You get out what you put in

The yellow of the oilseed rape fields caught my eye on this morning's walk.

Ok, there are exceptions but I endeavour to follow this general rule and try to instil in my children that it’s important to make an effort, to do one’s best. Obviously not all the time (who am I kidding!) but if you want good things to happen then it’s generally worth taking the time to do things well. Random examples:

  • Preparing for visitors – we had three girlfriends and their daughters to visit this weekend (great excitement) and I wanted it to be a relaxing, fun time for all. I cleaned, tidied and made up beds, cleared spaces and cooked in preparation which meant I could relax and enjoy myself while they were here. Which I did. Immensely. (The food highlight was a sticky toffee pudding – recipe at the end of the post.)
  • Studying for end of term exams – I try to tread a careful path between letting the children get on with it and frantic lecturing. The eldest has his GCSEs next year and that’s when things Get Serious. I’m forever trying to explain that it really is worth doing the ground work now and studying as you go along. He sits with one earpod in, one earpod out and a look of studied indifference, but I’m hopeful that it does filter through. (My parents will be laughing as they read this!)
  • Working the soil – our soil here is chalky. Very chalky. Dig down to a spade’s depth in some areas and you hit solid chalk. So we must add compost and lots of it. We’ve been weeding and mulching, weeding and mulching and that will improve the soil structure over time and the plants should do well.

David has been having a great time over the last few days mixing concrete, slapping it onto stones and rebuilding a wall. And I’ve been admiring all his hard work.

David's wall.
David’s wall.
The old cherry tree is heaving with blossom. A strong wind will scatter the petals over the garden like confetti and I'll find it inside the folds of laundry drying on the line.
The old cherry tree is heaving with blossom. A strong wind will scatter the petals over the garden like confetti and I’ll find it inside the folds of laundry drying on the line.


Sticky toffee pudding (which went down very well…)

This is my friend Helen’s recipe. I adapted it to make the sponge dairy-free so my daughter could eat it but I’ll experiment with the sauce another time (when we don’t have guests). I’m not sure about the cream substitute – perhaps oat or coconut cream will work. I’ll let you know. These quantities make enough for 12 people but Helen regularly makes it for more so it doubles easily.

For the sponge:
175g pitted dates, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
60g butter (I used dairy-free block margarine)
175g light muscovado sugar (I used 100g golden caster and 75g dark brown)
2 eggs, beaten
175g self raising flour

For the toffee sauce:
200g light muscovado sugar (I used 100g each of caster and dark brown)
100ml double cream
110g butter

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Line a tin or baking dish (approx 22x30cm) with baking parchment.

Put the dates, bicarb and 225ml water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. I then whizzed the mixture in a mini-blender until smooth but you can leave it as is for texture.

Mix the butter (marg) and sugar, add the eggs, then the flour and mix to combine. Add the date mixture and stir thoroughly. Pour into your lined tin, pop in the oven and bake for 40–45 mins or until springy to the touch.

To make the sauce, tip all the ingredients into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring all the while, until thick and glossy. This takes about 5–10 mins.

Cut the sponge into portions and serve with warm sauce poured over the top. We had ours with ice cream and the girls licked their bowls clean (and tussled over the last of the toffee sauce!).


4 thoughts on “You get out what you put in

  1. The pudding sounds wonderful! Thanks for the recipe. I’m intrigued to read about your chalky soil; I have no experience with this at all. I assume it makes it difficult to plant things. Can the soil be amended to be more hospitable? I think your title is very accurate, personally; it’s one of the axioms I live by because it seems to be true more often than not! At least for me. Hope you’re having a good week so far, Sam. 🙂


    1. There are plants that thrive on chalky soil (which is free-draining and alkaline), such as lavender. Anything that likes it moist or acidic won’t do well but there are lots of plants that aren’t too fussy. We’re learning as we go along and hope to have more successes than failures!


  2. I suspect all our parents would laugh! I remember my daughter explaining how much better she revised with music full blast, exactly as I’d done to my mother. Like the look of the sticky toffee pud.


  3. I certainly laughed. Our elder son is at the same stage as your eldest and is Exactly The Same (the prospect of school exams next week seems to leave him entirely untroubled). Like the wall!


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