The Great Reduction – update

I’m sure I’m not the only person who can’t believe we’ve reached the end of August already!  Where has the time gone?  I really don’t feel like I’ve achieved very much this year for various reasons, certainly not in terms of sewing projects that’s for sure.

There will have to be a concentrated effort to produce some autumn and winter wear as the new eating regime introduced for Mr Jane Makes continues to have an impact on my waistline and some of my clothes are decidedly loose.   While I’m happy to take in seams on dresses and tops where necessary, I’m not sure I can face all the unpicking of my previous hard work to adjust waistbands and linings on skirts.  There may be more tucking in of tops than usual to fill the space!   It’s also a good opportunity to start from scratch with some lovely new or re-purposed fabric from charity shop finds (which I don’t mind pulling apart).  I’ve already got quite a bit ‘in stock’ which was acquired last winter and never got as far as the sewing machine.

Back to the main event.  Mr J-M has shown a dedication to his diet that has surpassed anything I was expecting, even allowing for the fact that he had the major fright of a heart attack to motivate him.  Those of you who know him will be aware that he had an impressive appetite and was never known to refuse food!

He’s still working towards his self-imposed target but the current statistics (as at last Sunday) are as follows :

  • Total inches lost (waist) : 5
  • Total weight lost : 15.1 kilos

I could also include number of miles cycled (on his new bike) but I don’t have that information to hand.

Whilst much of his wardrobe is now falling off him there are several things which have always been somewhat snug which are experiencing a revival.  I’m planning a BEFORE and AFTER photograph once the target is reach, which is anticipated within the next month.

One thing I do love about this time of year is the opportunity to pick blackberries.  There are lots of brambles along our walking routes (I’m trying to achieve at least 10,000 steps a day) and we’ve had a few foraging trips.  The first thing that springs to mind when I’ve got a bowl of blackberries in the kitchen is a crumble but as all added sugar is now being avoided I had to come up with a revised version.

Blackberry Crumble

I’ve noticed that fruit does taste sweeter when you’ve eliminated chocolate etc. from your diet so I decided not to mess around with the blackberries for the filling.  I added a couple of nectarines and a pear that were going a bit squishy in the fruit bowl and sprinkled over a teaspoon of vanilla essence.

For the crumble element I used :

  • 50g spelt flour
  • 50g oats
  • 50g ground almonds (I ground these myself in the blender)
  • 75g chopped dates
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

The dates were pre-chopped as this was all the local supermarket had in stock when I discovered the jar was empty.  The pieces are coated in rice flour to prevent them sticking so I blended them and then rubbed the resulting sticky wodge into the dry ingredients.  I stirred in the olive oil and pressed the mixture on top of the fruit.

The crumble was cooked for 35 minutes on 170° and here it is.

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Next time I will add more oil to the crumble mix as it didn’t hold together very well and wasn’t especially crumbly but it tasted pretty good and was even better cold.  There was no custard obviously (sad face) and I’m still thinking about possible alternatives.  There is an oat milk cream which looks quite interesting so I might give that a go.

We have an enormous fig tree in our garden which started life as a tiny plant in a pot.  The figs are just stating to ripen and with the next haul of blackberries I added some figs and made an approximation of a cobbler with the same ingredients but this time I cooked the dates in a cup of water and added all the liquid so that the mixture could be made into patties.  Not quite as good as the crumble but it all got eaten!

There were also some breakfast pancakes with grated apple which tasted fine but were very messy and certainly not photogenic.  More work required.

It will be September tomorrow so here’s to autumn sewing plans but hopefully there are still some warm sunny days ahead before we have to abandon summer clothes.

 

 

 

A New Way of Eating

This was originally supposed to be a sewing and baking blog so that gives me an excuse to talk about my latest efforts in the kitchen.  Following W’s heart attack (I still find it hard to write that – or say it out loud – without feeling shocked) he knew that some major dietary changes were needed!  He’s well known for having a hearty appetite and apart from five days when he wasn’t allowed to eat after the previous life-threatening incident (I’ll spare you the details) he’s never been known to refuse food!

I’ve got an ‘O’ Level in Food & Nutrition so obviously consider myself to be well qualified to be his dietary advisor but just in case Mrs Jones didn’t cover everything required back in the day we’ve been doing a lot of internet research.  We’ve always eaten reasonably healthily at home but portion control is not W’s forte and when he’s been unsupervised all sorts of bad behaviour has been going on!

