Banana, white chocolate and cinnamon loaf

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At the moment my life is veering between a version of The Summer Book, where a small child and her grandmother spend long days on an island the size of a couple of fields, exploring a tiny world in an unhurried way and cherishing their time together and Room, where a small child and his mother are trapped in a single room, making entertainment out of nothing and the TV and jumping up and down every day on a small table, shouting at a sky light, desperate to escape their prison.

I can’t help but think of the children whose hopes of adoption have hit a wall, the children for whom home is not a safe and cosy place, the children whose parents don’t have fast wifi and a printer and money for endless printouts and children whose parents are frightened of going to work but have to.

We are lucky.

I was begged to remake this so I reckon it’s worthy of a blog post.

Lasts about half an hour, warm from the oven

140g soft butter

140g golden caster sugar

2 very ripe bananas (starting to blacken)

2 eggs

140g self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

100g white chocolate chunks

Pre-heat the oven to 180 and line a 2lb loaf tin.

Beat the sugar and butter together for a good five minutes, till pale and fluffy. Add the bananas and beat till smooth. Mix together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon into a uniform, pale brown mess then, with about a spoonful of the flour per egg to stop it curdling, beat in the eggs. Finally, stir the rest of the flour mixture into the wet batter until only just combined. Stir through the white chocolate and pour the mixture into your tin. Bake for around 40 minutes, till golden and the top is firm (so a finger doesn’t leave an indentation).

Good when it’s almost too warm to hold in a mud-streaked small hand, or with vanilla icecream. Or stealthily taken to the study to eat at your computer.

Raspberry, white chocolate, almond and coconut loaf

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And just like that he was six, had lost three teeth, could spell and didn’t want morning cuddles. Suddenly things are classed as ’embarrassing’ (not me – yet) and ‘boring’, he’s peppering his sentences with ‘like’ and he wants to train to be a ninja.

But squidged in between this is a boy who writes me love letters, nods earnestly with wide eyes about pretty much any surprising fact and fully believes the world is fair, loving, orderly and safe. I’ll keep his bit of it that way as long as I can.

Makes 1 small loaf cake

2 eggs

160g soft butter

160g granulated sugar

160g ground almonds

160g self-raising flour

3 tablespoons coconut milk

1 tablespoon dried raspberries

75g white chooolate chunks

150g fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 180/ 170 fan.

Beat together the eggs, butter, sugar and ground almonds till soft and pale then stir in the flour, coconut milk, dried raspberries and chocolate.

Line a 1lb loaf tin with a paper liner and spread in half of the cake batter (it’s a little thicker than some cake batters). Scatter the fresh raspberries over and then cover with the rest of the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes.

Blueberry, apple and ginger crumble tart

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Today’s my birthday. I was woken up at seven a.m. by a five-year-old carrying a homemade card (a family of badgers, how well he knows me) and whisper-singing Happy Birthday. He helped me open cards and some presents (a bag with a picture of an arctic fox on from him, how well he knows me), gave me some ‘save-for-later’ kisses and cuddles and went to school.

I picked him up from school and we lit candles on a cake I’d bought (he was a little concerned that I shouldn’t buy my own birthday cake and that he should have helped his dad make one – how little he knows him) and he sang Happy Birthday to me again. I can’t reveal what I wished for when I cut the cake of course, but seven, eight and possibly even nine years ago I wished for him.

Yesterday we ate nearly all of this tart between the three of us.

Makes one tart

1 pack of ready-rolled shortcrust pastry

1 small pack blueberries

3 teaspoons diced stem ginger in syrup

1-2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, chunked and cooked gently in a saucepan with 2-3 tablespoons of golden caster sugar till soft but still in recognisable chunks

175g plain flour

100g cubed butter

50g rolled oats

100g soft brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Heat the oven to 180. Line a pie dish with the pastry, leaving some overhanging the edges. Put on a baking tray, cover with baking parchment (the one from the packet of pre-rolled pastry will do) and weigh down with something like baking beans (I use pebbles). Bake for 10 minutes, remove paper and baking beans, turn the oven down to 160 and bake for another 8 minutes, till golden.

Take it out of the oven and turn the oven back up to 180. Meanwhile put the butter and flour in a food processor till breadcrumbed, then stir through the sugar, oats and ginger.

When the pastry has cooled a bit, snap off any overhanging edges, but not too neatly, tip in the blueberries and dot with the ginger and some of its syrup. On top of that, the apples. Then the crumble. Bake for 25-30 minutes and serve with double cream.

Pina colada cake

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Bert has a new thing of telling me his secrets, accompanied by the whisper, ‘this is top, top secret’. I obviously can’t reveal any here, but I’m really enjoying hearing them. Some are a long way from being news to me, but others are genuinely surprising – a wonderful reminder that we never really know anyone as well as we think we do.

I’ve had to repay him with my own secrets (one secret buys one secret), and I didn’t think I really had any, but it’s amazing what you can rustle up if you have to – and how therapeutic it is to share it.

Yes, I like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain. I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne. I’m not that into yoga and I have half a brain.

None of those are my real secrets.

Makes one 20cm cake which lasted us about an hour

40g soft brown sugar

150g pineapple chunks

115g butter

115g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

100g dessicated coconut

4 tablespoons coconut milk (I’ll make chicken and mushroom biryani with the rest) (probably)

225g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 140 fan. Grease a 20cm round tin well, then sprinkle in the brown sugar and layer in the pineapple. Add a bit more pineapple if you like things pineapple-y.

