Falling in love with shiny!

 

I am not a Bree Van-de-Kamp, the Desperate Housewife with the perfect home, but there are times when I realise that I need to do something about the layers of dust and the kitchen floor appears to be changing colour!
 Housework is something that I seem to avoid – yet oddly enough when I spend time cleaning I actually find I enjoy it. (yes you did read that correctly, the word enjoy and housework in the same sentence!)
I have fallen in love with sparkly, and it is very easy to achieve, takes no elbow grease and is not hazardous to health. It is a simple mix of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.

 

This is not my kitchen but one that is set up in the grounds of the Weald and Down Museum in nearby West Dean, I thought it illustrates to me just how much simpler and easier housework has become. Hot water at the turn of a tap – washing machines and electric kettles, it has never been an easier time to be a housewife. I believe that simple household products that have seen years of use. This little kitchen set up goes back to early in the 1900s.

 

Looking at the simple ingredients that were at the disposal of the housewife in her struggle to keep the house free from infection – it  made me ponder just how far we have come to rely on the ‘selling power of science’ We trust the cleaning products that abound on the supermarket shelf are safe and effective to use.These companies are in business to make money, they use enough science to convince us that their product will be the best, and easiest to use.
There are no restrictions on cleaning products for the home it may surprise you they are able to sell these above what would be considered a health risk if it were sold commercially. There have been links with air fresheners and cancer risks, and I believe that if our bodies cough to expel something that has been sprayed into an aerosol into our smallest room then it is pretty likely the substance we are ingesting might not be in good health.
Its easy to get everything sparkly, just spray with vinegar and sprinkle over bicarbonate! You can scrub a little, then wash down with water. Buff and sit back and admire a lovely shine! It lasts for a few days too. No coughing, no nasty chemicals, gentle on the purse too!

ttfn x

Butter whirls Recipe

Oh my! the weather has changed considerably in the last few days, gone are the balmy sunny days of September with all the fruitful abundance, to the chill wet rain of October – I want to spend time in my warm, kitchen listening to the rain and hail splat against the window, enhancing the cosiness of baking and domestic bliss. 
A dear friend of mine was having a coffee morning so I made these butter whirls to take along, they are so easy to make and they look so pretty. 
150g of softened butter
50g icing sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla paste
100g of plain flour
50g of rice flour (or you can use all plain flour) 
Cream the butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy, its best done with a mixer to save aching arms! Stir in the flour but teat it lightly otherwise you might lose all the air. 

Place mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large gage star nozzle. 
Pipe onto a greased baking tin, in small swirls. 
Its a good idea to keep the swirls tall, as the mixture spreads out in the oven. 
Put a cherry on the top and bake in a moderate oven (160/325 GM3) around 20 minutes 
or until pale and golden. 

You can be even more indulgent by adding a little jam and butter icing to make a biscuit sandwich, they will look like home made Viennese whirls. Or you can dip one side in chocolate… now that is a thought… ttfn x

