Butternut squash soup with a thyme and taleggio tart

Argh I’m drowning in a sea of recipes I keep meaning to post here. There are recipes from the summer in my backlog!! Really nice recipes like roast sea bream with salsa verde or an indian chickpea curry we had for the first time in Scotland back in June. Also our favourite blueberry muffins, a windfall apple cake and the fish curry Lewis makes for the whole family every year in France. But alas! The mood to write, she is not there as Hercule Poirot, for whom I always have time, might or might not say.

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To start, here is a recipe for butternut squash soup. Very ‘in’ right now, I’m sure you’ll agree, seeing as it’s proper autumn with the damp and the rain and the leaves. We are greatly enjoying stomping through the leaves this year. The pic above is Lexie posting her birthday party invites, although I had to tell her they were birthday cards for her friends. She wants to keep all her precious Peppa Pig invites for herself and also wants to do the pinata on her own!!

This is an easy soup and it’s quite sweet, as butternut squash is. Lexie loved it when she was weaning onto solids, I’d make it super thick and she’d feed herself (also I never did this but you could easily freeze this into ice cubes for quick baby meals). Now Lexie hates butternut squash so has to be coaxed into having a couple of mouthfuls, or dabbing her cheese toastie in the soup.

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A blob of gorgonzola or another blue cheese is heavenly in this soup and I keep meaning to fry a little pancetta to add on top. A dash of cayenne pepper/chilli powder, a swirl of creme fraiche and some chopped coriander works well too. This recipe is also a way to make pumpkin taste nice (pumpkin really isn’t that nice on it’s own), just add some pumpkin chunks along with the squash. Or you can add sweet potato with the squash although that definitely makes the soup sweeter. The pic above is the first time Lexie saw a pumpkin and the other pic is of her helping me buy lots of squash and pumpkins last year – little cutie pie!

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Because I’ve been making this soup for years and find it a bit boring I thought I’d add the recipe for a delicious thyme and taleggio tart. I can’t remember when Lewis first made this for me. It was definitely in the early years of our ‘long term relationship’ (that’s an ‘in’ joke) and it’s a staple from his family. It’s sooo easy and sooo good, a pimped puff pastry job – do try this! Using the same principles you can make a variety of tasty tarts – some that I’ve tried include cherry tomato, basil and goats cheese, very nice. Also a butternut squash and feta tart, a variation of this salad. 

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Finally we’ve gone a bit nuts for autumny crafts in our house now that Lexie is almost 3 and actually a joy to do crafts with (as opposed to when she was 2 when really all I should have done every day was build a massive tower of soft bricks, give her a Timmy Mallet style mallet and set her loose to destroy!). We’ve got leaf ghosts, egg carton spiders and bats, hedgehogs made out of paper plates or conkers, fingerprint or popcorn trees, I could go on.

I wish these were the only bugs in our flat right now… SIGH… It’s the second time we’ve been hit by this bizarro biting bug – very itchy bites then tingling/crawling sensations on skin everywhere, all day long… We are on week three of this and we still don’t know what it is or how to fix it. Pest control say it isn’t bed bugs, it’s scabies. Doctors say it isn’t scabies, it’s bed bugs. We are reduced to saying things like “well we don’t have ebola,” “well at least the new baby isn’t here yet.” WAAH WAAAH WAAAAAAAAH!

Butternut squash soup

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: Less than £5 (£1.50 butternut squash, £1 parsley)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 2 – 4 depending on portion size
Ingredients:

  • A butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced into chunks (or a mix of pumpkin and squash)
  • 1 sliced onion
  • Chicken stock
  • Chopped parsley
  • Olive oil

Gently fry the onion in the olive oil. When the onion is soft add the butternut squash and cover with stock – as much as you want depending on if you want a thin or thick soup. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20-30 mins until the squash is soft. Use a juzzer thingimibob to puree the soup et voila, presto, listo, done. If adding, put a dob of gorgonzola in the middle of the soup before serving along with the chopped parsley and some fried pancetta if you fancy. Or add cayenne pepper, a swirl of creme fraiche and chopped coriander. This soup is lovely with a nice cheese toastie or served with a good cheese plate. We often have it with comte cheese. Also I’ve tried variations such as roasting the squash first, or frying the onion with butter and they’ve never been an improvement.

