Pistachio Sablés 

 

As I type it’s now a very wet and rainy September morning.  Most of the country’s children have gone back to school. I’m a supply teacher in my day job, which I love but as there’s no work around at the beginning of term I’m finally managing to catch up on my very neglected blog.

It seems ages ago now we’re back into school mode. Well in our house I have my older one back off to uni today.  She’s driving down in her car for the first time and my younger one doesn’t start back at college until next week. Time flies and before we know it we’ll be mentioning the dreaded “C” word!!  But for now I’ll still think about summer and our holiday.

When we were on holiday in the south of France a couple of weeks back we did a lot of our food shopping in the local Carrefour.  I always feel stressed and wound up in supermarkets at home.  I reckon it’s because I’m always in a hurry, they move things around and you end up forgetting half the things you came in for in the first place.  But in this Carrefour, even though it was a massive “grandes surfaces” it felt like a pleasure to shop there.

Of course wherever I go on holiday I have to search out their baking aisle.  I don’t always buy things from the baking aisle but I couldn’t help myself here.  The selection of nuts, dried fruits, flavoured baking powders, extracts and the usual cake decorations were amazing.  Seeing different flavoured baking powders was a new one on me.  I love pistachios so I bought a packet of ground pistachio nuts hoping to use them in a recipe somewhere.  Of course when I buy goodies to take home, my family make snide comments about how I’m going to make us go over the baggage allowance.  I think we had about 500g spare this time, thank God!

Two days after we got back from France I had invited my lovely Clandestine Cake Club friends over to my house for afternoon tea.  It was a great excuse to bake for them so I thought about how I could use my pistachio nuts in a recipe.  In the end I plumped for a biscuit recipe which I adapted from a recipe in The Great British Bake Off Everyday”  The original recipe was for Coconut Sables.

Pistachio Sables

Makes 20-24 biscuits

160g plain flour

a pinch of salt

75g icing sugar

160g unsalted, cold and diced butter

2 medium free range egg yolks

100g ground or crushed Pistachio nuts (I used Vahine Eclats de Pistaches Torrifiees)

First, put the pistachios, flour, icing sugar and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl and combine them evenly.

Then add in the cubes of butter, rubbing them in until you get fine bread crumbs.

Next you add the egg yolks to the bowl until the mixture becomes like a ball of dough.  I then take the ball of dough out of the bowl and roll it into a disc that’s about 2.5cm thick.

 Wrap your dough in some cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for about half an hour  until you are ready to use it.  Or if you are like me, you run out of time, leave it longer and then you find it is too hard to manipulate!

When you have the dough out of the fridge, sprinkle a little flour onto your work top and then roll out your dough to the thickness of a pound coin.  Cut out circles with a cutter (either plain or fluted) which is 7.5cm in diameter.

Put the biscuits onto greased baking trays and pop in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.  Oven temperature: 180oC/ 350oF/ Gas Mark 4. In the original recipe the biscuits should have been pricked with a fork before being baked but I forgot!

I found that once you ate one of these cookies, you didn’t want to stop.  So I had to hide them away until my friends came over. I could just imagine eating a massive bowl of pistachio ice cream with one of these little treats.

img_3434-1
Afternoon tea at SmartCookieSam’s. It’s also the perfect excuse to use my late mother in law’s china.
img_3436
Afternoon Tea at SmartCookieSam’s. Don’t look at the creased tablecloth!!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

#30daywritingchallenge: Day 16- My phobias and things I am scared of.

Snakes

I’ve no idea why I don’t like snakes. I’ve only ever seen one in a tank or in a zoo. I think it stems from when I was in junior school and we did a project on animals. We learned about different snakes in our topic lesson once. At about this time I think I saw a TV programme with snakes on and that was it. I was scared of them. I have never been in a situation where I have seen one in its natural habitat apart from when I was in France. Thankfully we were in our car and the snake was slithering across the road. I cannot understand why people want them as pets. I told my family that if any of them chose to buy a snake as a pet, I would move out. So my cheeky son said, “Right, let’s go and buy one now, then!” I have visions of it escaping and it suddenly ending up in bed with you at night.

