Monthly Archives: April 2012

Doughnuts, but not deep fried

Hello! Doughnuts that are delicious. But not deep fried.

A new year ritual in southern Italy, is to make zeppole, or doughnuts. They are unbelievably delicious and my aunt would make them (whatever time of year I went, because I would nag her) and lay them out on dishcloths (to soak up any excess oil) – one cloth on the bottom, one on the top. As such she built up a sort of doughnut grid system after a while. I was immensely skilful because I would take them out strategically – whilst she was frying the next batch – so that the cloth didn’t sink to reveal any tell tale dips.

By the time she discovered there were gaps, it was too late. I was gone, out into the street to play ‘fazzoletto’. Innocent, greedy, slim days, when all excess calories were worked off playing outside til long after the stars were out.

My aunt would coat hers in cinnamon sugar. I’m not sure how I feel about cinnamon. It makes me feel claustrophic sometimes, all cloying and needy.

Anyway. Years ago, I bought a mini doughnut tray from Lakeland. Don’t go looking for it now though as they discontinued it some time ago; probably because it realised that, although the tray was perfectly good, the recipe that came with it produced pretty crap little cakes. They didn’t taste like doughnuts at all, just very average tasting, round little sponge cakes that weren’t even very brown.

Nevertheless, I kept the tin, and the recipe. And today, whilst my children and I were swinging in the pod chair in the garden, I had the idea of making some more.

Except this time, I thought, I’ll cook ’em and then shallow fry them for a minute or two. And what do you know. They are brilliant. I think they’d make great little accompaniments to a home made ice cream or served with chocolate ganache you can dip them into. Although, for me, nothing beats a simple doughnut simply rolled in vanilla sugar.

If you want to try these, you can get a similar-looking tray from here. (Update note: I now have two of these Judge tins and they are better than the original one I bought from Lakeland!)

This is how you make them. They are ridiculously easy and quick, so warm the oven up the moment you decide to make them.

For 12 mini doughnuts you need:

75g  plain flour
half a teaspoon of baking powder
quarter of a teaspoon of salt
55g caster sugar
60ml of milk (I used semi skimmed)
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon of olive oil
half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

Put the oven on at 160C.

Grease the mini doughnut tray. Little fingers love doing this. Let them get on with it as it’s annoying.

Mix all the ingredients together, thoroughly, then pour into the doughnut tray. The mixture will come about three quarters of the way up.

Put in the oven. Cook for fifteen minutes. Take out the incredibly unpromising, anaemic looking doughnuts. (Test they are cooked: if you press them they should spring back.)

Heat up a frying pan with some sunflower oil.  You need only enough to coat the bottom, like a puddle’s depth. I have a cast iron frying pan (which I seasoned from scratch, because I am HARDCORE) so this retains the heat beautifully. Then  you just fry the doughnuts, about 1-2mins per side. Put on kitchen paper and as soon as you can, throw them around some vanilla sugar.

If you eat these warm, and you should as there is nothing nicer, they will probably give you rampant indigestion.

Tagalong bikes or trailer bikes

The Roland Add-a-Bike


I ride a Nihola trike and have done for about four years now. It’s what I do the school run on and, aside from the harshest day in winter, I use it instead of the car for around town.

I will do a review on the Nihola soon, just haven’t yet. I don’t know why I just never seem to get down to it even though I love my Nihola more than is decent.

When my eldest got to eight years old, I thought it was about time she started to ride her own bike to school. Except. I wasn’t really ready for her to ride her own bike to school. I mean, she can ride, beautifully (we are Islabike fans) but we tend to let her ride mostly off road or just meander along. As a parent I realise you take all sorts of risks you’re comfortable with. I co-sleep with my children, which some consider a risk. I pick them up when they cry, which some consider a risk (that they will turn into monsters and be forever crying just to be picked up). I let them feed themselves, which some would worry about (the choking). I don’t Dettox everything and let them eat things that have fallen onto the floor (at home) and don’t always insist they wash their hands. I let them climb walls and trees. And I let my children use screens: iPads, computers etc. All of which some parents consider risky, irresponsible behaviour.

But I’m comfortable with all of that.

I’m not, however, comfortable with letting my eldest cycle to school, yet. So I thought a trailer bike was in order. You know the things? They hook up to the back of a normal bike, so the child gets a sense of being in traffic, she cycles, so gets valuable exercise (and believe me, this is a help when you’re cycling a Nihola with another child already in the box trailer up front) but is totally attached to the adult.

