on the monkey trail

chocolate cake, salad, books, flowers, kids, and other important stuff


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the perils of being too perky

I haven’t been too chatty lately. My last post, at the end of the year, was remarkably upbeat (for me). No soon was the ink dry than the serpent was awake again, and life got considerably less sweet and good. But we ticked along, with a big dose of help from Dad, and a fair bit of optimism that a new drug would be the answer we had been looking for. Well now Dad is back in Wales, the drug has not, as yet, been the stuff that miracles are made off. In fact, life for the man of the house is more challenging than ever. It is as I feared it might be, with hope that remission is imminent ebbing away, and the perpetual question hanging over us…’what on earth do we do next’.

When I started this blog it was a kitchen diary, and behind that was a hope that good food would be healing, would somehow be enough. I still believe that good food is one of life’s great pleasures, but I have learnt that can be bittersweet in a house like ours. Nothing sits comfortably in a stomach that is inflamed by Crohn’s, eating is like throwing debris into a volcano. That probably explains why there haven’t been too many cake photos popping up on here of late.

It’s not all gloomy though. There are autumn roses, a sign of resilience in this garden, blooming despite almost total neglect. As for the kids, they also seem to be largely unaware that anything is amiss. In fact, in some ways they benefit. Their Dad is pretty much always home. He’s more available to build train-sets, read stories, bowl cricket balls, and construct sofa forts than most. So we’ll hang on to that.

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ending the year on a plum note

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I am one of those people. Those sentimental folk who become reflective and day-dreamy around this time of year. Thinking of the highs and lows of the year past, and hopes for the year ahead. There have been many new year’s eves where I have sighed to myself, ‘it’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times’. Mostly that’s because I just like to begin sentences in my head with that level of drama. It’s actually been a pretty chilled year, relatively speaking. We like living the sweet good life, because generally, it’s sweet and it’s good. So here’s a sweet, good cake to end the year with.

To begin with it is helpful if you have a tree that is groaning with plums. So laden that someone in the house simply has to do something with them, and you find jars of beautiful stewed fruit lined up on the bench when you get home from work. Thanks Grant.

Ingredients
3/4 cup thick stewed plums.
100g soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
a few squares of dark chocolate chopped into small chunks.

Method
Beat the butter and sugar, add the eggs, then add everything else (except the plums and chocolate) and beat well (food processor good here). Stir in the chocolate and lightly mix in the plum.

Bake for around 30 – 40 mins until cooked through (at 180)

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All these things that I have done

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My brain hasn’t been operating in a fashion that has lent itself to writing recipes. Which isn’t to say we haven’t been eating. Eating has been simpler because the shadows I wrote about this time last year have faded. The pressure now comes from the groaning plum trees, and my over-excuberant tomato planting, rather than trying to concoct a healing broth that will perform medical miracles. But actually who really cares if the birds eat the plums and some of the tomatoes fall over-ripe and rotten to the greenhouse floor. It’s possible I will make jam. It’s possible I will bottle jars of tomato sauce and line them in neat rows in the cold store. But then again I may be too busy picking flowers, catching up on novels that I somehow stopped reading, or biking along the back lanes listening to old songs.

I guess it’s more likely I will be busy working, or tending to the multiple needs and desires of my boys. But I’m taking a little break from from all the demands that usually fall upon me. I’m taking a little moment to smell the roses. To drift into a world where I put a little more importance on the catching up on novels and biking along the back lanes than I have over the last few years, because running yourself into the ground isn’t a great idea. People often say to me, when they hear I have four kids and a busy job, ‘you must be superwoman’ and I laugh it off because I don’t feel like superwoman. And here’s the thing. Superwoman doesn’t exist. It’s hard work, and sometimes you fall over, and that’s when you are thankful to the people around you who are there to pick you up. And then, some time later, when everything seems manageable again you make a chocolate cake and life goes back to normal.  


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this much i know is true

We’re half way through our first Wairarapa winter and I still have a lot to learn about life in the country. However, this much I know is true;

Sheep are hard to catch.
Removing a rose bush from a sheep’s neck is almost impossible unless you are a real farmer.
I need to make friends with a real farmer urgently.
The chickens will be OK if you skip a feeding in adverse weather conditions, although there will be some associated guilt.
Low mist is a magical thing. It’s also bittersweet and geographically disorientating.
Driving into a fog bank is like jumping into a vat of candy-floss, but a lot less fun than that sounds.
Lighting a decent fire is a skill I am yet to master. Chucking on a pile of stuff together in a slapdash fashion and lighting it will inevitably lead to a black smoldering log and maybe a little smoke.
I’m really happy my man can rescue my rubbish fires. He’s a keeper.
The house log pile will always run out when then man of the house is out. This is even more likely to happen if it’s cold and rainy.
Kids can be paid to fetch logs in from the garage, unless it’s cold and rainy.
It’s OK to burn though a box of supermarket kindling if no one can be bribed to go fetch logs from the garage. Excess kid art work can also be converted into some cheery flames.
If you are a little reckless with power usage, the electricity bill may require you to take a stiff drink before opening.
When the kids run down the hall in the night (as they do) then it might give the illusion that the house is haunted.
Failure to mow the lawn for several months can lead to the most amazing carpet of winter daffodils.
There will always be cows on the road when you are running late for the train.
When the storms come, the rains come, and the roads start closing, then there is a certain peace of mind to be found in the fact there is always a plentiful supply of really good wine within walking distance.
This garden is the stuff that dreams are made off. Even on the bleakest winter day.
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June twenty seven, remember when

The first year we were young(er) and childless. You could say we were footloose and fancy free, although that wasn’t quite true. We sat in a courtyard cafe in the Marais, drinking bad coffee and eating baked cheesecake so good I can still remember each bite eight years later.

