Sunday 29 September 2013

Stitching Sunday: Week 4

It is Sunday and therefore time to join in with the very lovely Chrissie from Chrissie Crafts for her fab Stitching Sundays. I am so enjoying this lovely stitch-along, which is such a great incentive to get projects done. This week has seen the return of my little flower, which I have done before and shared with you here, but I needed to finish two more of these in order to finish the project that I am working on.

It is such a simple design, for which I used Stem Stitch for the stem and Lazy Daisy Stitch for the flowers. Both stitches are really easy to do and I love the way they look, what I find most striking about it is the simplicity of it all.

It has been a busy week where I have done nothing else but stitching, squeezing in a little crocheting where I can. I think my poor yarn must feel really neglected right now, but never fear a new project will be started this week. I've so enjoyed working this little fairy and trying out a new stitch, the 'Encroaching Stem Stitch', which I worked on the wings of the fairy. I found the instructions for this stitch in my trusty companion, The Embroiderer's Handbook by Margie Bauer.

This week I am planning on working on another fairy, and I am sure it will fun stitching this cute little fairy. There is something magical about working these fairies and if you are anything like me who still wholeheartedly believe in fairies (no jokes here!), I am sure to feel the magic in my fingers as I work. 

We have enjoyed such a lovely and sunny weekend here and there has been so many things that have made me smile. Here are a few:

Very tasty Carrot and Coriander Soup made by my lovely man, using this recipe from the BBC and adding a handful of pumpkin seeds, yum.

Enjoying leisurely lunches and delicious Madeira Cake and adding a little butter and plum jam, naughty, but nice!

 Getting some bulbs into the ground with the help of darling little Es. Don't pay too much attention to the health & safety assessment here ;-).

The kids enjoying their very first apple from our tree. 

Cutting some Rudbeckia's and bringing them indoors.

Receiving a lovely parcel from Sew and Quilt, oooh too exciting. Can't wait to start working with it.

Making home made dairy and gluten free pizzas using Orgran's Pizza & Pastry mix, which I have to say is pretty darn amazing!

Enjoying a wonderful morning with a friend traipsing around a small part of the very lovely Treacle Market, but more on that later this week.

My very first attempt at making gluten free Yorkshire pudding for our tea tonight. All in all a very enjoyable weekend.

Hope you have all enjoyed a wonderful weekend and for those feeling a little under the weather, I do hope you start to feel better soon. Thank you as always for all your lovely comments, I really appreciate the time you take to leave them and I want you to know that I so enjoy reading each and every one of them.

Warm Wishes

Friday 27 September 2013

Friday Bake: Gluten and dairy free Madeira Cake

Yippee it's Friday, which usually in this house means doing a spot of baking to prepare for the weekend. Our weekends usually consist of long and leisurely lunches as a family followed by cups of tea and cake. I figured seeing that I bake almost every Friday, I would start a little Friday Bake on my blog. If any of you fancy to join in, just let me know and I can pop a little button on for you to link in. This doesn't mean you have to bake every Friday, but you can do it as and when you see fit. I really like the idea of getting ideas for baking from a variety of sources. I will add here that you need to make sure that you only share if the recipe is yours, or if it is available on the Internet, in which case you can share the link. Alternatively you can just mention the book as I think most of us welcome new inspiration and it is a great way of getting ideas for Birthday's and Christmas too. I know I always like to add a few books to my 'want  need- list'.

I know that the majority of you indulge in gluten and dairy, so the fact that I state it is gluten and dairy free doesn't mean that you can't make it. The Madeira cake recipe I tried today is from this lovely book by Monty and Sarah Don, which is far from Gluten and Dairy free. It is a great book filled with some wonderful recipes for meals, soups, cakes, you name it. I came across it during our holiday to Wales one year and it has become a bit of a cooking companion shall we say. The pork belly recipe is simply the best and it works every time. The apple cake, is another one of our favourites and in fact I might just have to do it again soon, seeing that it is the season and all.

