Making a change and going through the change!

Hi all. Firstly I hope everyone is keeping safe and well. Fingers crossed we will eventually be able to resume a normal social life but for now the internet is our master!

Four years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. It didn’t come as too much of a shock as both my parents and grandparents were all diabetic. I was disappointed that I had also contributed to the condition through my love of all things sweet but I think some part of me conceitedly thought I might escape for some reason. My GP gave me the news, handed me an info-book and sent me on my way. I was in denial for a few months, not really knowing enough about the condition to act on my diagnosis. I spoke to a nurse who told me not to eat anything white carb-wise, only brown rice, pasta, bread etc. I made a few tweaks to my diet but it didn’t really sink in for over a year. I took my medication, went for my check-ups and carried on as normal but in the back of my mind I worried about my long term health.

During my last check-up the nurse informed me that my HB1Ac, the measure of glucose in my blood was at an all time high and that my medication was no longer controlling it. She gave me three choices. I could change my medication and try something different. I could apply for stomach surgery or I could sign up for a new trial diet programme run by NHS dieticians which runs over a year and aims to put diabetes into remission. I chose the first and third options, changing to a slow-release Metformin and agreeing to be considered for the diet. I was referred to the dieticians and, thankfully, accepted onto the Counterweight programme. Our group was due to start in the Spring, with twice weekly meetings for support. The first part of the plan is a twelve week total meal replacement phase. Basically it is 800 calories per day, taken in shakes and soups. No food at all. This would hopefully result in a dramatic weight loss and remission of the diabetes. We would then follow a strict food-reintroduction phase and be followed up over the next nine months to increase our chances of staying in remission and ultimately coming off our medication. The pandemic delayed the start but eventually 10 guinea pigs began our ‘journey’ in July, with the meetings taking place remotely on Teams.

This is not a diet for the faint-hearted. It is tough, and made all the more difficult by the fact that I make cakes for a living! The first week was hell on earth. Well, actually the first three days were fine. I cheerfully threw myself into it, revelling in my new found sense of achievement. We set up a group chat on WhatsApp so that we could all compare notes and provide support to each other and it has become invaluable, there is always someone on hand who knows exactly what you are going through and can be your cheerleader when you need it most and when your family members are fed up of you constantly being hangry!

Day three was the worst. Side effects that we had all been warned about kicked in with a savage, non-stop barrage of headaches, dizziness, energy-sapping body blows and rage. I ended up storming off to bed at 8pm when a cooking programme started on the television and I had the strongest urge to put my foot through the screen! The following day I felt better, my headache had subsided to a dull ache and as I sipped my first shake of the day I realised that I had a long way to go and would have to woman-up. This brings me to my second ‘change’ of the year, The Change. One of the reasons I found it so hard to lose weight and general bringer of misery. I have had some tell tale signs of menopause rearing its ugly head for a few years now. I don’t think I’m even properly ‘in it’ yet, which is scary, but something is definitely happening to my body. My inner thermostat is faulty, my skin thinks I’m a teenager again and don’t even get me started on my hair! And I seem to have developed a wobbly rubber ring around my middle which will not shift. This of course all points to disaster when you are a diabetic. I have tried several diets since I was diagnosed. The Keto diet, Paleo, intermittent fasting. I lose a bit of weight at the beginning then I plateau and no matter what, my stubborn middle-aged body refuses to relinquish any more and eventually I give up and eat a slice of cake. I mean, I have given birth to three children, my body is no longer producing viable eggs, why do I now have to endure years of shrivelling up and drying out before I can officially enter old-age? Why does it not all just fall out of the obvious orifice and let me go back to who I was in my early forties? It took me so long to find that self-assured, confident woman, finally breaking free of the shackles of hands-on motherhood and able to discover herself again, then as late forties approached the wheels started to wobble. So before they fall off completely I am determined to regain some control, put my diabetes on hold and feel healthier again.

I am currently in my ninth week of the liquid diet. Three more weeks to go before I can finally introduce a little normal food. I have mostly followed the plan carefully, although I have to admit there have been times when the odd spoonful of something may have fallen into my mouth. A furtive bite of bread, a tiny bite of my grandsons fish finger and once, in desperation I may have sucked the flavour off a few crisps! One of the women in my group said that she puts salt and vinegar onto a spoon and if she closes her eyes it tastes like she is eating a chip. I’m not convinced but twelve weeks is a long time and we are all doing what we can to survive. I had a proper meltdown at the beginning of this week when I got on the scales and I hadn’t lost any weight in two weeks. Not a single ounce. The same kilo had gone off and back on again for 14 days. I told the group I was throwing in the towel, cried for forty minutes and ate the pastry off a large pork pie (I never eat the meat, jelly urgh) It was a bleak day, but by the evening I was at the virtual meeting and everyone was so lovely, reassuring me that I had already lost almost ten percent of my body weight and four inches off that pesky rubber ring round my middle. The following day I started with a clean slate, a few coping mechanisms up my sleeve, and I feel positive that I can finish the programme and get rid of this horrible condition for good. One thing is for sure, however rocky the road might be, if I get there I’m never ever going back!

