Bake like you mean it – Bananananana Bread

As Terry Pratchett said, it’s a very hard word to stop once you’ve started.

So.  For Sport Relief here at school we had a bake sale, one that did very well as we have a hugely talented team of bakers.  Cupcakes, cookies, sports-decorated gingerbread men, cookies, brownies, rice crispie cakes, did I mention cookies?  And banana bread.

Now the banana bread was a slow burn.  Problem is, it doesn’t look the most appetizing and it’s not visually grabbing like the Sport Relief cupcakes or the bright red cookies.  But those who did try it loved it.  Therefore, by popular demand, here’s the recipe:

To make 1 big loaf (or a couple of smaller ones) you’ll need:

  • Greased and lined loaf tin/s – No need to line all 4 sides, just do the 2 long sides and the base so you can lift the loaf out once it’s done.
  • 125g soft butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 over-ripe bananas, mashed – we cheat here and use a hand mixer to “mash” the bananas.  Works like a charm.  Remember, kids, the really sweet, ripe, bananas are the ones with all the black and brown bits on the skin.  Don’t be revolted because it’s not just on the yellow side of green.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 250g self raising flour.  Leave this in a bowl on the scales…
  • 1tsp baking powder (you can use plain flour, but you’d then need 3tsp baking powder.  And if you don’t have baking powder it’s 1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda and 1/2tsp cream of tartar to make 1tsp baking powder)
  • Oven set to 160C

Okay.  Lock and load.  This is an easy one.

  1. Mix butter and sugar until you’ve a paste.  You don’t need the full Kenwood butter/sugar->cream here.
  2. Mix in the mashed bananas, the vanilla extract and the eggs.  This gives you a gorgeous lumpy wet mix.
  3. Mix the baking powder into the flour then sieve this over the wet mix in 3 stages, folding in completely after each stage.  You want a mix that is still lumpy, not a silky smooth mush, so don’t over-fold.
  4. Pour into the prepared baking tin.
  5. Bake for an hour for a big loaf, 40 minutes for a pair of small loaves.  Test with a skewer when time’s up, if it comes out clean, it’s done.

I’ve had “issues” with banana bread being really, really, really slow to cook.  The first time I did this it took a good half hour longer (but still tasted great), so if the skewer comes out with batter on it, give it another 10 minutes and test again.  If it looks like the top’s burning, give it a foil hat at this stage.

Leave it to cool for about half an hour to an hour before you take it out of the tin.  Take it out too soon and mine have collapsed into a gorgeous, banana-bready crumbly pile.  If that happens, just add custard and pretend it’s what you meant to do all along.

This recipe has been adapted from the Banana Bread recipe found on page 209 of James Morton’s “Brilliant Bread” – this is the mark 3 for us according to my notes.  I have learned a lot from this book, most especially not to be scared of sourdough.  Get a copy.

A Very Gaming Christmas

As a family, we love games – especially games we can all play (aged 5+).  Board games, card games, computer games, roleplaying games…  So here’s a quick run-down of the games we played Christmas 2015.  Some we got as presents, some we already had, some we pretty much made up on the spot!


An old family favourite, and an excellent way to kill 10 minutes while you’re waiting for something else.  Even my youngest loves dominoes – and he’s pretty good at it as well.  For the older players, you’ve the strategy of working out how many 5’s have been played and if you can mess up the entire game by playing that 5:1 this way around.  For the youngers, you’re pattern-matching.  Great fun. And there’s nothing like the look of triumph on your youngest’s face as he slams down that last tile in victory.


A great way to teach kids some basic maths – cards add up to more than 21? You’re bust, pay up.  Probability – what’s the odds of drawing the card you need? Seriously? A 10?  Bust.  Pay up.  Strategy – do you stick on 16, hope the bank goes bust? And, ultimately, that the Bank always wins.

We play with a pile of pasta pieces for each player.  It’s always entertaining to see individuals’ piles get smaller and smaller, while the pasta mountain in front of the banker gets bigger and bigger.

