Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Still plugging along...

I'm still at home babysitting the landscaper as he transforms our backyard/garden into a space we can not only use but are actually proud of. No small task, I can assure you... Before pics can be seen here.

Here are some pictures of the last few days of work...

Just this evening the paving stones were finished and pointed but there wasn't enough light left in the day to take a photo so I'm going to do another photo shoot this weekend. I can't wait! Next stage: Decking!

In other news; I'm working on some new projects that have sort of fallen into my lap and I'm excited about the prospects they bring. Here's a sneak peek...

Yes, those are old 45s! I found them next to our skip outside and rescued them from the landfill! They're badly treated and scratched. Totally unplayable but heck! I don't want to play them. I want to play with them!

I plan on transforming them from the shapes they are to some that are more form than function and some shapes that are both form and function!

(On a side note; whomever had these beauties as a similar taste in music to myself! It's all 80s/early 90s Pop... Right Said Fred, Spandau Ballet, The Human League, Prince, Paul McCartney to name but a few. And those are just the few with labels I could save! There's a ton of other ones just as impressive but, sadly, the labels didn't survive. (When I found them, they were so wet they were mouldy and stuck to their covers/each other. Ick.)

Look for them in my Etsy shop, soon! Hooray for Up-Cycling!

Also, I'm in the process of "finding" my sewing machine. It's not actually lost, it's more...hidden buried. It hasn't seen the light of day since I made my wedding dress a while back...

It will be nice to use it again. And boy, will I use it! To continue with the above theme of up-cycling and in the vein of organising my craft space/office/Geek Room I'm getting together all of the no-longer-wearable clothing I've accumulated over the last few years and will be making some cute bags from old jeans, saving them from the landfill, too! I can hardly wait but it is getting tricky trying to find enough hours in the day and days in the week to accomplish all that's spinning around in my little brain. At the moment I have lists. Lots and lots of lists!

One of the main things on that list is "What to bake next?!" I'm thinking I'll bake a vegan cornbread (largely because I know it will go well with the vegan Boston/New England Baked Beans). Do you have any suggestions of dishes you'd like to see me make (or attempt) to make vegan? I'd love to hear your ideas!

And then there's these yummies...

That's right! The now all-but-famous Mrs B bakes totally Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies! The recipe has been perfected, tested and approved and will be shared with you darlings very soon so "stay tuned" for that!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes

A week or so ago I envisaged gorgeous Carrot Cake Cupcakes so vividly that I dreamt about them. Twice. This meant I had to buy fresh carrots, of course, because summer is coming to an end and my favourite season is upon us.


Blissfully cool, sunny days. Chilly, clear nights. The smell of leaves, wood fires, cinnamon, pumpkin, maple syrup... Delicious.

I'm already jonesing for Pumpkin Pie, Mashes Potatoes with Gravy and a host of traditional Autumn/Thanksgiving treats that I can now no longer have. What a bummer. It doesn't take away my love for the season, though, because my taste buds aren't my only sense that is so gloriously engaged this time of year.

I can hear the kids giggling on the way to school in the mornings, I long for the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet, the sun caressing my face as the cool breeze ruffles my hair and am relaxed in the knowledge that it won't be long before they're here... bliss.

My "fresh" carrots weren't so and decided that they'd support their own little colonies (several of them) before their expiration date so they were sacrificed to the bin (cannot compost mouldy food!) and I felt quite disappointed.

What to do?? How on earth would I be able to cope without spicy cupcakes now that I'd so clearly been sent a sign that I needed them??

I couldn't. It's that simple. I had to have my fix! So I did a little deductive reasoning, a little chemistry, a little experimentation, a little praying, a little mixing, a little baking and a little sharing and what emerged is a tender little cupcake with wonderful textures. The sugar crystalises on the top, the fruit stays soft and moist, the cake fluffy and spicy. So, I now introduce (with full Mrs B bakes Taste-Tester approval, of course)...

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
(makes 12)

2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain/all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup soy yogurt (I used vanilla, if using plain; you might want to add a little more sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 coarsely grated apples (I used Granny Smith and the tanginess of the apples worked really well in this recipe. If using additional options below, reduce apple to 1 1/2 coarsely grated cups)

Optional: (If adding these options, reduce apple to 1 1/2 cups, coarsely grated apple)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 175° C (350° F) and line cupcake pan with liners.

In a bowl mix together sugar, oil, yogurt and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spices) into the same bowl and mix until no lumps remain. Stir in grated apple. (If using; also fold in walnuts and raisins.)

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake for 25-30 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted through the centre of one comes out clean. Try to choose a cupcake in the centre of your oven or in a known "cool spot".)

Remove from oven and place on rack and allow to cool completely. Frost generously with Vegan Cream Cheese frosting and voilĂ !

Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, softened
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners'/powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream together margarine and cream cheese until just blended (don't over mix). Using a hand-held mixer; whip margarine mix while adding the sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time. Mix until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and mix thoroughly. Keep tightly covered in the fridge until ready to use. (Handy hint: put frosting in a bowl and use plastic wrap to cover the frosting inside the bowl so that there's no space or air between the frosting and the plastic wrap. This will keep it from drying out and becoming crusty.

Now, what shall I make next, any suggestions?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

That's more like it...

Some of you know the trouble MrB and I have had with our backyard/garden. For those who don't: We've never really used it. I think we've sat out on a blanket on the grass on two separate occasions in the almost four years we've lived in this flat.

