Natural Migraine Relief Remedy – Elderflower cordial

13-Elderflower cordial -010 I am a frequent migraine sufferer – they appear suddenly sometimes lasting as long as two weeks. I have tried several different ‘cures’ and  spent a great deal of time investigating various solutions. While medication is the only thing that allows me some respite, I was delighted to read in my book, The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants, that the Elderflower can help with migraine. It makes sense, often during a debilitating attack the nausea is so bad that I can only tolerate small sips of lemonade, so elderflower would be a welcome alternative.

Elderflower plants

As I was wondering along the lovely hedgerows in the last few weeks I spotted a huge number of these plants in flower – they are tall bushes, the tiny flowers are in flat topped clusters and the leaves are usually in fives. If you get closer to the plant, especially this month when they are at the height of flower, you will notice their distinctive delicate scent. (It is always good to be sure about any foraged plant so make sure you know what they smell like).

elder flowers

These are the tiny elderflowers, they have pretty small blooms, each flower has five petals with pale yellow five pointed stamens around a yellow centre. Pick them when they are fully open, not green (in bud) or brown (gone over), best around mid to late afternoon when the dew has gone and their scent is at its height. Pick from waist height and above, taking care not to strip one plant bare of blooms, there should be plenty of plants to choose from.

You should not wash the elderflowers  it is good practice to gather them in a wicker basket, then lay the flowers out on a tray for a couple of hours in the sunshine if you can- it allows all the little creatures to escape and find alternative accommodation.

elderflower Recipe

You don’t need expensive ingredients:

For every pint (600ml) water add

1 large unwaxed lemon washed (zest and then simply cut into slices)

1lb 10oz (750g) of granulated sugar

2 1/2 table spoons of citric acid.

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Surprisingly citric acid is difficult to get hold of, Chemists will only sell small quantities if they sell any at all. It is used in winemaking so brewing shops might sell it. I bought mine at Lakeland – but I was emphatically informed by the staff,  I could only have three small sachets due to government restrictions. Thankfully the vintage dress and straw hat I was wearing was enough to convince staff  I was not a bomb maker nor a drug dealer, so they passed over the citric acid to me without complaint, although it did make me feel somewhat subversive!  Mr D spent his time pretending not to know me in case I needed more than my allocated 3 and he could pose as another customer, luckily one sachet was enough for my recipe, so he did not need to jump into action!

A basketfull of elderflowers

The recipe called for 7 flower heads – however I wanted to make the most of the properties of this plant so used a basket full of elderflowers and used three times the quantities mentioned to make three pints of cordial.

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The method is straightforward:

Put the sugar and water into a large preserving pan, heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved. You will notice that the liquid goes suddenly clear. Turn off the heat.

Add the lemon zest, sliced lemons, citric acid and finally the elderflowers, stir gently.

Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to stand for at least 24 hours. I started my cordial off about 9pm on a Friday evening and left it until Sunday. (giving it a little stir and poke now and then!)

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I also put my glass bottles into a cold oven and then switched it on to about a gas mark 4 for around half an hour. It is essential that the glass goes into a cold oven and is brought slowly up to temperature otherwise you might end up with shattered glass. After the oven has reached its temperature, turn it off and leave the bottles in there to go cold, until you are ready to decant your cordial.

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It is vital that you strain the liquid through a fine mesh muslin, or a jelly bag. It is not pleasant trying to drink liquid with little bits of flower (or the odd bug or two!).

I did my first strain through a colander lined with some fine net, but still had the odd debris, so ended up using a funnel and filter paper from my coffee machine. It ended up pretty clear.

elderflower Cordial label

It is a great idea to label your bottles as soon as you have bottled it up – it is surprising how one clear liquid can look exactly the same as another! I made these labels so feel free to right click and download if you want to use them. They are scaleable.

01-Elderflower cordial

I serve mine with a good quantity of sparkling water as it is very sweet.

They make lovely gifts and will last up to 3 months in the fridge or in a cupboard stored away from sunlight. The citric acid works as a preservative as does the sugar quantity.

If you wish to keep the cordial longer – simply pop it into ice cube trays and transfer to a freezer bag once frozen. (Its a good idea to label it too, as one block of ice looks very much like another! as I have often discovered. It might look like a frozen egg white but doesn’t beat up the same when making meringue!)

It is a wonderful accompaniment poured over ice cream or you can poach peaches in the syrup for its delicate floral essence.

heavenly!

I’ll let you know how I get along with the migraine solution when I get my next bout!

ttfn. x

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Recycled wax tea cup candles

Tea cup recycling candle

My fellow blogger Cheryl is taking up the challenge to have a make do and mend year, (you can take a peek at her lovely blog) One of the things she loves are scented candles – reading her blog reminded me about my candle recycling.