If you are not an avid baker, this recipe might suit you as it is really easy and simple, which is what we all need sometimes. Being a lover of all things lemon, this recipe really appeals, but I am sure you could happily miss out the lemon if you choose. Unfortunately this recipe isn't available online, but this recipe comes pretty close to it.


Apart from the dairy and gluten substitutes that I used, such as Doves Gluten Free Self Raising flour and Pure Sunflower Spread, instead of butter, I also used 110g of Palm Sugar and 65g of Caster sugar, instead of the 175g caster sugar. I have used palm sugar in baking quite a bit and I do think that apart from the fact that it is slightly healthier, it also adds a lovely flavour to the bake, but again it is a case of preference.

Not only do you use grated lemon rind, but you also put a couple of thin strips of the lemon rind half way through the bake, as pictured. I will add here that they do shrivel up, so I take they are there to infuse??The recipe that I have linked uses candied lemon, which might work slightly better and I might try that next time.

 Well the end result, is simply delicious and I am sure we will all devour this before the end of the weekend.


I enjoyed sitting out this afternoon in this glorious sun weaving in the ends of little Josh's scarf whilst enjoying a slice of Madeira cake and Rooibos tea. I was not alone, my creatures all joined me and we were graced with the company of this beautiful and elegant flutterby moving around the lavender. Here is a couple of minutes captured on film.

I feel so relieved that it is the weekend as my batteries are a little flat and in need of a recharge. This two kids in school malarkey should be more relaxing, but right now I am finding it quite full on when they get home. It is all very concentrated with trying to spread your energy, time and attention in two, but I will also add I am loving it. Fortunately, it seems that little Es is slowly starting to settle into her new world, which is just such a blessing and we are making the most of our hours together after school. She has already started with bits of homework, which is very simple, but I think she quite likes finally having her own homework book to do work in, especially having seen her brother with his for the last two years.

So what do you all have planned for this weekend? For me its a friends birthday party tonight for which I have prepared a chili to take along, and then this weekend will see more bulbs going into the ground, weather permitting, followed by the Treacle Market on Sunday and plenty of R&R in between with the family. I will be back on Sunday with a little stitching that I have been working on during the week.

Wishing you all a very happy weekend.
Warm Wishes

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Dairy and Gluten Free Chocolate Cake

Good morning lovely people. Today I just wanted to quickly share a very scummy Gluten and Dairy free chocolate cake with you. It is a recipe that I have come up with through trail and error, it has been fun playing around with it and it has become a firm favourite in our house.

About three years ago, I found out that I had a dairy and soy allergy, which apparently had been there since birth. This needless to say called for a radical change in my diet and also saying goodbye to some of my favourite foods, such a dairy! I would lie if I say it was easy, because it wasn't, but I was pretty ill at the time so I was happy to do anything to make me feel a little bit better. Furthermore my nutritionist Niki Gratrix, who I started working with back in 2010 to support my health, strongly suggested that I remove gluten from my diet for the time being, due to its metabolic complexities. Dr. Myhill who is very well researched in the areas of M.E. have written extensively around this area and has also written a very interesting article here about her approach to this condition. Dr. Myhill has also taken a direct view on encouraging people to revert back to the Stone Age Diet, which through the 'Atkins Diet' has recently gained popularity among so called 'dieters', you can read here why Dr. Myhill strongly recommends the Stone Age Diet for overall improved health for everyone.

Whilst I am on a roll and rambling on about diets and gluten, I would also urge you all to read THIS and THIS article on Niki Gratrix's blog, which will most certainly give you better insight into the affects of gluten on the body and also the role it plays within Celiac Disease and Non-Celian Gluten Sensitivity, something that was completely new to me! I personally avoid Gluten at all costs and what I have found over the last three years, is just how much you can enjoy food without it. I have adapted our diet completely and even though it can be tricky when you are out and about, there are always ways to get around it.

As for this cake, I warn you that it even though it is Dairy and Gluten Free, it is far from healthy, but it is just what we all need every now and then. The frosting is what makes this cake simply delicious, it is rich and decadent. I wasn't planning on sharing the recipe, but after posting on Instagram, the lovely Ada from Vintage Sheet Addict requested it, so I am afraid there aren't that many images.

