea and cake were delicious though, and it was lovely to take our time over it. They lost a point for no choice of jam, and the scones could have been bigger (and warmer), but otherwise very tasty.

Ella was a star too, I think she's a fan of cake!

Advent day 11: The 'real' Santa Claus

I hate that he's owned by a corporation. Bah humbug.

14 sleeps...

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Unthanks at the Union Chapel

I could listen to The Unthanks at any time of year, but there's something about the tone of their voices, the haunting melodies and harmonies and the beautiful strings, that really suits a cold winter's night. The Union Chapel, too, with its church pews and vaulted ceilings, is perfect at Christmas.

The gig was a bit of an experiment - a first half of Anthony and the Johnsons songs and a second of Robert Wyatt covers - but the arrangements really suited the Unthanks sound. For Today I Am A Boy was particularly beautiful, and the tricky string accompaniments were stunning, especially the cello, which always gets me right there. They even managed to squeeze in a bit of clog dancing!

It was a real pleasure to spend a couple of hours in the company of Rachel, Becky and the band (and the baby bump, which Rachel announced to cover up her mistake - nice recovery!). A total joy of an evening, the perfect start to Christmas.

Advent day 10: I am the snow king

15 sleeps...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Our very allergic little boy

Wheaty goodies

We knew Logan might be prone to allergies because both Mark and I have them, so we purposely waited until he was 6 months old to wean him onto solids. Unfortunately he still turned out wheat and egg allergic (I blogged about it last year) and we've been excluding them from his diet ever since.

Last week his allergies were reviewed and the skin test for wheat came back negative, so yesterday we went in for a wheat challenge. It sounds exciting but basically involves sitting in front of the telly while nurses feed you bits of Weetabix and occasionally check your obs (I know it's more technical than that but Logan's an easy patient!). Last time he was tested he reacted right at the end of the day, so I didn't get my hopes up, but after an afternoon of cereal he still hadn't reacted so now we're slowly introducing wheat into his diet. Hurray!

It's brought up a few issues for me. Firstly, I'd never realised how many wheat products also contain egg, or sometimes contain egg. It was only when I went shopping for wheaty goodies today that I realised the number of things we'll still have to exclude (cakes, obviously, but also some pasta, bread, breadcrumbed meat and pastry). Luckily Penguins and pizza are ok!

It's also made me realise how little some caterers understand about allergies. Last night we went to Giraffe for a celebratory tea, thinking of all the new food on the menu that Logan could choose from. Unfortunately, they class egg as a dairy product when it comes to allergy labelling - clearly wrong on so many levels, even Logan knows eggs don't come from cows - so there was almost nothing on the menu we could identify as definitely egg-free. In the end we went for Logan's usual - grilled chicken burger without the bun. Exciting.

They also don't break down the menu by ingredient (it's the same for companies like Burger King), which makes it difficult to tailor a meal to a child with an allergy. In Giraffe, we know that the burger meat is 100% beef, so he's always been fine as long as he doesn't have the bread. According to the allergy guide though, the kids' burger meal contains wheat. If you don't think to ask, or if the staff don't know, you're going to go hungry.

At least Giraffe's children's menu has a few items that Logan can eat. Most kids' menus rely heavily on wheat - chicken nuggets, fish fingers, pasta, pizza - so we're usually restricted to places that serve jacket potatoes.

So far the egg is proving more difficult than the wheat. A lot of cafes and restaurants in London are aware of wheat allergies - Carluccio's, which just opened in Muswell Hill, has a gluten free menu, and lots of cafes include a gluten free cake on the menu. But it's proving difficult to find out which foods contain egg. The waiter at Carluccio's looked at me like I was mad when I asked if the pasta had egg in, but a lot of fresh pasta is made with it. The staff at Chorak swore down that you couldn't make bread without egg, but none of the bread on sale at Sainsbury's contains it. If you can't rely on the staff to know, then you're stuck ordering the same thing over and over, or avoiding restaurants altogether because you can't trust that your child won't have an allergic episode.

I know there's a lot of cynicism of food 'allergies' these days, because it's a bit faddy to be intolerant to wheat and dairy, but lots of children (and adults) do suffer a genuine food allergy. I don't expect everything on the menu to be suitable - I'm vegetarian, I'm used to having one or two choices when I eat out - but I do wish caterers would be more aware of providing for those with allergies, and of providing clear, useful information about the allergens their products contain.

Advent day 8: Jewelled spider's web

17 sleeps...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Advent day 7: Elf loo

Tanfield Railway thoughtfully provided a bathroom for Santa's elves.

18 sleeps...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cake of the day #7: Dina's pumpkin bread

For Thanksgiving last week Mark's colleague Dina gave him a tin of pumpkin puree and a recipe for pumpkin bread (from It would have been rude not to bake it!

It's more of a moist cake than a bread, a bit like ginger cake in texture but not as gingery. It's delicious, so I thought I'd share the recipe - a bit late for Thanksgiving but it would make a tasty Boxing Day treat.

1 tin pumpkin puree
4 eggs, beaten
8 fl oz vegetable oil
6 fl oz water
675g caster sugar
350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves (we substituted with all spice)
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Grease two square 23cm (9") tins with butter then dust with flour.

In a large bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the cake tins.

Bake for about 50 mins, until a prong (we use a chopstick) inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to stand for a few minutes then remove from the tins and slice into squares (might be easier to slice it in the tin first).

Advent day 2: Cycling Santa

23 sleeps to go...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010