Saturday, 19 July 2014

We're Jammin'

I have a serious "thing" for jam making. Well, not just jam really, but all preserves, chutneys, pickles, jellies, curds & flavoured spirits. We inherited a couple of clumps of rhubarb, a very old apple tree and two crab apple trees when we moved to this house, which as resulted in an expanded repertoire of jarred produce as I hate to even see windfalls go to waste (great for using as the base for savoury jellies).

A few weeks ago, little G and I headed off to our local PYO farm to get some strawberries. They don't seem to last very long at the farm, so I thought we'd better pick some sooner rather than later, before baby arrived. 

The freshly picked strawberries were delicious - warm from the sun, sweet and juicy.

As soon as we got home, I got down to the business of turning them into jam. I was convinced that I had pinned on Pinterest a recipe for strawberry and Prosecco jam, but when I looked for it, it turned out to be for rhubarb & Prosecco jelly! A bit of googling found me a guideline recipe for Strawberry Champagne Preserve, which I have altered to suit what I wanted to make. So here it it:

Strawberry & Prosecco Jam

800g strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
1kg bag of jam sugar (I am big believer in jam sugar as it guarantees a set & is very quick & easy - it has the pectin already added)
200ml Prosecco
Knob of butter
Couple of saucers/plates in the freezer
Jars with screw top lids

1. Wash your empty jars & lids in hot soapy water, rinse and place upside down on a tray in a low oven to sterilise
2. Put prepared strawberries into a large saucepan & crush with a potato masher. If you prefer a smooth jam, use a hand blender to puree.

3. Add sugar and heat over a low to moderate heat, stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Do not allow to boil yet.

4. Add butter and stir in the Prosecco (the butter helps disperse the foam/froth)
5. Bring to the boil over a higher heat, stirring continuously until a rapid, rolling boil that can't be stirred down is achieved

6. Leave to boil for 6 mins
7. Remove from heat. Pour small spoonful onto your plate from the freezer & leave in fridge for 1 min. Push finger through the jam - if it wrinkles and leaves a clean path through the jam, your jam has reached setting point. If it is still too runny, bring jam back to the boil for a further 2 mins & then repeat testing process with a second plate from the freezer. (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of this step, which would have been useful to see!)
7. When it has reached setting point pour jam into hot jars and screw on the lids. If you have lots of frothy foam that hasn't been dispersed by the butter, you can skim off with a slotted spoon & discard before potting (or eat spread on a bit of bread!), as it spoils the clarity of the jam once potted.

My batch made 3 large jars and 3 small ones.

The jam was super delicious and a beautiful colour. I think it makes a huge difference to the favour if you make the jam as soon after picking the fruit as possible. In previous years I have made jam from fruit that is past its best, and it really loses its flavour and colour.

As I had so many requests from friends to try some, I decided to make a second batch the next day with the remaining strawberries. Unfortunately, Mr W had drunk most of the Prosecco whilst watching the football so I decided to use Rosé wine instead. I added the juice of half a lemon too, as I was worried the jam would be too sweet using Rosé. It turned out EVEN MORE DELICIOUS than the Prosecco version!!

So there we have it. A super-easy, super-delicious jam. 

If you've never tried jam making, give it a go. There is a misconception that it is tricky, that you need special equipment like thermometers and pectin and that it takes hours of standing over boiling jam waiting for it to reach setting point. But I've found that if you use jam sugar, it is pretty foolproof and very quick. For basic jams, you can't go far wrong by following the recipe on the jam sugar bag!

Start saving your empty jam jars!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A new arrival

Tuesday 17th June 2014 was a momentous day for our family - Eliza Clementine Rose arrived at 8.14pm.

Yes, it's a girl! I was so convinced it would be another boy, that I was rather shell-shocked for the first day or so! I have a daughter!!

And a big girl she is too! 10lb 7oz (only half an ounce lighter than her brother!). This was despite all the midwives assuring us that she would be between 8 and 9lbs at the most! I certainly cook them big, and she was only 3 days late (compared to 9 days and 11 days late for her brothers). Just as well she made an appearance when she did, otherwise who knows how much bigger she would have got!

