Baking catch-up

I know I haven’t posted for a while, but I promise my life hasn’t ground to a halt! I just need to get back into the habit of blogging a bit more regularly. So I thought to ease myself back into it that I would do a nice easy post about some of the baking I’ve been getting up to, both because it’s something that I really enjoy, and also so I can tempt you with pictures of cake!

At the end of August/start of September the kids all had their birthdays, which is my more inventive baking time. This year I was slightly sneaky and stole some ideas off Pinterest, although in my defence, it was just pictures, I had to work out the rest for myself. Katy-Grace and Sam had a birthday party this year at the LC in Swansea- so basically a pool party. So I decided to make a minion pool party cake for them to fit in with that, based on the bit in the second Despicable Me film where all the kidnapped minions are enjoying themselves on the beach. So I ended up with a chocolate cake, for a change, marzipanned and covered with blue fondant icing. The beach was made of shortbread, and the figures all made from coloured fondant as well. The palm trees were the most difficult part- I ended up making a sausage shape out of chocolate flavour fondant and cutting it into little pieces, then threading them onto a kebab skewer to make the trunk. I made the leaves out of green fondant and put them on top, then discovered they didn’t stay up very well, so made a frame of cocktail sticks that went underneath that they rested on, they were pretty fragile though! The kids thought it looked great, which was a bit touch and go after the car journey getting it to them!

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The next birthday was Ryan’s, just a week later. His party’s tend to be sleepovers and video games, so I kept with that theme and found a design for a retro space invaders cake. I’m not sure he ever played space invaders, being pretty technologically advanced, but he thought it was cool anyway. His ended up looking a bit like a slab initially, as it is a long flat cake, rather than the built up one the other 2 had. Black fondant icing wasn’t particularly appealing to work with, but it did the trick. After that there were some tiny fondant icing things to make, but the main effort was in piping. It took at least 2 hours and left me with a very sore hand, it was worth it in the end. albeit a little bit messy. Now that he’s getting a bit older, I think Ryan’s starting to lean towards flavour rather than design and has requested a cheesecake for next year, so that’s a new challenge!

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After the excitement of the birthdays was over I had to find another reason to bake, but fortunately we decided to run the Big Bake competition in church again this year, which is an event to support Tearfund’s No Child Taken campaign. We ended up raising £110 for Tearfund, and I got to do loads of baking and eating other people’s yummy cakes, so it was a win-win situation really. The event was split into three rounds to make it more challenging, and someone was eliminated at each round so by the final there were only 2 bakers left. The first round was the cake round, which is always interesting to see the huge variety of cakes, as that was the only guidelines we gave. We had a smarties pinata cake, caramel apple, chocolate, coffee and ferrero rocher (baked in, it was amazing), pineapple upside down cake, lemon curd cake, butterscotch and caramel and an amazing chess board cake. Fortunately they were spread over a few weeks, or it could have been a cake overload.

When it came to my turn I decided to make an angel food cake, which I’ve never made before but I wanted to take the opportunity to try something new. The recipe is Mary Berry’s from the Bake Off book from last year. It’s basically a very light cake with highly whisked egg whites, which you then fold the flour into very carefully, which gives it a fantastic consistency. I didn’t have a ring mould to make it in so I had to improvise, and found the recipe quite a fun one to follow, as the cake cools upside down! The icing was light and creamy, with a lemon curd and passion fruit coulis to go with it. I was up against the coffee and ferrero rocher cake, and it was very tight, but I won! Phew!

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The next round was the biscuit round. I made something I had made before this time, but that had a few stages- Millionaire shortbread. The shortbread is my favourite recipe, using cornflour and icing sugar to make it really light. The caramel was one that used condensed milk and golden syrup, so was fairly straightforward but nerve-wracking working out whether you’ve got the right consistency. Then melted dark chocolate to top, and I did some white chocolate as well to make it look a little bit prettier. My opponent that week wasn’t as keen on making biscuits, so I made it through the semi final as well.

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The final then was the bread round, and I was against Eleanor, who is a very good baker, so I decided to make a very complex recipe, that I have made before but had help last time, to see if I could beat her. The recipe was an apricot couronne, which was a technical challenge in last year’s bake off. You have to make a dough and leave it to prove. While it’s proving you make a filling with butter, sugar, orange, walnuts, apricots and raisins, and then when the dough is ready you roll it out and spread the filling on it, then roll it into a long sausage shape. Then you have to cut it vertically down the middle and weave the sides together to make a crown. When you’ve got the shape you leave it to prove again before baking, then when it’s baked it’s glazed with apricot jam, drizzled with icing and scattered with flaked almonds. Eleanor had made savoury rolls, so it was a nice complement, but the recipe won out, and the couronne won.


As a way of phasing out the baking rather than stopping straight away, I also made some apple and raisin crumble bars, and chocolate and orange muffins for a church bake sale raising money for the refugees, but didn’t get round to taking pictures of them. So, that’s the autumn baking update complete. I’m hoping to get some fundraising baking in at some point for the London Marathon and the Lullaby Trust, but at the moment I think my church are still full up!

Run, run as fast as you can (mind the pacing!)

