Very Vanilla Pear Jam

Very Vanilla Pear Jam

Because I haven’t been able to have any berries (due to Noah’s condition and subsequently, my diet restriction), my breakfast has been limited to just one thing – honey. Very boring. So I decided to “steal” a recipe from my mother-in-law’s husband – pear with vanilla jam! I have not made jam 100% on my own; usually it’s with the help of my in-laws and even then, they are the ones cooking it up while I assist. This time, I decided to brave the waters and do it on my own – yes, without Nil’s help. Took me about two hours to churn out a nice amount of jam – enough to last me till the end of this year, I think. HAHAHAHA.

I bought some ripe but still quite hard green pears from Belgium – oops, it’s not the local variety (not really the season so none were available) – and some gelling sugar which is basically sugar with citric acid and pectin. You could still make jam without pectin (thickener) or citric acid (preservative) but it just means that you either have to use fruits with naturally occuring pectin like some berries OR get a more fluid jam.

Preparing the pears for my pear-vanilla jam Gelling sugar and vanilla bean pods After grating slightly over 1 kg of pears Getting those lovely vanilla bean grains out from the pods

After washing the pears well – important as I’m retaining the peel – I remove the center/seeds and quartered them before grating them into large stripes. For the vanilla pod, I ran the knife down the center and scraped out the grains before tossing everything into the pot. Usually we use a copper pot for making jam as the heat conducts more evenly but I don’t have a copper pot so my stainless steel pressure cooker will just have to do for now.

Tossing everything together in a pot Cooking it down... As it bubbles, stir until it thickens

Then comes the tedious task of cooking it down. There is no way you can run away from the stove as this has to cook over medium heat and once the jam starts to boil, you have to stir and stir and stir. Unless of course you want your jam to scorch and burn. Once it reaches the appropriate thickness, it’s time to bottle. Be sure to wash all your jars and lids with hot water and soap BEFORE the jam boils. Canning is a fast step so I didn’t have time to take pictures. Juggling hot syrupy jam in glass jars requires both hands and a decent amount of concentration.

The result is what you see above. I can’t wait to dig into this tomorrow for breakfast!!!!!1

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Simple teething pads

Teething pads

Simple teething pads
Pattern details | None
Batting | PSR Quilt Bamboo batting (0.9 m x 1.25 m)
Fabric | 100% cotton fabric from www.fabric.com

Of lately, Noah has taken to gumming the straps of the Ergo carrier whenever I babywear him and I can’t exactly dump the entire carrier into the machine to wash it even though it’s okay to do so (not frequently tho – as per manufacturer’s recommendation). I was not very keen on spending around €20 for teething pads and decided to make a simple pair with the leftover batting I had from the quilt I made from him. To match the green of my carrier (Ergo Performance), I picked a paisley patterned fabric I purchased while I was in Singapore.

While measuring it, I thought I had enough fabric to go around the strap in order for me to utilize the KAM snaps I have in my stash. However, after topstitching the layers together, I discovered that I had forgotten all about seam allowances, resulting in a pad that didn’t lay on top of each other. I will have to make do with hook-and-eye closures instead so until I get my hands on them (tomorrow, I think), it’ll be held together with basting pins.

I didn’t use a pattern, just decided to layer the batting on top of the fabric (right sides facing in), sew and turn it inside out before topstiching around to reinforce, beautify and close off the opening. It’s a quick project (I did this while doing other things like checking out diet pills that work) and you can whip up a pair of these in under 30 minutes or less, depending on how fast you sew and cut/prep your fabric.

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Vegan & Gluten-Free Shortbread

Vegan & Gluten-Free Shortbread

Intrigued with vegan and gluten-free baking, I decided to give it a go. I read from many gluten-free baking sites that the use of a non-wheat or gluten-based flour gives gluten-free goods a different flavour and texture profile. Instead of wheat, gluten-free bakers use flours made from coconut, millet, rice, buckwheat, arrowroot, sorghum and others and because naturally reoccurring gluten is like a gum that holds the whole thing together and gives it structure, you have to add in a thickener when using gluten-free flours. Commercial flour mixes use xantham or guar gum but you can opt for starches like arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, corn starch or seeds like flaxseed or chia seed.

Because this is a relatively new thing for me – gluten-free baking – I didn’t want work from scratch and buy a ton of flours so I hunted around for some gluten-free flour mixes. The organic store in Dole has a very limited range so when my mother-in-law offered to take me to the organic store here in Lyon, I jumped at it. I found a bigger variety of gluten-free goodies that are also soy, dairy and egg free as well as an egg replacer powder – things I never found back in Dole. I also came across an interesting flour mix by Schär, a European company that specialises in producing gluten-free products. Called Mix Pâtisserie – Mix C, it is a flour mix developed for cakes and biscuits.

