Craftiness, baking and other lovely things.

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.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Mental health, mindfulness and a crochet along

Perhaps for many reasons, or perhaps for no reason at all, I've been having a few challenges with my mental health recently.  I have become very anxious and a little depressed.

Life has been busy and I put myself under a lot of pressure with deadlines and schedules to design new patterns.

I realised that I needed to take a step back, slow things down and give myself some time.  As much as I love to design and make, trying to meet my own unreasonable goals is making me ill.

I know that I'm not the only person facing this sort of challenge.  I know that we all find ways to cope and manage.  Many people practice mindfulness and I've always struggled with it, but I thought what if I was to use crochet in my mindfulness practice?

So, for 15 minutes a day, I will be working on a very simple crochet project, focusing on being aware of making each stitch, the feel of the hook, the movement of my hands, the tension of the yarn, my breathing as I yarn over, draw through, yarn over, draw through.

I would love to have company on my journey.  Just hop on over to my Facebook page here and let me know that you're joining in.  We can share photos of our mindfulness project, ask for guidance (both crochet and mindfulness) and support each other.

I will be making a blanket using Stylecraft Sundae DK in Coconut Ice, because I love working with this particular yarn and I find this colourway soothing.  I have only bought one ball.  I know that I'll need more, but I'm not concerned about the dyelot being the same for this project (and this particular yarn is very forgiving with it's tonal variation anyway).  I want it to be about just this ball, this round, this stitch, without the weight of however many balls it might take sitting in a bag waiting to be worked.

I hope you'll join me.  Share your yarn choice and project with me.  I'll post the pattern I'll be using soon.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Coeliac baking: episode 1

It's been about two months now since my oldest daughter was diagnosed with coeliac disease and we've been on a very steep learning curve.  Regular meals and cooking at home haven't been too much of a problem.  We usually cook from, so we've just swapped out some of our usual ingredients - stock cubes, the flours used for sauces, using gluten free pasta etc.

Baking is a little different.

When you take away the gluten, you change the structure, rise and crumb of your baking.  You can't just swap normal self raising flour for gluten free flour.  You have to learn about ingredients like xanthan gum and potato flour.

To complicate things even further, my daughter can't eat oats for at least 6 months either.  Some coeliacs are sensitive to a chemical in oats and so she has to exclude them and then reintroduce them in a control test.  Oats are a big ingredient in one of her favourite cookies, so my first baking experiment was all about replacing the oats without losing all the lovely oaty texture.

They're not the prettiest cookies in the world, and they're very fragile when they first come out of the oven, but as they cool they firm up and all three children gave them the thumbs up.  Recipes below for both original and coeliac versions.  Apologies for the quantities being in ounces - it's what I've always used, except for the chocolate, which is 2 x 100g bars.

Coeliac cookies

9oz butter or margarine
5.5oz soft brown sugar/caster sugar
1tsp vanilla
8oz gluten free self raising flour
5oz gluten free rice crispies
1oz desiccated coconut (note: I will add less rice crispies and more coconut next time, but this is all the coconut I had)
200g milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks

Beat butter and sugar together.  Add vanilla and beat briefly to mix in.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Use lined baking trays, drop large tablespoons of mix, leaving a bit of space between cookies, flatten slightly and push mix together - it will bind in the oven.  Bake at 180 for about 12 minutes, until golden brown.  Allow to cool on tray as they fall apart when first out of the oven.

Original oaty chocolate chunk cookies

9oz butter or margarine
5.5oz soft brown sugar/caster sugar
1tsp vanilla
8oz wholemeal self raising flour
6oz oats (not instant)
200g milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks

Method is the same as for gluten free cookies.  You can replace up to 2oz of the oats with desiccated coconut.  Add cinnamon and replace chocolate with a couple of handfuls of raisins.  Swap milk chocolate for white chocolate and cranberries.

Happy baking!