Wednesday, 29 October 2014

This is the date to bake a cake

Every day should be cake day, shouldn’t it? Well, if you have the need for some cake in your life, then this is the one for you.

 Sweet, caramel-y, moist and rich. Yes please.

 Easy to make. Yes please.

 Suitable for everyone, including vegans and gluten free folks. Yes please.

This amazing eggless date cake is easy to veganize as it needs no weird egg replacer and can be made with regular flour, but also works well with GF flour. Win-win.

I first saw this yesterday on one of the vegan blogs that I follow. She had gotten the link from this blog. The cake is naturally egg free and just by using plant based milk instead of cow’s milk could be easily converted. I tried it gluten free and it was perfect so I imagine regular flour would be just as amazing. I cut back on the oil and it was plenty moist. Next time I might even cut back on the sugar a bit as well.

Because you soak the dates to soften them you don’t need to pay high prices for expensive moist dates (Medjool I’m talking to you). I used halawi dates that I buy for £1 for 200g (about 27 dates) at Tesco. You could probably get by with using drier deglat noor dates and just soak them a bit longer.

Delicious Date Cake

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 square pan.

You need:

Roughly 18 dates, pitted. If they are big use less.

¾ cup milk of your choice (we used Oatly)

¾ cup sugar (I used Tate &  Lyle brown sugar with stevia--you can use half to get the same sweetness--I used 1/3 cup T&L)

1 cup all purpose flour (I used GF plus 1 tsp xanthan gum)

1 tsp baking SODA (not baking powder)

1/4 cup canola) oil (it is plenty moist with just ¼ cup oil. Original recipe called for ½ cup. Seriously. You don‘t need it. Use ¼ cup)

 1. Put your dates in the milk and warm the milk slightly on the stove top or microwave and let it sit for about 15 minutes to soften the dates.

2. Sift your flour and baking soda and xanthan gum (if GF) in a bowl.

3. Stir the sugar into the warm milk/date mixture and stir until it dissolves. Put the whole lot in the blender and blend until smooth.

4. Add the oil to the date puree and stir well to combine.

5. Slowly add your flour mixture 1 heaping TB at a time and stir. I know….that seems a bit of a faff. But trust me.

6. The batter will be VERY stiff. Resist the urge to add more liquid.

7. Spoon the stiff batter into your greased pan.

8. Bake for 30-40 minutes (mine was just right at around 32 minutes) or until a knife inserted in the cake comes out clean.

That’s it!

Look at the deep brown colour! See that sticky moistness! Taste that caramel-y goodness! It is a bit like sticky toffee pudding without the sticky toffee sauce on top. Okay, so maybe not much like sticky toffee pudding then.   

But what it is gorgeous.

 Make it for your vegan friends!

Make it for your gluten free friends!

Make it for anyone who likes cake!

Make it for yourself!

Make some for me!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Crafting on the Cheap

As I said before, I am one of those people who likes to make stuff and if I can make it for free or cheap my satisfaction doubles.

 Maybe even triples.

 Spiderman would say that my smugness quadruples.

 I love to make cards and send them to people through the post. This has been particularly important since our move to Wales. I have been a bit cut off and isolated since we arrived and sending and receiving mail has really perked me up.

 As we are on a budget (I have just applied with an agency who is helping me to get work in schools--I just haven’t started yet) I am always happy to get stuff for free or cheap.

 One thing that I have a large collection of is old, interesting cancelled postage stamps. These make great decorations for cards and ever so often I look though all my boxes of stamps and inevitably some leap out at me with a creative idea and I make them into cards. But is also nice to have some other bits and bobs to put on them.  

 Enter Pound Land. This is like the Dollar Store to my American peeps. We are lucky to have a Pound Land and 99p Store and a B&M Bargains in Carmarthen--all places where I have been able to buy stuff we need at a low price. B&M does a lovely large tub of cinnamon for 99p. But I digress.

At Pound Land I found all sorts of lovely crafty stuff for…well….a pound. Duh! The clue is in the name!
Look at these lovely Hessian (a.k.a. burlap or jute) flowers and butterflies! They came in muted tones as well as bright colours. Cost: £1 each

 I also found these little brown paper flowers which were perfect for enhancing old photos I have of Victorian ladies--a little 3D flower in their hair is very fetching. Cost: £1


Then there was this. It really is just offcuts from the paper industry which would have normally gone to waste. It is a bit cheeky to sell them since they are pure profit being waste products and all, but I was willing to overlook that. You had to look at each packet and choose ones that had colours that you liked, but it was a good mixture of card and paper--solids as well textured and printed designs.  


I got 38 big strips

39 medium strips

48 small strips

11 triangles

15 squares

8 whole sheets

 Cost: All that for £1!!!!

 This was great making cards as the strips were already a perfect size and neatly cut. I managed to make 27 cards so all I need is a reason to send them.

Well, all I actually need is to be able to afford stamps. They are outrageously priced!

But soon I’ll be working and have enough money for stamps.

So you might get some post.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Stop in the name of the door!

