Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Life: The Light and Shade of 2014

2014 was a roller coaster ride for me personally, beginning with the decision to take voluntary redundancy from a job that I had been doing for twenty years to pursue a life long dream career in teaching. Two days after my teacher training interview, I was rushed into hospital with severe pneumonia and sepsis and on a life support machine in intensive care for the following week. After a slow recovery, including having to re-learn how to feed myself and to walk again from the neuropathy, I relapsed twice and ended up with heart failure.
Those three months in and out of hospital were a nightmare from which we are all still psychologically recovering from. Thankfully, I have made an almost complete recovery but am still being monitored by the excellent medical staff at my local hospital.
Unsurprisingly, this unplanned near-death experience made me think twice about throwing myself into a stressful teacher training course and a sensible work-life balance became my aim. I left my job as planned at the end of August thinking what a stupid mistake I had made and gained a new job in November. I do now feel that the right decision was made and I am starting to enjoy my new job and its new opportunities.
My online shop has been totally neglected for the best part of the year but I have really enjoyed the break from it and sewing and crafting for myself instead of for others! Now I am back in the swing of work I am hoping to be back blogging more regularly in 2015.
Here is to a Happy and Healthy 2015 for all my readers!
Love Mrs Jones x

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Roast Butternut Squash, Chestnut and Onion Soup

This is a lovely winter warmer, perfect for making ahead and taking in a vacuum flask out with you on a cold walk. The fact that it was made with some of my Christmas leftovers makes it even better!
Roast Butternut Squash, Chestnut & Onion Soup (adapted from a recipe published on Red Online)
1 Butternut Squash, peeled and deseeded
1 Onion, peeled
2 Garlic Cloves, peeled
100g Roasted Chestnuts (I buy mine vacuum packed)
1 litre Vegetable Stock
Sprig of Rosemary
Olive Oil
1. Cut the butternut squash and onion into chunks and place in an ovenproof dish. Add the garlic cloves and drizzle over a little olive oil. Add a sprig or two of rosemary and bake in a preheated oven at 200C for 35-40 minutes. You want to make sure that the squash is nice and soft and you can check this by inserting a sharp knife into it.
2. Put half of the roasted veg and half of the chestnuts in a liquidiser with half of the stock and blend until smooth. Decant into a saucepan and blend the other half of the soup. Alternatively, you can use a food processor (this will produce a coarser texture) or use a stick blender in the pan.
3. Warm the soup up in the saucepan and season to taste. Serve with a swirl of cream and some cracked black pepper.
This soup is suitable for freezing.
Love Mrs Jones x

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Cake in 5 Easy Stages: Stage Five - Icing and Decorating

This is the best bit about making your own Christmas cake: the icing and the decorating (apart from the eating of it, of course)! For this stage you will need some ready to roll fondant icing which is readily available from supermarkets, plus any decorations, ribbons etc. Again, decorations may be laboured over or shop bought or you could go for something really simple like I have done.

Sprinkle your surface with icing sugar and begin by kneading the icing until it becomes more pliable. Roll it out in a rough circle so you have enough to cover the top and sides in one piece. Using the rolling pin for support, drape the icing over the cake. Smooth down the top and ease the sides into place with the heel of your hand trying to ensure that you get a nice even finish. Trim the edges and then you are ready to decorate.

For my simple snowflake design, I found a snowflake printable online and cut out the negative image, so I was left with a stencil guide. I gently scored my six main points of the snowflake with a knife and then added a couple of spikes to each end. I finished with a mix of silver balls and snowballs in a pattern.

Love Mrs Jones x

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas Cards 2014

I have been much quieter on my blog for the last six weeks, mainly due to starting a new job mid November which has limited my crafting time somewhat. Getting back into the swing of working full time and managing my household has taken definitely taken its toll, but I am am now in more of a routine.
My Christmas cards this year were made using my Sizzix Big Shot machine, then hand coloured with a Northern Lights theme and embellished.

