2 Months in the Netherlands

If I had a Dutch Indian name it would be ‘Girl who buys too much without thinking of how to fit it on bike’. I have this experience at least two times a week! Ive pimped my bike, to try to accommodate all the stuff I buy. Large basket on the back, saddle bags and a ‘luggage carrier’ on the front. Seriously trying to get an entire weeks worth of grocery on a bike takes balance (which I rarely have) and creative packing/shoving! 20171016_125153

I cant believe its already been two months from crossing the small pond and attempting to make a new Dutch life! There have been a lot of adjustments, more than expected or  initially planned for.

Pros:

  • As per the above Im more active and healthier than Ive ever been! Ive gone from driving everywhere and parking as close to the door as I get to riding everywhere and parking literally next to the door. I also take weekend rides around the area and am constantly in awe of how truly beautiful Noord Holland is!
  • The food is fresh, you can taste the difference and there is such variety! Weekly shops aren’t really done, you go and buy as you need it, so that you always have fresh ingredients.
  • Ive found a lot of other expats who live in the area and want to do stuff  but there wasn’t a social, so yours truly (who is clearly a glutton for punishment) started a small social group.
  • Cyclists are beyond prioritised and catered for, every area, town and city has cycle lanes. Cyclists do get priority and in a collision between a car and a bicycle, the car driver will be held responsible.
  • 90% of people speak English, in fact better English than most native speakers
  • Amazing public transport that shows up when it says its going to show up! The buses and trams are on time and all very affordable prices. Use 9292.nl for transport information.
  • Four seasons, YES FOUR ACTUAL SEASONS. Coming from the UK of just rain or cold and rain, this is great!
  • Weekly market, every Friday our local shopping centre is taken over by a market, a lovely amazingly wonder massive market with well over 60 stalls. There is massive choice, freshness and variety! Every town has a market on a specific day.
  • Tipping is less in the NLs, hooray! So Ive traditionally tipped 10% in the UK and more in the US. However thanks to the Dutch being tight (and poor service, see below) most people tend to tip only €1-2 Euros when eating out.
  • Dutch people are nice and open but this can be on a superficial level (see below about making Dutch friends).
  • Education is great here! Public schools offer a great education but aren’t always free. Having attended school here years ago, I personally experienced this.

Cons:

  • Rain, rain, rain! After having lived in the UK for the last 17 years, Ive honestly never seen as much rain as I have here! Dutch weather is unpredictable and changes on a whim, make sure you have waterproofs!
  • The Dutch make and keep friends from childhood, so it can be difficult to make Dutchie friends or integrate into Dutch circles.
  • Cyclists! Previous to moving to the NLs I was not what you’d call cyclist friendly and now I am one of those proper dodgy cyclists I use to complain about. You can tell a Dutch person from a expat, no safety helmets and riding through red lights.
  • The cost of living is more expensive than the UK, I wouldn’t say massively more expensive but most certainly more expensive.
  • Born free and taxed to death! Dutch taxes are high, be prepared!
  • NO €1 stores!!! Having gone from The Dollar Tree to Poundland having no €1 stores seems more than a insult but it is just the Dutch way.
  • University degree required (in my experience and clearly this does not apply to all but in my experience…) a degree is a must! The Dutch and most of Europe offer relatively cheap if not free university to their students, which means that the majority of people have degrees and its the first thing they ask for in job adverts, Ive gone over 100s of job roles and only 2 have so far not asked for a degree!
  • Dutch are a direct people who dont sugar coat things. It takes a while to adjust to this directness and not take it personally (easier said than done).
  • Healthcare, you pay for insurance and then have a annual excess to pay before the insurance will kick in, expats can find this expensive. Ive so far not had experience of the healthcare but understand that it takes adjusting to shall we say.
  • Slow service, when you go to a restaurant, dont expect good, quick, or efficient service. A typical example, today we sat at a table with the previous occupants used and dirty plates for over 10 minutes before I waved down the waitress to remove the plates and get a menu, then another 10 minutes to get drinks and order the food.
  • Rules, rules, rules. The Dutch are governed by rules and having a specific way of doing everything. If you make an appointment be ON TIME, it deeply offends the Dutch if you are late, no matter by how much time.  Spontaneity is not a trait of the Dutch and dropping by someones house unannounced is certainly out of the question.
  • Cars are expensive to have, not just to buy. You will have a monthly road tax to pay (regardless of how much or little you use your car) in addition to insurance, annual checks and usual car costs.
  • Im really into my crafting and creating but the price of buying essential oils and ingredients here is ridiculous! Often its substantially cheaper to buy them from abroad and pay for shipping to get them here.
  • Dutch post! Some days I wonder if its run by drug lords who are waiting for their ransom to be paid before you are allowed your post, Im not even kidding when I say this. Ive had items go missing and the cost, it costs double what I was paying in the UK to send anything out of the NLs.

