Older women - we need you!!

Have you read the comments from the “Moms Need Help” post of 'like a warm cup of coffee'?

Here’s a sampling:

“Life has been hard and busy lately and I can’t remember the last time I truly took a breath.” -Sarah

“I am exhausted…as a mom, a wife,… a human being. I feel I have nothing left to give and the harder I try to find time to rest the faster the interruptions and distractions seem to come. I so need a place to rest and to be refreshed but feel like I have no where to go. I just want to breathe again instead of feeling like I am holding my breath.” –DMS

“I’ve been praying long and hard for God’s provision for a chance to rest, but even more, for that heart connection of someone who has ‘been there’ to walk alongside me. Sometimes (most times) I am overwhelmed at how much I still have to learn, how much I want to grow.” –Erica

“Most days I feel like I’m failing at motherhood.” –Crystal

“I have four under the age of three, and just feel overwhelmed.” –Jessica

“I feel so exhausted – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.” –Jacqui

photo credit

“Yesterday I struggled so much and by the end of the day was a heap of emotion on the floor.
I feel like I just need to find myself again and rejuvenate to become the best mom I can be. I don't like feeling like I am drowning in the job of motherhood. I want to be a strong, patient, loving, Christ example to my children and husband.” -Nicole

Older women, we need you! 
We need you to come alongside us to teach us and to help us.
Many women feel like they are drowning – can you lend a hand?

Is there a mum of little ones in your church or neighborhood you can help?
How about a family member?

I know you’re tired or busy, but these are the mums that are raising the next generation – they need you to persevere so that they can.

Will you help?

'Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.'
-Titus 2:3-5

- Kj

Innocence: It's a good thing!

I recently read this post on 'Eat The Damn Cake' and thought I'd share a little of it, as it's so good. I hear so often about how I am 'sheltering' my kids and how they won't learn to cope in 'the real world' that it was refreshing to hear another perspective.

You should skip over there and read the whole thing, but in case you don't I've stolen the first few paragraphs for you.

So here it is. Enjoy:

You know what I don’t like? The “real world.”

People sound so mean when they talk about it. Once, an ex-boyfriend who was still hurt yelled at me, “You don’t know anything about the real world!”

I thought of this:

(A street fight. That’s what it sounds like. source)

Or maybe it looks like this:

Whenever people say “the real world,” they mean that there’s another world, a fake one, that someone is trying to live in. And that is always bad.

But I especially dislike it when people talk this way about kids. “They need to learn about the real world.” When people say this about kids, they mean that they’re too sheltered, or too spoiled, or too safe, or too innocent.

Sometimes people defend things as awful as bullying by saying, “Well, it’ll teach them to deal with the real world.”

As though this place called the real world is full of cruel people, just waiting to torment you. What a terrible place! I don’t want to live there!

The Last Wedding!

Well, obviously not the last wedding I'll ever attend - but this was the last wedding in our family as my baby sister was the last 'Mather' to get married. With us all being girls there dies the lineage of those bearing the family surname.

The wedding was absolutely beautiful. There are hundreds of photos (check out the twitter hashtag #GeMark)

As some of you may know, I made the cake(s) for the wedding. The couple wanted devil's food cake and left all the rest up to me - Hooray for a bride who's relaxed enough to let you just get on with things!

I ended up using italian buttercream frosting with 'whiter white' in to make it more wedding-y. You can see how to make this on my rainbow cake post.

Would you believe that for this wedding I cracked and separated 196 eggs, and it was only the 193rd that I managed to get any yolk in the white? That must be some kind of record!

I also think my oven deserves some special mention, because it was on for 17 hours straight!

The cakes came out lovely though, and Gem crystallised some cornflowers for me to decorate it with.

The final presentation cakes looked like this:

The frosting was also sprayed lightly with pearlescent spray to make it shimmer, then sprinkled with a little rainbow dust.

The wreath around the edges was made from little wooden hearts and stars to go with their outdoors, woodlandy theme.

The Rainbow Cake

So many people have been asking me for the recipe for Elisha's birthday cake, so I thought I'd post it here for y'all.

I'd love to be one of those beautiful blogs that has step by step photo instructions for each step, but that would take a ridiculously long time, so you'll just have to put up with the few photos I have.

