Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Back To The Future...

500 Recipes: Jams, Pickles and Chutneys
Last week I was musing over on my 'All That I Am, Warts And All' Facebook group about the merits, or not, in some cases, of gifting homemade presents for Christmas and other occasions. The FB group is like a sister branch of this blog and I post musings, links I find and random wibble, feel free to join if you're not already signed up and you're on Facebook of course.

I'd stopped giving homemade gifts for some reason, a few people were less than impressed with my efforts and 1 person, behind my back I may add, even accused me of being cheap and stingy! Cheers! With costs on the rise, and wanting to do so many other things with our hard earned cash, the pull of using up my craft and herb/spice stash is pulling me in the direction of making homemade gifts again.

I had this urge a couple of years back and knitted several wash cloths in lovely cotton thread which is all twisted colours, the plan was to gift the cloths with some homemade herbal bath/cosmetic gifts like soap or milk bath. I knitted the cloths and then chickened out, so I have 6 wash cloths with no home?! Granted I could use them here in the kitchen or bathroom so they're not entirely wasted, but I'd like to use them as a gift base.

I'm not the worlds greatest knitter, I can do the basics, but I haven't given myself much in the way of practice with patterns, in the past I've knitted baby cardigans but only in stocking stitch or garter stitch, a scarf, hat, wash cloth or other simple object I can knit up fast. The goal is to be able to do fancier stuff in the future, but for now I can make hats for the men and pretty scarves for the ladies. I have the wool in already and needles, so making these simple gifts won't cost me anything. Those people who don't appreciate the time, effort and love that went in to making them, or the fact that I'm doing my best to still give without having to break the bank can go cry to Santa and see if they get anything better! :p

Pot Holder Loom 'Squares'
A couple of years ago, I even started weaving squares for a gift for my Dad, but I chickened out after 12 squares, why? Because I thought my efforts at mastering the art of pot holder loom weaving would not leave the receiver of the gift as impressed with my efforts as I was! The project is now in a box under the spare bed, but it really would make a lovely woolly throw for those long cold nights ahead.  Should it stay in the craft stash or should I finish it? I've got little Christmas cross stitch designs that I did intend to make up into cards to give instead of the shop bought ones, again I chickened out!

There's stuff for rubber stamping, beads for making friendship bracelets, lots of card making stuff, knitting stuff, hats and scarves started to give as gifts, that were abandoned as they came close to completion, because I got a fit of the 'What if they don't like them?'. So what if they don't like them? Is it my fault they don't appreciate the thought and effort, or they see it as my being cheap? Not that wool and other crafting materials are cheap nowadays, as my future sister-in-law quite rightly pointed out!

Get over it! That's what I'm telling myself! Get the projects finished, get them wrapped and see what happens?! What's the worse that can happen? Someone hates the gift, their loss, or they may just love it! So I'm going to do it, cor blimey I'm being brave! I'm going to team wash cloths with either some homemade Rose Petal Milk Bath, Lavender Bath Salts or some Gardeners Hand Cream made with herbs from either the garden or my stash of dried herbs. As I make stuff up I'll blog recipes and update to make the above links.

As for the book in the first picture... And the back to the future title of this post... I bought 500 Recipes: Jams, Pickles and Chutneys for 50p from Woolworths back in 1982, its old and dog eared and for a long while it was missing in action. The book is written by Maguerite Patten, the doyen of WWII cookery, it was originally published in 1963, the year before I was born. It had been missing, but turned up during some sorting of the loft to locate some of my craft stash, along with a few other books from the series, was it meant to be?

When I first started to learn to cook I loved making jam although the first ever blackberry jam set like concrete in the jar and couldn't be eaten lol! But from the book I made Spiced Apple Chutney, Lemon Curd, Piccalilli, Ketchup and lots more delights.

I remember making my Dad pickled eggs, chilli pickled onions and other goodies and he loved them, a few months back when I went to visit, Dad was moaning that he couldn't get any decent piccalilli any more to put with his sarnies. Was he dropping a hint? It has been ages since I made any preserves, some of my hubby's relatives make jams/chutneys etc and give them as gifts at xmas, we love to receive them, but can you give colds  to Newcastle? Ironic question really as my hubby's branch of the Cook family come from Newcastle lol!

