In Print…

Mollie Makes Crochet Cherry

In a couple of my past blog posts I’ve hinted at this project but I haven’t been able share it with you. Not until today!

Mollie Makes Crochet Cherry

A friend bought a copy of the latest issue of Mollie Makes back from the UK, and guess who has a project in it?

Not just in it, but including all the bits and bobs you need to make it yourself?

Me! *happy dance*

Mollie Makes Crochet Cherry

I’ve loved Mollie Makes ever since a friend introduced me to the iPad version of it a few years ago. I never dreamed I would be commissioned to create a project for them!

P1090717

I worked alongside the lovely Charlie to create a kit that allows each reader to make up their own Crochet Cherry Brooch.

It contains everything you need. Yarn, crochet hook and brooch back are included in the kit. The instructions are inside the magazine.

Mollie Makes Crochet Cherry

Copious thanks to Hayley Hay who took some fabulous photos of Munchkin and I. One of which was used in the magazine.

Nicola Pravato - Hayley Hay Photography - Mollie Makes Magazine

So if you’re in the UK, go and want a cherry to add something special to your favourite outfit, head to your nearest newsagent.

If you’re not in the UK, you can download a digital version of Mollie Makes or find my original tutorial online.

 


 

I’ve had such a buzz finding so many cherries all over the web!

Have you made one up? Link to it in the comments, I’d love to see your work!

 

 

Gluten-free Raspberry Friands

Gluten-free raspberry friands

 

I had an itch. I needed to bake. It had been so long that my Kitchen Aid had a light coating of dust!

The cover of What Katie Ate has been giving me cravings for friands for quite some time. They don’t exist here and certainly not in gluten-free form. The delicious raspberries in season provided me with the perfect excuse.

As I don’t have a friand tin I decided to use a cupcake pan and they worked fine. I adapted two recipes to be gluten-free. One from What Katie Ate and another from online aptly named “The Perfect Friand”. And then decided I liked a mix of both! They’re light and delicious. Not to mention really easy and quick to make!

My husband has requested I make them again, and as I’ve just collected the piece to make my ice-cream maker work, I have plenty of use for spare egg yolks. I think next time I’ll use plums on the top…

 

Gluten-free raspberry friands
GLUTEN-FREE RASPBERRY FRIANDS

Makes about a dozen

Ingredients
  • 4 egg whites
  • 60 grams of almond meal
  • 60 grams of gluten-free flour of your choice
  • 1/4 teaspoon of guar gum
  • 120 grams of icing sugar (not icing mixture)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100 grams of melted unsalted butter
  • Butter to grease pan
  • 125 grams of fresh raspberries

 

Gluten-free raspberry friands

 

Method
  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 degrees celsius fan forced)
  • Grease tin with butter (I used a cupcake tin as I don’t own a friand tin)
  • Whisk egg whites until frothy.
  • In a separate bowl, combine almond meal, sieved icing sugar and the pinch of salt together.
  • Add egg whites and fold in until well combined.
  • Gradually stir in butter.
  • Pour into tin, Filling each mould three-quarters full.
  • Place a raspberry in the top of each.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool slightly before removing from the mould. I needed to run a knife around the edge of mine to loosen them.

 

Crochet rattle ball

 

Crochet Rattle Ball

 

One of Munchkin’s favourite toys, ever since we bought it for her when she was just 6 weeks old, is a soft ball made of cotton that has a bell in it. It was fabulous as all the seams are on the outside and she could grab, throw and play with it very easily. And as she’s grown, she’s continued to enjoy it. Almost every day it gets launched across the room or skittles over the floor, tinkling as it goes.

 

Crochet Rattle Ball

 

I’ve a couple of friends who are pregnant and so I went to buy some to give as gifts. Only to discover that they no longer make them. So I took this as a sign that I should change the pattern, make it a whole heap more colourful and get crocheting! The only down side is that Munchkin has discovered them and now thinks that they’re hers. It looks like I’ll be making some more!