Thunderstorms

I’ve always been terrified of thunderstorms. I’m ok with them during the day now, but as a child I was petrified when I knew we were in for a storm. I still am frightened of them at night, especially when the lightning lights up the whole room. It all started when I was about 3 and we had a thunderstorm one night. I woke up to hear the thunder rumbling and was so scared by the way the lightening lit up my bedrooom. I ended up climbing into my mum and dad’s bed that night. A few months later our neighbours were babysitting me and I woke up crying to the sound of another storm. Our neighbour said “You don’t need to worry about that. It’s only the clouds having a fight and it’s the noise of them banging together when they’re cross,” It didn’t soothe me and I also felt frightened at my grandparent’s house when I was staying there. Granddad said it was “Only God doing the washing up!” Now as I’m in my mid forties thunderstorms during the day don’t frighten me but I still don’t like them at night. I always felt upset and apprehensive if Mr SmartCookieSam was away in the summer when it was thundery weather. I could just about cope on my own if I hid under the bedclothes but once the children came along I was worried that I would pass my phobia of thunderstorms on to them. I didn’t have to wait that long to test that out, when my daughter was six months old I had a frightening night. I had just put her to bed in her cot upstairs and went downstairs to clear up. Mr SmartCookieSam was working away in Aberdeen that night. The next thing I knew was there was a thunderstorm and the power went off. Although it wasn’t yet dark, I was very frightened. Not only that, but I needed to sterilise my daughter’s bottles in her steam steriliser which used electricity. Before the storm got too bad I had to risk it and get in the car and drive over to my dad and step mum’s house 10 miles away. I was petrified and ended up with us staying at their house overnight. They still had their power and I felt much safer not being on my own. I’m glad I did go over to see them as the power cut lasted until well after midnight.

Since then I have managed to cope ok with thunderstorms if I hide under the covers and cover my face with a pillow if the storm is in the middle of the night. But I have never ever felt so spooked and scared as by a thunderstorm when we were on holiday in France about 15 years ago. We were staying in an old cottage in Normandy which I thought was haunted. I felt on edge all week and couldn’t wait to go home. Does anyone know how I can get over my fear of thunderstorms? I would love to be one of those people who can stand and watch the lightning from the window but I can’t.

Fish

I don’t know why I don’t like fish. I can eat fish if they are presented to me completely filleted, deskinned and boned. If the fish fillet has it’s head, scales or tail on it then I totally freak out. Mr SmartCookieSam thinks I’m crazy and it’s not as if they’re going to stand up and bite me! But I don’t like them. If I go into our local supermarket and walk past the fish counter I have to go straight to the pre-packed part. I can’t stand at the fish counter and say can I have 4 salmon fillets with all the other fish looking up at me! My dad has always loved fish and as a child he kept tropical fish. We also had a tank in our front porch with two Oscars in it. They were giant grey, ugly fish with grumpy faces. I was scared of them and turned my head the other way when I walked past them going in through our front door. One night I had a dream that the Oscars escaped from their tank and chased me around the house. They grew wings and flew round after me. My Dad loves fishing and when we used to go to Scarborough on holiday he used to take my brother and cousin fishing off the pier. One day, when I was about 12 or 13 they went fishing and caught some plaice off the pier. Dad put them in the bath and I was frightened by them flapping about. Later on, they were in the fridge. My Mum asked me to make a cup of coffee and I refused because I’d see the plaice in the fridge. No one would eat them either. My brother threatened to put one in my bed- he was so kind to me!

Nowadays I can eat fish thanks to Mr SmartCookieSam encouraging me to cook them and also through his great cooking. But I still can’t bring myself to gut and skin a fish. On holiday in Italy a few years back I felt physically sick seeing him eating whitebait. The batter was so thin you could see the fish’s eyes through it. But if a fish fillet still has skin on it I have to turn it upside down so I can’t see the skin as I’m cutting the fish fillet. I then have to get a kitchen towel and grab the skin to put it in the bin quickly before I see it!

Flying (especially landing)