Have you made your Christmas cards this year?
Love Mrs Jones x

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Christmas Cake in 5 Easy Stages: Stage Four - Marzipan

So, the cake has been baked and fed, and now it is time to marzipan it. What you will need is a pack of ready made marzipan or almond paste and either some apricot jam or marmalade. As no-one in my house eats apricot jam, I opted for some of my home made marmalade.

Unwrap your cake and place on the board or plate which you will serve it on. I like to turn mine upside down because the bottom is always a lot smoother than the top.
Warm three tablespoons of jam or marmalde in a pan and brush liberally over the top and sides of your cake.

Roll out your marzipan onto a surface sprinkled with icing sugar, to the thickness specified on the packet. If you don't feel confident about getting one big piece to cover the top and sides, you can cheat and do the top separately, using the tin as a guide, and then adding one long strip around the sides. It will be covered by icing anyway!

With clean hands, smooth the marzipan round and trim the bottom edge with a knife to neaten.

You need to leave this for 24 hours before icing.

Love Mrs Jones x

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Christmas Cake in 5 Easy Stages: Stage Three - Feeding the Cake

This is Stage Three of my Christmas Cake in 5 Easy Stages, but don't despair if you are wanting to start your Christmas Cake now, you do still have enough time (see Stage One and Stage Two).

 Feeding the cake is just about keeping the cake nice and moist, and uses the same liquor that you used in Stage One to drizzle over. So unwrap your cake, prick the surface with a skewer and spoon over a couple of dessertspoons of liquor before wrapping back up.

You can feed the cake as many times as you like - I try to feed it twice. So, I fed it a week ago and I will probably feed it next weekend too.

The fourth stage is all about the marzipan, so arm yourself with a block of marzipan (almond paste) and some apricot jam and I will see you in mid December!

Love Mrs Jones x

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Looking Forward in November 2014

October was fairly productive for me. Sewing: I finished my scrappy chevron quilt, made myself a new pair of pyjama trousers, re-worked my overlap skirt into my new size (not blogged)! I have also got my Winter's Lane quilt out again and have made a couple more blocks. Crafts: I was lucky enough to be given some ribbon reels by Fantastic Ribbon for whom I made the Christmas Card project. Baking: a childhood favourtite - treacle tart, and the first two instalments of my Christmas Cake series.
I am very keen to make November the month that I finish Winter's Lane, but I can't help but be persuaded to take on new sewing projects too! I have just borrowed Learn to Sew with Lauren from my local library and am very taken with the Pick Your Pockets Skirt. Coincidentally, I have a day in London mid November by myself and I may just have to go and explore the fabric shops in Goldhawk Road! 

I am also lusting after the new Norway pattern from Camille Roskelly which would look great as a Christmas centrepiece. I still haven't done anything with my map fabric (where does the time go)?

As usual, on the first of the month I am linking up to Lily's Quilt's Fresh Sewing Day.

Fresh Sewing Day

Love Mrs Jones x

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Christmas Cake in 5 Easy Stages: Stage Two - Baking

This is Stage Two of my 5 stage Christmas Cake series, click here for Stage One (the soaking). In this stage we are going to make and bake the cake. I mentioned in Stage One that the recipe I use has been modified from a Nigella Lawson Christmas Cake recipe in How to be a Domestic Goddess, and I am using the 1/4lb version here.
In Stage One, you soaked your dried fruit in your chosen alcoholic beverage (sherry, brandy or marsala). Before we get on to the cake instructions, you need to line your tin with baking parchment, both at the base and around the sides, allowing about 10cm of parchment to protrude up proud of the sides of the tin. You also need a second circle of parchment, the same size as the base, from which you will cut a little hole in the centre. You will use this to place on top of your cake to stop it burning (the hole allows you to do the skewer test).
Once you have lined your tin, use a folded length of brown paper (the same height as the parchment) and wrap it around the outside of your tin, securing with string.
Preheat your oven to 150C.
110g Butter
90g Demerara Sugar
1 tsp Grated Orange Zest
2 Large Eggs
1 tbsp Marmalade
250g Plain Flour
The Soaked Dried Fruit
1/2 tsp Ground Mixed Spice
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
A Little Nutmeg (optional)
1/2 tsp Almond Essence
Pinch of salt
1. Cream together the butter and demerara sugar in a large bowl (I use an electric whisk). Then beat in the grated orange zest.
2. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Then stir in the marmalade.
3. Weigh out the flour and add to it the spices. Sift a little into the wet ingredients and stir well.
4. Then add some of the dried fruit, stirring, and repeat by adding more flour/spice then the fruit until you have thoroughly mixed both. If there is any sherry left in the dried fruit bowl, reserve this for later.
5. Add the almond essence and a little pinch of salt. Place the prepared parchment with the hole on top of the cake gently.
6. Spoon into the cake tin and bake for between 2-2 1/2 hours. I have a fan oven and mine was cooked after 2 hours. You can test whether it is cooked by inserting a skewer, if it comes out clean it is done.
7. Once your cake is out of the oven, remove the top parchment and brush over the reserved sherry and leave to cool.
8. Wrap in foil and place in a container.
Your cake needs to mature for at least 3-4 weeks. Stage Three will be all about feeding the cake, and I will be back with that instalment in November, when we will also be gathering the supplies for the decorating of the cake!
Feel free to ask me any questions.
Love Mrs Jones x

