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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Gluten Free Banoffee Pie


For those of you that would like to enjoy a none gluten free banoffe pie, the recipe can be found here

Ingredients


Base

  • 250g Plain White Flour (Doves farm is the best)
  • 150g Butter
  • 75g Caster Sugar

Caramel

  • 100ml Double Cream
  • 50g Caster Sugar
  • 400g Condensed Milk

Topping

  • 1 Banana
  • 200ml Double/Whipping Cream
  • 1 small bag chocolate buttons

Step One

Mix all the base ingredients together until it resembles a soft crumbly dough.  Don't worry if some of the butter stays in lumps, this will break down during baking.

Step Two

Oil a 23-25cm pan and place the mixture into it.  Because this dough is so crumbly, you may find it difficult to spread in the pan.  I found that the easiest way to do this, was to use my finger tips to squidge it along (just make sure they're spotlessly clean!).  To level off the surface, I used the back on a large spoon - to stop it sticking, run some oil over it.  Prick the surface of the mixture with a fork and set aside.

Step Three

Preheat the oven to 180°C /Fan160°C /350°F/Gas 4, and then bake the shortbread for 20 minutes.  Once cooked, set aside to cool completely.

Step Four

Place all the caramel ingredients in a pan and place on a low to medium heat.  You need to constantly stir this, or else it will burn and not only taste foul, but ruin the pot - believe me ;)  Depending on how thick you like your caramel, will depend on how long you need to simmer it for once it has come to the boil.  10 minutes is soft serve, 15 minutes medium, 20 minutes firm and 25 minutes almost completely set.  Take care during this stage, as the mixture will boil and spit, this stuff burns skin on contact.

Step Five


Once your mixture has reached your desired consistency you need to pour it over the shortbread base.  Level off the top and leave to set - 1-2 hours should do the trick.

Step Six

Slice the bananas and place over the caramel.  Whip the cream until the peaks just hold their shape, and layer over the bananas.  If you have a sweet tooth like me, you will want to add chocolate!  Melt the buttons in either a bain marie or blast it in the microwave until melted.  If you are using the microwave, I suggest that you stir it every 20 seconds to prevent it scorching.  Once the chocolate has melted, leave it to cool slightly for 5 minutes (if you don't it will melt the cream on contact).  Then using the back of a spoon, drizzle the chocolate over the cream.

Et Voila  - Enjoy!





Gluten Free Bakes!

In 2010 my husband was diagnosed as a coeliac.  Since then our daily routines have had to be adapted to accommodate his dietary requirements.  As we both like to cook, this isn't really too much of an issue.  Meaning that we can no longer depend on convenience foods is somewhat of a pain, but slowly and surely, we are compiling a large repertoire of recipes.

I have always loved to bake, and one of the biggest struggles with gluten free baking is the flour.  For those not in the know, gluten free flour tends to produce denser, crumblier and drier textured bakes.  This can be somewhat disheartening at first, but trying to find recipes that balance this texture with other moist ingredients is the key!  My husbands favourite bake recipe of mine has always been banoffee pie.  After trying to replicate my creations with ready made gluten free biscuits, I soon realised that this was not going to work.

After trialing many different gluten free shortbread recipes, we have finally found one that works!  It may not mimic traditional shortbread 100%, but it sure does come close!

The next few blogs are going to be separate recipes for these bad boys;



Millionaire Shortbread, Banoffee Pie & Chocolate Tart




Thursday, 13 September 2012

Blackberry Picking on the Heath

Last Sunday, a friend and I were due to set off to pick some lovely Sloes.  The plan had been to pick as many as possible, and then add them to gin to make glorious Sloe Gin, a perfect tipple for the festive season.  Just before we were due to meet, I happened to stumble across a post about someone enquiring as to why their Sloe Gin had turned out bitter and terrible.  Apparently picking Sloes before October, was a big no, no.  September Sloe's are supposedly notorious for being under-ripe and fit for nothing.  It would have made the lovely gin undrinkable!

So here we both were, all armed to forage; with nothing to forage for.  With a bit of an epiphany (and a desire not to waste the glorious Sunday sunshine) I suggested blackberry picking!


Fairly close to us both, is a large heathland, which I suspected would be full of Blackberries; I was right.


Canford Heath is notorious for bush fires, but this year it seems to have escaped unscathed from both natural and bored teen disaster.


