I’m forty years old today. Happy birthday me!

Birthdays are intrinsically not particularly interesting. But they are a good excuse for cake. Ingrid and I picked cherries and baked a cherry and ricotta cake for my birthday.

We have a nifty little cherry de-stoning tool which makes the job incredibly easy, but it’s still very, very messy. Cherry juice splatters all over everything nearby. So we try and do this job outdoors if possible.

Ingrid chopping mushrooms for making stuffed bell peppers. It’s one of Adrian’s favourite dishes, and one of the very few that Ingrid can confidently make without any recipe, so she chooses it quite often when it’s her turn to cook dinner.

The other ingredients in the stuffing are rice, finely diced mozzarella, tomato paste and crème fraîche.

It feels good to be back home.

I have missed cooking proper meals, that I can spend more than 20 minutes on, and that involve spices and condiments other than just salt, pepper and sour cream.

I have missed my own bed; I have missed falling asleep next to Eric.

It is really hard to predict which new foods the kids will love, and which ones not. I still don’t understand why Ingrid loves sushi so much, but only with salmon and prawns. Or what’s so awesome about stuffed peppers, while other stuffed vegetables are “meh”. And why freshly baked garlic bread is the best thing ever, according to both kids, while Ingrid definitely wants no garlic in the sauce when she cooks spaghetti with tomato sauce.

Garlic bread, in any case, is delicious. I buy ready-to-bake mini baguettes and stuff them with as much garlic butter as possible (and make the butter seriously garlicky). And then I make a soup of some sort to accompany the bread, because garlic bread on its own does not count as dinner in my mind, although the kids would probably be equally happy without the soup.

We painted pretty eggs. They were so pretty that even Adrian, who doesn’t normally eat eggs, ate one.

If it was just about the painting, we could have done many more, but I feel we should paint only as many as we can eat. Which is not a lot. Boiled eggs are a good breakfast food, but not hard-boiled ones. That is not the most delicious way of preparing eggs. Hard-boiled eggs are OK when still newly cooked and warm, but after a day or two… not so much.

Corn fritters. Mise en place like a pro.

Friday night comfort food for the whole family: super-cheesy broccoli muffins. In fact there is so much cheese in them that they are barely muffins any more, they’re more like cheese fluff balls. Easy to make and easy to eat, and the kids love them. Best of all: they can be eaten in the sofa in front of a movie.

“Things fitting (almost) perfectly into other things” – a cucumber sandwich for Adrian, one of his favourites.

Don’t these Apfelstrudel just look like two grubs or worms of some kind, cuddling up to each other and wondering who shall eat whom? (They looked much more appetizing and less wormlike after baking, but I kind of liked this look.)

Today was the day for the annual gathering of family and relatives to celebrate the kids’ birthdays. Presents for the kids; a chance to chat for the parents; cake and snacks for everyone.

Both Eric and I have cut down on sugar and the kids usually prefer sweets to cake anyway, so there is rarely a reason in our household to bake a cake. Several of our guests have moved in the same direction and some eat no sugar at all. Most of the Apfelstrudel got eaten, but we still have an entire half left of the cheesecake we made. They’ll probably last me a week at least.

Some of the guests also eat almost no carbs, which made snacks into a bit of a challenge. I wanted the snacks to be finger food, vegetarian (for our own sakes), low carb (for the guests) and child-friendly (the party was for the kids after all) and yet something more interesting than just cubed cheese and fruit. Now I can sort of imagine what it must feel like for non-vegetarians to try and cook for vegetarians. You sit there and ask yourself – how can they possibly come up with meal ideas every day with these limitations? But if you’ve been vegetarian for a while it’s just normal and takes no extra effort.

(For the record, the snacks I came up with were cheese crisps, baked cauliflower and cheese balls, and devilled eggs. But when we added the cakes, we thought we had way too much food, so we totally bypassed the guests and ate the eggs for lunch before the guests arrived.)