Thanks for reading. xx

Adapting

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We have all had to learn to adapt. This pandemic has meant getting used to a new ‘normal’. Everyone has been affected in some way. Some people have lost their jobs, some have still not been able to return to work, some are still shielding even as lockdown rules ease a little. Protecting each other has always been the priority. We have lost so many lives worldwide but I believe we will come out of all this as better people, with a greater appreciation of our ability to adapt.

After recovering from the virus earlier in the year I was a bit lost. I had just started baking for a local cafe which then closed and work dried up. I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to rely on the business to pay my bills but I still worried that people would forget me. And the thought of facing months on end with nothing to do was really scary!      Initially I signed up for a free Open University course in creative writing. It gave me something to focus on and I hoped it might help me finish my novel. Then, in late April, my niece Christie asked me if I could do an afternoon tea for my sister-in-laws birthday. I agreed and set about planning a complex menu. I went all out, making fresh cream eclairs and luscious lemon drizzle cake, light fluffy scones and dainty finger sandwiches. I also loaned them some of my china to serve it on. My sister in law absolutely loved it, my niece took lots of photos and shared them on her social media pages. A little seed was planted in my mind.

I am a member of a local Facebook group which is really useful for recommendations of good places to eat, reliable tradesmen, basically anything you might need to know in our area. On the first of every month you can advertise your business in the group, which has a large following. I had been using it as a platform for Teacups and Sugar Lumps, so on the 1st of May at about 10am, whilst I was drinking tea in my pyjamas,  I posted a few pictures of my tea boxes on the group. The response was immediate and totally unexpected. Within the first hour I was inundated with messages via my website, Facebook and Instagram. I watched in amazement as over 200 emails came in, all enquiring about afternoon tea. After a while I began to panic as I physically couldn’t answer all the messages. I phoned my daughter who is an admin on my website and she began answering Facebook messages as I tackled the emails coming through the website. By the evening I had a notebook full of bookings all scribbled down in no particular order and I felt totally overwhelmed. I woke up the next morning and more enquiries had come in overnight so I knew I had to get myself organised or I would drown.

I bought a proper diary with a whole page for each day and copied all the bookings into it from my rough notes. Once this was done I felt so much better because I could see exactly what I had booked in. By the end of the day I had caught up with all the outstanding messages and planned a menu. I made things harder for myself by deciding to offer a choice of sandwich fillings and cakes but I wanted these teas to be memorable. Many customers were ordering them for birthdays and special occasions so I was determined that they would be luxurious. At the start I had some problems getting all the ingredients I needed and managing deliveries of packaging etc. Grocery supplies were inconsistent and even my trusty Amazon could not always supply what I needed at short notice.

For three months now I have been delivering afternoon teas to the people of Reading. I have met some wonderful people, from a safe distance always, and played some part in their special occasions, from birthdays to Zoom baby showers to cancelled weddings, I have supplied lovely food when going out to celebrate was not possible and it has been an honour. I’m exhausted, it has been a steep learning curve, but I’m proud that I managed to keep my business going and even grow it a little. I took the decision to hire a graphic designer to make me a proper logo and she did an amazing job. Now, as lockdown eases and people can go out to eat the orders are slowing down but luckily the Farm cafe has reopened and I am in discussions about supplying cakes for them again so I’m sure my hiatus will not last long. For now I am enjoying being able to look after my grandson again while his mum gets back to work!

I have lots more news to tell you but it wouldn’t fit into one post so I will write more another time.

Thanks for reading. xx

 

Fighting Covid-19

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I was self-isolating long before Boris Johnson put us all on lockdown. Shortly before my birthday earlier this month I developed a dry cough and a slightly tight chest. As I usually suffer from hay fever when the Spring blossom comes out I assumed this was what was happening and began using my nasal spray. I made sure everyone stayed away just in case. Mother’s Day came and went without a visit from my kids or grandson and the cough worsened. My husband began to have flu-like symptoms with a fever. Although he suffers from asthma he didn’t experience any breathing problems but he was confined to the sofa for a few days which is very unlike him.

