School holidays are here (in Queensland at least), which means I try to fill up our time with lots of playdates. My aim is to minimise long stretches of time at home and maximise both tiring activities for the children and adult company for me. Both visits to other homes and receiving guests means a need for morning or afternoon tea. Having been in a mothers group for five years (a lovely group of people who are the very best of what other parents can be – non judgmental) I have found there is such a thing as cake overload. However, you still need to cater for the varying states of parenthood:
1. Pregnant. Eating cake is mostly guilt free (making exceptions for those with gestational diabetes, where you just have to say ‘I realise there is hardly anything here you can eat and I am really sorry for that. Have a cracker.’). When you are pregnant these days it is often necessary to feel guilty eating almost anything but cake once you have been handed that listeria pamphlet by your well meaning doctor. Any food prepared by others, especially your healthy choices of salads and sandwiches, are possibly harbouring this horrifying bacteria. And under no circumstances eat chicken, deli meats, soft cheeses or anything else that might allow you an enjoyable life.
2. Breastfeeding. Need cake even more than pregnant. Operating on very little sleep, possibly forgetting meals in the constant fog of calculating times between feeds for the wee one and requiring a larger calorie intake than usual due to having all nutrients sucked out every two to four hours.
3. Trying to lose weight. Once breastfeeding stops that larger calorie intake needs to be curtailed quicksmart or the continued lack of sleep and irregular meals seems to start working against your body and weight gain happens while you are worrying if the house is child proofed enough for the junior Houdini who recently emerged from babyhood. Which means cake playdates can be very hard to do.
4. Maintaining sanity. The rest of the parenting experience. Sleep is either still being caught up or just a new level of deprived. Children’s needs continue to outweigh parents’ needs by everything to none. Cake is appreciated but when playdates are more than once a week it is useful to have another choice.
Which brings us to muffins. Sure, they are cake like. But I find a bit more room to move in the healthier options department. And nutritional value. For example, you can stick either fruit or vegetables in there and children won’t necessarily run from them. Also, because muffins are supposed to be only barely mixed together they are very quick to make.
I have loosely followed a recipe from a blog I googled while looking for a way to make use of an excess of bananas – Cat Can Cook. It seemed to be a fairly robust, simple recipe that could be adjusted easily to fit in whatever you have in the fruit bowl or in the vegetable drawer. Firstly I did banana and sultana muffins.
Peel 3 or 4 bananas and break them into pieces as you put them in the Thermomix bowl. Add half a cup of sugar (I used rapadura sugar for these as I had it and am finding it gives a lovely caramelly flavour to things), a teaspoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of baking powder, a teaspoon of bicarb soda (while you have the teaspoon out), 1 egg, a pinch of salt, 60-70 grams melted butter (or oil – depending on your tastes and what is in your stocks) and 220 grams (or one and a half cups) of plain flour. Mix on Speed 5 for 10 seconds. Check on it, maybe spatula the sides and if need be mix for another 5 seconds. Add a handful or so of sultanas and mix again, but on Reverse this time, for 5 seconds. Decant to muffin tray with patty pans if you can’t be bothered greasing the little indents. Bake in oven on 180 degrees for about 20 minutes. Everyone’s ovens are different so keep an eye on them and don’t do what I did and forget until they are quite brown on top and you can smell them through the house. Or do if that is how you appreciate time.
I have also tried apple and blueberry muffins, where you make an apple sauce first (there is one in the Everyday Cookbook – add some cinnamon if you wish) then follow as above, substituting blueberries for sultanas. Adjust sweetness depending on the fruit by tasting the batter. If it tastes as if you could keep eating it without bothering with the oven you should have it about right.
As for savoury, I have found if you substitute, say, grated zuchinni and/or carrot (blitzed from roughly chopped to itty bitty pieces prior in Thermomix) for the fruit and grated cheese for the sugar the flavour is about right. You may need to add some salt depending on the saltiness of your cheese. Depending on your child’s tastes you could throw in some spring onion during the grating process to add a zing to the flavour.
And there you have your basic muffin. Breakfast substitute for the perpetually foggy minded. Nutrition for the kidlets. Close enough for the cake deprived.
I was very happy to see a big box of quinces at a reasonable per kilo price at our local market recently. It meant I had an excuse to try out making quince paste!
They are a less than appealing looking fruit and the preparation methods you generally find for them don’t help their cause. But if Maggie Beer can do it so can I. For I have the added super power of a super kitchen tool.
I followed the best bits of a few recipes and hints I found from Thermomixer, Tick of Yum and Recipe Community, which were variations of recipes from the beautiful (but not yet mine) Thermomix recipe books In the Mix and Devil of a Cookbook. Keeping the peel and core in the process, but separating them from the flesh while cooking made it really easy to follow and the paste set beautifully. So much so that I allowed it to cool a little too long and then had a lovely set jelly in the processing bowl which I then had to lever out and squish in to molds. Just over a kilo of quinces makes a shed load of quince paste. I am now in search of a gigantic wheel of stinky cheese to eat with it.
This is just a small part of the quince paste produced in my inaugural batch. You will note that the result is not quite as neat as Maggie’s. Next time I won’t get distracted once I’ve finished cooking it. Apparently it keeps for an age as long as you take the least precautions against the extreme wildlife or weather that are an everyday part of living in Queensland. As with everything I am making for the first time the use by dates are an experiment in mould identification and the sniff it and see test.