Most of you who know me well will know that the mere thought of exercise brings me out in a cold sweat! But as many of you will know, earlier this year in Steve’s community, we lost a beautiful little girl Erin from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). At the time the best source of information we could find on this was published by The Lullaby Trust. This charity supports families who have lost children, supports families as they have future children (with monitors), offer days out to families who have lost children and invests a huge amount in research to try and reduce the number of children who sadly die each year. Since the loss of Erin, we have been made aware of others in our friendship groups and parishes who have also lost children, which we were completely unaware of. Because of this we have decided to try and raise as much money as possible for the Lullaby Trust. To do that me and Steven will be doing various fundraising events leading up to April next year with the hope of raising £5000. This money will train 25 A&E staff in how best to support families when a baby dies suddenly and unexpectedly and also provide 450 information packs to raise awareness of safe sleep messages among young parents.
Our fundraising will culminate in something that scares the life out of both of us! Running the 2016 London Marathon. For two people who don’t even run to the car in the rain, this is an absolutely massive thing! Dont take my word for it…instead listen to Stephen Fry. If you see me running around the Parish…please be nice…..and please give generously here!


Half the person you used to be

I know I haven’t blogged for a while. Things have been quite busy the last few weeks, what with the end of term and now the summer holidays. But that’s partly just an excuse. There’s been a blog that I’ve been sitting on for a while, but it’s taken me until now to actually dedicate the time to sit down and write it. It’s quite a long story, so I’m going to start from the beginning. There’s not many people who I’m friends with now who have known me for more than a couple of years, so there’s not many people who will have seen this story through from the beginning, but it will have been one that you’ve heard before.

Like most girls, I struggled with my weight throughout my teenage years. Granted, I was pretty cute when I was little:


Seriously, what happened to the curly fair hair? One of the few conversations I can remember from when I was about 11, was with a friend and we were looking forward to growing out of our puppy fat, and wondering how you could tell when it wasn’t puppy fat any more. It only went downhill from there though really. It all came down to the fact that I enjoyed food and didn’t enjoy exercise. I didn’t suffer any traumatic event that led me to over-eat, and I wasn’t particularly bullied. I had some great friends when I was growing up, a lot of whom I’m still in touch with. But nothing really changed, I moved schools a couple of times, and before I knew it, I was 18 and weighed 18 stone. I’d managed to pretty much keep my weight at the same level as my age all the way through my teenage years, since I was about 11.


This is a picture of me at my Sixth Form Prom when I was 18. I find it difficult to reconcile it to how I look now, but there we go. Before I went to university I took a gap year and went to Antigua for 6 months working for St John Ambulance. When I was there I lived with the woman who had been working to start the organization up in that region, and fairly soon after I arrived was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to lose weight, and so I was put on the same diet as she was on. In all fairness, she was right, and I did need to lose weight. But being 18 years old, away from home from the first time and on the other side of the world to anyone I knew, she maybe could have chosen a kinder way of saying it. So, for those 6 months I ate a cheese and ketchup sandwich for lunch, and boiled squash, broccoli and carrot for tea. Saturdays were treats and we would get rice and peas and BBQ chicken from the community barbecue. And occasionally we would have friends over or go out for dinner and I’d get to eat a bit more. Not surprisingly, this did the trick, and I lost 6 stone in the 6 months that I was away.

When I got back my family managed to keep the drama to a minimum, but when I went back to work in the pub, the old farmers didn’t recognise me. For the first time I started enjoying shopping with my friends and felt less out of place when we went out.


That one was taken in Antigua, so you can see how dramatic the difference was. A couple of months after getting back I went off to university in Bangor, with a level of confidence that I hadn’t had before. I wasn’t worried about meeting new people and what they would think about me, although how I thought I looked still hadn’t quite caught up with how I actually did. It caught me by surprise when people found me attractive, and I didn’t really know what to do about it. While most of my friends had been maturing in this way at school, it was brand new territory to me, and I made quite a few mistakes along the way. Fortunately I had a really strong group of friends through all three years at university, and they were so supportive when I made stupid mistakes. They helped me to feel good about myself regardless of what my size was, and I was really happy while I was university. Not surprisingly, the student lifestyle took its toll and my weight started to creep up again, but I didn’t really mind that much.

When I was in my final year at Bangor I started going through the selection process for ordination in the Church in Wales. I went through my provincial panel in the April of 2011, was accepted, and started at St Michael’s Theological College in Cardiff in the September. The problem that I had at college, was that our meals were provided for us. The people who made them were good at their jobs, and made particularly good desserts, so I started getting bigger again. I still didn’t mind though, because while in college I met Steve. We started dating in my second year, when he had begun his curacy, and we got engaged in April 2014.

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The day that Steve proposed was a brilliant day. We were staying in Cornwall to celebrate my grandparents diamond wedding anniversary, and on my 25th birthday he took me to Clovelly and proposed in a beautiful little hut on the cliff overlooking the sea. We went back and my family were all there, we had loads of attention and got to retell the story a ridiculous number of times!

But this is where the problem re-emerged again. Looking back at the pictures from our engagement, what I felt was not the happiness that we had on the day, but embarrassment at how big I saw myself. I decided that I wanted to feel slim on my wedding day, and be at a healthy weight to enjoy my marriage, so it was time to do something about it. I had no intention of going back on the eat-nothing-at-all diet like I had done in Antigua, so I signed up for Weight Watchers just a couple of weeks after we got back.

Walking into my first meeting on my own was so nerve-wracking, but I eventually stalked someone else inside, and once I was in, it was fine. I had 3 stone to lose to get to my goal weight, and it seemed to take forever. I’d have weeks where I’d only lose half a pound, or nothing at all, or even gain, which was so off-putting. But then I would have weeks where I’d lose 4lbs, so it made up for it. I finally got to my goal in January 2015 and have been working on maintaining that weight ever since.

