Lockdown Week 1

Wednesday 1 April 2020

It's been such a long time since I last posted that I'm not even going to begin to try and catch up with all the things I haven't blogged about since then!

As I've said so often, the main reason I keep my blog is so that I can look back and remember what life was like when the boys were growing up. Lately I've been doing more 'micro blogging' and keeping my record of our daily lives (and my bakes and crafting) over on my Instagram account, which is much quicker than finding time to sit down and write out a blog post.

But I do miss writing and sharing on here, and the fact that I can write more here. At such a unique time in history as this it seemed like a perfect time to get me kick started into writing proper blog posts again!

As a super quick update the ages of the boys are now: James 20, Calum 17, David 14, Ally 10 and Fraser 6. In January James started working for a media company who work for BBC Alba in Stornoway and so moved up to live with my parents. We miss him around here a lot, but he is so good at video calling to keep in touch and will call us most nights to chat to his brothers. The other boys are at the following stages of school: Calum S6, David S3, Ally P6 and Fraser P1.

I'm counting the first week of official Covid-19 Lockdown as being from Sunday 22nd - Saturday 28th March. Actually I had stopped sending the younger boys to school half way through the week before that, when the government recommended that people, particularly those who were classed as vulnerable, use public transport as little as possible. Given that Ally's asthma seems to flare up at the littlest thing anyway, and that our journey to school consists of a train journey followed by a bus journey, and then the same in reverse to get home again, I took the decision that I had to limit his (and our) exposure to public transport and the germ cities that they are at the best of times!

Calum, however, insisted that he still went into school for that last week as it looked increasingly likely that his would be his last week of school ever. He was very conscientious about washing his hands though, and would even put his clothes from that day straight into the wash and go for a shower as soon as he came home from school. His last day of school was on Friday 19th March and we have since found out that all of the SQA exams are cancelled so he doesn't have much work to do now either, although he still has to finish his composition for Advanced Higher Music. 

He had planned to take a year out before going to University in 2021, which is still his plan. He has two unconditional offers, although one of them is subject to an audition. I'll be roping him in to help with the younger boys' schooling some more so that he doesn't spend these weeks on Netflix and the Xbox!

So our official lockdown started off with Mother's Day. I got some lovely hand drawn cards, pictured are Ally's, Fraser's and James'. James also thought that I would like to try a new craft while we are confined to our houses and so bought me the cute needle felting kit.

We always have waffles and pancakes these days for Sunday breakfast. Fraser prefers waffles and Calum prefers pancakes and so we have both. Fraser got so tired of waiting for the teenagers to get out of bed and start making the breakfast that he and Ally started weighing out the ingredients themselves! When Calum heard that they had started without him he soon made his way downstairs to help though!

With their dad's assistance they all made a roast chicken dinner for Sunday lunch.

And David made Nigella's Quick Chocolate Mousse, which is one of my favourite puddings.

I was well looked after by this little waiter who kept coming to ask me if there was anything else I needed.

All in all it was a lovely Mother's Day. James had hoped to be able to come down and spend the weekend with us but with the restrictions changing daily because of Covid-19 we all decided he was better off staying in Stornoway. At that time there were no cases in the Outer Hebrides either and we didn't want to risk him being a carrier when he went back.

Our first official week of home schooling went very well. We followed the topics sent home from the school as well as adding in some of our own things. I'm well aware that Ally and Fraser have totally different learning styles and so have been adapting things to suit them.

On the last day of school the boys' cousin fell at nursery and broke her wrist so one of the first pieces of work Ally and Fraser did was to make her cards, which we had to pop in the post since we won't be able to see them until all of this is over.

On the Tuesday it was my husband Andy's birthday. Since James wasn't able to be with us we video called him just before we sang Happy Birthday so that he could join in. Calum held his phone up when we took the traditional birthday group photo so that James could still be in that too!

We're trying to make this a fun and happy time for the boys, rather than an anxious and scary time. The threat of the virus is very real, and we wanted them to know of all the suitable precautions, and yet we didn't want them to be overwhelmed by it. Rather we are looking at this as a positive time for our family and always looking for the positives in each day and week rather than the negative. 

What better century to be confined to our houses than this one? The boys have loved not having to get up as early as usual for school, but they have also missed their friends. The older boys obviously have their phones and social media as a way to keep in touch with their friends but we've also made sure that Ally and Fraser both had time to video chat with their close friends too. Watching Fraser chat to his two best friends (who are identical twins that he still can't tell apart!) is very cute!

