Giant Jaffa Cake and Leaf Wreath

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DIY fall leaf wreath idea

The “English” get a bit huffy at Halloween, they start complaining about the “Americanisation” of October 31st and all the paraphernalia and hype in the shops.  Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) is their seasonal celebration (November 5th).

Well, here in Scotland, Halloween has always been celebrated with the tradition of “guising” – not “trick or treating” you understand, just dressing up and going round the houses in dis”guise” – performing a wee song, skit, poem or nowadays often just a joke.  Since our household is 50% Scottish and 50% American – we indulge in Halloween.  Also, the Scots are secretly a wee bit annoyed Guy Fawkes didn’t succeed in blowing up the English Parliament – so no “Bonfire Night” for us North of the Border.

The best thing about the Americanization of All Hallow’s Eve, however, is the introduction of the pumpkin.  It wasn’t any fun as a small Scottish child trying to hollow out a “neep” (swede) for your lantern.  In fact it was impossible. My effort below is pretty basic compared to Ballet Girl’s but I was busy making my wreath!

spider carved pumpkin

So pumpkins are fun and my kids, who are denied “sweets” pretty much all year except Easter and Christmas, like Halloween very much.  This year, I am celebrating the fourth and final coat of fresh paint on my front door with a seasonal leaf wreath.  I threaded hundreds of sycamore leaves on to a wire coat-hanger – time consuming but cheap (no cost) and therapeutic.  It used a lot of leaves but I was able to nip up to the Church Yard for more leaves every time I ran out.  To “treat” my kids this year I have made them a giant Jaffa cake.

autumn decor and cakes

I was going to put red food colouring in the orange jelly bit to make it “blood orange” for the occasion but in the end chose not to (didn’t want to sully a classic).  I found the recipe on a blog I follow called Tangerine Drawings and you can find it here.  I just love the fact that she uses drawings rather than photographs.  My sponge turned out beautifully, very light.  It’s made from only flour, cornflour, sugar and eggs.  The orange jelly is made from gelatine, fresh squeezed orange and marmalade.  The chocolate top is pure dark chocolate.  So, pretty much like a regular Jaffa Cake only bigger.

home made jaffa cake slice

Basically you bake the sponge, make the jelly in a slightly smaller cake tin lined with cling film, then when it’s set, place the jelly on top of the sponge and smooth the chocolate (melted over a pan of hot water) over the top.  I apologise for my plastic table cloth – mine is a working kitchen not a photo studio.  I cook, I mend, I make; and, sometimes I clean (when absolutely necessary) ‘cos it’s no fun at all and cuts into my “playtime.”

how to make a giant jaffa cake

My giant Jaffa Cake turned out a bit tangy, I’m not sure the kids will actually like it, I maybe shouldn’t have used home made Seville orange marmalade or should have added more sugar.  Still, if it’s too sharp for the kids, we sophisticated grown ups can eat it all.  Jaffa Cakes are pretty low fat you know.  Here’s another shot of my kitchen, I took the table cloth off for this photo but you can see all the normal kitchen mess in the background.

giant jaffa cake recipe

Anyway, have a great All Hallow’s Eve, however you celebrate it, keep warm, crochet yourself a new hat, make a cake, snuggle someone you love.

Plays Well With Knives

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Just a quickie – proud Mama has to share 14-year old Ballet Girl’s pumpkin.  She may be a ballet girl but she’s pretty handy with a Swiss Army knife; but then she should be, she’s been “playing” with one since she was little.

This is the second pen knife success story from Ballet Girl.  The first one was when she was at Scout Camp and won extra points for her patrol by hanging up their swim suits to dry.  I asked “did you take pegs?” (I never go camping without pegs).  No, she said, “we whittled some out of sticks”.  Proud pen knife moment number one.  Hopefully she never gets her arm caught in some rocks.