Strawberry fields forever… June Jamming

I love the warm June sunshine – it has been a wonderful summer so far and I am thrilled that it is once again Strawberry Season. 
While I would love to be one of those talented gardeners that grow everything I need, my gardening skills are not that successful! Fortunately there is a lovely pick your own farm not to far from home and my friend D and I headed off there last Sunday. 
Its very companionable moving among the warm straw lines, spotting and picking the delicious red berries among the lush green leaves; the sun warming our backs as the gentle breeze plays with strands of our hair, the easy conversation mixing with birdsong as we catch up on our lives. I love the smell of hay as it rises warm from the sun reminding me of so many good times in strawberry fields: childhood days spent roaming the fields, my own children in competition to find the biggest sweetest ones their chins evidence of the fruit that did not make it to their baskets. There is nothing to beat the taste of a strawberry ripe and warmed by the sun. There are so many wonderful pleasures associated with this small simple act, gathering your own is almost as good as growing your own and the price of the strawberries makes it worthwhile too. 
Of course jam making is a slow process; one that fills my kitchen with the sweet delicious smell while they seep in the sugar. I tried a few new ideas this year as strawberry jam is notorious for not setting well – I was thrilled that I achieved the soft set I was hoping for.
 I have included the recipe here if you want to make some yourself, it is very satisfying to have the jam on the shelf only days after they are picked – it gives me a glorious sense of blissful domesticity. 
I made around 2 1/2 lb of jam (strictly it is a conserve but I call it jam!)
You will need:
900g / 2lb strawberries, hulled. 
900g / 2lb of preserving sugar (it contains pectin which will help your jam to set) 
2 apples
2 lemons 
15g / 1 knob of butter 
A preserving pan 
Sugar thermometer (it really does take the guesswork out of finding the setting point) 
A muslin square  
Jam funnel (it is one of those really useful items that you only discover once you have one!) 
3 medium sized clean jam jars with lids
Wax paper discs 
Layer the strawberries in the sugar and allow to seep, preferably overnight
Peel and then finely grate the apple – place the peel and core in the muslin square and knot tightly to encase the apple then add to the strawberries and sugar. 
Cook over a low heat stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to boil gently for around 5 minutes just enough for the fruit to soften. Turn off the heat and cover with a clean tea towel and allow to stand for another night. 
Before you begin cooking the jam -place two saucers in the freezer, you will need them to be very cold in order to check the jam for setting. 
Sterilise the jam jars by placing them into a warm oven (lowest setting).  This will also mean that the jars won’t crack when you spoon the hot jam into them. 
Add the juice and grated rind of the two lemons to the strawberries and place the sugar thermometer on the side of the pan ensuring that it is not touching the bottom of the pan. 
Bring the jam back up to boiling point, stirring the fruit now and then – boil rapidly (the jam will do a rolling motion) for around 5 minutes. Check the thermometer – the temperature should reach about 220 or the ‘jam’ setting. 
To test for setting -take a small teaspoon of jam and place it on the plate, return to the freezer for a few moments;  the jam should be slightly thick when you push your finger through it. If it remains runny then boil again for a few more minutes and then repeat the test until you are happy with the set. 
Place your butter into the jam and turn off the heat, stir the butter until all the bubbles are gone. 
Let your jam to cool a little (about 10 minutes) so that the fruit will be evenly distributed in the jar rather than sinking to the bottom. 
Ladle into the warm jars and cover with a wax disc. Run a damp cloth round the edge of the jar, this will discourage mould to form. Screw up tightly and allow to cool. 
Label and decorate with fabric and ribbon if you wish; enjoy the warm glow of being a domestic goddess!  
Delicious on a warm baked scone or fresh white crusty bread and butter! 

Simply the best

It is all well and good trying new recipes but my success rate has taken a bit of a bashing recently, after all the festivities and rich food, what  I wanted at the weekend was a touch of simplicity, –  I thought I would go back to an old favourite of mine, Victoria Sponge. Named as I am sure you know, after Queen Victoria. 
This is a foolproof recipe – this cake is made from 6 eggs, simply weigh your eggs, add the same weight of sugar, self raising flour, and softened butter, (not straight from the fridge it won’t work!) a good teaspoon of vanilla essence and a teaspoon of baking powder ( for every three eggs – 6 eggs =2 teaspoons). Mix together to form a soft dropping consistency – using two lined round cake tins – place in a moderate oven for around 20 – 30 minutes. You will know it is cooked because it will shrink slightly around the rim, have a golden colour and will not leave any cake mixture on a cocktail stick that you can push through the centre to check. 
It is important to let the cake cool completely before icing. 
Victoria Sanwich relies on the combination of butter and vanilla, so I always use butter and not margarine, however Stork can be a good alternative for the cake, but I always recommend butter for icing. While I am a great fan of the cupcakes, I prefer my victoria sandwich with just a little Raspberry jam, but you can ice yours with buttercream if you wish. 
What I love about this recipe is that it works for me every time, there is nothing more disappointing than using good ingredients and spending time in the kitchen only to have a soggy or disastrous cake, but this really has stood the test of time even my daughter uses the recipe. 
I love to get out my china tea service and really push the boat out, I feel very Duchess of Bedford! (She invented the concept of Afternoon Tea so I am told!) China tea cups really do make the best cup of tea, not to mention a good full bellied pot! 