I’d written about tagalongs a while ago and done a lot of research. So I knew that the tagalong bike I wanted had to fit onto the pannier rack at the back of the adult bike, not onto the seat-post (the people I really listen to in cycling, none of them recommend that latter sort of fixing tagalong as it compromises the stability of the adult bike). The problem was that the only tagalong that did this was the Burley Piccolo which had gone out of production and second hand ones were fetching silly money on eBay.

The fabulous Islabikes used to do a trailer bike (I use the term tagalong and trailer bike interchangeably, they are the same thing), but I rang and spoke to Isla herself who told me that although she would probably do them again, there was a problem with sourcing one of the components and for the moment, she wasn’t making any new ones. A visit to eBay showed me that her trailer bikes were also exchanging hands for about the price of what they’d cost new.

So I was stuck. Then I rang Brixton Cycles and spoke to the fabulous Barnaby who has always been super  helpful and straight down the line honest with what he recommends, even if he doesn’t sell it. And he told me about Roland add-a-bikes which fix onto the back rack and are sold by Bikes and Trailers.

I think it was Sean I spoke to and the service was excellent.

So I got one and it is brilliant. I can’t comment too much on the stability because of course, my Nihola is a trike. But it comes with its own pannier back rack (so if you already have one, you’ll have to take it off) and the actual bike slots into the back quite easily. You can take it off if you do the school run and leave it there and then re-fix it when you pick up in the afternoon.

I umm-ed and ahh-ed about getting one with gears (it comes in 3 or 7 gear versions), or not. In the end I decided not to to keep the cost down. The one extra I did get (retrospectively, but wish I’d got it before) was the kick (two-legged) stand. It’s really useful if you regularly taken the trailer bike off and it has to stand on its own, because it can’t stand on its own otherwise…I hesitated because it’s not cheap at £34 but some things are just really useful and you have to bite the bullet.

If you were to transfer this bike from one adult bike to the other regularly, then you’d really need to also get the extra back rack. You can’t use the Add a Bike without it.

Just to add to this: I spoke to Isla last week to ascertain what was happening with her trailer bike, before I wrote this blog post. She told me she had no immediate plans to re-introduce it but it’s something she would think about doing in the future. She did however tell me that the Burley Piccolo is going back into production. I’ll keep you posted.

In the  meantime, we cycle to school now looking like a giant cycle crocodile. My youngest in the front in the Nihola box, me on the Nihola and my eldest on the back. The Nihola box allows me space for one more child and lots of shopping…who needs the gym.

One important point to add (thanks Claire), it’s not relevant for me with all the passenger space, but you can still use this tagalong and fit a child seat on the back of the adult bike. If you look at the Bikes and Trailers website you can see.

Willie’s Delectable Cacao Single Squares

Happy Easter. This is what I got today instead of an Easter egg. I really love plain chocolate, preferable 70% cocoa one, for a real punch.

You can get these Single Squares from Waitrose and they cost from £1.80. Not cheap (they weigh 50g) but the chocolate is excellent; I much prefer it to Green and Black’s dark chocolate which I find bitter. And I’d rather have a hit of really good chocolate than lots of cheap, sugar-filled stuff.

The ones I got – you can see them above – were hazelnut and raisin, ginger and lime and luscious orange. They are all delicious. There are others that are just chocolate: milk, plain or white.

I haven’t managed to ascertain what the fairtrade credentials, if any, are (I do try to buy fairtrade wherever possible). But you can read more about Willie’s chocolate  here.

Stylus pens for iPad and iPhone

Stylus pens for use with iPhone and iPad.  Incredibly, they work.

Years ago, when electronic organisers first started making an appearance, you could get stylus pens to write on said appliances with. I always thought they were a bit wankerish. I mean, if I want to write with a pen, I’ll write with a pen.

I’ve got an iPhone and an iPad. My children regularly use the iPad (I don’t let them near my iPhone). I’m really not one of those people freaked by the thought of children and technology; but then, I’m a total technophile. I know how to control my technology and I’m not afraid of screens, and my children use them as part of a very balanced life.

But then, I got sent some sort of iPad magazine recently and in it were various ads for iPad/iPhone pens (I’m sure they work on other tablets/smart screens, but I don’t know, we’re an Apple household). This piqued my interest, since I thought they’d be really good for some apps on the iPad and  my partner has got really bad tendonitis from using his iPhone. So I reappraised my thoughts on stylus pens.

(Just to really smother myself in smugness, let me tell you that I taught myself to use my left hand – not naturally my dominant hand – to use my mouse ‘n’ stuff some years ago when I got such bad RSI I couldn’t turn the pages of a magazine. As I was a fashion editor at the time, not being able to turn the pages of a magazine was a really Big Bad Thing.)