Whilst I do have a number of CONs of my life, I did also giggle at a lot and when things dont go how I expected them to, I tend to revert to this tried and tested phrase, ‘Welcome to the Netherlands’. Its a bit of a band-aid that covers a lot of situations. My first two months have felt like more of  vacation than reality and thats ok too. It will take time to adjust and feel like a Nederlander.

I have however come across The Amsterdam confessions of a shallow man who is able to convey his and other expat frustrations in a dry sarcastic way.  I agreed with a number of his posts, particularly on Dutch Post.

If you have any questions about living in the NLs, I will happily answer your questions based on my experiences. Please leave a comment below and Ill do my best to give you a honest answer based on experience. 🙂

Making Layered Soap

Im still quite the soap novice and Pinterest seems to feed my curiosity like catnip to a one of my cats! I think the nice thing with soap is that you can literally be as imaginative as you want to be, you can go simplistic or over the top and you get great soaps either way.

Last year I made some really cute layered Christmas soaps, they were just too cute. Unfortunately, I didn’t think fo taking pictures of creating a tutorial.  Over the weekend I hopped back on the soap bus and decided to play around and see what I got.  Im pretty pleased with the results and am looking forward to making more!

These soaps are time consuming and require a large number of steps but are worth it.  These soaps are great for yourself but also make fantastic gifts!

Making Melt and Pour Layered Soaps

I know I normally put the how much, how long, how many section here BUT this isnt quite that straight forward 🙂

What you’ll need to make these super cute soaps

  • 1/2 Kg  minimum of White & Clear soap melt and pour soap based (you could technically just use clear but I dont advise it and see you’ll see why)
  • Mica Mineral Powders – several colors
  • Fondant Sugarcraft Icing Plunger Cutters in different shapes and sizes
  • Cutting/chopping board
  • Square or Silicone Cake Mold
  • essential oils
  • Oil, I used castor

These soaps take a lot of prep! I did it a few nights in advance 15-20 mins at a time or basically until I got bored.

The first step is to create your colors. I took a 2LB/1 KG block and cut it into 7 sections. I then cut up and microwaved each of the sections (remember to cover with cling film) and then added in the mica powder to get my desired color, you honestly dont need much, maybe 1 gram or so. You can also add in essential oils if you want your colors to smell (nice) but because they make LOADS of cut outs that you can use across loads of soaps, use a oil that will not effect other scents. Below are 6 colors that I made and how I create them.  Once you’ve made your color, pour it into a silicone pan (this makes it easier to get out!) As you can see here, one part was thicker and the other part was SUPER thin and unusable, so I just melted it back down and repoured. You want it to be more thin than thick, if that makes sense but not so thin that you cant work with it. Allow to harden for a minimum of a hour. 20171020_113323

Now take your plungers/cutters and start cutting our your shapes. As you can see, I get a lot of shapes out! I also NEVER throw away the excess, I put it in a plastic baggie for later and then melt it back down and make more.

I know the picture below is awful, I didnt think to take pictures of what I was doing, augh! I wanted to make cute flowers. I used 4 different sizes of flower cut outs across the different colours. Once these were all cut out, I got a VERY small amount of CLEAR base and melted it in a tiny jar for about 10 seconds (be careful here and watch it, I did manage to actually burn the soap!) until it was melted. I then worked quickly with a toothpick and stuck a small amount of the clear soap base between my layers of flowers. I found it looked best with 3 layers of flower.

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So now the prep work is done, HORRAY!

Take your clear base (I used 1lb/.5 Kg) and melt it down (remember to use cling film if using the microwave!). As its a large amount put it in for 90 secs first and then 30 sec bursts after that until its completely melted. Add in your essenital oils now (10 drops of each) and castor oil, I used roughly a tablespoon worth, I went for Lavender and Lemon to go with my flower theme and my final layer. Be careful of using a color that will mature over time, like vanilla or orange, they go darker over time. Pour into your mold roughly 3/4 to the top. Spray with alcohol, honestly this was my first time using alcohol but I am BEYOND sold now that Ive done it. It clears away the bubbles AND the will help your layers adhere. As you can see this filled 5 of my molds. I then started to toy with patterns and how I wanted it to look in the soap.  The reason you dont pour in the clear base and then shove in your cut pieces of soap is the base is hot from being melted and will actually melt your cut outs (Im speaking from experience here!). So leave it a few mins. Get out your toothpick, which is my trusty soap making tool and touch the top occasionally to see if a film has started to form. Its roughly at this point that you want to start putting in your cut out pieces. REMEMBER you want to put them in upside down.