What I’ve found probably more difficult than losing weight has been accepting that I have, because, to be honest, I still don’t see it. My parishioners will jokingly tell me not to lose any more or they won’t see me any more, and people who I don’t see very often are still shocked at how different I look, but I don’t see it. There are still areas of my body that I’m not happy with. But I’m now working to get to a place where I can accept that the weight I am is what is healthy for me, and all the things that I think are wrong are just that- just me.

The important thing is that Steve thinks I’m beautiful, the children think I look thin. Although Ryan says he doesn’t really notice the difference, I’m just Rachel. And that is absolutely fine. That’s what I want to be. I need to get into my head that I don’t need to be a size 6 for them to love me because they do anyway. It has nothing to do with what I look like. There would be more of a problem if I stopped baking!

I’ve also been extra aware recently that Katy-Grace is getting closer and closer to being a teenager, and I don’t want to be encouraging her to have an unhealthy attitude to food. I want her to enjoy eating, and not worry about what size she is. Of course, I’d rather none of the children ended up obese, but that’s more for their own health than anything else. I want to show them that it doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you’re happy and healthy. That for some people that will be at a different size for others. I want to show them that the models they see on the front of magazines aren’t representative of real women, and that they should neither be encouraging the girls they know to be that size, or be tempted to suffer to look that way themselves.

I’m getting married in less than a year. I’m confident now that I will look stunning in my wedding dress. But I’m also confident that even if I didn’t look the way I want to look, that my fiance and my stepchildren would think I looked beautiful anyway. I’m working now on getting fitter (more on that later), but from now on, how I control my eating and my exercise will be entirely based on being healthy, not on being thin. I don’t want to go back to the size I was when I was 18, I’m already back to the weight I was when I was 11, I see no reason to go down any further than  that.

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(Yes, I am enjoying a massive piece of cake!)

Confirmation Polka-Dot Rainbow Piñata Cake

Last week my fiancé found a new baking project for me by asking me to make a cake for a group who were being confirmed in his church. As they were all adults he asked for something that looked quite traditional, but gave me free reign of what to do on the inside. As it was for a big group of people I decided not to have fun with different flavours as I was worried about allergies, and just fussy people, but still found a way to make the inside of the cake quite exciting. I did some searching around and found ideas from Richard Burrs (from Great British Bake Off) over at and pinterest of course. So what I ended up with was a Confirmation Polka-Dot Rainbow Piñata Cake.

The first step was making some cake pops. Fortunately I have a cake pop maker and one batch of mix makes 24 pops so I had plenty. It’s just a basic cake mix with 1 egg, then the batter goes into individual moulds in the maker, about 1 teaspoon in each, and after about 5 minutes you have little balls of cake.

The next step was the sponge, I just used Delia Smith’s all-in-one sponge cake recipe, which is really quick and easy and made 2 batches. The recipe can be found on, but I took it from her Complete Cookery book. I wanted to make 4 layers so made 2 batches and weighed the mixing bowl before and after making it to make sure I had exactly half. Maybe a bit excessive but I’m rubbish at guessing. I used a slightly smaller tin than Delia suggests because I wanted the layers slightly deeper to cover the cake pops. When each batch was in half I coloured them different colours- red, blue, green and yellow, and put 6 cake pops into each tin then the batter around it. I found with the colouring that normal shop bought blue and yellow were fine if you used the entire bottle, green didn’t come out very well at all, and the gel red was fine but always takes more than I’m expected. The layers when baked come out looking like this:


You need to even off the top of the layers before you start to assemble the cake otherwise you’ll be able to see massive gaps around the outside. To sandwich the layers I used a basic vanilla frosting recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery book, which is basically just milk, icing sugar and vanilla essence. Make sure you sieve the icing sugar though or it will be lumpy. For the icing you can pretty much just use your own favourite butter icing or frosting recipe. If you’re going for different flavours in the layers then you’ll need to think about what will go with all of them and now overpower them.


This stage of assembly is also important because it’s when you add in the piñata. I decided to just use one layer of cake to fill, but with 4 layers you could use two if you wanted more sweets. I used a biscuit cutter to make a circular hole in the middle of my second layer, then put icing onto the first layer as normal, put icing onto the ring of the second layer, and filled the hole with M&Ms before putting the third layer on. This means that you can’t see the chocolate from the outside, but when you cut into the cake it will all spill out.


So you finish assembling all the layers, ice around the outside of the cake- I used a palette knife for this as the cake was so tall- then you can come on to decorating the outside. I went for a fairly simple but still quite time consuming design of a silhouette of a cross from sugar butterflies, which I bought from Co-op. The first job was covering the cake with a layer of fondant icing- again, shop bought as I just didn’t have time to make it. I bought 2 packets as I expected to need lots, but only ended up using one. My original plan was to roll the icing big enough to drape over the top of the cake, but my kitchen counter wasn’t big enough, so instead I had to cover the top and sides separately, which made it look a bit messy. I smoothed it over with an icing smoother but you could still see the join where the top met the sides in places.

When it was covered I very gently scratched the shape of a cross into the top of the cake, then made some thin icing with icing sugar and water, and set about the slow task of sticking all the butterflies onto the top and sides of the cake. It took about half an hour, but I got there in the end and then just finished the cake with some blue ribbon around the bottom, secured with a pin.



Unfortunately I couldn’t be there to actually cut the cake as it was a Sunday and I was at my own church, but I’ve been told that people were impressed, and there was a second round as they tried to work out how the spots got into the cake. If I made it again I would probably be a bit more adventurous with flavours, particularly as you have the opportunity of making the cake pops a different flavour to the rest of the cake, as well as the layers. For a first try though I was happy with what came out.