Step one - Making a rainbow cake mix

The first step is a basic white cake recipe, doubled, with whatever flavouring you want to add. I've used lime. You will need:

  • 2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons lime juice
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • Red, Yellow and Blue food colour gels (very important)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x9 inch pan or line a muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the lime. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth.
  3. Split the batter evenly into six bowls.
  4. Colour each bowl with gels and stir well (red+yellow = orange, red+blue = purple, blue+yellow = green)
  5. Pour batter into grease and lined cake pans and bake at 190C until just starting to brown. Watch them, because they will go very quickly as they are thinner
  6. than your average cake
  7. Set aside to cool

Here I'd like to add a quick word about gel food colour. It is definitely worth the investment. The colours are so vibrant. You couldn't get the same effect with food colouring unless you used tons, which would alter the consistency of your batter and also make your cake taste horrible (whilst
filling your little ones up with E-numbers). Food gels require a tooth pick full
in each bowl for these quantities and will give you a lovely strong colour, without affecting the liquid content or flavour of your batter.

You should also make sure you bake the cakes in colour order if you only have one pan/spatula (like me). That way, if there is any batter left from the previous cake it sort of blends ;0)

Step Two - Filling and crumb coating
    1. For this step you need to make a kind of meringue mixture. Start off by putting 3 cups of sugar and a half cup of water in a pan. Place it over a low heat and swirl it until you have a lovely sugar syrup with no crystals left in it.
Do not let it brown or it will colour your frosting.

Once your sugar syrup is ready, quickly whip up four egg whites in your kitchen aid (or other electric whisk) and then leave it whipping at a high speed as you gradually drizzle in the hot syrup.

It is very important that you add the hot syrup slowly whilst the m
    1. ixer is on a high speed. The egg whites are going to be cooked by the sugar, but if they aren't being whipped at the same time you will end up with a heavy lump instead of light fluffy frosting.

Once it's all added leave the mixer running for 10-15 minutes or until the frosting is completely cool. This is very important too. As the sugar cools, it solidifies, and we want it to by solid with lots of tiny air bubbles in it, not a hard lump at the bottom of the bowl.

Scared? Don't be. It's really very easy.

Once it's done, layer up your cakes in colour order with plenty of frosting in between each layer and crumb coat
it. Now place it in the freezer whilst you move on to...

Step Three - Decorating

This step requires some more of the frosting from step two, you should have some left, but if you don't, quickly whip up another batch.

Change the whip attachment on your kitchen aid for the paddle/beater and slowly add butter (100g) and the juice of one lime. You frosting will go soupy, that's fine, just keep beating it and adding a little confectioners sugar until it becomes useable again.

Bring your cake out of the freezer (it should be hard and super easy to frost now without crumbs going everywhere) and cover it beautifully.

Sprinkle with rainbow dust, grate lime zest on and add candied limes around the sides. Cut up some dragonfruit and arrange it in a star on the top of the cake. I have to say I was slightly disappointed with the colour of my dragonfruit. I expected it to look like this:
But unfortunately I seem to have bought a white one, so I jazzed it up with some strawberries. Add a candle and you're done!

Classroom Secrets

If you haven't watched 'classroom secrets' yet on iplayer, you definitely should. It will give you a new respect for primary school aged children all over the country. It's about a school where they allowed cameras to follow a class and showed parents their 'real' (although obviously somewhat edited) behaviour throughout a school day.

It's interesting that my husband and I both saw this documentary from completely different perspectives. He immediately sympathized with the teachers (being one himself I suppose it's natural) and said he found it amazing that anyone would want to work with a group of primary age children that size (he has worked in a junior school before, but with much smaller class sizes). He pitied the teacher for having to try and manage the kids day in, day out.

I noticed a few things too, but from a completely different angle. I could see the teachers were exasperated, even tired. The was an example of one little boy, called Corey, who had a one to one teaching assistant for two hours every day. The teacher only had one child to deal with (although there were still other children present) but she allowed him to get away with wasting hours of time messing about 'getting a drink' or making himself something to eat, despite the fact he told her openly he was doing it to avoid class! I understand the teacher being at a loss when she has a large group of children to control, but one-to-one for two hours, surely you could keep a closer eye on what the child was doing. Especially if it's your sole object with no other distractions. It's not like she's an exasperated mother who has to finish making dinner, tidy up, do the laundry and get the child to concentrate!