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Christmas Cake in 5 Easy Stages: Stage One

This is the start of a series of posts I am doing on making a Christmas Cake. I am not a professional baker, but I do make a Christmas Cake most years and the first few times I did it, I could really have done with some help. So, if this is your first year that you intend to make a cake and need a bit of hand holding - follow my series.

Stage One is all about finding a recipe, gathering your ingredients together and soaking the fruit.

Finding a recipe that will suit your individual likes is not all that easy. For years, I followed a Delia Smith recipe but some years ago changed to a Nigella Lawson one (published in How to be a Domestic Goddess) which I have adapted for my particular quirks! Once you have found a recipe, your next step is making sure you have the correct sized tin, and if not, could you borrow one from a friend or family member?

Today's stage assumes that you have your recipe (I will be providing my bastardised version of Nigella's) and that you have got your ingredients and some time in the next couple of days ready to bake the cake, so if you work all week, a Friday or Saturday night are going to be your best times to soak your fruit.

Ingredients for Stage One (Note: this is for a 18cm round cake tin or 15cm square tin):
350g Sultanas
160g Raisins
50g Glace Cherries
50g Mixed Peel (Optional)
60ml Sherry, Brandy or Marsala

1. Rinse the glace cherries in a sieve to get rid of the syrup and roughly chop into quarters.

2. Weigh out the remaining fruit and mixed peel if using and place in a large bowl with the cherries.

3. Measure out your sherry and pour over the fruit. Stir well before covering with a tea towel. This needs to be left to soak overnight.

I will be posting Stage Two during the week, but if you want to get your ingredients ahead of time, here are the remaining ingredients. 

110g Butter
90g Demerara sugar
1 tsp Grated Orange zest
2 Large Eggs
1 tbsp Marmalade
250g Plain flour
1/2 tsp Ground Mixed Spice
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
A little grated Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Almond Essence

Baking parchment
Brown paper

Love Mrs Jones x

Monday, 20 October 2014

Bake: Treacle Tart

Treacle tart was always one of my favourite childhood puddings, and making it takes me right back down memory lane. My kids didn't like the sound of it at all, until I told them it is golden syrup and not real treacle at all!

For the pastry case
100g Plain flour
75g Butter
1 tsp Caster sugar

For the filling
454g Bottle of Golden Syrup
Breadcrumbs made with 2-3 slices of bread

This makes 1 20cm (8inch) tart.

1. Rub together the flour and butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and a little cold water until it forms a ball. Alternatively, put the ingredients in a food processor and whizz together. Pour a little water down the funnel until it clumps together.

2. Put the oven on at 190C and wrap the pastry and pop it in the fridge until the oven comes to temperature. 

3. Sprinkle flour on your work surface and roll out wide enough to cover your flan dish. Place in the dish and prick the base with a fork. Add in some ceramic baking beans (I just pop a couple of teapsoons on mine) and bake blind for approximately 15 minutes. 

