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.
In a bid to distract myself as much as possible, I’ve been baking for my friends, which is great for my mental health, but does take a toll on my physical issues.
As always, it’s a precarious balancing act between the benefits and the outcome, and I don’t always get it right!
In my online class groups I’m the joker, (amongst others!) who always has a quip ready, and I love the camaraderie in there, it really lifts my mood. But each bake or class also takes a few days to recover from.
My poor husband bears the brunt of this as my carer, and has become used to the transition from ‘Joker’ to ‘Zombie’! He really is the only one who sees this side of me, but is so supportive as he knows it keeps me sane and feeling useful.
But with his Mum being ill, he’s had more than me to worry about obviously, and I’ve been doing my best to support him too. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to be anxious about eh? 🤦🏻♀️
This past week, I’ve also been filling in my PIP award review. Although not as detailed as the original form 5 years ago, it does ask about any changes. This meant going over the answers from last time in order to ascertain if there had been any. Unfortunately, this brought back everything from my accident, diagnosis, surgeries, counselling and therapies from 2012 to present. All the things I try not to think about, suddenly rushing back to haunt me once again!
I know the review is necessary, but it took me a long time to be able to look forward instead of dwelling on the past, and it was a bit of a shock to the system to realise how close to the surface it still is. But it’s done now, so hopefully I can get back my positivity!
Mother in law home, hubby had his first vaccination (he’s older than me) and I have mine tomorrow. We’re moving in the right direction 😊
So rather than this post being about one cake, I’m going to thank you for letting me ramble on, and just show you some pictures of all the cakes I’ve made since January and end on a positive note!
I hope you are finding your own ways of dealing with this strange situation we’ve been in for the past 12 months. We’re only human and it’s normal to have some anxiety and stress, and not to beat ourselves up about it, so I’m sending positive vibes to each and every one of you.
But this year, she’s into ‘Frozen’, probably prompted by the release of the film sequel earlier this year ❄️
The request was for chocolate cake, and although I was sent some photo suggestions, I was given free rein to interpret them in my own way, which is good because it’s not good form to copy another cake decorators design!
I had a little rummage on Pinterest etc, and ended up going with a fairly simple design ❄️
I used milk chocolate ganache to coat the cake and give it a firm base for the sugarpaste.
Making cake batter and buttercream is fairly easy for me because the Kitchenaid mixer does it for me, but I’ve always made ganache with blocks of chocolate, which I break into small chunks.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that because of the pain in my hands, it’s getting really difficult. It hurts to break it up, but also sets off tremors a few hours later! So I’ve decided to swap to Callets which are like little wafers or buttons. They’re more expensive, but if it means avoiding pain it’s a no brainer! It’s Belgian chocolate too, and is absolutely yummy!
I did an online course with ‘Oli The Choc’ a chocolatier based in Manchester recently. He filmed in the Sugar and Crumbs kitchen for the day, and recommended Callebaut brand Belgian chocolate, so that’s what I’ll be using from now on!
Then I applied my favourite Finishing Sparkle from Sugarflair to give the whole thing that frosty glittery finish ❄️ I loved the final look of this cake 🥰 Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear from you 😀
I can’t finish this post without mentioning that this month has highlighted the importance of Breast Cancer screening, and World Mental Health Day.
Baking for Therapy includes looking after my mental well being, as well as the Chronic pain caused by my OPLL, and I support Breast Cancer Now by fundraising in memory of my late Grandma Molly.
If you would like to donate to this charity, I have a Just Giving page, or you can go directly to their website if you prefer. Amongst many others, I haven’t been able to use my baking skills to host a bake sale this year because of social distancing rules, so any donation would be doubly welcome 🙏
Until next time
Stay safe and healthy
Disclaimer: Sugar and Crumbs is my preferred supplier of all things Cake. I am not sponsored by them and do not receive payment for recommending their products.
Access to the class is via a private Facebook group, and the best thing is it’s then yours forever. So, if like me you’re unable to tackle it all in one day, you can do some of it, do none of it and watch first or any combination of the two!
Anyhoo, the point of this post is that I’ve decided to offer my version of the cake to one of you! You will have to be local I’m afraid, as it will need to be collected, but apart from that, all you need to do is follow my blog and leave a comment and your name.
I will then use this handy dandy spinny wheel thingamajig from wheelofnames.com to input everyone’s names, give it a whirl and whoever it lands on will win 😀🥳😀🥳
I’m going to run this until Thursday 17th at 6pm to give the winner the option of choosing the colours.
On the day, I will be doing 2-3 hours, then following along from the comfort of my recliner for the rest of the class. I know from experience that it’s better for me to break it down into 3 or 4 sessions, otherwise I won’t be able to function for a week! So, I’m hoping to get some prep done on Thursday and have the cake finished by Sunday 🤞
So, please leave your names/comments as instructed and Good Luck!
