Christmas Baking with Gryf

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When it comes to cooking with children I’d love to be at the Stephanie Alexander end of the spectrum and welcome children into the kitchen with wide, open arms. I’m afraid I’m more at the actress Jane Kennedy end of the spectrum. Jane wrote a column for Sunday Style magazine describing her internal grimace whenever her children ask if they can help in the kitchen and I belly laughed with empathy.

I know it is important to cook with children. I cooked with our daughter Isabelle, 20, nearly every weekend when she was younger. Now we are reaping the rewards when she visits and offers to cook dinners and desserts. I admire her ability to combine ingredients, take a recipe and make it her own with improvisation, and her enthusiasm for cooking from scratch. Her latest brownies were a taste sensation.

Our youngest, Gryf, loves to “help” in the kitchen and has been trying his hand at mixing, beating and baking since he was old enough to stand on a chair and reach the kitchen bench. I try to be enthusiastic and involve him in what I’m doing. Of course at four-years-old he is most interested in making sweets. On Sunday mornings he’s there on a stool “helping” mix the pancake batter with beaters. Birthdays are a favourite time because he can “help” make a multitude of dishes in a short period of time. Lately, I’ve discovered it’s more relaxing for me to “help” him make something he wants to make, rather than vice versa.

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Leading up to Christmas Gryf was keen to make Gingerbread Christmas Biscuits so I found a handwritten recipe for Gingerbread Men given to me by a friend, Jodie. I love this recipe because it makes the most delicious gingerbread I’ve tasted (we sampled Jodie’s recipe at a playgroup Christmas party years ago). I also just enjoy looking at architect Jodie’s handwriting and notepaper. Isn’t it something?

I helped Gryf mix the biscuit batter and use a rolling pin to flatten the base dough. He chose a few different biscuit cutters, Christmas trees, angels, stars, and gingerbread men with ‘bites’ taken out of them, and was all smiles as he pressed the impressions into the dough. He loved decorating the biscuits with icing (the lemon gives it a lovely tang) and we found some silver cachous pearls in the cupboard to add some biscuit bling. You could play around with piping the icing onto the biscuits for a more decorative effect. Then you’re all set to bring a plate for end of year Christmas parties or share a homemade gift with friends.

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Jodie’s Gingerbread Men

Ingredients: Biscuit batter – 125g unsalted butter, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup golden syrup, 1 egg lightly beaten, 2 cups plain flour, 1/4 cup self raising flour, 1 teaspoon bicarb soda, 1 tablespoon ground ginger. Icing – 1 egg white, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 1/4 cups icing sugar.

Method: Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Mix butter, sugar and syrup, add egg gradually. Sift dry ingredients into wet mixture and mix with a knife until just combined. Combine dough with hands and knead on board for a couple of minutes. Roll dough to 5mm thick and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Cut dough and cook for 10 minutes or until lightly brown (Jodie advises taking them out when they are only just turning brown otherwise they’re too crunchy). For icing, beat egg white until foamy. Add lemon juice and icing sugar gradually and beat until foamy. Enjoy.

Have you tried Shakshuka?

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Back in March I tore a Jill Dupleix recipe for Shakshuka (baked eggs) http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/cook/spicy-shakshuka-20130218-2em6i.html from the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food supplement. I’d never heard of Shakshuka, but something about the combination of the rich tomato sauce and baked egg appealed to me. We often have a glut of tomatoes in February so I filed this recipe away for tomato season.

Since first reading about it in March, I kept coming across Shakshuka references in the food media. When I travelled to Melbourne in August I headed to Brunswick Street for breakfast after catching an early morning flight. The menu at Martha Ray’s featured Shakshuka and I was excited to try it (the kind waitress was forgiving of my hesitant pronunciation). With its Middle Eastern spices, thick tomato sauce, and soft-cooked egg, Shakshuka didn’t disappoint and I returned home eager to try Jill Dupleix’s recipe.

I made Shakshuka to share with friends and they know it as Sicilian Eggs. So while Shakshuka has Middle Eastern roots, my guess is different cultures and families have their own versions, perhaps with different names. Do you have your own name for Shakshuka?

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With litres of frozen preserved tomatoes on hand Shakshuka has become a regular dish at the Trousdale household. I prefer a richer tomato flavour, so I don’t always use eggplant or capsicum if they are not in the house or garden. Shakshuka can be served in invidividual cast iron pans, but if you’re cooking for a family a baking pan works well. This is my interpretation of Shakshuka if you’d like to try it.

