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caramel & cocoa

Caramel & Cocoa - cooking, parenting, fashion, diy, eating, living, a blog

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Easter Chicks & Basket (felt)

Needing to unwind and zone-out, last night, I made these little guys and the baskets using the girls' Halloween flower costumes. Start to finish, it took me 2  hours and I am creatively challenged, so for the rest of you, it should be a breeze.

I will give them to the girls on Easter with a chocolate Easter egg. I think they will quite enjoy them and I really do feel a sense of fulfillment having made them.

Look! He is so cute!

I was inspired by this website, though I used my own pattern & materials since I don't have a printer (that works) or the proper materials.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Regimented sleep for the little ones?

Yesterday, I was on skype with my mom and my girls were being needy, loud and clingy. "I am sorry mom. They didn't nap today." I tried to explain. She rolled her eyes and tried to change the subject. She disapproves of my stringent nap and bedtime routine. The thing is, my mom, originally from Mexico, has lived in California since she was 22. She is now 67 and while being very American, has definitely retained the "Mexican" way of child rearing.

The truth is, me & my 2 brothers and 1 sister, never had set naps, strict bedtime routines and most definitely, our naps did not rule her day or my dad's. We went wherever they had to go, to do whatever they had to do and slept in the car, in their arms, on chairs, in waiting rooms, at playdates, at parties, at the grocery store, at the autoshop and get this we even went to the movies as toddlers. You get the picture. 

As a result, my mom's memories of bringing up her 4 children are lovely. She did not suffer from loneliness, depression, stress and says she never felt overwhelmed. Both of my parents have told me that they struggle sometimes to understand why I am so overwhelmed. "Just take care of you little treasures."  They tell me. 

That being said, my mom says I never had a public tantrum. And I have to say that my daughters have never had public tantrums or misbehaved with my parents, as they have with me. My mom and dad have also never struggled to get them to bed or fed, regardless of jetlag, lack of naps, time changes. 

I can't really explain what it is. But the approach that my parents have with my girls, is very free, and my kids respond to that well. I have an incredibly difficult time using the same approach because I do feel pressure and kind of value the girls napping from 1 to 3 pm so I can have some alone time. I wish I was more like them in that respect, but I am very assimilated to the westernized culture of regimented child-rearing. I don't however, think that mine the healthiest approach. I would love for my kids to be more flexible than they are now and that is what I am working towards with them. I worry that they will expect life to always be a certain way, and we all know that's not the case. 

That being said, the girls were in bed at 7:00pm on the dot tonight. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This Week's Library Books

The girls each have a library card and we make one trip to the library a week to choose books. H thinks it is fabulous because it will hopefully spark an interest in books. I don't like books really (shush - don't tell the kids). I agree with H but admit that the library trips are a selfish "time-filler."  The more time we spend out of the house, the tidier the house is. And that is a BIG PLUS! It is ok to be selfish sometimes & have ulterior motives. Don't judge. 

They take the selection process very seriously for people who can't read. I've read each book about 15 times since. 

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder (Full Sunday Lunch Menu)

For H's Birthday I prepared a family lunch for 6 adults and three toddlers. It was easy and some of it, I prepared in the day or two before.

Starter: Roasted Aubergine & Mint Houmous (I made this the night before)

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder & White Wine Gravy
Rosemary Infused Mini-New Potatoes
Maple Glazed Parsnips
Steamed Chard 
Mange Tout, Bean & Basil Salad (I made this the night before)

Roasted Aubergine & Mint Houmous (I made this the night before)

Recipe Compliments of Waitrose Magazine

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder & White Wine Gravy

1.5 kilo lamb shoulder
splash of olive oil
splash of red wine
fresh rosemary
1 large onion sliced
2 garlic cloves peeled

1 tablespoon flour
500 ml chicken stock
3 tablespoon white wine
3 tablespoons of capers

1. Heat oven to 160 C (140C fan assisted/320F).

2. Score the lamb and season well with salt and pepper. The lamb should still have a bit of fat at this point.

3. Layer the bottom of the roasting tin with sliced onion. On top of the onion layer place half of your rosemary sprigs. Place the lamb on top of these two layers, fat side up. Layer the top of the lamb with the remainder of the onion and rosemary leaves. Toss the garlic into the dish. Splash the lamb with one small splash of olive oil and one small splash of red wine. Cover with lid or tightly with tin foil (aluminum).