You do have to be quick at this stage as your soap is not starting to form a film and harden, if you wait too long, you will be able to see the film in and around the cut outs that you put in. Sometimes you can hide this with the final layer but not always. Once you’ve put your cut outs in, give it another quick mist of alcohol, for good luck. Allow to sit and harden for at least another hour if not two. Remember that you’re putting on another layer of HOT soap base and it will melt the soap youre pouring it onto slightly, so the longer you leave it, the better.

How for your WHITE melt and pour base. Why am I using white? Because it highlights the bits you’ve just done. I melted the white base as I did the clear base, added in lemon and lavender essential oils (15 of lavender and 10 of lemon), castor oil, I used roughly a tablespoon worth and then added in some dried lavender and dried lemon zest for added effect. Sometimes people need a visual to remind them of what they are getting. The first pouring always get the most goodies (right middle corner). Remember to mist with alcohol! 20171021_172046

Looking at them from the side you can see LAYERS, hooray, its a success!!! You can also see the dried lavender and lemon through the top layer. You can also see if you’ve done things wonky (a bit late now) or your mistakes.  Allow your soaps to dry over night and give them AT LEAST 24 hours before you use them.  You can unmould them after a few hours. When making blocks of soap like this where you want the different elements to be clear and visible I find the clear hard plastic moulds work best. I found that silicone moulds can make the clear base cloudy and the results just simply aren’t as good.20171021_172114

The finished products! I have to say that I was pleased with some of the results, I had one where I thought, ‘Ill use that one for myself rather than gift it’ but overall I think they are cute and smell great.

Notes: Going forward I might/might not put castor oil in the clear soap base. The reason I use castor oil is it gives a better bubble/lather on the soap when used. However, it did make the clear slightly cloudy, clearly so not cloudy that you cant see through the soap (not going to lie, I did initially panic when I added it!) but its kinds of annoyed me. Now Im on the fence as to if Id do it again or not…

Also with Melt and Pour you never want the base to be rapidly boiling away, so the idea is when melting it in the microwave to do short sharp bursts of heat, then stir to melt the larger pieces. If you allow it to boil rapidly until its fully melted, it can lead to the soap sweating after its been moulded. Sweaty soap is just not nice!

Handcrafted soaps always last longer when they are kept dry when not in use.

Please let me know if you have any questions or queries if if I can offer any further advice on making these cute soaps. I will also be making Christmas soaps soon (it is THAT time of year) and will be doing a similar tutorial on making them.

I package my soap in cellophane and attach a small label that explains what the soap is, it adds that something special.  These are great for yourself or as gifts for friends.

Remember to share with friends! 🙂

DIY Exfoliating Coffee Sugar Soap

I truly love the smell of coffee, there are very few things that even compare to the smell of freshly brewed coffee.  Having said that, I am a weirdo (well, duh!) and only drink my coffee cold, occasionally lukewarm but NEVER hot, EUGH! Now lets mix two things that I love, showers and coffee, giddy up!

Im currently on a soap making kick, I had forgotten how nice (and fragrant) is it to make soaps. Great for a gift to others or yourself (win!). I also cheat and use melt and pour bases, why? If it weren’t for bad luck, Id honestly have no luck and there is something about using Lye to make soap that just gives me visions of horror. Its also impossible to get clear lye based soap for obvious reasons (ingredients used) and I like the effect you can get with a clear base, based on what you’re doing.

What makes this soap so good? It exfoliants whilst smelling awesome and doing great things for your skin = win win!

Coffee: Coffee grounds are soft, allowing them to naturally exfoliate dead skin, leaving skin silky smooth without irritation. Coffee is a diuretic, creams it can temporarily minimize the visibility of cellulite by drawing fluid away from fat cells. Coffee’s acidity helps to boost the skin’s protective barrier too, which keeps your skin healthier and happier.

