Thursday, 13 December 2018

Two jams for late spring fete - Apricot and Strawberry

Sylvia's school was holding a fete on the recent day of the state election.  They have a captive audience in the voters at the polling booth in the junior school.  So we made jam.  Finding time this year compared to the last fete was harder but it is nice to take some jam along.  I was surprised to find I did not have a plain apricot jam or strawberry jam on my blog so am making amends here.

Firstly we had to find some cheap strawberries and apricots.  So we made a trip to the Queen Victoria Market.  It was a bit of an outing, first stopping for borek and jam doughnut, then making our way up the fruit and veg aisles to the Peel Street end where the crowds thicken and the vendors yell out their bargains.  It is busy but you find a bargain that way.  The strawberries and apricots were cheap but I had to cut out some blemishes.

At home, we sat and chatted to the neighbour, got dinner and bath before putting Sylvia to bed.  Then I started on the jam.  Sylvia was too excited to sleep.  After trying to get her settled, I ended up letting her help me til late.  We were quite tired and sticky by the time the jam was all in jars.  It's a lovely feeling to see all the jam nicely packaged up.

Both the strawberry jam and apricot jam had a lot of scum on top while cooking and we assiduously skimmed off as much as possible.  When we bottled the jams, the apricot looked perfect (luckily there was a lot of it) but the strawberry had a little scum visible.  I worried a bit when someone said it would look like mould.  But it does taste lovely.  I had almost 10 jars and then my mum made some strawberry jam and apricot and pineapple jam for the fete as well.  I printed labels with the school crest and gave them to the school to put cloth caps on.

And a fete is not a fete without a cake stall.  So Sylvia helped me out in a botched attempt at baking.  She made grubs (aka truffles) which were lovely but we decided to make them vegan with coconut condensed milk and Nice biscuits.  This made them a bit softer so I added a little coconut and reshaped them.

Then she made condensed milk choc chip cookies with wholemeal plain flour instead of white self raising.  They weren't quite right and I made another batch when she was in bed.  It made me smile to see her offering her "failed cookies" to friends the next day.  They actually were quite edible.

Then I made lemon slice and, just to prove you are never too old to make mistakes, I accidentally added the butter to the condensed milk and heated them together rather than adding melted butter to the condensed milk.  It was a hot mixture rather than cold but I think it was still ok.

On the day of the fete, I was most impressed with all the cloth caps on the jams.  They looked very impressive.  Our school secretary does lots of work to make jams and chutneys as well as making sure they look good on display.

I had volunteered to spend some time on the cake stall.  I barely had time to vote, grab some breakfast at the farmers market and then head to the cake stall.  Business was pretty brisk.  Some of the parents had brought out colourful napkins, flowers and pretty plates so it looked very attractive, as well as all the wonderful food on sale.  We had the stall in the rotunda because there was some rain on the day.

Meanwhile Sylvia was having fun on the chocolate toss.  This was a money making game where players threw a gold coin aiming to have it land on the chocolate.  If it landed on the chocolate, you took away the bar.  If it fell through the cracks, you had nothing.  Either way the school took your money.  When I went past it was very popular with the kids.

I also quite liked the craft stall.  There are parents at Sylvia's school who are very talented crafters and always bring lots of great stuff to these stalls.  Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to look at the bookstall.

We bought a few cakes from the cakestall and craft items but I didn't buy any jam.  We now have enough at home.  I had a large jar of apricot jam that I kept aside because I hadn't sterilised enough jars, not realising how much I would make.  We also kept aside a couple of strawberry jams that had too much scum on them and a jar of my mum's strawberry jam on which the seal had not taken.  Though I think my mum's jam was kept because we loved it so much, having sampled it with scones and cream in Geelong.

I really love apricot jam with cream cheese.  Above you can see that I found some cute Christmas tree shaped crumpets which were also great with jam.  I keep meaning to make jam tarts or jam drops with all the jam we have.  But I am not complaining.  The jams were delicious and just seemed more fruity than the processed stuff from the supermarket.  I wish I had time to make some jam for gifts but right now, I have a lot I still need to do before Christmas and very little energy.

