Friday, 27 April 2012

P-A-R-T-why? Because it's Finn's birthday!!!

What a week! Non stop with one thing and another.  The highlight being our wee man's 6th birthday.

                                                          This is a terrifying prospect!

When you are 6 the whole world is at your feet, Finn's biggest concern in life is his belly! Or what else he can fit in it! Other subjects include, from December to April he worries about what birthday presents he wants and from April to December he worries about what Christmas presents he wants. Finances are of no concern whatsoever.  Good man! Plenty of time for that in the future when he has his own books to balance. "Your school days are the best days of your life!" If I heard that once, I heard it a million times when I was a kid. "But I hate school!! It doesn't make me happy!!" It's only since having kids myself that started to realise what it meant. Stress free on the whole. Mucking with your friends and worrying about presents. No rent or mortgage, no car to insure, no electricity bill, phone bill,this bill, that bill, the red bill lurking at the bottom of the pile eyeballing you everytime you walk into the room.

I have noticed that there seems to be a trend for removing parties from the home. Why is this? Privacy? Keeping up with the Jones'? Do kids need entertained further than the home can offer for a party?

                                                      Lego is good but Lego you can eat?
                                                                        OH YES!!!
A kids party at home is an amazing thing, maybe I'm a bit traditional on all this but Finn having all his chums round to play in HIS room in HIS house with HIS things was a joy to behold. Watching him show them all the things he talks about in school and them just running riot round the house and garden. HIS domain on HIS day! HE was the big dog! They were here for HIM and he loved it! No distractions. Of course we live in modern times so when asked what he wanted to do, it was an unequivocal no to party games. Really he just wanted to go with whatever happened but he did say he would like to decorate cupcakes. BRILLIANT!! THAT'S MY BOY!!!!  Better again is how successful it was! We had a half hour oasis of calm while these kids became enthralled in sugarcrafting and cookie cutting and rolling and squirting and dipping and making the most monsterously over-iced buns. I would never have believed it. Certainly not from rowdy boys into sport, Star Wars, racing cars, manly things.

                                            Missing the point? Icing on bun Finn, not tongue!
                                                        Or maybe it's the way forward?

We already run courses from our home where you can come and learn to bake, ice and decorate. We also do gluten free nights which are as much about awareness and shared experience as they are the baking.  We natter and eat and maybe those who dont have to drive home have a little glass of rouge. Or a big glass. Now I have a new direction to add. Kids parties. I'll bring the kit and help them make a mess. They have fun and they have something for their party bag at the end! NO, not the wine!! Good grief people!

And what about gluten free parties? We could never take our Mads to a soft play area for a party. It would end in her going off like a firework! This would not be a good look for her. But playing mummy for a day in the kitchen is a great look for her! Very sexy!   

Love & kisses

Suzi. xx

P.S If you are interested in attending a class or having a P A R T Y drop me a line and we'll make a plan.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy & Gluten-y?

OK, so not one of the 7 deadly sins but...

                                                        Here she is. GlutenFreeMaddie...
                                           And Renz. He's not gluten free but she doesn't eat him 

Maddie being coeliac has opened my eyes to a way of life I had never paid attention to before. Why would I? I have no need to know about the New York Subway system as I don't live in New York so you know what? The height of my knowledge is that I am aware it exists and I'll even go as far as to hazard a guess that it's in New York. My point is that you research what you need to when you need to. Should I ever have the chance to visit The Big Apple I shall investigate the public transport infrastructure before I go.

Valued dietician Dr Google has been my best friend since Maddie was diagnosed. What is coeliac? What are the effects? What about the long term? Is there a cure? What do I do? The questions are endless.

Without wanting to get into all the gory details, Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disorder causing the enzymes in the small bowel to attack the lining causing inflammation and extreme cramps along with what we would describe as "explosive diahorrea"!!! I often wonder about the accumulative cost of all the nappies from when we were figuring out Maddies diet. We should really have a healthy amount of shares in Pampers.

