Carrot, Apple & Spice Cakes with Cashew Frosting

28330000_UnknownMade these when we discovered we were about to be invaded by littles for their first Easter egg hunt with us, and then later by strapping, ever-ravenous teenagers always on the prowl for something ‘tasty’ (which is code for sweet!) Giant-sized pan of pasta sauce was on the go at the same time. Chocolate nests were in the freezer, marzipan eggs still to be made.

I’ve never really been a cake fan, but I always loved carrot cake with cream cheese frosting on special occasions. Since becoming vegan, I’ve been on the lookout for a suitable replacement. I found and adapted a recipe for Raw Carrot Cake Bites with CoYo Frosting – So Moreish!  but although I don’t do much baking in the oven, I wanted a recipe we could present to visitors who were less familiar with my raw food lifestyle. I discovered the recipe that inspired these cakes on Sarah Bakes Gluten Free and they worked out so well I made a second batch for another upcoming family visit this week and put them in the freezer.

I altered some of the ingredients, swapping canola oil with coconut oil, coconut palm sugar for the brown and cane sugar and reduced the amount of maple syrup. I used a combination of the flours we had in the cupboards and had no idea if they would work, but they did. I think in the second batch, the chestnut flour was in the majority, but any combination would work. We replaced the vinegar with lemon juice.

I also made my own version of the frosting – I even gave up my precious bar of Raw Chocolate Company Vanoffe Dark Raw Chocolate to grate and sprinkle on top.

Everyone loved them, from the 2 year old via the über-critical teenagers, to the adults.

There are no eggs, butter or gluten in them.

All measurements are approximate, ingredients are organic where possible, the first batch made 12, the second made 14!

Ingredients

1 Cup SR Gluten-free Flour

 1/2 Cup Chestnut Flour

1/2 Cup Cornflour

1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

1/2 Ground Ginger

1 Tsp Baking Powder

1/2 Tsp Baking Soda

Pinch of Salt

1/2 Cup Unsweetened Coconut Milk  (in the second batch we used rice milk and it worked fine)

1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

3/4 Cup Coconut Palm Sugar

1 Cup Finely Grated Carrots

1/3 Cup Coconut Oil

1/4 Cup Carrot Juice or Apple Juice

1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce

1 Tbsp Pure Maple Syrup

1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

Method

Prepare apple sauce and apple/carrot juice if making fresh. I got halfway through the recipe the first time before realising I needed apple sauce! I cooked a dessert apple in a little water or apple juice until soft and allowed it to cool.

Sift all flours, spices and salt together in a bowl.

In a separate large mixing bowl, add the lemon juice to the milk and stir well.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir before slowly mixing in the flours.

The mixture should pour like a batter.

Pour into cases.

Cook at 170C in a fan oven until a fine skewer/wooden toothpick comes out clean, about 15 – 17 minutes in our oven.

28329952_UnknownAllow to cool.

(These cases were a little big,  I used smaller ones for the second batch and the cakes filled them better, they also rose better.

I also decided to try silicone cases next time as the paper ones had a tendency to stick).

Prepare the frosting.

The measurements are very inexact as I just kept adding until the consistency was right.

I began with 4 very heaped tbsps of Coyo Live Plain Coconut Yogurt, 4 Tbsps finely ground Cashews (you could use ground almonds), 1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract and 1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup.

(You could use a little lemon or orange zest in place of the vanilla if you wanted a different flavouring).

Mix well until it’s firm but spreadable, you don’t want it to pour. Add more nuts if it’s too thin.

Spread onto the cooled cakes.

Grate some raw chocolate and sprinkle on top.

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The second batch looked better, they filled the smaller cases and had more frosting on them, but I forgot to take photos. Nevertheless, the Fairy Cake Queen in the family (my daughter-in-law) gave them the thumbs up, eating three just to be sure!

These kept well in an airtight container in the fridge and will also keep in the freezer – how long, I can’t say, ravenous teenagers and all that!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

 

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Fill Your Easter Basket with Home Made Vegan Raw Chocolate Eggs

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Soon, it will be that other chocolate-filled holiday and the kids are off school getting revved up in anticipation of the upcoming egg hunts, so here is my alternative to the usually over-sweet, over-processed and over-priced commercial eggs. The kids will love to ‘help’ – or you could do it all in secret under the pretext of surprising them, but really so you get to clean out the bowl and lick the spoon! 😉

These home-made raw chocolate eggs are dairy- and gluten-free, as well as free from refined sugar. Some of them contain nuts but you can replace nut butter with tahini and ground-up nuts with seeds or you could choose the second nut-free version. All ingredients are organic where possible.

The Nutty Ones

1/2 Cup Raw Coconut Oil, melted

1/2 Cup Raw Chocolate Company Cacao Powder*

1/4 Cup Maple Syrup

1/4 Cup Unsweetened Nut Butter (no palm oil)

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 Cup either Raw Chocolate Company Goldenberries or Goji Berries (chopped) or other preferred berries

                           2 Tbsp chopped Almonds or Cashews (or seeds)

METHOD
Whisk together raw cacao powder, maple syrup, melted coconut oil, vanilla extract and nut butter. Stir in the berries and nuts.

