Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Carrot Cake Muffins

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Here, by popular demand, is the carrot cake muffin recipe I mentioned last week. It comes from a book called Muffins und Törtchen, Einfach und Schnell by Susanna Tee, and this recipe is both simple and fast. It also happens to be delicious, and the marscapone frosting is a new level of heavenly. I far prefer it to the traditional cream cheese frosting used for carrot cakes – it’s more subtle and flavoursome. It’s the cream cheese frosting’s grown-up sister, who’s moved away to university and come home with a new sheen of sophistication. And in the German style, neither the frosting nor the muffins are overly sweet. It calls for brown sugar, which is great if you have it, but I have used plain white caster sugar to no noticeable ill-effect. If you don’t live in Germany and can’t get gingerbread spices, use a mixture of ground cinnamon and ground ginger.

Ingredients:

125g softened butter

125g brown sugar

Zest and juice of one unwaxed orange

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

175g of grated carrot

5 tablespoons of walnuts, chopped

125g flour

1 teaspoon of gingerbread spices

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

For the frosting:

280g marscapone

4 tablespoons icing-sugar

Zest of one unwaxed orange

Method:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees, and put muffin cases in a muffin tray.

Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest. Add the beaten egg bit by bit, and stir well. Dry the grated carrot on a kitchen towel and then add to the mixture along with the walnuts and the orange juice. Stir well. Fold in the flour, baking powder and spices with a metal spoon. Divide between the muffin cases.

Bake the muffins for 25 minutes until they are golden brown and feel springy to the touch. Cool on a baking tray.

Stir the marscapone, icing-sugar and orange zest.

When the muffins have cooled, ice them.

Decorate with marzipan fruits or whole walnuts or a smattering of orange zest or leave plain.

Enjoy!


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Welcome to the Tea Party

I’ve decided that if I don’t crack it as a novelist, I’m going to offer my services as a professional tea party organiser. I love it all: the baking of delicious goodies, choosing and arranging flowers, sourcing decorations, using objects I already own to prettify the room and table. It’s a silly lot of fluff really, but a ridiculous amount of fun. The Headmistress of the young ladies’ college I once attended would have been proud that I am finally putting my skills to good use. (I actually considered creating a category called “Entertaining” to describe this post, but managed to restrain myself for fear of sounding too much like a Fifties housewife.)

So this weekend, I hosted a baby shower for a friend who happens to be having a baby boy. I once attended a baby shower where the mother-to-be had to “apple-dip” for a chocolate bar floating in a child’s potty full of orange juice while her arms were tied behind her back. With that horror in mind, I did some research as to the kinds of things people do at baby showers, and these were three suggestions that cropped up:

* Squash different kinds of chocolate bars into disposable nappies and then pass around the room for people to sniff and guess which nappy holds which chocolate bar. The winner is the one with the most correct answers.

* Each person gets a jar of baby food and a plastic spoon. The winner is the person who can eat their jar the fastest.

* Divide into two teams and equip each team with a roll of loo paper. See which team can construct a nappy on one lucky individual without using glue, tape or pins.

Having digested these, I decided a tea party was in order. Something dignified, pleasant, with good things to eat, champagne for those who could, punch for those who couldn’t, lots of tea and coffee. No apple dipping or chocolate bars in sight.

Instead, there was bunting:

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I am hysterical about bunting. I love it. I was quite sad when after a few days my family requested that I took the bunting down because it was “embarrassing”. I looked on Etsy and there are a few people making bunting, but there’s a big gap in the market for lots more of it. I would prefer to use it for children’s parties than the plastic rubbish I buy at the supermarket and then throw away after three hours.

Want a close-up? Here it is again:

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There was cake:

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Victoria sponge with lemon curd

Lots of it:

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Lemon cake

My personal favourite, carrot cake muffins with marscapone icing:

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Rose-scented macaroons:

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And champagne:

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There were also some savoury snacks brought by friends, because I like to focus on the sugar. However, when I have my fantasy tea-party company, there will also be cucumber sandwiches and very fine slices of rare roast beef.