We have been fortunate to have managed to get slots for our groceries to be delivered online so far. Because I always do our weekly shop online I have always booked a few weeks ahead and have deliveries booked up to the 9th April. The supermarkets are rightly prioritising elderly and at risk customers first for delivery slots, but as I pay for a delivery saver pass that means that we get the next priority after them. So fingers crossed we can still get our things delivered as the lockdown continues.

Of course, just because something has been ordered doesn't mean that it will arrive in the shopping! I've never seen such a long list of 'sorry we didn't have's on my printout as I had the week before the lockdown officially started!

As well as that, there are now restrictions on how many of each item you can buy. I totally understand why this has been done, but it does make things a little harder for larger families like ours. I have managed to get around it for some things, like for example soya milk. Three cartons of soya milk won't last more than three days in our house with so many of us being dairy free, but I found that if I buy more than one different brand then I can get more than three. It does cost more though, as the reason I buy the own brand soya milk is because the branded stuff is twice the price!

Still, we have been managing to still get treats. Ally and Fraser enjoy their 'Butterbeer' for a quick midweek treat after dinner - dairy free ice cream covered in cream soda.

If we focus on our official school work in the mornings then it means we can be free to play for most of the afternoon, which is a delight for Ally and Fraser. I'm thankful that since the lockdown started there has been a vast improvement in the weather. The first two and a bit months of 2020 have been non stop wind and rain. The last two weeks have been dry almost every day.

Every afternoon you can find Ally and Fraser down at the bottom part of the garden, lost in their own world of adventure.

Sometimes they even persuade me to bring them some hot chocolate too!

I do feel for people who live alone during these times. Lockdown has been enjoyable for us so far because we have our health and we have each other. There is always someone to help out with something, or to play with, and in our busy lives it has been amazing to slow down and spend all day every day with each other.

My husband, Andy, is a manager for Safe Families for Children, a charity who help families in crisis. He has been working 10/12 hour days from home since the lockdown started, as his team find ways to help our society's most vulnerable families and children at a time when all other means of support has been stopped. Because of the work that he does I am very aware of how blessed we are, and how difficult these days are for so many.

Recipe of the week - Gluten & Dairy Free Pancakes

Tuesday 5 March 2019

I've been asked for this recipe so many times, and have promised to share it so many times too, so at last here it is. And perfect timing too, you can rustle up a batch of these for Pancake Day today!

Pancakes are our Sunday morning breakfast tradition. Or rather they used to be, until James got a waffle maker for Christmas and so now we sometimes have waffles instead. But pancakes are often requested AS WELL as waffles!

My recipe is adapted from a couple of old pancake recipes I have in one of those fundraising cookbooks you get. You know the ones, where people submit their favourite recipes and you can guarantee that they will work as they have been tried and tested so many times in a real kitchen before they were shared.

Well, I used to make either of the two pancake recipes from this book. There were bits from both that I liked. When I started adapting them to be free from I changed up a few quantities and took bits from each recipe, and eventually came up with this recipe which we all love. 

Don't skip on adding the oil to the batter, it really is the final touch to making these pancakes lovely and light. Also, do try and let the mixture sit for just about 5 minutes before making. It lets everything settle and thicken nicely before you start.

I actually often make double this recipe, but you should get about 15-20 pancakes out of these quantities.

You will need:

2 eggs, beaten
250 ml soya milk
2 oz sugar (granulated is just fine)
10 oz Doves Farm Gluten Free Self Raising Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp oil

- Beat the eggs and the milk together. 

- Add the sugar, flour and baking powder then whisk together until smooth.

- Add the oil and syrup then whisk again.

- Let sit for 5 minutes while you lightly oil a frying pan or griddle and heat up until hot.

- Pour dollops of the batter onto the pan/griddle. Let cook for about 2-3 minutes each side. You will know that it is ready to turn as you can see the bubbles starting to form on the uncooked side. Don't leave it for too long once you see the bubbles starting before you turn them. You will want to turn them almost as soon as you see the bubbles start, although this will depend on how hot your pan is. I often find that the very first pancakes in your batch are the trial and error ones, the ones where you get used to quite how hot your pan is and how long they need to cook for!

Yes, I have three pans on the go. It means I get them finished quicker!

- While you cook more batches, keep your freshly made pancakes warm under a clean tea towel. This stops them from drying out.

-Best served warm with syrup, or butter and jam, or fruit, or whatever you fancy really!

Trees and Traditions

Tuesday 11 December 2018

I'm sure you know by now that we love our traditions in our house.

Especially those that involve Christmas.

Traditionally we wait until the second weekend in December before putting up our tree. This year that worked out particularly well as James was home from Stornoway for the weekend and so he could also help us out. He has a smiliar OCD attention to detail when it comes to adding the lights as I do and so it's good to have his help!

