Tag Archives: Baking

Channelling Creativity – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 13

When writing my blog posts, I usually find that inspiration will hit for the next during the writing process, although I do occasionally find myself scrabbling around for ideas to develop and explore. This post is the result of one such experience. The truth about the last 13 weeks for most of us is that one week has very much been like another. In our household, weekdays have, and continue to involve, getting up and ready for the day, heading downstairs for work or homeschooling, some venturing out for water, lunch and copious amounts of coffee and eventually the end of the day, for me at least.

Evenings are time for family, daily exercise and bed. Weekends vary a little with no work and much longer walks with the children, but the truth is, there isn’t necessarily a lot of new and exciting things to share with anyone most of the time.

However, the one thing we have been doing is spending time developing some new skills and channelling the creativity hiding inside. With no choir rehearsals, sports or performing arts going on, it’s been really important to find other ways to spend our free time. As I’ve mentioned before, M has been honing his photography skills in preparation of starting his GCSE syllabus next year, whilst both he and G have been choosing to bake different treats every couple of weeks, which have been delicious to taste-test afterwards. G also decided that she wanted to share her joy of dancing with our community as a whole, so every lunchtime, 6 days a week, she goes out for an hour’s exercise and dances her way through our village.

I have also been feeding my inner creativity by learning to knit, a skill that both my Dad and my Gran first shared with me as a child and something I’ve long been tempted to revisit. Someone in our village offered some “How to Knit” kits near to the start of lockdown and whilst I don’t think I’ll be winning any awards for the end results, it’s been fun to relearn how to do it. And thanks to the discovery of a box of brand-new baby clothes and other paraphenalia from a few years ago hiding in the study, I’ve spent a few hours creating some baby bouquets and clothes bundles. With the help of one of the ward sisters, we’ve been able to donate these to

the NICU at our local hospital, somewhere that looked after both G and M at the very start of their lives. G helped out here as well, by making some beautiful hand-drawn congratulations postcards to accompany each bundle. It was fab to not only flex my creative muscles once again, but to also work with G to create something beautiful we could share with others in our community.

The Box Bakery

At the end of April, we enjoyed a great evening joining in the virtual awards ceremony for the FreeFrom Food Awards 2020 (#FFFA20). It’s always great fun to go to the evening as not only do I finally get to share with the rest of the family the gold winners from the categories I’ve judged, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to discover some of the other great products that might prove to be safe for M and something new we can introduce to his food repertoire.

This year was no exception, despite lockdown meaning that the Awards could only be held via Zoom and there were a couple of products I made note of to search out as soon as the celebrations were done. Thanks to the power of shopping on the internet, at least one of these new discoveries has already arrived with us, gone through quarantine and been used. Winning a gold in the innovation category, the Gluten free Wholegrain bread mix by The Box Bakery fascinated us all. The idea that we (by which I of course actually mean G and M) could whip up a safe loaf with nothing more than the box, the oven and some water obviously meant that it was something that had to be tried as soon as I could get my hands on it.

In almost no time at all, the boxes arrived at our house and with VE day celebrations looming, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to get M started on his first loaf of bread, especially during lockdown. I left him to it, with some minimal supervision from Mike, and the end result was absolutely brilliant. It really was as easy as it…well…as it says on the box. He measured and added the water, gave it a good shake and popped it into the oven. The final loaf needed a few minutes more than was recommended, but it was worth the wait. Both M and G were delighted with the loaf and it’s nice to be able to add another safe bread to M’s diet. The flavour, texture and ease of baking all scored highly in M’s books and he was especially delighted by the crust. He also much preferred it fresh from the oven, but was happy to finish it off in sandwiches the following day.

M’s marks: 9.5 (he deducted the half point as it wasn’t as good once it was “cold”!)

A (cheat’s) guide to pastry!