The year after that, 2006 we stopped to celebrate in the midst of a winter road trip around New Zealand. Dinner was Hell’s pizza in a motel room in Napier, with 3 month old Ben, snuffling around in the port-acot.

It seems insanely productive now looking back, by the following year 6 day old Dan had joined the family. I drove shakily out from our chilly Island Bay villa to collect a Malaysian, while you chatted to your brother, not knowing he wouldn’t always be at the end of the phone.

Then followed the wilderness years. Lost in the land of the little people. Loosing days and nights and months and thoughts and memories.

Three years ago June 27th was at once ordinary and extraordinary. We were surrounded by dear sweet friends and family. Eating bacon butties on the lawn at Cwm Cadian. Drinking tea, poking smarties onto a supermarket cake. Good times. There may even have been a bag of fresh jam donuts- or perhaps that was another day.

The following year we really got our act together. Booked a babysitter, got dolled up (as far as my pregnant-again body would allow) and stepped out to the Ambeli. I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember it was incredible.

Last year we were in transit. Singapore. Heat, pool, zoo, and the buffet. Little did we know back then what the year had in store for us. If we had, then I dare say I’d have gone back for a forth helping of curry and ordered a second wine.

Now today, Te Ngakau in mid winter. The fire is on. The cake baked and iced, and under Ted’s instructions cut into the shape of a Star Fighter. Dan and Ted are dressed as Darth Vadar and a Storm Trooper respectively. Ben is practicing his speech for tomorrow’s speech finals. He’s also worrying about his lack of costume for the school disco tomorrow afternoon (he said he didn’t want one) and taunting Dan that Darth Vadar’s cape makes Dan look like a ballerina. Joe has requisitioned Darth’s helment / mask and is wandering around beneath it.

These are the moments of our lives. Happy Birthday Babe.
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Chocolate birthday cake (gluten free) … cutting it into a star fighter shape is optional.

Ingredients
200g melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup natural unsweetened yogurt
5 eggs
1 cup dutch cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup rice flour
2 cups ground almonds

Ganache
100g dark chocolate
A slug of cream

Method
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Should make a thick batter – if too thick add a bit more yogurt to loosen it up.
Pour into 2 greased round cake tins and bake at 180 for around 30 mins until cooked through.

When cake cool make the ganache by melting the chocolate over hot water then stirring in the cream. Liberally apply the ganache to the cake and get the kids to decorate. Party time.


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The Dragon Hunters – Book review

The Dragon Hunters ; Words by James Russell / Pictures by Link Choi – available at Munch Cupboard along with a host of other cool Indie books.

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Books are kind of a big deal at our place. You might walk in and think we are somewhat drowning in them, but we like it that way. I started reading to Ben the first night home from hospital when he was just 24 hours old, and have probably read something to the kids every single day since then. Back in the early days, with just one small baby who couldn’t answer back, I think I had the most fun. I got to pick the books and would spend hours with him stretched out, head on my knees and toes not quite reaching my lap, listening intently to ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby’ (Probably my all time favourite kids book).

These days I don’t get much input into the kids reading matter. Young Joe is in that feisty stage of wanting the same book over and over again. Dan and Ted are in the midst of a joint love affair with all things Star Wars, scouring the local libraries several times each week for new Star Wars finds, which I dutifully read night upon night upon night. Ben does his own thing, he has reading sussed and is enjoying his independence when it comes to picking books.

So it was with some excitement that I opened a package from my friends at Munch, with The Dragon Hunters book to review. Finally I would get to choose a book to read to the kids. First up I gave it to Ben (7) to review – after all I am an ops manager in my real life, and delegation comes automatically to me. Here’s what he thought;

‘The main characters were Paddy, Flynn, Coco and the dragon. I really liked the book because it was entertaining for me. My favourite part was when Paddy and Flynn tied the rope to the dragon’

Then I read it to Dan (5) and Ted (3). What a joy to finally take a step back from a Galaxy far far away and into an imaginary word that captures everything I love about independent books. I could tell the kids were enjoying it as they were peering into the book, studying the pictures, smiling and quiet. This is just a lovely book. It rhymes, which is always relaxing. It has great illustrations. It’s funny, clever, and it’s about brothers, adventure and being a bit brave. Perfect to read in front of a blazing log fire on a blustery night.

Thanks Munch.

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