Monday, 30 April 2012

The day job, sort of.

I am officially a self-employed artist. I haven't done much in the way of painting while the children have been small, and before that I mainly did picture framing and not painting. Last year, I painted a mural for the local nursery as a thank-you gift when Charlotte left for school.

Here it is, painted in acrylic on marine ply and varnished. It's pretty simple, incorporating colours, counting and a bit of imagination (who lives behind the purple door?).

As a result of doing this, I was tasked with a proper job. The play house in the garden was looking a bit sorry for itself and needed a proper make-over.

Here are the pictures of the play house prior to my make-over. All sound woodwork, but just needed a good tidy up.

I had some soffit boards painted on our house a couple of years ago, and the decorator who did it used a special coating instead of ordinary paint. He was raving about the stuff, so I looked into it for painting the shed.

My local trade paint shop sells it, tinted to 45 different colours, so I bought a carefully chosen selection and was able to mix these to make all the colours I needed for the job. I am part way through it right now, and when it is finished I shall post pictures. As long as the rain holds off for a bit I'll be able to get it done!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Simple dairy-free chocolate cake

It's my Mother-in-law's birthday this week, and I have made a cake to take with us when we go to see her. The general consensus in the house today was that she would love a chocolate cake (hmmmmm, who were the children really thinking about I wonder), and I realised that I don't have a quick, simple chocolate cake recipe written down anywhere. I decided to record how I made it this time, and here is the recipe:


6 oz soya margarine
6 oz soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
3 oz plain flour
2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder


Cream together the soya spread, sugar and cocoa powder.
Add an egg and a tbsp of the flour and mix.
Add the other egg, the rest of the flour and the baking powder and mix.
Scrape the mix into a lined baking tin, I used a 7" square tin.
Bake for about 20 minutes at 180c.

When the cake had cooled, I cut it in half and sandwiched it to with a rather tasty alternative to buttercream. I read in a baking book about making a cake filling using marshmallow fluff, something we all love in our household. I mixed 3 tbsp of fluff with 1 tbsp of soya spread, 3 tbsp icing sugar and 1 tbsp of cocoa powder.

I iced the cake with icing made from icing sugar, water and cocoa and then put dairy-free chocolate beans on top.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Dairy-free Pizza

Having a dairy-allergic child has caused me to re-think how we, as a family, eat. I never wanted Charlotte to feel that her food was different from ours, and so wherever possible we all eat together as a family. Certain pre-children dairy-laden favourites that my husband and I just can't live without are reserved for meals when we eat after the girls are in bed, just to save any upset when Charlotte can't have them.

Emma with her finished pizza
We eat a lot of oriental foods, which are naturally dairy-free and also pasta dishes where the children have soya cheese on theirs and we have ordinary cheese on ours. I do find myself splitting the kitchen in half with a dairy-free side and a dairy side, just so I don't get confused and mess up.

One of the things that has been a winner right from the start of weaning was pizza. Obviously we have to make them from scratch, but on a wet weekend, it can keep the children busy for ages helping to make their own individual pizzas. We buy pizza base mix from the supermarket, then make a tomato topping for it. I use "chair de tomate" for this, as it is thicker than chopped tomatoes and comes in smaller tins. We mix garlic salt and italian herb seasoning into the tomato, then the girls smear it on their pizza bases. They then sprinkle the soya cheese on top and bung them in the oven.

On the subject of soya cheese, the girls will only eat super melting mozzarella style cheezly as their cheese substitute. I have served this to unsuspecting small friends of theirs on a pizza and they didn't even notice that it was dairy-free cheese!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Button craft

A while back, a friend of mine posted on Facebook a link to a page of button craft creations. There were some beautiful things on there and my friend made a gorgeous Christmas wreath with buttons donated from all her family members. I thought that familiar line... I could do something like that.

Button snowman
So, last Christmas my family received tree decorations, based on some I saw on the button page my friend posted. I finally learned blanket stitch to make these, something I had been meaning to do for a while, so I could also finally finish my daughters' Christmas stockings that had been half made for a couple of years.