Lots of people are so scared of flying that they won’t even set foot on an aircraft. I must admit Mr SmartCookieSam didn’t like flying and he went on a Virgin Atlantic Fear Of Flying Course from Manchester Airport a few years back and since then he’s been absolutely fine. I didn’t go on an aeroplane until I was nearly 32. Mainly because my Dad worked for British Rail so we had cheap train fares and he got a discount on Sealink ferries (which I think is the Stena Line now) All our holidays were usually in the UK or France as we didn’t need to go by plane. My first ever flight was flying with BMI Baby from East Midlands to Paris when I took my children and my mum to Disneyland Par is. I really enjoyed the flight and although it was a strange feeling at first, I soon got used to it. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I started to feel nervous on planes. We had been on holiday to Spain one summer and had a fantastic time in a villa near Javea. We flew back from Valencia to Leeds Bradford airport. It was a smooth flight and I remember us beginning to descend. I could see the turquoise domes of Meadowhall Shopping Centre near Sheffield from the air and then the M62. After that the pilot announced that we were descending and that there was a strong westerly wind. The plane shuddered and lurched as it went down through the clouds. It was a very rocky approach over Leeds City Centre and I felt as if we were all going to die. I have never felt so frightened in all my life. When the plane touched down on the runway I was terrified it wasn’t going to brake enough and would overshoot the runway. Since then I have found out that Leeds Bradford is a difficult airport to land at because it has a short runway, it isn’t level and it suffers from cross winds. Trouble is as it’s our nearest airport we tend to use it for going on holiday. Every time I have been on a plane since I have been fine but when it comes to landing back at Leeds Bradford I feel as if I’m going to die. I’ve flown on my own to New York and to Edmonton in Canada but I never felt as scared then as I do when I land at Leeds Bradford.

One thing about being a parent is that you always worry about passing your fears onto your children. My son doesn’t like flying either, but he feels more scared about turbulence. One flight to Menorca a few years ago involved a little bit of turbulence as the pilot had to divert about twenty miles to the east of his planned flightpath to avoid a thunderstorm. My son was freaked out by the turbulence on that flight, though to me it didn’t seem as bad as the dodgy landing. Since then he has not liked flying but managed fine when he went on a school trip to Iceland a couple of years back. I know that on our summer holiday if I’m sat next to him I’ll be grabbing hold of his hand!

Clowns

I’m not scared of all clowns but I think back to some really freaky clown models that really scared me as a child. When I was about three we moved to a village near Nottingham. At a similar time the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre (which has now been knocked down I think) was built. Just before Christmas that year I remember my mum and I walking through the Centre. By all the shops there were some clown models which were absolutely enormous with huge heads and ugly faces. I was so scared and frightened of them that I didn’t like going into the Broadmarsh Centre. Why they were there I don’t know. Since then I have been fine with clowns but those clowns gave me nightmares for a long time. Whoever designed them has a lot to answer for!

#30daywritingchallenge- Day 13: Five Things To Be Thankful For.

It’s now half way through April and I’ve got really behind on my #30daywritingchallenge posts. These last few days I’ve been back at work and trying to have a massive sort out at home. We need to get our spare room redecorated and also our office. It’s been my dumping ground for the past few years but I said I would sort it out if I could have a desk in it to do any planning and where I can keep my sewing machine. At the moment when my daughter is away at uni, I use her desk to put my laptop on. So far, so good and I have had a huge clear out of books. I think Mr SmartCookieSam thought he’d never see the day!

Day 13’s challenge is to write about five blessings in life or rather five things to be thankful for. I have a lot to be thankful for in life, even though sometimes when things do go wrong you always think everything is on top of you. Writing posts like these help you to focus on the positive and to make people realise that deep down what we think of as problems aren’t really that bad in the long run. Two weeks ago I didn’t feel too good and just felt like a big black cloud was over me. In fact, looking back thats exactly what it was. A big, black cloud! We have had such rubbish weather recently and one day it felt as if I hadn’t seen any light. The moment the sun came out I felt like a different person. Mr SmartCookieSam thinks SAD is a load of “b*******s” and it’s all in the mind but I don’t agree with him.

Fortunately now I am in the right place to think positively and to be honest I have struggled to list just 5 things that I’m thankful for. They are not ranked in order, either but show equal importance to me.

My health

I have been lucky (touch wood) that I have been a very healthy person and my only hospital stays have been to do with the birth of my children and I’ve had two routine day surgery procedures. My two pregnancies, apart from horrible morning sickness were fine and so were my children’s births. Apart from chicken pox age 12 I didn’t have any other childhood diseases as I was immunised against them. I get all the usual colds, coughs, bugs and all that really from being a teacher and being in contact with all those little kids and their lovely germs. For the past two years, though I have had a flu jab and that has made a difference. Apart from being a stone or so overweight (but I’m working on that) I’ve been blessed with good health. Whether that will change as I get older, I don’t know. But for now I am very grateful that I’ve been healthy.

