Tag Archives: gifts

Christmas Confectionery Cavalcade!

9 Jan

Some days at work are better than others…

A few weeks ago, I was informed by my manager that I would be taking the Eurostar to Brussels for the day, for a Conference. As I have never been on the Eurostar before, I was delighted at the prospect, and spent the preceding week before the trip, bouncing around the office like a kid at Christmas.

I have visited Brussels briefly, once before, when my lovely friend Charlotte and I were stranded there overnight after a disastrous Belgian music festival. We were tired and had tents and sleeping bags to carry, so had been in no mood for sightseeing – perhaps this trip would give me a chance to see the city in a different light!

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My excitement slightly wore off when I discovered how much of a flying visit my time in Brussels was going to be – we would have around an hour an a half to sightsee, and the rest of the time would be spent in meetings. Oh well, ninety minutes was better than nothing! I certainly didn’t waste my time, and used it to visit Brussels Old Town. The two things that the city is famed for (besides sprouts, of course) are chocolate and waffles, so I thought it was only right and proper that I sampled as many of these tasty treats as I could in the time I had.

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Delectable liqueur truffles and chocolate-covered cakes, biscuits and waffles…

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…adorable solid chocolate characters and exquisite fudges and caramels…

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….every imaginable chocolate-based spread, sauce and dip. I was in heaven!

Although my trip was short, my chocolate tasting inspired me to have a go at making some confectionery as gifts for Christmas this year. My creations may not be quite as classy as those I tried in the artisan confectionery boutiques of Brussels, but it’s the thought that counts!

I had been lucky enough to receive a book on making confectionery from my brother and sister-in-law for my birthday – Sweets Made Simple by Hope & Greenwood. Some of their recipes looked so mouthwatering that I nearly ate the pages! I decided to give some of their truffle and fudge recipes a try.

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Firstly, I tried making delicious, refreshing Gin and Lime truffles. The recipe was really easy to follow, and recommended chilling the mix, and then rolling into small balls and coating in cocoa powder. However, I found that the mix was a little too soft, so I opted to coat the balls of truffle mix in milk chocolate to make the truffles a bit more stable. This obviously involved melting large quantities of chocolate in a bain marie, and generally making a chocolatey mess. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta go it! to decorate the truffles, I finely grated a small amount of lime zest, and used it to garnish the top of each truffle before the chocolate set.

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After the success of the gin and lime treats, I attempted a second truffle recipe from the book. I tried the recipe for white chocolate and limoncello truffles, which I thought would be perfect as my brother Alex and his new wife Kate brought me some limoncello back from their honeymoon in Italy earlier in the year.

Again, I found the ganache a little too soft, so I painted tempered white chocolate into a confectionery mould, and painstakingly filled each chocolate cup and left it to cool, before sealing with a layer of white chocolate and popping out of the silicon tray.

The finished result was glossy, pyramid-shaped truffles, with a pleasing snap as you bit through the chocolate, to reveal a creamy, citrusy centre. Divine. Painting the moulds took a fair bit of time, but the finished confection was certainly worth it.

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For my last sweet treat, I decided to make a non-boozy option, for a change. A recipe in the Hope and Greenwood book had caught my eye – Black Forest Fudge. Well, with dark and white chocolate and the addition of morello cherries, what’s not to love?

It was my first time at making fudge, and I’m pleased to say, the result was really successful. I followed the instructions very carefully, using a sugar thermometer to remove the fudge mix from the boil when it hit 113 degrees exactly. I then combined the grated chocolate, poured into a silicon case, and liberally topped with halved morello cherries.

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I found that the first attempt was absolutely delicious, but a little too crumbly. However, on successive batches I got better at mixing the chocolate through thoroughly, easing the melted mix into the corners of the tray before it sets, and using a hot knife to cut the squares more neatly.

Ever reluctant to waste anything I have produced, I collected up the crumbs from the crumbly fudge and refrigerated them – perhaps I could use these as an ice cream topping, or better yet, maybe they could be churned into an ice cream of their own? I will make a note to try this as the weather warms up!

In sucessive batches, I also increased the quantity of cherries, as they were simply too delicious. My favourite thing about the fudge is that it’s sweet and creamy, but not too sickly – once you’ve had one square, it’s hard to resist another! So, next time you see me and I’ve gained a stone, blame the fudge.

