Wednesday 31 July 2013

Gluten Free Millionaire's Shortbread

Alright, hands up anyone who doesn't like this decadent treat? Its always been one I have loved, though I have never had the pleasure of hand made, as my mother thought it was too much hassle to make when she could buy it. I have always bought it. Tiny squares of Thornton's millionaire's were the first thing I ate after my daughter was born and I had been nil by mouth for almost 24 hours and boy, it was like ambrosia at the time. 

BUT, here I am, trying to be wheat free, and I look at those shop packets with longing. So, I steeled myself to give it a try. I am incredibly pleased with my success, as is my son who calls these 'special biscuits'. He's right of course, they are a bit special. Now, from the picture, you might notice that my caramel is a bit.... blonde. I used white sugar instead of brown in the caramel and trust me, it tastes perfectly right. It just looks... blonde! And my chocolate could have been tidier, but that comes from massive impatience in waiting to cut and try it. If I had wait for it to set properly, it would have been prettier. 

So that said, the recipe! The base is Gluten Free! Yay! Its a very short shortbread, very crumbly, but tasty and moreish, you just need to have a plate/bib to hand when eating!

250g Plain White Flour
150g Butter
75g Caster Sugar

100g Butter
50g Brown sugar
400g Condensed Milk
200g Milk chocolate
2 tbsps Milk


Once again I am using a Doves Farm flour, this time their plain white blend:

* Mix together the flour, butter and caster sugar to form a soft, crumbly dough.
* Press the dough into an oiled appropriately sized baking tin. Mine is square and... no idea how big! I've had it for years.
* Prick surface with a fork and bake in a pre heated oven for 20 minutes at 180°C /Fan160°C /350°F/Gas 4     

While this is baking, clear enough room in your fridge for the baking tray when its cool enough. Seriously, you will need to. The Doves Farm flour came through once again to make a lovely shortbread base:

 Set aside to cool, and once cold enough, put it in the fridge until cold. And you want it cold before you move on.


* Put the caramel ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes stirring all the time. 

If you don't, it will crystallize and go grainy! Its a pain, but worth it.

* Remove from heat and spread over the cold shortbread.
* Put into fridge till cold!

Now this is what happens if your recipe doesn't stipulate brown sugar and you use ordinary caster sugar:

Blonde caramel. Just as tasty as her brunette sister!


* Gently melt together the chocolate and milk.
* Spread topping over cold caramel.

That simple! The milk slows how long it takes for the chocolate to set so you have time to work it, and it adds creaminess of course. You can sub in milk chocolate for any chocolate of your choice.

Now, put it in the fridge. Leave it. Leave it! I would advise topping with chocolate before bed, then not touching it till well after breakfast. Once it is well and truly cold, cut into slices and lift out of the tin. I would suggest to take out a corner piece first and due to the very short nature of the shortbread, expect the first slice to be a write off you will just have to eat what you can of immediately to avoid waste. Tragic. But once the first is out, the rest come easily. 

So there you are, one very decadent treat, made with gluten free shortbread!

Till next time

Kat xxx

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @sticks_n_string

Saturday 27 July 2013

A whole new adventure

Raw fleece!

So far to date I have bought my fibre to spin commercially prepared into combed tops, or hand carded into fluffy batts for me. I have recently been hand carding rolags from commercially combed top, which was a new experience, but this time I am going back to how its been done for thousands of years. Fleece straight off the sheep!

Its something that I have resisted for many reasons, firstly having small children and in particularly a baby round raw fleece. Even a properly skirted fleece carries some germs and possible tetanus risk. That last part being something important, that if you are going to be regularly handling raw fleece, you need to keep your tetanus protection up to date. And of course, a large fleece takes up a lot of room, and cleaning it is a lot of work. 