Pour chocolate mixture into freezer-safe egg moulds or other shapes placed on greaseproof paper.

Place in the freezer for 30 minutes or until set.
Remove from freezer and arrange in a pretty basket.

(You could also pour onto greaseproof paper on a tray, let it spread, freeze and break into bite-size pieces).

These are the moulds we used, they’re available from Ocado and Amazon. They’re silicone and are freezerproof, ovenproof to 260C and dishwasher safe.

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Nut-Free Eggs

For this version, we used the basic Raw Chocolate Company recipe on the back of their Cacao Powder and Raw Coconut Palm Sugar packs, with the addition of vanilla and goji berries.* It is a more intensely dark flavour and not as sweet as the first recipe. In fact, for a few of the eggs, we added a teaspoon of maple syrup as well to cater for those who have a slightly sweeter tooth.

The coconut palm sugar needs refining in a small chopper to make it dissolve and blend more easily.

You can of course leave out the berries if you just want plain chocolate or add whatever you prefer.

Ingredients

90g Cacao Butter, melted

60g Cacao Powder

60g Coconut Palm Sugar (+ 1 Tsp Maple Syrup if required) 

1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 Cup Goji Berries or lightly chopped Dried Mulberries

Method

Mix the melted cacao butter and coconut palm sugar in a bowl over hot but not boiling water to dissolve the sugar. Whisk in the cacao powder and vanilla extract, then stir in the goji berries.

Pour into moulds and set in the freezer as before.

‘Mylk’ Chocolate Nests

28330256_UnknownIf you want to make chocolate nests, you can mix this basic chocolate recipe (minus the Goji Berries) with Weetabix- or shredded wheat-type cereal or gluten-free equivalents, or puffed rice cereal, and place in moulds or bun cases. Refirgerate as before.

With these ones, we added a little vanilla, a tablespoon of lucuma powder, and a couple of tablespoons of homemade tiger nut milk.

You could also make ‘eggs’ from marzipan with the option of dipping in raw chocolate! You can also use natural food colourings. Here, though, we used ground almonds mixed with a little maple syrup.

See also my page of Raw Treats – Recipes for more Raw Chocolate Recipes (at the bottom of the page) and here is a new recipe for Raw Vegan Fruit & Nut (or seed) Chocolate – not just for Easter!.

Have a fun Easter weekend with the people you love!

The Raw Chocolate Company

* (They sell a special chocolate-making kit containing all the ingredients for home-made raw chocolate on their website).

Copyright: Chris McGowan”

A 40’s Night Out at Blackpool Tower & A Broken Arm at the Dodgems!

img_6815A couple of weeks ago, a conversation about our grandchildren’s class projects developed into an intergenerational reminiscence about Blackpool Tower.

The class had been given different geographical monuments to research: our grandson’s was Stonehenge and our grand-daughter’s was Blackpool Tower. Whilst we had no experience of the former, the memories of this seaside town and its iconic landmark flowed like uncorked vintage wine from its dusty bottle as my mum, husband and I stretched our minds back many decades, recalling incidents and accidents that had our daughter’s family laughing and shaking their heads while jotting down our slightly addled anecdotes and the somewhat rarer nuggets of useful information. (Sorry, that was rather a long sentence!)

You see, my family used to live near Blackpool and my husband’s family went there often for day trips, so to us it was just down the road. It was a Mecca for young people with its funfair, arcades, annual illuminations and of course the famous tower with its ballroom, aquarium, menagerie and circus. My brother also went to college there and I remember we all visited him in the depths of winter when I was very pregnant and spent most of the visit scouring the streets for a shop that sold the object of my craving, an Orange Maid ice lolly. No other kind would do, of course.

Some historical context

Inspired by the Eiffel Tower and opened in 1894, Blackpool Tower is 158m tall and reputed to be the 120th highest freestanding building in the world.

(Circus, left, Ballroom right. Images from the official Blackpool Tower site, link above).

The main attractions in the tower include its splendid circus ring (still in action today, but thankfully with no wild animals since 1990) and its magnificent opulent ballroom, designed by Victorian architect, Frank Matcham. This stately setting features in the BBC ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ programme when, halfway through each series, the show gets very excited with itself as it heads for the splendour of the sprung, woodblocked, 11msq ballroom. It’s a dancer’s dream and where the original ‘Come Dancing’ series of the 1970s was filmed. You can still attend daily tea dances there.

This wonderful ballroom has also witnessed less glamorous dancing as my mum testified, when she had us in stitches with her tales of going dancing at the tower on a Saturday after work with her friends.

