Annual Fig Harvest

No sewing this weekend as I was working yesterday but I did bake a fig tart for Sunday lunch. We have a fig tree in our garden which has grown from a small plant in a pot into an enormous tree. The original plant was compensation from a local DIY store after a health & safety incident involving W, a swinging garden seat display and a lack of proper construction on their part!  I wasn’t present at the time so I’m not able to report exactly what happened but he came home with a fig tree!

We picked 16 beautiful ripe figs the other evening (another potential health & safety incident)  and I used this recipe to make two really delicious tarts (one for the freezer).

On a sewing-related topic, readers of this blog may remember my post about the blouse my grandmother made for my mother back in 1945.

My sister and I were with our parents today and there was a photograph of the Queen in their Saturday paper, possibly from the same year, wearing an almost identical blouse.

Who copied who???

Delaying Tactics!

I know I’m not alone in this but as soon as I set myself any kind of deadline I start to find a multitude of things to distract me until I’m up against the wire and have no choice but to burn the midnight oil to get something done.  One of the only times I’ve ever had an empty ironing basket was when I was studying for some major exams about ten years ago.  Even the dreaded ironing was more attractive than revision!

Having made a commitment to finish my first Brumby Skirt by 10 September as part of the Made Up Initiative I had every intention of at least tracing off the pattern and cutting out a toile over the weekend.

What I actually did ……

READING

Having recently finished reading A Place Called Winter, the latest novel by the brilliant Patrick Gale, I decided I would re-visit my collection of his books.  During the weekend I finished re-reading Notes From an Exhibition, which remains my favourite, and assembled a pile of all the others.  The best discovery was that I have a copy of Ease which for some reason I’ve never read.  It has been interesting to read one of his first novels (from 1986) having just read his most recent. I suddenly realised 1986 was nearly 30 years ago which was quite alarming!  I also learned a new word, “pelf”.  I thought it was a misprint but apparently it means “money, especially when gained in a dishonest or dishonorable way”!  As in “pilfer”.

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BAKING

Inspired by the Great British Bake Off I decided to try making some soda bread with added flavourings.  I settled on feta, sundried tomato and olive.  I’ve made soda bread several times but I decided to try a gluten free flour blend this time.

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It looked OK but here’s what W said about the result :

It is somewhere between bread and cake

Definitely not the reaction I was looking for and despite the ingredients it just didn’t taste of very much.  It certainly needed more salt.  Back to the drawing board.

SEWING

I sewed up the gaps in the button band of my latest Refashion and inserted a couple of press studs between the top two buttons so I can sit down in the skirt without embarrassment.  A definite improvement.

I also nearly finished sewing a new Coco top with fabric bought at the Fabric Godmother’s recent open day which I’d cut out almost as soon as I got home.  This is the Coco top I have been wanting to make since first getting the pattern but have never found quite the right fabric to make the funnel neck stand up properly.  I’ve already blogged about the first one which drooped disappointingly and I ended up unpicking the whole thing and re-sewing the neckline.  I have made two others, but both without the funnel neck.

When I laid out the Coco pattern pieces I realised I had probably got enough fabric to make two tops, the second one being from the latest issue of Love Sewing Magazine.  I bought the magazine for the free pattern to make the top on the cover which has an interesting feature at the back but then discovered another pattern inside for a very simple cropped top.

I pinned everything out, got three-quarters of the way through cutting out and then realised I’d planned for the stripes on the funnel neck to run the opposite way to the rest of the garment – and there wasn’t enough left to change direction.  Not to be defeated I cut it out in two pieces and sewed them together.  Can you see the join?

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Going back to the magazine pattern, this was a REALLY quick and easy make and one which would be ideal for a beginner.  Unfortunately I thought I’d make the large version so that it was slouchy and could be worn as a top layer but it really is too big.  When will I ever learn??  I may take it in.

I finished off the Coco top last night and here it is.  The fabric is quite heavy so this is more for autumn/winter wear and I’m planning to make a short black skirt so I can wear it with thick tights and boots.  Very 60s.

Did I mention making a skirt just then?  Back to where I’m supposed to be and I have promised myself that I will get that Brumby toile sewn up this week.  I’ve still got to make a final decision to make on the fabric choice too …

Brownie Bake Off

No sewing this weekend.  We have a hammock!  At least we did but it has now been taken down as the summer seems to have disappeared again.

