Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

I had thought of travelling across country to see my parents for Christmas lunch, but the inclement weather has called a halt to that notion.  I'll speak to them on the phone instead.  Fortunately I took their presents over last month - I must have known it was going to snow!!  Or been super organised?  ... Yes, you're right, I time-travelled ahead to see what the weather was going to be like, saw the snow and wrapped the pressies up quickly - well done you:-)

So, the snow is still with us, and we're getting used to it.  I'm lucky, I bought a house within walking distance of most things I need.  I can even walk in to the city centre in an hour if I need to.  I sympathise with those in isolated villages who are cut off.  I have to admit that when I lived in a village, I had a very large freezer, and plenty of tinned and packet standby basics!!

We went to the Christingle service this evening, which made a pleasant change.  All the congregation was given a Christingle, not just the children.  We carried ours home through the cold, and the candle burnt steadily all the way , even though we didn't protect it at all.  I wonder how many others did the same.

Whatever you do this festive season, I hope that you enjoy it and give some pleasure to others.  Best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2011.

Monday, 20 December 2010

snow, snow, quick, quick, snow!

We seldom see large amounts of snow here in Lancashire.  On Wednesday, as we walked up to the church for the Christmas sing-a-long, it was snowing gently.  When we emerged later in the evening, after singing several seasonal songs, and consuming the odd mince pie and glass of mulled fruit juice, the world was shrouded in a white blanket, and white flakes danced thickly before our eyes.

This was the scene next morning across the road from me.  A winter wonderland had appeared, fresh from the song, and everything looked magical, clean and fresh.

Fortunately, the snow plough appeared as we were walking to post an item to an eBay customer, so, as you can see, the roads became passable.  Stay safe and warm wherever you are!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

chocolate dipped stuffed dates

When I was a girl, we had dates at Christmas.  They came in long, oval boxes, and were very exotic.  They were also very delicious, a chewy then melt in the mouth sweetness that was something we didn’t have, as a rule – there wasn’t much money for such things as sweets when I was young.  However, for years Dad worked at a wholesale greengrocers, so we had plenty of fruit and vegetablesJ

So, dates are an important part of my Christmas memories.  Mum loved them, I loved them, and my daughter loved them in her turn.  Mum never stuffed them, but I've done it for years.  Not just for Christmas, but for dinner parties, or just for indulgence.  I can even kid myself that they're relatively healthy (are you skilled at self-deception, too?) - after all, they are fruits, the marzipan is essentially almonds (ok, with a lot of sugar, if we must be honest), and chocolate produces endorphins that make us happy.

For a change, this year, I've given my stuffed dates an extra twist.  I've rolled the marzipan around candied peel and walnuts.  Still healthy, well, the walnuts are, anyway!

They are ridiculously easy to make, yet scrummy.  I hope you'll have a go at making them.  Just think, if you have a vegan coming to dinner, this is an ideal treat that you can all enjoyJ.

You'll need some dates,  marzipan, chocolate and candied peel and walnuts.

Stone your dates, if necessary.  Cut your candied peel into pieces slightly smaller than your dates, to allow for the marzipan to wrap around and seal it.  Trim your walnuts into slim slivers, too.  Mould the marzipan around the fruits and nuts so that it's date-stone shaped and will fit into the cavity left when the stone was removed.  The  picture is a cross section of the two that I've done, the walnut is on the left and the candied peel is on the right.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave or over boiling water on the hob, then dip one end of the stuffed dates in and set aside to cool and firm up.  You can see one cut open along with some completed examples.  I don't spend hours making the chocolate level, I like my home made treats to look just that, home made and rustic.  But you can smooth away to your heart's content.  You might find it easier if you add some vegetable shortening to the chocolate when you melt it, if that's what you plan to do.

Be inventive - you can use other fruits and nuts to stuff them with.  Look in the store cupboard and see what's around.  Glace cherries would be lovely, but I used all mine in my Christmas cake and haven't got round to replacing them yet!  Or green angelica would look stunning.  Dried apricots cut into slivers would be good, cranberries would be a festive touch, slivered almonds would echo the marzipan, you get the idea. 
Enjoy - but not too many at once!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

triple chocoate flapjack - pure indulgence for the WI party!

