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.
  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 press the grapes against the sieve. This can be messy (I might have slightly covered 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!

Banana Bread

I really love cookbooks, I have two types, the first being the cookbooks that seemed like a good idea at the time to buy but when Im looking for inspiration I never find anything I want to make but they look pretty. The second type is the cook book that I go back to over and over and over again.

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I have one recipe thats absolutely covered in butter, pureed things, possibly egg and everything else in between thats called for in the recipe, which shows how much I adore this recipe and cook book. This is my go to banana bread recipe, which have proven a hit time and again. In the UK its called banana cake, cake it is not but in the US and to me it will always be banana bread. I made it this weekend for my colleagues and all 16 pieces went ridiculously quickly and I didn’t even get a piece! You could even say they went bananas for it (pun completely intended). Several colleagues have now asked for the recipe or rather my version of the recipe, Im really great at taking a base recipe and changing it to suit my taste.

This cake tastes better if you let it sit for 2-3 days, as the flavour develops. It will be very hard to resist temptation, so go on and have a piece but honestly you will be able to taste the difference over the days.

Banana Bread

Makes: 16 small to medium portions   Prep time: 10 mins Bake time: 45-60 mins Total time: 70 mins tops

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup (150g) margarine or butter (butter is always better!)
  • 4 teaspoons buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2-4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavouring
  • 1 cup mashed over ripe bananas (which is 3 medium sized bananas and you REALLY want them over ripe)
  • 1 1/2 C (192g) self raising flour

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Now to make this truly amazingly yummy bread

  1. Preheat the over to 350F/180C, grease with butter or line a pan with greaseproof paper. (I used a 10in square silicone pan)
  2. Mash your bananas, I always start off with a fork and then move to a food mixer. Having overly ripe bananas makes this much easier to do with a fork. Once your banana is mashed, add in the cinnamon. Set aside. As you can see from my ingredients photo, I had 2 super ripe bananas but I was short a banana and used a not so ripe one to make up the ingredients.

3. Combine the eggs and margarine and mix until combined. Add in the sugars and bananas (I then added in more cinnamon).

4. Add in half your flour and baking soda, mix until just combined, then add in the buttermilk and mix. Add in the remaining flour until just combined.

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5. Bake in a greased/lined pan for up to 1 hour, check it with a toothpick that comes out clean. I made a large banana bread for the office and then a small one for a friend who has never had it before (2 birds, 1 stone). The large bread took 45 mins and the small one like 20 mins.

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6. Allow to cool on a wire rack and store in a air tight container for up to 5 days. Seriously remember to allow the bread to sit for a few days for the flavour to develop, its so worth it!

 

Edits: You can add nuts to this, I would go with pecans personally but walnuts also work (I just find them bitter). If you do not have buttermilk, you can make your own, use 3 teaspoons of milk and add in 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

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

DIY Lantern Light

I have a slight obsession with lights and lamps but not your traditional kind. I’m quirky in every sense of the word and every aspect of my life. In the last 8 months I’ve taken to making my own lamps, where possible. It helps that Im quite creative and can envision what I want to make. In reality, it’s rarely as straightforward or easy (Pinterest fail) as I thought it would be but this adds to the ‘fun’ of making each item (and to my vocabulary of swear words).

I love fairy lights (or as the American in me says ‘Christmas lights’ because Christmas is awesome any time of year!), so combining the two makes me very happy.  What I don’t like is sad looking lamps/lanterns with about 10 fairy lights, that have no functionality or give off any actual light. Google image search ‘fairy light lanterns’ and you get matches to what I’m referring to. I’ve envision this light for about a year, which means that my expectations were wildly more exciting and fantastic than the lantern could ever turn out to be but it was also awesome to think through the aspects and to see items and how I could use them.