The other side of Easter


I love Easter. I’ve always loved Easter. Of course, when I was little I looked forward to the number of eggs we would get. As clergy children, elderly parishioners would love to give us Easter eggs because their own children had grown up and moved away, so we always ended up with massive piles of chocolate- which explains why I was overweight as a child! But then as I started to grow up I was attracted to the joy in the church that came with Easter day. Particularly as I noticed how bare the church was all the way through Lent, compared with the colour and new life that returned on Easter Sunday, When I was a teenager I started to engage with Lent as well, and so Easter became looking forward to not giving things up any more. I don’t know how many times I gave up chocolate, it never felt any easier, and it always ended up seeming pointless after the amount of chocolate I would end up eating on Easter day anyway.

As I got older still, and particularly in the last few years, I’ve been excited by the number of ‘things’ that start happening in the life of the church. Suddenly you have extra bible studies, there’s more discipleship material around, more opportunity for reflection, different ways of praying are introduced, all sorts of services that I’ve never been to before. Each year as I’ve been in a leadership position in the church, I think I’ve found another style of worship to try out- Tenebrae, the way of the cross, the Easter vigil.

Last year I blogged about all the services that happened in my group of churches, which were largely the same this year. We had 2 weekly bible studies and a weekly Compline service throughout Lent; we celebrated Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday with palm crosses; we went to the cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist on Maundy Thursday- although this time I sat in the congregation and didn’t con-celebrate; we celebrated the Passover Supper together; on Good Friday we had our children’s activity session, this year on the theme of Frozen, which was a lot of fun; we also had a stations of the cross service using pictures, prayers, music and readings; and celebrated Easter Sunday with a Eucharist in church.

This year I was really excited about Lent. It’s such a good opportunity for so many things to happen. The bible studies in the benefice were largely run by lay-people, but I was leading confirmation sessions using Youth Alpha in the same time period. The Compline is led alternately by different members of the clergy team and readers, but even so, you find that there is suddenly so much more to do and to plan for, that all your good intentions go out the window. I was determined to follow a personal Lent devotion this year so I signed up for 40 acts, and, as I’d advertised it on the first Sunday of Lent, I posted the link onto the church Facebook page so that other people could follow it as well. I did really well for the first couple of weeks, but then things got busier, and I started to just read them and immediately share the link, rather than engaging with them in any meaningful way.

I wanted to have a theme running through Lent this year, rather than the disjointed sermon topics I usually end up with, and fortunately, I did manage to keep that. We used the Lectionary readings to look at the idea of covenant, constantly linking the covenants that God made with people in the Old Testament to the new covenant with Jesus, and building on that every week. So that happened, and it was all fine.

But then we came into Holy Week and everything started to fall apart. I love the number of things we have going on in Holy Week, they’re all really varied and interesting and I wouldn’t want to cut anything out. In fact, some of them are among the most enjoyable services of the year, and a chance to see people who we don’t see at any other time. The start of the week should have been OK, however I’d put a lot of work into helping out with the Easter Experience running in my fiancé’s church the week before, so I still had a bit of a lag over from that. But the services started coming round very quickly and there was a lot to do for all of them. Added to the fact that we had our Eucharist on the Wednesday morning which was followed by the semi final of the Tearfund Big Bake tournament that we’ve been running, and it was my turn to make a pie (I lost, by the way), and suddenly there weren’t enough hours in the day.

I’m very lucky in my parish to have lots of people who do things- for the Passover Supper the churchwardens bought most of the supplies and prepared a lot of the food; and for the Good Friday Frozen session the planning was done jointly with the Methodist leader so the most difficult thing was trying to find some white pom-poms to make Olafs- which takes considerable time trying to drive around Cardiff when everywhere is out of stock! I’m aware though that I am in a very fortunate position, lots of parishes don’t have lay readers to be focusing on bible studies, or people they can work with, or even pro-active parishioners to take some of the weight off. So I can definitely understand how parishes don’t end up with the variety of Lent activities that we do.

Aside from the difficulty in organising the events themselves, there’s also the problem that the time spent takes away from time when you could be visiting people. I have a whole list of people who I wanted to visit in Holy Week and just ran out of time to go and see. There’s also an expectation that your Easter sermon will be ‘a good one’, particularly if it’s an all-age service. For those people who only come to church at Christmas and Easter, you want to be delivering something that’s going to make an impact. I think secretly we’re hoping that the sermon will be so powerful that it will somehow persuade people to start coming to church every week. That doesn’t happen.

I’m not writing this as a general moan about how busy Holy Week is, I’m just trying to give an idea of the pressures that we face before moving into the more unsettling point. We all get so busy in Lent, that by the time we get to Holy Week, we’re looking forward to Easter being over. All the clergy I spoke to at the Chrism Mass looked exhausted, and were looking forward to all the planning and preparing coming to a close on Easter Sunday.

What worries me is that there’s a danger that by the time we get to Easter Sunday, we’re so tired that we can’t fully appreciate the joy in the resurrection that we’re supposed to- not out of any duty, but because that’s the emotion it should invoke. The picture I paint for my congregations is that Lent is a time of quiet reflection, contemplation and self-examination; in Holy Week we try to identify with the suffering of Jesus until the emptiness and loneliness of Good Friday, and then on Easter Sunday everything suddenly springs back to life- we have flowers in church again, we sing the Gloria, the music is generally very joyful, and that’s good- that’s how it should be. The new life within the church echoing the new life of the resurrection. But for clergy it’s a very different story. Lent is a time of extra business, of not really having much time for self-reflection because you’re too busy helping other people to reflect. In Holy Week we’re trying to think about new and imaginative ways to help people to understand what Jesus went through. Good Friday and Saturday are normally spent with trying desperately to write your sermon for Sunday that will communicate the joy of Easter to all the different groups within your church; before going home to crash on the sofa and not move for the next week.

