Couch to 5K- My Story.

Sunday 26th June 2016: As I type it’s a summer Sunday afternoon and I’m having a quiet sit down after my busy morning.  I can’t quite believe what I have achieved and it still hasn’t sunk in. To many of you, you probably think I’m overreacting or showing off about something which many people do day in day out. But if you had seen what I was like as a child and how difficult it was for me to achieve this little goal mentally and physically, then you won’t be so dismissive.

I took part in my very first Race For Life Event this morning in York and if someone had told me a year ago that I was to run in a 5K race, I would have laughed at them and said “Are you talking to me? I can’t run, my knees always hurt!” Or the other excuse was “I can’t even run for a bus!”  How much has changed in a year. For those who regularly run half marathons or marathons, 5K doesn’t seem like much and nothing to talk about. But for me, Mrs Couch Potato who would prefer half an hour sat on the sofa watching the telly or doing cross stitch, to run anywhere is a huge step.So what made me go for it?

I kept a little diary charting my progress or lack of it in some situations!

A pre race selfie in my kitchen before we set off for the race.

My race number and my back sign . I ran the Race For Life in memory of my mother in law and two uncles.

August 2015:  I am feeling fat and unfit.  I used to go to the gym and swim a bit on and off when I was in  a getting fit mode when my kids were younger. I take my dog on long walks but I just feel I’m not getting enough exercise. I end up cancelling the gym membership I have as by the time I’ve finished work and done everything at home I’m shattered.  What can I do which is free or fairly cheap and I can do without a long car journey anywhere? Several friends have been telling me about downloading the free NHS Couch to 5K app on their phones and had said how it had worked for them. I’m going to give it a try. I can’t run without my knees hurting and I know I’ll be out of breath within seconds. But what is there to lose? Let’s see what happens and I’ll take one session at a time.

I need to look at my wardrobe and see what I can go out running in.  I’m no lycra clad size 8 yummy mummy type and I won’t be running in designer brands. But I can’t go out in my tracky bottoms, they’re what I do my cleaning in and they’re covered in bleach stains!  My trainers are about 6 years old but I keep them for when I teach PE in a bag in my car so it looks like I’ll be buying new ones then.  I look for a hoody.  The hoodies which do fit are a bit tight so it looks like its a new hoody too.  Oh and new headphones as my son has nicked my previous ones. In town the following day with my mum and daughter I go into Next and buy new tracky bottoms, a hoody, a sports bra and running trainers.  I thought this hobby was meant to be cheap, as I hand over my card to pay a bill of well over £100! Another pair of cheap headphones is bought and I’m ready to run…

30th August  2015: The next morning I tell my hubby and kids I’m going out running.  Hubby says “Good for you,” and my kids start laughing at me.  I don’t care, something has come over me.  In years gone by if someone laughed at me or said I couldn’t do it, the seeds of doubt would be in my mind. But I keep thinking lets see how I get on.   Session 1 starts off with a 5 minute brisk walk which gets me to nearly the other end of my village main street.  I had said on Facebook I was going out running so I think can you imagine if local friends see this and then see me walking! Anyway, then it’s running time! It’s only for one minute but with the app playing and talking me through it, the minute was soon up and I was back to walking again.  This was repeated 6 times. When I got back home I felt elated.  I have only run for a total of  6 minutes but it was 6 more minutes than I’d ever run before in my life.  I feel. like I’m on Cloud 9.  I pass a mum I remember from my son’s primary school and she gives me encouragement, she’s doing the same but going in the opposite direction! I’m out of breath and my legs hurt but I did it!

5th September 2015: A couple of days later I’m out running again.  My daughter says to me when I come back in “Have you been out running, you were walking back up the village and you’re not hot and sweaty” I. can’t believe her comment, once again I was doing my cool down 5 minute walk at the end!  She thinks I haven’t been doing it properly!

9th September 2015: Its now taken  me 2 weeks and a lot of huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf to get to the end of Week 1 of the Couch to 5K challenge but I’ve done it!

13th September 2105: Yippeee, I’ve  finished day 1 of week 2, going at a snail’s pace heaving my bulk but getting there! One bloke shouts out of his car window as he drives past shouting “Run, Forrest, run!” at me! 

17th September 2015: I ended up stopping for a couple of minutes as hubby drives past and sees me on his way home from work. He ends up talking to me but luckily having an app you can pause it. I feel great that  now Day 2 of week  2 is completed.