Rich Tomato Shakshuka

Ingredients: Olive oil, 1 Spanish onion, four garlic cloves, 800g tinned tomatoes, tablespoon of tomato paste, six Chorizo sausage, bunch of mixed greens (kale, silverbeet, English spinach, broccoli leaves), stems removed and leaves chopped roughly, teaspoon harissa (optional), teaspoon ground cumin, teaspoon paprika, four to six eggs depending on size of dish and number of people. Salt, pepper, parmesan and slices of rustic loaf of bread to serve.

Method: Preheat oven to 160 degrees celcius. Slice Spanish onion thinly and soften over a medium to high heat in a tablespoon of olive oil. When onion is softened, lower temperature to medium heat and cook garlic until soft (two minutes). Add Chorizo and cook until firm, then slice and return to the pan. Add 800g of tinned tomatoes (I use thawed preserved tomatoes, but tinned tomatoes are delicious too), a tablespoon of tomato paste, a teaspoon each of harissa, ground cumin and ground paprika, and chopped greens, and simmer until thickened (about 20 minutes, depending on how much time you have, the flavour only gets better with more time). Add water if need be and simmer to adjust sauce consistency. Transfer Chorizo and tomato sauce to a baking pan. I love the visual appeal of the red tomato sauce in a red rimmed Falcon enamel baking pan, but use what you have. Depending on the number of eggs you are using, make the same number of ‘dishes’ with the back of a ladle or soup spoon in the sauce mixture and crack an egg into each. Cover the baking pan with foil and return to the over for about 10 minutes. When eggs are baked to you liking, spoon mixture and eggs into bowls and serve with slices of rustic bread (sometimes I serve with cous cous and a salad). Enjoy.

Grandma’s White Wings recipe box

Grandma's White Wings recipe box is among the latest personal treasures to be unpacked at the new old house.
Grandma’s White Wings recipe box is among the latest personal treasures to be unpacked at the new old house.

Moving out of half of the shop to our eight acres just outside Nundle last year came with the unusual advantage of not having to move everything straight away. We had the luxury of being able to camp out in the new old house and rip up carpet, sand floors, and paint without working around furniture. The downside is that 18 months later we haven’t finished moving. I am promising myself that when our youngest starts school next year I will empty the shop warehouse of all our personal gear.

Most weeks I chip away and bring a few goodies from the shop to “Cudgee”. Recently I brought home my grandmother’s White Wings recipe box. I don’t remember seeing this red box in Grandma’s flat or house, but I am fond of it because it reminds me of Grandma and it is a time capsule of its era (I’m guessing the 1940s, but correct me if I’m wrong). I love the simple typography and layout of the recipe cards, recipes for things like Brawn, Mock Duck, and Curried Rabbit, and housekeeping handy hints for How to Iron Silks!, Damping Down, and Hanging Out!

There are also some recipes in Grandma’s hard-to-read handwriting on little yellowing cards, or on sheets of paper folded to fit the box. I remember her handwriting was always a mystery to my eyes, more like a spider web on paper than letters forming words. I always fancied the slim silver pen she kept in her handbag to write important notes in her small silver covered notepad.

The recipes remind me of Grandma’s sweet tooth, there are handwritten cards for Lemon Butter, Toffee, One Egg Chocolate Cake and Boiled Pineapple Fruit Cake. When I posted a photo of the red recipe box on our Odgers and McClelland Facebook page one of our Friends asked for the Mulberry Crunch recipe (only the title was shown in the photo). Here it is:

Mulberry Crunch (from the White Wings boxed recipe collection, circa 1940s)

Ingredients: 2 cups Mulberries, 1 cup Sugar, 1 1/2 cups White Wings Self Raising Flour, 1 cup Brown Sugar, 2 tblsps. Butter.

Method: Stew mulberries in their own juice with 1 cup sugar. Place in a greased ovenware dish. Into flour and brown sugar, rub the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Spread over mulberries. Bake in a moderate oven till pale brown. Serve hot or cold with custard or cream.

Making Marmalade

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Nundle can be a bare, pared back landscape in winter and I thrill to see the brightness of oranges on trees with their lush, green foliage. When we travel by car in winter we play a game of spot the orange tree. Sometimes the orange trees are lovingly tended in gardens, while others are remnants of abandoned gardens, the houses and occupants long gone.

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Cormac and I were spectators at a Peel Valley small schools athletics carnival recently, but the high jumpers, sprinters, and long jumpers didn’t hold my attention. I was distracted by half a dozen orange trees growing in the far north east corner of the recreation ground. One of the host teachers encouraged us to pick a basket full before we left. They were planted for the community to share.

