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Journalist and writer

Archive for April 2010

Cake made with 100 per cent love

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Every year (twice a year), it is the same thing: I have a compulsion to make my children’s birthday cakes.

For me, it is a gift to my children that cannot be measured. It says, “I know I’m often busy, but I love you very much – and I baked a cake to prove it”.

This – as a statement in itself – is pathetic and I know it. (I do do other things to prove my love to my children, like talking to them, hugging them, kissing them and generally looking after them to the best of my ability).

Actually,  it’s probably more to do with compensating for the fact that I am often busy and cannot collect them from school or, on occasion, go to the school assemblies/special productions or workshops.

But it is important to me, and hopefully my children, that this small gesture is carried out each year. My guess is that they don’t care where their cake comes from, so long as there is one, but I love discussing the theme of it and having a go at decorating it.

I’ve done a handbag, Ariel, chocolate explosion, football pitch – or scoured the internet for a topper that they wanted.

It usually ends up costing two or three times the amount of a shop-bought cake. But I don’t mind. I hate the taste of the ready-made supermarket cakes. They are too sweet and I don’t like the jam and buttercream in them.

This year, the (shop-bought – I’m not totally mad) fondant was a disaster: too soft and it wouldn’t mould at all. In a panic, I dashed to the cakemaking supply shop and was told in supercilious tones that I needed gum tragapanth. The assistant might as well have rolled her eyes in disgust when I explained I had no idea what she as talking about.

Anyway, this magic powder, once kneaded into the sticky fondant, transforms it into something mouldable and easy to work with. And, reader, I am delighted to tell you that it worked a dream.

It put me 24 hours behind schedule because you have to allow the time for the alchemy to work. The jewellery box cake had all the hallmarks of a homemade confection: it was slightly wobbly; the fondant cracked on the sides and I rolled it out in such a way that it didn’t quite fit in parts. My cutting skills also leave a lot to be desired.

But it was made with 100 per cent love for my not-so-little girl – and she loved it.

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Written by CommonPeople

April 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

My fantasy meal: a meme post

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I was tagged by Tara over at Sticky Fingers, who was looking for bloggers to join in her fantasy meal. It is a fun challenge – deciding your favourite meal  and then choosing the companions from TV/movie and book worlds for each course.

What a great challenge! Not only do I get to think about food, I get to think about Johnny Depp again…

It was more difficult than I thought. I have at least a top 20 list of puddings, at least five starters and a couple of mains to choose from. Yes, I do have a sweet tooth. But here it is: my fantasy meal + companions. Enjoy.

Drink:

Latte. If I am out and about, I MUST have a latte somewhere, somehow, even if it means the children having a cake so I can indulge my weakness. You’re right, you simply cannot have latte as a *must have* drink.

Oh – OK – Champagne. If I must. Vintage, please, or it’ll make me feel a bit weird and “bleach in the tummy” feeling.

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Who will I drink this delicious bubbly with? My husband, of course.  Or Johnny Depp. Don’t let me get in the way of a pic of Johnny Depp here *sigh* Sure my husband won’t mind …

Starter: spinach, red onion, avocado ciabbata and parmesan salad.

My favourite starter EVER is audaciously simple, but incredibly lovely.  I always have this when it’s my “birthday meal”. I could eat bowls of it.

The cubes of cheesy ciabbata are made into parmesan-topped croutons, very crunchy and warm, while the crisp raw baby leaves and red onion are raw and vibrant. The avocado adds a delicious creaminess.

Who would I love to delicately munch this salad with?

My companion for this course would be children’s book writer: Roald Dahl. His descriptions of food were mouth-wateringly fantastic or stomach-churningly gross. He would be fascinating company – he was my literary hero when I was young and I still love his stories now.

Main course:  Cheese-stuffed ravioli baked with tomato sauce and mozzarella

Another all-time favourite dish of mine (usually follows the starter from above). Homely, comforting and familiar, yet deceptively delicious. My children love this dish, so if we eat a “nice” meal as a family, there are no complaints, just appreciative chomping. Happy family moments are the best!

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But if I were to choose a movie icon to share this meal with, it would be Cary Grant *swoon*. Homely, familiar and deceptively tasty …

Pudding: Bailey’s and cream soaked brioche bread and butter pudding

Few of us in the family like Christmas pudding, so when I came across this recipe in a newspaper a few years ago, we decided to give it a go to finish our festive meal.  It is utterly gorgeous and indulgent, rich and creamy with a hint of naughtiness from the Bailey’s. Low fat, too *ahem*. We only eat this at Christmas. It simply would not do to have it at any other time of the year…

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Although if Colin Firth were around, I’d make an exception. And, no, he wouldn’t have to be dressed at Mr Darcy (although I wouldn’t complain if he did turn up looking 18th century dashing).

So, who can I tag now? I’ll add those later. But in the meantime, if you decide you want to join in this, add a link to your blog in the comment area. I’d love to know your fantasy meal!

Written by CommonPeople

April 13, 2010 at 9:09 am

“So, what is your Britain’s Got Talent talent?”

with 8 comments

Should pupils be involved in the recruitment of staff at their schools?

Some teachers think not.

A survey by the NASUWT has decried the practice, claiming that panels of empowered youngsters have asked them frivolous questions as part of the interviewing process.

According to reports yesterday, teachers have been humiliated by the questions, which are in the vein of “if you could be on Britain’s Got Talent, what would your talent be?”

They claim they have been robbed of their dignity. They also claim the process is “dangerous”.

The union, which held its annual conference this weekend, claimed schools are guilty of democratising the relationship between teachers and children.

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There are inherent dangers with it, of course. But as a parent governor at a primary school, I hold my hand up and say we’ve done the same and it has worked exceedingly well, thank you.

The first time – as far as I am aware – that the governing body incorporated children in the recruitment process was a few years ago when we were appointing a headteacher. It was encouraged by the local authority and the diocese.

After the candidates had undergone a gruelling test, presentation and interview, they were unleashed onto the school council. All the candidates knew this was part of the process beforehand and children were given no more instruction than to offer insights into each candidate.

I cannot remember the questions they asked, but I am certain some may have been what NASUWT members have called “frivolous”. This is because children want to know if these adults who want to be in charge of their school are in tune with what they are thinking. They are keen to see if the adult is interested in them – or if they just want to run a business that happens to have children in it.

I am not sure youngsters would really understand answers to question of policy. Although if my memory serves me correctly, candidates were asked how they would deal with a child who is upset because of bullying.

It was an interesting insight into the personalities of these apparently child-centred adults.

The one thing that struck us on the interview panel was that the children drew very similar conclusions to us.

They had a good idea which of the candidates would fit in well with the school and those who would not; they liked the people who valued the children’s opinions and who interacted positively with them.

No one is suggesting that the successful candidate got the job because of the children’s interview, but their opinion helped.

The NASUWT complain that pupil panels can be demeaning, embarrassing and humiliating.

Like everything else in life, there need to be checks and balances and there are potential pitfalls – particularly when internal candidates are in the fray. But if they are used in a sensible way, they are a valuable asset to the recruitment process.

(I might also add that I happen to think the “Britain’s Got Talent” question is an excellent one. It tests an adult’s creativity and illustrates whether or not they are on the same wave length of their charges. I wish I could ask those kinds of questions on interview panels.)

Written by CommonPeople

April 4, 2010 at 4:32 pm