His ‘n’ Hers Crochet Earflap Beanie Hats – Free Pattern

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Image I crocheted these two hats from pure wool yarn unravelled from a sweater I bought in a charity shop.  Unravelling a sweater is a labour of love that’s for sure, but you are rewarded with a lot of yarn for the money.  The yarn has to be unpicked, skeined, washed, dried and re-skeined or wound into balls before use!  It took a lot longer to “process” the sweater yarn than it did to crochet the two hats!

I wanted to make Mechanic Man a new work hat for Autum/Winter and thought the colours would look good with his colouring (reddy/blonde).  His garage is freezing even in Summer so he wears a hat all day for most of the year.  He was at work when I took these photos so my daughter is modelling.

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I made him a lovely hat last year but unfortunatly it found it’s way into the washing machine with his uniforms and shrunk spectacularly.  Mechanic Man was sad about his old hat but chuffed that he had managed to make a felt bowl all by himself.  I had a lot of yarn left from my sweater, so I thought I’d make a coordinating hat for me – Hence His ‘n’ Hers!

I made HIS in random stripes – most one colour wide – so that it won’t show the dirt/grease/oil too badly.  I made mine with stripes ‘cos I’m a sucker for stripes. The top of my hat has five rounds of the same colour and then each stripe has four rounds.

I very carefully wrote down the pattern for these hats as I was making them and now I can’t find the piece of paper.  Still, here’s the gist.  It’s basically a beanie hat with a few extra rows added for a neck warmer (on 2/3 of the total stitches and then an ear-flap triangle added on each end of the neck warmer).  My instructions do assume you know how to crochet and have had a go at a hat before.

I have a beginner hat pattern with more detailed instructions here.

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Notes:  This hat is worked in rounds, to join each round you can either slip stitch into the first st of the previous round and chain 2, or single crochet into the first stitch of the previous round and chain one.  This chain counts as your first stitch of the next round.  It must also be noted that my tension is tight, so if you crochet loose, you may want to use a slightly smaller hook.

  • 6mm crochet hook and approx. 70g Aran weight yarn for each hat.
  • Use a magic loop or as small a chain loop as you can to start.
  • Round 1: Make 10 single crochet sts (double crochet UK).
  • Round 2: Make 2 SCs in every stitch (20 sts).
  • Round 3: Work one round (20 sts).
  • Round 4: Make 2 SCs in the first and every other sts (30 sts)
  • Round 5: Make 2 SCs in the first and every third st (40 sts)
  • Round 6: Work one round.
  • Round 7: Make 2 SCs in the first and every fourth st (50 sts)
  • Round 8: Make 2 SCs in the first and evry fifth sts (60 sts)
  • HER hat: Continue to work on these 60 sts until the hat is the desired length (without neck flap)  For my hat I worked approx 33 rounds.
  • HIS hat : Work another increase round, increasing 5 sts evenly around the hat (65 sts) and continue without further increase. You can add a couple of extra rounds too if you want a bigger hat but I worked 33 rounds HIS hat too (I have a big head).
  • Neck Flap: To make the back a little longer than the front (built-in neck warmer) work back and forth in rows for FOUR rows on 40 sts HERS (45 sts HIS).
  • Ear Flaps: Work the ear-flaps backwards and forwards on each end of the neck piece.  I worked the ear-flaps on 9 sts for HERS (11 sts HIS) and decreased one st at each end of every other row until there were no sts remaining.
  • To make a edge, work TWO rounds of SC around the whole hat – decreasing one stitch in internal corners and increasing one stitch at external corners.
  • I added tassels to HER hat but not to HIS as I don’t want HIM getting mangled in a machine at work!
  • I hand stitched lining into the inside of HIS hat with some jersey fabric from an old Marks and Spencer’s T-shirt so it will be super comfy and warm.  You can see in the photo below that the back is a few rows longer to keep HIS neck warm (the lining is level with the edge at the front).

If you find this pattern helpful or utterly confusing please let me know!