What you’ll need for your light house lamps

  • Wooden lantern with extended centre roof
  • Fairy lights
  • Pipe – the height of the lamp
  • 6 screws
  • Power Drill
  • Drill bit

I found my lamps at Lidls (however, they are widely available at lots of stores), they had 2 versions available and I went for the white version, as my living room is white and the windowsill the lamp is going in is white. Naturally I bought two, because why have one of anything when you can have two and they are going in a massive window. The extended roof is also really important when making this project, as the pipe will sit within it, giving it stability to ensure that it doesn’t fall over.IMG-20171003-WA0000

The first step is taking your pipe and putting your screws in. Use your power drill and drill bit to put holes into the pipe, I made 6 holes on 3 levels, alternating each side. This makes it easier when you are wrapping your fairy lights around the pipe. Measure out the top of the roof and then put the screw below this (naturally I didn’t do this bit and then wondered why my pipe wouldn’t fit in). I think I bought plumbing pipe. I’m a total girl when it comes to DIY shops, I walk around and think of ways of using things without any knowledge or idea of what it’s actually for or how it should properly be used. 20171006_173746

This was take two, after I realised that I hadn’t measured for the metal roof and had to redo the highest screws. It does show the importance of having the raised roof in the middle and how it acts to stabilise the pipe to stop it from falling over. 20171006_174035

Next step is to wrap your fairy lights around the pipe. I believe I used 125 lights on each pipe. The screws at the top help to hold the lights at the top of the pipe and make it easier to fit on the overall length of the pipe. 20171006_174412

Once the pipe is entirely wrapped, place it within your lantern and you’re almost done! Shut the door, plug it in and see the end result. 20171006_174511

This is what it looks like finished, admittedly the left picture was in the day light literally after I had finished it and doesn’t look very exciting at all. Right hand picture was in the evening in the dark and what a difference!

This is both of my lamps in the evening in the window that they were always destined for. I also put light switches on them to make them easier to turn on and off but not necessary to have. I’m pleased that they came out as an actual lantern giving off actual light, it’s the small things in life.20171017_205403

I think overall the project took me less than an hour and that was even with a few mistakes along the way with the overall cost being around €40ish, €20 for the lanterns, €15 for the LED fairy lights and around €5 for the pipe and light switches.

Shower Steamers – fighting congestion in the shower

My shower is my haven. It’s a small cubicle (apparently large by Dutch standards) that seems to have magical powers that allow me my finest and best thinking. Sadly, it seems to be that time of year where the flu, colds, and stuffy heads are common on these long cold dark days. When I’m ill, all I want is to be able to breathe without having to think how its done, utilising the steam from the shower as a lifeline to being able to think and breathe again.

I’ve come up with these super awesome shower steamers that fizzle away in your shower, using aroma therapy to clear your head and sinuses, allowing me to have my  shower back! I have to say that I’m quite impressed with the outcome and even now put them in the shower when Im not feeling stuffy, I’m not sure if this makes me a shower steamer addict or not? I’ve given them out and had positive feedback, so I’d call these a win and a delight for your otherwise stuffy senses. As long as they are not placed directly under water, they should last 5-8 minutes each.

Shower Steamers

Makes: Approximately 50-60 small cubes  Prep time: 10 mins  Making time: 10 mins Setting time: 5-8 hours (best over night)  Total time: 5 hours 20 mins minimum

  • 1 cup Baking soda
  • 1/2 cup Citric Acid
  • 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol (I probably use more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Eucalyptus essential oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Peppermint Essential Oil
  • 1 teaspoon menthol crystals that have been dissolved in 2-3 teaspoons of rubbing alcohol (not to be left out, these are the MAGIC ingredient that makes these so good)
  • Mica- color of your choice (optional)

 

  • Mini ice cube tray – I bought mine on Wish
  • A seperate small cup disposable cup for your menthol crystals (seriously the crystals will continue to grow and its best to have something you can throw away or purposely dedicate just to THIS project)

Please note for the pictures, I did double the recipe, hence why I have so much in the pictures!

For safety purposes you should also have: dust mask and gloves

1. Take your teaspoon of menthol crystals and dissolve them in 2-3 teaspoons of rubbing alcohol. They wont just dissolve on their own, you will need to stir them, it will take a few minutes. I tend to give them a bit of a crush before I mix them in the alcohol, I assume I’m making my life easier by doing this. I use a toothpick or straw to stir. As the menthol WILL form crystals on whatever you are using to stir it with, make sure that you have no commitment to said item and its disposable, (menthol crystals are NOT water soluble, so simply crushing them up and adding them to this mixture will not work or give you the desired results).20180111_121252

2. Put on your mask and gloves. In a bowl, combine your citric acid, baking soda and mica (if using), breaking any lumps. Give it a good mix with your hand.

3. Add in your essential oils, mix throughly, you’ll notice the texture of the mixture change slightly but a small sniff into how nice your shower will smell. Add in your crystal menthol mixture and mix thoroughly.