The labour was rather different to how I expected, although the midwife had warned me that 3rd babies tend be a little different. It was all rather stop start, especially once we got to hospital, but we got there in the end. It was another hypnobirth with no pain relief other than paracetamol! Hypnobirthing really works for me, as it is my natural inclination to turn inwards, and focus on my breathing and shut off from everything around me. The midwives were fantastic, and we were very impressed with the level of care generally (this was our 4th different maternity unit over the years, and by far the best!)

Her big brothers were not overly impressed when they heard the news, as they did so want another brother. But I can report that they are both rather smitten with her now!

So I doubt I will be blogging very much in the next few weeks, as I don't want to bore everyone to tears with baby stuff! Needless to say, I've been getting very little sleep for the last 2 weeks, but things are slowly improving. So much harder now that I have school runs to do!

Update: I didn't get around to posting this post, as Mr W smashed his wrist (his left one, and he is left-handed!) in a quad-biking accident on a work team-building day! He spent a weekend in hospital having surgery to pin his wrist back together. Eliza was only 2.5 weeks old at the time (she's now 4 weeks old), so the last couple of weeks have been rather stressful and tiring for me. Unfortunately, Mr W was supposed to be taking his paternity leave this week and in a couple of weeks time, but instead is on sick leave. So much for me having a rest while he looked after everything! He's trying his best to help, but is very limited with one hand, and still in lots of pain. I'm trying to find a reliable cleaner who can help with ironing too, and need to get the gardener to mow the lawns too.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Simple Pleasures...

* Afternoon tea for two at a beautiful country house hotel with my best friend - no husbands or children in sight! Bliss!
Rushton Hall

* A jug of flowers on my stair windowsill that I pass & admire multiple times a day - scented stocks and peonies. Can't wait for the peonies to open into all their glory.

* More embellished baby items - crocheted edge muslins this time!

* Strawberry picking with little G. Last year they were grown up high, at his eye level, so very easy to pick. Wasn't expecting to be crawling around my hands & knees to pick them this time, due to my enormous belly! They were so delicious though, so worth the effort - can't beat a British strawberry, freshly picked, warm from the sun...

* A big slab (for it was most definitely not a piece!) of raspberry & coconut cake for me & a smarties cookie for little G in the cafe at the strawberry farm after a hard half hour of picking 

* A big bowl of freshly picked strawberries & cream later on...

* a spot of Jam making - Strawberry & Prosecco Jam - totally delicious!

* Hot jam scraped from the empty pan on crusty white bread - on a par with licking the whisk & bowl after making a cake!

I'm planning rhubarb & prosecco jam later (if Mr W didn't finish off the open bottle of prosecco while watching the football last nighy!) as I spotted some rhubarb stalks ready for harvesting in the garden yesterday. I thought our rhubarb had had it this year, but it seems to be putting on a last spurt!

* Thank goodness for my (ever-growing!) collection of birkos in this warm weather. Putting on socks and shoes has become rather an ordeal of late, so my trusty birkos are getting plenty of wear. I think I may be slightly addicted though, as I now realise that I have pink, red, lilac, brown, black & bronze ones!! I only wear these threes pairs regularly though, as they are so much prettier than the other pairs.

* A big frothy cappuccino. I discovered some instant cappuccino sachets which are pretty delicious for instant. I treat myself to one every couple of days when the boys are both at school & nursery - a peaceful half hour.

* I do so love this mug. I spotted it in an antiques/junk shop but it was brand new. My eldest son is called William and we call him Willie quite often. When he was a baby, Mr W would come in from work calling "where's my little Willie?"!!! So when I saw this, I just had to get it!

* My biscuit tin - a mini replica of our Aga. So cute!

* Lemonade ice lollies from the ice cream van in the park after school. Got to keep myself cool while the boys play! Loving all things lemon flavoured at the moment especially still-lemonade - so refreshing!