An opportunity crossed my path to get a small amount of raw fleece, not only that, from the unusual Bowmont breed, a British merino breed. For more information on Bowmont sheep, see this page on the Devon Fine Fibres website

So back to my fleece, I asked for 200g of available fleece though the seller sent me nearer 260g. I was warned that the shearer had not done the best of jobs so some of the staples could be short but that was fine by me. This was not an expensive investment, this was for a play to be honest. But that was why the overweight for the money I paid, to compensate. I think that is more than fair. So my parcel arrived and I unwrapped it to get this lovely, and rather pongy lump of fleece.

Of course it ponged, its fleece, straight of the sheep and greasy with lanolin. But that said, even all wrapped up like that, I could tell it was lovely and soft. And the smell wasn't bad at all, just sheepy as you would expect. So I took the chance to unwrap it and see it properly laid out. 

260g of fleece goes a long way! And look at that lacy structure! I am really pleased! It needs a wash to lose some of the grease and the dirt in the tips, but its a lovely clean fleece, no poop, properly skirted, and a great first one to start me off. So I wrapped it up more loosely to store until I get to washing it. 

I shall keep you posted with my adventures in taking this fleece to yarn, and I may even dye too, as in a swap I got some kool aid to play with! A good excuse to play with dyeing no? 

Till next time

Kat xxx

Feel free to follow me on twitter @sticks_n_string

Thursday 25 July 2013

My New Toy

Hand carders! These are  pair of mini, flat backed carders. I have small hands and the weight of full size carders has put me off for a long time. And I have managed perfectly well with all my fibre being bought ready prepped. But I want to start working with fleece, so I need something to help me do it. So I treated myself to my new tool.

Around the same time as they arrived, I had been doing a swap with Candy from Nunoco. She wanted to support spindle, and I had a support spindle lying around unloved. So I paid the love forward and sent it to her, with some lollipops (I can't send something to a woman named Candy without some candy), and she in turn sent me a surprise box of goodies. In amongst these goodies was one of the mixed merino packs that Nunoco stock in their etsy store.

Now let me see... brand new hand cards... beautiful little fluffs of merino. There was only one thing to do. Play at blending. And play I did. I turned my pack (crunchy leaves if anyone is interested) into this box full to bursting of 100g of fluffy rolags!

Aren't they scrummy? Three main colour ways and a few odds and ends. I shall randomly spin them into a three ply yarn for a project I have planned. But more on that later! They are all ready to spin... when my wheel doesn't have a project on it, but I have had a tonne of fun and will enjoy the spinning when it comes too!

What new toys have you had to play with recently?

Till next time

Kat xxx

Feel free to follow me on twitter @sticks_n_string

How does your garden grow?

Okay, not technically crafts, but hubby and I do grow some produce every year, entirely on the patio now we have a smaller garden living in a city. Still, that mass of green, its not a bad patio garden right? I would also show the strawberries, but they are already spent. Did us a damned good crop just in a grow bag on the bench table outside! We are now planning to attempt to transplant the runners into a little bed we have recently gained in a corner. Nothing to lose if it doesn't work, but if it does, we will have a strawberry patch! Awesome. Anyway, I highly, highly recommend growing strawberries on a table top in grow bags. Easier to regulate the water in the soil, not a slug or snail came near ours, much less pests. We had a great crop!

So then, to the point, just what is in that mass of green?

 Courgette planters, just starting to come good:

Tomatoes, giving off some stonking fruit. This is a bush cherry variety but they are coming out more plum than cherry:

And potatoes. The dying foliage is because its about time to harvest!

Just waiting for it all to be ready to harvest now for yummy home grown food. So is anyone else gardening? How is it going?

Till next time

Kat xxx

Feel free to follow me on twitter @sticks_n_string

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Gluten Free Fairy Cake Experiment

So, let me explain. I have long known that I have a wheat intolerance. We discovered this as part of some comparative genetic testing done when my brothers and I were children. In my teens I actually went wheat free at a time when it was very hard to do so and gluten free foods were... in a word, naff. It really was awful, but I did it. And I lost two stone in six months and I was healthier than ever. but then I went to university and the tight budget and lack of availability of wheat free foods meant I went back. 