Apparently, in the 1940s, a special train ran to Blackpool at about 5pm for ‘the couples’ and young people having a night out, dancing. She and her friends would catch the bus to the station, using the journey time to put in their metal curlers and do their make-up, then they would tie up their hair in a turban with a headscarf (like the factory workers in wartime). These curlers were kept in for the entire journey and when they arrived at the tower, they would head straight for the ladies cloakroom where the curlers were removed and they would primp and powder until glamorous enough to make an appearance on the dancefloor! She doesn’t remember what they did with their curlers while they danced. Any suggestions?

img_6814Mum remembers live dance-bands like Joe Loss and his Orchestra (I remember seeing them on tv and hearing them on the radio, a bit too old-fashioned for me even at that young age). In the interval, the now world-famous Wurlitzer organ would slowly ascend through the floor, with Reginald Dixon the renowned organist playing as it did so. He would play until the band was ready to resume. Reginald Dixon designed the tower’s second Wurlitzer and he played there for 40 years. You can still witness this phenomenon at the tea dances today.

Later, my mum and dad would go dancing together at the Tower Ballroom. She misses those days, they both loved ballroom dancing. The labels on the 78s we used to have were all marked as ‘foxtrot’ or ‘waltz’ and so on. In the late 1950’s I remember her teaching me to rock ‘n’ roll to Cliff Richard!!

When my husband reminisces, on the other hand, we steel ourselves for the latest in a long history of mishaps, usually involving lost teeth or broken bones, which more often than not occur when out with his older cousin and he should have known better. The grandsons in particular find these stories hilarious and get Grandad to repeat them to entertain their friends when he visits. My daughter and I wince at what they are absorbing by osmosis and storing away for their teen years when they will dredge them up in an effort to redirect admonition because ‘You laughed when Grandad did it!’

One of these stories involves a trip to Blackpool on the back of his cousin’s scooter at the ages of 16 & 17. You see, right there, it doesn’t get off to a promising start. From past experience, straight off the bat you know that any story with this combination of characters is not going to end well!

Along the way, they have a puncture. My husband falls off the back and breaks his arm. Unperturbed by this misadventure, they decide that, as they are more than halfway there, they would carry on. So, Cousin takes the wheel to a garage but can’t get it to inflate properly, they then decide to make use of the inner tube from the too-large spare wheel tied to the back of the vehicle!

Somehow they make it to Blackpool and have a jolly time – Husband sets great store by the fact that they won a tiny 2″ model of Blackpool Tower on the Pleasure Beach before throwing themselves about on the dodgems. With a broken arm. With torn jeans and blood running down his leg.

It is 24 hours before he thinks to go to see the nurse at work and she packs him off to Casualty to have it x-rayed! He was most upset that he had to miss his scooter test the following week because he had a cast on. I think we’ll leave that story there. (In fact, he complained and requested a rewrite because I didn’t give enough attention to the miniature model of the tower! He insists it was the highlight of the day.)

He did, however, contribute to the project by remembering the zoo which prodded Mum’s memory a bit more. She remembered those poor animals in cages: big cats, polar bears and so on. They lived in cages underneath the tower. Thankfully, no longer. She said the aquarium was wonderful, with beautiful small fish of all colours and some large evil-looking ones too! The aquarium was the first attraction in the tower since the first owner bought the existing aquarium and planned to build the tower around it.

Mum and I couldn’t remember whether we went to The Blackpool Tower Circus or not. I recall one visit to a circus as a child, but I think that might have been Billy Smart’s Circus in  a proper circus tent on the local park. The memories are confused because the clowns at the Tower Circus included the famous Charlie Cairolli and Paul, whom I remember well, but I don’t know if I saw them live there or just remember them from television.

Then there was the time we went to see Blackpool Illuminations and the queue of traffic was so long I couldn’t put my foot on the floor of the Morris Minor because it was over-heating so badly! Our son had been keeping his much younger sister awake, chatting and singing and pointing out things of interest, until we finally reached the start of the brilliantly colourful spectacle along the Promenade. We turned round to see the wonder and delight on our daughter’s face, only to discover she was fast asleep after all.

I love occasions such as these, when we share family memories.

Family history is important because it acts as an anchor. It holds people together and prevents geographically distant family members drifting apart. My grandsons rarely see my mum, they have little interaction with her other than perhaps seeing her once in 18 months and receiving a birthday card. She is deaf and becoming increasingly forgetful and confused. She doesn’t use technology other than a basic tv and an even more basic landline phone. These stories help them see her as a person, to see that they are linked by more than a £10 note in a Christmas card. They help her feel involved in their lives when she knows that these titbits will be used in their schoolwork and she enjoyed making them laugh about her curlers on the bus.

I am aware of time passing and soak up as much as I can when we chat. Nowadays, though, it is often I who provide her with the memories as she confuses different events, times or personnel in the near past or present. But the distant past is mostly still there. She laughs at the time she outwitted her dad to go off with her friend to meet their boyfriends, only to find him waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs when she snuck back in. She loves to tell how she used to go to the pictures every week on a Friday after work and my dad would pretend that he was going there too so that he could go with her. They worked for the same company and his colleagues had bet him he would have no chance asking her out!

