That time I agreed to make a wedding cake…

…and didn’t have a complete breakdown!

Once upon a time, Jade and Dave decided to get married. Jade asked me if I could make their wedding cake. I said yes, I’d love to. I spent several months failing to find a red food colouring that was bake stable (you lucky Americans!) as the original plan was to have a red velvet cake. I spent some time perusing the internet for alternative recipes and found an awesome Madeira cake recipe on Cakes, Bakes & Cookies that included how to scale the recipe for different sized tins which I desperately needed!

I did a test run with my 12 inch cake tin and it turned out OK:

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A little cracked and the mixture wasn’t as light as I wanted it to be. I decided this was down to the fact that I was using my mum’s food mixer that was a wedding gift 37 years ago! I got a new mixer and it made all the difference!

I did a two tier test run using a 10 inch and an 8 inch cake:

I used cheap blue and red fondant from Tesco to test out the bunting. I also tested how sturdy the stacked tiers were:

 

I used jumbo straws instead of dowelling (and failed to get a pic of it) but there is a great YouTube tutorial here

For my two tier test run, the top tier had buttercream and lemon curd sandwiched between the layers while the bottom tier had buttercream and strawberry jam. I took half of the ten inch cake and the whole 8 inch cake into work. Despite my team’s incredible capacity for eating food, I had to enlist people from the wider business to help eat all of it!

So two weeks before the big day I assembled all of my ingredients:

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Total ingredients I used for three tiers:

Butter: 948 g

Stork (Margerine): 948 g

Caster sugar: 2,526 g (~2.6 kg)

Vanilla Essence: 13.5 tsp

38 eggs (Words cannot describe how difficult I found it to work out how many boxes this worked out to… 1 x 12 egg box, 2 x 10 egg box and 1 x 6 egg box!)

Plain flour: 2,847 g (~2.9 kg)

Baking Powder: 20 tsp

Hot Water: 36 tbsp (640 ml)

4.5 kg of White fondant icing

Note that I made two of the 12 inch cake to make the cake tall enough.

I spent a weekend baking all 4 cakes which became three tiers and then froze all of the cakes. I followed the advice here for freezing the cakes.

The day before the wedding I defrosted, cut, filled, crumb coated and covered the cakes in white fondant. That took about 8 hours! I then cut out all of the bunting using these cutters. I used the largest one for the 12 inch tier and went down a size for each tier up.

I covered the cake board with white fondant and used hessian ribbon around the edge to go with the rustic barn theme.

Obviously Apple helped:

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I love how Bunny is also looking wistfully outside

And here it is:

Image of Wedding Cake

I am so genuinely touched that Jade and Dave would trust me with such a major part of their big day. Which they know because I had a small breakdown during their speeches! I got a gorgeous gift that I will definitely use a lot:

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(T Swiz references win every time!) And I can only hope there is one photo of the speeches on the day that doesn’t have my ugly crying face in the background!

All the stress was totally worth it for this gorgeous pair:

#DavidandJadeWedding

The longer you wait…

…the harder it is to write a blog post it seems!

I haven’t died. Just had the craziest 6 months of my life. Blogging would probably have helped me process a lot of the stuff going on in my life but I didn’t have the energy.

So here we are, what’s changed?

  1. I moved house. Now I live with my parents and my 17 year old brother. It is equal parts great and frustrating. tumblr_m4xmsjecqr1qj3ir1
    27 year olds are not meant to co-exist with their parents for long periods of time.
    6 months down, 9 months to go.
  2. I sorted my finances out. post-34976-felicia-day-yay-gif-tumblr-weh-gamd
  3. I swapped my car for an automatic because point 1 above comes with a 110 mile round daily trip to the office. Meet Felix McFordface:

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    Felix

  4. I’ve improved my health. Not as drastically as I might like but I’ve lost a stone in 3 months and improved my overall fitness so I’m happy if I continue as I am.
  5. June was a crazy month for me. I attended 2 Hen Do’s and the wedding of one of my dearest friends. The UK voted to Leave the EU (I still cannot grasp this.) I went to Boston with work. I started June in a relationship and ended it single.June Collage
  6. Crafts wise I’ve been focusing on the biggest thing I’ve ever done. Making a wedding cake for one of my best friends. The wedding is this weekend and I am definitely not freaking out. Photos and a how I did it post to come!

So now you’re all up to date, I’ve got a fair number of projects lined up and some posts in the pipeline so I promise not to wait 6 months to post again!

Apple Cinnamon Granola (UK style)

Hey everybody!