My family and friends

I thank my lucky stars for my family every day. There are times when I’m sure Mr SmartCookieSam gets annoyed with me and the feeling can be mutual. Like yesterday when I was sorting out my prized collection of NordicWare bundt tins. To my husband he can’t see why I collect them and they just get in the way. I think for relationships to work you have to accept your partner warts and all and that they are not perfect. I am not perfect: no one is! Everyone has irritating habits and annoyances. I feel priveleged to have my two children as I honestly thought to be a mum would happen to someone else and not me. Again, no parent has the perfect children and when all is said and done, kids are kids. There are times when I’ve thought “Stop the world, I want to get off!” when my kids were going through the hormonal teenager stuff. Other people find the baby and toddler stage hard and demanding. I found it a doddle, compared to the teenage phase! I know that my kids are permanently embarrassed even by the sight of me and the other day I could see them both giggling taking photos of me on Snapchat and sending them to one another. But I’m slowly learning that it works both ways! As for friends, I feel very fortunate to have a fantastic set of friends all around me. As modern day life is very hectic, I don’t always see my friends as often as I should. That also applies to some members of my extended family. But when we all do get together for different occasions, it makes it all the more special.

My job

Although I find the nature of supply teaching very stressful, I love my job. The stress for me is the hit and miss aspect of it. One week you may be working all week, the next you only might have 2 days work. I like to know where I am going in advance and don’t really like the on the morning calls side of it. The same goes for not having any work in the beginning of the school year. I plan out my holiday for that time of the year and also do nursery nurse work in the quieter times to supplement my income. But I feel thankful for being able to do this job. I go into some fantastic schools and have worked with some lovely staff and children. I also feel thankful for having the work that I do. Though maybe when it is a freezing cold, dark January morning and you want to stay in bed, then maybe you feel different.

My environment

Although it has been a long, cold and miserable winter I feel fortunate to live where I do. I know it’s not been as cold as the temperatures my brother and his family are used to in Canada but we have had a long spell of it this year. Just yesterday afternoon I was sat outside in my back garden with a cup of tea for half an hour making the most of the sunshine. Every time we have a sunny day I try to embrace it and make the most of it. That doesn’t mean I go upstairs and put on a vest, shorts and flipflops (that would be a hideous sight!) but I have extra long walks with the dog or I sit outside to get some much needed Vitamin D. Mr SmartCookieSam and I were looking at the view from our back garden in the Vale of York. I told him that I had been waiting to do this since last September. Every sunny day to me is a true blessing.

My hobbies

I have to have my hobbies. They keep me relaxed and sane! I feel thankful that I can de-stress in my kitchen baking cakes and other treats as well as being able to relax with my cross stitch, knitting or crochet. At the moment I’m working on a couple of cushions for my sofa.

So there you have it, the five things I am thankful for in my life.

#30daywritingchallenge: Day 15- My Zodiac Sign

For day fifteen of my #30daywritingchallenge I have been asked to write about my star sign and whether it fits my characteristics. I always used to read my horoscopes in newspapers and magazines and then get all worked up if it showed bad news. Then I’d find that things never seemed to come true or match my star sign. My birthday is May 17th which makes me a Taurean. But I was an early baby, my mum told me I was born ten days early. As it is nearing the end of the star sign’s time and going into Gemini’s a few days later, I often think a lot more of Gemini’s characteristics fit me as well as Taurus.

Taurean strengths: Reliable, patient, practical, devoted, responsible and stable

Gemini strengths: Gentle, affectionate, curious, adaptable, ability to learn quickly and to exchange ideas

Taurean weaknesses: stubborn, possessive, uncompromising

Gemini weaknesses: nervous, inconsistent and indesisive

Taurean likes: gardening, cooking, music, romance, high quality clothes, working with hands

Gemini likes: music, books, magazines, chats with nearly anyone, short trips around the town

Taurean dislikes: sudden changes, complications, insecurity of any kind, synthetic fabrics

Gemini dislikes: being alone, being confined, repetition and routine

Looking at the Taurean traits I can see a lot of my traits. But then I can see a lot of traits in a typical Gemini in myself, too. I have the reliable, patient and devoted trait of a Taurean but I also have all of the Gemini traits listed above. As a weakness I can be a stubborn Taurean but I am not uncompromising. In fact I always seem to compromise things to make it easier for other uncompromising people! I am more like a Gemini in that I can be nervous and indecisive in certain situations. I read somewhere that Taureans can be green fingered. Well I am absolutely hopeless at gardening but I agree with all the other likes and the same with all the Gemini likes.