4. Remove from the oven and take out your beans/teaspoons.

5. Tip the breadcrumbs into the case and squeeze the golden syrup on top. You may not need a whole bottle.

6. Pop back in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes.

Delicious served with custard, cream or ice-cream.

Love Mrs Jones x

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sewn: Autumnal PJ Trousers

I spotted some gorgeous Fox fabric back at the Stitching, Sewing & Hobbycraft show in September, but couldn't get anywhere near the stand to buy some. However, after a quick search on good old Ebay, I found it and snapped myself up a couple of metres for some new PJ trousers.

This comes in four colourways: yellow, beige, blue and turquoise (this is turquoise).
I followed my Pyjama Trouser Tutorial to make these (which I have recently updated). It really is a quick and easy way of making PJ trousers if you have an existing pair to use as a template. I think it took me less than an hour from getting the fabric out to hemming the trousers. 

I have spotted some awesome brushed cotton penguin fabric from the same ebay seller and it is very tempting to pop back and get some of that for when the weather turns really cold!
I never tire of sewing in my own little label!!

Do pop over and check out the tutorial and if there is anything you want help with, just leave me a comment.

Love Mrs Jones x

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Le Challenge: Mix - Scrappy Rainbow Chevron Quilt

As usual, in my rush to start a project, I didn't think the quilt rules through, so after "chevroning" up all the pretty fabrics some months ago, I had to unpick half of them when I realised that I needed to sew it in straight lines to avoid those tricky Y seams! But, I love how it has turned out! 

It totally fits in with the theme Mix because it is a mix of fabric designs and, breaking all the rules, materials (cotton, linen and a little bit of polycotton too)! It feels smugly frugal to use up my fabric scraps in this way. I used an old duvet cover for the backing, some leftover dress fabric for the binding and even the batting was pieced together with (large) scraps.

This is the first time I have constructed a quilt sandwich"properly"- previously I have done minimal quilting and added on a backing much as you would a cushion back. This time, I quilted all three layers and used binding for the first time! I do concede that it seems to really frame the quilt.

I machine stitched the front of the binding but could not trust myself to do a neat enough job through from the back, so hand stitched that bit. I found the mitred corners a little tricky - some are neater than others!!

Don't forget to have a look at all the other entries this month over at Le Challenge.

Le Challenge

Love Mrs Jones x

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Q4 2014 FAL List

I am joining in over at The Littlest Thread for the last quarter in the year for FAL, aiming to finish some of the projects that I have started. I am usually quite good at this, but sometimes I just get bored with one thing or new fabric has tempted me, and I am off on another tangent!

1. Rainbow Chevron Quilt
I may be cheating with this one as it is so nearly finished. This is a scrappy quilt I started ages ago, but is just waiting for me to finish the binding.

2. Winter's Lane Quilt
I have five or six blocks made for this quilt, but I would love to have it complete by the beginning of December.

3. Beach Hut Cross Stitch
Following on from last month's Le Challenge entry, I re-discovered this beach hut cross stitch in a craft room tidy up session, so, when the light and my eyes permit, I have been tackling this.

4. Map Cushions
I bought some great map fabric back at the Stitching show which is just waiting to be whipped into some cushions for my dining room.

5. September Blue Quilt
Still haven't got my arse in gear with the amazing fat quarter September Blue bundle which I won back in the Summer. I have mapped out a quilt pattern on Quiltography but am yet to even make the first cut!

Finish Along 2014

Love Mrs Jones x

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Craft: The Holly and The Ivy Christmas Card

Fantastic Ribbons have kindly sent me a couple of rolls of their new Christmas ribbons, which are in stock now. I chose a gorgeous green The Holly & The Ivy - see below, and a Nordic feel "Do not open before 25th December" which I am planning to do a feature post on later in the month.

I mentioned earlier that I was going to crack on with my Christmas cards in October, and I thought this would be an ideal use for some of this lovely ribbon. 