ImageI come from a family of enthusiastic jam makers. Mum and Dad have always made jam from their excess fruit and Duncan’s blackberry jam is legendary. After buying eight acres outside Nundle, Duncan’s “to-do” list doesn’t leave much room for making jam, so it’s over to me. I trawled our recipe books for a Marmalade recipe, settling on Choice book, Food Preserving at Home, by John Gross. Our youngest son Gryf is a keen helper in the kitchen, but he found the zester hard to handle in his four-year-old’s hands.

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With such beautiful marmalade in the house we couldn’t spread it on a commercial, sliced loaf, so I whipped up a couple of country style rustic loaves. Breakfast became an event. Slicing the dense, homemade loaf of bread, and spreading toasted slices with the chunky, orange, syrup marmalade.

ImageWe had enough jars of marmalade to share so I made brown paper hats for the jars and tied them with twine from our shop. Orange of course. Apart from eating it ourselves, the biggest buzz comes from giving the marmalade away – great Father’s Day presents for my dad and father-in-law, and a gift for neighbour Judy for sharing her time and gardening knowledge.

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Orange Marmalade (Source: Food Preserving at Home,  John Gross)

Makes about 7 x 250mL jars (boil jars and lids for 5 minutes to sterilise)

Ingredients: 4 cups thinly sliced orange peel (about 6 large oranges), 4 cups chopped orange pulp (about 6 large oranges), 1 cup thinly sliced lemon (about 2 medium lemons), 6 cups water, 6 cups sugar. I use a zester on the orange and lemon peel for a finer peel consistency.

Add water to fruit in a saucepan. Heat to simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. Cover the mixture and let stand for 12-18 hours in a cool place. Cook over medium heat until peel is tender, about 1 hour. Measure fruit and liquid. Add 1 cup sugar for each cup of fruit mixture. Bring slowly to the boil stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly to the jellying point, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour hot marmalade into hot sterilised jars leaving 6mm head space. Wipe jar rims and tighten lids. Enjoy liberally on toast.

Catering at the Bull Sale

ImageAs a community, Nundle hosts 15 annual events. Not bad for a population of 300 people. Adding to those 15 annual events are several on property ram and bull sales, that are events in their own right.

This week I helped my girlfriend Toni Swain cater for the Wombramurra Black Simmentals Annual Bull Sale This sale is particularly special to me because owners Peter and Judy Howarth introduced us to Nundle and helped us settle in and make our way. I walk past the Wombramurra Saleyards several days a week with my dog Polly.

When our boys and I play in Nundle Creek, the neighbouring Wombramurra Black Simmental bulls peer at us with curiosity, attracted by the noise and movement.

Over the past few months we have seen the magnificent bulls being prepared for the sale.

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Owner, Peter Howarth, and manager, Andrew Chapman, have a distinctive method of preparing the bulls so they are in excellent condition.

Large groups of bulls graze narrow strips of fenced pasture, verdant green feed up to their bellies, black as a country night sky.

The groups eat the pasture out, covering the soil with trampled pasture, manure and urine, and are moved on to the next strip, a planned holistic grazing method developed by Allan Savory.

On the day of the sale flags flutter a sense of occasion at the Wombramurra Saleyards’ trademark black painted timber gate entrance.

Past the driveway corridor planting of mature gums the bulls are displayed in timber fenced pens. Peter Howarth and Andrew Chapman talk with the agents handling the auction sale and prospective buyers start to arrive.

ImageToni has been at the sale complex since 6am. She is catering for 100 people and sits making Curried Egg and Lettuce Sandwiches, while her partner Jeff “Gibbo” Gibson chops onions. Toni has been cooking for days – Chicken and Vegetable Pies, Chicken and Vegetable Quiche, Vegetable Quiche, Beef and Vegetable Soup, and Shredded Beef in Spicy Gravy and half a dozen cakes and slices – in her Rayburn wood fired cast iron enameled oven. This is fortunate as only the day before Nundle’s electricity supply was cut off for five hours. Toni could still cook without power.

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By mid morning prospective bull buyers and stock and station agents amble their way to the catering shed decorated by Judy Howarth with seasonal flowering golden wattle.

It is soon clear that the traditional fare of Scones with Homemade Strawberry Jam and Whipped Cream, and Marinated Steak Sandwiches with Fried Onion and Salad are the popular choice.

ImageThe sale brings together local Nundle property owners and bull buyers from further afield. It is a social occasion as much as an auction.

After midday it is time for the business end of the day. The bulls have been moved from their pens to the cattle yards behind the auction stand with tiered bench seating and a raised shelter for the auctioneer.

A bull kicks up dust in the yards, oblivious to the care and time put into his presentation.