 

Crochet Rattle Ball

 

I started this pattern in much the same way as I did the crochet baby noise makers. By filling a Kinder Surprise cylinder with popping corn kernels and taping it firmly closed. But you can use film canisters, small take away sauce tubs, anything that you can tape closed and that makes a good rattling noise. Or you could even recycle the rattle or bell out of an old baby toy.

 

Crochet Rattle Ball

 

Then you get crocheting! I used a 3.5mm hook and 100% cotton. Just check the hook size nominated on your yarn and adjust the hook size appropriately. You don’t want large holes in your work so that little fingers can’t pry out the stuffing.

 

Crochet Rattle Ball

 

Crochet Rattle Ball Pattern

 

Stitches you need to know:

Magic Ring

Chain = ch

Double Crochet = dc

Single Crochet = sc

Increase (2 single crochet in the same stitch) = inc

 

Materials

Cotton yarn in at least two colours

3.5mm crochet hook

Cotton wadding (using this instead of normal stuffing makes it much harder for little fingers to get at it, but either will work fine).

Plastic container insert from a Kinder Surprise or alternate small plastic container that you can seal.

Seeds, Grains etc

 

Pattern

In yarn colour 1

Row 1: Create a Magic Ring and sc 10. Pull magic ring closed. Sl st in first dc, to join. (10)

Row 2: ch 2. dc inc 10. Sl st in second ch, to join. (20)

Row 3: ch 2. *dc 1, dc inc 1.* Repeat *to* 10 times. Sl st in second ch, to join. (30)

Change yarn to second highlight colour

Row 4: ch 2. *sc 2, dc inc 1.* Repeat *to* 10 times. Sl st in second ch, to join. Fasten off and sew in the ends. (40)

Repeat 12 times to make 12 circles.

Stitching below the last row of crochet using the holes in the crochet with a large needle. Stitch two circles together, using the increased stitches as a guide. Stitch between 2 sets of increased stitches as shown below.

 

Crochet Rattle Ball

 

Repeat with 4 following circles until your work looks like the image below. You need to stitch the sides together too, using the increased stitches as a guide again. Finish off and sew in your ends.

Repeat the above steps with your six remaining circles until you have two ball halves.

 

Crochet Rattle Ball

 

Taking the two ball halves, align the middle increased stitch on the open end of a circle with a seam on the opposing ball half. Sew together, leaving enough open to insert the filling.

Then, wrapping the shaker egg in wadding until it’s the size you want and push it in. This item is nice for younger children with less wadding making it softer and less likely to roll away. It also makes it much easier to grasp. For older children, you can make it firmer and the ball will roll if pushed.

Finally sew the remaining open portion together with the wadding and shaker inside. Finish of and sew in your ends.

I hope your little ones enjoy it as much as Munchkin!

Nicx

My templates and tutorials are free for personal use only.

T&Cs-2

Ramblings: Ten and a half months in; a report card.

Munchkin and I

 

I thought I’d be shopping for publishers right about now. I didn’t tell anyone apart from my close friends and some family, but my grand plan for the first year after Munchkin was born was to put together a craft book.

I thought that every day I’d wander into the studio during Munchkin’s nap time and that by the end of a year I’d have a book.

We’re ten and a half months in, and I’m not even close.

What I do have is a pile of paper cut thank you cards for beautiful presents given to Munchkin. They’re so late that I’m not even sure I should bother sending them. She’s grown out of pretty much all she was given.

My gym/ pool/ spa membership has lapsed because I didn’t have the energy to go after my husband got home from work. There’s no point paying for something I wasn’t using.

My brain was mush. I had lists for lists for lists and I’d still forget things. Repeated trips to the grocery on the same day became regular.

The house was tidy (most of the time), Munchkin was clean, fed and clothed (most of the time), my husband and I were eating well (except for dodgy takeout Friday night). But in all other things, it felt like too much effort to tie my shoelaces.

I was more exhausted post baby than when I was carrying her.

“Baby brain”, They said.

“Motherhood”, They said.

