Plenty for kids to #Injoy in Southampton!

As parents to a 3 year-old and a 9 year-old with additional needs, we’re always searching for that elusive family option which suits everyone. As our weekends are precious, we don’t want the day to be wasted or to degenerate into a fight as one daughter decides she’s bored with the options the other one has found interesting, and this is especially challenging given the age difference and our eldest’s ASD.

We have a few regular places we spend time in but we were delighted to pay a first visit to Southampton’s Injoy as part of a special bloggers complimentary event – and we were so surprised by just how much was on offer under one roof. Handily and centrally located in Ocean Village, the building used to be a cinema so my husband spent a little while reminiscing about nights out he’d spent there with his friends as a teenager!

There are tons of things to take part in, all of which can be booked separately or as part of party options including soft play, laser tag, climbing, trampolines and art / cooking class.

Both girls started in the fab soft play which is also full of interactive features and extra bits including brilliant little cars to drive. They loved the lights and features built into the floor, especially the screens displaying fish and so on – occasionally a (non-frightening shark) would appear!

injoy soft play

Then it was off to the excellent trampoline park and ninja course for our oldest and she had an absolute ball burning off some energy and getting some ‘me’ time. The youngest wanted to spend more time in the soft play and it was so easy to accommodate both girls before we came back together for lunch.

We were particularly impressed by the food, especially the pizza which is cooked in a pizza oven downstairs which has its own little section for the cooking classes. You can order it any time as part of the extensive food offering and we tucked into a really top plain pizza (the youngest’s favourite, and she wolfed 5 slices), big chunky burgers and skinny chips. There was also a great range of cakes and sweet treats and the quality of everything was outstanding.

injoy pizza

After lunch and a little rest for tummies to digest their contents a bit, youngest daughter demanded to return to the soft play so the oldest and I headed off to the climbing wall section which also has a drop slide (where you get in a red boiler suit and are pulley-ed up a very very steep ramp before being released!), a giant soft step staircase and leap of faith where you launch yourself towards out of mid-air into a suspended cylindrical punch bag.

With some encouragement, our anxious child grew slowly in confidence over her session and I was so chuffed to see her make her way up and down the walls, regardless of how high she could go. She felt very safe in the harness which meant that any time she had had enough, she could just push back from the wall and float down to the floor again. The excellent staff were on hand at all times to assist.

injoy climbing wall And just when we thought we couldn’t be any more impressed, we paid a visit to the Interactive Room. We had hoped that this would be a real treat for our daughter with Aspergers and it turned out to be the case – it was just so fun on so many levels.

For starters, there was some sand to muck around with (she loves tactile stuff) and a giant central playboard on which you could chase aliens and jump on them with your feet to score points.

Then every full wall of the space offered something else enticing to do. Why not grab a giant pencil to ‘draw’ and change the colours of the picture, or throw a soft ball and try and hit invading aliens?!

injoy interactive wall A particular hit was the cityscape which offered you the opportunity to colour and design your own building or plane, and then quickly scan it and add it to the wall where it would appear before your very eyes!

interactive wall 2

As we left – after hours of genuine fun and family time – our eldest remarked: “I had a really fun day”. She rarely expresses positive sentiments in this way so this was most certainly a glowing five-review for Injoy. We shall be back!

injoycentres.com  

Finally, I get my hands on the Lady Jane soundtrack

Among my lifelong favourite films is Trevor Nunn’s Lady Jane (1986), starring a very young Helena Bonham Carter and a pre Princess Bride Cary Elwes. After seeing it on TV, I bought it on video and thereafter we were rarely parted. It’s been derided for a lack of historical accuracy but I didn’t care – and still don’t really care – one jot. I LOVE it.

Yes, that love stems in part from the swoonsome qualities of Cary and the budding romance between his character Guilford and Helen’s Jane; I watched the film’s montage of their developing relationship pretty much daily. Oh how I wanted someone to teach me to ride a horse and to fan out my hair in the grass, delicately placing an ivy leaf on my forehead just as G does to J.