As I trawled the internet for answers and ideas I encountered connected complaints such as allergies and their symptoms and it got me thinking, while for coeliac sufferers and gluten allergy sufferers, a gluten free diet is essential, what about the rest of us? Well there is evidence to suggest that there is benefits for those with attention deficit disorder, arthritis, thyroid disease, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, anemia, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, the list goes on.

Now let's assume you are a perfectly healthy individual. Can it benefit you? Well it can't hurt. Am I seriously suggesting you go gluten free? No, of course not but perhaps we could all feel a bit better by cutting down a little. Everything in moderation and all that. Gluten free foods tend to be low in carbohydrate. As part of a balanced diet can help weight loss, it can assist in better digestion, increase energy and lower colesterol. Mainly though it may just lead to a healthier attitude towards eating, cooking from scratch and avoiding processed food reducing sugar and salt intake. Surely it's a win, win situation right?  It is very easy to get bogged down in all the things you CAN'T have, but what about the things you CAN. Fresh veg and fruit, unprocessed meat and so on. There you go, a nice fillet steak and chips are still on the menu!!! Life's looking up already! Your local butcher will more than likely make gluten free sausages and burgers. And I'll admit I was shocked...but they tend to be very good. And there it is...very good...just because it has no gluten doesn't mean it has to be bland and tasteless. It's an adjustment, not an upset.

Now then...where from here?

Well there's two routes:

If you WANT to try gluten free then give it a go. Start small with a once a week gluten free dinner and see where that takes you.

If you HAVE to try gluten free then  it's time for change but remain positive.  As I mentioned in a previous post, we consider Maddie to be quite fortunate in that she has never known any different.  We have adapted to a mainly gluten free life though laziness. I don't want to prepare one meal for her and another for the rest of us. You could easily spend hours aimlessly meandering round the supermarket looking at packaging labels to see what you can still have. Please don't. Instead have a look at your favourite foods and ways to modify those to your requirements. I appreciate this may mean a little more time in the kitchen but is that such a bad thing? Indulge your inner chef, buy a hat and some new knives or an apron and a  mixer, but most importantly get a new hope. Don't weep for the things you miss but instead look forward to the things you have never tried. Our wee Mads loves her food, every gluten free crumb and we can watch her eat knowing that we know EXACTLY what went into it. It's a nice feeling!

If you would like any information/inspiration on what to make please feel free to contact us and of course keep an eye on here as there will be more recipes very soon. It's all about creating awareness and sharing experience.
and Twitter: @N iceBunsNI

Thanks for reading.

Love & kisses

Suzi. xx

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Let's Go Outside.

The shackles of winter coats are being flung off as the skys start to clear and the sun begins to remind us it exists! Let's go outside!!!

I have always said that people are interesting. So I would like to introduce to you a favourite pastime of mine and the perfect accompaniment for it.

Now many of you will live in towns and cities and on those weekends where shoe shopping isn't an option (Is shoe shopping ever not an option?) and it's too early in the day to be sipping a nice glass of red (Is it ever too early to be sipping a nice glass of red?) I choose to assume you head into the country to enjoy the scenery, or the coast to breathe in the sea air and dream of a less hectic lifestyle. Am I right? Occasionally? As a country dweller I sometimes like to do it backwards. A backwards country dweller?!?! Stop it! Play nice! On a somewhat rare granted, free and sunny morning I have long enjoyed nipping into the city, finding an appropriate bench to prop myself on and people watching. People rushing, people sauntering, people shopping and people trudging. It's nice to guess where they are going and why. Now this may not sound terribly interesting but trust me, when you see some of the people we share our world with you will change your mind. Some will make you laugh, others cringe. You'll sigh in despair and sigh that sigh when you see young love and remember your first. That may be a cringe too actually.

And clothes!!! WOW the clothes that people wear!?!?! There is an amazing variety of tastes out there. Aren't people brilliant?