I write everything down and one day I will put it all together so my grandchildren can read the whole story and not have to pay a fortune to genealogy sites searching for information about their ancestors like I have!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Raw Carrot Cake Bites with CoYo Frosting – So Moreish!

img_3253I saw these on Instagram and had to try them! Before I became vegan and gluten-free, the only cake I really liked was carrot cake. This raw version from Charley’s Health comes pretty close and were perfect for our family visit with the littles.

I made some small adjustments: I used walnuts instead of pecans (I’m sure you can use seeds if you need to avoid nuts) and used half as much maple syrup in the frosting and they were perfect. Just sweet enough. I also used a little squeeze of fresh orange juice as well as the zest as the mixture was a little dry to manipulate – our medjool dates were quite hard so they were soaked in a little orange juice while everything else was prepared. I also used plain yogurt with a few drops of vanilla extract added as we couldn’t find vanilla yogurt. You could add a few drops of fresh orange juice instead.

The only thing I would point out is that this recipe makes a small amount, the slices are bite-sized – you wouldn’t want to eat more than a couple, they are very satisfying, but if you have visitors you would probably want to double the recipe.

There is no refined sugar, they are vegan and gluten-free. The base is done in the food processor and then frozen before mixing the yogurt and maple syrup for the frosting.

We made the base the day before and put in the freezer, the frosting was made next morning just before our little munchkins arrived. They keep well in the freezer (the slices, not the munchkins!).

As always, measurements are approximate and you may need to adjust to your own tastes and equipment.

Excuse the awful photos, there was no natural light – the sky was getting ready to send down a deluge – and I had to take them quickly before they were scavenged!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

This Valentine’s Day Scrooge is Spreading the Love!

It’s Valentine’s Day next week and it’s a day we usually avoid like the plague. I am a Valentine’s Day scrooge!

As an adult I see the prices of flowers inflate as the day approache; as a teenager I remember the anxiety of wondering if anyone would like me enough to send me a card and the agony of going to school to hear endless screeches and laughter at the often rude sometimes soppy cards my friends had received – often not just one but two or three – while I just mumbled that the post hadn’t arrived before I left for school.

But a post by Pioneering the Simple Life about Home-made Valentines past got me rethinking my stance. All our birthday, Christmas, anniversary, condolence, congratulations cards are home-made when possible, but we always give Valentine’s Day a miss.

However, love isn’t just the romantic kind. So, this year on St Valentine’s Day, why not spread some family love? It would be fun to ferret out the felt, the card, the glue and scissors and spend some time playing. It’s been a while.

So I did.

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I drew, cut out and glued foam hearts on sticks leftover from making children’s mobiles and arranged them in a glass jug. I made vanilla and almond raw chocolate hearts, stars and chunks.* (I’m calling it Vanutte! See my Raw Treats – Recipes).

Cards were also made to send to the other family members who wouldn’t be visiting. It was great fun and took my mind off aches and pains, worries and weather!

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You can use all sorts of everyday household materials – have a look at Pioneering the Simple Life and Scribbleartie for ideas. For the cards I used some felt I bought for a previous project some time ago, but you can use card, foil, shapes made from leftover wrapping paper, string and ribbon – I save everything for moments like this!

Give it a go, find your inner child – or just borrow a real one! – and get sticking and colouring and baking and making. Share your love with those close to you, whether family, partner, friend or someone who just needs to know they are not alone and forgotten.

Love isn’t just for Valentine’s Day! Make it personal any time of the year.

Everyone benefits.

In the words of Jason Mraz: ‘When you love someone, it all comes back to you.’

With lots of love,

Chris x

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*Basic recipe on the back of  The Raw Chocolate Company Raw Cacao Powder and Coconut Palm Sugar packs.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

It’s January: S.A.D.? Do What You Love!

I bought a new mug the other day. Well, actually, it’s a rather large cup that you need two hands to hold, one of those Friends-type ones that you can snuggle up with, full of hot chocolate*, in front of a cosy fire. It’s nothing special. It cost 99p in a local shop and is both dishwasher and microwave safe. It was what was written on the front that resonated.

I don’t usually like things with slogans, but this one says:

‘Do what you love!’

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Being January, with its cold and damp grey days, and being a little susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have learned to try always to have a project on the go to absorb my attention and give my brain something else to contemplate other than when is the sun ever going to wake up and the garden turn green again?

In the past it’s been family history research: when I finished my own, I helped someone else. I try to catch up on letter-writing too. Real letters with real ink written on real paper! I love to use a fountain pen, and this year I have my precious old one sent to me by my primary school teacher, Evelyn (you can read about it here).

21f65416-e275-4687-a6cc-13eef10a45aaI’m currently on my second week of a juice plan, so that has occupied me somewhat – and made me get some much-needed early nights! – but I needed something creative too.