More jam recipes from Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Apricot, nectarine and vanilla jam (gf, v) 
Mixed berry jam
Plum jam
Plum and raspberry jam
Plum and rhubarb jam (gf, v)  
Rhubarb and strawberry jam
Strawberry chia seed jam
 
Apricot jam
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe and taste.com.au
Makes about 8-10 x 250g jars

2 kg of apricots
2 kg sugar
1 lemon juiced

Stone and cut apricots into 1.5cm chunks.  Place in stockpot with sugar and lemon juice.  Gently simmer until fruit drops off the spoon in rather than runs off as a liquid (or when you place a spoonful on a chilled saucer you can run your finger through and leave a clean line rather than jam pooling back).  It took me about 2 hours (but I added a cup of water that I would leave out next time - just add a little water if it was sticking to saucepan before sugar melted).  Scrape off any scum if possible, though try to avoid scraping out fruit chunks.  Bottle jam using this method or your own way (such as the dishwasher).  Keeps about 6 months to 12 months.

NOTES: I added 1 cup of water but would not do that next time - maybe add a little water to stop it sticking if necessary.  I hope this would bring down the cooking time.  I didn't simmer the whole time - when I got impatient and it was late I boiled for a bit to cook it down a bit faster and once it started spitting too much I brought down the temperature.  I think I should have boiled off some of the water earlier.  If you tip the jam upside down for 5-10 minutes once the jar is full and lid on, then it helps to seal it.  I know it is sealed when the metal lid is drawn down - often with a loud pop.  You should not be able to put your finger on the lid and feel the metal go up and down once sealed.

Strawberry jam
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe and taste.com.au
Makes 3-5 x 250g jars of jam

900g strawberries
900g sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon

Cut strawberries into 2 or 4 pieces (depending on how big they are).  Add sugar and lemon juice.  Sit for an hour.  Then gently simmer and follow instructions for Apricot jam above.  It should take less time than apricot jam once the fruit and sugar has sat together.

On the stereo:
Rip it up and start again: postpunk 1978-1984: compiled by Simon Reynolds

Friday, 7 December 2018

5 changes that are making my life kinder to the environment

The amount of information about climate change, plastics in our oceans and landfill can easily fill me with despair about our future.  I live in a small home with a small carbon footprint and ride a bike and am vegetarian but it seems never enough.  My mum says when it is overwhelming to clean a room to just do five things.  Break a big job down into manageable parts.  So while I can't solve the planet's problems, I can share 5 changes I have consciously made during this year to make my life kinder to the planet.

Sewing
I don't like sewing.  I have a small sewing box I have had since I was a kid and that it it.  I mostly sew to save.  So lately I have made an effort to a bit more sewing and sew some patches onto jeans and sheets that have holes.  It has extended their life.  I don't have a sewing machine but handstitching can be quite zen.  When I mentioned to friends that I had used curtains to patch my jeans I realised I was a bit Scarlett O'Hara.  But she didn't get inundated with plastics in the 19th Century like we do.  Nor did Maria in The Sound of Music who also liked clothes made of curtains.  Oh, I also realised my friends thought I had curtains with huge holes in them but the curtains I meant were the offcuts.

Reducing plastic bags
We have had reusable bags to take to the supermarkets for years.  Since the major supermarkets stopped giving away single use plastic bags for free earlier midyear, we have made extra efforts to take our own bags.  More recently I am trying to take the smaller vegie bags to the shops instead of taking away plastic ones.  However I am still grappling with lots of plastics.  Our "single use" bags from supermarkets were never single use.  We used them to line the bin, and take wet bathers home from the pool, and to collect rubbish at a picnic.  And then there are all the foods we buy from the supermarket that come wrapped in plastic.  I have a long way to go to reduce my plastic intake but am slowly trying to make change.

