Category Archives: Sophie is baking

Perfect pumpkins

The unschooling diaries: week forty-one

This is not a reflection on my amazing pumpkin-carving skills, but rather just a realisation of how the humble pumpkin makes a perfect vehicle for learning.

Our pumpkin journey began back in May, with three tiny plants from Rocket Gardens. Arthur helped me plant them, and over the weeks that followed we watered them and watched them grow.


And grow.


And grow!


To be honest I had probably been a little ambitious with the amount of plants we tried to squeeze in to our raised beds, but the pumpkins soon made a break for freedom and found the space they needed by crawling across the deck.


Arthur has been asking since August whether it is Halloween yet – he has been desperate to bring the pumpkins inside and carve them into lanterns. And this weekend we finally did.


He was bursting with excitement as we cut the pumpkins open and scooped out the seeds and flesh from inside


He had very clear ideas about what he wanted to create from his pumpkins: a ghost, a spooky dog, and an astronaut (we had to pilfer a squash from our veg box for the third one).

We looked online for images that fitted his vision, and then he guided me as I drew the outlines on the orange skin. We worked together to carve the shapes out, using Arthur’s ‘ghost knife’ that we’d picked up this time last year and a handy little saw.



As soon as the lanterns took shape Arthur sought out candles to illuminate them, insisting that we took them somewhere dark immediately for a better view and staring full of wonder when night began to fall and he could watch the flames flicker at the kitchen table before we finally dragged him off to bed.


This was only the start for the pumpkins, though.

Whilst Arthur and I had been carving their shells for Halloween lanterns, Leigh had been busy making pumpkin pie for Sunday lunch.


And once the carving was done, we dried and roasted the pumpkin seeds for snacking on – a real treat in my nut-allergic world where every packet of commercially available seeds warns of possible cross contamination!


There is even a portion of pumpkin puree left in the fridge, waiting to be cooked up into Halloween cupcakes this afternoon.

Honestly, who would have thought a simple vegetable could bring so much joy – and so much learning? I think we’ll all be sad to see the pumpkins go once this week is out. I’d best get thinking about what we can grow next…

Arthur’s bluenana muffins

On Saturday afternoon Arthur and I decided to make muffins. Faced with an abundance of blueberries and very ripe bananas, as well as a few hours to kill whilst Leigh knuckled down to some revision, there was nothing else for it really.


I decided to go for a paleo recipe – coconut flour, coconut oil and no added sugar. We’re not strictly paleo here by any means, but I do like to mix things up a bit. And if I’m taking the time to bake I figure it makes sense to go for something nutritious and delicious – especially since Arthur’s current diet is beginning to look a bit stereotypically toddler-esque for my liking…

I’m pleased to say that Arthur took the whole thing very seriously. He was particularly taken with the gloopiness of the eggs, and almost managed to whisk them without spilling half of them on the counter. Almost.



He was happy for me to keep an eye on the recipe, resuming his duties once everything was ready for the final mix – again using the worktop as the testing ground for the consistency, natch.



(I decided at this point that the batter was looking a little bit too solid, and added a generous glut of coconut milk to the mix. This might not necessarily have been a very good idea…)

Arthur’s attention wavered at this point, and he left me to get the muffins into their cases and on to cook whilst he got started on a second batch.



These ones took way less time to cook, and it was mere seconds before he ran off to grab his unsuspecting taster.



I can only imagine that dolly decided they needed a little more time, as they were soon back in the oven for another burst of cooking.


By now fortunately the original bluenana muffins were starting to waft their almost-cooked scent across the kitchen, and Arthur could barely contain his excitement.



A few minutes later and the muffins were finally ready. Despite my insistence that they needed to cool, Arthur was straight up there to check for himself, blowing on them impatiently.


He just about managed to hold off until they were no longer boiling hot, and proceeded over the next hour or so to eat six. Six! I’m very glad I went for a healthy recipe is all I can say…


I have to admit though that I was not overly enamoured with them. It may well have been the extra coconut milk but fresh out of the oven they were a bit soggy for my liking… We managed to keep a few back and they were admittedly much tastier after a day in the fridge. Though Arthur wasn’t interested in them at all then! Go figure…

All in all it was a highly entertaining use of a couple of hours, not just the ‘real’ baking, but Arthur’s seamless segue into his imagination too. I will definitely revisit this recipe and see if I can’t perfect it a little: I’ll report back when I’ve had a bit of a play… In the meantime though there is a bunch of rhubarb in the fridge crying out to be made into oaty crumble bars. That’s tomorrow afternoon sorted then!

Brilliant blog posts on

Halloween creations


One of my favourite things about halloween is the excuse it brings to begin getting all creative again. It’s the time of year when the darkness is beginning to draw in faster than you can blink, the only benefit of which as far as I can make out is more hours to spend inside making things – and (whisper it) to begin limbering up those creative muscles in time for Christmas.

I had more ideas than I had time this year – predictably perhaps, but also because I’d set the end of October as the deadline for finishing the second draft of my novel. Despite that I still managed to fit in some little projects which I will share with you here.


Now Arthur’s costume this year was a piece of cake. He is still just a little bit obsessed with The Gruffalo, and having found him the perfect onesie and wellington boots his outfit for the best part of last week was sorted.


When it came to halloween itself though I was keen for Leigh and I to join in. Having toyed around with various ideas, all of which I quickly dismissed as way too ambitious, I set out to solve this creative challenge with two socks and a pair of tights.


The snake came first: a few bits of felt and a red pipe cleaner turning a green football sock into the easiest puppet ever.