20th September 2015:  I’m running a bit faster today and have now completed week 2 now, yayy! I  meet a lovely couple walking past. The man says to me “the bus stop’s that way,” which gives me a giggle!

29th September 2015: Yayy! Getting easier each time!

4th October 2015: Struggling a bit today but at least I’ve completed week 3 now!

13th October 2015: Can’t believe I can now run for 5 minutes at a time, did 2 x 5 and 2 x 3 today. Feeling shattered but fantastic!

26th October 2015: I’ve done it! Sixteen minutes running in total again. At the end of the summer holidays I couldn’t run at all! Now look at me!

9th November 2015:Just realised week 4 has taken me nearly a month to complete. Just too much going on. Found it much easier this time, got a running playlist linked to my app now! Feeling fantastic. It really eggs me on having music to motivate me. Friends are very  helpful with suggestions about what they have on their playlist!

14th November 2015: Update on Facebook: ” I did it, so happy done day 1 of week 5 now. Ran 3 x 5 minutes.  Really enjoyed my run today. Was laughing at a man going past on his bike. He shouted out “Want a ride on my bike?” It was tempting, lol! I feel focussed!

I didn’t get much running done in the lead up to Christmas and New Year. So much going on and it didn’t stop raining. I kept thinking about going out running but one look at the miserable weather made me stay indoors! I get out for walks with the dog. Maybe the dog should come running with me but I don’t think running  with a massive Labrador is a good idea! 

17th January 2016: Yayy, i did two lots of 8 runs with 5 mins walking in between. I thought I’d be collapsing but I’m still here!

At the end of January I set myself a challenge to run in this  year’s Race For Life in York. I have 6 months to sort myself out for raise some  money for cancer research. Over the last few years I have lost my mother in law and two uncles to cancer. This is a way I can do something. I sign up and register for the race. 

 9th February 2016: A landmark achievement. I ran for 20 minutes WITHOUT STOPPING today! I’m still alive and I didn’t collapse with a heart attack!

20th February 2016: Better get my act together for Race For Life . I run for a total of 16 minutes today, so pleased as I couldn’t run anywhere last year. I’m feeling so happy and proud right now.

27th February 2016: Week 6, day 1 just done. I’m getting there slowly.  From a snail to a tortoise pace now!

Another month goes by without running. I have a busy time with work and struggle to get out to run especially as it’s still dark quite early. I also end up with a chest infection so any exercise would wear me out. Even walking the dog makes me exhausted.

6 April 2016: Week 6 day 2 completed. I’m running at a snail’s pace today.  First time I’ve been out since I had my chest infection. I have 12 weeks until the Race For Life, better get my act together!

16th April 2016: 25 mins non stop running in the wind today. Wish I could get myself faster though, still running like a snail. At least I can run though it’s very slow! I try to encourage my kids to come out with me but it doesn’t work out. 

 24th April 2016:Week 7 day 2 completed. Those. calf muscles are really aching today but I feel like it’s working. I try a different route and love pushing myself to run even further.

28th May 2016: First run I’ve had in a month because of yet another chest infection and a nasty cough. Not happy that while I’ve not been out runing  the  really reliable and user friendly  NHS Change For Life Couch t0 5k app on my  phone has been replaced by a crappy BBC one. Instead of the friendly Laura  encouraging me through the headphones I have Sarah Millican telling me to run! Don’t get me wrong I like Sarah Millican but the appkeeps cutting out and crashing and won’t play my music properly. Judging by all the rubbish reviews on the App store I’m not the only one who thinks it’s crap! Despite this I put up with it and I feel fantastic.

3rd June 2016: Week 8 day 1 completed, 28 mins non- stop running today plus a wolf whistle from a guy in a passing car. Haven’t been whistled at for over 20 years though usually it’s being sarcastic.

8th June 2016: Just to prove I did do my run this morning I posted a selfie of me at home after I’d done the run. Couldn’t track my progress on the shite app but at least I feel fantastic.

A running selfie to prove I went out even when the app crashed.

24th June 2016: No running for 2 weeks, have had such a busy couple of weeks at work and was away last weekend so never got out. It’s my last run before the Race for Life this Sunday.  I do 5 minutes warm up, 30 mins run non stop and a 5 minutecool down. It’s still enough distance to cover 5K but I feel fantastic and am determined to give it my best shot on Sunday.