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Simple Pleasures

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Today is my 24th Wedding Anniversary, Mechanic Man and I were supposed to be arriving back in Newcastle this morning after a two-night, one day mini-cruise to Haarlem, Holland.  We elected not to go though, as we would have been caught up in the hurricane force winds which battered the South of England, Northern France and Holland in the early hours of Monday.

We were able to reschedule our trip but not for a convenient date.  So, although today didn’t start as planned, it turned out well.  What made it a good day however, was not the fact that it was our anniversary, but the fact that my neighbours and I were able to be neighbourly.

One neighbour has a friend from Italy staying.  He was in her garden this morning doing some pruning so I chatted to him while I hung my washing out.  He said he was making himself useful while his host was working.  I told him I was going to paint my gutter later and he could really help me by holding the ladder for me if he had any more spare moments.  He was delighted to be asked and happy to help.  He wanted to do the painting for me but I had to make a firm stand for women power.

Then, when I was walking my son home from school, another neighbour, who has recently moved to our end of the village, came out of her gate crying. They had just found their missing cat dead on the side of the road.  She was very upset, so I gave her an ear and hugs.

Another pal dropped by later to give me some apples and potatoes from her garden and I gave her some of my pears.  She also gave me a book to read and pass on – it looks good – it’s called WILD by Cheryl Strayed.  Then finally, another neighbour phoned me and asked me if I had any green and brown yarn for a knitting project she is doing to raise funds for the village community trust.  I had a rummage through my stash and will drop my donation of yarn to her house tomorrow.

Then, Mechanic Man came home from work wearing the new hat I crocheted him for Winter 2014 so that made me feel good.  His hat is the one on the right in the photo above – my coordinating hat is on the left.  I will do another post on the his ‘n’ hers hats asap.

Mechanic Man brought me a Toblerone chocolate bar (my favourite) and two of those cute mini bottles of red wine.  I love the mini bottles because they’re just perfect when you fancy a wee drink with your dinner and haven’t the willpower to stop yourself drinking more than you actually want.  He knows I’ll go mad if he buys anything more expensive or frivolous.

Oh, and the sun shone. In fact, it was probably the first nice Autumn day we’ve had this year, it was cold and windy but that meant my sheets dried on the line.  Line dried sheets are in my top 10 all-time favourite things and it’s a bit of a luxury at this time of the year in Scotland.  So, a day filled with simple pleasures and nice neighbours – well, the cat incident was not so good but at least I was able to provide a shoulder to cry on.

Pear, Apple and Date Chutney

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pear, apple and date chutney

I picked the rest of our pears, we have around 50 BIG pears.  They are hard but my kids like their pears extra crunchy.  But, my kids don’t reckon they can eat them all before they get too soft which would still be rock hard to everyone else.  So, I am cooking them up.  Last night at midnight, I decided to make some chutney, I finished around one a.m. which is why I mislabelled the jars (can you spot the deliberate mistake?)  I didn’t want to make too much as I’m working my way through a massive jar of plum chutney a friend gave me last Christmas.

When I was small, my granny kept our family supplied in “granny pickle.”  When she died, when I was 15, I was upset that there would be no more granny pickle.  My Mum reassured me that it was actually apple and raisin chutney and that she would make it for us – which she did, until she died, in 2012.  This is my first stab at chutney since then.  The pear tree is actually in my Mum’s old garden, right outside her kitchen window, and It makes me sad that the pears continue to live while she doesn’t – still, she would go mad if a single one of them was wasted!

So, first the pear crumble, now the chutney, and I have plans for pear/custard tarts and wine poached pears –  watch this space.

I used:

  • 2 chopped onions
  • 4 large pears, cored and chopped
  • about 20 dates chopped (you could about 3/4 cup raisins)
  • 12 fluid ounces vinegar (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup apple sauce (or two large raw cooking apples, chopped)
  • 3/4 cup of sugar (very approximate)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

I threw everything (except the apple sauce) into a pot and simmered away until it was thick.  I wasn’t planning on using any apple; but, because it wasn’t thickening, I reckoned I hadn’t used enough pears, so I added some of the stewed apple I have sitting in my fridge.  The sugar, I added a bit at a time until it tasted right, so I’m just estimating the 3/4 cup.  The dates, which I chopped small, disintegrated a bit so if I was making this again, I would add them later in the cooking time.  I would say this took around an hour to make from start to finish.

