A Moroccan romance!

Spearmint and Clove in milk chocolate is one of the flavours that I make for Just Be Botanicals – a range of lovely skin care. I make flavours that use the same oils or herbs and try to tie in with the skin care ranges that is made by them. Spearmint and Clove is branded under the ‘ Active’ label.

While I was working making some more of it today I found that it was overtempering quickly. This may be because the weather had turned a little cooler today but I still had the air conditioning up full blast. The metal bowl at the top was chilling too quickly and causing the rest of the bowl to thicken up faster than I had anticipated.

IMG_4242 the overtempered chocolate isn’t releasing the bubbles even with lots of tapping and vibration, which normally works 😦

Now the Spearmint and Clove bars for Gail don’t have any topping on the back, as a result they should be smooth as a baby’s behind – hmm, not so much with today’s batch. I decided to give up sooner rather than later with this batch but thought – what to do with it now. I’ve not read her new packaging for the flavour but the flavours reminded me of Moroccan or African cuisine, and the rest as they say, is history.

As soon as I thought Moroccan, I thought -more spices! I made a cinnamon and cardamom (of course!) sugar, using fairtrade Billington’s soft granulated sugar and coconut palm sugar in a 1:1 ratio, then added ground cinnamon and cardamom to taste. I personally think that the coconut sugar gives a richer flavour but I like the crunchier texture of the granulated, so I like to mix them.

IMG_4238 Coconut palm sugar and fairtrade soft granulated from Billingham’s

IMG_4239 Not the best I know but it was what I had to hand!

IMG_4240 Wonderful stuff – beginning to wonder if I can get addicted to it?! I’m adding it to so much… I get lot of my ingredients, including this from Tree Harvest

 

Then I wanted to pick up on the mint, so added some crystallised peppermint to the bar too. While I had powdered orange I really wanted to use powdered lemon to add to the chocolate itself, but as I didn’t have it I just thought I’d wait for another time to see if I can locate some and try it later.

IMG_4241The crystallised mint

I’m rather fond of this spin off and throw together, if not a full blown romance, at least a holiday affair!

IMG_4244 Finished bars, bubbles nicely covered up! just waiting for them to cool before releasing and packaging.

piecing brings me peace

I have had numerous dog related incidents with dye products (indigo, still gruesomely and indelibly etched in my memory!)  and fragments and samples that have been dyed.

To get the bits out of the dogs way (namely husky girl) I thought that rather than put them in an organised book (which would be sensible), I’d try to make something with them. Things, literally, came together. Husky girl tends to leave a trail of fur and destruction wherever she goes. On one day she left an old linen, hardbook covered book in tatters. I’m not sure what it is with the old books, but she and the spaniel both have occasional bibliophobic tendencies for the older hardbacks. My theory is that the old books utilised animal based glues to keep the spine, linen etc together, and this is what they smell out and kill, very effectively. The cover is normally ripped off, chewed to a greater or lesser extent, the flappy pages shaken thoroughly into submission and given a bit of a doing generally.

On this day I salvaged a somewhat chewed but relatively intact cover separated from it’s pages. It was dark blue linen with rather nice 1920’s-30’s stylized cover and edges for a book of children’s poems.

IMG_4231 opened out cover to see all of outside of sewing book

I found myself absentmindedly handling this and beginning to patch and piece together my dyed samples. I started using bigger pieces of fabric that would have almost covered the book, but found myself cutting up big pieces and distressing others, using smaller and smaller scraps at times.

The patched cover was pieced together off the book for the most part but started being stitched over the wadding and the book cover, encasing the hard, chewed cover.

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It was meant to be a book cover for the cover but ended up covering it all. I thought what to do with this now – answer – a sewing kit book! It needed areas for pins, needles, scissors etc.

IMG_4212 wadded area for padding and pin cushion

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Tees had old shirts that had been damaged by age, time, him or dogs and were being  ‘re-resourced’ at they say now. I decided to cut up one of the padded sleeves off of an winter shirt and stitched layers together to form a padded wadge.

I used felt samples from old projects that had been dyed in the past. I loved finding the mini kids waistcoat with the pocket – this became the scissors holder.