Years and two children later, I have had struggles with blood pressure in my second pregnancy, I put on weight as you do in pregnancy, despite losing it all and more after my son, I am sat here after my daughter's birth feeling a lot bigger than I want to be. And what with a lot better availability, choice and quality in free from foods, I am giving it a try again. Another post I may detail the gluten free staples that have taken over from the wheat ones. A few weeks later I am noticeably losing the baby weight and feel so much healthier. and this time I think i can make at least a minimal gluten diet work!

BUT, and it is a big but, baking. Its the summer holidays and I need to do something with my school age boy! So we decided to try the experiment. Can you make cakes that rival the wheat based ones? 

There are now things that weren't on the market in the 80's and 90's when dealing with allergy diets. First and foremost we embarked this experiment with Dove Farm's Gluten Free self raising flour as our base.

Now freely available in most large supermarkets. I picked mine up from my local Tescos. So, the base recipe. I actually used the one from their website, but is helpfully on the side of the packet. We only did a half batch I will note because it was an experiment, and with only one small boy and me to eat them, I didn't want to do too many at once! But the recipe is as follows for a full batch:

150g butter
150g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
150g of your chosen self raising flour
1 tablespoon of milk

Simply cream the butter and sugar together. 
Beat in the eggs and vanilla
Beat in flour and milk
Spoon into cases and cook for 10-12 minutes at 180 degrees in a fan oven (200 degrees in a conventional oven)

I half filled silicone cake cases and cooked for 12 minutes which yielded these beautifully risen cakes:

While they cooled I raided my cupboard for a raft of decorating options for my lovely son to choose from:

Please note that this post has not been endorsed by any brand I am only showing what I chose to use of my own free will from in my cupboards

Once they had cooled I removed them from the silicone cases and into paper ones to make decorating easier. My little pirate chose the can of easy swirl icing (which only does ten cakes as stated on the can, just be aware its not a cheap icing solution but an easy one), chocolate beans and sugar confetti. So I swirled and he decorated. 

Its serious business this cake decorating, and definitely requires a pirate hat! Between us we wound up with this little bevy of beauties:

I don't think we did bad at all. And the verdict?

Neither the pirate or I noticed a single difference between an ordinary fairy cake. Honestly, there were none!  Its a fantastic replacement flour and will live in my cupboard from now on. 

On another allergy note, I have not tried it, but I am reliably informed that if you need to be dairy free as well, you could replace the butter with hard margarine such as stork, and almond milk to replace the cows milk. So give it a try and enjoy!

Till next time,

Kat xxx

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @Sticks_n_string

Sunday 21 July 2013

Sunday Round Up

So its the end of the week and time for a bit of a catch up on what I have done. I think I shall do this regularly, but maybe not every week. We shall see. So craft wise just what have I been up to this week?

I plied the bobbin of singles I had from my Nunoco Batt dropping, and turned it into this little skein of yarn:

Its 65g and 367m of 2 ply lace weight yarn. Not sure what it will be yet, but seeing as I am seriously enjoying lace knitting, it could be a little lace shawlette or scarf yet, you never know!

Also on the spinning front I have started spinning this braid of fibre;

Its a braid of super soft superwash merino by the Painted Tiger, in a colourway called Peacock. I am spinning fine singles with the intention of n-plying to  keep the gradient. I'm most of the way through the yellow! And there's more of that than the picture implies when the braid is unchained.

I've made a start on my Smaug hide mitts, and finished one:

I have just about started the second, but it will probably go faster than the first just because I get the pattern now.

No picture but I have been going well on my In dreams shawl too. Managing from about 2-6 rows a day I have finished chart 5, have 10 rows left of chart six, then three charts to go. That's actually a heck of a lot of knitting as each row takes around twenty minutes to knit. That may have to do with all the purl front and back stitches I am having to do on the wrong side. Ugh! Its worth it but I hate that stitch. I have also discovered I am really enjoying lace knitting. Good, because I have some shawls in my queue to knit.

