Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes – Could You Be a Lifesaver?

Today marks the 5 year anniversary since my father, my best friend, died as a result of the blood cancer myeloma. I don’t like using the word “anniversary”, as that makes me think of celebrations, and the grief I have felt every day for the last 5 years is certainly nothing to celebrate. (If you want to, you can read about the loss of my father HERE).

As I said in that post, I had never heard of myeloma until Dad’s diagnosis. Although it is an incurable cancer, it is treatable in many cases, and I have since heard of many people who have lived with it for 10+ years. When the doctors were discussing treatment options for Dad, they mentioned the possibility of stem cell transplant, but said he would need high-dose chemotherapy first. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy made him extremely ill and they stopped it, which meant that stem cell treatment was no longer an option.

At the same time as Dad was diagnosed with myeloma, a beautiful 14 month old girl called Margot was diagnosed with a very rare form of blood cancer and desperately needed a transplant. There was a massive appeal for potential donors all over social media. Her story really tugged at my heartstrings, and I registered to be a donor with DKMS UK, a charity who is dedicated to finding a matching donor for every single blood cancer patient who needs a stem cell donation. I registered online, and received a swab kit in the post.

It was such an easy thing to do. Just rub the swabs provided along the inside of my cheeks, let them dry, and then send them back to DKMS. The whole process took just minutes. DKMS could then analyse my tissue type, and the information could be made available for every search for a donor for a blood cancer patient. So far, I haven’t been a match for anyone, but I hope one day I will be.

There is a match somewhere in the world for every single person who needs it. The sad fact is though that not many people register to help them, so they don’t find their match. Lets look at the statistics:

  • There are nearly 67 million people living in the UK
  • Someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer every 20 minutes, meaning that over 30,000 people are diagnosed each year
  • 1 in 3 of those will luckily find a donor within their family
  • Every year, over 2,000 people in the UK need a stem cell donation from a stranger
  • Only 2% of the population are registered as potential stem cell donors
  • 4 out of 10 blood cancer patients will not find a matching donor

These statistics have to change! Ask yourself this… if you or a loved one needed a stem cell donation, would you be willing to receive one from someone you didn’t know? That one person who is a perfect match? Would you be appealing for people to register to help you or your loved one? Of course you would. Surely then you have to be willing to potentially help someone else if you have the chance. Chances are you will never be a match for anyone, but what if you are that one perfect match for someone who is in desperate need right now, but you’re not registered so they don’t find you. The thought breaks my heart. There is a match somewhere for everyone. More people need to register to help.

DKMS UK made a little video to explain the process. You can watch it HERE.

Another video well worth watching is THIS ONE in which a donor, and someone currently waiting for a match, both talk about the process and what it means to them.

If you would like to register to become a potential lifesaver, click HERE to find out more if you are in the UK, or HERE if you are outside the UK.

 

“WE MAKE A LIVING BY WHAT WE GET. WE MAKE A LIFE BY WHAT WE GIVE” 

Winston Churchill

 

“NO ONE IS USELESS IN THIS WORLD WHO LIGHTENS THE BURDEN OF ANOTHER”

Charles Dickens

 

#LifesaverInYou

 

 

 

 

Brush Embroidery – Not Just For Cakes! A Gorilla Glue Project.

DISCLAIMER: This is a sponsored post – Gorilla Glue provided the glue (and pen), but the idea is my own.

 

A few months ago I did a craft project for Gorilla Glue, where I turned plain objects into pretty ones with a crackle effect. (See HERE for that project). As I said in that post, I like decorating things to transform them into something more beautiful. Another thing I enjoy doing is cake making and decorating, although I only do them for friends and family. There is a gorgeously elegant technique which is used to decorate cakes and cookies, called brush embroidery. It involves piping a royal icing design on to the cake, and then using a small brush to gently pull the edge of the icing in to the design so it looks like delicate stitching on fabric. I wondered if it would be possible to achieve a similar result using glue. Obviously this is not intended for anything edible!!!

After a bit of experimenting I discovered that Gorilla Glue Wood Glue mixed with a bit of powder paint works best for this. I tried it with acrylic paint but it doesn’t have the correct consistency. It needs to be like whipped cream or thick yoghurt, and the only way I could achieve that was by mixing powder paint with the glue. You can use any colour powder paint you want, but I personally love the effect with white.

Brush embroidery is a wonderful way of transforming any plain surface into a thing of beauty. This is how to do it yourself.

For this project you will need:

  • Gorilla Glue Wood Glue
  • powder paint in the colour of your choice
  • some stiff-bristled thin paintbrushes for the details, and a bigger one for the main painting
  • acrylic paint in the colour of your choice (this will be the main colour of your object)
  • your object to transform (I used a plain box with a drawer, and a Kraft notebook)
  • a disposable piping bag
  • a piece of kitchen roll
  • 3 small pots – one for your acrlylic paint, one for the glue mixture, one for clean water
  • a pair of scissors
  • pearlescent craft mica powder (optional – it adds a slightly pearlescent finish to the design)

You can buy plain wooden boxes in lots of different shapes from Amazon, Hobbycraft, etc. If you want to decorate a notebook cover, it is best to buy Kraft notebooks. They have plain brown covers so perfect for jazzing up.

Paint your chosen object using the acrylic paint in the colour of your choice. If you are painting a notebook cover, do it with the cover open to prevent paint getting on to any pages.

Leave to dry completely for around 3-4 hours.

Mix together some glue with the powder paint. You don’t need much.

It needs to be the consistency of thick yoghurt, about 4 parts glue to 1 part paint. If it is too thick, just mix in a bit more glue until you get the correct consistency. If you would like a slightly pearlescent effect to your design, add a pinch of craft mica dust to the mixture too.