Thyme and taleggio tart

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-40 mins
Budget: £6 (£3 taleggio, £1 thyme, £1.50 puff pastry)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 4-6 depending on portion size

  • 1 sheet of bought puff pastry
  • 2 onions
  • Lots of butter
  • The leaves from a few sticks of fresh thyme, about a handful
  • Taleggio cheese

Preheat the oven to 200c and roll the puff pastry out onto a greased baking tray or a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Score the edges about 2cm apart to make a border. In a separate pan, gently fry the onion in lots of butter until soft and translucent, at least 10 mins of frying and don’t let it brown. When the onion is done spread it over the puff pastry and dob pieces of the taleggio on top. Finally sprinkle the thyme all over the tart. Brush the pastry border with a little melted butter, pop in the oven, and bake for about 20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden.

Beef stew

Beef stew, beef stew, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when beef stew comes for you… This was a massive in joke with my boss back when I had a 9-5 office job. At random times, including at big meetings, he’d pick a word from the current conversation and ‘whatcha gonna do’ it. For example ‘business plan, business plan, whatcha gonna do when business plan comes for you’ and so on. We thought it was hilarious. Our co-workers perhaps, at times, found it a bit wearing. Ha ha ha us. (If this is completely baffling watch this… specifically 0:24… see what we did there?)

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So… beef stew! I know two recipes for this. One my mum taught me which is a variation of her lamb casserole but with beef instead of lamb and a tin of petit pois instead of flageolet beans (can I just add that tinned peas are utterly delicious. Lewis loooves them and they are very common in France and Spain, less so here I think. A fab Spanish recipe is to fry some bacon or slivers of jamon serrano with a little garlic and maybe some onion, add the drained tin of peas and a little stock and fresh parsley – delicious with a fried egg.)

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As my mum’s stew is quite rich and I’m still craving light and healthy foods (not long now, due date 9th December, eek!) I plumped for this one instead. The recipe is from Jane Clarke’s Yummy Baby book which is full of baby and toddler friendly recipes for the whole family. I’m a big fan of this book, my squash and feta salad is from Yummy Baby and so is my staple daal that hopefully I’ll post here soon. This stew is a little lighter with more veggies. I love it and so clearly does Lexie. We made it the other day for the first time this year. Her response as follows: “It’s good,” pause, “it’s super yummy,” another pause. “I really like this… ooh look a carrot sausage!” More pausing, “Thank you for making this mummy.” !!!

Beef stew

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cooking time: 3 hours
Budget: £10-15 (£5 beef, £7 wine, £1 mushrooms, £1 courgettes, £1.50 shallots, £1 celery, £2 bacon)
Ease: Easy
Serves 4-6 Ingredients:

  • 800g braising or stewing beef in large pieces
  • Olive oil
  • 50g diced bacon or pancetta
  • 12 shallots, peeled but left whole (or 1 chopped onion)
  • 2 sticks roughly chopped celery
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 750ml red wine
  • 1 tbp tomato puree
  • 1 bouquet garni (sprigs of rosemary, thyme and flat leafed parsley)
  • 12 mushrooms, sliced if large
  • 2 medium courgettes thickly sliced
  • Pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/300F/Gas 2. Season the beef with ground black pepper and heat olive oil in a frying pan on a high heat. Fry the beef in batches until well browned then put in a casserole dish, like a Le Creuset. Add a little more olive oil to the frying pan and add the bacon, shallots, celery and carrots, frying until golden. Add the garlic, cook for another min, then tip everything into the casserole dish. Put the frying pan back on the heat and pour in half the red wine. Bring the the boil and scrap up all the bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour this into the casserole, adding the rest of the wine, the tomato puree and the bouquet garni. On the hob, bring the stew to the boil then cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Then add the sliced courgettes and the mushrooms and put back into the oven for another 1 1/2 hours. Once done, the meat will be wonderfully soft and should fall apart on the fork. For extra veg you can add a few frozen peas before serving and some fresh parsley to garnish. This is delicious with boiled potatoes, or rice, or some buttered pasta.