4. Cook in oven for 4 hours.

5. After 4 hours, do not uncover roasting tin. Increase heat to 180 C (160C fan assisted/320 F) and cook another 20 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and remove from roasting tin immediately. Wrap the lamb in tin foil and let it rest for 15 minutes before serving. Remove all of the sprigs and oil from the tin. You will notice that the juice that the lamb has given off will be a denser darker one at the bottom of the tin and the oily stuff at the top. You want to get rid of the oil but retain the darker juices & set aside.

7. In a medium sized pot bring the stock to a boil. Add the white wine. Add the capers. Add the good dark juices from the lamb and bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes. If you want a denser gravy, add a tablespoon of flour.

Rosemary Infused Mini-New Potatoes

I like these little guys because they are easy to prepare, especially with little ones running around.

1.5 kilos of mini- new potatoes.

On the morning of, or night before, wash & dry your potatoes. Don't peel. Place them on the top basket of a steamer. On the bottom layer place 5 to 10 rosemary sprigs. Don't add water. Just let let the potatoes sit with the rosemary below it overnight or for a few hours the day of. About 30 minutes before you will be serving the food, fill the bottom of the steamer with water (leave rosemary in) and let them simmer until soft. This should take about 25 min if you are using the mini-new potatoes.

Maple Glazed Parsnips

1 kilo Parsnips
Sunflower or Corn Oil
Maple Syrup

Cover your roasting tin with foil. Peel and thinly slice the parsnips. If you slice them thin enough, you will not have to par boil and your oven time will be reduced. Place the parsnips into the roasting tin, pour over a glug of the sunflower oil and using your hands mix well. Then add a generous glug of maple syrup or golden syrup and using your hands mix it well into the parsnips. Place in the oven at 140 C for 10 minutes and then at 180 C for about 20 -30 minutes, until they are soft, tender and sweet.

Steamed Chard 

Place chard in a steamer basket and steam for about 10 minutes.

Mange Tout, Bean & Basil Salad (I made this the night before)

Recipe Compliments of Waitrose Magazine

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Near Impulse Buys

There is something about a store, with well-situated and well-positioned products. Like sirens, the products scream out "purchase me ... you need me ... you want me ..." These are some things that I nearly bought today, but didn't.

At first glance I wanted to buy this thinking, I would write down all the quirky things the kids do. I then realized I wouldn't actually "do it."

I totally would have bought these 5 years ago. It was a different kind of life! 

Anything with butterflies sparks my attention but alas, they remained at the store. 

Ed the doorstop Dude. I can't stop thinking about him. What a cutie. I might go back for him tomorrow. 

Sam's Story (The Garden Duck)

This is Sam. He is cute. Isn't he?

This is his story: We bought this house 6 months ago and it has a massive back garden that was starting to overgrow. Since we had a bit of sun last weekend I took a large pair of garden scissors and just started going "all ninja" on the back garden.

Here is a before picture of our trellis.

Here is an after shot.

Hidden amongst all of the green was our little guy, Sam, named by Api. The girls (and I) have taken a real liking to him. We spent a large portion of today singing him songs and reading him books. He is so lovely. I went to the garden store to find him a companion, but nothing seemed quite right. The search continues. Welcome to the family Sam. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Maple Syrup Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

I was nervous when making this and held my breathe while serving until the compliments started flooding in. What a relief! This is easy - so you have to try it. Make the frosting first, preferably the night before because it needs to harden. 

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting 
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tbs vanilla extract 
170grams unsalted butter (6 oz)
2 tablespoons of double cream (heavy or whipping cream) 
455 grams of cream cheese (16 oz)

1. In a saucepan, combine sugar, water, 2tbs vanilla extract. Cook over a high heat, stirring regularly until the sugar is dissolved. 

2. This is the patience part. Reduce heat to medium-high and don't stir until the mixture starts to harden and turns into a dark caramel. You kind of have to stand over the hob to make sure it does not burn. The original recipe called for about 15  minutes but it took me 20. Once it turns into a dark amber colored caramel, remove from heat and stir in the butter and double cream.  

3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. You need to be rather quick because you don't want it to harden.  

4. Beat at a low speed allowing it to combine and continue to cool. Slowly beat in the cream cheese.

4. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours (overnight is best). 

This is not an immensely dense frosting. I'd describe it as silky but fluffy and  tastes fab. 

This is where I got the original frosting recipe from: 

Maple Cake 

175 grams soft butter (6.2 oz)
100 g caster sugar (3.5 oz superfine sugar)
3 large eggs
350 ml maple syrup (12oz) 
500 g self-raising flour (17oz) 
two 21 cm sandwich tins, buttered and lined (8 inch tins)

1. Butter and line your tins with baking paper. If you have never before done this, watch this video. 

2. Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 160 C fan (360 F). 

