Friday, 29 May 2015

A Word From Our Sponsor {IBS-Bleh}

When I started this blog I mentioned two reasons for its acronym name: the desire to 'unleash the baker inside' as the tagline reads, but also the health condition that affects how I have to approach baking and food in general these days. Let's call these IBS-bake and IBS-bleh respectively.

I guess it might seem strange that I don't discuss both of the IBSes in equal weighting. Though that might be a blessing in a way, as Irritable Bowel Syndrome - IBS-bleh -   involves far fewer pictures of cake, flowers and other pretty things... 

It's certainly true that IBS-bleh gets less air time because it's the sort of thing that is symptomatically only ever embarrassing (like an episode of 'Embarrassing Bodies' all about ME!!). So to discuss it properly, I would either share the indignities that are my bodily functions or talk about theoretical gross things that happen to sufferers in general. Not. Dinner. Conversation. 

And to be honest, I think about IBS-bleh way less than IBS-bake! Most of my spare thoughts run towards cake designing and Thai cooking (or whichever recipe book I have my nose in), rather than how to not feel unwell by the end of the day.

But that doesn't mean there aren't days (if you follow my double-negatives) where it's hard to think of much else beyond the bleh... 

Like last week: I felt the effects of eating a few pieces of pear and apple three days after the fact

Since I haven't really covered the topic since my first post, I thought it was about time to delve into the what (and a little of the why) of Irritable bowel. So let's take a break from the endless cake & baking photos and dive right in! I'm in the mood, after all...

IBS-bleh: Symptoms are the guts of it

According to the New Zealand Health Navigator website, IBS is "a common condition, affecting 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 people...[causing] a range of symptoms including abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation." Gosh, that's a lot of people - that means there's a reasonable chance that you, reader have experienced or are experiencing these symptoms, too. Especially if you're a female in your twenties like me - 

And 'symptoms' are pretty much the guts (pun intended!) of IBS. Being a functional disorder of the large intestine, IBS doesn't change what this organ looks like (its structure). Therefore, the US Department of Health and Human Servicesthe International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders and Dr Wiki(!) all agree that it is the symptoms which characterize this syndrome.

A spasticolon 

Behind those symptoms uncomfortable cramping, unpleasant constipation and antisocial gas common for IBS sufferers is a colon going spastic. The video below is a good (not too gross) summary of what is happening in such bowels: the intestinal contractions that push waste through the colon happen faster, slower or more randomly than for a normal person (causing cramps and constipation or diarrhoea - or both!). In addition the inside of the intestines can be more sensitive to gas bubbles created during digestion (causing bloating and gas). 


There are a number of possible causes for IBS but ultimately there's no decisive cause (noticing a pattern?!). It's generally believed that communication between the intestinal nerves and the brain is faulty for an IBS sufferer, as WedMD describes, however this is not well understood yet. This helpful brochure published by the University of Manchester puts forth some other theories for IBS developing or flaring up, including:

  • An imbalance in gut bacteria
  • High use of antibiotics or presence of a food intolerance
  • Stressful situations or seasons in life
  • Hypersensitivity of the gut to pain and/or pressure changes
  • A link to hormonal cycles (perhaps why women are more likely to have IBS than men)

I remember hearing or reading around the time I developed IBS that it might be caused by a previous gut infection that I never recovered from, and so my intestines were doomed to spasm forevermore. I'm hopeful that it won't be lifelong, but each 'solution' I take has had a fail point so I'm less glib about it now...


To add to the nebulous nature of the beast, there is no single diagnosis test. Rather it's identified by eliminating the possibility of other illnesses: coeliac disease, lactose intolerance, diabetes, etc. This is often done via blood tests, but there are rectal exams or a colonoscopy for the very keen. As IBS sufferers don't usually have any obvious physical issues with their intestines these tests may be of limited use for diagnosing except to cancel out more serious diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and bowel cancer

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So I've got this condition that is more a collection of symptoms than an illness, has no one specific cause, and no known treatment (more about that in another post. I'd forgive you for wondering if it were all in my head! 