Then came the fox. I’d already decided to pinch a pair of Arthur’s baby-led weaning ears, but I was not going to pull it off without a nice bushy tail. This is where the lovely orange tights came in: stuff one leg with a generous helping of toy filling (I had some kapok left over from another project but anything would do), then cover it with the other leg for a nice deep colour and extra stability.


I used some extra pipe cleaners to give the tail a bit of bend too, just twisting them down into the stuffing, then embellished the end with a couple more scraps of felt.


A length of elastic folded into the open end of the tights and sewn firmly and hey presto! A tail.


The second sock was going to be transformed into the owl, but I have to admit that I ran out of time, resorting to something I’d made earlier…


(It was actually the result of a make a monster kit from Donna Wilson that Arthur had been given last Christmas, but it does look an awful lot like an owl).

It all came together pretty well in the end, and alongside Arthur’s Gruffalo we had me as the fox…


And Leigh as the snake (and the owl)…


And together we were the cast of The Gruffalo!


Arthur actually won a fancy dress competition for his costume on halloween night. I felt a bit bad at first seeing as all the other costumes kids were wearing had clearly taken considerably more time and effort than slipping on his onesie, but then I figured that with us as his ‘props’ he could hardly not win really!


Now initially we had grand plans for Gruffalo pumpkins to go with our general theme. Arthur and Leigh had sat down to do some research a couple of days before, discussing possible images as Leigh hollowed out the pumpkins ready to begin.



But then we got distracted, and didn’t actually get round to beginning the carving till half an hour before we sat down for dinner on Friday. So we decided to go with something simpler, aiming for sort-of self-portraits. Leigh and I did our own, and then I carved Arthurs as a cat-mouse-gruffalo sort of creature. The resemblance is uncanny, don’t you think?




Now after all that lantern-carving we were left with an awful lot of pumpkin guts to deal with, and it seemed like a terrible waste just to throw them away. So I decided to do some baking – Arthur and I had a playdate during the day on Friday and it would have been a shame to turn up empty handed!


I used some of the pumpkin to make spiced pumpkin muffins using this recipe, and iced them with a cream cheese frosting – yum! I also rustled up some gingerbread cats for good measure – here’s the recipe for those, but they didn’t contain any pumpkin.


We had planned to put the rest of the puree into a pumpkin pie to enjoy after Sunday lunch with friends, but actually after a bit of research we discovered that your everyday pumpkin doesn’t actually make an especially good pie. So Leigh made a squash and sweet potato pie instead, adapting this recipe. It was so delicious I just had to share…


So there you have it: this year’s halloween creations. I’m feeling well and truly limbered up for christmas now. But that’s still ages away, right?

 photo 93142f35-6d39-479f-b3de-d94dbca68162_zps58499252.jpg

(Not so) guilty pleasures

It was Leigh’s birthday yesterday, and with a birthday of course comes cake. Cake’s always a bit difficult for me: I have an allergy to nuts, and the potential for cross-contamination makes sweet treats a bit of a minefield. The obvious solution is to bake them myself and in recent years that’s exactly what I’ve done. It took me a while to get over my fear of baking: I’ve come to love cooking over the years, but my approach is rather ad hoc. The experimental attitude never seemed so appropriate for baking: get the careful mix of flour and sugar and fats wrong, and it would all be a bit of a flop.

I finally started to chill out a bit after mastering the cupcake with the help of a friend and flat mate with whom nearly three years ago I actually made two hundred cupcakes for the sake of my wedding. There was still something that niggled at me though, and that was the ingredients themselves: however good quality they may be, there’s never going to be anything very nutritious about white flour and sugar.

Particularly since the arrival of Arthur I’ve been keen to keep empty calories off the menu as much as possible. Of course there will be times when we’ll treat ourselves or resort to unhealthy snacks for the sake of convenience, but if I’m taking the time to bake at home I’d rather try to create something a bit more worthwhile. And with a bit of online investigation, I soon discovered that there are rather more options for the simple act of baking a cake than I ever imagined.

The cake I made for Leigh’s birthday is one I’ve made a couple of times before, and every time I do I think it gets a little bit tastier. It’s nut free, gluten free, refined sugar free, instead being full of all sorts of natural nutrients – and despite all that it’s really quite delicious.


Beetroot and Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Avocado Buttercream



450g cooked beetroots

4 eggs

125ml melted coconut oil

125ml maple syrup

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp mixed spice

50g unsweetened cocoa powder

60g coconut flour


1 ripe avocado

50g unsweetened cocoa powder

125ml maple syrup


My favourite tool for speed baking with a toddler in tow is my hand-held blender: all my mixing was therefore done with this, though if you have more subtle methods I’m sure the result will be even better.

1) Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius

2) In a large bowl, mix the beetroot, eggs and coconut oil

3) Add the maple syrup, vanilla, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices and mix well

4) Add the cocoa powder and coconut flour and mix until smooth

5) Pour the batter into a greased cake tin – I used an 8 inch tin

6) Cook for about 45 minutes – longer if necessary – until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean

7) Allow to cool

8) Meanwhile, mix the ingredients for the icing until smooth

9) Spread the icing on the cake and decorate as desired (I used blueberries)


This cake was very well received at the end of Leigh’s birthday dinner last night, and tasted even better chilled with coffee for breakfast this morning. There was an undeniable wholesomeness to its flavour, but this was offset by the fact that it left us feeling well nourished and satisfied. As rich chocolatey pleasures go there was certainly a lot less guilt involved than you might expect!

Thank you to Sara at ‘Mum turned Mom’ for inspiring this post with her prompt ‘guilty pleasures’.


Tasty Tuesdays on