3. Beat together the butter and sugar until very pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in well after each addition, then gradually add the maple syrup to make a smooth mixture. Finally, spoon in the flour alternately with the hot water, beating gently until smooth again. Divide the batter between the two tins, and cook for about 40 minutes. A fork inserted in the middle should come out clean. Let the cakes cool in their tins for 10 minutes in the unmoulding and let them cool completely before icing them. 

This recipe can be found here. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lonely - Feeling Sad

This is C, having her lunch on her own today. Most of the time we have lunch together, but today, for whatever reason, she would not let me sit with her and insisted on eating alone at the mini-table. Like all of us, I guess that she just needed a bit of space. I wouldn't want to hang out with me all of the time either if I were her. I let it be and watched from the hallway. I couldn't help but wonder what was going through her little head. Watching her eat alone made me wonder if she was sad. She didn't look sad and eating alone is a brave thing to do. At least I think it is.

I started to think about sadness and all of the times in my life when I was very sad. I reflected on the times in my life I thought were sad at the moment, but in retrospect they were just things that had to happen, poor choices or sadness resulting from immaturity and inexperience. I thought about all of the things I would have done differently.

I then started to go through a mental rolodex of people currently in my life going through difficult times, breakups, financial problems, infertility, illness, loss and the scenarios just kept running through my head. We walk around, not knowing each other's sadness but there is alot of sadness out there. It just happens behind closed doors, alone at our dining room tables.

Dirty Shirt Day ...

I had a facial reflexology appointment yesterday. I woke up today invigorated and full of energy. By 8:30 am, I was showered, dressed (makeup & hair included), clothes were out on the line, second wash was in the washer, all beds were made, the house was tidy, the girls were dressed and I even did a bit on online banking. I was feeling good. That is until C threw her breakfast at me for trying to feed her with a spoon at about 8:45am. You see, she is very independent. I shouldn't have dared, thus the state of my shirt, which I am shamelessly going to wear for the remainder of the day. thanks. 

update - Diet & Sugar Deprivation

I am pacing around the house, Cristina two steps behind me, feeling incredibly sorry for myself, nibbling on the contents of this white bowl containing organic red grapes. Seeded to top it off! I'd rather be having a Welsh cake or the date and walnut loaf I made Tuesday, that is lone-fully sitting on the kitchen counter.

For the last 3 - 4 weeks, my weight has hovered between 130 & 133lbs. The ideal weight for someone my height is 120lbs & so that is where I want to get. It is not easy. These last 13lbs are incredibly difficult to shed. At my heaviest I think I was about 176lbs (190lbs while pregnant). I have come to realize that it took me 8 years to gain all of this weight, so clearly I can't expect to shed it all in a matter of months. But psychologically, this is killing me, especially in the weeks when my weight increases rather than decreases. It makes me very sad and while I keep my goal in mind, I often want to give up.  What's the point. Enjoy life. Eat.

I set out to give up "sweets" on February 22 and since then I have ceded to ice-cream and frozen yogurt twice. It is not something that I am proud of, but overall I have done well considering I would normally have 3 or 4 sweets per day. Despite these hiccups I will keep trekking along.

I am taking my own advice re carbs from the other day and have reduced my pasta and rice portions in exchange for increased vegetables, which I don't I usually get enough of. I'll have raw veggies when I can.

13lbs ... 13 lbs ... 13 lbs ...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Portrait of Daddy

"A" said she was going to draw  "daddy wearing glasses." I think that this is quite good for a 2 1/2 year old. 

If You're Reading This, Then You Probably Eat Too Much ...

I understand what it is like to struggle with your weight. I know what it is like to lose weight and then gain it back. And I know what it is like to diet but not lose any weight. 

In this house I use a term to describe my husband and that is "carboholic." I love you "amor" but I hope that you are not reading this. I am two years into my food transformation. That is, for the last two years I have been learning how to cook food and I have stopped buying anything pre-cooked or ready made. I feel healthy. I am proud that my girls will gladly have roasted beetroot, cabbage and olives for dinner and I really hope that I can expose them to all sorts of fruits and vegetables so that they develop a healthy palate. 

But what I have come to realize is that we eat too many carbs and too little fruits and vegetables. Alot of us grew up eating tons of carbs and our bodies now tell us that we need them. We quite literally hunger for them. We quite literally carry them as extra-fat on our bodies. Those of us wanting to lose weight and keep it off need to re-learn how to eat. 