Although I love Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies, Stollen and all the other delicious goodies packed with dried fruits of all descriptions (well, except bananas, of course, I wouldn't want to be ill, now, would I?) I know that there are others who dislike dried fruit products for whatever reason.  In fact, the top tier of our wedding cake was Victoria sponge as my ex-husband was just such a person!

So ... this is an indulgent treat for those who choose not to participate in the fruity side of Christmas fare - it's only fair that they should get a treat too, and there's nothing to say that you can't share it, now is there?

You've all heard of flapjack, and probably made it.  Usually it's a golden brown, sweet chewy bar, but not very exciting.  I hear you saying, but it's not indulgent.  However, this is triple chocolate flapjack.  Yes, that's right, three forms of chocolate going on in here, if that's not indulgent, I don't know what is!  No, it's not healthy - it's not supposed to be, it's a treat, and treats are allowed to be unhealthy - in fact they probably should be.

It was my local WI Christmas party this afternoon, and I wanted to take along something that was vegan, gluten free, but wouldn't make everyone run away in horror at the thought of it - you know how some people can be "Oh, it's vegan, I don't eat vegan food!", or  "Oh, well, I won't have any because I can eat normal foods."  I decided to make these to take along as most people eat chocolate, and they look "normal"!  

Alas, my cupboard had run out of golden syrup, so I had to make an emergency dash down the road to buy some before I could continue with the baking.  Still, the excercise must have burned off at least half a slice worth of calories, mustn't it? :-)

Triple Chocolate Flapjack

100g margarine
75 g golden syrup
75g soft brown sugar
75g plain chocolate
290g rolled oats
40g cocoa
50g plain chocolate for topping - you could go mad here, and use one of the lovely spiced bars - well, it is Christmas!

Put the oven on to heat at 180C, gas 4, 350F.  Grease a shallow baking tin approx 11" by 7", or line with silicone, or non-stick sheet if you prefer.

Melt the syrup, margarine, sugar and 75g chocolate in a large glass bowl in the microwave, or in a saucepan if you prefer.
Sieve the cocoa and mix with the oats.  Stir into the melted ingredients.

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for about half an hour until firming nicely.  Allow to cool in the tin for about five minutes, then mark into fingers or squares and allow to go cold.  I was told that only 'finger food' should be taken for the party, so I cut mine into small squares so that they looked dainty, rather than the more usual finger shapes.

When cold, remove from the tin and break into the shapes you marked.

Melt the 50g of plain chocolate and spread over the fingers or squares.

I placed each square in a paper case as they were going to be on the buffet table.

Enjoy.  Or, give to someone else to enjoy!

Monday, 13 December 2010

A new fantasy novel by my daughter - a shameless advert!

Do you enjoy reading fantasy novels?  If so, you might like to check out my daughter's new novel, Rebellion, the first in a trilogy entitled the Chronicles of Charanthe.  This link will take you to the home page, where you can read the first three chapters to whet your appetite :-)

The novel is available in paperback or electronically, so if you prefer to read on Kindle, or an I-pad, you don't need to miss out!

I enjoyed reading it as it was written, and I like to think that it's not just that I'm her mother, although I accept that I would always be predisposed to favour what she writes. 

This isn't a wizards and witches fantasy land, no magic spells to help out our heroine; just good old determination, blood, sweat and tears.  Eleanor is tenacious, and determined to seek for what she wants.  Why not take a look and see if you can empathise with a young girl, brave enough to refuse the safe, steady job she is offered, electing instead for a life of hardship and danger as she chases what might only be a dream?

A great stocking filler!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Why don't I feel "Christmassy"?

I enjoy Christmas.  Really, I do!  When my daughter was at home we decorated the house on the 1st of December, and she was in charge of all the cards that subsequently arrived, either decorating the bannisters, or the hessian hangers we made to display them on.

When I worked at school I also decorated the house, and wore Christmassy ear-rings and a brooch, and even glittery nail varnish.  Nowadays, though, I don't seem to have enough enthusiasm for it.

I strongly suspect that I've answered my own question.  I'm no longer surrounded by children, and without them, the magic just isn't there any more.

