Saturday, 12 September 2015

A Dismal Day Out

Last Sunday, we went on a Dismal day out to the seaside.

Dismaland is an art installation set up in an abandoned Lido in Weston-Super-Mare by the street artisy Banksy.

There are lots of interactive pieces


And some 'traditional' fairground games, staffed by exceedingly rude and dismal staff!

Mixed up with several mini exhibitions . . .


. . . and some amazing large pieces.


There was even an embroidered car!

I discovered some amazing new artists, like Laura Lancaster

and Neta Harari Navon

Dismaland is only open until the 27th September. The next batch of tickets go on sale at 10am on the 16th. They sell out in the blink of an eye, so I suggest you get over to the Dismaland website in plenty of time, and keep hitting refresh.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Pinterest Recipe Round-Up

I've been trying lots of new recipes lately, most of them from Pinterest. I'm aiming for healthy, and clean eating ~ cooking from scratch with healthy wholesome ingredients. Most of them have been blimmin' marvellous, and I thought I'd share some with you.

These crustless mini quiches tick all the boxes ~ quick, easy, healthy and delicious. Apparently they freeze well too, but they've always gone too quickly in my house to get close to the freezer! I added a slice of crisply cooked bacon, a spring onion (both finely chopped) and a li'l sprinkle of cheese to mine.

Find the recipe at Appetite For Life

This Chicken and Wild Rice soup was another winner. Cooked in the slow cooker, I found this creamy thick soup made 11 portions ~ more than enough to stash some in the freezer for work lunches, or for a light supper. I made mine with wholewheat flour, though I think next time I might try and lower the amount of roux (flour / butter mixture) at the end, to help keep calories down.

Find the recipe at Little Spice Jar

And these amazing two-ingredient 'Banana Pancakes' are divine. Super sweet and fluffy, they whip up in a matter of minutes. There were lots of suggestions for little add-ins to vary them up (ie vanilla, cinnamon etc) but I found them just perfect as it. Of course, mine looked nothing like their pictures lol!

Find the recipe at Babble

 I'd love to hear if you enjoy these recipes as much as I do!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Raspberry Season

Summer is one of the busiest times of the year for me, and it all starts with Raspberry season. There is a fabulous farm near me that grows a variety of fruit and veg, and does Pick Your Own Strawberries and Raspberries!  
My local farm is in Titchfield in Hampshire, but if you're not lucky enough to live nearby try Googling to find out where your closest is. If you've never been before, I can highly recommend it. It's a lovely peaceful way to spend an hour in the countryside and have a delicious and healthy treat to take home with your afterwards. I picked almost 6lbs of fruit in less than an hour!

Fresh Raspberries don't keep for long in the fridge, but they freeze beautifully. I made some into jam, some into a zingy fresh Eton Mess, and froze the rest for jamming later in the year.

I also popped a couple of frozen berries into a frothy Limoncello Cocktail to enjoy with homemade scones. People say Wimbledon is all about Strawberries ~ for me it's Raspberries!
To make your own Limoncello Cocktail, simply add a shot of Limoncello to any sparkling white wine and finish off with a couple of frozen raspberries. I used Crème Di Limoncello here, but regular works just as well ~ delicious!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Sometimes Things just Don't Work Out

It's ok, I'm not breaking up with you! It's just that lately a lot of my projects have gone a bit skew-whiff, which has made me feel a bit skew-whiff (and subsequently un-bloggy).
I read a lot of make-y blogs and oddly one of the things I like to see is not just the recipes / projects they're sharing, but the mishaps they have. I like blogs where people break stuff, their kids are tearaways, and their crafting area is the living room floor with the furniture pushed to one side. I mean, I'm happy if you and Jesus are such good pals, if your husband hails from Stepford and your children from Midwich, if you have a huge, supportive, and loving family and a craft room that Martha Stewart would kill for.
I just don't identify with that.

I have no husband (hoorah!), my family is small and distant, and Jesus and I barely tolerate each other.

This is my craft room:

I call it my mixed media room. Friends calls it the junk room.

It will be a mixed media room, one day. I shall have a sewing table, and a Robert's radio in a fashionable duck-egg blue, and a cosy chair in which to sit and read overly-wordy craft books.
As if!
But hopefully it will one day be a bit tidier, a bit prettier, a bit more inspirational.
One day.
And I really would like that cosy chair. Unfortunately the dog seems to have bagged that.

Anyway, in the spirit of things Just Not Working Out I thought I would share a couple of my skew-whiff's with you, and what I did to un-skew them.

This is a crazy project I started with huge enthusiasm several years ago.

Quilted Curtains.

Quilted Curtains.

