Cinnamon Sugar Spiced Nuts – A Comforting Snack

cinnamon spiced nuts

My son and I recently went to the BBC Good Food Show, and while we were there we bought some absolutely delicious cinnamon coated nuts. They were so scrumptious, and we were sad when they had all gone. I decided to have a go at making some myself.

I tried a few recipes with varying success. Some just made the nuts very sticky and then set so hard I couldn’t separate the nuts at all. The best ones used egg whites, so I knew that was the way I was going to go with mine. One thing they all lacked though was the cinnamon hit that I had loved so much at the Food Show. I love the taste of cinnamon. It is one of my all-time favourite flavours. My family share my love of the sweet spice too, so I knew I needed to add plenty to get the recipe perfect. Some recipes add vanilla to the mix. I personally preferred it without, but you can add some for even more sweetness if you want. Most recipes also add salt. That is an ingredient I very rarely use. I only add it to recipes where it is needed to cause certain reactions with other ingredients. If you fancy a sweet and salty kick though, by all means add a little bit.

cinnamon spiced nuts

I tried using different types of nut, and discovered that some work better than others. Hazelnuts and almonds are very hard, and I found they needed a lot longer in the oven at a lower temperature to get the right texture. Pecans, walnuts and cashews are not as naturally crunchy and these turned out to be our favourites for this recipe. The cinnamon coating is very crispy when the nuts have cooled, so the contrast in textures just adds even more pleasure to eating them. You can use just one type of nut or use a combination like I did. Pecans and walnuts hold more of the coating due to their bumpy surface, whereas the smoothness of cashews gives them a thin covering. All equally delicious. Don’t use ones that are already roasted or toasted though!

I have made these both with cinnamon as the only spice, and with speculaas spice mix instead. You don’t need as much speculaas spice as just cinnamon, as the other spices in speculaas add a lot more depth of flavour. I would definitely recommend trying them with speculaas spice mix though. Whether you use cinnamon or speculaas, your whole house will smell amazing while they are in the oven!

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CINNAMON SUGAR SPICED NUTS

1 large egg white

1 tbsp cold water

350g pecans, walnuts or cashews, or combination of all 3

200g granulated sugar

2 tbsp ground cinnamon, or 1 tbsp Speculaas spice mix (you can use more or less to taste)

 

  • Preheat your oven to 140c/130c fan. Line a shallow baking tray with foil and then lightly grease the foil with butter.
  • In a small bowl mix the sugar and cinnamon (or speculaas spice) together.
  • Pour the egg white and water into a large bowl and whisk until it is white and foamy, like the bubbles when you wash the dishes. Don’t whisk too much or it will be too dry. You don’t want to get it to a meringue stage!
  • Tip the nuts into the bowl and mix well until every nut is covered in the egg white.

  • Add the cinnamon sugar to the bowl and mix until the nuts are completely coated and there is no egg white foam showing. (Don’t forget, cashews won’t hold as much of the coating as pecans and walnuts so don’t worry if they don’t look as coated… they will hold more after some time in the oven).

  • Tip the nuts on to the baking tray and spread them out to make a single layer. Some might stick together, but that is normal).

  • Place in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, stirring and spreading them back into one layer every 15 minutes to help them cook evenly. You’ll find the cashews take on more of the coating after the first stir too. When you take them out of the oven at the end of the 45 minutes, stir them up. They should look nice and dry. If they look slightly wet or sticky, just pop them back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

  • Leave to cool completely on the tray, then store in an airtight container.

When the nuts are cooled and you are transferring them to a container for storage, you’ll find lots of crunchy bits of the coating that are left on the tray.

Don’t throw these away! They taste soooooooo good. Put these into a little jar too as they make a heavenly sweet crispy topping to sprinkle over ice cream or other desserts. You can see my little jar on the left in the photo below.

candied nuts

If you want to try them with speculaas spices I would recommend the vandotsch speculaas mix, available HERE.

I can guarantee you will want to make these again and again as they are totally addictive. I asked for recommendations on Twitter for the best places to buy large packs of nuts, and after checking out each one I am happy to recommend you buy them from GRAPE TREE. Their 1kg packs are the cheapest I have seen and I know from experience that they only sell top quality ingredients.

I hope you love them as much as we do. Let me know if you try them 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ear and Head Pain in Aeroplanes – How To Prevent It

DISCLAIMER: Before I begin, let me say I am not a medical practitioner or an aviation expert. All advice and recommendations given in this post are from my own personal experiences, and those of my partner who also suffers from this condition. Even though I am recommending one product in this post, it is from personal experience not any affiliation with the brand.

 

It’s that time of year, schools are starting to break up for the Summer break, and many people will be excited at the thought of flying off for a relaxing holiday abroad. There will also be some people who will have their holiday booked but who will be absolutely dreading the flights. Some people might even decide not to fly because they can’t bear the pain they get in their ears and head, and nothing seems to work to prevent it.

