Friday, 18 December 2015

Last Deep Coal Mine in Britain - Kellingley Closure: Learning Resources for Mining & Labour Laws

Bread & Roses 

I have just read the news that the last deep coal mine in Britain has now closed.

We are going to take the rest of the morning to revise our resources on British coal mining, which I have previously posted for the anniversary of the Miner's Strike.

One of my great grandparents was a miner and came from a mining family.  My grandad said his dad's back was black, thick of the coal dust which had amalgamated with his skin and could never be scrubbed free.  We own a coal figuirine; it isn't an expensive trinket but the figure looks proud and hard-worked and strong, and it moves me to think of my great grandfather and many others who lived so much of their lives underground with those same qualities to provide for their families.

It is thought-provoking that the Kellingley miners have not been made redundant because there is no coal left, or that it could not be used in a more environmentally friendly way (as the article above explains), but because the mine lost the contract.

Links for our previous blog posts on Coal Mines and Mining:

Witness Experiences
Interactive BBC Primary History of Victorian Children in Coalmining 

School Project resources on coal mines and labour laws

Do you have family members who have worked, or do, in mining somewhere in the world?

This subject appears in schools as in the BBC resources above; is this a subject you will cover in your home learning?

Thursday, 17 December 2015

A Christmas Carol for the Kids - without the help of Disney

While my eldest and I have been enjoying sharing A Christmas Carol, the younger ones find the wordiness a little too much to understand just yet.  However, sitting by the fire and lights of the tree as the dark afternoons creep in, it feels so warm and festive that everyone is enjoying the time together nonetheless.  Being exposed to the readings helps the children become familiar with the archaic language and so they will eventually begin to be able to read and understand similar literature independently.  My eldest has recently taken to to using the word "thrice" in everyday conversation - whether that is a useful thing or not, I cannot be certain, but it tickles me anyway.

Storynory have a great audio production of the classic on their website.  Even the littlest did not stray throughout the three parts, and the older ones asked to listen a second time a couple of days later.

Someone has also kindly uploaded to Youtube the 1951 film with Alistair Sim as Scrooge.  We will definitely be watching this over the festive season.  Like the issue Jo March had with presents, I find it just isn't Christmas without Scrooge.

What says Christmas to you? When does it really feel like it has descended?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Festive Round-Up: Food

Looking for ideas for meals and nibbles this festive season?

Look no further...


instead of individual rolls, make one large roll and cook at 200C for 30-40 minutes

Need a veggie option? Simple... check the recipes above for info on how to make them suitable for a vegetarian or vegan Christmas



Low Potassium Christmas Cake

I have mentioned my grandmother's low potassium diet in the past; I made her a Simnel Cake for Easter gone.  This is the Christmas Cake I have made this year with the guidance of the British Dietetic Association.

This cake also boasts health benefits to anyone without chronic kidney disease; there is no salt, it is relatively low in sugar, and has no saturated fat added.  It has less alcohol than my usual Christmas cakes too. It is also very nice.

There is no need to add the two colours of fondant icing.  My grandmother always loved marzipan and misses it, so I include the yellow icing layer to fool the eye and add almond essence to the mix for a safe marzipanny flavour.  Renal recipes from respected sources use almond essence, such as this Christmas Cake recipe from dieticians via Kidney Matters and on which I based my very first kidney-friendly fruit cake.  With much respect and thanks to the source, this version is preferred at Acorn Towers in its much evolved form to suit our own tastes and in making it even better nutritionally without harming the cake; in fact, the oil for eggs and butter makes a moister lighter cake.

How we made this year's low potassium Christmas Cake:

Cheaper Alternatives to the Christmas Roast Turkey

I understand the argument that everyone deserves to feast at Christmas.  I not only understand it, I support it.  Fact remains, especially right now, the money might well not be there to enable that feast.  By offering alternatives, I am not supporting the idea that the poor should be glad of crumbs; this is not me declaring, "when there is no dough, let there be dough..." We must tackle the long term causes of course, but the short term also needs to be taken care of.