I recently caused much excitement/jealousy at work when I arrived with a fancy new breakfast container:

brekkyinacup

I love how excited we all got about it. You wish you could be as cool as us.

I got mine from Asda but they don’t appear to be selling them anymore. I did however find them on the Dunelm Mill website so you may still be able to get your hands on one.

The lid essentially unscrews and has it’s own separating lid that means the top part can be used for one thing and the bottom half for something else. It’s dishwasher proof including the spoon.

The great thing about it is that you don’t just have to use it like I do for yoghurt and granola. You can use it for things like porridge with toppings in the separate compartment instead as the silicone grip protects your hand from anything hot that you put in it.

Now that I’m commuting an hour and a half to work everyday I needed something that would keep my breakfast safe without me needing to hold it. Particularly since I really love my Ralph Lauren handbag and would rather not have to try and clean yoghurt out of it! I usually add frozen strawberries to the top of my yoghurt which melt on the way and keep the yoghurt nice and cool. The cup slots nicely into the holder in my car next to my tea until I can get to work.

Once I had my fancy cup I needed some fancy granola. I could have spent a fortune on an organic one from the supermarket but I thought I’d rather make my own!

I found this recipe by Zainab at blahnikbaker.com which I’ve then tweaked to get the recipe below. The key difference is that I used honey rather than maple syrup and had to improvise on the unsweetened apple sauce!

Ingredients:

3½ cups rolled oats
½ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup almonds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 apple to create 3/4 of a cup of apple purée (any will do, I used a Braeburn)
¼ cup organic honey (local if you can get it!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup dried apples

Special Equipment:

You will need a blender to create apple purée from your apple. If you don’t have one, it’s worth having a look in the baby food section of large supermarkets to see if you can find unsweetened apple purée. I could not find this ingredient anywhere but my choice was quite limited by the size of supermarket I was in at the time.

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C or Gas mark 4.
  2. Peel and core your apple and use your blender to create apple purée, measure out 3/4 cup and put to one side.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the oats, pumpkin seeds, almonds and spices together.
  4. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, warm the apple purée, maple syrup and vanilla extract.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until well combined.
  6. Spread the granola evenly onto a lined baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown (I had to do this in two batches to get an even layer).
  7. Remove from oven and toss in dried apples.
  8. Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.

Enjoy with fruit and greek yoghurt for a tasty filling breakfast!

Time to talk

Today is Time to Talk day here in the UK. It’s part of the Time to Change campaign which aims to end the stigma around talking about and dealing with mental health issues. As such I’ve taken a pretty big decision to share my own mental health struggle here. I’ve nearly written this post many times though I realise this isn’t very crafty so feel free to move on🙂

I want to share my story not for attention or sympathy but to let others know that they’re not alone. I’d like to think that sharing my story won’t affect how people see me though I’m prepared for that consequence (hint: I don’t care). My main motivation is that I hope someone, somewhere will read this and know that things can get better, that seeking help for a mental health problem does not make you weak or mean you have failed in some way, and though it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do I see it as courageous.

Having the strength to tell a total stranger that you’re not ok and you don’t know what to do to make yourself better is clearly not a sign of weakness. For me, it helped that my GP is literally the nicest person on earth. Despite that, I still sat in the waiting room with palpitations and sweaty palms convinced that she’d laugh me out of the room. That she’d tell me that everyone feels like that sometimes and I should just pull myself together.

I’d prepared myself by making a list of the things I was feeling in case my mind went blank once I was presented with the opportunity to ask for help.

That list included but was not limited to the following things:

  • Trouble falling asleep (never before 2 am no matter what time I went to bed)
  • No motivation to do anything
  • A heavy weight on my chest at all times
  • Tearfulness
  • Panic attacks
  • Days where everything and everyone was so irritating to me that I wanted to lock myself in a room alone and cry
  • Mood swings between laughing and crying, happy and angry

I felt most of these things to a degree on a daily basis for over 12 months before the stress of everyday life made me reach the point where getting out of bed each day was not just a struggle but was essentially impossible. I felt like I was underwater and watching my life through a TV screen (you know those underwater TVs…)

I simultaneously didn’t care about anything whilst being incredibly upset by pretty much everything. At this stage panic attacks were not only a possibility but happened several times a day. The tightness in my chest was a permanent feature. When I did eventually get some sleep each night it was dreamless; my body stayed rigidly in one position with my hands and teeth clenched so hard I’d wake up with tension headaches most mornings. I woke up more exhausted than when I’d gone to sleep every morning for 3 months and then I made a Dr’s appointment.