Because I’m on a no-dairy, no-soy and no-egg regime, I had to hunt high and low for a suitable butter placement as while margarines are made with vegetable oil, they also contain soy-based lecithin. I found a sunflower-based margarine which has no lecithin. The colour and flavour profile isn’t the same but surprisingly that didn’t affect the outcome of the shortbreads which turned out to be quite delicious. The unrefined brown sugar which my mother-in-law uses gave the shortbread a lovely light molasses flavour to it.

Do note that gluten-free doughs made with margarine behave differently. This turned out to be softer and less pliable due to the lack of gluten. Newbies to baking or people who always overmix will find that gluten-free baking can be very forgiving in that aspect. You don’t have to worry about gluten formation!!!! I’ll definitely make these again but will cut back on the sugar – this, I find, is a little on the sweet side even though it is perfect with black coffee or plain yogurt (for those who can take dairy or the soy alternative). In the meantime, I’m off to look at some rustic dining room tables!

NOTE: These have to cool in the pan as they are soft and crumbly when warm but will harden when cool. Good also if eaten chilled.

Vegan & Gluten-Free Shortbread

Ingredients

125 gms gluten free flour (my mix has maize starch, maize flour, locust bean gum)
70 gms margarine
60 gms unrefined brown sugar
Juice from half a lemon
1/2 tsp baking powder

Method

  1. Preheat the oven at 180°C and prepare a baking tray by lining it with baking paper.
  2. Cream the margarine and the sugar for 30 seconds to a minute before mixing in the flour and baking powder.
  3. Add in the lemon juice and mix well until it forms a firm dough.
  4. Place in the freezer for 15-30 mins. When ready, roll and slice using molds OR flatten with your fingers. Do work fast as the margarine will soften.
  5. Place the cookies about 1.5 to 2 cm apart and bake for 10-15 mins or until golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan. Once cool, store in an airtight container and enjoy on its own or with coffee or crush and sprinkle them over yogurt or ricotta.

Vegan & Gluten-Free Shortbread

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Music the Eva-way!

That was Eva last year singing Old McDonald to my father-in-law!

I reckon she loves music and is fascinated with nursery rhymes, singing and such. Sometimes I find her humming a tune while she’s busy on the potty. Perhaps I should dig out the xylophone again and see if she’s fascinated with it as she is with vocals. There was one point a few weeks back when I was tempted to get a piano or guitar to toy with. Hm. Maybe I can relook at this “want”.

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Something sweet…

Tapioca Cake

I made a little something sweet to remind me of home today and it didn’t fail me. It could be a little on the richer side but that’s fine considering that I didn’t use any eggs or butter (diet restriction, remember?).

They sell already grated tapioca here which is frozen plus ones that are already peeled but here means Lyon and I don’t live in Lyon. Where I stay, they only sell whole and unpeeled tapioca/manioc/cassava. So I decided to get the whole unpeeled version and put in a little bit extra effort into this dish. The recipe is a keeper and pretty simple although I might tweak it a little bit more the next time I make this – especially with the amount of coconut milk used.

Still, it makes for a good dessert! I know a little girl who enjoyed it tremendously. Kekeke. For now, am back to my reviews on the side effects of syntheroid.

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Lemonade trumps the lemon!

Circles & Squares

Y’know the saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? Well, this is a fine example of just that.

Inspired by this post on using different oil infusions as a colorant, I decided to plunge into uncharted waters and whip up my own version. No no, nothing fancy like swirls. Just two layers with soap balls and bars as embeds. The colours I had in mind were just two – creamy yellow and a nice lavender. I thought alkanet and madder root infusions would do just the trick.

Apparently not.

What I got was an icky blue-green-grey layer that was neither blue or green and definitely not purple!

From one angle, it looks grey, another brown-grey and when I showed it to Nil, he just went “Uhhh…it looks interesting”. He then suggests that I save a few bars for my mother-in-law, an artist and remarked that it reminded him of paintings by Gustav Klimt. After doing some search, I would say that this batch of lemonade reminds me of more geometric abstract art.

Still, it’s flattering when he tells me that a botched batch is artistic!

