Archive for November, 2008

When I am reading stories to my youngest daughter, I often think how much I enjoy certain books and that I really ought to share the titles with others. I am sure everyone has their favourites and these two are mine. Try them out and see what you think. They were given to us for our first daughter by my uncle, who read them to his boys when they were small. They are both by Janet and Allen Ahlberg. The first is “Peepo!” and the second is “Each Peach Pear Plum”. If you haven’t read them, please do. You won’t regret it.

This article / interview with Allen Ahlberg makes very interesting reading, too.

Other family favourites are “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, of course, and a recent discovery, “Goodnight Moon”, which apparently everyone in the world had read except for me and my husband. Ooh, just thought of another one, “The Scrubby-Bubbly Car Wash” written by Irene O’Garden and illustrated by Cynthia Jabar. This fabulous book is a firm favourite of both the girls and us.

On a side note, I have been quite busy with crafting and will try to post some decent photographs this week. Also planning a post on Christmas traditions. Bye for now!

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Lovely new goodies

How the time flies! I can hardly believe it has already been days since my last post. Our little girl has been unwell, so I have been somewhat distracted. The sewing isn’t getting done, but it hardly matters when the children are sick.

My friend was at a local craft fair recently and bought some lovely jewelry. I contacted the lady who made it and she very kindly came round today to show me her work and I was delighted. Like a kid in a candy store. These are going to be decorating my neck and wrist on a daily basis now that the kiddies are big enough (hopefully) not to tug on them too much:

I seriously need to work on my photography skills, but these will have to do for tonight, as it is time for bed! Back soon.

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Nicki, at Mimi’s Room, gave me a great idea when I read a recent post about things she had made for her grandchildren. They love the little felt characters and outfits she makes for them and it is something I knew my girls would love too. Nicki wrote a tutorial here. I admit that I took a big shortcut and just cut outfits and props out of felt. When I have more time (ie when I have completed some custom orders) I will make some more elaborate items, using Nicki’s instructions. I am a bit of an instant-gratification crafter sometimes!

Felt storyboard outfits

Felt storyboard outfits

The important thing is that the girls love them and have been busy making up some very interesting stories. The original set was a safari collection, so the stories so far have involved princesses and their rhinoceros servants….

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Thanks to Sarah over at In a Word: Anachronism, who got the idea from Gwen…..

The idea is to take the nearest book, turn to page 56 and type out the first few sentences you read. And why not?! Here goes. As I am in my sewing/crafting area, the closest book is “New From Old: How to Transform and Customize Your Clothes” by Jayne Emerson.

Page 56: Vamped Up Shoes

Beads are just great. I am totally in love with them, and collect them in all shapes and sizes, from huge glass ones to tiny little ceramic ones, old-fashioned flapper bugle beads, and bits of jet. You name it, I have it. One of the best sources of nice beads is to use old necklaces, or ones you have that have broken.”

This is a lovely book, full of inspiration, and it was given to me by my good friend Karen, over at KEW Designs.

I stopped buying books when I was on my own and moved around a lot. I am a great believer in the library system, so we use our local one a lot, but we have started accumulating a lot of books in the last few years and now we are running out of bookshelf space and have stacks of books all over the place – under the hearth, end tables, double stacked on the shelves etc. We need to make a trip to the mainland to go to Ikea!

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Christmas cake recipe

Here is the recipe I use for Christmas cake. It was originally given to me by my not-yet-mother-in-law-to-be (I took as a good sign that she shared it with me, as her son is very protective of family recipes!). I have had to make some alterations due to the availability of certain things over here, and the cooking time was, for some reason, significantly less in my oven. It is an English recipe, so it uses Imperial weights and measurements rather than cups.

Disclaimer: This works for me, but I make no promises! Please let me know if it looks like I have missed anything.

