Category Archives: Sweet

Elderflowers & Bicycles

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

 

I think it is fair to say that I am not good at taking compliments.  I don’t think I am very different from most women, but I do seem to have a particular knack of brushing them off, belittling or ignoring them.  When your confidence has taken a bash or two, it is hard to remember that the things you are good at, never really leave you.  You are still the person that did the things that you used to, you just haven’t done them for a while.  But blogging is not a bicycle.  You can’t just jump on again. Can you?

Three years have gone by since I made my last confession. A lot has happened. To start with, we no longer live in Seattle, but in London. We have moved continents, countries, homes and schools at least once over the last several months and the toll of starting afresh has weighed us down.  We said goodbye to people and places we loved.  I kissed farewell to my teaching kitchen and business, and we moved back ‘home’ to a place that felt very different to the one we left almost a decade ago. Finding our feet in a furiously busy city made us realise how accustomed to sedate Seattle life we had become. Living on top of each other in a teensy rental with one bathroom for 18 months would be a test of the best of marriages. Ours only just scraped by, thanks to a husband with a sense of humour that is particularly tickled by all things toilet.

 

Freshly Picked Elderflowers and Sorrento Lemons

Freshly Picked Elderflowers and Sorrento Lemons

 

We built a house in Kensal Rise, that took two years to nearly complete (we still have a list of ‘to do’ items).  And I got sick. My family had to muddle through while I tried to get better, and then I got sick again.  It has been a long road, but I am finally able to say that I will be well again.  I know it in my bones, even though my head does not always feel it.  Meningitis is jealous guest, refusing to share its host with others, and never entirely leaving.  The ‘hangover’ as I have taken to refer to it, waxes and wanes to its own rythm.  An unrelenting fog that occasionally lifts enough to give me a glimpse of what is around the corner, but more often than not, it settles in for weeks at a time. The anxious vulnerability that comes with an illness that leaves you distrusting your fickle memory and vacillating strength can become crippling. It becomes impossible to make plans, when you don’t trust that the good days will stay. Anyone familiar with a migraine will wince at the memory of what I am hinting at.

I don’t like to talk about it though, because I feel that to do so, gives it oxygen.  It has taken up enough of my families’ time over the last year and a half, and any additional discussion simply gives it further attention, that is wholly undeserved. My undivided efforts are to be better. To stay better. And to finally get back to what I do best.  To what I love. To cook.

The journey has been a winding one, with much to learn along the way.  Foods that harm and foods that heal are a constant topic of thought and discussion.  Getting back to basics, to old ways, and simpler things has always been what Heirlooms & Wooden Spoons was about.  Sharing learning, skills and my kitchen have always brought me joy. I may be a little bruised, but I know more today than I ever did, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will teach me. With the unrelenting support of my husband and little family, I intend to gently build back up my fledgeling enterprise. Starting here.

The fragile and fleeting Elderflower seemed an appropriate topic for my first post in a while. In the most surprising corners of this throbbing city, tiny delicate white flowers can be found bursting into the sunshine.  Each head lasts little more than a day and must be picked and cooked when it has just flowered. The heady aroma as it steeps in syrup fills my kitchen with the scent of a promise of things to come.

Perhaps, one day, a Teaching Kitchen in London? Hmmm …  Cooking Classes in Kensal Rise anyone?

Elderflower Cordial

2 litres water

2.5 kg organic sugar

250g elderflowers; rinsed, shaken out, stalks removed (approx 25 heads)

3 lemons; remove zest with peeler in strips. Remove pith and use only flesh and zest

85g citric acid

 

Summer in a Bottle

Summer in a Bottle

 

Bring sugar and water to the boil, stirring occasionally to stop it from catching. once boiling, turn it off and throw in elderflowers, lemon and acid. Cover and leave to cool for 48 hours, then bottle. Quintessential England, in a bottle.

It can be kept it in the fridge for about five weeks, you can freeze it or jar it and use a water bath ‘canning’ method to store it at ambient temperature for longer.

Use in cakes, over icecreams, in cocktails or simply serve with sparkling water on a hot day.

4 Comments

Filed under Everything!, Spring Recipes, Summer, Sweet

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

6 inches.

6 inches of snow in Blightly.

Families are stranded, it is minus 13 in Notting Hill, and if you live anywhere else you are probably snowed in and wondering how on earth you are going to get the Christmas shopping done…in 6 inches of snow! I am so jealous I don’t know what to do with myself.  The magic of freshly fallen snow in London is a rare and beautiful treat.  Everything goes quiet.  People talk to each other from across the street, and no one goes to work or school.  We take to the streets with tea trays and bobble hats and whinge about the fact that it hasn’t actually snowed on Christmas Day… and probably now won’t. 