I didn’t get depressed, but I got seriously concerned.

I decided to quit the blog. Then I got a commission for a magazine. It took every ounce of energy I could muster but completed it.

Where was the driven woman I used to be? Was this motherhood? Did I just have to adjust my expectations further? How was I going to stay sane?

It became clear that if we didn’t do something I would start to resent motherhood. The festering seeds of resentment had already started to sprout in other areas. Seeing DM leave for work each morning had me wishing I was getting dressed, eating breakfast and heading to work to do something productive.

We hired a baby sitter for two afternoons a week. Each time she and Munchkin walked out the front door, I made a beeline straight into the studio. After the 2 minute pity party when Munchkin stopped getting upset she was leaving me and instead waved goodbye with a big smile, I got to work. It felt great.

But then I got so exhausted that when they left, I went to bed.

I decided to put the blog on hold for a year. But then some of you gorgeous people wrote me encouraging emails, and I decided to stick with it a bit longer.

But still I had no energy.

I got frustrated. My fuse was short.

“Depression”, They hinted.

Maybe I wasn’t mum material? Was I aiming too high? Was it possible that our hopes of my continuing a part-time creative career whilst being a mum were just not possible?

“Rubbish**”, my brain said. There had to be something more wrong. If it was depression, I’d get treatment for it.

I finally took myself off to the doctor.

All it took was some iron infused and some vitamin B supplements.

The lights turned on.

Foggy brain started clearing within hours. Energy increased in the following days. Happiness levels rocketed. Creativity returned.

I hit the studio.

Then a slight bump in the road, the babysitter found full-time work and quit. But Munchkin was accepted into the daycare centre for two half days per week and she starts mid August.

I’m looking for a new gym membership. I’m back in the studio. I’m no closer to having a book, but I have some other collaborations and fun works in progress.

 

I’m giving myself an A for effort and a C for execution.

I should have listened to myself a lot sooner.

‘They’ were wrong.

And Munchkin?

She’s perfect. A+

 

**Or some other non PG rated word

 

 

Woodland Creatures Cookies and Tree Trunk Packaging

A couple of months ago, my friend Nikki asked me to come up with a concept. She wanted to make gifts to give to her children’s teachers at the end of the year as a thank you gift. What made this request really interesting is that Nikki is a genius with biscuits, royal icing, cake and fondant and I’ve been dying for an opportunity to pick her brains and to work on a project together, so this was the perfect excuse!

We also both have little ones very similar in age, so with this project we had crafternoons and play-dates all rolled into one! Admittedly it wasn’t easy, Munchkin and her friend O liked to keep us on our toes! But after quite a few catch ups and some work alone once the little ones went to bed of an evening, we got them done.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

When it comes to icing and piping work, I’ve not touched a piping bag in… years! And so when coming up with concepts my mind instantly went to things I felt I could help with. Then I remembered these amazing cookies I’d pinned a few years ago. I love the idea of using the cookie dough to create the image and then adding just a little icing for the details.

Detailed cutting and splicing I can do!

This is what I came up with. A series of woodland creatures including a fox, owl, hedgehog, squirrel and bear. All to be packaged up peeking out of a ‘tree trunk’.

Layout

Nikki mixed up a batch of each her (I’m told) delicious chocolate and vanilla doughs at home so as to avoid accidentally poisoning me with gluten, I was just very careful to wash my hands after handling the dough and definitely didn’t taste test it!

To make the cookies, we rolled the dough out using rolling pin guide strips so as to ensure all the dough was the same thickness, then put the dough in the freezer to harden up. Using templates created out of wax proof paper we’d traced, we then cut the hardened dough using a scalpel to get a nice clean finish (an X-acto knife would work just as well, just make sure you’ve given it a good clean first).

As fate would have it, we made these on the hottest days we’ve had this Summer! So we had dough cycling in and out of of my freezer making sure it all kept hard enough to assemble. We then spliced the pieces together, gently used our fingers to join the edges and baked them.