10 min vegetable stir fry

I’d love some more noodle and stir fry recipes that don’t just taste of soy sauce. I’ve got two staples – a yummy cold rice noodle salad with chicken, lettuce and coriander (I’ll post this soon as it makes a great packed lunch), and a 10 min stir fry which is also tasty but does taste quite a bit of soy sauce.

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More importantly, Lexie loves it and will eat up a whole rainbow of vegetables when we have it. You can make this with any veg you want and, as most kids are very happy with lots of rice and a few slivers of each veg, a little goes a long way. It would also be easy to add meat to this. I’ve added a variation at the end with a simple marinade for beef, pork or chicken that works well.

10 min vegetable stir fry

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5 mins with noodles, 10 mins with rice
Budget: Usually less than £5
Ease: Easy
Serves: 2
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 red pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 yellow pepper sliced
  • 1/2 courgette, sliced
  • 2 sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 sliced carrot – in rounds or slivers
  • 2 or 3 tbsp sunflower oil (or groundnut/peanut but not olive oil)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 knob of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 or 3 tbsp soy sauce (we use reduced salt soy sauce for Lexie)
  • A little chicken stock (fresh or from good quality stock cube) or water
  • Sherry (optional and I usually leave this out)
  • Chopped coriander (optional)

Heat the sunflower oil to quite a high heat in the pan and add the garlic and ginger. Sizzle for a few seconds then add the veg. Cook on a high heat for 30 seconds, turning the veg lightly with a spatula. (I usually add all the veg at the same time but the rule of thumb is to add veg in the order of hardness. So add veg like carrot and broccoli first for 30 seconds – 1 minute (you can parboil for a minute first but I don’t), then peppers/courgettes/onions for another 30 seconds, followed lastly by mushrooms.)

Then add a splash of sherry if using. Sizzle this down then add a splash of soy sauce. If not using sherry just go straight to adding the soy sauce. Cook for a minute and the sauce will also reduce and when it does add a little chicken stock or water to make it all more saucey. Keep cooking the veg for a couple more minutes – approx 2 mins for an authentic stir fry (veggies with a bit of bite) but it doesn’t matter if it cooks for longer and is soft. Once you’re happy with the veg, turn the heat off and add the coriander. That’s it! Serve with rice or noodles.

  • Meat marinade: Mix 2-3 tbsp groundnut oil, 2-3 tbps soy sauce, 1 tbsp honey, 1 minced garlic clove, a knob of peeled and grated ginger. Add thin strips of either chicken, pork or beef to the mixture and marinade, covered, for 30 mins. Stir fry the meat before the veg for about 3 minutes (or until done to your taste), then set aside to rest while you fry the veg in the same pan, adding a little more oil, garlic and ginger before the veg.

In other news all three of us have had a haircut! We’re off to the Basque country for a holiday and to celebrate my mum’s 80th birthday with her family. So we wanted to look respectable. Lexie absolutely loved having her hair cut. It was the first time she had a blow dry and she remembered she’d get a sticker and gold coin too! For some reason my bump looks quite small, but it isn’t! Definitely feel like I’m almost in the 3rd trimester!

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Bel’s orange French toast

Actually this is Nigella’s French toast but the first time I had this was at my friend Bel’s brunch, so in my eyes it’s her recipe! I’m not the hugest fan of French toast, preferring pancakes or croissants, but I really love this version. There is something utterly amazing about the orangey syrup you drizzle over the toast. Something also utterly unkidfriendly – neither of our kids would touch it. Leaving the syrup off and offering the kids sugar to sprinkle proved more popular but I’m kind of thinking this recipe would be perfect for a kids-free girls brunch with a bottle of bubbles! Pic below is of lovely Bel – thank you for the recipe honey!!

