5 ways to beat a creative slump.

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We’ve all been there. You’re just about to start or are already in the middle of doing something crafty and all of a sudden it just feels like a chore,  before you know it your absent mindedly muddling through, making silly mistakes and practically ruining what should be something great.

Well here are my top five tips for beating that slump and getting yourself back on your way to completing awesome projects.

1. Stop. Stop whatever you are doing. Go make a tea/coffee/glass of wine. Watch an episode of Friends, fold some washing. Just do anything but your craft half heartedly. You’ll come back re-energised after a little break.

2. Go outside. The outdoors is an entire world of inspiration – litterally. Go for a walk, somewhere scenic where you can gaze at the natural beauty surrounding you, fresh air is proven to re-fresh and there WILL be something that catches your eye and helps push an idea you didn’t even realise you had stored.

3. Use pinterest. Make an inspiration board. Remember to pin everytime an image inspires you, no matter how random.

4. Ignore what others are doing. Creativity is a personal experiance. Do yourself a favour and keep it that way, copying is a disservice to your individual brilliance.

5. Have other outlets. I love sewing, but sometimes when i’m feeling crafty I just don’t want to sew. So instead i’ll go and tackle another project. I’ll make something new & delicious for us to eat or tackle a project I’ve had planned for the house. Creativity comes in a million and one different forms & you’re allowed to have more than one outlet.

creativity

Robyn,

The little woman pretends.

 

 

Sticky lemon drizzle cake.

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It’s May bank holiday weekend, there really isn’t a better time to bake a cake. And nothing says summer like this delicious sticky lemon drizzle cake. Its my all time favourite. I like it the day after its been made when the lemon sugar syrup has stuck with the icing sugar topping, a sweet & tangy crunch to go with this light and airy sponge. Beautiful.

If you’d like to have a go at making the sticky lemon drizzle cake here is what you’ll need.

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– 225g softened butter
– 225g White sugar
– 4 lemons
– 4 medium eggs
– 200g self-raising flour
– 2.5g Baking powder
– 50g icing sugar plus a little extra for dusting.

 

You’ll also need: 

– An electric mixer/ or hand whisk.

– Cake tin

–  weighing scales

– large bowl.

 

Heres what you do:

 

1. Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.

2. Butter and line the base of your cake tin.

3. Put all of your ingredients (but NOT your icing sugar or lemons) into your large bowl and whisk together until light and airy.

4. Zest your lemons

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5. Squeeze the juice from all of your lemons into a bowl.

6. Add 3/4 of the lemon juice and all of your lemon zest to the cake mixture. Fold until thoroughly combined.

7. Spoon into the prepared cake tin

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8. Place on the middle shelf and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

9. whilst waiting for your cake to bake mix together the remaining lemon juice and your icing sugar to make a zingy syrup.

10. Once your cake is done, you can tip it out of your tin and onto your cake stand. using a knife or skewer, poke holes throughout the top of the cake.

11. Drizzle your lemon syrup over the top of your warm cake, it may pool at first, but give it a minute and it will all sink in.

12. Dust icing sugar over the top while the cake is still warm. If you want to make a pretty pattern on the top, you can place a biscuit cutter on the cake before sprinkling over the icing sugar, once you lift it off you’ll have a lovely cut out.

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And thats it, your sticky lemon drizzle cake is ready to eat.

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The perfect afternoon treat to go with a cup of tea.

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I hope you’re all enjoying the bank holiday weekend!

Robyn,

The little woman pretends.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing chocolate chip cookies -Every time!

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I was supposed to put this recipe up last weekend, i’m slightly behind schedule as always!

But here it is anyway & I promise, its is so worth the wait.

This recipe will give you perfect, crisp on the outside, soft, gooey chocolate chip goodness on the inside – cookies. Its tried and tested a thousand times over and never once has this recipe failed me.

First up a few notes. I use a method (not the recipe) I discovered from Ina Garten -The barefoot contessa for anyone familiar with the food network- and i’ve found this to be the best/least messiest way of making cookies. This method requires you to freeze your dough before cooking, doesn’t have to be completely frozen 4-6 hours will do, but I always make the cookie dough the day before I need them so they have plenty of time to harden. The bad thing  about this is you don’t get cookies right away, the fantastic thing is you can make up a gigantic batch in one go, and you always have cookie dough in the freezer for when you fancy a treat.

So now we’ve covered that, here’s the info.