Unfortunately I had my hands so full of dough and babies that I didn’t get many photos taken during this process. But I’m going to re-create it with some gluten-free recipes and another template I’ve made to create a tutorial in the coming weeks.

This is what the owls looked like just before we baked them.

Woodland animal cookies

And this is what they looked like afterwards

Woodland animal cookies

Flash forward a few days, after we’d both completed cookies on our own (once the little ones had gone to bed) and we were ready to add the icing details! Nikki, whipped up some royal icing and after laying the templates underneath wax paper, traced the features in royal icing. It is a fabulous method I can’t wait to try myself, particularly as it allows you to keep going until you’ve created one you’re happy with before you apply it to the biscuit! Here’s some information on royal icing transfers.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

We glued the eyes, beaks and noses down with some more royal icing.

Woodland animal cookies

The limit of my piping on this project consisted of using royal icing to glue toasted slivered almonds onto the hedgehog to give him spikes, and piping on the hedgehogs noses.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

I think they turned out really cute.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

Then I got to work making the packaging! I wanted to display them standing up and so made a box within a box. I glued the biscuits in using royal icing which allowed them to be transported without fear of them falling out of their peepholes. But if you wanted to you could add some acetate or clear plastic to the inside of the box to ensure your cookie is safe.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

I’ve included all the templates in a PDF file at the bottom of the post if you want to try and make your own!

Here are the steps to put the packaging together.
You’ll need an x-acto knife, adhesive (I used a Pritt Stick) and 3 pieces of A3 card stock about 160 gsm or as thick as you can get through your printer.

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I then used a little bit of tape to hold the lid in place. But a clear sticker or double sided tape works well too.

Here’s the finished packaging.

And here they all are just before they went to school to be given to some lovely teachers!

I had a fantastic time working with Nikki on this project. I can’t wait until we get to do another one

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies
Download
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Crochet Baby Toy – Noise Makers

Crochet baby noise maker

 

One of Munchkins favourite toys was this Pram Necklace from Littlephant that we bought her for her first Christmas. She adored the colours and the textures of the toy hanging over her pram. And apparently it tasted delicious too!

But as she’s gotten older it has fallen out of favour, she’s now showing preference for toys that make a noise or that we build towers out of and she knocks down. So I decided to make her a toy. One that combined the tactile nature of the Littlephant pram necklace along with a rattle and shake!

The fact that they’re also round and can roll a little way from her is also a good thing as we’re trying to encourage Munchkin to move. At present, she’ll just happily play with whatever she can reach or make big eyes and pout until her father gets the toy she accidentally just launched.

 

Crochet baby noise maker

 

These are what I came up with. They use the plastic insert from a Kinder Surprise filled with various noisy items. For these I used whatever was handy in my kitchen cupboard. Popcorn kernels, quinoa, rock salt and sunflower seeds were put in the shakers and they were closed and taped up. Each has a very distinct sound in comparison to the others.

 

P1090063

 

I then added some decorative embroidery with contrasting cotton. Stitching in and out of the holes between the crochet stitches. This has two benefits, it makes the cotton wadding surrounding the Kinder insert pretty much impossible to pry out by tiny fingers and it looks pretty!

I used some of my remaining cotton wadding from my quilt rather than normal cushion stuffing also because it’s nice and firm, making it hard for little fingers to get out and it makes crocheting the Kinder insert into the ball much easier as you’re less likely to get your hook caught up in tons of little fibres.

 

Crochet baby noise maker

 

To start with, I put a small amount of my selected seed into the Kinder insert. I taped it up to make sure that it didn’t come open inside the toy and spill it’s contents. Mainly because this would stop it making a lovely rattle noise and as yet another safety precaution.

 

Crochet baby noise maker

 

Crochet Baby Noise Maker Pattern:

 

Stitches you need to know:

Magic Ring

Single Crochet = sc

Increase (2 single crochet in the same stitch) = inc

Decrease (singe crochet decrease) = dec

 

Materials

Cotton yarn in at least two colours

3.5mm crochet hook

Cotton wadding

Plastic container insert from a Kinder Surprise or alternate small plastic container (the ones in the vending machines that kids love and parents loathe would probably work well for this project too)

Seeds, Grains etc

 

 

Row 1: Create a Magic Ring and sc 6. Pull magic ring closed and place marker at end of row. Move stitch marker at end of every row following.