It feels a little odd to be reviewing products at the moment, but lockdown hasn’t stopped us finding and trying new things and I wanted to share this review from a few weeks ago. It’s been 4 years since I tentatively ventured into the world of M-friendly pastry, concentrating my efforts on using the small handful of safe ingredients that were open to him at that time to create croissants and apple turnovers. They weren’t the roaring success that I would have liked them to be, but given I’d never turned my hand to even “normal” pastry before, I honestly felt they weren’t bad for a first attempt. I always meant to give it another go, but somehow it was never quite the right time and, other than fleeting thoughts in the middle of the night, the idea to try and achieve the perfect M-friendly pastry with a new and improved recipe never once really crossed my mind.

So, my latest discovery of the Jus-rol gluten-free puff pastry on the pre-lockdown fridge shelves of our local supermarket opened up a new and exciting realm of baking in our household. As well as being gluten-free, this prepared pastry is also dairy-, soya- and egg-free, which makes it a safe option for both children. The blend of different flours and vegetable fibres also meant that it fitted in perfectly with the most recent food trials agreed with M’s consultant, who suggested we try expanding M’s repertoire slowly by introducing regular gluten-free pasta, rather than the rice pasta we usually buy. The reason for this was preparation for M’s much hoped-for and long-planned school trip to Sorrento, supposedly happening this June, but cancelled due to COVID-19. It means that M won’t be able to travel this year, but our plan is to persevere with the trial with a hope that he will get to Italy as some point in the future, be that with school or with us.

Mike took on the first challenge of cooking with the puff pastry and made some bacon and cheese pastry parcels for tea. Sadly, and somewhat typically, being my husband and children, there was no thought to provide any photographic evidence of how they turned out, but given the fact that they all disappeared before I returned home from choir, they appear to have been a roaring success. With that in mind, next it was my turn and I decided to see how well the pastry would lend itself to a sweet, rather than savoury offering. Thanks to a plethora of apples and pears in the fridge, plus the fact that I know even G will happily eat a sweet fruity treat containing both of those ingredients, apple – and pear – turnovers seemed the obvious choice.

Quick and easy to cut, prepare and bake, I can’t rave enough just how easy this puff pastry is to use. It took me hardly any time at all to prep the turnovers for the oven and 20 or so minutes later they were ready. I left them to cool on the counter and managed to steer both G and M away from them long enough to sit down and eat their main courses before diving into dessert. There’s no question that the Jus-rol gluten-free puff pastry has been a big success in the 7Y2D household for both sweet and savoury dishes. Even better, the ease of use means that both children would be able to prepare pastry dishes of their choice with only very minimal supervision needed from me.

Honing lifeskills – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 5

One of the unexpected advantages of living in lockdown has been seeing G and M start to take on a little more responsibility at home and honing some important lifeskills to see them surviving when they hit adulthood. I started with expecting them to fend for themselves at lunchtime, avoiding too many snack-based choices and including some healthier options to ensure a relatively balanced meal and, after a first week of moans and groans about what they were eating for dinner, sat them down to meal plan their dinners for the following week. They had to work together on agreeing meals that they would both enjoy and, where a compromise couldn’t be reached, settling on something that would be similar, but different. An example of this was the great lasagne vs. macaroni cheese debate, as G dislikes the texture of lasagne, whilst M would choose to eat anything but macaroni cheese. They agreed to disagree and so have one night in the week where they eat their own preferred pasta option.

Whilst planning their menu for the week ahead, G and M also had to take into consideration what staples we had in the house and what would need to be added to our weekly food delivery. We have been using a local food co-operative for well over a decade for our fresh fruit, veg and meats and they have been great at continuing to provide their food delivery service during the coronavirus crisis. The natural next step from meal planning was to get them more involved with cooking dinner as well, building off the cookery lessons they’ve both had at school. They were already well-versed in prepping their own fruit and veg for a meal, but they can both now competently fully make some of the simpler meals as well as working alongside either Mike or me with the more complex ones.