Every year, when we take down the Christmas cards, I put them away for recycling and reusing in November for next Christmas. But I always think I should do it now because November is always such a busy month with all the other preparations and my back really suffers so that I’m always in pain at Christmas.

img_2968This time, when I saw the mug, it was like a message from the universe! So, here I am, doing what I love, making Christmas cards in January! Oh, and drinking my favourite liquorice and cinnamon tea.

This is also the time of year when the professional cyclists dust off their lycra, don their new team strips and bring us some much needed sun from Downunder!

The Tour Down Under began this week in Adelaide, just what I needed: sun, culture and men in lycra – and leading the family Velogames league after Stage 1 and 2 (I don’t even cycle, they take it very seriously) <wicked laugh!>

So I may be a little preoccupied for a while … with the cards I mean 😉

Time for my next juice, cheers!

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What do *you* love to do during these winter months?

*Recipe for Spicy Raw Hot Chocolate with Hemp Milk (or nut milk).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

So How Was It For You?

img_2845As I write, it’s lunchtime on New Year’s Eve. Our last visitors left on Thursday afternoon and it has taken until now for me to process it all enough to put a happy but very hectic week in some coherently written form! The cards are down and I’ve spent some time mindfully cutting out images for next year’s tags and cards, while this post crept up and created itself.

I love having my family here. I don’t see them nearly as much as I would like due to distance, work, school etc., but it is hard work coping with non-stop musical beds, clean bathrooms and differing dietary requirements for a week! When Mum’s here (this time for 5 days), we have constantly to shout and repeat ourselves, add in the stress of watching her shuffle and wobble and making sure the little ones’ toys are not going to trip her up, and you can see how exhausting it can be.

img_2778I think we had 3 full-on Christmas meals plus all the breakfasts,
lunches, dinners and snacks in-between! It was like running a B&B! Here is my youngest grand-daughter trying to pluck up the courage to pull her cracker.

 Mum finally got to meet her latest great-grandson, already 21 months old, when my son and his family paid a flying visit on Christmas Eve and we just about managed the photos before he and his sister giggled and wriggled their way to the car for their journey home.

They left us an amazing amount of (raw) chocolate and a wonderful vegan, gluten-free Christmas pudding, both of which my son had made from scratch. The trickiest part was leaving the steaming to my husband to do on Christmas Day: first of all he asked if he had to remove the foil, then the greaseproof paper! Our son had told him to sit the bowl on an upturned plate to steam it but somehow this had translated to turning the bowl upside down and even to emptying the contents from the bowl altogether! Eventually, we got there and it turned into the best Christmas pudding we have ever had. (Recipe on The Raw Chocolate Company website). It fed 9 of us, at least. Some had smaller or larger portions, some had more than one. I think my husband had the last piece 4 days later.

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The funniest part of Christmas Day was Mum trying to work out why I had given her a pair of Yves St Laurent boxer shorts! Poor Mum. For many years, since the kids were teenagers and would regularly request CDs for Christmas, we have taken to disguising a CD by putting it in a recycled box. Initially it was a Calvin Klein boxer shorts box, lately it’s been YSL. Mum could not fathom the joke. She kept asking why we’d bought her men’s underwear, and in Small! There was a see-through panel on one side of the box where she could see little presents wrapped in Christmas paper as well as the CD, but it all went completely over her head and fell very very flat.

(I once watched my eldest grandson trying to be diplomatically gracious about a box of dried ‘apricots’ I had given him which in fact contained a Harry Potter CD!)

My brother, sister-in-law and nephew joined us on Christmas img_6495
Day and we had a lovely chatty, amusing visit together
. In the afternoon, we all sat and watched The Great Escape and I felt sure Dad was right there with us as we recited all the lines and anticipated our favourite scenes. It was all the more poignant because my brother and sister-in-law will soon be emigrating to the US to be with their children and grandchildren, and I felt like I had to soak up every second of our time together. I know my brother, who suggested watching The Great Escape, was also keen to create memories to take away with him.

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We received some lovely gifts, I won’t mention them all, but these are some that were handmade and/or given to us by our grandchildren.

Our eldest grandson and his girlfriend made us cinnamon biscuits, No.2 grandson gave me a vanilla candle in a blue glass jar which had held lavender, combining two of my favourite smells, and No.3 grandson gave me the pièce de résistance this year: a cross-stitch cushion which had taken him almost the entire year to complete! He is 11 years old. I almost wept when he gave it me, he was so proud of his efforts.

img_6480This gift from my husband (‘Colouring the Tour de France’) was inevitable really, it was more a question of how many I would receive, but they seem to have shared intel this year and it was just the one! Excuse the carpet bags under my eyes, I had injured my back the day before and didn’t have any sleep – plus I was far too excited!

