Saying a very cheerful good-bye to 2020!

2020, what a year! Everyone likes to say what a horrific year it’s been; admittedly it has had its challenges but I’ve had a good year. It hasn’t been a total success, being in and out of lockdown for over 9 months now, saying ‘…I think you’re on mute’ over and over again to colleagues and adjusting to the ‘new normal’. If anything, this year has proven that most of us have a much bigger sense of humour than we ever imagined. 

2020 drink

I’m a bit of a meme queen and I adore a good meme. One of the best parts of 2020 has been the memes, hands down! Most of them are so accurate that you have to laugh, there is no other option. I’m pretty sure that most adults went through a stage of quarantine alcoholism during lockdown, no shame, it was a real thing, 95% of us did it. 

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Lockdown and quarantine have reminded me of the Simpsons repeatedly saying, ‘Are we there yet?’ but quarantine rules are more like, ‘Can we leave our houses yet?’ over and over again! 

Working from home started at the end of March and I’ve been in the office 2 days since (in October, literally before the next lockdown was announced). It only took me 7 months but I’ve started to use my office, as an office… I loved working from my kitchen table, primarily for the convenience to the kettle. However, I noticed that my posture was getting worse, a proper chair was the answer, a colleague  suggested I just bring my office chair to the table but that would just look silly. Both the kittens and I have had to adjust to me working from the office. I took them several months to adjust to me being home all the time. The office has now been made cat friendly, a created a window sill seat for them, which gives them (and their rather large fluffy tushies) more space to sit next to me whilst I’m working, a floor mat to lie on and ensured the sofa is clear(ish) to be slept on. They are still both hopeful that I will let them out on the balcony whilst Im working, however, they need to wait til spring…. it’s going to be a long winter. I have a few more tweaks to make but I’m now content to be working on the office. 

office

What I’ve achieved in lockdown?Whilst I didn’t blog as frequently as I should have (equally not much to blog about), my year started out well and I made use of time when lock downs were eased. My DIY skills have improved, I adore my she-shed and have an impressive collection of power tools. I’m currently debating how to insulate the shed (possibly my next project?), to make it more user friendly in the winter.  My procrastination skills have become next level, I mean really there is no rush and there is absolutely always tomorrow! I’ve now ninja level of being able to keep myself busy whilst achieving absolutely nothing, as a friend likes to tell me, ‘you’re always busy doing everything and nothing’, it’s impressive and confusing at the same time.  

I completed my tick list for the year, I’m still incredibly excited to think that I did a 13,000 tandem sky dive and want to do it again! I had such good fun with friends doing Wadlopen that I’m trying to plan something for next year but I’m not sure what I have in mind will happen inline with current travel regulations. 

My friends still remain a constant source of entertainment, fun and enlightenment. I think we’ve all helped each other get through 2020, from memes to garden parties (when allowed), to joining me on completing my tick list and generally just mucking around. Im so grateful for all the memories and laughs we’ve made together this year. They continue to encourage me where they shouldn’t, laugh at my dating stories and go along with my crazy ideas, I wouldn’t have them any other way! 

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Its certain that we’re in lock down until mid-January and have been advised not to travel before mid-March, which I think will be extended quite a bit further beyond that… I have to say that I’m trying to be realistic about 2021 and currently I don’t have very high hopes for the year but never say never and given how ‘good’ my 2020, I have hope that 2021 will even be even better. Now to write my tick list for 2021… 

DIY Masks, the latest fashion accessory

In the Netherlands, it was announced that from the 1st of December, masks are required to be worn in most places, grocery stores and anywhere ‘inside’, in short. 

Masks are the latest thing that you literally can’t leave home without! I initially bought masks (I have more than I know what to do with) and then realised that the need to wear a mask really isn’t going away any time soon and disposable masks are just that. I decided to delve into the idea of making my own, washable and reusable. I initially made some in May but I made a ton of mistakes and they’ve all now been binned. I thought I’d share my hints and tips with those who also fancy building your stock of washable reusable masks or just trying it out to see how easy or difficult it is to make a mask. I have a sewing machine, which has made my life much easier but theres no reason why you cant make them at home with hand stitching. Ive now made over 20 and decided to give a few as gifts for Christmas this year.

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I normally wear glasses and have ‘the fog’ whilst wearing a mask. I specifically searched out templates that claimed to fix this. I also bought additional accessories for masks to stop ‘the fog’. To date, Ive had limited success in stopping ‘the fog’. I think the honest answer is to either breath less heavy or not at all, admittedly using these templates and lowering my glasses a few centimetres does seem to help but it doesn’t solve the problem entirely.

I found 2 types of patterns that I wanted to try and it turns out that I prefer 1 pattern over the other.

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Mask patterns/templates:

gigi Patterns and she has a youtube video which shows how to make the mask (you must fill in the silly form to download the template but you can enter fake details). The adult XL was the pattern that I used as the primary template for my masks. I found the Adult L not to be big enough, it literally made me question if I have a big fat head (I think the answer is yet but we just don’t admit these things out loud) and I also wanted a mask where I didn’t feel suffocated, personally the XL was a winner.

SeeKateSew is an incredibly similar pattern to gigi Patterns and the template provides clearer instructions on the mask folds and offers an option to include a filter pocket. I printed out this template to specifically know where I should make the mask folds, very helpful!