Dreading the brambles, we came prepared.  Although Helen did have to do a rather trendy socks pulled up for protection move, which I can see really catching on.  In hindsight, plastic bags were not such a good idea.  We both seemed to spend a great amount of time trying to carefully pull thorns out of the bags, whilst praying they didn't tear.


Helen seemed to have a keener eye for spotting whoppers then me, as you can see from this beauty!


There were some very large, scary looking (spider?!?) web patches in places.  I will admit that I didn't get too close, as I was worried I would spot what had made it.


I am fairly sure that these were Rose Hips.  I was tempted to gather some up, as apparently Rose Hip tea is very beneficial for fertility.

Hidden amongst all the over-grown hedgerows, there were some beautiful flowers.  These lovely pink blooms were found peeking out between two bramble bushes.


I have to admit that I didn't quite realise blackberry picking would be quite so messy.  I can handle the dyed fingers, but the stickiness drove me crazy!


Once home, my berries were cleansed in a briny solution and then popped into the freezer.  Sadly I have no where near enough for my culinary plans, so will be going back with Helen again in a few weeks time.

The plan is to make up batches of a festive cinnamon, apple and blackberry jam and some lovely blackberry vodka.  I think that these sweet little gifts will make welcome additions to my festive foodie hampers!

The Sloe Gin has not been forgotten.  The aim is to go picking towards the end of October, fingers crossed we will have had a frost by then!





Sunday, 2 September 2012

Book Review - Sing you home, by Jodi Picoult

I often think of writing my own book on how infertility, fertility treatments and miscarriages impact on my life, but sadly can never find the time to get further than one chapter. Jodi Picoult has been one of my top three authors for the last eight or so years, and once again she has managed to write a story that has touched me in a deeply profound way.

Plot Summary
There are five main characters within this story; Max and Zoe were married, faced 10 years of infertility treatment and after a devastating still birth they divorced. Vanessa helps Zoe to put her life back together after the loss of her son and then husband, and quite unexpectedly they fall in love and become married. Liddy and Reid are the brother and sister in law of Max who welcome him into their home and church when he falls off the wagon and begins drinking again post divorce.
Max and Zoe have 3 frozen embryos for which Zoe is hoping to have implanted within Vanessa, to help realise her dreams of becoming a Mother. Max is shocked by his wife's new lifestyle as a lesbian and after receiving counselling from his pastor, he decides he doesn't want his biological children to be brought up in an un-christian, un-traditional family. It comes to light that his brother suffers with the same genetic fertility problems as Max,as Reid and Liddy have also suffered multiple miscarriages. Max is secretly in love with his sister in law and after some persuasion from his Church, he decides he wants to fight Zoe for the right to these embryos, to then pass on to his brother and sister in law. He claims his role will be that of an uncle and that Liddy and Reid would be the better parents versus Zoe and Vanessa.
The court case is an ugly media circus, fuelled by the Church's desire to make the world see how wrong and sinful a same sex marriage is. They claim to be fighting to protect the Christian values that society is leaving by the wayside.