And although it's frustrating, very uncomfortable and sometimes even sore, I can't compare IBS with Crohn's and other IBDs. People with those burdens are a tougher lot than I am.

I'll leave you hanging with the problem defined, and follow-up at another time with some of the more positive stuff to help deal with IBS-bleh - and how I bake around it :-)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Three Weddings And A... Birthday (Cake!) {Wedding No. 1}

It's been a bit quiet on the blog-front for the past month or so - which means that it's been busy in the kitchen! I'm finally able to share with you what I got up to slightly secretively in December and give an update of what I've been baking recently - namely a bunch of lovely but challenging wedding cakes for friends plus my bestie E's special birthday cake. There's been a lot of cake (understatement of the century!), so I'm spreading them over four posts altogether.

As much as I like to share with the virtual world, I'm looking forward to reading (and re-reading!) these finished posts myself to remind myself of what I've learnt during the past six months in baking and caking :-) I've also been taking fledgling steps in food photography, which you'll see in some of the posts, although where the images are not mine (mainly this post) I have given credit to the photographer(s).

Wedding No.1: S + J = Fondant Frills

Seeing as I was enjoying getting into cake decorating for the first time in 2014, I figured I would need a challenge to flex my new skills on by the end the year. S and I had flatted together before I got married, and then I got wind that her own engagement was near (having a unique vantage point because of J's request to hold the fort at the church bookstall while he took her out to a 'surprise' weekend retreat!).  I asked (as soon as it was proper) who would be making their cake, and was met with "we weren't even thinking of having a cake!" 

Well, that was all I needed to see my mission in life as their personal wedding cake-r. In my enthusiasm, I didn't ask how many people they were inviting, which meant a wee bit anxiety, a lot of thinking and a fair bit of consulting other more experienced cakers. The loans of my parents in-law's freezer and a colleague's massive perspex cupcake stand - to store and then display 370 cupcakes - convinced me that this epic first wedding caking could indeed succeed. 

Cupcakes a-plenty (photo by NOPHOTO)

Beautiful photos by Dru and Talia of NOPHOTO show the outcome: a day that drizzled until the last moment (the tent covering threatened with tiny drips to unleash a torrent of captured rain onto the cake table) cleared up for the ceremony then opened up into sunshine for bridal photographs. The bride and groom made a handsome couple in ivory and tweed respectively, flanked by bridal party members wearing the sunset colours of the icing flowers and leaves on the cake.

Photo by NOPHOTO
The cake itself was my first proper attempt at ruffles using gumpaste and I found this tutorial (by the wonderful Rose Atwater of Rose Bakes) to be invaluable. It took a wee while for each frill to dry but was not the most difficult design, seeing as the rustic look benefits from not looking absolutely perfect!

Photo by NOPHOTO
The gumpaste roses and leaves were made using Wilton and Americolor gel pastes and dusted with colour lustre dusts. I was really pleased with the yellow ones in particular - the orange dust I used gave them a nice depth. In case you're wondering...they were attached to toothpicks and stuck into the cake, while the leaves were attached using edible glue.

Photo by NOPHOTO
Cake flavours were Annabel Langein's banana cake recipe with dark choc ganache and preserved ginger (S's fave!), both covered in white choc ganache under a fondant base. 

The cupcakes were vanilla (MY fave recipe) and chocolate (a la Sweetapolita) with regular buttercream as I've posted about before except substituting half of the butter with Kremelta to make it brighter and whiter. Each had a little rolled rose and leaf in the same colours as the cake's ones. And there were certainly a lot of them...

Photo my own
So when I say it was an 'introduction' to wedding caking... it was more like a  baptism by fire!!! But good fun and good learning ;-) Thanks to the bride and groom for the opportunity, and to them and NOPHOTO (check them out!!!) for letting me use these stunning photos.

Photo by NOPHOTO