The second thing I noticed was how annoying it must be for children who do want to work in that environment. It reminded me of 'The Office: An American Workplace' I always thought it would be so hard to get anything done with a boss like Michael Scott

or a colleague like Dwight Schrute

but being in primary school is like trying to get on with work surrounded by 36 Michael's and Dwight's constantly. It's no wonder they get despondent and/or lash out.

One of the teacher's strategies was to place disruptive children next to children who were less 'distractable' (read 'disruptive'). This instantly flared up an objection in me that wanted to say to her 'you are punishing compliance!!' By placing children who are 'good' next to children who are 'naughty' you drive the good child insane and surely lower their productivity, and therefore the standard of their education too.

Then I thought a little longer and realised that placing all the disruptive children in one place would basically be writing them off. They would never get anything done or have the inspiration to improve their behaviour as they would be distracted by other disruptors constantly. Although the compliant children would be happy.

It's a no win situation, and to be perfectly honest, it's one of the many reasons I believe the best education is a home education. I doubt there is any parent in the world who would have less more than 36 children (although, if you do, fair play! That is very impressive). Most families have at most five with the average being below three. This means that children can truly get an individual education. Children who want to work will be allowed to get on, instead of being sat next to disruptive children in an attempt to improve the productivity of someone who generally does not want to work.

Instead of a disruptive child being allowed free reign because the teacher is dealing with someone else, the parent who knows and loves the child, and desperately wants what is best for them, can do whatever is necessary to get the work done, including carrying discipline over into other areas of life, not allowing them to 'leave it at the school gates'.

That was something else that I picked up on. One of the boys responded so well to praise, and yet his mother didn't know about it. The school had picked up on it, but because he spent more of his waking hours there than at home, his own mother had no idea that affirmation was his love language, and couldn't understand why he was coming home with stickers all the time.

Another little boy was regularly receiving awards and certificates for positive contribution. His mother had no idea, because he had never brought them home. The school really wanted her to back up their affirmations with praise for his efforts, but she had no idea that he had received any recognition. I thought it was so sad that his mother had no idea how he was doing.

It was a recurring theme throughout the programme. Particularly one set of parents who said they weren't sure who to believe out of their daughter and the teacher (their girl had been accused of swearing, amongst other things). The documentary showed her swearing and also writing the word 'F***ing' on a whiteboard, and her parents were shocked. She had always denied swearing at school, and they had clearly believed her. The consistency in the theme of parents not knowing what was going on was what saddened me the most. Children should not be able to live two lives. We train them in honesty, but unless we are there to catch them, how can we know if they have really learnt the lesson, or if they are just clever enough not to get caught? How can we encourage accountability when we allow them to leave so much behind when they leave home/school?

The fact that the documentary was even proposed shows that, as a society, we just accept that parents don't know what is going on in our children's lives. That we have to film them to find out how they behave on a daily basis.

I'm resolved in my decision to home school (for more reasons than just this) but if anyone out there is unsure, I suggest watching the documentary, and keeping an open mind. The choice to educate your own children is always available to you.

Making Jam

We went on a lovely walk yesterday to collect blackberries from the Priory Country Park. It was a beautiful day, and despite the rain when we set off it turned out lovely enough for the buggy to end up covered in discarded coats and jumpers.

The bushes by the lake were really fruiting early, but the ones in the woodlands still have a long way to go. Obviously the kids ate about two tonnes of blackberries each, and whilst Matt and I were much more restrained, we certainly had a few. Sweet and delicious.

This is a great time of year to collect berries, because although there are some sweet juicy ones, you can also find plenty of tart, not quite so ripe, ones. These are perfect for making jam as their pectin content is still very high. Lucky for me, my bread machine also doubles up as a jam maker (who'd have thought it?) so I don't have to spend hours over a hot stove and I still get to benefit from lovely jam.
We are making blackberry and oregano, although I have plenty of plums and pears that are not quite ripe yet, so I may try a few of those too. Yum yum.
If you are wondering whether 'blackberry and oregano' was a typo, then you should check out my previous post on fruits and herbs.