In that spirit, let me share some ideas that we have served even when we could have afforded a turkey (which I probably should have begun selling these recipes with, rather than clarifying my political stance.)  I was always squeamish preparing a roast bird, we had a family member who did not trust meat unless it was roasted until desiccated, and I wanted something that was easily carved... hence the trusty pie.  It was easily made, easily served up to look neat on the plate, and as you can see from the photograph will feed a few quite nicely.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Fig and Chocolate Christmas Cake (Super Easy)

This was the cake of two years ago.  You can see I have a haphazard approach to icing my Christmas cakes; you can, however, take the principle of adding starry Marzipan cutouts to the top of ready-to-roll fondant icing but actually take care to give the edges a neat look... if you want.

Cakes made with vegetable oil are not only better for you than using saturated fat, but they also have the advantage of ease in the making; no creaming stage, you just need to give the whole lot a mix.  If a slice of Christmas Cake does give you anxiety when it comes to health, please be reassured than there is less sugar in this one than in a standard Christmas Cake recipe.

Moving on from the health aspect, because we aren't really eating Christmas cake for nutritional benefits, the figs here needed sherry.  I usually always use rum for my Christmas Cake; I even used white rum to make a lighter cake with dried mango, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg the same year for variation which was also very yummy; but as this is a chocolatey Christmas here on the blog - see Christmas Plum Pudding with Chocolate and Pecans, - and because this cake went down the best with visitors like the most luxurious fig roll they had ever eaten, rich and chocolatey and dark, I figured I had best share this one.  

This recipe is actually nut-free.  This is because we have little ones around and one of our close relatives can't manage them.  50g chopped pecans would be really luxurious, or 50g ground almonds would add marzipanny richness, or 50g chopped walnuts would be lovely with the figs and sherry flavours.

I like to make these around the 16th, ready for Xmas Eve and henceforth; I sometimes leave it too late and, while delicious, it doesn't cut as well and has to be fed to the mouth finger-pinch by finger-pinch in crumbs.

I also like to make them in 2lb loaf tins in a huge batch - they are easier to ice neatly (as you can see, I need all the advantage I can get with that) and easily packaged up in cellophane and ribbon to offer as gifts.  A full-sized loaf of Christmas Cake, especially a variation on the theme such as this one here, and especially if it becomes a routine gift so you vary it every year, tends to be well-received by even those who are usually reluctantly thankful for homemade gifts.

How I made this cake:

Monday, 14 December 2015

Festive Round-Up: Homemade Gifts

Looking for some quick and easy ideas for inexpensive homemade gifts?

Look no further!

Foodie Gifts

Gingerbread Shapes

Marzipan Stars:
roll fondant icing and golden marzipan on top of eachother until 5mm thick, dusting with sifted icing sugar if necessary to avoid it getting sticky.  Cut into stars.  Leave out on a wire rack for 24 hours to dry out.

Festive Chocolate Shapes: (use holiday cutters)

Craft Gifts

Lap/Pram Blanket: Stylish Striped Monochrome with Custom Edging (also know as "The Liqourice Allsorts Blanket")

This is a really gorgeous pattern, and it is so simple to make; it works up quickly while you watch TV.  The edging can be customised to match the recipient's decor or so that it is suitable for a new baby; this one in the picture is a gift for a friend's baby granddaughter.

When edged in baby colours like the one in the photo, the blanket becomes very reminiscent of Bertie Bassett; this makes it perfect to be matched with a box of sweeties for a nostalgic adult - edge in pink, blue or lemon for full effect!

As the pattern and monochrome is genderless it works wonderfully for self-conscious males too, and makes a crochet blanket suddenly seem like a gift they want to receive!

If you want to make a really festive stripe for a holiday blanket, you could swap the black and white for a deep red and green.

