Sunday, 11 May 2014

Thursday, 1 May 2014

And talking of cake...

I've been in baking overdrive for the last few weeks. The child turned six (six! How can this be?) and, as anyone (who shares my addiction to carbs) will agree, there is no finer way to celebrate such a milestone than in cake.

First up a joint swimming party with a classmate. I warmed to my theme, although perhaps researching how to get turquoise food colouring out of fingers/nails/cuticles in under a week would have been more useful preparation than sourcing flesh coloured icing. Still, hindsight is a wonderful thing and at least I discovered that making odd limbs out of fondant is far more fun than perhaps it ought to be.

This was probably my fastest birthday cake to date: three hours from digging around in the cupboard for the caster sugar to cleaning (turquoise) icing off the wooden floor. And the cupboards. And the ceiling.

Perfect? Not in the slightest. But one very happy little fish, which (of course) instantly makes every bit of angst and cuticle scrubbing thoroughly worth the while. 

Because I'm a glutton for punishment mad I decided it would be a great idea to invite her non-school friends over for tea and a second celebration too. To be fair, all ten children were (remarkably) angelic throughout - just as well as husband was at work and a house full of rampaging/wailing masses is not much fun at the best of times and certainly not single handed. 

We had a lovely afternoon of pinning tails on donkeys, musical bumping/statuing, passing the parcel and making pizzas for tea. 

And then - of course - eating cake.

Now I'm as big a fan of Colin the Caterpillar as the next person - but (alas) buying one for the child is simply never going to happen. She's (so far - we can live in hope) showing no signs of growing out of her severe wheat allergy, and although it's easier than ever before to pick up gluten-free goodies in most supermarkets, buying anything fancier than a Victoria sponge off the shelf is just not an option. We could order cakes to be specially made of course - but that can be hugely expensive and also I do really like being able to create something for her myself (sometimes I need reminding how much I really like it but honest, I do...)

So cake all its wheat free (& dairy free - guest with lactose allergy) "glory". 

The hardest bit - by far - was the bucket made from fondant icing. Bar the shells (stolen from her collection and boil washed) and the flags (each made from half a wooden chopstick, two address labels and a bit of felt tip) everything was 100% edible (at least, ish). Although turns out that biscuit sand is no less annoying than actual sand in terms of getting everywhere and sticking to everything. 

And finally (yes, there's a finally), cake number 3. 

Somehow, over the years, we have fallen into the habit of inviting family round for tea as a sort of birthday extra/good excuse to entertain diverse groups of relatives in one fell swoop. "I'm not going to bother this year" I told the husband. "Enough with the parties and the baking. Plus her birthday falls on a Tuesday so no one is going to be around anyway."

But it wasn't quite that easy. Turns out once you've created an "institution", un-instituting it is rather more tricky and so, after a number of enthusiastic enquiries, we decided that if you're in for a penny you might as well go the whole hog and be in for the pound as well.

I'd got the idea for this one from Pinterest a while ago, but it took me ages to get round to actually making it track down the gluten-free ice cream cone (Ocado - great for GF stuff). It appealed because it's a relatively quick and easy design but it makes people smile.

I had a (very experimental) play around with the inside too.

Interestingly, having totted up the cost of ingredients for all three cakes (which all turned out somewhat bigger than intended - oops - and so meant plenty of leftovers to take to work etc and ended up making a total of over 60 portions between them) it still came out far cheaper than ordering one standard gluten-free birthday cake from a bakery. And although, of course, there's a fair amount of time and effort involved, there are some things you just can't put a price on. 
Especially when a little note appears on your pillow the following day. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Silent Sunday

Still coughing - so what better than a post that's one photo, no words?! <splutter, choke (repeat as necessary)>

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The one where I've been Tangoed

Those who may recall my previous adventures in the world of fake tannery will know it's not an area where my talents lie. Not really surprising then that last summer I steered well clear. (Surely this is why they invented sarongs?) But impressed by the natural-looking bronze of a good friend's calves a couple of months ago I relented and did venture as far as buying an exfoliating mitt before chickening out once again.

But then I was in Boots earlier in the week and they had a load of things on sale including one of those moisturisers which adds the faintest tinge of colour (which you can then build up over a few weeks into something approximating the sun-kissed look). I had tried one of these before, but found the colour change so minimal it wasn't worth the faff. But then this was a half price wasn't it worth having just one more go?

I bought it on Monday. I applied, post shower, on Tuesday and Wednesday (yesterday) figuring if I committed to it daily I might eventually get rid of the duck-egg-blue tinge that means I have to sport a minimum of 50 deniers before I can ever think about getting my legs out in public.

Then last night, sick of sweltering, I squeezed in a quick swim before dinner. It was the usual sprint to the gym, cozzie on, clothes chucked in locker...and then, heading for the door, I caught a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror.

My legs were bright orange.

Not a "delicate glow". Not a "summer shimmer". Not "gently sun-kissed".

