Friday, 30 September 2011

Yummy Plummy Jam

I know, the recipe is a day later than intended, but last night I was on a mission to complete the 'Mr & Mrs' pillowcases I was making for a wedding gift.  Job, done... now for the jam!

This recipe is one that has come from my Good Housekeeping Recipe Book, a fab recipe book that I wouldn't be without, but one that I scoffed at when my husband came home with it!!!

If you have never made jam before, read the notes I have done at the bottom of the recipe.

The recipe makes about 4.5kg (10lb) of jam

2.7kg (6lb) plums
900ml (1 1/2pts) water
2.7kg (6lb) sugar
knob of butter

1.  Put the plums and water in a preserving pan and simmer gently for 30mins until the fruit is soft and liquid well reduced.

2.  Remove from the pan from the heat and add the sugar, stirring until dissolved, then add the knob of butter and return to the heat.  Bring back to the boil and boil rapidly for 10-15mins, stirring frequently until setting point is reached (please read notes).

3.  Take the pan off the heat, and use a slotted spoon to remove the plum stones, and any scum from the surface of the jam.  Pot and cover.

NOTE:  If dessert plums are used, add the juice of 1 large lemon.


*  Don't use over ripe fruit when making jam as this can cause your jam to mould.

•  Use a preserving pan or very large pan so that you can maintain a fast boil without everything boiling over.  Make sure your pan is never more than half full when you start.  If you don't have a big enough pan split the fruit in half before adding the sugar and do in two batches.

•  How do you know when you have reached setting point?  It is important to test frequently for a setting point as if over cooked the jam will caramelize   The easiest way is with a sugar thermometer.  It is at setting point at 105°C (221°F).  If you don't have a sugar thermometer you can do the saucer test.  Put a couple of saucers in the fridge before you start making your jam.  At the end of step 2 put a little of your jam onto the saucer, push your finger across the jam, if it wrinkles and is beginning to set it has reached setting point.  If not boil jam for another 5 mins and repeat the test.

•  You must use spotlessly clean containers.  Use hot soapy water to wash, rinse thoroughly and dry in a warm oven.  Stand upside down on a clean tea towel in your oven until the jam is ready.  Cold jars are likely to crack when you pour the hot jam in.  Fill the jars almost to the top and immediately seal with a wax disc.  Leave to go completely cold before covering with dampened cellophane and securing with an elastic band.  If the jam is warm when it is sealed mould will grow on the surface.

Jam making is definitely a job where you need a pinny.  These would be my favourite jam making pinnies, but I have more in my shop here if you fancy treating yourself before you start!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Harvest Time

My daughter has been coming home from school singing harvest songs this week.  I love the fact that harvest is still celebrated in schools, giving the opportunity to celebrate food, and talk about where it has come from.  It is too easy to walk into a supermarket and pick up and bag of potatoes or apples, and not think about where it has come from, or how it has been grown.  I remember watching, I think it was a Jamie Oliver's series... yes, it was the school dinner one, where one child didn't know what chips are made from (should be made from!!!).  I feel that a large part of society has lost touch with food, it's roots, and the community it creates.  Food really should be celebrated more!  

Anyway, I digress.  The reason I was telling you this, is because it reminded me that I still hadn't done my blog posts on plums!!  (I am still playing catch up from the school holidays!)  We are lucky enough to have 3 fabulous plum trees in our garden that supply us with more plums than we can possibly eat!!!  

In the past amongst various puddings, cakes, compote, etc., I have made plum jam... I love making jam.  I have always loved making jam.  I remember as a small child, going round to Uncle Ernie's and Aunty Marjories (an elderly couple that lived across the back street, that I adopted after my little sister, was born!!) and helping Aunty Marjorie make strawberry jam with the strawberries Uncle Ernie had grown on the allotment (the very same allotment my dad has now!).  

As I got older I made my own... blackcurrant jam (my favourite) with blackcurrants I painstakingly picked from my dads allotment.  Unfortunately his blackcurrant bushes have been neglected over the years, but he has said that he plans to get the sorted for next year, so hopefully it will be blackcurrant jam I will be writing about.

When we moved into this house, it was lovely to find that we could harvest our own plums (I love watching the children go onto the garden to pick their pudding!!!)... and make plum jam!  There is something deeply satisfying from picking something that has grown in your garden, and making delicious food with it. 

Tomorrow comes the jam recipe, and then I might share my lovely plum cake recipe too!!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A visit to see the works of Peter Randall-Page in Wigan

When I was told that Peter Randall-Page was going to be exhibiting in Drumcroon Gallery, Wigan, I felt my eyebrow raise a little!  Those of you who had had the pleasure of experiencing his work will know that quite often, they are very large sculptures beautifully carved from stone.  Today I finally managed to get over to visit the exhibition;  Showing his Hand: Peter Randall-Page Small Works, and I am so glad I did as it reminded me how much I love his work.  