But that’s not what Easter is about. I don’t want to lose the wonder of Easter because I’m too tired to appreciate it. I don’t want to forget the mystery and the power of the resurrection because I’ve spent too much time over-analysing it for my sermon. I want to go into church and experience the joy and the love and the grace that I’m trying to share with my congregation. If I’m not feeling it, then how on earth can I expect them to?

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t want to stop doing the things in Lent that we’re doing now because I really enjoy them, and I think their really helpful and important. But I do worry about the ability of clergy to be able to articulate the good news of Easter when they’re (or we’re) just looking forward to it not being Easter any more. Maybe I just need to start doing all my Easter planning in ordinary time when we’ve got nothing better to do, and then I’ll be really prepared for next year. If anyone has worked out a way of doing Easter and not feeling physically drained at the end of it, then please, let me know, and I will try it your way next year!


We Three Kings

One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to try out new ideas in some of my church services. Every month we have a Breakfast Club on a Sunday morning in place of our regular worship, which starts with food, then some songs, readings, and a short talk, then we do some crafts, and close with saying a prayer together. This service gives a big opportunity to be creative, but still tends to follow that prescribed format. Last week though I was given the vague service name ‘Epiphany Celebration’ to work with, knowing that it was a low Sunday where not many would come, and those who did would be expecting all age worship.

So I decided to draw on some Epiphany traditions from around the world and make it interactive rather than aimed specifically at children. It was just as well I did as there were significantly more adults than children. This was in the church that has a sound system and screen installed so I can put the whole lot, prayers, hymns and everything, onto PowerPoint and go through the service from my laptop. We used the screen at Midnight Mass this year as well and people were slightly confused about not being given anything to hold. It does make it a lot more straightforward though, if you’re organised enough to get it set up beforehand.

We started the service having already lit the advent wreath, making the most of not having tidied it away yet and giving us another opportunity to light the Christ candle. I wanted to use it for the prayers but didn’t want to draw too much attention to lighting it. We opened the service singing Angels from the Realms of Glory, introducing Epiphany by talking about Christmas cards with the Magi on, and an opening prayer focusing on gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then we completed our nativity set by moving the kings from the window ledge to the stable under the altar. We have a teddy bear nativity set in this church as the main times we use it are with the school children. It’s been in the church for years and many of them look forward to it being brought back out.

When the children had put the bears in the crib we said a prayer of confession together, which can be found at roots on the web, before moving to our readings. We had the New Testament reading as normal, from Ephesians 9:1-12. The gospel reading was from Matthew 2, about the Magi from the East, which we watched as a cartoon from YouTube to keep the children’s attention for a bit longer.

During the talk, I started off explaining why Epiphany is important- that in following the Magi who anticipated, recognised and welcomed the baby Jesus, churches and families can go through the same steps of welcoming Gods chosen one. I then talked about why each of the gifts was given: gold because it shows that Jesus is important like royalty, but even more so being God’s son; frankincense as a symbol of holiness; and myrrh as a symbol of pain and suffering that Jesus would go through at his death.

But then I moved on to talking about traditions around the world that help people celebrate Epiphany and the journey of the kings. The first we looked at was the Kings cake, or Rosca de Reyes, or Galette des Rois. They’re baked in different ways in different places, but in all of them a figure of baby Jesus or a bean to represent him is baked into the cake for the people who eat it to find. Traditionally the person who found it would be the Mardi Gras king or queen. In later years they were crowned king for the day and would be the one who hosted Epiphany the following year. The idea behind it is that, like the kings, we should also actively search for Jesus. The version I made was a French one (I didn’t have time for a Spanish version which is a braided dough decorated with gold, purple and green icing). The French version is 2 rounds of puff pastry with a layer of almond paste made from butter, ground almonds and sugar, in the middle. Very straightforward, as long as you don’t try making your own puff pastry!



The next tradition we explored was the Magi Blessing, or Chalking the Door. The date and the letters C B M, and cross symbols are chalked above the doorway of a house to pray that during the year it will be a place of peace and hospitality. The letters have two meanings, either the traditional names for the wise men- Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior; or a prayer in Latin, Christus mansionem benedicat, which means ‘Christ bless this house’. The prayers we used come later, but it caused a bit of confusion the following week to the people who hadn’t been there, and thought there was some strange graffiti going on!


The final tradition we looked at was the use of candles, by using them in our prayers. Candles are used a lot in church anyway, and particularly around Christmas, to remind us that Christ is the light who comes into the world to banish the darkness, and around Epiphany to signify the light that the Magi followed to find Jesus.