I can’t believe that it’s been a month since I posted!
Preparations for the Christmas Fair went much slower than I anticipated, as my helper (Mum) ended up being ill for 2 weeks, so I just had to soldier on as best as I could.
Up to the week before, I concentrated on things that could be prepared in advance, and just took it slowly which was fine.
Of the things I had planned to make fresh…fudge, gingerbread, shortbread etc…..only the fudge got made and packaged. As I also had a Children in need cake to make, I just couldn’t find time for the others without making myself physically ill!
I had Mum to help package and label from a few days before when she had recovered, and Glen (hubby) to do the delivery and set up with me.
However, 2 days afterwards I received a call from the organiser asking for more fudge and Christmas cakes! This meant buying more supplies, making the fudge, allowing it to set, and packaging up another 6 batches to take over! And decorating another half dozen Christmas cakes!
In the end, I brought very little back home with me, which was a great result. However, it did mean making yet more fudge and reindeer hot chocolate cones for my local church Christmas fair last Saturday!
In amongst all this I also ‘tested’ 2 versions of a new Sugar and Crumbs flavoured icing (cream cheese, mmmm yummy, more on that next time) made 2 birthday cakes, and cupcakes and scones for the Ladies fellowship Christmas lunch! And had an early ‘Christmas’ celebration with my son and daughter in law as they are away in New Zealand and Australia for most of December. Add Panto rehearsals into the mix, and my time management almost went out of the window!….almost.
I managed by scaling back and doing only what was essential. As mentioned earlier, that meant not taking some of the things I’d planned to take, but it was the only way I could make it work.
All was going to the ‘new’ plan, when more spanners were thrown into the works last week, with my poor hubby copping for it. Firstly by having a cluster of three migraines, and then by seriously hurting his back. Luckily family and friends rallied round to help, God bless them, but he is still in a lot of pain ☹️
My son and Mum helped set up and clear away at the Church Christmas Fair, and friends have been giving me lifts as hubby can’t even get into the car let alone drive it! My son also came to take the dog out for a proper walk, and picked up what was left of my Christmas fair stock to take to work.
I’m really hoping that Glen is well enough to attend the Panto Christmas meal on Friday evening, but will have to play that one by ear. At the moment it’s looking unlikely ☹️
Anyway, here are a few pictures of what I managed to do over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of the Christmas fair goodies, as the priority was just getting stuff done!
In this post, I thought I would give you an insight into how I manage my baking with my particular mobility and pain issues.
Before I begin, here’s a reminder of my condition, OPLL
As you can see, it’s a debilitating chronic condition, with a whole host of possible symptoms. Mine is the mixed type, and was picked up after a fall in 2012 pushed the ossification into my spinal cord causing severe multilevel compression from C2-C7. Up to that point, I was blissfully unaware of it, although I now know that it would have caught up with me eventually. The difference being that the symptoms would have manifested gradually, possibly giving me more options for treatment. Because of my injury, my options were limited. It didn’t help that even after my fall, it was a good five months before I was given the mri scan that eventually provided the diagnosis. By that time my options were surgery, or be in a wheelchair within 12 months. Not much of a choice huh? Needless to say, I had the surgery (cervical laminoplasty) to create space around my spinal cord. Unfortunately, there was some atrophy and irreversible damage. My current symptoms are chronic pain in my legs, buttocks, hands and feet resembling a burning sensation (think sunburn!) weakness in my arms, hands and neck, myelopathy, numbness and tingling, muscle spasms, difficulty with balance, problems with grip, difficulty urinating, anxiety and depression. In 2014, I had further surgery to implant a spinal cord stimulator. Along with my array of medications, this helps with the pain in my lower body.
So now you have the background! As you can imagine, it took me a good few years to come to terms with the lifestyle changes this necessitated, but that’s a whole different post! For now, I’m just going to concentrate on the physical limitations, except to say that it was during counselling that I was advised to find a hobby that was (a) doable, and (b) something I actually enjoyed!
Which brings us to the baking! (At last, I hear you cry!)
Baking was something I had always enjoyed from when my kids were small and started having birthday parties. I would try to create their favourite toys or cartoon characters out of cake, with varying degrees of success! For more adult family birthdays, I had a go to chocolate fudge cake, but that was the extent of my repertoire really. I made everything by hand with just a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. The availability of ready to roll icing in every colour under the sun in the 1980s was a game changer for children’s cakes though! I think that was when I started experimenting with character cakes for the kids birthdays! Nowadays, I take photos of every cake I make, but mobile phones didn’t have cameras then. I’m sure we must have taken photos at birthday parties, but they’ll be in a box in the attic somewhere….and maybe that’s a good thing!
