Using Baking and Cake decorating as a therapeutic tool to help me along my personal journey with a disability
Author: Debbie, Baking for Therapy
Hi, I’m Debbie and in 2012 an accident damaged my spinal cord leaving me unable to work. This was a life changing event that I found difficult to cope with, both physically and emotionally. During therapy, I was advised to find a couple of things I enjoyed and focus on how I could still manage to do them.
At the time I was Chair of, and an active performer in a local Panto Society. Thanks to their support, I eventually made it back on stage, using a variety of sticks as props, and indulging in one of my favourite pastimes, singing, and passing on my skills to our younger members. As a wonderful bonus, both my children were actively involved also, and my son met his future wife during rehearsals of ‘Puss in Boots’!
I also decided, with the aid of probably every kitchen gadget known to man, to try my hand at baking and cake decorating. I discovered a treasure chest of free tutorials on YouTube which have enabled me to master new techniques, and as I improved, I created a Facebook page where I posted pictures of my cakey creations. To my surprise (and delight) friends started asking me to make cakes for them, and I get a fantastic sense of achievement from doing so. I've always loved baking but my two 'kids' had been the only recipients of my efforts up till then. My ‘babies’ now like to challenge me to make a different novelty cake every year! (Do they ever grow up? I hope not 😀)
My baking and involvement in the Panto Society have become very important therapeutic outlets for me, but I couldn’t do either of them without the support of my very special family and friends, who have helped me through some tough times.
Because of Children in Entertainment regulations, I have focused this blog mainly on the baking side of my ‘therapy’, but you may still get a few Panto related posts now and then.
And if reading any of my posts helps you to find your own therapeutic outlet, I hope you will share your journey with me too.
Stay safe and healthy
I know I know it’s been a while, two months to be exact, and for that I apologise but the positivity of that last post didn’t last, and I didn’t want to lower the mood!
So I’ve left it a while, but now feel able to catch you up on what’s been happening.
If you’ve been following for a while, you know that I have a spinal cord stimulator that helps mask the pain caused by OPLL. The spinal cord stimulator was fitted in 2014 and the battery powered leads were placed according to where my pain was worse at the time.
Recently however, the pain has spread, most embarrassingly to my buttocks. Any pressure in that area has become unbearable, meaning that I can’t sit down for any length of time. Because of pain in my legs, I also can’t stand or walk for long either! A no win situation 😔
I had hoped that the device could be reprogrammed to cover the new areas, but my neuro appointment turned out to be a dis-appointment! They tried their very best, but it wasn’t to be. So I’ve been left having a review of my pain meds instead, which has so far been unsuccessful.
And I’m spending more time in bed lying flat or on my side, which isn’t ideal from a social perspective! Although I am usually joined by the dog so I do have some company 😆
Then about 6 weeks ago, I started getting very acute pain in my neck whenever I tried to turn it from side to side. I’ve been referred to MSK as I’ve had trouble with a disc in that area in the past, but because of Covid, NHS appointments have long waiting lists at the moment.
I won’t lie, it’s really been getting me down, and I haven’t felt like doing much at all.
Then, my daughter’s hen party plans began which lifted my spirits a lot. We also had a ‘zoom’ wedding fitting session which was exciting, and I began to feel better, emotionally at least!
My family keep reminding me how strong I am, even when I don’t always feel it. Surprise visits from my niece and nephew, followed by my brother and sister in law helped enormously too. And I couldn’t do anything without my lovely hubby who bears the brunt of my ups and downs on a daily basis 💗
My Sugar and Crumbs family have kept me distracted with Facebook lives and classes, and a few cake requests have got me up off my backside and actually putting some of my cakey skills into practice. And of course, recent events in Afghanistan have reminded me that there are a lot of people going through much worse.
So, I have lots to think about, to look forward to, and to be grateful for, and I’m now in the right frame of mind to appreciate that.
I’ll end by showing you some photos of cake, because it wouldn’t be a Baking for Therapy post without them would it? And if my friends didn’t keep trusting me with their requests, I wouldn’t have the therapeutic value that creating them gives me!
As of last Monday, I have joined the ranks of the fully vaccinated 😁
My 2nd dose of Astra Zeneca caused me no problems other than a slightly sore arm, and I feel so much safer for it. I know it doesn’t 100 percent mean I can’t catch the virus, or pass it on if I do, but it’s a step in the right direction towards getting back to ‘normality’
We have to wait until tomorrow to find out if all restrictions will be lifted on 21st June here in the UK, but if we have to wait a few more weeks to make things safer for everyone, then so be it.
Last time I posted, I told you that my furbaby Charlie was awaiting major surgery. I’m very pleased and relieved to say, the operation seems to have been a success! Charlie is no longer struggling to get up or walk, and doesn’t seem to be in any pain.