Worm farm
I grew up with chickens in the backyard and so many food scraps went their way that we needed gumboots to go in the chookhouse and collect eggs.  I don't think I will ever have chooks as an adult but I am living in search of ways to use food scraps in a home with a small concrete backyard.  I tried a compost bin but it didn't work with concrete.  Then I found a local community garden needing compost donations.  They closed the scheme after a while.  My latest venture is a worm farm which I think is a pretty good option.  I have had some vinegar fly infestation but mostly got through it (I cut my food scraps pretty small now).  The worm juice is great for the pots and I love the occasional bit of extra soil from the worms to keep our pots healthy or to re-pot some new plants.  It reduces some of the food waste but we still have food waste going in the bin.

Straws
Sylvia is a lover of straws.  We went from plastic straws to paper straws but they came in thick plastic packaging, which seemed like one step forward and two steps back.  There have been quite a few anti straw campaigns lately (such as Straw No More featured on War on Waste on the telly). More recently we have bought metal straws.  Both places I have seen them for sale (The Source and Aunt Maggies) also have those thin straw cleaning brushes which I think are essential.  Disposable straws sometimes make their ways into the house but we have reduced them considerably.

Food wraps
I have been aware of how using disposable wrapping such as clingfilm is one habit that doesn't do the environment any favours.  This year I have been experimenting with different wraps.  (You can see some of these in the top photo as well as above.)  I bought some vegan wraps and was using them to wrap sandwiches to take to work but am finding they have got too sticky and seem to leave a trail of wax behind.  So I have been using beeswax which works better.  For bread making I don't use cling wrap most of the time but either cover with a large sheet of beeswax wrapped around the dough on a baking tray (so I can wrap it underneath - see below photo) or I put rolls in my baking tins with the lid on.  I am also using cat patterned bowl caps (like shower caps) for covering bread dough rather than cling wrap.  However I have become very dependent on baking paper for baking bread and bikkies.  I have bought some brown baking paper but perhaps will be able to reduce my use of this.

I went to a workshop where we talked about how to make a new habit.  I found one piece of advice interesting.  New habits are hard because we don't like change.  One way to overcome this is to visualise what you want to do for 1 minute a day.  I think I actually do this, which is helped get me as far as I have got with these changes.  I also think reading what other bloggers such as Celia and Joey are doing is quite inspirational (check them out and let me know if you have great links and reflections of your own).

If you are here for inspiration (or even if you aren't), here are 5 links to articles I found recently that make me feel more positive about the future for our fragile environment:

Australianwide bag ban leads to 15 billion fewer plastic bags in the environment - news.com.au
Going green: are fake Christmas trees more eco friendly than the real thing - Pursuit
What should I do with my broken kettle (design for disassembly) - BBC News
Printable solar panels - research from Monash University - YouTube
Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles - The Guardian

And for more reflections on how my lifestyle is kind to the environment, see this post.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

In My Kitchen, December 2018

It's that time of year when we try to ignore the sense that Christmas is just around the corner and say surely-it-can't-be-Christmas-yet while we count down the days in a mixture of horror at all the preparation needed and gleeful anticipation of holidays.  Along with everyone I talk to, I am filled with the lack of energy that comes at the end of a busy year.  And I know it will just get busier.  Work is crazy, we went to a carols service last night, end of year gymnastics display day today, have been out Christmas shopping and I am wondering when I will find time to tidy the house.  It is forecast to be 36 C next week and I am not ready for that either.

Despite feeling quite overwhelmed, there are some very nice moments in the lead up to Christmas.  Take for example the Coburg Night Markets that run for the four Fridays before Christmas.  We love it for a food truck dinner, some socialising and Christmas shopping.  Above is a photo I took after the first night market this weekend.  We love our Sweet and Salty popcorn from Pop'd, the candles from Nook and Burrow, the angel tree decoration from remaki and I can't wait to try the smoke maple syrup from Smalt.

I was pleased to find that the remains of a very garlicky cheese ball can be successfully added to my cheese and parsley muffins instead of the grated cheese.  I really loved that all the poppyseeds around the edge make an interesting texture as well as the cheeseball flavours really making the muffins taste great.