Sugar: Its fine texture gently exfoliates the skin without leaving harmful residue that can clog the pores. It has moisturizing properties that prevents the skin from drying. It is safe to use even on children’s sensitive skin and to soothe chapped lips.  Sugar is tough on cleansing the skin while retaining its natural moisture.

Cinnamon: Cinnamon helps remove dead skin cells and helps restore shine and suppleness to the skin. It has antifungal and antibacterial properties, helping enhance the complexion. Cinnamon improves blood flow and brings the oxygen and blood to the outer surface of the skin. (which backs up my claim that ‘Life is better with cinnamon’!)

Sweet orange essential oil: Sweet orange essential oil is full of antioxidants and has known benefits that spam a wide spectrum, including but not limited to increasing circulation, decreasing wrinkles, improving complexion, and decreasing hypertension.

Castor oil: Castor oil has many amazing benefits but must be used sparingly when making soap, as it can turn it sticky quickly. Castor oil heals skin inflammation that can be caused by sunburns, acne, and dry skin. It can also treat acne, fade blemishes and scars, and can provide relief from the joint and tissue pain.

Word to the wise: This soap is a messy soap, which forms part of the exfoliating experience. Exfoliating is a fun messy experience, sugar scrubs get everywhere, this is no different. Those who use this soap will notice a dirty shower/bath afterwards of coffee grounds, THIS IS A GOOD THING, it makes its has worked! Just make sure you wash down your shower/bath after you get out. AND avoid getting your bar wet between uses, this extends its longevity.

DIY Exfoliating Coffee Sugar Soap

Makes: 10 smallish soaps  Making time: 15 minutes  Dry time: 24 hours minimum Overall time: 25 hours

  • 1lb/.5 Kg of Melt and pour base
  • 1/2C (100g) sugar
  • 1/2C (100g) coffee grounds (Ive found that flavoured worked great!)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon essential sweet orange oil
  • 1 teaspoon vitamin e oil
  • 1 teaspoons castor oil (or any other oil, oilve, almond, coconut etc)
  • 1 teaspoon essential vanilla oil (optional but smells great!)

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Now to make this amazing smelling GOOD FOR YOU exfoliating soap.

1. Have your moulds ready! This soap sets quickly and you dont want to have it mixed and ready to go and then be faffing with getting yours moulds.

2. Cut your base into chunks and then melt it. I microwave mine at 30 sec intervals, when I start out. If using a large amount,  I start at 90 secs and then go with 30 secs after that. If you are microwaving your base, ALWAYS cover your own with cling film. You can also use a double boiler/ban marie method to melt your base.

 

3. Once your base is fully melted, now the fun starts, making all the smells and having a fantastic sensory sensation! Add in your coffee, sugar, oils, and cinnamon. I always throw in a little extra coffee for good luck. Stir and mix to fully combine, giving a thick even mixture.

4. Now to pour into your moulds. You can spray with alcohol at this stage if you have a lot of bubbles, which this recipe, Ive never really had this problem but wild if you like.

5. Leave to set for a minimum of 24 hours.  You can take them out of the moulds after a few hours but its never advised to use the soaps before 24 hours have passed.  20171021_184828

A very cute finished produce that smells amazing and does great things for your skin.

I package my soap in cellophane and attach a small label that explains what the soap it, it adds that something special.  These are great for yourself or as gifts for friends and family or heck, turn your hobby into cash and sell them (for a good cause).

Remember to share with friends! 🙂

 

 

DIY dry skin potion

As winter approaches you notice that you skin starts to feel less plump and healthy and  more dry and cracked. Sadly my skin has been breaking recently when I knock against something. Frustratingly, no matter how much store bought lotion I seem to apply, it doesn’t make a real difference. I figured if I can make soap and lip balms, why not have a go at making lotion, it cant be any worse than the stuff at the store can it? Thats exactly what Ive done and have to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Based on the ingredients, I think this is more of a butter than a lotion, so Im just going to call it a potion. I have hyper sensitive skin and need to be careful as to what I use. For me, this is a winner. Naturally this wont stop me from making and trying out other lotion potiony recipes! 🙂

I thought I have this clever thing called Google, it can answer my many questions (sometimes I ask why more than a three year old) and typed in What is the difference between lotion and body butter, apparently this is a common question.  The answers varied but in short here is a summary

Body Oils soften and nourish the skin, as they resemble the natural oils in our skin they are easily absorbed. However, as oils are not water-based they may be more likely to cause breakouts, so its best to avoid acne prone areas such as back, face, and chest. Oils are ideally applied to warm, damp skin, like after a shower or bath.

