Thursday, 22 May 2014

Guys, I crochet now.


So over the past few weeks crochet has become a thing in my house. It started off when mum found a pattern for making a bag from crocheted plastic bags, we started it and promptly ran into problems. I decided to find some regular yarn and practise with that. I couldn't do that I went back to the beginning and started making scraps consisting of different stitches until I got the hang out of it. Then the idea of the plastic bag bag seemed dull, so I started looking for other patterns....and that was that.

I now have a new obsession, a whole pile of yarn waiting to be used, and a burning desire to increase the stash. My standard Pinterest search involves crochet patterns and/or dream yarn collections. Imagine just being able to go and find the exact colour and weight you want...drool.

Here are a few of the things I've been making, some are from patterns in books, some came out of my brain and so don't have a pattern written down.

These were made for my parents' anniversary (39 years, woo!) to live in their campervan, Harvey. This was the zig zag stripes pattern from "200 crochet flowers, embellishments & trims" by Claire Crompton, found on sale at HobbyCraft. This was the first time I tried carrying the yarn up the side, and man am I a fan. I didn't for the first couple and weaving in that amount of ends is BORING.

These were another Harvey present, this time a suggestion from mum from "Handmade Glamping" by Charlotte Liddle & Lucy Hopping. These were a lot of fun to make, I do love a chance to use a sewing machine, even if it is only for a circle.

Don't blink.

Here's Lynsey's birthday present, she's a huge Doctor Who fan. Pinterest came up trumps with this wonderful blog post from Crochetbot3000 on making a Weeping Angel. I made it and passed it on to Nich to pass onto the birthday girl, then realised I hadn't taken any photos and asked her to send me a couple. I then got this message...

"So, was going to take a picture of your Angel but then realised that an image of an angel becomes an angel so....."

I lol'd.

These little fellas were a gift for my sister in law, Sara's, birthday and were inspired by this pin and were my very first foray into using my own knowledge to make a pattern. It was very exciting! The body was made using some brilliant textile yarn I got from HobbyCraft. It's beautifully soft, perfect for cuddlies. It was on sale which is brilliant, but does make me worry it will disappear. I've already been back for more once, will have to hope it hangs around for awhile. If you see Rico Fashion Summer Print grab some. Or, equally, grab some for me. I'm happy to receive donations. The fabric came from the wonder that is my mum's sewing room, it's like we have our very own haberdashery in the back room.

I hope the people in my life are starting to appreciate that their presents from now on are likely to be in the form of fancy knitted string. This is Tom's birthday present, an iPod holder. He is another huge Doctor Who fan, and I had originally intended on making him a Tardis version, but if didn't have the right blue, or the time to go get the right blue. So I thought about other things Tom likes, and ingeniously decided to make him an Inspector Spacetime case instead.


Now I'm planning for my little Susie's birthday, pondering what I could do for Joe's, and then making up a stash of things for presents or to sell. Having enough knowledge to be able to create the shapes in my brain is amazing, and I'm loving looking for inspiration! I desperately want to make a blanket, but the money for that amount of yarn is not forthcoming. One day!



I've done what I can to attribute any patterns from other people here, the others are made by me, so similarities will be because that's what you have to do to make that shape happen. These things have been given as gifts, not sold. Just saying.


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Pancake Day! Almond Flour English Pancakes


So yesterday was Pancake Day! If you're not lucky enough to be aware of this, put it in your calendar for next year. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday and was traditionally a day to use up all the fatty and indulgent things in your household ahead of the start of Lent the next day. Pancakes clearly being the height of indulgence, it is now Pancake Day. In England we have our pancakes very thin and lacy, quite like crêpes, usually with sugar and lemon. Whilst this is DELICIOUS, can anyone truly deny Nutella? Man alive.

Those who have read my previous baking posts will probably know that my mum has type 2 diabetes, and I don't like to flaunt the lovely things she can't have if I can help it. She makes a beyond delicious cake with almond flour, so I got to thinking I could just use almond flour in the pancake mix instead of regular plain flour. I googled it, but couldn't seem to find anyone who had attempted it for anything other than American pancakes. Don't get me wrong, I adore stacks of pancakes, but this is a day that calls for them being thin and as big as your face. I intend to give drop scones with almond flour a go some day soon, mum used to make them for breakfast's making me too hungry to think about, we'll move on shall we?