I actually thought that would not only be a good idea, but would look good too! After doing about 90% of the work I realised what you probably did as soon as you read those two words - it was a terrible idea! So I folded them up neatly, stashed them in a bin bag and pretended to myself that I would come back to that project one day.
Fast Forward a few years, to last month actually, to a warm spring evening when it occurred to me that the dinosaur summer quilt I had made for my six year old son probably ought to be retired now he's 14 years old and six foot tall. I pulled the buttons and header tape off one of the Quilted Curtains (I just can't stop saying it, as if repetition will make it sound like a slightly less crazy idea!) and removed the wadding, then bought a cheap (£3.50!) duvet cover set from Ikea. Insert wadding, hand tie at 30cm intervals and stitch the bottom closed, et voila!

An actual usable item that I can actually use! And I still have the other curtain to pull apart if I want to make another quilt. The hand tufting is quite subtle, but you could always use a contrasting yarn for more pop. And the beauty of using a pre-made duvet set is that it comes with matching pillowcases for no extra effort!

The next project that didn't quite work is another bedding-related item. I wanted a hand-crocheted blankie to throw over the back of the sofa, something warm and cosy to snuggle under on a chilly evening. I found the loveliest pebbley coloured yarns, and a simple and pretty shell pattern to work from, and I set off.

It was obviously going to take me quite some time, each row took well over an hour to complete, but I loved the pattern and the combination of colours and figured it would be worth it in the end. But after a few months I realised I was putting less and less time into it, and I knew what was making me uncomfortable - it was way too stiff. It looked beautiful, but it was far from snuggly. I found myself starting other projects all the time, anything to keep me from putting in any more time on the blankie, but finally, after at least 18 inches of work, I admitted what I'd been trying to avoid - I needed to unpick it.

Unpicking crochet or knitting is always a sad thing to have to do, but when you've put in months of work it's even worse. It took hours to unpick, and I got quite tangled at times, but once I started the blankie again on a much bigger hook I realised I'd made the right decision. Not only was it working up lighter, softer and more fluid, each row was only taking about 20 minutes to complete!

In only a few short weeks I had a finished blankie, ready for snuggling under just as the weather turned a bit nippy.

I was gutted when I started unpicking all my hard work but it really did work out perfectly in the end, and I used half the amount of yarn I expected too ~ there's enough left over for a couple of matching cushion covers now.

After I finish this cup of tea . . .

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

I love peanut butter, so when I saw this recipe on Pinterest I just had to give it a go. As usual I tweaked the recipe a little, mainly because I didn't quite have the right ingredients, but if you see the original post on Lucy Jane Cakes blog you can see how little I changed things.

Here is my version:

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
8oz softened butter
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup demerara sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup crunchy peanut butter (approx. one whole jar)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180C / 350F / Gas4.

Mix together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy, then mix in peanut butter. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Mix together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder, then add to the butter mixture and gently mix until just incorporated. Scoop up a desertspoonful of the dough, roll into a ball and place a couple of inches apart on a baking sheet.

Using a fork dipped in cold water, make a cross in the dough. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges are barely golden brown ~ go for undercooked rather than overcooked, as that gives you that lush chewy centre.

Cool on a wire rack and then enjoy!

I made about 40 cookies with this recipe so I think I would halve the recipe next time.

Or would I . . .

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Easter Nest Fairy Cakes

Yesterday was April Fool's Day, and I had the best time pranking people at home and at work.

I taped party poppers to my son's bedroom door . . .

blocked the sensors on several office meeces . . .

and perhaps cruellest of all, emailed everybody saying there were Brownees in the kitchens . . .

Geddit? Brown 'E's?!

That last prank made some people a bit sad, myself included! We do so love cakes where I work and find any excuse to bring them in, homemade or shopbought.

A birthday? Cake!

A particularly profitable month? Cake!

A Monday? Cake!

So to make up for such a cruel trick, I promised to bring some real proper actual cakes in today.

And I did.

I used the cake recipe from my Hortons Clover Cakes, but made a chocolate buttercream instead by substituting 25g of the icing sugar for cocoa powder and leaving out the green colouring. All you do is coat the top of the cakes with buttercream then pipe a raised swirl around the edge of the cake. Pop in a few mini eggs and you have some delicious little edible nests.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Creamy Broccoli Soup

Every time I go into a shop I make a beeline for the sales rack / reduced cabinet ~ as a single parent I like to make every penny count! So when I found my local shop selling off Broccoli heads for 7p I snapped them up and hurried home to whip up a nice healthy soup.

Creamy Broccoli Soup

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 potato
1 head of broccoli (approx. 350g)
900ml stock (2 x chicken + 1 x vegetable oxo)
approx. 100ml milk

Heat the oil in a pan. Dice the onion and sweat gently until soft, adding the garlic for the last minute or so. Chop the broccoli into small florets and chop the broccoli stalks into small dice. Peel and chop the potato into small chunks. Add the broccoli and potato to the pan with the stock and simmer for about 15 mins. Blend until smooth and add milk to reach the consistency you like.