Body lotions are lighter than body butter and oils, as they contain more water than oils and butters and absorb quickly as a result. It doesn’t moisturise as much or last/stay on as long as a butter or oil do. Lotions are better for skin that isn’t as dry or for people who tend to have oilier skin.

Body butter is the thickest of the three potions and they provide the strongest possible protective barrier to seal and lock in moisture. Body butter products are typically manufactured using a combination of carrier oils and essential butters. Body butters are applied to retain moisture, nourish the skin and lubricate.

This is why this is good for you:

Coconut oil is naturally antibacterial and antifungal. It is an excellent moisturiser, it can penetrate hair better than other oils.

Shea butter is an excellent moisturiser for the face and the body. It locks in the moisture in the skin and keeps it hydrated for long, without clogging the pores, and is effective for dry skin.

Vitamin E oil is a nutrient to the skin whilst preventing and repairing radical damage.

Lemon essential oil tend to regulate and normalise oil production and can improve your complexion and leave your skin soft and supple.

Peppermint essential oil gives a cooling sensation and has a calming effect on the body, which can relieve sore muscles.

Eucalyptus oil has a cooling and refreshing effect whilst havingvast remedial and healing properties.

A few things you need to know about this homemade potion, it is sightly greasy to begin with but it absorbs well. Its quite hard to begin with but softens/melts quickly with the heat of your fingers. You dont need a lot, in-fact use less than the size of a single pea to start out with, if you need more, get a little bit more but dont go crazy with it to begin with. Im using it currently as a everything lotion, Ive used it on my hands, feet and face (at night). Ive found that this works great on super dry skin overnight.

DIY Dry Skin Potion

Makes: Just over a cups worth Prep time: 10 mins  Making time: 2.5 hours  Total time: 2 hours 40 mins minimum

  •  1/4 cup (55g) Shea Butter
  • 2 tablespoons (27g) coconut oil (or a carrier oil like avocado, sweet almond or jojoba)
  • 1 tablespoon (14g) beeswax ( I used white/clear as this makes it a whiter color)
  • 10 drops of Vitamin E Oil
  • 10 drops essential oil, I used Eucalyptus, Lemon, and Peppermint – to be fair I did use 5 drops of each

Now how to make this hydrating DIY potion:

1. Into a double boiler, combine the shea butter, coconut oil, and beeswax. You can use a traditional double boiler (bain marie) with a glass bowl or go with my route, I use a milk jug (which I use specifically for my crafting/making ONLY) in a pan with water.

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2. Melt the ingredients over a medium heat in the double boiler. Do not rush this process, as you want the beeswax to completely melt, which will solidify the potion making it creamy and rich. This should take between 10-15 mins. 20171005_194831

Once you think the mixture is compltely melted, leave it another 5 mins, as per the above, you want it completely liquified. 20171005_195119.jpg

3. Take your liquid potion mixture off the heat and transfer to a bowl, if its not already in one.20171005_195535.jpg

4. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and add in the oils, 5 drops of each essenital oil and 10 of Vitamin E. You add them in after the oil is off the heat and cooled slightly, adding them before this step could lose any of the therapeutic benefits of the essential oils.20171005_195327.jpg

5. You now want the liquid to become a solid again. Allow this to happen at room temperature, this happens usually over a few hours. 20171005_195843

Give it a mix every 20 or so minutes, you will see it gradually getting more and more firm. When it gets to the below stage (see pic), go ahead and put it in a pot and call it done! 20171005_204714.jpg

As this mixture has beeswax, you really cannot whip it (believe me, Ive tried), it makes no difference. Once set, it is a hard potion that will soften with the heat of your fingers and skin when being applied.

My finished DIY dry skin potion. Being Im classy, I used a small tupperwear tub with a lid, however, if you can use a glass pot. You essentially need something that is small in size and has a lid. Use a cute flip top jar and ribbon for a great gift. 20171006_110703

Start with a pea sized amount and you’ll probably be surprised how moisturising it is and how just a little goes a long way.

Fancy some night time moisturising? Apply this potion liberally, massage and rub it in for a few minutes and then put on a pair of cotton socks (or cotton gloves) after you apply the lotion. Leave overnight and your feet (or hands) will be moisturised and soft in the morning!

*Notes: When making body butters, potions, lotions, soaps or any body product, always make sure that the equipment, spoons, bowls etc you use will NEVER be used for edible purposes again and are only used to make body products with.

