Silver (grey) linings…

I have a big grey cloud lurking in my life just now.

So displacement activity was required to stop me obsessing about it, well… obsessively. What better to occupy my mind than making some F²F blocks for myself, with flashes of gorgeous brilliant colour amidst the clouds of grey? Having said that, the grey fabrics are lovely too, and don’t deserve their synonymity with depressing dreariness. Grey is my second favourite neutral, and with very dark indigo, are so much less ‘dead’ than stark black or white.

So anyway, here are the fruits of my displacement. I’ll probably make even more, since not only is it successfully distracting me, but I’m absolutely loving the outcomes – and I still have plenty of grey of the non-cloud variety! You’re looking at Circle of Friends, Perkiomen Valley and Chain Link, in that order.

Next on the list: Arkansas Traveller, Circle of Geese and one other I haven’t chosen yet.

Lullaby 3: finished

It’s done.

Quilted and bound, yoyos stitched down and label added to the back.

The label shows the first verse of the famous Brahms Lullaby. One of the lines translates as ‘slip under your quilt/covers’ and I knew the name was meant!

The baby girl for whom the quilt is destined is due to be born in November. I’ve also been asked to make a pair of gifts for her 8 and 6-year-old brothers, so you can look forward to seeing those in the not too distant future, as everything has to be sent to the family in Austria at the same time.

Meanwhile, the next job is some F2F blocks for myself!

Not so dusty

I’ve been baking again.

This time, it was an Australian classic which I’d never had until a few months ago: Lumberjack Cake. The version I tried was so absolutely lush and delicious that I determined I’d try it for myself. You may wonder why it’s called Lumberjack Cake. I wondered a little myself, but the most common explanation makes perfect sense. The topping of caramelised shredded coconut resembles  a crust of sawdust. But believe me when I say that there is nothing at all dusty about this cake.

The base is a tender, damp layer of dark cake filled with chopped dates and apple. This is topped with a crunchy-edged layer of caramelised shredded coconut. It’s simple but absolutely delicious, easy to make and with ingredients I already keep in the pantry.

Here we go then:

LUMBERJACK CAKE

Ingredients for cake
3 tart green apples, peeled and finely chopped
200g dried dates, finely chopped
1tsp bicarb soda
250ml boiling water
125g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g caster sugar
1 large egg
180g plain flour
½ tsp cinnamon

Ingredients for topping
60g salted butter
100ml whole milk
110g dark brown sugar
60g shredded (not desiccated) coconut

Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F
Grease and line with baking paper a 23cm springform cake tin.
Put apples, dates and bicarb in a bowl with the boiling water, mix well and leave to steep until the water is at room temperature.
In a stand mixer, beat the butter, vanilla and caster sugar until thick and pale, scraping down the sides occasionally. Beat in the egg, then fold in the fruit mixture and liquid, and the flour. Pour into the lined cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes.
While the cake is baking, put all the topping ingredients into a small pan. Over a low heat, stir everything together until the butter and sugar have melted and dissolved. Set aside.
After 45 minutes, remove the cake from the oven and pour the topping over the cake, spreading out the coconut to form an even layer. Return to the oven and bake for a further 30 minutes, covering with foil if the topping gets too dark brown. Test at 25 minutes with a skewer; the cake is ready when it comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the tin on a rack. Once full cool, carefully remove the paper. Cut cake so each portion has some of the crispy edge.

This is based on the recipe by The Cake Mistress; I’ve made a few minor modifications, notably the addition of extra apple, the inclusion of cinnamon without which my Dutch blood will not allow me to make a cake containing apple, and using salted butter for the topping.

I hope you’ll try it, it’s really, really yummy.

ScrapHappy August: Days Gone By

Welcome once again to ScrapHappy Day!

It’s the day my friend Gun in Sweden and I host ScrapHappy, a day for showing something made from scraps.

Last time, I’d finally completed the hexie part of the Days Gone By quilt. (It might still need some fillers on the left and right hand edges, but it’s otherwise substantially complete.) It was time to head into border country once again!