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Shea & Mango Rich Skin Butter

Shea & Mango Rich Skin Butter

Shea & Mango Rich Skin Butter
Contents | Mango Butter (Mangifera indica), Shea Butter (Butyrospermum parkii), Calendula infused Sunflower Oil (Helianthus annuus), Avocado Oil (Persea gratissima), Soybean Oil (Glycine soja), Walnut Oil (Juglans regia), Rosemary Oleoresin, Vitamin E (Tocopherol), Essential Oils (Geranium, Chamomile, Rose).

This is an ultra rich whipped butter I made for super dry or mature skin. I used the same oils from the soap I formulated for my mum and these oils are:

  • Avocado oil which contains contains large amounts of vitamins A, D, and E as well as protein and amino acids.
  • Soybean oil which is high in both linoleic and oleic acids, making it a good moisturiser.
  • Sunflower oil which is high in vitamin E.
  • Walnut oil which is high in linoleic acid and vitamins A, C, & E.

The result is a highly hydrating butter which I would probably only use at night, just before going to bed.

I had to use a little bit more essential oil that I normally would as the scent of the walnut oil was a bit tad strong. The avocado oil and mango butter gave the mixture a slightly green-yellow appearance so if you’re aiming for a nearly-white butter, sorry, you’ll have to give this recipe a miss.

A note to anyone attempting to whip mango butter – it sets up really fast so it would be a good idea to use it in conjunction with a softer butter like shea.

I hope the recipients will like this butter. I particularly adore the scent, especially the geranium – very relaxing. Nil didn’t quite like the scent blend – he thought it reminded him of burnt air! (He thinks my peppermint soap smells icky – a sign that his nose is NOT suited for this sort of work – blending and sniffing fragrances!)

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Lamb-chickpea tajine with barley grits

Lamb-chickpea tajine with barley grits

In an effort to discover the cause of Noah’s eczema, I’ve gone on a restricted diet and am very close to becoming a vegan as I joke to Nil. It’s not easy as I have never gone on a diet like this in my entire life!!!! Basically, my diet is to have none of the following:

  • Wheat
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Berries
  • Eggs

It’s pretty miserable because just about everything here has either wheat, dairy or eggs and the yummy alternatives (like yogurt and cream and most milks) are made out of nuts or soy. I can forget about pizza because of the cheese – it won’t be the same without mozzarella! And no no no soya sauce, dark or light as a seasoning!

The odd one out like chocolate is still okay but that means I have to scrutinize the label for any presence of dairy, nuts, etc and it also limits it to dark chocolate (the higher the percentage, the better) BUT any higher than 85% and it’s awfully bitter.

So I scouted the Internet for more info, looked around my organic store for alternatives and came up with some of the following substitutes for my pantry:

  • Oat milk
  • Polenta
  • Quinoa & rice breakfast cereal
  • Buckwheat (not a wheat or cereal but in fact more closely related to rhubarb)
  • Rice cakes in place of toast for breakfast

In place of my breakfast jam (we make ours from scratch) which are berry-based, I have gone back to honey. For butter, it’s organic margarine spread. If I need to use milk in my foods, I’d have to sub with either coconut milk or coconut cream. I found some barley grits at the supermarket the other day and thought about making a tajine. Normally, I would make tajine with couscous but that’s made from wheat (just like pasta).

The resulting meal was surprisingly yummy and very filling not to mention easy to cook. I just prepared the barley grits as how I would with couscous. Eva had no complaints and ate a lot of the barley – she wasn’t a big fan of couscous so it was a good thing!

NOTE: You can substitute the lamb with meat like beef or mutton.

Lamb-chickpea tajine with barley grits

Ingredients

Slightly under 1 kg lamb (I use the cuts from the leg and neck)
500gms chickpeas (canned) – drain and wash
450ml water
1/2 cup barley grits/barley couscous (Saksou Al Balboula brand) OR couscous
1 tbsp tajine spice mix (contains turmeric, coriander, cumin, etc)
1 large onion – diced
A pinch saffron
A pinch paprika
Some olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Method

  1. Sweat the onions in the olive oil before browning the meat in the pressure cooker or a large pot.
  2. Toss in the spice mix, saffron and paprika. Stir well and season to taste before adding in the water.
  3. (Pressure cooker) Allow the water to come to a boil first before covering the top and sealing it. Cook under pressure for at least 30 minutes. When ready, release the pressure and add in the chickpeas.
  4. (Regular pot) Simmer for an hour or until the meat is tender before adding in the chickpeas.
  5. Simmer for another 10-15 mins. Prepare the couscous as per instructions.
  6. Once ready, serve both dishes together. You may add some toasted flaked almonds or pine nuts and raisins to your couscous for more flavour and crunch.
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