Tag Archives: Cake

Birthday Celebrations – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 30

All things considered, we’ve been extremely lucky as, until the last month or so, we haven’t had to celebrate a birthday in lockdown. M managed to sneak his birthday celebrations in at the start of March just before lockdown happened, but now we’re heading into what is a busy season of celebrations for us with birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas all happening in fairly quick succession.

We started with Mum’s birthday in mid-September, which was celebrated in a much quieter way than her 70th birthday last year spent at Bluestone in South Wales. Mike, G, M and I spent the weekend with Mum, took part in an online quiz, enjoyed a family dinner including an allergy-friendly birthday cake and simply spent the time together as a family. Mum has spent lots of her time in lockdown on completing jigsaws and this was reflected in the plethora of new puzzles she received from family and friends for her birthday. It will certainly keep her busy over the next few months, no matter what they bring and I will benefit too as she lets me borrow a jigsaw one at a time to do at home.

Today is Mike’s birthday and that has been a little bit different again. With both Mike and I working from home, and G being able to come home from school when she has a free period, the three of us were able to enjoy a family lunch around the kitchen table before heading back to work. Dinner tonight is a special treat of a Chinese takeaway with menu favourites being chosen by each of us, and will be accompanied by yet another quiz before we settle down to watch the new series of “Taskmaster” on TV. Another family celebration adapted to fit our new circumstances and a school/work night.

Happy birthday Mike – love you always xxx

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.

No 6Hundred, Swansea

The lead up to Christmas is always busy for our family with an array of birthdays, wedding anniversaries and the end of term to contend with before the big day itself. December this year felt like an especially hectic one what with a 16th and a 20th as well as a special 65th birthday to celebrate. We were planning to spend Christmas itself in South Wales with my Aunt- well part of it at least (and there is more about that to come over the next couple of posts) – which gave the perfect opportunity to experience a girls only birthday afternoon tea at No 6Hundred in Clydach.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the smoothest of bookings, with huge confusion over both the time of our afternoon tea and our dietary requirements, and my expectations weren’t particularly high despite the wonderful allergy-friendly afternoon tea we’d enjoyed at One Aldwych a few weeks earlier. Mum and I popped into the cafe on the morning of the 23rd to triple-check the booking once again and also pass over some decorations we wanted them to use for the table. With nothing else possible for us to do, it was time to go home, rally the troops and make sure we arrived for our 2pm booking.

I am delighted to say that the afternoon tea was excellent and they managed to cater well for the gluten- and dairy-free requirements for G. The tea itself was unsuprisingly influenced by Christmas itself and included a skewer with pigs in blanket and stuffing for that seasonal touch along with some freshly baked mince pies shaped as miniature Christmas trees. G’s plate was just as impressive and, given how quickly she managed to clear it, evidently delicious. The cakes were not only gluten-free, but also vegan and looked amazing, though she commented that the dark chocolate tartlet was just a little too bitter for her tastes.

The rest of us enjoyed a fantastic tea as well, though we were definitely beaten once again by the number of cakes provided and so picked our favourites to sample as part of the meal itself. We treated ourselves with either a glass of prosecco or mulled wine to kick the celebrations off – water for G – which were the perfect start to a lovely day celebrating my Aunt’s 65th birthday. I was impressed by the food provided by No. 6Hundred, especially the GF/DF offerings available for G, but would love them to work on their booking and confirmation systems to make it a truly fabulous overall experience.

 

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!

Bluestone Photo round-up September 2019

A great weekend celebrating a milestone birthday with family. Food, fun and fantastic weather – what more could we ask of South Wales in September?

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.

Birthday blessings

This weekend has been one of “those” weekends. You know, one of the ones where there’s so much to do and just not quite enough time to manage to do it all. A combination of birthday celebrations, performing arts classes, auditions and hospital appointments has left us feeling somewhat exhausted; but tonight, after a fun few hours with M, G and a group of their friends, I’m also counting our blessings.

It’s been no secret that M found last year, his first at secondary school, tough. The move into a school environment where his year group was considerably bigger than his entire junior school combined with family deaths and the inevitable challenge of his continued restricted diet left not only M, but all of us, struggling to find a positive way forward. Circumstances last year meant that we didn’t really do much to celebrate his 12th birthday, so I was determined to kick off his teen years in whatever fashion he wanted.