The door to our living room has a series of hooks that hold all of our coats. There are a lot of coats because you need light ones and heavy ones and waterproof ones and dry ones. Wales is pretty much cold and rainy at the moment. It is why the grass is so green. But all those heavy coats make the door creep forward and never stay where you want it.

 “What we need is bloody doorstop,” Spiderman muttered every single time he walked into the room. Cue crafty Spidergrrl.

 I am like that old Asian mother on the show Goodness Gracious Me who claims she can make everything at home for cheaper--usually involving a small aubergine (eggplant to my American peeps)

 I just *knew* I could make us a doorstop using things we had at home. The first thing I did was consult my friend Mr Google who led me to pages and pages of online tutorials for making your own doorstop.

 Some were easy but looked lumpy (any one that tried to make an owl somehow made it look like the owl was bloated and misshapen--not a look I was going for).

 Some were tricky and involved putting in a zipper. Not something I know how to do. 

 Then I found this one--it was easy and straightforward and quick. I could do it. Plus it was in the shape of a square based pyramid! 

I used my trusty old a-bit-William-Morris-style-left-over-curtains from the Quaker Meeting House which has made us a whole host of things including a cooking apron for me and a set of placemats and napkins as well as eight shopping bags which we sold to raise money for our peace worker we sponsored in Burundi.

 It was done within the hour.

All I had to buy was a 40p bag of value rice from Tesco.

 It was recommended to put the rice or dried beans in a plastic bag to prevent it getting wet or mouldy or critters getting into it. So I did. To be honest--the sewing bit was a piece of cake. The filling with rice bit was a faff. Can you see all the spilled rice in the picture?


Then all I had to do was sew up the opening and we were good to go. I used this really amazingly clear tutorial:  to sew a ladder stitch--you really couldn’t see the stitches!!  It looks gorgeous!!!

 Here it is holding the door open from one angle.

And here it is from another angle.

 See the cute little handle in case you should need to move it?

 And while I was on a sewing roll, I quickly whipped up a new case for my i-pod. I had made one previously, but the cords with the earbuds had to go round the outside of the cute little bag and were forever getting tangled and so I needed a cute little bag where the cords and earbuds could be protected by going inside the bag.


It is just a wee drawstring bag with a toggle closure. I used some other favourite curtain fabric for the exterior and then lined it with soft brushed cotton flannelette. Easy peasy lemon squeezy and it cost me nothing. Everything was stuff I had in my stash--fabric, ribbon and toggle.

 As for the doorstop--the cost was 40p for the rice.

 And a small aubergine.

 Just kidding.  



Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Nip in the Air

Autumn is definitely among us. There is a chill in the air and we have seen the leaves start to turn. We turned on the heat after getting *drenched* in a  seemingly endless freezing rain the other day. Yup, Autumn is definitely here.

We used to have a lovely wooden tree that was rather delicate that I used to decorate to celebrate each solstice (Summer and Winter) and each equinox (Spring and Autumn) because I like to keep up with the changing of the seasons and celebrate the wheel of the year, but also I just like to make stuff and decorate.

Sadly, as we were preparing to move it became abundantly clear that we could not take the wooden tree. It would never survive the move. It was too fragile. It wouldn’t fit into a box. All the bubble wrap in Arabia will not save this little tree (to paraphrase *very* loosely Lady MacBeth). So with a heavy heart I took it to a charity shop.

But we still wanted to do something to celebrate the seasons. Something big and something small. Something that didn’t take up much space, but something that filled up our lives.

Then it came to me. A tree doesn’t have to be 3D. A tree can be 2D. So I bought an inexpensive cork board and covered it with fabric I already had and made a felt tree and some seasonal leaves to go onto it.

click on it to see it in more detail.

I cleverly sewed thumbtacks into the back if it so that they would push into the cork without being seen. I was particularly proud of that idea.

It hangs on the landing and I can change the decorations for every season rather easily. That was the something small that didn’t take up much space bit. But what about the bigger, filling up our lives bit?

I have been thinking for a long time--what is the best bit about advent? For me, it is the ritual of reading a beloved seasonal poem as we sit down for a meal from December the first until Christmas. We have a running joke that I am going to sentimentally proclaim before every poem in a wistful voice, “Ohhh, this is one of my favourites!” Well of course it is. I chose all the poems so every one is a personal favourite!

So I decided to do the same for the other seasons. I would find a poem a day to read to count toward the solstice or equinox and I had better get cracking as September was only a few weeks away when I decided to do this so I searched and compiled a lovely list of poems and printed them off.   

It was a rousing success. It was a lovely, quiet moment before a meal to share some beautiful words and set our hearts towards the changes that lay ahead.

I leave you with my favourite poem (the favourite of the favourites, as it were) by Carl Sandburg.


I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper
Sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes,
New beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind,
And the old things go, not one lasts.

Happy Autumn everyone!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

This is the way we wash our clothes

Everybody sing:

This is the way we wash our clothes,

Wash our clothes,

Wash our clothes.

This is the way we wash our clothes

Early in the morning!

 Do you remember that song from your nursery days? It sure comes in handy these days.

 When we were flat hunting for our move to Wales, we were on a budget and nearly everything we looked at was small and expensive. Enter the amazing flat--affordable, large and spacious (though slightly wonky) but it had one drawback.