When you lift your brush (or whatever you use to mix it) it should leave a ribbony trail on the surface of the mixture. Spoon the mixture into the end of a disposable piping bag, then snip the tip off making a small hole at the bottom. Pipe a basic outline of your choice design on to the now dry painted object. The most common design used on cakes is of flowers, so I stuck with that for my box and notebook, but feel free to try different ones.

Dip a thin stiff brush into the clean water and dab the excess off on the piece of kitchen roll. It needs to be damp but not too wet. Place the brush on to the inside edge of the piping and stroke it towards the middle of the shape, so it thins and fades.

You must make sure you keep the outside edge complete though or the effect will be lost. Dampen your brush every few strokes, as if it is too dry it will just stick and pull too much of the line away. When you have finished the shape you piped, pipe another and repeat the process. Build up layers of petals by piping another set inside the set you have just completed. You can add leaves around them, and pipe centre lines after you have done the brush embroidery.

You can fill in spaces in between the flowers by piping small dots, 5 or 6 around a central one to represent flowers. You can place your damp brush on to the edge of the dot nearest the centre one and drag it towards the middle, making little petal shapes. You can see these on the box I decorated. I left some as dots and dragged some to make petals. If you are leaving some as just dots, the mixture will probable form little peaks as you pipe it. Just use the damp brush to gently press the peaks down.

Leave to dry.

 

As you can see it is a very effective way to make pretty designs on plain items. No matter how many times you do it, you will never get the exact result again, meaning every item will be perfectly unique.

These are perfect to give as gifts for Mother’s Day, or any other special occasion. You can literally do this on any plain object. How about trying it on a photo frame? I will be doing it on an indoor plant pot for a gift for a friend soon. The possibilities are endless!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Concrete and Pink Custard Cheesecake – A School Dinner Classic Updated

I regularly make chocolate concrete as it is a firm favourite in my home, especially for my son. (The recipe for that is HERE). I tend to serve it either on its own or with plain custard, although I used to love the pink custard that accompanied it in school. I know the school pink custard was in fact hot blancmange, but I can’t remember if it tasted of strawberries or raspberries. It had such a subtle berry taste so we all called it pink custard rather than naming it by it’s flavour.

Whilst eating a piece of chocolate concrete recently I realised it would make a perfect base for a cheesecake, and so decided to make one with a topping based on the school pink custard. I didn’t want it to have a very strong flavour either, to keep it similar to the school pudding. Well, as similar as it can be with cream cheese included!

I thought long and hard about how to add the berry flavour and decided that as it is based on a childhood pudding, I would use another childhood favourite in the mixture… strawberry Angel Delight. I was going to puree some fresh strawberries but thought they might add too much flavour, and it would be easy to keep it subtle with Angel Delight. Don’t judge it until you have tried it! It helped to make the cheesecake topping the perfect texture too – creamy but set so that it can hold it’s shape when cut. I had a tub of it so used some of that for this recipe. I know the packets you can buy have 59g in so at first I tried it using that amount, but the flavour was far too subtle. For me it was perfect using 75g. If you can’t find the tubs, you can buy 2 packets and use the remainder of the 2nd one to make an extra dessert with milk, or keep it ready to make this recipe again.

The topping is a no-bake cheesecake topping as I’m not a fan of baked versions. But obviously the chocolate concrete has to be baked, so its a half-no-bake cheesecake. I added some fresh cream and chocolate-dipped strawberries for extra scrumptiousness, but you can leave those off if you prefer. The cheesecake is delicious with or without the decorations.

Some schools served chocolate concrete with mint custard rather than pink. You can easily adapt this recipe to make a mint version if you prefer. You would just need to swap the Angel delight for a few drops of peppermint extract to taste, and a touch of green food colouring. You could then add After Dinner mints (After Eights), mint Matchmakers, or mint Aero balls to decorate. I will be trying that version very soon!

It is best to make it in a springform tin or a loose-bottomed deep cake tin, to make the removal of it easier. I used a loose-bottomed 20cm (8 inch) cake tin for mine. Obviously if you use a bigger tin, your layers will be shorter. You can either line your tin with foil making sure you smooth out any creases, or line with baking parchment. If doing it with parchment, only grease the tin very slightly to keep the paper in place, and don’t grease on top of the paper.

CHOCOLATE CONCRETE AND PINK CUSTARD CHEESECAKE

FOR THE CHOCOLATE CONCRETE BASE:

100 g unsalted butter, melted

115 g granulated sugar

150 g self raising flour

20 g cocoa powder

1 medium egg (the smallest one you have), beaten

 

FOR THE PINK CUSTARD CHEESECAKE TOPPING:

560 g cream cheese (I used 2 x 280g tubs of Philadelphia)

300 ml double cream

75 g strawberry Angel Delight

60 g icing sugar

 

TO DECORATE (OPTIONAL)

100 ml double cream

Fresh strawberries

Melted chocolate (either milk or dark, and white)

 

TO MAKE THE BASE:

  • Preheat the oven to 160C. Line your tin with either foil or baking paper (see last paragraph before the recipe).
  • In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and the sugar together. Add the flour and cocoa and mix well. The mixture will be very stiff. Finally add the beaten egg and mix until thoroughly combined.
  • Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, spread it around so it covers the bottom and press down firmly right up to the edges. Use your fingertips to sprinkle a few drops of water over the surface.
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes. (It will feel a bit soft when you take it out of the oven but will firm up as it cools). Leave in the tin to cool completely.