4. At this point your mixture is either ready to use or isn’t. If you are able to get it to form in your hand when you squeeze it, you’re on to a winner. If it doesn’t hold it form when you squeeze it (left picture), then add in the rest of your rubbing alcohol, mix again and it should now hold its form when you squeeze it (right picture).

5. Now to put the shower steam mixture in your moulds. Try for the middle of the mould and work your way out. Ensure to press your mixture into each individual mould, you want it to be packed in and solid, I use my thumb to press in the mixture in EACH individual mould.

 

6. Leave them to dry, honestly I think over night is best. If you’re in a rush or made them in the morning, give them at least 5-6 hours to set. As it is alcohol which was used to combine them, it will evaporate on its own over time.

7. Once dry, turn out and ideally place them in a air tight box/container. I made gifts out of mine and put them in clear bags (10 per bag) and jars (25ish per jar), with the following instructions:

TO USE: Place 1-3 steamers on the floor of your shower, where it will get wet but not directly under the water. Let the aromas clear your sinuses/congestion as you breathe in deeply. Store in an airtight container. Humidity will cause them to break down. Use within 1 month for best scent and results. WARNINGS: Not to be used in the bath as a bath bomb or to have direct contact with skin. Keep out of reach of children.

Notes: These are not bath bombs and should not be treated as such, whilst the ingredients are similar, I wouldn’t recommend or tell anyone to use them in the bath, if you want a bath bomb, make/buy a bath bomb, if you want a shower steamer, then THIS is the recipe for you!

Other shower steamers/melts/fizzy/bomb use water in it, why doesn’t this recipe? This is a conscious choice that I have made NOT to use water. Water, no matter how much, reacts with the citric acid causing it to fizz and puff instantly, adding too much water can RUIN any steamers/melts/fizzy/bomb recipe, which is something that I have done MORE than once.

 

Remember to save some for yourself and share with friends! 🙂

DIY fruity Strawberry lip balm

A all natural tinted yummy lip balm.

I know Ive previously done two other lip balms but this weekend I had lip balm on my mind. I wanted something different and yummy, something that will leave you wanting to lick your lips whilst nourishing them at the same time. Ive come up with a fruity strawberry lip balm using freeze dried strawberries (NEVER use fresh/frozen). After seeing the sites of Amsterdam, I came home and made these at 11pm, thats just how Rock ‘N Roll I am!

The hardest part of this easy to follow tutorial is cleaning out the coffee grinder to remove all the pink dust! (you’ve been warned)  You can use any freeze dried fruit for this recipe if you’re feeling adventurous, I bought it at my local grocery story but you can can buy it online or at local health-food store.

DIY Strawberry Lip Balm

Makes: 7 lip balms Making time: 30 mins  Dry time: 24 hours minimum Overall time: 25 hours

  • 1 tablespoon (14g) grated beeswax or beeswax pellets – I used yellow beeswax because its what I had
  • 1 tablespoon (14g) shea butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet almond oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon castor oil
  • 5g Mango butter (I used a small piece from the pot)
  • 1 tsp ground freeze dried strawberries
  • 5 drops Vanilla essential oil (optional and honestly I cant tell that it makes any difference at all)

Now to make these nourishing balms

1.  Over  a ban marie or double boiler (or cheat like I do and use a milk jug in a pan with water) add the beeswax, shea butter, almond oil, castor oil and mango butter in a small heat proof bowl. Bring the water to the boil and then allow to simmer, until the mixture is just melted. You can stir the mixture but you dont need to stir it constantly.

2. Whilst your oils and butter are melting together, get your lip balm containers ready. I find it easy to put five (5) together and wrap a rubber band (loom bands work perfectly) around them, this stops them falling over when filling them. I also like to put them in a small plastic container, so that if there is any spillage, its contained. I find it easier to use my Pyrex jug making lip balm, as the spout on the jug allows for easy pouring.

3. Grind down your strawberries. (Remember you cannot use fresh/frozen strawberries, they must be freeze dried) I used a coffee grinder but a pestle and mortar also works. My coffee grinder is specifically for my hobbies but cleaning it after the strawberries was quite the mess – be sure to scrape it all out! As you can see, the strawberries didn’t entirely grind down, so you will need a small sieve for the next step.

4. Once the lip balm mixture has fully melted, turn off heat and take container out of the pan. Put your small sieve over the container and pour in the ground strawberries and sieve them, discarding any left over chunks you may have. Give it stir. Allow your mixture to slightly cool, now add in the vanilla essential oil if using.  If it you let it sit, you will notice it starts to seperate, STIR IT.