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To complete the repertoire of Christmas edible treats, I bottled up some sloe gin (reprised from last year’s success) and also baked a few more batches of the Swedish sugar and spice cookies. Never let it be said that I would let friends and family go hungry (or sober) at Christmastime.

 

Four Go Glamping – update

23 Nov

You may remember that, earlier in the year, during the blissful, balmy Summer, my friends and I went glamping in Oxfordshire, and had time to visit a pottery studio during our stay. We painted mugs and jugs at Aston Pottery, using stencils and a stippling effect, and left our masterpieces here to be glazed and fired.

 

After a long wait, our items have finally arrived! Hannah, Kat and I met up recently, and opened the parcel to reveal our works of art. The patterns have come out really well and the colours have deepened during the firing. The glaze is smooth and even across the mug, and the finishe piece feels really professional! Katie painted a jug during the weekend, which has also come out really well.

It was wonderful to finally receive our items and remember our fantastic weekend. Katie wasn’t able to join us, but hopefully she will feel the same when she sees her creation!

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My mug is now bringing sunshine to my morning coffee and desert heat to an evening cocoa on these long winter nights. I’m really happy with how the design turned out, and would defnitely try stencilling on pottery again – perhaps I may try this effect on something at my pottery class!

Pottery Butter Dishes

25 Oct

Don’t let my recent blogging hiatus fool you – I’ve still been trying my best to build my pottery skills to a point where I can make useful items!

One of the projects I started at the end of the Summer term of classes was a series of butter dishes. The kilns at the college reach a relatively low heat of  ‘only’ about 1200 degrees celcius, which means that the glazes are not fired enough to become either waterproof or frost-proof. This means that when you are planning your projects, you have to bear this in mind.

I hit on the idea of butter dishes, as the surface of the dish will be sufficiently non-porous to protect the butter, and will look great on the counter in the kitchen or on a shelf in the fridge.

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My first butter dish was a total experiment. I rolled out a slab of clay, and, using a longish jam jar covered in paper as a rough mold, I shaped the slab into a butter pat shape. I had to leave the clay to firm up for a little while, and then I was able to fold the edges together to make the end result look a little like a block of butter in its original foil packaging. It was a litle tricky working with a slab in this way, but I was determined to see if it would work! I then used slip to seal the joins, and rolled a second slab to form a base.

To ensure that the top and the base dried evenly without warping, I slotted them together and allowed them to dry slowly, wrapped up in polythene for a few weeks. It was then fired, and painted in a high gloss. I’m delighted with the result! Ok, so it’s a little wobbly around the edges, but surely that’s part of it’s charm!

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I learned a lot from making the first butter dish, which came in really handy when I moved onto making more.

For the second butter dish, I wanted to recreate that classic design of a loaf of bread. Learning from my previous difficulties of shaping a single slab of clay, I decided this time to cut one large slab to wrap across the top, and two, smaller, end slabs to fit in at the sides. I let all 3 slabs firm up, and afterwards, it proved much easier to assemble. The structure felt much stronger than it had on the orignal butter dish, as it had been fitted together properly! I made a slightly more decorative base for this one, and again, let them dry together, slowly, under polythene.

Painting this one was fun! I wanted to give the effect of a lovely, golden brown, freshly-baked loaf. I’m really happy with the crust colours, although I was hoping for a slightly less yellowy shade for the bread on the ends. I still think it looks great though. This butter dish is going to be a gift for someone, but I won’t reveal who yet as they might just be reading (I don’t think they read this blog, but I’ll keep quiet, just in case!).

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The third and final butter dish for the time being was one that I had wanted to make for my Mum. I remember us having a cow-shaped butter dish when I was a kid, but I felt that my skills weren’t quite up to making  a cow at this point! Therefore, I decided on a simple design, accented with a giant curl of butter as a handle on the top.

As you can see from the pictures, my skills are definitely improving by the third attempt! Again, I made this one by cutting several slabs and assembling them once they had firmed.  For this one, I kept the base really simple, with a slight lip around the edges.

I’m not sure what you can see from the photograph, but the glaze on this one is gorgeous! It’s a sort of shimmery, iridescent variety of blues, swimming about. I had this idea to paint the base blue, and paint the top in graduating blues, moving up into white at the top. I got started, and was quite happy with how the work was progressing. I wrapped it up to continue work on the following week, but when I returned, the paint had all dried to a uniform colour and I couldn’t see where I was up to!