Beat the sugar and butter together till really light and fluffy then add the eggs, cinnamon (a Smitten Kitchen recipe got me into the idea of cinnamon in coconut cakes – it gives it a toasty, mellow nuttiness), coconut and coconut milk. Finally stir in the flour, just until you can’t see it, and spoon the mixture on top of the pineapples. Smooth over and bake for about 45-50 minutes, till golden and springy.

Obviously turn upside down to serve. Perhaps with champagne.

Leftover roast chicken, pea and rosemary macaroni

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On the way to school earlier this week, I wound down the car windows to clean the rainwater off them so I could see out. Bert burst into tears because he still wanted to look at the dirty water.

I want him to be comfortable with expressing emotions. But do we need to howl to the moon in despair and prepare to die when our mother looks at a toy aardvark at the wrong moment? I don’t see his mates inconsolable over a shoe being put on before a hat. There’s a balance to be had, somehow, and I feel the need to help him navigate this.

So I launched into an explanation that I became more self-satisfied with the further I got. ‘Some sadnesses are like tiny spiders on your shoulder. You have to learn to shake them off by yourself. Others are like big pigs, you need help in lifting them off. This is a small spider.’

But it didn’t go down quite how I hoped. Did you know there are spiders in the Amazon rainforest the size of dinner plates? Well, we both do now.

Yesterday I told him to brush his toothbrush. ‘That’s a sentence but one word is wrong,’ he told me. ‘I do that all the time,’ I admitted. ‘So it’s not a mistake, it’s your personality,’ he summed up brutally.

Tonight he cried because bath-time had come and I hadn’t yet sorted a box of his accumulated randomness into the categories of nature, animals and favourite toys. I brushed the tears off quickly, did a speedy nature sort and popped him in the bath without comment.

No point trying to correct a mistake when you’re just dealing with a personality.

Serves 3

Leftover cold roast chicken and its carcass

1 carrot

1 onion

Sprinkling of peppercorns

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

200g macaroni

Teaspoon dried rosemary

3 or so large handfuls of frozen peas

Juice of half a lemon

Grated parmesan

Strip the decent chicken from the carcass, set the chicken meat aside and put the bones in a large saucepan with the unpeeled onion, chopped in half, the carrot, the peppercorns and the salt. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for around 3 hours (check the water isn’t running low). Drain (put a colander over a large bowl). Set aside 450ml of the stock for this recipe and keep any more in the fridge for soups. (Of course, you could skip this stage and use a stock cube and precooked chicken, but it won’t be quite as tasty.)

Heat the olive oil in a big saucepan and gently fry the chopped onion, garlic and rosemary till soft. Add the uncooked macaroni, stock and chicken, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the peas for the final 5 minutes then squeeze in the lemon juice at the end. Serve with lots of Parmesan.

This is a version of a recipe in The National Trust Family Cookbook.

French macaroni cheese

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I wish this was our house, but it’s a hotel in France. Here’s Bert playing table tennis with style, verve, determination and very little skill. In sports terms, he only gets the latter from me, but I have put many hours’ work into trying to create a macaroni cheese recipe that shoe-horns in as many veg as my bolognaise does. I have failed.

But the macaroni cheese the hotel gave Bert was delicious so I tried to mimic its more delicate flavour and thinner, less sticky consistency when we got home.

Bert’s verdict was that it was ‘almost as good as school’s’. (Why thank you, Sir.) It’s also a lot easier to make than normal macaroni cheese – but impossible to hide any veg in. I think that’s a deuce.

Serves 3-4

1/2 bag of dried macaroni

1 garlic clove, cut in half

Butter for greasing the dish

250ml double cream

250g grated Gruyere cheese

250g grated Cheddar cheese

Cook the pasta as per instructions and pre-heat the oven to 180. Meanwhile, rub the cut side of the garlic over the inside your baking dish and then grease the dish with the butter. Combine the cooked pasta with half of the cheese and all of the cream, tip into the baking dish and then sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. I didn’t season as cheese is fairly salty but you could add some pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes till bubbling.

The hotel served it with a sort of chopped Greek salad of finely chopped tomatoes, cucumber and a sprinkling of finely chopped feta cheese, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with pepper. Bert ate the salad neither time, but I ate his portions both times.

 

White chocolate, oat and banana loaf

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Here’s the reason I don’t write this blog much these days: this is the reaction I get to most things I cook. He feels about my cooking the way he feels about my reverse parking, the state of my car and my decision to send him to holiday club for five days this summer – existentially disappointed.

But my car’s a state partly because of a five-year-old who opens party bags in it and discards the rubbish, and who tidies up spilt crumbs by brushing them disdainfully onto the floor; and we liked this loaf so here’s the recipe.

Makes one loaf

120ml vegetable oil

125g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

3 overripe bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

60g plain yoghurt

125g plain flour

90g rolled oats

100g white chocolate chips or pieces

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180/ 160 fan. Mix all of the ingredients together (no need to mash the banana if it’s very ripe and you’re using a food mixer) and tip into a lined 1lb loaf tin (25cm x 12.5cm). Bake for 50 minutes for an hour. Eat warm with vanilla icecream or cold.