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. 

fab4   fab3

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!

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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)

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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 🙂

Cat Wall – DIY project

I started working on the cat wall last year, approximately 9 months ago. Thanks to self isolation and social distancing, I found myself with more time than I know what to do with. Last week, I also had two days of holiday with my destination as the shed(topia), so no excuse not to finish this lingering project.

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I originally had much bigger plans than what it turned out to be, however, the two other walls I was going to use aren’t suitable to have anything of any substance put into them, so it was scaled back to a one wall feature.

So heres what I bought to make this wall possible

  • 2 Bubble Domes for the bubble seats from Amazon
  • 2 Wall mounted cat beds from Zooplus
  • 8 Wall brackets from Ikea – I used Ekby Valter but is no longer available
  • 4 Shelves from Ikea
  • Wood  and screws – I had some left over from the pond enclosure I made last year
  • Primer, paint, paint brushes and clear acrylic spray paint
  • Wallpaper and glue – I used spray glue but if I had to do it again Id use Mod Podge
  • Wall plugs – extra heavy because I have Maine Coons
  • The small scratching post as a step up to the cat wall for the cats

I actually made 4 shelves but I only needed to use 3

Now the step by step tutorial on making a super awesome cat wall, which to date my cats are still not very impressed with.

 

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Wall mounted cat beds:

  1. These automatically come with velcro stapled onto it for the cat bed to attach to it, get your pliers out and remove ALL of the staples, this is tedious and I was hoping my circle would be big enough that they would be cut out but sadly no.
  2. Using the Bubble Dome fence attachment bit (technical term and refer to above picture, top left) mark out the size of the circle, inside circumference of the circle and then saw it out. It was a tight squeeze with the saw at the bits where it mounts to the wall. I did drill a few holes first around the circle to fit the saw blade into.
  3. Sand down your rough edges and they will be rough.
  4. Make sure the bubble fits (top middle pic), I did need to make a few adjustments.
  5. Drill the holes as per the fence attachment, which is how you will attach the doom at a later stage. I made the mistake of doing this after I painted it and had further chipping from the wood, which meant more painting.
  6. I then primed the wood and then painted them the different colours. I knew the cat wall shelves were going against a very white wall and wanted them to visually pop, hence my choice in colours. I also fell in love with the wall paper and then found the paint to match it. I did 2 coats of primer and then 3 coats of the colours.

2Brackets:

  1. Prime them, I did 2 coats
  2. Paint them, I did 3 coats.

 

3Shelves

  1. Because my cats are big, they like to be enclosed, ie not fall out when they roll over.  I realised that I needed to create an enclosed shelf, to stop any injuries. I had wood left over from making a pond enclosure from scratch last year and measured it all out, cut it all down to size – 1 front rail and then 2 side pieces per shelf, sanding down all the wood edges.
  2. I then covered the side shelf rails in wall paper. I used spray glue for ease and convenience.
  3. I screwed the front rail into the shelves, so that you wont see the screw when its covered in wall paper and on the wall.
  4. I then covered the shelves with wall paper. I decided to cover the bottom of the shelf, wrapping the paper over the front and having it finish on the inside of the front shelf. People cant see into the shelves, so no need to cover them and I thought the cats might damage the paper with their claws, so just leave it as is.
  5. I glued the bottom of the self first, attached the paper and then glued the front, edge and back of rail, wrapping the paper over the rail, in 2 steps.
  6. I then screwed the side rails to the main shelf.
  7. I then spray painted them with a clear acrylic for extra shine but also to cover any stickiness left over from the glue. I really dont want the cats to stick to the shelves!

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Creating the cat wall

  1. I measured out my wall to understand what my mid way point was and then measured out the space I wanted between the shelves or vaguely where I wanted the shelves to be – I used a foot between the shelves but given the size of my cats, I could easily gone for 18 inches instead.  To be fair I also did this on paper to see if a visual would help and it did in terms of measurements and knowing the midway point and where I would put all the shelves.
  2. I had a few ideas but I wasn’t really sure how I wanted it on the wall, so rather than making LOTS of holes in the wall, I put it all the floor and measured it out to what it would look like on the wall. I tried a few ideas and sent a few messages to friends for their opinions.
  3. At this point because I was about to drill next to an electrical socket, I did turn off the electric to ensure no accidents!
  4. I then marked on the walls with the shelves where the wall plugs should go (with a level!!) and drilled the holes and inserted the wall plugs. Four hands at this stage would have been incredibly helpful and saved me time but being a single cat lady means I could only use the two that I have and proves that one person can do this project.
  5. Get your level ready and start putting up the shelves. For the domes you will need to remove the dome to get the screws in.