I've written my cards, store bought for most folk, but hand-made for the special friends and family.  I've wrapped presents.  I've even delivered some of them, and received some in return.  I've attended a Christmas Fair and listened to a French horn ensemble play carols, but it hasn't done the trick.

Maybe tomorrow will make it seem nearer; I have two Christmas parties in one day, wouldn't you know it?  And, by some strange coincidence, both are book group events.  At one we will be discussing The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.  If you haven't read this series of books, I heartily recommend it to you.  Although this is the book we're reading as a group, I've read the whole set of five, such was my enthusiasm.

Enjoy your Christmas preparations:-)

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Nanowrimo update

This, my friends, is what it's all been about!  The last three and a half weeks of almost daily scribbling tapping at my keyboard, sitting, for the most part, in the sunshine in the conservatory, bringing characters to life.

And now they have all made their appearences in black and white, what to do with them?  The simple answer is, I really don't know!  Some of them I don't like, so they'll be filed away in the "out-takes" file.  Others have more to say than I have had time to write, so I can expand upon them at leisure.

Now it's time to prune out the dead wood, perhaps allowing new growth to spurt through.  Maybe, just maybe, I'll be brave enough, one day, to send it out into the world to seek a publisher.  Maybe.

Here's another brief extract of one of the latest characters for you:

Suri indicated right, and pulled her Mercedes in to the side of the road outside her parent’s house. It was a neat house, newly double glazed with gold rimmed diamond shapes inset into to the tops of the upper windows, just as her mother had requested. Her mother didn’t get her own way in many things, what married Asian woman did? So it was the least Suri could do to give her this small amount of power.

Suri let herself in, hung her coat on the hall peg, dropped her bag on the floor and went into the living room. Her mother stood up, smiled at her, and went into the kitchen to put on the pan of chai. It didn’t matter who arrived at the door, the pan of chai was set upon the heat. Her mother was a welcoming soul.

Suri followed her mother into the kitchen. She bent down and gave her a brief hug.

‘How has your day been, Mammaji?’

‘The usual. Auntie Miriam came round with the baby this morning, I’ve been cooking all afternoon. How was your day, Suribibi?’

‘Hard, but good. I’ve got a new client, so the partners are pleased with me. There should be a decent bonus at the end of the year.’

‘Your father will be so proud of you.’

‘I know. Can I help you with anything?’

‘Yes, you can roll out the millet breads for me. I will fry them. But first, sit down and drink your chai. Go through, I will fetch it for you.’

Suri walked back into the living room and perched on the large, blue and gold settee. Another of her mother’s choices. She kicked off her high heeled shoes, and wriggled her toes to restore the life to them. Why did she bother? Nobody there appreciated her long legs. Suri unpinned her long, black hair, allowing it to fall in a curtain down her back. She rubbed at her scalp where the pins had tugged.

Her mother came in with two steaming mugs of milky chai, and sat herself down beside her. She rubbed at Suri’s neck with her firm fingers, and Suri relaxed.

‘That feels so good, Mamma. Your fingers are very soothing.’

‘In India, all we girls learned to give a massage to relax stressed muscles.’
‘Well, I’m glad you did. Thank you.’
They sipped at their scalding tea, chattering about nothing in particular. The sound of a key turning in the lock had them both rushing for the kitchen. Suri quickly tied her hair into a pony tail, and began to take small pieces of the millet flour dough that her mother had made earlier in the day, forming them into balls, and rolling them deftly with a small wooden roller. Her mother had the gas jet on high under the two frying pans; she took the flat breads as Suri rolled them, slapping them down briskly on to the hot pans, turning them as they blistered, then cooking the undersides for a minute.

Time for a cuppa, now, I think I deserve it:-)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Nanowrimo update - extract

The sun is beating down outside (which reminds me, the washing machine must have finished by now, excuse me a minute!)  yes, it had finished, so I've hung out the washing, and made a cup of barley to warm my fingers up again - the sun might be out, but it's still pretty chilly from the frost early this morning!

I'm currently exceeding my target of a couple of thousand words a day, which is just as well because I'm off to see my parents for a long weekend, and doubt I'll get very much writing done then, so I need some words in the bank, so to speak.

Anyway, I've several characters fighting for their stories to be told, so here's the beginning of one chapter in my new novel WLTM - I hope you enjoy meeting Jim:-)  Keep warm!

