Craftiness, baking and other lovely things.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Friday... time to make ice cream

A tea cup is perfect for serving ice cream and now I have the
perfect  excuse to buy more beautiful little tea cups.
So we started a very sweet tradition here, making ice cream to welcome the weekend. 

Of course, I know that lots of the ice cream at the supermarket is absolutely fine for a gluten free diet, but I stumbled across the most simple and delicious ice cream recipe on Pinterest.  I'm not linking to one particular version here because there are so many of them.  Instead, I'm sharing my version of it. 

It starts with just two ingredients, a 300ml pot of double cream (not the extra thick stuff, just regular double cream) and a standard 397g tin of condensed milk.  Don't stress if the ones you buy are a slightly different weight/volume.  This isn't one of those precise recipes.  This is a what-have-I-got-in-the-cupboard kind of a recipe.

Whisk the double cream to soft peaks.  Mix the condensed milk with your other liquid ingredients and then mix that gently into the double cream.  Add your other ingredients and mix gently.

Resist the urge to eat more than a little scrape of the bowl and spoon it all into a plastic tub.  Freeze for at least 6 hours.  You can churn it if you like and you have the equipment, but it doesn't add anything except perhaps to speed up the freezing.

Now for the best bit, adding flavour.  So far, we have made peanut butter ice cream, Nutella ice cream, lemon meringue ice cream and mint choc chip ice cream.

For peanut butter ice cream:
Add about a cup of peanut butter and a tablespoon of golden syrup to the condensed milk.  Add a couple of chopped up Snickers bars (chop them quite small) and some chocolate chips at the end.  We added in Cadbury Caramel Buttons too and it was beyond delicious.

For Nutella ice cream:
Just mix about a cup of Nutella with the condensed milk.  That's it.  If dietary restrictions allow, I imagine this would be incredible with smashed up Ferrero Rocher in it.  We can't have them but I like to think of someone out there scoffing it on my behalf.

For lemon meringue ice cream:
Add about half a jar of lemon curd (I used Sainsbury's Taste the Difference) to the condensed milk.  Add smashed up meringue (I used 4 regular nests from the supermarket) at the end.  Put a third into your tub, swirl over some more lemon curd, repeating twice more with the remaining ice cream.  Sprinkle over another smashed meringue.

Lemon meringue ice cream, ready for the freezer.

For mint choc chip ice cream:
Add 1 tablespoon of peppermint essence to the condensed milk.  If you like it green, add a few drops of green colouring as well.  Add a couple of crumbled Flakes and about half a box of finely chopped mint Matchmakers at the end.

And please, don't be limited to the flavours we've had time to try.  If salted caramel hits the spot for you, stir some in.  If you crave chocolate ice cream, melt some milk or dark chocolate as preferred and stir in the condensed milk.  And don't forget cookie dough, vanilla choc chip, honeycomb... so many flavours to try.  Up next for us is raspberry ripple and Bounty bar coconut and chocolate.  Yum.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

My grandma was a WAG

I've been looking through some old stuff that I wrote and I found this post on an old blog that I wrote briefly when I was working as a freelance audio typist and virtual assistant.
My company name, Vera and Bess, is the name of two nans, both very creative and skilled at many crafts.  They were both amazing too, loving, funny, strong, clever, kind.  I miss them both.
This is what I wrote:
Yesterday was my nan’s funeral.  She was a week shy of her 94th birthday and she died quietly, in her sleep.  It doesn’t stop those of us who loved her from feeling bereft, from mourning the loss of the woman who’s been in every day of our lives.
As is traditional, during the ceremony at the crematorium, we heard about her life, about the woman she was.  And as I listened, I realised two things: that I only knew her as my nan, that our relationship was that of a child to a grandparent; and that we had more in common than I ever imagined.  I knew that my nan could sew and knit and made beautiful patchwork cushions, that I had inherited her cake baking skills (although I will never, ever be as amazing with a whisk as she was).  I didn’t know that she adored Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, as do I, one of many little details of her life that were shared with us.  I didn’t know that she was scared of thunderstorms, that she loved motorbike racing, that she was once a WAG.
My nan was my nan.  And sadly, looking back now, I can see that I never got to know her as an adult, I only knew her as my nan.  I was always a child in our relationship, despite being 43 now and a mum of three myself.  I never made the leap from you’re my nan, I know who you are, to who is Bessie, the woman who is my nan.  I so wish I had.  I think we would have been good friends.
Why am I telling you this?  Because it might not be too late for you to look at your nan, or your grandad, or your aunt, or your dad, and say who are you?  It’s not to late to get to know your family as people, individuals.  You’ll be surprised, delighted, intrigued.  And your lives and relationships will be enriched, I promise you.
As for me, I’m going to dig out my Ella Fitzgerald CD and remember the amazing woman that was my nan.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Craft (in)sanity

There's been a lot in the news this last week about knitting (and other crafty endeavours) being good for your health, but I think the craft community already knew that, didn't we?