*When using any essential oils directly or indirectly on skin, ensure that you stay out of sunlight or UV rays for up to 12 hours after application. This might sound quirky but as per this article, the combination of sun and essential oils can cause the skin to severely burn and blister.

This works as great for your own dry skin and even better as a gift for friends and family, remember to share with friends and enjoy silky skin! 🙂 

 

Pear Butter

Have you ever heard of Apple Butter? No? Im not surprised, its a proper southern American delicacy. Its like a spice filled applesauce, no actual butter in it, that you spread on toast. The name comes from its smooth and butter like texture. Its really nice and English people didn’t really get it and used it as more of a sauce on over ice cream, which also works really well.

I have had a load of pears and I figured, as Ive been subbing them out for everything else apple related, why not try out pear butter too? What I realised in the tasting stage? If you like the graininess of pears, this is absolutely for you, if you prefer the smoothness of apples, this recipe is not for you.

Pear Butter

Makes: Just 2 – 320g jars and 1 720g jar Prep time: 10 mins  Cook time: 2.5 hours  Total time: 2 hours 40 mins minimum

  • 2 kilos of pears – cored and put into quarters or chunks
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2 cups sugar – I used 1 cup normal and 1 cup brown
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 lemon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste (optional)

Now how to make this uniquely southern spread:

1. Combine all ingredients in a large pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until the pears are soft, roughly 20-30 minutes. At first you will think there isn’t enough liquid but once the pears start to break down, they will release liquid, which will get you to the final picture.

2. Transfer pear mixture to a food processor (or you can use an immersion blender) and purée just until a uniform texture is achieved.

 

3. Return your pear mixture to the pan and reduce the heat to low and cook low and slow for 1.5-2 hours, stirring frequently to prevent sticking (and burning) until the mixture is very thick. The idea is that you cook out the natural water in the fruit and turn this into a thick spread.20171006_201628.jpg

4. At the last 30 mins of cooking, you need to sterilise your jars so that they are ready when your pear butter is. I put mine in the oven at 90-100C until the jam was ready. The lids you will need put in a large mug or pyrex bowl and cover with boiling water.

5. Pour the pear butter into hot sterilised jars and cover with the hot lid. (BE CAREFUL, EVERYTHING IS HOT!) As the jars cool, you will hear the lids popping from the pressure, which is a good thing. You want them to be complete sealed and closed. I used a soup ladle to pour into the jars and jam funnel but a normal funnel will also work.

Enjoy on buttered toast (the southern American way) or have it ice cream or rice pudding (the English way). I had literally just enough left in the pan to cover some caramel pecan ice cream, it worked VERY well!

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

Notes: Any time I put things in jars, I also use wax discs to cover the contents, Im not really sure why I do but its a habit I cant get out of. You dont have to do it but you are more than welcome to join in paranoia about using them.

You can peel the pears if you prefer but I think there are great nutrients in the peel.

If you don’t want to bother with canning, just freeze the apple butter in quantities that you can use within a week. Remove from freezer as needed and allow to thaw in the refrigerator.

Comforting Spice Jam

Following on with my pear theme (please bear with me (AHHHHH, a bear is with me!) as I make my way through my pear recipes, I have gone through kilos of pears, thank you tree!) I decided to make a pear jam. I didn’t want a jam that you eat and think ‘yeah thats pears’, I wanted something that was different, completely yummy and comforting, like  soul food jam! It makes your kitchen/house smell fantastically wonderful as its cooking. (Ive been told a few times my house smells like Christmas when I make these kinds of things)

First let me tell you about my search for jars! Mason jars are everywhere here, apparently they are trendy but equally they are EXPENSIVE! So my technique in the UK was to buy super cheap jam, throw out the jam (seriously, I rarely ate it) and keep the jar, I think I was paying like 18-20p and then I was keeping all my various jars from other food based items. When I moved all the glass was recycled and not brought over, glass is heavy (yo), even when empty and takes up space! And if I can get cheap jars in a country thats not overly keen on recycling, no reason to think I couldn’t get even cheaper glass jars in the NLs… I couldn’t have been more wrong! So my hunt for cheap glass jars started, cheap jam does NOT exist here, so thats out… what else can I find cheap? Imagine me stalking up and down the isles of Albert Heijn like a cheetah on the prowl, comparing prices, picking up jars, putting them down, putting them in my basket, taking them out, Im not kidding when I say this went on for over an hour.  I then decided to try Lidl, I mean they do cheap jam, right? Oh hell no… The verdict? Sweet onions… AH Basic Silverskin Onions at 45 cent, this is also Lidls cheapest product (silverskin onions) at the same price for a 320g jar… The next winner is AH Basic Apple Sauce at 49 cent for a 720g jar.