After some not entirely boring trimming work, I’d assembled 36 x 2½ inch squares which worked nicely as a 12 inch finished block. The first of many border pieces!  These will all be joined into an outer ‘frame’ onto which I will appliqué the hexie panel. I’m making an effort not to use duplicate fabrics within each block.

As you can see, I have the next one laid out ready to go, and yet another one trimmed out. It’s easy enough to take a pile of scraps, a small quilter’s ruler, a cutting mat and a rotary cutter along to the Days for Girls sessions instead of a large piece of hexie hand-stitching, and it sure does chew up the scraps nicely!

ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Either email me at the address on my Contact Me page, or leave a comment below. You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at). If you’ve copied this list from previous posts, please use the one below as it’s the most up to date.

Kate (me!)Gun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin, Vera, Del and Nanette

See you next time for more scrappy loveliness.

Lullaby 2

The top’s done.

Here it is, with the yoyos pinned at the centre of each hourglass block. Maybe the yoyos make them look more like bowties…?

Next step is the backing, and then the quilt sandwich. I suppose I should start to think about how I’m going to quilt it, but I tend to think it’s going to be cross-hatching in a diamond pattern. Well, it’s kind of asking for it, really, don’t you think?

Before I go any further though, I have a big tidy-up to do. My cutting table is entirely covered with a litter of elastic, threads, scraps big and tiny, mask fabrics and half-finished projects. I need some space to work; this mess is demotivating and inhibiting.

So, piece a backing, cut batting, and out with the basting spray 🙂

Lullaby

In case you thought I’d been neglecting my sewing machine…

Far from it. I have devoted the past two days to a baby quilt. Now normally, I don’t take commissions to make quilts. There are plenty of people out there who do it for a living, and as I’ve written before, I often find the process painful due to working with colours I don’t enjoy and the changes of mind that happen along the way. But I was asked by my lovely, lovely Tai Chi teacher if I’d consider making one for her forthcoming god-granddaughter in Austria. Oooh, sounds like fun!  She wanted something Australian but not too in-your-face about it, she wanted it to be for a baby, but not too babyish, and she’d leave the colours up to me. Now, I happened to have in my stash two lovely Jocelyn Proust designs, featuring Australian flowers. Both were on dark backgrounds, so I hesitated a little; one was black and one was navy. I pulled complementary colours from my stash, in solids and tone-on-tone prints. Hurrah! She chose the one I preferred!

I’ve eliminated the white, added more coral pinks and a lilac with a small white spot/pattern. I had to. Wouldn’t you know it, I was two inches short of fabric for the design she and I wanted to use. It alternates large squares of the print with hourglass/bowtie blocks of the complementary colours. I couldn’t quite get the solid squares from the fabric I had. So I introduced the lilac, bordered the squares with it and used it for some of the hourglass blocks. It works well, I think. Simple, but striking, and most of all, quick to produce – we’re on a deadline here, folks, as always with a baby on the way. The nice thing about hourglass blocks is that there’s a great quick way to produce them without cutting triangles, stretching bias edges and all that fun. You can find it here, and she’s even done the math and calculated sizes for you. If you want a visual presentation on how to do it, you can’t do better than The Missouri Star Quilt Co’s YouTube video. I love it when people do all the hard work of calculating and seeing how to cut something with minimum waste for me.

The colours aren’t quite right in this photo, it’s not so pink

The back will be the lilac fabric – I have just enough left over. To the inch; it was clearly meant to be! The label will feature the words and music for the first verse of the Brahms Lullaby (hence the quilt’s name), mainly because the translated words talk about ‘slip under your quilt/covers’ :-), and also because my Tai Chi teacher also teaches music and will be able to read the music as well as the words. We don’t know the baby’s name yet, so this is something I can do to personalise the quilt for her. I’ll show a photo when I get there. We’re also considering sewing yoyos onto the front, either at the centre point of the hourglass blocks (not that my points don’t line up!), or at the junction where the blocks meet. We like the idea, for a little texture to entertain the baby when she’s older and using the quilt as a play mat. I still have to work out what colours I’d use – and find my yoyo maker!

