cocktails · food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Damson Gin – Foraging Recipe

It’s autumn here in the UK, and that means it’s the perfect time for foraging the hedgerows for lovely berries and fruit. Last year I shared my recipe for delicious hawthorn gin – but at the same time, I also actually made a batch of damson gin. And I’ve never shared the recipe! So it’s time to right that wrong – just in time for this year’s foraging season – and I present: how to make damson gin…

How To Make Damson Gin Recipe

Foraging for damsons and sloes (and bullace, oh my!)

I’ve called this recipe “damson gin”, but it serves just as well for sloe gin as well. It can be tricky to tell damsons and sloes apart from one another – not least because they can actually cross-breed, so the fruit you pick might actually be a slamson (or a doe!). Or… just to add to the confusion, it might even be a bullace, which is another type of wild plum, commonly found in the UK, that’s somewhere in-between a sloe and a damson – and is also apparently known as a ‘wintercrack plum’ – a name so good that it rather begs the question of why anyone ever calls it a bullace in the first place…

Anyway, if you’re foraging for wild plums to make gin out of, it can be tricky to tell these three fruits apart – the best resource I’ve found to help is this video which shows the fruits and plants in question. Foraging purists might be angry with me though, when I say that it really doesn’t matter which one you end up picking, or whether you call your end product damson gin, sloe gin or bullace gin! The main difference will be the amount of sugar you use, because sloes are quite sour whereas damsons are quite sweet, and bullaces are somewhere in between. Just add sugar to taste and you’ll be fine.

I’m actually pretty sure that the fruit I used when I made this recipe last year were bullaces, although at the time I mis-indentified them as damsons. I’m still calling it damson gin though, because no-one’s ever heard of a bullace and guests just give you funny looks if you offer them a glass of bullace gin…

What is damson gin?

Damson gin (or sloe gin, or bullace gin…) is really a liqueur, which is made by adding wild plums and sugar to a high-strength alcohol base and allowing it to macerate over time. You can easily make it at home with shop-bought booze, as it doesn’t require distillation. If you actually used the damson fruit itself to ferment and distill into an alcoholic spirit, you would have slivovitz, a popular drink in Central and Eastern Europe, and one which could also be referred to as damson gin or damson brandy!

Despite the name, damson gin isn’t necessarily made by adding fruit and sugar to gin. Lots of people prefer using vodka as the base for this liqueur, because vodka is basically unflavoured gin (or to look at it another way… gin is flavoured vodka!). So by using vodka, you’re starting with a neutral alcohol base that isn’t going to mess with the flavour you get out of your damsons or other fruit. If desired, you can also add juniper berries to your vodka base during the maceration process – as juniper berries are traditionally the botanical flavour which makes gin, gin!

Ingredients for damson gin

To make your damson gin, you will need the following basic ingredients:

  • Damsons (or sloes or bullaces… or other plum type fruit of your choice!)
  • Sugar (roughly half the weight of sugar as you have of fruit – but you can make it more or less sugary depending on your preference. The higher the sugar content, the more syrupy and liqueur-esque your finished gin will be – a lot of recipes suggest you should use the same weight of sugar as of fruit, which I find way too sweet! Remember, you can always add more sugar at a later date if needed…).
  • Cheap supermarket vodka (or gin)
  • Patience (it’s an easy recipe… but not a quick one!)

You can add other flavours such as juniper berries, or create an autumnal spice flavour with the addition of things like cinammon and other winter spices. Some recipes also use honey in place of some of the sugar, for a more rounded flavour. The bottom line is: feel free to experiment!

The recipe

1. First, wash your damsons/sloes/bullaces and remove any leaves/twigs/small unexpected insects etc. You have two choices at this stage: EITHER you stab your fruit all over with a pin to break the skin, OR you freeze the fruit at least overnight, which has the same effect.

2. Next, pop your fruit in a sterilised jar or bottle, sprinkling your sugar between layers of fruit. Finally, top up with your alcohol of choice.

3. And…. Now we wait. Leave the fruit in the alcohol for at least one month or up to three months. Give the bottle a little shake every day, and ideally store it away from direct sunlight. You should see your gin or vodka changing colour to a gorgeous red hue.

4. When you’re ready, strain the fruit out of the gin. A lot of recipes suggest straining through a muslin cloth placed over a colander, but if you want a really beautifully clear damson gin, I recommend straining through a coffee filter paper instead. At this point you can also do a little taste test and see if you’re happy with the sweet/sour balance of your gin – if not, then add more sugar before returning your gin to a freshly sterilised bottle or jar.

5. You’ll want to keep the gin for at least another couple of months before drinking, and then – voila… Your damson gin is ready to serve. See below for some tips on how to drink damson gin, including ideas for damson gin cocktails!

What else can I do with leftover fruit?

If your foraging leaves you with more damsons (or sloes, or bullace!) than you can use in gin-making, there are lots of other lovely recipes you can try with wild plums. The fruit will keep in the freezer, if you don’t have time to cook and make gin all at once! Damson jam is always a popular recipe, and you can of course make sloe jam and bullace jam as well. But if you fancy something a little more adventurous, why not try this recipe for bullace cheese (not an actual cheese – a set jelly like quince jelly or membrillo, for eating with cheese and crackers) or this one for bullace and pear chutney?