Need any catering done?


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Just So Easy Afro-Teutonic Beer Bread

The lovely Jeanne has tagged me to take part in Breadline Africa’s Worldwide Blogger Bake-Off. According to Jeanne, Breadline Africa is a:

South African-based charity that is seeking to put a lasting end to poverty South Africa (and further afield in Africa) by breaking the cycle of poverty and helping comunities to achieve long-term self-sustainability. Breadline Africa was founded in 1993 when a group of community and social workers in South Africa (who had first-hand knowledge of the uniquely African problems that they faced) formed an alliance with like-minded colleagues in Europe (who were well-placed to source donations in valuable foreign currency). Armed with this unique combination of skills, Breadline Africa has been able to raise funds in Europe and use their local knowledge to identify which small, ground-level projects in Africa are most likely to succeed with a financial boost.

On Blog Action Day, Breadline Africa launched their Worldwide Blogger Bake-Off campaign. The aim is to raise $1 million in funds for a project to convert shipping containers into locations for food production and distribution in Africa. It is hoped that these sustainable community kitchens will not only provide food such as bread and soup to those in need, but also opportunities for skills development within poor communities.

So how does the Breadline Africa Worldwide Blogger Bake Off Campaign work?

Quite simply: bake bread, give dough. You can sign up for the campaign, make a donation, upload your bread recipes and document your culinary adventures in the media centre to spread the word. Bloggers can go even further by downloading the Blogger Bake-off widget and tagging five other bloggers to do the same – which I have done. My five tagged bloggers are:

1. Alida of Here We Go … Again

2. Helen of A Was Alarmed

3. The Very Wise Mandarine

4. Herschelian of The 3 Rs.

5. Tanya of Just Me

And now, to the bread …

The thing is, though I bake, I don’t make bread. Being good South Africans, we barbeque or braai, all the way through summer. I have a way with salads, and desserts, and Germany’s Top Husband does his thing at the grill, but our repertoire has never included bread. However, two summers ago, I borrowed a South African beer bread recipe from Jeanne because it was just so easy. The original recipe called for thyme and cheddar cheese, but since neither were available to me, I replaced them with rosemary and Emmenthaler, bringing a lovely German twist to a South African recipe. Unfortunately I have never photographed it, but I assure you it looks and smells as delicious as it tastes. There are never any leftovers, because everyone ADORES it. Try it, and preen at your new-found skills!

The Just So Easy Afro-Teutonic Beer Bread Recipe

Ingredients:

500g self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

125g Emmenthaler cubed

340ml beer

50ml water

1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary chopped

Maldon (or kosher) salt to sprinkle

Method:

Preheat oven to 180°.

Grease a small loaf tin.

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl.

Stir in beer, cheese, water, rosemary.

Mix until all the flour is moistened the dough forms a consistent mass.

Transfer to loaf tin, sprinkle with salt and place in oven.

Test with skewer after one hour and if it comes clean, remove from the oven.

Eat with large slabs of butter and thank me. Oh, and Jeanne too.

(PS After an hour’s struggling, I am giving up trying to upload the widget. I will return when I have more strength. But in the meanwhile, please click, donate, bake bread, vote for my recipe or do something to help raise people out of poverty. Thank you.)


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Tales from The Web: The Endorphin Edition

It’s been a long time since my last edition of Tales from The Web. Things have got in the way, like writing a novel and developing a gym habit. I have discovered that an endorphin high from 45 minutes on the cross-trainer lasts a whole lot longer than the endorphin high from eating a 100 gram bar of Milka. Gym is my new drug of choice, and like any addict I get really crabby when I don’t get my fix. This week I’ve sick kids and have only been able to go twice, which has made me bad-tempered and irritable. My family have been practically forcing chocolate on me. “Eat this, Mummy! Eat this and smile again!”

