baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten Free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf Recipe

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been slightly obsessed with Warburton’s cinnamon fruit loaf. It’s a great breakfast treat when toasted up and dripping with hot melted butter. I’ve even introduced Little Man to it, and he loves it! But the trouble is, my lovely husband is gluten-intolerant, so he can’t enjoy it with us. So I set off to create my own recipe for a delicious gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf…

gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf recipe perfect for your morning toast

Gluten-free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf Recipe

Ingredients For Your Gluten Free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf:

You’ll want to gather the following ingredients for this yummy fruit loaf recipe:

  • 50g sultanas
  • 50g mixed peel
  • 300g gluten free plain flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 7g instant yeast
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 egg
  • 75g warm (not hot) milk
  • 25g melted butter

You’ll also need a 2lb loaf tin, mixing bowls, and a tea towel or piece of fabric. Plus, you’ll need somewhere warm and out of the way where you can leave the dough to prove.

gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf recipe the sickly mama blog

Cinnamon Fruit Loaf: The Recipe

1. Start by adding the gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice into a mixing bowl.

2. Start mixing in the egg, followed by the warm milk and butter. If you’re not using salted butter, add a pinch of salt at this stage. I recommend mixing it all together using a balloon whisk if you have one.

3. Once it’s smooth and combined, add in the mixed peel and sultanas (or other dried fruit of your choice!). For best results, you can pre-soak the dried fruit in about 50ml orange juice (or water with a tablespoon of sugar added) for about half an hour, but it’s not crucial. Then knead the fruit into the dough with your hands.

4. At this point I usually turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two. But as we’re not working with gluten, and so there are no gluten strands to form through kneading, it’s not really a crucial step!

5. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave somewhere warmish to prove, until it’s doubled in size. If it’s cold, I like to put it in the microwave next to a mug of hot water, to create a nice warm proving environment. This should normally take about an hour, but if it’s cold it will take longer. In the meantime, grease your baking tin.

6. Turn the dough back out onto a floured surface and knead briefly, then form into the shape of your baking tin. Place the dough into the tin and cover it, and leave it to prove in the same place as before, for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (gas mark 4).

7. It’s time to bake! Pop your cinnamon fruit loaf into the oven for 20 minutes. Once it’s done, leave the bread to cool in the tin, and then simply tip it out! It’s delicious sliced and lightly toasted, with lashings of butter. Om nom nom.

Tips and tricks for the perfect loaf:

As it’s a gluten-free fruit bread, you will probably find that your gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf doesn’t brown up as much in the oven as you might expect, if you have experience of baking with regular flour. Don’t leave the loaf in longer to get it to brown up more, as this can result in a really dry and crumbly loaf! Instead, if you value a nice golden brown bread crust, I recommend brushing the top of the dough with whisked egg before you put it in the oven.

More recipes for gluten-free treats!

If you’ve enjoyed this recipe and you’re on the hunt for more gluten-free treats, why not try my gluten-free pumpkin muffins recipe, or my absolute favourite cookie recipe – gluten free oatmeal raisin cookies!

fatigue · health · lifestyle · sport

How To Get Exercising With Chronic Illness

Getting regular exercise is important for everyone, but when you have a chronic illness, or if you’re recovering from an illness or surgery, it can feel like a potential minefield – there’s the risk of hurting yourself, impacting your recovery… and to be perfectly honest, it might just feel like too much hard work. But appropriate exercise can help with a lot of health conditions, by managing symptoms, improving sleep, and increasing strength. So how can you get into exercising with chronic illness? I’ve pulled together my thoughts and top tips based on my own experience (which has included recovering from brain surgery twice, post-viral fatigue syndrome, exercise-induced asthma, hypermobility spectrum disorder, and more!).

how to exercise with chronic illness exercising with a health condition after surgery the sickly mama blog

Exercising With Chronic Illness

Recognise what you’re already doing

First things first. It’s important to acknowledge the exercise you’re already doing. Whether that’s walking to town to buy shopping, or cleaning the bathroom, or just getting up and having a shower, chances are you’re already doing some exercise. Understand what you’re already doing on a regular basis, how difficult you find it and the impact on your body. That should give you an idea of your current ‘baseline’ level of fitness and exercise, and how variable it is. Then you can use that as a starting point to build up from.

Do your research

Next, you need to ensure you understand your health condition(s) and the kinds of limitations they may place on your ability to exercise or the type of exercise you can do. For instance, because of my hypermobility spectrum disorder I should try to avoid high-impact exercise and instead focus on low-impact exercises such as swimming. I also need to be extra careful about ensuring I have good form and don’t over-extend my joints when I’m doing yoga.

Try talking to your doctor, and make sure they approve of the exercise you’re planning on doing. You could also be asked to be referred to a physiotherapist, who may be able to recommend specific exercises that will help your condition.

But also – have a research online for advice on exercising with your specific health condition or chronic illness. Often you can find very detailed information online (for instance, this article on exercising with hypermobility) which your doctor may not be familiar with. Of course, it’s important to be careful to use reputable sites and look for advice which is backed up by peer-reviewed scientific research (quick rule of thumb: if the site you’re looking at is trying to get you to buy something, be a bit more sceptical of its health advice…). And, of course, check any proposed new exercise regimen with your doctor.

