Crufts, Cross Country and a lot of Yarn.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Now this seems like quite a varied subject for a blog post, even by my standards, but don't worry, it's not as random as it sounds!

The three things are only connected in that they all relate to last weekend. 

The two older boys were both away at the weekend - Calum (14) to Crufts in Birmingham and James (17) to the National Army Cadets Cross Country Competition in Merseyside. The Yarn part of the title relates to me, as you could probably guess, but the boys' trips are much more exciting so let's start with them.

Calum has been going to dog agility with his Aunt and her dog Shadow for a couple of years now. Auntie Anna and Shadow take part in dog agility competitions almost every Saturday through the summer and Shadow has an impressive collection of winners rosettes and trophies. Calum and Shadow have also entered a few junior agility events and they too have won a rosette or two. In one of the junior events back in the autumn Calum and Shadow qualified for the Junior Team event at Crufts!

I think Auntie Anna was even more excited than Calum to be able to go to Crufts, although I'm sure she'd never admit it! She organised somewhere for them to stay and drove all the way down and back at the weekend.

They enjoyed wandering around Crufts and watching some events in the main arena, before it was time for Calum and Shadow to have their turn in one of the smaller arenas.

Their team didn't get placed but that didn't matter. It was an amazing experience to not only go to Crufts and see everything there, but to also get the chance to take part.

Calum's already planning to go down next year, but this time just as a spectator!

Moving onto the Cross Country now.

Also back in the autumn, James qualified to represent Scotland in the Army Cadets National Cross Country Competition. You might remember that he also qualified for this last year. I wrote about that here.

The competition was made up of 7 teams from England, and one each from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

James came 6th in the race and helped the Scottish team come 2nd - the same position they came last year, and apparently only 1 point behind the 1st place team.

He received a silver medal which now sits proudly beside last year's almost identical one.

Finally onto the yarn.

Well, while the older two were away on Saturday, the other three boys and I went along to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival which was on last weekend. Dad was busy and so they had no choice but to tag along with me!

David (11) actually surprised himself (and me) by how much he enjoyed our little wander around the festival. He had no idea how many different types of yarn there were, and really enjoyed seeing them all. He particularly liked the yarns that gradually change colour, and some very cool neon brights. He even asked afterwards if he can come with me next year too!

Despite all the many temptations around me, I didn't actually give in and buy any yarn at all! I did buy a book of patterns, Edwards Menagerie (see it here), which was a purely selfless buy as it's all cute little animal teddy patterns in it that I can make for the boys. First on the list to make is Fraser's favourite animal - a giraffe!

Oh, and I also bought a suitable badge too...

And as a treat for the boys for being so good, and since their older brothers were off on their travels, we had a little McDonalds on the way home from the festival. The youngest two boys can only eat the chips in a Happy Meal but we still had to buy one for the Lego Batman toys in them!

So there we go. Not quite as random a weekend as it sounded at first, and a very successful one for everyone!

New Year Makes

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Just like I did last year. the first thing I made in 2017 was a gift for my little niece's birthday. She turned 2 in the second week of January and I had planned what I was going to make her for her birthday since I had seen it in back in September. Although I hadn't started making it back then! 

Crochet Now magazine - the newest monthly crochet magazine on the UK market, and my current favourite one too - had a little series running, where the pattern for this little doll was released one month and then for the next few months there was a different outfit for the doll published.

I thought it was such a cute idea that I knew I had to make it for my niece. Actually, even if I hadn't had my niece to make it for, I may well have made it just for myself!

Just before Christmas when I was in Hobbycraft, I found a little red, spotty suitcase which I knew would be perfect for putting the doll and her little outfits in.

I started working on the doll on Hogmanay, and she was reasonably quick to make up. The most time consuming part were these cute ringlets. 

The dress below was in the October issue of the magazine and so had a pumpkin motif on it. Since I didn't think pumpkins were seasonal any more in January, I added a little heart motif instead.

I was ridiculously pleased with the fact that the pattern even included some little bloomers!

I'm pleased to say that my little niece loved the dolly as much as I did!

Once I had finished the doll I spent a week or two working on my Storytime Cross Stitch sampler - a much slower project than a crochet one, but such a cute one.

Alice in Wonderland and The Secret Garden are complete, and I'm now onto Sherlock. Those beautiful, fancy frames alone, without the picture in them, take between 3-4 hours of stitching time, and there are another 9 of them to do!

Now I've put that aside for a bit, though, to start on a new crochet blanket.

In November Lucy from Attic 24 shared a new colour combination that she had made up for a Crochet Along blanket she was planning to start in January. The colours are inspired by the moors, starting with the browns and greens at the bottom, onto the purples of the heather and then finishing with the blues of the sky. You can see Lucy's pictures of her inspiration here.

My husband's sister now traditionally buys me a yarn pack for Christmas each year, so I tagged her in a comment on Lucy's Facebook post and suggested these colours as this year's pack. She replied that not only was she happy to have my Christmas present sorted out so early on, but that she would love to have a blanket made in those colours if I ever had the time to do so.