Feeling shattered but happy.
Finally the day of Race for Life came. It was a warm day with patches of blue sky poking through the clouds. I was relieved it wasn’t too hot or it wasn’t chucking it down with rain. That would have made my first charity run harder. We got to York Racecourse in plenty of time and parked up. My husband, son and even the dog came to watch me and encourage me! 

The Race For Life event was a great atmosphere. It really drove it home to me about how everyone there who was taking part was doing the race in memory of or to support cancer sufferers going through treatment at the moment. It was lovely to see children taking part as well as whole families. I wasn’t entering as part of a team but it made me think that I could do that another time.  Once we were warmed up we were asked to make our way to the starting line. Runners went first, followed by joggers and then walkers. I thought I’d probably be running/ jogging. And then we were off on the dot of 11am! I felt all choked up seeing all the visions in pink around me all taking part together to do our bit to fight cancer. 

At first we were running on grass which was tough going for me. All my runs had been on hard surfaces and I wasn’t used to it. About 10 minutes in and I slowed right down. I felt like packing it in and just walking the rest of it. I thought of what people would think if I didn’t run it, so I had a massive gulp water and stayed at my slow  jogging pace. We got nearly to a full circuit and I saw that the 10k runners had to go to the left, all the 5ks to the right. I didn’t know how far I’d run but I honestly didn’t know if I could carry on. Then we saw a couple of volunteers cheering us on with giant foam hands ready to high five us. Just seeing people clapping and cheering was a massive boost. 

 Then I saw the boost and encouragement that made me realise I could do this. My husband and son were stood there cheering me on and I was suddenly filled with a burst of positive energy. Onto some Tarmac now which made all the difference. Surely it couldn’t be much further now. But then I saw a post saying 2k. Have I only run 2k? I thought.  How much further? The remaining 3k or so was around the perimeter of the racecourse following the service road. I kept to my slow running pace although my calf muscles were beginning to ache like mad. 

What kept me going was to look out for the furlong markers around the racecourse. I kept thinking, now let’s run to the next furlong marker.  Then I reached that, thinking let’s aim for the next one and the next. Eventually I had reached the 4K marker and it was the final bit. I was now back running on grass and could see the finishing line. I had never run in a race a before and words cannot describe how I felt seeing my family cheering me on. Doing something I thought I could never ever do in life after being teased and bullied at school for being rubbish at PE and for coming last in Sports Day running races.  That moment was up there amongst the highlights in my life, from getting my teaching degree to getting married and giving birth to my two children. I will never ever forget that feeling. 

Running at snail speed as caught on camera by my husband.
A big smile on my face knowing I was reaching the finishing line.
So what next? Well I’ve decided I’m going to keep on running and aiming to run for longer distances. Friends have told me about local Parkruns so I am hoping to go along to one as soon as I get a free Saturday morning.  Who’d have thought it, eh? 

Sugar Free Carrot Cake



Hi there and long time no see! I haven’t disappeared off the face of the earth, I’ve just got a bit behind with my blog posts again.  Day to day life has been very busy.  I have been baking a few things here and there and have been experimenting with a couple of new ingredients.

I am really struggling with eating too many sugary things at the moment. I don’t add sugar to tea, coffee or cereal but I do have a sweet tooth.  I love my cakes and biscuits and when I’m tired and stressed I grab at things like a bar of chocolate on the way home from work from the garage.  I’m seriously thinking of going sugar free but am worried about how I’ll cope with going to Clandestine Cake Club as it is a big part of my life.

A few weeks ago York Clandestine Cake Club had their first meeting of the year and the theme for the event was Healthier Cakes. I signed up to go and chose to bake a Sugar Free Carrot Cake as featured in the latest Great British Bake Off recipe book The Great British Bake Off Celebrations. This recipe according to the introduction is a “gorgeous spicy, nutty carrot cake, the sponge is sweetened with agave syrup rather than sugar,” 

I had seen agave syrup on the shelf in supermarkets but was intrigued to see how it worked in a recipe. Was it as sweet as sugar? Would it give the cake a funny taste? Would it last as long as a cake with sugar in it? These were all questions I was keen to answer.  I knew that my family love carrot cake and it’s also a popular cake flavour whenever I’ve been to cake club.  Though it was low in refined sugar, it did not do well in the low fat or gluten free stakes.  I found a bottle of agave syrup  in Sainsburys which was at over £4 for 250ml a bit more expensive than sugar. 