Set realistic targets for exercising with chronic illness

If you’re currently struggling to get into the shower in the mornings, it’s probably not realistic to set yourself the target of running a marathon – and it probably won’t do your body much good to try. Set yourself realistic targets, which are in line with the advice for your condition and which permit time off for rest. For instance, rather than saying you want to do a certain type of exercise once a day, you could set yourself a target to do a certain number of minutes of exercise (or steps, miles etc.) in a week. That way, you can do more on days when you feel good, and take a break on bad days. Start small, and aim to build up over time, so that it’s not too much of a shock to your body.

If your health condition tends to be quite variable, you could also think about giving yourself workout options which you can select from depending on how you’re feeling each day. For example, aiming for ten minutes of gentle stretching on a bad day, twenty minutes of yoga on an okay day, and a short run on a good day (or whatever works for you!), will mean that you’re flexing your workouts around your chronic illness.

Work with your body, not against it

Following on from the above, the most important thing when you’re exercising with chronic illness (or when recovering from surgery or illness) is to listen to your body and work with it, not against it.

There’s a culture in some fitness circles to “push yourself to your limits”, that “pain is temporary” or something to push through. That kind of attitude is not going to help you develop a good relationship with exercise in the long run (no pun intended…), if you’re suffering from chronic illness. If your body tells you to stop – stop! You can always do more exercise when you’re feeling better.

Over time you’ll probably get the feel for when your body is saying no as a result of your health condition, and when it’s just saying no because you’re giving it a good workout. But it can take a while to get to know what you can handle, how to recognise when your body’s had enough, and how a workout will impact you the next day. You may also start to notice other patterns that you hadn’t picked up on previously, in terms of how activity affects your condition.

exercising with chronic illness measure progress against yourself not other people the sickly mama

Measure progress against yourself – not other people

As the old saying goes: comparison is the thief of joy. If your friends are comparing notes on the 5k they ran at the weekend, don’t let that make you feel bad about the fact that you can only run 1k, or that you were proud of managing a five minute walk the other day. Even comparing yourself to others with the same health condition is not helpful. Remember that your body is unique, and everyone responds differently to illness (and to exercising with chronic illness!). Focus on your progress by comparing yourself to your previous achievements and your baseline ability to exercise. That way, it’s a fair comparison and you can celebrate your progress, instead of feeling like you’re not doing enough.

Cut yourself some slack

This is probably the most important point on the list. You need to cut yourself some slack. Things won’t just go smoothly. There will be times when your health condition probably means that your progress goes backwards for a while. You may feel frustrated that you’re ‘back where you started’ (or even further back), as a result of a flare up in your illness.

That’s okay. It’s okay to go backwards, and it’s okay to be frustrated by it. But try to be kind to yourself. If you need a break, have a break. If you need the day off, take the day off. If you need the week off – likewise. Remember that it’s okay to find things difficult, or need to rest. The whole point of exercise is to look after your health and wellbeing.

Don’t be afraid to give up and do something different

With exercise, there can be a culture that it’s bad to be a “quitter”. Well, that’s true – if you stop exercising completely. But if you’re just not getting on with a specific type of exercise, then there’s nothing wrong with quitting it in order to try something else. For instance, if you’re finding running too difficult, you could try swimming or yoga instead. The point is to find something that you actually enjoy doing, and build it into your routine, so that it’s sustainable for the long term.

Build a habit again… And again… And again.

One of the most important things when you’re trying to improve your fitness is to get into a routine with your exercise. Then, it just becomes part of your day to day life. And the tricky thing when you’re trying to exercise with chronic illness, is that the routine tends to get broken. For instance, I remember a couple of years ago when I’d got into a really good routine with dance classes and rock climbing, and had gained a lot of strength and fitness… And then randomly had a really bad asthma flare up that meant I struggled just walking around for weeks and weeks. I lost the habit of going to class, I lost a lot of muscle mass. It was totally disheartening.

It can be hard to force yourself to get back into a routine one it’s been broken, but the only advice I can give is to persevere and be patient. Chances are, you’ll have to keep re-starting your routine as time goes by. But I think it helps to focus on the positives. For instance, even though I had lost a lot of strength and fitness, when I restarted dance and climbing, I hadn’t forgotten the theory and skills I’d learned. Although I felt like I was back to square one, in fact I was still a couple of squares further along the board, compared to when I originally started. And the second time around, it didn’t take quite so long to get back up to speed.

How to get into exercising with chronic illness… Your tips!

Have you managed to develop a good exercise routine with chronic illness – or while recovering from surgery or illness? What are your top tips? Let me know in the comments below!

how to get into exercising with chronic illness the sickly mama blog yoga by the ocean
child development · Just for fun · lifestyle · parenting · play

Free & Cheap Ideas For Fun Outdoors With A 12 – 18 Month Old Toddler

I’ve previously written about Little Man’s first discoveries of the great outdoors as a newly-walking toddler. I thought it would be fun to follow up with some ideas for fun ways to play and explore the great outdoors when you have a young toddler – in the one year old to eighteen months sort of timeframe. I’m focusing on cheap and easy activities that involve household items you probably already have, or at least that don’t require purchasing anything worth more than about £1… Because fun shouldn’t be mega expensive!

Free & Cheap Ideas For Fun Outdoors With A 12 – 18 Month Old Toddler

Pebbles in a Pot

This idea came from my own lovely mum! When I was a kid we had a gravel area outside our kitchen door, and mum said I used to spend ages sat on the step happily putting little pebbles from the gravel into empty milk bottles.