5. Pour the mixture into the lip balm tubes and allow to cool completely. Between Do NOT pour all of the mixture into the tubes (leave 1-2 teaspoons spare). As your mixture cools, A (small) depression will form in the center, use the spare balm that you didn’t use to fill this in, leaving a even finish. Simply reheat the leftover balm and top up the tubes. Allow your lip balms to set over night.

Technically now you are done with your lip balm, HORRAY.  Like last time, I decided to take it a step further and created the labels for the tubes. I have glossy adhesive sheets, which were perfect for this! Be sure to clean the outside of your tubes before applying the labels! You will have drips and this will affect the adhesion!

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These are my finished all natural tinted yummy strawberry lip balm.

Remember to share with friends! 🙂

DIY Pimp your KitchenAid Mixer with Hello Kitty tutorial

Even though I am now WELL into my thirties, I still secretly (or not so secretly) love Hello Kitty.  Being a crazy cat lady has a little bit to do with it but I grew up with Hello Kitty and to be fair, she has had very few scandals, making her a rather wholesome character.

For Christmas, I was gifted with a KitchenAid Artisan 4.8L Stand Mixer <insert girly ear drum shattering screaming here>! This is very exciting because Ive been eyeing up KitchenAids for YEARS (and almost bought one for myself at Thanksgiving) but now I have a conundrum, I dont like using new things because it means they are no longer new. (Yes, I know Im proper whop whop crazy with this thinking!) Someone suggested that I get decals to personalise it because you can personalise/pimp anything these days.  Ebay and Etsy seem to be a proper destination for such decals and vinyl stickers. I knew I wanted Hello Kitty and couldn’t find anything that that fit what I wanted, I found a lot of things that I liked but nothing to specific to Hello Kitty.  I realised after my years of shopping experience and various decals Ive made for other things, I could do this! The total cost was £22.25 and potentially I could have even gotten it cheaper but I went with the first people that I saw would post to the NLs ( as getting post is HORRIFIC here).

Heres what you need to PIMP your KitchenAid Artisan Mixer

  • Hello Kitty Sticker Bomb Sheet 50X50cm (really all you need is 8.5in X 7 in), I bought mine from Buxton Sticker Shop at £7.95 (plus £7.21 shipping to the NLs)
  • 2 Hello Kitty Car Mirror Stickers in red, I bought these from Ebay at £1.90 (plus shipping at £1.10)
  • 2 Hello Kitty Car Door Handle Stickers, I bought these from Ebay at £2.99 (plus shipping at £1.10)

Now to pimp your KitchenAid out!

I started with my car mirror stickers, I measured 1 inch from the bottom of the base and placed the sticker in line with the edge of the top of the KitchenAid. I did have to make a few small cuts on the edge for it to sit flatly against the mixer.

I next added on the door handle stickers, I decided to put this on the back base and on the front mid section (yes this will be covered with the bowl).

First lesson learnt….. Take a tape measure (ideally for clothes, as it will bend around the KitchenAid) and measure the top of your KitchenAid. I measured out 8.5 inches(22cm)  in width and then 11 inches (28 cm) in length, I decided I wanted to ideally cover the entire top of KitchenAid. Let me assure you that this did not work out, at all. There was LOTs of swearing, cutting, overlapping and lying to myself that it could work over the compound curve…. Save yourself the trouble and stop short of the curve!

It looked lovely almost covered to the front from a distance, a very long distance. Up close the compound curve means you can see the lines, air bubbles, and rips, argh! So I decided to cut it back and it still looked, well, AWFUL. So I ripped it all off, took a break and then remeasured.

The accurate measurements for this model are Width – 8.5 in(22cm) by 7 in(18cm) in length.

I realised that I had a slight gap either side of the sticker once I covered cover the top (Ive never been able to cut straight, even with a ruler), I cut a further small piece and then sliced it down the middle and put it over the gap.