I had never been in an aeroplane until I was in my 30s. A friend of mine owns a successful diving centre in Mexico and I decided to go and visit him for my very first holiday abroad. People told me my ears might pop as the plane ascends and again when it descends, and had told me to chew some gum or suck some boiled sweets to ease any discomfort. Surprisingly though, I had no discomfort at all on that flight, either going or coming back.

My next holiday abroad was to beautiful Malta. I was so looking forward to it. I settled into my seat on the plane, my son next to me, and my partner next to him. Everything was fine. My ears popped a bit as we ascended but that was OK. A few hours later the pilot announced we were going to be descending shortly, and that was where my nightmare began. My ears popped and then the pain started. Pain like I had never felt before. And it just kept on building up, stronger and stronger. It is hard to explain how bad it was, but I honestly thought I was dying. It felt like immense pressure building up, first in my ears and then spreading across my face and head. The pain was explosive. I looked around at the other passengers. Everyone was laughing, chatting, just the normal stuff. I looked at my partner. He had a funny look on his face but I thought he was fine. My son was chatting away but I could barely hear him. The pain took over everything. I’ll be honest, I was scared. Why was no one else feeling it? I had no idea what this was. I had never heard of anyone getting pain like this before. And all the time the pressure and pain were just building and building. I wondered if I should inform the cabin crew that in a few moments everyone was going to be covered in my brain matter. I literally felt like my head was about to explode. I genuinely didn’t think I was getting off that plane alive.

After what seemed like an eternity, the plane landed. I felt huge relief that I had survived the descent. If you have never experienced this condition, you will think I’m grossly exaggerating how severe the pain was, but I’m really not. I felt ill getting off the plane, like I was going to pass out. For most people with this condition, the pain eases or goes completely when the door is opened. This isn’t the case for me. My hearing was muffled, my eyes kept wanting to close, and my head and ears were agony. When we arrived at our hotel I went straight to bed. My son and partner went out to get something to eat, and they brought some food back to the hotel for me, but I was in no state to eat. I fell asleep clutching my head.

The next day I still didn’t feel well but didn’t want to ruin any more holiday time. We had an island to explore. As the day went on the pain subsided, and we had an absolutely fantastic 2 weeks. Talking to my partner before the flight home, I told him about that pain and he confessed that he had it too, but as no one else seemed to be struggling on the plane, he felt too silly to tell me. His pain went when the door had opened, unlike mine. He had flown a lot more than I had, and he said he had experienced it on most flights. We were both feeling anxious about the flight home, for fear of the pain coming back. I told myself it was a one off. I had been fine going to Mexico, I would be fine on this flight too. If only! As the plane started to descend over England I could feel that dreaded pressure building again. It was exactly like the flight there. Intense explosive pain all over again. My partner had it too. But again, his went when we landed and they opened the door. Mine stayed for 2 full days this time.

This experience actually put me off flying. I decided the only way to guarantee I’d never get that pain again would be if I never went on an aeroplane. My partner went on a few holidays with family and friends but I refused. He had the pain every single time, but as before, his always went when the door opened. He has tried every technique that Google recommmends, and every decongestant spray. Nothing worked.

A few years ago though he begged me to go to Disney World in Orlando. I could see the excitement on my son’s face, so agreed. A few weeks before we went, my partner (who is a gas engineer) had a job to do at a nurse’s house. They were chatting about holidays and he told her about the pain we both get on flights. We had spoken to people about it after Malta, but no one had a clue what we were talking about. They thought we just meant that our ears popped. This nurse knew exactly what he meant though as she had suffered with it too. That was until a pilot had told her about a fantastic little solution. She told my partner what to buy, but I was still sceptical.

how to prevent ear pain on planes

Let me introduce you to EarPlanes. The most amazing little invention ever. Well, they are if you suffer with the ear pain anyway. I don’t work with the company, I don’t get any commission if you buy them, I am genuinely just trying to help people who experience the pain. Holidays should be fun and exciting, not overshadowed by agony. We had never heard of them and if my partner hadn’t chatted to that nurse, we still wouldn’t have. I’m guessing there will be a lot of people reading this who haven’t either, so I really hope this helps you.

EarPlanes are hypoallergenic latex-free silicone ear plugs that you fit into your ear an hour before landing and remove when the plane has landed and the door has opened. If you suffer with ear pain when the plane ascends too, you can put them in just before take off, and then remove them when the plane reaches maximum altitude. They form an airtight seal in your ear canal and have a special filter in them that regulates the pressure in your ear, reducing or completely preventing any discomfort.

You can also buy them for children or people with smaller ears, but obviously you would need to help a child insert them to make sure they fit properly.