After some much needed domestic activity on Saturday morning I rewarded myself with a very lazy afternoon reading my book.

With that title it is probably more suited to the pile of blankets indoors but it is a great read by one of my favourite authors.

At the risk of sounding like I spend all my time mooching around in charity shops, I found this little gem for £1 last week and inspired by the Great British Bake Off I decided to bake brownies on Sunday morning.

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I went for the Black Russian version  These are chocolate and walnut brownies with the addition of black pepper, Kahlua and vodka!  We served them for pudding with raspberries and creme fraiche enhanced with more Kahlua.  Really good!  It’s not my recipe so I’m not reproducing it here but a quick search online will turn up several versions if you are tempted to try it.

My mother always has doilies.

The big mistake was indulging in a little more of the vodka itself on Saturday evening than was entirely sensible.  Especially when you have to get out of a hammock afterwards!

Whilst not sewing or baking related I just had to include some of these photographs.  My parents’ garden is a riot of colour at the moment.  Their hydrangeas are glorious.

 

Summer Baking

I was recently given a jar of homemade raspberry jam and to do it justice I made some scones last weekend.

I remembered reading an article in The Guardian a while ago on making the perfect scone which I managed to track down here. I decided to go with Rachel Allen’s version which uses a combination of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar as a raising agent and egg and buttermilk as the liquid ingredients. If I’d had any spare milk I might have added this as I found the mixture a bit too dry to combine well but I managed with what I had.

I followed the following suggestions in the above article :

  • Don’t use a rolling pin, just pat the dough out
  • Don’t twist the cutter – I couldn’t find a fluted one so my scones were plain rounds
  • Use Italian 00 flour for a lighter scone

The end result was pretty good.  The scones rose beautifully and had a really light texture.  Here they are with the delicious raspberry jam and some clotted cream for the perfect Cream Tea.

Continuing the summer fruits theme (which I hope you’ve noticed is carried through into the crockery) I also made a summer pudding for Sunday lunch. The recipe is very simple, just three ingredients, but the overall effect is delicious.

Ingredients

  •  Approximately 8 slices of white bread, crusts removed. Some recipes specify day-old bread but I just used cheap and cheerful thick sliced white bread
  • 1 kg or thereabouts of mixed summer fruits I used raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Red, white or blackcurrants are also good if you can find them
  • 150g caster sugar. The amount of sugar you need really depends on how sweet your fruit (and tooth) is so taste and adjust accordingly

Method

Start by lining your bowl (mine holds 1 litre of fluid) with cling film, leaving the excess hanging over the edge. This makes it so much easier to turn the pudding out when it is ready to serve.

Wash the fruit and keep whole, although some of my strawberries were enormous so I cut them in half.  Put the raspberries and blackberries (and currants if using) in a pan with the sugar and three tablespoons of water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and the juice is running from the fruit. This only takes a couple of minutes. Add the strawberries and heat for another minute.

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Pour the fruit through a sieve, catching the juice in a bowl.

Now line the bowl with the bread, dipping each piece in the juice so that it is soaked on both sides. This ensures that you have any white patches in the finished pudding.

I started by cutting a circle about 8 cms in diameter and placing it in the bottom of the bowl. Then take four squares of bread and place around the edge of the bowl. Some recipes say to leave the bread standing above the rim but mine was pretty much level. This should leave four small triangular spaces which you can fill with carefully cut pieces of bread – a bit of a geometrical puzzle!

Tip in the fruit until it is almost at the top of the bowl.

You then need to cover the top of the bowl with more dipped slices of bread. I started with one square and then filled in the gaps.  This will end up as the bottom of the pudding so it doesn’t really matter how neat it is.

Bring up the overhanging cling film to cover the pudding and add another sheet just to make sure it is sealed. Place a small plate on the top and weigh it down with a couple of tins. Place the whole thing in the fridge, ideally overnight. I would recommend standing it on a plate because the juice does tend to overflow and the top shelf of my fridge was a pink sticky mess by the next morning.

 

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To serve: Peel back the cling film, cover the bowl with a serving plate and turn upside down. The pudding should plop out in a very satisfying manner and you can then just peel back the cling film. Serve with cream, crème fraiche or ice cream.