The celebrations started with an M-friendly pear and ginger cake with caramel buttercream icing on Friday evening to accompany his presents, which included the bass guitar and amp that he’s been yearning after for a few months. He had been slightly frustrated with Mike’s refusal to take him to look at guitars last weekend and was only marginally mollified by the promise to get up early this Saturday morning to visit our local guitar shop and examine exactly what was on offer. As you can imagine, his excitement in finding the guitar and its own mini amp waiting for him when he got home from Stagecoach was wonderful to see and we’ve been serenaded with renditions of both “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Seven Nation Army” since late Friday night! I’m just glad the bass guitar lessons he’s been having at school appear to be paying off already and delighted to see him so wiling to practise in every spare moment.

However, the culmination of M’s birthday weekend came yesterday afternoon as we spent the late afternoon and early evening with a group of his and G’s friends. M had chosen a group of old friends and new, some from school, others that he’s grown up with and the best bit was seeing just how well these different strands of his life hit it off and enjoyed the few hours together. After lots of chat, M had decided he wanted to try his hand at an escape room and we booked 2 rooms at one of our local escape rooms sites. We amicably split into 2 teams, each with an adult and a mix of the older and younger children and determined to compete against the clock, rather than each other to escape our locked rooms.

I was impressed with how well they all worked together and certainly those on my team managed the frustration of solving some of the clues well, with only one of M’s friends needing some redirection and reminders to focus from time to time. We were lucky to escape with just 2 minutes to spare and although Mike and M’s team were not quite so successful – they had found all 4 keys, but failed to open the door in time – everyone enjoyed themselves and were ready to move on for a dinner to suit all dietary needs that were present.

The chatter, camaraderie and chuckles around the table were wonderful to experience and all the children were a delight to spend time with as they enjoyed their food and just spending time together. It was a wonderful way to celebrate M’s 13th birthday and I really have counted my blessings tonight that M has finally found his way out from the darkness of last year with the help of some amazing friends, who accept him for who he is and don’t see his health challenges as a barrier to their friendship with him. A perfect celebration with both new friends and old; and a combination of friendships that I hope will keep going for many years to come.

#FFFA19

It seems almost impossible that a year has passed since my last journey to London for a judging stint at the FreeFrom Food Awards (#FFFA19), and yet, here I am, on the train heading home after another great day of finding some fab free from foods. I feel so privileged to be a part of the judging team and it really is no exaggeration to say that it is easily one of the highlights of my year. Not only do I get to taste and discover some fantastic new products to the market, obviously always feeling very hopeful that I might even find some that are M-friendly as well as delicious, but I have made some lovely friends along the way and the judging sessions are always the best opportunity to do some much-needed catching up over food and a cup of tea.

My day started with “Foods to Go”, which Mike and I judged on the one occasion I let him join me for the experience and which nicely balanced out the sweetness that I knew the afternoon would be filled with. You never quite know what you’re going to get in this category and this year was no different as the first few mouthfuls included dried fruit snacks, soup, noodles, sandwiches and sweet rice cakes! It was a relatively small category for us to make our way through thing – just 16 items to try – which is always a good thing and I was one of the lucky few able to try everything being neither gluten-free or vegetarian.

My highlights of this session were:

Thai Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup: This was a surprise hit for me. I am not usually a big fan of carrot soup as I find it inevitably sweet, but the delicate balance of the Thai spices alongside the vegetables gave every mouthful a tantalising delicious and fragrant flavour. I haven’t spotted this soup on the supermarket shelf before – though to be perfectly honest, I’d probably have passed it by anyway – but I will definitely be looking out for it in the future.

Made Without Wheat Chicken & Bacon Sandwich: Apologies for my failure to get a photo of this, but this was a delicious, well-filled chicken and bacon mayo sandwich, which was not only gluten-free, but also dairy-free and I know will be a definite winner with G. I was impressed by the quantity of the filling as well as the flavour and texture of the bread – you really wouldn’t be able to tell it was gluten-free if you didn’t know. Sandwiches can be one of the hardest things to find when we’re out and about, so this will no doubt become a firm favourite in our family.

Caramel Rice Cakes: These weren’t necessarily the biggest hit in the room due to their to-be-expected sweetness, but I fell in love with them as they’re pretty much safe for M and will give him a great sweet treat that can be added occasionally added to his lunch-box.