Cake club was on a Wednesday and I didn’t have work that day. It was my catch up day at home and once I’d dropped my daughter off at the bus stop three miles away so she could catch her college bus I came home and set to with the cake. 

I was in a happy mood and put on Radio 2 in the kitchen while I was baking. I had music playing and even though it was dark and miserable outside I was ensconced in my warm kitchen relaxing with some baking therapy. 

Firstly I grated some carrots which I find really tedious and usually end up with big chunks falling into the bowl. Once that was over and done with I could get on with the rest of the cake. 

The cake was made in a similar way to a regular carrot cake by using sunflower oil and eggs. I measured these into a jug and added the agave syrup to it. This was beaten with a whisk until it was blended together. In another bowl all the dry ingredients were weighed out and combined- an aromatic blend of cinnamon and mixed spice in with sifted self raising flour and baking powder. Finally, in a third bowl I grated some orange zest and mixed it in with sultanas and some chopped walnuts, along with the grated carrot. All was carefully combined and ready to be put into the prepared tins.

This carrot cake was designed to be baked in two 20cm (8″) diameter sandwich tins. I always grease my tins with Wilton Cake Release and use Lakeland Baking Parchment Circles. They make wrestling getting the cake out of the tin much easier at the end. Once I’d done the greasing I could get the cake in the oven. The cake baked at 160oC in my fan oven and took about 35 minutes approx.

Once it had finished baking and was cooling down I went out for a walk with my dog. It had stopped raining for a bit and I was keen for some fresh air. We were out for about an hour which gave it time to cool down ready to be iced.

The icing was a cream cheese concoction or rather it was meant to be. When I’d been out shopping for cake ingredients there was a massive gap on the shelf where the cream cheese was. I had to use Mascarpone instead which is very naughty but nice in cakes and desserts! It was also much more expensive. Being a “sugar free” cake the cake didn’t use icing sugar but used maple syrup instead to sweeten it instead. I thought maple syrup was a form of sugar! To the mascarpone, along with the maple syrup I used some butter to cream the icing together. This was used in the cake filling and on top of the cake. Tonight off I added some chopped walnuts.

I never got to Cake Club that night in the end. I had to pick my daughter up and get the dinner on. The cake became a pudding for us. My husband, who doesn’t really have a sweet tooth but loves carrot cake enjoyed this version. He doesn’t like to eat puddings at night as he gets indigestion. I sometimes feel like my blood sugar level drops and I get a headache. But after a small piece of cake I felt OK. Definitely worth attempting some more recipes using the agave syrup, then.  

   Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

“Cooking On A Shoe String” Food Parcel Challenge in partnership with Zest Health For Life, Hammersons and Leeds East Food Bank.

Just before Christmas I was contacted by  Hammerson, the developers behind the new Victoria Gate retail development currently being built in the centre of Leeds. They are working in partnership with Zest Health For Life and the Leeds East Food Bank on a project which will make a huge difference to thousands of struggling families in Leeds. Zest Health For Life is a non- profit making organisation which helps disadvantaged people in the Leeds area by giving them chance to take part in activities to improve people’s social, mental, physical and emotional well being.

Over the past three or so years there has been an increasing need for food banks as families struggle to get by due to many circumstances.  As a result there are more and more food banks which are providing a lifeline for disadvantaged families.  There was also a need for providng people with help in giving ideas for nutritious, yet cheap mealthat would also be tempting to eat.  So Victoria Gate has linked up and created a fantastic cookbook which is given out at the food bank.

To find out more about Hammerson’s partnership with Zest Health For Life and the cookbook, read about it here:

The book “Simple Cooking On A Shoe String” is an ideal starter book to give beginners a start in cooking healthy meals that won’t cook the earth.  In the ingredients list against every recipe the foods that are usually put in the food parcels are highlighted in bold type. These are usually tinned or packet foods.

I was asked if I would like to take part in a Charitable Food Blogger Challenge by either using inspiration from my own recipes or recipes from the recipe book.  I agreed and was sent a food parcel full of ingredients to take up the challenge.

These were the contents of my food parcel for my challenge: porridge oats, ground mixed spice, eggs, vanilla extract, baking powder, granulated sugar, four bananas, and some wholemeal self raising flour.