I look at the Taurean dislikes and think that yes, that is me down to a t. Although I’m flexible and can adapt to situations easily I do struggle with insecurity and do find change hard to cope with. But then again I don’t like being confined to things, like a typical Gemini.

I’m a bit sceptical about horoscopes so I’m going to share today’s for both Taurus and Gemini and I’m going to work out if it has come out true. Let’s see!

Taurus for Wednesday April 18th:

“This is a good day for you to analyse information, Taurus. You have an especially acute business sense, which you should use to your advantage. Whether you’re thinking of translating a creative project into a business plan, all indications say that your efforts will yield rich rewards. Make the most of whatever this day has to offer.”

This doesn’t seem to follow what has happened today at all. I know I keep wanting to turn my cooking passion into a business but at the moment I am concentrating on my teaching career as this is what brings in the money. I have had a lovely, but busy day teaching and came straight home to a cup of tea outside in the garden before cooking the dinner. So I haven’t had time or the inclination to analyse any information today!

Gemini for Wednesday April 18th:

“You’re a conscientious, hard worker, Gemini but today your thoughts are more on home than on work. You feel especially close to your family and friends. They mean the most to you. Jobs and even careers come and go but friends and family are forever. Enjoy being with them today. Gather everyone together and order too much Chinese take-out. It’s just fine if you re-start your diet tomorrow”

It is true to say that although I love my job and I work extremely hard at it, my family always come first. I would love to have spent time with my family and friends today and to have sat eating a large takeaway. But Mr SmartCookieSam had a meeting so it was bangers and mash with a cup of tea for our dinner tonight!

So I take my horoscopes and zodiac sign stuff with a pinch of salt. What do you think? Do your horoscopes and zodiac sign match with what you have been doing today or with your character traits?

Sam xx

#30daywritingchallenge: Day 14- What’s In My Handbag!

This sounds like something you would see in a celebrity magazine. Only I bet most celebrities’ handbags aren’t as cluttered as mine. I love handbags but during the day I stick to a black leather one which my daughter bought for me when she used to work in Moda In Pelle. It ends up full of rubbish and getting very heavy. Every couple of weeks I think this is doing my head in and I clear it out, only for it to fill up again with pens and loads of receipts!

This is what’s in my handbag at the moment:

My purse which is usually full of coppers and receipts.

My ipad

My phone

Teacher things: my whistle for PE and break duty, a couple of different lanyards with ID cards on, another pin on ID badge and my USB stick.

My diary

Lots of different pens: biros in different colours and highlighters for marking, Sharpies and pencils. When I cleared out my handbag the other day I realised I had about 25 pens in the bottom of my bag. No wonder it weighed a ton!

I also carry my phone charger in my bag. If I leave it anywhere at home, it mysteriously disappears!

A half eaten packet of Strepsils from the last time I had a sore throat.

About four shopping lists folded up from the last times I’ve been food shopping

A book of half used second class stamps

A loyalty card for my hairdressers

Is your handbag as messy and as full of rubbish as mine?

#30daywritingchallenge: Day 10- Teaching Children To Cook.

My latest challenge is to write about something which I feel strongly about. I just wish I had the money and the power to do something about it. It is getting children to gain life skills, especially by teaching them to cook. Nowadays it all seems it’s Literacy and Numeracy in schools and nothing else seems to matter. But life skills, such as cooking should be a priority. After all, we all have to eat!

Now, I’m not trying to do a Jamie Oliver (even though I have a lot of respect for the guy) and tell everyone that they shouldn’t use convienience foods or get a takeaway on the way home from work. After all, life is so busy and hectic nowadays that people feel shattered when they get home. The last thing you sometimes feel like is to be cooking a dinner from scratch. Who doesn’t need a few shortcuts now and again?

What I think is useful is if children are taught to cook basic meals from an early age and have a repetoire of recipes to fall back on, then when they grow up and have to cook for themselves they don’t have to rely on takeaways or pre-packaged dinners. Not only that, but you will be more aware of what you are putting inside your body.

I was born in the 1970s and I remember my mum cooking most meals from scratch with the odd shortcut like a cooking sauce. We would have fish fingers and burgers now and again. But things began to change when my mum went back to work full time as a teacher and we got a microwave. This would have been about 1985 when the ready made meal revolution began to kick in. I do remember Home Economics lessons at school and we were taught to make lots of different things. It isn’t the same everywhere, though. By the time my children went to school they did not have a single cookery lesson in primary school, except my son made some Christmas biscuits once. When they were at secondary school they had Food Technology and I don’t remember much cooking going on there. My daughter was meant to make fruit salad in her first food tech lesson at school and left her fruit on the school bus!