* Looking forward to a child-free weekend at home with Mr W. The boys are going to our friends' for the weekend which they have been counting down the days to! Tomorrow is baby D-Day, and it would be very convenient if baby decided to make an appearance sometime over the weekend when the boys are already accommodated elsewhere. Not sure baby is aware of the schedule though...

Have a lovely weekend!

Friday, 6 June 2014

This week... was my birthday. 38!! It was on Wednesday, but this rapidly turned into a rubbish day, so I made the executive decision to postpone my proper birthday celebrations until Thursday. Mr W had to leave the house at 6am on Wednesday, so I didn't even get my usual cup of tea made for me, let alone cards & presents in bed. The boys were totally oblivious to it being my birthday with no daddy around to prompt them, and my eldest felt sick & achey so had to stay home from school. On top of this poor start to my birthday, I had a midwife appointment followed by the dentist, stacks of washing up & ironing and it was pouring with rain!! So definitely a wise decision to delay.

I did manage to make myself a birthday cake:

It is Nigella's "Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake" from her "Feast" book. Super-easy and the icing is divine! 

...I had my annual KFC bucket for supper on my birthday. I do LOVE that crispy coating! However, both Mr W and I were up in the night with indigestion after it - way too much grease & salt I think. Maybe that's why we only have it once a year!!!

...I had a much better "birthday-take-two", with tea, cards & presents in bed, sunshine & blue skies & a delicious meal out with Mr W at a local restaurant in the evening. 
The bump all dressed up ready to go out for dinner!

...I received these beauties for my birthday & can't wait to pick something out to hook

...I had lots of compliments about my enormous belly. I bought a capsule wardrobe of a few summer pieces for when we went on holiday at Easter, and have been wearing them in rotation/mix & match ever since. They were obviously worth the investment, as I have been complimented by 3 different people this week on how stylish & good I look despite being 39 weeks pregnant!! It does a girl's ego no end of good I must tell you :)

...I almost finished my first ripple baby blanket. Just got one more side of bobble edging to do, which I should manage tonight in front of the telly.

...I made some more baby burp cloths and embellished some muslins. Still got a big pile of plain white muslins that are just crying out for some pretty binding, crochet edging (like this), applique or flannel pannelling. If this baby doesn't arrive soon, I will have embellished/crocheted/appliqued/quilted everything it owns! But at least it will have the best looking puke/wee/poo covered cloths for miles around!

...we found out who little G's teacher will be next year when he starts in reception class. He will be having the same teacher that his big brother had. I must remember to tell her that he is not at all like his shy, quiet older brother, otherwise I think she is in for a shock!

...Mr W has been working extremely hard and been very stressed with millions of work report deadlines. He is desperately trying to get everything done at work before baby arrives! I think he is starting to see a tiny glimmer of light at the end of a very long tunnel, so hopefully will be able to relax a little over the weekend.

...I am very much looking forward to afternoon tea at a posh spa hotel with my best friend on Sunday. A special birthday treat!

...I have been watching and reading about the D-Day landings. We really must NEVER forget...

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A moment of mindfulness

After a wonderfully busy weekend of having 2 lots of friends come to stay (6 children aged 6 and under between us!), and all the catering, chatting & eating that that entails, I decided to take 5 minutes on my own in the garden while the boys watched some telly with Daddy before bed.

"Mindfulness" seems to be the current catch-word, and something that I am really not very good at. I have got into the bad habit of permanently multi-tasking, and very rarely do I take the time or even think about taking the time to just stop and be fully aware of what's going on around me.

So I sat down on a garden chair outside and spent 5 minutes focusing on each of my senses:

Sound: birds singing, a wood-pigeon cooing, distant sound of road traffic, the faint sound of an aeroplane

Smell: freshly mowed grass (Mr W did the lawns once our friends had left), faint smell of BBQ coming from a neighbour's garden

Taste: lingering taste of a piece of lemon drizzle cake, yum!

Touch: the smooth rattan of our garden furniture, cool spikeyness of the freshly cut grass under my bare feet, the undulations of the baby wriggling in my tummy ( no longer kicks and punches, more like a giant snake trying to get out!)