Row 2: inc 6. (12)

Row 3: *sc 1, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (18)

Row 4: *sc 2, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (24)

Row 5: *sc 3, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (30)

Row 6: *sc 4, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (36)

Row 7: *sc 5, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (42)

Rows 8 to 12: sc 42. (42)

Row 13: *sc 5, dec 1.* (36)

Row 14: *sc 4, dec 1.* (30)

Row 15: *sc 3, dec 1.* (24)

At this point I placed a piece of wadding into the bowl of the ball. Wrapped the shaker egg in wadding and pushed it in. I then used my crochet hook to stuff more wadding in until I had a nice full ball. Then placed another piece of wadding over the top of the shaker, tucked it in nice and firmly and continued crocheting the Noise Maker closed.

Row 16: *sc 2, dec 1.* (18)

Row 17: *sc 1, dec 1.* (12)

Row 18: dec 6 (6)

Row 19: dec 3 (3)

Finish off and sew in the ends. I did this by taking a large needle and pulling the cotton through to the other side of the egg, in between the shaker egg and the wadding, and then cutting of the remainder. This left the ends well out of reach of those cheeky inquisitive fingers.

I did the same thing with the ends of the embroidery I added.

To add the embroidery, merely fasten on, and sew in and out in the spaces between the crochet stitches.

 

Crochet baby noise maker

 

Depending on how much wadding you add and how firmly you pull your embroidery stitches, you’ll either end up with a nice round ball shape (lots of wadding, stitches reasonably loose) or an oval shape (less wadding, firmer stitches). I did two of both as the ball shape are a little too large for Munchkin to hold easily at present, but the oval shape are perfect! And they don’t roll away so easily, encouraging her to move in small increments.

 

My templates and tutorials are free for personal use only.

 

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Finally finished

Next to nicx quilt

 

They say that every quilt tells a story.

This one certainly does!

I started it before Munchkin was born. Last Summer, my friend and quilter extraordinaire Lynne, went with me via ferry to Thonon les Bains in France to pick out fabric. It turned out to be one of the hottest days that Summer and neither of us was dealing very well with the heat. I was seven months pregnant and feeling every bit of it!

But I was determined to get a quilt finished for Munchkin to come home in. So I waddled around Thonon and we selected the fabrics. Then over the weeks that turned into months, Lynne taught me how to cut the fabric out, sew it together and quilt it.

I struggled though-out the pregnancy. It turns out I’m not one of those people who glows and feels fabulous and honestly, I didn’t like being pregnant at all. Probably because it felt like I was unwell for most of it.

My sewing machine even attempted to die before I’d completed the project! It threw out springs and twisted bits of metal in a cartoonish fashion, only missing the associated “SPROING!!”.

Thankfully we were able to get it working again. And poignantly, this quilt turned out to be the last project I’d do on this machine. My mother gave it to me about 10 years ago, it was second or third hand when I received it and it had survived being lugged halfway around the world when we moved to Switzerland. But I now own a beautiful new machine, given to me for Christmas by DM and Munchkin.

 

P1060371

 

At some point I gave up on having the quilt done to bring Munchkin home in. Only digging it back out to give quilting it one more try the day before I was due to be induced. I’d been having regular contractions for 11 days by this point. I was exhausted… and scared. In an effort to distract ourselves, DM commenced painting a robot and I finished quilting my quilt.

Amusingly you can see when I had contractions in the quilting. In places it resembles the monitor they plugged me into frequently over the last weeks of my pregnancy! The stitching goes from lovely, straight and ‘in the ditch’, to off tangent quite badly, and then back ‘in the ditch’!

Finally I packed it away, a little disappointed that I’d not managed to complete it (I had the binding and hand sewing to do), and we went to the clinic to meet Munchkin.