Over the years, while on my bench or curb I have had cake and buns from all sorts of places, shops and cafes accompanied by fancy lattes and frapuccinos but you know what? Sometimes less is more. I'm going to let you into a little personal secret...I don't like proper tea! An Irish girl who doesn't like tea! Mrs Doyle would be mortified! I do however like ginger tea! Ask my kettle! Most worked piece of equipment in my kitchen. Know what else I like?...DONUTS!!! So off we go. Me, my keepy kup and my donuts. Off to watch the world.

Now its your turn. This is a lovely little recipe for donuts you bake, not fry. We have to watch our figures now dont we?

Go to the cupboards!

175g of butter
200g of caster sugar
2 large eggs
375g of plain flour
3/4 tbsp of baking powder
1/4 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
250ml of milk

Throw the butter and sugar in a big mixing bowl and mix until creamy. Now add 1 egg and mix a bit more before adding the 2nd and beating again. Creamy buttery, sugary, eggy goodness.

Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (you could add a pinch of nutmeg if you want) before adding half to the creamy mix and gently fold it in.Chuck the rest in and the milk and fold some more. Nice creamy batter? Good.

Rub a little butter round the inside of your donut tin. This will help them not stick and give a nice crispness to the donut. You've no donut tin? So what. 2/3 fill muffin cases. who says donuts have to be donut shaped?

Bake at 180 celsius for 15-20 minutes to a light golden brown and firm to the touch.

Let them cool for a few minutes before sifting icing sugar over them and maybe a little ground cinnamon.

Everything in this recipe can be successfully replaced like for like with gluten free and/or dairy free produce. It is honestly very difficult to tell the difference. Perfect!

Bag a few up and grab the car keys. I'll see you in the city once I've ironed that tablecloth.

Love and kisses

Suzi. xx

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Explain yourself!!

Ooh, brings back memories of being hauled up in front of the headmaster doesn't it?

I was working on the latest blog when I noticed something I thought I should address. We have some international readers!! Hello to you! Very flattered that people are interested in what I write. Thank you all so much!! And that brings me to the point of Side note? Buns! Im sure you have all figured it out by now but for the sake of clarification, in Ireland and parts of Northern England and Scotland a bun is a cupcake. No, it's more than that. It's an all encompasing colloquialism for an individually portioned cake. So also traybakes like say rice crispy cakes? No. They're rice crispy buns! Fairy cake? Wee bun! Cupcake? Bun! Muffin? Big bun!

That should make the "Nice Buns" name a bit clearer too eh? We're easy amused here. A friend was over for coffee and a "bun", took a bite and exclaimed "Mmm...Nice buns!!!" needless to say we giggled like schoolgirls about the obvious innuendo and Nice Buns became our business!

And I stopped wearing ripped jeans.


Suzi. xx

Monday, 16 April 2012

Sweet and innocent.

That's me! Honest! Ok so maybe not so innocent.

Right then, what shall we talk about tonight? Any requests? How about something that doesn't get me reaching for the combats and war paint like my last post? Ok. I do want to touch on the gluten and dairy free thing again but I promise I'll play nice. Allergen free foods aren't going to be the backbone of my blog but as something that is so prominent in our daily life it is something I will come back to from time to time. Today though it comes down to chance as it just so happens we were making stuff today that our Mads can eat. It is also dead easy to make and quite a versatile little number. Today we made honeycombe. I'm sure everyone is aware of it. Has anyone never had a Crunchie at some point in their lives? You probably have half a dozen of the things in a cupboard after Easter! But what is it?

Honeycombe, honeycomb, yellow man, cinder toffee, puff toffee etc etc etc, the names go on and on but they are all variations on a theme. Yellow man for example is regarded as being the Irish variation, a traditional confectionery which I am told originates from the "Ould Lammas Fair" in Ballycastle on the Antrim Coast. Not llamas. They're entirely different. And not terribly well behaved creatures! The Ould Lammas Fair is a sort of carnival, bric a brac sale and farmers market rolled into one. Being an historical market - it's been on the go since the 17th century - historical Irish foods are popular. Potato bread, soda bread, champ and dulce. That sort of thing. And of course Yellow Man, which would have been brought in by vendors in large blocks and sold in pieces broken off by hammer and packaged in a cone. There you go, a little history lesson. If you happen to be anywhere near Ballycastle on the last Monday or Tuesday of August then go have a look. It's a nice day out in a very pretty part of the world.