I bet you didn't know that a healthy serving of pasta is 4 ounces (1/2 a cup), which is a very small amount. The reason is that a well-balanced dinner, includes pasta with 3 oz of chicken, 3 ounces of steamed vegetables, 3 ounces of raw vegetables. The tendency these days is to have 12 ounces of pasta and NOTHING MORE. Hint - those meals at Cheesecake Factory are far too big. 

My husband raves about my cooking and loves vegetables but he always complains about the portions I give him of rice and bread, often asking "if there is a second course." He too, like many of us has grown to depend on carbohydrates. 

I found this website offering sample healthy meals.

Now, I am not a fan of strict and unhealthy dieting, but I am a fan of having well-balanced meals and healthy snacks. My girls are big snackers and instead of going for a slice of toast or a cookie I offer them assorted berries and cucumbers and they love them. They don't know any better for the moment and I am quite pleased with that. 

The truth is: We are getting fatter. This is not about looks. This is about health. Those of us who are overweight shorten our lives. Being overweight for an extended period of time is worse than smoking. Those of us who are obese will live 10 years less than our slim/average peers. 

This is an incredibly sad reality. 

We exert energy at the gym and money on personal trainers, lose a bit of weight and then gain it all back. To make long-term changes we need to change our lives, the way we see food. 
Here are some links on the studies I was reading. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Masala Dabba

I am a proper cook now that I have my own handy spice box.

dried coriander
cumin powder
fennel seeds
chilli powder
black mustard seeds
and mixed cloves, cardamon & bay leaves

I'll be making chicken masala, bombay potatoes and naan for Friday night's dinner.

C's Timeouts

C is 17 months & is an incredibly good baby but occasionally she'll take a swing at her older sister. Out of fairness I had to give her two timeouts today.



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Clothes Dryer

Yes. This is how I dry my clothes. Though I grew up in California, the first time I line dried was when I moved to Madrid and now in London. 

H works alot, mucho, beacoup? Angry?

Hiya! A reoccurring theme on my blog and on my facebook is H's work schedule

I've gotten "tons" of emails asking if it makes me angry. By "tons" I mean 23 emails, but, nonetheless, "23" equals "tons" from my perspective.

January and February were busy work months. On average he was home just after 4am and out the door just before 8am and weekends were non-existent. For the moment, things are calmer and he manages to get home by 9.

It's hard on me. It is very hard. The situation often makes me angry, not at him & I think he would vouch for me in saying that I have handled it in a stellar manner. I did not get angry with him, lose my temper, walk around depressed. I just "got on with it." The difficulty was in not letting the girls notice anything was awry. I did not want them to know that I was upset daddy was working so many hours, that I was worried for his health, or that I was worried the girls would feel disconnected from their dad.

I continued with the playgroups, ballet, music, activities, cooking, appointments and day-to-day chores. I even tried to make our outings more "special" to make up for what I thought they were missing.

It is far from a perfect balance but it is just the way things are. So in response, "Am I angry?" ... Yes. But not at my family. My job is to keep the house going and cultivating the girls & that's the responsibility I am taking most seriously.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

@Siam (Soho, London) - Restaurant Review

48 Frith Street 
London W1D 4SF
0207 494 4511

Summary: The food was delicious and reasonably priced, but we choose carefully. The atmosphere was contemporary Thai cuisine with a very thoughtful staff.

The Atmosphere: The restaurant itself is very contemporary and even minimalistic with splashings of Thai decor. It is small and cozy but still maintains a sense of vastness so you do not feel like you are sat in top of each other. However, if you listen intently you will surely get in on the conversation of the table next to you.

The Food: It was all very delicious. I ordered the deep fried marinated pork strip with chili sauce & tiger prawns with Thai pesto sauce. Both were incredible.

The Service: The staff were very polite, thoughtful and quick.  The service however lacked a bit of refinement. Our starters arrived and were very good but our main courses did not arrive together which was a bit awkward so we ended up sharing both main courses and treating it like a three course meal. We were very laid back about it, but I can see how it would be awkward for someone on a first date. Regardless, we had one waiter and one server and they were both very charming, everyone in the restaurant seemed to be having a good time and we enjoyed the food. It was a great vibe.

Would I go back? Absolutely.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Work in Progress (that's me) - Orchids Don't Die

I have owned this orchid for nearly two years. It dries up in the autumn/winter and towards March re-blooms. I get a ton of satisfaction from this "rebirth."

I have had a very short fuse recently, and have found myself to be very anxious. I need to "take it easy."