So that's the last week, to come this week, the gluten free fairy cake experiment!

Till next time

Kat xxx

feel free to follow me on Twitter @Sticks_n-string

Wednesday 17 July 2013


So I think its time you met Princess. Princess is my spinning wheel. She has a lovely little history and even the story of how she came to be mine is a nice little one. So this post is all about her. 

Let me state this first off, I was not looking for a wheel. Absolutely not. I was happy spindling and I held out and maintained this for the longest time even while my Ravelry friends said I should try wheel spinning. But my husband wasn't keen and we had nowhere to put a wheel. Though admittedly I did look at wheels on ebay and the likes. Mainly thinking about what I would do if money were no object. As there are wheels that could be collapsed and put into a bag beneath the sofa. That was my plan. if I ever, ever had the money. Then Princess came onto my radar. 

She was mentioned in the UK spinners Ravelry group. They have a thread for quirky wheels that end up on ebay. Some listings are funny, some are for rare wheels. Mine was one of the latter. I had already discerned that my preference style wise is for a castle wheel. Small foot print, everything upright, and they just appeal to me visually. So when I clicked on the link to Princess... well let's say she was the prettiest castle wheel I had ever laid eyes on, to my mind at least. And it was love at first sight. Oh dear.

Alright, I was in love, so now I had to figure out a few things. Where I would put her if I managed to acquire her, and talking the husband round. I did manage to bargain my way round it, in return for making some room by decluttering and dismantling an old TV unit we weren't using. I agreed. So I got watching the auction and got ready to bid. I had a simple plan, wait till the end, bid my maximum and let the dice roll. Also, Ravelry being the fab place it was, I had declared there that I was going to go for her as my very first wheel (and still only), so a few people who were interested but already had wheels, pulled out of the bidding! Because we are all enablers like that.

I stuck to the plan, and won! £6 under my maximum, but I managed it. She was evidently meant to be mine. So I paid, contacted the seller about pick up, kept my end of the bargain clearing out to give her somewhere to live, and arranged to go collect. I was rather big and pregnant with my daughter at the time, so hubby insisted on me using his sat nav, but off I went one evening and entered the house of the lovely couple living there. Obviously both keen on spinning and fibre arts and medieval reenactors. The lady I was purchasing from sat me down with Princess and taught me how she worked, what bits to oil and all the important stuff, told me some of her history, which wasn't much, and gave me a quick spinning lesson. Astonishingly within five minutes I was spinning a bumpy fingering thickness single longdraw. We were meant to be!

So this is Princess.

Dressed in 4 bobbins on her on board Lazy Kate, one full of the singles I showed in my catch up post, and fifth loaded on the flyer. She came with four bobbins, I have had two more made to fit her, they were copied and made by the Woodland Turnery who are awesome at all these kinds of things. So I have a total of six. Basically because they are dinky compared to modern wheels, and only hold approx 60g of fibre spun up.

So the lady I bough Princess from was the daughter of her only other owner. Her mother recently passed away, and while she learned to spin on Princess, she had a more modern wheel of her own she got on well with and it seemed best to pass her on. She was bought new, from Frank Herring and Son's as you can see from my heading picture, who are still in business today. She didn't know until we turned Princess over (I cannot recall why) that her mother had recorded a little history in red ball point pen on her base.

She was bought, as new, on the 10th of Novermber 1970, for the princely sum of £21 and £1 in carriage! Very different from what I paid for her, but that said, taking inflation into account, it seems fair. Anyone who knows spinning wheels may have also noted one other little quirk, the hooks on her flyer have been set up left handed, as her owner was left handed. Being somewhat both handed, this has proven no hassle to me whatsoever. I think I would feel strange with a right handed flyer now! But the owner knew no more than that. I bought Princess home, made her comfy and happy and started digging. There was so little mentioned on the web and even the all knowing Ravellers knew very little of her. The only clue I had were the plate for Frank Herring and Son's where she was bought from, and a screen capture of a very old advert mentioning the 'Norwegian Princess' as she was sold ass through them. So... I phone them up and spoke to the current Mr Herring, and he told me what he knew of the Norwegian Princess.