Review
The start of this book features Zoe at 28 weeks pregnant. She is ecstatic to have finally made it this far and believes that they are well and truly in the safe zone.  She recalls just how difficult her journey has been but how she has finally made it, and loving every minute. 
I could tell straight away that this book was going to cut me deep (for better or worse). I felt as if all my fears and experiences had been written down, my soul had been bared, for millions the world over to read.
I knew what was coming, that this happy bubble couldn't possibly last. Predictably Zoe miscarried and despite only being a few chapters in, I wept for her. I felt I had shared insight that those that have not suffered with infertility and losses could not even begin to comprehend.
Zoe's next move was one that many may not be able to understand; she wanted the green light to try again, using the 3 frozen embryos that were remaining from the last IVF cycle. I can understand it completely. When you lose a baby, you feel the aching loss but also the hard bitter stone of being responsible for that loss. Doctors will tell you that there is nothing that you could have done, but it still doesn't stop you from blaming your self and your body. Plus Zoe had now reached forty, she knew that there wasn't much time left.
Unfortunately her husband was not in agreement and the ultimatum was laid down; accept never being a Mother and keep me, or keep trying and lose me. Zoe chose the path of Mother hood, and with no chance of a reconciliation, Max walked out and then filed for divorce.
For me this is an ultimate fear. One day, will my husband simply have enough of all the stress, pressure and torment and decide that enough is enough. The thought of having to grieve for her lost son and the her husband is on a scale that not even I can comprehend.
Zoe talks early in the book about how her and Max have isolated themselves from friends and family, as it is just too painful to watch others play happy families when you are battling with infertility. Again I can relate. Luckily for me, none of my friends are considering starting a family any time soon, but I do come from a very large family. Having to hear news that a cousin or work colleague is pregnant is like a knife cutting deep into my heart. Sadly bitterness and long term trying to conceive go hand in hand, and most days I cannot summon the energy to pretend I'm happy for others, that they have something that I desperaprately crave.  I can sympathise that with Max gone, Zoe is truly vulnerable and isolated. When Vanessa (a guidance counsellor) comes along and the pair strike up a close relationship, I feel happy that Zoe has someone away from all the fertility craziness, that is helping to steer her through such a hellish time.
Zoe and Vanessa fall in love and get married - they have to go out of state to do this as Rhode Island does not accept same sex marriages in state. For me this is completely incomprehensible. In the UK, civil partnerships have been legal since 2005 and for me personally, I don't see homosexuality as an issue, I truly believe that you will be predisposed to being attracted to a specific gender, and that no one has the right to tell you that your preference is wrong.
By now Zoe has had further health implications that have resulted in her being unable to attempt another egg harvest. The only solution to both her and Vanessa having a biological child would be for Zoe's previously harvested (and then fertilised by Max) embryos to be implanted in Vanessa.  
Many people that have not struggled to procreate will often toss out the idea of adoption as being as good as a biological child, for me personally adoption is not the same. I want a child that looks like an amalgamation of me and my husband, that carries our traits and is filled with our DNA and blood. I completely understand why Zoe feels this is her last chance - after all, these embryos are her eggs that were made into potential offspring.
When Max (after subtle Church manipulation) decides that he wants these embryos to go to his brother and sister in law, I felt physically sick. To be an egg donor for someone is a very noble thing to do (and something I hope to be able to complete one day myself) but to have your eggs forcibly taken from you, your final chance to be a mother, it left me with chills.
When Liddy is introduced to the story, I can't help but dislike her. Granted she has suffered the same battles as Zoe, but unlike Zoe, she has age on her side and a married net worth of millions - the book gives no reason as to why she cannot simply go through IVF herself instead of taking away Zoe's chance of Mother hood. 
Liddy is introduced as the daughter of a Southern preacher. The descriptions summon an image of a weak minded 'belle' that needs permission from man or God to do anything and everything. She is preachy and a little too perfect to be tolerable. When she commits adultery with Max I could actually feel my temper start to boil.
Liddy and her Church are extremely opinionated and declare that God will punish sinners, and yet she commits one of the ultimate sins by sleeping with her brother in law. After it happens and Max tries to talk to her, she even has the cheek to tell him that the Max she fell in love with was kind hearted and generous, not the type of man that would covet his brothers wife. There is a part at the courthouse where Liddy confronts Zoe and in an end parting, she tells Zoe they have more in common than Zoe thinks as Liddy loves those children too! If I was Zoe, I honestly don't know how I would have refrained from being arrested for assault.
Religion carries a big part in this story. For me, this is a bit of an alien concept. I personally flitter between Aetheism and being Agnostic. The USA is by and large a Christian country and if books, TV and blogs are anything to go by, they can be pretty closed minded to accepting change or others that do not follow their ethos.
The two man Religious men in this book are Pastor Clive and Wade - to me, they conjured up an image of smooth talking, greased back hair, bigoted slime balls. (another strike against organised religion is that sadly there are reasons for these stereotypes) they were not above obtaining evidence illegally and seemed more interested in drumming up an anti-gay media frenzy then helping Max, or doing what was best for the potential children. They believed that having a child grow up in a house where it's 'parents' we're actually it's Aunt and Uncle, and the Uncle was the biological Father were deemed preferencial to them growing up with the biological Mother, simply because she was married to another woman.
Throughout the book Zoe had been helping a suicidal girl through music therapy. Unbeknown to her, this girl happened to be the black sheep daughter of Pastor Clive and the family made up an allegation that Zoe had sexually assaulted her - witnessed by another teacher (presumably another member of the Pastor's congregation) Zoe is given the choice of willingly signing over the embryos to Max or having a very public legal case launched against the alleged assault - resulting in deification of character and possibly loss of her career. With no choice, Zoe signs over the embryos to Max.
Liddy however manages to redeem her character by talking to Max about the true message from God; loving everyone equally, regardless of lifestyle or choices. As soon as Max has legal ownership of the embryos he gives them to Zoe. He felt this was the only way to do it, without the Pastor and Wade running interference.
This restored my faith in humanity, and to some extent religion. Liddy realised the pain that Zoe was going through and knew that she did not have the right to take her chance at motherhood away from her.
The ending of the book is beautifully written, from the point of view of a six year old girl. She has two Mother's a Father (who seems very active in her life) and an aunt Liddy who is a prominent figure, that will be getting married to the girls Father.
The ending filled me with hope. It may be entirely fiction, but that child at the end is what the whole journey is about. When you get there, you won't care how long it took, just that you are finally there.