So, If you are using pre-cooked apples, add them towards the end of the cooking with the chopped dates; but, if you are using raw apple, add them at the beginning with the pear.

Needless to say, it is delicious and I am looking forward to our next batch of sourdough bread (tomorrow) so I can have bread, cheese and chutney.  My kids hate the stuff though and came down from their rooms last night complaining about the awful eye watering smell.  I remember I used to complain when my Mum made chutney but at least I liked eating the stuff when it was made.

My First Sourdough Bread – Success!

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sourdough loaf

Two weeks ago I decided to have a go at making real sourdough bread.  I followed instructions on the interweb for making a starter.  I can’t recommend any one source because I think I read everything there is to read on the subject.  All I know is that it took two weeks for my starter to get anywhere near lively – it should take around 5 days.   I nearly gave up, it was taking a lot of flour, love and organisational effort to keep my jar of natural yeast alive and well.  I tried one loaf and it didn’t rise one iota – it went in the bin.  I read more, persevered, and last night decided to give it one last chance.

rustic sourdough loaf

The simplest recipe and technique I found for actually making and baking the bread was by The Stone Soup and can be found here. I found I needed to add extra flour though as my dough was way too wet.  There are lots of different ways to make a “starter”, but I used a method which just used flour and water with no additional “boosters” like pineapple juice or packet yeast.  This could explain why my starter took a long time for the little yeasty beasties to build up stamina; well, that and the ambient (cold) air temperature in an old stone Scottish house in late October.

sourdough loaf bread knife

This morning my dough had risen quite spectacularly!  Given it was Sunday, I decided to go to church, which I do on occasion.  My loaf would have to wait to be baked.  I went to church, it was communion day (also only on occasion).  I took this as a sign that today was a good day for bread.  The sermon’s message was “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  I took this as another sign.  I came home, I baked my bread et voilà. I was going for a rustic look!

rustic sourdough loaf

It’s light and is crusty and sounds very hollow when tapped.  I can’t describe exactly what what I did and why it worked – due to the high degree of “winging it” and Divine intervention.  So, the moral of this tale, if you want something go for it, persevere, have faith, and don’t give up.  Must fly, hubby is drooling and wants us to make a start on the beef, Guinness and veg casserole that we are hoping to mop up with this ‘ere loaf. 

UPDATE: casserole jus duly mopped up with the most delicious bread I have ever tasted.  And for dessert, the last few slices of bread with Scottish butter and home made raspberry jam.  Better make another loaf – quick.

Pear/Date Crumble – Sticky Toffee Crumble?

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pear and date crumble with oatsAutumn, in the UK, is crumble season.  A crumble is a traditional baked dessert made from cooked (usually orchard) fruit with a crumbly flour/butter/sugar topping.  It’s basically a fruit pie without the hassle of pastry and somehow way nicer than a pie. The humble crumble is probably one of Britain’s favourite puds – especially served with “lashings of custard.”

Sticky toffee pudding is another British favourite; and, if you were in a restaurant trying to decide between the two you would be in a “right quandary.”  Well, quand no more, you can now have two desserts in one – this pear and date crumble has the best of both – try it, you won’t believe no one thought of it before.