My husband – a chocolate fiend – did very well: our daughter-in-law gave him chocolate whilst our grand-daughter made him chocolate and nut biscuits; No. 2 grandson got completely mixed up when he mistook a box of Thorntons Selection Chocolates for the traditional selection box he had actually intended to buy for Grandad, so he spent a fortune on luxury chocolates, poor lad. But Grandad did share them out.

img_6516The highlight for my husband, though, was that he had company for a frosty morning bike ride! He hadn’t been out for a week as my mum was with us and he couldn’t leave us for such a long period, but once she had returned home 3 teenagers, their parents and Labrador were game for a ride and more than made up for it! There’s a fantastic cycle track nearby that follows the old railway line, going through woods and villages, with beautiful views, streams and wildlife, including otters and foxes. It’s great for families, walkers and cyclists alike.

In between cycling and eating, the teenagers had schoolwork to do, but we managed to fit in some hilarious charades and a film or 3: No. 3 grandson wanted me to watch Captain America: Civil War which he’d brought with him, so I duly obliged, and in return, they watched The Glenn Miller Story with me and were highly amused when I reached for the tissues at the end! In their eyes, it wasn’t a sad ending because he sent her an arrangement of her favourite song for Christmas! The fact that he had died completely passed them by. Boys. No. 2 had learned Pennsylvania 6500 on the violin and No. 3 is keen on becoming a drummer so he enjoyed the extended drum solos. Earlier, they had also tried to school us in Mario Cart on the Wii but spent more time laughing than teaching!

We had a wonderful time and I hope you all had a good break doing things together or alone that soothed or enriched your soul and recharged your batteries. I know I am extremely lucky to have such a big family with whom to enjoy such occasions.

The one thing that overshadowed it all was the sad news about George Michael and Carrie Fisher, both icons for our family. We are huge Star Wars fans and all the younger members went to see the new film in the days before Christmas. Her loss was and is a big shock. George Michael and Wham! were to my young daughter what Paul McCartney was to me when I was growing up. She and her friend knew all the words and all the routines and would keep us amused performing them whilst pretending to have a recording studio where their idols would come to record their latest song. In later years, we admired his professionalism, his superb voice, his candid interviews and his generosity. I had recently watched and admired over again his performance at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert, which for me was the standout performance that day.

I would like to thank you for your friendship throughout 2016 and wish you all a Happy New Year: let us hope for a peaceful one, where we come together with compassion, love and understanding. 

I leave you with my tribute to George Michael. Cheers!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

I Love Christmas – But It Always Makes Me Cry!

NB I wrote this in Dec. 2016, but it all still applies, except that now my brother and sister-in-law have also joined the list of absentees as they emigrated to the US earlier this year. We will Facetime when my mum is here.

Do you cry at Christmas?

I do.

Every single year.

When the presents are opened, the wrapping sorted out into reuseable, recyclable and bin, the children are playing or listening to new music, Mum and hb are sipping a sherry and there’s that hiatus before Christmas lunch, I silently gather up what I can carry to take to my room and quietly weep.

I have done this for as long as I can remember.

I think some of it is the build-up, the anticipation and then the anti-climax. You spend weeks if not months preparing for this. All the card-making, writing and addressing; the present lists, research, purchasing and wrapping; the endless changing of arrangements for visits and meal plans. The food shopping lists. The dread of a family meltdown or health emergency. The nerves while they open their gifts and you find out if it was right or wrong. All while fighting off viscious viruses – and this year fielding any number of phonecalls from my elderly mum asking if she’s coming on Christmas Eve (she’s not, she’s coming on the 22nd, it’s written on her calendar in her kitchen, but she phones every day to ask and is still telling people it’s Christmas Eve).  And then, in a flash it’s all done.

But the other (major) part is that I miss my family. All of them. The ones that are having that year in their own home (though we always see them at some point during Christmas week), but also and especially the ones that are no longer here.

img_4188I miss my dad. I miss his jokes. I miss the grand gestures: he made it a tradition that he and Mum trim the living room every year on Christmas Eve when we were in bed so it would be a surprise for us on Christmas morning; the 4′ Christmas cracker it took 4 of them to pull when our children were young; the Scalextric set my 5 year old son had been longing for but we couldn’t afford, and he labelled it ‘from Father Christmas’ so as not to upstage us. The huge turkey leg that was his reward for supper on Christmas Eve night when he cooked the turkey.

I miss playing the traditional games. He was a great board game enthusiast and was very adept at getting everyone to gang up on each other while he silently acquired everything in sight or gobbled up all your counters. Yes, it usually ended up with various siblings falling out, and yes we have often played over the years, but it seems to have fizzled out. The teenagers prefer games on their phones or X-boxes. I miss watching James Stewart, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye with him, but I do now have my own copy of Bing Crosby’s Christmas cd which I play on Christmas morning while waiting for our visitors (my husband rolls his eyes, he hates it!).

(You can read more about my dad in these posts: You Were So Much More Than Your Job: A Tribute to My Dad For Father’s DayMy Dad Walked Straight and Tall Like A Soldier and Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day).