Nanay Express is a different pattern from the two above and I think it’s somewhat easier to work with, though some of the points I didn’t fully understand in the Youtube video. I liked that given the way the pattern is, its possible to use 4 different pieces of cloth if you wanted to and if you think about it, its possible to sew it in a way which allows for space for a filter at almost no extra time or effort (see below). However, I didn’t like the way it fits on my chin, to me it just looks weird and once I see it, I cant unsee the chin weirdness.

Here are a few things that I learnt in making my masks, please note that I only made masks for adults and can only comment on the patterns that I used.

  • Always use 100% cotton fabric! The initial masks I made in May I used every kind of fabric I had from satin to velour to polyester, none of these were breathable, cute, felt great on my face but holy crap did I struggle to breath in them.
  • Prewash your fabric and iron it in advance of using it.
  • For the elastic to go around your ears, I tried 3 different lengths (24, 27 and 30cms) and I found that 30cms/1ft worked the best and I ended up using 30cm for all of my masks. This also didn’t give me the feeling of having the mask so tight on my face that I just wanted to take it off.For
  • For the gigi pattern, I learnt to cut off sections on the side before you fold it over to sew for the canal that is for the elastic (I also only fold it once rather than twice). With less fabric it wasn’t as difficult sew, less layers to go threw. It also is less pressure on the side of the face from fewer layers of fabric when you’re wearing it. As per the photos below, after I stitched the the folds, I went back the cut up to about 1cm away from the line and then folded this over once and stitched it for the canal for the elastic.

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  • For the stitches above, I realised it much easier if I get out my pencil and a ruler to ensure that the lines are straight! The first few masks I made, no straight/aligned lines, it gave a new meaning to wonky and I’m beyond crap at eyeballing and thinking its a straight line!
  • Use fun fabrics! Seriously life is too short to use boring or plain fabric! Have fun with it! I found some cute fabrics and have never looked back!

Creating a filter section for the Nanay Express pattern. I decided to have fun with it and user multiple different types of fabric and create an area for a filter to be added without adding another layer of fabric.

I used 3 different fabrics, 2 for the outside of the mask and 1 for the liner. I cut them out as per the template. I have a bit of extra fabric for the edge of liner, so that I sew a clean edge, as per the yellow fabric. 

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I then sewed a straight line down the the front and bottom. 

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Now onto the liner, I completely made it up as I went as to what I should do. I created clean edged on both pieces of fabric and then sewed down the bottom of the pieces of connect them. 

fab   fab2

I then pinned to the fabrics together inside out to few them together, it was at this point that I realised that the hole for the filter could have been much smaller, oh well! 

fab7   fab8

The finished mask with the 2 fabrics front he front. The inside of the mask, as you can see where it folds over to cover the nose, could have been one piece rather than open for a filter, as this areas doesn’t need a filter. 

Tags: As I am giving masks as gifts, I wanted to give them with some sort of tag and care instructions. I came across two that I really liked!

Savlabot handmade crafts have a selection of labels and tags for masks that I really liked and have printed off.

The Birch Cottage has some really cute care instructions that I printed off (and slightly altered).

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The above is using the gigi pattern Adult XL, it fits, no weird chin, its not too tight and the fabric makes it a fun mask!

Where I purchase my fabric from in the Netherlands Budget Stoffen, Stoffen en Zo and  Ali Express (for my fun fabrics but it does take over a month to arrive). 

I hope you find these tips useful and remember to share with friends! 🙂

DIY Layered Santa Soap (melt and pour)

It’s that time of year! I am one of these people who truly loves the holidays, I still feel the magic and excitement of the holidays. It probably helps that I always take two weeks off work at the end of the year, so that also gives me something to look forward to in addition to the holidays.

Over the years, I’ve come to learn that my homemade soaps are appreciated and looked forward to more than the presents that I buy my colleagues/friends/family. I now give a mixture of homemade items and bought items. As this soap is specifically Santa themed, they needs to given around the holidays, although I would find it utterly delightful if someone gave it to me in June, I do love when stores are eager and put out one or two items in June!

I have to say that I cant give measurements for this tutorial, as there are lots of little steps. Truthfully speaking, Ive never measured how much I put in each soap, as Ive always eye-balled it (sorry)!

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DIY Layered Santa Soap

  • Clear Melt and pour base – I use Stephenson
  • White Melt and pour base – you will need more white than clear
  • Mica powders (I use red and green) – do not use food colouring as this is not suitable for skin contact
  • Castor oil (or avocado, apricot kernel or almond old) – I use roughly 1-2% oil
  • Essential oil (Peppermint, pine, any holiday scent will work but avoid colours which make discolour the white base – see step) – 1% of overall weight to be used in essential oil, if you have 100g of base, use 1g of essential oil
  • Cellophane or any other kind of plastic to wrap your soaps in
  • Santa mould – I bought mine of Ebay but go wherever suits you
  • Soap moulds – I found Tupperware that suited the size that I needed to fit in Santa
  1. First you need to create your Santa embeds. Melt down a small amount of white soap base and add in the mica. As I only have 1 mould, I spend an evening creating the Santa embeds. I do not add any essential oils to them, I just use the base and mica powder. Once Ive popped them out of their mould, normally I have a bit of excess base around the edges(antlers, toy bag, hooves, etc) and I trim them with a toothpick (second picture). I follow standard melt and pour melting technique of melting it for 20-30 seconds at a time (even around 15 seconds) in a microwave, covered with cling film. I then stir in the mica powder until I get the desired colour and then pour into the mould. I then spray with alcohol to dissolve the air bubbles.