We had some fun with pancakes when Sylvia tired of me never making her squeezy bottle pancakes and decided to make the mixture herself.  We amused ourselves making fried egg pancakes which looked quite real while cooking, though a bit less so once made.

Then Sylvia decided she wanted to make a gudetama.  This was much harder than a fried egg but gave us lots of laughs.

Sylvia is becoming quite a little chef.  She made this banana and coconut cake with minimal supervision and was very proud of herself.  Now she is very keen to bake alone.  This sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

Below are some oat cookies she made one morning and woke me at 7am to give me a taste of the cookie dough after the cookies had gone into the oven.  They were lovely.  I only helped with working out when to take them out.  (I have learnt a thing or two about dealing with my temperamental oven though sometimes still get caught out myself).

Other than these bakes, Sylvia had made some choc chip condensed milk cookies while I was out and added wholemeal plain flour rather than white self raising.  They didn't look great but actually tasted good still.  She is also becoming quite good at baking pizza and cooking gnocchi from a packet.  So she had some friends around recently and they made pizza for lunch together.

I loved the look of these cute little sweet potatoes I bought at the Queen Vic Market.  I roasted them and used them on the side for quite a few meals and then I forgot about them.  Sadly the remains had to be binned.  So frustrating as I had thought I had finished them.

We quite like these Mainland Cheese and Crackers.  I was interested to see that now there is a dairy free version from Culinary Choice.  They weren't bad but the crackers are a bit like cardboard and could do with a bit more flavour and texture.  I was also interested to see Bamboo tissues now on sale.  I have never been a tissue person as we always had handkerchiefs when little but E and Sylvia like their tissues.

Now that it is getting warmer I am finding that when I bake bread the dough is rising so much faster than in winter!  When it rises this high it sticks to the bowl cap but at least it is warm enough to dry it quickly after washing.

The garden is doing well.  Thank goodness for lots of rain in November, especially with some new raspberries and tomatoes.  I have some netting over the raspberries and blueberries to stop them being eaten by birds.  The tomato plant is growing at some rate and had the start of a few little cherry tomatoes.  I have got some more basil in the garden.  And if I worry about spare netting blowing away, never fear when there is a cat eager to sit on it!  Thanks Shadow!

The first strawberry of the season from out garden.  Fantastic!

I had to try this new Lindt flavour.  This roasted sesame chocolate was wonderful.  Definitely recommended for lovers of baklava.  Best kept hidden behind all the plain chocolate so no one else discovers it who might not appreciate it as much as me!

I bought this packet of matcha lindor balls because I was fascinated by the colour.  They were nice but I am not that keen on white chocolate, and the matcha taste was not that strong for me.  I did love the green filling even though it looked to me like the filling in a spinach and ricotta ravioli.

Sylvia and I had a session with air drying clay. We worked out how to make an armchair, candy canes, a choc chip cookie and chocolate from YouTube.

Then because she has a burger collection, Sylvia worked out on YouTube how to make a burger, fries and added these to her collection.  Pretty cute!

Meanwhile I had to park near KFL supermarket and dropped in to buy some Asian foods: spring rolls, dumplings, edamame and some cheese corn twist chips.  The frozen edamame were useful when Sylvia's friend banged her foot getting off the bike.

We had a trip to Aldi where we bought Zimtsterne and Lebkuchen.  The Germans really know how to do Christmas food!

Our packets are still in the cupboard but I did come across the remains of a morning tea at work - as you do - and sampled a zimtsterne from Aldi so I can confirm that they are very good.

Finally, the supermarket wars continue.  In July, Coles brought out Little Shoppers which were hugely popular.  Woolworths had some Christmas pop outs right now.  They seem to have responded to the environmental concerns of the Little Shoppers and are just made of cardboard with no plastic packaging.  Sylvia thinks they are great!  It will be interesting to see what happens when Little Shoppers return at Coles for a Christmas special run next week. 

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event, that was started by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial,  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to peek into more kitchens.