Munchkin entered our lives in something of a rush as I eventually needed an emergency cesarean. And she came home almost a week later swaddled in a super soft Aden + Anais muslin square instead of in one of my creations. I didn’t have time to feel disappointed. We spent the next 6 months learning about each-other, falling head over heels in love, doing all we could to help her thrive and enjoying our beautiful little spirited sprite.

 

Munchkin arriving home

 

Then, Lynne came around for one final quilting lesson and, at one point with Munchkin looking on, we made and sewed on the binding using my new machine.

I did the hand sewing, a little at a time, over the following few weeks (I’m not great at hand sewing, particularly when tired! ;))

And it’s complete! Almost a year since it was started my darling little girl is sleeping under it.

I love it. It’s perfectly flawed and I feel it tells the start of our story wonderfully.

 

Next to nicx quilt

 

I’ve been told it’s traditional to name a quilt and have it embroidered on the back. But I’ve been struggling to come up with anything other than “Contraction Quilt” which isn’t very romantic.

What do you think I should call it?

 

Next to nicx quilt

 

Quilting details: I used the pattern created by See Kate Sew as a guide but made a few changes. Lynne made up an alternate pattern piece that allowed for the triangle to have seam allowances added, meaning that it was much easier to get the points closer to lining up. The quilt Lynne made up as a test had the points matching perfectly! And I put my quilt pieces together randomly, only ensuring that the same colour didn’t sit adjacent.

 

See Kate Sew Quilt

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

There were a few things I gave up on finding when I found out I couldn’t eat gluten anymore. One of them was profiteroles and a good choux pastry. But a trip to my favourite bakery assured me that a gluten-free choux pastry is very possible. They make the most amazing gluten-free eclairs!

So when the latest issue of Delicious magazine graced my letterbox with a Better Cook Challenge on choux pastry I was determined to try and make a gluten-free profiterole. We had some friends and their gorgeous offspring coming for lunch last Friday, so I seized the second wind I got on Thursday night after putting Munchkin to bed, and tried.

And it worked! *cue cheer and happy dance*

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Honestly I can’t really remember exactly what the glutenous version tastes like, but both of my friends and my husband assured me that my version were delicious. And my husband advising that I could make them again very soon convinced me of it.

As per usual I used Schaer patisserie mix C as it’s the best commercially bought flour mix I’ve come across for pastries and cakes (and Sonja in Cully wouldn’t divulge her amazing recipe ;))

I finished them with a drizzle of salted caramel sauce rather than the chocolate one in the magazine. I’ll write up the caramel recipe for next weeks gluten-free recipe post.

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Profiteroles with Vanilla Crème Pâtissière‎

Ingredients for the choux pastry
  • 100ml of cold water
  • 45 grams of unsalted butter
  • 60 grams of Schaer patisserie mix C or your preferred gluten-free flour mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon of guar gum
  • 2 medium eggs

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Ingredients for the Crème Pâtissière
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 10 grams of Schaer patisserie mix C or your preferred gluten-free flour mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cornflour
  • 35 grams of caster sugar
  • 150 ml of whole milk
  • half a vanilla pod, split lengthways
  • 100ml of double cream

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Method for the choux pastry
  • Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees celsius (180 fan forced) and line two baking trays with baking paper.
  • Put the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to the boil, ensuring that the butter is melted and combined.
  • Remove from the heat, and immediately stir in all of the flour and guar gum. Stir quickly until the mixture thickens and starts to come away from the side of the saucepan.
  • Place back on the heat and cook whilst stirring for a little longer, just to dry the mix out a little. A minute or two should do it.
  • Put the pastry into a large mixing bowl. Leave for 2 minutes to cool. This ensures that when you add the egg it doesn’t cook immediately.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and stir in quickly with a whisk until well combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fit with a 1cm plain nozzle.
  • Pipe the mixture onto the baking paper. In the photographs I made large profiteroles, and so piped them about the size of a large walnut. Pipe them about 4 cm apart.
  • Using a finger, wet with a little water, push the spikes down so that the top of your profiterole is smooth and not peaked.
  • Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 200 degrees celsius (180 fan forced) and then turn down to 140 degrees celsius (120 fan forced) for another 20-25 minutes to dry them out.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool on trays.