250g Pure sunflower oil spread (or you could use unsalted butter if you choose)
250g Caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
190g Doves Gluten Free self raising flour (or you could use normal plain flour if you choose, or any other Gluten Free flour of your choice)
60g Cocoa powder (which should be around 3 heaped tablespoons)
1 teaspoon baking powder (or 4 teaspoons if you are using normal plain flour)
3-4 tablespoons of Almond Milk (or plain if you chose).

1. Preheat the oven at 180C
2. Grease and line a 23cm round or square baking tin
3. Cream the sunflower spread (which should be at room temperature) together with the sugar until it is pale and fluffy (this should take somewhere between 3-5 minutes).
4. Gradually add the beaten egg into the mixture and make sure to scrape any excess down from the side of the bowl so it is all incorporated.
5. Sift the flour, baking powder and the Cocoa powder together and then add it to the butter mixture in two batches, making sure that it is mixed in properly after each addition.
6. Add the milk
7. Put the mixture into your cake tin and pop in the over for around 35-45 minutes. Start checking after 35 minutes. It will all depend on your oven. In ours it takes around 45 minutes. You might also want to put the cake mix in two smaller tins, as I cut the cake in half to put icing in the middle, in which case the baking time will be significantly reduced.

Whilst the cake is in the oven make your frosting.

200g Green & Black 85% chocolate or Lindt 70%
130g Pure Sunflower Spread
125ml Almond Milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
265g icing sugar, sifted

1. Melt the sunflower spread and the broken up chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan (make sure the bowl never touches the water). Stir until melted and smooth and let it cool for a while.
2. In another bowl whisk together the sifted icing sugar, vanilla extract and milk until smooth and then add the cooled chocolate mixture.
3. Leave the frosting to set and thicken up slightly before use.
4. I usually cut my cake in half horizontally and then add frosting to the middle, the top and around (that's cos I'm a greedy monkey, my view when you do it, you've got to do it properly!).

If you are using different milk, such as Rice milk, your frosting might require a little more icing sugar, so wait till it has set before you decide whether to add any or not. I have added cherry jam to the middle in the past and I have also added some fresh cherries to the top, but the kids just prefer it as it is, plain and simple.

I really hope that you enjoy making this and also playing around with your own requirements and preferences. Let me know how you get on as I would love to know your thoughts on this and also hear whether you have experimented with different milks and butters, such as soy. Just a note, if you are using rice milk, it will be significantly thinner than almond, so maybe use 3tbsp in the cake mix instead of 4 and also a little less in the frosting.

Thank you for all your very lovely comments on Mr. Robin, I really appreciate each and every one of them, you are all very sweet!

Warm wishes

Sunday 22 September 2013

Stitching Sunday - week 3

Hello lovelies, I am joining in today with Chrissie's Stitching Sunday. This week I managed to finish Mr. Robin and it most certainly has been a wonderful learning opportunity for me.

As mentioned in last week's post I outlined Mr. Robin in split stitch and then filled him mostly with 'Long and Short' and 'Soft Shading', which I know I haven't done completely right, but fortunately that's all part of the learning experience, and I think the next time I tackle this rather challenging stitch, I might just feel a little more at ease with its stubbornness, or is that mine wanting to do it my way?? Haven't figured that out, but I don't have to ponder this thought for too long now do I, oh no, not moi! I ended up using 'Stem Stitch' for his legs and feet and a series of long and short for his beak and his eye. I have really enjoyed working this little friendly chap, he is full of character and it has been fun to see him come to life. I now just need to finish him so he is ready for his little home in perfect time for winter.