In all seriousness, there’s much to admire from the film across the board not least the myriad great performances by British stage stalwarts including John Wood, Patrick Stewart, Michael Hordern and Sara Kestelman as Jane’s ambitious mother.

And of course – the MUSIC, Stephen Oliver’s outstanding score which was never ever available to purchase and only became available in 2017, an incredible 31 years after the film was released. Lady Jane was Oliver’s only film score before he died much too young aged only 42.

I recall playing the film on TV so I could record sections of it onto a tape so I could have the pleasure of listening to it. Performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, it’s absolutely stunning, so beautiful and thankfully, thanks to the persistence of Jim Oliver (so the sleeve notes explain) it is available on CD in a limited run of 1000.

lady jane

I have searched for it many times over the years, every time I remembered and it popped into my head, and I absolutely couldn’t believe it when I checked online last week and lo and behold there it was. I rushed to buy it in comedic haste, my heart racing, but I just couldn’t wait to have it in my possession.

After all these years, here we are and I can put it on and savour it as much as I see fit. I am such a Luddite that I still have a CD player out and ready for action. We’ve been waiting a long time for this happy moment.

 

 

 

Nigella’s new book provides my husband’s favourite home-cooked meal – ever!

Ah the bliss of the autumnal and pre-Christmas foodie book releases! This year is a particular treat: not only is there a new Nigel Slater, but Ottolenghi’s Sweet is just FAB and of course, Nigella Lawson has released At My Table.

My love for the one and only domestic goddess Nigella Lawson isn’t something I have hidden from this blog! From her first book How to Eat, I’ve admired her wit, knowledge and her ability to come up with an absolutely amazingly tasty family meal. I turn to her books more than those of any other famous chef / cook. Every time I have made her American breakfast pancakes from Domestic Goddess for anyone, they have requested the recipe. And that’s just one example.

Reviews of her new tome At My Table have been hugely positive, many fans harking that it marks a return to form. Personally, I have always tried to contextualise as far as the release of the books are concerned. Simply Nigella may not have been up there with her greatest hits, but she’d just been through something incredibly difficult in her personal life (again), and it smacked of someone’s search for something. And I understood the pink and green obsession.

Anyhow, enough of my armchair analysis. I would agree that At My Table is classic Nigella. I took it to bed, read it thoroughly, covered it in post-it notes, made my list of new bits I’d need (coconut milk yoghurt, black venus rice, aleppo pepper etc) and I had made 3 of its evening mains in the first week I owned it.

One in particular was a stunning hit! Having not previously given my Nigella seeds the attention they deserved, I thought we’d give the Indian-spiced chicken and potato traybake a go. Obviously any working parent loves the word traybake, implying as it does a minimum of mess and a minimum of fuss. Its blend of spices also included lots of things I already had there by the kitchen counter waiting for an opportunity to shine, including fennel seeds, mustard seeds and rapeseed oil – sad culinary dreamer that I am, I’d recently treated myself for my 40th birthday by buying a bottle of the gloriously golden Leckford Estate oil from Waitrose.

IMG_4274

Being Northern Irish, I always have potatoes in the house, so we were sorted on that score. We’re also budgeting hard at the moment, and chicken thighs, treated right, are tasty and affordable. We just needed a few limes and we were good to go.

When my husband returned from work, made delighted noises and swiftly wolfed it all down,  he declared that it was the best thing I had ever made for him. We’ve been together for 14 years and I’ve been cooking for him all of that time, so that’s quite the statement.

IMG_4283

It really was delicious, so full of flavour and so, so satisfying, yet so simple. I know already that it will become a regular fixture, as will the chicken and pea traybake (divine!) and the orzo and meatballs. I’m looking forward to tucking into them, and more from the book, as the autumn and winter progress. Nigella, you’re still – and you’ll always be – my queen of the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Caesar Salad with ‘heel’ croutons

Being strapped for cash, I try whenever possible to cook with what’s in front of me in our fridge and cupboards. Even if what I’m cooking demands a certain something, I might try instead to think of a way to replace / omit it rather than have to dash to the shop or re-plan the whole meal completely.

