Birthday Crafting

Today is my husband’s birthday so we can finally give him all the things we’ve been making this week.

Alice made him a card in her own special style! I think he’ll love it when he gets home from work later. The envelope is a complete delight and makes absolutely no sense to anyone that hasn’t read ‘Danger in Everywhere’.

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And later it will be time for cake too! I made this sponge sandwich yesterday. It’s a simple all-in-one sponge mix with cocoa powder and Alice and I filled it with peanut butter! We then topped it with chocolate spread and flaked almonds (we’ll put a candle on it after tea tonight).

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I don’t think it’s my best ever cake and I’m really not sure about the peanut butter. I think this could end up very dry, so we might be eating it with ice cream.

I’ve also made a batch of biscuits which he’s already got and taken to work. I hope they go down well amongst his colleagues.

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And here’s my card. It took me ages to find some inspitation for this one. I’ve done so many bike racing cards over the last few years I wanted to do something different. I struggled to find a picture of a camera, so went with his other interest – red wine!

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So Happy Birthday Mr B.

Have a great day
x

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A trip to Lytham

After last night’s cycling triumphs, I was feeling rather exhausted this morning.  But it was far too lovely a day to waste, particularly as we had plans.  And with hubby having the day off work, we were able to go out and do something different.

P1050467So following my plans from previous posts, I found a low cost event outdoors with the RSPB in Lytham-St-Annes.  I’ve been a member of the RSPB for almost thirty years now and thought it’s about time we started going to the nature reserves.  This is our second one this year!!  The event was £3 per child member (£5 for non-members) and accompanying adults were free. So I’ve been sat in the sun overlooking Fairhaven Lake, while Alice and her Dad explore the mudflats of the Ribble Estuary under the expert guidance of some RSPB and WWT volunteers.  They were apparently dipping for the creatures that live in the mud, although I’m still not quite sure what they did find.

P1050460I went armed with my binoculars, notepad and guidebook, but all I succeeded in doing was hobbling to the café for an ice cream and then having a doze in the sun! After an hour or so I decided to have a walk (rather a hobble) around the lake.  I need to move about or I get stiff, but I didn’t manage very far. I did catch the ‘mud-dippers’ making pictures in the sand though and it looked like they were all having great fun. I had to have a rest before heading back to the RSPB centre. I can’t believe how tired I am all the time – breaking a bone really does take it out of you!

P1050456The Discovery Centre is a little treasure trove of information and they have loads of activities on all year round, so it’s definitely worth a visit. I’d like to come back when I’m able to walk properly as there are loads of migrating birds that come to the Estuary. And I’ve still never found a mermaids purse when beach-combing and rock pooling, after over forty years of trying!

I feel like a tiny bird...

I feel like a tiny bird…

While the others went out in a rowing boat on the lake, I took the opportunity to browse the RSPB shop and I found some beautiful scarves which will do nicely for a couple of birthdays coming up. It’s also made me think there is more scope to make my little bird cards. I think I might have a go at turning them into robins for Christmas. I’m also planning to make some more masculine owls from a number of old OS maps my husband has donated to me, so there’s plenty to be getting on with for another couple of months card-making.

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But my focus for this next week has to be hubby’s birthday. So there will be at least one crafting session and probably some baking too! I did promise I would make him a batch of biscuits to take in to work. Mmmmmm, I’m getting hungry at the thought. Now, where are we going for tea I wonder?!

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Happy summer crafting
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School Holiday Baking

Well it’s been a tough first week or so of the school holidays.  It’s not much fun hobbling around with an equaliser boot when you have an active seven year old wanting to get out and do things.  Fortunately we’ve had some mixed weather here so we’ve had to stay in and concentrate on indoor activities.

I felt quiet good today so decided we could spend some time in the kitchen making some yummy treats to share with friends and family.  So we started with our trusted all-in-one sponge recipe from Delia Smith, to which we added some raisins, chocolate chips, cocoa powder and mini marshmallows.

P1250130We didn’t have any golden syrup or chocolate digestives so we couldn’t make any rocky road tray bake, so these mini cakes made up for it and are our version of a rocky road style muffin!  They certainly tasted chocolatey and went very nicely with a cup of tea.

Wile these were cooling we decided to make some scones and biscuits.  The simple Easter biscuit recipe was brought out and modified slightly as I didn’t have any lemons to zest.  I rolled out the dough a bit thicker than normal, so it made a few less biscuits than usual, but they tasted great straight from the oven and only took nine minutes!

P1250127I thought it would be nice to make some chocolate chip scones too as they didn’t take very long and could be ready to go in the oven by the time the biscuits had baked.  Not a big batch, only eight this time, but again lovely with some butter and a cup of tea.

All-in-all a good afternoon’s work and very tasty.  Time for a cuppa and a cake with a rest with my foot up now I think.

Happy crafting
x

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Fudge

I’ve been thinking about what I could make with the rest of the can of condensed milk after making the marzipan hearts. Eventually I just looked at the can and there was a recipe on it to make chocolate fudge.