So I am making some changes in my life. First, I am going to add light exercise into my life (stretching and light weights for 15 minutes a day). Second, I am reading "10 Mindful Minutes" and third, I am learning how to play the guitar. I am self-teaching and I don't actually "own" a guitar yet, but I just "feel" like it is the right thing to do.

I need to relax for the sake of my children who I want to grow up happy, relaxed and positive. What are your works in progress?

What she does to her ears ...

Tired. Hungry. Feeling poorly. Feeling needy. Feeling insecure. Her thumb goes in her mouth and her other hand does this to her ear. ??? freaky.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Still Sick

Still sick here. Both being a bit indulgent. Lazy day. Girls are enjoying my Moroccan floor cushions. I did take them to the park for some fresh air. They were miserable so we came home.

Unsolicited Advice - Annoying - But Can be True

She and I spent about an hour chatting today about her various interests, sharing a bagel and a bit of juice. I had peppermint tea but that is a minor detail. 

She wanted to play with my hands. I let her. Towards the end of our hour together I was overcome with a bit of sadness. Had C not been unwell and sleeping out of schedule, we would not have had that hour together. 

The last 16 months have been a bit of haze. There were times when I was just trying to get through the day. On top of that there was potty-training, a new house, C's collapsed lung & hospitalization, my surgery ... and life's incidents. 

So now I get it. I really do. A was 5.5 months old when I found out that I was pregnant with C and most people were shocked but elated to hear the good news. Well, except for one friend who told me via email "Congratulations, although it makes me a bit sad. Two children so close together calls for an immense amount of work. You should try to space them out in the future. So close together you'll probably miss out." 

When I first got that email I thought to myself "That's insane."  Today, I talked to my 2.5 year old about her favorite color (blue because daddy's eyes are blue) , which animals frighten her (anything green), things she enjoys doing (building sand castles), and her favorite foods (chicken and soy milk). The entire conversation was held in Spanish. She played a couple of jokes on me. 

It hit me. I did not have a clue that she had a favorite color, feared green animals or that building sand castles ranked that highly on her personal totem pole. And well done for her being able to speak for an hour in Spanish. While I can't imagine life without my two sidekicks, I now understand Lulu's email, while unsolicited, her advice was and is accurate. 

oompa ... loompa ...

 Girls are still sick but I got them to eat some strawberries. Granny watched A while I took C to the doctor. While I was gone, A painted in her eyebrows. She looks like an oompa loompa. That's all for now.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Diary of Unsexy: Hey it Happens

The girls are sick, snotty, congested, coughing and really just looking a bit gross. It is 8pm. I should be asleep because I know they will be up in the middle of the night. But hey – I live life on the wild side.

So why am I feeling unsexy? Ok. Let’s start with the fact that I have succumbed to whatever virus is plaguing the girls and I am now typing this with rolled up pieces of toilet roll up each nostril. Add to that my unsexy attire, which consists of a maternity shirt, tattered gray jogging pants, old striped socks, and yes – oh yes – my husband’s ugly brown slippers, all disguising these very unshaven and pale legs (See photo).  C’est la vie.
I did wake up this morning hopeful, showering and doing my makeup. However, within an hour I was covered in snot, spit, food, drinks ... I tossed in the towel and dressed to un-impress.

I’m tired and the remainder of the week is going to “suck”, but hey, I just need to get on with it. There is no reason I should tell you this, but just now, I had to stop typing because the paper up my nose was soaked through. Having sorted that out, I can continue .... hmmm – motherhood.

Now I am off to enjoy some soy milk and will be in bed by 9. Cheers. Here's to a speedy recovery for the household! 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sick. Quick.

It is nearly 4pm. The girls are napping which is unusual for their routine.

C fell ill last night and within 12 hours she had a cough, a runny nose, a fever and couldn't keep her food down. I have spent most of today coaxing her into having tablespoons of water and chicken stock in exchange for a bit of manuka honey. She has been most interested in sleeping.

A was fabulous this morning. As C slept, she painted & decorated a music box which now contains all of her favorite tunes. When she is good she pulls out a song & we sing it.

A happily had lunch. C had a bit of lunch and quickly became irritable so I bundled them up, popped them in my Phil &Ted's double sport pram and whisked them off to the park. It was absolutely freezing. They fell asleep en route so I ended up freezing my backside off walking around for two hours.

Once home, they awoke and insisted on an hour of singing and music. Then they both asked for another nap. A is starting to look a bit rough. Kids fall unwell very quickly.