Moustache and Lipstick Mr and Mrs Glasses - Tutorial

August always seems to be the time for weddings, this year is no exception as we have a family one coming up in just over a week.  After putting up the photo's of my Cake Truffles on facebook a few months ago, the Bride asked me if I would mind making a few for after the ceremony.  The wedding is going to be rather unique with the pagan hand fasting ceremony and a wonderful high tea - how could I refuse a request for my baked goods!  After a little more discussion it was agreed I would make a few more cakes in addition to the truffles and I have to say I am rather excited!

The Bride and Groom are lovely people who have a wonderfully quirky sense of style which I simply adore.  This made choosing a wedding gift a little difficult.  We originally agreed that my baking would be part of the present, but I couldn't bare the thought of them not having something lasting from us to help remember their big day by.

After browsing a few crafty bloggers creations, I stumbled across this from Our Seven Dwarves;


I loved the idea but wanted something a little more 'Weddingy'.  Immediately I knew that this idea was begging to be used on glasses - knowing the couple well, I decided to eschew traditional champagne flutes in favour of a pint and wine glass ;)  The vinyl used in this design has a reputation for peeling off after a few washes.  I knew I could etch the glass, but wanted the bold black statement moustache and lips.  After a bit more brain-storming, I suddenly remembered one of my first craft projects that I did.  It was coincidently for my own wedding;


When we got married I decided I didn't like the boring name cards that were usually used for the sit down meal.  Instead I decided to make personalised candle holders that our guests could take home with them.  These were done using a glass paint pen from Marabu that promises to be water proof, wash proof and fade proof!  Luckily I had a sealed one that we never needed in my craft drawer.  Time to make that Wedding gift idea a reality!

Supplies
  • Printer - preferably colour
  • Paper
  • Craft mat, knife and ruler (or being incredibly skilled at cutting in straight lines with scissors)
  • Glasses
  • Glass paint pen (or any paint that is safe to drink with and water/wash proof)
  • Sellotape
Step One

Use a word editing programme to make the images you need.  I found a cute and funky font that I thought would appeal to the couples style, and played around with the size until I was happy.  I searched google for a Moustache Silhouette and a lips silhouette and then adjusted the size to match the font.  In my trial version I used black for the image and font, but I found that using a black paint to trace a black image made it a bit difficult to see where I had already painted, for the final try I changed the colours to orange.  If you are struggling with editing the silhouette colour, you can either use the paint can mode in paint or another image editing programme (I used gimp).

Step Two


Cut out each image (where the orange line is) and make sure that the lines are all level and straight.  The top of the image will need to be lined up with the rim of the glass, so you must make sure that you plan how far down the glass you want your image to be before you cut.
As the glass is curved you need to make 5 slits in the paper around the image (purple lines) to make sure it sits properly.  These lines need to go right to the edge, but they must not be too close to the image itself.

Step Three


Using sticky tape, position the image inside the glass so that the top of the paper sits with the rim of the glass.  This ensures that your image will be straight, take time when doing this step.  The slits should allow you to keep the paper as close to the glass as possible.  If the gap between the paper and glass is too large, then you will find it difficult when tracing.

Step Four



Once you are happy with the positioning, get ready to trace.  The easiest technique that I found, was to have a piece of scrap paper with me whilst working.  I could then 'prime' the pen (pressing the nib down onto the paper charges the nib with ink) every time I felt it needed it, without worrying that doing it on my glass would make a mess.  You need to keep moving with the pen, once the ink is on the glass it dries quickly.  If you go back over the ink whilst it is tacky, the nib scrapes some of the ink off, resulting in a bit of a mess.
I applied 3 coats to my glasses, and left at least 3 hours between coats.

Step Five - Enjoy!




I am rather pleases with how these turned out!  They were screaming to be boxed with champagne (or imitation, in this case) to celebrate the happy day!
I am pleased to say that the Bride and Groom were chuffed with their present!