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Investment into our futures

29 Nov

I’ve been knitting every day this month.. I’ve made a few things, but that isn’t really the point. The purpose of the knitting is two-fold – I find it meditative, it calms me, it slows me down and allows me to just relax. When my hands are busy making stitches, my mind is happier.

But secondly, I took this on as a fundraising challenge to try to raise a bit of money towards research into Alzheimers. I probably don’t need to tell you how much this research is needed, and how much it would mean to me if you could help boost my total raised. I’d love to reach £500 in total.

This picture of Mum means so much to me. It was taken in April 2021, the day after she had been diagnosed with mixed dementia – Alzheimers and vascular dementia. She just looks so lost, as though she has been unmoored. And perhaps that was how she felt… we tried to reassure her that we would keep her safe, that she was still the same Mum to us… but in our hearts we all knew that things would change.

And change they have. Mum has not been able to live independently at home since July last year, when she moved to a care home. She is still so very much Mum, but at the same time there is so much of her that is no longer there, that she has no access to …

I know this is a tough time of year, that this year more than ever we are struggling to find the pennies. But if you have a couple of pounds spare, please consider making a donation. Or I could call it an investment, in all our futures.

To make a donation to this fund, please click here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/594510279025946/

Thank you. And if you cannot access this donation page for any reason, please do get in touch and we can find another way for you to support this valuable research.

A roadside picnic

5 Jul

On June 27 2021 I uploaded this picture, looking across the Solway Firth towards the Mull of Galloway.

And I wrote the following: On the way back from the hospital today we stopped off for a roadside picnic.

So, by this point Mum had been transferred from the Royal Infirmary at Dumfries to the cottage hospital at Stranraer.

I guess this happened in the in-between days, as I make no reference to it on my Instagram posts from that time. But then it really was so appallingly managed, as if designed to cause maximum distress to Mum and to us through miscommunication, bad planning (actually it felt like no planning at all, just reacting) and just casual lack of care for any of us. There had been angry phone calls. There had been tears of frustration. And we had dropped everything and jumped into cars in different directions (so one of us could be with Mum in the ambulance taking her from Dumfries to Stranraer, and the other one could meet them in Stranraer… get her settled and then drive all the way back to Dumfries to pick up that car, before going back to Gatehouse). And with all that, Stranraer hospital were not expecting her when she arrived. The admission ‘process’ would have been so much more distressing for her had we not been there to talk to the staff, and to advocate for her. Never had we been more grateful that Mum had done the paperwork some years earlier to make us both her Welfare Attorneys.

We were uneasy about a move to Stranraer – which we knew was entirely illogical. It turns out that the drive to the wee hospital at Stranraer takes about the same time as the drive to the new hospital at Dumfries. But somehow, to us, it felt like it was in the wrong direction (it was not en route to mine or James’s homes, and could not be done easily if we returned home instead of camping out in Galloway).

But it happened. And when she was finally admitted we knew that it was a significantly better environment for Mum. Though still not ideal, she was at least no longer living in complete isolation in an unfamiliar place – it was unfamiliar certainly, but her whole life was becoming unfamiliar to her. She was in a 4 bed ward. The staff were friendly and constantly bustling about – and somehow the rooms were more connected, more open to the corridors, so there was a sense that she was more connected to the world.

The visiting restrictions were similar to those at Dumfries, in fact I think they were in theory more restrictive as we were only allowed one 45 minute visit by one person each day. So one of us would make toast in the morning, and pack up a basket with dry toast, her memoirs, and a single flower from the garden (which would come back with us, as flowers were still not allowed in hospital wards).

When we got there we’d butter the crispy dry toast, right to the edges all around, as she specified. And then spread it with marmite, cut it into wee bite sized pieces and smile as Mum tucked in. This was one way we could still care for her, show her how we loved her. She always loved her toast and marmite, and was thrilled that she was getting something special.

Mum had little curiosity in the outside world by now – she rarely asked about other people or about how our lives were (just as well really, because I’m not sure we had much to offer on that front!). She had always been someone endlessly curious and interested in other people.

We would read a few pages of her memoirs, giving her those familiar stories of her own life back to her. She would sometimes add extra details, though less often than even a few weeks before… she would still finish sentences word for word. She had some favourite stories, mostly ones involving ponies. Or perhaps they are my favourite stories. I have such a soft spot for Tiny, the cantankerous wee pony who didn’t like walking through puddles… but would lie down and then roll about in them – so whoever was on her back needed to jump off quickly to avoid getting soaked and muddy and squished by Tiny! Or there was Rosie, back in Scotland, who pulled the sledge through the snow, with 8 year old Mum and her big sister Jennifer on it. Such happy times, and Mum had carried these stories for over 80 years, so no wonder they were embedded in her very heart.