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2. Let your Santa embeds sit for at least 24 hours before you use them in creating your layered soaps. Please also ensure that the mould for your layered soap is big enough put fit whatever shapes you are putting in it. Ive found the Santa mould is slightly longer than standard bar soap moulds you purchase and I found a Tupperware box that suits the size I need. You will want whatever mould you choose to be flexible and made either of plastic or silicone, which will help with releasing the final bar of soap.

3. Melt the clear base and pour it half way into the depth of the bar of soap that you’d like to have. Following standard melt and pour melting technique of melting it for 20-30 seconds at a time in a microwave, covered with cling film. Spray alcohol over this once done (second picture). You need the temperature to be at approximately 120-125F, this will stop the embed melting when added on top.

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3. Spray again with alcohol and add on your Santa embed. This is where temperature makes a difference (120-125F), Ive ruined a number of soaps this way (see below). Spray again with alcohol. You will see that the Santa drops into the clear base, this is what you want, it should not sit on top of the clear base.

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When it doesn’t go to plan: below is what it looks like when you wait too long, you will see a film starting to form over the clear base, NOT good (go ahead and remelt, do not use it in its current state for layering). I thought I was better than the film, as you can see, I was not. When I put Santa on top of the clear base, it sat on top of the base, which is NOT good and then wrinkled when I push it in a bit. The second photo shows how much this does not work when it’s layered. It created air pockets between the clear and mould, when I added in the white base, it filled these air gaps. It also shows the how the film that had formed distorts the Santa and makes it less clear.

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4. Let the Soap and clear base sit for a few hours before adding on the white base. Even with the lower temperatures, you want to ensure there isn’t a tie-dye/bleeding effect. Melt your white base and add in the oil and essential oils (please note that EU regulation states that you should not use more than 1% of essential oils), spray the clear base with embed with alcohol and pour over the white base mixture. Spray with alcohol. Allow to set over night or several hours before removing from mould.

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5. Wrap your soaps after they have set in either cellophane or a plastic of some sort. I completely forgot to take pictures of the soaps before I wrapped them! These were my finished soaps. The green top soaps are where I screwed the process and let the white layer set before adding in the embeds, the red soaps are the happy soaps where everything went to plan.

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Tips: Use an essential oil which will not discolour your base. I thought I was being clever (which normally means I’m not) and used cherry and vanilla for a number of soaps, within hours the discolouration started and its only gotten darker. You’ll see the top 5 soaps are darker than the bottom soaps, this is where I used the cherry and vanilla essential oils… They have since gotten much darker! For the bottom soaps I used peppermint and pine. (I also made coffee soaps as you can see, no guessing what home made soaps everyones getting this year) 🙂

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I hope this tutorial inspires your Christmas soap creations! Please borrow/steal my idea and share with friends. Id love to see Santa soaps in June!

Remember to share with friends! 🙂

Winter Spice Jelly – A deliciously delicate infused jam for winter

Halloween has come and on and so have the cats outfits. The cats are pleased that torture will not come their way in the form of clothing for another year.

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Winter is here, the clocks have gone back, there is less day light and it seems like my body is preparing for hibernation mode, as in lets eat as much as possible and then sleep (if only I could be a bear and sleep for months!). Im constantly hungry at the moment and cant seem to sate the hunger feeling. Im also in a jamming mood, so I was thinking of jams to make that would hopefully satisfy the hunger and of course make the house smell deliciously ‘wintery’ at the same time. This recipe has ticked all my boxes and is crazy delicious on toast or bagels.

I kind of love this recipe which Im modified from the BBC. I originally tried it a few years ago with pears and it came incredibly cloudy and with a different flavour. This time it came out great, I didn’t add in the spices to jam once it was made as per the original recipe, as I think it was going to flavour the jam further and I really didn’t want that. I love the complete delicate flavour this recipe has, its subtle, leaving you wanting more!

I also doubled the recipe, as Im incapable of doing anything at the suggested measurements.

WSJ

Ingredients:

  • 1kg cooking apples (I also used 2 large pears)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (I didnt have any and used 1tsp of ground cinnamon)
  • 2 star anise
  • 8 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg
  • 2 long pieces lemon peel
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1KG of jam sugar per 900grams of grape juice (please note this may differ based on the sugar you are using, I used a very specific jamming sugar)
  • 100ml apple cider vinegar

Method:

1. Wash and cut up the apples into chunks, without peeling or coring them (much of the pectin is in the cores and flavour in the peels). Dump the apple into a large  heavy bottomed pan with the spices, lemon peel and bay leaves. Cover the apples and spices with 600ml water. Once it comes to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer with a lid on for 1 1⁄2 hrs. (left picture is with everything in my large pot and the right picture is when it started to boil and I turned it down to a simmer)

2. Ladle the apple mixture into a sieve lined with muslin (or a jelly bag) suspended over a large bowl. Leave to drip for 2 hrs (until it stops dripping) or overnight. Do not push the liquid though the sieve or your jelly will become cloudy. (Left picture: ladling the mixture into my sieve lined with muslin. Right Picture: muslin line sieve over a large bowl, leaving it to drip).