Calling Time

We have all the time in the world…. 
I struggle to balance everything, I have so many ideas, I buy fabric inspired by a project, then another project comes along and my studio space fills and fills and fills. The days go by, I read blogs and am inspired, flickr is full of beautiful hand crafted items, ideas flood my imagination until I simply reach saturation point. What I crave is the time to create. 
I have often heard others say the same, they have no time for creativity; usually at this time of the year I make a resolution to spend more time doing.
I am determined to really crack it this year, so I am resorting to a time management technique by doing a time audit. Although for a week it is tedious to write down every fifteen minutes what I am doing, but it will hopefully help me to appreciate where my time goes. (Best done when we have all returned to our normal routine in January!)
As a creative I struggle with schedules, I hate timetabling but housework will take as much time as you will give it. It is hard to spend all afternoon sewing while a pile of washing sits in the corner. Scheduling can be a friend, it means that everything is divided into manageable chunks, so that once the chores for that day are done, the washing pile is not so intimidating because I know that I have scheduled time for it to be done I don’t have to worry about it. 
Another great friend is a menu plan, it saves the constant worry that creeps into my sewing time knowing as the hours tick by that hungry people will be looking to me to be fed. Menu plans not only help with the daily choosing of what to cook, (which can be draining in itself) but it makes shopping more effective as you only buy what you need. It means that your food is not frozen solid hopefully because you can check the menu plan and get the items out of the freezer. If the idea of a menu plan seems daunting, just look back on the last few weeks and you will be filling in your plan in no time. 
One poem that really puts time into focus …

Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account each morning with £86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day.
Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out every penny, of course?
Each of us has such a bank. It’s name is TIME.
Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds.
Every night it writes off as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to a good purpose.
It carries over no balance. It allows no over draft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day.
If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no drawing against “tomorrow.”
You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness and success!
The clock is running!! Make the most of today.
To realise the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realise the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realise the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realise the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realise the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who just missed a train.
To realise the value of ONE SECOND, ask someone who just avoided an accident.
To realise the value of ONE MILLISECOND, ask the person who won a silver medal at the Olympics.
Treasure every moment that you have! And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time with. And remember time waits for no one.
Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift.
That’s why its called the present.

Happy New Year, I hope it will be one filled with fun and creativity.

Stir up Sunday

I thought I would try and make a Christmas pudding this year; it needs about 6 weeks to mature so I am a little late, Stir up Sunday is usually the first Sunday in November. It is called this because of the tradition where all the family members gather round and stir the mixture and make a wish before the pudding is steamed for the first time and then put aside to mature. 
I am not sure it is something that is known outside these shores, one of my very dear Au Pairs came all the way from Hungary, and she shuddered at the thought of eating Christmas Pudding, mostly because she believed that over the year all the scraps of food would be collected and boiled up to make Christmas Pudding. Of course when she ate the real thing it was something she loved. It really is one of my favourite parts of the meal, and I have been known to stock up on puddings for the year ahead. 
I remember doing this for the first time when I was twelve I used to visit a teacher in her small cottage not far from our home. We lived in a modern house where my mother believed cooking was a necessary evil, however under the quiet guidance of this teacher I learnt the alchemy and bliss you could gain from cooking. I remember her telling me all about stir up Sunday and I helped her measure out the ingredients and making a wish. I also remember making candied peel which tasted sublime and is much better than any type shop bought. It was a completely different lifestyle from my own, she had no television and her house was tiny in comparison to ours, but I would have swapped homes anytime. 
I thought of those days of bliss in the small victorian cottage, and my pantry has large labelled jars holding herbs, jewelled cherries, jam and marmalade. I think I am happiest of all in the kitchen, cooking is the most satisfying easy nurturing activity, right now it is full of the aromas of fruit cinnamon and nutmeg and will remain a day or two as it needs to soak in. 