ImageIt’s a pleasure to watch the theatre of the auction. Andrew Chapman guides the bulls into the sale ring and even an industry outsider like me can admire the health and condition of each beast.

The auctioneer expertly scans the audience for bids and closes sales to Nundle, Mudgee, Gulong and beyond.

ImageMy work is done. I walk to the car, my basket packed with chopping boards, kitchen knives and sharpening steel.

Toni drops in on her way home with payment thanks in leftovers.

Picking greens and cooking with eggs

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This morning I helped Duncan with a new delivery of Falcon enamelware and among the bake sets, saucepans and mixing bowls were colanders, wrapped in tissue paper and nestled inside one another. The enamel colanders reminded me how much I love picking salad greens from the garden, giving them a wash under the tap and making an instant salad for lunch. So when Gryf and I arrived home we picked lettuce and flat-leaf parsley, added green olives, capers and balsamic vinegar and olive oil and served with last night’s left over Egg and Bacon Pie for lunch.

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I’d love to share the recipe for Egg and Bacon Pie (by Jill Dupleix) because it is great for when you have eggs in abundance. We are down from four to two Isa Brown hens thanks to the local fox population and illness (sour crop), but we still have a build up from time to time. Just yesterday morning Duncan suggested I “Cook something with eggs”. The Egg and Bacon Pie recipe works equally well for small individual pies, made in 16cm Falcon enamel pie dishes or a muffin tray. I love the way you can see the equivalent of a boiled egg when you cut the pie into wedges. It looks attractive on the plate and is delicious to eat. Be adventurous and adjust the flavours to please.

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Egg and Bacon Pie, adapted from Jill Dupleix

Ingredients: 4 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed, 2 tbsp oilive oil, 1 onion, finely chopped, five cloves garlic, finely chopped, 5 thick streaky bacon rashes, rindless, 10 free-range eggs, plus one extra, beaten, 100ml milk, 3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped, 2 tbsp grated parmesan or cheddar, sea salt and black pepper

Heat oven to 190C. Line a lightly oiled 22-centimetre pie dish (or individual pie dishes, or muffin tin) with pastry, pressing any joins to seal. Chop onion and garlic and soften in olive oil until golden. Chop bacon into three-centimetre pieces and fry until lightly crisped, then drain. Whisk five eggs with milk, parsley, cheese, salt and pepper. Scatter half the bacon, onion and garlic on the pie base and pour in the egg mixture. One at a time crack five eggs into a cup and gently slip them into the mixture. Scatter with remaining bacon. Brush the pastry rim with some of the extra beaten egg and lay remaining pastry over the top. Crimp the edge with a fork, trim off any excess pastry and brush top with beaten egg. Bake for 35 minutes or until lightly golden brown and cooked through. Cut pie into wedges and serve with salad or cooked vegetables. Serves 6 (or four with leftovers for lunch the next day).

Pastry-making Long Weekend

ImageIt’s leading into the June Long Weekend and at Nundle, in northern inland New South Wales, the weather is appropriately wintery. It’s overcast and showering outside and the fireplace is flickering orange and yellow, the flames warming us through to our bones.

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With children at home and a relaxed, unrushed Long Weekend feeling in the house there’s sure to be baking involved.

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Having declared it Pie Season weeks ago, I’ve dug out one of my favourite go-to pastry recipe to share (originally published in a Donna Hay magazine years ago). It’s ideal for a family pie base and crust, but also suitable for individual pies. I hope you like the firm texture. It might become one of your favourites too.

Hot Water Pastry

Ingredients: 160g butter, 1 cup water, 3 1/4 cups sifted plain flour (I like the taste and texture of Demeter stoneground organic flour), 1 teaspoon salt, 2 eggs

Method: 1. Place butter and water in a small saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Place flour and salt in a bowl.

2. Add eggs and hot butter mixture to the flour and mix with a knife until combined. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and combined.

3 Divide pastry into three, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to 4mm thickness. (I find it easier to handle pastry by rolling it between two sheets of baking paper).

4. Line tins or pie dishes with pastry and roll out pastry for lids. Refrigerate for one hour.

5. Fill the pastry case/s with pre-cooked filling and brush rim/s with water. Place extra pastry on the pie/s to make lid. Trim excess pastry and press edges together using a fork. I like to brush pastry with an egg or milk glaze. Cut a small hole in the centre of each lid. Place in pre-heated moderate oven to heat filling and brown pastry (about 20-30 minutes). Enjoy.