After about five days of continuous coughing and breathlessness I was quite unwell. I had horrible back pain from the coughing and the glands in my neck were swollen. I lost all sense of taste and smell, in fact I haven’t yet recovered these. I suffered stomach pains and I struggled to take a deep breath. The only way I can describe it is that its like having a huge bulldog clip clamped onto the bottom half of my lungs, preventing me from doing more than taking small sips of air. At night this was particularly bad meaning that I had to doze sitting almost upright. Big began to feel much better after a week or so and resumed working from home, but he is still not completely recovered.

I have not been outside the house for weeks now. My daughter has been doing our shopping for us and leaving it on the doorstep. A few days ago I woke up feeling brighter and decided to do some light housework but after about an hour I was exhausted. I spoke to my mum on the phone that evening and told her I thought I was over the worst but a few hours later I was running a fever and the cough was back with a vengeance, only this time it was chesty and more painful than ever. This was accompanied by flu-like symptoms of a snotty nose and achey limbs. I am now more than two weeks in with what I am assuming is Coronavirus, though I have not been tested. I am concerned about the tightness in my chest getting worse, especially as I am diabetic. Thankfully no one else in the family is unwell as yet. I hope it is not too much longer before I start to recover and I sincerely hope that you are all keeping well and coping with this unprecedented situation.

Thanks for reading. xx

A Brand New Adventure

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Ok, I have a very good reason for being away for so long. I’d had enough of plodding along with the odd china hire booking here and there. I wanted more. Much more. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and put myself out there. I’m not the most confident of people as you know, I find social situations difficult to say the least, so I started off by looking up all the local cafes, farm shops and markets I could find and writing emails to them all. Initially I had some interest from a newly opened cafe just down the road. I sent her some pictures of my work and provided her with some prices. I had made a gender reveal cake to photograph for my social media pages and since no one at home wanted to eat it I offered it to the cafe as a free sample. While delivering the cake I met with the owner for a chat and she explained that although she would love to support a local baker, it was difficult to buy homemade cakes at a low enough price to make a good margin. I got what she was saying. She could buy from catering companies at a much lower cost as their products are produced in bulk. She later sent me a message saying that my cake was delicious which is always reassuring to hear.

A few days later I had a reply from the manager of a cafe situated inside a farm shop. I have been to the shop a few times but had always found the cafe too busy to get a table. The manager Sarah wanted to set up a meeting so I put my brain to good use and came up with selection of original recipes to take with me. The cafe is very busy as I have mentioned so it was a few weeks before we got an opportunity to meet. Sarah was impressed with the look of all the cakes, one was a Hummingbird cake which had no refined sugars. It was sweetened with Agave which is a natural syrup derived from a plant. After a positive meeting Sarah emailed me to say that she had sat down with her head chef and they had tasted all the cakes. They loved them but the costings I had given her didn’t give her a big enough margin. We then went back and forth with numbers until finally we agreed on a mutually acceptable arrangement. At one point I was convinced it would not happen and I was incredibly stressed but I kept myself busy as much as I could.

Now I can finally tell people my news. From Friday I will be supplying the cafe with cakes and I couldn’t be happier. To see people enjoying my cakes in such a lovely bustling environment will be joyous. And perhaps it will get my name out there, bringing more work my way. I’ll keep you posted about how it all goes.

Thanks for reading. xx

Success at last!

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Hi there fellow bloggers! I have not written a post for a while, apologies. Things here have been a bit hectic. I have been booked to do a big fayre in May and every waking moment has been spent planning the menu, thinking about how best to lay out my stall and stressing about all of the above! I am the lone baker in my little business so there is only so much I can produce from my kitchen. I plan to start in April and bake every day, freezing what I can in advance then finishing it all off at the last minute. My sister will be helping on the day but until then its just me.

A few weeks ago I heard from a childhood friend that she had sadly been diagnosed with kidney cancer. She is younger than me, fit and healthy and had no worrying symptoms. A chance remark to her doctor about having had several urine infections that year prompted a precautionary ultrasound examination and biopsy and in the New Year she had the kidney removed. Thankfully she is recovering well and tests have shown that the cancer did not spread so hopefully she will be able to live a normal life but it makes you think, doesn’t it? I wanted to do something more than just a personal donation on my friends JustGiving page so I have pledged a portion of the proceeds from the fayre to Kidney Cancer UK who were apparently a lifeline after her diagnosis. This has added even more pressure to succeed but I am happy to be contributing to such a good cause.

I’ve been baking regularly this year, at times I have so much cake that I am forcing it onto friends and neighbours as my family cannot eat it all. I’ve talked before about my regret at not being able to master macarons. Well, my youngest son gifted me a voucher for Christmas which enabled me to attend a Macaron Masterclass run by a local company. I was so excited that I jumped around the room a bit! The classes are very popular but I managed to get a place on a course after a cancellation so at the end of January I went along for my first ever baking class. There were ten “students” altogether, all of mixed ages and abilities, including two French ladies who admitted to eating many macarons but being unable to make them, much like myself.