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Bel’s orange french toast

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5 mins per batch
Serves 2
Ease: Easy
Budget: £5 (£1.25 bread, £2 marmalade, £1.50 eggs, 30p orange)
Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 60 ml milk
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 large, thick slices white bread
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 75 grams marmalade
  • 50 grams caster sugar
  • Butter

Mix the eggs, orange zest, milk and ground cinnamon in a wide shallow dish. Then soak the bread slices in this mixture for roughly 2 minutes per side. Meanwhile, bring the orange juice, marmalade and sugar to the boil in a saucepan then simmer for 3-4 minutes. Heat the butter in a frying pan and cook the eggy bread for about 2 minutes a side over a medium heat until golden. Serve the French toast with some of the orangey syrup poured over each slice, and some extra syrup on the side. If trying this for kids, leave the syrup off and offer sugar to sprinkle instead.

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Instead of eating brunch Lexie dressed Arlo in a tutu.

Lexie’s tomato rice

I was going to call this ‘Basque vegetable stew’ – sounds a bit better than marrow stew which essentially what it is. Then Lexie started calling it ‘tomato rice’ which is a much better name. This is sort of a ratatouille, sort of a piperade and I remember my mum teaching me how to make it.

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Lexie is going through a weird hardly eating anything at all phase – literally three mouthfuls and she says she’s done. It’s quite challenging! But she really loves her ‘tomato rice’ and yesterday actually asked for it so I thought I’d share the recipe here. We always have it with rice and fried eggs. It’s really easy to make with kids – Lex slices the veg and pours the tomatoes into the pan, she loves stirring the pot and also helping to fry the egg (we gently break the egg into a bowl then she pours it into the pan and I fry it). Make a big batch of this on the weekend and you’ve got an instant veggie packed meal ready to go for the rest of the week.

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(I need to update this post with some pics of said tomato rice. Until I do here are some pics of Lex in her new little Indian girl outfit. She’s very keen on a Peppa Pig themed birthday party this year… erm…. so I preempted and bought her this costume. Success! She loves it and now wants a Cowboys and Indians theme. Am I a bad mother because I don’t want her to have a Peppa Pig party?)

Lexie’s tomato rice

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour
Budget: £5 (£1.50 peppers, £1 marrow, £1 tinned tomatos, £1.50 eggs)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 6
Ingredients:

  • 1 marrow or 2 big courgettes – cut in half and sliced into crescents
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 green pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 clove sliced garlic
  • 2 tins of tomatos, drained
  • 1 chicken or veg stock cube and water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sugar (equal to salt so maybe 1 tsp)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Chopped parsley
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • 4 tbsp olive oil

Fry the onions gently in olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan or casserole dish for 10 minutes. Make sure they don’t brown and season with salt to help release the onion’s juices, as my mum always says. Then add the peppers and fry for another 10 mins. Then add the marrow and fry for another 10 minutes before adding the drained tins of tomatoes, sliced garlic, bay leaf, stock cube and water. Add a little more salt and the equivalent sugar. Cook partially covered for 30 mins – 1 hour until you are happy with it. Sprinkle on the fresh parsley and serve with rice and fried eggs and some nice bread to mop up the juices. This tastes better the next day and keeps well in the fridge for about a week.

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Chocolate and almond cake

Hmm my last recipe was sweet and so is this one… Looks like I’m getting to the ‘cake’ phase of pregnancy. With Lexie, I had a sugar aversion during my first trimester but, by the time I finished breastfeeding, cake had become a major food group. A la ‘sleeping child = nice cup of tea/coffee and slice of cake.’ Indeed it is 3:37pm and, after a lovely and hectic morning at the London Transport museum my child is asleep. Here I sit with a lovely little latte and a slice of this scrummy chocolate and almond cake. If only my flat were tidy rather than toy strewn madhouse then we’d be pretty close to nirvana… (yes I could be tidying up instead of blogging BUT I’M NOT.)