It was a pretty easy make – condensed milk, chocolate, and icing sugar! I wasn’t hopeful though, it looked a bit odd while I was making it, but the suggestion was to add some nuts and then leave it in the fridge to set.

I decided to add some marshmallows and raisins as well as some almonds and this is the result!

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It was a nightmare to get out of the tray and to cut up, but it tasted fabulous. It is pretty rich though so only a little piece at a time for me!

I will definitely make it again, though I will have to find a better tray to put it in.

Happy crafting
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Making Marzipan

My daughter, Alice, was given a lovely baking set and set of recipe cards for her birthday and we have been looking longingly at all the lovely things we could make. So with the weather being so miserable this weekend, we got everything out and decided to have a go at making almond hearts. Now we could have done this very easily and just bought some almond paste / marzipan, but we thought we’d do it properly and use the whole recipe. Having quickly looked in the baking cupboard I thought we had everything we needed, so it was with great dismay I discovered we had no ground almonds at all!

This meant a much lengthier than planned walk round the neighbourhood shops looking for ground almonds. Eventually after 4 local shops and over an hour of walking we found some and head back home for a cup of tea and to get making.

The recipe is very simple but involved quite a lot of kneading. We split the paste in half and coloured one half with red food colouring. Then left it in the fridge for a while to harden up a bit and make it easier to roll out.

We were both quite impatient to make the hearts, so I did the rolling out and Alice cut out the shapes.  We did think about making some stars too, but the hearts looked so lovely in the different colours we thought we’d stick with them.  They’ve really got us in the mood for Valentine’s Day too, although I don’t think they will last that long to give out to all her friends!!

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This is definitely a recipe we will try again.  It’s fairly simple although it has left me with most of a tin of condensed milk.  I shall have to get my thinking cap on and see what I can make with the rest of it, it’s far too good an ingredient to waste.

Happy crafting
x

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Christmas Cake

This year I tried to be really organised and managed to make my Christmas cake in early October. And as I should I have been feeding it with some brandy every week since, that is until I ran out last week! So today was the day to take the plunge and decorate it.

I haven’t had much time between finishing Christmas orders and Alice’s dance classes and shows to really even think about a design this year, so it was a bit of let’s see what we’ve got and do something spontaneous! I cheated and used some ready-to-roll icing and I used some strawberry jam to stick the marzipan to the cake. I didn’t have a great deal of the icing, so I rolled it quite thinly – my husband isn’t a big fan of icing anyway so that’s a bonus. Having a root round by baking cupboard I found some little roses and silver balls, so I decided to have a red / white theme on the cake, with some little silver balls between each rose.

Alice then found my little snowman and Christmas tree so they were also added before we finished off the little scene with some sifted icing sugar ‘snow’ and a large handtied ribbon bow.

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I normally don’t get round to eating the cake until mid-January, but in the meantime it looks nice on the pre-Christmas table!

Happy crafting
x

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Early Christmas Baking

Now that the Christmas holidays have started it’s time to get into the spirit of things and do a spot of festive baking. It’s very therapeutic to get out the mincemeat and make up some tasty treats. I decided to begin with a batch of my mincemeat parcels. They are so tasty and make a lovely alternative to a mince pie. I have a number of packs of frozen filo pastry in the freezer that need to be used, so this was an ideal quick bake.

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After the parcels were finished, I enlisted Alice to make some festive ginger biscuits that we could share with friends and family over the holidays. The recipe we have is in a little Hello Kitty Christmas book that we bought for Alice a few years ago. It’s a really simple recipe and makes absolutely loads of biscuit dough. We chose some different Christmassy cutters and set about making the biscuits.

It was a good job there was loads of dough because I had a minor moment with my oven and completely burned the first two batches! I forgot just how fast my oven is when I’m baking. Anyway, we still managed to make about 60 or so biscuits for sharing. Alice’s favourite part of the baking process is the decorating, and we used plenty of icing pens, hundreds and thousands, and other little Christmassy bits from my cupboard.

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Once finished we took some round to the neighbours, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Happy crafting
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Jam and Jerusalem

There has been so much on the TV recently about the centenary of the WI, I decided to take a leaf from their book and use up the remaining blackberries to make some jam! I always thought this would be a difficult process and would need loads of extra ingredients and equipment. My neighbour said it was dead easy to do and I should give it a try. So I did a bit of research on the internet – You Tube is amazing for tutorials – and thought I would have a go.

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So out came all the washed blackberries, a large bag of sugar, my largest pan, masher and pots for the finished produce. Everywhere I found on the internet called for added pectin with blackberries, but my Delia book doesn’t mention it. As this was my first go at jam making, I decided on the simple approach – fruit and sugar.

Firstly I mashed the blackberries a bit in the pan, then added the sugar, stirred with my trusty wooden spoon and then brought them to the boil.

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Here they are on the hob, nicely boiling away. I removed some of the bubbles as they boiled and kept a watch on it to check on thickening up.  It didn’t take long, and then I left it to cool, whilst boiling my pots.