3. At this stage I start to sterilise my jars, I put them in the oven at 180C for 30 mins, which is roughly about the amount of time to takes for the jelly/jam to cook.

4. Measure the juice – you should have about 600ml (left picture: I doubled the recipe and had more). Pour the liquid into a large pan along with the jam sugar(far right picture, I use a very specific jamming sugar) and vinegar (middle picture).

4. Set over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, stirring constantly. Once dissolved, turn up the heat and bring to the boil and follow the instructions of your sugar. Mine asks me to boil for X mins, whilst others may require you to use a candy thermometer to get it to a certain temperature (left picture: adding in the jamming sugar and vinegar).

5. You will notice a foam on the top of your jam (also known as scum), remove it. The foam has a different texture and colour from your jam/jelly, it is simply fine air bubbles. If you don’t remove it from your jam before processing, you will have the foam on the top of your jelly/jam, taking away from the perfect finish (top right picture).

6. It’s normally at this point that I put the lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 5 minutes.

7. Once you have reached your desired temperature or completed the instructions, remove from heat, skim off any remaining foam and pour into the sterilised hot jars. I ladle the mixture into jars using a jam funnel, it makes life much easier! My instructions for my jamming sugar is also to tip the jars upside down and allow to cool completely.

I wont lie, I was pleasantly surprised with the subtle understated taste this jam has. I’m use to big flavours that have a punch but this doesn’t and its refreshingly light for a winter inspired jam. 

I was so pleased with this jam and the other preserves I made, that I posted it to a friend and colleague. He was delighted with the homemade goods and pleased that despite not being in the office for over 7 months, he was still got my treats. 

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Remember to share for with your friends, family or neighbours 🙂

Winter Warming Beef Stew

Winter is almost here and so is the need to fill my freezer with comfort foods. No matter how hard I try, I’m incapable of cooking really for under four, so I’ve embraced this (and my love of Tupperware) and cook for ten with the intention of making freezer meals for myself. A few delicious ideas to which make great meals are pasta sauce, chilli, or beef stew (to name a few). Simply take them out of the freezer the night before and dinner is basically made.

Ive really been craving beef stew to with sourdough bread (I make it roughly every two weeks) or American biscuits. With the drop in temperature, putting on the winter duvet and autumn colours finally here, I took the plunge and decided to make a stew.

Technically what I make falls under the food umbrella of a French bouef bourguignon rather than a beef stew.  What’s the difference between a bourguignon and a stew? In short, wine! Traditional (American) stews use beef broth or tomato sauce as their base, whereas the French use a good wine. Fun fact: Real wine was not available to most American cooks until well into the 20th century. I like to be mix and match and go with what tastes great and mix beef broth, tomato paste and wine in this recipe.

You do need a dutch oven/cast iron pan with lid and patience for this recipe, as it’s a low and slow recipe, which I allow to cook for at least 4-6 hours in the oven. As this stew cooks for so long, your kitchen/house will smell amazing but it takes any beef (cheap or otherwise) and turns into a tender, yummy, fall apart which touched piece of meat. 

stew

In line with the photos, I doubled the beef, carrots, mushrooms, shallots and parsnips for my stew.

Beef Stew

Ingredients:

  • 2lbs/1kg beef stew meat, trimmed to remove fat/grizzle and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1/2 C/125g bacon
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 4 carrots chopped
  • 2 cups/200g chopped mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion chopped/3 shallots
  • 2 parsnips
  • 4 cloves garlic minced/ 2 tablespoons garlic puree
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves

Method:

  1. In a medium bowl toss beef with the flour and set aside.
  2. Heat a heavy bottom pan on medium high heat. Add half of the vegetable oil and add half the meat. Brown for 3-4 minutes turning the meat halfway through. Remove meat, putting it in you dutch oven and repeat with the rest of the meat.
  3. Add the rest of the oil and add bacon, onions, and garlic, cook for 3-4 minutes or until onions are softened. Once cooked, add into your dutch oven with the browned beef.
  4. Add the red wine to the pot with oil and give it a good stir, scraping off the bottom of the pan, this deglazes the pan and and all the brown bits will give your stew flavour! Let the wine cook down (it’s important to let the wine cook off for a good 4-5 minutes before adding the other liquid, this also cooks off the alcohol). Add in the beef stock, worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper. Stir until combined and then pour into your Dutch oven over the beef and onion, garlic, bacon mixture.
  5. Preheat the oven to 320F/160C.
  6. Give everything a good stir in your dutch oven, now add in your vegetables and bay leaves. Give this a stir, be careful, as your pot should be quite full!
  7. Place the pot in the oven at 320F/160C for 4-6 hours.
  8. Every hour or so, give your stew a quick stir. You will see the mixture darken in colour and thicken as it cooks over the hours. Normally around hour 4 (left picture) you can decide how much more time it needs. After 5 hours of cooking, I decided mine was done (middle picture).
  9. Serve with a piece of sourdough bread or biscuits for dipping! (oh and remove the bay leaves before serving, do not eat those)

I popped a portion over to my neighbour, as she and I are quite good to share things with each other and honestly it was super delicious and I wanted to boast a bit about how nice it was! 