This is the overall finished KitchenAid with my Hello Kitty design. I wont lie, this was a project of patience, which I often seem to be short on. I went through quite a lot of the hello kitty bomb sticker do to miscalculations and  mismeasurements. In total it took approximately 90 mins but I think you could do it in 30 if you were quick and used the right measurements. Honestly, Im really quite pleased with it. Still unsure as to when I’ll actually use it but at least its out of the box and decorated to my delight.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

A few years ago I had an idea to make cupcakes and to make them awesome, so I came up with the following idea:  Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes. A traditionally British desert with a twist and well cupcakes are trendy and everyone loves them, right? I went to several sites and couldn’t find anything to fit what I wanted exactly, so I took a jumble of things and made my own. I’ve really impressed myself with this recipe. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have!

Let me also warn you in advance that this recipe does take time and is a bit fiddly but completely worth it! This recipe makes 12 cupcakes but you will wish you had made more!

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes 

Makes: 12 medium-large cupcakes   Prep time: 45 mins Make time: 5 mins  Bake time: 22-25 mins Total time: 75 mins

Required Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (150g) Dates pitted, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (115ml) Water boiling
  • 1 Tbsp Treacle/runny Molasses
  • 2/3 cup (150g) Unsalted Butter
  • 3/4 cup (150g) Light Brown Sugar – packed
  •  1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Medium Eggs
  • 1 1/4cup (150g) Plain Flour
  • 2 teapsoons Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon (optional but life is better with cinnamon)

Frosting:

  • 2/3cups (150g) Unsalted Butter softened
  • 2.5 cups (250g) Icing Sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Now to make these magical cupcakes that will leave you wanting more:

1. Put your chopped dates in a food processor and whizzed them down a bit more, to get the finely chopped element.  You dont have to do this but I just didn’t like the idea of big chunks of dates in my cupcakes.  I was going for the idea of amazing flavour without people chewing on the dates going, ‘whats that?’. I have also taken out this step and whilst the dates weren’t ‘crunchy’ they were more visible in the cupcake.

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2. In a sauce pan add the finely chopped dates and 1/2C boiling water , allow to boil for 5 minutes. Stir as needed. You will notice the mixture becoming more pulp like and the water evaporating, which is a good sign!  Remove from the heat.

3.  Remove from the heat, add 1 Tsp of Baking Soda to the mixture, as you can see it will grow in size quite like honeycomb and thats fine, you want that, continue to stir.  Effectively the chemicals are reacting with each other and its breaking down the dates further.  Stir in 1 TbspTreacle/runny Molasses.   Now set this to the side to cool to room temperature or there abouts, leave for approximately 20 minutes.  Its important to remember that you dont want to add anything hot to what will be your cake mixture, as it will melt your butter and scramble your eggs.

4. After 20 minutes preheat the oven to 190°C/350F.  Get out your cupcake pan and line with your chosen liners or you can grease and flour the moulds.

5. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter(2/3 cup) until fluffy, mix in the brown sugar(3/4 cup packed) until creamy in texture. Stir in Vanilla Extract(1tsp).

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6. Stir in the cold date mixture to the butter mixture.  I wont lie, the date mixture is not sexy in look at all and is almost off putting, ignore that for the moment!

With each step, please remember to scrap down the bowl!!!

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7. Whisk in the eggs(2).  Normally recipes say to whisk in one at a time but Im lazy, throw them all in at the same time, ultimately it makes no difference and as long as you ensure they are thoroughly incorporated, no problems (famous last words, Im sure!). (I did increase this recipe, hence 3 eggs in the picture)

8. Measure out all your dry ingredients, 1 1/4 c plain flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp baking soda.  The cinnamon is optional in reality but Im a cinnamon whore and basically put it in everything! To me its a small thing that adds a nice compliment.  You can sift this all in but again, I took the lazy persons approach and just chucked it in.  HOWEVER, at this stage you do NOT want to over mix.  I stirred in the flour mixture with my spatula until just combined.

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9.  You’ve now completed your cake mixture, well done! Youre more than half way there to eating these amazing cupcakes! I use a large ice cream scoop to put the mixture in my cupcake cases, I find that you get more even amounts in every case. If you dont have a ice cream scoop, fill 1/2 – 3/4 full.  However, this is a thick mixture, so take a spoon and smooth the tops over.

10. Bake in the oven for 22-25 minutes until risen and just firm to the touch.

Whilst your cupcakes are baking, make your frosting or you can wait whist they are out and cooling, ultimately you only want to frost the cupcakes once they are cool.

11. Place the butter(2/3c) in a bowl and beat!!!  The secret to an AWESOME buttercream is how long you beat it for.  I would say beat it for a minimum of 7-10 mins.  Stop every minute or so and scrape the bowl down.  I like to think that you’re beat the butter into submission. I have to say that this one of the areas where having a stand mixer literally makes all the difference.  You can do this with a hand mixer but you will need a lot of patience.

