jam

Calendar Cards (and notes from the week that was)

Calendar Card DIY

It’s our wedding anniversary later this week so my thoughts turned to cards.  A few months ago I stumbled across this beautiful free graphic calendar from Jasmine Dowling, and thought how perfect it would be for making cards to mark a special date or anniversary.  I downloaded the calendar page for July, resized to A5, then glued it to a piece of cardstock before adding tiny wooden pegs and circling our wedding date in red glitter glue…  and that’s all.  I’m in a pared-down, understated frame of mind at the moment and the visual simplicity of it really appealed.  Thanks Jasmine!  (These would be great to make as Save The Date cards for a wedding or party too..)

Heart date card

It’s our sixth anniversary and I’m looking for ideas; apparently it’s traditional to give your loved one iron as a gift – not to be confused with an iron I think, though this maybe why so many marriages suffer from the seven year itch; it can’t be easy to move on from the romantic gesture of laundry supplies.

For our fourth anniversary we gave each other the gift of a giant pair of faux resin antlers from RH (below); they looked so stylish and elegant online, and indeed they do now in our home – but the real act of love was the gesture my husband made in escorting them home from the US after a business trip.  It was, he later said, the longest interrogation he has ever faced at an airport check-in desk, when presented with the 44″ antler span; (‘Where were you thinking we would store these, sir?  Or should we just strap the darn things to the plane?’).  They arrived in the UK with balled-up sports socks attached jauntily to each point for protection, trussed in Heavy Load tape. We vowed then that gifts would be token purchases, and highly portable at that – and our relationship has flourished ever since.

moose antlers from RH

Still, gifts made of iron??  Suggestions please…

One purchase I did make this week was this beautiful Tradewinds Mural from Anthropologie (below)  - I had seen it months ago and become mildly obsessed, with my enthusiasm constrained only by the price tag.  Then the Sale came and I was lost.  It’s going up in Harry’s bedroom I think, for a splash of colour and to inspire dreams of globe-trotting and discovery.

tradewinds mural

With interiors in mind, I finally finished the faux fireplace in our master bedroom, which is gradually coming together (more pictures soon, I promise).  When we recently renovated the en-suite bathroom it focused my mind on how to update our bedroom to complement it.  We added a simple, architectural fire surround to the plain wall, then packed it with 10cm deep log slices to give the impression of a filled-in hearth….

log filled fireplace

And then finally for this week, one culinary success and one truly epic fail; the success first – a drizzled lemon and poppyseed cake which vanished without trace in the space of a day, using a recipe from my current favourite cookbook… you can see my passion for the bundt tin hasn’t yet abated;

Lemon drizzle cake

Homemade lemon drizzle cake

And the epic fail?  Well, my fig tree finally produced a flurry of these beauties below, and I decided to try making fig jam, as a perfect accompaniment to the cheeseboard we had planned for dinner with friends.  Well.  My first attempt produced a kind of fruity industrial-style cement (albeit one which smelled divine), which adhered to our teeth in minutes and had the staying power of cinder toffee, rendering the whole table literally speechless.  Very little actual cheese was consumed, largely because jaws were sealed shut with fig jam.

figs

I am determined to crack it though, and when I do you will be the first to know.  Trust me.

Have a great week!

Kate

A Marmalade fit for the Countess of Grantham

Downton Abbey Marmalade

There cannot be many things that my husband and the society grand dames played by Maggie Smith have in common, but a lifelong passion for marmalade is surely one of them.  In Gosford Park, Maggie Smith’s Countess of Trentham denounces those households shabby enough to serve shop-bought marmalade, and by series 2 of Downton Abbey, the Countess observes that marmalade cocktails are the fashionable drink-of-the-moment; a heady sign that the roaring twenties are on the horizon.

My husband prefers his marmalade  on toast, preferably daily if not twice-daily.  Like Paddington Bear, he feels somehow incomplete if he discovers himself to be in a marmalade-free environment, and when planning trips abroad will pat his pockets to check for marmalade in the way that other men check for wallets and boarding passes.

My Valentine’s gift to him this year, therefore, will be a year’s supply of marmalade, with personalised labels and even a few travel-sized jars of the exact proportions to fit in a pocket. An unusual present, perhaps, but one which I think will hit the mark.  If you haven’t tried making marmalade, or perhaps haven’t yet even tasted marmalade (an acquired taste, many believe), it’s definitely worth a try.  Here’s what you’ll need;

marmalade ingredients list

True British marmalade uses Seville oranges, a citrus fruit so bitter that were you to unwittingly suck on one your mouth would probably shrivel up with shock.  Add 2 kilos of sugar however, and it becomes blissful.  You can make marmalades with all kinds of different fruit – divine recipes abound on the internet – but classical marmalade requires a very bitter orange which is – appropriately enough – in season in the bitterest of winter months.