Early on Saturday morning he and I went out to choose the tree, while everybody else was still at home in their jammies. James chose the tree for me, then we took it home and left it out on the back patio for the branches to settle down once out of the netting.

Saturday was a busy day, with me organising everything we needed for the Piano Recital I was hosting for my piano pupils to perform at that evening. I spent a large part of the afternoon baking mince pies, cupcakes and peppermint bark for the recital. We also had to get along to the Village Hall early enough to set everything up, so there was no time for decorating the tree in the afternoon.

The recital was a lovely event and I was so proud of how every one of my pupils performed. We started the evening with hot chocolate and home baking, then the performances followed on. I think I might even make it a new Christmas tradition

We were back home from the recital in enough time to have some of the evening left for decorating our tree.

Opening the decorations boxes is always so exciting and everybody loves to go through the box talking about their favourite decorations.

Fraser kept himself busy while we put the lights on the tree.

I say 'we', but what I really mean is 'James'. He put the lights on while I held up the roll of lights and followed him backwards and forwards holding them for him.

Lights and tinsel on, ready for the mismatched ornaments to be added.

These are a couple of new decorations that I made this year. A yellow one for Fraser and a blue one for Ally.

It gets more than a little messy once everything is in full swing!

Our tradition is that the youngest puts the star on the top of the tree, usually helped by the oldest these days.

Isn't it pretty? 

Another of our December traditions is to have a little activity advent calendar. Every day contains a small activity, nothing too big as December is busy enough. Some of our activities have been/will be:
- write to Santa
- write out Christmas cards
- bake gingerbread men
- make paper chains
- a treasure hunt
- snowman pancake breakfast
- have supper under the tree
- Christmas Bingo
- Reindeer Game (like Beetle Drive)
- Christmas Movie Night (this one appears more than once!)
- Family Games Night
- Make marshmallow snowmen
- put up the tree
-go to the big boys' school concert

The treasure hunt is always just little random clues I make up and we hide around the house. The treasure is always some new Christmas jammies for the younger boys. The older boys tend not to wear jammies so there is no point in buying them some Christmas ones! 

I thought I might think of a different prize this year but for a few weeks Ally had been saying that he really hoped we would do the treasure hunt this year and that the prize would be new jammies. So I stuck with the tradition that he loved.

We had the treasure hunt at the weekend. Fraser and Ally loved racing around the house solving the clues, and they loved their treasure when they found it.

Do you have any Christmas tree/advent traditions that you do every year? I'd love to hear what they are if you do!

Mince Pies {Gluten & Dairy Free}

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Today's Christmas free-from recipe is another Christmas staple - mince pies. 

These are a current favourite of 5 year old Fraser's, who could easily tuck away at least 3 of these in a sitting.

For years gluten free pastry seemed to be my kryptonite. I love working with 'normal' pastry, and it's so simple to put together, but whenever I tried making a free from pastry I could never make one that would roll out without crumbling. I'm pretty sure if you've ever tried making a free from pastry then you will know the issues!

But then I stumbled across a magic ingredient which instantly perfected my gluten free pastry.

And meant that now my free from pastry could roll out like this...

That's quite a change in texture and rollability from a free from pastry without the xanthan gum.

Now I happily make free from pastry, without any of the crumbly frustrations of before.

You can find xanthan gum in the free from sections of most supermarkets (although I'm sure that the Stornoway Tesco is one of the stores that doesn't have it - the Coop does though!) If you are struggling to find it, I got the tub above from Amazon and it's lasted for ages.

I always make my own mincemeat for putting in my pies. I'm just not overly keen on the spiciness of shop bought versions. Like the Christmas Pudding recipe I shared yesterday, it really isn't as labour intensive to make your own as you might think. I don't think you can go wrong with the recipe from Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess. I've used it for years! If you are using shop bought mincemeat don't forget to double check that it is free from.

So for your free from pastry you will need:

8oz gluten free plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 tsp xanthan gum
4oz dairy free margarine
1 egg yolk
2-4 tbsp cold water

12 bun tray
circle cutter
star cutter


- Put the flour, icing sugar and xanthan gum into a food processor and mix together quickly. If you don't have a food processor then just mix together in a bowl.

- Add the margarine and blitz until all the margarine is blended in and it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Or use your hands and do it the old fashioned way, rubbing the margarine into the flour with your fingers.

- In a cup mix the egg yolk with 2 tbsp of the cold water. Add this to the food processor while it is running (or add to your bowl and mix together with a knife) and watch for it all coming together into a ball of dough. You may have enough liquid for it to come together into a dough or you may have to add a tbsp or two more of the water. Don't let it get too soggy, you are looking for something that comes together in a bowl and will be rollable. If you are making it in the food processor it will come together in a matter of seconds.