 

TO MAKE THE CHEESECAKE TOPPING:

  • In a large bowl mix the cream cheese and icing sugar until smooth and creamy.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the double cream until soft peaks form (when you lift the whisk the cream will form little peaks and the tips will fold back over).
  • Add the cream to the cream cheese mixture, then add the Angel Delight powder and whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth.
  • Spoon this mixture on to the cool chocolate concrete base, and use a spatula to spread it evenly up to the edges of the tin.
  • Place in the fridge and leave until set (around 2-3 hours).
  • When set, carefully open the tin (if springform), or push up from underneath the tin (if loose-bottomed) to remove. Very gently peel the foil or paper off the cheesecake and place on to a serving plate.

 

TO DECORATE (OPTIONAL):

  • Wash and dry the strawberries. Dip them in to the melted milk or dark chocolate, and place on a sheet or parchment paper on a plate. Put the dipped strawberries in to the fridge until the chocolate has set.
  • Drizzle the melted white chocolate over the strawberries using either a spoon or a piping bag with a tiny hole cut in the end. Place back in the fridge for around 10 minutes.
  • Gently whisk the double cream until it forms soft peaks, then place in a piping bag with the nozzle of your choice, and pipe on to the top of the cheesecake around the edge. Top with the chocolate-dipped strawberries.

 

By the way, my other half was appalled that I kept the leaves on the strawberries. Oops! I keep them on to make it easier to hold the strawberries both for dipping and eating! If you prefer yours without the leaves, just cut them off beforehand.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Let me know if you make the strawberry or the mint version!

 

If you fancy trying another scrumptious cheesecake recipe, try THIS CHOCOLATE AND BAILEYS CHEESECAKE. Although this one is strictly for adults only! Enjoy 🙂

 

 

The Importance of Cancer Screening, and How To Prepare For It

Look at this beautiful photo. Look at that huge smile, how happy my Mum was on her wedding day. All her dreams came true that day. She had married the man she adored and could now start thinking about one day becoming a mother. She was around 23 years old in this photo. A long happy life lay ahead of her. Except sadly it didn’t.

My mum was very old-fashioned in her beliefs, and very prim and prudish. My father noticed during their marriage that she had lumps in her breasts and told her to go to the doctor, but embarrassment at the thought of a doctor seeing her topless prevented her from going. She kept making excuses when he begged her to get checked, and nothing could change her mind. Unbeknownst to them both, those lumps would later turn out to be breast cancer.

I don’t know how her cancer was finally discovered.  I remember Mum going away for a while but as I was very young I wasn’t told anything about where she went. I remember staying at a step-relative’s house (Mum and Dad were divorced at this point) and when I went back home, Mum was in bed. I was told she wasn’t very well but not what was wrong with her. I only realised something was very wrong at a later date when I came home from playing with my friend. I walked into the living room and saw Mum standing in front of the fireplace topless, rubbing talc on to her very scarred flat chest. I remember the shock of seeing her like that, and really not understanding what had happened. She had had a double mastectomy and it hadn’t been explained to me. Finally the cancer word was used, but I still didn’t know how serious it was. I remember her losing her beautiful black hair and wearing an awful mousy brown wig that the hospital gave to her. I wish I’d been told how ill she was. I would have spent more time with her. Asked her questions about her childhood. But I didn’t know, and being so young, I spent most of my time out in the fresh air playing with my friend.

Circumstances not for this post meant that I had to go and live with a foster family, and only got to see Mum one more time. It was Christmas 1986, and I was taken to see her in hospital. She was by now extremely ill, and the sight of her shocked me beyond belief. She was so thin and frail, and she wasn’t wearing her wig. She had wanted to give me a Christmas gift, a jumper.  I didn’t know at the time, but this visit was also to say goodbye.

My foster family had a self-contained flat behind their house, and my father used to come and visit and stay there every weekend. On Saturday 31st January 1987 the phone in the flat rang. Dad answered and I remember him talking very quietly. He told me to come and sit down, knelt in front of me taking my hands at the same time, and told me that Mum had passed away. My world crumbled and I broke down. The tears that day just didn’t stop. Or the next. In fact it is 32 years today since that conversation and the tears still flow now. I remember standing round her grave 4 days later. Trying to sing The Old Rugged Cross with everyone else but being unable to due to how much I was crying. Seeing her coffin in the ground and throwing a handful of soil on to it as prayers were said.  I just wanted to lie in there with her. I couldn’t bear the thought of her being cold and alone. I so badly wanted this all to be just a terrible nightmare. It was a nightmare, but one that couldn’t be woken from.

Her death certificate says she died of breast cancer primarily, and also cervical cancer. She was just 40 years old. She never got to see me become a teenager, pass my exams, get my first job, get a boyfriend, have a child. I miss her every single day.

 

Advances in medicine and medical technology now mean that these two types of cancer have fantastic screening programmes. At the moment these programmes are mainly for women who fall into the age bracket deemed most at risk, although in some circumstances they are available before this.

For breast cancer, women aged over 50 are invited for mammogram screening every 3 years. However, if you have a family history of breast cancer, like I do, and are younger than 50, have a chat with your GP. They will then refer you to a breast clinic, who will assess whether you are at a higher risk so need more regular screening. As my Mum had it so young, and my sister also had it at a young age (thank God she is clear of it now), I am at a higher risk of developing it too, so I have annual mammograms or MRI scans to make sure it would be caught at an early stage if it did develop. Surprisingly, only around 75% of women who are invited to attend screening actually do go for it. But with statistics showing that someone in the UK is diagnosed with breast cancer every 10 minutes, early detection is crucial. Breast cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years, and this is partly due to our screening programme being able to identify problems early.

Some women worry that mammograms hurt. As someone who has had one every year for the last 7 or 8 years, I can honestly say they can be a little bit uncomfortable, but nothing unbearable. They don’t squash you as flat as a pancake, just enough for them to get a clear picture of your breast tissue. The part that I find slightly uncomfortable is the machine pressing under my arm. They need to get as close to your breastbone as possible, and to do that sometimes you need to stand in such a way that the machine digs in a bit under your arm. But as I said, any discomfort quickly passes, and can potentially save your life. Around 80% of people who are diagnosed with breast cancer now survive beyond 10 years! Surely that makes it worth being screened.