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Method for the Crème Pâtissière
  • Place the egg yolks, flour, cornflour and sugar in a bowl and whisk until combined
  • Put the milk and vanilla pod in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  • Pour the milk mixture over the egg mixture and whisk to combine.
  • Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and put back on a gentle heat, stirring continuously until very thick.
  • Take off heat, place in a bowl, discard the vanilla pod, cover with cling wrap and allow to cool.
  • Whip the double cream until you get soft peaks.
  • Fold in the cooled custard mixture and push through a sieve to get rid of any lumps.
  • Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 5mm plain nozzle.
  • To fill the choux buns, make a small hole in the bottom of each cooled profiterole and insert the piping nozzle. Gently squeeze in filling.
  • Serve on a plate or platter with your choice of sauce. I used a salted caramel sauce (recipe in next weeks blog).

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Recipe adapted from May 2014 issue of Delicious Magazine.

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

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Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

My greatest project

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

Many of you who have followed ‘next to nicx’ over the years have probably noticed that it’s not plastered with my photograph. In fact, I’ve actively avoided putting my face on the blog as I’ve rather liked hiding behind my creations. I’ve loved letting them do the talking and showing off, particularly as I’m not comfortable in front of a camera and have tended to prefer being behind it. I am something of an introvert.

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

I thought that if my ‘face’ didn’t match what you thought it would look like, you’d be disappointed. A little like when someone creates a movie adaption of a book you love and they put what you feel is entirely the wrong actor in the part. The book is forever tainted by the awful actor and the mental image you had created is slightly overwritten.

I didn’t feel like the face of this blog. I was pregnant and fat and I’m still not back to my ideal shape. I’m sleep deprived, tired and have struggled with an iron deficiency. I’ve used all these as my excuses for leaving my face off the blog and to keep hiding in relative obscurity.

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

But all that comfortable anonymity has recently been stripped away. I was asked to complete a project (rather a splediferous one I can share with you in August) and they wanted to put my photo on it. After the subsequent panic attack, I realised that I can no longer hide. And whilst I’ve no plans of plastering my face over every post, I probably do need to share a little more than I have been.

Thankfully I’ve recently become friends with lovely and insanely talented Hayley Hay. She’s amazing! Hayley came to my rescue and took some really great photos of the Munchkin and I. Many more than was needed for my project. And so I’ve decided to share some of them with you and to say;

“Hello, this is me. Nice to meet you”.

As well as; “Check out my greatest project of all time! Isn’t she adorable?!”

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

Because Munchkin is by far and away, my greatest creation/ project/ job.

She is a handful. Just like her father and I, she knows her own mind and makes sure we know it too. She is also gentle, generous and kind. I’m adoring the personality that is emerging every day and seeing just how excited she gets as she learns something new. Just last week she learned how to clap her hands and so clapped proudly whilst saying “Yaaaaay” for about a day and a half. She clapped even whilst crying!

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

I’m a firm believer in “Do it once. Do it well”. And I’m doing my utmost to do it well with Munchkin. We have our good and bad days, and I’m learning to go with the flow a lot more. My perfectionist self has had to learn to be happy with ‘Almost perfect’ and more often with ‘Good enough’. It has been a challenge.

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

Just minutes before we were to start this shoot, my daughter decorated her outfit so badly it had to be changed entirely. And it was washing day. So she end up wearing a t-shirt, baby Converse and spotty tights in this shoot instead of the pretty dress I’d planned. I was a little disappointed. But after seeing the end result, I’m so glad! They show every gorgeous little squishy baby roll and her beautifully chubby belly. She’s thinning out a little now as she’s starting to move around a bit more.