Pie season

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“Didn’t we have this yesterday,” our eldest son, seven, asks as I serve dinner. “No, it was last week. It’s pie season. We’re going to be eating a lot of pies,” I explain. So with left over roast chicken to use and my taste buds set for individual chicken pies, I couldn’t help making a crust to remind him of our conversation. He had a chuckle when I set it in front of him. Then proceeded to eat the letters one by one and gradually devour the pie.

Chicken Pie adapted from The Cook’s Companion, Stephanie Alexander

Ingredients: Left over roast chicken, cut into bite sized pieces (300-400g for four people), salt, ground pepper, 2 tblsps plain flour, 1 onion finely diced, four garlic cloves thinly sliced, 150g unsalted butter, 1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley and sage, 2/3 cup milk, 1 cup cream, 1 egg, puff pastry.

Method: Dice left over chicken and toss in seasoned flour. Melt half the butter in a frypan or casserole dish. Saute diced onion and garlic over low heat, add garlic until softened. Tip into bowl. Melt half the remaining butter and saute (cooked) chicken until heated through. Transfer to bowl of onion and garlic. Repeat with remainder of butter and chicken. Toss chicken with onion and garlic and add parsley and sage. Return half the mixture to the pan and add half the milk and half the cream and allow to bubble for 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining chicken, milk and cream. Combine both batches.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Mix egg with a pinch of salt to make egg wash. Trace outline of pie dish rim onto puff pastry sheets with knife and cut out (outline letters with knife and cut out if desired). Ladle chicken filling into 16cm individual enamelled pie dishes. Place pastry lid on top (and letters) and brush with egg wash. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and mixture is bubbling around the edges.

Random Weaving

ImageThe sight of spice coloured rattan coils was enough to have my fingers itching to start our random weaving workshop with Harriet Goodall.

ImageAs Harriet explained the boxes of weaving materials, whips of prunus prunings, rings of ivy, sheaths of Bangalow Palm, and decorations including emu feathers, silver discs of honesty, and sculptural seed pods, any previous ideas of basket weaving were thrown out the window.

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From Harriet’s one set of verbal instructions, 11 women created totally different interpretations of randomly woven baskets, working quietly and enjoying the companionship of other makers.

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We could hardly bring ourselves to stop for lunch, but Toni Swain’s Picket Fence Produce menu of dukkah flatbreads with canellini bean dip, dukkah and harissa, chickpea and cous cous salad, honey spiced eggplant, and chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives smelled delicious. The setting in the Nundle Public School garden shed, next to the vegetable garden, was delightful.

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We returned to work, the physical and thoughtful task of weaving completed, and the frivilous thrill of decoration ahead. I added parts of my collection from our garden; a 1921 penny, dried sunflower heads, yellow and grey cineraria, and Nundle Woollen Mill mustard coloured yarn. All too soon Harriet announced we would have our group show in five minutes. We stood back and admired all the works, hardly believing we would take home a random weaving creation of our own.

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Mother’s Day Love Tokens

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Available in store and online: Ginger grater, $9.95; Ceramic juicer, $9.95; Ceramic Pie Vent, $9.95; Timber Bird House, $29.95; Falcon Enamel Milk Saucepan, $14.50; Cooking Twine on Spool with Scissors, $29.95; Falcon enamel teapot 1.2 litres, $31.95, with Falcon enamel 300ml mugs, $5.50 each; Belgian White Chocolate covered Junee Licorice, $5/100g; Mason Cash 125mm bowl, $8.95; Marius Fabre box of six pure Marseilles soap, $39.95; Beech timber with natural Tampico fibre nail brush, $7.50; Vintage Bobbin Egg Timer, $24.95.

I am playing around in the shop photographing products for Mother’s Day gift inspiration. As I choose goods to photograph on my daughter Isabelle’s old bedside cabinet I hear my mother’s words, “Don’t spend a lot of money”. So I’ve chosen bits and pieces that don’t cost a fortune, but will let Mum know you are thinking of her. We all know it’s the things that don’t cost anything that matter most. Isabelle showed great insight when, aged five, she bought me a pre-loved, rainbow coloured, resin necklace for five cents at a school Mother’s Day stall. I wore it until it broke and I still have it in pieces in my jewellery box. Here is my Mother’s Day Wish List for Sunday, May 12:

1. Espresso coffee in bed while I read for 10 minutes

2. Buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup

3. Handmade card

4. Something crafty made at school (macaroni necklaces are tops)

5. Time scratching about in the garden, while the boys play superheroes

6. My three children in the nest (not always possible with a daughter away at uni)

7. Family dinner cooked by Duncan. Always delicious.

8. Tuck two exhausted boys into bed with a good night kiss

9. Relaxing bath, with bubbles and bubbly!

10. Settle in for ‘Call the Midwife’ with a box of tissues