As a form of virtual chocolate, I offer you the March edition of Tales from the Web. Consider it endorphins packaged especially for you, as feel-good as spring lambs gambolling in acid-green fields. And if that doesn’t constitute happiness for you, then imagine you’ve just come off the treadmill, all wobbly-legged and trembly, and you’re floating out of the gym on a cloud of hormone. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Let’s start with eye candy. I bookmarked this in December, but these cakes could be Easter cakes too. The blogger African Vanielje is a chef, baker extraordinaire, photographer and writer. Take a look at her Truly Remarkable Once a Year Cakes and wish you were a friend of hers with a birthday just around the corner.

I love the Wallace Stevens quote BlogLily has as her blog tag: “It must give pleasure”. On days when I’ve felt like posting something gloomy, self-reflective and sad, I remember BlogLily’s mantra. I do think it is a good one. I have chosen a classic BL post for your delectation here. It comes from her visit to London earlier this year, where she soaked up a lot of theatre. Apparently in London in January, “it was pouring plays about sex”. Have fun reading Is Eros All?

Now we all know that sex can lead to babies, and babies, though delicious, bring a host of unexpected complications with them. Next up is a post written in response to a desperate plea. I saved it because I was taken with the thoughtfulness and kindness that went into shaping the response, and because I was once that parent, with a co-sleeping, breast-feeding baby who didn’t want to sleep unless using me as a dummy. I know the desperation that went into that original email, and I would have welcomed the same kind of non-judgmental kindness that Bluemilk exhibits here in trying to find a solution. I include this in the March Tales from The Web: The Endorphin Edition because I want to show that the blogosphere can be a good place, not just a snarkfest.

The lovely Anna is trying to work herself out of a job. Her three boys are growing up, and her resolution for this year is to mother them less so that they can learn the life-skills they will need when they leave home. I am a big fan of her blog The End of Motherhood where she is documenting this process with her great sense of humour. The post I’m linking to today is not about parenting teenagers, but is a tip for raising smaller kids. It’s what she calls “a secret sauce for parenting young children” and you can read about it here. Fifteen minutes a day to stop tantrums and reconnect with your child. That’s feel-good isn’t it?

I can always rely on Emily to make me laugh. In this post she talks about how, although she loves writing, she goes through the five stages of grief when she has write a half-page introduction to her company’s maths catalogue. As a procrastinator, I can relate. Read it, then go forth and complete all your admin. You’ll be so glad you did.

Ian is funny. But that’s no surprise since he’s Emily’s brother. Check out his Geekfield’s Guide to English Literature, a hand-drawn compendium of English literature from Beowulf to Dan Brown. Who thought graphic text books could be so much fun?

Helen was considering giving up writing, but then she needed the loo. Read how The Most Inspirational Toilet in Sydney gave her her writing mojo back. Could I have one in Heidelberg please?

For all-around chickeny cuteness, go and check out Mandarine’s new tenants, the Orpingtons. We had bantams as children, and they caused us no end of happiness. Unfortunately, they didn’t last long, because the suburbs of Pietermaritzburg were a cut-throat place even then, and they were taken out by a hardened gang of vervet monkeys. However, that’s not going to happen to Mandarine’s chickens because (a) they live in France, and (b) they have a lovely house. Oh, and if you read French, which I can if I try really, really hard, you can read Mandarine’s new blog where he details his attempt to farm a garden big enough to feed his whole family. (Which means he one day may have to sacrifice an Orpington, but we’re not thinking about that yet.)

That’s the Endorphin Edition for now. If I don’t get to the gym soon, I’m going to have to eat one of these:


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December Planning

Much as I like to subscribe to a spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants style of operating that would allow me to take up an invitation to go trekking in Patagonia with five hours’ notice, I actually have to be fairly organised. I’m divided. The real me is a dreamy, peripatetic traveller armed with a notebook and some chocolate, but the current me is a busy mother of three, with a job, lots of friends, a husband who would occasionally like my attention and three lunches to pack. Reality is that I vacillate between the two poles, being either relatively organised or utterly forgetful.