12.  Add in the vanilla (1tsp), allow to mix for another minute.

13. Just from adding the flavouring, you will notice a different consistency.  Slowly start to add in the icing sugar (2.5c).  Technically you should sift this in, again, Im lazy and chuck it in.  (if you’re using a hand mixer, you will need to sift it)  Add 1/4 of the icing sugar and taste. Is it enough, is it not enough? Add more to your taste.  Because the cupcake itself isn’t very sweet, having an overly sweet frosting is nice and works.  If you do find that your frosting is too thick, simply add in a teaspoon of milk at a time until it gets to your desired consistency.

cake 14

Finished product!  Its amazing!!! Within your tasters you will notice how truly light and fluffy it is.  You’ll fall in love more with the frosting than the cake (just about).

Transfer your cupcakes to a wire rack to cool. Wrap and store for 24 hours to allow the flavour and texture to develop.  This is a very nice idea, in reality I could only wait long enough for them to cool and then frost and promptly scoff.  Waiting a day does give a better flavour, I wont lie but you’re a much better person than I am if you can wait that long! 20171224_1517071.jpg

14. Once your cupcakes are completely cool, frost them anyway you like. Because I love cinnamon, I also sprinkled cinnamon over the top for sheer amazingness.

 

Notes: to make the icing extra special and kick it up a notice, make it a salted caramel frosting by leaving out the vanilla and adding 2 Tsp Caramel Flavouring and 1/2 Tsp Rock Salt sprinkled on top of the cupcakes. –

 

Remember to share with friends and enjoy! 🙂 

DIY Gift: Hot Chocolate on a Spoon

Does being a hostess mean I have the mostess? Since starting my social group for expats, I seem to be hosting far more gatherings and events than I ever have, from parent and baby groups to ladies who chat over coffee and adult evenings where chat is had over a lot of beer. Having a sense of humour and being able to laugh at my own awkwardness helps a lot, I host parent and baby groups and yet have no children. The other parents naturally ask, ‘Do you have children?’, I awkwardly smile and say ‘No, I’m a crazy cat lady, just cats for me.’ I do get a lot of strange looks but they seem to be grateful the meet up has been arranged, so I get a pass, even if it is a slightly awkward one.

I recently hosted an expat event, it was equally horrifying and exciting. I decided that pizza and beer would be a great theme, its casual and yet combines two things adults love. I would make the pizza and the people would bring the beer (the irony here is that *I* dont actually drink beer). Then I secretly prayed that I wouldn’t have any gluten-free attendees. The pressure one person can put on themselves to host an event is incredible! I decided it wasn’t enough to open up my home (spending a day in advance cleaning it to be pretend like Im some sort of organised and tidy adult), to buy all the ingredients and make the pizzas from scratch, along with brownies and snacks, no no, I also needed to give a thank you gift to the attendees who came. Yes, Im sure its party planning rule 101 – one must give a gift of thanks for those who take the time to attend. Right! Great, now I need gifts, what gift do I give? Homemade gifts are the best gifts to give, it shows you’ve taken the time and initiative to make something, because clearly everything you’ve done above simply isn’t enough. 🙂 I thought, its practically winter, cold, rainy and what is something I can play on with that, and then like any good idea a light bulb went off, HOT CHOCOLATE!!! As I shouted ‘giddy up’ and fist pumped in the air, I started to make the list of things to buy to make these gifts.

Ive previously made hot chocolate on a spoon (normally I give it to close friends at Christmas with their gifts) and have learnt what I like and what preferences people seem to like. Hot chocolate on a stick is VERY popular, its all over Pinterest and other internet locations. However, Im not a fan of sticks, I think of sticks and have visions of dogs running across a field with a large dirty muddy dribble soaked stick in its mouth. Oh hell no! Im equally awkward when I go into coffee chains and they only have the little wooden stirrers and I think ‘surely be an adult means Im capable of using an actual spoon!?”, I know, environmentally friendly, rah rah rah blah blah blah, just give me a spoon! I also find the texture of a stirrer weird on my tongue but we wont get into that.