But back to the end of June 2021 – we had by this point come to accept that a care home would be the best place for Mum to move to on discharge from hospital, and we were actively looking at options. We felt that the thing that made the most difference to Mum’s wellbeing was seeing her family (and by that we meant either myself or James, primarily). So this led to us looking at care homes near where I live in the Clyde Valley, or James in Edinburgh. And of course we were doing our research. This was all so new, such a foreign territory for us.

If you take anything away from this, please think about how care homes can help you to live your best life for longer. Caring for elderly people at home is hard, and has indignities and loneliness. What happens if you are no longer able to go to the loo independently, but the care package only allows for someone coming to see you four times a day? And what if you are still sort of mobile but a bit wobbly, and you fall at home? How long will you lie there in pain till someone finds you? Honestly, care homes are designed to look after us at the time in our lives when we need more care.

Mum had always wanted to stay at home, but it was not going to be possible to keep her safe, or to allow her to live with much dignity if she returned home. This decision a few days before (when we hadn’t realised the extent of Mum’s ongoing needs) had seemed like a betrayal, like we were letting her down. Now it felt like the right thing.

And the following day Mum said to James, “I’m not going to go home am I?”.

Till then, she had been focused on getting home. Home was where she wanted to be, where we all had thought she needed to be. But not now.

And she didn’t know much, but she knew this. She gave us the permission to make plans with her blessing (though perhaps not expressed quite that explicitly).

Our focus now was on her Escape Plan, we were going to spring her out of hospital… but exactly how, we did not know.

But if I know one thing, it’s that first of all you need to know what you are trying to achieve… and then you will work out a way to achieve it. This is true in so many things in life. I love a plan.

***

If you want to catch up on how we got to this point, this series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation.

How to draw a mule

1 Jul

On 26 June 2021 I posted:

It’s been too long. But I just haven’t had those quiet moments when I can sit and stitch, trust me if I’d had them I’d have picked up the smock straight away.

You’d have thought that sitting in hospital with Mum would be the perfect time and place, but it just hasn’t been. I did some crochet with Mum which was quietly mindful but the embroidery is too hard for me to do with her.

The thing that gives Mum the most pleasure (tho pleasure may be putting it too strongly… contentment perhaps) is being read to. But we can’t read just anything… we read her ‘memoirs’ which she was encouraged to write some years ago by my cousin Mary. They chart her life, focusing on her childhood and then the years before she married Dad.

One memorable passage describes how she recalls being on one side of the fence, with the farm mules on the other. She had a stick and was using it in the dirt to try to draw them. She recalls that joy when she worked out how their legs joined to their bodies. This was more than 80 years ago and she wasn’t yet 8 years old.

I’m writing this almost exactly a year on from that moment. It’s been quite the year, but we are all settled into a different sort of normal now, in so many ways. So many of us refer to a new normal and for most of us, this state relates to how we are living with Covid, now the very worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us, but with Covid still very much in our lives.

And of course this is part of our new normal too. But the deterioration in Mum’s health has had (and continues to have) a far greater impact on my life than Covid has. I feel like we are in limbo now… waiting for another life beyond all this, while desperately holding on to this life too.

The more I read about dementia and how social isolation can accelerate the decline, the more I believe how damaging the first year of lockdown was for Mum. We had been used to going down to see her every couple of weeks. But immediately we stopped, only seeing her for essential hospital appointments every couple of months (and those appointments became more and more stressful). She no longer had a constant stream of friends and neighbours just dropping by. I phoned her every evening as I had since Dad had died, and she said she was fine, that actually she really quite liked her own company.

But during that year things changed. And by the end of the year our phone calls had become formulaic. She would list for me what she had done through the day, in a way that (with hindsight) reminds me of one of those parlour games. The one we used to play was The Minister’s Cat … going round in a circle we would say what the Minister’s Cat was taking on holiday (can this be true? was this really the premise of the game?)… anyway, each of us would add a new thing that the Minister’s Cat was taking .. and then the next person had to add a new thing and then add all the things that were already going on holiday with that pesky feline. My evening phone calls were more mundane than the Minister’s Cat – they generally started with her waking up, then detailed breakfast, after which she got dressed. And so the report of the day continued… in my memory she didn’t often ask about my day, though I would often give her snippets of detail about my day which, given we were in lockdown, had little of interest to report either!