I wasn’t trying to meld the two, I was just trying to make my home grown pears less boring and accidentally hit on a winner – certainly the best crumble I have ever had.  I really had no idea it would be so good – if this pud was in the Great British Bake Off – Mary and Paul would go weak at the knees.  I have just had some for breakfast!

home grown pears

My family were sceptical about the added seeds but I brushed off their [rude] comments. “Why do you have to add hippy dippy bits?” and “Yummy, bird seed crumble.”  More “heaven in a bowl” for me then.  The hippy dippy birdseed definitely adds to the taste/texture/sophistication so don’t be tempted to skip it.  Plus, the healthy bits make you feel better about the butter and sugar!  I did in fact make the kids a boring traditional apple crumble as well (free apples from the Vicar’s garden).

crumble6

So here’s my extra special pear and date crumble recipe.  If you serve this at a dinner party your guests will want to lick their bowls – I wanted too, but in our house, bowl licking is strictly reserved for my Mum’s flambé bananas with Cointreau and cream – which I never make as my kids hate bananas!

royal worcester 7 inch plum dish with ears

I served our humble crumbles in my Mum’s best – reserved for extra special puddings – Royal Worcester bowls with traditional Birds custard which didn’t thicken for some reason but which, as a result, made for a more sophisticated and fitting “sauce.”

I made my kids’ apple crumble in my antique Wedgwood “crumble” bowl.  Wedgwood call it a “serving dish” but I use it as my special – only for crumbles dish – since the pattern is “Bramble” aka Blackberry.  Blackberries are much loved by us Brits and we forage our hedgerows for them in early Autumn.  The Blackberries’ colour and flavour is a highly prized addition to our crumbles and jams.  When I see Blackberries in the shops in packets it makes me want to weep.

I know blackberries are a special fruit but what makes them special is the Sunday afternoon walk with your granny in the great outdoors to get them, the thrill of the hunt, the fact that for a few short weeks a year you can pick fruit from the lanes surrounding our villages and bring it home and bake a crumble and eat it with custard.  You may need to be a Brit who grew up with a granny in the countryside to appreciate this fully!

Sadly our hedgerows are all picked now and blackberries don’t grow so well in Scotland either, hence my reaching for the dates.  Anyway, it’s a lovely bowl and I treasure it ever since I bought it at a car boot sale at the Oxford (The Slade) Fire Station as a newly-wed visiting my Mum from my new home in California.  So, it’s been around the World and back.

vintage wedgwood bramble serving dish

Pear and Date Crumble (serves 4)

(Double the recipe if you want a bigger crumble or to make two like I did – one apple, one pear/date). Plum or rhubarb are traditional too.)

  • 4 or 5 large firm pears (more if your fruit is normal-sized)!
  • 10 dates (quartered)
  • 50g plain white flour (all purpose)
  • 40g butter
  • 20g dark brown sugar
  • 20g white sugar
  • 20g porridge oats
  • 20g yellow cornmeal/fine polenta
  • 2 or 3 tbsp mixed seeds or sunflower seeds

Method:

To Prepare your Fruit:

  1. Peel, core and cut you fruit into small chunks and pop them into a microwavable bowl full of water so they dont turn brown while you are chopping the rest.
  2. When all the fruit is chopped, pour of the excess water and microwave the fruit until soft but not mush (approx 5 minutes).
  3. Pour of any excess juice.
  4. Add as much or as little sugar as needed to make it sweet but not too sweet as the crumble topping has sugar.  The amount of sugar needed will depend greatly on the fruit you are using and your taste.  My Mum always added to much and she reckoned I never added enough!  Rhubarb and Bramley apples will need more sugar than pears for example.

To Make the Crumble:

  1. Rub the flour and butter together with your fingertips as if you were making pastry, it will be hard to get to a breadcrumb stage as there is a lot of butter but just do your best to get the butter as broken up as you can.
  2. Add the sugar, polenta/cornmeal, porridge oats and seeds.
  3. Stir with a knife, making sure it is all well mixed.

Assemble (in an ovenproof dish) – I have a lovely vintage pie dish I only use for crumbles.

  1. Add the chopped dates to the cooked pears.
  2. Sprinkle the crumble topping on top.
  3. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 25-30 minutes until the top is lightly browned.
  4. Serve hot with fresh cream, custard or vanilla ice cream.