If you haven’t had a mammogram yet, here are a few tips to help you prepare. Try to book your appointment for about a week after the end of your period. Your breast tissue is less dense then so your pictures will be clearer, and your breasts won’t be tender. You will need to strip down to your waist, so wear a skirt or trousers rather than a dress. You will be given a hospital gown to wear until you have the mammogram. Don’t use deodorant, particularly the aerosol ones, or talc, as these can show up as little flecks or blobs on the result, which would then need further investigation and tests. If you have long hair, you might find it easier to tie it back so it doesn’t get in the way. And remember, the radiographer will have seen every size and shape imaginable, every day, so there is no need for embarrassment.

 

Cervical screening, on the other hand, is available to women aged between 25 and 64. There are calls for this age limit to be lowered though after cases of women being diagnosed younger than 25. Ten years ago, a famous TV star called Jade Goody died from cervical cancer at the age of 27. This cancer is a slow growing one, and early screening might have been able to detect it before it had advanced and become terminal. Jade’s death shocked everyone, and led to thousands of women booking smear tests (as they were then called). Sadly though, as time has passed, less and less women are going for cervical screening. Around a third of women invited for screening ignore it and don’t book an appointment. This is mostly due to embarrassment. Let’s get a bit of perspective on this though.

Many of those women who are too embarrassed to go for screening will get pregnant at some point. Having a baby means countless people having to look “down there”, and these people will possibly witness some things that you would find excruciatingly embarrassing if you weren’t in so much pain trying to push your baby out. I’m thinking back to when my son was born and how many people were in the room at the time. A midwife kept checking how far dilated I was. Another midwife had to feed a clip up to my unborn baby’s head to monitor him as he had very kindly had a poo in my womb which could have caused big problems. A student was in the room watching everything. There was someone there doing a medical survey. The anaesthetist was there trying to give me an epidural (it didn’t work for me). Another nurse had to come and start preparing me for a Caesarian as it was all taking so long (23 hours). Someone else had to give me an episiotomy to try to help me push my son out. Another midwife came in with the suction cap to help to pull him out. And then someone stitched the episiotomy back up. And my best friend was there. The room was buzzing with people. All these people watching the events unfolding down below. Not every birth will need that many people present. Some might even need more! But the fact is, you are seen with your legs open by more than one person, for quite some time.

Cervical screening takes just a few minutes and is done by just one person. This person will have done hundreds of these and really won’t care whether you have shaved or not, whether you have a bit of cellulite (most women do) or what underwear you wear (they won’t see that anyway). All they will care about is gently getting the cells needed to be tested, and potentially saving your life. The test doesn’t hurt at all, although some people say it feels slightly uncomfortable. It doesn’t detect cancer, but it does detect abnormal cells in your cervix, if there are any. Most times, these abnormal cells are nothing to worry about. Sometimes though they can become cancerous. Finding and removing these cells can prevent cervical cancer. Most changes to cells are caused by the HPV virus, which is very common. Cervical screening now checks for HPV too.

Thanks to cervical screening detecting abnormalities so early, and the HPV vaccination, cervical cancer is now largely preventable. Around 9 people are still diagnosed each day in the UK. The earlier it is detected, the more chance there is of it being successfully treated.

As well as having mammograms every year, I have had to have cervical screening every year for as long as I can remember. That is nothing to do with my mother though. Mine tend to come back with an abnormal result, or not enough cells were caught. This means I have had to have repeat ones 3 months later, and then annually after to make sure everything is OK. My last one last year though came back with a normal result, and for the first time I was then told I can wait 3 years before my next one, just like everyone else. Happy days!

If you have never had cervical screening for whatever reason and are worried about how to prepare for one, here’s a few tips. One of the things that has made women too embarrassed to go is the worry about how they might smell. If that is a worry to you, it is fine to have a shower beforehand. I will say from experience though, don’t have a bath! I didn’t know this before my first one. In fact I knew nothing about them before my first one. I just knew that I didn’t want to end up like my Mum. Bathing or washing too thoroughly before screening can affect the sensitivity of the test and result in you being asked to have a repeat one a few months later. You’ll probably feel more relaxed about having the test if you feel clean and fresh, so a quick shower or even a wet wipe will be just fine. Don’t have sex the day before your test as this can affect the result. The best time to go is mid-cycle, so 10-14 days after the start of your period. If you don’t like the thought of lying there naked from the waist down, wear a skirt, as you will be able to keep that on. Regardless of what you wear though, you will be given a large paper towel sheet to cover your modesty. That is all the preparation you need. You really don’t need to shave or wax. The nurse will have no interest in your appearance whatsoever.

 

I will always keep up to date with screening appointments. I owe it to my son. I want to be here for him and do all the things my mother wasn’t able to do with me. I want to be there when he leaves school, I want to be there for every special event in his life. (OK, I’m not looking forward to seeing him leave home, but I still want to be around to help him). Hopefully, cancer screening will mean I will be.

(By the way, a cervical screening test takes less time than the time it has taken you to read this post).

If you have been putting off having your screening tests for whatever reason, please, make that appointment. Your future self will thank you for it.

 

 

A Woven Vase from Craftiosity – A Monthly Craft Subscription Box.

As you know, I love crafts. Any crafts. I just love being creative and having something beautiful at the end. I can spend hours on YouTube watching tutorials. One leads to another, and before you know it hours have passed. I want to try so many different projects, but buying supplies needed for them can be costly, and then there’s the risk you don’t enjoy it after all so the supplies go to waste. That is where Craftiosity comes in.