The class started with a demonstration and as I watched these tricky little meringue biscuits being made I could see immediately where I had been going wrong. There is so much more to macaron making than merely following a recipe. The technique is equally important in achieving good results. After the demonstration it was our turn to recreate the recipe from memory, with the two teachers on hand to help if needed. I made lilac coloured shells and once they were all in the oven we took a short break for refreshments, tea and of course, freshly baked macarons which were divine, before heading back to the kitchen to talk fillings. Everybody’s shells had come out really well, I was so pleased as my previous attempts had never looked as good as these beauties! It really is about knowing a failsafe recipe and a few secret techniques. I chose to fill my shells with blackcurrant flavoured buttercream in a matching lilac colour. Then all too soon it was time to pack up our wares and head home. The following day I made coffee and chocolate flavoured macarons and they were even better than the ones I made in class. Since then I have made several more batches, experimenting with different flavours and colours and they have all worked perfectly. I am so grateful to my son for buying me that voucher and enabling me to finally crack macarons!

Thanks for reading. xx

Looking Forward

I’ve just realised that I have not posted in a while. The whirlwind of Christmas cake orders and family celebrations have left me with no time to sit and write. Now I have space in my schedule to plan this year and how I can build on my business. I have already agreed to do a local fayre in the Spring and I have some new bookings coming in for parties so things are looking good. Hopefully I will have time in the next few weeks to try a few new recipes and share the results with you.

Thanks for reading. xx

Aiming high

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Me again. The hotly anticipated kitchen inspection happened on Wednesday. I was incredibly nervous and barely slept the night beforehand. A member of the Food Safety team put me through my paces. She was very thorough, and rightly so. She checked all my baking ingredients for unregulated colourings, expiry dates and storage methods. She grilled me on my working methods, how I deal with the dangers of allergens and what I know about preparing food safely. She checked that the cleaning products I use conform with the current standards and she inspected my written records to ensure I have been keeping them up to date. Eventually she awarded me a five rating, the top score you can be given and told me that everything was perfect. I was elated. I have always believed that if I decide to do something I will do it to the best of my ability so only the highest score would have been acceptable.

So, onwards and upwards. I have the green light to get this business off the ground and I am so excited for the upcoming year. Fingers crossed I will get the chance to show people the passion I have for baking and hosting wonderful events.

Thanks for reading. xx

I believe the children are our future.

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I am really enjoying Junior Bake Off. It is so much more enjoyable to watch than the adult version for a few reasons.

1. The kids are not only very talented bakers, they are completely transparent by nature. When they are under pressure they show it, when they are confused the audience can almost see the cogs in their brains trying to work it out. When they are voted out they cry. They are not afraid to show their true emotions and that is really endearing. I think this is why Rahul was so popular in the GBBO. His childlike naivety made us all feel protective towards him and so we naturally rooted for his success.

2. Although each child wants to win, their competitive natures are still overridden by their need to help others. When a contestant is struggling the others automatically rally round, comforting the distressed child and reassuring them, while making sure they have something to put up at the end. It restores my faith in humanity. These kids are all striving towards the ultimate prize, winning the coveted trophy, but they drop everything and help out when someone in the group is in trouble. Brilliant.

3. Liam Charles. He’s just a natural around the kids. He offers constructive criticism and sound advice and the delight on his face when he tastes something delicious is wonderful. I also think that he brings out the best in Prue who can sometimes be a little stiff and proper.

4. Harry Hill. Enough said.

Liam and Prue do not go any easier on the contestants because they are children. Some of the technical challenges are fiendishly tricky, and yet the kids seem to come up trumps every time, even if they are trying to make something they have never even heard of. And the showstoppers. The unlimited imaginations of these bakers have inspired me to try and think more like a child when I’m designing my own creations. I don’t generally flap when things go wrong in the kitchen. When I am baking I’m in my comfort zone, I know how to fix things and if I can’t, I start again until I get it right. The kids on Junior Bake Off are amazing resilient too. When Eliza’s Italian meringue buttercream wasn’t coming together quickly enough, she switched to a normal buttercream and got the job done on time. When Tom’s caramel crystallised into one big lump, he scrapped it and started again. These young people are truly amazing. I wish I had been half as talented as them at their age and I just know that they are all going to make inspirational adults. I haven’t finished watching the series yet so I don’t know who won but they are all winners in my eyes.

Thanks for reading. xx