- Wrap the dough up in cling film or a plastic bag and put it into the fridge to rest for around half and hour.

- Remove from the fridge, dust your work surface with some gluten free flour, put your ball of pastry down, sprinkle more flour on top and roll out until it is round about 1cm thick. I've never actually thought about how thick it should be. Not too thick, but then not so thin that it will break when you pick it up. Maybe look at my pictures above for a guideline if you aren't too sure!

- Cut out circles of the pastry and place into a 12 bun tin. Keep rolling and cutting out circles and also some smaller stars for the toppings.

- Add about a teaspoon full of mincemeat into each circle and top with a star. 

- Bake at 180C for around 20 mins. I find that gluten free pastry doesn't brown up as much as an ordinary pastry so watch that you don't over cook them.

- Let them cool and then dust with a generous sprinkling of icing sugar.

- These are so amazing when eaten still warm from the oven. The pastry is super light and melt in the mouth when they are warm. 

One of our favourite December evening suppers is warm mince pies with some warm Winter Punch - we love the Belvoir Fruit Farms Winter Punch.

Christmas Pudding Recipe {Gluten Free, Dairy Free & Nut Free}

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Traditionally you are supposed to make up your Christmas pudding on the last weekend in November, but although I love keeping many traditions I don't think I've ever managed to get my pud made on that weekend, despite my best intentions earlier on in the month! 

This year I thought it was really going to be the year that I managed it, especially since I made my Christmas Cake way back in September, but once again it is December before I find myself making it. Still, there is no harm in making the pudding later than tradition dictates. One year I was even as late as the week before Christmas when I made it and I don't think there was any adverse effect on the flavour or texture of the pudding. 

I do like to get it done and out of the way as early as possible though, since there is so much going on in December. And the purists do say that getting it made early means it has time to mature and increase in richness.

I've been making our Christmas Pudding gluten, dairy and nut free for quite a number of years now, and the recipe I use is a combination of bits and pieces from other recipes I have used in the past. Most Christmas Pudding recipes use suet, but suet isn't gluten free (at least I haven't found any that is) and so I use margarine rubbed into the flour as the fat in my recipe.

This recipe works equally well if you have no need of free from ingredients and use 'normal' ones instead.

And if you are wondering why bother making your own Christmas Pudding when there are so many available to buy (although have you tried finding a decent gluten & dairy & nut free one?), then I will say that a homemade one is much more superior in every way. It is incredibly simple to make, with no skills involved other than mixing everything together, and the only time consuming part is the 5 hours that you need to give it to steam. But that's hardly labour intensive!

 Not only does it taste great, it's also much much bigger, and you can bask in the domestic-goddess type glow of satisfaction when you see it flaming on the table on Christmas Day.

You will need:
250g mixed dried fruit
50g dried cranberries
150g prunes, chopped
200ml brandy, or alcohol of your choice
100g Gluten-Free Plain Flour
125g wheat-free breadcrumbs (about 4/5 slices of bread, blitzed in a blender)
100g dairy free margarine
150g brown sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking powder
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 cooking apple, peeled and grated
3 beaten eggs

~ Put the dried fruit, cranberries and prunes in a bowl, pour over your chosen alcohol, mix well, cover and leave to soak overnight.
~ Add the flour and margarine to a bowl and rub the margarine into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
~ Add the rest of the ingredients into the flour/margarine mix and mix together with a wooden spoon before adding your soaked fruits and any leftover liquid, then mix well again.
~ Traditionally every member of the family is supposed to take a turn mixing the pudding, and according to Nigella you were supposed to mix from East to West in honour of the Wise Men!
~ Once everything is well mixed, which really doesn't take long at all, tip the mixture into a greased 3 pint bowl or pudding basin.
~ Cover with greaseproof paper with a crease in it to let the mixture expand, tied with string. Or the lid if you have a proper pudding basin!

~ Put the pudding in the top of a steamer and steam away gently for 5 hours (yes, really). I tend to make mine just before dinner and then let it simmer away until later in the evening.

~ Let the pudding cool and then keep it somewhere safe until Christmas.

~ On Christmas day it will need steamed again for 3 hours. To save on hob space I usually cook my potatoes in the bottom of the steamer for part of that time.
~ Run a knife around the edge of the bowl before putting a plate over the bowl and turning it upside down and gently shake the pudding out.
~ Heat a ladle full of brandy over the gas hob (or in a pan) and then light when it is warm enough.
~ Quickly pour it over the pudding and take it to the table while everyone 'Ooohs' in wonder.