I’m not much of a cook. If it can’t be made in one pot, I’d rather not bother. And although I can bake a good loaf of bread, cakes and meals much more than homemade soup are very much my other half’s domain.
While I can be haphazard in the kitchen, especially when I’m busy, if I have more time on my hands, I always enjoy the chance to bring some creative flair to sweet treats for the kids every now and again, like the melted snowman gingerbread cookies I made last year as a pre-Christmas treat.
Last week, for Jonah’s tenth birthday, I rounded off a decade of creative endeavours typically catering to his latest obsessions. These include, for his third, an egg-free Thomas the Tank Engine cake, using only natural colours (genuinely a fucken’ nightmare, especially for the chronically sleep deprived – do not attempt); a bumpees cake, in which I designed his own gold bumpee (if you don’t know what these are, you are lucky – this obsession lasted until he had collected the whole set of these collectable tokens, at an extraordinary cost, before promptly losing interest); to the Minecraft cake that had him and his friends bouncing off the walls at his video game party last year.
This year, to my shame, he asked for a “gun cake” – we took a bunch of his friends to play laser tag at Star Command in Whitechapel as a last hurrah to his childhood. So while I gave a nod to his request for an offensive weapon on his cake by making it as inoffensive as possible, I also made it clear to him that ten is the age where he can go to prison. I generally find by indulging his obsessions, they are likely to run their course more quickly than not.
It’s an approach I tend to take with all things deemed a bit naughty. We allow swearing because, as an Asperger’s kid he can get a little ticky, and anything taboo can quickly become a compulsion. In doing so, these days he effs and blinds rarely and in context – probably less so than me, for whom swearing was *not allowed* as a child. It’s the same with sweets. At Christmas, both kids got a healthy (unhealthy) stash, and I let them have full reign to set their own limits on how much sugar they consume. After the anticipated binge, we received a beautifully handwritten note from Jonah about how he was giving up sweets as his New Year’s resolution, as long as he could still have a square of chocolate for pudding after dinner. My crafty plan seems to have worked.
With Jonah now in training at The Mile End Climbing Wall up the road, having been accepted onto the academy with a view to making their elite squad, he is becoming more aware of the importance of good nutrition to operate at his peak. And in training three times a week at something he’s genuinely talented at, he has a good motivation for putting into practice some of the nutritional advice I’ve been trying – and failing – to ram down his throat since he was small. If I’ve learned anything as a parent, it’s that a bit of reverse psychology goes a long way. Allowing kids to discover the consequences of their own actions is far more effective than trying to tell them what to do.
And nowhere was this more effective than when I allowed Jonah free rein at the school Christmas fair this year to pile as much icing and sweets as he liked at the “decorate your own gingerbread” stand – which I was wo-manning. Swiftly followed by academy training, this resulted in him literally bouncing off the walls and almost getting kicked off the squad as a result of his sugar-fuelled antics. He realised sharpish too much sugar has bad consequences and has cut back far more as a result, than from telling him over and over again that it’s bad for him.
Luckily for Jonah, we explained the gingerbread incident to his coach, who was very understanding. So much so that today, Jonah was included on a nutrition course provided by the academy – they really do train them like athletes. Amid the talk of a balanced plate, and what foods to eat before a competition, the nutritionist had some lovely recipes for healthy no-cook snacks that are much cheaper to make than if you buy them in the shops. And with cash a little tighter than it has been, I was inspired to head home with Jonah and make our own homemade “bounce balls” (which normally retail for up to £2 a pop) for him to snack on before he trains, so that he doesn’t end up crashing out of competitions after too much sugar or junk food.
Super easy to make, and tasty enough for a boy with a sweet tooth and a fussy palate, even I had no trouble whipping these up in a few minutes – and even Jonah, who like me, avoids the kitchen where possible, was happy enough to help.
We made two kinds – chocolate raisin coconut balls, and triple nut chocolate balls. Double entendres aside, both recipes were really easy – especially for someone who really struggles to follow recipes. And you can make any combination of dried fruit, nuts, whey powder/ wheatgerm with honey to taste and some good fats to hold it all together.
Chocolate coconut balls
I poured roughly equal amounts of raisins and dessicated coconuts to a blender, added some wheatgerm, a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder (I used organic cacao, but any would do) and blitzed it up into a dryish powder. Then I added a tablespoon or so of coconut oil and rubbed it togtether until it was a thick paste and rolled it into balls.
Triple nut balls
I added some mixed nuts, wheatgerm and chocolate powder and blitzed it, and then added cashew butter, peanut butter and a little Nutella (chocolate spread) to taste, with a teaspoon of coconut oil to soften.
But as long as the balls hold together, it’s just a case of experimenting with what combination of raw ingredients you like. I wrapped each ball in clingfilm and put half in the fridge to enjoy this week and half in the freezer.