G and M have an undeniable sweet tooth and the last few weeks have been a great opportunity for them to flex their baking muscles too. The interesting thing has been that they have worked both together and independently when it has come to choosing and making their sweet treats. The starting point has almost always been to see what recipes they can find on my blog and then checking if we have the ingredients in the kitchen cupboards. So far, we’ve enjoyed chocolate cookies, shortbread and carrot cake and I can’t wait to see what they whip up next.

The great thing is that G and M are not only learning to cook and bake, but they’re also honing their skills in following a recipe and realising when sometimes it might need to be tweaked slightly to make the perfect dish. They’ve discovered the benefits of menu planning and experienced the frustration of when a key ingredient is missing from the store cupboard and needing to think on their feet to find an alternative. They’ve learnt to really work together, to listen to and respect what the other is saying and, when a compromise can’t be found immediately, to walk away and give each other space. I think that they’ve also discovered that cooking and baking can bring a much-needed therapeutic release from the tensions that we’re all experiencing from living on top of each other in uncertain times and re-centre their sense of emotional and mental well-being.

Learning to Cook

A few years ago we encountered some problems when G wanted to learn to cook gluten- and dairy-free recipes in her school cookery classes. Her teacher appeared reluctant to help G learn how to adapt the “normal” recipes to suit her dietary needs and even told her that she would have to bake a normal red velvet cake because baking an allergy-friendly one would require too much work. It was not the most auspicious experience we would have with their school and one that would leave me feeling a little jaded about what might happen when it came time for M to start his round of food technology lessons.

Fortunately, M’s Year 7 teacher was willing to work with us when it came to each of the dishes he would be preparing in class and all in all, it was a positive start to M’s life at secondary school. This year M found himself once more in the cycle of food tech classes and all I could hope was that his Year 9 experience would be as good as his Year 7 one. As luck would have it, his teacher this year was keen to make sure that M could learn how to cook safe food for himself just as his classmates do and encouraged M to adapt every recipe to suit his particular dietary requirements, no hesitation and no fear that it would be too difficult to manage.

Having a teacher that not only helped M learn to cook, but who was also interested to find out more about how and why we made the adaptations we do was a huge boost to M’s confidence. Her attention to detail and preparedness to make sure that the cross-contamination risks of sharing a classroom kitchen and work-spaces with other

13 and 14 year-olds were reduced as much as practicable helped reassure him every week he cooked. M even shared my blog with her as he wanted her to understand more about his condition and see the many recipes that I’ve already adapted to suit his various allergy needs.

From chicken biryani to a prawn stir-fry and chilli con carne to a cheese and potato pasty (although that one wasn’t safe for him), M flexed his cooking muscles and has learned some great new skills that will stand him in good stead in the future. Our thanks have to go to a fantastic teacher who didn’t see M’s food allergies as a barrier to him learning to cook and worked with him to make sure that his health issues don’t stand in the way of achieving whatever he sets his mind to: that’s inclusion at its very best.

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea, One Aldwych

Given the morning had been spent tramping across the length and breadth of London, you can only imagine how delighted M and G were to eventually reach our final destination – One Aldwych Hotel. Ever since I had settled on taking my Mum to the Royal Opera House as part of her 70th birthday celebrations, I knew that I wanted to find somewhere for an afternoon tea which could cater for both children as well as the adults. Our last afternoon tea in London was over 16 years ago when I qualified as an accountant and treated the family to tea at the Ritz, all whilst pregnant with G. It was an amazing occasion and I really wanted to find somewhere to meet our expectations and previous experience if at all possible.

I spent weeks searching the internet and reading reviews before finally settling on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea offered at One Aldwych. I already knew a little about One Aldwych as Executive Chef Dominic Teague won the inaugural Pathfinder Award at the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards in 2016 and I had read all about the work he had done to create a completely gluten- and dairy-free restaurant without advertising the fact.