Materials Used
Card blanks with envelopes
Fabric scraps: green from Aspen Frost, and red from Winter's Lane
Sequins (or small buttons)
Gold holly leaves (you could also use felt)
Natural hemp cord
Satin Holly & Ivy Ribbon
Glue (I prefer to use glue dots) and small white stickers
Rotary cutter or scissors

1. First, select and cut a rectangle of your red fabric with your rotary cutter. Press the fabric with an iron. Using some red embroidery thread, carefully sew the gold holly leaves in the top right corner of the rectangle, and sew on your sequins, overlapping them to create the berries.

2. Then cut a slightly larger rectangle from the green fabric. Press the fabric with an iron. Use glue dots to secure neatly onto your card.

3. Use glue dots to secure the red fabric on top of the green fabric. Smooth out any wrinkles.

4. Cut two lengths of hemp cord so that there is enough to stretch onto the reverse of the card. Iron out any kinks. Secure one end on the reverse of the card front with a white sticker. Stretch the cord taut down the card front and secure the other end in the same manner.

5. Finally, trim your ribbon, add some glue dots and affix to the card.

Don't forget to check back later this month to see what I do with my other roll of ribbon!

Love Mrs Jones x

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Paper: Die Cut Craft Set

I had great fun creating a cute butterflies and flowers craft set for my niece recently using some of the Sissix die that came with the Big Shot. The paper I used has a real Liberty of London feel to it and is from Papermania's Sew Lovely range.

A paper craft set is something that I would have loved to receive as a little girl, okay... I still would!! I popped another of these in my Etsy shop, which I am currently restocking. 

Love Mrs Jones x

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Looking Forward in October 2014

Is it just the change in the weather, or the influence of Great British Bake Off that has made me bake so much this last month? Probably a bit of both! 

Here is a quick recap of my makes in September:
  • I started my Winters Lane 8 point star quilt. I am currently six blocks in and I am now having a bit of a break from it. However, my overall goal for it is that it will be complete by the beginning of December. If you like the look of the block, I created a tutorial here.
  • Low fat Carrot & Sultana cake from Hairy Dieters.
  • The cross stitched heart was my entry for September Le Challenge.
  • An oilcloth peg bag tutorial
  • Last week, I shared some recipes for what to make with a glut of cooking apples, including this lovely chutney, apple & blackberry traybake and crumble.
  • Finally, the Oreo cake that I made my 17 year old for his birthday!
Card Making
So, with World Card Making Day on October 4th, I really must get going with my handmade Christmas cards. I have already drafted up my design, but in order to get ahead, the production line needs to start soon. It is something that I love doing and if I skip it one year, I really regret it.

I have just completed a quilt top for October's Le Challenge which is on the theme Mix, so I am hoping to have finished the quilting and binding in time. Check back mid October to see the finished article. 

Home Crafts
If you read my last post, you will see that I picked up some lovely map fabric from my trip to the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycraft show. I am pretty sure that I will make some cushions with it, with some contrast piping. Also, with winter round the corner, I am hoping to make at least one draught excluder this month.

As usual, I am linking up with Lily's Quilts for Fresh Sewing Day. What have you got planned for October?

Fresh Sewing Day

Love Mrs Jones x

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycrafts Show 2014

On Friday, I popped along to the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycrafts show down at Westpoint, Exeter. It was a crafter's paradise, with stalls selling almost every conceivable item on your crafting wishlist. I went along with a firm budget in my head - you know how easy it is to get carried along by needing this bit of fabric or that die for your Sissix machine! And, I am proud to say that my purchases were very restrained and I kept totally within budget!

I bought the acrylic teardrop pendants from the Pinflair stand (although I can't locate the pendants on their website), which come apart and can be filled with sweets or decorated. I will be doing something Christmassy in them, but no real ideas yet!

The Christmas ribbons were from Crafty Ribbons, and there were some fabulous ones to choose from. They also had a great Advent Calendar kit.

I indulged in a purchase of just 1 metre of this gorgeous home dec weight fabric from Fabrics Galore. I have been lusting after some map fabric for ages, and I just had to have it! Again, I have no real idea what I am going to do with it - possibly some cushions, although I am also thinking it would make an awesome lampshade!