SUCCESS!!! You’ve completed your cat wall, be very very proud of yourself.

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I really enjoyed this project, I wont lie. It absolutely built my confidence around my DIY skills and ultimately whilst my cats aren’t very impressed with the wall, I most certainly am!

Chocolate Espresso Biscotti

I adore coffee, there are few smells that make me as happy as the smell of coffee. I can understand why people have coffee addictions (myself included) and how the aroma truly makes or breaks ones morning. Luckily, I now live in a country that is equally passionate about coffee, good coffee. When I came across this recipe, I knew it was for me. Biscotti is a twice baked Italian cookie, normally Im very American when it comes to cookies, the softer the better. However, I am prepared to sacrifice my soft cookie preference for a good biscotti.

I’ve started sending home baked treats with my colleagues to give to their partners, sharing is caring and honestly I think its cute and very undutch. One of the partners was so impressed with this ‘cookie’, that he emailed me to thank me and sent me the link to the Dutch version of the Bake Off. Whilst I was flattered, I politely declined. Its always nice when individuals appreciate your baking and being entirely honest, I even impressed myself with this baked treat!

Chocolate Espresso Biscotti

Makes: 30ish 1 inch cookies  Prep time: 10 mins  Cook time: 2 X 30 mins  Total time: 80+ mins

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Required Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (256g) plain flour
  • ½ cup (50g) cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 cup (230g) dark chocolate chopped 
  • 1/2 cup (113g) butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate coffee beans (or a chocolate covered coffee bean works) with 30ish reserved to decorate with
  • 1/2 cup (100g) white chocolate

Now how to make these delightful espresso twice baked cookies:

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 F (150C), line two baking sheets with greaseproof/parchment paper.
2. In the bowl of your food processor, combine the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt, baking powder, and 3/4 cup of chopped dark chocolate. Pulse until the chocolate is ground into the flour mixture, set aside.
3. In the bowl, cream the butter and then add in the sugar, mixing until creamed together. Add in the eggs and vanilla, mix until combined.
4. Now stir in the chocolate flour mixture just until combined, use a wooden spoon to ensure that you did not over it. I left quite a bit of flour around the sides, knowing that I still had the chocolate and expresso beans to mix in. Stir in the remaining 3/4 chopped dark chocolate and chocolate espresso beans.
5. On the parchment/greaseproof paper,  divide the dough in half and form two logs, leaving at least a 4 inch gap, be warned, they will spread whilst baking! Shape your logs so that they are smooth, even and vaguely the same shape/size.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, the logs should be firm but not hard. Allow them to cool for at least 15/25 minutes before moving them to a wire rack. I was overly keen and managed to crack mine in half in trying to move it too soon. I left mine to cool for about an hour, as the crack put me off.
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7. On a cutting board using a serrated knife, cut slices of ½-1 inches (if the slices are overly crumbly, allow the loaf cool a little longer, they will be somewhat crumby). Lay the the slices back on the parchment/greaseproof paper and bake for 30 minutes until the surface of the cookies is dry ( though the chocolate and chocolate espresso beans will be melty).

8. Melt your white chocolate (I was being lazy and opted for the microwave at 30 second blasts until melted) and using a piping bag or freezer bag with the corner cut off, drizzle the white chocolate over your cookies. I then decorated them with chocolate espresso beans I put to the side.
9. Allow the chocolate to ‘harden’ and store in an airtight container.

 

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

 

Zucchini Bread

Is it a zucchini or a courgette? Its both, in America, its zucchini, in the rest of the world, its a courgette. No matter what you call it, you’ve probably eatten it as a vegetable in a savoury way. I enjoy challenging the pallet and the mind and baking sweet things with zucchini, from breads to brownies. I thought I’d pass the idea by my Dutch colleagues, of ‘what do you think of zucchini bread?’, I then explained it was sweet with a lot of cinnamon. They thought it was a weird idea but that they were willing to sacrifice themselves as my ‘proefkonijns’ (guinea pigs). Luckily everyone has pleasantly surprised, despite pulling faces that suggested they really didn’t want to try it, (un)fortunately I refuse to leave my colleagues desks until they have taken a piece. I’m never really bothered by if they like what I make or not but I insist that they try it. 