As soon as I had children I wanted to teach them skills that I had been taught as a child. This included teaching them how to cook. I wanted them to be able to cook a meal for themselves and to enjoy cooking together as a family. This also included baking. This, in turn would help them out so that they could pass on their skills and knowledge to their families when they are older. Unfortunately, it is all too easy nowadays to buy ready made stuff or to order a takeaway, especially with apps such as Just Eat which deliver to you. We do have the odd takeaway or some fish and chips but living where we do, no apps deliver to us. So my daughter was in her element when she discovered Just Eat when she went off to uni, despite all my best efforts to show her how to cook. Thankfully, though the novelty has well and truly worn off and she saves money by cooking lots of frugal and healthy meals using a couple of useful student recipe books I bought for her.

My son has no interest in cooking at the moment, even though he has been taught to cook various meals. When he has cooked things in the past, they have tasted wonderful. I just want to encourage people to cook and to gain enjoyment from producing something homemade. Having said that, when you get in from work absolutely exhausted, the last thing you want to do is to get the frying pan out. But I think my slow cooker is the most wonderful invention for those nights.

I am so passionate about teaching children to cook and passing on my enthusiasm for it, that I got to run an After School Cookery Club at the school where I worked at in a permanent job for eight years. Three of those years were spent running a weekly club where children came to cook traditional and favourite meals and recipes with me after school. If appropriate, the children got to eat their creations at the end of the session. I felt proud seeing the children sat there around the table tucking into meals like spaghetti carbonara, vegetable soup and muffins that they had created themselves. What’s more, they were so excited that I used to write up the recipes for them and they had their own special recipe folder to keep them in. When I bumped into one of my ex-pupils the other week, she said how much she had enjoyed my cookery club and how she still remembers how to cook spaghetti bolognese. Another mum said she couldn’t get her son to eat tuna until he came along to my cookery club!

In an ideal world I would love to have premises where I could run cookery clubs and lessons for adults and children alike. Adults can come along and learn to cook the things they weren’t taught at school because the curriculum had changed. Or to gain the skills their parents hadn’t taught them because they didn’t learn themselves previously. Students could learn some basic skills before going off to uni or children could come along and have themed cooking sessions, such as a Christmas baking one. But lack of space at home prevents me from doing this and also a lack of finances. I need to sit down and work out how I can do this but I really want to be able to help.

Answers on a postcard please. How can I do this without needing lots of money?

Sam xx

#30daywritingchallenge: Day 11- Cars I’ve Owned.

It’s been a bit of a crazy rush catching up with all the posts for my #30daywritingchallenge. Once again for Day 11 I’ve chosen to change the subject of my post. Today was meant to be on thinking about life and those “What if?” moments. I personally don’t like to think about those at all and prefer to focus on what has happened to make my life in the way it is today. Of course we all have regrets and wish we had done things in other ways but as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to move on and embrace the future.

So today’s topic is about cars. I chose to write about cars as I have been spending the Easter holidays trying to sort out our spare room and the office upstairs as they are in bad need of redecoration. I took lots of books to the charity shop yesterday and this morning have been looking through old photos and trying my best to tidy them up. As I was looking through the photos I noticed there were quite a few with cars on it. Mr SmartCookieSam is a petrolhead and loves his cars. Any excuse to get a photo with a car on it, even when the photo is meant to be of our house or our front garden! In our photo stash was a picture of our very first house together complete with our cars at the time on the drive! How dated the picture looks now and how much cars have changed in the last 30 years! It got me thinking about all the cars I have had over the years.

I first had driving lessons when I was in the 6th form and learned in a Nissan Micra. It was ok but from what I remember it only had 4 gears and it felt like it was going to fall apart if you got up to 70mph on the dual carriageway between our village and Nottingham city centre. I got my test date but it fell on one of my A level exam dates. I never took my test before going off to uni as there was no point. I couldn’t afford to run a car while I was studying. When I first started teaching, I lived in Gravesend in Kent but really struggled to get around. My school was on a bus route but buses were few and far between so I relied on taxis and a couple of colleagues helped me out enormously. My grandad had just died and my Nana Margaret hadn’t driven for years. Probably as well as she had taken her test back in the 1960s and apparently she was a liability on the road! Nana offered me Grandad’s car when I passed my test which to this day I am eternally grateful to her for as it got me up and running in more ways than one! By this time I had decided I was going to have to move back up North as there was no way I could continue to run a car and live in the South East on my teacher’s pay. I ended up having a course of refresher lessons which were great. Unfortunately in hindsight I made the mistake of taking my test in the instructor’s automatic car being as Grandad’s car was an automatic. Although I know how to drive a manual car, my driving licence says I can’t.