“Snail WLTM similar, or lugger. Male, 62, seeks fellow traveller for friendship and holidays.”


Duvet – check. Pillow – check. Wash bag – check. Towels – check. Grocery box – check. Fridge stocked: sausages, bacon, butter, cheese, ham, lettuce, tomatoes, beer, soda water, bread – check. Jim ran down his list out of habit, not because he thought he’d ever forget anything, after all, he’d been doing this for thirty odd years, he ought to be well versed by now.

He whistled gently as he methodically worked through, loading the car carefully, following the plan he and Anna had worked out years ago. That way the car was properly balanced for weight against the caravan, and there was no chance he’d omit anything vital.
Jim walked back into the house and looked around. He caught sight of the small green compost bin at the side of the sink – oops, nearly forgot to empty it, that would have been a nasty surprised to return to after a couple of weeks away! He took it down to the bottom of the garden, warned the worms that he was about to lift the lid of the large, black, compost bin, then gave them their breakfast, and bid them goodbye. If Prince Charles could talk to plants, he saw no reason not to talk to his worms, they worked jolly hard for him, but then, he looked after them well.

He rinsed out the green bin and left it to drain. What else might he have forgotten? Oh, yes, the fridge. Jim removed the half bottle of milk, and the potatoes left over from his dinner last night. He took them out to the Lunar waiting patiently on the drive, and added them to the fridge. Surely now that was everything? He’d arranged with a neighbour to empty the post box, stopped the newspaper delivery, yes, he was certain that he was ready for the off.

Two hours later Jim indicated and pulled over into the lay by he always used on his way down to Norfolk. He lit the gas under the kettle, took down the tea pot, put a spoonful of leaves in, and sat down to read the paper for a few minutes. This was one of the good things about caravanning, a fresh cuppa whenever the fancy took you, with no exorbitant prices to pay. When the kettle whistled, he made his brew, then returned to the paper. He took out a pen from the top drawer, and began to do the crossword. He found it kept his brain agile to do the puzzles in the paper every day, he tried to complete the crossword, word wheel and sudoku, feeling very disappointed if he failed.

He’d made good inroads into the crossword by the time he’d finished his tea and a couple of chocolate digestives, and was ready to continue on his way.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Nanowrimo update

The worldwide insanity that is nanowrimo continues unabated.  All over the world, ordinary-seeming individuals are pandering to their secret, or not-so secret, desire to write a novel.  Any novel, not necessarily a best-seller, in fact, almost certainly  not a best-seller.  Probably not even something they'd allow their very best friend to read.

Only another member of the crazed brotherhood sisterhood nanowrimo family would understand that it doesn't matter if there are holes in the plot-line, that the main character seems to have changed his or her name in parts of the book, or that you ran out of steam after 55,000 words and the ending hasn't really happened.

All that really matters is getting down a minimum of 50,000 words of your potential novel.  That's my understanding, and I'm sticking to it.

I can't believe that I've kept up the momentum, and am achievimg my 2000 word a day target, but I am:-) not all my chapters are finished, but that doesn't matter, I've plenty of time to go back and complete them.  What I'm concentrating on is setting the characters up, and that's working.

MAybe I'll give you a taster next week, maybe.

double rainbow! wow!!

I've never seen one before, and now I have:-)

I wasn't best pleased at the tap on the window - who really wants to go outside when it's teeming down with rain and they're busy writing?  Oh, you would, would you?  Well, I can't say I was all that eager to go out there, but when he motioned to bring my camera, I realised that I'd better get a move on!

I believe that all the gods in the heavens had left their showers on full and gone out for the day, it was torrential rain pouring down on my poor street!  I grabbed my most waterproof cagoule and camera, no, not a waterproof camera, just the cagoule, and slipped my feet into boots and ventured out.  He was waiting at the top of the drive, beckoning me.  I went to meet him.

He pointed, I stared, open-mouthed, then switched on the camera and clicked.  Two rainbows, one above the other, embraced the end of the road.  What a spectacular sight!  I've heard of them, but never seen an example of nature's gift displayed for us like this.  Almost close enough to touch.