Remember to share for with your friends, family or neighbours (or just freeze portions and enjoy this delicious meal all by yourself!)  🙂

Sugar and Spice and all things nice – Jams and Jellys

As the seasons are changing, winter duvet is now on the bed, Ive been feeling unwell and have been craving comfort food.  I’ve recently been spending quality time in my kitchen and thought Id share my recipes with you!

1

Grapes, grapes and more grapes. I have quite an amazing grape vine that gave me approximately 30 kilos of grapes this year. More grapes than I knew what to do with, I was hoping the birds would eat them, when this failed, I realised that I needed to do something with this. The grapes are exceptionally seeded too, which made eating them impossible, as I was constantly having to spit the seeds out, which is not a pleasant look. Initially I made grape juice but it’s amazing how quickly you can go off pure grape juice. I even mixed it with honey rum, (that was an amazing combination) but again, only so much grape juice you can drink. I was then reminded of a true American classic, grape jelly! Goes amazing with peanut butter or as the sweet to a savoury sandwich.

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Grape Jelly

Ingredients required:

5KGs of Red Grapes

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1KG of jam sugar per 900grams of grape juice (please note this may differ based on the sugar you are using, I used a very specific jelly sugar)

Method:

  1. You need to clean the grapes. I dumped mine in the sink filled with water, got rid of the bad grapes (and bugs) and put the cleaned grapes in a large heavy bottomed pan with the juice and zest of a lemon. I didn’t bother to mash them or deseed them or really put any effort into beyond taking out the bad grapes (and bugs).
  2. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. You should smell the grapes and see the bursting, it’s quite a sweet scent your kitchen will be filled with.
  3. Put a sieve above a large bowl and put the grapes and juice into the sieve. Then gently press the grapes against the sieve. This can be messy (I did slightly cover myself in grape juice) but gives your arms a good work out. (I forgot to take a picture of this stage, sorry!) Now you are left with pure grape juice, once cooled you can either drink it or use it as the jelly base.
  4. You now need to measure out your juice to know how much sugar you should use for it, as its all weight based. I had approximately 4 KGs of juice.
  5. At this stage I start to sterilise my jars, I put them in the oven at 180C for 30 mins, which is roughly about the amount of time to takes for the jelly/jam to cook.
  6. In a large heavy bottomed pot, add in the freshly strained juice and the sugar, mix well. On high heat, bring to a full rolling boil. Stir it constantly and watch it, it will start to form a foam, of which you should remove. The foam has a different texture and colour from your jam/jelly, it is simply fine air bubbles. If you don’t remove it from your jam before processing, you will have the foam on the top of your jelly/jam, taking away from the perfect finish.9
  7. Stir the sugar all at once, bringing it back to a full rolling boil and follow the instructions of your sugar. Mine asks me to boil for X mins, whilst others may require you to use a candy thermometer to get it to a certain temperature.
  8. Its normally at this point that I put the lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 5 minutes.
  9. Once you have reached your desired temperature or completed the instructions, remove from heat, skim off any remaining foam and pour into the sterilised hot jars. I ladle the mixture into jars using a jam funnel, it makes life much easier!10
  10. Then firmly put the lids on the jars, I did have a few mishaps. You should hear the lids ‘pop’ as  part of the vacuum effect, which causes the lids to seal on the jars. The ‘pop’ sound indicates that the seal on the lid has closed tightly over the jar. as My sugar instructions tell me to then flip the jars upside down for the jams to set for 12-24 hours. 11
  11. Enjoy on toast, in a sandwich or with something savoury to give the sweet edge.

butter

A few years ago I did a post on Pear Butter, this year I fancied Apple Butter (and threw in 2 pears for fun). There is just something amazing about the way your house will smell over the slow 6 hour cook of Apple Butter, truly its cinnamon and spice and all things nice! Its very homely comforting smell, if a smell could give you a hug, this is the smell! It’s a warm all consuming, everything is right with the world and relax smell, kind of Christmasy too!

Apple butter is a concentrated form of apple sauce created by a long slow cook of apples with vinegar and sugar to a point where the sugar in the apples caramelizes, turning the apple butter a deep brown. The concentration of sugar (and vinegar) gives apple butter a much longer shelf life as a preserve than apple sauce, basically its good for a very long time!

Apple Butter

Ingredients:

  • 2 KGs/4 LBs of good cooking apples (I used a variety of Jonagold, Elstar and 2 pears)
  • 1 cup/250ml apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups/500ml water
  • Caster Sugar ½C/115g per cup of apple sauce (mine was just over 4cups, see cooking instructions) I also used 1 cup of brown sugar, you can use normal white sugar or a mix of both brown and white sugar but do not use only brown sugar.
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • Rhind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste/extract ( I used 1 tsp of each)

Method:

1 Wash and cut the apples into quarters, without peeling or coring them. (Much of the pectin is in the cores and flavor in the peels). Remove any damaged/bruised parts of the apples.1

2 Place the cut up apples into large heavy bottomed pot, add the vinegar, water, lemon juice and lemon rhind, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cook until the fruit is soft, approx. 20-30 minutes. I did give mine a stir a few times.

3 Purée the apples through a food mill/ chinois/sieve over a large bowl to catch the pump. Ladle apple mixture (cooked apples and liquid) into a chinois sieve (or food mill) and using a pestle/wooden spoon force pulp from the chinois into a large bowl below. I used a spatula to occasionally scrape the pulp from the bottom of the sieve into the bowl.