Its easy to do and makes good use of the candle wax we usually throw away saving you pounds and the planet!

 

Some of the scented candles are strong enough second or third time around!

tea cup candle recycling

You simply collect wax as you go – I usually pour out the hot wax into a bowl after I have blown out the candle. Not only does this seem to help with lighting the candle the next time I use it but I keep collecting until I have enough wax.

I use my slow cooker to melt the wax its easier than a double boiler.

Place about 1 inch of hot water into the ceramic bowl and then put the bowl of wax to melt on a medium to low heat. (Don’t put the wax directly into the slow cooker especially if you are using scented candles)

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You can purchase pre waxed wicks – 50 of these cost only £2.79 from an ebay seller called Szafir who will send you them postage free.

They come boxed up nicely and they work very well.

 

 

 

I use two bamboo sticks to hold the wax tapers in place, just hook over the edge and place in the middle of your tea cup.

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Chop sticks work just as well – and if you wish you can secure both ends with hair bands it traps the wick tightly so that it won’t move when you fill the cup.

When the wax is liquid you can colour it with wax crayons if you like, or leave it white.

Use bamboo sticks or chop sticks to trap the wick in the centre – you can bend them over slightly

A small hair band or elastic bands can be wrapped around each end if you want to trap the wicks and hold them in place.

Fill the cups using a ladle and leave to cool

 

Tea cup recycling candle

You will find that the wax tends to creep up the wick slightly.

Once the wax has set, trim the wick to to the length you want.

 

The wonderful thing about recycling candles is that you can use any container as long as it is heat proof.

 

 

Tea cups are ideal because they are made to handle high temperatures.

tea cup candle recycling -010This tea cup had a crack in it, it would be a pity to throw it away. As it was such thin china it gives a beautiful glow as the wick burns down.

If you have a big cup – you can always use more than one wick.

I usually keep these on my bathroom shelf, they look so pretty during the day and give a beautiful glow at night.

 

I use lavender and camomile essential oils which are so relaxing combined with a luxurious bubble bath.

ttfn x

Recycled tea cup candles

 

 

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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

Healthy chocolate Brownies!

Are you enjoying the Great British Bake off? I have to say I admire all the contestants for entering. Baking is one of those pleasurable activities that feeds the soul as well as body, (my body maybe is being fed a little too much! ) I need a calm kitchen, preferably with a radio 4 comedy playing in the background – while I measure and mix to my heart’s content – a long way from the pressures of the bake off tent!  

Unfortunately, I don’t have my children at home to eat the result of this soulful activity, so I do turn up to friends houses with my apologetic offerings, (there is usually something that has happened so that the item in question is less than perfect). However, most of the time I just eat it myself… and it must be very fond of me because I believe my cooking has stayed with me – on my hips and waist to be precise! 
The hunt was on, for a way to satisfy my appetite for all things sweet and tasty, without the calories, and I came across this wonderful recipe for low fat chocolate brownies. Most of the fat is substituted by fruit puree, it makes a delicious, rich brownie that is good for you too! Just remember that they do have a little fat and a lot of sugar… or you can simply forget that altogether! 

Healthy Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients
3 oz coca powder
4 oz whole meal flour
4 oz dark brown soft sugar
2 table spoons of melted butter
2 eggs 
2 oz of fruit puree (prune or apricot baby food works or see tip below) 
5 oz dark chocolate roughly chopped
Walnuts or macadamia nuts optional 
Salt to taste 
Method
1 – Pre heat your oven GM 7, 350F or 150 C 
2 -Line a rectangular baking tin (8×6) with baking parchment 
3 – Whisk butter, eggs and prune puree together
4 – In another bowl combine the cocoa powder, wholemeal flour, sugar and dark chocolate until they are well blended. 
5 – Add the butter/egg/prune mix to the dry ingredients but do not over mix
6 – pour into the baking tin and bake for around 35 minutes 
7 – remove from tin using the baking parchment to lift the cake out and allow to cool. 

To make your own fruit puree: soak prunes or apricots overnight in a bowl of water. Then blitz them in a food processor until they are smooth.  

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! 