Scotland Yard

Scotland Yard

Lots of little pieces, a map of central London, beginner and advanced games, and the ability to victimise one of your family members!  What could possibly go wrong?

This was a game we received this Christmas and broke out to play on Boxing Day.  Put simply, one player takes the role of “Mister X” and has to evade capture by the other players, moving around the map of London in a number of different ways – bus and taxi in the beginner game, tube and ferry are added in the advanced game.  The other players take the role of detectives hunting him down.  Some moves Mister X makes are made invisible to the pursuing detectives, recorded on a little tracker so that the other players can see they’re not making things up.  In the basic game, if the detectives capture Mister X before turn 12, they’ve won.  If Mister X evades them, he’s won.  The furthest any of us made it as a fugitive was turn 11.

The advanced game is a little more complex.  Detectives only have a limited budget of transport tickets to spend, starting points are randomised across the map, Mister X makes most of his moves invisible, only popping up from time to time to blow raspberries at his pursuers, hopefully from a comfortable distance away across the board.  Mister X also has to evade capture for a lot longer – 20-odd turns.  Again, 11 or 12 is about the most any of us have managed.

The detectives work as a team, moving after Mister X has made his move.

I’d definitely recommend this for players of 8 and over.  The game has a maximum of 5 players – 4 hunters and 1 Mister X.  The feeling of persecution you feel when being hunted is really rather unpleasant, but you do find yourself thinking about your strategy for next time long after you’ve finished playing.


Ticket to Ride – Europe

Ticket to RideTicket to Ride is one of the big hitters in the boardgame market.  I’d rank it up there with Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.  We bought 2 copies before Christmas, realised that one of the people we were going to give it to already had it, subbed for a different game and decided to keep it ourselves.

Up to 5 players work to build train routes across Europe to match the tickets they’ve got in their hands.  Tunnels and ferries act to complicate things a little (or they would if we’d played the full tunnel rules).  It can get frustrating at times, when someone else claims a route between 2 cities you need to complete your ticket, but there are usually multiple ways to do any given journey.  There’s a lot of strategy discussed across the internet, but we’re only just getting going.

This one is a bit more taxing for the younger players – I’d say our 8 and 10 year olds struggled to sit through the full length of the game – but a lot of fun.  Like Catan and Carcassonne, lots of expansions are available once you’ve got the base game down pat – map routes for the UK, darkest Africa, and so on, all with their own little tweaks to the main rules.

7/10, probably rising as we play more.

Fate Accelerated – Star Wars

A tabletop roleplaying game.  Largely made up as we went along, using the simple(ish) Fate Accelerated system.  The FAE book doesn’t contain any rules for playing in a particular setting, the Force, droid abilities, and so on, were all made up as we needed them.

Basic premise of the game was that while the battle of Endor was ongoing, another group of Rebel agents were to infiltrate the Imperial shipyards on the ice world of Praxis 7, retrieve the plans for a new secret weapon (the nature of which was never revealed) and then destroy the base on the way out.  Through some clever Jedi mind tricks (and some spectacularly gullible Stormtroopers) the party blagged their way in to the base under the pretext of a surprise Health and Safety inspection, which the party’s R2 unit retroactively added to the base commander’s diary while searching the computer network for the secret weapon plans).  Much fun ensued as it turned out the base commander feared the HSE far more than the Emperor himself.

We played this a few hours after watching The Force Awakens, more on which in a future post.  It was the first time I’ve run FATE as a system, I’ll definitely be going back to it.


The only Playstation gaming I got done at all this Christmas was picking off the odd mission in Destiny.  I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this game.

I love the graphics, the weaponry, the architecture on Mars and Venus, the varieties of enemies you face.  I love the fact that when you’re killed, the game tells you what got you.