Our experience started with my initial contact with the hotel to see if they could cater for both G and M without too many problems. There then followed a flurry of emails between us to establish what safe foods could be prepared, keeping it relatively simple to suit G’s tastes and without pushing M’s boundaries too far. I asked for his meal to be MEWS-free and was impressed when they sent through to me a copy menu for what they thought they could make for both children. With a few tweaks here and there, we ended up with what looked to be an impressive selection of savoury and sweet treats, guaranteed to make this afternoon tea a truly special one for us all.

With one week left to go, there was just enough time to exchange one last email before we headed to London and I was able to order a MEWS-free celebration cake to mark the triple occasion – Mum’s 70th, G’s 16th and our 20th wedding anniversary – all in one fell swoop. I had also received a reassuring email from Executive Chef, Dominic Teague himself, explaining just how they would look after our table and take care to make sure the cross-contamination risks were reduced to as low as they possibly could be. Other than making sure that we had enough medicines with us to ensure that M was well-covered for the extra treats I knew he’d be trying, there was nothing more we could do until we arrived at One Aldwych itself.

On arrival, we were ushered upstairs to the beautiful dining space of One Indigo and quickly seated at our table. My one criticism of our afternoon is that service seemed to take a long time from beginning to end and we had been sitting at our table for a good 5 minutes before the restaurant manager appeared to introduce himself and tell us about what food we could expect to be served. However, everything settled, we then sat back to wait for our food to appear – and that was definitely worth the wait.

My one hesitation had been around the savoury items going to be served for G as she is not the most adventurous when it comes to food and although I had originally asked if she could have just plain GF/DF ham sandwiches, the final menu I had seen suggested that she would be given more than that. A little prompting ahead of time meant I’d agreed with her that she would try at least a mouthful of everything she was served, so you can imagine all our delight when a plate of safe ham sandwiches appeared for her as well as an allergy-friendly carrot puree and houmous tart, all of which she enjoyed with an enthusiasm just about matched by M as he enjoyed an incredible array of unexpectedly safe foods.

The pièce de résistance was, without question, the marvellous dessert selection that arrived for each of us. Cakes, scones, mousse and fruit kebabs made for a truly spectacular display and the selection provided for M was just as impressive as those for the rest of the table. The chocolate and raspberry celebration cake was wonderfully light, airy and delicious, though totally unnecessary given the amount of food we had to enjoy for the meal. My Mum, Mike and I were all delighted to be able to treat both children in such a way and one that we would never have thought was possible 4 or 5 years ago. My thanks go to Dominic Teague and his team at One Aldwych for giving us such a wonderful birthday meal – and for the boxes of leftovers we were able to take to enjoy at home later too!

Snow Globe Magic

If I’m perfectly honest, G’s 16th birthday cake is an idea that has been bubbling for a few years, ever since I first saw it shared on Facebook, but it’s taken me this long to pluck up the courage to actually give it a whirl and be organised enough to start the decorations more than 24 hours in advance of her birthday. I was very nervous about whether I’d be able to get it to work, but the end result was much better than I hoped and G was absolutely delighted with it. That was especially important given this was the girl who just a couple of weeks ago said that she didn’t really want to celebrate her birthday and wasn’t bothered about having a cake!

To start with, I found a brilliant new recipe for a gluten-free, vegan sponge cake on The Loopy Whisk and, with a few tweaks to make it just as G finally decided she wanted – a vanilla and chocolate chip cake – and ended up with a wonderfully light and delicious birthday cake for her. I also whipped up a batch of cupcakes for my choir’s Christmas meet-up from the same batter and despite a few issues around getting the timing of that bake right, I was thrilled with those as well.