I was impressed with the ingredients I got in the food parcel.  I knew that I could bake quite a few things with the ingredients provided, they would stretch quite far and that by including oats, wholemeal flour and bananas the bakes would be healthier than, say a cupcake with buttercream. Not only were there ingredients containing the slow release carbs, such as the oats, they were also cheap ones.  I did have to add my own butter but I used Sainsbury’s own value brand of unsalted butter which at the time of writing was 95p for a 250g packet.  I also used golden syrup in one of the recipes and this is also a cheap standby to have in your storecupboard.

First of all  I chose to bake the Spicy Banana Bread in the Cooking On A Shoestring recipe book.  According to the ingredients list you might get sugar and oats in a parcel from the food bank but the other ingredients are cheap to buy and with the exception of the bananas will keep so you could make it again and again.  The recipe introduction says “bananas are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and fibre.  You can use overripe bananas for this recipe so that they don’t go to waste.  You could also use less sugar as the mixed spice already gives this recipe a delicious flavour.The bread could be eaten as a snack or at breakfast time”

Three ripe mashed bananas were mixed with two beaten eggs and some mixed spice. Then flour, sugar, oats and vanilla essence were added to the mixture and baked in a loaf tin.
The loaf made about 10 generous slices and tasted fab with or without butter spread on it.
The banana kept the cake naturally sweet and moist.
Cut up into slices, this banana bread would make a perfect lunchbox treat, or a quick breakfast on the run. It would also freeze well so you could bake in bulk if you have an abundance of bananas.

The banana loaf was simple to bake in a 24cm size loaf tin and was easily stored in an airtight tin.  It cut beautifully up into slices and tasted delicious with or without butter spread on it. My husband actually said he preferred it to other banana loaves he had tasted as it wasn’t too overpoweringly sweet.

With the remaining ingredients I had a brainstorming session and thought about what I’ve baked in the past using oats as a main ingredient and came across a wonderful recipe in another of my favourite cookbooks, one which I’ve bought for my children The Hungry Student Easy Baking by Charlotte Pike.  In this book there is a recipe for banana and chocolate chip cookies. As I had quite a bit of sugar left and one banana left in the box I thought I would adapt the recipe to suit what was in the box.  So instead of the chocolate chips in the original recipe I used 100g of oats and instead of the plain flour and bicarbonate of soda I used the wholemeal flour given to me in the food parcel.

The result was 18 deliciously chewy and moreish cookies whiche went down extremely well with the whole family.  I had to add 90g of my own butter but I didn’t need anything else to make them special.

These oaty banana cookies may LOOK boring but they certainly didn’t TASTE boring. I had to hide them from my 14 year old son!
I also added in a spoonful of the ground mixed spice given to me in the parcel along with the flour. It gave the cookies a lift and made them taste gorgeous.

After the cookies I realised I still had enough ingredients left to bake some flapjacks.   I combined 175g butter with 175g of the sugar in the parcel and to this I also added my own golden syrup of  about 150g.  Otherwise the flapjack wouldn’t have stuck together.  When this had melted in a large pan I then added 500g porridge oats and some ground mixed spice.  I reckon one or two of the bananas in the parcel might have worked here so long as it had been mashed in.

Flapjack which got a bit burned at the edges!

106 Unfortunately my daughter turned the oven temperature up to well over 200oC after I had asked her to turn it up. I was refering to some music playing in the kitchen, but she thought I meant the oven! I realised when I thought I could smell burning only 10 minutes after putting the flapjacks in the oven.  So down went the temperature but they weren’t my usual chewy offerings.  Anyhow I did find one of them was delicious with a cup of coffee at breakfast the next day!

After all this I still had a tiny bit of sugar and oats, some baking powder, some of the vanilla essence, some mixed spice and some of the flour left!  It just goes to show that you can create some delicious things with store cupboard ingredients and that they don’t have to cost the earth either.  I thought I could use the remaining ingredients to make pancakes  and one member of my family could have porridge for breakfast.

You can find out about the work of Zest Health For Life at the link to their website here:

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Lighter Herbed Lasagne from A Lighter Way To Bake- Cooking The Books, January 2014.

Monday 27th January 2014.