In our prayers we had 9 candles on the table and lit them one by one, remembering different groups of Christians as we did so. Another reason behind this was that the Magi were the first Gentiles to know about the importance of Jesus, so we need to remember to pray for Christians all over the world. We lit the first candle from the Advent wreath and used it to light all the other candles, which reminded us that Jesus came to serve. With the second candle we remembered Christians in Israel, and Simeon telling Mary and Joseph that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles. With the third we prayed for Christians in India, remembering that the Magi came from the East. With the fourth we prayed for Christians in Europe, remembering that Paul took the gospel to Rome and parts of Greece. The fifth candle was for Christians in Africa and Phillip meeting the man from Ethiopia on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. The sixth was for Christians in North and South America, and the missionaries who took the gospel there many centuries after Jesus. The seventh was for Australia and New Zealand where the Christian church has sent many people to spread the good news around the world. The eighth was for Christians in the Arctic and countries where the bible has to be vastly reinterpreted to make the message understandable. For example, the Inuit people don’t have sheep, so for them it makes sense to think if Jesus as the baby seal of God. Finally the ninth candle was for people on the seas, the Mission to Seamen and all who offer Christian hospitality to those a long way from home.

After the prayers we sang We Three Kings, and then went outside to chalk the door, using the following liturgy from Common Worship All Age Lectionary Resources.

“Peace be with this house and all who dwell in it, and peace to all who enter here. In keeping with the feast of Epiphany, we celebrate the Magi’s search for the infant king, the Christ child’s appearing to the world, and the peace and hospitality shared between the Magi and the Holy Family. May this church in the coming year be a place where Christ is pleased to dwell. May all our homes share the peace and hospitality of Christ which is revealed in the fragile flesh of an infant. Amen.”

We then moved back inside to the warmth and prayed for the life of our church. Giving thanks for the good times, thanking God that he was with us for the bad times, and thanking him for the times we felt particularly close to him. We finished the service remembering that Jesus is good news for the world, but that he is not limited to the world as he is the Lord of all creation. We sang Like a Candle Flame (Graham Kendrick) to close, which I had to teach them first, but which they enjoyed, and then finished with the blessing:
May we feel the love of God when we look up at the stars; the peace of God when we feel lost; and may God bless our dreams and keep us safe.

Some of the adults would not normally come to church if they knew that it was a family service, but did come that time and all said they really enjoyed it. It was a lot of work to put together but was definitely worth it to hear that it had helped people to connect with God in a way they weren’t expecting. Hopefully in the future they will be more likely to come to other forms of worship that they may have initially written off as having nothing to offer them. It also reinforces to me the need to make sure that all age worship has equally as much to offer the adults as the children, and that they can also learn, not just be there to keep the children in check.

All in all, it was a very positive and enjoyable experience and definitely made Epiphany more memorable and meaningful than in previous years. It was interesting for me to research the traditions other countries have, which show how important a festival it is, and to pass that on to my congregation. I hope you enjoyed reading this, please let me know if you found it helpful.

The Gingerbread Nativity

Last spring I discovered a book by Renita Boyle called Gingerbread Nativity which is basically an instruction manual on how to make your own nativity set out of gingerbread biscuits. I bought it there and then, and spent the next few months looking forward to being able to use it. I decided that the  best bet would be to do it with Toddler church. It can easily be split into multiple sessions, which spreads out the baking over a number of weeks; and that also makes the story into small chunks that the little ones are able to understand. The only downside is that we started learning about Christmas in December, and the smell of gingerbread in my house didn’t leave for 6 weeks.

I decided that, as making gingerbread is quite a big commitment, I wouldn’t impose it on the other leaders- although they were more than capable of it, and just made the figures every week. It also meant that I had time to tweak the recipe and cooking times, and didn’t need to worry about who the book with the templates had got to!

We didn’t quite follow the suggestion in the book about the way to split the story- I wanted to make sure there was enough but not too much for the children to do every week, and not have the figures with variations all in one week. So we started off with the angel telling Mary she was going to have a baby. They were decorated with pre-cut fondant for Mary’s clothes and the angel wings, so there was a little more prep than just cutting out the gingerbread pieces.

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The next week we taught them about the angel visited Joseph and how they had to start a long journey to Bethlehem, so we made Joseph and the donkey. The donkey is one of my favourite figures. The front and back are made out of gingerbread, and the body is two oreo biscuits sandwiched together. Really easy but they look so cute.1779952_841301965914734_5742841736378173073_n

By the next week Mary and Joseph had actually got to Bethlehem, couldn’t find a room and were staying in a stable, so we made stables. I made a bigger version for the group nativity set, and smaller ones for the children to take home. They had malted wheats as roof tiles, writing icing to draw bricks and windows onto the side, and lots of sprinkles to decorate them. The kids also had windows cut out before baking, and then filled with crushed sweets so they had stained glass windows in them.


The following week, which incidentally was only the 26th November, baby Jesus was born and we decorated the baby, a manger and some stars. Baby Jesus lay on a bed of crushed malted wheats (with the leftovers) rather than hay, and had a lovely marzipan face. We had lots of intense star decorating going on as well.

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We had a break in the first week of December for our Christmas Party. We have a party at the end of every term, but now that a lot of the toddlers have older siblings in school with parties and Christmas plays, the last couple of weeks before term became too busy so we brought it forward. We had lots of party food and games and songs, and just had a nice relaxed time.


In theory, we were back on track the next week, but there were no kids there, so instead the grown ups had a good time decorating the gingerbread themselves. We were on the shepherds visiting Jesus so we made gingerbread shepherds and marshmallow sheep. Like the donkeys, the sheep were incredibly cute (even if they do look a bit angry) and the toddlers definitely missed out!

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And so our last week brought us to the wise men- not quite at Epiphany but I don’t think they noticed. By that point I was running low on icing making supplies so the icing glue ended up being quite runny and didn’t work massively well as clue. In the end I tried switching to actual glue, but by then it was too late. They still ended up looking alright though, even if they did keep falling over!