But thinking back to June last year when Mum was in the Royal Infirmary. She was so very unhappy, so lost. And we didn’t know how to ‘fix’ it. There probably was no way to fix it, so we did what we could, visiting her every day and trying to find things that might give her some comfort. Her eyesight was poor and although she could still read if she used the big magnifying glass, she hardly read anything any more. I think she was unable to hold whatever she was reading in her mind, so it made little sense to her. Or perhaps she was just so EXHAUSTED from trying to hold things together, from trying to be ok, that she had no energy for reading. Or perhaps she just didn’t want to read. Because I hardly read anything in lockdown either. Not everything that Mum did was ‘because of her dementia’, even if it felt like that was the driving force behind EVERYTHING in our lives.

My friend Juliet has been the most incredible support over the last couple of years. I see that at this time she was submitting a funding bid and I had asked if she wanted me to read it. She enquired if I wanted to. And I reflected that “I’d like to think I can do something other than look after Mum”. Because really every hour of my day was consumed with caring for her, whether or not I was in a room with her. And it had been like that for 6 months for me. Juliet, being the wise woman that she is, reminded me that I know I can do other things, just that Mum was my priority just now. The reminder that this was temporary, that things would change, that I would not always feel trapped in this washing machine of emotions was helpful. It also amused me NO END that I was finally proving (to myself at least) that I could really FOCUS on one thing… all I had needed was a reason to focus!

***

If you want to catch up on how we got to this point, this series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation.

The architect

30 Jan
Probably taken in the late 1940s

Thursday marked 7 years since Dad died. I hadn’t remembered the date, perhaps to my shame. But I realise I don’t lodge death dates in my brain, except for Great Uncle Walter, who died on my birthday – I remember the phone ringing and me expecting it to be someone wishing me happy birthday! The excitement! And then the accompanying sadness, and a sense of guilt that I felt so annoyed that my birthday was ruined by this news. But Uncle Walter had been a grandfather figure to me and my siblings throughout our childhood, when our own grandparents were living in South Africa. Perhaps I will write more on him another day…

Dad was born in 1920, in Berlin. He came to the UK in 1936 to finish school somewhere he would be more able to flourish. The Nazi youth were already being pretty brutal by all accounts. Dad studied architecture, through the war, was interned in Canada for a year and on his return made Scotland his home.

In the early 1950s he had a whirlwind romance with Betty, who was travelling around the coastline of Britain on a white horse … Dad was entranced and a few weeks after they first met, they married in Fortwilliam under the moonlight. I should say that I knew nothing of this story until a few months ago when my sister, his daughter from that first marriage, came to visit.

Coming up to Christmas a few years after his divorce, Dad went to the local gift shop to buy Christmas cards to send to his family in Germany. He had a large family, but only bought one card. The next day he returned and bought another card. And again the next.

Mum was working in that gift shop, and Dad just wanted an excuse to keep returning. They married in March – I’ve never discovered if it was 3 months, or 15 months after they first met.

I inherited the ability to water divine from Dad
Dad designed and had built a ‘wee house’ at the bottom of our garden. I LOVED that wee house – here I am enjoying it with my two brothers.

Anyway, Dad was an architect. And when I come to Galloway, I see him almost everywhere I look – his thumbprint is on so many buildings here, his legacy is all around me. But he left so much more than physical buildings – he left friends who adored him and family (near and far) who loved him. And when it comes to it, what more do we need to leave behind than love?

Dad with his big sister and his Dad
Dad with his two sisters
Dad, a year before he died, at the opening of an exhibition of his student work (yes, his STUDENT work, created more than 70 years earlier)

Swooping swallows

23 Jan

It’s only 7 months since I first started embroidering Mum’s smock, and recording my progress each day with wee stories about our lives, her life. It feels like several lifetimes ago, and it’s interesting to re-live that time, and to recall how far we had already come in our journey with Mum’s dementia.

I am someone who likes to know facts, who feels better if I feel I have some knowledge and if I can put a name to things. So, having seen that Mum wasn’t quite her usual self when I started minding her in January 2021, I researched ‘early stages of dementia’. If this had been a tick box exercise, Mum seemed to tick all the boxes. A typical list of symptoms is here (this one from The Alzheimer’s Society)

  • Memory problems
  • Difficulties in thinking things through and planning
  • Language and communication, for instance struggling to find the right word
  • Poor orientation (this is perhaps the one that I never identified with Mum)
  • Visual-perceptual difficulties
  • Changes in mood or emotion

Soon afterwards I spoke to her wonderful GP, who was professional kindness itself and discussed what, if anything, we should do about this. The GP confirmed that this indeed did sound like it might be the early stages of dementia, and also confirmed that we didn’t need to do anything, or not straight away. I enquired what the advantages of a diagnosis might be, and established that they ‘might be’ easier access to some forms of support. I’m not sure I discovered precisely what that support would be, but I also wasn’t sure what further support we needed or whether anything would actually be supportive.