Here’s a few more recent ones:
It was after my second surgery in 2014, that I finally felt able to revisit the advice I’d been given about focusing on a hobby. Up until then, I hadn’t really accepted my new ‘reality’, and wasn’t ready to listen. That’s the thing about advice. It doesn’t matter how good it is if you’re not in the right place on your journey to accept it. But I was reminded of it during a later counselling session, and this time, it was the right time, if that makes sense?
So, how did I go about it? Well, I discovered this magical place called YouTube, where experienced Cake Artists were miraculously willing to share their skills! You can find a list of recommended channels on my homepage if you want to take a look yourself 😀 I became obsessed with watching tutorials and trying them out. But it was difficult, because I could no longer rely on my wooden spoon and mixing bowl. My hands just didn’t work like that anymore. I couldn’t stand for long either, or sit for long periods without supporting my neck for that matter.
However, my lovely husband could see that my interest was piqued, and that it was having a positive effect on my mental health. I knew there were appliances that could help me, but financially, we weren’t in a position to go on a spending spree! But he did buy me a stand mixer for my birthday. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen 😀 It was a Morphy Richards Stand Mixer similar to this one, in a gorgeous ruby red colour, and it was wonderful!
I could mix up a cake batter in no time, and without hurting my hands. The house that we lived in at the time had a very long kitchen which also had a small dining table in there, so rather than stand at the worktop, I set up a baking station there so I could sit down.
The actual decorating part was a bit more tricky, but I found that if I took things at my own pace, and kept it reasonably simple, I managed. There is a ‘cost’ involved of course. Even having a timetable of 3 days didn’t leave me totally unscathed. Day 1, I would bake, Day 2, fill and first coat of buttercream, Day 3, final buttercream or fondant covering, and add any decorations. Day 4, sleep or rest all day! (Sometimes Day 5 too) Part of the advice I was given was to weigh up the benefits and the consequences. And of course, plan for those consequences. The pleasure I get from completing a cake, whether it’s a family birthday, a friend’s grandchild or just a treat, also releases pain relieving endorphins, which means I often don’t feel as uncomfortable whilst I’m ‘in the moment’, but I’ve learned to factor in my ‘rest days’ afterwards, by making sure I have no other plans for at least 2 days. Hubby knows that he’ll be practically babysitting me during that time too. But, you can’t beat the satisfaction of a job well done, the happiness on the face of the recipient, and the joy of doing something you love. There’s also the feeling that you are ‘contributing’ in some way too, which is something I struggled with when I had to give up work.
So basically, you weigh up the pros and cons, and if you think the former outweighs the latter, go for it! And of course, every day is different. Anyone who suffers from chronic pain from whatever cause, knows that there are ‘bad days’. At those times, you have to be sensible and honest with yourself, which is sometimes harder than it sounds.
A few years later, and I’ve moved on from ‘Ruby’ my first mixer. She served me well, but I wanted something a little more powerful. So when the chance to buy a Kitchenaid stand mixer cropped up, along came ‘Luther’ Kitchenaid Artisan Stand Mixer. Isn’t he handsome?
The Kitchenaid is a joy to work with, and mine came with a flex edge beater, which scrapes the bowl down as it mixes. Three years ago, we had to sell our family home of nearly 20 years, and move to a bungalow, so Luther now takes pride of place in my new ‘designed for me’ kitchen. I’ve picked up lots of cake decorating tools and gadgets over the past few years, all making my hobby a lot easier to enjoy. Another really useful appliance is a food processor, especially one with attachments for slicing and grating as well as chopping. I can even make pastry again! I have this one
I do appreciate that some of these items are not in everyone’s budget. They wouldn’t have been in mine if we hadn’t have had to move house! But I know I’m going to use them a lot because of this passion I have found for baking, and the therapeutic value of this hobby of mine has been nothing short of miraculous!
If you’re not sure it’s for you, but you’d like to give it a try, ALDI Special Buys do their own range of appliances called ‘Ambiano’ to start you off, which are very reasonably priced. If you don’t have problems with your hands, you can also pick up an electric hand mixer in most supermarkets. These are quite capable of mixing up a simple cake batter and buttercream too.
Whatever you decide to do, and I do recommend giving baking a try 😀 finding something to focus on, that you enjoy, definitely has therapeutic value, both physically (remember those endorphins?) and mentally. It’s called distraction technique and really does work! And if you do try baking, you get cake 🍰 as a bonus!
Please do let me know how you get on, or tell me what hobbies you have found therapeutic for you 😀 I have another one to share too! But that’s a whole other story!