I searched various different recipes and came across different ideas that I was able to combine into one. This is a combination of best zucchini bread with a crumb topping.

Zucchini Bread

Makes: 2 loaves  Prep time: 20 mins Bake time: 45-60 mins Total time: 65+ mins

Ingredients:

For the bread:

  • Butter and flour for preparing baking pans
  • 3 cups (384g) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3½ cups (500g) grated zucchini, with the excess liquid removed
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup (127g) apple sauce (I used pear butter or you could also use apple butter)
  • ½ cup (118ml) vegetable oil
  • 2¼ cups (450g) granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (125g) chopped pecans

For the crumb topping:

  • 1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (20g) old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, melted

Now to make this deliciously sweet bread

1. Grate your zucchini (I used my food processor or rather I realised that my food processor had an attachment, got really excited and then used it) and then using a muslin/cheese cloth or similar cloth and remove/squeeze the excess liquid from the zucchini. Set aside.

2. Make the crumb topping: With a fork, mix the flour, brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Stir in the melted butter. Don’t over-mix; you want crumbles that are flour-y! Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Butter and flour two loaf pan or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

3. Make the cake: In a large bowl beat the eggs. One the eggs are completely beat, add in the applesauce/pear butter, oil, sugar and vanilla extract.

4. Sift in the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir gently to combine. Gently stir in shredded zucchini and nuts into the batter with a spatula or wooden spoon.

5. Pour half of the batter into each prepared pan. Top each loaf with the crumble topping. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out cleanly. If you find that the crumble is burning or looks like its going to burn, cover the loaf pan with aluminium foil.

6. Allow to slightly cool in the pan and remove for cooling on a wire rack. It should be consumed within 3 days.

 

I forgot how much I enjoyed making this recipe years ago and then was reminded that it has autumn flavours in it. Lets be honest, summer is coming to an end and winter is most certainly the way, this is kind of a sweet reminder of whats to come. Sadly my crumble came out drier than I would have liked (I went a bit off piste from the recipe and regretted it before I set the bowl side) but it was still nice and gave the bread a sweet bite.

I absolutely loved that my colleagues kept telling me that every though they could see the green from the zucchini, they couldn’t taste it. Much like pumpkin, zucchini tastes of whatever you season/flavour it with. A few colleagues even took pieces home for their partners to try it. I think it’s funny/great how many husbands I’m now giving Monday treats to!

Remember to share with your friends, family and colleagues 🙂 

Breakfast muffins

I love a muffin! Sweet or savoury, they are filling and can be either a meal or a snack. Muffins aren’t really done here in the Netherlands. You see them occasionally and if you see them, its like super standard (boring) flavours, blueberry or chocolate.

I was thinking of what I could take in to my colleagues that would be filling and healthy, well as healthy as I make anything. I was thinking maybe a carrot cake in a muffin or something similar and came across a recipe for Morning Glory Muffins, naturally I’ve taken it, adjusted it and changed it. Heres my creation, Breakfast Muffins, approved by my Dutch colleagues, who now look forward to Mondays or as they now call it ‘cake day’. I have created Monday monsters, if I fail to bring something in on a Monday, I get looks and ‘What? No cake?!’. I don’t mind but I feel like it goes to show how much I’ve changed my office but I am truly grateful that I am no longer asked if it’s my birthday.

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Breakfast Muffins

Makes: 12 large muffins   Prep time: 30 mins Bake time: 25 mins per batch Total time: 80ish mins

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (75g) raisins
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) orange juice
  • 2 cups (260g) plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup (35g) ground flax (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (64g)  chopped pecans
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (85g) honey
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 1/3 cup (60g) pear butter or applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (260g) shredded carrots (about 4 large)
  • 1 cup (140g) grated apple (I did 2 apples)

Now to make these delicious muffins:

1. In a saucepan, combine the raisins and orange juice and bring to the boil and allow to boil until the liquid has evaporated, this will take 3-5 minutes. Set to the side.

2. Whilst your raisins are plumping up, grate your apples and carrots. I wont lie, this is time consuming and the least exciting part of making this recipe. If I had been clever I would have used the grating attachment on my food processor, needless to say I didn’t even consider this option.

3. Preheat your oven to 425°F (218°C) and line a 12-count muffin pan with cupcake liners.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Add in the brown sugar, honey, oil, pear butter/applesauce and vanilla together until combined.

5. To the wet mixture add in the dry ingredients, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, flax, and pecans together until just combined. Now add in the raisins, carrots, and apple. Fold everything together gently just until combined and no visible flour remain.