So, that’s been my sewing work for the last couple of days. Next is sewing it together, sandwiching and quilting it, sewing on yoyos and binding, and then adding the label. She’ll have it in plenty of time to mail it to Austria before her god-grandbaby is born in November. And the god-grandbaby will have something warm to snuggle under in the cold of an Austrian winter.

Time to get on and trim the hourglass blocks to size….

The Power of Nine

Sometimes, you can get away with shortcuts and ‘cheats’.

Other times, you can’t, and it’s a matter of keeping an experience authentic, honest and true to heritage. I think everyone would agree that commercial foods and treats aren’t what they used to be. Quality, flavour and size are reduced from what we remember, like the Jamaican Ginger Cake I posted about recently, which is apparently now a shrunken, dry and disappointing shadow of its former self. I have a lot of family in Holland; my mother was Dutch and her cooking ‘set’ my tastes and preferences at an early age. One of the foods I’ve always loved is ontbijtkoek, Dutch ‘breakfast cake’. It’s a rich and heady blend of spices and honey in a sticky loaf form, most often enjoyed spread with butter and accompanied by a cup of coffee. I like it best without butter, so that I can appreciate the full spice flavour.

Like the ginger cake, you can buy a pale shadow of it here in Australia. Just… don’t. It is the size and shape and texture of a brick. It is dry and hard and the colour of baby poo. If you read the ingredient list, it contains exactly one spice and ‘honey flavouring’, as well as a whole load of things that don’t belong in a proper cake.

Instead, you can try the recipe below. I make no claim for originality, only for testing. It, and others very similar, is freely available on the internet in a variety of places if you Google ‘ontbijtkoek’. It contains no eggs or butter, and if you need to be dairy free, you could use unsweetened nut or rice milk. It needs a bit of preparation as it contains no less than nine spices: cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, cardamon, aniseed, pepper, coriander and vanilla. Together, they provide the authentic aroma and flavour, and a recipe that doesn’t contain the full set does not result in an authentic experience. Rye flour and molasses are also necessary. I do appreciate that not everyone has all that in the pantry, and indeed, I had to go shopping for the aniseed and the rye flour. But if you’re interested in trying this recipe, I’d urge you to at least try for the full set before you decide to modify.

Already half gone… I could eat this till the cows come home.

If you love spice, I think you’ll be glad you did. Ontbijtkoek exists in many regional formats, evolved over hundreds of years. It reached its spicy peak when Holland became a major spice trader, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) or Dutch East India Company bringing to Europe a wealth of exotic flavours. It was a sign of wealth and prestige to incorporate them into your everyday food. We are so accustomed today to the availability of the world’s food wealth that the former heady novelty of tastes as everyday to us as pepper and vanilla is forgotten. Oh, and don’t be tempted to leave the pepper out of this recipe. It has its place among the nine, a gentle hum of heat and a fugitive aroma at the back of the nose.

Without further ado, then:

Ontbijtkoek

Ingredients
120g/4oz rye flour
120g/4oz all-purpose (plain) flour
3 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cardamon
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground coriander seed
¼ tsp ground clove
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp freshly-ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground aniseed
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g/3½oz soft dark brown sugar
170g/6oz honey
75g/2½oz dark molasses or treacle
250ml/8floz warm whole milk

Note: all these spices are necessary for the authentic flavour, but you can reduce them to cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg as a minimum if you don’t have everything. If you’d prefer less sweetness, reduce the sugar, not the honey or molasses. I would recommend against substituting fennel seed for aniseed; the flavours are similar but fennel is more savoury and woody and it will change the taste. As already noted, you can use unsweetened nut or rice milks instead of the dairy version.