My first car- a Ford Sierra.

Grandad’s old car had actually been my Dad’s car previously which he had bought from new. He ran it for about 3 years until he got a new job which came with a company car. Of course at that time I wasn’t driving so he sold the car to my Grandad. Grandad was a terrible driver and my cousins, brother and I would hate going in the car with him and Nana. Once, he realised he needed to be off at a certain junction on the M2 near where my cousins lived and shot across right in front of someone who had chosen to leave the motorway in the right way. He didn’t really like driving and once my Dad and uncles could drive I think he used to let them get on with it but he would never let my Nana drive. Another time my grandad crawled down the A1 in Yorkshire for about 10 miles doing 50mph. Me being a cheeky madam asked him why he was going so slowly. He said he didn’t want to miss the Ferrybridge turn off! I bet all the drivers behind him were glad when he finally reached it! Grandad had the Ford Sierra for about a year or so before he sadly died of a stroke. On the day I was due to collect it, it began to snow. Nana and Grandad lived in Kent and I lived just outside Leeds. I asked my Dad if he would come down to Kent with me to collect the car. We went on the train from Doncaster, leaving Dad’s car in the station car park and I drove back up to Yorkshire that night as it started snowing. What a baptism to driving. My first ever long distance drive, with my Nana sat there in the back, Dad in the front and using the M25 as well! I had had a couple of motorway lessons with my instructor when I passed my test which helped but I was still nervous. When we got to Doncaster station, I was on my own. Dad followed me up the A1 and home as it was my first time driving alone. I was ok but I was glad to be home.

My Sierra and I had lots of adventures. I soon got used to long distance driving and went to see friends all over the country. When I met Mr SmartCookieSam he said he used to have a Sierra almost identical but in black. I loved that car and although it was a little bit too big for a first car, it helped transform my life to get me to work. When I moved in with Mr SmartCookieSam I ended up commuting 30 miles to work so the Sierra ended up with a lot of miles on the clock. Finally in April 1998 the Sierra ended up being traded in for something a bit more practical, economical and easier to drive.

Hyundai Lantra

I loved my Hyundai, it was about 6 months old when we bought it. One of Mr SmartCookieSam’s clients was a Hyundai dealer and he let me test drive one for the weekend. It was much more practical as by this time we had our daughter and it was easier to get her pram in and out of the boot. I had also started childminding and wanted something easier to get the children in and out of their car seats as well as the double buggy I used when I was looking after other babies. Unfortunately red wasn’t a very lucky colour for me as I had 2 prangs in this car. One was caused by me, the other by someone else.

LandRover Discovery

Mr SmartCookieSam had always wanted a Discovery and in March 2000, 2 months before our son was born, we got one. He had a bronze coloured Discovery as his car for the first year we had it, then it became mine. He thought he was doing too much mileage in it. I ended up having two Discoveries, as in 2003 we traded the bronze one in and got a green one. Both were perfect for where we lived and were comfortable for long distance driving, as well as for taking abroad when we went to France on holiday. I had to remember about height clearance in multi-storey car parks though, which could be a nuisance but I loved those cars. The green one had an integral DVD player in the back which was perfect for the children when we went on holiday. The Discoveries were obvious gas guzzlers, though and I found that once I was back at work I was going through so much diesel. The school I worked at was 15 miles away along country roads so it wasn’t very economical.

Volvo XC90

Mr SmartCookieSam saw an XC90 in our local Volvo dealer. I fell in love with it instantly and it was more economical than the Discovery was. Our second Discovery had had 7 seats which was useful if I had the children’s friends back for tea or I was doing the school run. The only thing was, was as the children grew the little seats at the back were not designed for older children. On newer 7 seater Discoveries, this isn’t an issue but it was with this model. The XC90 had proper seats in the back and they were also leather. The front seats could be warm which was perfect in the very cold winter of 2010 when we had the car.