He had a ‘blown’ disc removed, and the misaligned bones at L7 and sacrum were put back in place and pinned and cemented to keep them there. The biggest problem we have at the moment is keeping him still! He wasn’t allowed walks for 4 weeks (11/2 to go!) then he will be allowed 5 minutes, building up slowly to the 6 week mark, when he will have another CT scan to make sure his pins are still in the right place. As long as everything is ok, by 8 weeks we should be able to go back to his normal exercise routine. As you can see he’s quite happy 😃
Meanwhile, I’ve been continuing to learn new cake decorating skills in virtual online classes, and made a couple of cakes for friends this week.
I know I shouldn’t have taken on 2 cakes in one week, and believe me, my body knows it as I’ve practically slept for 2 days! But, as ever, the sense of satisfaction I get is a great boost to my mental health, and I know to block out at least 2 days of doing nothing to recover afterwards. My hubby is my carer and always gets the brunt of this, but is also incredibly supportive.
The first cake I knew would be tricky, as it involved 2 techniques that I’ve never done before. One is a ‘starburst’ or ‘explosion’ effect, and the other involves covering half the cake in one colour sugarpaste, and the other in a different colour! Who knew covering half a cake would be more difficult than a whole one?
I watched the following YouTube video for the starburst
I probably should have looked at a few tutorials on half and half cakes too……..but I winged it 😆
Luckily I had a good base for the cake, having used my Brigids cake room ganache kit. Oh those straight sides and flat top! Absolute game changer for me, as it cuts out the application of the ganache, and the constant scraping round the cake trying to get the perfect finish! Much easier on my painful hands. I’ve now got 3 of them in my most popular cake sizes.
I’m very proud of the cake I achieved, which was Spider-Man/Hulk themed. Although working with dark coloured sugarpaste on a hot day is yet another challenge!
The 2nd cake request I accepted was for twin girls who were 2. I mentioned to Mum that I could make a simple cake (as I had the tricky one also) and chose buttercream for the finish in a watercolour effect. Again, the hot weather was a bit of an issue, and at one point it was in the garage in a box as that was the coolest place (I really need a cake fridge!)
A rainbow and unicorns finished it off nicely 🥰
Recipes for the cakes can be found here. In both cases I used Sugar and Crumbs chocolate milkshake flavoured icing sugar in place of caster sugar in the batter.
See the full range of flavoured icing sugars here and a list of other products used below 😀
The last couple of months have flown by, with a mixed bag of events contributing to my lack of posting.
My health has been up and down, with several episodes of ‘fainting’ or inability to respond while still being aware of what is going on around me.
I have history of low blood pressure and of partial complex epilepsy, and it could be either or both! However it seems to have settled down for now 🤞
My gorgeous furbaby Charlie whippet has also been struggling 😢 In October last year, he had an accident and fractured his neck and displaced three discs. He was in ‘hospital’ for five days, but slowly recovered, albeit on a medication regime that seemed to be mirroring mine!
So when he started crying with pain when trying to stand we assumed he had exacerbated this prior injury. But on taking him back to the Small Animal Hospital, a CT scan revealed sacral lumbar stenosis which is so bad, his bones have been pushed out of alignment.
So today, we are taking him back so that they can prep him for surgery tomorrow. It’s very scary, but I know it’s the right option if he stands any chance of a pain free future. We won’t be allowed to visit because of Covid regulations, so it’s going to be a long week!
In amongst all this, I have of course had some welcome distraction by baking for some friends and family members ☺️
First up, I practiced with my new Brigids Cake Room ganaching kit. Instead of using ganache though I used buttercream with confetti sprinkles. Look at those straight sides and neat top! After a tidy up of the bottom edge, I was very impressed with the result, and gave it to my son and daughter in law for their wedding anniversary ❤️
This one was for my lovely mother in law’s birthday. A lemon sponge made by substituting Sugar and Crumbs lemon drizzle icing sugar for caster sugar in a basic Victoria sponge recipe. It was then filled with lemon buttercream and decorated with fresh fruit.
Then I made a Sticky Toffee pudding flavour birthday cake for hubby, using the same method, and topping with chocolate pearls 😋
For my son’s birthday, I decided to revisit a cake I made for him five years ago, before I began learning cake decorating! Looking at the photos, I think it’s safe to say I’ve improved! In case you’re wondering, it’s a Pokemon character called Bulbasaur. Again, I made chocolate cake using S&C chocolate milkshake flavour icing sugar in the batter. It was then baked in Molly Robbins laying style Creature Creator mould. His head needed to be wider so I used cake dough to do this before covering with milk chocolate ganache made with Callebaut Belgian chocolate Callets and double cream. Once that was smooth (ish!) and set, I covered the whole thing in Select Ireland Platinum sugarpaste that I’d coloured blue with Coloursplash gel colour.
I made his ‘bulb’ out of Rice Krispie treats, then covered in Renshaw’s emerald green sugarpaste.