I make stuff for a couple of reasons, although they're kind of the opposite sides of the same coin so you might call it one reason, or not.  I make stuff because if I don't make stuff - if I'm forced to focus on non creative, non making for too long -  I go a little bit crazy.  And I make stuff because that creativity, that all consuming focus on yarn or fabric, takes me away from the stress and craziness in my life and stops me losing the plot all together.

To really calm me down, whatever I'm working on needs to be challenging enough to completely absorb me.  The granny stripe blanket for my son that I work on in the evening whilst hubby and I watch Lucifer, although relaxing and useful for keeping warm on a chilly night, doesn't quite hit the spot.

The backpack I made myself at the weekend, with no pattern, no instructions and just a vague idea that I wanted lots of pockets, that's the kind of making I'm talking about.  Working out the order in which each piece of fabric needed to be attached to the next piece of fabric, which pocket would go where, when to insert the zip, how the straps would work...  for me, that required complete focus.  I was astonished when I lifted my head from the sewing machine for the last time to realise that five hours had passed.  I was very hungry; I forgot about lunch because it wasn't a pocket and therefore didn't need my attention.  I was also much more relaxed than I had been at the start of the day and I had regained much needed perspective on all sorts of things, but especially the things that I was tying myself in knots about unnecessarily.

Designing is the same.  Focusing on each individual stitch, row, round and element of a design takes all of my conscious thought.

For those times (and they are many) that I sit in waiting rooms at hospitals and clinics, keeping my hands busy with a simple, repetitive piece of crochet can be a godsend.

And remember, when challenged on the size of your stash or the amount of money spent on yarn, the appropriate reply is "It's yarn or madness and I choose yarn."

Monday, 11 September 2017

Gluten free wraps - an easy win

It's taken three attempts and a lot of research, but I finally made a gluten free wrap that looks like a wrap, tastes like a wrap and stays soft like a wrap.  This is a big win for my family - our almost-Mexican-chicken-wraps are a favourite and (like the GF bread) the wraps in the supermarket have met with a definite thumbs down.

If you Google gluten free wrap recipes, you'll find variation after variation after variation, from the very simple (little more than a pancake in truth) to the fairly complex.  In the end, I turned to the dark side and played with a recipe for wheat flour wraps. I swapped out the water for milk, which seems to be key in GF breadmaking, and I increased the amount of liquid.

This recipe is also great for making sandwich squares.  Just roll the dough out a little thicker than you would for wraps and cook for a little longer.  I roll out as thinly as I can for wraps (not too thin though or it's just too fragile to move) and for sandwich squares not quite 0.5cm.  I should also add that I'm using the term 'squares' very loosely.  My squares have very rounded corners, I just made sure that I had pairs that would fit together to make a good sandwich.

As always, I recommend Doves Farm white bread flour and I always add extra xanthan gum.


250g gluten free white bread flour
1tsp xanthan gum
1tsp dried instant yeast
1tsp salt
1tbsp soft brown sugar (or caster sugar if that's what you have)
20g melted butter (veg or olive oil would probably work, but I haven't tried it yet)
200ml milk, warmed to just lukewarm (I used skimmed because that's what I have)
rice flour or bread flour for rolling out
olive oil for frying


Put all the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl and mix on low speed while you melt the butter and warm the milk.  Add the milk and butter and mix on low speed for a few seconds then on high until you have a completely smooth dough.  It will be sticky.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm (oiled if you are using a smaller bowl and think the dough might reach the top).  Leave for about 2 hours.  If you want to leave it for longer, once you've given it 2 hours at room temperature you can store it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight before cooking.

This quantity makes about 8 wraps - make them smaller or larger as you wish.

Take about an eight of the dough and quickly shape it into a ball.  You may want to dust it with flour first as it may still be sticky, especially if it hasn't been chilled.  Roll out thinly.  Heat a tsp of olive in a non stick pan.  Cook the wrap for about 2 minutes on each side, making sure it doesn't brown too much.  You want it lightly coloured.  Once cooked, put it into a folded tea towel to keep warm whilst you cook the rest of the dough.

For sandwich squares, roll out a little thicker and cook at a lower heat for about 4 minutes each side.

Serve the wraps warm.

I make a batch of wraps (double the recipe) and whilst they're still warm and pliable I fill them with sliced ham, roll them, wrap them individually and freeze them.  It makes filling three lunchboxes every morning much, much easier.  I also freeze the sandwich squares in pairs for the same reason.

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Leave me a comment.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Not so mindful

Oops, I really let life get in the way.  I honestly intended to work every day on my mindfulness blanket, using it as a form of meditation.  I missed a couple of days and then I completely forgot about it.

Actually I think part of the problem was the yarn I selected.  It wasn't as soothing as I thought it would be.  In fact I was finding it boring and it didn't appeal at all after the first few rounds.

Time for a change then.  I have a big bag full of leftover cotton dk in lovely colours and I've started over, just playing with granny squares as the mood takes me and it is perfect.  It's pleasing to look at, relaxing to make and will grow a little each day.