First things first, I got the important things into the kitchen.

After consulting with mum, she let me know that she usually uses a small amount of plain flour in with the almond flour. As I was working with a recipe asking for 120g of flour, I decided to make it 100g almond flour to 20g plain. Then I discovered we had 36g of plain flour left and it seemed silly to keep 16g, so in the whole lot went and was topped up to 120g.

2 eggs in a well, 210mls of milk mixed with 90mls milk, a pinch of salt and a tbsp of vegetable oil later, you have the batter, similar consistency to single cream. Generally should let it rest for like...30 minutes.

But I lead a busy life and I'm sure you do too. Into the frying pan it went, a small ladle at a time, maybe a touch more.

These were thicker than I'd like, but so delicious regardless. If it's thicker wait for bubbles to form on top before flipping, thinner and you use some judgement.

You know what successfully happened?! I flipped the pancakes! All of them! Multiple times. They survived. How happy did that make me? Beyond happy. The almond flour makes it a little weaker than the plain flour might, so they had a little less structural integrity when transferred to the plate, but the important part is that they survived the flipping.

After the first round we decided to amp up the almondy deliciousness, and added the merest droplet or two of almond essence. It worked, do it.

I may have not had the discipline to wait to take a photo before having a bite.

They were amazing, lovely and light, and I defy you to say that raspberries and Nutella is not a winning combination. Also, who can deny skoosh? Not me. Ever.

I may have not learnt my lesson and still not had the discipline to wait.

Any other slightly less than traditional pancake day recipes out there? Anything almond flour-y that I just have to try? Let me know, I'm up for whatever.


P.S. I got myself a twitter account specifically for the blog, look for me @Challenge_Steph!


Monday, 24 February 2014


A week or so ago my aunt and uncle, Kate and Paul, came over for lunch. Mum fancied making Cranachan but as she had the meal itself to make, she suggested I make it instead, yay! I was actually surprised not to have had it before, what with Mum being Scottish 'n that. I think maybe I avoided it because I'm not usually a fan of boozy puddings, but this was great. It will be happening again, you can be sure of that.

First off you toast some oatmeal under the grill. It doesn't take long, but you have to pay attention. The oatmeal doesn't brown that much as it's toasted, you have to use your nose and wait for that lovely nutty smell.

While the oatmeal is cooling, start crushing up some raspberries for a purée. Note to self, don't use a red bowl with red ingredients if you want to take a photo. Leave enough aside to add in whole in the final product.

This recipe said to then smoosh them through a sieve with a spoon to get your purée. In my opinion, this results in more of a juice than a purée, I would consider maybe blending them next time, and with way more raspberries. Bloody love raspberries.

Seriously, Steph, what's with all the red bowls? Can you see how pitiful the amount of "purée" we have here is? And how thin? P'shaw. Add a bit of caster sugar here to sweeten it a bit.

Next step is to get your cream ready. Some may say this is the best part. They will be correct. Mmm. Whip up your cream until just set.

The recipe we were half working to says to add honey, we mixed it up slightly. Mum has Type 2 diabetes, so she is always thinking of ways to take that into consideration when making puddings. This time it meant rather than just adding honey, I added half honey and half agave nectar. Man tasty. Maybe next time we'll go the whole agave nectar hog? I'd be up for that experiment. 

Then add your whisky. I believe we used some of Dad's Glen Moray but, I'll be honest, I haven't got a clue. It was 3 tablespoons, but again I'd use some more. I don't like things overly boozy, but if they're gonna be you want it to be slightly more obvious than that. 

Last addition, mix in your toasted oatmeal. We used a fair bit more than in the recipe, again, and I'm so glad we did. It meant there was plenty in every spoonful, and gave it texture. 

By this point the cream will probably have whipped up more thickly from all your additions, give it a bit more if you think it needs it.

Now you can start layering it up!

I don't remember the last time these glasses were used but they were fab for this, if annoying when constructing. Super messy.