All the recipes I loved making are in that book, but since those days in the mid 80's I've discovered the delights of growing my own herbs, so I think some homemade mint jelly, geranium jelly and some herbal twists to fruit curds are on the cards. I'm also thinking of making Elderberry Rob and Blackberry Cordial with the free fruit on offer from the hedgerows and some Blackberry Vinegar, maybe some Cold & Flu Tea complete with instructions in a pretty jar. I have the jars in the loft, I have labels, there's even scraps of fabric I can use, yes there will be some costs for sugar and the like, but at the end of the day, I'll be able to make some of the goodies for us to and these gifts can't be bought in the shops!

Part of me can't help but think that once upon a time when gifts were homemade and people made the effort, families were closer, neighbours were closer and life was happier. I know there are arguments for technology, without it you wouldn't be reading this and we wouldn't be connecting. But today social media seems to have usurped real social interaction. Buying mass produced gifts has taken away individuality and creativity. Hmmm getting all reflective now, who would have thought that discovering a book in the loft could lead to all this, can this lead to anything? Only way is to get 'back to the future' to find out, go back to the old ways to find ways of giving gifts for the future and yes that was a shameless scifi title thrown in, because I can :p

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Baking Rhubarb & Ginger Crumble Sponge

Blueberry Crumble Sponge
I'm loving getting back into the kitchen and baking, currently the bread maker has been dusted off and the smell of fresh baking bread is permeating the house, lovely! Following the Slimming World diet means that baking is something that I had to give up, but boy have a missed it, I love making cakes, pies, puddings and making bread, but they're all the things that turn you into a lard ass, okay turn me into a lard ass ;)

When I'm in the kitchen doing the things my Mum taught me to do, I get all smiley. Like the day before last, there I stood with my hands gently manipulating dough for dumplings to go with the stew I was making, and I was transported back to my Mum's kitchen and I felt so satisfied and well... happy, and part of me felt like my Mum was still here. In a way she was, what I was doing was a direct result of what she taught me, I don't get that when making low fat, modern day stuff.

The baking bug came back a few weekends ago when I had to make some puddings to take to a family party, I made the sponge in the photo above and a Rhubarb & Ginger version which went down a storm :) Back at home my hubby has requested that I make some of his favourite oaty biscuits and some choc chip muffins. Who am I to argue? I'm beginning to think that life's too short to deny yourself all these tasty treats, so have decided I still want to lose weight but if the journey was going to take 1 year, I'm going to have little indulgences and take the scenic route to slimming, I'll still lose weight, just not as fast as not having cake etc.

Rhubarb & Ginger Crumble Sponge

For the Cake
  • 250g Butter, softened
  • 250g Caster Sugar
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • Milk (to adjust consistency, if needed)
  • 250g Plain flour
  • 2 Tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tsp Ground Ginger
  • 2 Pieces Stem Ginger, finely chopped
  • 6-8 Rhubarb stems (depending on length), washed, trimmed and sliced
For the crumble
  • 7 Tbsp Plain Flour
  • 4 Tbsp Castor Sugar
  • 4 Tbsp Butter
  1. Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3 and grease and line the base of a deepish 20cm x 30cm baking dish, I used a lasagne dish!

  2. Put the cake mix quantities of butter, sugar and vanilla extract into a big mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy, if you're lazy or short of time you can use an electric whisk.
  3. Beat in the eggs, one by one, then gently fold in the flour, ground ginger and baking powder, if the mix is too stiff, add a little milk to make the cake batter more liquid.
  4.  Pour the cake batter into your baking dish and sprinkle on the rhubarb and chopped stem ginger and put to one side whilst you make the crumble.
  5. Make the crumble topping by mixing together the crumble quantities of flour, sugar and butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, when ready sprinkle on top of the fruit and sponge layers. Bake for 1 hr 15 mins, until a skewer poked in comes out clean – you’ll need to lay a sheet of foil on top after an hour if the cake is browning too much.
Allow to cool, cut into slices and serve with cream, custard or ice cream. Alternatively serve warm.

You can ring the changes, the photo above shows a Blueberry & Raspberry version, I used frozen fruit and instead of the ginger I used almond essence in the cake mix. It was rather tasty, in essence you can use any fruit/spice/flavouring combination you like. Try apples, cinnamon and chopped bits of fudge it makes a gorgeous toffee apple version!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

All That I Am

This blog was born because... Like everybody, I'm many things to many people, wife, step-mum, sister, auntie, friend, neighbour, the mad herb women, writer, organiser... the list goes on. In my life I like a variety of things, I'm besotted with my man, he is (and I know this is very cliche) the best thing that ever happened to me, and I'm owned by my two furry girls Poppy & Rosie, the sweetest cats anyone could dream of owning and yes I spoil them rotten, yes I love them to bits, and yes, maybe, I'm turning into a mad cat lady to boot lol!