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That picture is not my slice! That’s what is left of the cake at the moment. My much more reasonable portion is pictured below. The other pictures are from the London Transport museum. Ok so the recipe is another recommendation from my friend Dani. I’ve made it about 6 times now and think it tastes better the next day or even after a few days. It’s a Hugh Fearnley jobby (his recipes are so reliable I find, as if he’s Delia’s prodigal son) but I’ve changed it a little after a few mishaps/larder emergencies. I had no caster sugar so twice I used granulated white sugar. I’ve since made the recipe properly (and also once with a bar of Lindt chocolate orange by mistake) and I prefer it with granulated sugar. Lewis says I’m cray cray as one must always bake with caster sugar but I think granulated gives it a cruncher crumb and nicer texture. I also usually half or third the recipe as it’s a big cake.

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Chocolate and almond cake

Prep time: 15-20 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Budget: £5-£10 depending on what essentials you have £5-£10 (£5 chocolate, £1.50 eggs)
Ease: Easy to medium
Serves: At least 6
Ingredients:

  • 250g dark chocolate (around 70% cocoa solids – we use Lindt), broken into chunks
  • 250g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 4 medium eggs, separated
  • 200g granulated sugar!!!! Or as the original recipe states either 100g caster mixed with 100g soft light brown sugar OR 200g just caster sugar)
  • 50g plain flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 23cm springform cake tin

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Preheat the oven to 170/gas 3 and grease the cake tin with butter. I use the leftover paper from the butter used in the recipe to do this. Put the chocolate and butter in a bain marie or, as I do, in a smaller saucepan suspended over a larger pan of barely simmering water, ideally making sure the water isn’t touching the smaller pan. Stir occasionally until the butter and chocolate have melted.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until well combined. Then stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Combine the flour and almonds and then fold these in.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold firm peaks. Stir a large spoonful of egg white into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then carefully fold in the rest of the egg whites with a large metal spoon, trying to keep in as much air as possible. When I first made this, I didn’t mix the egg white in properly so my cake was marbled with streaks of chewy egg white. So it should be a glossy brown when you are done.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin, place in the oven and bake for about 30 mins, until only just set. Hugh says: “It should still wobble slightly in the centre – this means the cake will have a divinely sticky, fudgy texture once it’s cooled down.” YUMMY! Then leave to cool for 10-15 mins before taking it out of the tin. It tastes better cold than warm and way better the next day, especially if you use the granulated sugar.

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Blackberry cobbler (and a summer bucket list)

I thought blackberries arrived in September? Or maybe the end of August? Given the current autumnal chill we are experiencing I guess they’ve come early. In any case it was a total joy to watch Lexie pick and stuff herself with blackberries for the first time this past weekend. We drove to Hurley, on the Thames, to visit the Olde Bell pub as recommended by Dee Purdy’s lovely blog (also check out une belle epoque – gorgeous childrens’ clothing set up by Dee and her sister).

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We were hoping to have the BBQ from the pub’s summer kitchen in their beautiful garden. Instead we got lots of rain. As the summer kitchen was shut we shared a roast beef sandwich and burger from the bar menu. The prices are typical of this sort of pub – £6 sandwiches, £11 burger and there’s also a lovely restaurant with gorgeous Ilse Crawford designed interiors serving Sunday roasts, £24 for two courses. We thought the food was ok but not a patch on the Anchor & Hope and that ilk of gastropub (the Eagle, the Albion etc). But we loved the pub’s gardens, especially the tyre swing which Lexie spent an hour on meaning I could read the weekend papers (thanks Lewis!).