My GP listened to me while I described my symptoms and agreed that I shouldn’t be feeling the way I did. She referred me to Talking Space here in Oxfordshire. This involved an initial telephone assessment which I dreaded and put off because I was so controlled by my anxiety that I couldn’t imagine that they would consider my problems important enough to require their time and effort. I found the courage to do it and was told that based on the online questionnaire I had completed and my scores for the same questions they asked over the phone on the day, that I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression. I was given an appointment to speak to my local counsellor for a face to face appointment so that I could meet her and told that we’d then have fortnightly counselling sessions by phone. The relief I felt to be told that I wasn’t imagining how I felt and that someone could help me is difficult to describe. It was like suddenly being able to see the shore close by when you thought you’d been swept out to sea.

Over the course of the last 4 months I’ve been able to implement techniques and tools to control my anxiety and depression. With support from Natasha at Talking Space I’ve now reached the stage where I am in recovery for both anxiety and depression (my score for anxiety has gone from an 18 to a 2 & my score for depression has gone from an 18 to a 7).

That’s not to say that I don’t still have days where I feel stressed or irritable but I now know how to deal with constant worrying and negative thinking. I’ve learnt to recognise those patterns of thought or behaviours that act as warning signs to me that I need to take some time for myself and work through whatever is bothering me. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt to do is to recognise when something I’m worrying about is beyond my control and shut those thoughts down before I get worked up about it. Once I got my worrying under control I found that sleep came more easily, even though I wouldn’t have said that the reason I wasn’t able to sleep was caused by worrying on a conscious level. It was more that I couldn’t relax enough to let myself sleep. Once I was finally getting some sleep I found that I wasn’t so tearful and my energy and motivation began to creep back up.

The thing I’ve struggled the most with is talking about it, even with people I’m close with. I found it particularly hard to tell my mum as I know she’s quite skeptical about mental health issues. She listened to me and asked me to describe what a panic attack felt like. She admitted that she hadn’t ever experienced what I was going through but tried her best to be understanding. And I noticed something, for every person I told, no matter their reaction, the less I felt like I was burdened by this great big secret. Sharing really did help and actually prompted a lot of people that I considered to be the pinnacle of strength and mental wellness to share their own struggles. My friendships are definitely stronger for having shared what I was dealing with and receiving kindness and support in return.

So that’s my story, I’m still working on improving my mental health every day, like lots of things it takes practice and I will have good days and bad days but I know I can handle those bad days now. If you are struggling with feeling stressed, angry or any of the other symptoms of depression or anxiety I would urge you to speak to your GP. It can get better with help and support; you can feel better.

A note on anti-depressants: I have reached recovery for both of my conditions without the use of anti-depressants, though that is no reflection on those people who find them a useful tool in their own battle with mental health issues. Treatment is very personal to each person and I personally didn’t want to take drugs until I’d tried other options. Had I continued to struggle I would have been more than happy to give them a chance.

For help and more information please see the links below:

Talking Space

Time to Change

Mind

Samaritans (did you know you can email Samaritans if you hate talking on the phone?)

Slow Cooker Chocolate Orange Fudge

So this video popped up on my Facebook feed early in December and I loved the idea of making fudge in the slow cooker.

I changed the ingredients for my fudge but the basic principle is the same.

You will need:

1 cup of milk chocolate chips

1 cup of dark chocolate chips

1/4 cup of whipping cream

1/3 cup of honey

1 bar of Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate Orange Intense Bar (100G) broken into pieces

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1. Place the chocolate chips, whipping cream and honey in the slow cooker and cook on high for 1 hour.

2. Stir in the pieces of Chocolate Orange bar and the vanilla extract until they’ve melted

3. Pour the mixture into a dish to set (I used a square pyrex dish)

4. Cut into chunks and give them away! (OR eat them alllll)

Fudge

 

1 year on…

So it’s officially a year since I started blogging and I’ve learnt so much! I’ve just tipped over the 500 views marker and can’t help but berate myself slightly for posting so intermittently for most of the year as that could have been much higher. Live and learn I guess.

I’ve been rather quiet over the last month due to a combination of my Mum being in hospital (she’s fine now though!) and being quite poorly myself. I’ve had one bout of tonsillitis after another followed by a really nasty cough that I still haven’t managed to shake. Sadly this led to me having to abandon my chocolate making plans! I did manage to hand make some presents and some fudge that I’ll post a tutorial on in the coming week.

Since it’s that time of year that always inspires reflection and introspection I’ve realised that 2015 has been a roller coaster ride for me personally and I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time soul searching. I’ve had some amazing highs (New York springs to mind!) but I’ve also had some fairly devastating lows. I’ve confronted a lot of my issues head on and worked on myself, and my mental health, particularly in the last 6 months. I hope to continue that in 2016.