Last  night whilst watching the X-Factor, which by the way, after a year off, I am loving more than ever. Last year I just couldn't get myself to watch it and then when I found out who the judges were this year I was completely opposed, but now here I am really looking forward to watching the last bit of the auditions, but it might have to be recorded tonight. Anyways, I digress, I stitched this very simple little bird last night using the motif from this very lovely book: 'Doodle Stitching: The Motif Collection'  by Aimee Ray. It is a really sweet book filled with some rather lovely motifs, there is something for everyone. I stitched it using 'Back Stitch' and a 'French Knot' for the eye.

I have quite a few projects waiting to be stitched, but first I need to finish two of these flowers, so that will be this week's little project.

We have had the most glorious weekend here in the North of England with temperatures around 20C. Yesterday I managed to get some bulbs into the ground, but still have a fair few to do. It is a job I really love doing, maybe it's the being part of a little piece of magic that makes it such fun.

This weekend's weather has been a pleasant surprise after quite a cold and wintery week here where I have lit fires and gotten into my winter groove of making soup again. I used this Tuscan bean Soup recipe, but used kale instead of cabbage and missed out the tomatoes and the result was very scrummy. I made this last year and it is one of those soups that you want to make again and again, so there will be more very soon.

Before I go, I might as well share some of my happies this week. I am not the world biggest Ikea fan, but it has its place, and this week me and the doh paid a visit without kids (my golly I might just start liking the place, it felt relaxed and hassle free for once!) to purchase a new sewing desk for me. Below a pic of Es helping me to assemble it. It was so very exciting for me as I have been after a 'proper' little work space for so long and yes my dearies it has finally happened. I promise to share the transformation with you very soon, even if it is only as simple as a desk, but hey ho, it takes very little to get this girl excited!

Gorgeous Sunflowers purchased for me by the kids. They look so beautiful in our kitchen.

I spent a wonderful day having lunch with friends whilst my doh did another 35 mile race in 7hours and 15 minutes. I am so very proud of him, it is such a big achievement. When I got home this afternoon I grabbed a couple of minutes enjoying this glorious sunshine, which still felt like 20C after 5pm, oh life is good!

Hope you have all enjoyed a good weekend. I am so looking forward to seeing all your stitching. Hopefully this little blog will resume some level of 'normality' again at some point in the near future, but I promise to be back this week with a fab recipe for a chocolate cake. For now, I have the dilemma of 'Downton Abbey' over X Factor, well I know what's going to win hands down. Just goes to show what exciting life I lead ;-).

Wishing you all a very enjoyable week.
Warm Wishes

Friday 20 September 2013

August 2013 Italy - Part 2 (Florence and Rome)

One of the last trips out from our Villa in Fauglia was to visit the beautiful city of Florence (Firenze). It has been said that Florence is the pinnacle of Italian culture and despite the fact that it is a hub for tourists and not the easiest place to visit by wheelchair, we loved every minute of the 5-6 hours we spent there.

It took a great deal of time to find parking, and once we did, I really felt for my doh and Dad who had to push both Ma and myself to see the sights. The roads are all largely cobbled, which makes it a rather tricky business for wheelchairs, but they were both amazing and I am so lucky that we have these wonderful men in our lives as without them we wouldn't have seen these beautiful sites. After a rather expensive lunch, and worming our way through the markets, we finally arrived at the Piazza del Duomo, and were overwhelmed by the size and beauty of  The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, which is English is known as the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower. It is ordinarily referred to as 'Il Duomo di Firenze' and work on this main church in Florence begun in 1296 and was completed in 1436. The basilica is faced with marble panels in various shades and its design was led by the famous Italian architect Arnolfo di Cambio. This Cathedral complex also included the Baptistery of St. John, which is one of the oldest buildings in Italy (built between 1059 and 1128) and also Giotto's Bell Tower. Apparently these three buildings form part of UNESCO World Heritage Site and when you are standing in this Piazza it is very clear to see why. 