Cooking like this is, I’m sure, pretty common, and it’s also a good way to come up with something a little bit different. And so it was last week, when I optimistically found myself with salad ingredients including romaine lettuce (the weather betrayed me, yet again) and some cooked chicken. I took a glance around, spotting parmesan, olive oil and white wine vinegar and thought, yup, a sorta chicken caesar it is.

Then I came upon my stash of loaf heels in the freezer, you know, the thick ends which no-one in our house will eat. I tend to keep them for making breadcrumbs and I end up with quite a few as we go through a lot of sliced bread. And I thought, croutons? Yup. Why on earth had I gone this long without making my own? Surely it couldn’t be hard.

It turned out to be brilliantly simple, and I will never buy croutons again. I simply preheated the oven to 180 degrees C and took out 3 frozen heels and left them for about 20 mins on the side to defrost. I removed their crusts with a v sharp knife, gave the birds the crust crumbs, and then cubed the bread – about 2/3 cm. I tossed the cubes (quickly, otherwise the bottom ones end up saturated) in approx one tbsp of olive oil per 50g. I’d added some crushed garlic and a little bit of dried thyme, too, and obv the possibilities are endless: you could add crushed chillies, dried herbs, whatever would croutonly complement your recipe.

After 10-15 mins, they were ready, so I left them on the side to cool while I assembled everything else.

IMG_1916

Next up, the romaine lettuce, which I cut into long thin-ish strips with a sharp knife…

IMG_1913

followed by lots of nice big chunks of cooked chicken (I’m a real fan of Asda’s £5 extra tasty bagged roasts) which I scattered liberally under and on top of the leaves.

Then it was time for something super-tasty, some smoked pancetta slices, which I had dry-fried and crisped up on the griddle.

IMG_1915

For the dressing, I got a suitable bottle and shook together olive oil, a clove or two of crushed garlic, two anchovies (I mash them in my pestle and mortar), 2 tbsps grated parmesan, black pepper and some white wine vinegar. A liberal casting of the croutons and a generous drizzling of the dressing later and it was all done. Very simple and very tasty.

IMG_1917

Now all I need is the sunshine so I can sit outside eating it, accompanied by a nice glass of vino…

When life gets in the way…

It has been a while, that’s for sure. When I first started this blog, it was as a bit of fun after a rough few years after the birth of my first daughter. I’d always been obsessed with cooking and baking, and Baps & Buns was a welcome escape from post discectomy chronic pain and the perils of parenthood. What I didn’t expect was that quite a number of other things were about to happen to us which would push updating this blog very much to the back of the queue. It’s only now that I feel that I am able to, and that I want to, write about it in any public way on this blog. I must warn you that it’s all got nothing to do with cooking!

First up was the death and subsequent delivery due to late miscarriage of our baby at 17 weeks gestation. The post mortem and myriad blood tests revealed that I suffered from the autoimmune condition Hughes Syndrome / APS, and it was this syndrome which was to blame for the loss of our precious son. Needless to say, it was a horrific shock and a terrible trauma to go through, something which altered us permanently from that point on.

We were encouraged to try again, during what then became a horribly stressful time because our then 4 year-old daughter was in the process of being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, specifically Aspergers. The process of her starting school, something which should have been wonderfully exciting, was full of dread, and quickly became disastrous.

And in the middle of all that, we were expecting another baby. Despite a treatment programme centred around Clexane, we lost the child, again at 17 weeks. The delivery and subsequent funeral (just me and my other half in the crematorium) were nightmarish in a new way. Those people who had struggled to find things to say to us first time reaaaalllllly didn’t know what to say when it happened all over again and the isolation we felt hit very hard. It was like a sucker punch just when you’d started to drag yourself up from the floor. It was hard to go on, but life relentlessly insists that you must; there’s no other alternative, especially when your only living child needs you.

Despite our assumptions, our consultant was adamant that she could achieve “a successful outcome”, and batted away our fears about it all going wrong for a third time. One of our bereavement midwives had previously remarked that the only thing which made anything bearable for parents was the subsequent birth of a healthy baby and we had begun to feel that she was completely correct. Thus, with a very deep breath and no optimism whatsoever, we agreed to give it one more go.