I also miss my grandparents. My Nannie and Grandad.

 

 

 Grandad always had a big smile on his face. Nannie baked like there was no tomorrow. They always came for a quick visit on Christmas morning, to all their children’s families, and we loved going to theirs for Boxing Day tea. There was always such a feast. It covered every surface, including the sideboard in the living  room where centre stage sat an elaborately decorated Christmas cake covered in white royal icing, shiny silver balls, various figures, marshmallows, it was what we all homed in on when we arrived! There would be a decorated, marzipan-covered  battenburg cake for my dad, who didn’t like fruit cake (I carried on these cake traditions in years to come), delicately coloured sugared almonds and sugar mice, candied orange and lemon slices and of course the obligatory chocolate treats on the tree.

I wish I had a photo of this display. I can’t even remember what we had to eat for main course, other than we always had brown bread which I loved and Mum hated! We had sliced white at home and I loved this exotic alternative – I think it was Hovis! I think we probably had cold meat and tomatoes, pickles etc. but it was all just a preamble we had to get through to reach the real prize! There was almost certainly some jelly and cream because Nannie used to bring out her Father Christmas jug, which I now own thanks to my older cousin passing it on when she moved house a couple of years ago. He looks a bit battered around the edges now, like the rest of us, but it’s amazing he’s still with us at all!

 

 

The incredible thing is – and none of us children were aware of this – Nannie had Type 1 diabetes and couldn’t eat any of it. She used to have a tray with a plate holding a slice of boiled ham, a tomato, a slice of brown bread and butter and an orange. This she ate slowly and quietly while we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t move. Grandad was solicitous of her and all of us at all times. When we had finished eating he would introduce some kind of verbal parlour game we children could manage, always smiling, always chatting. We never felt we were a nuisance. I loved going there.

Christmas also reminds me of their daughter, my cousin’s mum, Auntie Mannie. img_6462Now, her house *was* Christmas to me! As soon as you stepped into her small hallway you were greeted with festivity. There were trimmings up everywhere you could see. And she certainly took after her mum in the cooking department, with bells on! There was so much food, you could have fed a small nation and still come back for seconds. Her pièce de résistance was her sherry trifle! There was always so much fun and laughter in her house. There were 4 of us children, 1 girl – the eldest, me – and 3 boys, and 4 of my cousins, 1 girl, the eldest, and 3 boys. I idolised my opposite number, she is 9 years older than me and always seemed so sophisticated and grown up. In her teens, she had dyed her hair a different colour every time we saw her! She and my dad got on really well, he took the mickey out of her all the time, reminding her when she was getting uppity that once upon a time he used to change her nappies!

I learned to peel Brussels sprouts in her kitchen. She was a terrific hostess and I don’t know how she coped with us all or with the constant heckling and teasing from my dad, but she always gave as good as she got. She was the eldest in his family and had long ago learned to keep him in check.

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L to R Back Row: Grandad, Nannie, Gt Auntie Dorrie, Gt Uncle Arthur, Gt Uncle Billy, Gt Auntie Annie (from Rhode Island), Auntie Mannie, Uncle Henry (German), Cousin. Middle: Gt Auntie Polly, Gt Grandad Gt Grandma. Front: Cousins.

I also miss Gt Grandma, Gt Auntie Dorrie and Gt Uncle Arthur. Always the trio, always together. My great-grandma and her daughter, Dorrie, were like little birds. They were small-framed, but strong, and long out-lived their husbands. Grandma lived to 102 and Auntie Dorrie to 81. Sadly, both succumbed to the after-effects of a fall (as did my grandad at 96). I loved their house. They used to run a post office and haberdashery until they retired and they all moved to a bungalow. There were lace antimacassars on the furniture, a piano, cups and saucers, more laughter. Dad used to tease them rotten, but they laughed so much Grandma’s eyes would water and she dabbed them with a lacy handkerchief. I have her old ladderback rocking chair. It’s too small for current generations to use, but I used to nurse my son on it as the rocking was often the only thing that got him to sleep. Auntie Dorrie used to cycle around until her death aged 81, doing errands and collecting the pensions of the ‘old folks’ in her neighbourhood, who were generally younger than she! At some point over the Christmas period we would visit them as well.

img_6209And my brother, Dave.

In fact, I think that was when I started weeping at Christmas, the first one without him. He died aged 22 and I was 23.

I think of him, Dad and all my older relatives every Christmas morning and silently drink a toast to them when we have lunch. We are not a demonstrative family and everyone would feel awkward and embarrassed if I did this out loud. My children didn’t even know my brother. I find this extremely sad.

A family Christmas can be very hard for those who have lost someone close, especially if recent. The first is always the worst. I always spare a thought for them too. And for those without family or who are estranged.