VW Golf

Unfortunately, due to the recession I wanted something that was going to be cheaper to run so Mr SmartCookieSam found me a lovely silver Golf. It was perfect for driving to and from work, ferrying the kids about, doing the food shop and travelling long distance. I loved my little Golf and it was so easy to drive and was comfortable to be in. We had it at the same time as the XC90 though, so if the weather was bad I would use the XC90 for the four wheel drive. After I had skidded on ice in the Golf (thankfully nobody or the car was damaged) I was nervous about going out in it in bad weather.

Kia Sportage

We sold both the Golf and the XC90 so we could have one car doing both jobs. I needed a 4 wheel drive because of where I worked at the time. I had to drive on ungritted roads and needed something a bit bigger as we wanted to get a dog. So Mr SmartCookieSam and I went to a Kia dealer and test drove a Sportage. I was really impressed and felt that it was like a Landrover Freelander but at a fraction of the price. Unfort unately, I found it far too thirsty even though I loved driving it. Also, the voice activated Bluetooth was really difficult to use and the phone just wouldn’t connect half the time. I don’t normally give my cars names but my Kia’s registration ended with the letters MGE, so I called her Madge. I enjoyed driving Madge apart from the time I managed to reverse her into my gate which swung shut in the wind as I was going out of the drive. That was so embarrassing as my children kept teasing me about it.

VW Golf

Mr SmartCookieSam and I ended up in the local VW dealer in January 2014 looking at new cars to replace the Kia. He had been trying to persuade me to have a Skoda Yeti but I said no. I just thought they were ugly and boxy cars. I have nothing against Skodas, but the Yeti looked awful. The same with their Roomster model, they’re awful! I then persuaded him to take me to the VW garage and we got such a great deal on a brand new Golf. I was so impressed with my blue Golf and had it for nearly 3 years. I did a lot of mileage in it, including several long distance road trips. I also changed jobs and was amazed at how economical it was. It was comfortable to drive, it had a great Bluetooth system so I could use my phone. I also loved the music system in it. The only thing that let it down was that it ended up in the garage three times. For a car less than three years old having things go wrong on it is not that good.

BMW 1 series

When we were thinking of replacing the Golf I was more than happy to have another one as I love them. But one Saturday afternoon we went to have a look at other similar size vehicles. As I do a lot of driving I need something reliable so we went to the local BMW dealer. Mr SmartCookieSam has had about 4 or 5 BMWs and is always impressed with the level of service there. When we walked into the showroom there was a gleaming white 1 Series. It immediately caught our eye and we took it out for a test drive. That was it, I had been well and truly spoilt and I fell in love with the car. It was perfect. I’ve had my 1 series for about 18 months now and I love it. It’s my pride and joy and apart from it getting dirty from all the muck on the roads I look after it. So last year I was so upset when I’d parked it on the side of the road outside a school I had been teaching in that day, only to come out and find a little dent in the driver’s side door. Looked like a bike had done it! Then only last week a pheasant ran out in front of me and damaged one of the grills! Luckily it was fixed straight away.

Please note, I have used photos of the cars as examples from Google images with registration plates blacked out to protect identity.

So there you have it, all the cars I have owned in the last twenty odd years.

Sam xx

Blueberry and Lemon Yoghurt Muffins

It’s very hard when you want to bake but you can’t because you know you’ll just eat it all. The other day I had the urge to bake some muffins. I told myself that it would be ok if I ate one for breakfast. Yes, it was very nice but I don’t recommend it because two hours later I was starving. Mind you, it didn’t help that in that two hours I’d done a load of jobs and walked the dog in between. So maybe I was genuinely in need of something. Well, that’s my excuse anyway!

These blueberry and lemon yoghurt muffins were so easy to knock up and were so light. The recipe was adapted from one in Annie Bell’s Baking Bible and was originally a blueberry and orange muffin recipe. They are dairy free and the fat content comes from using olive oil in the batter. Instead of using orange zest and juice, which I didn’t have, I used lemon zest and natural yoghurt in its place. This worked extremely well and I was pleased with the result.

Annie Bell has a tip at the end of her recipe saying “It is only one step on in imagination to use extra virgin olive oil in a muffin, rather than groundnut or sunflower. It mellows with cooking and the resulting scent, while distinctive, is very pleasing,”

I must admit I had never thought to bake with olive oil before as I thought the flavour would be too strong. It was, as Annie Bell said, a very mellow flavour within the muffin.

Happy baking!

Love Sam xx