We have a small amount of gravel in our back garden, so I thought I would try the same with Little Man, showing him how to put pebbles into an empty plastic bottle… And he loves it! (To be fair, it could be genetic – so I guess there’s no guarantee your kids will like it, buuut let’s just skate past that). He needs reasonably close supervision to ensure he doesn’t try to eat any of the pebbles, but as time has gone by, the frequency of attempted pebble-munching has greatly diminished.

Pebbles in a pot!

The pebbles in a pot game is great for fine motor skills as well as concepts like big and small, empty and full. And honestly, it requires so little parental input that it’s perfect for those mornings when you find yourself in your back garden with an energetic toddler much, much earlier than planned…

Interactive Plants

Okay, bear with me, because I didn’t really have a title for this one! While on our way to nursery one morning a couple of months ago, I introduced Little Man to the concept of dandelion clocks. He loved watching me blow away the seeds and having a try himself (mainly just aggressively blowing raspberries in the complete wrong direction, but he had a go!). Now he loves dandelions and asks for them whenever we go out – he calls them “bubbles” which actually kind of makes sense when you think about it.

But dandelions aren’t the only interactive plant out there! We’ve played with snapdragons (antirrhinums), squeezing the sides of the flower to make them snap, and Little Man really likes picking daisies and singing the Upsy Daisy song from In The Night Garden – and watching mama make daisy chains. There’s such fun to be had in simply exploring new flowers and plant textures like tulips, daffodils, poppies and strands of grass.

When we go out, Little Man also enjoys looking for daisies, dandelions, leaves and sticks, and later on in the summer I can’t wait to go foraging for blackberries and other fruit, and playing with popping the seedpods of bizzy lizzies (impatiens). There’s really so many fun and interesting plants that little ones can explore, it’s probably worth a blog post on its own!

Upsy Daisy, here I come!

Treasure Hunt

I thought this would be a bit too complicated for Little Man at just 14 months old, but actually thanks to Easter I discovered that you really can do a fun treasure hunt in the garden, even for really young toddlers.

First, pick something they’ll be really interested in finding (like, say, shiny chocolate eggs… Or toys wrapped in silver foil). Let them watch you “hide” them (pretty much in plain sight), and then set them loose! With a fair bit of help and prompting, it’s a really fun way to spend some time together. Little Man though did not trust us to look after the eggs he had found while he looked for others, which created a slight issue when he ran out of hands…

Easter Egg Hunt Champion 2021

Fun with Water

You don’t need to buy a paddling pool to have fun in the sunshine (when the sunshine actually turns up, of course). We have now invested in a pool, but before we did, we had loads of fun with a washing up bowl and a bucket of water in the garden! Little Man actually still managed to fit in a normal kitchen bucket at almost 18 months old, and really enjoyed watching the water spilling over the rim as he sat down, and stood up… And sat down, and stood up… Safe to say, the lawn got a good watering.

Setting up a few buckets of water and some cups and things to play with is super easy and a great way to keep cool on a hot day. Just make sure you don’t forget the sun cream!

Making Marks With Chalk

This is my last suggestion and unless you live near some natural chalk hills and can collect a pocketful of rock chalk while out for a walk, you’ll need to buy some chalks – I got a big packet for £1 from our local cheap and cheerful store (it’s not technically a pound shop so I don’t know what else to call it…)

Chalk is great because of course it washes away in the rain, so you can make a huge mess of a driveway, path, fence, some rocks or a wheelie bin… And not worry too much about the cleanup (if you live in the UK, anyway). Little Man is loving playing with chalk at the moment and it’s great for starting to learn the alphabet and numbers as well.

Your top tips for free and cheap outdoor play ideas

What are your top tips and ideas for fun outdoors with a toddler? I’d love to get more ideas and tips for me and Little Man this summer!

health · Just for fun

Why You Should Always Find Out Your Surgeon’s Birthday

Today is my birthday! How old am I? Fortunately that’s not relevant to this blog post. Because today, we’re going to be talking about the most important birthday you need to add to your calendar. And, hard though it is to believe – it’s not my birthday… It’s your surgeon’s. Because a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has found that patients who underwent surgery on the surgeon’s birthday exhibited higher mortality than patients who underwent surgery on other days.

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s correct. Your surgeon is more likely to kill you if they’re operating on you on their birthday. How’s that for a crazy fact – and a completely inappropriate topic for a light-hearted celebratory birthday blog post? In my defense, the study was published as part of the British Medical Journal’s fun and festive Christmas edition, so I’m not the only one completely misjudging the suitability of the topic for light entertainment.

It’s my surgeon’s birthday. How worried should I be?

The study looked at almost a million surgical procedures performed by 47,489 surgeons, and found that mortality rates were 6.9% on surgeon’s birthdays, compared to 5.6% on other days. That’s a pretty noticeable difference – but there are, of course, a few “buts”…

The study looked at 17 common emergency surgical procedures, performed on patients aged 65 – 99, at US hospitals from 2011 – 2014. The fact that these were emergency procedures performed on older people means the expected mortality rate for the first 30 days after surgery was already quite high. Unless you’re a 65+ year old undergoing a common medical emergency, even if it is your surgeon’s birthday, you’ve probably not got a 6.9% chance of dying. Good news for anyone getting an ingrowing toenail removed (or having pituitary surgery).

