I normally dread this time of year. The reluctant return of routine and structure compared to the last two months of easy-going, lazy summer days always takes me a couple of weeks to adjust to.
But this year is different, of course. Very, very different. I know I'm not alone in wishing for a bit of normality and predictability, so hopefully 'back to school' will bring a sense of the reassuring familiarity that so many of us are yearning for.
When it comes to school lunches, I always try to prepare in advance. The rush before the school bus is just too hectic that early in the morning if I'm not somewhat organised.
I adore a good old sausage roll, as does everyone in our house, and these, when prepared in advance and popped in the freezer, are a cinch to get out every morning for packed lunches.
My dear dad used to bake loaves of brown bread at home for our school sandwiches, which I didn't really appreciate at the time, but I love wholemeal bread now, and these little seedy scones are just ideal for lunch boxes. Make a batch and freeze them while fresh, then take out early in the morning, or the night before, however many you need.
I also love these chewy, seedy oat, apricot and date bars. They've got a great bite and are brilliant for our digestive systems, while the oats help to keep you full of energy for racing around the office or school playground.
Feel free to sprinkle the sausage rolls with sesame seeds after you've brushed the tops with beaten egg, or brush some Dijon mustard on the inside of the pastry before rolling up.
Makes 12 scones
You will need:
225g wholemeal flour
225g plain white flour
25g sesame seeds
25g pumpkin seeds
25g golden linseeds or hemp seeds
25g sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bread soda, finely sifted
1 egg, whisked
1 First, preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7.
2 In a big bowl, mix together the wholemeal and the white flour, the sesame seeds, the pumpkin seeds, the golden linseed or the hemp seeds, whichever you're using, the sunflower seeds, the salt and the finely sifted bread soda.
3 Rub in the butter with your fingers. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the buttermilk and pour all of the liquid into the dry ingredients. Using one hand with your fingers open and stiff, mix in full circles, bringing the flour and liquid together, adding more liquid if necessary. The dough should be quite soft, but not too sticky.
4 Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Wash your hands, then dry them and flour them. Don't knead the dough or the scones will be heavy, but rather gently turn it over. Flatten it slightly to about 4cm high. Cut the dough into 12 square scones. If you like, you could brush any leftover liquid over the tops and sprinkle with some extra seeds.
5 Put the scones onto a lightly floured baking tray, pop into the centre of the hot oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the scones. Have a look after 10 minutes; if they're already deep golden brown, turn the heat down to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6 for the remainder of the time. When cooked, they will sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
If you're baking the crunchy brown scones with seeds for someone who can't take dairy, then you can use a tablespoon of coconut oil instead of the butter, and a milk alternative for the buttermilk, such as almond, rice or soy drink with 1 tablespoon of vinegar added in.
Makes 6 large sausage rolls, or 12 small rolls
You will need:
350g minced pork
1 small clove of garlic, finely grated or crushed
2 teaspoons tomato relish or chutney, such as Ballymaloe Country Relish
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon chopped thyme or sage
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
225g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1 Place the minced pork in a bowl and add in the finely grated or crushed clove of garlic, the tomato relish or chutney, whichever you're using, the chopped parsley and the chopped thyme or sage, whichever you're using, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place a small frying pan on a medium heat and cook a little bit of the mixture to taste for seasoning.
2 Once you're happy with the seasoning, and using damp hands, roll the mix into 3 long sausage shapes, about the thickness of a breakfast sausage and 20cm long, and place on a baking tray in the fridge for a few minutes while you roll the pastry.
3 Roll the puff pastry on a floured worktop, with flour dusted over the top, into a long, thin rectangle approximately 60cm long and just 10cm wide. You'll need to regularly dust the top and underneath the pastry with flour to stop it sticking.
4 Lay the pastry horizontally in front of you. Using a sharp knife, trim all around the edges of the pastry.
5 Lay the sausages, in one long line along the length of the pastry, quite close to your side of the pastry, and brush the far side with a little beaten egg.
6 Then, simply roll up the pastry, binding it with the egg-brushed side. Turn over so the join is underneath, then brush the top with the beaten egg and cut into 6 sausage rolls about 10cm in length, or 12 rolls, 5cm long. I like to score the pastry every 2cm or so with a knife, too.
7 Place in the fridge (or the freezer) until ready to cook. They'll sit happily in the fridge for 24 hours, and they'll freeze well, if covered, for 3 months.
8 To cook the sausage rolls, place them in an oven preheated to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6 for 15-20 minutes until golden and cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes about 18 bars
You will need:
350g porridge oats (rolled oats)
50g pumpkin seeds
50g sesame seeds
50g desiccated coconut
2 tablespoons agave syrup or golden syrup or maple syrup
175g brown sugar
75g dried apricots, chopped
75g dates, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.
2 Line a small Swiss roll tin with non-stick baking parchment, leaving a little hanging over the edges for easy removal later.
3 Place the oats, the pumpkin seeds, the sesame seeds and the desiccated coconut in a large bowl and mix together.
4 Melt the butter, agave syrup, or golden or maple syrup, whichever you're using, together in a saucepan, then mix in the brown sugar, the chopped dried apricots, the chopped dates and the vanilla extract. Pour into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until evenly combined.
5 Press the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until rich golden in colour.
6 Allow to almost cool in the tin, then remove, still in the paper, and cut into 18 bars, or cut them depending on whatever size you want them to be. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
In season: Tomato
The sausage rolls are also great for a picnic paired with some seasonal tomato and basil salad.
Photography by Tony Gavin