They were made by one man who lived in the Norwegian fjords. Every year the winter weather would close down where he lived and there was nothing to do but make wheels. So he manufactured these unique little wheels. He made them from pine, which is probably the very last wood you should make a wheel from because it warps badly. But it was all he had, surrounded by pine forests. So he developed a unique construction method that meant that if the wheel warped, it all warped together and the wheel runs true regardless. Amazing! And when the weather cleared he would ship over the wheels he had made to them and sell them on. He has long since passed away, in the early 80's, so none are younger than that. I have an older model from 1970. Mr Herring also told me that occasionally they get one of these wheels back for various reasons from people who no longer what them, probably like how I acquired her. And when they do... they sell for twice the price I bought her for easily. Sheesh, I never knew she was a bargain!

So there you are, the Norwegian Princess wheel as sold by Frank Herring and Son's. She is a Scandinavian wheel in all ways in that she is set up for the fine spinning their traditions are known for, and she does a fine job of it. I am working on spinning ever finer on her, as the latest batch of singles prove.

So there's Princess, my spinning best friend. You can bet that if I am not on holiday when I am spinning, this is what I am spinning on. For the spinners out there reading, who is your spinning best friend?

Till next time.

Kat xxx

Feel free to follow me on twitter @sticks_n_string

Monday 15 July 2013

Thank You

So the unthinkable has happened. Not only has my son grown so much to be a preschooler, but Friday will be his last day. There is the leavers concert on the following Monday, but he is finishing preschool for good. I have a pile of school uniform to add name labels to, and make sure in the pile of identical uniform, his can get back to him. We've just bought him a new pair of smart black shoes. He's going to big school. 

This has been a very big deal. Because over the course of him being at preschool, its come out that he has social communication difficulties. So him being remotely ready for school has been a worry. The cause of his problems is as yet unclear, whether it is severe social shyness, stemming from anxiety in large groups, or whether he has some mild version os an autistic spectrum disorder. He is currently being assessed for both. But just getting to have him assessed has been a long journey, one that has been made possibly because of his preschool. 

I have to say that his preschool are the very best preschool I have ever come across for dealing with special needs. Not saying that he has special needs, but he does require more attention than average. He is however attending with children who do have special needs, and the care at his preschool really is top notch. Every child has a key worker, and Patrick's key worker spotted his issues early on. Thanks to her we had early intervention with speech therapy (as it was initially thought this could be the problem), educational psychology, and this led to his referral to paediatric assessment. Both his key worker, and the head of the preschool who is the special educational needs coordinator have worked tirelessly with Patrick to give him the support he needs. And in their care he has positively blossomed and flown. 

He is still socially awkward, and uncomfortable in very busy and very noisy places, with a few marked exceptions like the swimming pool, but he has friends now, plays with other children, is accessing the activities within preschool and come on so, so much. We have even had his future school teachers involved with him before he goes to school, and his teacher is the school's special educational needs coordinator. He is in incredibly good hands. And I can't tell you how happy that Katy will attend the same preschool when she gets to the right age.

So I wanted to thank these wonderful, wonderful ladies who have done so much for our son with a personal gift, and not just a box of chocolates. I wanted to put my time and effort into something for them, show them that we have appreciated everything they have done. 

So I made a pair of scarves. 

The pattern is Queen Anne's Lace, and they scarves are crocheted with James C Brett Marble Chunky in two colourways (obviously). Both are 45 motifs long, which equates to about 1.7m each. Nice and long. The yarn was chosen because its a lovely soft acrylic that will machine wash and dry, because I know these ladies most certainly do not have enough time to hand wash. They put in so very many extra hours of their own time after preschool is finished, and at weekends and holidays too. So easy care was a must, but slow colour repeats suit this pattern so well. I hope that they express the gratitude we feel in our hearts for all they have done. And keep them warm as they watch over the children playing out side in any and all weathers come the winter!

