The Most Indulgent Carrot Cake Recipe Ever – Bakedin’s Carrot and Pecan Squares

 

DISCLAIMER: This post contains a link that will give you a 25% discount at Bakedin. If you use that discount, I will earn points which go towards a voucher for me to use at their shop too. You don’t have to use the code if you are unhappy about that, but you won’t then get a discount for yourself either. I pay for my subscription fully, as it is a subscription and a brand I adore. I haven’t been paid to write this post. All views are my own honest opinions. 

 

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while or who follow me on Twitter will know that I am a huge fan of the fantastic company Bakedin. I was first introduced to them in June 2016, when I received a sample of their famous mug cake kits in a foodie subscription box. I tried the mug cake and loved it. I loved it so much that I decided to join their Baking Club, which is a wonderful monthly baking subscription box. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Every month they send you all the dry ingredients you need to follow a beautiful recipe. The ingredients are top quality and conveniently weighed out for you so you know you have the right amounts of everything. They also provide piping bags (if needed for that recipe), baking paper, skewers to test the bake is ready, and a butter measure guide so you can add the required amount of butter without the need for scales (although I still use my scales). You also get a beautifully presented recipe card, with a mouthwatering photo of the bake on the front, the instructions on how to make it inside, and the ingredient list of what is in the kit and what you need to provide on the back, as well as allergen information and nutritional information. You only ever need to provide a few basic ingredients which most people already have in the cupboard or fridge, such as eggs or butter, and occasionally fruit (or in this case, carrots).

In all the time I have been a member of the Baking Club, there has never been a bad recipe. Every one has been amazing, and each month I think that the latest recipe is my favourite. But then I make the next one, and that becomes my favourite. They just get better and better. Scrumptious recipes including cookies, muffins, loaf cakes, tarts, eclairs, biscotti, and cakes. This month though… this month’s recipe was just mindblowingly good!

Carrot cake is one of my all-time favourite cakes. Whenever I go out with friends for coffee and cake, I’ll always choose carrot cake. When I saw that this month we would need carrots, I have to admit to being excited as I knew it must be carrot cake themed. The box arrived and it contained pecan nuts in the ingredients, and I was even more excited as they are my favourite type of nut. It was an easy recipe to follow, and the result was the most indulgent carrot cake I have ever eaten in my life (and I have eaten a lot)!!

The texture of the cake was the lightest, softest sponge imaginable, thanks in part to the Top Tip from Michel Roux in the recipe. (All recipes are approved by Michel Roux himself, which shows they must be superb)! The carrot and pecan cake had the fluffiest buttercream I have ever known, flavoured with cinnamon. It was like a wonderful whipped mousse, light as air. The buttercream recipe was completely different to how I would normally make buttercream, but having made it the Bakedin way I will be making it that way for lots of bakes from now on. As if that wasn’t stunning enough, the kit had the ingredients to make a pecan brittle to break up and sprinkle as a lovely crunchy topping. That just made it even more luxurious. I am so glad I now have this recipe, as I will be making it regularly. It is perfect with a cuppa, but equally suited as a dessert at a dinner party as it is so delicate and light.

The Baking Club has a lovely Facebook closed group where everyone shares their pictures of the bakes, tips and advice, and baking chat. This month’s bake seems to be a massive hit with everyone, with lots of people saying it is their favourite, and that they will be making it again.

I cannot share the recipe with you, as it is exclusive to Bakedin, but I can tell you how to get it for yourself, and I can even give you a little discount if you decide to buy it from them. But you’ll have to be quick! Bakedin release the latest recipe to everyone to buy in their online shop, but only until the next month’s recipe is sent, so you have until around 16th June to get your hands on this beauty. You, like me, will then be able to make it time and time again.

 

If you are interested in joining the Baking Club, click HERE to go to the website. It costs just £9 a month which includes postage, or you can buy a 3, 6 or 12 month subscription which works out cheaper.

If you want to buy the Carrot and Pecan Squares recipe kit, click HERE. It costs £9, and postage is additional.

 

I promised you a little discount so here it is. How do you fancy 25% off your first purchase over £8? Sound good? Well if you use THIS LINK you will be taken to their site and you will receive a code on screen to use at the checkout giving you this discount on your entire order. You can use it on anything on the website, so have a good look at all their amazing products! They have mug cakes, recipe kits, alcoholic cakes, layer cakes, baking equipment, aprons and tea towels… so much to choose from!