2015 had some amazing highlights: 

Photo collage of 2015 highlights

Clockwise from top left: Me and Matt at MTV Malta in July, Me and some of my favourite people on King Arthur’s Carousel in Disneyland Paris, Two people I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with this year on a business trip to Portugal, Me being excited about a free bottle of Prosecco for helping organise my staff Christmas party, Me being pleased about coming second in a pub quiz and winning £10, Me and Matt enjoying life on some chair swings and finally Me and Matt at the Statue of Liberty back in June.

I don’t normally set new year’s resolutions unless I feel I will actually keep to them because I hate setting myself up for failure. However, something feels different this year. Maybe it’s because I’m a year older and theoretically a year wiser but I feel like it’s time to seize the day. I’ve worked hard to remove a lot of the shackles I placed on myself in previous years so perhaps this is the year I can achieve my goals.

What are those goals I hear you say? I still don’t feel like I really know what I want to do with my life in the long term. The goals I’ve listed below aim to improve my quality of life, mental and physical health and hopefully the rest will follow. I also have a bucket list of things that I’d like to tick at least five things off in 2016 (more on those another day).

I resolve to:

  • Overhaul my diet and fitness levels (I’m going to start the 21 Day Fix on January 1st 2016)
  • Go to bed at a sensible time (between 10 pm and 11:30 pm) and get up at a sensible time (dependent on work hours and commuting but mostly stop sleeping in til 1 pm!)
  • Read for pleasure for at least 1 hour every day (fiction not self help books!)
  • Give up all social media for at least 21 days
  • De-clutter and organise my space so that I feel peaceful at home (I plan to use the Konmari method for this one)
  • Craft at least two things per month and blog at least once per week
  • Pay off my credit card debts

I don’t plan to implement all of these things at once because I think that would be too much. So instead I’m going to make changes in 21 day bursts. They say it takes 21 days to create a habit that will stick so let’s find out!

Several major things are happening in 2016:

  • I’m moving back to my parent’s house to help with that last pesky bullet point up there (paying off my debts)
  • Matt and I are going to Los Angeles for two whole weeks!
  • Matt and I are going to France and I get to show him the wonders of Carcassonne and surrounds!
  • There are two major weddings happening; two of my best friends are tying the knot with their soul mates which is seriously exciting!

2016 is full of promise and excitement so my final resolution is to savour every moment, find things to be grateful for, even on the worst days, and strive to recognise when I’m happiest and chase more of it.

Savour

Festive Tea Wreath

Featured Image

So in my continued quest to DIY as many of my presents as possible I made a tea wreath!

I was originally inspired by this tea wreath but decided that I couldn’t be bothered with all the clothes pegs! I went with double sided sticky tape instead.

I used a 20 bag box of Pukka Organic Peppermint Licorice Tea Bags and a 20 bag box of Taylors of Harrogate Spiced Apple Tea Bags; I confess mainly for the colours, though the spiced Apple one is nicely festive too!

You can use any tea you like to make this, just make sure you buy tea that comes in individually wrapped packets (usually this means buying the nicer, more expensive ones).

You will need:

40 teabags in any combination of colours and flavours

Thick cardboard or foam board

Double sided sticky tape

Colour coordinated ribbon

A glue gun (optional)

Steps:

  1. Cut out your wreath from your cardboard or foam board.

I started by putting a standard dinner plate on the back of some flimsy cardboard from a pizza and drawing around it. I cut this out and then marked the inner circle with the base of a bowl. I used a wooden clothes peg at this stage to make sure there was enough cardboard for a decent layer of teabags.

I then used double sided sticky tape to attach my cardboard doughnut to some foam board I had lying around:

tea wreath1

Then carefully* cut the foam board to match the cardboard using a craft knife.

*Confession: Not that carefully because I did this really late at night and I’m an idiot so I thought I’d nick my finger:

Cutyoself

2. Lay your teabags around the wreath and work out where they look best:

Teaplacement

3. This would be a good time to attach your ribbon to the wreath (I didn’t consider this until later and had to attach it to the back.)

Start sticking your teabags down using double sided sticky tape, working from the outer layer inwards:

tapeplacement

first two rounds

4. Attach a ribbon to the back of the foam board using staples and a glue gun if you haven’t attached it at step 3!

Finished Wreath

And you’re done!

This probably took me about an hour and a half from start to finish but makes a gorgeous and thoughtful present.