4 Measure out how much apple puree you have. This is vital to the much sugar you will need to add in. For every cup of apple puree you have, you need to add in ½C/115g of sugar. (Mine was 9 cps of puree, so I added in 3.5 cups of white sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar)

5 After you have measured your puree, return it to the heavy bottomed pan, adding in the sugar, salt, spices and vanilla. You can taste and adjust seasonings if required. Stir in all the spices and sugar, you will see the colour change instantly from the spices (and brown sugar if using). 

6  Cook the apple mixture, stirring only occasionally, uncovered on low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Scrape the bottom of the pot while you stir to make sure a crust does not form on the bottom of the pan.

Cook until thick and smooth (2-6 hours), you will notice the colour darken over time and it become thicker. You will also see the foam form, remove it throughout the cooking process. I go for the low and slow method here, I cook on the smallest ring for the longest possible time. If you are in a rush you can do this is in 2 hours at medium/low heat, if you have the day, go low and slow, its so worth it! A small bit spooned onto a chilled (from the freezer) plate will be thick, not runny.

7 When you have approximately 30 minutes left of cook time,  start to sterilise your jars,  putting them in the oven at 180C/350F for 30 minutes.

8 When you have approximately 5 minutes of cook time left,  put the lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 5 minutes to sterilise the lids.

9 Once your cook time is up, using a ladle and jam funnel pour the apple butter into the hot, sterilised jars and seal with the lids. As the jars cool, you should hear the lids “popping” as they seal the jars. (If you plan to store the apple butter un-refrigerated, make sure to follow proper canning procedures, which can be found on Google)

12

My 2Kgs/4lbs of apples/pears made 3 jars of apple butter. 

 

As you can see, Ive been busy making and sharing (much to a few friends delight) jam/jellys and preserves. Im ready for winter with my jams now! Ive also made an updated version of the Comforting Spice Jam and will be updating the recipe in the days to come. 

Remember to share for with your friends, family or neighbours 🙂

List complete, mudwalk done!

Ive had 2 tick boxes this year, sky diving and Wadlopen, Ive now completed both! Im 100% for the year, which I think makes my 2020 much better than many others.

What is Wadlopen?

During specific times of the year, groups walk across mudflats located in the Wadden Sea. You can only enter the mudflats during low tide and with a licensed guide. Mudflat walking in the Wadden Sea takes place on the shallow parts of the mudflats. You walk through the mud, sandbanks and along mussel beds, which are partly under water (it can go from ankle height up to your neck you choose to go into deeper areas). The wind can also affect the walk, as it can make the water deeper or shallower depending on the direction.

The Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is on the Unesco World Heritage List. It is a large continuous system of sand and mud plains, it is relatively dry during low tide allowing hikers to walk across it. It consists of tidal channels, sandbars, salt marshes, gullies, beaches and dunes. Mudflat walking on the Wadden Sea is a unique experience in a unusual nature reserve.

Why Wadlopen?

I was an exchange student in the NLs in 1999-2000 and as a 20 year anniversary, I wanted to redo Wadlopen. I decided to invite friends along to relive the memory and to make more memories. I arranged for a private guide, I would advise booking a private guide for Wadlopen, as you go in a much smaller group (no more than 12) where as organised tours can have up to 50 people and stay in the quite shallow areas of the Wad, rather than properly exploring it. Originally five friends were joining me but it was three on the day, a mix of Dutch and expats. It was such a fun experience, we laughed most of the time, which helped, we were covered in mud and the last kilometre was most certainly the hardest. We were quite literally yawning over dinner and debating who would fall asleep the fastest. Everyone else has said that their box is ticked and that never need to do it again but much like sky diving, Id happily do it annually or every 20 years, as the current timeline seems to be.

Random Modern Art

I enjoy doing exceptionally touristy things and things that are off the beaten path. I came across a list of more unusual things to do and see in the Netherlands and found a few things that I thought, ‘I must visit this attraction’, with one of them being a place called the Dutch Kremlin. A man has taken his passion of welding and art and created a truly unique garden. I insisted that we add it onto our road trip back from the North and everyone agreed, so we added 90 minutes onto the journey and ended up in a small village called Winkle. It was a great stop if you don’t take art seriously and are truly not expecting the Kremlin. Whilst we only spent about 30 minutes, many people spend an much longer taking it in and talking to the creator/owner.

Almost October

I can’t believe it’s almost October, it’s been a unique year, in more ways than one. I’m preparing to start working back in my office a few days a week, discovering what the new normal is going to be going forward. It’s been unique working from home for 6 months and having to get out of bed 05:30 does not feel with me with delight in any way. Ive enjoyed my 3 minute commute down my stairs to my kitchen table and not having to wear professional clothing of any form. Ah well, all good things must come to an end…

Corona-Cation!

It’s crazy to think we are 4 months from Christmas and basically 2021! What a year!

I realised that in August, I celebrated one year of being a single homeowner. It’s amazing and yet truly scary. My house and I have a true love hate relationship, I love it but it hates me and likes to constantly challenge me. In the last year I’ve done a lot (new heating system, electrics, ceiling fans, oven, etc…) and still have more to go (painting and no doubt new surprises). Next week I shall install a new shower thermostat bar… I still refuse to use my office as an office, which is ironic given that Ive been working from home for over five months. It’s just not as close to the kettle as the kitchen table is.

