Sunday, 22 June 2014

June in a bottle

One day my daughter will look back on weekends like this with nostalgia. Not a ghastly "geez, I can't believe we did that rubbish," type nostalgia that hits me when I remember watching the Donnie and Marie show. No, proper, Proustian nostalgia when she smells the blossom in her adulthood.
Or at least I hope so.

It was warmer than predicted, the rain showers threatened didn't materialise and the sun beat down as the afternoon progressed. Her eldest brother was dossing in bed after a week of exams, her middle brother was still at a friend's house following a sleepover so Mark and I took her out on her own to the place of her choosing - in this instance, Meanwood Valley Urban Farm. We bought her a sausage roll and crisps; she had a milkshake; she fed donkeys and goats, watched damselflies and ran through the woods to a den. All in all it was a lovely time with the fabulous Miss B.

I noticed the elderflowers all over a massive hedge near the farm's playground. Hurray! We had a lovely time, B and I, picking elderberries in September. Now she could take part in my first foraged harvest of the year, the delicate froth of elderflowers.

We drove out to the lane we'd visited in early autumn. It's easier to pick the flower heads than the berries so we didn't need scissors this time. Mark stayed in the car with the radio while Miss B and I browsed the hedgerows for the cream-coloured, open clusters. We avoided any with a hint of faded blooms as past it, and those with many tight buds as not yet ready.

Partly to let the flowers fulfil their botanic purpose and partly because I love watching the PUFF of tiny pollen specks, we batted each flowerhead before picking it.  Thank heavens neither of us have hay fever.

As we picked and chatted, we were overtaken by a group of walkers.  Clearly not gardeners, they asked us if we were picking blackberries. "No, it's too soon," Miss B confidently told them. "It's elderflowers now." They asked what we'd do with them and how to choose them. Very charmingly, they asked Miss B to help them choose some good flower heads to contribute.  She was delighted to advise.
A fair few flowers ended up in Miss B's hair

In the face of such enthusiasm, we ended up with far more flower heads that I had anticipated. Ah well, I guess we'd better make a LOT of cordial...

Elderflower Cordial

25-30 elderflower heads
1-2 lemons
1/2 to 1 lime
1.5 litres boiling water
900g sugar

Pick over the flower heads to remove any creepy-crawlies. Ideally do this by hand, not washing the flowers before use. However, we'd got 90-odd flower heads so I just filled the sink with cold water and gently swished the flowers about in that, removing any bugs I noticed.
Put the flowers is a large stock pot of maslin pan. Add the zest of the citrus fruit and keep the fruit on one side for juicing tomorrow.  Add 1.5l of boiling water and cover. Leave to infuse overnight.

A whole heap of elderflowers, zest and water
Strain the liquid through a scalded (i.e. covered in boiling water before use to sterilise it) jelly bag or piece of muslin. Add the sugar and the lemon and lime juices. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and pour into sterilised bottles.

NB - I was doing a triple batch and lacked sufficient sterilised bottles. I washed some tonic water bottles out in very hot water and filled them with cordial, leaving a 5 inch gap at the top for expansion. When they cooled I popped them in the freezer. They'll keep there until I need them.

Elderflower cordial with soda water and ice is a lovely soft drink. However, it also makes exceedingly lovely cocktails:

Elderflower Martini

1 measure gin
1/2 measure vermouth
1 measure elderflower cordial
Juice of 1/2 a lime

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake until frosty and serve.
Chi chin!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

I've started so I'll finish

I love starting something new.  I like trying things, learning a new skill or craft, messing about with something I've not tried before. It's interesting, it engages me and I get a kick from the novelty of it.

Finishing? Not so much.

There are often awkward last bits to do. Perhaps I needed a different bit of kit, or ran out of the right yarn. I may have found it a bit more tedious or long-winded than I'd hoped and wandered off, bored. Sometimes I put it down when something more pressing demanded my time and I just plain forgot about it. My house has heaps of little part-done projects stuffed into boxes or odd corners.

I decided to make June my Finishing Month.  Rather than start new crafts or hobbies I am going to finish up ones I've already begun.

First up was a little heart shaped rag rug kit I bought at Yarndale. The hessian backing shed a lot and irritated me when I was getting started so i shoved it in a corner and ignored it for months on end.  This last couple of weeks I've finished making the heart and tweaked it a bit. I've trimmed it ready for sewing and will find some fabric this weekend so I can make it into a cushion cover for Miss B's room rather than the little wall hanging it was meant to be. I like it a lot.  The trick was to use an embroidery hoop for the first bit to hold it taut and to ditch the shonky poking stick made from a cut down clothes peg that came with the kit for a crochet hook. That made it all easier and faster.

Next was my little crocheted rabbit. I'd made all the parts bar the second ear, and I had sewn him together back in April. Then I misplaced my hook.  I found it again, finished the ear off a
nd attached it. He's a bit wonky but I love him. Made entirely by me - using a posh version of string and a stick (nice yarn and a crochet hook) I made a proper, can-sit-up-by-itself 3D cuddly toy.  Yay!

My third project is a tapestry kit to make a pincushion with a cockerel on it that I bought to keep me busy on a train journey back in January. I'd forgotten how much I like the quiet repetitive action of doing tapestry.  I thoroughly enjoyed doing it while chatting with people at the new Knit and Natter people at a local cafe.

Next up , the second attempt at a nice sleeve for my lovely MacBook. I know where I went wrong with the first one and am sure the new attempt will work out better.

I'll add the project photos as I get done.