I have friends who are really organised, who get their tax returns back in January, who have colour-coded wardrobes, and who have a place for everything in their homes. I admire them, but try not to compare myself. Some of those friends don’t have children (which opens up many gazillions of free hours), others have live-in help (ditto) and others don’t work. When I’m beating myself up for not being perfectly organised, I have to remind myself that everyone’s situation is unique. My strategy is always people over things, so my children get more attention than the kitchen cupboards, my friends get more attention than the laundry and my husband, when he’s here, gets more attention than, say, the mop.

So, bearing in mind that people come first, and that Christmas is no fun when Mummy’s running around in increasingly small circles emitting a high-pitched shrieking noise, here is my answer to BlogLily’s request to share my planning for December:

1. To hand in my last two pieces of freelance work on 14 December, and to not work again until after New Year.

2. To use some of those free hours to work on my new collection of short stories (one in the writing, another six in the planning).

3. To enjoy and relish the week of 17 to 21 December, during which time I must bake and prepare for Daisy’s home birthday, Daisy’s kindergarten birthday and a joint birthday party I am hosting for myself and two friends (potential guest list 50-100?).

4. To have enough, but not too much food, in the house for the week of 22 to 28 December. We won’t starve, even if we don’t have immediate access to stem ginger, mince pies and rum-dipped dates.

5. To relax and enjoy the company of my darling family, especially that of my lovely brother who is making his first-ever journey to Europe to Christmas with us.

6. To buy less stuff.

It’s all about the fun, the love, about some – but not too much – gorgeous food and, if possible, much less stuff.


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Buy Nothing Day

Today is Buy Nothing Day! According to the website:

It’s a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from consumerism and live without shopping. Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

The only thing I need to buy today is butter, for a cake I was going to make tomorrow. Any tips on butterless cakes?


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Me Got Skillz

I can actually spell my very own, rather long name. I’ve always liked my name’s literary connection, however, I’m not here today to talk about Brontes or pigs. I’ve been tagged by Bine for a meme. Bine says the rules are:

List one fact, word or tidbit that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your first or middle name. You can theme it to your blog or make it general. Then tag one person for each letter of your name.

C: Cake. I am very fond of cake. Making it, eating it, dreaming about making it, reading about it, dreaming about reading about it. Right now, I’m planning my next one – a rosemary loaf cake for my husband’s birthday tomorrow. Cake is good stuff.

H: Heidelberg. Not where I live, but almost. A happy place where I have favourite views, favourite shops, favourite restaurants and favourite bookshops. A place where I like to eat cake in restaurants while reading a book and looking at a view.

A: Angels. I believe in them. See “E”.

R: Reading. My favourite pastime, a little higher on the list than cake. If I had to choose between the two, reading would win, but only just.

L: Love. I’ve got a lot of love in my life, and that makes me very lucky.

O: Otters. I loved them and then I became one. I remember reading Ring of Bright Water and sobbing my heart out. There’s an otter sanctuary in Alsace where I often take visitors, except the regulars have taken to begging me, “Anywhere but the otter park, please.” Becoming an Otter meant that my initials are now CEO, which is a very satisfactory state of affairs. I am the Chief Executive of cake.

T: Thomas. It’s his fault I’m an Otter, and that there is a brood of little Otters. Happy birthday for tomorrow darling. Hope you like your cake.

T: Oh, look, another T. Toni. My darling mother, otherwise known as the Queen. She’s not scared of a good cake.

E: Elise. My maternal grandmother, who was a wise soul and teacher. I take my second name from her. How lucky I am to have had her guidance when I was young so that I don’t have to crash around looking for the answers now. She equipped me with many of the life skills and beliefs I have today. And she loved cake too.