My photos don't do it justice, and I'd suggest that you enlarge them to get the benefit of them, but they give you a flavour of the majesty that the sky presented that day, I hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Nanowrimmo - I've started!

Well, what do you know, I've actually started my novel.  Not only that, I exceeded my self imposed target of 2000 words yesterday - not by a huge margin, I admit, but I got to 2093 before I decided that enough was enough.

Today I've already written 1000, and the night, as they say, is yet young, so, who knows, another successful day?  We'll see.

If you're on this crazy journey, good luck, and I hope you're enjoying it.  It's great to be part of a worldwide family of slightly insane dedicated, hard-working devotees of novel writing.

For the rest of you, have a relaxing day:-)

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Nanowrimo - write a novel in November

Insanity obviously runs in my family!  Or so people think - but they're wrong!

For the last few years my daughter has participated in Nanowrimo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month - you do what it says on the tin in the title, write a novel of a minimum of 50,000 words in the month of November.  30 days of dedicated novel writing, strictly no more than 30, entries submitted after the 30th November won't count.

I've longed to join in, but was afraid to complicate my aging brain by writing a long novel whilst concentrating on my degree work.  However, since I'm taking a year out before I start my PhD, I'm going to give it a go this year, so, beginning tomorrow, I shall be striving to write going on for 2000 words a day so that by the end of the month I shall have achieved my 50,000 wordcount.

It'll be different, they suggest no revising and editing, which is contrary to the way I usually write, but hey, it's going to be fun and different.  Cross your fingers and toes for me and wish me luck!

Halloween, Wheat-free Pumpkin and carrot cake

I was determined not to waste the pumpkin flesh from my Halloween lantern, and a sweet cake appealed to me for a change.  I found a recipe for a simple to make pumpkin cake which I tweaked and converted to gluten-free and vegan.

375g grated pumpkin
225g gluten free flour
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 tsp Ener g egg replacer
4 tblps cold water
1 tblsp silken tofu
250 ml sunflower oil
200g sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

2 tblsp raw porridge oats

Place the flour, baking powder, spices and grated pumpkin into a large bowl and stir together.  The keen eyed amongst you will have spotted that I've used pumpkin and carrot because I didn't bother to weigh the pumpkin flesh I'd grated and simply assumed a bowlful would be sufficient.  It wasn't.  So, I figured that since carrot cake tastes good, I'd make up the weight with grated carrot.  Mea culpa:(

When you've stirred it all together it looks pretty boring, but I'm optimistic, so persevered!
In another bowl combine the sugar and oil.  Whip the egg replacer and water until it's starting to thicken, then stir the silken tofu in and combine well (or, if you're not vegan, you simply use 2 eggs!). 

Stir the wet mix into the dry and combine until evenly mixed.I looked at it and decided it looked far too oily, so added the oats to absorb it, this wasn't part of the original recipe. 
I thought the mixture looked quite unpleasant, like raw sausage meat, but, as I said, I'm an optimist.

Spoon the mixture into lined patty tins, I had enough for this tray of 6 plus a small rectangular cake tin, too.  Bake in an oven preheated to 180C, gas 4, 350F, for about 20-25 mins until golden brown, as you can see below.

They looked lovely, and tasted delicious, but, for my taste they were still too oily.  I shall make them again but substitute margarine for the oil, which should solve the problem.

If you try them, let me know what you think:)

Halloween! Pumpkin four ways - yes, four!!

It's that time of year again when the streets are full of children wearing skeletons or witch's garb, and I go out and buy sweets so that when they knock on the door I have something to offer them:-)

I bought my pumpkin to hack amateurishly carve into a face to sit in the window so that the children know they won't be ignored.  I planned to make soup and cake with the pumpkin flesh, and roast the delicious, nutritious seeds.  I'm going to split this into three blog pages so that you don't have one humongous blog to wade through - see how I care about you all?  Here's what I did:

Cut a lid from the pumpkin, scooped out all the seeds and pulp.  Set the seeds aside, soaking in some water so they'd be easy to clean.

I found the easiest way to take the flesh from the inside of the pumpkin was to use my apple corer.  I put the flesh into a pan as I went along ready for the soup.