Anyway I bought one that had good reviews from Amazon and weren’t too expensive: some are really dear. The one I bought is the Universal Capacitive Stylus Pen and it cost £5.99 for two. I wouldn’t really pay more than that: no need as you’re bound to lose it. Plus it may stop working in a few weeks: I’ll report back.

Thus far it’s really good. Great if you suffer from fat finger syndrome on the iPhone, but really comes into its own on the iPad for some of the apps that involve writing and drawing. Much more intuitive than using a finger. I don’t think I’d take it out with me but for around the house/on the iPad it really helps keep your hands in a more natural position that that swipe thing you have to do. Of course I’m NOT A DOCTOR and its use may lead to even worse injuries. But I trust the Daily Mail will keep us informed of those.

There is a lead that you plug into the headphone socket to keep it safe, but you have to unplug it to use it.

Sun-San Sandals

Navy Salt Water Originals

Really, for quite a long time now, I’ve been looking for “Jesus sandals” that were popular in my youth. I couldn’t think of a more perfect sandal for a small child.

But they were nowhere to be seen. The closest I ever got were Birkenstocks, but, in truth, I was tiring of the overly large foot print.

Then, quite by chance, @sunsansandals started following me (@AnnalisaB) on Twitter and there they were. My perfect child-hood sandals: Sun-San. Which I hadn’t imagined at all. (And the style I remembered is called Surfer, shown in red below.)

They were American, but date back to the 1940’s. They came to the UK last year and they’ve become, I hate to say this, the sandal du jour for children. I don’t mind this since they are

a) incredibly practical – they can withstand salt water and can be washed in the washing machine
b) sensible – I’m not a Lilli Kelli kinda mum
c) gorgeous looking in that understated way – I’m not insane
d) proper sandals, therefore not cheap (average price: £34) but comparable with StartRite or Birkenstocks.

(Otherwise I just hate following trends, I am so contrary.)

Although I wanted to get both my children a pair – how cute would a three year old look in the Surfer style in red or tan? – in reality the youngest has some already that are perfectly okay and I can’t justify spending £70 on two pairs of sandals.

But I did want to get my eldest some, since she needed something for the summer anyway (and Birkies, what she usually wears, cost the same). Today we found ourselves in Liberty with her Godmother who, so so kindly, bought her a pair. We got the Saltwater Original, which weren’t the actual Jesus sandal I had planned on getting for her. But I left it between my daughter and her Godmother. Some transactions a mother shouldn’t interfere with.

Side view, you can just see the fringes of my mother’s incredibly ornate carpet
You can find stockists here. Although I’d personally advise trying them on in person first if possible: we tried them on in white first and they were huge, same size in navy fitted perfectly; otherwise pretty true to size I’d say. They range in price from £34-£40 and come in six designs/twelve colours, sizes 0-adult 3.
Apparently they are way cheaper in the States so if you know someone who lives there or are going there, that may be a way to save some pennies!Update: I couldn’t resist and bought my youngest a pair too. I don’t regret it, they are gorgeous and make me happy every time I see them.

I love these sandals so much I want to eat them.
An update in late August 2012. Well Sun San has now launched its own online shop, which should help with the stock situation. I relented and bought myself a pair, in silver (£55 which included p&p). Me and my girls have worn almost nothing else but our Sun San sandals all summer and I cannot tell you how brilliant I think these sandals are. We have gone in the sea with them, gone surfing wearing them, built sandcastles and they look like new.
Weirdly, also, considering I find really flat shoes hard to wear all day, my feet don’t hurt (anymore than they would anyway walking all day) in these. I get asked about them all the time and my friend Wendy bought seven pairs (or thereabouts) the moment the shop went live.
You do need to buy them so they are slightly tight I think. I’m a true 37 which is a 4.5 UK and I was unsure whether to get a 5 or 6 in Sun San. When I first tried on the 5 they felt too tight – as in not wide enough (obviously the length has to be right, they don’t get longer!) I also tried the 6 and they felt really comfy from the off. But instinct told me the 5 would stretch and they did. Plus once you get them wet – and I recommend you do – and they dry on you, they’ll be no more rubby bits. I never once have had to wear any sort of plasters with these.
Is it clear how much I love them? And just so you’re absolutely sure no-one is telling me to say this let me assure you that I have accepted no freebies or discounts in relation to these sandals *
The sandals after surfing
My sandals.
A family of Sun San sandals. Now we just need a men’s version.
* Well, this is no longer true. The UK distributor gave me a pair for free as a thank you (she had tried to give me a free pair in the spring and I said no) and I’m afraid, this time, I said yes thank you. Because I’m greedy, and a little bit broke after all the shopping I’ve done.