Outside the Duomo, the kids sat down to have their picture drawn by a very talented caricature artist, which the kids thought was great fun. We also bought a painting , which I will share with you at a later stage. Our next and final visit was to the Piazza della Signoria, which is a lovely big square with an array of statues, including Michelangelo's David, which was sculpted as a declaration of civic solidarity of the Florence republic. The original is now held in the Accademia in Florence. Unfortunately this was closed on the day we went, but to be honest, we were happy to be in the Piazza and the kids thoroughly enjoyed looking at the various sculptures and having the freedom to run around. Also pictured (bottom left) above, is the work of Benvenuto Cellini's 1545 bronze sculpture of Perseus with the head of Medusa, which in my opinion is a masterpiece and by far my favourite statue on the Piazza. There are also many other wonderful statues, such as Hercules and CacusThe Rape of Sabine, and Hercules slaying the Centaur among many others. 

As we walked back to our car through the beautiful Firenze and I knew that one day I would be back to spend a week so I can trawl through the city, visit the Museums, such as the Uffizi and soak up all the culture. The hours we had there were too short, but perfect for the kids at this age. We all loved it and I think it is a day we will all remember for the rest of our days. 

It was time to leave our lovely villa and head down to Rome. My wonderful husband drove us down and also around Rome (eek) to find our accommodation, I think he deserves a gold medal for achieving that!

Rome was manic, but wonderful. We jammed so much into two days, but we all loved it and it is a city like no other. This was my second visit here, so even though I felt a little familiar with some of it, the experience was completely different. This time I had my lovely family, including Ma and Pa and I think it was simply magic for them to see all these old buildings. One thing about being South African is that we have very short history as Cape Town was only founded by Jan Van Riebeeck  in 1652, so anything that goes further than that has the tendency to baffle our brains a little. 

We booked tickets to hop on and off the sightseeing buss and it was by far the best decision we made. We could easily get our wheelchairs on and somehow it also offered a little breather for Pa and my doh who worked so hard to get us round this magnificent city. If Florence was bad for wheelchairs, Rome, was somewhat worse, but again these men just took it in their stride and got on with it, so thank you!! On our first day we visited the Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre which back in the day could hold between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators. It was the largest amphitheatre of Roman Empire and work began under the Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD and was completed in the 80AD using stone and concrete for its construction. It is considered as the greatest work of Roman architecture and when you approach it, you completely understand why.

We also visited The Pantheon, which translates as the Temple for all gods. It is a great place to visit as it is free, the kids loved it and it is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, so definitely worth a visit. The building is circular with a central oculus (opening) at the top, which is shown in the middle picture above.

Our second day there was by far the best day, we made our way to the top of the Spanish steps and for those of you who read this post you will know that there was an expectation for some fun on our holiday with our wheelchairs. I can tell you that there were many funny and happy moments where Pa tried to have a giggle and as expected he did not fail us on our way to the Spanish Steps. To get to the top we had to go down a steep road and lets just say the boys wanted to have fun! Fortunately the two woman are adrenalin junkies, so we were all up for it, not so sure the kids on our laps were too keen! By the time we got to the top everyone was ready for yet another gelato (ice cream) and seeing I couldn't eat any of them, I headed straight for the art. There were some really talented artist with some amazing work. I could have spent half a day just admiring the art and the view from the top of the Spanish Steps (as pictured bottom right). Fortunately we left with a beautiful oil painting of Tuscany that I have shown you here, but more about this story later on. We then managed to get to the bottom of the Spanish steps without taking the direct route (heehee), not that the men weren't tempted, just think of the endless possibilities for these guys! We enjoyed a lovely lunch sitting on the Spanish steps and the kids playing in the fountain, it was a moment I will always remember.

From here we went to the Trevi fountain, which illiterately means 'three street fountain', simply because three streets lead up to it. It's famous for featuring in movies such as Three Coins in a FountainLa Dolce Vita, Roman Holiday (with Audrey Hepburn). We all enjoyed throwing a coin over a shoulder to make a wish. It is interesting to know that an average of 3000 coins per day is collected, averaging around $4,000 and the money is all given to the Catholic charity Caritas. The funds are used to provide services for needy families in Rome.