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Therefore, I had to use a damp cloth to gently wipe as much as possible of the existing glaze off, and start again. I then mixed up some blue, white and transparent glaze and painted the whole item, base included, in the same colour, attempting to cover any existing traces of the original glaze work. Finally, I glazed the lovely butter curl in primrose yellow. The result is really fantastic! The blues swim about and catch the light, looking like water. Sadly, even if I put my mind to it, I could probably never mix that same colour again, but anyway the finished effect was a lovely surprise. Pleased as punch!

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Every time I open my fridge, I get a tiny spark of delight when I see my hand-made butter dish on the shelf. I think it’s a great way to personalise the kitchen, and I’ve reconciled myself to the fact it’s a bit rough around the edges – perhaps, once my skills improve, I’ll make myself a better one! I’m definitely going to be making more of these, as they are really good fun to plan and create – I would imagine that there’ll be a fair few butter dishes as Christmas pressies this year!

 

Crocheted Baby Blankets 2

1 Jun

Spring is in the air, and there seems to be rather a lot of new arrivals being announced, all at once! This time, not one, but two of my friends at work are both going on maternity leave at the same time – I guess that gives me the perfect excuse to get my crochet hooks out!

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Firstly, I decided to make a coverlet for my friend and colleague, Hayley – she has just gone on leave to have her second child, a little boy. Using some white Sirdar Snuggly and a number 5 hook, I made up 3 rows of trebles, then did a row of puff stitches to give the coverlet some interest. For the edge, I used some lovely blue lambswool from Kingcraig Fabrics to make rows of alternating shells.  This was really quick to make, and I think the edging looks really effective!

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Secondly, a fellow member of my team at work, Sian, is also starting maternity leave for her first child this month. This blanket is larger than the coverlet, for no other reason than I carried on crocheting for ages before realising how large it had become!

Again, the main work of this crochet was simple rows of trebles, but every few rows I did a series of  *three trebles into a single stitch (to make a small fan), skipped a stitch, a single treble, skipped a stitch, all the way to the end of the row. On the next row, I would do a treble into each of the first three ‘fan’ stitches, but for each stitch, I would keep the last loop of the stitch on the hook. Once all three were looped on, I’d do a yarn over hook to close the stitches. Then I would do a single treble to complete the post in the middle of the motif, and begin on the next three trebles into the fan. I hope that made sense! This made the lovely flowers/windmills/crosses pattern you can see below.

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To finish this blanket off, I simply did a row of *treble crochet, single crochet, skip a stitch, followed by a row of a *treble crochet, single crochet, treble crochet, single crochet into each loop created on the previous row. This meant I could thread ribbon throught the first row and produce a gentle frill on the outside row. I’m really happy with how this blanket turned out!

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Once I had finished these two, I was in full swing and ready to make a third – I don’t know who is going to be the recipient of this one yet, but I’m sure it will find a home soon!

I wanted to try a more intricate stitch, and I had spotted this great tutorial on Sandra Cherryheart‘s blog – the clamshell stitch. In Sandra’s blanket, she uses a different colour for each row of clamshells, but I thought it would look interesting if only occasional shells were picked out in a colour. Again I used Sirdar Snuggly, will remnant balls of primrose yellow and dark blue lambswool from Kingcraig.

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What I love about this stitch is how the different rows catch the light – I didn’t notice this on the gorgeous, multi-coloured one on Sandra’s page, but I think the white really shows them off! I just wanted to keep on crocheting this one, it was a  struggle to stop! For some interest, I hooked some of the central rows of  stitches in blue, which means you can see the point where the clamshell spike stitches overlap it at even intervals.

For the edging, I was perilously close to running out of wool, so I simply did a row of V stitches, followed by a blue row of Vs, followed by a final row of white chain stitches, held onto the blue Vs with double crochets.

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Et voila, the finished blanket. I guess, as it contains blue, it really should be a boy’s blanket. However, the combination of blue, white and yellow seems quite nautical and fresh to me! Perhaps it could work for a boy or a girl. What do you think?

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Two of their blankets have already been delivered to my friends, in time for their own special deliveries. The third one awaits a recipient, but I’ll keep it to one side until one of my friends has wonderful news!

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