Additionally, apparently it’s actually comparable to the kind of increase in death rates that is seen at other times – including Christmas, New Year and weekends. So that’s… not at all reassuring, actually, now I think of it.

Why does it happen?

Well, the study was observational, meaning that the authors couldn’t establish the reasons behind the ‘birthday effect’ they observed, or exclude the impact of other, unmeasured factors. But they suggested a number of factors that could be at play:

  • Surgeons rushing to complete procedures on their birthday if they have plans to celebrate later on.
  • More distractions from birthday phone messages or conversations with team members, which could lead to more errors.
  • Surgeons being less likely to check up on patients following surgery, if they are busy with birthday plans.

They all sound totally plausible, although I’ve also thought of a few of my own that the researchers somehow missed:

  • Surgical staff suffering from a sugar rush and subsequent drop in blood sugars after eating birthday cake, impairing surgical performance.
  • One or two evil surgeons intentionally killing patients as part of some kind of sick annual birthday ritual. It’s probably a whole conspiracy, guys. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out Bill Gates was involved.

How reliable is the study?

I’m not a statistician, so I’ll leave that question to more experienced maths jockeys. I will say, however, that the letters section of the British Medical Journal website contains a number of letters on the topic from some very disgruntled surgeons, and is well worth a read. To quote one letter from neurosurgeon Steven A. Reid: “One wonders about the intrusion of errors on the part of statisticians on their birthdays — I’m certain the outcome isn’t as dramatic. More speeding tickets perhaps?”

And in conclusion…

Well, I’m not a surgeon, but you’ll be glad to hear I’ve booked my birthday off work anyway. You can’t be too careful, right? And if you’re reading this while in the office, well… play it safe and go read about my experience of transsphenoidal pituitary surgery rather than doing any more of that dangerous work stuff…

health · pituitary · top tips

Top Tips For Having Transsphenoidal Pituitary Surgery

Now, I fully recognise that this is a bit of a niche blog post, one which is principally going to be of interest to anyone about to have pituitary surgery. But hey! Pituitary tumors are actually surprisingly common, so there’s a lot of people out there who might be awaiting surgery. Maybe one of them is your, dear reader.

And before going into hospital for your transsphenoidal pituitary surgery, you will be anxious. You will have questions. However, I should note that many of your questions will already have been answered on legitimate medical sites elsewhere on the internet. So instead of regurgitating the same old advice (“Don’t sneeze after surgery or your brain will shoot out of your nose”, “Warning: after they’ve drilled through your head, it may be a little sore”), I have decided I will go down a different route, and write down the more obscure things that I wish I’d known before heading into hospital for transsphenoidal pituitary surgery…

Top Tips For Having Pituitary Surgery

Let me present my top tips for people about to have pituitary surgery:

1. Shave your inside elbows.

“She’s gone mad,” I hear you cry. “She’s raving. It was probably the brain surgery that did it.” In fact, this is an entirely logical step, because of all the blood tests you’ll undergo after your pituitary surgery; you’re basically going to be a human pincushion for a couple of days as the doctors seek to keep a very close watch on various hormone levels. And I mean VERY ClOSE. Both times I’ve had pituitary surgery, I’ve had blood tests every two hours for the first twelve hours after waking up, and then they gradually reduce in frequency… But not fast enough. You will literally be woken up through the night for blood tests in hospital.

This means that the post-blood-test strip of tape and cotton wool that the phlebotomist sticks over your inside elbow is going to get ripped off repeatedly, and then stuck back on. And then ripped off again, along with much of your arm hair. After the sixth time this happens in one day, you’ll be wishing you had taken my advice and shaved your inside elbows. I did this for my second surgery (having learned this lesson the hard way after my first pituitary surgery) and it made all those bloody blood tests just a little bit easier.

2. Drink enough.

If this seems obvious to you, then presumably you’re a normal person who gets thirsty when you haven’t drunk sufficient amounts of water to keep yourself hydrated. However, I am an odd sort of person and I only really notice I’m thirsty when it’s hot or I’ve done exercise (or, for some reason, when I’m pregnant!). Otherwise, I can go for hours and hours without drinking and not even notice; even back when I was a teeny child, my mum would tell me off for not drinking enough.

This was slightly problematic in hospital. Because of the risk of surgery damaging your pituitary gland and causing a condition called diabetes insipidus, your fluid balance is monitored carefully. If they believe you’re becoming dehydrated, they will put you on a drip. This is rubbish. Therefore, drink lots of water. And if you don’t like water, keep a supply of tastier drinks at hand. And by “tastier drinks”, I mean Ribena.

3. Always eat the custard first.

Hospital food gets a bad rep. The food at my hospital was pretty tasty really, and there was a good selection. But for some obscure reason, the dessert was often served before the main. If you waited for your main meal to rock up before eating dessert (like any normal person would), your custard would congeal disconcertingly by the time you got to it.
So remember: you’ve just had brain surgery. Screw societal norms regarding the “correct” order in which to eat sweet or savory comestibles. Don’t let that custard go to waste!

4. Make your visitors play musical chairs.

Again, this may initially seem nonsensical. But I was fortunate enough to have a fair few visitors in hospital after each pituitary surgery (thank you guys!), which was lovely. However, for the most part they sat in the same chair on the left-hand side of my bed. Consequently, by the end of my stay in hospital I had done my neck in, from continually turning my head to the left. It was pretty painful and entirely my own fault. Make them alternate sides. I did for my second surgery and it was much easier on the neck.