His new diet is now carefully monitored (by me) and involves a lot of porridge, vegetables, oily fish and pulses.  It also includes a daily matchbox size piece of cheese as advised by a good friend of ours who had a heart attack last year, a suggestion supported by the cardiac rehab nurse. This is a small matchbox and not a box of Bryant & May extra long matches as he might have hoped.  He is very determined and there has been absolutely no back-sliding.

However, everyone needs a treat now and again so part of my Googling activity involved investigating healthier, low fat and low sugar alternatives to cake!  I’m reluctant to get on the bandwagon and use coconut oil as it contains an enormous amount of saturated fat and I’m not sure that its apparent benefits make up for this.  I have tried it in the past and am not that keen on everything having a background flavour of coconut!

I was also trying to avoid the addition of alternatives to refined sugar which crop up in many recipes – maple syrup (an old favourite on porridge), agave syrup, honey, etc. which are still sugar at the end of the day.  I’m also not sure about Stevia which is apparently 200 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories, particularly as it has been found to lower blood pressure and W’s is already being kept low with medication.

I finally found a recipe for a fat, egg and sugar free carrot cake here.  The sweetness is derived from dried fruit which is high in fruit sugars so not for excessive consumption but OK for a weekend treat.  I adapted the recipe by using spelt flour because (a) I already had some and (b) I think it has a more interesting flavour than wheat flour and is apparently more easily digested.  I also decided to bake the mixture in individual muffin tins which dealt with portion control.  I did find I had to add extra carrot juice, a least three times the amount stated, to achieve the right consistency.

I really wasn’t convinced this recipe would work but I was wrong!  The ‘muffins’ were delicious warm and cold and will hopefully still be good after being in the freezer which is where the bulk of them are stored. The best compliment was my sister eating a whole one as she very rarely eats cake/puddings/biscuits.

I now have plans for variations on this theme involving other vegetables, nuts and dried fruit and will report any successes here.  Following a comment from Linda at RemakeRemodelRecycle on my last post suggesting I feature healthy meals and tasty salad ideas from the new regime I may just do that too.

I’m also tempted to report regularly on W’s progress in terms of weight and inches lost – just to encourage him in public.  As of 13 July the statistics are as follows :

  • Inches lost (waist) : 2.5
  • Kilos lost : 7

Pretty impressive, even if it does sound a bit like an entry from Bridget Jones’ Diary (and I’ve mixed up Imperial and metric measurements).  I’m very proud of him and he is looking more handsome than ever!

 

 

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???

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.

Glittering Prizes

W has been on a winning streak recently. Last week he responded to a competition on Twitter resulting in two tickets to see The Rehearsal at the Chichester Festival Theatre (very good) and on Saturday night we finally enjoyed the benefits of his successful raffle ticket purchase at the Transitions Chichester  Fair last year – a dinner for six prepared and delivered to our door by the chefs, Anita and Julia.  The menu for the evening was :

Spinach, pea and mint soup with bread rolls

Lamb tagine

Vegetable tagine

Spicy chickpeas

Couscous with lemon and raisins

Rhubarb crumble with vanilla custard

 

Everything was locally sourced and delicious. The flour for the bread rolls came from the mill at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum. All I had to do was lay the table, heat up the soup and put the crumble in the oven!  Oh, and buy the Prosecco! It was a real treat.

We kept with the local theme and invited our neighbours to share the meal which was lovely. There was so much food the leftovers are being served up tonight.

I had intended to finish the spotty skirt to wear on Saturday night but thankfully saw sense at about 6.00 pm and despite my previous decision to restrict the wearing of too many bright colours together I went for this combination!

Spotty Skirt New Outfit

Spots did make an appearance at the theatre. I made this skirt a while ago with fabric from Clothkits in Chichester. It has a lovely red lining to match the stag’s specs but I made it far too short for daytime wear so it is restricted to evenings with black tights!  This fabric has featured on Tilly and the Buttons but I did make mine first!

Stag Skirt Stag Fabric

Looking at Tilly’s version has reminded me that I had planned to try her Delphine pattern from Love at First Stitch. Maybe with this needlecord?

IMG_1886 IMG_1887

It is Kyrie from kyrie_in_kalamityland’s birthday today. One of her early birthday presents was a sewing machine and she’s already made a Coco top! I’d planned to buy her Love at First Stitch but she beat me to it so I have given her Fashion with Fabric from the Great British Sewing Bee to add to her sewing book library.

Kyrie's Present

Cup cake themed gift wrapping!

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!