This recipe makes 5 portions at 103 calories each, meaning you can easily afford to crumble a few salty Ritz crackers into it.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

Fabulous Fat-Free Fruit Loaf

I've not been doing very well on my diet. Admittedly I've not been trying particularly hard, but I have SUCH a sweet tooth I really struggle. I've been trying to up my exercise levels ~ mainly by walking more, but I also bought a mini-exercise bike for under my desk at work! I get some funny looks when I'm peddling away but hey, I'm used to that ;)

I still need my treats though. And although this cake isn't as low-cal as I would have liked it's packed with fruit and fibre, and absolutely fat-free!

100g dried apricots
100g dried dates / prunes
150g sultanas
60g all-bran cereal
1 cup cold tea (I used earl grey)
3 tbsp. carob syrup (or maple)
1 egg, lightly beaten
150g sr flour
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp mixed spice
110g dark brown soft sugar
1 apple, peeled and grated

 Chop apricots and dates to roughly the same size as the sultanas. Combine fruit, All-Bran, tea and syrup in a large bowl and set aside for about an hour. Preheat oven to 170C / 340F / Gas 4. Line a 21 X 11 cm loaf tin with greased baking paper. Mix the flour, spices & sugar together. Beat the egg lightly and stir into the fruit, then add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine. Add the apple and mix together. You should have a gloopy dropping consistency ~ if the mixture is too thick, add a splash of milk. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool in tin for 20 mins or so before removing to a wire rack to cool.
This is lush as it is, but it's pretty darn good spread with butter too ~ although that kind of defeats the object of a fat-free cake! You can use different kinds of dried fruit if dates and apricots don't float your boat. You can also freeze slices which means there's always some handy for your lunch bag.
I've added this to My Fitness Pal for those of you who use it ~ if you cut the loaf into 12 slices there are 196 calories and less than a gram of fat per slice.  

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Horton's Clover Cakes

Monday 2nd March was Dr Seuss day, and to celebrate we had a charity Bake sale at work. I had a bit of an ambitious idea but luckily it worked (they oh so often don't!) and so I get to share it with you.
These were inspired by my favourite Dr Seuss book ~ Horton Hears a Who.

Luckily there were no Whos living on my Clover Cakes, though they would have had to shout pretty damn loud to stop me from eating them lol!

Here's how you make them:

200g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
225g sugar
1/2 tsp salt
100g margarine
150ml milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

75g butter
150g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp green food colouring

12 wafer roll biscuits
candy floss

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4

Mix the flour, sugar, salt and cocoa together then rub in the margarine until you have a texture like coarse sand. Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla in a jug then add to the dry ingredients and beat well. Divide into 12 cupcake cases and bake for approx. 25 mins. Allow to cool.

Beat the butter, vanilla and colouring together until softened then gradually add the sifted icing sugar and cream together. Ice your cakes, then add the clovers by gently moulding a chunk of candy floss onto a wafer biscuit and 'planting' it in the centre of your cupcake.

Voila! Easy to make but pretty impressive to look at, and darn tasty too.

Tip: You can make (and ice) these cakes the day before your party or event, but don't add the clovers until you're ready to serve ~ candy floss doesn't last too well in the open air, it will start to shrink and harden back into sugar.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Perfect Porridge

Can you believe I've made it to the ripe old age of (almost) 43 and I'm only just discovering the simple pleasures of homemade porridge?!
I've always loved Ready Brek, and in the last couple of years I was won over by the Oats So Simple flavoured sachets, but it's literally only this week that I've realised how quick, easy and deliciously filling simple porridge oats can be.

This is the image that got me started:

A Spoonful of Photography
Earl Grey Porridge, from A Spoonful of Photography (click on the image to go to her beautiful blog)

Porridge appeals to my "bung it" method of cooking ~ you really don't need to measure anything at all! I'm still trying lots of different variants, but here are some of the yummiest so far:

Earl Grey Porridge

Make a small cup of Earl Grey tea. Put about 1/3 cup of oats in a bowl. Pour the cup of tea onto the oats and microwave for approx. 2 mins. Stir through as much milk as it takes to achieve the consistency you like, then sprinkle with Demerara sugar or honey.

Creamy Yoghurty Porridge

Put 1/3 cup of oats in a bowl and add about the same amount of water. Microwave for approx. 2 mins. Stir through a 120g pot of yoghurt and top with a few fresh berries.

Cham Porridge

Cham is a cosy bedtime drink we often make in our house ~ you basically add a dash of cinnamon and a teaspoon of honey to a mug of milk and warm it in the microwave. It's a lot healthier than hot chocolate while still being a tasty treat.
To make Cham porridge, put 1/3 cup of oats in a bowl, add a dash of cinnamon then the water. Microwave for approx. 2 mins. Stir through as much milk as it takes to achieve the consistency you like then drizzle with honey and sprinkle on a few juicy sultanas.

So there you have three delicious low-cal variants on a classic breakfast. What are your favourite toppings? I'd love some more suggestions!