Place in a bowl, (110g) – 4oz shredded suet, 2oz – (50g) of self-raising flour, 4 oz – (110g) white bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon each of mixed spice, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon. 8 oz (225g) soft dark brown sugar, 4 oz (110g) each of sultanas, raisins, currants and 1oz of candied peel. 1oz (25g) of almonds, 1 small cooking apple finely chopped, Zest and juice of a lemon and an orange. In a separate bowl, put 2 large eggs, 3 fluid oz (75ml) of barley wine, 3oz (75ml) stout, 2 tablespoons rum, mix this together then add to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, this is when the family is supposed to gather, each takes a turn to stir making a wish. Leave the pudding to rest for a day. 
 Spoon the mixture into a pudding basin, and make a tin foil lid. It is important to have a pleat in the lid so the pudding has room to rise. Tie the string round the edge of the basin and create a little handle over the top which will help you to lift out the pudding from the steamer. 
 I slowly steamed my puddings in a slow cooker for around 6 to 7 hours on a low setting. Slow cookers are perfect for steaming, as you can leave them to bubble away without worrying about the water boiling dry. This is how the pudding looks after its first cooking. 
I thought I would make some simple little covers, similar to the jam pot covers. Just an elasticated edge round the circles, but the lovely bright fabric makes them look very nice and festive. It is important to feed the puddings with your favourite tipple weekly, either brandy, vodka or liqueur, the pudding will soak up the alcohol.
 All they need is to be steamed again for about an hour or two on the big day, once again the slow cooker is the best way to let it slowly bubble. 
This is how they look when they are finally cooked, serve with cream or brandy butter. (Butter whipped with a couple of tablespoons of brandy). 
Update: These were really delicious, far superior to the shop bought ones even the ‘luxury’ brands! Despite feeding two adults not fans of the traditional pud, they proclaimed the puddings ‘delicious’. I saved the second one for my birthday, (on the 4th January) and it was still tasty, you can keep one by for the following year topping with alcohol, but I could not wait that long! 
As requested, I have updated this post with the recipe if you want to make them yourself. 
Enjoy, Happy Christmas!

tea pot biscuits – domestic child’s play for grown ups

I saw this lovely teapot cookie cutter in TK Max the other week and I could not wait to try it out. It is made up of two pieces one is the teapot shape cutter and the other is a stamp you press out. There is nothing to beat the flavour of buttery biscuits hot from the oven and this recipe can be made ahead of time, stored in the freezer so that when friends drop round unexpectedly, they can be hot on the plate in under twenty minutes, definitely one of those domestic goddess moments with minimal effort. 
Pressing the stamps in the dough feels like child’s play and so much fun sheer domestic bliss! If you can’t get hold of your own teapot biscuit cutter, why not use a stamp from you craft collection, (you can use a surface sanitiser if you need to, but they will be in a hot oven to kill off any bugs!)  There are some wonderful Christmas stamps out that look beautiful stamped across a heart shaped biscuit. They would make lovely home made gifts that are sure to be appreciated. 
8 oz SR flour (If you use plain the shape might stay better) 
5 oz butter
4 oz golden caster sugar
I beaten egg (save some of the white) 
Egg white and sugar to glaze
Sift flour into the bowl and then rub in butter to make breadcrumbs
Add the sugar and mix, then add egg to make a dough
(if the dough is very soft put it in the fridge for 10 minutes to make it easier to handle) 
Roll out on a lightly floured board to about 1/2cm thick
Press the stamps into the dough and then carefully cut round each shape, transfer to a buttered baking tray, wash with egg white and then sprinkle with extra fine/caster sugar.
(or if you wish to freeze place in a plastic tub with a layer of baking parchment to divide them and freeze. When needed can cook these from the frozen, just lay out in a tin)
Let the biscuits firm up in the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes before placing in a moderate oven about gas mark 4, 180c or 350F until golden brown. 

Jamming!