Happy Baking!!!

 

 

 

An Easy Table Centrepiece For All Occasions Using Picture Frames

DISCLAIMER: I was sent the Gorilla Glue products free of charge to use on craft projects, but this does not affect my opinions of them. All views are my own.

I love finding or making versatile items that can be used for lots of different things. One item to suit so many occasions. I recently made one such item, and it was so quick and easy to do, needing just a few things to make it.

There’s probably a name for this type of centrepiece but my brain isn’t telling me it so I’ll just call it a picture frame display. I have seen other people make square ones and stick photographs on each side, with a light inside to illuminate them gently. They are very pretty, but I wanted something that I could re-use at Christmas, barbecues, family get-togethers, birthdays, etc. I also wanted a different shape to the square ones I have seen, so decided to make a triangle one. You could of course make it any shape you want, but bear in mind that the more picture frames you use, the bigger it will be so the more space it will need on your table.

I mentioned already that it is easy to make, and that is thanks to using top quality products to hold the frames together. The people I have seen making the square ones have used hot glue to stick theirs together, but it is much easier to use a super adhesive tape instead. Gorilla Glue have a fantastic tape called Gorilla Tape Crystal Clear. It is a virtually invisible, super strong, waterproof, airtight, flexible tape, making it perfect for this project (and many others).

Depending on what you will be putting inside your centrepiece, you might need to glue a base on to the bottom. For this, I used Gorilla Glue Super Glue Precise Gel. It has a very thin nozzle, and the glue is a thick gel, making it much easier to control exactly where you apply it with no run. It dries rapidly too making it perfect for quick projects, and has a very strong hold. I only needed a base on my display for the one at the start of this post. I didn’t fancy trying to clear a pile of sand up at the end!!!

As well as the tape and glue, you will need 3 picture frames all the same size, a pen, strong thick cardboard, and a pair of scissors or craft knife. That is all. You can use elaborate looking frames or plain, but the edges will need to be straight so they can meet up perfectly to hold them together. You can paint your frames too if you prefer, to match the occasion. THIS CRACKLE EFFECT would look effective for this.

To begin, take any paper, pictures, mounts, and the backing from the picture frames. Keep the glass in though, and bend the fasteners down to hold it firmly in place.

Make sure the fasteners are not visible through the glass from the front. If they are, just bend them a bit more until you can no longer see them.

When you have done this, lie them on the table face down and position them side by side in a row. They need to be perfectly lined up so that there are no gaps at the bottom.

Cut a strip of tape long enough to completely stick 2 frames together without any gaps. You might need to cut the tape into a thinner strip depending on the thickness of your frames. Repeat to stick the second and third frames together. As you can see in the picture above, the tape is practically invisible.

To make the triangle shape, cut a strip of tape and stick it on either the left or the right open sides, so that it is half on the frame and half off. Stand the frames up, fold the overhanging tape back, and bring the frames together to form the triangle shape. Press the frames together well so that the overhanging strip perfectly joins them. If you can see any tape above the tops of the frames, carefully cut that off.

The tape is so strong that this will now hold together for multiple uses. If you want a base on yours, stand the frames on a strong piece of thick card and draw around it as close to the frames as possible.

Cut the shape out just inside the lines you have drawn, so that it doesn’t stick out when you glue it on to the frames. You can use scissors but I found it easier to use a craft knife. If using a knife, obviously make sure you have something underneath the card so you don’t cut your table!!

Squeeze a line of the Super Glue Gel on to the bottom of each frame.

Carefully place the cardboard cutout on to the frames, making sure it is lined up exactly, then press the edges down firmly.

Your display is now ready to use! You can fill it with decorative sand, as I did in the first picture. I added a candle and some shells. This would be perfect for beach themed wedding table centrepieces or Summer parties. Or use it as a terrarium to display small succulents or cacti.

How about some dried oranges, cinnamon sticks, and gourds for an Autumnal table?

Or filled to the top with baubles and beads for Christmas, You could add fairy lights to make it really pretty.

You could layer different coloured strings of beads and add a candle for a Christmas dinner table.

Or place a little posy of flowers inside to stop little fingers messing with them. For the display below, I just covered a shot measuring cup with copper twine, and used it to hold some forget-me-nots from the garden. This would make a fitting centrepiece for a funeral wake. (You won’t need a base for little flower arrangements).

These are just a few ideas. As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless!

Happy crafting 🙂

 

 

 

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!