The main trouble was in that last sentence. There's -grass-. I'm very very allergic to grass pollen and being near a freshly mown lawn is quite problematic for me. For this reason, when we moved in, I asked MrB if we could get rid of the grass, deck it over or something because I wouldn't cut/mow it. It's not something I've ever done and something I'd rather not do, if I can help it. Especially on a weekly basis (or however often grass needs to be cut. See? I don't even know).

When we moved in in November 2006 the response I suggested decking over the garden and what I got was basically "no, no, no, I'll cut it. I'll be responsible for it. Don't worry. I don't want to deck it over."

OK, said I. Your deal. No problem. Problem solved.

Cut to August 2010 and this is what we were looking out at every time we lifted the blinds on the back doors...

The grass had been cut all of three times. With a weed whacker/strimmer. We own a lawnmower. A small, electric one. But it's never been out of the box. Ever. It's sitting under the stairs as I type, mocking me. The green tarp is there (in the garden, not under the stairs) because we were killing said demon grass and weeds because A. Year. Ago. I finally convinced MrB that decking the lawn would be best in the long run.

A. Year. Ago.

Just last month I finally got our bums in gear about getting someone to do the work we wanted done in the garden (are you sensing a theme, here? Read: Procrastination) and I spent two weeks sending and responding to emails that were bordering on the utterly ridiculous. One landscaping company wanted to charge ten to fifteen thousand Pounds to dig up what was in the garden and put some decking in after only seeing pictures of it, not knowing it's size! Another company had a much lower cost (about half of the low estimate) and even came out to see the space but every time I tried to ask specific questions about pricing for the extras we want (clothes line, shed for the bikes, etc) those questions weren't responded to in their return emails. Seriously? I'm asking specific questions and even outlining them for you and you completely leave them out of your reply? Thanks, but no thanks.

Anyway, the guy we chose to do the work not only answered all of our questions and gave a layered, detailed quote(s) but he was about half the price of the middle guy's estimate, too! Here's what he managed to get done after only about 3/4 of Day 1...

Amazing isn't it?! The only plants left are the ones we specified that we wanted to keep/had special plans for. I'm getting so excited.

I've also been working on things for my Etsy shop and have started my Winter Seasonal Celebration Cards (was that totally non-denominational, or what?!)...

I'm keeping it rather simple this year as last year I did cards that were very decorated and involved and I'm going for more ... how shall I put it... "reserved" this year. I'm also making twice as many as I ran out last year and that was quite annoying, especially considering how much I'd put into the ones that I did make.

The Mrs B bakes test kitchen is also working on a super new recipe for Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. Vegan, of course. (And the recipe is actually, technically, officially done, but I didn't take pictures of the test batch of cupcakes before they were devoured and I don't feel it would be fair to share a new recipe with you all without the accompanying, tempting photos!) So stay tuned for that! *grin*

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Added to the list of baddies...

As you probably know I am allergic/intolerant/sensitive to a plethora of foods which makes an "alternative" diet a bit tricky. IN an effort to streamline my life and make final decisions about what I can and cannot, will and will not eat; I dragged myself back to the allergy specialist for more testing on some foods I've been avoiding largely based on fear, cloudy childhood memories and a lack of willingness to test some of these foods and "fail" by having a potentially severe reaction.

I bought 7 tonnes of food, most of it dried, and brought the specialist The Sadist little sample bits of my fears.

After pricking my arms twelve times it was diagnosed that I am, indeed, severely allergic to some of the foods I was scared about. These are the culprits...

"Puy Style" Dark Speckled Green Lentils
Red Split Lentils
Brown Lentils
Green Lentils

Shall we just say .... all lentils? Grr, so frustrating.

On the other hand, we've learned that I'm -not- allergic to chickpeas, pine nuts, flax seeds, mung beans, aduki beans or millet!

(Sorry for the mush but the dried foods weren't conducive for testing as we couldn't guarantee that any of the allergen entered my skin. The mush ensured that it would.)

That's -fantastic- news but I must admit that some of those (along with the list of nuts OK'd at my last visit) I'm still afraid to eat because I've spent a lifetime avoiding them and thusly have almost brainwashed myself a bit. I -will- try them, I just need some time to convince myself that to do so will be OK ;)

**DISCLAIMER** I'd like to take a moment here to make this important PSA... Just because someone has a "negative" skin prick result (meaning that your skin isn't allergic to the allergen introduced) doesn't mean that you won't have something like OAS when you eat it. Consider yourselves warned/reminded.

I've been a busy little beaver doing all sorts of "chores" today... laundry, dishes, cooking two meals, assembling

and baking cookies!

Vegan Zucchini/Courgette Cookies
Stir together in a bowl:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup grated zucchini/courgette (I think I'll add a bit more next time)
1/2 cup canola/rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together in another sized bowl:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup raisins)

Preheat the oven to 350 F (150 C). Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. (Stir in the nuts and raisins.)

Drop spoonfuls of dough on parchment-/baking paper- lined baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove cookies and place on wire rack to cool.

Mine, pictured above, probably look a little darker than you'd prefer in a cookie. That's because I actually set my oven hotter (by about 50 degrees C) than I should. They still taste good (they're not burned) but I will make sure I check the required temperature versus the actual temperature of my oven next time!

After my adventures today I've declared the rest of the evening for knitting *grin*

Sunday, 5 September 2010

My Sunday in pictures

(I'm hoping to open my Etsy store finally tomorrow but I have about 98 photos to edit first!)