Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Damning Statements from Children #2

Daughter: Mummy, have you eaten sugar today? You seem to be really grumpy.

Mummy (ahem): Well, now that you mention it, I had three chocolates.

Daughter: You are being extremely grumpy, you know.

Mummy: Thanks for pointing that out, darling. I’ll try to be better in future.


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.


I Bid You Adieu

I have been to collect a daughter from a birthday party where I was offered – and gratefully received – a glass of Sekt. I don’t usually have a drink until my children are in bed and dreaming, so tonight it was strange doing our nighttime routine with a little alcohol buzzing in my veins. Somehow, it was rather … pleasant, went very … quickly, without the attendant Mama Bear grumpiness that happens to me after long hard day with my beloveds. I remember a friend once saying to me that she always had a glass of wine while her kids had supper, because it “took the edge off things”. I’m not sure if I want the edge taken off every single night, but tonight it was appropriate.

The feeling of Sekt buzzing in my veins is a great metaphor for the feeling of knowing that I am about to go on holiday. Tomorrow we pack our team in the Familiewagon and head for the South of France. We’re hoping for warm weather so that we can take them to the beach, and allow them to build housing developments in the sand while we work our way through many glasses of wine big piles of books.

We had to come up with a quick rationalisation of how the Easter Bunny would know that the Otter family are not in Germany, but in France on Sunday. While I was still stumbling through an explanation that didn’t sound rational even to Ollie, Lily explained that there is an Easter Bunny for each country and that the German Hase has probably already communicated with the French lapin, who knows to expect three chocolate-loving Otter children in Antibes on Sunday. I’d better warn the lapin to make sure there is extra chocolate for Mama Otter, who will be allowing herself sugar again. And Papa Otter could do with some fine red wines when he breaks his alcohol fast. I guess we’ll be hitting a French supermarche with a large trolley at some point on Thursday. Doing our bit for the global economy.

The bunny stuff reminds me of a story another friend of mine tells. Her husband’s family tended to spend all their holidays at the game reserve and one year their mother forgot to pack the Easter eggs. Instead of fashioning faux eggs from elephant dung and decorating them with red dye sourced from beetle’s wings, as any normal mother would, she just told them that lions had eaten the Easter bunny. The children were apparently traumatised for years.

I hope to return in 12 days’ time with untraumatised children, a slight tan and a couple of extra kilograms from eating chocolate and lovely French food. I plan to take a blogging break, so will see you all then. Bidding you adieu, and I hope that the Easter Bunny arrives intact at all your homes, bearing shed-loads of your favourite chocolate.


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.


My Favourite Drug

I have given up sugar for Lent. I think the goal for Lent is to give up the sin you love the most, so, as I am a dull, nearly middle-aged German Hausfrau and don’t have any sins apart from reading in the bath at 3am so I wake up the next day crabby and use my outside voice with my children (bad), nearly knocking over cycling German pensioners who I forget have right of way over me, my car, any pedestrians or passing ants (worse) or indulging in a high-octave gossip session with one of my South African girlfriends (about a two on the scale of nought to sinful), I’ve had to resort to giving up my favourite drug. Oh I love sugar, I just love, love, love sugar.

At the same time, I have taken up my favourite weight-loss regime, the Shangri-La Diet, in order to shed the avoirdupois which I have gained in the Season from October to now. (Avoirdupois sounds so elegant, rather like “Won’t you have some more peas?” or “Avril du Pois was a lovely girl”, so you can almost forget you’re talking about fat and imagine you’re talking about something glamorous and otherworldly and French. Germans call the extra kilograms that creep on in the Christmas months Winterspek (winter bacon) which is whole lot more basic and frank, and not quite as charming.)

So, in order to separate myself from my winter bacon, I am back on the Shangri-La, which involves drinking a tablespoon of sugar in a litre of water twice a day. Contradictory? At odds with my Lenten fast? No. Let me tell you how.

First of all, I always give up sugar for Lent. It’s tradition: my husband gives up alcohol, I give up sugar and we spend a few weeks staring soberly and sadly at each other. When the deprivation gets too bad, I have a glass of red wine for him and he snarfs a chocolate bar on my behalf. This is a chance for us to show our love for each other. We do it well.

Secondly, the Lenten fast is a test of my moral fibre. Can I resist chocolate, ice-cream, cake, biscuits, yogurt, cereal, random sweets, delicious German bakery products? Can I resist them for weeks on end? Can I bake for my kids and not eat one drop of the cookie mixture nor sample one crumb? Can I resist them without turning into Deprived Sugar Junkie, shouting for the finest cakes known to humanity and mugging little old ladies so I can ravage their handbags for their secret peppermint stash? You betcha.

Thirdly, at the end of every fast comes the inevitable reward. How apt that at the end of my sugar fast comes Easter, the festival of chocolate and hot-cross buns and marzipan and Simnel cake and tiny little adorable pastel sugar eggs that are so cute you want to kiss their dimpled little shells before you inhale them and Nusszopf and other delicacies. Easter Sunday is possibly my favourite day of the year. And if anyone feels the urge to send me some See’s chocolates with which to end my fast, then give in to that urge … you, and I, will feel so much better if you do.

It’s also a chance for me to reveal my backbone. I may be a dull, nearly middle-aged, German Hausfrau with three kids, a washing mountain, and a dangerously addictive blogging habit, but I am Made. Of. Steel. If you put me in the jungle with no rations and a bush tucker challenge consisting only of toad’s eyes, maggots and the roe of the deadly piranha fish, I would voluntarily starve to death. That’s how strong I am.

Tradition, love, moral fibre and backbone are all very well, but fade in consequence when compared to the state of my Winterspek. It has to go, and as a veteran of almost every diet known to humankind, from WeightWatchers to the colic diet to that weird one where you eat beetroot and cheese for three days, I can honestly say that the Shangri-La Diet is the easiest, most effective and sustainable diet I have ever attempted. Best of all, it removes nothing from your diet, only adds a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Yummy, delicious, pure, white, granulated sugar, which you add to water and sip slowly over a couple of hours, with the delightful after-effect that your appetite goes away. So I am drinking sugar in order to not eat sugar, and it is going very very well. Really I can recommend it. It’s the way forward. By the time Easter comes, I’ll have no appetite left and won’t be able to eat those chocolates you sent me.

P.S. I had some of my husband’s favourite drug tonight – can you tell?