Now, I’ve got nine bloggers to tag. I’m going to focus on the ones doing NaBloPoMo so that they gain an extra day’s content. That would be:

(un)Relaxeddad

YogaMum

Kerry

Lia

Kerryn

Helen

Kate

Noble Savage

Wendz

Ms Magic Hands

Aphra

Lizzy

Dorothy

Whoops, that’s thirteen. I said I could spell; I didn’t say I could count. Feel free to spell your own name, if you want to …


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Charlotte’s Fabulous Lemon Drizzle Cake

Actually it’s Victoria’s Fabulous Lemon Drizzle Cake and she got it from some heart-healthy American recipe book, but I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing it with the world. My family adore this, even my non-cake-eating husband, and I frequently make 12 muffins instead of the cake, with exactly the same quantities. A friend of mine in England has made both Nigella’s and Jamie’s (and if I know her, Delia’s) Lemon Drizzle Cake and says this one is the best. I dare you to try it. You know you want to. Then come back and tell me it’s the best Lemon Drizzle Cake ever.

The Ingredients:

1 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup butter (in the Heart book it was margarine, but I refuse to countenance margarine in my kitchen)

1 egg

2 TBSPs low-fat plain yogurt (in an emergency, I once used vanilla and it was fine)

1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

Grated zest of a lemon

For the icing: juice of a lemon, plus 1/4 cup caster sugar

The Method:

Preheat oven to 180°

Grease, flour and – if you have the energy – line a standard loaf tin, or put muffin cups in your muffin tray

Cream the butter and sugar

Beat in the egg and yogurt

Beat in the milk

Sieve the flour and BP, then beat into the egg mixture until blended

Stir in the lemon zest

Pour into loaf tin or muffin tray

Bake for one hour or until a skewer comes out clean

Combine lemon juice and sugar and before pouring over the warm cake, stab it all over with a piece of dried spaghetti to make holes for the syrup

Remove from tin, place on rack, leave to cool

The Result:


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Cream the Butter and Sugar

These are my five favourite words in the English language (apart perhaps from “let me take the children” or “you go and lie down”). All my favourite recipes start with these words. I love the action of putting sugar and room temperature butter into a mixing bowl and taking a fork to them. I could use my mixer, but there is something inexplicably satisfying in doing it myself. My kids are getting pretty good at the action too, which does remove some of the fun for me, because then I have to do something dull like sieve the flour or line the tin. I want to be creaming the butter and sugar, kids. You do the boring bits.

I had a bake-a-thon this weekend. First of all, it was raining on Friday and there was a gang of hungry children rattling around the house. I love baking on a Friday; filling the house with good smells before the weekend starts. I made Bindi’s Tangy Yogurt and Oatmeal Muffins. This recipe does not involve any creaming of butter and sugar, but they are so good and packed with such wholesome ingredients that they have the same psychological effect. I love watching the children eat them and all the while I’m thinking “you’re eating oatmeal, oatmeal and plain white yogurt, and you don’t even know it”. It gives good smug. Bindi suggests putting banana in them. On Friday I did plain chocolate chips.

Then on Saturday we were invited to a very South African event – a braai and a rugby match on TV. I was asked to bring a salad but because my salad recipe did not start with my favourite words, I also spontaneously made a batch of shortbread to take, which we ate with fresh strawberries. Shortbread contains no yogurt and no oatmeal, but it does contain a ton of butter, which you cream along with a ton of sugar. I used the recipe from Cook with Jamie, which he describes as the “best shortbread in the world”. Jamie recommends using some lemon or orange zest for extra zing, but I scraped out a vanilla pod instead and made vanilla shortbread. It was delicious.

Today we were also invited out for lunch and I promised to bring dessert, because I knew that would mean I could cream the butter and sugar again. This time I had some “help” and we made our family’s favourite cake – V’s Lemon Tea Loaf. Although V is American, this is actually a British lemon drizzle cake, but a superior version thereof. When the cake is hot from the oven, you spear holes in it with a piece of dried spaghetti (I love that part too) and then pour over a sticky syrup of lemon juice and water. When you eat it, it’s moist, sticky, soft and delicious. We had it with fresh raspberries and cream. I felt both were extraneous. The cake speaks for itself. It requires no back-up.