This was to become the constant quest – ‘what support do we need? what else would help at this stage?’

The GP had established that Mum was not in physical danger, that she was not so vulnerable that she could no longer live on her own, and had also asked after me and how I was coping, which kindness immediately set off my tears.

I cry most easily at times when I am trying to be brave and cope with stuff and people show me kindness.

A few weeks after this conversation with the GP I cried when the local postie (who I only really know to wave at through the window when he delivers the post at Mum’s) was kind, and understood when I explained that Mum may have dementia, and that really the junkmail wasn’t a good thing for her.

With hindsight, so much had already happened by early June, but so much more would happen in the coming weeks. But we will come to that.

So, on Day Two on the #100daysproject I wrote this:

Today wasn’t as chaotic and so all was a bit calmer. And I had a long meeting online at work where I could listen and participate and stab the smock at the same time.

Swallows have swooped in and around our lives every summer for as long as I can remember. They nest in the eaves of Mum’s car port, and they dive bomb us every time we come out the back door.

Embroidering this swallow feels a bit like stabbing skin for a tattoo. The back yoke of the smock will have several swooping swallows.

Spoiler alert: the back yoke only has two swallows and I think it’s unlikely I’ll add any more – if only because in general I only ever see one or two swallows swooping at a time.

I’d be forever grateful if you felt inspired to donate to Alzheimer Scotland, it doesn’t have to be much because I know that every single penny will make a difference. They have a 24 hour helpline to ensure that no-one in Scotland need go through dementia alone. This coming week, could you make a donation instead of paying for a cup of coffee (or some other small treat) one day?

If you want to start at the beginning of this story, go to Taking Smock of the Situation.

Perfecting my choux buns

24 Nov

Taking a holiday on lockdown is a strange old thing isn’t it?

I’m off all week this week, but staying at home (obviously). I feel as though I really need the ‘break’, I’m limping towards the end of the year. But what would a lockdown break look like? What would recharge me?

A series of personal challenges, that’s what. And no, not physical challenges – while that might be good for me, that is very much not my style. And not something I would look forward to.

I reveal my other challenges in a previous post, but this weekend’s was to make choux buns. I’ve made choux pastry once years ago, and all I recall is thinking that this was not something worth repeating – why have flabby, flat, soft pastry when you could have shortcrust instead?

Also, most of my memories of choux pastry aren’t that brilliant to be honest – back in the 70s they seemed like they’d be a terribly exotic dessert, but without fail they always disappointed: a bowl of slightly soggy, soft pastry shells, with questionable creamy stuff inside and a far too sweet chocolate sauce on top. No, I was a knickerbockerglory girl in the 70s.

In my quest to bake a decent choux bun I checked various recipes from my cookbook collection and they all seemed easy, and very similar, so I picked one and got going yesterday.

And it was all going so well, water and butter heated up, flour chucked in and beaten into the hot water to make a paste. Then eggs in, pre-beaten, so I could add just the right quantity of egg to get the right consistency.

But this is where it all went so badly wrong. I quickly ended up with a really liquid batter, and there was no way I could put dollops of batter on a baking tray to cook. I didn’t give up though, and dribbled some onto baking trays, on dampened baking parchment and put them in a very hot oven.

As expected, they came out as choux pancakes.

So I did what I do, and set to working out what had gone wrong and what I had to do differently to get something resembling more of a choux BUN.

(As an aside, the hens absolutely LOVED the choux pancakes, so if ever you have what appears to be a kitchen disaster, just remember that it may be the perfect snack, just not for you).

Anyway, today I made my second batch of choux pastry – and I’ll be honest, I didn’t really take much care over it, getting it half made and then stopping to enjoy a cup of coffee over the Sunday Papers before finishing it. And it appears that this is the best way to approach choux pastry, be off-hand with it, pretend you don’t really care. Ignore it for a while. It’ll come good.

Given that I’m not wild about a regular profiterole I filled my fluffy, light pastry shells with two different fillings: dark chocolate mousse for one lot and cinnamon apple cream for the second lot. I’m pretty happy with these choices, one being rich and decadent, the other tangy and fruity, but still with billowy creaminess.