Saucery in the soup Kitchen

All packaged ready to go
My vegetable delivery comes on a Friday from Able and Cole and the fridge was still full of vegetables, two large butternut squashes, three large red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, 1kg of onions, 1kg of shallots, mushrooms and sweet red potatoes! We were only just finishing up the Christmas food so I decided the best solution was to make soup and some roasted pasta sauce.  
It is more than likely the easiest method for making soup – I chopped the butternut squash, onions,  a clove or two of garlic and sweet potatoes into a large roasting dish, covered them with some olive oil and slowly roasted them for about an hour in a low oven, (gas mark 4). 
I also chopped up the red peppers, tomatoes and some more onions in another pan, smeared basil and olive oil over putting them to slowly cook. Making use of the whole oven, I filled smaller oven bowls with mushrooms & garlic and simply shallots in oil. The only attention it needs is a mix now and then, just to even out the cooking. 
In an hour or so, the vegetables have gone beautifully soft and dense with flavour and the aroma fills the house with a lovely home cooking smell. You can leave them with the oven switched off to slowly cool – for me it intensifies the flavour as I imagine the oils being absorbed into the vegetables as they cool.  
To make soup;
Use your largest pan – sweat off some onions in olive oil, moving them slowly but not over mixing
until they are soft and translucent. 
Add your roasted vegetables ensuring you scrape every last bit of oil from your roasting dish with a spatula – every drop of oil is infused with flavour it is a shame to waste any of it. You can also pour  some of your hot stock  into the roasting tray, this will make sure every last bit of flavour goes into the soup. 
The amount of stock you might need is dependent on how many vegetables you have – you want to aim for one third vegetables two parts stock. I use Kallo organic stock cubes, they don’t contain monosodium glutamate, and they give a lovely flavour. 
Allow your soup to slowly simmer, you want to aim for the odd bubble to surface not a rolling boil, leave the lid off and let the soup condense. 
Depending on your preference, you can blend the soup or simply leave it chunky, it is just a case of waiting until you have the consistency you enjoy. Be aware that if you have used salt, the saltiness will increase as the water evaporates – I tend to leave salt out as the stock cubes often have salt in them. 
You can add some fresh chopped ginger, or turmeric, both of which have ant-bacterial qualities which are believed to help immunity.  To give it a really lovely flavour add two or three tablespoons of creme fraiche or yoghurt. 
For the pasta sauce add;
Add a tin of chopped tomatoes to the red peppers and tomato mix, a couple of tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar, a dash of worcestershire sauce, two teaspoons of brown sugar and then finally the whole mushrooms and shallots. You then slowly re-heat in a saucepan when you want it. Like all good sauces allow the flavours to develop over a day or so, but don’t leave it more than three and always ensure you warm it up properly.
You can freeze these in batches, but this must be done as soon as it has cooled.  I decided to take a couple of jars of soup to some friends, they are a great pick me up, full of organic goodness, just what we need during the winter months. 

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!

Leek and potato soup

Some things are simply better home made, and no matter how much you pay for soup it really can’t compete with the satisfying flavour and wholesomeness of home made soup. 
While you can eat this soup cold as a summer soup, (it is know as vichyssoise) I prefer it warm with bread rolls crisp from the oven. 
Simply take two leeks, wash and trim, then slice finely, then add small cubes of potato, (around two large baking potatoes) allow to cook very slowly in butter, with the saucepan lid on. You can add a generous helping of cracked black pepper. It is this process that is key to making really good soup and if you can allow the leeks to gently cook for around half an hour with just the occasional stir. 
When you feel that the leeks and potato are all soft and mushy, add 1/2 pint of hot vegetable or chicken stock. Turn up the heat slightly and allow the mixture to bubble for around 10 minutes or so with the lid off the saucepan. 
Finally add half a pot of creme fraiche and stir in, waiting for the soup to return to the boil. You can leave it thick and chunky or blend with a hand blender to make it smooth. 
It really is a joy to eat, not just warming and satisfying but good for you too. 

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. 

A case for vintage re-incarnation

I simply struggle to resist the little napkins and tablecloths that are on the shelves of charity shops for pennies. They are the refugees of an era where families all sat round the dinner table and ate with napkins and linen table cloths. I am so pleased that the crisp white linen table cloths had long gone as my children could never keep their spaghetti on a plate! How they managed to keep the linen in such white pristine condition with no washing machines shows they had skills way beyond my abilities even with my eco bubble samsung! 
I love to find new lives for these poor refugees, and this one is a little needle case. You can gauge how small it is by the size of the stitches. I cut round the appliqué leaving a seam allowance and then used a modern vintage styled fabric that was in keeping, fabricland has lots of different varieties at the moment, all thanks to Kath Kidston. I backed it with the extra stiff iron on interfacing you use to make curtain pelmets it gives the needle book a good solid shape. The button was from my stash, and like everything I remember buying it at one of those craft outlets in Dorset, a small sideline for a potter and so lovely.