You can also buy re-usable ones, which can be used for up to 10 flights.

When we flew to Orlando, my partner put his EarPlanes in an hour before we landed and had no pain whatsoever. Stupidly, I didn’t use my pair. My son was chatting away excitedly and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to hear him if I had them in. Plus I figured that as it was a similar flight to going to Mexico, I would be OK this time. Big mistake. If anything, the pain this time was even worse than I had experienced with Malta! Sheer agony. I couldn’t talk to my son anyway due to how much pain I was in, so I was cross with myself that I hadn’t worn my EarPlanes, especially seeing my partner looking happy and relaxed and pain-free. And just like in Malta, I had to go straight to bed in the hotel while my son and partner went off exploring the area.

I had learnt my lesson for the flight home, and put the EarPlanes in when the pilot announced we would be starting to descend shortly. My partner had already put his in but I waited as long as possible before using mine. The plane started to descend and I waited with baited breath for the pain to start. What a difference! No pain whatsoever! I was surprised to discover that they don’t completely block out sounds as I thought they would, so I could still have a conversation with my son too. A completely pain-free conversation. It was like a miracle for me.

EarPlanes have been a game-changer for us. Pain-free flights, more time being able to enjoy the holiday. I have recommended them to a couple of people recently, which is what made me decide to write this post. If you talk to your GP about that pain, most will have no idea what it feels like and will just recommend a decongestant. That might help some people a little bit, but didn’t work for us. Not many people seem to know about these genius little ear plugs, but that needs to change. People suffer in agonising silence and not many people understand how extreme the pain is. You might have read this and not had any idea that some people go through this on flights, but if anyone you know ever mentions it to you, please recommend they try EarPlanes.

You can buy them on Amazon or at Boots, and I really think they should sell them on aeroplanes too, but unfortunately they don’t.

Read the reviews on Amazon if you are unsure about them. So many people being able to enjoy flights for the first time. I’d love to know if they work for you too.

CLICK HERE TO FIND THEM ON AMAZON

Have a great holiday! Pain-free 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Make a Beautiful Stained Glass Effect Using Glue

Stained Glass

DISCLAIMER: This post uses Gorilla Glue products which were sent to me free of charge to use on craft projects. All views and opinions are my own and not influenced by this in any way. 

I absolutely love stained glass, especially when the sun shines through it reflecting the beautiful colours on to anything nearby. Stained glass items can cost a lot of money though, so I decided to have a go at making my own. Well ok, it’s not actual stained glass, but the effect is very similar.

The trickiest part if you are as indecisive as I am, is finding a design you like. You can Google “free stained glass patterns” and you will find gazillions! Or you can design your own. I found the heart pattern above on Google. I also made a hummingbird picture, but that was taken from a photo I took of a stunning bird bath I saw in a garden centre.

You don’t need much for this project. Obviously you need glass or similar. I had a spare small picture frame lying around, so I took the back off it and used the glass in that for the heart design. The hummingbird was made on a sheet of clear perspex. You could even use a sheet of acetate and then cut around your design to turn it into a suncatcher on your window. If you saw THIS PROJECT you could decorate the sides with a stained glass effect and place a small candle inside (make sure the design is on the outside).

As well as the glass or perspex, you will need 2 types of glue. Gorilla Glue have every kind of glue imaginable, so they are the perfect brand to use. You need wood glue, and clear glue. Luckily Gorilla Glue have both, and they are top quality. You can buy these in most craft shops, Amazon, DIY shops… they are everywhere so very easy to find.

You will also need something to colour the glues. It took me a lot of experimenting to find the best type of product to use for this, so I have saved you the hassle of that. The black lines use wood glue and have to be very thick to hold their shape, and so adding any liquid colour makes the mixture too runny. I tried mixing the wood glue (which is white) with black acrylic paint but I kept getting various shades of grey, not black. I found the perfect colour and consistency was achieved using black food colouring paste. It has to be the paste or gel type though. Liquid is too runny. Dr Oetker has an Extra Strong Black food colour gel, but I used Sugarflair Black Extra. I hardly needed any to get a very strong black colour.

The colours on the design use clear glue, and you don’t want the mixture to be too thick or the light won’t come through as much. After lots of experiments I found liquid colours to be best for the design. You could use liquid food colouring, readily available from most supermarkets. Or you could use alcohol inks, which is what I used.

Gorilla Glue and alcohol inks

Now I’ve explained the importance of the right types of colours, let me show you how I did it.

HOW TO MAKE A STAINED GLASS EFFECT PICTURE

You will need:

  • Sheet of glass/clear perspex/acetate
  • Gorilla Glue Wood Glue
  • Gorilla Glue Clear Glue
  • Black food colour paste or gel
  • Liquid food colours or alcohol inks
  • Cocktail sticks or thin paint brushes
  • Yoghurt pots or similar to mix colours in
  • Disposable piping bag

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Print out the design of your choice and place your sheet of glass on top of it.