When I'd removed most of the inside, leaving a firm shell, I took a large, sharp knife and cut out a couple of triangles for eyes, used the apple corer to give a "button nose", then a simple crescent for a smile - I'm not into spooky faces, just a simple, happy pumpkin for my callers:-)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Christmas card from "freebies" number three

For the third mouse card I decided to make a square design.  I took my basic A5 piece of white card, but folded it a third of the way in, to give me a square card with only half a front.  You’ll see why at the end, it’s really not madness, honest!  I trimmed a quarter of an inch from the base of the card and it now fits into some square envelopes which I bought ages ago in a sale.

So here we are again with our mouse decoupage

and the matching backing paper, which I decided I really had to use at least once!

I covered the inside of the card, and the half front with the backing paper, ensuring that both sheets were the same way up.  It took one and a half sheets of the backing paper.

I matted the main mouse image on to the pale green to make the topper as before, predictably I suppose, but I really do think it sits well on the green.  I used foam pads to fix the star and candy canes, but opted not to use the spare apples and gifts. 

Nor did I use the matching greeting.  Instead I took a simple gold "confetti" phrase of "Merry Xmas", which I placed at an angle across the top left.  I took three tiny gold "confetti" stars and placed them on the tree with tiny dabs of PVA glue.  I didn't use any glitter glue this time - with all that busy background I wanted to keep the topper relatively simple and understated.  I was surprised at how much I actually liked the backing paper once I was using it!

I've propped open the card so that you can see the way the topper is fixed only at the left so that the other half overhangs the main body of the card for a totally different look - do be careful to place your foam pads or glue on the RIGHT hand side of the reverse of the topper - I admit I've applied them to the "wrong" side before now!!!  It's not the end of the world if you do, simply put foam pads on  the remaining side and use that topper on a full card later, and make a new topper for your original card, but it is mega frustrating!!!

So, there  you are, three quite different cards from one "freebie" decoupage design.  Do you have a preference?  amd why that one?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Christmas card from "freebies" number two

This card is similar to the first, well, it would be, using the same decoupage sheet, I suppose!!  Here it is again, to remind you of the raw material, so to speak.

I’ve matted the pink design on to green again as I think this really works well, and repeated the use of an A6 white card blank.  The dark green is the envelope.

I've placed the presents in more or less the same place as it seems logical, same with the greeting.

the candy canes I've applied with sticky fixers to add some depth, and one overhangs the base of the tree as that's what happens in "real life" isn't it?  I've also used a foam pad to elevate the star this time, which I think is an improvement.  I've repeated the use of the glitter glue on apples, garland and star - just a hint though, not too much as these are subtle, chalky colours and I don't want to overpower them.

The spare apples for the tree I have cut out as a block, and matted this on to the same pale green backing.  I've mounted this new topper at the top left which gives a very different feel to yesterday's card, in my opinion - what do you think?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Making Christmas Cards from "freebies"

I bought issue 84 of Cardmaking and Papercraft because I quite liked the look of the “freebie” on the front – a square wad of Chritmassy papers with cute designs.  I’m quite a traditionalist, really, loving the rich red, gold and deep greens of the season, but I realise that not everyone has the same tastes, and these looked quite subtle, so I thought “Why not?” and bought it.

There are three papers of each design comprising three decoupage topper sheets followed by three co-ordinating backing papers.  I thought you might find it interesting to see what I made with just four of the papers, so I'll show you design one a day and you can tell me which you prefer, if any, and why.

I decided to give this cute little mouse an airing first of all - she reminds me that it's almost time to start decorating.  I don't put up a tree any longer, but when Rachel was small we always erected the tree on December 1st so that we had 24 days as a run up to Christmas, then after Christmas day we began the countdown to her birthday which is quite soon afterwards.

This is the backing paper which accompanies her page, the apples echo those she'd decorating the tree with, but the orange seems a little harsh in tone to me, so I decided simply to stick to the decoupage sheet.  I decided to matt her onto a pale green paper to compliment the tree, and this went on to a plain white A6 card blank.  I cut out the greeting and matted that in the same way.

I cut out each of the accompanying pieces and arranged them as you can see, the gifts look good on the floor beside the tree, and you can see I've deliberately overlapped the frame; I used deep foam pads for this.  I used foam pads to stick one of the apples on the tree, one ready for her to pick up at her feet, and the other has rolled away, as round things often do!  The star and candy canes I stuck down with paper glue.