Here they are all finished! I loved it, big fan of Cranachan right here now. I doubt it would pass muster with Gregg Wallace, but I would eat this for hours. 

Though I basically would change everything about the amounts used, here's what the recipe suggested for 4 people. Before you say it, I know I made 6, when I made it I added half again to account for this. So there. 

2 tbsp medium oatmeal. Three for six people, but I probably used about 5, if not a bit more. Love those oats.
300g fresh raspberries. I used 450g, use more, use a blender, remember to leave some whole.
350mls double cream, about 525 for 6.
2 tbsp honey, or agave nectar if you're as awesome as us.
2-3 tbsps whisky, to taste. You need more. Trust my face. 

I hope you all go embrace your inner scot, or failing that, embrace your inner Gregg Wallace. 


Monday, 17 February 2014

Red Dwarf Piñata Cake

So, it was my brother's birthday so I attempted to make Roast Beef. Chortle.
What *actually* happened was that I decided I wanted to make a cake for Stu for his birthday. I started looking through all my bookmarked Stumbles and Pinned recipes to find something exciting. I originally toyed with something to do with cameras, or Star Wars, or minions, or Big Bang Theory but everything was far too advanced for me. Then I came across a Piñata cake that I had pinned a long time ago. This one was a shaped and decorated like a rainbow, not quite what I had in mind. Then I thought, why not make it look super boring, so that when it's opened it's a big surprise? Which then made me think of Lister's cake in Balance of Power, and a new plan was formed. I would recreate the cake, making it seem like the fun part about it was that it was that cake, then OH EM GEE, LOOK AT ALL THE COLOURS! I even put a quote on Facebook a day or two before I saw him, hoping it would implant Red Dwarf in his head. I'm sneaky.
I turned to my favourite cake recipe, White Velvet. It still needs some tweaking I think, but it turns out a delicious cake, and nice and flat so it's easy to decorate and stack. Problem with it is that it is for a 9 1/2 inch pan and the pans here at Pogles are 8 1/2 inches. Now it could have been absolutely fine, and probably would have been, but I had images of batter flowing over the sides of tins and a massive mess to clear up. Naturally, I went straight to Google and I found the CakeOMeter.

Hells yeah I have Flappy Bird. Also, get Dots, it's awesome. Anyway, this app is amazing. You put in the recipe you have and the tin size it is for, then the tin size you have, and it converts it for you! How brilliant is that?! It makes me want to find recipes to convert and bake, just to prove it's right.

I'm a big fan of this vanilla extract, it's slightly more expensive but worth it.

Being at Pogles I have a whole different set of equipment to work with, I left my other baking things in the care of Madeley Road until I'm back in London. I love this big bowl, makes me feel like I'm on no cooking show. When Jen and I were younger and did any baking we would measure out all our ingredients and put them into separate bowls, then pretend we were on a cooking show. You know how Delia would always have a tiny bowl with her salt in rather than just take the pinch? Aw, memories.

I saw this on Saturday kitchen last year sometime, can't remember exactly who it was, but they said if you need to soften butter you should put it between parchment paper and whack it with a rolling pin. This changed my baking life, I never remember to get butter out ahead of time to soften. This way, it's softened straight away, and you're able to easily slice it up into bits to go into your mix.

As much as I love the baking of the cake, I am NOT a fan of making icing. It never works the way I want it to, and I end up with rubbish icing and a thin layer of icing sugar dust all over everything in the kitchen. So I will invariably just buy Betty Crocker, cause I love her. This is the first time I've tried this Buttercream style icing, and it was gooooood.

I used about...half a 5p size blob of gel colouring to get this wonderfully exciting shade of grey. Just the one.

See what I mean? Very flat. Quite thin. Gonna tweak. The thing about this cake is that it is very pale, being White Velvet 'n all. When you look in the oven when your buzzer goes off you think there's no way it can be done, it looks like batter with slightly browned spots. But it is.

As I said before, I used a box mix for the middle layer, and yes it was Betty Crocker. My favourite is the chocolate swirl cake, it's really quite tasty.

Next step is to cut out the void for your piñata cake. I ummed and aahed slightly over whether to go bigger or smaller, I wanted plenty of goodie room, but I didn't want to have a flimsy edge. This pot gave me a good size edge, but did cut out most of the swirls. Note to self: swirl your mix better.