Here, in Singapore, I am hot.  And not in a good way.  In a slightly desperate effort to fill my home with at least the tastes and scents of Christmas; I have resorted to making gingerbread by the batch load.  I adore gingerbread… in all its’ forms.  The glittering cookies that adorn the tree but are far too tough to eat; the old fashioned little men with their currant eyes and buttons cheerfully awaiting decapitation; the snap of delicate thin biscuits that adorn coffee cups and the comforting, fat, soft variety laden with icing that no child can resist.

Gingerbread Houses are the ultimate homage to this humble biscuit; and in our house, regardless of the fact that humidity and ‘E’ numbers mean that it is destined to collapse within hours, we have made one anyway.  It is beautiful.  Its’ fragility makes it all the more endearing, and we are still arguing over whether Mother or Son wins the ‘best house competition’! 

The truth is that my son’s house wins hands down.  It is laden with every kind of candy he could lay his hands on.  Red and green painted canes are lined up like little soldiers; the roof is a veritable smorgasbord of multi-coloured tooth-rotting rock tiles; a sugar Father Christmas is groaning under the weight of  a net bag of melting chocolate coins (it is 32C in our living room); and the garden path is bedecked with hundreds and thousands, multi-coloured sprinkles and dinosaur eggs… oh… and of course there is a pile of strawberry laces and Bassett’s Licorice Allsorts (smuggled through customs by a very good friend) for good English measure. 

As I said; his wins hands down.  Mine is of course an anally retentively be-sparkled  rendition, with what an interior designer might refer to as a ‘nod to Scandinavia’.  The restrained red and white icing that adorns the 17 windows is delicate and charming, the front door has a diminutive snowman for a knocker and the house…nay Schloss… is two storey to boot.

But Hansel, Gretel and I all agree – If lost in a snowstorm in a deep, dark forest; it is my four year olds’ cheerful little collapsing cottage that we would run to – the candy alone would keep us going ’til next year, and besides… we probably couldn’t afford the heating at the Schloss.

Gingerbread Biscuits 

Originally from Cooks Illustrated ( a wonderful mine of information) I have tweaked and bastardised this recipe to my own tastes.  It is my version of proper old fashioned style gingerbread, the like of which I imagine Hansel and Gretel digging into on a frosty night.  The batch will make 30 small thin cookies or about 15 large fat, soft cookies.  The dough (if rolled thin and baked until  hard) is good for using as decorations or if rolled fat and cooked for a shorter time (removed from oven whilst still soft) produces lovely chewy biscuits; great for immediate eating, or they will last pretty well for a few days  in an airtight box.  

Ingredients                                                                           

160g of salted butter – cold and hard and cut into small cubes 

160 packed dark brown soft sugar

1 ½ TBSPs powdered cinnamon

1 TBSP dried powdered ground ginger

400g plain flour

½ tsp table/running salt

¾ tsp baking soda

3/4 cup liquid unsulphured molasses

2 TBSPs water (not always necessary)

Method

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a food processor or stand mixer. If you don’t have one of these you can stir it all together in a big bowl, making sure it is mixed well. Then scatter the pieces of butter over the top of the dry ingredients and either tickle them together or process in a machine until the mixture becomes sandy, slightly damp sand.  If using a kitchenaid; do this using the whisk attachment, then swap to ‘K’ whip for next part. 

Slowly add the molasses to the dry mixture to make a dough, stirring all the time (or with the machine slowly running). Stop adding the molasses when the dough is evenly moistened and thoroughly comes together to form a soft ball; you may not need all of the liquid (especially if making in a hot, humid climate).  However, if you need more liquid simply add a TBSP at a time of extra water until the dough comes together and before it becomes a paste that sticks to the side. 

Roll the dough out to the desired thickness between two sheets of greaseproof paper (no need to use any flour).  Then, refrigerate for a few hours until really firm.  Peel away the top layer of paper and cookie cutter out desired shapes, lay on a parchment paper lined oven tray and refrigerate again until the oven is ready.  You can bring the dough together and roll out as many times as you need to, between the two sheets of greasproof paper, to keep cutting out cookies.  The dough doesn’t toughen because you are not adding any more flour each time you roll it out.  Once you have cut out your shapes they can even be kept in the freezer for a few weeks before baking, as long as they are stored with greaseproof/parchment paper between each one and in a sealed box.

Bake at 170C on parchment lined flat trays straight from the fridge in order to keep their shape and stop them from spreading.  If making thin crisp ones they may only take about 8 minutes to bake hard (remove before the edges start to burn), however if making soft fat ones, they may take a little longer and you will want to remove them when set and slightly risen, but still soft to the touch in the middle.

If making traditional men you will want to press in soaked currants for eyes and buttons before baking, or wait until cool to decorate with cut out fondant icing, royal icing and sprinkles.

Happy Christmas All!

1 Comment

Filed under Everything!, Fun to do with little people..., Recipes, Sweet, Winter