All in all, it was really worth doing. The kids looked forward to having gingerbread every week, the adults who came with the children really enjoyed it as well, and visitors to the church who saw the nativity were very impressed with it. It would work really well with an older age group as well who could make the fondant clothes and shapes for themselves. If we had the facilities it would have been nice to make and bake the gingerbread in church as well, as it really is very simple and would save one person having to cut out lots of shapes each week, particularly when you’re making figures with lots of pieces!


We ended up finishing it the week before Christmas when the schools broke up, which meant that the nativity set was up for the Christmas services in the church, helping to bring the Toddler Church into the church community when we had lots of guests in. If you’re stuck thinking of a Christmas programme for next year, I really would encourage you to consider doing the gingerbread nativity. The book is available on Amazon, or Waterstones if you order it in, and there are loads of pictures on Google to give you ideas on how to decorate it. I hope you all had a very Happy Christmas and New Year. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments. Thank you for reading!


Creation’s proclaiming your majesty

I’ve been becoming increasingly aware that I haven’t blogged for a while. My excuse is that the Christmas period for clergy is ridiculously busy- I’ve mainly been spending my free time baking gingerbread for Toddler Church; but this blog post has been brewing for a while so I wanted to try and get it out before the end of Advent!

Pretty petals #sharjah #national park #flowers

The tension between science and faith has always fascinated me. I know it’s a cause of major problems for lots of people, but I’ve always seen them as things that go incredibly well together, so I wanted to try and put the reason why into some sort of order. I took all three science A-levels- Biology, Chemistry and Physics. I wanted to be a doctor at that point so it was fairly necessary. I eventually realised that I wasn’t really good enough or passionate enough about Science and had a bit of a rethink. Interestingly, neither of my Biology teachers were Christians, one of my Chemistry teachers was, and both of my Physics teachers were, and went on to become a missionary and a priest. Their faith came through their teaching and probably influenced the way I think about science.

Hanging around

When I was going through the selection process for ordination, at a very early stage, someone asked me how I reconcile my faith with science. I hadn’t really thought about giving an answer before so I found myself speaking quite passionately, which surprised me at the time. Although there are a few bumps in my understanding, my answer still comes up something like this:

The universe is made in such a complex way that I can’t see how it can have happened without some sort of intervention. The precise combination of gases and elements, pressure and heat that had to come together at the right time in the right way to form a planet capable of sustaining life is so unlikely that is must have had a bit of help. And that the conditions then allowed for intelligent life to develop alongside so many other life forms that are able to know God is remarkable.

Red cabbage.

It’s easy to say that evidence of evolution and the big bang theory disprove God, but I don’t know why they need to. Yes, evolution contradicts the seven day story of creation, but that story was passed on from a civilization that had no concept of science, who could never understand evolution. This was a civilization for whom it would be enough to know that God created the world, and have some idea of how he did it. But our understanding has come on since then. I can still see the hand of God in evolution. I can see the gently genetic pokes and prods that enabled life to develop to how we know it to be now. I still believe God created the world, if anything it’s even more impressive, knowing the intricacies that exist in nature.

Water drops.

How biological systems fit so intricately together that the tiniest imbalance can cause huge problems. The minute details involved in cells, and the even smaller particles that make them up- you can tell my physics is a bit rusty! When you bear in mind the millions of organisms that exist on the planet, and how each of them has a different biological footprint, is that not even more impressive that God designed them all, rather than just imagining a pretty animal and it magically appearing in creation.

Icy morning.

Psalm 139 says, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s one of my favourite passages of scripture, and I don’t think that an alternative view of creation takes away from that. I still believe that God creates us all individually. That he puts effort into creating us just the way he wants us, and that we are all  perfect in his sight, because that’s what he wants us to be.


I still believe that every beautiful thing that exists in creation exists because God designed it and created it to be beautiful. My friend Amy takes stunning photos, and quite often she’ll share something that reminds me of that. The photo’s I’ve included in this blog post are all hers, and can be found on her Flickr site here, along with lots more stunning pictures:

I realise this isn’t the most cohesive blogpost, but it makes me feel better that I’ve finally written something down on a subject I’ve been mulling over for a long time. I want to finish with some lyrics from the Chris Tomlin song, Indescribable:

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation’s revealing Your majesty
From the colours of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming
Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Gone fishing

We’ve had a weird few weeks in Toddler church leading up to half term. We were finishing up looking at the Bible Heroes we starting exploring last term, but there were a couple of odd sessions at the end of the term that we had to fill. We could have gone off and found some minor prophets, but instead we decided to look at the early church. Last week we were talking about secret symbols, and made paper chains- initially fish but we got a bit carried away and ended up making all sorts of things. We had some crosses but also ended up with people, birthday cake, angels, stars and flowers:

paper chains

paper chains

Another week we talked about Mary and Martha, and as they were entertaining Jesus and, Martha at least, was cooking, we thought we’d get the kids doing something with food. As most of them are only 3 and we don’t have an oven (our kitchen is specifically a food preparation area, not a kitchen), we were content to decorate some little cakes:

fairy cakes

But another week we told the story of Peter not being able to catch any fish until Jesus came along and helped him, then invited him to fish for people instead, so he left his nets and became a disciple- obviously at a very basic level. We thought it might confuse the little ones talking about catching people, so instead for the craft we focused on the fisherman aspect of the story, and made a fishing game. I had great fun putting this one together, and the kids seemed to enjoy it as well.