Yarn: Stylecraft Classique Cotton DK in Lavender, Fuschia, Shell Pink, Leaf, Soft Lime, Ivory
Hook size 4mm

Monday, 4 September 2017

Gluten free bread that you want to eat

When my older daughter was diagnosed with coeliac disease earlier this year, I mentioned to a few people who were following gluten free diets that I planned to do a lot of baking myself because I saw no reason to stop baking, I just needed to use different GF ingredients.  People shook their head and offered dire warnings of how difficult GF baking is, how it was impossible to bake GF bread and GF flours were rubbish for cakes.

J doesn't eat a lot of bread and although the sliced bread we could buy was awful, some of the rolls were okay and so I focused on baking the treats instead.  It was when my two younger children, both big bread eaters, were confirmed as coeliac as well that I started to work on bread.

I've tried a couple of recipes and some different flours and there are a few key things:

1. The flour mix is crucial - I get the best results, consistently good, with Dove Farm's flour.

2. Even if the flour mix has xanthan gum included, I always add a little more.  It acts like glue and really makes a difference when you're baking without gluten.

3. Enriching even basic bread dough with milk and eggs improves the texture and gives you bread with good texture and flavour.

Ready to get baking?

Basic gluten free bread 

450g white bread flour (Dove's Farm is the best I've used)
2 tsp dried quick yeast (the kind you just add to your mix without activating it)
1.5 tsp salt
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 eggs, lightly beaten
350g milk, warmed to luke warm

Using the flat beater of food mixer, mix all dries together.  To make sure the yeast and xanthan gum are evenly mixed, I leave the mixer running slowly while I warm the milk and beat the eggs.  Add milk and eggs to the dries and mix thoroughly.  Turn the speed up for a few seconds to beat out any lumps.

The dough will be quite wet and sticky.

If you're making a loaf of bread, line the tin with baking parchment, grease it lightly and spoon the dough in (allow room for the dough to rise, don't overfill).  Oil some cling film and cover the tin lightly.  Leave to rest for 2 hours, then bake for 50 mins to 1 hour at 190.  Test for doneness by tapping base of loaf - it will make a hollow sound when it's done.

If you're making rolls, oil cling film and cover the bowl of dough.  Leave to rest for 2 hours.  Heat a baking stone in the oven at 190 for the last 20 minutes of the resting time.  Dust a sheet of baking parchment with flour (rice flour works brilliantly for dusting).  Being careful not to knock the air out of the risen dough (it will only rise once as there is no gluten), break off roll sized pieces and gently shape on the parchment.  I use a spoon to break off the dough and dust the top of each roll before shaping.  For a soft crust, brush the tops with melted butter or oil.  Take the baking stone out of the oven and dust lightly with flour.  Transfer the rolls to the baking stone and bake for 25 minutes.  For soft rolls, wrap in a tea towel straight from the oven and leave to cool.

The recipe can be doubled or halved easily.

If you make the bread, let me know!  Leave a comment or share a photo on Instagram with @veraandbess.  Happy baking.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The mindfulness blanket

In my last post here, I talked about mindfulness and my plan to use crochet to help me practice it.  Here is the pattern I will be using, and I use the word 'pattern' in the very loosest sense.  I don't want to be counting the stitches or worrying about getting it right, so I've got a very simple plan.

The blanket is worked from the centre out.  That way I can make it any size I like.  Working in rows from a starting chain (aside from the fact that working into the starting chain is my least favourite part of crochet, yes, I dislike it even more than darning in ends), the size is partially dictated already.  I want it to be totally flexible.

I have taken photos of the process for the first three rounds, just to illustrate the pattern, but from now I'll be working my 15 minutes every day (using an alarm on my phone so I don't worry about the time) and will just update my progress periodically.

Round 1: 5ch (counts as 1tr, 2ch), then working in last chain from hook, (3tr, 2ch) x 3, 2tr, ss to first 2ch space.  (3tr each side of the square, 2ch at corners)

Round 2: 5ch (counts as 1tr, 2ch), 1tr in same corner 2ch space, *(1ch, 1tr between next 2tr) x 3, (1ch, 1tr, 2ch, 1tr) in corner 2ch space; repeat from * twice, (1ch, 1tr between next 2tr) x 3, 1ch, 1tr in corner 2ch space, ss to first 2ch space.  (4tr each side)

Round 3: 5ch (counts as 1tr, 2ch), 1tr in same corner 2ch space, (1ch, 1tr between next 2tr) to the corner, (1ch, 1tr, 2tr, 1tr) in corner, continue around as set.  Repeat this row until your blanket is finished.

The yarn I'm using is Stylecraft Sundae DK in Coconut Ice and I will just keep going until I feel like it's finished.  This is about the process for me with this project, about working each stitch without thinking about the last stitch or the next stitch, without wondering when it will be done or how big it should be.

If you want to join in, hop over to my Facebook page here and let me know.  I'm going to try and share any insights and tips I pick up about mindfulness there.