On a Monday I normally have more time to get the dinner ready as I only work on a morning as a rule.  We have to have tea early though as my daughter has a dance class.  Though last week I was in a right muddle and went off to work forgetting that I was going to make lasagne for tea that night and I hadn’t taken the minced beef out of the freezer before going off to work.  This wasn’t a good start and although my hubby had offered to go to the supermarket for me to do the weekly shop while our daughter was dancing, obviously we needed food before.  In the end I had to go shopping and buy some more minced beef for our lasagne.

Lasagne is one of my all time favourite dinners and I’ve loved making it ever since I was a teenager.  It can be time consuming sometimes so I don’t make it as often as I’d like.  I was pleased to see a mouthwatering looking version in Lorraine Pascale’s A Lighter Way To Bake and thought this recipe would fit in with the challenge out of the Savoury Bakes chapter.  Instead of lasagne sheets, Lorraine uses four courgettes cut in lengthway strips for the pasta layer.  As I am the only one in my family who like courgettes this was going to be interesting. I hoped they wouldn’t notice!

The first job was to infuse some milk for the bechamel sauce.  To this I heated up some semi skimmed milk with some rosemary, peppercorns, a bay leaf and some nutmeg.  After this began to steam I took it off the heat and let the flavours infuse with one another.

Then I had  to make the ragu sauce. I dry fried the mince with the chopped onions, carrots and garlic in my large pan.  Once it was browned I added in two tins of chopped tomatoes, some Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree and some beef stock.  Instead of the herbs Lorraine suggests I used some of my spaghetti spice which I made up from a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Nigelissima book.  This spaghetti spice has parsley, garlic powder, rock salt and crushed dried chillies in it and is so versatile for all pasta and pizza dishes.

To cook the ragu in the really authentic slow way I realised I had started the dinner way too late for it to be ready before my daughter went to her dance class.  In the end she scoffed down a slice of toast and I offered to make her an omelette when she got back!

While the ragu was cooking I prepared the courgette pasta.  My hubby saw the four courgettes on the chopping board and didn’t say anything.   I just got on with the bechamel sauce. The milk was reheated after the herbs were thrown away, to which flour and cheddar were added to it.

Then it was time to assemble the lasagne together.  This was when I realised my dish was a bit big so I could only get two layers of everything, not three as Lorraine suggested in the instructions.  I managed to get it all in the dish and into the oven it went.

Dinner was served with a side salad as soon as my hubby and daughter got home.  I was the only one who enjoyed the lasagne.  My hubby said “Where’s the pasta bit?” I explained that the courgettes were there instead to lower the carb levels, he wasn’t impressed. Neither was my son, who fished out all the courgette slices and left them on his plate.  I think they were both miffed that they were eating their dinner at 8pm at night as well!

In the end I also forgot to take photos of the dinner.  I thought it was really tasty, especially the sauce part. If I make it again I will make it with pasta and work out the calories accordingly as my family liked the meat part of it.

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

A Lighter Way To Bake Mixed Berry and Cinnamon Muffins -Cooking The Books Jan 2014.

These Mixed Berry and Cinnamon Muffins were perfect for a quick breakfast or as a snack with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

Friday 10th January 2014.

I’ve been on a diet for the previous week and so far so good.  Though I haven’t baked all week, I’m having baking withdrawal symptoms and I want to get my mixing bowl out.  At only 155 calories a muffin I was keen to try one with a cup of tea or for breakfast with my morning coffee. I already had a bag of frozen forest fruits lurking at the back of the freezer which I’d forgotten about and plenty of low fat natural yoghurt. So once I’d caught up on all my jobs and errands on my day off, I decided to get out the scales and put on my pinny. 

Here’s how these scrumptious muffins were made:

I lined a 12 hole muffin tin with these pretty cases which feature various berries.
In a bowl I weighed out wholemeal flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon.
In another bowl I beat one egg and two egg whites together.
After this I beat semi skimmed milk, low fat natural yoghurt, sunflower oil and maple syrup into the mixture.
This was what the mixture looked like after whisking together.
Then, the mixture was folded into the dry ingredients followed by the berries. These were put in straight from frozen.
Here is the mixture all ready to be spooned into the cases.
A few berries were reserved to sprinkle on the top of the muffins.
The muffins were baked in the oven for about 20 minutes. They came out with a perfect dome on the top of them.
Piled up on the plate ready to be scoffed!