Craftiosity is a monthly subscription box which includes all the tools and materials needed to complete a modern craft project each month. You will need to provide your own scissors or a pencil, or other household basics (if needed), but I’m sure most (if not all) homes have those already. The projects are completely different every month. I joined 3 months ago. My first kit was a Needle Punch wall art project, the next was to make beautiful Felt Baubles (the Christmas kit), and this month’s was to make a lovely vase woven out of natural cotton twine and copper paper twine. I will tell you more about this one so you can see what a wonderful subscription Craftiosity is.

Craftiosity differs from many other subscription boxes in that there is no surprise factor. The next month’s project is revealed well in advance on social media and via email. I normally love the surprise element of such boxes, but I think with a craft one it is better to know beforehand what it is. It means you can only choose to have the kits that you most fancy trying, if money is a bit tight for example. I personally want to try as many different crafts as possible so will have every month’s kits regardless of what it is.

The kits come packed in a lovely box, which is perfect to keep afterwards to store any craft bits and bobs. This month’s box contained the wooden base, wooden sticks, copper paper twine, cotton twine, a very detailed instruction leaflet, and a beautiful blank card with envelope. I love the card idea too. If you want to give the finished project as a gift, you can write you message on that card. Or you could give the kit as a gift for a friend to do, and include your own message on the card.

The tools and materials are kept safely in the box with tissue paper. I always keep that too for future craft activities.

I was surprised at how much of each twine was included in the box. I had so much left over at the end! I will enjoy using them in other projects soon.

The instruction leaflet is fantastic. It includes tips to make sure nothing goes wrong, tells you what you need to provide (for this kit it was just scissors), how long it will take to complete, ideas for things you can do to make it different, and very detailed step-by-step instructions with photos to show you how to do the project. There is also a full video tutorial available online each month, which is very useful.

My woven vase in progress

This vase project was very enjoyable and very easy to make. I had never done any type of weaving before except for very basic patches with wool with children in primary school. This kit made me want to do more though, so I am really glad I had the chance to try it out.

My completed vase

It is so rewarding to make something beautiful to add to your home decor. That is another thing I love about Craftiosity. The projects are either practical or beautiful additions to your home, or both! Next month’s is a stunning decoupage wooden box with glass lid to display little treasures. I am so excited for that one to arrive!

You have to order your box by the end of the month to receive the next one. The boxes are then sent around the 14th of each month. If you want to just order a one-off box, it costs £22 plus £2.95 postage. If you want to subscribe (with the option to cancel or skip a box at any time provided you let them know by the end of the month), it costs just £20 plus £2.95 postage. Incredible value for what you get!

If you fancy starting a Craftiosity creative journey, click HERE to go to their website. Happy crafting!

 

 

Spiced Pear and Pecan Flapjacks With Cream Cheese Icing – A Satisfying Autumnal Bake

The very lovely Steven, from The Speculaas Spice Company, recently sent me some of his speculaas spice mix to use in some recipes. I am a massive fan of this spice mix, and you can read a previous post I wrote about it HERE.

I love everything about it: the warming fragrance it spreads around your home while it is baking, the sweet flavours of all the spices combined into one mix, the versatility of it. If a recipe calls for ground cinnamon, you can guarantee this spice mix will take that recipe to a higher level instead.

One of my favourite fruits has to be the pear. So sweet and bursting with flavour, and so refreshing with the amount of juice they have. My favourite pear of all is the Conference variety. The riper, the better. I always have plenty in the fruit bowl at this time of year. I have such a sweet tooth, so they are great for satisfying my sugar cravings.

Pears and cinnamon (and Christmassy spices) are a match made in heaven, so I decided to come up with a recipe using my favourite pears and the speculaas spice mix. I wanted to bake something delicious for my son and Other Half to have in their lunchboxes, and flapjacks are always a winning lunchtime treat. I usually make them quite thin, but this time I wanted chunkier flapjacks, so used a smaller tin to bake them in, and was then able to cut them smaller too. We all adore pecan nuts too, so I always have plenty in the cupboard. Pears and pecans go so well together too, so I decided to add some for extra texture and flavour.

In a previous post I wrote about chocolate flapjacks, I mentioned the easy-to-remember ingredient ratio I always use to make them. (You can read that post HERE). As I was going to be using very sweet ripe pears, I reduced the amount of sugar in this recipe as I didn’t want them to be sickly sweet. It took me a couple of attempts to get the quantities right, but to me, this is now spot on.

I grated the pears using the large coarse side of my grater and as the pears were so soft and ripe, they created a lot of juice. In my first attempt I drained that into a cup and didn’t include it in the recipe. (OK, I admit it – I drank it). I worried the mixture would be too sloppy with it. In my next attempt though I included it, and it added so much extra flavour, and didn’t affect the texture.

When the flapjacks were cool, I made a cream cheese icing to drizzle on top, just because I love it with anything that has cinnamon in. If it goes well with cinnamon, it definitely goes well with speculaas spice mix! You can leave this off if you prefer though.

 

SPICED PEAR AND PECAN FLAPJACKS WITH CREAM CHEESE ICING

200g unsalted butter

160g soft light brown sugar

3 heaped tbsp golden syrup (or you could use honey if you prefer)

80g pecan nuts, roughly chopped

1 rounded tsp speculaas spice mix

4 ripe pears, coarsely grated

400g rolled or porridge oats

FOR THE CREAM CHEESE ICING (OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED):

75g icing sugar

20g cream cheese

splash of milk

 

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/160 fan/Gas 4. Lightly butter a 20cm square baking tin. Cut a strip of baking paper the same width as your baking tin, so that it is long enough to line the bottom and 2 sides with a bit extra at each end to help to lift it out of the tin.
  • Place the butter, sugar, syrup and spice into a large saucepan, and heat gently until the butter has cmpletely melted and the sugar has dissolved, stirring regularly. Bring it to a gentle boil and let it simmer slowly for 1 minute.
  • Remove from the heat and add the pecans, grated pear and any pear juice. Mix well.