Next it was on to the most challenging step of all – to create a “snow globe” to encase the top of G’s cake to make it a truly magical masterpiece. The instructions on how to make the globe from high quality melted glycerine can be found here as well as my “step-by-step” photos you can see here. I attempted a larger globe than for individual cupcakes, which was successful, but much trickier to coat the balloon than the instructions suggest. Also, a word to the wise, don’t use balloons that have writing/images printed on them – the only balloons I had tucked away at home were Over The Wall ones and so G’s snow globe had an unexpected additional image, which delighted her, but wasn’t quite what I was aiming for!

I kept the design on top of the cake quite simple and attempted a new buttercream icing using goats’ butter as that’s something she can tolerate without a problem and that M can have a little of as a treat. I always find it difficult to make a dairy-free icing that is stiff enough to pipe successfully, but this batch was better than ones I’ve created before and I think it will need to be a case of continued trial and error until I find that perfect recipe. So, with a layer of desiccated coconut snow, a simply piped Christmas tree and the requisite “16” candles, G’s birthday cake was complete for another year. And this year I was only up to 1.30am finishing it off!

A Sunday in London

After our late night at the Royal Opera House, you couldn’t have blamed us if we’d enjoyed a lie-in the following morning; however, always something of a glutton for punishment, I decided that we needed some exercise before we headed to the second part of my Mum’s birthday treat, the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych, and so we set off from the hotel by about 9.15am. Suitcases packed and left at the hotel for pick-up before our train home, we set off along the South Bank towards Westminster bearing little more than handbags and the requisite medications needed for our meal.

It was an extremely foggy Sunday morning and whilst it wasn’t quite thick enough to classify as a traditional “pea-souper”, we could barely see to the middle of the murky Thames, something neither child had experienced on previous visits to London. We meandered past the Globe and had a quick look to see what productions are coming up as both G and M are keen to return to watch an outdoor Shakespeare play as soon as we reasonably can. It’s been a long time since any of us have walked the length of the South Bank and it was interesting to take note of the various developments that have happened in the meantime. As soon as we reached the London Eye, it was time to turn right across Westminster bridge, past the still scaffolding-clad Elizabeth Tower, home to Big Ben, and into Parliament Square to look at the parlimentarian statutes that can be found there.

As the only ones to have eaten breakfast at this point were M and G, our next decision was to head to Trafalgar Square and the wonderful Cafe in the Crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields for a small meal to tide us over until our Afternoon tea for lunch. Our journey took us past the Cenotaph, which still had the poppy wreaths from the Remembrance Day service displayed and we took 10 minutes or so to look at all the different wreaths we could see. Unfortunately, when we eventually reached the Crypt cafe it wasn’t yet open and so instead we decided to try out the recently refurbished cafe in the National Gallery.

Our experience at the National Gallery cafe was very much a mixed affair. On one hand they stocked both soya and coconut milk, which meant that both G and M could have a hot chocolate, something that was very much needed on that cold November morning. However, there were no allergy options for breakfast items or cakes and instead the children were left munching on some plain crisps and a couple of snacks I had tucked into my bag. Given we were ultimately en route to our afternoon tea, it didn’t matter too much on this occasion, but it would have been a much bigger problem on any other visit.

Once our appetites were satisfied enough to see us through to lunch, we had just enough time to browse the Christmas market in Trafalgar Square. The children enjoyed having a wander to see what was there and we came away with a new pair of gloves and a set of small hand-warming pads for M. Despite browsing several stalls, G was left disappointed that she still hasn’t been able to find a ring that’s a perfect fit for her fingers, but we will continue the search whenever and wherever possible. Finally it was time to head on to One Aldwych and the treat we were all hoping their Afternoon tea would prove to be.

A Bluestone Birthday

What do axe-throwing, high ropes, tree-climbing, birthday cakes and family have in common?

Easy; my Mum’s milestone birthday – her 70th – and a family weekend spent celebrating in style at the fantastic Bluestone resort in South Wales. For those of you who have never heard of Bluestone, the resort is set in 500 acres of beautiful Pembrokeshire national park near Tenby with stunning views out to the Preseli hills and is a complete escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As well as a site which is largely car-free, it is also absolutely jam-packed with activities and adventures to choose from and our weekend proved far too short to enjoy more than just a select few handpicked choices.