5. Get wheeled out in a wheelchair.

Because a) you’ll be feeling rubbish and won’t want to walk, and b) it’s fun!

6. Steroids + morphine = surprisingly fun.

After waking up from my first surgery, initially I felt rubbish. It was very, very painful. Fortunately, the nurse at hand quickly gave me some morphine. By the time I was properly awake, I was pain-free, wired, and weirdly delighted that the nurse had the same first name as my mum. They took me out of the post-surgical care room and up to the main neurosurgical ward, and about half an hour after I woke up I was already texting various members of my friends and family and talking nineteen to the dozen about how unusually chirpy I felt.

7. Play your “brain surgery” card.

I regret not doing this more, in retrospect. When you’ve had brain surgery, you should be able to really milk that fact for all it’s worth. I have no doubt that there are hours of fun to be had in pretending not to recognise household objects, friends, family, political systems and/or branches of philosophy.

I remember speaking to one friend a few weeks after my first brain surgery, and I mentioned that I was always forgetting where I’d left my books. She gave me a sorrowful look and whispered, “Is that because of the surgery?”It was disappointing to have to confess to her that no, I have in fact always been that stupid.

8. Get a free pill slicer. They are awesome.

After pituitary surgery, you’ll be put on steroid replacement medication in case the neurosurgeon accidentally removed your body’s ability to make its own steroid hormone when required. Said pills can be broken into different-sized chunks so you can take, for example, a whole dose in the morning, half a pill at lunch, and the other half in the early afternoon. When I left hospital, I obviously looked too pathetic even to break a tiny pill in two, because they provided me with a pill slicer. You put the pill in, shut the lid, and SHAZAM! A razorblade hidden inside will slice that bad boy in twain.

I managed to lose my pill slicer after a couple of months, and I was pretty cut up about it. …Geddit? Cut up?

Your top tips for having pituitary surgery

Have you had transsphenoidal pituitary surgery? Do you have any top tips you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten-Free Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis De Nata) Recipe

A few years ago, my husband and I went on holiday to Lisbon in Portugal, and we fell in love with pasteis de nata, the amazing Portuguese custard tarts. Made with a buttery puff pastry and Portuguese custard, they are just delicious. When we got back home, we even found a bakery in our home town that specialised in making pasteis de nata – and we were so happy to be able to continue enjoying them.

But when my husband was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, they just became yet another yummy treat that he couldn’t have. Until now! Using shop-bought gluten free puff pastry, I have succeeded in making gluten-free pasteis de nata that are delicious and taste really authentic. Read on to find out how!

gluten free portuguese custard tarts pasteis de nata recipe the sickly mama

Gluten-free Portuguese Custard Tarts Recipe

Ingredients for gluten-free Portuguese custard tarts:

To make these Portuguese custard tarts, you will need:

  • 1 packet pre-made gluten free puff pastry (you could use shortcrust, but puff pastry is more authentic)
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 80ml water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • Lemon rind (a few pieces is fine, you don’t need the whole lemon!)
  • 2 egg yolks and one whole egg
  • 25g cornflour
  • 150ml milk
portuguese custard tarts with strawberries and tea the sickly mama blog

How to make your gluten-free pasteis de nata:

1. First prep that pastry! Unroll your puff pastry to remove the baking paper from the roll. Then re-roll it so you end up with a sausage of pastry (yep! I know it seems counter-intuitive, but this is most similar to how real pasteis de nata are made in Portugal). Cut the sausage into sections about 1cm – 1.5cm thick. You should end up with about 12 of these.

2. For each of the pastry pieces, turn them sideways, and place them between two pieces of baking paper. Then roll them out with a rolling pin until you end up with thin discs of pastry about the size of your cupcake tray holes. Pop them into the cupcake tray.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C.

4. Next, make your custard! Proper Portuguese custard is made with a sugar syrup infused with cinammon and lemon rind. To do this, heat the water, sugar, lemon rind and cinnamon stick in a pan. You want to dissolve the sugar into the water and get the mixture hot, but not boiling.

5. Meanwhile, whisk the cornflour into the eggs. Heat the milk until it is warm but not boiling, and slowly pour over the egg and flour mixture, whisking as you go. Add the vanilla essence.

6. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon rind from your sugar syrup (carefully!). Pour the sugar syrup slowly over your eggs, milk and flour mixture, whisking constantly to form a runny custard.

6. Pour the custard into your pastry cases until they’re about three quarters full (see picture below).

gluten free portuguese custard tarts ready for baking pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog

7. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, until golden on top.

8. Cool on a wire cooling rack. While the tarts are cooling, you can optionally sprinkle them with a mix of sugar and ground cinnamon, to really bring out the flavour. And voila! Your tarts are ready.

fresh from the oven portuguese custard tarts pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog cooling rack

Tips and tricks for your gluten free pasteis de nata:

The instructions at step 2 might sound like a peculiar way to treat puff pastry! But they’re actually a reasonably close approximation of the way that pastel de nata pastry cases are made in Portugal. So don’t worry that your pastry will be ruined!

These gluten-free Portuguese custard tarts are definitely best on the day they’re made. They’ll keep overnight in the fridge, but much longer and you risk the pastry becoming very sad and soggy, which no one wants. In my household though, they rarely last that long!