  • Add the oats and mix until the oats are completely covered and the mixture is evenly distributed.
  • Tip the mixture into your baking tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon until level.

  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes until the edges are starting to go a bit crispy and the top is a light golden brown. Remove from the oven.
  • Leave in the tin to cool for 10 minutes, then use the edges of the baking paper to lift the flapjack out on to a wire cooling rack. Leave to cool completely, then place on a chopping board and cut into required sizes. (I cut mine into 12 pieces).

  • To make the cream cheese icing, mix the icing sugar and cream cheese together until smooth. Add a splash of milk to make it a bit runnier so it is easy to pipe or drizzle.
  • Spoon the icing into a small disposable piping bag or sandwich/freezer bag, snip off the tip of the corner to make a very small hole, and pipe the icing on to each flapjack piece. Leave for the icing to set for around 20 minutes, or eat immediately if you can’t resist the runny icing.

You could use grated apple instead of grated pear, although I haven’t tried that yet. You could swap the pecans for any other variety you prefer. Walnuts would be amazing too.

I hope you love these as much as we do! Don’t forget to check out Steven’s amazing speculaas spice mix! If you like cinnamon, or mixed spice, you will absolutely LOVE speculaas. Check it out HERE.

HAPPY BAKING!

 

 

Make Your Own Spooktacular Ghost From Cheese Cloth – Great for a Halloween Decoration

Halloween is my 11 year old son’s favourite time of year. He doesn’t go trick-or-treating but he does love to decorate inside our house with as many spooky things as he can and have a family party. He also loves the build up to the day, having fun with lots of different craft activities, carving pumpkins, and baking yummy spooky treats.

Last year we decided to have a go at making a free-standing ghost, and as we wanted it to be see-through we used cheese cloth. It worked better than we imagined, so this year we have made a smaller version to stand on the table. It is such an easy activity that I thought it would be good to share it with you. Children would love to get involved as you do get in a sticky mess with this one!

It doesn’t cost much to make one yet they look so effective!

You need:

  • large piece of cheese cloth
  • 3 bottles, one taller than the other 2
  • 3 balloons if making a large ghost, or 3 water balloons if making a small one
  • some tape to secure the balloons
  • PVA glue (I used Gorilla Glue Wood Glue)
  • black scrap material or paper

If your bottles are empty, fill them with water. They need to have some weight to them so they don’t just topple over. Blow up your balloons and use tape to secure them to the bottles.

Position the bottles so that the taller one is at the back and the smaller ones are placed in front at either side. These will form the head and arm shapes.

Mix some PVA glue with a small amount of water in a tub (a takeaway tray or margarine tub is perfect). You really don’t need much glue at all, and you should mix 3 parts glue to 1 part water. You want the glue to be just slightly watered down.

Place the cheese cloth in to the glue mixture and toss it around until it is completely covered in glue.

Pick up the cloth and squeeze as much of the glue off as you can. Now for the trickiest part…. carefully open out the cloth. This can be a bit tricky as it just wants to stick to itself! When you have opened it out, gently drape it over your bottles so that it entirely covers them.

This was for the small ghost:

 

This was for the large ghost:

Move the cloth or bottles around until you have got the exact shape you want your ghost to be. Cut out a mouth and 2 eyes from your black material or paper and press them into position on the head part.

Leave to dry completely. I made the large ghost using ordinary school-type PVA and the small ghost above using Gorilla Glue PVA (wood glue). The Gorilla Glue dried much quicker. The ends take the longest, so make sure you spread them out a bit to help them. They do like to bunch up, and then that part will take a lot longer to dry.

When the cloth is completely dry and crispy feeling, it is time to take it off the balloons. You can either pop the balloons and peel them away, or very carefully pinch the cloth away from the balloons bit by bit. That is the way I do it.

I always think it looks more effective if you gently push the bottom of it inwards a bit to give it a better shape. And there you have your very own ghost.

Happy Halloween everyone!

 

 

Lotus Biscoff Caramel, Chocolate and Walnut Tart – September’s BakedIn Baking Club Recipe

There are so many things I love about BakedIn: their products are simply amazing and produce gorgeous results every time, their staff team is so friendly and supportive, and they have a fantastic Baking Club.

This month’s Baking Club recipe was absolutely divine! I always get excited when the bright green BakedIn box lands on my doormat, and I love opening it to find out what the recipe is each month, as it is kept secret until you receive it. I have to admit to letting out a squeal of delight when I saw the recipe card on top of the ingredients in this month’s box. I am a MASSIVE fan of Lotus Biscoff … biscuits and spread, so I was over the moon to see this recipe included both! Lotus biscuits, spread, caramel, chocolate, walnuts – heaven!

The recipe cards included always give you an indication of how much skill is required for each bake. They are often around the 2 out of 5 level, but this one was a 4 out of 5 (with 1 being super easy and 5 being tricky). This excited me too as it meant it would be more of a challenging bake. I love these most of all, as they take you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to try new techniques.

So what exactly was so special about this recipe? Let me tell you exactly what it was. (I say “was” as it didn’t last long in my house at all)!!! Imagine a crispy pastry base, with a thick layer of gooey Lotus Biscoff caramel sauce smothered over it, with chopped walnuts sprinkled all over that, covered with a rich fudgy chocolate filling, topped with a sweet caramel icing and finally decorated with crushed Lotus Biscoff biscuits. You’re drooling now, aren’t you? The sweetness of the caramel balances so perfectly with the richness of the dark chocolate filling. It would be the perfect dessert for any occasion!