My top tips for anyone attempting choux pastry for the first time:

  1. Do it!
  2. Use the 2:1:1:2 ratio, but add a wee bit extra flour (this will make sense soon)
  3. Don’t use an enormous pan
  4. Beat the flour, water, butter paste over the heat for a minute or so, till it’s glossy
  5. Let this paste cool for a while before even thinking about beating in the eggs
  6. Make them on the day you want to eat them, they become soggy and flabby if you keep them in an airtight container overnight
  7. Just do it!

Choux Pastry

  • 100ml water
  • 50g butter
  • 50g flour
  • 100g eggs (2 eggs)

Before you start doing anything, look at the ratios of the different ingredients. This is the 2:1:1:2 ratio. Twice as much (by weight) of each of water and eggs as there is of butter and flour.

Now we’ve got that sorted, here’s how to make your perfect choux buns.

  1. Put the water in a wee heavy based saucepan, and cut the chunks of butter into it, and place on a medium heat
  2. Weigh the flour out, and then add just a wee bit more (I think the choux pastry works better with the 2112 ratio just slightly out of kilter, with a smidgin extra flour)
  3. When the butter has melted and the water is just simmering, skoosh all the flour into the pan on top of the hot water-butter and BEAT with a wooden spoon (some people suggest you should place the flour on a folded piece of paper, to make a chute so the flour skooshes nice and fast into the water-butter, but I don’t think this is really necessary)
  4. Now, keep beating for about a minute, still over the heat though turned down a wee bit, till the dough seems glossy and is all coming together in the pan.
  5. Leave the pan to one side and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee now
  6. Pootle about on social media, or pick up a project you’re half way through (for me it’s that amazing mustard coloured cardigan with ALL the cables), or just read a book, or the paper. Whatever distract yourself for 20 minutes or so. You probably want to turn your oven on sometime during this wee break, so it’s hot enough when you come to cook your buns.
  7. Now go back to the kitchen and beat 2 eggs. Don’t bother weighing them, because you are going to do the rest of this by using your senses…
  8. Pour a wee bit of the beaten egg into the dough, and BEAT with your wooden spoon till it’s nicely incorporated; then add another dollop of egg and BEAT again. You’re going to keep doing this till you’ve got the right consistency. You might need all the egg, or you might have a wee bit left over at the end.
  9. You know you’ve got the right consistency when you pick your wooden spoon up, straight, out of the batter, and a sort of V-shaped bit of batter sticks to the bottom of the spoon, without dropping off. If it all drops off, ooopsie, you’ve added too much egg. Another way to check is to poke and stroke the batter – you want to see a wee trough where your finger made a trench in the batter. Basically it needs to hold its own, but kinda only just.
  10. Prepare your baking sheet: line it with a piece of baking parchment, then put it under the tap to get all wet. Pour of the actual water, just leaving a few droplets and a sort of sense of wetness. This helps provide the steamy heat the choux pastry loves in the oven.
  11. Now you can either spoon dollops of batter onto the baking sheet, or you can go all fancy and put it in a piping bag. Whichever you do, if you see wee sticky out pointy bits press them down with a wet finger (otherwise they will burn before the rest is cooked).
  12. Pop them in the oven, for about 15-20 minutes. Some suggest you should take them out a couple of minutes before they are ready (but once they are firm) and use a skewer or a sharp knife to make a wee hole in each bun, to allow the steam out, and to ensure they cook nicely inside. I’d say this is optional, so don’t stress if you forget to do it.
  13. Once they are out, move them to a wire rack to cool. If you haven’t poked a wee hole in them already, do it now so the steam can escape.

Fillings

You can fill these with anything soft and moussy really. The traditional (and possibly slightly old-fashioned) filling is plain whipped cream. And nice as that is, I think we can do better, don’t you. Some suggestions are:

  • Just before serving, pop a spoonful of your favourite ice cream inside each bun and sprinkle with something scrunchy, like chopped toasted nuts or sesame seeds
  • Lightly whip some cream with mascarpone and then fold through some stewed berries, or a fruit coulis
  • Make a quick chocolate mousse. OK, unlikely to be quick because you’ll have to melt the chocolate and then cool in the fridge (but you have time to make this while you’re taking that ‘break’ from the choux pastry-making). For an easy mousse: melt 6oz dark chocolate, cool slightly and then beat in 3 eggs yolks. Whip the 3 egg whites to soft peaks, and stir a big dollop of them into the choc mix. Now carefully fold the rest of the egg white in and leave to set in the fridge. Eat it by the spoonful, or spoon great big dollops of it into each bun. And if you want to go BIG, drizzle melted chocolate over the tops
  • Spread a wee bit of apple cinnamon jelly inside each bun, then fill with cream/mascarpone
  • Fold salted caramel sauce through whipped cream. I don’t have a recipe for salted caramel sauce to hand, but I’m sure you can find one.
  • Fold lemon curd through whipped cream, or a cream/mascarpone mix. That zingy zestiness will be so good. And I happen to have a recipe for lemon curd.
  • Or if you want to go decidedly grown up, check out what liqueurs you’ve got stashed at the back of your drinks cabinet… fold some through your whipped cream. And then think what would go with it… some fresh raspberries with chambord; with frangelico cream dip the tops in chocolate and sprinkle over chopped toasted hazelnuts… but over to you. Now you can make choux buns, you can fill them whatever takes your fancy.

Not in the mood for choux buns? That’s ok, there’s lots of other things you could try your had at here.

Challenges

24 Nov

I have a week off work and have set myself some challenges to complete before I go back to work next Monday, in the hope that this will make my lockdown holiday a bit more inspiring and I will go back to work feeling refreshed and invigorated and as though I’ve achieved something.

Some are quite mundane and because they need to be done, others are because I want to learn a new technique, some are because I think I’ll enjoy them.

  1. Make choux buns DONE!
  2. Make suet crust pastry I’ve decided to postpone this challenge (because it conflicts with my weightloss plan)
  3. Make puff pastry (not rough puff, REAL puff). I’m half way through this… using my Aunt Joyce’s recipe. Will share if it works okDONE! And then I made some sausage rolls
  4. Make hot water crust pastry (and the raised pie!) I may postpone this one too, for the same reason
  5. Make a more interesting bread than my usual
  6. Make creme patissiere
  7. Make some biscuits to post to people I’ve made another batch of ginger nuts, which might be my current favourite biscuit. Will pack some up this afternoon. DONE
  8. Finish knitting the baby jumper for Liz’s wee man
  9. Make the knitting swatches for my Knitting Retreat on Sunday ALMOST DONE. I’ve finished the first one, and half way through the second one. I need to block one now as per instructions
  10. Finish the latest bonnet
  11. Get sorted to be able to start my Advent Knitting Project I’ve got the pattern and wool ready… I just need to make sure I’ve got the right needles.
  12. Organise my knitting / sewing / crochet patterns (real life and online) Online ones DONE. Still need to do the paper ones, but I now have a plan
  13. Organise my room (ie give it a big tidy/declutter!) STARTED, but nowhere near finished.
  14. Organise my WARDROBE (ditto)
  15. Give Puck a BATH
  16. Plant hyacinths, garlic, broad beans
  17. Make a plan for Christmas (and start making gifts)
  18. Post a blog post or two DONE! If I include this one. And I feel back in the groove, so will post more regularly again
  19. Make mincemeat DONE!
  20. Make mincemeat frangipane tarts
  21. Make some more face masks, including ones for the Captain out of his metrosexual shirt DONE!

I’ll update this list as I make progress.

Crunchy, tasty, sweet and salty.

3 Mar

I’m one of those people who likes their sweets to be slightly salty.

Tasty homemade snack bars

Tasty homemade snack bars

I don’t cook with a lot of salt, preferring to use herbs and spices. I’ve bought into the ‘fact’ that too much salt is bad for you. However, there was a credible article in the Sunday Times the other week, highlighting new evidence which showed that the low sodium diet was as damaging as the high sodium one. My father has always just tipped the salt pot upside down and sprinkled it liberally over his plate, often then creating a small salt mountain on the side of the plate to dip forkfuls of food into. He’ll be 95 in a couple of months, so his super-high salt diet hasn’t exactly limited his life too much.

Anyway, although I like my sweets salty, I’m less keen on my savoury dishes being too sweet. I’m not a big fan of putting fruit into a stew or casserole. My exception is good redcurrant or rowan jelly with a roast meat. Or a not-too-sweet apple sauce with roast pork.

But back to the salty sweetness. When I was in the US last year, with a work colleague, we discovered Nature Valley’s Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bars. It was love at first bite for me. They aren’t available here in the UK, although there’s a huge variety of similar products. But I can’t be trusted in a sweet shop, so have to confess I haven’t tried terribly hard to find a suitable substitute.

I hadn’t thought of making my own. Why hadn’t I? I must be entirely mad.