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45 cent for a jar isn’t a great price considering what I use to get, so I checked online and unless I wanted to buy a minimum of 200 jars at a time it wasn’t really comparable in price. 1 problem solved but another one created, do you know what stinks and I mean STINKS of silverskin onions? The lids which are on the silverskin onion jars! If you’re going to join me down this crazy cheap jar path, prepare to make your dishwasher stink and buy quite a lot baking soda! So the answer is to neutralise the onion smell with baking soda, you can either make a very thick paste with water and baking soda and leave it for a few hours or sprinkle (liberally) baking soda into the lid and leave over night.  I still didn’t quite get the entire smell out but Im secretly hoping no one will notice and it will soak up my spice smell instead…. One can hope and dream…

I came across this amazing recipe, which called for apples and I changed it up and made it my own, giddy up! This jam is great for you, your loved ones, friends, family, neighbours and makes a great gift!

Comforting Spice Jam

Makes: Just over 4 320g jars but possibly more  Prep time: 15 mins  Cook time: 2 hours  Total time: 2 hours 15 mins minimum, I did it over 2 days.

Required Ingredients:

  • 3 kilos of pears
  • 4-5 cinnamon sticks
  • a thumb of ginger (4-8 cm long) peeled
  • Juice and peel of 1 lemon
  • Teaspoon of nutmeg (you can even substitute Mixed Spice if you prefer)
  • peel of 1 orange
  • 1.35kgs jam sugar (Van Gil­se Ge­lei­sui­ker) – and yes, it is a lot!
  • 300ml apple cider vinegar
  • Handful of cloves

*My jam didn’t come as clear as the original recipe, as I used grated/ground spices, which darkens the jam, if you want a clear jam, you will need to use whole spices in their original form that aren’t grated/ground.

Now how to make this soul warming jam/jelly:

1. Peel your orange and lemon and orange, I just use a peeler as you can see. Juice the lemon. I didn’t use the orange juice, as I thought it would take away from the flavour if you’re being adventurous, go for it!

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2. Wash your pears and cut them into quarters or chunks, it doesn’t matter. You dont need to peel them or core them, pectin is in the fruit and flavour is in the core.

3. Chuck literally everything into the pan. It looks pretty and you can already get a hint the amazing smell its going to give as it cooks. Cover with 1.2 litres of water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer on low with a lid on for 90 mins.

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This is what the mixture looks like after 90 mins of cooking, looks mushy!20171003_210604.jpg

4. Pour your pear spice mixture in a colander lined with a muslin or a J-cloth (which I used), suspended over a large bowl. Leave to drip for a minimum of 2 hrs (until it stops dripping) or overnight (this is what I did). Do not push the liquid though the sieve or your jam will become cloudy and potentially you could push through fruit pulp which would also change the consistency of the jam.

Be careful when pouring, the liquid is super hot and your cloth may want to escape.  When I started to pour into the j-cloth, it feel over and into the liquid meaning it wasnt sieving at all, 4 hands is kind of better than 2 with the pouring, to ensure no ‘accidents’ like mine.

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The hang to drip thing was never really going to work for me, if it wasn’t for bad luck, Id have no luck at all, and honestly I didn’t fancy pear spice juice all over my kitchen. I made a new plan a which involved 2 bowls instead of 1. I poured the majority of the pear spice juice over/into the largest bowl first. 20171003_211307

I was then only left with what was left in the fruit. I then put this over a much smaller bowl and left over night to ‘drip’ into the bowl. The liquid that came out of this was practically crystal clear. I then combined the juices from the two bowls and went to the next step.

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5. Before you start turning your juice into jam, you need to sterilise your jars so that they are ready when your jam is.  I put mine in the oven at 90-100C until the jam was ready. The lids you will need put in a large mug or pyrex bowl and cover with boiling water.

6. At this stage I had roughly 1.8 litres. Pour the liquid into a large pan along with the jam sugar and vinegar (at this stage I completely BALLS it up and my maths completely and utterly failed me and I added WAY to much vinegar but in the end it worked, horay).

Start on a low heat to dissolve the sugar, stirring constantly. Once dissolved, turn up the heat to high and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for 15 mins, or until setting point is reached, skimming away any scum that rises to the surface. If you have a thermometer, you will need it! It helps dramatically when making these kinds of things.