To add the ‘splotches’ I mixed a bit of the green into the blue sugarpaste, and for the other details I used Renshaw poppy red, and black. My son James provided the plush toy for comparison 😂
The next request, from my niece for her partner, really made me giggle 🤭 I mean, do we ever grow up really? For your information……it’s a guitar pedal 😆 Chocolate cake again, ganached and covered with Select Ireland Platinum and Renshaw Poppy red and black.
I’d made too much chocolate sheet cake for the guitar pedal cake, so I decided to join the caterpillar cake club using the offcuts!
I cut them into circles and sandwiched them together with leftover Sticky Toffee pudding buttercream that I’d saved in the fridge from hubby’s cake. The whole thing was then covered in chocolate buttercream and melted white chocolate, drizzled with Callebaut strawberry flavoured chocolate, and decorated with smarties. I added a sugarpaste face and used marshmallows for the feet. The whole cake was made from leftovers and things I had in the kitchen already 😋 I named her Konnie and she was shared out via doorstep deliveries to family members ❤️
My friend then asked me to make a gluten free chocolate overload cake for her son’s 21st birthday. I’ve never made one before, so I was very cautious! I removed all my wheat based products from my work area (they were banished to the conservatory for a few days) and thoroughly cleaned my surfaces, Kitchenaid and any tools I needed…….twice!
The cake itself was relatively easy. My usual batter made with Doves farm gluten free self raising flour, and all three layers came out great. All S&C icing sugars are allergen free so the buttercream wasn’t a problem, and the sugarpaste used on the board was also gluten free.
For the decorations, I chose products based on a list provided by my friend Sam, or double checked the packaging to make sure! I gave Sam the packaging when she collected the cake too 😀 I made the chocolate shards myself from Callebaut chocolate.
I was so pleased with the feedback from Sam, who said it was the best gluten-free cake she’d ever had!
Last but not least, was this Silver wedding cake for Janet and Ken, who count as family as Janet is my niece’s grandma and a lovely lady she is too 🥰 The frog Prince was an unusual request, but apparently that’s what my nieces, Amy and Lucy used to call Ken!
The cake is vanilla, made with S&C velvet vanilla icing sugar, filled with raspberry jam and velvet vanilla buttercream. I then used white chocolate ganache (Callebaut white Belgian chocolate and double cream) to coat, before covering with Select Ireland Platinum white sugarpaste. I made the froggy with Renshaw emerald green mixed with some white and added tylo to make it firmer. For decoration, I used Karen Davies plaited border mould, a rose mould I’ve had for ages, and hand made the little church. I also used a Sugarflair silver sparkle lustre dust, and finishing sparkle pump spray.
And that’s about it! March to May cakes cover a lot of family birthdays including mine which was made for me by my lovely daughter in law Abigail and is pictured below ❤️
Well, back to reality now, please keep Charlie in your thoughts tomorrow 🤞
Yay! I’ve now had my first vaccination against COVID-19 😃
I have to say the whole process was very well organised at the vaccination centre I went to, and I was able to book my second dose for the beginning of June. It makes me feel so very positive about the future too.
I had the Astra Zeneca vaccine and got off very lightly as far as any side effects are concerned. Yes, I had a stiff sore arm, and felt lethargic for a couple of days, but otherwise I was fine 😊
I’m really hoping that my daughter and her fiancé will be able to get over to the UK from Bucharest in the summer. I haven’t seen her since Christmas 2019 (except on Zoom!) and even though she’s only 32, she’s had both her jabs already as they’re prioritising teachers over there, so fingers crossed 🤞
Meanwhile, since I last posted, I’ve made a birthday cake, received a birthday cake, and made some Easter treats!
The birthday cake was for my friend Amy’s Mum, and was a vanilla sponge with buttercream filling and decoration. This was an 8” round so double the recipe here. I used some of the skills I’ve learned on Carol McFarland’s buttercream flowers online classes and I think it looks really fresh and pretty 🌸
Then it was my turn to receive a birthday cake! This beautiful creation was made by my daughter in law Abigail 🥰 Layers of light sponge filled with fresh whipped cream and loaded with strawberries and blueberries 😋
For Easter I decided to make chocolate treats. You do not want to know how much melted chocolate I got over me, the microwave, the work surface……you get the idea 🤦🏻♀️ but I was pleased with the results. I used BWB moulds for the filled hearts and egg, and a Cakestar mould for the little bunnies 🐰
It’s been some time since I last posted, so I thought I would catch you up on what’s been happening over the last two months.
My mother in law was in hospital for 7 weeks (not Covid related) and we were all very worried for her. She’s home now but needing care. She’s not in our bubble so it’s very frustrating not to be able to help more, but hopefully will continue to recover.
I have seen an increase in my anxiety levels, partly I’m sure from worrying about her, but also in general. As you know, my distraction techniques include learning more about cake decorating in online live classes – Thank you Sugar and Crumbs – and I’ve also been trying some mindfulness exercises.