Anyway, once the thought came to me, I flicked through all my recipe books and scoured the internet for the perfect sweet and salty crunchy nutty bars. And then I adapted. This isn’t entirely true. I can’t lie. What really happened is that I came across a recipe on Half Baked Harvest’s blog and decided it was time to get experimenting. This recipe is adapted from hers. It is the perfect crunchy, sweet, salty, nutty snack. But it’s not as healthy as eating an apple, so although they are addictive, try to ration them.

Crunchtastic sweet and salty nutty bars

  • 250g / 3 cups porridge oats
  • 35g / 1 cup rice krispies (or any puffed rice cereal)
  • 40g / 1/4 cup roasted salted nuts (peanuts is fine, but mixed nuts would work just as well)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g honey
  • 130g peanut butter
  • 30g butter or coconut oil (I prefer to use coconut oil these days)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F or GM4. Line a 9″ x 13″ baking tray with greaseproof paper. Leave an overhang of paper over one long side of the tin (to make it easier to remove the bars later)

  1. Mix porridge oats, krispies, nuts, salt, and bicarb of soda in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre
  2. Put the honey, peanut butter and butter (or coconut oil) in a small pan and warm gently till all the ingredients are melted
  3. Add the vanilla
  4. Stir the melted ingredients till they are all combined into a sweet and goopy sauce
  5. Pour all this melted mixture into the well in the centre of the dry ingreds.
  6. Stir well to combine it all together. Try to make sure there are no dry bits left in the bowl
  7. Pour this into the prepared tin. Get a big metal spoon (or a metal measuring cup) and lightly oil the back of it, then use this to press all the mixture down into the tin
  8. Put in the oven and bake for about 20 mins, or until golden brown. Watch out, it can go from perfect to ‘slightly burnt’ quite quickly.
  9. When you take it out of the oven, try to slide the whole lot out of the tray onto a heatproof surface, and then walk away from it for at least half an hour. (I’m only telling you to do this so that you don’t end up trying to cut the bars when they are still in your baking tray, and you end up ruining your tray, with knife scores across it)
  10. Once it is cool, try to cut it into pieces. You’ll need a sharp knife, and some of it might crumble a bit. Any extra crumbs left, pour into an airtight pot and use for sprinkling over yoghurt, or ice cream or in a crumble.
  11. Keep the bars in an airtight tin, for as long as possible. You may need to put them on a very high shelf, out of your reach. Or to give them to friends.

Suggested adaptations – you could add dark chocolate chips, or dried fruit (cranberries, chopped up apricots, raisins). Or desiccated coconut. Or, cinnamon would be nice, Or chopped dried apples, with some cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and some ginger. You could probably replace the honey with agave syrup, or golden syrup, although I’m not sure why you’d want to do that.

And apologies if you don’t have digital weighing scales. I was old-school for YEARS, but bought a digital set recently (so I could weigh out my 7g of yeast to make home made bread) and it has entirely changed how I bake. Just pop the bowl on the scales and add the next ingredient. Easy peasy. They’re not expensive and take up hardly any room in your cupboard. Isn’t it time to treat yourself?

Want to find more of my recipes? Take a look here: Shewolffe’s Recipes. If you like this, you’ll probably like my salty nut brittle, but go see what else is in there.

Sweet and salty nut brittle

18 Jan

Is salted caramel still on trend? A couple of years ago it seemed to be everywhere. And I was happy. I love that combination of sweetness and saltiness. I adore peanut butter, adore it even more on hot buttered toast with marmite. Or incorporated into a sweet with chocolate and a biscuit base.

So, a simple salty, nutty caramel brittle is pretty much the perfect sweet to make. And it turns out it was pretty much the perfect home-made Christmas present to give to nephews too! (Although obviously not for you, if your nephews have nut allergies).