Life wasn’t about to let up. Our next shock was the loss of my beloved job. As I began the search for something new, there was always the thought in the back of my mind ‘but what if I get pregnant…’ – what a burden for a new employer. Looking back now, however, I am drawn back to the old cliche that everything happens for a reason. At the risk of boring you, I can sum up what came next: new job (amazing new boss), pregnancy (longest 9 months of my life filled with Clexane, aspirin and steroids), live birth at 37 weeks.

I sit now in the living room of our new home and feel every single atom of my good fortune. We have an almost 6 month-old daughter, and even though we never ever felt safe enough to dream for even one second that she was going to make it – I’ll apologise to her for that in the future – I am beyond grateful for the healing and the peace she has brought us. Complications and losses absolutely do enhance the miraculous joy of a baby.

Life is still testing and complex, and I can still find myself overwhelmed by the grief for the loss of the two precious children we will never have the opportunity to get to know. As our daughter’s personality emerges, I often wonder about just who we and the world have lost. The legacy of our troubles is varied; courtesy of 2 self-administered Clexane injections per day for 41 weeks, I now have a phobia of needles. But I am very glad to have been exposed to the work of the charity Sands and support groups for those with APS / Hughes, and will fundraise for them for the remainder of my life.

So that’s what’s been going on. I now hope to be reporting from the frontline of our new oven a bit more regularly. And it’s a beauty. Seven rings on the hob…good things come to those who wait?

cooker

 

 

 

Jus-Rol’s easy peasy Bake-It Fresh cinnamon swirls

When I spotted these bright yellow packets in the supermarket, I instantly thought of those moments when we as a family fancy a homebaked sweet treat.

IMG_5850

And these would enable us to indulge in just that – without me having to do a lot of cooking and messing around, especially at the weekends when I prefer to sleepily stagger around in pyjamas for a few hours.

I gave the husband the option of which we’d try first and he quite fancied a cinnamon swirl so off I went to preheat the oven.

The instructions are incredibly easy to follow and it all works just as it should. You open the tin as directed…

IMG_5851.JPG

and expose the log of dough inside –

FullSizeRender (2)

Then you cut in into six sections and lay them evenly on a lined baking tray or baking sheet.

IMG_5854

Then all you need to do is bake them for 11 minutes or so on the middle shelf of the oven.

IMG_5855.JPG

Final touch? A drizzle of icing, easily done thanks to the little pot of icing sugar which was also included in the packaging! The three of us demolished them in seconds.

IMG_5857

We will definitely be trying the rest of the products in this range: pain au chocolat, pains aux raisins, croissants and chocolate chip brioche. Treats at weekend brunches are going to be a doddle 🙂

Easy chutney – and we’re onto our third batch of this recipe already

Once we finished picking blackberries this year, almost immediately we made the move to apples. Friends passed on a bag of the first fruits to fall from their tree and so my mind turned initially to crumbles and tarts and then to chutney.

Chutney is one of the nicest things to pass on as an edible gift and one recipe in particular seems to get most favourable feedback from those we give it to. Another plus is that it’s extremely easy to make in one pan on the hob.

It’ll be no surprise that it’s a Nigella recipe, given my devotion to the domestic goddess, and it comes from her excellent Christmas book. It’s a simple mix of cider vinegar, onion, cranberries, apples, seasoning, sugar and spices, and takes just 45 minutes or so to cook.

IMG_4313

Once the apples have broken down, it does turn into a lethal spitter – watch out for those volcanically hot sparks flying out as the chutney simmers – but given the rest of its qualities, we can let it off with that!

I love this chutney so much that its page in the recipe book is pretty dirty (always the sign of a favourite) and I have made it three batches so far this autumn.

Practically every jar (we have eaten a few ourselves) has gone to a happy recipient and, once I get my hands on some windfall apples again, I’m sure it’ll be on the boil and bubble again.

IMG_4317

Nostalgic foodie souvenirs from Spain

We’ve just got back from two weeks on the Costa del Sol, and, as ever, a highlight of the trip was my usual trip to the supermercado to see what interesting or quirky things I could bring home.