I have visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on numerous occasions, and have experienced some of his work there.  When I say experience, I really do mean experienced.  Although extremely pleasing to the eye, Peter Randall-Page's work calls out to be touched, and I love it when a piece of art work (or fabric!!!) does that to me.

The exhibition in Drumcroon Gallery was on a much smaller scale, there was a large number of pieces of print work that I loved, some small scale sculptures and some maquettes  (a small scale version) of larger pieces of sculpture.

Time for some images.  If you do want to find out more about Peter Randall-Page, you can visit his website here.

These prints excited me, due to there utter simplicity, and the reminder of the prints that we used to make with splodges of paint as children.  They are done by putting, in this instance, ink on one side of a folded piece of paper and then folding in half to create a mirror image.  So simple, yet so effective!

More print work.

These were created using pieces of tile.

And some sculptural work, although stunning looking, they don't have the same impact as in real life.  If you like them, please do seek some out to visit as you will love them!

This was the Tinkers favourite.
He requested that I should take a photo of this one!

Unfortunately this was in a glass cabinet so I was unable to touch it.
There is a large version named 'Seed' that you can see here.  I'm not sure where its locality is,
so if you have any idea, please let me know.

I love this...

... and it looked spectacular with the pieces it was sat with!

Fab!!  I hope you have enjoyed looking at these, and if you have and have never experienced his work first hand, do seek some out.

Leaving on a sad note... I was very sorry to hear that there is a very strong likelihood that the gallery will be closing in the near future.  Unfortunately Wigan Council are blinkered to the work that they do, and the important role it plays for people that may not have the opportunity to access similar provision elsewhere.  I wrote about it earlier in the year, and was sad and angered by the news today.  It managed to hang on during the cuts in the 1980's, things really are looking bleak!  Thinking of all those who have put in hard work and shown passion for the work they have done there over the years. x

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Little Deer

A few months back I was doing a little doodling, and sketched a little deer...

... I love the vintage style 'Bambi' deers with over sized heads...

... so had to make myself one!!!

I think she is rather cute... she has the 'ahhh' factor, and is perfect for little hands to hold.  I love the way she looks in vintage fabric, and feel it is in keeping with the era of the style.  

This is a sneak preview of things to come, I will be creating some of these to sell!  They will all be made using vintage fabrics, and will therefore be a limited number of each, so keep your eyes open for the ones you like!

Although she doesn't really have a name, when I glimpse her in my room 'Dilly' springs to mind.   So what do you think then?  Should I stick with Dilly or do you have any other suggestions?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Loula Belle At Home for children.

At the moment Loula Belle At Home is focusing on children as I feel it is important to encourage children to become more involved in activities in the home.

One of the activities that is very close to my heart, is the importance of learning how to cook, and having confidence in the kitchen.  With this in mind I have put together Little Belle, and Little Beau Utility Pinny Sets for age 2-6 year olds, consisting of a little denim pinny with an adjustable strap and pocket (for storing kitchen utensils if cooking, and gardening tools if gardening), a matching neckerchief...

... and a little bag to pop it in when it's not in use.  

My little boy loves putting on his utility pinny and helping mummy around the house whether this be cooking (which he loves) or getting the duster out, I'm sure you know someone that would love to look the part too!  These gift sets are available to buy online here.

N.B Keep your eyes open over the next month or so for the children's kits I am working on!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Fairy has been learning to use a sewing machine!

I was very excited when the Fairy received this as one of her birthday presents.  I loved Clothkits as a child, especially these lovely dolls, and some of the first garments I ever made using a sewing machine were Clothkits.  It was sad when the company became dormant during the 1980's after they were bought out.  However, the relaunched in 2008 has provided us once again with some lovely products.  They are even offering to make some of their products for you if you really don't want to do it yourself.

I had been planning for a while to show the Fairy how to use a sewing machine, and this gave me the perfect opportunity to do so, so over the summer we got to work.

I prepped it for her, ironing it and cutting it out.  Although she is extremely competent when it comes to using scissors, we both would have been very upset if a mistake was made.  Incidentally, I added 5mm to the seam allowance as there was only 5mm given!  Apparently on their newer designs this has been taken into account and a 1cm seam allowance given.

She then put the pieces together and pinned them in place...

... before getting to work.

It was actually quite a tricky project for a first project.  There were quite a few curves to navigate, which resulted in me bending over her, helping her to guide the fabric, whilst she worked the machine.  The straight bits she could manage by herself whilst I stretched my back!!!

She was very disappointed when she had finished because she had enjoyed using my machine.  I assured her that this was only the beginning and that she can do some more, starting with the little top that was also bought for her doll.

Welcome to the family Kiki.

Kiki camping in Nidderdale!

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Tinkers Birthday Part 2- brum, brum!!

Oooops, I got so carried away with my cake from Wacky Races that I nearly forgot the card that I made for him!  A little more paper cutting. 