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F. Line a large loaf pan with baking paper.
Mix rye flour, plain flour, baking powder, salt and ground spices in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar, honey, molasses, vanilla extract and warm milk, until everything is mixed well.
Combine wet and dry ingredients into a smooth batter.
Pour into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 80 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cover the top with aluminum foil if it gets too dark: it should be deep brown but not burned-looking.
Leave to cool completely in the tin or wrapped in foil to get the traditional soft and chewy crust, or remove from the tin after 5 mins and cool on a rack for a more crispy crust.

If you decide to try it, I’d love to hear what you think!

Upcycling the disposable

I don’t want to use disposable masks, but I like some of their features.

They have obvious benefits, but also significant drawbacks: They contain plastics. They create so much extra rubbish that has to be dealt with, and people aren’t too careful about how they’re disposing of them. A significant proportion of them constitute hazmat, since they will contain viral matter captured from the air around the not-yet diagnosed Covid-positive, which the poor refuse collectors will be expected to deal with. And they’re an ongoing and constant expense.

I’ve written several times before about making masks. The initial version, the revised, improved version. I’m now onto version 3, and it integrates some of the good features of the disposable mask, without itself being disposable. I bought a pack of 5, and I picked them to pieces. I ended up with 5 nose wires, 5 pairs of elastic ear loops, and 5 pieces of waterproof fabric. What was left was basically paper towel, and I used it as such before it finally hit the bin.

Into my existing fitted masks I have sewn the nose wires for an even tighter fit, and the soft ear loops for more comfort than the ¼ inch strip elastic I’ve used up to now. I will integrate the waterproof fabric pieces into new masks to save having to use Scotchgard® on the outside. The fabric masks, and these components, are washable and thus will stay out of landfill much longer than the disposable masks. At some stage I’d guess the nose wire may start to rust or deteriorate, at which point it’ll be time for another pack of 5 masks to pick apart. And it leaves the surgical masks available for those who really need them.

Win-win, I reckon.

A triumph of nostalgia over necessity

All expats miss something – or many somethings – about their homeland.

If they claim not to, they prevaricate. Certain things are so deeply embedded in the formation of one’s character, tastes and preferences that their absence can become disproportionate. Perhaps I’m over-dramatising, but….  I don’t miss much, myself, but those things I do miss are tied to remembered happiness and pleasure. It was necessary to leave behind some particular pleasures, but there are always niggles. Who knew, 50 years ago, how memorable a particular kind of cake was going to be to this nearly 60-year-old living so happily in her adopted sunny land?

I’m talking about the King of Sunday tea-times, more gorgeous and satisfying than any fruit cake, delicate Victoria sponge or buttery upside-down cake. McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake. Gingery, sticky, chewy, and that m-word that everyone hates. It was always a disaster when it was finished, but there was still the bliss of the paper-scraping, when you could ease up from the paper case all those super-sticky bits that had been left behind, and which were somehow the ultimate delight, the bonus of this cake.

You can’t buy them in Australia. Oh, that’s not strictly true… you can get them at British Food specialty shops, online, or from Amazon in Australia. But they’re stale and nasty. They’ve sat in containers for weeks, in warehouses for more weeks, and in the hands of Australia Post or couriers for still longer. They are a travesty.

So ultimately, the only solution was to make my own. Over the years, there have been lots of trials and errors, perfectly pleasant gingerbreads and nice-ish cakes, but none that fit the bill, that rang the bell of memory. Until now.

See that shiny, sticky crust on top? And mine is bigger, too!

Yesterday, I hit the jackpot. I’m giving the recipe below. Writing this post is proving to be a good way to prevent myself cutting a third thick slice… for now.