This year saw my return to one of my favourite categories, that of Tea-time treats, not least because it was there in 2016 I first discovered the incredible Borough 22, who perfected the most indescribably delicious doughnuts that are safe for both children and are still a regular favourite in our household. I had gone with strict instructions from M to see if I could find anything that might be safe for him, and with a few more ingredients to play with I was hopeful that I might just have some luck. The afternoon session did not disappoint and with 5 different chocolate cakes to taste amongst the 29 products, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

My highlights?:

Gluten-, dairy- and nut-free Occasion cake: First of all, we were completely blown away by the appearance of this incredible wedding cake which had been carefully driven to the FFFA HQ for our enjoyment; and then the taste simply took my breath away. Amazing sponge, creamy buttercream without being too sickly sweet and enough sharpness in the jam to cut through the sweetness – utter perfection and one I would definitely recommend.

Tea-cakes: Nothing beats a toasted tea-cake and a cup of tea and it was wonderful to find this vegan and gluten-free alternative for this Sunday tea favourite. Another one of those “I don’t think you’d know it’s free from” treats we got to try and one I’m definitely going to be trying out with G.

Raw Mince Pie: Now, this will be a surprising highlight to just about anyone who knows me as they know that I absolutely hate most things with dried fruit – fruit cake, Christmas pudding or mince pies are not anything I would willingly put near my mouth on your average day. But, this was not your average day and I absolutely had to try a small bit for the sake of fair judging. It was surprisingly tasty and whilst I’ll confess that I wouldn’t necessarily rush out to buy these for myself, I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for an allergy-friendly, vegan Christmas treat.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and Sue for their hospitality today and to all those producers who keep working hard to produce these delicious free from foods that give those living with food allergies, just like G and M, the opportunity to eat the same things as the friends and family safely. Keep an eye out for the shortlist in February and final winners, who will be announced on March 20th.

Battle of the Birthday cakes

December is always a busy month for our family, what with birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas to celebrate and squeeze in alongside the end of term and all the added demands that that almost always inevitably brings. As well as the last-minute rush to make sure cards have been written (and sent) and that presents have been bought (and wrapped), I also have to make sure I have time to bake the perfect cake to help us celebrate G’s birthday in style.

Over the years I have tried my hand at all sorts of cakes and I love spending the time to let my creative side really come out, though Mike might disagree as some of my more complicated masterpieces have kept us up into the early hours as I strive to get every detail just right. Last year I attempted a gluten- and dairy-free red velvet cake for G, which tasted great, but didn’t look as appealing as I’d have liked and so this year I was determined to create her a special treat that looked and tasted the part. G is a definite chocolate lover, something that can be a little tricky when you’re dairy-free, but there are lots of great dairy-free options available and I was determined to use a mix of them to make G a cake that the whole family, including M, could enjoy.

The obvious starting point was the beautiful chocolate mayonnaise cupcakes that I had perfected for Mike’s birthday and which I knew I could turn into a fantastic 2 layer cake. I wanted to create a really sumptuous filling and to my delight discovered this salted caramel flavoured icing mix as I wandered around our local supermarket. Mixed with our regular dairy-free spread, this made the perfect buttercream filling and topping for G’s cake. I finished it off with handfuls of Freedom mallows, shavings of Moo-free chocolate and sprinkles of Sainsbury’s Free From White chocolate chips. The final cake was a huge success: gooey, delicious and everything my chocolate-lover could have wanted for her 15th birthday.

Once G’s birthday celebrations finally came to an end, I was then on to my next birthday cake project, which was to bake a cake for my Aunt for her birthday on December 23. This year was her first celebrating without my Uncle, who sadly passed away earlier in 2018 and the plan was for a family gathering at my Mum’s house to mark the day. Mum was keen for me to bake some more of the chocolate cake that I had made for G’s birthday, but I wanted to do something a little different, especially with Christmas right around the corner, and instead settled on one of M’s firm favourites, banana bread.

When it came to making the cake, G was a huge help and offered to bake a dozen cupcakes, whilst I decided how to decorate them. She did a great job and by the time I’d found the perfect design and all the necessary ingredients, there were 12 wonderful looking cupcakes waiting and ready to go. I took inspiration from the front cover of a fantastic cupcakes cookery book that I’ve used before and gave a nod to my Welsh heritage with a plateful of sheep cupcakes. Safe buttercream icing, a small supply of Freedom mallows, safe cocoa powder and a little fondant icing was all that was needed to create these fun birthday treats,which were not only enjoyed on the 23rd, but saw G and M through Christmas too.