Cake Obligations

Like many offices, there is a requirement here to provide cake on or around your birthday. They don’t have to be homemade but I do like an excuse to bake. I stuck with the cupcake theme and although I used the Hummingbird Bakery’s absolutely foolproof recipe for the cakes themselves I did get creative with the flavourings.  I’ve realised the raspberry ones look exactly the same as the last ones, they just taste a bit fancier. These are not a low calorie option but everyone ate more than one, including me!  I went to our kitchen in the afternoon to get some better photographs and they had all gone.

Both recipes are sufficient to fill and decorate 12 cupcakes.

Blueberry and Limoncello Cupcakes

For the filling :

  • 36 blueberries (or thereabouts)
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Limoncello liqueur

Place the blueberries in a small pan with the water and caster sugar. Bring just to the boil, stir until the sugar has dissolved and then simmer until the syrup starts to thicken. Remove from the heat, stir in the Limoncello, transfer to a small dish, cover and chill.

For the candied lemon peel :

  • 1 unwaxed lemon, washed
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 200 ml cold water

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from the lemon in large pieces, avoiding as much of the pith as possible. Slice into very small strips with a sharp knife and put in a small pan with the sugar and water. Bring just to the boil, stir until the sugar has dissolved and then simmer until the peel is translucent. Remove lemon strips from the pan with a fork and place on a sheet of baking parchment in one layer and leave to cool. Yes, this probably was all a bit unnecessary but it did make a nice garnish.

For the mascarpone cream :

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 125g custard – I cheated and used ready made (as I have done before)

Blend together until smooth. Easier said than done because the mascarpone has a tendency to go lumpy.

 To decorate :

  • 36 blueberries
  • Candied lemon peel (see above)

Raspberry and Amaretti Cupcakes

For the filling :

  • 12 raspberries (again approximate)
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons raspberry jam (just because I had some left from the last batch of cupcakes – you could use sugar instead as with the blueberries)
  • 2 tablespoons Framboise liqueur (or kirsch, or you could leave it out altogether but better not to!)

Follow the same method as for the blueberry filling.

For the white chocolate ganache :

  • 200 ml double cream
  • 200g white chocolate, broken into small pieces

Place the double cream in a small saucepan and bring just to the boil. Place the white chocolate in a bowl and pour over the cream. Stir until the chocolate has melted.   Allow to cool and chill. Before using, whisk with an electric whisk to fluff it up – at this stage I decided it was a bit too solid to spread easily so I added a little more whipped cream to loosen it.

To decorate :

  • 12 raspberries
  • Flaked almonds

To assemble cupcakes :

  • Use a small cutter approximately 2.5 cm in diameter to remove a section from the top of each cupcake. I also remove a small amount of additional crumb to ensure there is enough space for the filling. There is usually someone on hand to eat this!
  • For the raspberry cupcakes sprinkle in one teaspoon of crushed ratafia or amaretti biscuits.
  • For both cupcakes, spoon in one teaspoon of the fruit filling followed by a further teaspoon of the mascarpone or ganache mixture.  I was thinking of piping at this stage which is why they look so pretty but I moved on from that plan.
  • Press a sponge circle back onto the top of each cake.
  • Spread the mascarpone cream over each blueberry cake and decorate with three blueberries and the candied lemon peel.
  • Spread the white chocolate ganache over the raspberry cakes and decorate with one raspberry and the flaked almonds. I found using a knife dipped in warm water help to ensure a smoother finish on the ganache.

I finished filling and icing these at 6.30 am and the kitchen was left in a very messy state to clear up later! W refused to eat a cupcake for breakfast to check they were OK. Not like him at all!

 

Self-drafted top and today’s lunchbox

I love this top!  So much so that I have worn it two days running.  After a previous post when I reported that it wasn’t quite right I decided to bite the bullet and take the shoulder seams in by just over an inch.  This definitely did the trick.   I wouldn’t want to show the interior workings as I had to be a bit creative when finishing it off after the alterations but no-one will see that.

The pattern was self-drafted and based on an existing top that I’ve had for years and a couple of patterns I already had but with necklines I didn’t like or shoulder that were too narrow.  I had absolutely no idea what I was doing (hence the very basic brown paper pattern pieces) and I really think I should enrol on this Craftsy course to learn how to make a bodice sloper so that I can perfect my technique.  I have to confess that reading Hila’s Saturday Night Stitch post about the skirt sloper course was the first time I’d ever heard the term ‘sloper’.