Alright, for clarification, honeycombe is cheating a bit. Its not quite yellow man but its VERY similar and easier to make.

What you will need:

A saucepan
A candy thermometer. You can get these online or from somewhere like Lakeland. They're not expensive.
250g caster sugar
4tbsp of golden syrup
1tbsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4tsp vanilla extract
1tbsp water

Easy peasy, chuck everything apart from the bicarbonate of soda in your saucepan and give it a bit of a mix. Bung it on the hob on full power and pop your thermometer in. There's a bit of sweetie based science here. The mixture will go through stages as it heats. Basically you have soft crack, hard crack and burnt! Really for honeycombe you are after hard crack which is about 150 celsius. Don't panic if you go over unless its waaaaaay over. Personally i go for somewhere between the cooler soft crack (135 celsius) and hard crack as it creates a lovely crunch but with a chewy middle. Heaven!

Ok, so we're up to temp and ready for the fun bit. Now please be careful, molten sugar will ruin your day very badly if you drop it over yourself. The trick to this next bit is to do it as quick as possible so it doesn't run out of oomph in the saucepan. Ok...GO!!! Take the pan off the heat, throw your bicarbonate of soda in, stir it like crazy with a long handled wooden spoon, squeal a little with nervous excitement as it rushes up to meet you and pour the mix into a cake tin. And breathe.

On a side note I find the silicone type are perfect as it makes it easier to turn out when cool, this isn't essential though.

What to do now? First and foremost enjoy the smell in your kitchen while getting hot water in that saucepan to dissolve the left over mixture. This is much easier than the hammer and chisel approach required when its cold.

While it cools let see what we're going to do with our honeycombe. Obviously you can just get stuck in and theres nothing wrong with that but assuming dairy isn't an issue you can smash it into tiny bits and mix it into ice cream or yoghurt. Any flavour you fancy. A proper hard crack honeycombe is best for this.

You can break into lumps and coat in a good quality chocolate and you have homemade crunchies. Chocolate sauce though is by far the best. In a pan or a choc fountain or for those who got married in the 70s, go and dig that fondue out of the attic and fire it up. Lumps of honeycombe, marshmallows and a variety of fresh fruit, hey presto, a dessert the kids will love you for. Or a great party food. And for our family it is one of those great little treats that is wheat, gluten and dairy free for Mads but can be easily modified for Vale and Finn too. Everyone's a winner.

So there you have it. What are you waiting for? Get stuck in and enjoy telling everyone you know that you are cooking hard crack in your kitchen.

Again, thanks for reading and feel free to let us know your thoughts.

Love and kisses

Suzi. xx

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Gluten-Free Maddie

Well, more than gluten free...there's dairy too. Madison is our youngest. 2 years ago last December out she popped, premature at 32 weeks at 5lbs, 5oz. Could be worse. She got out of hospital for Christmas which was great. She went back in on Boxing Day, which wasn't. Her weight had dropped to 4lbs, 5oz. Eating was not high on her priority list back then. Can't blame her. If it made you ill you'd be the same. But that was then and this is now. No longer does she paint the walls and need a shower after every meal, we are well and truly on top of her needs. She was quickly referred to specialists and dieticians who diagnosed her as coeliac (an allergy to gluten) and severely dairy intolerant. Right then. Sorted! Easy eh? Have a think about what you have eaten today. Remember? Right, now take away 90% of that. What's left? Anything nice? Limited isn't it? I don't want to get all negative but its difficult not to sound that way. Don't get me wrong, Mads is fine with it, i suppose we see her as one of the lucky ones. For the moment at least. When you think about it, she has always had these allergies so has never known any different. It must be terrible to find out after years of a normal diet that you are coeliac. Gluten is in almost EVERYTHING!!! Bread obviously and all other wheat based produce like pasta, biscuits and breakfast cereals but have a quick nosey through your kitchen cupboards; sausages? Ketchup? Soy sauce? Stock cubes? Baked beans? Soup? Cooked ham? Crisps? There is of course exceptions but generally these and many more things you wouldn't think of contain gluten. And this is before we get to dairy!!! More obvious but so many things we take for granted are off the menu, from cheese to yogurt to chocolate to...well...milk! Next you have the risk of cross contamination and policing a hungry toddler. I'll not lie, when Mads was first on her feet it was a nightmare, she didn't understand, she still doesn't. But we do, and her big brother and sister do. That's half the battle. They know not to leave biscuits unattended and have the same meals as Mads but with gluten and dairy added after its on their plate. Now we're sorted. Easy!