So after the Christmas decorations I thought I'd branch out into something a bit more permanent, like a cushion. I went to Wilkinsons and bought a cheap cushion with machine embroidered twigs on it. I then sewed on a few sequins and buttons to brighten it up and match it to the colour scheme of my sitting room.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Dairy-free choc chip cookies

I love those big, chewy chocolate chip cookies, but  I can hardly stuff my face with something while my dairy-allergic 5 year old looks on with her mouth watering, can I? I looked into it and googled recipes which I tried out with some adaptations. I eventually created the following recipe, which is practically indistinguishable from the dairy-laden version. I just made some, so I thought I would share the recipe:


300g plain flour
Slightly heaped 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Good pinch of salt
170g Dairy free soya spread
220g dark brown soft sugar
80g white caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla essence
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
330g  dairy-free choc chips (I use a mix of dark and "milk" choc chips)


Cream together the sugars and soya spread.
Beat together the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and add to the sugar mix.
Add the flour, bicarb and salt and stir until well mixed.
Ready to go in the oven (half of the total number)
Finally add the choc chips and stir in.
Dollop blobs of mix onto baking trays covered with baking parchment, you need to space them out pretty well as they spread loads while they cook.
Cook for about 20 minutes in the oven at 170c.

Leave them to cool for a bit on the trays before moving them to a wire rack to cool completely, they will be very soft when they first come out of the oven but firm up as they cool. I defy you to leave them to fully cool before you try one. Mmmmmm.
Just out of the oven

You can swap the soya spread back for butter and the choc chips back for dairy ones if you don't need them to be dairy free.

One last thing, I read somewhere that you can freeze egg yolks for use later on. When I made the meringues the other day I did just that, unfortunately the one I tried to defrost to use today was a lumpy sludge and not useable, so maybe I did it wrong...
One happy little girl with her cookie

Monday, 23 April 2012

Family sea collage

I went back to the gym today for the first time since before Christmas. I've had a bad shoulder, which would probably have been better sooner if I had done even the slightest bit of exercise, but I am an all or nothing person and unfortunately my body is not thanking me for it.

As a result, my usual Monday baking session became a lie on the sofa watching a repeat of QI until school pick up time. But as this is not very creative or inspiring, I thought I'd talk about a much more creative day I had with my children a few months back. It has been sitting waiting to be framed for ages and I really must get it done before it gets wrecked.

It all started when we went to the beach and the girls collected loads of shells. Of course, when we got home they wanted to make something with them. Once again, things escalated and we trawled our "making boxes" for stuff to make an undersea scene. The girls stuck all their shells on the sand while I ripped and stuck strips of blue paper to make the sea. They then embellished the sea with wool, beads, glitter, ribbon and sequins (I have A LOT of making stuff stashed away!). I got a bit fussy about making the seaweed as they just couldn't do it to my exacting standards, then Charlotte made a shoal of fish and Emma and I made hand print octopuses. That was it, easy to do and kept us all busy for a whole afternoon.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Fail-safe sponge recipe

When I talked about fairy cakes, I didn't explain how I make them. I shall remedy that today with the recipe that I use and adapt for all my sponge cakes. The recipe was originally my grandma's but I have adapted it slightly to make the cake a little less moist.

The basic recipe that my grandma used was a 4:4:4:2 ratio. Sounds complicated, but is surprisingly simple:

4oz self raising flour
4oz caster sugar
4oz margarine (I use Pure soya spread as it is dairy-free)
2 eggs

So no matter what size cake you are making, you just keep to that ratio and the cake mix is always perfect. I have started adding an extra 1/2oz of self raising flour per egg (so it's now 5:4:4:2) to make the cake less moist, and am very happy with the result. When I make fairy cakes I add 1tsp of good quality vanilla extract per 2 eggs to give a little more flavour.


Cream together the margarine and sugar.
Add one egg and mix in, followed by a tablespoon of flour.
Repeat with the other egg (and vanilla if you are using it).
Add the rest of the flour and mix until it is all combined, thick and creamy.

The 2 egg quantity makes around 15 fairy cakes, which are cooked in around 12 minutes at 180 degrees. Let them cool in the tins for a little while before taking them out to cool completely before decorating them.