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Makes: 15 shot sized glasses   Prep time: 15 mins  Cook time: 20 mins   Mixing and Filling time: 15 mins Total time: 50 mins

What you need to make these really great drinkable treats:

  • 9 oz. milk chocolate (not chips)  – I used 3 x100 gram bars
  • 7 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (not chips) – I used 2 x 100 gram bars
  • 1/2 c (59g) cocoa powder
  • 1 c (115g) powdered sugar/icing sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoons salt
  • 2 (10g) teaspoons ground cinnamon (or go wild and use pumpkin pie spice!)
  • 15 large marshmallows or 150 mini marshmallows
  • 7 mini candy canes (optional) – I put a mini candy cane in every other hot chocolate made, some people dont like them, so lets not force them to eat it.

Supplies

  • Plastic spoons
  • Plastic shot glasses (approx. 15) – you can use glass shot glasses ( you can use them to mould the mixture or you can give them away as part of the gift.
  • Cellophane to wrap each gift
  • Ribbon to wrap around each gift and to attach the label with

*Please note that I doubled the recipe for the pics below as I knew I wanted to make a lot and I couldn’t find shot glasses but I found double shot glasses instead, sure lets do that!

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Now to make these awesome drinkable treats:

1.  Chop chocolate into small pieces (or you can grate it if you really fancy it) and combine in a glass bowl. You can either microwave in 30 second bursts on 50% power, stirring between each burst, or you can use a double boiler (as I did) and allow it to melt over slowly over simmering water.

I was a bit of a idiot and thought super hot water = quicker melting time and actually seized the chocolate. Not going to lie, I didn’t even realise that you could ‘seize’ chocolate. I was able to rescue mine (hooray!) but play it safe and melt it slowly.

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2. In a separate bowl, sift together cocoa, powdered sugar, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. You need individually grease each shot glass (THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!!!), I used vegetable oil on a paper towel (kitchen roll) and lightly greased the inside of each shot glass.  This allows easy removal of hot chocolate once its set.

3. Once the chocolate has completely melted, mix in the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Mixture will be very thick, similar to brownie batter.

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4. I used two teaspoons and spooned the chocolate mixture into each cup or you can spoon the mixture into a piping bag (no coupler or tip is needed) and pipe it into the cups. I find the mixture too thick if Im honest and thought it easier just to spoon it into the shot glasses.

After you have filled all your shot glasses, shove a spoon in each one, ensure that it is straight, this will allow for easier wrapping. I then took a large marshmallow, cut it down the middle half way through (NOT all the way through) and then shove it over the spoon. When using mini marshmallows, I put 4 around the spoon and then just before I tie the bag up, I shove in about 6 more, as 4 mini marshmallows isnt enough!

Leave chocolates to dry a few hours.  Once all shots are dry, you can remove carefully from the glasses, the heat from your hand should be enough to release them from the glass, (obviously plastic is thin and this takes longer with an actual glass shot) wrap hand around glass around 10-15 seconds. I released each glass but put them back in the glass, to make it easier to remove when the giftee receives them and uses them.

I created the attached template that I use for labels on every cup. I print it back and front and it works great!

hot chocolate on a spoon

After everyone was full of pizza and beer and heading on their way out the door into a cold wet Dutch autumn evening, they were delighted with little gems.

Ive decided to work out the prices for these so you can see how affordable these great edible gifts are, all prices are based on prices at Albert Heijn unless otherwise stated (where the cheapest option has been chosen):

  • 3 x100 gram  milk chocolate bars  = €0.49 a bar = €1.47
  • 2 x100 gram  dark chocolate bars = €0.49 = €0.98
  • 1/2 c (59g) cocoa powder = €0.45
  • 1 c (115g) powdered sugar/icing sugar = €0.40
  • 2 (10g) teaspoons ground cinnamon = €.14
  • 15 large marshmallows or 150 mini marshmallows = €0.83
  • plastic spoons = €0.53
  • Plastic shot glasses = €1.29
  • Above total is €6.09
  • Total price per shot glass gift = €0.41

Remember to share with friends (and maybe take one for yourself to enjoy)! 🙂

DIY Dump soap

I’ve never really understood the fascination with YouTube, apart from Simons Cat and the occasional make up video (yes in my 30s I still have no real idea about make-up and get hints and tips from teens, OH the shame), I’ve never spent hours just watching random videos. I’d rather spend the hours on Pinterest, however, in my search for soap inspiration, Id thought Id give YouTube a go and WOW, just WOW. I quickly realised that anything really over eight minutes is well beyond my attention span and that honestly after the five minute mark I’m starting to lose interest and looking for glitter and shiny things to keep me interested. I came across a video that made a unique fun soap, allowed me to use the existing soap I already had and made me think it was easy – I should have learnt my life lesson by now, if it looks easy, it really isn’t! However, after a few days and LOTS of melt and pour base, Im pretty pleased with the results! What I love about the soap is that I was able to use off cuts of colours that I already had, so really I was just ‘dumping’ what I had to create a new soap, happy soap recycling! 🙂

Its that time of year where I need to stock up for the holidays, dear friends and family, please look surprised when you get these!