These quantities will make roughly 24 cookies.

What you’ll need:

  • 250g plain flour.
  • 2.5g Baking powder
  • 2.5g salt.
  • 170g butter.
  • 200g soft brown sugar.
  • 100g caster sugar.
  • 5g vanilla paste. (optional)
  • 2 eggs – using only 1 yolk.
  • 325g milk chocolate chunks/smarties/white chocolate. all depending on what sort of cookies you want to make.

 

Here’s what you need to do first.

  1. Sift together the flour, salt & bi-carb before setting aside.
  2. In another bowl cream together the butter, brown sugar and caster sugar.
  3. Beat the vanilla, egg & egg yolk into the sugar/butter until light and creamy.
  4. Empty in the dry ingredients and chocolate chunks before mixing.
  5. Spoon the mixture into a sausage shape onto onto a sheet of greaseproof paper.
  6. Roll up the mixture and scrunch the edges together.
  7. Place in the freezer for 4-6 hours – or longer (overnight is best).

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*You can keep your dough wrapped up in your freezer for up to 6 months – realistically its never going to last that long so  don’t worry about that.

And here’s how to bake your cookies.

  1. Preheat oven to gas mark 3.
  2. Slice through the cookie roll making disks.
  3. Place the disks on greaseproof paper on a baking tray & bake for 15-17 mins or until the edges are lightly toasted.
  4. Leave to cool.

*If your doing more than one batch and need your tray, simply lift the greaseproof paper up and off (carefully) and lay a new sheet on your tray for your new batch. Your cookies will be incredibly soft (not to mention scalding hot) so don’t touch them until they have cooled.

 

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Easy as that! As I said, you can keep your cookie dough wrapped up in your freezer, simply slice of a disk when you fancy a cookie.

Enjoy!

Robyn,

The little woman pretends.

Mischa’s Birthday Party : Photo diary.

Our Darling girl turned four last week. Four! Where on earth did those years go? Little background on Mischa’s birth: I fell pregnant whilst we where based in Cyprus. Mid pregnancy  we were posted to Germany & two weeks after we arrived I went into pre-term labour. I lay aching on the sofa all day whilst Sam was at work, thinking I had the flu. I didn’t have the flu. I was having a baby -kind of a massive difference-  Mischa Alexandra Elizabeth was born on March 11th 2011 at 11.34pm in the Gilead hospital, Bielefeld, Germany. Weighing a tiny 1lb 8 oz. She battled daily & finally on June 2nd 2011, she was allowed home. That was a truly amazing day!

Now we have an actual child, she’s clever, kind, compassionate yet so brutally honest, she has a ridiculously good memory & can be terrifyingly bossy.

She’s been talking about her birthday since last november, and every day since.

I booked a local community centre hall, and kept the invites to a minimum, I thought about inviting every kid she knew (60+ invites) but I wanted it to be a bit more of a family occasion.  And the less people invited the more I could focus on giving her party more of a personal/handmade touch rather than have to buy everything.

I made her outfit.

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Made sweetie cones instead of the usual plastic toy filled goodie bags.

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Obligatory party jelly!

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I had my best friends mum (who also happens to be an amazing cake maker) make up Mischa’s cake, plus 24 mini cupcakes – because there’s just no such thing as too much cake!

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I spent the morning before her party making up fresh baked batches of Smartie cookies. (Recipe for that will be up this evening – guaranteed chewy, chocolate- chipped goodness every time!)

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And finally I rounded up a few of my nearest & dearest to help set up – because by this point I had spent two full days prepping, I was tired and had about half an hour to get everything ready before her everyone came.

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I even managed to persuade everyone to jump in for a group photograph before it was over!

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Everyone had an amazing day, I sent away lots of sugar filled children, weary adults and then set about the big clean up. It wasn’t so bad, I had limitless tea & complete silence.

But most importantly, Mischa had the best time ever, and even now nearly a week later she still tells me how much she enjoyed her special day.

Robyn,

The little woman pretends.

Real chicken gravy – 5 easy steps.

chicken gravy

Happy Sunday!

Here in the Swain house we love Sundays. The door doesn’t get unlocked, pyjamas stay on, the TV shows a constant run of family friendly box sets and films (Modern Family & Harry potter being our favourite), we spend the whole day relaxing, just being, free of any stress that comes from having a busy family life.