More gluten-free recipes…

Looking for more recipes for tasty gluten-free treats? Why not check out our recipes page, or try baking these delicious gluten free pumpkin muffins?

gluten free portuguese custard tarts with strawberries pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog tea
food · gluten free · reviews

Love, Corn Review – New Gluten-Free Snacks

I regularly blog about gluten free baking and share my favourite recipes. But today I’m sharing my review of a yummy new gluten-free snack I was kindly gifted to try out – Love, Corn – and including a code for 20% off your next order. Read on to find out more!

Two bags of Love,Corn gluten free snacks one is sea salt flavour and one is smoked barbecue flavour sitting on a wall with flowers

What is Love, Corn?

It’s a crunchy new savoury snack made from corn kernels – think roasted, un-popped popcorn. Not only are they gluten-free, but they’re also vegan, verified kosher, and non-genetically modified. There are four different Love, Corn flavours – sea salt, smoked barbecue, salt and vinegar, and habanero chilli – and the website says they’re a perfect swap for crisps, pretzels and crackers. But is that true? As a complete crisp addict, I was initially sceptical – and while I waited for my Love, Corn to arrive, I decided to find out more about the history of these new corn kernel snacks…

What’s the history of corn kernel snacks?

Roasted corn kernels are also sometimes known as corn nuts in the United States, as cancha in Peru or kikos in Spain. Although I’ve not come across this before as a snack in the UK, the corn kernel or corn nut apparently has a long and interesting history. Native Americans used to create a snack called ‘parched corn‘, by drying and roasting corn kernels. This created a lightweight but nutritionally dense food that could easily be stored or carried, and either eaten whole or ground into flour. Parched corn was such a great foodstuff that European settlers who arrived in the Americas quickly started making it too.

Years later, in 1936, an enterprising California resident named Albert Holloway started rehydrating the corn kernels before roasting them, to make them bigger and more delicious. He then discovered a giant type of corn from Peru called cusco gigante, and once he’d managed to start importing it, the business really took off. Holloway had originally (and somewhat inexplicably) named his product ‘Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn’ but later (presumably after learning a little more about marketing) changed it to the much snappier Corn Nuts. And corn nuts have been a popular snack in the USA ever since.

Love, Corn: The Review

Having tried all four flavours, I can confirm they’re pretty awesome – much lighter and crunchier than you might expect. I think my favourite Love, Corn flavour is the barbecue, while my husband loved the spicy habanero chilli – but honestly they’re all delicious, and I was particularly impressed how they managed to get a real vinegary tang in the salt and vinegar corn. Much like popcorn, these corn nuts are really more-ish – once you start munching a few, you just keep going! Obviously the fact that they’re gluten-free is also a real bonus for us as a family.

Apparently Holloway originally created corn nuts to sell to tavern owners as a great snack to pair with beer, and that’s definitely also still true! We’ve been enjoying munching on our Love, Corn corn nuts with a cheeky beer in the evenings, while watching the last of this season’s football (just as well really, because Arsenal’s performances have not really given us much to enjoy in and of themselves…)

Something else I really like is that unlike crisps, Love, Corn doesn’t get crushed to pieces if you squash the bag… When we’re travelling, space is usually at a premium thanks to all the bits and pieces you have to cart around when you have a toddler, so it’s nice to have a delicious snack that you can just shove in a bag and not worry about it being ruined in transit.

Where to get your Love, Corn

Well, first off, if you haven’t tried corn nuts before, you can get a free sample pack of all four Love, Corn flavours and all you have to pay is £1.99 shipping. Just head to this link: www.lovecorn.com/sample and follow the instructions. Alternatively, you can get 20% off your entire order if you follow this link to the website and enter the code ‘CRUNCH20’.

Four bags of Love, Corn gluten free snacks in smoked bbq, sea salt, habanero chilli and salt and vinegar flavour with corn nuts spilling out of one packet
food · recipes · reviews · tea

Review: Making Matcha At Home With The Zen Tea Co.

So, it’s no secret that I love tea! My kitchen shelves are stocked with all kinds of tea from all over the world. But up to now, Japanese matcha tea hasn’t been something I’ve tried making at home. Until UK-based company The Zen Tea Co. came along, that is… Here’s my review of their organic ceremonial grade emerald matcha.

Making matcha at home with the zen tea co organic ceremonial grade matcha.

Making Matcha At Home With The Zen Tea Co.

What is matcha?

Okay, first things first: what actually is matcha? It’s become more popular in the UK in the past few years, but it’s still definitely a bit of a niche drink…

Matcha is a powdered green tea. It actually originates from medieval China, where tea leaves were steamed and formed into bricks as a way to make them easier to store and trade… in fact, tea bricks were even sometimes used as a form of currency! During the Song dynasty, it became popular to make a drink by powdering the tea bricks and whipping the powder into hot water.

These days, though, matcha is associated with Japan and particularly the Japanese tea ceremony. In the 12th century, a Japanese Buddhist monk called Myoan Eisai visited China, got hooked on that sweet sweet green stuff, and brought it back to Japan with him. Eisai and other monks believed that drinking matcha helped their meditation sessions, by producing a state of “calm alertness”. It was the Zen Buddhist equivalent of your morning coffee en route to the office.

Two cups of ceremonial grade organic matcha made at home with the zen tea company

Why drink matcha?

Well, obviously, as with any beverage, the first draw is the flavour! Matcha has a very rich, earthy, bitter flavour which can be a bit of an acquired taste – in the same way that coffee can. In Japan, to balance out the natural bitter flavours, it’s often served with little sweets, or used to flavour treats like cakes and mochi. It’s also got a lovely texture; as the powdered tea is whipped into the hot water, it has a much fuller, creamier texture than other teas.