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We also had a lovely walk in the rain along the river where we discovered the aforementioned blackberries. Lexie was super excited about baking them and we talked about what we could make on the drive home. Crumble was the obvious option but I had a hankering to try a cobbler. I’ve only ever eaten cobbler once, a supermarket packet one my mum bought one day when I was a teen. She brought it to the table declaring: “Hurry up, eat it while it’s PIPPING hot.” She had mispronounced the word ‘piping’ she’d read on the packet instructions and me and my dad DIED with laughter. To caveat the tables turn when we go to Spain and my whole family DIE with laughter every time I mispronounce something.

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So cobbler it was. We tried the Alice Bay recipe recommended by Courtney on Babyccino Kids and it was soooo good. Incredibly delicious and very easy to make with Lexie who particularly enjoyed sifting the flour, mixing in the butter with her fingers and stirring the biscuit batter with a fork. I added a little extra sugar which was a mistake and our cobbler was too sweet once the vanilla ice cream was added. Both Lewis and I agreed on this but Lexie stated a few times: “It’s not too sweet mummy, it’s yummy.” There you go. We will definitely make this again and probably vary the fruit (but not the sugar ratio!). A great alternative to a fruit crumble. In fact I think I prefer it to crumble because I’ve not nailed my crumble flour/butter/sugar crumble ratio – if anyone has a good crumble recipe please share!!

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Blackberry cobbler

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins plus 10 mins resting time
Budget: This is a store cupboard essentials recipe so I’d say £4 assuming you have flour, baking powder, sugar, lemons and eggs and pick your own blackberries! (£4 ice cream)
Ease: Easy and very easy to make with kids
Serves 6
Ingredients: In cups as it’s an American recipe. I used a small glass for my cup and it worked out fine.

1½ cups sugar
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups blackberries
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons butter

BISCUIT TOPPING:

2 cups sifted flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
2/3  cup milk
1 egg, slightly beaten

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Preheat oven to 200/gas mark 6. Mix the sugar, flour, salt, berries, and lemon juice and pour into a baking dish (13 x 9-inch in the babyccino recipe). Dot the butter on top and bake for 15 minutes until it’s hot and bubbly. While the fruit is cooking make the biscuit topping by mixing together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour mix with your fingers until it’s roughly mixed in. Add milk and beaten egg and stir with a fork until mixed.

When blackberry mixture is hot and bubbly, spoon the biscuit mixture on top in 10 or 12 blobs. Return to oven for 20 minutes until biscuits are browned. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving with lots of lovely vanilla ice cream.

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As it seems summer is almost over I thought I’d record what’s left on our bucket list of things to do – a mix of arts and crafts, activities and places to visit (I figure those we don’t manage can carry over to next summer!!)

  1. Visit London Zoo
  2. Make a summer playlist
  3. Sort out our garden
  4. Visit a strawberry farm
  5. Make fruity ice pops
  6. Do coloured bubble paintings outside
  7. Paint pebbles, shells, sticks
  8. Make a summer mobile
  9. Press flowers
  10. Have a teddy bear’s picnic in the garden
  11. Water pistol fight
  12. Boat trip or family bike ride along Thames
  13. Visit National Trust gardens
  14. Catch shrimp in rock pools
  15. Make flower crowns

And here’s what we have ticked off the list

  • Go camping in new bell tent (Dorset)
  • Go on holiday (to France and Scotland)
  • Make fruity ice cubes
  • Have picnics under trees and cloud watch
  • Go to the market to buy summer fruits
  • Eat lots of watermelon
  • Make lemonade
  • Ice cream dates at Gelateria 3Bis in Borough market (we are now addicted to their takeaway boxes – 500ml or 1L!!)
  • Run through fountains
  • Make sandcastles
  • Make a mini beach in a jar and lobster footprints
  • Make ice animals
  • Make paper boats
  • Paddling pool
  • Have lunch in a pub garden

(To be honest we’re slightly ok with the end of summer, the heat is not great for preggo me and I think we’re a bit knackered from all the lovely holidays and fun – the last few days have been the laziest ever with too much Cbeebies). That said we’re off to San Sebastian early September to celebrate mum’s 80th with her family and will be staying by the beach so a little bit of Indian summer wouldn’t go amiss!)