As soon as the muffins came out of the oven my children had arrived home on the school bus.  They were hungry and asked for a muffin.  They both love blueberry muffins from the likes of Starbucks but I explained these were a slightly healthier version.  They, for a start are smaller and do not contain sugar.  The sweetness comes from maple syrup and the natural sugar in the berries.  I personally don’t like shop bought muffins but I loved these.  I ate one still warm with a cup of tea and it really helped the 4 o’clock munchies.  If I had had a “normal muffin” I bet I would have felt hungry again an hour later, these helped keep the blood sugar levels more stable.  I also had one for breakfast the following morning.  What I would say though is do try and eat them as fresh as you possibly can as my daughter ate one  a couple of days after and by then it was a bit dry!

Would I bake these again? Yes I would.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx


Saved By Cake- Baking to Help Depression.

Last year I was over the moon when I spotted that Marian Keyes had brought out a cake baking book. I have read her books and love her sense of humour.  The books are perfect for taking away on holiday and whiling away the hours on a sunlounger!  The last part of the previous sentence doesn’t always ring true. After all when you’re a parent who does get to sit on a sunlounger on holiday, though you can dream can’t you?  Marian Keyes’ books are perfect though as pure escapism.

The front cover of “Saved By Cake”.
When I picked up the book Saved By Cake I was in the middle of my local Sainsbury’s in Harrogate.  It was a quick shop for me on my day off running around the supermarket picking up cake ingredients for an order I had to fulfill that afternoon.  I thought I would get an early lunch in Starbucks then head home to start baking.  Coffee in one hand, I sat down in Starbucks and started to look through the book.  The introduction leapt out at me because staring at me in the face was Marian Keyes going through a lot of the things that I had been going through.

My Story- Dealing with Depression

If you have started to read this post and you think that it is “all in the mind”, “you should pull yourself together” or that “you should think yourself lucky, you have your health!” then you obviously have never had depression. Stop reading right now. Or you can choose to read on and might get an inkling of what is like to suffer from depression.  I am not going to go into all the ins and outs of depression, only I wanted to share my story and how baking and also cross stitch helped me to get through the black tunnel I found myself in sometimes. Depression does not favour people rich or poor, young or old. I know some people can be more prone to it than others but I am passionate about making ignorant people more aware of what it is like to suffer from depression.

As with most women I suffered with PMS before I had my two teenage children.  I did get the odd day of feeling low, underconfident, fat, bloated and ugly which only lasted about 3 or 4 days prior to my period starting.  My problems with depression started after the birth of my children.

Please for one moment don’t think that it was my children who made me feel depressed. Along with my husband they are the best things that have happened to me.  I feel utterly privileged to have them in my life and they have always brought me great joy even though they do have their ups and downs just like any normal family.  My depression was down to how I felt about myself, my abilities as a mother, a wife.  I still feel as if I am a useless fat lump and what on earth does my husband see in me?  I also felt inadequate against other people: people who are more popular, more talented, slimmer and this in turn made me want to turn in on myself to be on my own.  Then again, I would protect myself from feeling even worse. I even used to avoid nights out or girlie weekends away when I was in a bout of depression as even though I loved all my friends dearly, I just felt hopeless and they just wouldn’t understand how I was feeling.

This is when I discovered baking when I was at home with my children.  I had loved baking as a child, stood up on a chair pulled up to the kitchen worktop, hands covered in flour making jam tarts with my mum.  One of my favourite smells ever is the smell of gingerbread men baking in the oven and that immediately transports me back to childhood. This is why my Sam’s Smart Cookies logo is a gingerbread man design.  This early interest in baking soon disappeared big style when I started at secondary school in the Home Economics lessons. The teacher didn’t like me and was always breathing down my neck.  She chastised me for being slow in the lessons, which was mainly down to the lack of a left-handed peeler when I was trying to peel apples to make apple crumble.  She then stood over me when we were making fairy cakes so much so that I dropped my egg on the floor with nerves.  So, as Mrs Dragon Features thought I was useless at cooking, then I thought I must be and I stopped doing it.  That was until I became a mum myself and found myself trying to bake cakes for my daughter’s birthday party. It was a wonderful moment for me and made me realise here is something I CAN do and it kept my mind occupied.  The same went for cross stitch. Focusing on my latest cross stitch project and knowing I had that to look forward to made me feel a million times better.


