Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Not cake

Sporadically I blog about cake - sometimes about veg.
However this evening I've been thinking about statistics, and specifically death rates.

Because given the events that are unfolding in Syria, the Mediterranean and across Europe, it's hard not to think about these things.

And having thought, and researched and calculated, to put some things into context for myself, I thought I might as well share. 

It's easy to see and hear numbers in news bulletins from places half-way across a continent or country and lose any sense of how they relate to our safe and unthreatened lifestyles, homes and families.

I have to be open in admitting my analysis is simplistic, using readily derivable data, taken on face value, and that inherently I'm no doubt comparing apples and pears. However, as an indicator of scale I found it helpful - and sobering.

I've used IOM arrivals and mortality data to calculate year-to-date death rates for refugees fleeing Syria by boat. (Data from this press release) For comparability the following death rates are per 100,000 people, based entirely on recorded data - no forward projection has been included. This data is a snapshot in time and may significantly change in future.
  • All routes: 748 
  • Central Mediterranean Route: 2,047
  • East Mediterranean Route: 40
  • West Mediterranean / West African Route: 1,051
In calculating these, I have assumed that the recoded deaths are in addition to the recorded arrivals. If they are already incorporated, then the rates will be higher.

And now for the context.

I've chosen a range of figures from the National Records of Scotland 2014 deaths data (Vital Events data taken from here). Again, death rates are quotes per 100,000 people. Data is split male/female - in each case I've taken the greater.
  • All causes (all genders): 1,014
  • Cancers (male): 320
  • Circulatory: 287
  • Respiratory: 130
  • All external causes: 61
  • Accidents: 40
  • Transport related: 6
The death rate for the single journey make by thousands fleeing via the Central Mediterranean route is twice as high as the death rate from all causes in Scotland last year, and 17 times greater than the rate for deaths from external causes (i.e. not illness). And that is without factoring in the violence these people are fleeing, and the arduous journeys, human trafficking, abuse, heat, exhaustion, dehydration, lack of sanitation, food and medical care at either end of their sea voyages.

As I said - I know my sets of figures aren't directly comparable - but then absolutely nothing the majority of us have within our real frame of reference and comprehension is.

No-one puts themselves, their children or families through that sort of ordeal unless utterly desperate. At a human level, as a nation we should be helping, not trying to work out how to bureaucratically pass the buck, or how to legitimately minimise our national responsibility and justify our lack of support to other humans in crisis with spin and fear.

In 2014, there were 54,239 deaths in Scotland.
In 2015 to date there have been 2,432 in the Mediterranean sea.
That's 5% of the total deaths form all causes in our entire nation last year, in only 8 months as a result of a single collective desperate escape.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Something Sweet to Say Thank You

I't's Mini-M's last day at pre-school tomorrow. (Gulp!).

Since this is a a baking blog, I'll spare you the "how did she grow up so quickly, where has my baby gone?" routine - but I'm thinking it!

Technically she's not Mini any more, but I believe 'M' has already been taken…

I wanted to make something nice to say thank you to all of the lovely nursery staff that have made the past 4 years such fun and give her so many happy experiences and memories. Fudge is always a winner - it's easy to pass around, keeps well and virtually everyone likes it.

So I've made fudge. I should stress that I've made it - no small sticky fingers were involved in the process!

It's very delicious but simultaneously very easy fudge. It may revolutionise you're fudge making, in fact. No beating, no boiling sugar and only 4 ingredients. 3 if you can live without the marshmallows on the top to pretty it up…

Chocolate Strawberries and Cream Fudge (makes one 8x13 tray and cuts into a LOT of pieces)

Start with 400g chocolate (I used a mix of dark and milk)
Line your baking tin with parchment. You can cheat like me by scrunching up your baking paper then opening it up to make it fit - saves cutting!
You'll also need 200g of flavoured chocolate. I used Wedel strawberry bars (from the Polish section in the supermarket) but anything goes. I've also done it successfully with 4x Mars bars.
Roughly chop the strawberry chocolate. Chop up around 8 marshmallows for topping
Melt the chocolate in short bursts in the microwave, then when smooth, add all of 1 tin (397g) of condensed milk.
Oooh - pretty! Once it is combined, stir in the chopped chocolate
Tip out into the prepared tin, press into the corners then press the marshmallows into the top
Allow to cool at room temperature of a few hours, then turn out of the tin and chop
Voila. Pink cellophane fastened with tinsel - classy.
It really is that easy :-)

I'd like to say Mini-M chose the wrapping, just that she didn't - it just happened to be what I had to hand, although perhaps Mini-M is primarily the reason that we own a roll of pink cellophane…

Now I just have to confess to Mr E that I forgot to keep any pieces aside for him before I wrapped it - oops!