I couldn't bear to just haphazardly heap the cream on the cake hoping it was in the right areas, so I marked out the area using a bit of the gel colouring.

I'd smash my face into that right there.

Doesn't it look exciting?! I used two share bags of smarties, I considered just one, but if that was insufficient I could never have lived with myself.

The final product! The kids were very excited by it, despite my intentions. Clearly they know me too well...I don't bring boring cakes. My favourite part of the 'reveal' was Stu starting to cut into the cake and saying "This is crunchy, what?!" I'm a genius.
Cake went down well with all concerned, Keira was keen to yum up as much as possible, so I shall count this as a win. Definitely something I'll do again, interested to think of other ways I could play with the idea. I've already got my next plan in my head, but, naturally, this will be kept secret. Especially as it may go terribly, horribly, irretrievably wrong.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Travel tips: Everyone loves a Top Ten list.

After travelling for four months there are a lot of things I've wished I knew right at the beginning, some of them I had seen on blogs and things before I came but I didn't really pay attention. I searched for all the "Top Ten" lists I could, so here's my own.

1. Buy solid shampoo & conditioner, or suck it up and buy travel size.

This is the tip that sticks out so much in my memory. I remember reading it and thinking "HA! As if I'm buying travel size for four months!" I got to Toronto and bought myself a regular size shampoo and conditioner and was happy. Then I moved onto Niagara, and realised my error. In the travelling scheme of things, those bottle are enormous. My bag is full to the brim anyway, I had to carry them around separately, wrapped up in a second plastic bag because those bottles carry water like a camel, secreted away so you only discover it when it's soaked through everything else. The tops of both broke swiftly too, meaning I had to tape them closed. I eventually gave in and bought solid from Lush. Yes, it's more expensive...I got the tins to hold them in too, but it's so worth it. The tins can be stashed in my bag with not too much more effort and they last ages. I also managed to lose both original bottles by leaving them in the shower, I'm much more precious about my tins.

2. If you're in the west, don't bother bringing a sleeping sack.

This was a tip I actually paid attention to, and I wish I hadn't. The idea is that you have your sleeping sack to avoid the possibility of bed bugs, but every hostel I've been to (or researched) don't let you use them as there is just as much of a possibility of you bringing the blighters in with it. Mine took up space in my bag the whole time...I couldn't quite bring myself to throw it away in case I came across a grotty bed.

3. A torch is a must.

Some beds I slept in had a lamp, some didn't. I bought myself a little torch that could hang above my bed and it was invaluable. I often got up very early to check out and catch an early (cheap) bus, and you don't just turn on the lights in a dorm of 10. Well, some people do, and I hated them with a violent burning passion. I packed everything I could the night before I left so that in the morning my tasks were to get dressed and get my bags out of the room. I'd pack up the last bits outside the room to spare the others. You often have huge backpack sized lockers and searching through those in the dark isn't easy. Sometimes the rooms are very dark as a result of all the bunk beds. Bring a torch. Go to a Poundland equivalent. You're welcome.

4. Buy some sandwich bags.

When I bought these I never imagined they would be as helpful as they have been. Yes, sandwiches, standard. But I've used them for all sorts, tea bags so I don't have to carry the box, washing powder, crisps (because apparently a bag for one is impossible to find here) makeshift bins on the go...all sorts. I've found myself digging them out much more often than you'd expect, you will too.

5. Trust instincts.

It will never cease to amaze me how often my instincts are spot on. It would serve me well to remember this in the rest of my life, there have been numerous occasions where I was convinced something was about to happen and I chastised myself for being stupid before finding out I was on the money. We're not psychic, we're just so much better at reading people than we will ever give ourselves credit for. If someone walks into the dorm and you get a bad feeling from them, then just stay away. It doesn't even necessarily have to be a bad feeling, maybe you just think "I don't think they're my kinda person..." and you decide to stay in rather than go out with them. That's fine. Because I was away and alone I paid much more attention to these feelings than I usually do and I know it's done me good.

