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For my nephew who loves farms

My nephew is quite a live wire and has certain things he really loves with a passion – fire engines for one, and farms (mainly pigs!) are another.  

For his 4th birthday we went up to Braintree, Essex, to Boydells Dairy Farm for a thoroughly entertaining tour with some of his little friends, around this well-loved and very much working farm.  The family who own it use the milk and eggs themselves and eat the poultry too.  The owner gave us the tour and really got the children involved in every aspect – feeding the sheep and goats, bottle feeding the lambs, milking the cow, collecting the eggs, petting the chicks, goslings and ducklings, finishing with a pony-and-cart ride.  My daughter, being half my nephew’s age, was not so keen on the pony cart ride – in the photo we have of her on board, she is desperately reaching to my husband for him to carry her off!!

Being a little boy, I knew my nephew would like chocolate cake, so I made a chocolate victoria sponge with chocolate butter icing.  I then covered the cake in light green regal icing for a ‘field’ effect.  I did this part of the cake at home (we live 2 hours from my brother’s family), and I carried this very protectively on my lap on the journey.

Once we arrived at my parents’ (where we were staying the night before the farm trip – they live close by my brother), I set to work on making the farm animals.  I had found a picture on google of fondant animals so I copied these.  I am no good at working from my imagination – I need to copy something I am afraid!  I’m not bad at copying cartoon images so I hoped I would be ok at copying something 3D.

I was using the 99p food colouring you get from the supermarkets, which didn’t help!  To make black (rather than grey) I ended up with a liquid!  So I had to paint the black onto the cow and the eyes onto the other animals.  I have now bought some gel paste colouring which is soooooo much easier – you only use a small amount.

I loved making the sheep – took a while rolling all the little white balls, but I think he’s very cute!

Here is the whole gang of farm animals on the cake:

Image

I tested my skills on my daughter by asking her to name the different animals – she got them all right.  So I figured if a 2 year old can tell what they are then they can’t be too bad at all!

My nephew and his brother and parents loved it – and I’m very pleased I showed them the cake before we went into the farm!

When we came out, the sun had been shining on our car where the cake had been waiting, but it looked fine so that was a lrelief.  However, we completely forgot to put it on my husband’s lap while we drove back into town to get some lunch and do the whole “Happy birthday” sing-song with candles.  As you can imagine, coming from a country farm the roads were very winding with lots of sharp turns.  By the time we remembered the cake was on the back seat, brown molten chocolate was seeping through the lovely light green grassy regal icing, the cling film had been pulled so the cow and pig’s ears were squished against their heads 😦

I managed to make it look marginally better, but my 4 year old nephew didn’t mind at all – all he cared about was blowing the candles!!

It tasted lovely by all accounts and they appreciated my efforts – which made me happy!

I now need some more little people to have birthdays so I can make some more little creatures as I really enjoyed it 🙂

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No cows allowed

My husband has just drawn my attention to something I’ve forgotten to mention so far in my recipe posts … none of them contain ‘actual’ milk.  So I thought that might be worth writing about.

I suffer from various food intolerance and my husband’s stomach can’t seem to tolerate any dairy products so we use alternatives in our every day lives: soya milk and vitalite are the main ones.

Most people turn their noses up at soya milk, but it’s usually because they’ve had the sweetened type rather than the non-sweetened.  We like any supermarket branded value/smart price ‘Unsweetened Soya’ at 59p a litre.  You can stock pile it in your cupboards and never run out!  And it has plenty of calcium and vitamin D so your bones will be happy too 🙂

Don’t get me wrong, I do love my Dolce Gusto coffee machine which uses cow’s milk, and a hot piece of toast with real butter on top is delicious (even if it gives me a rash!), but for cooking purposes – whether it’s for cakes or white sauce for lasagne – vitalite or dairy free sunflower spread works just as well.  I use it to grease the cake tins and for the ingredients themselves.  I guess butter icing should be called ‘vitalite icing’ in our house!

So if you look back at my 5 recipes so far, whenever I’ve listed milk or butter, I’ve always substituted them for the soya or sunflower alternative and the results are just as delicious.

When I’ve made birthday cakes for friends and I know we are going to be eating some of the cake with them, I don’t tell them it’s dairy free until they’ve eaten a slice – they always say they never would have known as there’s no difference at all in the flavour or texture of the cake.

When we first started using soya milk I was frightened that I’d never be able to have my favourite yorkshire puddings any more as I didn’t think soya milk would work the same magic as cow’s milk – making them rise and go crispy on the top yet be nice and stodgy at the bottom.  How wrong I was: just look at this picture of when I made us a roast dinner last Sunday:

A trick I learned from a friend of mine is to use a deep muffin tray.  This seems to keep them stodgy.  And they rose really well – always have a very hot oven and use very hot oil my husband’s always telling me.  I’d better not put the rest of my husband’s Yorkshire pudding tips or he’ll tell me off for giving away his family secrets!  I don’t think generations in the past would ever have used soya milk but it really works if you can’t tolerate milk.

I hope this post is useful both to those who struggle with dairy products like us; and for those who are lucky enough to eat everything with no problems, this may be helpful if you have any ‘dairy intolerant’ friends or family if you never know what to make for them when they come over for dinner.  The answer is to make exactly the same as you, just with a couple of alternative ingredients, safe in the knowledge they’ll work the same way as the real thing.

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