As well as the flavour, though, matcha is high in antioxidants and a compound called L theanine which can help to reduce stress. Yum!

Making matcha at home

As my husband has a lot of family in Japan, I’ve drunk matcha over there in some beautiful traditional tea gardens in Tokyo and Kyoto. It’s very much always been something I’ve enjoyed as an unusual treat on holiday, and up to now it hadn’t occurred to me to try making my own matcha at home in the UK.

Matcha and sweets in Kyoto, Japan
Matcha and sweets in Japan

But then The Zen Tea Co. kindly offered to gift me a box of their organic ceremonial grade matcha tea. Sourced from Uji, Japan, their organic tea is cultivated on a family-owned farm and processed locally to ensure a top quality final product. So I couldn’t wait to try making matcha at home!

The Zen Tea Co. also sent me a copy of their downloadable guide, which comes with lots of useful information about matcha and, most importantly, a tonne of different recipes to try – from traditional matcha to matcha lemonade, lattes and smoothies. Obviously I had to give a couple of their recipes a go…

Traditional ceremonial matcha

To make traditional ceremonial matcha, you sift two teaspoons of matcha powder into a bowl or cup, add about 60ml hot water, and whisk vigorously until the powder is dissolved. Then you add another 60ml (or so – it doesn’t have to be exact!) and keep whisking, until you have a lovely frothy, foamy green drink. See the pictures below for how mine turned out!

Traditionally, you would do this with a bamboo whisk and matcha bowl, but I made mine in a measuring jug with a small metal balloon whisk, and I can attest that it still tasted fantastic and incredibly authentic. Even before I had actually tasted the tea, just the smell of the matcha in our kitchen was enough to take me back to holidays in Japan. And my husband in the living room said the same thing.

organic premium uji matcha tea and teacups

Iced matcha latte

The Zen Tea Co. recipe for iced matcha lattes really intrigued me. You whisk three teaspoons of matcha powder into about 50ml hot water, until it’s lovely and frothy. Then you mix in a teaspoon of condensed milk, 200ml milk and pour over ice cubes.

I loved the end result! I’ve had condensed milk in coffee before and thought it was a great combination, and it really works well with matcha too – again it’s that bittersweet flavour that’s just delicious. I would definitely recommend iced matcha lattes as a really summery drink that feels like a proper treat for tea lovers. I’d think it’s also a great starting point if you’re new to matcha and want to try it out for the first time.

green iced matcha lattes made with the zen tea company's organic ceremonial grade matcha tea
Iced matcha lattes

A Matcha Made In Heaven

Whether you already love matcha, or you’re interested in trying it – if a holiday to Japan isn’t on the cards any time soon, then I definitely recommend trying The Zen Tea Co. Their matcha is fantastic quality and I love their recipe ideas as well – I’m looking forward to trying some more of them!

If you’re based in the UK and you love Japanese food, I can also recommend Ai No Mochi, a London-based mochi delivery company. Yum!

baby · Just for fun · parenting · Seasonal

First Spring Into Nature: A Toddler’s First Steps In Springtime

Little Man is now 16 months old. Since last autumn he’s changed from being a baby into a toddler, and sometimes it feels like it’s difficult to keep up! Over the winter, he learned to walk, and one of the best things about the weather warming up for spring has been the opportunity for him to really explore the natural world on his own terms as a toddler, and take his first spring into nature.

Of course, last year we spent plenty of time outdoors – thanks to lockdown, there often wasn’t much to do other than to sit out in the garden together in the afternoons. But the ability to walk rather than crawl (or just lie there!) has completely changed how he interacts with nature, and also (let’s be honest) slightly reduced the frequency with which he tries to eat pebbles, dirt, and leaves. I wanted to write a post about Little Man’s first spring into nature, what he’s enjoyed most in the great outdoors, and some of the fun ways he’s engaged with springtime.

First Spring into Nature: A Toddler’s First Steps in Springtime

Meeting the birds

Little Man loves birds. When walking him to and from nursery in the pram, he would sometimes point up at the sky, or behind us. After a while, my husband realised he was pointing at birds, which of course were usually gone by the time mum or dad turned to look.

He’s fascinated by birds, and now we make a point of stopping to look whenever there’s a fat pigeon on a fence that’s too lazy to fly away when we get close. There’s even a little blackbird who has been flying back and forth from a particular berry-covered tree on our way to nursery all winter, who sometimes will perch on a branch and watch us watching him for a little while before he flaps off.

Going to see the ducks on the river has also been a big hit this winter, although I’m not sure that Little Man has worked out the connection between swimming ducks and flying birdies…

Down by the riverside

First steps on grass

The first time after Little Man had learned to walk that it was mild enough to take him out to the garden and let him try walking on the grass was so lovely. He didn’t know what to make of the grass but once he discovered how soft it was to fall over on, he threw himself (often quite literally…) into the challenge of learning to walk on it.

I love the fact that when you have a young child, you almost rediscover the world from their perspective. As a grown up, I wouldn’t say that walking on a freshly-mown lawn is any more difficult than walking on a flat pavement – unlike, say, walking on sand, which is noticeably more difficult. But for Little Man, it’s a completely different experience. Plus, there are loads of little rocks everywhere to eat look at…

One of our first trips to the garden this spring

First snow

We didn’t get heavy snow here at any point this winter (unlike most of the rest of the country, it seems!). But we did get a decent dusting one day – enough for wee man to get out and discover snow for the first time. We bundled him up and set him loose on the driveway.