Jamaica Ginger Cake
300ml/10floz whole milk
120g/4oz packed soft dark brown sugar
120g/4oz treacle or molasses
120g/4oz golden syrup*
230g/8oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
2 tblsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
120g/4oz salted butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F and grease and line a large, heavy loaf tin with baking paper.
Measure the milk in a glass measuring jug, add the sugar and warm in the microwave for about a minute. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and set aside to cool.
Melt the treacle, butter and golden syrup in another pan together over a low heat until runny but not hot.
Sift together the flour, bicarb, ginger, cinnamon and allspice
Pour first the milk and then the syrup mixtures into the flour and beat hard with a whisk until smooth – a wooden spoon will not get rid of all the lumps. The consistency should be of pancake batter. Add a little more milk if necessary.
Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool completely in the tin.
Once cooled, turn out and wrap with paper and foil. Leave the cake wrapped for at least 1 day before you tear into it. This is what makes the top deliciously sticky. Do not be tempted to unwrap earlier, or the top will be normal and boring, although still perfectly delicious.

Notes:
*Golden syrup is not the same as corn syrup. It is thicker, darker and has strong caramel overtones. You could substitute with dark corn syrup, but the flavour is not the same. There are recipes on the internet for a pretty good home made version using nothing more fancy than water, sugar and lemon juice.

You can obviously make substitutions if you want to, but this recipe is designed to mimic as closely as possible the cake of my childhood. It’d probably be really nice with chopped crystallised ginger in it, or maybe dark chocolate chips. I’m not going there, I don’t want to 🙂

This recipe is egg free. You could probably also make it dairy free by subbing unsweetened almond milk and dairy-free margarine, although flavour will be affected. I’m not sure how it’d go gluten free; it’s already pretty dense, so I’d recommend against using too much almond meal. Try a quality gluten-free brand (like White Wings Gluten Free in Australia, or Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour in the US). Disclosure: I don’t get paid anything for mentioning these two, I just want your recipe to turn out well.

Now, excuse me. I have a date with a cake…

Worth celebrating

A perfect day, that is.

They’re few and far between in this time of coronavirus. Today was one such. Despite the frightening things happening in the south of the country, we had the sensation of being a million miles away from the trouble. The day was pleasantly warm and beautifully sunny. We had nothing pressing to do apart from loading the dishwasher to deal with last night’s family barbecue. So we decided that the Husband and I and doggo would go and do something we hadn’t done for a while.

Have brunch at the beach.

Doggo lay on his quilt under the table, peacefully digesting his puppacino while we demolished our Eggs Benedict, the Husband’s with excellent locally-cured bacon, and mine with garlicky mushrooms and extra hollandaise (they never give you enough). After we’d topped it off with coffee, Mouse made it known that he wished to visit the beach across the road. (In case you’re wondering, he starts hopping on the spot and dancing with impatience, with his ears pricked.)

Righto, Mouse, your wish is our command. He loves walking on the beach, the sand is a pleasant surface for him – softer than the road, less impeding than grass. He’s always straining slightly to run, but we’ve never let him off leash because he could be out of earshot in a few seconds. A colleague of the Husband’s had suggested that a sandbar surrounded by incoming or ebbing tide might be a good place to let him run, because he’d have nowhere to go. We tried that, wading out knee-deep to a good-sized sandbar surrounded by water.

Oops.

A delighted doggo took four steps on the sandbar, then leapt into the water, bounded up to the main beach and started to run. Before we could expire of a heart attack, we saw that he was doing a figure 8 around other people there instead of heading into the sunset. When I called him, he came, after one more lightning-fast loop, splashing back to us and bounding up with a huge grin on his pointy face. We made a big fuss of him and told him he was a Very Good Boy.

That was fun, Mum, can I do it again?

Of course after that he needed to shake off all over us a couple of times, submit to having his paws de-sanded, shake off again and leap into the car, still with the huge grin on his chops. Clearly an isolated sandbar is no impediment. We’d imagined he might be deterred, having previously indicated he was not keen on actual waves. Obviously that was all forgotten, and he is now Sea Dog. Luckily he doesn’t smell of wet dog in the car. And also luckily, he doesn’t mind being hosed down at home to get rid of the salt.

Our blood pressure has returned to normal, doggo has napped all afternoon, the Husband has fixed the scooter lights and I have done my chores. I can’t forget the sheer delight on that pointy black face, and the gift of speed he enjoyed so much. What a pleasure it is to make your dog happy…

Today, all is well in our world.