I started off by getting a shoe box and painting the inside blue, then adding some green seaweed sneaking up the edges: that box became my fish tank. I made fishing rods by glue-ing some paper streamers onto the end of wooden garden canes, and then glue-ing a small magnet onto the other end of the streamer. I was nervous about the strength of PVA glue to keep the whole lot together so I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to use superglue. Not only was it completely unnecessary, as everything was so light it would have stuck together quite happily; I managed to get super glue all over my fingers and it didn’t come off for days. If you decide to do this, don’t use super glue.

The final step was the fish. I just printed out some fish templates from a google search onto some card, and cut them out before the session. The kids (and mums) had great fun decorating them. We had lots of nicely coloured in fish, as well as some star fish (stars stuck on), and flying fish (feathers stuck on). When they’d finished decorating them they gave them so googley eyes (yes it does look a bit creepy), and put paper clips on their noses. They then had a little game where they had to try and ‘catch’ the fish from the tank by using the magnet on the rod to attract to the paperclip. A few of them went home with their rods and fish to carry on playing with their siblings when they got home.

Fishing game

Fishing game

We have a week off for half term now, but when we go back we’ll  be starting our gingerbread nativity in the run up to Christmas! Very excited about baking every week so stay tuned to see how the nativity progresses

Birthday Baking Part 2

A few weeks ago, at the end of August, I wrote a post about making a birthday cake for the younger two of the children. I had meant to follow it up the next week with the post about the final cake, but it got a bit busy so I never got round to it. So this post is about a cake I made a few weeks ago, thankfully it was also eaten a few weeks ago, however I like baking and I haven’t done anything as interesting since, so I thought I’d put it up anyway.

Ryan turned 12 this year so I had to make him a ‘cooler’ cake than the younger two. 2 years ago he was into wrestling so had a WWE cake. Last year the Smiler ride at Alton Towers had just opened and he was obsessed with that so he had a Smiler cake. This year there’s no one ride that’s just come out that he’s been massively into so I had to use my imagination. I considered doing a minecraft cake, but that’s not his favourite game so it would have been a bit of a cop out. I went on Pinterest looking for rollercoaster cakes, but there weren’t any that either looked good, or that I was confident doing, so I ended up making it up.

In the summer we went to Port Aventura theme park in Spain, which he loved because there were a few big rides, we went with their cousins, and it was hot. And his favourite ride there was Shambhala. It’s not the biggest rollercoaster, but it’s one where you’re only strapped in across the top of your legs, so although it is safe, you don’t feel it. It’s incredibly smooth though, and like Air at Alton Towers, you feel like you’re flying. If you ever get the chance to go on it you should, it’s brilliant, and probably one of my favourites as well.

My baking architecture isn’t great, so I decided against making a model of the rollercoaster, and instead chose to make one around the theme of the ride. The idea is that it’s something to do with an expedition into the Himalayan mountains, and the logo on their theming looks like this:

So I decided to use the top half of the logo to base the design on. I won’t show you the drawings I did in advance because I’m not great at drawing and it would be embarrassing, but I did plan this one out before making it.

As Ryan is old enough now to know what he wants, I asked him what sort of cake he wanted, and he chose chocolate with raspberry jam, so it ended up looking like this:

basic cake

A little bit rough around the edges, but you can’t tell when it’s all covered with icing. The next step was to give it a crumb coating of icing to try and keep the top layers clean. I used chocolate butter icing, although in hindsight it probably would have  been more sensible to do a layer of marzipan, which would help protect against the chocolate icing discolouring the top layers. Fortunately it didn’t last long enough for that to happen.

crumb coating

You can see from the picture that there are quite a few white dots in the icing. That’s because I was lazy and didn’t sift the icing sugar before making it up. If the butter icing had been the top layer I would have done and it would have been a lot smoother, but as it was going to be covered, I cheated slightly.

The next layer was a layer of blue fondant icing for the sky, followed by a layer of white icing to make the outline of the mountains. I really need to start making my own fondant icing, to have more control over my colours and quantities, but I haven’t done it before so I bought ready made fondant and just had to roll it out.

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It took me ages to get the hang of working with fondant icing and ending up with smooth sides, which I more or less managed with the blue layer, but you can see there are a few air bubbles in the white. I’ve learnt now to roll out the icing to a much bigger size than you need, then to lift the whole sheet over the cake with a rolling pin or pastry mat, and smooth down the top before the sides. With the sides, the way to avoid have crease lines is pulling the icing gently down and out as you straighten it, so you can pull the folds out and it ends up lying flat against the side of the cake.

The next step was writing the word Shambhala onto the cake, which I did just using a tube of red writing icing. I was worried about it running so I left the cake for a little while for the icing to dry out a bit, and then made sure I didn’t move onto the next stage until the red had run and hardened a little so I knew where the spread would be and it wouldn’t end up messy.

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When the red had dried enough, I added a snow drift to the top of the text and the mountains. It’s pretty delicate trying to use basic icing in such detail, but I discovered another use for the loom band making tool I used on the other two’s cake. Turns out it’s pretty good with runny icing…

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After that it was a simple case of drawing in a rollercoaster, some birds, some fondant icing for the sun, and the birthday message itself…

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Unfortunately the yellow icing wasn’t great and ended up running, so I decided to do a quick redesign on the bottom half and the cake actually ended up looking like this:

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Ryan had a birthday sleepover that weekend, and his friends were pretty impressed with it. Fortunately he is only 12, and he is still at the age where his friends are allowed to show positive feedback towards things. Give it a couple of years and I’ll be in a lose-lose situation! All in all, it seemed to go down ok. The cake tasted amazing, and really didn’t last that long between 7 hungry children!

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