Reading Challenge 2016

2016The Craftyguidelets love to read.   My eldest can be in the middle of 3 or 4 books at a time, but still knows exactly what is going on in each.   I used to devour books when I commuted into London.   But now my commute is from the kitchen to the living room or the office, and my volunteering has expanded, the time I allocate to reading books has reduced considerably.

With a queue of books on my Kindle app and a pile of books in the cupboard, I decided to set myself up on the Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge.   As well as keeping my list short with a realistic target of only 12 books, I thought I’d try and find books from different categories to mix it up a bit.

  1. An unfinished book – Helen Fielding – Mad About the Boy – finished
  2. A new author to me.
  3. A classic read.
  4. A book recommended by a librarian.
  5. A book that’s been adapted into a film.
  6. A celebrity autobiography – Mary Portas – Shop Girl – now reading
  7. A book written by/about a historical figure.
  8. An award winning book.
  9. A children’s book.
  10. A celebrity book club read.
  11. A book I should have read at school rather than just the York Notes.
  12. A Goodreads recommendation.

I am one book in and it’s only 8th January – go me!   My little widgety thing at the side of my blog keeps the tally, and hopefully I’ll read more than my target.

Are you doing any reading challenges this year?

Getting Organised

Getting OrganisedThe Christmas decorations are down, the birthday cards are up, the Craftyguidelets are back at school – it must be time to get the house back in order.

There are so many books and websites to trawl through to plan a declutter or instigate a new housework routine.   The Fly Lady will have you shining your sink, tidying to bless your house and “getting dressed to lace up shoes” as part of your new routine.   Marie Kondo has her KonMari Method which gives you “the life changing magic of tidying up” and seems to have you assessing every item for sparks of joy and thanking them for everything they’ve done for you, before donating them to the local charity shop.   Anthea Turner will make you the Perfect Housewife and will have you buying wooden coathangers and folding towels just so.   The different lists, methods and techniques are endless.

Everyone has something that clicks with them, and although I haven’t immersed myself in any of the above methods, I have cherry picked a few ideas which work for me.   To save the last minute rush in the morning, I now get dressed before going down to breakfast, so even if I’m signing reading records or getting lost in an interesting news article, I’m at least decent for the school run.   I have parted with several years of birthday cards and some Craftyguidelet artwork, as although they spark joy, I’d rather have the room for new memories to come.   And if you check my airing cupboard, my towels are all folded beautifully!

My house does need a severe declutter though as living in chaos gets me down.   My life is so busy I need to be able to find things easily without a whole cupboard of stuff falling down on me.   It would also be great for everything to have a home so at Christmas we aren’t stuffing vacuum cleaner parts in the airing cupboard or losing PE kits in the Christmas decoration boxes under the stairs.

I spotted A Bowl Full of Lemons blog when I was sorting out my Bloglovin feed.   She’s written a book which is out in the UK in February, and is running a Home Organisation 101 Challenge.   It’s a 14 week challenge with a printable checklist and it starts on Saturday this week.   Although it looks like she’s into baskets and drawer liners (that ain’t happening in my kitchen!), the basics appeal to me.   First week is the kitchen so I’ll be going in to sort through exactly what is stashed away in the drawers.   If you don’t hear from me by next week, send in a rescue party.   With gin.   And chocolate.

Do you have an organisation ‘guru’?

Meal Planning Monday – 4th January

MealPlanningOne of the things I want to get under control this year is my food shopping.  Dinners are always a balancing act in our house.   I don’t eat meat, and Mr CG is gluten (and onions, leeks, spices, garlic…) intolerant.   The Craftyguidelets, even though they have a bit of childhood fussiness, are probably the most normal eaters in our house.   I usually cook from scratch because of this.   Add to this my volunteering and the girls’ after school activities, planning what to cook for dinner, and having the time to cook it, is a juggling act.

I used to participate in At Home With Mrs M‘s Meal Planning Monday from time to time.   After a break, it’s back today (yay!), so it ties in with my need to get discipline back to plan my week’s meals.   This will hopefully lead to less food waste, healthier meals, fewer trips to the shops and a reduced spend.

Most of our Christmas leftovers are gone now, but I still seem to have some food to use up including a bit of veg, loads of apples, some sausages and a bit of cheese.   I also have a stash of frozen bits and pieces to use up, so this week’s menu is this:

Monday: sausage pasta in the slow cooker (and veg bolognaise from the freezer) – it’s my birthday so I don’t want too much hassle cooking!
Tuesday: salmon, mash and veg
Wednesday: freezer dive
Thursday: tuna pasta bake with sweetcorn (the girls’ favourite!)
Friday: gammon (and quorn burgers)
Saturday: salad and jacket potatoes with cold meat (and cheese)
Sunday: whatever my mum and dad are providing

The apples will go in muffins and I’m sure baked apples will make an appearance at some point.   See you next Monday!

If you have any great recipes or books to recommend, please fill my comments with suggestions!