And so to the point: Education and cost.

Let's start with education. Allergies of any sort can be a pain in the arse but food allergies especially in my opinion. Meals out and take-aways are a gamble as is a trip to the café  with the ladies what lunch. The way of the world doesn't help. A coeliac take-away? A nut free restaurant? What about a dairy free café? Obviously these aren't going to happen as they limit the proprietor's market and therefore aren't financially viable. Thankfully there aren't enough allergy sufferers out there. In each specific area at least. Ahh, but what about anti-allergy menus? Well I don't doubt they exist but it takes a brave owner who claims to be allergen free. The possibility of cross contamination is high and should the worst happen, the proprietor is liable in the same way he or she would be in a food poisoning case.  This is why we see allergy advise on food packaging saying things like "may contain gluten" on things you wouldn't expect. That product will have been produced in a premises that also handles gluten. This puts the onus on the buyer. What it's really saying is "doesn't contain gluten. But on the off chance that it does, we did warn you. You pays your money, you takes your chance." and that's fair enough, they are at least aware of the issue. The problem seems more with the small producer. I appreciate that a sweeping statement and i apologise to those who are clued up but the amount of family days out we've had that have been brought to a lunchtime standstill by the words "Um...I dunno" when asked if they sell anything gluten and dairy free. The worst being a restaurant in a very prominent Belfast arena who were of the opinion that their burgers were safe. Bollocks! Worse than ignorance is bullshitting your punters!

The big question is what can we do about it? Honestly, I don't know. Educating a family is one thing, but a planet? Perhaps education is a bit strong. Maybe creating awareness would be better for now.

And so to cost. Now this one winds me up. I do not for one minute believe that creating bread from rice is significantly more expensive than creating bread from wheat. I have heard that cost is higher due to price of import of ingredients and the cost of maintaining a contamination free environment, or the old favourite that these products being less than mainstream, the stores don't buy in the vast quantities needed to acquire as discounted rates per unit. I personally don't think I believe any of that. The principal is the same and neither rice nor wheat is overly costly, so why does a loaf of regular bread cost a pound or so yet a gluten free loaf will be easily double that? If the last one were true why isn't a white pan twice as expensive in your local shop as it is in a supermarket? The economics are the same surely? And its the same across the board. Every product without fail will be more expensive than it's "normal" counterpart and for me it raises a question: Do these producers believe they have us over a barrel? I know what my take on it is and I know it sounds contradictory to what i wrote about the dairy free cafe but there is a big difference between local and national. If the café could pull in every dairy intolerant latte lover in the UK it would most likely be a very profitable business.

 What to do about this one is easy. Firstly, apologise to you for having to read what comes across as a rant and i suppose to an extent it is but i am a passionate person who doesn't like being taken for a ride over something which i have no control. Secondly, stop buying it! There is no need. A bit of time, a bit of research and an oven are all you need. Here is a nice little recipe to get you started. Share it with those you know are coeliac, adapt it to suit your taste and feel free to comment on it, ask questions about it and post your own anti-allergy recipes. Let's start a revolution against the bland and the over-priced. Vive la revolution!

Gluten and dairy free chocolate cupcakes (all ingredients available from your supermarket)

240g plain gluten free flour
280g caster sugar
3tsp gluten free baking powder
80g dairy free butter
240ml rice milk
2 eggs
2tbsp cocoa powder (check label, some brands contain dairy.)