My favourite part of our Sunday is the Dinner. A traditional roast dinner, Roasted meat, slow cooked over 3 hours, crispy Yorkshire puddings, steamed veg, fluffy roast potatoes and my favourite part?.. Homemade Gravy.

I think one of the greatest things I ever taught myself was how to make real gravy, its ridiculously easy and honestly, you will never go back to the instant stuff after tasting your homemade version.

Now I must admit I have never actually measured everything out & the amount of meat juices you get relys soley on the amount of meat you roast. So a few things before we begin, your meat needs skin/fat. I add oil anyway but for the flavour to be there your meat needs a lovely thick layer of skin.

I am going to give you the recipe for Chicken gravy- my favourite!! – but its easily adaptable for other meats

-If I want a Beef gravy I use a few glugs of Worcester sauce instead of marmite.

-And for Lamb I replace the marmite with a bit of port.

 

So here’s what you’ll need:

-Marmite, roughly two teaspoons.

– Chicken fat, as much as you can get from a roasted chicken, one small mug of fat gives me enough for a full boat of gravy.

-Plain Flour, two tablespoons.

-Pepper, to personal taste, so it can be as much or little as you like.

-Boiling water, again this depends solely on how thick or thin you like your gravy to be.

 

And here are the five easy steps to making up the best gravy you’ll ever taste.

1.First up, Remove your roasted chicken out of the tray, place on a plate, wrap it in tin foil to keep warm.

2. Add your marmite to the fat in the roasting tray, placing your tray over two hobs  & turn on the heat to low.

3. When your fat/marmite mixture starts to sizzle add your flour and whisk furiously. You want a  a very thick, dark paste.

4. It’s at this point you start to slowly add boiling water. Make sure you whisk throughout until your gravy is the perfect consistancy- this varies, some like it thin, some like it thick, but remember the more water you add the more you are diluting the flavour, so dont make it too thin.

5. And finally, once your gravy has been whisked to perfection, you can add your pepper to taste.

Voila… Chicken gravy!

It really is as easy as that. I always expected it to be difficult somehow, using the ‘just add water’ variety always seemed easier, but I can honestly say I never use that powdered stuff anymore, I always have a small tub of the homemade stuff in the freezer that can be quickly defrosted and used for a mid-week meal.

Happy Sunday folks. I hope your day is as relaxing as mine!

Robyn,

The little woman pretends.

Lancashire hotpot- A Northern feast.

Today is Sam’s (my husbands) birthday and as usual I asked what or where he would like to eat tonight, rather than pick a restaurant he decided he’d like some good old home cooking, and as a northerner of course one of his favourite meals is a lancashire hotpot. I’ve been making this for a while now & as i’m not too keen on the traditional version (mainly because of the stench of lamb kidneys that fill my house for hours) I’ve perfected our very own version. A few of you wanted my recipe so here it is.

Will serve 4

20 minutes prep

1 hour 30 minutes cooking time.

Heres what you’ll need:

  • -500g Lambs mince.
  • -300ml Lamb stock,
  • -2 medium onions,
  • -3 large carrots,
  • -2 tablespoons of plain flour,
  • -dash of Worcester sauce,
  • -4 large potatoes
  • -a few bay leaves (dried is fine)
  • -chunk of butter (about 30g will be fine)
  • -1 tablespoon oil.

And heres the method:

1. Pre-heat your oven to 140C, 160C Fan or Gas mark 3.

2. Melt about 20g of your butter & oil in a large pan or crock pot, putting your hob on a medium heat.

3. Add your lamb mince, chopped carrots & onions, stir until your veg is softened & your mince has browned.

4. Next add your flour, mixing it into your meat/veg.

5. Throw in your Worcester sauce, a small glug will do.

6. Add your stock slowly, continuously stirring until your flour combines making a thick gravy.

7. Turn of your heat.

8. Peel & slice your potatoes. I like to use the slice tool on my blender, this gives the potatoes a uniform thickness, making all of the potato cook evenly.

9. Place a layer of potatoes over your lamb/veg/gravy, covering your hotpot mixture completely.

10. Drop a few small chunks of butter over, sprinkle with salt, pepper & place your bay leaves on.

11. Place in the oven, top shelf & uncovered and leave to cook for an hour and a half.

Easy as that! Its super delicious & everything will be able to be picked up locally – no scouring every butchers you can find for lambs kidneys!

Serve with a side of pickled beetroot or cabbage for real northern England authenticity.

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