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients and a large pan, start by preparing the oranges…

marmalade step by step part 1

Now comes the complicated part (though I managed it, so fear not..).  Take out your muslin bag and give it a squeeze to release the final juices before you discard it.  Now add the juice of your lemon, give it a stir and pour in all the sugar.  Keep it on a low heat as the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil.

Place your jam jars in a hot oven to sterilise; they’ll need about 10mins, then switch off the heat and keep them in there until you are ready to pot up.

If any scum from escaped orange pulp surfaces, just skim it off as you go.  If you have a jam thermometer, wait for the temperature to reach 104.5C/220 F – that’s your setting point and time to turn off the heat.  If you don’t have a thermometer, place a plate in the fridge and then periodically – and carefully – spoon a small amount of the marmalade onto the chilled plate.  When this wrinkles when touched lightly, you’ve reached setting point.

Once you’ve turned off the heat, leave the marmalade to cool for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to distribute the rind.  If you pot it up straight away, the rind will all rise to the top of the jar; it won’t change the taste but aesthetically it looks a bit odd.  Take your jars out of the oven and fill each one to just below the rim.  It should look something like this;

marmalade from katescreativespace

Now place a wax paper disc on top of each before sealing quickly with a lid.  Once the jam has cooled, you can have fun with decorative labels, tags and cloth covers.  For my husband, I designed  these simple ‘Man of the House’ labels, then cut a striped cloth disc to cover the metal lid, securing with a simple rubber band.  I found some vintage silver teaspoons in our local charity shop, so I tied one of these to each jar, and then finally – given the Valentine’s theme – added a chalkboard heart peg to denote each month’s jar of marmalade.

homemade valentines marmalade

homemade marmalade gift

It will be possibly the heaviest Valentine’s gift I’ve given him, but also one of the thriftiest, which is always handy so soon after the Christmas frenzy.  If you try this do let me know how you get on, and if you’re an aficionado of jam and marmalade-making already, please do share any favourite tips or recipes; I’m a distinct amateur but can see this becoming quite a passion…

By the way; the vintage weighing scales I used for the first photo in this post were a recent find, buried in the depths of a local antiques mill; I found them in a roomful of period kitchenalia, from wooden butter pats to round wooden sieves and all sorts of mysterious turn-of-the-centry kitchen gadgetry that must have seemed cutting edge at the time.

A-List Baking

Say what you like about Gwyneth Paltrow, the girl’s obviously got buns of steel and thighs that could crack a walnut at 30 paces. Previously I have attributed this to a diet of pea shoots and a life frittered away in the gym, so I was delighted to discover that au contraire,she maintains her svelte physique by baking and snacking on jammy biscuits.  Well okay then, we’ll call them gluten-free thumbprint cookies.

Harry and I unashamedly customised her recipe in her recent book ‘My Father’s Daughter’, having been delighted to find something so suited to our natural kitchen style, namely a cookie that is actually supposed to be a greyish-brown colour when finished, and also to have a very dented and uneven appearance.  I must ‘fess up that here the similarities end, as Gwyneth confidently predicted a batch of ‘around 50′ cookies, and our efforts yielded, well, 12.  This portion control could explain many things.  Still, H and I will maintain our belief that a proper cookie is one of a size which requires both hands to get a good grip.

Recipe follows… they taste wickedly, addictively good.  Eat one and then give the rest away. Quickly.

Step One: Combine all of the ingredients except for the jam.  Roll into balls and place of a baking sheet.  Demonstrated here by my beautiful assistant Ted Glen, of Postman Pat fame.

Step 2: Make a thumbprint dent, then add a healthy dollop of jam in the centre of each

Step 3: Bake in the oven for 20 mins.  Use this time to either a) kill yourself on the treadmill in preparation for the carb onslaught or b) make a large pot of coffee and locate a comfy chair and a plate.

Step 4: Admire, consume, repeat.

Recipe:

4 cups of Barley flour

3 cups of chopped almonds (we used pistachio nuts instead – we love them)

1 cup of Maple syrup

1 cup of oil

Pinch of salt, teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Jam – any flavour you like.

adapted from Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s  ’Lalo’s Cookies’ recipe