Bright orange. With white chevrons from flip-flop wear. And black stripes from flip flop residue.

Ever listened to glam rockers Mud and wondered what "tiger feet" actually look like?

Well now you know.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Loving books (and a lovely giveaway)

I love books. Aside from my family they are, without doubt, my greatest passion (yes - even more than Eric Cantona. And Lindt chocolate bunnies...)

I've loved books since I learned to read at the age of 3 - and in all the (many) years since there has barely been a night that I've not read myself to sleep. Sometimes I'm so tired I can only manage a page. Often I'll look up from a chapter to discover that time has somehow flown by without me noticing and it's suddenly 2am - not good when I'm likely to be jumped on by a small person at some unearthly hour but the joy of finding something you just can't bear to put down somehow outweighs the exhaustion.

In the days before marriage and babies I used to go on a week's holiday with a bag full of books (average ten per week) ...and t-shirts and swimwear chucked in as an afterthought.

The bookshelves in our house (many) are double-banked because we have run out of space. I have a huge, teetering pile by my bed and a huge, teetering (virtual) pile on my kindle too. Oh - and then there's the Amazon wishlist, currently standing at 103. But then, as literary agent Jonny Geller recently said on Twitter, nobody, on their deathbed, regrets reading too many books.

A book that has utterly captivated me this week is The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. The blurb (incidentally, my 4 year-old's new favourite word) reads as follows:

"Between the first and second world wars a group of young, non-English-speaking Japanese women travelled by boat to America. They were picture brides, clutching photos of husbands-to-be whom they had yet to meet, Julie Otsuka tells their extraordinary, heartbreaking story in this spellbinding and poetic account of strangers lost and alone in a new and deeply foreign land."

I loved it because it is so beautifully written, so different to anything I have read before, because - perhaps shamefully - I knew nothing about this period in American history and I had no idea what it was like for Japanese women making a new life at that time (something of particular interest because I live in an area with a large Japanese community which could not be regarded more differently.)

The Buddha in the Attic is published in paperback by Penguin and although the giveaway is now closed you can buy the book from Amazon and all good book sellers. Many thanks to all who entered.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


The other day a new-ish colleague came across a courier wandering round our office building looking lost. In his arms he carried a Lakeland box.

"Ah - I know who that will be for" she said, pointing him straight in my direction.

And yes, she was right.

Clearly it's no secret that I dabble in a spot of online Lakeland-ing whenever I can find an excuse. So when I was asked if I fancied trying out some jam-making kit the chances of me saying no were about as high as me not eating the entire box of Lindor hidden in the kitchen cupboard before I finish writing this. <wipes chocolate from keyboard>

The jars and jar labels were - even to a novice like myself - fairly self-explanatory. The matching lids (which come separately) do away with the need for fiddly waxed paper circles on top of the jam so that was a definitely bonus (memories of burned fingers during last conserve venture back in the 1980s.) 

The girl and I had planned to head off to the local pick-your-own farm and come back full of laden with tons of fresh fruit to turn into jams of various flavours. But the never-ending rain put a stop to all that (on the basis it was meant to be fun rather than an endurance test) and so we plumped for the tin (shown above) instead. I admit I was a little suspicious that it would be full of all sorts of nasties (as tins so often are) but was pleased to discover it's actually a pure fruit puree - plain and simple. 

Not having to wash/peel/chop/hull the fruit left plenty of time to prepare our labels...

(...although not so much that we entirely mastered the "J")

The fruit, together with sugar and water, bubbled until we hit a rolling boil and we tested for setting.

This was the bit I found slightly tricky - without a thermometer I wasn't entirely sure when (or indeed if) we'd hit 104C to ensure the perfect set - and actually despite trying more than once we never quite got there and the end result was a little runny.

But hey - at least it looked pretty...

So how did it taste? Because we used the puree rather than fresh fruit the end result was very smooth so if you like your jam with lumps in this wouldn't be for you. As we tend to buy the St Dalfour jams with no added sugar I also found this pretty sweet - but it has to be said that none of the recipients had any complaints about either taste or texture - and all were delighted with their homemade gift.

As for small girl...she loved it too and said that it perked up a slice of wheat-free toast no end. 

Note - when I reported the setting problems back to Lakeland they sent me a thermospatula to try. I haven't had a chance to make jam again yet but am pretty sure this will make a real difference as without it (or a regular jam thermometer) it's always going to be guess work when it comes to hitting the crucial setting point. I have tried it out on other things though and it's very easy to use. 

I'm working up to a spot of chocolate tempering with it next (because I'm completely slightly obsessed with the Great British Bake Off and they did it on there). Although it could well be that I have ideas above my station. 

Maybe I'll just go buy a bar of Dairy Milk instead.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hard done by

"Sometimes I feel like a slave in this place. It's not enough you want me to do everything around the house but now you treat me like a slave. I have to do all the cooking, all the cleaning - everything and it's not on."

My 4 year-old daughter on being asked to pick up her tiara from the living room floor.