On our way home we stopped for our last supper and it was at this point where I asked the question that I ask my children every day, 'so what was your best bit today?'. Once they told me they returned the question to which I said buying the painting, it was at this point that I realised that we had left the painting at the entrance to a shop as we fled inside to shelter from the rain. Panic fuelled my veins, but somehow I knew it was highly unlikely that someone would have known that the painting was there. In an instant my doh (darling other half) was sent on a mission to find the painting. Not only was it expensive, but it was something that we both wanted to take back as memory of our holiday. It was a very long 30 minutes, and even though I was confident that he would come back with the painting, there was a small part of me that doubted the likelihood. Fortunately his fell running skills paid off and he was back in no time with the painting in hand. Phew, I think I almost cried, but it was a relief and it made me think of the book The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. I am a big fan of  Jojo Moyes and have read most of her books, but if you havent' read this, treat yourself and get this book. It is captivating and intensely enjoyable.

The story behind our painting is so much more memorable and it wouldn't be hanging in our kitchen if it wasn't for my doh. I am a very lucky woman to have such a wonderful man in my life who never (well hardly ever) complains and always sticks by my side no matter what. I can honestly not be more happy to have met my soul mate and the love of my life and there is not a day that goes by where I am not grateful for the fact that our paths crossed.

We so enjoyed our holiday, every aspect of it and it was so very special to have shared it with Ma and Pa. We talk about it often and wish we were back there, but all good things have to come to an end. Fortunately we have wonderful memories that can keep it all alive!

'Pleasure is the flower that passes; remembrance, the lasting perfume.' (Jean de Boufflers)

Warm wishes

Sunday 15 September 2013

Stitching Sunday, Mr Robin where are you?

I am joining in today with Chrissie for our Stitching Sunday. It has been a rather busy week, with not quite as much time as I would have liked to do a little stitching and other things, but I managed to get a few stitches done and unfortunately everything else has fallen by the wayside.

I have really enjoyed starting work on Mr Robin, it has certainly been a learning curve for me as I haven't worked any 'Long and Short stitches' before, so it has been good fun to learn. I found 'The Embroiderer's Handbook' by Margie Bauer in the library and it's been invaluable. I really love this book as it gives detailed information about every stitch imaginable and it comes with detailed images of how to actually work each stitch, which for a beginner like myself is so important.


I started by outlining the individual areas with split stitch and then used a combination of 'long and short' and 'soft shading' to fill it. I really wanted to use a myriad of browns and greys for this little robin that I drew. I still have a bit to do before he is finished, but hopefully I will be one step closer next week.

After a very trying couple of weeks with little Es starting school, I am really looking forward to her settling into full school days next week. It has been a very rough ride over the last week and a half, fortunately I know it simply is a difficult phase for her to get through and over time things will fall into place. For now I am looking forward to a week of resting and also having some crafty me-time (the withdrawals are getting to me!). Fortunately there are always happy things around us to keep our spirits high and this week there has certainly been a fair few things to put a smile on my face and seeing as I haven't done much blogging lately, I thought I might as well share a few with you here today.

Some lovely apples and plums from a friends garden, stewed and used to make some lovely plum jam and then yesterday I followed Chrissie's Monday Cake recipe and adapted it to be gluten and dairy free and used some of the lovely plum jam. I think it is fair to say that we all love it, so thanks Chrissie.

My Tuscan painting bought in Rome, stretched and ready to hang.

Some lovely Hydrangeas from a friend that will stay in water until their colour changes and then I will dry them for use later this year. 

Last night whilst we sat down to watch the X factor, the cat dragged a jumping frog into the house and then minutes later the dog ran outside and started barking like his life depended on it. Upon investigating we found Henry the Hedgehog had paid us a little visit. It was such a treat, maybe it is time to make him a little house somewhere in the garden.

The last of my lavender in the garden brought in and now bunched and ready to dry around the house.

Thanks for all your lovely comments on our holilday, you really put a smile on my face. I am so looking forward to seeing how everyone has gotten on with their stitching over the last week. Wishing you all a happy Sunday evening or Monday morning, wherever you are and best wishes for a happy and creative week ahead.

Warm Wishes