Sight: wispy white clouds against a blue sky, birds flying overhead, the trail left by the distant aeroplane, a little wagtail looking for bugs in the grass, total stillness with not even a leaf or a blade of grass moving

Five minutes of mindfulness...lovely. 

I really must think to do it more often.

A perfect end to a lovely weekend.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Recent crafty makes

Over the last 6 months I have really been getting to grips with some sewing as well as learning crochet.

Bunting and quilting were the first sewing bits that I attempted, but I have to say that I have not been especially vigilant on the quilting - fear (of making a botch job) and lack of time to dedicate to it being the main reasons. Bunting however, has been much easier to accommodate. I love how quick and easy it is, and TOTALLY LOVE the jolly look of bunting hanging up.

So here are some of my finished sewing projects:
Bunting for a friend's boys for Christmas
For a friend for her birthday
Close ups of the extra detail

A little pin cushion to go with my friend's bunting (she runs a little craft business from home, making & selling things for children mostly, so I made these for her craft room)
Bunting for my niece's birthday

I did manage one tiny little doll-sized quilt. I decided to experiment with some English paper-piecing to use up some scraps of pretty fabrics, after being inspired by Helen Philipps' blog. I made this as a birthday present for my niece's 3rd birthday, as she loves her dollies!
Little scraps of pretty fabric wrapped around their square templates ready to be sewn together
Sewn into blocks of 12
Machine quilted diagonally
How the back looked after quilting
The finished, bound doll quilt
Trying to find time to make some more baby burp cloths like the ones I made a few weeks ago here. But as it's a wet half term, I can't really disappear up to the loft to do sewing, even if the boys are happily playing - 2 flights of stairs is rather too much for me to run up and down if they need me! Hopefully i'll find some sewing time next week when they are back at school...

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Baby quilt - finished!

I started this months ago, but have only just got around to finishing it. I'd got it to the point of being ready to sandwich it together with batting & backing and then quilting, only to discover that I didn't have quite enough batting! So I ordered some online, but by the time it arrived I'd moved my attention to burp cloths and crochet! So here it is...finally!

It is a "Disappearing 9-patch" (for those not knowing any quilting lingo, that means that you sew your squares into blocks of 9 before cutting horizontally and vertically through the centre of the block, and then turning/rearranging each new small block into a new pattern - saves a lot of cutting of smaller pieces to give a good overall effect)
9-patch blocks, cut and turned, ready to be sewn together

The finished quilt being beautifully displayed by Little G!

Fleece backing fabric

This is only my second quilt ever (& I haven't actually finished the first one - it still needs binding!), although I did make a tiny, doll-size quilt using English paper-piecing. This one has all been machine sewed (apart from hand-sewing the binding to the back of the quilt). 

I used a charm pack of 5" squares of Moda Oink-a-Doodle-Moo. My rotary cutting has a lot to be desired - I definitely need more practise in this area, as I am not very accurate. So I thought a charm pack (pre-cut squares) might improve my piecing skills. Unfortunately, although it saved me time in cutting, my piecing was still appalling in places! What I thought was due to to my poor cutting skills is actually due to my poor sewing skills!! I have ordered myself a 1/4" seam allowance foot for my sewing machine now, so hopefully this will help my sewing be more accurate in the future!

Anyway, you can't really notice the poor piecing/seam matching unless you look closely, and I'm sure the baby won't care!

I used a fleece baby blanket as the backing for extra snuggliness (£5 for a large baby fleece blanket from Tesco & still got enough left over to make some burp cloths or taggie cloths - waaaaaay cheaper than buying fleece by the metre!). The quilt is more likely to be used as a playmat/somewhere to lie the baby down rather than a quilt though.

And as with all my fabric/colour choices at the moment for the baby stuff, it is definitely leaning more towards boys than girls (girls like tractors and farm animals too don't they???), even though we have no idea what we're having! I'm working on the basis that a girl can easily use/wear boy-themed colours & patterns, whereas I don't particularly like seeing boys with girly-themed prints & colours.  I really shouldn't be stereotyping in this day and age though!!

I'm really pleased with how it turned out. I hope you like it too.