The smell of gingerbread baking evokes lovely family memories for me!
The smell of gingerbread baking evokes lovely family memories for me!

When my son started school my depression returned like a black cloud.  To begin with I relished the time at home on my own, the house was clean and I could indulge in my cross stitch and baking hobbies. After a while though, as I had no money I felt depressed.  I felt as if I had nothing to offer any more as I had given up teaching full time when my daughter was born and had gone back to do supply until my son was born  two years later.  Once the two of them were around it just was not worth two lots of childcare, we did not have family locally to help out and I had to give up my job.  I felt as if I was on the education scrap heap as one headteacher told me at an interview that I had been out of the profession too long.  I baked my way through my son’s first couple of years in primary school, if there was a local fair or coffee morning, you bet I donated some cakes.  At least I felt as if my life had a purpose!

Cross stitch has always been a way of combatting depression for me, especially in the days when my children were tiny. As with baking you have a sense of achievement when something is created. This is my latest project which is to be turned into a wall hanging for my baby step-nephew.

Finally I got a job as a teaching assistant which gave me another focus in life. I was delighted at last to be earning some money.  I still have this job nearly seven years later but now cover the class I work in as a supply teacher as well.  I do get odd bouts of depression, mainly when there’s lots going on in life and I did have a downer when my son started high school.  I think it was because I would never have that aspect of taking my children to school again and I thought my baby’s all grown up now!  I began to turn my baking into more of a business and now take orders for cakes and I have the odd stall when it fits in around my job and home life.

Baking gives me a huge pleasure. I find it therapeutic as I can totally immerse myself in creating something that gives me a massive sense of achievement.

The other thing in my life to cheer me up was joining The Clandestine Cake Club last year.  That has given me a lot of pleasure, making new friends who I have something in common with and also the events give me something to look forward to in this chaotic mad world we live in nowadays.

Here is one of the cakes I have made for a previous Clandestine Cake Club event. This was made for the Clandestine Cake Club's Book Launch at Waterstones in Leeds last February.
Here is one of the cakes I have made for a previous Clandestine Cake Club event. This was made for the Clandestine Cake Club’s Book Launch at Waterstones in Leeds last February.

Marian Keyes’ Saved By Cake

Marian’s frank and honest introduction to her book explained about her battle with depression and how she felt to have it. She then went on to say how her love of baking came about, by baking a cake for a friend that was visiting. She enjoyed it so much that she went on to bake another and another! She ended up baking for others as she couldn’t eat it all herself.  This was exactly how I felt when I baked at home, I would take cakes into school for my children’s teachers, I would donate to coffee mornings, we would eat it at home and I would gain weight!  I enjoyed every moment of it and when I baked I felt as if I had actually achieved something.  Something I could be proud of.  I might not have continued “properly” in the teaching career I had originally but I felt like I was doing SOMETHING.

My first attempt at making one of the recipes from Saved By Cake was actually one of the very first recipes I baked for my family when my daughter was one year old.  I had always loved Sunday roasts although I used to buy a ready made pudding. After all my cookery teacher at school had said I was a messy cook and I couldn’t do it properly.  I had never attempted any puddings after that until I thought well why don’t I try an apple crumble and see how I get on?

Marian’s recipe is actually for Rhubarb crumble but my children don’t like it so I substituted eating apples and a teaspoon of cinnamon and reduced the amount of sugar mixed in with the fruit.  She describes the recipe as “a pure delight to make because it is so quick and easy,  you just fling everything into the dish and it all cooks together, fruit and topping”. 

First I peeled,cored and chopped 900g apples and placed them in the bottom of an ovenproof dish. I sprinkled cinnamon and caster sugar on the top of that. The topping was made with butter, sugar, plain flour and porridge oats rubbed together. It was put on top of the apples and baked in the oven for about 40 minutes. Served warm with custard, it was a real treat and not too dissimilar to the apple crumble I baked for my family as my first foray back into baking 14 years ago.

Marian Keyes' recipe for Rhubarb Crumble, a traditional well loved classic, only it has apple in it!
Marian Keyes’ recipe for Rhubarb Crumble, a traditional well loved classic, only it has apple in it!
I think baking, along with other crafts and hobbies is really therapeutic and should be available on the NHS!  I hope you all enjoy baking as much as I do and it is lovely to have made so many friends who share my love of my “addiction”.

Lots of love Sam xx