IMG_4214 upside down picture – pocket is the right way up! pleased with my ‘catch’ to keep them in 🙂

I haven’t finished yet, as I now want to stitch into the cover itself. New circumstances are arising and I need my pockets of peace. I find hand stitching brings me that peace, so there may be a heavily decorated wee sewing book at the end!

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Pictures – showing a disturbing amount of dog hair on and possibly sewn into the samples and book!

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IMG_4219 Old buttons salvaged from things or found in the sewing box I inherited. This felt sample sewn down middle horizontally to give me 2 horizontal pockets – tape measure?

IMG_4221 This sample is a vertical pocket, holding buttons and a seam ripper

 

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Sarah’s Stupendous Sweets!

My god-daughter, Sarah, is staying over for 2 weeks (perhaps, if she doesn’t look too closely at the list of things I’d like her to do!) and she seems keen to try things out in the kitchen, permit me an evil laugh…

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So with that in mind she has been put to work sticking labels on, folding boxes, packing bars into said boxes and has tried her hand at decorating the bars with me. I have to say, so far she is outperforming HH and can come as an intern any time she likes!

While having a meeting with a friend at the flat today today, I thought I’d give her (Sarah, not the friend!) relatively free rein. She chose a recipe for Penuche fudge from  Peter Greweiling’s “Chocolates and Confections” – ISBN 9780764588440.

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It’s a lovely book and she seemed to find it hard to choose one recipe to try as she wants to work through the book I think!

Needless to say I didn’t have some of the ingredients so we bodged things – what’s new. I’m never good at following the recipe at the best of times, and without the right stuff, that’s just asking for multiple tweaks. It all went downhill when I didn’t even  have light brown sugar – we substituted with coconut palm sugar for that depth of flavour. Corn syrup used instead of glucose syrup, generally more sugar added as no invert sugar, and believe it or not I couldn’t find my proper vanilla, so of course used ground cardamom instead, naturally, why wouldn’t you – they’re so similar! Poor Sarah.

IMG_4179 Sarah measuring out coconut palm sugar

I gave myself the task of toasting the pecans as they can burn quickly.

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This also meant that I had the rather lengthy task of chopping them up. What I’ve never noticed before is how they chop up once toasted. They give a lovely shape that just cries out to be used as a  topping on individual sweets.

 

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It’s definitely a confectioners book – my friend was horrified/ surprised that the book/ me had her agitating hot sugar syrup on marble slabs with scrapers. Once cooled down a bit Sarah added the toasted, chopped Pecan nuts and cardamom powder and kept mixing it all together on the slab. She looked very professional.

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I couldn’t find my rods to make a frame with – (I KNOW they’re lurking in there somewhere…) so we used good old parchment paper in tins to decant the thicker, cooler sticky mass to cool further.

IMG_4190 It just had to taste tested – repeatedly!

Once it had cooled enough we opened it out of it’s tin and paper to let it air, cool and form a skin; as it was still quite soft. She chopped it up to help this process further.

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We’ll either neaten them up a bit and package as is, or may well use some as a centre and cover in chocolate so she can try dipping. That’ll be fun, and very messy 😉

Raw Strawberry Fudge- ish

I harvested a lot of small wild strawberries from my garden the other day. Most of these are being dehydrated whole for decoration to my dark Rosemary bars (Rosemary with dried strawberry and crystallised mint). I had some left over and added more locally grown strawberries to the start of the fudge.

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This fudge recipe is adapted to one from  http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2014/07/10/chocolate-covered-strawberry-fudge-bars/.

The recipe for the truffle/ fudge is raw and you can use a raw chocolate to coat, or cheat and use normal chocolate. If you coated in dark, it will still be dairy free. The recipe in the link above gives a proper fudge while the runnier fudge that I made can be used as a desert, mousse, ice cream substitute, or used as a filling for chocolate.