He was fascinated and really enjoyed it for a little bit, until he fell down onto his bum and I wasn’t quite quick enough to pick him up. A chilly rear end was apparently enough to put him off snow completely, and so we retreated back into the house. I think the fun of snow is perhaps more pronounced for slightly older children.

First snow for Little Man

Meeting the flowers

I love spring bulbs and flowers. My garden is filled with daffodils, tulips, hyacinths – you name it. I love the way that bright daffodils really make it feel like spring has finally arrived, even if the weather is still cold. And for Little Man, the daffodils are almost as big as he is, which is strange to imagine from an adult’s perspective.

He’s been loving discovering flowers, from the bulbs in our garden to the cut flowers we’ve had in the house over the past few weeks. But when he fell over in the local park and squashed a lovely bed of narcissus perfectly flat, we did run away pretty sharpish…

Meeting a daffodil

Your first spring into nature:

What fun discoveries have your little ones made this springtime? Let me know in the comments!

health · pain · top tips

Best Ways To Relax And Enjoy Life When You’re In Pain

I’ve written previously about alternative ways to cope with pain when you can’t (or don’t want) to use painkillers. I thought it was time to follow that up with a post about ways to relax, and even try to enjoy your time, when you’re in pain.

I’m writing mainly from my perspective as someone who’s had chronic pain from my hypermobility spectrum disorder throughout my life. My joint pain tends to come and go – sometimes it’s really bad, sometimes it’s just an annoying backnote. This post is focused around things you can do to relax and distract yourself from pain – perhaps when you’re waiting for pain relief to kick in, or if your normal treatment hasn’t got rid of the pain entirely. There is a strong connection between mental health and pain; stress exacerbates pain, so by using these ideas to help relax, it may also help to reduce your perception of the pain. You might find it useful if you suffer from chronic pain, or you have a current injury that’s bothering you…

how to relax and enjoy life when you're in pain the sickly mama blog pain management top tips

Best Ways To Relax And Enjoy Life When You’re In Pain

1. Take a bath

Heat can be a great way to treat pain, so a warm bath is a great way to treat pain but also to distract yourself from it and have an enjoyable time. I always love having a bath with nicely scented bath products – there are plenty of bath soaks on the market which are specifically targeted at soothing sore muscles or relaxing you. You can take a cup of herbal tea and a book, or play some relaxing music, and just chill in relative comfort. There’s also the benefit that the water takes some of the weight off your muscles and joints.

sylvia plath bath quote the sickly mama blog hot bath to help with pain management

2. Yummy smells

I guess technically the word I’m looking for is ‘aromatherapy’, but that sounds very formal for the kind of thing I’m talking about. When you’re in physical pain, it can be difficult to focus on anything other than the pain, but strong comforting scents can be a really good, pleasant distraction – especially if they come with comforting memories or associations attached. You can try using an oil burner, reed diffuser or wax melts that scent your whole house; scented massage oils or moisturisers; or you can use essential oils on a handkerchief or on your pillow at night.

3. Gentle Exercise

It depends on the cause of your pain as to whether this one is likely to help – obviously if you have a sports injury that needs resting up, or a condition that means your pain worsens with exertion, then this is not the suggestion for you! But gentle exercise can really help with some joint and muscle pain, which can actually be exacerbated if you stay still for too long.

I love taking a walk when my joints are painful, because not only does the exercise help to reduce stiffness and ease the pain, but also just being outside is a lovely distraction for my mind, and it gives me something else to focus on. Since having Little Man, I’ve actually discovered that walking with a pram is especially nice if my hips and leg joints are playing up, for some reason.

Alternatively, light stretching, yoga or tai chi can be really good for pain as well. Yoga With Adriene has free online videos including this yoga routine for chronic pain, and other yoga flows aimed at targeting different types of pain including migraine, sciatica, back pain and more.

tkv desikachar yoga quote yoga for relaxing and coping with pain chronic illness the sickly mama

4. Mindfulness and Meditation

Mmm it’s time to get hippy dippy! Meditation has also been shown to be effective in reducing pain, and it’s believed this is because it reduces the stress response in the body. I find it’s especially helpful at bedtime if you’re trying to go to sleep while you’re in pain. Personally, I enjoy guided meditations where you visualise peaceful locations like a beach or a forest, but there are lots of different styles of meditation around, so keep looking until you find one that works for you. There’s loads of free guided meditations online – try experimenting to find a meditation style you enjoy.

5. Get Closer to Nature

Spending time in nature is inherently relaxing. Walking, gardening, or going foraging are all great ways to relax and gently distract yourself; but even if you’re not up to doing anything too physical, just taking some time in the great outdoors is a great way to feel better. On a sunny day, a spot of sunbathing can boost your mood (obviously use sunscreen and limit your time in the sun!) but as long as you wrap up, even on colder days the sight and sounds of nature are really soothing.

Your tips for relaxing and enjoying life when you’re in pain:

Do you have experience of managing a chronic pain condition, or pain from an injury or illness? What are the ways you try to relax and chill out even when you’re in pain? Let me know your tips in the comments!

how to relax and enjoy life when you're in pain the sickly mama blog chronic pain illness