I regularly getting emails from HR telling me it’s important to take a holiday. I’ve been thinking about a holiday for a while (since my original holiday to Egypt was cancelled in March) and looking at different options, I really wanted either Egypt (still considered a no go zone as it’s not in the EU), Cyprus (yeah, no real issues but flights aren’t that frequent) or Spain (I go roughly ever year to Mallorca). I didn’t want to stay in the Netherlands, I need sun, sea and all inclusive, whilst reading at least a book a day. In the end, Spain was the best and easiest choice…

weather-1

The Netherlands classes EU countries by colour and risk: Green (no special security risks), Yellow (caution, security risks), Orange (only necessary travel, serious security risks in this country or region can create dangerous situations for travellers and vacation trips are not “necessary”) and Red (do not travel, very serious safety risks can create a life-threatening situation for travellers). When I booked my trip, Spain was yellow and then a week before I travelled it was categorised as orange. My travel agent panicked and suggested I cancel… I said ‘thanks but no, Im going’ and opted to travel. I was then told that if anything went wrong on my holiday it would be at my ‘own risk’ and I’d be personally financially responsible for any costs/issues. The Netherlands is considered a orange country to our neighbours/other EU countries, so going from one orange country to another didn’t seem like a risk to me. I could also feel the change in my mood and realised that I really needed a break, to get away from work and my stresses.

spain

It’s interesting to think how much everything has changed since Corona, airports are functioning well under capacity, as are airlines. I was surprised when I had less than 30 people on my flights. I wasn’t expecting a popular tourist destination of Spain to have no tourist or people and to be a ghost town of itself. It creates a lot of questions around what the future holds for travel and aviation, tourism, social distancing and the ‘new normal.’ 

holiday

Spain has a rule that you must wear face mask when in public or generally out of your home (something the Dutch refuse to do). They also enforced a new rule of no smoking in public areas (outside of your home) when I arrived, given my anti-smoking stance, this delighted me. I have to say it is odd wearing a mask constantly, not great for make up either but for me its most difficult not being able to see facial gestures. A world without facial gestures is so odd, I think my functioning autism doesn’t help this but so many queues are missed with masks. 

I spent a week in the sun, by the pool, on a sun lounger reading, it was amazing! I got through 11 books in 8 days, I was aiming for 10-14 books, reading target hit! I liked the fact that my books ranged from sci-fi fantasy to psychology to the civil war to the Holocaust. I even had a bit of a personal break through, which was funny, it was a pure  light bulb moment reading the psychology book and I wanted to dance with excitement but instead I just looked around at the other 2 people by the pool and thought, ‘best not interrupt their naps’. This was a break that I really needed. Normally I get bored on holiday and want to spend a day doing something and on this holiday, I wasn’t bored at all, which is amazing for me, given my small attention span. Or as I would say, I missed another opportunity to scuba dive, theres always the next holiday! 

The resort I stayed at had less than 50 guests, which was truly amazing. There were never more than 10 adults at the adult pool and never more than 20 people at the family pool. It was one of the nicest, quietest holidays Ive ever had, which was fantastic, I can’t say it enough but it was also surreal that it was so quiet. It was weird to see what should have been a tourist destination with no tourists and 9 out of 10 stores/bars/restaurants closed. It’s obvious that the majority of businesses are affected and will likely not make it past the year due to a lack income and missing what is the most profitable part of the year. Also with Corona numbers continuing to spike and governments putting in different restrictions, theres no guarantee that tourists will return this year. 

And with all good things, they come to and end. It was an amazing week, that I needed and Im now looking at sunny destinations to visit in October, as I feel like I need more sun and dont want the tan to fade, maybe this time Ill even go scuba diving… Now to self-isolate for 10 days and adapt to my 5am alarm clock again!

 

1 box ticked, 50% done for 2020

Can you believe it’s already half way through 2020? Blink again a few times and it will definitely be Christmas!

Over 3 months in quarantine and now coming out of it (maybe not for the first or last time), whilst it was quarantine for me, it did feel at times as though I was the only one taking it seriously in my neighbourhood/area. I’m certain I didn’t my house for the first 6 to 8 weeks. I have to say it has been interesting. I’ve completed all of my DIY tasks, my DIY skills have definitely improved and now sit somewhere between ok to really good, depending on the day and if I get it first time right. I have a proper she-shed now, I absolutely adore my shed. If I could just get all my tools covered in Hello Kitty, I’d never leave! I completed the cat wall and made bug screens for all of my windows from scratch. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that I’ve completed all of the tasks for the house, I’ve just completed the ones which require power tools (ie, the fun jobs).

window screens

I have to admit that having a garden and shed has provided me a bit of sanity during lockdown. Having the space for fresh air without having to ‘leave’ my house has been fantastic. I had moments where I just went to the garden to gather my thoughts and have a few deep breaths. I thought I was doing really well and was ‘not affected’ until I had two break outs of cold sores (fever blisters) within a month and one of the break outs was the worst Ive ever had. It forced me to realise that I was stressed and not coping as well as I wanted to pretend that I was. I even had a few days of pure exhaustion where I just slept 18 hours straight a few days in a row. Mental health has been incredibly important during the pandemic to staying healthy. I used the lock down time to try new things, reconsider some opinions and surprise friends with my new approach on a few topics, it worked!