You can see some more examples of my paper cutting here and here.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Tinkers Birthday - brum, brum!!

Yesterday it was my little Tinkers birthday.  I can't believe he is three already... cliched I know, but time has flown!!  He really has turned into a little boy too, he loves all things mechanical and electrical.  He loves studying things to see how they work, and had lots of questions (I can't answer!!) about them.

I've always found it easy to to decide on the cakes to make for the Fairy, but I don't seem to be able to get my head around cakes for boys.  When we decided that we were going to get him a racing car bed (he spends a lot of time driving us around to beaches and to the shops with his pretend steering wheel!)  it ended up being a bit of a car themed birthday, and a 'car' cake was created.  I wasn't trying to create a racing car, but it did end up looking like a car that wouldn't have looked out of place in Wacky Races!

I made it using a banana loaf (click on the link for a recipe).  I find that banana loaf is a really good cake base to use, and have used it in most of the birthday cakes that I have made for the children.  It is easy to work with, can withstand being handled, and isn't too crumby... it is also very yummy, and doesn't need filling.

After making the cake, I left it until the following day before I 'sculpted' it using a bread knife.  I didn't have an image to work with, all the ones I had seen on line were too perfect, and often from Disney's Cars.  Not the look I was after, or one that I could achieve!! 

I then got to work with the palette knife and some rather delicious butter cream (I used double quantity).  

I used rice paper for the windows and liquorice Catherine Wheels for the wheels and the number 3.  For the lights I used some icing pens.

I know that it doesn't look professional, or perfect, but that it part of the beauty.  It made me smile once I had finished it, the Tinker loved it, and hopefully both of my children will look back on their childhood and think of the birthday cakes they had made for them, as I do now, and do the same for their children!


Makes 250g/9oz (enough to cover the top of a 20cm/8" cake) 

75g/3oz softened butter (I must stress that block butter is used here, it just isn't the same without it)
175g/6oz icing sugar, sieved
15-30ml/1-2 tbsp milk

1. Place butter in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy.
2.  Add the sugar, and milk a little at a time, beating as you go until the sugar has gone and the mixture is light and smooth.  If using food colouring, only add a little milk initially, adding more at the end, after you have added the colouring, if you need to. 

Banana Loaf

This really is a very simple, delicious cake.  It is the perfect recipe to use up those over ripe bananas that have been left in the fruit bowl as it is essential that ripe bananas are used!

200g/8oz self raising flour
100g/4oz butter
400g/1lb ripe bananas
100g/4oz caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
100g/4oz sultanas (I don't use these if I am using it as  the base for a birthday cake)

1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.  Grease and line the base of a 600g/1 1/2lb cake tin.
2. Sieve flour into a bowl, add the butter, and rub in until the mixture looks like bread crumbs, then stir in the sugar.
3.  Peel and mash the bananas, add to the mixture along with the eggs and sultanas, and thoroughly mix.
4.  Pour into prepared tin and place in the oven for 1 hour 10 mins or until the cake is golden and cooked through.  You can test it by putting a skewer into the center of the cake, it is ready if the skewer is clean when you take it out.
5.  Leave in the tin for 5 mins before taking it out and leaving on a wire rack to cool.

This cake is delicious fresh, but lasts for a few days if kept in an air tight container.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Camping in Upper Nidderdale

This weekend we seized the opportunity to spend a couple of days camping in Lofthouse, just outside of Harrogate, North Yorkshire (in the middle of nowhere!).  Thursday had been a glorious day for us, so we were hoping for similar weather.  A last attempt at summer!!!  Ha ha... as you can see when we got there the skies were pretty dramatic, and we expected rain...

... but as the day went on, there were bursts of light...

... and by the evening, beautiful blue skies.

We decided on Friday that we would do the 'Explore, Discover and Learn Trail' at the campsite we were stopping at.  This gave us the opportunity to have a stroll, soak in the beautiful surroundings and also gave the children an activity to keep them busy, with things to find and learn.  It was really good fun, and the children loved it.  These are some of the things we saw...

... before heading back to the camper van for a piece of Plum cake The Fairy had made with me the day before.

In the evening we walked across the field to the village pub (which only opened at 7pm!!) for some tea, played dominoes and then walked back in the dark with torches.  The children thought it was fantastic!!

Saturday was miserable, but we braved it in the morning and had a drive to Scarhouse Reservoir to have a look.  
We had a walk across the bridge at the end of the reservoir. 
The view from the bridge over the valley.
Sure signs that autumn is around the corner!

Fabulous Fungi!

Baby birds in the toilet block...terrible picture I know but the lighter
specks in the nest are their beaks!

Oh, and Kiki came.  Kiki is the Clothkits doll the Fairy has made over the
summer... more about Kiki to come at a later date!
We had a fantastic time and I am looking forward to going back and doing some more exploring.  The campsite was perfect for the children...lots to see and do, and plenty of room for them to ride their bikes. Can't wait for our next camping trip!!!