And if you have any thank-yous to say, I recommend accompanying them with fudge - it's a good life philosophy I think ;-)

Monday, 29 June 2015

It's Wimbledon season - time to pimp your strawberries!

Strawberries and cream. As quintessentially part of British summer time as the rain, midges, hay fever, nettle stings, unexpected sunburned noses etc etc.

Strawberries and non-dairy cream hasn't ever quite hit the spot for me. Very cold Oatly cream (to the point that is has started to thicken) comes fairly close.

But one of the important lessons I've learned over the past 4 and a half years of cooking dairy free is that there are inevitably some things you can't emulate, and that sometimes the best option at times like this is to go totally off piste for an alternative.

And in that vein I bring you… strawberries and chocolate peanut butter sauce! Oh yeah.
Don't knock it until you've tried it - and once you've tried it, I'm pretty sure you won't knock it. It's really easy too.
And if you swap out the honey for agave or maple syrup it's vegan too.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Sauce for Strawberries (serves 3)

  • 2 tbsp whole nut peanut butter
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp mild runny honey (sub for another syrupy to make it vegan)
  • icing sugar to taste (I added 1 tsp)
  • 1-2 tbsp non-dairy milk (or even water) to reach the desired consistency

In a small bowl mixed the cocoa powder to a paste with a little splash of boiling water then add all of the other ingredient and whisk it all together. Jobs a goodun!

Like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - but fresher and tastier
Don't let the title limit you - it would also be awesome on ice cream, cake, pancakes, porridge, a spoon, licked out of the bowl - you get the picture.

All gone!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A Towering Tall Tale: Cake Fest Edinburgh

What did you get up to at the weekend? Making two replica high-rise tower blocks from cake? What? You didn't? That must just have been me then (and my lovely family and inlaws who I roped in to help…)
Tower blocks. Made of cake. Still upright - take that gravity!

I was in good company though, with  52 other baking teams around Edinburgh who were also busy madly constructing feats of cake and fondant engineering as part of the Cake Fest Edinburgh Cake Map.

I'm not joking.  Such a thing did exist and it was awesome.

Sunday afternoon saw the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh overrun with cake enthusiasts (so much so that it broke the record for the highest ever visitor numbers, with almost 16,000 people through the garden gates!). Not only that - the sun shone :-)

Bakers were invited to volunteer to recreate iconic Edinburgh landmarks as part of the Cake Map - a 70m2 representation of our beautiful city in all it's cake-y glory. And since I'm a sucker for ridiculous challenges and cake, of course I was quick to sign up.

My chosen 'icon' was the pair of yellow and blue high-rise tower blocks in Leith: Persevere Court and Citadel court. I can see them from my living room window. They are visible from pretty much anywhere in Leith - in fact they're visible from most places in Edinburgh, (and the Proclaimers 'Sunshine on Leith' album cover, but I digress…). I think of them affectionately as "my" tower blocks - so I bagged them a spot on the map, and in doing so set myself off on what was by far and a long way my most extreme cake to date.

Before I launch into photographic overload, I have to confess (although it's hardly secret): there was a teeny little structural issue. As in, one of the tower blocks - Persevere Court to be precise - fell over. Catastrophic failure - into the Docks and almost took out the Royal Yacht Britannia. Probably this is the point that I should keep quiet about my civil engineering degree, right….?! (In my defence, it wasn't structural engineering, and cake wasn't on the materials syllabus). I'm looking on it as a community service to all of the other bakers. Someone had to be the baker whose building collapsed - and since it was me, everyone else could therefore feel relieved (and probably just a little bit smug) that it wasn't them. 

I missed the actual moment of collapse itself. The event was so busy and 4 year olds are only compatible for 6-deep crowds for a very limited time, so after a while we found a sunny spot on the grass and settled down to enjoy the atmosphere and some ice lollies. With 35 mins to go before cutting (by which time it had been listing for about 2hrs) I started to think that it might actually manage to remain upright-ish to the bitter end. However the collective intake of breath, audible groan and flurry of photo taking a few minutes later indicated otherwise. It wasn't without a little bit of pride that I thought "that's my cake!";o)

And yes, a little part of me was very glad to arrive back home after the event to see both tower blocks still very much upright in real life!