With 7 of us visiting, we stayed in one of their Grassholm lodges, which slept us all more than comfortably and included a fantastic open plan downstairs space with a generous sitting room, dining area and kitchen. Those of us who could booked bikes for the weekend and G and M had a great time racing around from venue to venue for each of the activities, although some of the hills proved a little more challenging for the rest of us. Over the last year, both children have really enjoyed every opportunity to go on bike rides especially as M’s confidence in his bike-riding has grown, and we can often be found spending a couple of hours exploring the country lanes near our house as part of a family ride. It’s also possible to hire a golf buggy to drive around the site, but we spent much of our time either walking or on our bikes whenever possible.

Needless to say, the children and Mike selected their activities for the Saturday with relative ease and I spent my time trying to grab action shots as G climbed to the top of a 40+ foot tree, whilst M and Mike took on the challenge of the high ropes course. Add in the demonstration of their Canadian roots in the afternoon with some axe-throwing skills and great fun was had by all. We even managed to squeeze in a quick early evening swim before heading out for a celebratory dinner at the Farmhouse Grill. Sunday was a little quieter with a morning at the Blue Lagoon water park before a late lunch at the Knights Tarfan.

All in all, we had a brilliant weekend and it came as no surprise when both G and M asked if we could go back another time. There were lots more activities that we could have tried, both indoors and outdoors, but we just couldn’t fit them in this time round. We would highly recommend Bluestone for a weekend, or week, away from it all and it certainly has enough to keep the most active of youngsters occupied for a good few hours anyway.

Rocky Road

Over the last few months, I have been encouraging G and M to become more engaged with the treats they like to eat, in particular asking them to find, choose and make the goodies they want to eat themselves. Part of my reasoning was to make sure M has some safe desserts to include with his lunch at school as it’s so difficult to buy safe options for him, and part was to help them both develop the skills they need to cook safe food in the future. It has been a mixed success and as soon as their initial enthusiasm wore off, the number of biscuits and snacks they had similarly reduced to almost nothing. However, after a couple of busy weeks at work, I decided to seek solace in the baking process myself and chose to experiment with adapting a new recipe for them both to enjoy.

My starting point was a favourite treat of mine, which I thought I could adapt, but actually needed me to perfect another biscuit first before I could even attempt the final product. I love shortbread, especially at Christmas time and I thought that an M-friendly shortbread might be a great starting point and something G and M would both like on its own. Some quick online research and I found a great and simple shortbread recipe, which thanks to our recent successful introduction of Vitalite dairy-free margarine to M’s diet, only needed me to swap the flour to make it perfect for him. It didn’t take long to whip up the first batch and G and M were delighted to taste-test them for me.

With the success of the shortbread in my back pocket, it was time to turn my attention to my final goal – M-friendly Rocky road. This time I recruited G as my kitchen help and she enjoyed the tasks of chopping the Freedom mallows as well as smashing some of the shortbread into bitesize pieces too. Whilst the standard recipe calls for the inclusion of raisins or cherries in it, we haven’t yet introduced them into M’s diet and so instead used dried banana chips, which again had some attention from G and her trusty rolling-pin. Moo-free chocolate has proven to be another safe option for M and was the final ingredient needed for the recipe.

An hour or 2 in the fridge and the Rocky road was ready. It was another resounding success with G and M and they certainly enjoyed the week or so that followed as either shortbread or rocky road was included in their packed lunches every day. Even better, M was so taken with both recipes that it reignited his interest in doing some safe baking himself and he spent a Saturday afternoon making the shortbread and prepping everything for the rocky road before he had to head to bed. He even told me off for not having put my recipes onto my blog quick enough for him to find and follow – so here they are, ready for the next time my youngest ventures into the kitchen!