My interests are all over the place, I'm always looking at new things to try, crafts, hobbies, food, music, but I have a set of things that have stayed with me since I was a young girl, like listening to music (mostly rock but I do have a rather eclectic taste, I can't play music, I blame the childhood recorder trauma for that! I have an appreciation for art (Impressionism, Pre-Raphaelite, Pointillism & Surrealism mostly) although I can't draw for toffee, but I'm working on that :) If you're one of those people that thinks you can only 'truly' appreciate music, art or anything if you can actually do it yourself, then please bugger off now!

I love gaming, mostly playing RPG (role-playing games) on consoles, my current favourite is 'Skyrim' and I'm waiting impatiently for the next gen PS4 console to be delivered and more gaming delights. I'm a bit of a herbaholic, I love using herbs, growing them, their history, the people that are behind the discoveries and the knowledge that has been passed down, as much as I love wandering out in the hedgerows finding nettles to make soup and tonic and blackberries to make vinegar's and so many other things. I like to cook and bake and also the history of cooking, I have several historical cook books and I'm a sucker for programmes like 'Wartime Farm' and the next offering from that team 'Tudor Abbey Farm'. Old recipes will wind their way on to this blog I'm sure, along with new ones and slimming friendly ones!

I'm interested in history and love visiting old abbeys, houses and places with a sense of times gone by, Medieval and Victorian eras are amongst my favourites, I'm interested in old remedies and how the home was run in days gone by. I like taking photos of herbs, plants, buildings, places, nature and whatever catches my eye and I love BOOKS especially if they're about herbs, my dream job has always been to be a librarian, almost made it happen at 16 but events conspired against me and I'm still having the dream, hence owning over 700 books of my own, I get to be my own librarian :)

Late in life I discovered France and fell in love with the country, with my wonderful man I holiday there when I get the chance and indulge many parts of me, including the cake monster! I love reading science fiction, fantasy and mysteries, if they have a medieval or herbal flavour as well that's an added bonus. I like to knit, can cross-stitch and use a sewing machine, like anything I'm not a master of the art, but I enjoy what I do and that's what counts, I'm tired of being told if you're not brilliant at everything give up! I also have a 'thrifty' side - read thrifty as tight and not liking to spend money if I don't have to - which means that some of this blog is going to have recycled - up-cycled, down-cycled and various thrifty money saving posts and recipes, having our over indulgent summer holiday we're on a every penny counts drive at the moment!

I love the seasons, autumn is the favourite, its the fruits and spices and the colours that appeal to me mostly. I'm also a fatty struggling to lose weight, but getting there slowly with Slimming World, due to my love of cakes and all the things I shouldn't eat etc, I'm happy to eat low-cal one day and have a small indulgence sometimes, I've tried not having anything home-baked, I've tried making it with artificial sweetener and no butter and I've felt deprived, so my new credo is a little of what you fancy does you good!

I've tried having a series of individual blogs for some of my interests but I've found keeping them updated hard, because I'm not doing any one of those things 24/7, so there's not enough input and keeping up with several blogs is hard work, what we write depends on our mood and circumstances, if we can't just be then it becomes a chore or doesn't get done at all.

A recent set of life events left me irritated at myself for never truly saying what I think and feel, for saving everyone's feelings at the sake of my own. The irritation grew when I realised that my life was compartmentalised, for example, I have a 'professional' facebook face where I chat about herbs, but don't share the rock loving, scifi geeky part of me, and I have a friends and family facebook face, so people only get to see parts of me, I'm always worried that the 'herby' peeps won't like my gaming references or the rock music, or that my family will get offended by something I say or do, or I'll bore non-herb loving people shitless with lots of herbal talk.

The more I thought about it over the weekend the more I got angry then I just thought 'Fuck it!' I'm almost 50, its about time I started being me and stopped worrying what effect that will have on the world, within reason obviously, but my reason for a change! So the idea to start a blog that covers all of what I am, well ummm at least more of me than has ever been revealed to most people before emerged, I'm not sure I can fit it all in, could you?

The blog is going to be a mix, hell I may even share some of my really secret insides as well, maybe even some poetry and things I've never shared before, there may even be some soul sharing, whatever I share, its going to be all of me, every aspect, holidays, life, gardening, thoughts, what makes me smile, what makes me angry and sad, all that I am. Welcome to my life, warts and all!