Here’s to 2016

Goodbye 2015 (1)At the beginning of 2015, I resolved not to have any resolutions, not to sign up to any social media obligations like photo-a-day or blog-a-week, not to join in with quilt a month, crochet along etc. and not to heap too much pressure on myself to join in and fit in with the crowd.

To some extent I’ve succeeded in this (especially the not blogging regularly part – oops!) but I’m not quite there.

My aim for 2016 is to get organised.   I want to declutter and put systems in place to get my life, head and home in order.   I want to complete ‘to do lists’ rather than keep putting things off.   I want a crafting area that is inspirational, rather than a pile of work in progress.   I want to minimise food waste by planning meals better and shopping smarter.   I want to put my health higher up in my priorities.

But for now, I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year and I hope 2016 is everything you want it to be.

Great British Bake Off – Patisserie and The Final

Great British Bake Off Victoria SpongeYes I know.   The Bake Off has finished and we all cried along with Nadiya when she won and gave that lovely speech.   Back at Craftguider Towers, I was really busy with my volunteering, followed by tonsillitis and a stinking cold and a back that went twang.  I’ve been waiting for a good time to do my soufflé for chocolate week, but there hasn’t been the time, so I’m summing up my patisserie efforts and the final traditional bake now before you all forget what a bake off is!Great British Bake Off eclairsI made choux pastry for the first time this year when I chose to make éclairs for my turn on the WI cake rota.   This stood me in good stead for my Religieuses that I made for the Great Girlguiding Anglia Bake Off.   Even though they didn’t win, they tasted delicious, but I still needed to perfect them.   Cue patisserie week on Bake Off and Religieuses à l’Ancienne.   Yes, those nuns were back, but this time they were Dalek shaped constructions.   Instead of the construction element, I spent my time perfecting my pastry, and I finally managed the crisp choux shells I needed.Great British Bake Off Victoria sponge sliceTo represent the traditional bake in the final, eldest Craftyguidelet wanted to make a gluten free Victoria sponge.   She roped in Mr CG to replace me, and used the Cake Angels recipe to make a nice sponge.Great British Bake Off Custard CreamsYoungest Craftyguidelet didn’t want to be left out and made some more gluten free custard creams from the Honeybuns cookbook.   My originals from biscuit week were mentioned in Homemaker Magazine in October as I used the cutters and stencil from a previous free gift.   I won’t let the fame go to my head!

I must make time for the soufflé so I can finally finish my bake along.   Ingredients bought so watch this space…

Have you been inspired by the Bake Off to create anything new?

Great British Bake Off – Victorian

Great British Bake Off Tennis Cake RecipeOK, I’m running a bit behind on my bake along.   Cast your minds back to Victorian week when the bakers were asked to make game pie, tennis cake and charlotte russe.   Selecting my bake for this week was quite easy.   Game pie was out as I’m a vegetarian, and there aren’t enough hours in my day to indulge myself to make a charlotte russe.Great British Bake Off Tennis Cake FruitI used Mary Berry’s recipe for tennis cake and started preparing the fruit.   Be warned.   You are in this for the long term!   It is a fairly simple recipe to follow, and I converted it to gluten free by substituting the flour and adding an extra egg.Great British Bake Off Tennis Cake FinishedThe resulting cake took slightly longer to bake than the 2 hours allotted in the recipe, even though I used a slightly larger tin than in the recipe.   This meant turning the oven up by 5 degrees for some of the cooking time and then turning the oven off after 2 hours and leaving the cake inside for an hour while I did the school run.   These hazards would add an extra challenge to the real life Bake Off!Great British Bake Off Tennis Cake SliceThe resulting cake was lovely and fruity and tasted delicious.   And I know I cheated by not doing the marzipan and icing.   It didn’t need it, and frankly I didn’t have the time to spend on it.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to think about my gravity defying nun…

Great British Bake Off – Pastry

Great British Bake Off Chicken and Mushroom vol au ventsI’m playing catch up a bit with my Great British Bake Off bake along.   Last week was pastry week and the bakers had frangipane tarts, flaounas from Cyprus and vol au vents to contend with.   As I was hosting a family buffet dinner, I decided that vol au vents would make a perfect finger food and found a Hairy Bikers recipe that looked tasty.Great British bake Off Pastry vol au ventsI used Mary Berry’s method for puff pastry  but struggled a bit with the forming of the cases.   I had to use a sharp knife to cut along the baked score lines to make the shells ready for filling.Great British Bake Off Smoked Haddock and Prawn vol au ventsI adapted the recipes a little bit making chicken and mushroom as well as this smoked haddock and prawn version.   They went down really well so a success.   Not beautiful and regular, but very tasty which is the most important thing.

And if you didn’t click the link for Mary Berry’s puff pastry method above…Great British Bake Off Puff Pastry…well she thinks that life is too short to make puff pastry too!