I hate that it’s single-player on the PS4 and that to do any sort of multiplayer you need to shell out more for a PSN subscription.  Okay, so they bundle a month free in with the game but that’s not the point.  Borderlands gives you 2 players on one PS3, 4 players over LAN or WAN.  And there’s all this stuff you can collect – helium coils, spinmetal, spirit blooms, none of which I’ve found any use whatsoever for!  You can’t trade with other players – hell, you can’t actually communicate with other players unless you’re friends with them already.  Judging by what I’ve read online, many other players feel the same way.

I hate that I’ve nearly completed the bulk of the game I can play without a PSN subscription in what feels like a very short amount of time.  End-to-end, probably a couple of days of gameplay.  That’s not great value.  I hate that every time I come back to the game it’s forgotten how much ammo I had for each of the 3 gun categories and set me back to no heavy weapons ammo.

I don’t understand the loot system.  Unlike Borderlands, where every container can be opened and ammo or cash collected, loot drops in Destiny seem seriously infrequent.  I’ve only found a handful of chests in the levels I’ve explored, and they’ve contained this useless crud that only appears to exist to clog up your inventory.  Apparently there are uses for them, but I’ve not discovered them yet.

I hate the fact that, having presented itself as a fairly straightforward first person shooter, the game diverges into a precision-jump platformer in a couple of the missions I’m currently stuck on.  I’ve no idea what the main storyline is, where I am along it.

It doesn’t have the humour of Borderlands, the character progression of Borderlands, the narrative flow of Borderlands…  Let’s face it, it’s no Borderlands.

Would I buy Destiny (I got it bundled with my PS4)?  No, probably not.  Not sure what the replay value is – the races and character classes don’t appear to make a great deal of difference to the gameplay, so it’s not like seeing how the Siren handles compared to the Gunzerker or the Mechromancer.

Oh, and the PS4 has other shortcomings – no Blinkbox movies, no All4 player.  So realistically, when the other PS3 dies, I’ll replace it like for like.

So that’s that!  A decent handful of games played this Christmas, we’ll continue with them as the year goes on.  What did you play?

A quick blast through 2015

2015 has been an amazing year…DSC_0386~2~2

We became the proud owners of Typhon, our German Shepherd puppy.

We met up with Grandma and Grandad a lot this year, what with Tony (Dad) becoming increasingly ill throughout the year.  We’ve enjoyed rediscovering how much fun Yorkshire is.  And as dad has become more and more frail we’ve been able to spend more time just chatting and enjoying his company.

Jousting was our main goal for the year.  See some proper jousting.  We kept trying until we found an event that was not perfectly choreographed stunt-riders and actually involved some full-contact lance-on-shield action.  We found this at Kenilworth, where we spent a day watching knights beating seven shades out of each other while enjoying the company of Katy and Magnus, along with their kids Hamish and Angus.


As a family, we’ve discovered the joys of English folk music, spending a week immersed in the stuff down in Broadstairs.


John joined the Freemasons, Terpsichore Lodge in Stamford.  A bit unusual as it’s a lodge that meets in the daytime.  And we’ve thoroughly enjoyed dressing up for the Ladies’ Nights we’ve attended.  He’s also been expanding his baking skills, branching out into more unusual breads and generally up-skilling with choux, genoese sponge, and all manner of other baking skills…  Hopefully, an interesting and exciting challenge awaits in 2016, not least attending Clandestine Cake Club meetings!

husband and wife

Jo’s been expanding her musical skills, re-learning the recorder and branching out into the pennywhistle.  She’s joined the Greenwood Quire, creating outfits for Tim and herself.  The finest costume moment came when we attended a medieval feast in Langtoft!  And my baking has left both of us more than a little in need of a New Year diet.