Having been deprived of creaming the butter and sugar by my kitchen assistants (who sweetly offered to wash up afterwards), I took the chance while they were out of the kitchen to make some biscuits from How to be a Domestic Goddess. There was absolutely no need to take anything more along to our lunch, but because the helpers had deprived me of my chance to cream the butter and sugar, I was forced to get my fix. I chose what she calls “Granny Boyd’s Biscuits”, which contain all of four ingredients – butter, sugar, flour and cocoa. I was able to quietly and meditatively cream the butter and sugar all alone in my kitchen. The biscuits turned out well. As Nigella says, they are dark and smoky and would go nicely with vanilla ice-cream.

So. All that sugar making you feel sick yet? Me too. Let me leave you on a lighter note, with the salad I took to the braai. It’s one I’ve been looking at for a while in Nigella’s Forever Summer and I at last got to make it. The main salad ingredients are feta and watermelon, which you chop into large chunks. You slice a red onion very finely and let it seep in lime juice. Then you pour the onion and its juices over the feta and watermelon, adding chopped fresh mint, flat leaf parsley leaves (not chopped), black olives and some olive oil. It’s scarily delicious and looks beautiful. Eating it on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a winter rugby scene on the TV and wet German hills outside made me think of Greece. I believe they have sugar there too.


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Bless Me, Bloggers …

… for I have sinned.

I have been led unto temptation and like the weak-willed sinner I am, I have given in. Twice in the last week, I have ignored my Lentenfast and partaken of the white stuff. But if you will forbear, I can justly show that my excuses were good and my reasons solid.

Firstly, our friend the extremely Funky Uncle Mustard swung by from his corner of the USA. He is an old very youthful friend who we only see once a year, if we are lucky. My husband (who has given up alcohol for Lent) said, “Lent be damned, I am going to have a beer with my friend.” That gave me just cause to say, “If you’re having alcohol, then I’m having sugar”. So the Funky Uncle partook of a homemade lemon ice-cream with me. Rather delicious it was, too.

Then yesterday, there was an even juster cause for my sin. My beloved boy turned two. We had a party. I baked Granny Toni’s Sinful and Decadent Chocolate Cake (see the end of this post for the recipe):

without sampling the mixture or even licking my fingers. I also baked 24 lemon drizzle muffins:

without one small scrap of the white stuff passing my lips. We had a birthday tea and at the end – I cannot lie – I sampled both some muffin and cake crumbs. I found them good. Very good. Sin is delicious.

You will be relieved to know that today I am returned to the straight and narrow. I am finding it straight. I am finding it narrow. I am eating many apples.

In other news, Spring IS behaving, and we were able to have Ollie’s birthday tea in the garden:

It was lovely. The children ran, climbed, swung and played. Ollie sat on his new red car, and batted away any guests who came too near with the firm words, “No, Guest, this is Ollie’s car!” I didn’t force him to share. I thought on his birthday, when his car was brand-new, he should be allowed full ownership. So he sat on his car, like a little king, clutching a red Mini under his arm, and eating “‘Marties”. He had a fine day.

Another sign that Spring is here is that the Germans are once more eating ice-cream. I posted about the national obsession with Eis last year, and got a hurt comment from some poor German saying, “Isn’t ice-cream an international thing to eat?” Um, yes, but not to the same extreme. I have never seen adults eating ice-cream with as much gusto as they do here – grown men in business suits strolling down the Heidelberg Hauptstrasse with cones, old ladies tucking into enormously calorific sundaes. A house across the road is being re-roofed (with spectacular German efficiency, let it be said), and today as we arrived home after the kindergarten collection, seven burly builders were taking their break, tucking into chocolate-, vanilla- and strawberry-striped icecreams. With no irony whatsoever.