10 oz self raising flour (made using the ratio of 1 cup plain flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt)

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 tsp mixed spice (allspice)

6 oz butter

6 oz brown sugar

3 large eggs

1 tbsp warmed golden syrup (ie Tate & Lyle)

2 tbsp milk

1 tbsp brandy (and then some!)

1 3/4 lb mixed dried fruit *

grated rind of an orange

* any combination you prefer: my husband doesn’t like peel, so I make the mix up using cranberries (Craisins), dried cherries, apricots, prunes, raisins, sultanas, currants, dates etc.

I use my Kitchen Aid mixer and an 8″ square cake pan. I also soak the fruit in a little bit of brandy a day or two before baking the cake. I have also soaked the fruit in warm water for an hour, drained it and then added the brandy. This makes for very moist, juicy fruit.

Cut up the butter and beat it in the mixer to soften it. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light in colour and fluffy in texture.

Sieve the flour, salt and spices together.

Add the eggs one at a time with a little of the dry mix. Stir, then beat thoroughly. Stir in the milk, syrup and a little more flour. Beat again. Add fruit, flavouring etc and the rest of the sieved flour mixture. Stir in thoroughly, but do not beat.

Put the mixture into a parchment paper lined cake pan and smooth level with a palette or table knife.

Bake for the first hour in a moderate oven, then reduce the heat to low for the remainder of the baking time. Cover the cake with parchment paper when the top is sufficiently brown.

1st hour at 180 C / 350 F

2nd hour at 140 C / 290 F

Test with a cake tester or a skewer. It is ready when the tester comes out cleanly. The original recipe called for 3 hours total cooking time, but mine always seem to be done much quicker than that.

Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack before wrapping in parchment paper and storing in an airtight box. I poke holes in the cake with the tester so that when I later add the brandy, it seeps into the cake rather than just wetting the top. I add about a tablespoon every few days, to a total of perhaps 6 tablespoons. Add more or less as you wish.

When it is time to decorate the cake, I usually cut it into 4 pieces, so that I have 4 small cakes to share. I know not everyone is fond of Christmas cake and this way very little gets wasted. When we lived in England, rollable fondant icing was readily available, as was marzipan, so decorating was a breeze. Warm a little sieved apricot jam and glaze the top and sides of the cake. Roll out the marzipan or almond paste and drape it over the cake, smoothing it over the surface and down the sides. Roll out the fondant, if you can get it, and repeat the process. I used to cover it with plastic wrap and smooth it with my hands to get a nice, even surface. Before we had children I also used to colour and cut out shapes to decorate the top of the cake, but no more!

I do not like hard icing, but if you do, by all means make up a batch of royal icing and use that on top of the marzipan.

Happy baking!

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Ever since my husband and I moved in together I have made a Christmas cake. For me, it was one of those things that signalled I was a grown-up. Like having to pay bills, but a lot more fun! I got the original recipe from my mother-in-law, but have had to modify it as some of the ingredients were not available when we moved to Canada. I start the cake in November and begin by mixing the fruit and leaving it to soak in alcohol overnight. I generally use brandy and cointreau, though I have also used Calvados.

This is the fruit mix for this year: raisins, golden sultana raisins, dates, prunes, apricots, currants, cranberries and cherries. I may add some glace cherries when I have been to the store.

Update: I didn’t add the glace cherries in the end. I baked the cake yesterday and tried a tiny bit (just to make sure it was ok!). It is pretty good and will be even better in 3 weeks when it has had additions of brandy and Cointreau and I have iced it. I just need to get hold of some rollable fondant icing or some glucose so I can make my own. Michaels had sold out of both when I was there yesterday.

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With Christmas apparently just around the corner, we all need some gift ideas. Check out this link http://www.techniche.net/ellablog/?p=325 , especially if you are interested in buying handmade. I am not a big fan of mass-marketed toys, so this is very refreshing and it is great to see such a variety of beautiful items. They are not necessarily in my price comfort zone, but I can dream!

Little Red Caboose (aka Ella) is a lovely blog too, so go, be inspired!

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