IMG_20150318_192421Francesca’s started her approach to GCSEs, finishing her mocks in November, and visiting four schools for potential A-level places.  She’s lost 1 boyfriend and gained another, played Oberon in the Shakespeare Schools’ Festival production of “A Midsummer NIght’s Dream”, and a wonderful supporting part in the school’s performance of “The Boyfriend” – a role that earned her the nickname “The Dragon”.  She’s continuing her violin lessons, branching out into playing the mandolin as the fingering is remarkably similar, and playing in the monthly folk sessions in The Hare and Hounds, Haconby.  Before the family went to Broadstairs, Cesca and Tim went up to Shetland for Fiddle Frenzy, a week-long chance to play music and catch up with old friends.  She’s become a young leader in the local Scout troop, the Drama Prefect and Head of her house at school.

boogie timTim’s well into his second year at the Deepings Academy, picking up school trips and generally feeling a lot better now he’s shifted from one house into another.  Next year will see him skiing and taking a maths trip.  He earned his Excel points at school, had a great day skiing at the Milton Keynes X-Scape.  He’s worked damn hard with his violin, performing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” with 2/3 of Pennyless at the annual concert organised by the music teachers.  Fiddle Frenzy and Broadstairs flew past.  He’s leading sets at the pub sessions.  The teenage years struck in September, so far with no major ill effects.  Right now he’s leading his brothers, jamming in the yurt.

Ben has joined the Ness Group choir, leading the solo for “Once in Royal David’s City” at the church carol concert.  He’s represented his school in an athletics competition, winning 3 gold medals!  He’s had Cub camps, a school residential trip and has generally been keen to get involved in anything and everything.  He’s one of the founding members of “Oh, Folk!”, the group comprising himself,
Cesca, Tim, Nick Garner and a couple of other folks from church who perform at gunshot benthe choir services, the family services and wherever required.  He accompanied John, Ben playing guitar while his dad sang “The Sloth”.  He’s definitely Ben, as wonderful and irritating, and fantastic as ever.  At Kenilworth, Ben met up with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s makeup team…

matthewMatthew has decided that he knows enough of the ukulele and must move on to another instrument.  So when the new school year began in September, he switched to the cornet, an instrument that seems ideally suited to his loud.  He’s been singled out as being a whizz at maths, getting some extra challenge lessons after school.  He’s introduced the whole family to the Lord Mayor’s Show down in London, and has also had his Beavers sleepovers.  He’ll leave Beavers behind in 2015, graduating to Cubs with an armful of badges.  He’s shown some real skill in gardening, doing the lion’s share of the work creating the  new strawberry bed.

Zach has gone from reception to Year 1, definitely growing up!  He’s still the leader of the boys when he turns his mind to it.  He has stubbornly refused to learn to ride his bike.  It’s definitely stubbornness, his teacher tells us he’s very clever, and we believe that!  He’s making excellent progress with his swimming lessons, the next step up will be into the big pool.  As Matthew decided he’d had enough of the Uke, so Zach started learning it with school, making as much progress as you imagine when you practice as much as a 5 year old does.  While Matthew was making the strawberry bed, Zach was ferrying bulbs, garlic, strawberry plants, and weeds to their appropriate destinations.  Garlic to Dad, bulbs to mum, strawberries to Matt and weeds to the chickens.

As a family, it’s been a fantastic year.  We’ve had amazing holidays here in the UK, done fabulous things in our hovel that have only brought us closer together.  Can’t say we’ve not had our share of shouting matches, but they’re part of the glue that holds the family together.  We’ve played Carcassonne by candlelight in a log cabin at Druid’s Temple, screamed ‘til we’re hoarse for the Knights of the East (and the North) as they thundered at the tilt at Kenilworth.  We revisited a concert from the year we went to University, seeing Mark Knopfler play in Sheffield, getting very nearly the same seats as last time!  We’ve enjoyed both playing and listening to more live music than we ever have before.  We’ve even been a musical family, leading an audience in “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes”.  We’ve loved hosting visitors- Robert & Elaine from Aus, Dave & Sheila from Castleford and Rod & Tori. All came a long way out of their way to visit us, which was wonderful of them all. Thank you.

7 on the beaach

Next year, more of the same!  More music & jousting- we’re already planning Broadstairs and following it directly with the Loxwood Joust.  Hopefully the house will actually get the boys bedroom extended, after a year of nearly getting the planning sorted.