Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Strawberry jam

2lb's of strawberries for $1.99, crazy!  That means only one thing to me, jam.
Strawberry Jam
4lbs of strawberries, better slightly under than over ripe
3lbs sugar
juice of 2 lemons
6 jam jars
6 disc's of greaseproof paper

I like to wipe the strawberries clean (mainly because Delia says so, water can dilute pectin apparently) and cut to desired size.  If they are small enough I like to leave them whole however these were hand sized brutes so required some chopping.  Some people like to mash them...Your call.  Put a small plate in the freezer which you will need later.  Put the clean jam jars in a low oven to warm.
Put strawberries and sugar in to a large heavy bottomed pan, all the better if you have a proper preserving one (I don't), and heat gently.  Once the sugar has dissolved add the lemon juice and wack up the heat to bring the mixture to the boil.
Do not be concerned about the scum.  Some recipes say to skim it off at the end, I don't bother. A lot of it dissipates by the time you get to putting it in the jars.  Now the next stage requires patience and stirring.  You need to stay by the pan (once you've had jam boil over you won't leave it again!) and keep stirring to prevent it catching on the bottom and burning.  It takes about 25-35mins for it to reach setting point and to get to a temperature between 209-220F.   Mine took a little longer than 35 minutes and was up to 220F. I would like to say I can look at it and tell when its ready, or judge by the consistency but I can't.  This is where the plate in the freezer comes in.  Put a blob on the plate and if it wrinkles up when you push it (after its cooled) its ready.  Strawberry jam can be a soft set, so in this instance the 'wrinkles' were very slight on the surface of the jam.    
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in a knob of butter, this helps get rid of the scum.  Leave the jam to cool for about 15 minutes before decanting into the clean, warmed jars.  I use a jam funnel and ladle for this process.

A few hours later make yourself a piece of toast and sample the fruit of your labour!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Octonauts Party

I'd like to use the excuse that its taken a month to recover from the birthday parties - but that's not strictly true.....Although there is no denying a full on kiddie party is hard work!  It was  all worth it, to see my eldest squeal with delight to have her friends at HER party.  It was Octonauts themed as requested, most ideas stolen used from Pinterest.  
I hung blue streamers from the archway to create an entrance way into the underwater world.  As kids arrived they went straight to a craft activity, making either jelly fish (from paper bowls, streamers & googly eyes) or fish from paper plates. I would recommend having an activity to hand as people always arrive in dribs and drabs.  
They then played 'Pin the patch on Kwazii', unfortunately we forgot to take a picture of this. I order the poster from Etsy and Mr Maker printed off a super sized version at work.  
Speaking of Mr Maker, his mornings preparation for the party was the map for the treasure hunt. And what a creation that was! (one would hope so as it took him 1 1/2 hrs to draw, yup, really).  The treasure hunt was a great success, and took longer than anticipated which was a bonus.  He put the kids in teams for 2 or 3 and gave them an empty party bag each.  The hunt started when each team was given a picture clue. At this location (e.g. inside washing machine, BBQ etc) they found their beautiful map which was marked with red X's - the treasure bags.  The treasure bags were marked with a letter and contained 'goodies' which they all took, one of from each location.   After visiting every treasure bag they unscrambled the letters to make the word, and win the treasure hunt!
Anyway, enough games onto the food....
The table

Cheese straws
fish sandwiches
Goldfish (obs!)
carrots & toms + dip
hot dog squid
clam & pearl biscuits/cookies
Captain Barnacles cake

fish sandwiches on seaweed

Octopus dip
Pearl clams
My personal favourite are the clams, aren't they cute?!! I bought the biscuits (cookies) and made some butter icing which I coloured pink.  The pearl is a yoghurt covered raisin and the eyes are dots of black icing. 
Captain Barnacles cake
And here is the man bear himself.  Phew, glad the parties are all over for another year! Happy 5th year to a gorgeous girl xxx

April - the birthday month

If you like cake April is a good month to visit our house.  Three birthdays in one month = back to back cake eating.  The gorging is usually sufficient enough that I can't bring myself to look at a cake until at least June, let alone think about making one.  It's the off cuts that pull me in...
In case you didn't know, both daughter's are completely Octonauts OBSESSED at the moment so it kinda made it easy on the cake design.  Connie's Octonaut of choice is Peso.
Pretty good hey?!! I was really pleased with my first foray into fondant icing.  The whole process took took longer than I thought - with cutting out his shape, a first ice of butter icing, then the rolling and laying of the fondant and of course the gentle coaxing of said icing into the creases and corners.  I made the hat and collar from blue sugar paper and the feet from a tube of yellow icing.

Birthday girl

  The next birthday cake was Mr. Maker's 5 days later. Fortunately no requests had been put in for sea creatures or other animals.  As a parent, you soon realise that you are way down at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to birthday's (isn't that right Will?!), hence no photographic evidence. His was a banana and chocolate chip loaf, yummy all the same.  

I have also had my in-laws visiting this month who kindly carried out (along with my precious Earl Grey tea bags) a Clothkits parcel.  I grew up with Clothkits as they are based in Lewes, Sussex where my cousins live.  For those of you not born in the UK in the 70's to middle class parents, Clothkits print their patterns onto the fabric for you to make into clothes and in my case, dolls.
The kit arrives will all you need to make up Kitty (you can even order with the stuffing), including easy to follow instructions. The doll didn't take long, the dress longer.  Bias binding on a tiny neck is very fiddly!  
A birthday gift made this month for it's recipient in a few months time.

Finally we come to my eldest daughter's birthday this weekend.  The invitations have been sent out, RSVP's received, games formulated and food shopping done. The effort gone into it deserves (and will have) its own blog post, so come back soon!