I placed the greeting centrally, overlapping the base of the main matting to break up the design a little more.

I thought the top left looked a little bare, so found some pearly pink "gems" and stuck them down with some red glitter glue for some extra 'oomph'.  I used a little of the same glue to highlight the apples.  I took some gold glitter glue and traced over the garland on the tree and the star.

So there you are, my first card using some of the "freebie" stash.  I'll show you another tomorrow.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Wheat-free apple cake with no added sugar- use those windfall apples!

So, back to the apples!  Occasionally I enjoy a slice of cake;  I don't mean an airy-fairy gateau, which is fine to end a meal, but a slice of good, wholesome cake to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.  It has to be a slice of something which will be simple to eat, no cake forks necessary, and satisfying - there must be some substance to it - something to get my teeth into and enjoy.

This apple cake ticks all the boxes, and, importantly at the moment, it utilises some of those apples.  Windfalls, or those mis-shapen ones are ideal as they're going to be grated.

You'll need:
200g flour, I used barley, but to make it gluten free choose your own favourite flour(s) - maybe rice and potato, or gram and soya 
half a teaspoon each of cinnamon and mixed spice - to taste
half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
100g margarine
275g mixed dried fruit, I used raisins, sultanas and chopped dates
230g coarsely grated cooking apples (eating apples will give a sweeter cake, and the texture will be slightly different)
2 tsps of egg replacer made up with 4 tblsps of water or fruit juice

Rub the fat into the sifted flour, spices and bicarb until it's like breadcrumbs.
Coarsely grate the apple; I leave the skins on mine as they're organic, but you can peel yours if you like.  The weight given is of the grated apple, which, in my case, equated to two large and two medium windfall apples once I'd cut off the bruised and battered sections!
Mix the fruits into the dry mixture, then bind with the egg replacer liquid.  Turn into an 8" lined cake tin and bake in a moderate oven, 175C in my fan oven, 180C, 350F or gas mark 4 otherwise.
 Bake for about an hour and a quarter, more or less depending on your oven, the flour used etc.  Test with a warmed skewer inserted in the centre - it it comes out clean, it's done:-)  If not, give it a further quarter of an hour and test again.  It should be a lovely golden brown - rather like the splendid one below, which has been allowed to cool completely before slicing.
Many fruit cake recipes tell you to shake your dried fruit with flour to avoid the problem of all the fruit sinking to the bottom of the cake, but, as you can see, it's certainly not necessary in this recipe.

Now, time to put the kettle on, I think:-)

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Apples, again! Make your own mincemeat for Christmas mince pies :-)

We love Christmas cake, mince pies, Christmas pudings and anything full of fruits, so tasty:-)

Another good use for the windfall apples, and less than pretty ones, is to make your own mincemeat - ready for baking those mince pies that will permeate the whole house with heady scents of fruit and spices.

This is another really simple recipe, so you have no excuse not to try it.

I took:

400g grated cooking apples
100g margarine
300g raisins
300g sultanas
300g chopped dates
200g unrefined sugar
half a teaspoon each of cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg and cumin
2 lemons, zest and juice
4 tblsps fresh orange juice

60ml brandy

Toss everything, except the brandy, into a large ovenproof dish and stir thoroughly. I use a dessert spoon to measure out the margarine, and you don't need try to break it down into tiny pieces, it's going to melt to make your life easier!

grated zest

dried fruit

I grated the apple straight onto the lemon zest and juice

I used a spoon to measure out the margarine

roughly stir everything together
Place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 115C for a fan oven, 120C, 250F or gas mark 1/2 for half an hour. Remove from the oven and give it a really good stir to mix everything. The margarine should be very soft and creamy now, and stirring well helps to coat everything with a fine coating of fat which helps it to keep.
place back in the oven

Replace in the oven for a further half an hour, then remove, stir again and allow to cool before adding in the brandy. Stir again then decant into containers and store in the fridge.

after an hour it will look like this

when it's cool, stir in the brandy
I admit to enjoying a spoonful in with my fruit smoothies at breakfast sometimes, on those grey, rainy days when I feel the need for more "comfort" food :-)