Though of course, we couldn't forget the rest of the staff! So got a nice wrapped gift for all to share!

Till next time.

Kat xxx

Feel free to follow me on twitter @sticks_n_string
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Friday 12 July 2013

What's Going On?

So I am back, after a sabbatical to have my daughter, Miss Katy Niamh. My little cute and recipient of an awful lot of my crafting efforts. Well if you ask me you can;t find a decent wool cardigan for a little girl for love nor money these days, so mummy has to make them doesn't she? But since I have had a sabbatical, just what am I up to currently craft wise. Too much is probably the answer. 

I have three crochet projects actually on the go, and two long term knitting projects. Not to mention I have spinning on the wheel. I AM trying to streamline but we shall see. 

First and highest priority is the second of two Queen Anne's Lace scarves. Priority because they are thank you presents for two of the staff at my son's preschool. He has his last day a week today! So I better get cracking. 

Second, I have picked up my In Dreams shawl. I don't have a picture of where I am in the pattern right now, but I really am not too far at all from here:

I am doing a small handful of rows every day that I actually get some quiet time, so its actually growing and going at a snail's pace towards finishing. 

Third, I have already begun the project to follow the priority scarves because I had a case of startitis, Impossible to not start something new! The pattern is Dragon Master. This is being crocheted in a lovely handspun yarn that was given to me as a gift through a magic yarn ball swap:

Beautiful yarn. The swap had a theme, and my swapee chose to focus on my love of Tolkein. This yarn is so reminiscent of Smaug from The Hobbit that these are becoming my Smaug hide Mitts. Yes, I know its July, but doing my winter things now ahead of time. I think its working up nicely so far!

Fourth, I have started a blanket project for Katy. I knitted her brother blanket, so she needs to have a blanket, though this time its crochet. I have used Barbara Smith's African Flower Square Tutorial as the base for this, but have made some changes of my own. I will feature the changes and link to my Ravelry project for my notes when I focus on the progress of this project another day. But this is early progress:

Lastly, and no picture for this one, I am still working on my version of Shelly Kang's sock yarn blankie. I say working on, but its sat in hibernation really. I want to streamline down my other projects, and then much like my In Dreams shawl, I want to give it some time every day so it grows slow time alongside something else I am doing. 

Spinning wise, this is my latest spinning project:

Its what's lovingly known as a Batt Dropping from Nunoco. Basically carding batts results in left overs. The two lovely ladies in Wales then card those together to give their customers surprise batts! To go with this lovely bobbin, I am attempting to learn how to work with my wheel to spin a superfine single to ply with, so hopefully I end up with a lot of yardage from not a lot of fibre. My bobbins are dinky by the way. They only hold 60g of fibre really, but I will introduce you to the wheel another day!

Lastly, what have I been creating. My most recent FO is a shawl for my best friend. My friend chose the pattern (Photosynthesis by Emily Wessel) and the yarn (Wollmeise in Golden Pear - boy is she lucky enough I love her enough to splurge on Wollmeise!), and I aimed to have it ready for her birthday on August 2nd. I think I did pretty well there. Just shy of a full skein (143g of 150g) produced this lovely shawl:

And that's my catch up. Hope everyone in crafty blog land is doing well and watch this space for the next post. A lot sooner than my last craft post!

Kat xx

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @sticks_n_string
Hello from the void!

Goodness gracious its been a long time since I posted, over a year. I have to admit, most of that was due to the heat arriving, being heavily pregnant, and then having a baby. Tends to firstly melt the brain and secondly eat all your time. That said, I am back crafting, rather a lot, now that things have settled down. I say that but the boy finishes preschool next week eek! He starts big school in September! Can't believe that. Anyway, I am going to kick this blog back into life, so expect to see posts on what I am doing at any given time! There will be all sorts of new stuff, especially as now I have a spinning wheel! I promise I shall introduce you! Till then!