I had some issues; being American there is of course the cups to grams measurement and a slight difference in language, or at least, my understanding of what is meant, which may well be a different thing entirely! 😉

This all may have lead to my fudge being more fudge-‘ish’ than fudge. ‘Ish’ to the point of being entirely different, but it’s still tasty and being thoroughly appreciated by Helpful Husband. So here’s the fudge-ish recipe:

Sightly less than a pack of creamed coconut – 180g

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A punnet of strawberries- 200g

Good couple of turns of salt mill

1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp of ground cardamom

1 1/2 tbs of syrup (Agave or maple was recommended, but I used my Blackthorn flower syrup that I made earlier in the year for a more herbal component)

Tempered chocolate for coating

Method

1. Hull and blend the strawberries with a stick blender. Use a high sided container or by the time everything else is added the mix will attempt to coat the kitchen walls, your hair, glasses etc! 😉

2. Melt the coconut cream and blend it in with the puree. The original recipe called for coconut butter, which is apparently the solid white version of coconut oil, which I have loads of but that is ‘oil’ to me, not butter. So my version is much softer than the original recipe turns out to be. If you want a more fudge consistency – use 1/2 cup of melted solid coconut oil.

3. Add the salt, spices and syrup, and blend again. (Bet you’re wishing you’d gone for the taller container now, eh?)

4. Fill up a plastic container and smooth out. Put container into the freezer for a while.If you used the solid oil this will turn into proper fudge like consistency that you can cut easily and dip in chocolate if you want. If, like me, you used creamed coconut this will never really firm up to being solid until it’s totally frozen and will start to melt almost immediately. Don’t panic.

5. The softish mix can be used a desert in and of itself, almost like a mousse. It can also be left to become firm in the freezer. Then it can be shaped into small balls. Put these back in freezer to firm up again (the handling will have softened it up quite a bit).

6. The firm balls (ooh err missus, that didn’t turn out as I’d intended!) can now be dunked in the chocolate of your choice. I had some Jasmine flavoured white chocolate that I had left over from making bars of said flavour. I thought it would be nice with the strawberry. I found that the white chocolate was warm enough, even when tempered, to start melting the truffles. This meant that the coating was decidedly patchy, and so needed to be left to dry and then be re-coated.

Though I felt that the jasmine hint complemented the fresh strawberry taste that was still strongly present, I find that the white addition was a bit sweet overall for my taste, but I’m not big on white, I like my chocolate like my men, as the joke goes, rich and dark! 😉

Not many pictures here, as I got incredibly sticky, oily and covered in pink goo. I didn’t think the camera would appreciate being handled by me in that state! Bad Jill, hangs ears down in shame, must try harder.

Enjoy your messy pink goo and dipping in chocolate. There is a knack to that in itself which really only comes with practice, and I’m still hit or miss getting a good finish, so feel free to do lots of chocolate kersplunking!

 

Re-purposing the garden

Weedin’ Wednesday comes round quickly. I’ve been trying to pace myself as I find pulling up weeds hard on my hands, so it’s been little and probably not often enough for any noticeable difference. although the brown bin for compostables is full and there is a healthy pile of weeds sitting in the drive ready to go to compost recycling.

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It all feels a bit of a waste. I thought that there must be something I can do with the weeds. So far in the area that I’ve been tackling the main weed varieties have been Rosebay Willow Herb  (Epilobium angustifoilium aka Chamerion angustifolium)and Nettles.

Rosebay Willow herb (RWH) is a stately plant with a striking  pink  cone of flowers. Tees rather likes it, so do I for that matter, however it spreads like wildfire, reminiscent of one of it’s other names ‘Fireweed’, as it has an impressive root spread and growth and a full head of cottony seeds that billow and spread easily.

So to find other uses for this invader.. I tried a variety of things today…

1. RWH tea – I tried a variety of leaves in different cups of tea. I tried young leaves in one teapot and older leaves in another. I know that they are quite astringent and that’s why you choose young leaves to eat in salads in Spring (note; this is Summer, perhaps the young leaves are still not young enough?) I’ve read about them being used as a drink and with the tannins thought they might be relatively ‘tea-like’… No. Both cups of tea were strongly Green tasting and not very pleasant. If I thought I was getting a great deal of good out of them I might persevere, but while it may help with diarrhoea (which I don’t have) and may help with a respiratory condition (thankfully nope again to that) there are plenty of others that I would go to first.

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2. A syrup from the flowers. In one word…Ugh! I gently heated up several racemes of the flowers and got a beautiful tinted infusion, strained it, tried it and thought it tasted revolting. Undaunted I thought a bit of lemon juice might help and went on to make a syrup by adding equal amounts of sugar to the infusion. Nope, still revolting.