We have only had one Christmas Day entirely on our own as a couple and it was the saddest day. I watched all my neighbours welcoming children, grandchildren or parents, or being picked up to go to someone’s house for lunch, and felt so very lonely, and I wasn’t even completely on my own. But I felt for everyone who has to witness such Christmas family get-togethers every year while having no-one to share it with. I vowed I would never do that again.

Of course, my husband loved it! He got to watch whatever he wanted on tv, and have beans on toast for lunch – we were saving the grand affair for when our children came next day, so he was having a welcome day having nothing to do with the kitchen!

This year, what started out as potentially a quiet Christmas with my mum will have turned into a week-long session of musical beds! Having discovered she was to be at ours for a few days, first my son’s family have decided to come and see her on Christmas Eve (this is good because Mum hasn’t met her latest great-grandson yet and he’s 21 months old!), then our eldest grand-daughter surprised us as she too wants to come, this is good too as she lives so far away and is in such high demand that we rarely have time together. Next up, my brother, sister-in-law and nephew would like to come for an audience on Christmas Day! Honestly, it’s like playing host to The Queen!

My husband will be taking Mum home on Boxing Day, which just about gives the house chance to recover and the houseworking elves time to clean bathrooms, put away toys, change bedding and restock the cupboards before a hoard of ravenous teenagers and a frisky labrador descend the following day!

I’m exhausted just writing about it! But I am looking forward to seeing them all. I’m happiest when they’re all here and I can sit and just watch them all, listen in and muse on the passage of time and how proud I am.

I hope you all have the opportunity to spend this festival season in whatever way makes you content. I hope you don’t mind my trip down memory lane, I always think about them during this preparation period and I wanted to include them however I could. Giving them a place in my blog is my tribute to their continuing presence and importance in my life.

I raise my glass to them and to you.

Thank you for reading!

Merry Christmas! 🎄

PS Here’s a video of my favourite Christmas Song by the lovely Dora Bryan – I and 2 of my friends performed it at the parish Christmas concert in our village hall! (Thank goodness there were no camera-phones in those days!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Cal’s Sweet ‘n’ Sour Red Cabbage

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This was my grandson, Cal’s, contribution to our family achristmas meal last year and is a great way to spruce up this traditional winter vegetable. It takes up to 2 hours to cook on the hob at a gentle simmer and is even better the next day when all the flavours have blended together. (See below for YouTube video of Sia’s Elastic Heart feat. Shia Laboeuf & Maddie Ziegler to watch while it’s cooking!)

It makes a welcome change from the annual jar of pickled red cabbage in the middle of the table at this time! In our house its only purpose seems to be to stain the tablecloth and then sit half-full at the back of the fridge for several months until I decide I can legitimately throw it out without anyone complaining!

Red Cabbage is packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals – including B6, Folate, Vitamin A, C, and K, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. It also contains the antioxidants Lycopene and Anthocyanin’s (they give red vegetables and fruits their colour), which help protect against cancer and are heart healthy.

In other words, Red Cabbage is Good For You!

Word of warning: it stains!

All measurements and timings are approximate

Ingredients

1 Tbsp Coconut Oil

1/4 to 1/2 Red Cabbage, depending on size, washed and chopped small or shredded

1 Cooking Apple or Tart Dessert Apple, chopped

1 Small Onion, diced

1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar or Red Wine Vinegar

1 Dssp Raw Coconut Palm Sugar*

Handful Raisins

1 Tsp Organic Fruit Spread (no refined sugar or nasties!)

1/4 Tsp Cinnamon

Some Grated Whole Nutmeg, sparingly as it’s quite strong

Optional: Chopped Walnuts

Method

Melt the coconut oil and when hot, add onions and allow to sweat, gently, stirring occasionally

After a couple of minutes, add red cabbage and sweat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally

Add apple, vinegar, raisins, sugar, fruit spread and spices

Cover and cook on very low heat for up to 2 hours or until it is the desired texture and consistency

Stir occasionally

Adjust seasoning

Add chopped walnuts, if using, when nearly done and a few more to garnish

I like a bit of a bite to the cabbage, but others like it well cooked.

It goes well with nut roast, vegan sausages and so on. Here I have placed it centre-stage, surrounded by home-sprouted mung beans. (Apologies for the picture, this was one of my early posts when I was unused to taking food shots and there’s absolutely no natural light at this time of year). 

*http://www.therawchocolatecompany.com

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Different Christmas – A Lesson from the Grinch

Here is another thoughtful and positive post about the real meaning of Christmas from a fellow blogger who always has just the right word on any given topic. Do take a look, you will leave pondering and all the wiser for the visit.

joanneeddy's blog

grinch-movie-copy“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling,
how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

“Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams, I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.” Bing Crosby

christmas-mantle-copyThe days are racing. Usually, this time of year it would be my count down to Christmas. It would be putting the candles in the windows, and putting up the tree, picking gifts, baking cookies, wrapping presents, placing Santas I’ve collected on the table, stockings on the mantle and a big Santa in front of the…

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