Great British Bake Off – Alternative Ingredients

Great British Bake Off Sugar Free Carrot Cake sliceI’m a bit behind with blogging my bake along.   There is so much going on at the moment with going back to school, starting all my Guiding and WI commitments  and having family over, it’s all getting a bit hectic!

When I heard that there was going to be a ‘Free From’ week, I got excited.   After all, I do so much gluten free cake baking, I should have something in my repertoire that would cover one of the challenges.   Er, no.

The gluten free element was Paul Hollywood’s gluten free pitta bread technical challenge.   I Googled a few recipes on some US websites and came up with a long list of specialist ingredients like psyllium husk powder, various rice flours, arrowroot powder etc. which I knew I’d have to pay a fortune for from my specialist supplier and I’d only use them once before they’d fester in the back of my cupboard until they went out of date.   Asking Mr CG, the gluten intolerant member of the family, if he actually liked pitta bread, he declined the opportunity so I was let off the hook.

With no ice cream maker to make a dairy free Arctic roll (yes, they may have said dairy-free ice cream roll, but we know what they really are), I went for the sugar free cake (gluten free of course).Great British Bake Off Sugar Free Carrot Cake

I chose a sugar free carrot cake recipe from the BBC Food website and adjusted it slightly to make it gluten free.   All I can say is, never again.  Great British Bake Off Sugar Free Carrot Cake Frosted

On the Bake Off, the bakers were all using sugar substitutes like honey or syrups and my recipe had none.   The topping was cream cheese with orange zest.   How was that ever going to taste like anything other than cheese on a cake?   Husband was bravely trying to eat it, youngest was picking out the raisins and eldest was turning her nose up completely.   The relief when I told everyone they could leave it was obvious.Great British Bake Off Lemon Meringue Roulade

The next day I served this.   A lemon meringue roulade full of sugar and cream (although gluten free!) which went down really well.Great British Bake Off lemon Meringue Roulade sliceLovely and soft, marshmallowy meringue, beautiful lemon flavour and indulgent cream.   We restrict enough ingredients in this house without cutting things out unnecessarily.   The sugar stays!

I’m catching up with pastry this weekend.   Think I’m attempting the vol au vent.   Eep!

Great British Bake Off – Desserts

Great British Bake Off Creme Brulee sliceDessert week and a tale of two halves for me and my Great British Bake Off bake along.

Having been out of the country last week, I didn’t have much time to research the recipes featured in the programme this week.   The Spanische Windtorte, a Spanish wind cake (?!!!) from Austria made with French and Swiss meringue – the United Nations of desserts – was the technical challenge, with a stacked cheesecake for the showstopper.

I made the signature challenge of creme brulee and used Mary Berry’s party size brulee recipe and halved it for our family.   I didn’t try adding fruit or alcohol, so having watched the programme, I think my job was easier (freeze your berries first advises 2011 Bake Off winner Jo Wheatley).Great British Bake Off Creme Brulee custardMy custard set well with the requisite wobble in the centre.   I initially adjusted my cooking time down as my brulee was smaller than Mary’s, but I ended up cooking for longer and even bumping up the temperature slightly to get the right consistency.   Stage one successfully completed and put to chill overnight in the fridge.Great British Bake Off Creme Brulee finishedMary’s recipe then said to grill with the demerara sugar topping for 20-25 minutes before chilling for between 5 and 10 hours.   Although she says to keep an eye on it, I thought to start checking around the 15 minute mark.   Eldest Craftyguidelet noticed the burning first after about 8 minutes.  Oops!   Despite some obvious burnt bits, it was still very nice, and the custard was smooth and creamy.   Definitely one to try again, perhaps with the control of a blow torch.

Next week is Alternative Ingredients week with sugar free cakes, gluten free pittas and dairy free ice cream rolls.   Gluten free baking is supposedly my home territory so the pressure is on!   Time to find a recipe.

Great British Bake Off – Bread

Great British Bake Off Baguette BreadUnfortunately I couldn’t watch the Bake Off live this week so I don’t know how the bakers got on with the challenges.   Looking at an episode write up, the 3 rounds were quick breads, baguettes and 3D bread sculptures.

I tend to try gluten free bakes so that Mr CG can help share the calorie load.   However I am yet to find a decent gluten free bread recipe that the gluten eating members of the family could enjoy, so on this occasion, the gluten stays.   I chose baguettes which was the technical challenge, and consulted Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake book for his recipe.Great British Bake Off Baguette bread doughThe dough came together well.   It was quite wet but that’s what Paul said it should be like so I didn’t argue.   I proved it in a square container as suggested, but then it came time to turn it out and form the baguettes.   The dough was still very sticky and I ended up with 4 slug shapes rather than baguette shapes.   After proving, it was difficult to score the dough, but I managed to ooze the loaves onto baking trays.Great British Bake Off Baguette bread slicedThey may not be perfectly formed, but they were lovely and crusty and great with some butter.    Big thumbs up from the Craftyguidelets!