I was amazed at just how much jam I made.  I finished the day with six pots ready for the fridge.  I hope they last as I don’t think we’ll get through it that quickly on toast – oooo, that’s made me think of scones, maybe I shall have to have another baking session again soon.  Watch this space!

Happing crafting
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Season of Mellow Fruitfulness

Last weekend the weather here was glorious, so we decided to head out for a family walk and forage around Holcombe Hill.  It was lovely to get out in what’s probably going to be the last of the really warm weather up here.

The hill was popular with other walkers and foragers too.  We met quite a few people filling bags with the abundance of blackberries.

P1240393I decided to see if we could collect any of the late whimberries as well – I must have been affected by the heat!

This has to have been the longest walk up Holcombe Hill ever!  It took us over 2 hours to get to the top.  Mind you we were laden down with quite a lot of fruit.  I just about managed to fill a small pot with the last of this years whimberries, but the blackberry box was ridiculously heavy!  I think it’s been a great year for blackberries.  There were loads and they were big too, not the usual little ones.

We stopped for a quick snack at Peel Tower then went back down the hill in record time – we were all starving and we hadn’t thought ahead enough to bring a picnic!

Here’s a picture of some of the fruit before it was washed and sorted out.  We had over 3kg in the end, so it was no wonder we were struggling with the boxes!!

P1240403I decided on an apple and blackberry crumble to go with Sunday dinner.  Which was delicious – a great dessert to follow our traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding main course.  But it left me with a very large crop of blackberries, so it was time to get the thinking cap on and decide what to do with the rest.

As I hadn’t had a practice at my shortcrust pastry for a while I thought I’d risk it and have another go!  I didn’t really have enough whimberries for a large pie and my lack of a large pie plate somewhat limited what I was going to be able to make.  So it was time for some individual fruit pies.

I remembered my Mum teaching me the ‘half fat to flour’ rule for pastry, but I still got out my Delia book as an extra support for the pastry process.  The last time I tried pastry I made jam tarts and the pastry was too think, so I tried to roll it out much thinner this time.  The first batch of pastry managed to make a dozen pie cases and 10 lids!  I rather stuffed the whimberries into 10 cases.

So I had to make another batch of pastry to cope with at least some of the blackberries left waiting in the fridge!   They all looked good in the tins and I did remember to add some caster sugar to the top of the second batch of pies!

Unfortunately I learnt the hard way not to overfill the whimberry pies, as they all burst through the lids and stuck to the sides of the tins.  But they still tasted nice with some ice cream.  The blackberry pies though were lovely and I will have to make more in the future.

P1240404As we had rather a lot of pies, we took them round to a couple of the neighbours to share, a perfect excuse to pop round for a chat!

I’ve frozen a few small bags of the blackberries to use in crumbles later in the year, and I’ve shared some with Mum too.  Now I just have to decide what to do with the rest of them…..

Happy crafting
x

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Holiday Baking

This weekend we were invited to a friend’s annual summer barbecue party. As usual they were providing all the food, so I suggested I would take something for dessert as they hadn’t decided on anything yet! So it was an early start and out with the baking things.

I thought about scones, but settled on a Victoria Sandwich and some biscuits. I didn’t know how many people would be there so I needed something easy to divide up.

As I was going to be pushed for time, I decided on the all-in-one sponge mix from my Delia Smith book. I started with the basic vanilla sponge, splitting the mixture across two cake tins.

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As I still had plenty of ingredients left, I thought I ‘d make another sponge, chocolate this time. I also added some extra chocolate chips to the mixture. I have watched quite a few baking shows recently (being a fan of cake is great with the GBBO back again for another series), and have picked up the tip of rolling fruit in flour before adding it to a mixture so that it doesn’t sink when baking. So I rolled the chocolate chips in flour before adding them to the mixture. It certainly seemed to work as they were pretty evenly distributed in the sponge. Again I decided to make this into a sandwich cake and split the mixture across two tins.

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While the four sponges were baking I started on some raisin biscuits, using the Easter biscuit recipe we all love. I didn’t have a lemon, so they were minus lemon zest, but they are equally as tasty.

So here’s the baking after everything came out of the oven.

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Next it was time to prepare the fillings for the sandwich cakes. My vanilla one was to have raspberry jam and vanilla buttercream, while I decided on chocolate spread and vanilla buttercream for the chocolate chip cake. I thought I had split the buttercream in half, but I obviously wasn’t paying attention as the chocolate cake ended up with twice the amount of the vanilla cake!

Anyway, I finished them both off with a dusting icing sugar, and here’s how they turned out.

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They might not win any prizes on Bake Off, but they are most definitely the best sandwich cakes I have made. And I am pleased to say they went down pretty well at the barbecue too. I managed to get sixteen slices out of each cake. Just the right size! I did manage to snaffle a piece of each and they tasted pretty good too. My daughter loved the Victoria Sandwich and Hubby loved the Chocolate Chip Sandwich – I liked them both, but then I love cake!! As it’s my husband’s birthday next week, I can see another baking session coming on, it will save on buying a cake covered in icing which he hates!

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