The first of very many batches of marshmallow crispy cake
Probably should have used a bigger mixing bowl...
Let the fruitcake baking begin...
Highly technical plans (ahem)
Detailed architectural plans (aka "Mummy, why do you need my blue and yellow pens?"
Mmmm - concrete coloured icing. Both unappetising and structurally useless
IKEA shelves - for when regular cake boards just aren't big enough
Proof that there were structural supports
Halfway up and still level. I was so proud - but it still fell over!
Probably not got a future career as a plasterer ahead of me either
"Yes, of course you can come and stay for the weekend" / "Now that you're here can you just make a hundred fondant windows - thanks!"
A family effort - fondant rose maker and flag designer extraordinnaire
Modular construction, and 2:30am - bedtime!
Ready to go...

The tower blocks - with the real thing in the background (you'll have to take my word for it!)

Careful cake transport speed - 7mph

Cake supervision duty for the backseat passengers
Loading up...
And we're off, with the fabulous volunteers, on the nervewracking journey to the marquee
Cake assembly in front of an audience - guaranteed to give you wobbly hands!
Assembly in situ
Ready for the last window
If only outside really was covered with squiggly grass and multi coloured roses...
Oh dear. Even the hastily rigged twine / screwdriver support mechanism wasn't enough to stop the slide
Pick your angle - looks fine from here!
Behold, the Leaning Tower of Leith
And then, unsurprisingly, this happened
Missed Brtiannia by a whisker (after some earlier judicious repositioning) - phew!
Mr E having a Godzilla moment
Kitchen worktops - all vestiges of icing sugar finally gone
I've never had a cake in the news before...
Not to mention the photo in Monday's metro with yours truly's collapsed cake right in the foreground!

This might be my favourite photo of the day though - Mini M proudly displaying her "Hero Baker" rosette for participation. It was proudly worn to pre-school today for show and tell, along with the flag, which was salvaged from the wreckage!

And, and, and - before I finish and go to bed… I'm especially proud that both tower blocks had no dairy ingredients in them, and one was also made without any gluten ingredients. Plus the DF fruitcake and GF chocolate crispy were vegan. So not only where they structural cake behemoths, they were inclusive into the bargain. :o)

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Daring Cooks' May 2015 Challenge - Turkish Delight

Brinkmanship. Starting your Daring Cooks challenge with 3hrs to go until the posting deadline. Certainly not a triumph of forward planning!

Almost at the magic 127C
However, I did, and it's done (sort of). Technically it's not finished but in project management speak I'm classing it as "substantially complete".

Blog-checking lines:  For the Month of May, Rachael from Pizzarossa challenged us to make candy but not just any candy!
She challenged us to make Turkish Delight, or Lokum.

So I'd better up-front with my confession - I hate Turkish delight. That might have something to do with my slowness in getting around to tackling the challenge - that and a crazy busy time at work.

Cherries and pistachios to add some texture and flavour
And before anyone suggests it, my hatred was not because I'd not tried "real" Turkish delight. Yup - tried it, in Istanbul, still hated it. Admittedly marginally less than the Fry's variety, however still at the bottom of my confectionery ranking.

Cornstarch gloop
However, Mr E loves Turkish delight - so I'm hoping that he'll take this offering into his work and dispatch with it.

I ended up making 2 batches - the first one turned out OK in the end, but the sugar caramelised too much before I added the cornstarch, so it was golden. I didn't add the fruit I'd been planning, in case it was a burnt disaster, but instead  mixed in half a teaspoon of cola flavour, which I thought might complement the caramel under tones.

Caramel cola - will it set… yes!
The second batch I switched to a smaller pan, which seemed to make the difference - I added pistachios, glade cherries and a couple of drops each of rosewater and vanilla.

Batch 2 underway - just like very sweet wallpaper paste
Keep your fingers crossed that it sets / cuts tomorrow!

If nothing else, I achieved a good cherry / pistachio distribution!
Thanks for pushing me out of my comfort (and taste) zone ;o)

PS - it's dairy free and vegan - and the recipe here on the Daring Kitchen website is very thorough and easy to follow


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