The cakes for Emma's party used my 2 basic methods of icing.

1. Mix up icing sugar and water to a thick consistency and dollop some on the cake, followed by sprinkles - very easy, and usually left to the children to design each cake.

2. My first cheat of the blog. Buy ready rolled white icing and cut out circles with a biscuit cutter. Use a little of the icing from above to stick the circle of icing on the cake and decorate.

The swords, shields and bows were cut out of the ready rolled icing and placed on top. I use coloured pastes to paint the colours onto icing with a paintbrush and writing icing to do the details.

For a Chinese New Year cake sale at school, I went all out and painted a picture of a dragon on a stiff board and made fairy cakes to be it's body. The cakes were simple, rolled icing placed on top and painted, but with the background of the dragon they looked a lot more special. I think this idea may be repeated again in the future.

Friday, 20 April 2012

A little piece of summer in April

Well, the weather didn't stay sunny for long, did it? The school cake sale is this afternoon and I imagine everyone will be rushing home to get out of the rain instead of buying cakes - better give them a reason to stop and buy, eh?

A slightly smaller sponge cake to make room for squirty cream and strawberries with a meringue on top.
I'm also going to make some with lemon curd and meringue on top, it is going to be really hard not to keep these little babies for us.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Meringues and custard

I made a resolution at New Year to cook something new every week. Each new food would be something that I had not tried before, to increase my culinary skills. I have spent a lot of time with my nose in the Wagamama cook book, and have been pleasantly surprised by the ease of cooking those dishes. My addiction to baking has meant that most of my new dishes have been sweet ones, often eye-wateringly sweet at that.

I have a fabulous book that my husband bought for me called Homestyle Cookies, Muffins and Cakes which I am working my way through. I have to adapt most recipes to make them dairy-free as Charlotte is allergic to milk protein, and all the recipes I have tried from this book have adapted beautifully. Two of our favourites are the ginger tray bake and the orange and poppy seed cake (my version is below).

Anyway, I realised that I had never tried to make a meringue before. This thought escalated, as my ideas generally do, to incorporate the school bake sale that is happening this friday, themed around St George. White meringues and red fruit, it all seems to be coming together nicely. So I did a practice batch to see if I could do it and voila, the result:
I used natural sugar, not white, so they are a bit brown, but they are fluffy and crunchy so I guess I got the cooking right. A good friend who has chickens dropped some eggs in for me this morning, so I have the ingredients to make some more with white sugar, ready for the sale tomorrow.

All good? Not quite. I tried to make dairy-free custard with the extra egg yolks, and created a bubbly, lumpy, wobbly goo that the children refused to eat for their pudding last night. The flavour was ok, but the texture was so wrong it was untrue. I think I'll stick to Alpro cartons in future.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

And so it begins...

I tend to find myself thinking "I like that, I could make one of those" and so I try, with very mixed results. I am a creative type, I see junk as materials for making the next project, and often rope my children in to the process, whether they like it or not. I decided it was time to start cataloguing my making experiences, and maybe I can inspire somebody else to be a little bit more creative than they realised they could be.

I'll start with the 4th birthday party that we threw for Emma, my rather eclectic little princess. She announced that she wanted a Princess party and so I looked online at entertainers. I balked at the prices and found myself muttering "I could do something just as good for a lot less money" and things escalated from there. We hired the local village hall and hired a bouncy castle with the theme for the party being "Princesses and Knights".

We also bought a helium canister from the local party shop and blew up loads of balloons, bought a big re-useable fairytale backdrop and put together a making table:
Making crowns and shields

1. Design a jewelled goblet (bought on Amazon, but no longer available). You can always use clear plastic ones.
2. Create a crown (using stick on jewels and stickers).
3. Design a shield (I cut out cardboard ones and let them colour these in and stick things on them)
4. Colour in themed pictures, printed at home after a google search to find relevant images.

I bought loads of cheap stickers and stick on jewels from amazon and eBay, and brought crayons, pens and wax crayons from home.
My friend Karen helping with the goblets

I made simple fairy cakes and themed the icing to the party and, ta-dah! One very happy princess.