  • Pour some wood glue in to a pot and mix in some black food colour paste until you get a rich black colour. Pour the black glue mixture into a piping bag and cut the very tip off. Practice piping some lines of the glue on to some scrap paper. If the lines are too thin, just cut a tiny bit more off the tip of the bag to make the hole slightly bigger.
  • When you can pipe lines of the required thickness, pipe the lines of the design on to your glass, simply piping over the printed outline which you can see below the glass.

  • When you have finished the outline, leave to dry completely overnight.

  • Now it is time to colour in the design. Pour a small amount of clear glue into a small pot and add a few drops of your chosen liquid colour. Mix well with a cocktail stick. Using either a small brush or the cocktail stick, fill in any sections of the design which require that colour. The mixture starts to set fairly quickly so do all the sections for that colour first. (I found it much easier to use just a cocktail stick by scopping up a blob of the mixture on to the end and gently spreading it to cover the section, making sure it went right up to the black lines).

  • Repeat this with each colour you need for your design, until it is completely filled in.

stained glassstained glass

  • Leave until dry.
  • When dry, if you are putting it in a picture frame, simply use some clear glue or superglue around the inside edges of the frame and place your glass on to the glue, pressing firmly but gently for around 30 seconds to bond. Leave until set before displaying it.

And there you have your stained glass masterpiece! Place it in a sunny spot in your room so that the light can shine through it and make the colours dazzle.

Just look at the reflection of the design as the sun shines through it:

If you do try this, I would love to see your finished design. Let me know what you make. Have fun!

Stained glass effect

 

 

 

Polish Cake – A Quick and Easy No Bake Treat

 

To say my childhood was eventful would be a huge understatement. It had some major low points, with some moments of loveliness thrown in. One of the events which happened as a result of other events was me being fostered for a while. I could tell you so much about my foster family. Maybe one day I will.

Jean, my foster mother, used to cook all meals from scratch. She was a fantastic cook. Everything she made was made with love, and was heartily comforting to eat. One of the treats she used to make was Polish Cake. I have no idea if it is really from Poland, although I highly doubt it is as I can find no mention of it anywhere else. And it is not a cake. But she called it Polish Cake, so the name stuck. Luckily she gave the recipe to my sister so we have been able to carry on making it, and our children have had the pleasure of it too. My son absolutely loves it, just like I always have. It used to be such a wonderful treat. Strange as it may sound, no matter how tough the day had been, Polish Cake made everything better.

It is such a simple sweet treat. A biscuit base topped with chocolate. You could jazz it up and add various extra ingredients such as glace cherries, nuts etc to make a tiffin type treat, but I love it just as it is. It is meant to be topped with dark chocolate, but I use milk chocolate as my son hates dark. It is still delicious with milk, but it does taste even better with dark. It is entirely your choice though which you use.

You can make it in any shape tin you like. I prefer to use square or rectangle as it is easier to cut. I find it helps to line the tin with baking/greaseproof paper to make removing the Polish Cake a lot easier. You can use any sized tin you prefer, but note that the bigger the tin, the thinner the Cake will be. I like to double up on the ingredients and use a 12 x 7 inch tin. That makes the thickness you see in the photograph. If you do that, you won’t need to double up on the chocolate amount for the top, just add an extra 50g. You will still have enough.

I hope you love this as much as we all do!


POLISH CAKE

225g digestive biscuits

100g unsalted butter

1 generous tbsp golden syrup

4 rounded tsp drinking chocolate

150g dark chocolate

  • Grease and line a baking tin, using a strip of baking paper the same width as your tin, and long enough to cover the bottom and 2 sides with a bit extra to help to lift it out when it is ready.
  • Crush the digestive biscuits into crumbs. This is easiest in a food processor, but you can also place them in a ziplock bag, and bash them with the end of a rolling pin.
  • Place the butter, syrup and drinking chocolate in a large saucepan and heat gently until melted. Keep stirring until it becomes smooth. It might look like it has all separated, but keep mixing and it will come together. Remove from the heat.
  • Add the crushed biscuits to the pan and mix well until thoroughly combined.
  • Tip the biscuit mixture into your prepared tin and press down firmly and evenly with the back of a spoon.
  • Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. (Or you can melt it in a heatproof bowl in the microwave, checking it every 10 seconds to make sure it doesn’t burn).
  • Pour the melted chocolate over the biscuit and spread it evenly to cover.
  • Place in the fridge until set.
  • Lift the Polish Cake out of the tin using the paper to help you. Cut into preferred sized pieces with a long sharp knife, and enjoy!

 

 

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.