My main criteria for clothing is that is comfortable and I hardly know I am wearing this top.  It goes perfectly with a cardigan (I am a big cardigan fan) and the only thing wrong with it is that it make my eyes go a bit funny if I look down at the stripes  So the answer is – don’t look down!  This striped jersey fabric from Clothkits is really lovely.  Comfortable, really easy to work with and with enough body to give the top structure.  It is not the cheapest but as I could probably make this top from 70cms I think I can live with that.  I’m tempted by the red and grey stripe but in the meantime I’ve nearly finished a plain version in the black cotton interlock from Tissu Fabrics.  It doesn’t hang as well but it is very reasonably priced.  I wished I’d noticed that they do a jet black version which I think I would have preferred.  I nearly forgot to mention that I used a twin needle for the first time to finish the hem.  It was brilliant and the space between the needles was exactly the width of a stripe so I was just about able to conceal the navy stitching on a navy stripe.

On to today’s packed lunch.  Anyone who knows us will be aware that W is pretty keen on his food and his daily lunch box is very important!  Last night I realised the fridge was looking a bit bare so I decided I would have to rustle up something with what was left.  I’ve noticed a few crustless quiches in the supermarket recently so I created these Crustless Mediterranean Mini Quiches.  The recipe is fairly basic but could be adapted to use up all sorts of ingredients and one of the advantages is that the lack of pastry makes them  gluten free.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 large mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small red pepper, chopped
  • 75g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 12 black olives, chopped
  • 6 free-range eggs
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan and saute the mushrooms and red pepper until soft.  Stir in the feta cheese and olives being careful not to break up the cheese too much.

Whisk the eggs with seasoning.

Divide the vegetable mixed between 12 muffin tins.  I lined mine with some individual silicone muffin cases which are brilliant.  They are so non-stick the contents are practically climbing out of the cases by themselves once they are cooked.

Pour over the egg mixture so each case is about two-thirds full.

Cook in the pre-heated over for 20 – 25 minutes.  Mine took 22 minutes.  Don’t overcook them or they will become rubbery.

These would make a lovely starter eaten warm with salad but they did make an excellent lunch box item.

I packed a couple for my own lunch which I decided to serve on a plate rather than eat straight from the plastic box.  The salad dressing is a combination of red pesto and olive oil.  An definite improvement on shop-bought sandwiches.

 

Birthday Treats

No sewing this weekend. I had to take my mother to hospital for laser treatment on her eye – very quick and successful – and it was a birthday weekend for her and my sister.

There was lots of present wrapping required which is one of my favourite activities. The yellow fish design paper came from the shop at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester but my favourite was the one featuring the grape hyacinth which my sister bought in Pen to Paper in Brighton. It is gorgeous.

Obviously birthdays mean cake so it was time for another recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days. I cheated with the  Raspberry Trifle Cupcakes by using a ready made fresh vanilla custard rather than making my own because I was short of time but they were really delicious. The centre of each cake conceals a whole raspberry, raspberry jam and a custard/cream combination. More cream mixture and a raspberry decorate the top and I added flaked almonds which I think are an essential part of a raspberry trifle.

Back to the sewing machine tonight.

Party Frock and Cupcakes

I wore the Brighton Pavilion dress to the party on Saturday night! It was a brave move as we were initially in the garden and it wasn’t the warmest of nights. I survived until about 9.00 pm (with a little black cardigan) until we moved indoors. It is a very comfortable wear and a third version of this frock may well be on the cards. It was much admired but I think that was mostly because the birthday girl told just about everyone that I’d made it myself so people didn’t really have much choice but to be nice about it!

My contribution to the evening was some Tiramisu Cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery’s book “Cake Days”.   Here’s a version of the recipe on their blog. I’ve made them before and they are delicious. I don’t even like the taste of coffee but I’ll eat one of these!  Well worth the effort although they do require an investment in a bottle of Kahlua.

Another amazing and alcohol-based creation was the Pimms birthday cake made by my friend’s daughter. This was the second time I’d tasted it and this one was even better than the last. I’m afraid I don’t have the actual recipe she used but I think it must be along the lines of this one.

W was back from How The Light Gets In on Saturday morning resulting in less sewing done this weekend apart from finishing the last four Morsbags. These were a bit repetitive as somehow I’d left four to be made from the same fabric until last. I varied things slightly by making two with the stripes horizontal and two vertical and they look perfect for transporting a picnic to the beach.

Morsbags 17, 18, 19 & 20

The latest tally is :

  • Morsbags made :              20
  • Morsbags given away :   17

The final three are already allocated (SB, if you are reading this one of them is yours!)