So I thought, why not make this blanket and try and finish it in time to give her for her birthday, which is on Easter weekend. The last couple of blankets I've made have taken around 4 months, so the timing seems about right.

I started this at the weekend, and then had to restart it again after a couple of rows as I wasn't happy with how the 'wave' pattern was working, The starting chain was too tight and it didn't let the wave work properly. When I restarted it I used a foundation double crochet stitch rather than a starting chain. I almost always use a foundation stitch rather than a chain, especially for blankets that need a very long starting chain, for the very reason that I find the starting chains to be too tight, and also that a foundation double or treble stitch means that you get a good start on the project more quickly.

Second time around the wave is showing up quite nicely, and now that I have done a few rows of it and I can see where the stitches go to make the waves, it's all flowing very nicely.

And as a little bonus, it was lovely to receive a like on my Instagram photo of the start of my blanket from the queen of crochet!

Dazzle Ships and Haggis

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Ally (7) has been learning about the Dazzle Ships at school recently and has really loved sharing everything he learned about them with us. As well as learning what the Dazzle Ships were, his class had a few visits from an artist who helped them work on an art project connected to the Dazzle Ships.

For the last few months Edinburgh has had an example of a Dazzle Ship docked down in Leith, and we found out recently that it was only going to be there until the end of January. So I promised Ally that we would go down to see it after school last Friday - school finishes at lunchtime every Friday.

The docks are only a 5 minute bus journey from the boys' primary school and Friday was a rare bright afternoon - as opposed to the usual grey and dull ones in January.  Perfect for something that involved being outdoors.

Dazzle Ships were an idea that came about during the First World War, when the Admiralty were trying to think of a way to protect their ships from enemy torpedoes. Since they couldn't hide the ships, they tried to confuse the enemy instead, and painted the ships with bright, angular shapes and patterns. The aim was to confuse the enemy so that they couldn't tell which direction the ship was travelling in, and so it would be harder for them to take a good aim with their torpedoes. There was no set pattern for different types of ships, so as not to give away what type they were.

Ally was delighted to see the Dazzle Ship for real.

Once we were finished looking at the Dazzle Ship we took a walk back along the Leith Shore, which looked rather lovely in the winter sunshine. What a difference it made to have the sun shining, even though it was still cold. Everything just seems lovelier and more cheerful in the sunshine! 

Now onto the haggis, which has no connection whatsoever with the Dazzle Ship, other than being part of the same weekend.

On Saturday night my husband's sister hosted her annual Burns Supper, an event that she has done every January for as long as I can remember!

She only ever serves the king of haggis' - haggai?, what is the plural of haggis? - at her suppers, the locally made Macsweens.

Before it can be eaten, the haggis needs to be addressed by someone reading out Burns' Ode to a Haggis. This year James (17) was again the only one brave enough to try it given the honour of addressing the haggis, despite his protestation that as he's dyslexic it's hard enough for him to read English and Gaelic, never mind something written in Scots!

Anyway, he did a great, and suitably dramatic reading, and was particularly enthusiastic about the part where the haggis is stabbed and sliced open! 

Everyone in our house loves haggis, neeps and tatties, and we eat it much more often than just Burns and St Andrew's Nights.

See that kilt Calum (14) is wearing? It's his dad's! It was just a tiny bit big for him.

This may have been the first time that Rocket Raccoon had attended a Burns Supper.

I didn't have time to dig out the kilts for the younger boys, but they did all wear their Scotland tops instead - or a cute little tartan shirt for Fraser.

After dinner we always sing some traditional Scottish songs, but before we started on the singing we had a little bit of music from some of the boys. 

David (11) played An Ataireachd Ard on the guitar...

...and Calum played us the first section of Kate Martin's Waltz on the accordion. He only started learning it that week, which is why he only played the beginning! Calum also accompanied a lot of the songs on accordion too.

 Ally just wishes Auntie Anna had a piano so that he could have performed something too. He still loves playing the piano as much as when he started just a few months ago, and still can't walk past it without sitting down to play for a while. I tell him that he's like our little Mozart as he can't stop playing a tune half way through. He needs to get to the end of it, no matter what he gets called away to do! Mozart was apparently the same, and his children used to tease him by playing unfinished cadences on the piano, which would result in him rushing over to play the end of it!

History lesson over, here's a little clip of David and Calum's two musical solos to finish off with. 

Recipe of the Week - Quick Chocolate Cupcakes {Wheat Free & Dairy Free}

Friday, 27 January 2017

I've got a bit out of the way of sharing recipes over the last few months, but that doesn't mean that I didn't have any to share, or that I didn't want to keep posting them. I have a list of new free from recipes I'd like to share, plus I still want to re-share some of the older recipes from the early days on my old URL and transfer them to this blog. I'm hoping that this year I'll be able to share recipes most week like I used to, so let's get the ball rolling again with a nice quick recipe.

Last year my kitchen calendar was a Bake Off one, which had a different recipe for each month. Early on in the year there was a recipe for making some speedy cupcakes, and so I thought I would adapt it and try a free from version. It was a huge hit with the boys and is now one of my regular bakes.