There is always a tip on ways to enhance your bake, and this month it said you could serve it with double cream to make it extra indulgent. I decided to pipe some on top rather than pour some over it. Wow, what a treat this was!

I am so so happy to have this recipe forever in my collection now, as I will definitely be making this time and time again. There were a lot of steps involved to make it, but the end result was so worth it.

The Baking Club has a wonderful Facebook group where we all talk about the bakes and share photos of our creations. It has been so lovely this month to see some people saying this was their first time making pastry. Their bakes all looked amazing and they have picked up a new skill along the way. This is what I love most about the Club… it allows people to create something wonderful, no matter how long they have been baking for, and that sense of achievement is priceless!

If you would like to join the Baking Club and receive a new recipe and ingredients every month, CLICK HERE to sign up.

If you would like to make this scrumptious tart, (and therefore have the recipe to keep forever too) you can buy the kit HERE. It includes all the dry ingredients you need, as well as the Lotus spread and baking paper to use. Hurry though, as it will only be available to buy until the middle of October 2018 (unless it sells out sooner).

Happy baking!

 

 

 

 

Making a Crackle Paint Effect Using Gorilla Glue – Transforming Plain Objects into Beautiful Ones

One of the things I love to do in my spare time is to turn ordinary objects into something wonderful. For example, plain tiles transformed into beautiful coasters in THIS POST.

The lovely team at GORILLA GLUE recently invited me to come up with a craft project using some of their product range. There is a glue or tape for every possible need in their range, all very high quality, so I was really excited to be part of this. I immediately knew what I wanted to make. I initially had one in mind, but it turned into 3 as I enjoyed making it so much.

I have often admired objects that have been painted with Crackle Paint, which cracks as it dries, creating a really pretty distressed effect. This special paint can be fairly expensive though. Luckily it is easy to achieve the same effect using just Gorilla Glue Wood Glue and some cheap acrylic paint. You only need a small amount of glue so it is a much more cost-effective way of obtaining the result. One bottle of glue will transform loads of objects!

For my project I decided to transform some plain wooden boxes into a beach-finds box and a buttons box. I wanted the beach box to look a bit like driftwood, fitting in with the theme of it. One of my happy memories from childhood was going through the buttons that my mum kept in an old biscuit tin. It used to fascinate me how many different shapes and designs there were, so I now have a tin of buttons too. I wanted a nicer way to store them though so decided to make a button box, using some of the buttons to decorate it. After I had made the 2 boxes I wanted to see if the same effect could be achieved on glass, so decided to try it on a clean empty jam jar. It worked! So that became a toothbrush holder for the bathroom. The beauty of this project is you can make boxes or storage jars for anything at all! Boxes for baby keepsakes, ribbons, beads, bits and bobs, small stationery items… endless possibilities. Likewise with the jar version. A holder for toothbrushes, pens and pencils, craft tools, straws, kitchen utensils… again endless uses.

For this project you will need Gorilla Glue Wood Glue and Gorilla Glue Super Glue (if you want to stick decorations on). They have thought of everything with their super glue. Super glue often comes in a little tube or bottle and you have to carefully squeeze a little bit out, trying not to get too much but often ending up with a blob of it oozing out from underneath whatever you have stuck down. To make sure you get the exact amount of glue you want in the exact place you want it, with no big blobs, Gorilla Glue have brought out a bottle with both a brush and a nozzle to apply it. You can choose whichever works best for you. I loved the brush, as it was so easy to control the amount I used and place it only where I needed it.

As well as the glue, you will need plain wooden boxes or clean glass jars, acrylic paint in 2 different colours, and paintbrushes. If you want to stick any decorations such as buttons on, obviously you will need those too.

You can buy plain wooden boxes in craft stores such as Hobbycraft, or from Amazon. You don’t need to use expensive acrylic paint. I’m pretty sure mine came from a shop such as The Works at a really cheap price.

To begin, you will need to completely paint your box with one colour of the paint. Bear in mind that this layer will be the colour that you see in the cracks, not the main colour. I chose a yellowy-brown colour for the beach one and a dark green for the buttons.

Paint your box in the first colour and leave to dry completely. I left mine overnight to make sure it was thoroughly dry, but you can leave it for around 4 hours. If you want the inside to be the same colour as the cracks you can paint this too. Make sure you use something to prop the lid open while it dries though so the paint doesn’t get ruined.

This is where the fun starts. When the box is dry, paint a layer of wood glue on to one small section. The glue still needs to be wet for the next stage, which is why you MUST do this one section at a time.

Don’t worry about the glue going over the hinges. It dries clear so won’t be noticed when it is all complete. If you want thick cracks, paint the glue on in a thick layer. If you want fine cracks, paint a thin layer of glue on. If you want a mixture, paint it thinly with the glue but with a couple of thicker patches.

While the glue is still wet, use a different paintbrush to paint your main acrylic colour on top. (I used white for the beach box and lilac for the buttons). Make sure you do this gently but quickly in one layer, before the glue dries. If you apply too much pressure or paint the same area over and over you will end up mixing the paint into the glue, and it won’t crack at all. It doesn’t matter if it looks a bit uneven or patchy, as the cracks will hide that.

You will notice the paint start to crack almost immediately. As the glue dries it slightly contracts, pulling the paint layer apart and causing the cracks. You can let it dry naturally, but that will be time-consuming so it is best to help it along with a hair dryer on the coolest setting. This will speed up the process and let you move on to the next section within a minute or two. It is lovely to watch the cracks appear before your eyes!

Repeat this process on another section. Glue, paint while wet, then dry. Keep doing this until the whole box is complete.