Why you should make your own jam:
  1. it's delicious.
  2. it's cheap - especially if you forage for ingredients!
  3. it's fun for kids to help with.
  4. it's a great learning opportunity, even a toddler can be shown how to weigh out equal quantities.
  5. it's nutritious and doesn't have all the E-numbers and preservatives that shop bought jams do.
If you are interested in making jam, the easiest way is to buy jam sugar. It already has added pectin, so you don't have to mess about adding anything else. Just measure equal quantities of fruit and sugar into your bread machine and then select the 'jam making' function (assuming you have one).

If you don't have a fancy bread machine, you can still make jam. For everything you need to know about getting started, there was an excellent article in the Guardian by Darina Allen that you should read.

Homemade jam

UPDATE: The blackberry and oregano jam is delicious and worked beautifully. I thought I'd also share very quickly some of the health benefits/facts associated with the ingredients.

  1. Berries have recently been pinpointed as a leading source of compounds thought to produce health benefits for women, due to their high concentrations of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens, literally "plant estrogens", have been of interest to the scientific community b/c of their possible roll in prevention of both breast and cervical cancer. Studies now indicate that berries may contain some of the highest levels of phytoestrogens. These compounds act as a natural form of estrogen. During studies at the Univeristy of Helsinki in Finland, scientists measured eight different berries for their phytoestrogen level, and concluded that blackberries had the highest level of phytoestrogens followed by strawberries. (Northland Berry News Fall 2001)
  2. Blackberries are considered to be an astringent because of their high tannin content. Studies show that tannins tighten tissue, lesson minor bleeding, and may help to alleviate diarrhea and intestinal inflammation. German health authorities recommend blackberries for mild infections including sore throats and mouth irritations. Traditionally, blackberries have been used to alleviate hemorrhoids because of their rich tannin content. Scientists have also reported anti-tumor properties associated with tannins found in some varieties of blackberries. Future research will explore the implications for treating human cancer. (wholehealthmd.com)
  3. Blackberries abound in antioxidants, such as anthocyanin pigments, responsible for the purplish-black color of blackberries and may impart health benefits because of their antioxidant properties. Additional antioxidants in blackberries are vitamins C and E, and ellagic acid; all may provide protection against cancer and chronic disease. Cooking does not seem to destroy ellagic acid, so even blackberry jams and desserts retain ellagic acid health benefits. Interestingly, blackberries are a natural source of salicylate, an active substance found in aspirin. Potential benefits have yet to be explored and some experts advise caution to particularly aspirin-sensitive individuals. Because of their many tiny seeds, blackberries are a source of soluble fiber, such as pectin. (wholehealthmd.com)
  4. Berries: source of lycopene and ellagic acid, phytochemicals that prevent the cell damage that may lead to cancer. Blackberries are one of the few fruits that contain heart-protective vitamin E. Berries also strengthen blood vessels, protecting eyesight and reducing heart disease risk. (IDG books, 1999)
  5. Blackberries are high in fiber and vitamin C. They are effective in the treatment of watery diarrhea, weak stomachs, inflamed throat, and laryngitis, as well as when applied externally in the treatment of wounds. (vitabit.com)
  6. Research is indicating that dark colored berries, such as blackberries are rich in phenolics such as anthocyanins and ellagic acid. These are potent antioxidants. (Northland Berry News Summer 2001)
  7. We have all heard about the importance of antioxidants in forestalling the aging process. Just as your metal saw left in the elements rusts due to oxidation, your body deteriorates due to the effects of oxidation. Antioxidants fight the process of aging by fighting off the diseases associated with old age. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which can damage DNA molecules and lead to cancer. They also counteract environmental carcinogens, protect against cardiovascular diease, fight sun damage to skin and may thwart the effects of Alzheimer's and other age related disorders. Blackberries are among the top ten foods containing the highest antioxidant levels.
  8. Their flavor is one of the greatest reasons to eat blackberries. Beyond this rich flavor, blackberries, like all berries, are nutrition all-stars. A handful of these delicious berries provides a powerful team of nutrients including vitamin C, folate, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. To top it off, one cup or handful of blackberries supplies 8 grams of fiber, including cholesterol-lowering pectin. The fiber rich seeds contain high levels of ellagic acid, a potent antioxidant that battles cancer in many different ways. Blackberries with their high fiber content reduce the risk of developing diabetes and intestinal disease such as diverticulosis, as well as fight against obesity. The deep blue and purple colors of blackberries top the charts as the leading disease fighting pigment. Foods rich in this brilliant blue color, the anthocyannin pigment, quench more free radicals in the body than any other food, protecting against all disease. (saveonfoods.com)
  1. Oregano contains impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.
  2. The herb parts contain no cholesterol; but are rich source of dietary fiber which helps to control blood cholesterol levels.
  3. Oregano contains many health benefiting essential oils such as carvacrol, thymol, limonene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene. The leaves and flowering stems of the plant are strongly anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, cholagogue (help gall bladder secretion), diaphoretic (sweat production), expectorant, stimulant, and mildly tonic properties. Its decoction is taken by mouth for the treatment of colds, influenza, mild fevers, indigestion, stomach upsets and painful menstruation. Thymol is also been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal activities.
  4. The herb is rich in poly-phenolic flavonoid anti-oxidants (vitamin A, carotenes, lutein, zea-xanthin and cryptoxanthin) and has been rated as one of the plant source with highest anti-oxidant activities. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
  5. The active principles in the herb may increase the motility of the gastro-intestinal tract as well as increase the digestion power by increasing gastro-intestinal secretions.
  6. This exotic herb is an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Iron helps prevent anemia. Magnesium and calcium are important minerals for bone metabolism.
  7. Fresh herb is an excellent source of antioxidant vitamin, vitamin-C. Vitamin C helps body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
  8. Oregano is a proven super "functional food". This herb is one of the foundation bases of healthy Mediterranean diet in addition to olive oil, fish and lots of greens, herbs and vegetables. It has an excellent nutritional profile; just 100 g of oregano herb provides:
Dietary fiber- 107% (Percent of RDA)
Folates- 69%
Pyridoxine- 93%
Vitamin-C- 83%
Vitamin-K- 518%
Iron- 550%
Carotene-ß- 4112 mcg.
(RDA- Recommended daily allowance)