Freezer cookies, Im obsessed! The concept is that you make an entire batch of cookie dough and then freeze it. You bake the cookie dough from frozen, so that you always have freshly baked cookies on the fly. It also means that as a single person, when I make a batch of cookies, I no longer need eat all 30 in one go or throw away the majority. As I mentioned, Im obsessed. One of my friends recently told me that her husband misses my baking (awww, sweet!), Ive also been splitting every batch of cookie dough I make and freeze it for them. However, this means that I now have an entire drawer in my freezer that is nothing but freezer cookies! It’s also shows despite doing a good bit of exercise Ive been doing in lock down, how I’m not coming out skinnier…. I’m blaming the cookies!

freezer

Corona has ruined a lot, it cancelled Eurovision (I’m still very upset at this), cancelled my sun holiday and delayed my sky dive. Delayed is the magic word. When I heard lockdown was easing, it was one of the first things I looked into booking. Whilst I had a few friends who initially were keen to join me, in the end, it was just me. Luckily, a friend and I turned it into a girls trip, withs lots of horrific car karaoke and laughing. She watched firmly from the ground as I was thrown 13,000 feet from a plane strapped to the front of a man. I had tried to go sky diving 12 years ago in England and she was there with me but unfortunately, do to bad weather, the jump cancelled, so it does feel as though we’ve come full circle now.  I opted for tandem sky diving, as I really don’t trust myself with my own life, it felt a much safer bet to put my life in someone elses hands! Corona rules did it make it slightly odd, as you have to wear a mask and then a piece of cloth over that, to ensure the mask stays on and then gloves, which are an absolute nightmare to try to keep on when you’re falling from the sky.

sky diving

Two things have been on my list this year to do, sky diving (tick, tick) and Wadlopen (I was able to see the area from my sky dive, which was amazing). I’m now 3/4 of the way to ticking all my boxes! I’m excited, as 5 friends have agreed to join me for Wadlopen and a weekend away in September. I thought it was an excellent idea to make it a group thing, make memories and have tons of fun…. Invites were sent out and then I realised that I never mix my friends (something I’ve very consciously never done), so panic set in that now I’m literally mixing all my friends and people are accepting the invites but dates dont work for them and now I need to host a preweekend evening for everyone to be introduced before the weekend away… What initially felt like a fun idea, has really turned into quite a lot of effort and work on my behalf. I laugh and cringe at the same time when I think about it but it will be fine. I managed to find hotels next to each other for all the rooms, transport is still a bit of an issue but yeah, I’m looking forward to it, almost as much as I’m looking forward to being done with it.

dates copy

Dating and Corona, two things which are completely incompatible and rightly so. I took the lockdown seriously but my experience is that many Dutch people didn’t. One of my friends offered to be my Corona buddy, which I still find funny. My attitude is if we’re not compatible in ‘normal’ times, I think its unlikely we’ll be compatible during a world pandemic locked in a house together. I gave video dating a go, which was unique. I think video dating works quite well for a first date, you know if you have a connection, if you have enough stuff to talk about and most importantly if you’re compatible. Ultimately if you dont have a connection, video chat or face to face, it makes no difference, theres no future.

Over 3 months in lockdown, Ive survived it, so far and am looking forward to coming out of it. Ive achieved a good bit, still have my sense of humour and ticked a few boxes along the way. Im looking forward to creating more memories and having more fun with whatever the rest of the year holds.

3 months in an ‘intelligent lockdown’

I realised over the weekend that it’s been 3 months since lockdown started, any plans for the near future were cancelled and I truly became a home body. The Netherlands opted for a ‘intelligent lockdown’.

What are the rules of an ‘intelligent lockdown’?

  • Everyone is asked to keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres (5ft) from other people and groups of more than three people are banned in public with a possible fine if this is not adhered to
  • People should work at home if they can and stay home as much as possible. 
  • Bars, restaurants, museums, cinemas are closed– essentially anywhere where large groups of people gather or convene
  • All organised events, such as festivals and football matches, have been banned until September 1 at least
  • BUT shops, including non-food, have not been closed, and people are still allowed to go out for a walk and get some fresh air

The idea is to give people freedom to make the ‘intelligent’ choice to stay home and not spread the virus. My experience was that expats took this more seriously than many Dutch. To the extent that on a number of weekends a number of beaches, nature reserves and parks (including the roads to get to them) had to be closed, as too many people were visiting them to allow them to keep the 1.5 metre social distancing rule. 

I chose to take the lockdown seriously and only left my house essential shopping, where I absolutely had to, I dont think I left my house for the first 2 months, thanks to online deliveries.

Whilst I was fortunate enough to remain in work, working from home rather than the office, I have to say that the Dutch government offered an excellent package to those who were unable to work. The amount of what individuals could claim ranged on the business they were in, profession, standard wage, etc. However, the average furloughed employee has been able to claim 90% of their wage.

Lock down has been officially eased in phased stages from the 1st of June, with restaurants, museums, cinemas and childrens schools returning with social distancing and other rules in place. Some businesses have now allowed employees to go back, however, the official stance from the RIVM (National Institute for Health and Environment) is to work from home as much as possible, to avoid spreading the virus.

It’s crazy to think all the plans that have been cancelled and really how life changed completely for everyone around the world. Welcome to the new normal…