6. Spoon the batter into liners, filling them 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F  (225°C), keeping the muffins in the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (177°C). Bake for an additional 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The total time these muffins take in the oven is about 25 minutes. Allow the muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool until ready to eat.

I doubled the recipe and made 24 delicious cupcakes.

Notes: I used my pear butter because I have it and it added loads of amazing flavour, you can use applesauce but I seriously recommend pear butter for something a bit special.

I hope you enjoy these as much as much as my colleagues did!

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

 

Dutch Apple Pie

I originally took this recipe from Dutch Cooking Today and then naturally changed and adapted it into a recipe that works for me. I was gifted this cook book roughly 10 years ago by my Dutch friend and whilst there are some great recipes in it, there are also some that I will never make – ie super picky eater.

Sundays for me are for baking, taking paracetamol and procrastinating. Sundays are the day where I remember that Monday is on the horizon, its time to be an adult and prepare for alarm clock and corporate world that will greet me in less than 16 hours. I normally start the day with baking, allowing myself a few hours in the morning to wake up, take it slow and realise my long list of things I need to do (but most likely won’t).

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As you know, I like to take something baked goods in on Mondays to start the week off on a literal sweet note. Each week I like to bake something new for my colleagues, never repeating recipes where possible. I had a request for apple pie and I did what I do best. I told my colleague ‘no’ in a inappropriate way, even using a hand gesture (he wouldnt recognise me any other way and it goes without saying that Im as sassy in the office as I am outside of the office) and clearly stated that I dont take orders. I then came home and decided to surprise him and make his request. Why being boring when I can be entertaining and surprising instead? I had this super awkward moment at work, I took these pies in to work, colleagues ate them, said how good they were and then proceeded to give me a standing applause. Yeah, just a thank you would have worked and been far less embarrassing. HOWEVER, if I am able to impress my Dutch colleagues with my version of Dutch apple pie, then I feel like Im onto a serious winner! Ive been making this pie for years and its now officially gotten a standing ovation from real Dutchies this week.

I decided to make individual pies rather than a large pie, convenience, easy to eat and easier to take in to work. I doubled the below recipe to make 24 mini pies – yes, I had a LOT of happy colleagues.

Dutch Apple Pie

Makes: 1 large pie or 12 individual pies   Prep time: 20 mins Bake time: 45 mins Total time: 65 mins

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup (100g) raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups (350ml) orange juice
  • 2 cups (300g) plain flour
  • 1/2 cup (100g) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup butter (chilled)
  • 2lbs (1kg) firm apples
  • 1 tablepsoon custard powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon all spice

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Now to make this Dutch approved apple pie

1. In a saucepan, combine the raisins and orange juice and bring to the boil and allow to boil until the liquid has evaporated, this will take 3-5 minutes. Set to the side.

2. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugars and a pinch of salt. Cut in the butter, in chunks and using a pastry knife (or two knives), cut in the butter until it resembles course bread crumbs, add in the all spice and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and then knead until a firm ball is formed. Alternatively use a food processor (sadly mine was out of action and I did it all by hand which took 5-10 mins).

3. Grease a large 10in pan or a muffin pan with butter. Press the dough 2/3 up your pan.  You should have approximately 1/4 of your dough left. Refrigerate the pan and remaining dough.

4. Preheat the oven to 375F/175C.

5. Peel, core and slice the apples. For mini pies I chopped up the applies so they would cook more quickly. Put them in a bowl and combine with the raisins, custard powder, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

6. Take your pan out of the refrigerator and arrange the apple filling over the dough. I tend to just throw it in and then flatten it with my hand. Try to push any raisins down, as they can burn. Take the remaining dough and crumble it over the top, alternatively you can roll it out and create strips over the top of the pies.

7. Bake for 45 minutes (for individual pies 30 minutes) or until golden brown. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and allow to cool on a wire rack for mini pies. For mini apple pies, run a knife around the edge of the pan to aid removal from the pan. Keep refrigerated and consume within 3 days.

 

This pie is equally tasty no matter in its large or in a mini version. This is a great recipe if you want to impress friends, treat yourself, or add something special to brunch.

*Note for those who are unable to get Birds Custard Powder, use Jell-O French Vanilla Instant Pudding Mix instead and add in 2 tablespoons of the powdered mix.

Remember to share with friends (or colleagues) and enjoy! 🙂