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3. Using the canes from last years stems. This works pretty well if you use the really sturdy ones. They are lighter than bamboo, and still quite strong due to the hollow nature of them. I put them around my young sweet pea plants for support. We’ll see how they last in the weather away from other stems to protect them.

4. Dyeing. I tried dyeing a paper bundle a la India Flint using the RWH and a few other plants I picked from the wilderness that is the front garden. The paper worked surprisingly well and coped with the saturation and steaming process, which I wasn’t sure it would. It was a pretty standard water colour paper.

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IMG_4163 A good way to use up herbs past their use by date too – just throw them in for good measure!

Unfortunately, my weight arrangement wasn’t great and so the bundle didn’t stay effectively clamped. It was a proper bodge job as I hadn’t thought I was going to do this, it just sort of happened and so didn’t have all the kit and caboodle required.

IMG_4165Impromptu wight arrangement, oops, no disrespect intended.

I got nice tints to the paper but no prints. I know I can get them as I managed before on the workshop. Ah well lesson learned.

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The seeds aren’t ready yet but they can provide tinder for fire lighting, and the inside of the stems has fibre that can be dried and used as tinder too, though there are easier sources.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARWH leaves giving a good print on India’s workshop. The flowers didn’t and were hard to seperate from the paper as the mucilage in the flowers became more glue like.

All in all a good day for experiments, tho’ not many were overly successful. The books definitely make RWH sound much more appetising than it actually is, though I have eaten the young leaves fine in Spring. I don’t plan on keeping lots of it around as a salad crop or plant supports.

 

 

Large Garden of Horrors!

Instead of Little Shop of Horrors with one large ‘weed’, I have a large garden of horrors filled with just about every pernicious weed native to this country. I know, I checked, and ‘pernicious’ was a quote from one of many RHS books!

In my infinite wisdom( like I don’t have enough to do!), I’ve decided to get the garden into some sort of order….this is a pretty big ask and task, in fact it’s a rest of my life project, never mind a 5 year plan.

My best fantasy is turn the garden into working space, in that I want it to have plants that I can use in the edibles and chocolates. I also want it to be medicinal where possible so that there are added benefits to the edibles. I want dye plants and plants that are good for insects, as I’d love to keep bees at some point.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA These 2 pics are of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) growing wild in garden. I want to keep this or grow it elsewhere as it’s a goodie.

The problem lies in that I have no time…which actually means that I’ve started this process before, cleared, fertilised, then not looked at it for ages, which means that I’ve given the best growth condition possible for , duh, duh, DUH….THE WEEDS. My weeds are architectural specimens, seriously, they’re taller than me by a long way!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Fancy Brambles and Berries spreading out and taking over. Honestly, it’s like the briar wall out of Sleeping Beauty, or for those less ancient, Maleficent, the new updated slant on the old Sleeping Beauty,I liked it for the record.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo put things in perspective, the bit of wall with the ‘hat’ on is my almost 6 ft gatepost, weeds, though raised a bit are waving up at the 8-10 ft level! Mainly Rosebay Willow herb, nettles, with generous smatterings of Ground Elder, unwanted young Sycamore and Willow!

An ecologist client saw the garden the other day with- in the Star Trek Next Gen words- “His eyes wide open”. His suggestion was agent orange, and bulldozers.

The problem is I feel it’s a challenge, the gauntlet has been thrown, it’s it – the garden, or me, mano a mano, planto a femano, as it were. But I don’t like to make things easy, I don’t want pesticides and weedkillers so it’s going to be a long hard slog of mulching and cutting back, so don’t expect pretty pictures for a long while! Just sayin’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Maleficents wall

I also want to use what I cut back. I want to weave the willow and young saplings into wee hurdles and path edges. I want to try dyeing with the plant material and using as much of it as I can, if not going straight to mulch or compost.

I believe that  committing to writing it down here will make me commit to the process. I’ll keep you posted – how about Weedin’ Wednesdays!? (She says posting on a Thursday..)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmoss and mini gardens in the mono block

The plan is to work on one small space and project at a time. Wish me luck, I have the mission impossible theme music running through me head at this very moment.  I wish I could say I’m goin’ in now… but that would be a lie, I’ve got the birds to do before another dog walk, before doing  several clients in Edinburgh today….then I might be goin’ in..