 A big drawback.

 There isn’t a washing machine.

 But Spidergrrl, why don’t you just save up and buy a washing machine?

 Ah. But there’s the bigger drawback.

 There aren’t any pipes for a washing machine. You need water pipes that hook the washing machine into the plumbing in order to wash….and there ain’t any.

 I’ll admit when I first found that out I wanted to cry. There is a launderette right across the street that we could use, but it is frightfully expensive.  But actually the solution is fairly simple.

 We wash by hand. Not everything. Just our smalls (underwear, socks) and maybe a tea towel or kitchen wipe up cloth or a shirt. But we do wash every day.

 Once every three weeks we go to the launderette and wash and dry towels, sheets and Spiderman’s heavy trousers  at the cost of £10. But every day we wash the previous day’s stuff.

 It is not as horrible as it sounds. The soaking takes the most time and the actual washing bit takes about 20-30 minutes depending on how much there is to be washed. Through trial and error (and with a bit of specialist equipment) we have it down to a science.

See the yellow bathtub?

1) First, after our morning baths we put the clothes on to soak in the red bucket. I fill the bucket about half full of hot water and add one capful of Bio-D eco liquid detergent and give it a bit of a swish to activate the bubbles. Leave to soak  until the late afternoon or evening. We tried using our beloved soapnuts for this--but they don’t like soaking for so long. They leave a weird musty smell in the water so we save the soapnuts for the trips to the launderette.

Always wear rubber gloves to protect your hands

2) When we are ready to wash I go at it with the my trusty potato masher. This is the first agitation cycle. Just pound up and down 50 times (or for one verse of the Blaydon Races) and watch the bubbles reactivate.

3) Empty the bucket into the tub and you will notice that the water is very grey.

This is because dirt had come off the clothes as well as the fact that our clothes are all dark. We gave up whites years ago--you had to do them in a separate load and they never looked clean enough without toxic bleach. So now all our smalls are dark.

4) Now comes the scrubbing bit. I use some gentle olive oil soap and 79p scrub brush and scrub the dirtiest areas of clothes--crotches, armpits, collars and soles of socks as well as any stains on tea towels (there are often red paprika or yellow turmeric spice stains on towels)

5) Put all the soapy clothes back in the red bucket and repeat step 2. Agitate again with the potato masher 50 times (or the second verse of the Blaydon Races) then drain into the tub.

6) Using special gadget number two: the industrial squeeze-y mop bucket. This is great for helping to wring the water out. Squeeze soapy water out and put clothes back in red bucket. This really does help with the final rinse cycles --if you squeeze soapy water out then you only need to rinse twice (not three times).

Can you see the keyhole tattooed on the back of my neck?

7) Put all the clothes back in the red bucket and cover with water again. Give it a good ole swish about with your hands to release any soap. You will see some bubbles at this point. Drain the bucket again and refill for the last time with clean warm water.

I store my vinegar in a squeeze-y ketchup bottle
8) I add a few squirts of orange vinegar (white vinegar that has had orange peel soaked in it for 2 weeks)  to the last rinse as a fabric softener and a rinse aid. It really does help get the last bit of soap out and the orange adds a more pleasant smell than plain white vinegar. The smell completely dissipates as it dries but the orange adds just a bit of sunshine to it.  Give it a good ole swish round.

9) Drain the bucket for the last time and use your industrial mop bucket to squeeze as much water as you can. I’ll be honest--I had hoped it would wring ‘em dry, but it doesn’t. But as the wringing is the worst part it does take a LOT of the worst bit out of it. In the beginning BB (Before Bucket) I had to wring everything 10-15 times and it would still be dripping and I’d have to blot it all with towels and then we had all these wet towels all over the place and it took bloody ages and I was cross and exhausted. Now, I wring as much as I can using the bucket, shifting stuff around and giving it another press can really get more water out, and then finish by hand wringing in the sink.

You don’t need to wring much--maybe five more squeezes--and no blotting with a towel unless it is a big heavy item like a t-shirt.

10) Then set up your clothes horse (drying rack) in the tub and hang stuff to dry. I leave it until bedtime and then we take it out of the tub and put it by the dehumidifier. In the morning I flip everything so it can dry evenly and by the next evening it is dry and ready to be put away.


That’s it! It really goes pretty quickly and we make sure never to overload the bucket--the more that stuff that has to overlap when drying, the more time it takes to dry.

How clean is our stuff? Very.

How dirty was our stuff to begin with? Probably not very.

 So it stands to reason it would come out rather clean. I can’t say this would work for a large family or someone with kids who got muddy, but for two fairly clean adults, it works a treat.

 I would also say that washing by hand cleans Spiderman’s shirts better than machine washing --the collars are no longer grubby. Like those old 70’s adverts for Wisk --(google this if you don't know what I mean)  a bit of scrubbing on the “ring around the collar” does wonders. 

 How hard is it to do? Not very. I’ve got into a routine and it is saving us mega money --imagine if we had to spend £10 EVERY weekend at the launderette.

 No thanks. That idea won’t wash with me.