Put flour, caster sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder and dairy free butter in bowl and mix until it turns to fine breadcrumbs. Add rice milk and eggs, mix until only just combined. (the secret to these is not to over-mix it.)
Pour or spoon into cupcake cases. About half to three quarters full.
Put in a pre-warmed oven at 200 degrees celsius for about 15mins. When you can poke a sharp knife or skewer in the middle and it comes out clean, they are ready.
Place on a cooling rack to
Have a brew and eat one still warm. You deserve it.  Good job.

For icing, i find, a fondant type with some cocoa powder mixed in works well and pipes easily. Follow the directions on the pack here as they vary. Or just a dusting of icing sugar if you are in a rush but I'll leave decorating up to you. We'll play with ideas on that another day.

Of course if you just require gluten free you can replace the ingredients for real butter and cows milk.

Now for my biggest tip. HAVE FUN!

Love and kisses

Suzi xx

Pleased to meet you.

Ok, an introduction is in order i think. Shall we start with who is who? I am Suzi Houston, I am *cough* years young, married to Neil who is even older and mother to Finley (6), Valentina (3) and Madison (2). That lot are a full time job in themselves but as the old cliché goes "money makes the world go round" and while we do alright, we question whether that is good enough? How do you create the best start possible for your children? We are in a society where you are expected to have the best of everything, the big house, big holidays, 2.4 kids, a labrador and a Volvo, hubby works 9-5 while mum either does the housework or more increasingly has her career while the kids are in daycare or school or wherever. Well...thats not for us I'm afraid. It never really has been although we have both worked "normal" jobs we found it difficult to sort the work/life balance. Before this all kicked off Neil was seeing the kids on a Sunday and that was pretty much it. We talked about how to go about working from home etc etc but never really had the balls to say "Lets go for it!". Turns out we didn't need to. Neil was made redundant as a result of the recession. I would have said thats the cue to panic and spend nights staring at the bedroom ceiling worrying about bills but you know what? Its been great! Sure, its been hard and we are far from being a wealthy family but we are a happy family. We spend a lot of time together. No longer is dad just "that bloke we see on a Sunday."

So our new life then, well...its not a million miles from our old life, just scaled down and with new elements added. I've been a farmer since I was a child really. It was a childhood hobby of sorts, turned to student cash, turned career until the kids came along. Working on dairy farms here in Ireland and large organic mixed livestock setups in the south of England. That's a story for another day though. Now we rent a plot and have our own little slice of "The Good Life" keeping chickens and ducks for the eggs and a couple of geese and turkeys that we breed purposes?

And so to the point of all ages this. I'm told I'm  a rather talented baker so it made sense to turn it into a business. Fledgling at the moment but we are working on it. Cakes and cupcakes (buns as they're known here in Ireland) for parties, weddings and so on. Markets, fayres and charity events. All baked with love using our own eggs and other ingredients locally sourced where possible. There's a lot of experimentation with flavours going on and i hope to inspire you to have a go yourself with these while Neil, being the perfectionist will talk you through some nice quick icing techniques and sugarcraft doodahs to make your buns look as good as they taste.  There is so much to talk about but I'll get to that later as I've rambled enough ha ha. I've been accused of being many things but a writer is not one of them. I guess we'll all be learning as we go along.

Have a great day all.

Love, Suzi xx

Somewhere to start.

Good morning all. Spring is springing, buns are baking. Welcome to the Nice Buns blog. I t will no doubt change time and time again as I figure out the various features of the site but for now its thing? Anyway what we hope to do at the Nice Buns blog is bring you a little incite to what we do, what we are up to, some recipies and walk throughs for cakes and sugarcraft things to impress your mates and make things more exciting. We will no doubt also show you all the catastrophes and cock ups and a bit of the random nonsense our kids get up to. They are the inspiration for a lot of what we do and like them we will be frank and honest! Except when we're telling porkie pies to cover up an almighty f*ck up so we don't look like total idiots! ;)