6. Remember you're allowed to do nothing.

It took me a long time to realise that I didn't have to go out and do something every day, that I could stay in bed and watch films or read if I wanted to. I always felt obligated to go outside and have a walk, if nothing else. Each time it was "come ON, you're in Montréal!" or "Look at that view! Go outside and look at the view from somewhere else!" I felt like I would hate myself in a couple of months time, when I'm back at work and wishing I was out exploring in Banff or watching the water in Vancouver. But I won't. If I was at home I wouldn't go out each and every day. I'd relax and watch tv and drink tea. I started doing this a bit more occasionally here and then realised how much I missed it once I got to Kelowna. The hostel was a fantastic place to relax, with comfy sofas, friendly staff, and plenty of films available. I spent most of my time there sitting with my ipad and some tea, relaxing exactly how I would if I were home with my friends. It was so good for me, and made me all the more excited about exploring Vancouver afterwards having had a break from being a hectic tourist, walking miles every day and aching all evening.

7. Embrace the selfie

I took a hell of a lot of photos whilst away, some places taking numerous shots of the same view because I was so desperate to capture that wonderful sight. This is all well and good, and you shouldn't not take thse photos, but people want to see you. You want to see you. Now that I'm back I feel a bit like...well I might have taken this photo but I could certainly find the same image, better, somewhere else. I prefer the photos that prove to myself that it actually did it! It feels unreal that it ever happened now, but seeing myself at Niagara cements it as fact. In the future, when I'm looking at these photos with my children/cats/minions the views won't be interesting, it will be seeing how I looked then. Whenever we look back at old family photos we're most interested in the people in them. I'm not a fan of the arm length photo, I feel like a fool, not to mention it's not particularly easy when you're using your DSLR rather than a phone. I really wished I had a remote for my camera, but settled for taking a few consecutive photos on timer to increase chances of a better shot.

8. Don't bother with a least in the west.

I left my phone at home, reasoning I'd be able to buy a cheap phone to use over there. I was expecting it to be like it is in the UK, it's not. Rather than being able to buy a bog standard phone for a tenner and putting a tenner of credit on it, I got to Toronto and found I would have to buy a $80 phone and have a $20 a month plan at least. No thanks. I won't deny there were a couple of points where I longed for the ability to text, but certainly not $160 worth of moments. Unless you have a magnificent deal from your provider at home and a phone you truly don't care about losing, don't bother. Wifi is everywhere and it might be an annoying walk back to find it if plans aren't running as smoothly as you thought, but you'll save a lot of money.

9. Consider online back up

The likelihood of me not having something break whilst I was away was ridiculously small. I love technology, but it hates me. I've had multiple phones stolen, a fair few broken (some my fault, some not), things get lost or just decide to shuffle orf. This was a big reason I left my phone at home when I went, my luck would dictate that it would be stolen like the last two. I was victim to a failing memory card at had on it two pieces of coursework, one due in a week and the other in a fortnight. No words can describe the moment I discovered it had corrupted *cry* . Anyway, knowing my luck as I do, I wanted to make sure that the photos I took would be safe from me. I signed up to Flickr Pro with unlimited storage, and I'm so glad I did. I now tend to keep all my photos there, partly to take them out of my tech killing hands, and partly to free up space. Uploading with the Flickr Stackr app is nice and easy, and the editing options are passable...good enough on the move!

10. For goodness' sake, write stuff down.

Sometime you don't feel like writing, sometimes you forget, sometimes it only pours out when you're not actually feeling that great...but you'll kick yourself if you don't. I wrote a bit here and there, mainly for the blog, and I wish I'd written so much more that was just for me. I'm so happy I have the posts here for me to look back on, there will always be things that get forgotten and your writing jogs your memory. It all feels immensely unreal to me that I was ever IF I managed that! But the writing is proof...and looking at the books will take you back to the places you were when you were writing. I started writing this post in Vancouver. I was in Starbucks with a cup of tea I had bought to spite a rude old woman who was shouting at everyone who wasn't leaving the second their drinks were finished, I conspired with the man with a pram next to me to keep our tables safe from her, and shared grimaces with the baristas she had been lambasting for not doing her bidding. I finished writing it in Chatham, contemplating a further cup of tea and half watching Doctors.