I’m also working on a self-drafted pattern for a shell/vest top which I can make in assorted colours for the summer which is supposed to arrive at the end of the week.   This is based on an existing woven top but the new one will be in jersey. This is not something I am used to doing and the first attempt was ENORMOUS but that can be resolved. The only other garment I have self-drafted was several years ago when I tried to replicate a linen panelled skirt that I had worn to death and really loved. The fit was not quite right and I ended up giving it to a charity shop. I then bumped into someone wearing it who was absolutely thrilled with her purchase and I wished I hadn’t given it away! I’ve lost the pattern I made and an off-the-shelf one I tried just wasn’t the same so I may have to have another go at this.

W went off to Germany this morning (is he ever at home you may well ask?!) so I have a couple of free evenings to carry on with the shell top exercise.  I’ve also ordered the Grainline Morris Blazer pattern from Guthrie & Ghani and am looking forward to the online tutorial starting today.  Here’s a possible fabric choice.

 

A Savoury Flapjack

As my blog title mentions baking I thought it was time I got on with some! These savoury flapjacks are so quick and easy to make and are perfect for snacks, lunchboxes, picnics and last night they went very well with some homemade lentil and vegetable soup.

  • 125g oats
  • 50g seeds (I used a mixture of pumpkin and sunflower seeds and some leftover pine kernels but you could also use sesame seeds or even chopped nuts)
  • Pinch of mustard powder
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 100g grated cheese (use a mature cheddar for plenty of flavour)
  • 75g butter
  • 1 free range egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons milk (I used almond because that’s what I had but any milk will do)

Pre-heat oven to Fan 170° and line a 20 cm square baking tin with baking parchment. A good non-stick tin would probably be fine without lining but I prefer stress-free removal after baking.

Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl. Melt the butter over a low heat and stir into the dry ingredients with the beaten egg and milk. Stir well and press lightly into the tin.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden and the surface feels firm. Allow to cool and settle in the tin before removing and cutting into bars or squares. As you will see from the photo, the flapjack is quite thin. I have made it before with double the quantity in the same size tin to make a chunkier version, adjusting the cooking time accordingly.

I have no idea how long these would keep in the fridge because they have always disappeared in a few hours!

You could make the flapjacks gluten free by using gluten free oats. Talking of gluten free baking, check out these amazing chocolate brownies made by Kyrie. They look absolutely delicious!

A gluten free crumble

The challenge of Sober October was surprisingly easily met and, apart from a gin and tonic while catching up with a friend the other day, has turned into Almost Sober November!

Combining a few alcohol-free weeks with the introduction to our kitchen of a Nutribullet blender has certainly had some real benefits – not least a clear head, a few pounds lost – and the determination to start this blog to record some of the creative activities in my life.

I think a friend’s landmark birthday celebration on Lyme Regis this weekend will see a temporary suspension of the new regime and we are really looking forward to a few days of relaxing, walking and eating (and wine/beer!).

One of my contributions will be a blackberry and apple crumble. This needs to be gluten and nut free to meet some dietary restrictions and after a visit to the wonderful Manuka Wholefoods in Chichester I decided to experiment with a combination of rice flour and buckwheat flakes for the crumble.

Gluten Free Blackberry & Apple Crumble
Makes one large family size crumble and one small one for a taste test.

Preheat oven to 180° for a fan oven.

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For the fruit filling

5 medium size Bramley apples
450g blackberries
75g sugar. I used golden caster. My blackberries were very sweet. If yours are sharper use more sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peel, core and cut the apples into thick slices. Spread in a layer in the dish/dishes and scatter the blackberries amongst the apple slices. Sprinkle with the sugar and vanilla extract

For the topping

320g rice flour
100g rolled buckwheat flakes
Half a teaspoon ground cinnamon
200g sugar. Again I used golden caster but soft brown would be nice
250g butter, cubed. This is a bit more than I would normally use in proportion to flour but I’ve noticed that buckwheat flakes need a bit more water than normal oats when making porridge so I thought an increase in fat content might be necessary

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Spread the crumble mixture over the fruit and press down gently.

Bake for 30 minutes (small crumble) and 45 minutes for the larger one until the crumble is light gold in colour and the fruit has started to bubble up.

Serve hot, warm or cold.

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The outcome was very successful and the small one was consumed shortly after it came out of the oven. The large one is now in the freezer to prevent any sneaky eating before the weekend!