This is me skimming away the ‘scum’.

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You will see the colour of the liquid change too, from a clear to a more red colour, this may have also just been a one off for me, as I had to boil it off for so long. Normally this will take 15 mins at a rolling boil. You must watch your mixture, as it will boil and bubble up the pan, if it looks like its going to go over the side of the pan, turn the heat down slightly. Quite simply, try not to cover your hob in jam like I did.

My maths was SOOOO off that I added WAYYY too much vinegar, that I ended up having to boil most of it off which took well over an hour!!! An hour of me swearing quite profusely at the jam and vinegar but clearly never at myself…

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7. Pour the jelly into hot sterilised jars and cover with the hot lid. (BE CAREFUL, EVERYTHING IS HOT!) Allow to set overnight. As the jars cool, you will hear the lids popping from the pressure, which is a good thing. You want them to be complete sealed and closed. I used a soup ladle to pour into the jars and jam funnel but a normal funnel will also work. Its always better to have more jars than you need rather than not enough jars. From all the boiling you can see that my juice reduce probably 5/7ths from the original juice, damn my math skills!

If you have a clear(er) liquid than I do, at the pouring into the jar stage you can add in spices to make it pretty, such as cloves, star-anise, or even cinnamon sticks.

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Finished product! Now just to give them to friends and family and how they dont question the onion smelling lid!

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Remember to share with friends and enjoy (they will love you for it)!

Notes: Being an American, having lived in the UK and now in the Netherlands, means that Im always confused with the English language, I should technically be calling this recipe jelly but after 17 years in England, I call it jam instead. In the UK American Jelly is called Jam, in the UK jelly is the American version of Jello, confused? Yeah, thats me constantly!

 

Pears, pears, pears

Its the end pear season (and autumn, which actually means that Christmas is JUST around the country, AHHHHHhhhhhhhh) and my pear tree is starting to look sad. I gave away loads of pears and then decided that I should use what I have, whilst greedily thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have given away so many pears. I got out my ladder and waited for the rain to temporarily stop, and then I was up the tree, precariously trying to grab pears that I couldn’t quite reach. After I filled a bowl up and it started to rain again (wettest September in years) I had to decide what to make, so I came up with three ideas, I know, two more than usual and all three were actually good! I made some preserves, which Ill blog about at a later date and then I settled on cake, because you know, life is better with cake (and cinnamon)!

Pear Almond Cake

Pear Almond Cake

Makes: 1 large cake – serves 8-12   Prep time: 20 mins  Cook time: 45mins  Total time: 65 mins

Required Ingredients:

  • 3 large (or 5 small pears) cored and quartered
  • 11/4  cup (250g) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp (125g+ 1 tbsp)  caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (125g) self-raising flour
  • 1 cup (100g) ground almonds

Now how to make this yummy cake:

1. Melt 1/4 cup (50g) of butter in a frying pan, adding 2 tbsp of sugar on medium to low heat. Continually shake the pan to create a golden brown caramel. Do not stir it, ie no spoons or spatulas, that will ruin your caramel, just occasionally swirl the pan (Not going to lie, my caramel mixture went SUPER weird and basically split but I was in a meh mood, so just went with it and threw in the pears and the pears seemed to sort the sauce and it worked in the end with a few bits of hard sugar that I took out). Add the pears and cinnamon and simmer for 5-10 minutes until browned. Set aside. The idea is not to cook them to mush at all, you kind of want them to be a bit al dente, slight bite but not hard.

2. Preheat the oven the 190C/370FC. Grease and flour a 22cm springform pan, or cheat and use a liner like I did!

3. In a large bowl, cream together the remaining butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs (I throw them both in at the same time and whisk like mad), before folding in the flour and ground almonds with a spatular or wooden spoon.

4. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing over the surface. Arrange the pears in the top and spoon over a small amount of the surplus caramely juice (or just haphazardly pour them all around like I did with all the sauce). Bake for 40-45 minutes

5.Once cooked, set the cake aside to cool (ideally on a wire rack). Once completely cooled, remove from liner or pan. Refrigerate any uneaten cake in a air tight container and consume within 4 days. Its yummy on its own but you can also serve with whipped cream or custard.

pear almond cake

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

Notes: you can also make this gluten free by subbing out the self raising flour for GF flour, adding in 2 teaspoons of xantham gum and a tablespoon of baking powder.