It's one of those recipes where you throw everything in together and then mix, so not only is it quick to make, it's also quick to tidy up again afterwards!

If you've seen any of the recipes I've shared in the past you may have noticed that I always said that Doves Farm Gluten Free Self Raising flour was my go-to free from flour. That was until last spring/summer, when Sainsbury's brought out their own brand Gluten Free Self Raising and Plain Flours and these are my new absolute favourites for free from baking. They contain similar ingredients to the Doves Farm flours, but the Sainsbury's flours don't contain any Buckwheat. Buckwheat flour has quite a strong flavour and although the taste of baking with the Doves Farm flours was very good, there was still a slightly different flavour to all of the bakes when compared to that of wheat flour. The difference in taste between bakes made using the Sainsbury's free from flours and wheat flours is almost impossible to tell. 

I realise this is not very useful information if you don't have a Sainsbury's near you however! I know that Asda have also brought out their own brand of free from flour, and although I have never baked with it, I have tasted something baked by a friend and I would say it is very similar to the Sainsbury's one. As far as I know, and certainly the last time I checked a couple of months ago, Tesco don't have their own brand free from flour, which I'm surprised about given that the other two big stores do. Anyway, if you can get to a Sainsbury's then I highly recommend trying to stock up on their free from flours, but if not then just stick to the Doves Farm one as it is still an amazing alternative.

Now onto the cupcakes at last.

To make them you will need:

140g wheat free self raising flour
40g cocoa powder
200g caster sugar
125ml vegetable oil
175ml oat milk (or other dairy free alternative if you can't have oats)
1 egg, beaten

~Put the flour, cocoa, and sugar into a food processor and pulse a little to mix it all together.
~Measure the oil, oat milk and egg in a jug together and then add to the dry mixture in the food processor.
~Pulse the food processor just until everything has mixed together. Scrape down the sides of the processor to make sure all of the dry ingredients are mixed and then pulse once more, just for a few seconds. You will have a lovely smooth mixture, and it should be runnier than you would normally expect for a cake recipe.
~Pour the mixture into 12 cupcake cases and bake at 180C for around 20 minutes.
~Transfer the cupcakes to a cooling rack and mix up the icing.

For the simple butter icing you will need:

50g dairy free margarine
150g icing sugar
25g cocoa powder

~Put the margarine in a bowl and beat until soft. You can either do this by hand with a wooden spoon, a handheld mixer, or ideally a free standing mixer so that you can get on with something else at the same time!
~Once the margarine is soft then gradually add the icing sugar and cocoa until you have a nice creamy looking butter icing.
~Once the cupcakes are cool then spread the butter icing on top, or if you are feeling fancy then pipe it on in a nice swirl. 

Now, wasn't that straightforward and quick?
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Friday, 20 January 2017

This week our oldest boy turned 17.

Last year I wrote a post that contained photos of him on each of his birthdays since he turned 1, which you can see here, so this year's post will seem rather short in comparison!

We had a bit of a low key celebration this year, not that we tend to do fancy parties anyway, because James is in the middle of his Higher Prelim exams this week and next. He was relieved not to have an exam on the day of his birthday, but he did have one the following day. 

Now that he is legally old enough to drive, he asked for driving lessons as his main present, but he also asked if he can wait until after his exams in May before he starts them so that he can have a good run of lessons without any interruptions. He did get a few other little gifts from us for now, as we couldn't leave him with nothing to open on his birthday! Of course Fraser (3) was very eager to help him unwrap them!

He had asked if he could have a chocolate overload birthday cake, similar to the one he had last year. These are great cakes to make as they involve very little skill whatsoever - just make the chocolate cake, cover in butter icing, surround it with chocolate fingers, and pile high with an assortment of chocolates. The chocolate cake I made was my old faithful recipe, which you can find here, although I didn't make it free from since it was going to be covered in so much non free from stuff! For the free from boys I made some Quick Chocolate Cupcakes. I'll post the recipe for them next week when my Recipe of the Week posts will start again, hopefully with much more regularity, like they used to be! 

Anyway, the birthday cake....

James' choice for birthday dinner was no surprise, as he has asked for the same thing every birthday for years - homemade steak pie. I must confess to cheating a little this year though, as Wednesdays are such busy days for me between Cròileagan (Gaelic toddler group) in the morning and school pick up followed immediately by piano teaching up until dinner time, and so rather than making the rough puff pastry that I usually do, I used some ready made puff pastry courtesy of Sainsbury's, as well as a free from puff pastry by Genius. The filling was simply thrown into my slow cooker at 7am and left there to do it's own thing until 6pm when I separated it into two dishes for the two different pastries. Where would busy mums be without slow cookers?!

Back to the cake again.

The truffles on the top are the simple coconut/digestive/drinking chocolate/condensed milk truffles that were the first thing I ever learned how to bake when I was about 7 years old. James loves them, and they were also the first thing that he and David learned to make.

Finally, here is the handsome birthday boy with his cake, and his cute little sidekick of course!

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