There were so many other stands, but a few really stood out for me: the Michael Powell Art stand sold amazing cross stitch kits in a variety of sizes, and all very original; the Storage 4 Crafts display was awesome - if money was no object (ha!) I could have bought one of their amazing foldaway craft units; and the Bexton Cheese (slightly incongruous to a hobby show) was delicious (I may have tried quite a few flavours...)!

Love Mrs Jones x

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Autumn: 5 Recipes for using up a Glut of Cooking Apples

I am very fortunate in that my Dad has an orchard full of apple trees. This was created by my Grandad who planted an apple tree for each grandchild. We are all now in our 30s and 40s, and the apple trees are beautiful gnarled mature trees, and we are lucky enough to get some of this bounty each year. Here are some ideas if you are faced with a similar glut.

1. Chutney
Use your slow cooker to rustle up a Tomato, apple and garlic chutney which will also help you use up the last of any tomato glut (including any green ones) you may have lurking about.

2. Mincemeat
Get ahead for Christmas by making a batch of mincemeat now. It tastes delicious and you can also use it in a baked apple!

3. Baked Apples
This is such an old fashioned dessert, but is so easy to make, especially in a slow cooker. Here is my slow cooker Baked Apples version. To cook them in a conventional oven, bake in an ovenproof dish for around 30 minutes at 200C, or until soft.

4. Apple and Blackberry Crumble
You seriously can't go through Autumn without have a crumble! Whether you go solo with the apples, or add in blackberries, plums or pears, is up to you, but for me the classic combination of slightly tart apples with perfumed blackberries is a marriage made in (autumnal) heaven!

To feed a family of four, you will need:

3 Bramley apples (or other cooking apples)
A couple of handfuls of blackberries, washed well

Peel, core and roughly chop the apples and add to a pan with the washed whole blackberries. Add granulated sugar to taste and heat gently until the apples have started to soften. Take off the heat and decant into an ovenproof dish.

300g Plain flour
175g Demerara sugar
200g Butter

Put the crumble ingredients into a food processor and combine. Pour over your apple and blackberry mixture and pop in the oven at 180C for 40 minutes. Serve with cream, ice-cream or custard.

5. Bramley and Blackberry Traybake
This is a dessert/cake recipe which will feed a crowd. I made it as a cake, but would have easily had enough to serve as a dessert with cream or custard for a family of six, plus a slice each for elevenses the following day. The recipe is a BBC Good Food one, which you can find here.

Happy eating!
Love Mrs Jones x

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Bake: Chocolate Oreo Sponge Cake

Two weeks have gone by since my eldest's birthday, and I am only now getting round to sharing his Oreo cake with you! September is going at a crazy pace! After many suggestions from friends on Facebook on what I might base the Oreo cake on, I decided on making an old favourite, a chocolate sponge, with an Oreo cream centre. 

Can you see where one of my boys has swiped a bit of buttercream?!

Oreo Sponge Cake
175g margarine
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
145g self raising flour
30g cocoa powder
1 packet of Oreos
Buttercream (ready made or make yourself according to the recipe on the icing sugar packet).
Chocolate spread

1. Preheat the oven to 190C and grease and base line two 18cm round sandwich tins.

2. Beat the margarine and sugar together with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs, beating well after each one.

4. Sieve and fold in the flour and cocoa powder, a little at a time.

5. Spoon into your two tins and bake for 20 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

6. While this is cooling, you can make up the buttercream and prepare the Oreos by crushing them gently in a bowl with the heel of a rolling pin or similar. You want a mix of crumbs and larger chunks. I used half a box of snack Oreos for this - you may want to use some of the others for decoration. Mix the Oreos into the buttercream.

7. Spread a thick layer of chocolate spread onto one of the sponges.

8. Spread the buttercream/Oreo mix on the other sponge and sandwich together.

9. Complete with candles, more Oreos and an iced message.

I did toy with the idea of putting another layer of buttercream on the top, but even though I have a thoroughly sweet tooth, I thought it might be a bit overkill!! Obviously, the birthday boy got the whole Oreo on top!

Love Mrs Jones x