DIY Dump Soap

  • 2Lbs (1 Kg) white melt and pour soap base
  • Mica to match the colours you want to achieve, you really want a minimum of 3 but up to 5 colours
  • Essential Oils/Fragrance oils for your desired scent, I used cherry, vanilla and peppermint for this to keep in line with my Christmas theme
  • 4 tablespoons Castor oil (optional)

This soap isnt straight forward and requires quite a lot of prep.

I screen shot a picture of the soap that I was using for inspiration and then tried to mimic the needed shapes from there.  What you need to create in your prep stage is:

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You need ‘shreds’ which are the feathery looking shapes to the right of the soap. I used unscented pieces of left over soap from my shape/embed cut outs and just cut them to quite smallish sizes. You need curls, I created these using mica powder and scents (vanilla&cherry-red and peppermint-green). Pour a thin and thicker layers into your pans, allow to set, remove and then roll into curls, as per the second picture where there is a red curls. I also created little hearts which are quite wide, as I was bored and looking for other shapes to, I wanted something different than the curls. Honestly you can use any shapes but you need them to be lengthy so that when you cut the bars you see the shapes.

Whilst you’re creating your curls, create your first layer of the bar. I used red and scented it cherry and vanilla, I added in a small bit of castor oil for a better bubble on the soap. You do not want this layer to be very thick but maybe 3cms/1in.  Allow it to set whilst you’re creating your other bits which will all stack on top of the base layer.

Once you’ve created all your curls, shreds, and hearts, now onto creating the bar! Super important note, cover EVERYTHING in alcohol as you go, every time to you go to touch something to add to the soap, spray it with alcohol! It makes such a massive difference and ensures good adhesion between the layers and pieces.

Taking your base layer, on one side, DUMP in the shreds to one side, remember to spray them all with alcohol as you go. On the opposite side to it, place some of your curls, ensuring that the majority of the length of the mould is filled.  Put in you curls in different directions so that the ‘seems’ are in different directions to each other. Remember to cover everything liberally in alcohol!

Now you are going to want to melt the rest of your white base, for me my mould was massive and it took about 3lbs/1.5 Kgs to fill!!!! I scented this with peppermint and added in 2 tablespoons of castor oil. You want the base to cool down once its melted, so that it doesn’t melt the items you’re pour it onto. Unfortunately I let mine cool just a bit too much it it was ok. I filled it roughly 2/3 full at this point, so that I could add in the last of my embeds/cut outs.

You can see the white base was setting with the pour but this was ok as I knew I was adding more over it after I out in the next layer of embeds/shapes. BE SURE to give your mould a gentle shake so that the soap gets in all the little holes and crevices and there are no air bubbles. I now added in all my little hearts I wanted to ensure there were enough so that no matter what I cut the bars there would be heart shapes, so dump them in! Once you’ve set all your embeds/shapes cover it with the last of your white soap base, remember to spray everything with alcohol, even the finished layer of white base.  Allow to set for 24 hours. This was the most difficult part for me, as I REALLY wanted to know how it had come out. However, I also realised that I needed a knife to cut the soap, so I needed to go shopping before I could. Fast forward 24 hours with a new knife in hand!

This is how the outside looked, It was obvious that I had a new air bubbled which bummed me out but I thought I needed to cut it first to see if it would just crumble into a mess or hold up. I measured it out to 1 inch bars, to be honest, they probably could have been slimmer given they are really quite wide. I used a bread load pan rather than a actual soap loaf pan, which would have given a better finish and everything would have been more compact but given I was just using what I had, Im pleased.

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Im really quite pleased with the outcome, yeah I have more white space than the original but for me, it works. It smells great and its held together, so win win. I think its a good outcome for a soap where you basically just dump stuff in!

I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful and enjoy your adventures in soap making!

Remember to share with friends! 🙂