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

This beautiful little one has taken all of my days and a fair number of my nights. Any any spare time I’ve had, I’ve been making but haven’t had time to blog.

It was starting to get to me. I hated seeing the blog stagnant. Even though I told myself it was only ‘maternity leave’, I seriously considered giving up next to nicx. Being an expat and not having easy access to family had meant that I’d not had time alone to work etc. I couldn’t see a way to make it work.

But a couple of my friends and my husband gave me a serious taking to, I’ve decided to keep it going. And I saw a need for a little me time as I’d started to feel like I was losing myself. Consequently, we’ve made some lifestyle adjustments. My husband comes home early a couple of nights so I can get in a swim/ workout and we now have a sitter come to look after Munchkin a couple of half days a week so I can get back to ‘work’. Munchkin has made a new friend, and I’ve finally got time to bake/ blog/ make and create!

It has the added benefit of making me feel a whole heap better and therefore, I’m a much better mother.

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

Good news! This means that the blog is going to get busier than it has been. All those half finished projects are starting to be completed and photographed. And I’ve a whole heap of new ones. So you should start to see a craft/ GF baking blog post every week or so. And I’ve a list of splendiferous things I’ve found whilst wandering around this new world inhabited by little Munchkins, I’ll share a few of those with you too.

Nicola Pravato by Hayley Hay Photography

Thanks for following next to nicx and for being patient all these months!
So see you next week; right now I’ve a tiny skirt and post to finish!

Nicx

 

All images in this post are Copyright to Hayley Hay Photography

 

Because sometimes you need to cheat

Brownie Cake

Hello lovely ladies and gents! I had intended this blog post to go live in time for Mother’s Day, so that all of you out there who wanted something a little more tasty than burnt toast for breakfast could stock up on ingredients, print out this post or email it to your partners and suggest that they make this with the kids.

Why? Because it’s insanely easy, looks good and is delicious! But life (or in this case a still teething Munchkin) managed to get in the way of my best laid plans.

So here it is post Mother’s Day. Maybe you can put in an order for one for your birthday? ;)

Brownie Cake

The main ingredient for this cake?

A cake mix.

Yup, this lady has changed her tune after rather a lot of burnt caramel and cakes that resemble pancakes because the Munchkin decided to curtail her nap and/ or to take up lung exercises right at an essential moment. So whilst I thought that hell would freeze over and be coated in frosting before I’d use a packet, I’ve found myself resorting to using cake mixes in emergencies. I’ve found a couple of fabulous gluten-free ones. But you could use any you find at the grocery or whole-foods.

For this one I used a packet of Ma Vie Sans Gluten Gateau au chocolat, manufactured by Primeal, it’s available at pharmacies and health food stores. But you can use any good gluten-free mix you like.

After following the instructions on the packet to make up the batter, I added half a cup of chopped walnuts and half a cup of chopped dark fleur de sel chocolate. And poured it into a large slice tin before baking at the temperature suggested on the packet. Just keep a good eye on it as it will bake a lot quicker due to it being put in a larger tin.

Brownie Cake

This meant that I ended up with a ‘brownie’ type cake. I cut it in half, trimmed it so the edges looked neat and layered it with chopped strawberries and whipped cream.

Brownie Cake

I then covered it with a light dusting of good quality cocoa powder. I use a tea strainer for this as it gives me loads more control and creates less of a cocoa powder cloud in my kitchen. It’s also a really handy thing to give your kids when they’re “helping”.

Brownie Cake

And finally, I added a sprinkle of some of my favourite decorations… dried flowers/ petals. I bought these from a market here in Lausanne, they’re organic and oh so pretty! But you could probably find them at a local delicatessen or specialty shop.

Brownie Cake

If all else fails, just attack with your favourite sugary decoration ;)

Brownie Cake

And voilà! An exceedingly quick (I had this done in one very short Munchkin nap), delicious and pretty cake to serve your friend who is coming for tea. And a really easy cake for you (or your husband *hint hint*) to whip up with your kids for your next Mother’s Day or birthday.

Brownie Cake
Brownie Cake