So there you have it. Delicious and good for you. Enjoy!

Fruit and Herb combos

Hello and welcome to my blog! If you've migrated over from www.katiejogracie.webs.com, great to see you! Unfortunately I was having a lot of problems with the server over there, constantly crashing, so I've come back to safe and reliable old blogger.

I'm going to be slowly migrating all the old posts over here, as soon as I work out how!

In the mean time, I thought I'd write about something fairly new to me, but that I'm just LOVING which is serving fruits with herbs. The first reason that I love this idea is that herbs (fresh ones) are so good for us. They are absolutely packed full of nutritional benefits, and you can read more about that by clicking here.
The second reason I love it is that people don't expect it. Everyone has heard of serving peaches and cream, but what about peaches with basil? Once your friends have tried it they will think you are a culinary genius (the hard part is convincing them to try it though)! I'm definitely going to be putting my own spin on this for me and Elle's birthday BBQ on Saturday by serving up a peach and basil pavlova. I'll let you know the guests responses in an update.

Thirdly, it's great for introducing little ones to a wider variety of flavours, which are gentle on little taste buds and won't have them screaming 'spicy!' at the first bite.

And finally, it's just delicious. I'm sure you've tried some of the classics (apple and rosemary; raspberry, lime and mint) but I thought I'd list a few of my favourite combos so you can experiment at home too.
There are a few ways you can cook using fruit and herbs: mixing them chopped in a salad or salsa, pureeing together for drinks or popsicles, cooking them down together in compotes or sauces, or using herbs to infuse anything from drinks to custards. So without further ado - here is my list of wonderful fruit and herb combinations to inspire you!

Strawberries and Basil
Strawberries with balsamic vinegar and black pepper
Pineapple and Mint
Kiwi and Thyme
Blackberry and Oregano
Cucumber and Corriander
Melon and Dill
Pear and Sage
Pear and Rosemary
Watermelon and Mint
Pink Grapefruit and Tarragon
Green Apple and Parsley
Lemon and Thyme
Lemon and Black Pepper
Orange and Tarragon
Cherry and Sage
Plum and Lavender
Lime and Rosemary
Blueberries and tarragon
Raspberries and Lemon balm
Grapefruit and Corriander
Coconut, Lemon and Lemongrass
Have fun experimenting! Remember to comment if you come up with a new idea that you think I should try. Comment before Saturday and it may just make it to our celebrations.
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