Salty nut brittle 

  • 340g mixed nuts, preferably not salted. The type of nuts doesn’t really matter, but why not buy a bag of peanuts, of brazil nuts and pecans. Or hazelnuts, and macadamia and almonds. Whatever you prefer.
  • 400g sugar. Ordinary granulated sugar is fine, or you could use caster, or golden caster
  • 120mls water
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Maldon sea salt (there are other brands, but please use a good quality salt in flakes, not ordinary table salt)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / GM 4
  2. Spread the nuts onto a big baking tray, as big as you’ve got – you’re aiming to get them into a single layer, if possible
  3. Roast the nuts in the oven for about 8 minutes, give or take. You’re looking for a golden browniness, not burnt.. and there’s a relatively short window of opportunity between the two. To make it easier in a minute or two, pour the nuts onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper or kitchen foil, or a bowl (this is so that you can QUICKLY pour them from whatever receptacle they are in, into a pan of hot hot hot caramel later on). While you’re at it, get another sheet of greaseproof paper, and line the baking tray with it, and leave to one side. You’ll need it soon.
  4. Now put the sugar, water, butter and golden syrup into a heavy based saucepan, and gently heat, stirring till the butter is melted and the sugar has all dissolved.
  5. Pop a sugar thermometer into the pan, and leave it in there while the mixture heats up to the boil. Keep it boiling, and stir occasionally if you can’t stop yourself
  6. Keep an eye on that sugar thermometer, and as soon as it reaches 150C (which incidentally is between ‘soft crack’ and ‘crack’ on my thermometer) take it off the heat, and quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
  7. It should all swoosh up a wee bit which is exactly what you want it to do. Work quickly – pour in the nuts and stir them in. And then pour the whole lot out onto a baking sheet, with a piece of greaseproof paper on it
  8. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture nice and thinly … but not TOO thin
  9. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes
  10. And now walk away for a while. Leave it be. Come back when it’s cool
  11. Break it up with your hands and store in an airtight container. Then hide it somewhere you can’t reach, just to save yourself from eating more than you really should

I popped great big shards of this into kilner jars as Christmas present this year, and they went down a treat. If the shards had been smaller, I might have considered dipping them in chocolate to add to the sugar-salt-nut treatiness. It wasn’t required, but just imagine it enrobed with lush dark chocolate. Mmm.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

 

Desert Island Bites

3 Jan

I love Radio 4. I can’t remember what age I was when I first realised that it was what I wanted as the soundtrack to my life, but now it’s on whenever I’m cooking. And I cook a lot.

Weekends nearly always include Desert Island Discs, while I’m baking or making soup, or stew or something that’s caught my eye in a cookbook. I’ve never quite worked out what my eight discs would be, but it would probably include more 80s hits than I’d like to admit. And maybe some early Genesis. Years ago I decided my luxury would be a pack of cards, and my book would be a compendium of games of solitaire. But I think I’ve grown up since then, and doubt that I would want to while away my hours (days? weeks? months?) on my desert island perfecting game after game of solitaire. Or not. Because how many of the games would actually be all about chance and not about my skill level? How frustrating would that be?

Anyway, I’m no longer sure what my luxury would be – perhaps some endless supplies of glorious perfumes, so I could make my own hand and body lotions, with whatever I can forage (I’m imagining coconuts here) and then I could perfume them as I wished. Or I could just spritz myself with something delicious in times of need. One of my claims is that all situations can be improved with a spritz of perfume, and an application of lipstick. Many’s the time I’ve been seen to do this ‘double’ at my desk.

There’s a chocolate bar in the UK called a Bounty Bar. It’s a lovely soft coconutty thing, smothered in chocolate, either dark or milk. In the 80s the Bounty advert was set on a desert island, with beautiful people in cropped tops (it was the 80s remember) having a hedonistic time and eating Bounty bars. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

So, here is my recipe for my version of a Bounty Bar. It’s not really the same, but it is delicious. And very easy to make. And your friends will be very impressed when you give them a wee bag of your home made desert island bites.

Desert Island Bites

  • 3 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • a very large bar of good quality chocolate – milk or dark, whatever you prefer
  1. Mix coconut and icing sugar in a large bowl
  2. Add in the condensed milk and melted coconut oil
  3. Mix well together (using your hands is the easiest way to do this, perhaps the stickiest as well)
  4. Take about a teaspoon sized bit of the mixture and roll it in the palms of your hand to create a wee ball
  5. Place the ball of coconut truffle on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper
  6. Do this again and again and again until all the mixture is used up
  7. Pop the balls in the fridge or freezer for about half an hour
  8. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate in a double boiler
  9. Now comes the messy bit. Drop the balls, one by one, into the melted chocolate and then rescue them out again with a couple of forks. They might need a sort of a shoogle to shake of excess chocolate.
  10. Pop the chocolate coated truffles onto another baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and when you’ve done them all, pop them in the fridge. Unless your kitchen is as cold as mine ,in which case you won’t need to.

Serve with an espresso after you’ve had a lovely relaxing supper. Or put them in a nice wee box with some tissue paper, to make them look a bit chi-chi, and give them to a friend who needs a wee treat. Or head off to your desert island and be a hedonist.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

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