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Craft Fair at Kirkton of Skene

I’ve just come back from a craft and dog fair held up in Aberdeenshire.

I had planned to do lots of things to make the travelling ‘worthwhile and eco-friendly; meet up with someone to (finally! oops) give them their order, meet up with a shop interested in the chocolates, link up with a past student and great graphic designer, and of course, to be there at the fair. All of which for various reasons didn’t happen, except for the fair, but that’s many other stories, too boring to regale you with.

I was put up with Corinne Gillespie, a co-reflexology tutor with me, fellow therapist in lots of fields and friend. ‘Put up with’ in every sense as I was interrupting her packing and moving, kept her late for meal making by chatting and disturbing her in the morning with my silly o’clock it’s daylight it must be morning (it’s 5 am for heaven’s sake woman, why can I not sleep in. in Summer?!)

The fair was in aid of the SSPCA and so had a dog show attached to it, a more formal one and also a general round of categories; agility, fun agility, waggiest tail, best veteran dog, etc.

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With hindsight this might not have worked well for us craft stall holders inside the hall. While a lot of people came, they came with their canine friends, and it was warm weather, so they weren’t allowed to bring the dogs in to the venue and they couldn’t leave the dogs in the car (NEVER leave your dog in a car on a hot day, even with windows open – it gets hot enough to cook an egg on the dash – seriously! I’ve seen the vid, heat + car= dead dog – no not that in a vid, ugh! the egg cooking on a dash vid…).

On an aside we have an insulated dog trailer with ventilation for sale if there are any offers out there, interested-get in touch, please, it’s cluttering up the yard – we look like the old Rag and Bone Merchants of yesteryear – remember Steptoe and Sons – that’s us that is!

Anyoldhoo, back to the plot…There were some great people who did pop in and sample and talk to me, and great other stall holders – we ended up buying more off of each other! Also advice on business, plans, what’s a good show, where to go, who to see etc. So we had a good networking session.

I bought a lovely wee hair clip from Designs by Freda ( can be found on facebook) who does lovely fascinators and hats, these were made in sinamay, so I only got a wee one as the dogs LOVE sinamay – must be the glue in it, hmm crunchy then chewy, luvverly.

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Also bought a robust bootscraper from Horseshoes Everlasting (also on facebook). Everything made from, you guessed it, horseshoes. A wonderful large sphere, that I’m not sure how I’d get into the car at the other side is being seriously considered to be made to order from them. It would look great in the garden with grasses and plants growing through it…

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Last thing I bought was a knitted ring from BeauElle.  www.beauelleonline.co.uk. Rachel makes her own jewellery. The ring I bought is made from clay rolled into even pieces and rolled and woven together so it really looks like it’s knitted. Lots of colours and comfy to wear.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I bought a burgundy one.

I sold the most out of the day compared to the other stall holders – but hey, it’s chocolate!

It was the first time that the new Chai Latte bar was officially introduced to the world, and it did pretty well. Also 2 experimental – as in ‘I- have- some- left- over, what- can- I- do with- it- as- it’-s about- to- over- thicken- and- I- don’t- want- to- re-temper- it’ experiments were thrown into the mix – and one sold out and the other did quite well too, so they might become regular additions.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The hot chocolate kit mugs did better than normal.

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I’d made only 3 bars of Geranium and Lavender milk chocolate, decorated with crystallised Rose petals and Lavender flowers – they sold out – they do look pretty if I say so myself. The other experiment was in dark chocolate, another Rosemary flavoured one but as I’d run out of my dehydrated strawberry (note to self, need to go to pick your own or forage for wee wild ones up the woods) I couldn’t finish doing the usual Rosemary, Strawberry and Mint bars, so having unused Rosemary chocolate, I played with it, and added dried, ground strawberry powder and dried, ground orange fruit and peel powders to the mix, and decorated with orange batons. They proved quite popular too. They taste good but have a grainier feel in the mouth, but as you feel the slight roughness, you also begin to get the flavours of the powders coming through.

All in all, a good day exchanging husky destructive horror stories, meeting up with Corinne, business ideas etc.