I then painted the inside of my beach box in white to match the main colour on the outside.

When dry, you can fill it with whatever you choose.

If you want to add decorations, I would recommend using the superglue with the brush.

Simply brush a small amount of glue on to your decoration, and position it where you want it! Press it for a few seconds to make sure it has bonded, although it dries very quickly.

I glued buttons on to my button box, sticking some on top of others, until I got the design I wanted.

You can use the same method to paint your glass jar, although I managed to do each stage in one go rather with the glass. It was a lot quicker to do! Paint the whole jar in one colour and let it dry completely. I chose white for my bottom layer.

I couldn’t photograph the next stage as it had to be done super quick, but I then painted the jar in a layer of wood glue and quickly added a layer of dark blue on top. I used the hair dryer to dry it and finished the look with a matching blue ribbon tied into a bow around the top.

(Quick tip: if you have some sticky residue left on your jar from the old label, this is easily removed with just normal glass cleaner. Simply spray it on your jar then use the back of a dinner knife to softly scrape it off. It comes off so easily)!

Don’t they all look so pretty and effective? If you decide to have a go at this easy craft, I’d love to hear what you make! Have fun transforming the plain into the beautiful.

 

DISCLAIMER: I was sent the Gorilla Glue at no cost to be used in a craft project of my choice. All views and opinions are my own honest thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Pink Gin and Lemon Cupcakes

(DISCLAIMER: Contains an Amazon Associate link – I earn from qualifying purchases).

Unless you have been living in a cave lately you will have noticed that pink gin is everywhere at the moment. Social media is full of various types of pink gin with lots of different suggestions of ways to enjoy it.

My partner decided to buy some for me as he knows I love trying new things, so he came home with a bottle of Gordon’s Pink Gin. I couldn’t wait to try it but have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of tonic water so wanted to find another way to drink it. A quick Google search led me to my new favourite drink for the Summer… pink gin and lemonade. All of the versions I found of this included chopped strawberries in the glass. If you are looking for a nice refreshing fruity drink for a hot day, this is it. Half fill your glass with ice, add as many chopped strawberries as you want, pour in 50 ml of pink gin, and top up with lemonade. The fruitiness of the gin (raspberry, strawberry and redcurrant), combined with the lemonade and fresh strawberries makes a delicious choice for a warm Summer evening.

Every time I try a new drink my mind automatically starts thinking about how a cake or cheesecake would taste in that flavour, and this time was no exception. Straight away I imagined a lovely zingy lemon sponge, with pink gin buttercream, and chopped strawberries to decorate. It would also be amazing in cheesecake form so I will be making one of those very soon too.

I make lemon drizzle cupcakes regularly, and thought the sponge used in those would be perfect to use for pink gin cupcakes. I didn’t want the gin buttercream to overpower the lemon, I wanted it to be quite a delicate fresh flavour. If you would prefer a stronger gin flavour though, just add another spoonful.

For the buttercream I would strongly recommend using butter. This might sound obvious but I know some people use products like Stork or margarine. They really wouldn’t work in this recipe and would give a very sloppy result. I always use unsalted butter. It doesn’t need to be an expensive brand; supermarket own brand is just perfect.

PINK GIN AND LEMON CUPCAKES – Makes 12

FOR THE LEMON CUPCAKES

125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

175 g caster sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

finely grated zest of 1 large lemon, and the juice of the lemon in a separate cup

175 g self raising flour, sifted

pinch of salt

4 tbsp milk

70 g icing sugar

 

FOR THE PINK GIN BUTTERCREAM

200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

400 g icing sugar, sifted

2-3 tbsps Pink Gin, depending on taste

pink food colouring – in gel or paste form (I used Wilton Icing Colour)

 

TO DECORATE

Fresh strawberries, washed

 

  • Preheat your oven to 180C. Place cupcake cases into the 12 holes of a muffin tray.
  • Cream together the butter and caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs and lemon zest and beat well.
  • Gently fold in the flour and salt until it is all combined, and then add the milk. Fold carefully until the mixture is smooth.
  • Divide the mixture between the 12 cupcake cases. (You can use a spoon but I find it easier to use an ice cream scoop to ensure evenly sized cupcakes).
  • Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden and springy to touch.
  • While the cakes are baking, put the lemon juice and the 70 g of icing sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the icing sugar has dissolved. Leave to one side until the cakes are ready.
  • When the cakes are baked, remove from the oven and pierce each one all over with a cocktail stick while still in the muffin tray. Spoon the lemon juice syrup evenly over each cupcake so that it soaks into the sponge.
  • Place the cupcakes on to a wire cooling rack and leave until completely cool.

TO MAKE THE BUTTERCREAM AND DECORATE

  • Place the butter into a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat until soft. Gradually add the icing sugar a few spoonfuls at a time and continue to beat until it is all combined and smooth.
  • Add 2-3 tbsps of pink gin and again mix until combined and smooth. You might want to taste a little bit to make sure it is as strong or delicate flavoured as you would like, and add more if desired. Add a tiny bit of pink food colouring and mix until the buttercream is evenly coloured.
  • Spoon the buttercream into a large piping bag fitted with the piping nozzle of your choice (I use a 1M nozzle), and pipe a large swirl on to each cupcake.
  • Cut the strawberries into halves or quarters and place one piece on the top of each buttercream swirl.
  • Enjoy!

I hope you like this recipe as much as I do. My partner adores the lemon drizzle cupcakes I usually make but after eating one of these pink gin ones he said he prefers these! I think I have to agree 🙂

How do you enjoy your pink gin? Let me know in the comments. I’m intrigued to try new ideas with it.

Happy Baking!

If you can’t get to a shop to buy the gin, you can buy some from Amazon HERE