How I make it:

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Festive Sausage Rolls: Spinach and Lemon, Orange and Cranberry, and Apricot and Mint

Festive Sausage Rolls

We love sausage rolls here.  If party fare is required, then sausage rolls are inevitable. This Lincolnshire sausage mix from Asda is only£1 and, along with a 500g pack of puff pastry which is currently £1 at Asda, makes approximately 50.

Sausage rolls looking like pedestrians on a busy city street
Ok, so these homemade ones are twice the price of  a pack of Asda's party sized frozen sausage rolls. But mine are bigger than the mini shop version. And you could make smaller ones to match the price if you wanted; I prefer to offer a more generous bite.  These homemade ones do taste enormously better and have a much lovelier texture though.  I have served them countless times without meat-eaters noticing that they are meatless which saves arranging two types of nibble. You could of course use your own favourite type of sausagemeat and this would work out fine (though the little guys photographed here are less fatty than pork sausagemeat would be.)

Making them yourself also has the benefit of being able to add flavours.  I mix crumbled greens from my freezer or snip in a handful fresh spinach leaves, lemon juice and lemon zest into one batch.  A handful of dried chopped cranberries, orange juice and orange zest go into another.  A few snipped mint leaves and a handful of chopped dried apricots go into the final batch.

These feel so festive, being all seasonally-scented with citrus, and look it too, all studded with colour. I have found that a batch of the various flavours go down well as a foodie gift for family members who are not partial to sweet bakes - they can be wrapped up in just the same way; just keep them in the fridge and instruct the recipient to do likewise or to freeze them if they will not be eating them in the next couple of days.

How I make them:

Snow-Iced Cranberry Biscuits (another festive gift idea)

I've hummed and hawed over whether to call these cookies (attractively alliterative), shortbread (which sounds nicer than biscuit, but in actuality these treats do not have the slow-baked dry crumbly nature of shortbread), and eventually came to the conclusion that the texture bears most resemblance to the soft chewy and crisp-around-the-edge nature of a Shrewsbury Biscuit, and the "iced biscuits" of the school canteen and small cosy sweet-scented bakeries tucked away on the village high street....

In short, biscuit it is.

I love the cranberry speckle and the pretty frosted snowflake tops... they are even nicer to eat than look at (I had to have a sneaky try... it would be wrong to send an untested batch out into the world, wouldn't it?)

In cellophane packges, tied with ribbon, and a nice label, they are fantastic token gifts for teachers, youth group leaders and friends in the community.  It's the sort of gift a child can get involved in making for their own leaders and friends too; easy to make from scratch for keen or older bakers, or decorating for the younger ones.

Bonus Variation - Rainbow Chocolate
The Snow-Iced Cranberry Biscuits would look really pretty boxed up with some cookies decorated like these ones I found on Food Network to make a variety pack; simply make the recipe below minus the cranberries but add a drop or two of vanilla essence to the dough, and then top with melted white choc instead of icing sugar and sprinkle with coloured sugar strands instead of coconut.

Here is how we make our Snow-Iced Cranberry Biscuits:

Monday, 7 December 2015

Pulse Power (Part Two)

In Part One I covered the cheapest and most convenient pules; in Part Two I want to go over how to use pulses in cooking which will still be appreciated by the family.

I mentioned wooly red-lentil-bolognese in the last post.  Just pouring red lentils into a usual recipe will cause a wooly texture which although edible, and perhaps enjoyed by some, might not go down well with the family.  It is good to know which pulse will go nicely in a dish to help your purse, health and the planet.

Here are my favourite ways to mix them up:

Canny Christingle Marmalade (a nice festive gift)

Christingle is such a lovely service.  Festive carols and candlelight, what could be nicer?  Once the sweets have been munched on the way home, I gather up all of our oranges.  I check the fruit over for wax drips and give them a good wash and scrub.  They are then ready to be used for a jar or two of marmalade.

This is how I make marmalade:
(feel free to use any oranges you have... they don't have to have been a Christingle!)