I have been rather remiss of late, these lovely pots of jelly are made from L’s apples growing in her garden. We really enjoyed the mint jelly at the Apple fair at West Dean so I thought I would try and make my own. Apples are a great fruit to use in jam making as their high pectin levels set so easily. I had some scraps of this lovely blue rose vintage style fabric which I simply cannot bear to throw away, such a great use of scraps. 
The cow creamer is a burleigh design, and one of my favourites it always makes me smile when the milk comes out of the cow’s mouth! The little tea pot on the right is one of a pair my son gave me a few Christmases ago. I really do love blue and white china. 
Apple jelly is great to use with pork, but I decided to omit the mint this time. The cupboard is getting quite full now, but the supply of jars is still coming thick and fast from friends! (I think it is the hope that they will be returned full!) I am planning to start on mincemeat soon, I have never made it before but as A adores mince pies I thought it would be fun to try. 
As you can see my little dresser creates a great back drop for my jam, the little teapot on the right is a lovely gift from my son, and the chicken on the left was something I picked up in the lovely craft village in Broadwindsor a few years ago. I really must get round to painting my dresser soon; I feel it really shows off the shape of the furniture much better, but it is finding the time! Anyway, it is nice to have plans, and the sofa needs a new loose cover first. 

September

I love September it gives me a sense of connection at no other time of year, although it heralds the start of Autumn for me it is all about new beginnings.

I remember that excitement of walking to school again after the long summer holidays with a spring in my step the anticipation of a new class teacher or that sense of excitement when you step over the threshold of your senior school for the first time. I only have to close my eyes and I am walking through the piles of crunchy leaves smelling the crisp fresh air of September as I tread the path to school. September was a time when you were given new fresh exercise books and also where you were determined to ‘write neatly’ to preserve the beauty of the notebooks. I am sure the sheer delight I have in buying a vast and wide selection of notebooks harps back to this.

The other joy of this time of year is jam making and blackberry picking. We used to blackberry pick as children, enjoying the free food harvest and my mother would appreciate us bringing back plastic boxes laden with fruit to be made into blackberry and apple crumble. It was while I was out one day I came across an extraordinary woman, who I think influenced me more than any other. She took us back to her small victorian cottage where in her pieced together kitchen, a far cry from my Mother’s immaculate but hardly used fitted one, she taught us things like jam making, candid peel and cordials. Her garden was full of vegetables waiting to be picked sitting on her threadbare chaise long one afternoon after stirring the Christmas pudding, I think I decided this was how I wanted to live my life. It was a taste of domestic bliss. I knew she wasn’t as rich as we were as a family, her house was small and scruffy whereas ours was pristine and glossy, yet, I would have done anything to live in that small house with her. I think she was my inspiration and I do feel connected with her every time I make jam or bake a cake but especially when I pick blackberries because that was how we met.

I made both jam and raspberry syrup with my hoard, this jam is a pot full of memories spending a lovely warm sunny afternoon picking the raspberries chatting to my friend Trish. We were inspired by the talk by Rosemary Moon gave at the Blakes Belles the previous Monday. Rosemary made a couple of pounds of jam as well as apple curd and pickles within the space of an hour or so. She also told us about the Apple Festival coming up at West Dean I am really looking forward to going, not only do they do some wonderful courses, but they have the most beautiful grounds I have been told. Rosemary Moon’s website is a sheer delight and if you are looking for recipes that really do work well then I can recommend it. She really does know her stuff, and had us all giggling. I love it when we can be inspired by others.

The other joy of September is that I feel the excitement building for Christmas, I love planning and cooking and making things for the Celebration and it is a wonderful three months, but then that is another post.

Happy jam making!

Golden harvest!

I thought I would try some different varieties of carrots on my little allotment.
I got these seeds from an on line catalogue they were a mixed variety some were purple others were yellow. They have grown up beautifully, and these taste divine!

I think carrots in the shops are pretty tasteless unless you buy organic, but by far are the ones you can pull up yourself, wash off and eat!

Carrots are very simple I found the hardest part is the thinning out, it seems so cruel to pull out the tiny seedlings, but unless you do the carrots don’t have room to grow. The other great thing about carrots is that you can plant all year round, summer and winter.