I don’t mean serious stuff like the finest serrano ham; I’m talking more about silly nostalgic treats, and anything else interesting.

i was most keen to source the two items which remind me of the couple of trips I made to Spain as a child. I can vividly recall swimming up to a barstool with my dad for a treat of chocolate milk and a doughnut and I can also clearly picture the packaging of both items as they were handed over.

The milk I remember so fondly is Cacaolat, not the seemingly more popular Spanish brand Cola Cao and I was delighted to get my hands on it, and on a multipack of the doughnuts, in a larger store. To my eternal delight, neither the appearance of the milk nor the doughnuts has changed much in the 30 or so years since I devoured them as a child – and that taste, oh that taste, was just the same.

The divine Cacaolat

The divine Cacaolat

I couldn’t resist eating and drinking them throughout the holiday – and bringing a few back packages and cartons back to help with the post-holiday blues, too.

DSC00512

Among the other treats in my shopping basket were wonderful Inez Rosales tortas, chorizo and two little 47c mineral water bottles with cutesy Anna and Elsa wrappers for our daughter.

And then I came upon the trump card of the trip, a trio of perfection in the form of three Royal reposteria tins: cacao en polvo (cocoa powder), crema pastelera (custard powder) and azucar glas avanillado (vanilla icing). My mother laughed at how excited i was when I spotted them in the baking section, but all I think of was my little red Royal baking powder tin at home and how delighted it would be to be joined by such beautiful little tins.

DSC00515I’ll have to get someone to translate the back of the tins for me so I can fully appreciate them, but I know that, once their contents are gone, I will be able to refill them and reuse them for years to come.

Thank goodness for modern hot cross bun options

All my life, I have had an absolute hatred of mixed peel.

As a result, I don’t enjoy traditional festive favourites such as Christmas pudding, or cake when it has the afore-mentioned peel in it.

I make Nigella’s recipe instead – she’s no fan of MP either, and therefore rises in my estimation yet again! 🙂

It has also meant that I have never eaten Easter favourite the hot cross bun – until recently.

Supermarkets have woken up to the possibility of this bun, and have released different flavours, quite a few of which contain no MP at all. Yippee!

This year, I have mostly been eating two varieties of hot cross bun, Sainsbury’s cranberry and golden raisin option and Marks & Spencer’s toffee fudge and Belgian chocolate version.

FullSizeRender (1)

 

 

The latter –

FullSizeRender (1) copy

– are particularly moreish. I prefer them lightly toasted (and therefore heated) with some butter.

It’s not the healthiest option, but it is a treat, and we are in the season of chocolate eggs and oodles of marzipan for the Simnel cakes, after all.

Happy Easter everyone!

I add yet another kitchen timer to my collection…

I know, I shouldn’t have – but I couldn’t resist.

Even though I promised myself and my husband that I was not going to buy any more bits and pieces for the kitchen – the countertops and cupboard-tops of our tiny kitchen are already groaning with my tins and pans and jugs and assorted kitchenalia –  I spotted something online and knew that it would be purchased, swiftly, and welcomed into our home.

I have had a long, long obsession with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And I love the brand so much that I have kept the tub from every new flavour I have ever eaten. Most of them are in my parents’ home but I have quite an extensive collection round our way, too.

It all started over 5 trips to America, where the flavour combinations are many and varied – and AMAZING. Here in the UK we’re stuck with the same old ones, but at least peanut butter has finally been embraced by the market.

As all fans of the brand will know, they kill off flavours now and again and send them to the ‘flavor graveyard’ so I like that I have a little reminder of them here on earth! Especially when they were weird and wonderful like Concession Obsession, which I bought in Washington DC in 2002 with my friend Tamlyn.

All I have to do is look at that tub, and I’m taken back to our little wander out in search of ice cream one hot summer night.

So when I spotted this…

kitchen timer

on the UK Ben & Jerry’s site, it was a no-brainer.

It’s cute, functional – I love kitchen timers, and use up to four at a time depending on the culinary task at hand – and it has taken up position alongside a few of my current favourites.

FullSizeRender (1) copy

It looks right at home, and was just a few quid – no buyer’s remorse here, that’s for sure!