More About Damson Gin

How to drink damson gin

Now you’ve made your damson gin, how should you serve it? Well, there are plenty of options. You can drink your damson plum gin neat, as a liqueur (although I recommend serving it in small glasses!). If you’re looking for something a bit more festive, you can add tonic water for a luxurious damson gin and tonic, or add it to champagne or prosecco to create a damson gin fizz – a bit like a kir royale, with the damsons adding a lovely jammy flavour. I’ve even seen this drink called a damson gin royale (with added edible gold sparkles if you really want to go overboard!).

If you’re into your cocktails, there are plenty of damson gin cocktail recipes out there. I like this recipe for a ‘Damson in Distress‘ cocktail (let’s be honest – it’s a great name!) – 50ml damson gin, 15ml amaretto, 10ml lemon juice, and a slice of lemon to garnish. This damson and vanilla fizz cocktail also sounds amazing, albeit a little more complicated to make, and this damson and cranberry collins sounds perfect for Christmas.

But guess what? Damson gin isn’t even just for drinking… check out this recipe by Nigel Slater for duck breasts with damson gin, which is actually making my mouth water as I write this!

Where can I buy damson gin?

Maybe it’s too much effort to make your own damson gin – or maybe you made a batch and then smashed through it more quickly than you were expecting! Either way, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of places to buy damson gin ready-made. English Heritage even sell an own-brand damson gin, as do the Oxton Liqueur Company (who also sell a sloe gin, in case you want to properly compare the two flavours) – and, for completeness, Pinkster’s Hedgepig gin brand sell a bullace and quince gin, with 50p from every sale going to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. So you really can buy all three kinds of gin, and test which is your favourite.

damson gin cocktail – damson jam – damson gin to buy – damson gin liqueur – sloe gin fizz (history) – sloe gin and tonic – damson plum gin –

food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Elderberry Cordial – Foraging Recipe

Last year, while I was on maternity leave, I really enjoyed going foraging in the late summer and autumn, and making some fun new recipes. I thought I should share this recipe for elderberry cordial, which I made around this time last year, and which proved a real hit in our household over the winter! It’s just the right time of year to start foraging for lovely ripe elderberries in the UK, and with this super-easy recipe, you can turn them into a delicious elderberry cordial which is a perfect soothing winter drink for colds and flu season.

How To Make Elderberry Cordial – Recipe

First, catch your elderberries

Elderberries are freaking everywhere at this time of year! You may even discover that they grow in your own garden. Wherever you live in the UK, you’re likely to have an elder tree not far away, and each tree is usually laden with loads of lovely black berries in season. Check out this great guide on foraging for elderberries, which will help you identify the berries if you’re not confident you can correctly identify them. Then go out and pick your berries!

I pick elderberries by the bunch, and then use a fork to push the berries off the stems and into a bowl. You only want the ripe berries – the black ones. Alternatively, you can freeze the berries, which makes them easier to remove. It’s important to get rid of all the big stems because they are poisonous. Then, rinse the berries in water.

Get your ingredients together

You’ll need the following ingredients and kitchen tools to make your elderberry cordial!

  • 500g elderberries
  • 500ml water
  • 350g sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • Cinammon stick

And on the kitchen equipment front…

  • Saucepan
  • Spoon
  • Muslin cloth
  • Colander
  • Jug or large bowl
  • Bottle for storage (sterilised)

Get cooking

1. In a saucepan, add your elderberries, water, cinnamon stick and the rind of the lemon (save the juice for later!). Simmer over a low heat for half an hour.

2. Now comes the fun part! Line the colander with the muslin cloth, and place it over your jug or bowl. Pour the contents of the saucepan into the muslin – carefully because the juice will stain (and it’s hot). Squash down the berries with a spoon to get as much juice as possible out of them.

3. You’re not finished yet with your muslin! Roll the top of the muslin together (see picture, below) and continue squeezing to wring every last drop of juice out of your elderberries.

Make sure you don’t do this until the berries are cool enough to touch, and you may want to wear gloves because it does get messy!

4. Pour the strained elderberry juice back into the saucepan and add the sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

5. Heat over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened slightly. As a rough guide, it should be thick enough to briefly coat the back of a metal spoon. At this point you can also check the flavour (carefully – it’s hot!) and add more sugar if you want.

6. Pour your cordial into a sterilised bottle (here’s a quick guide to sterilising bottles) and seal. Let it cool, then store in the fridge.

How to serve elderberry cordial

You can serve elderberry cordial in so many different ways! The basic recipe is to serve it diluted in water, about one part cordial to six parts water. I recommend making a hot elderberry cordial for colds, sore throats, and whatever else ails you!

If you feel like getting a bit more fancy, you can make elderberry fizz cocktails by adding the cordial to prosecco or champagne. Or you could spice up a gin and tonic with a dash of elderberry.

Elderberry Cordial Facts

What does elderberry cordial taste like?

Okay, if you’ve never tasted it before, then to be honest it’s hard to know whether it’s worth bothering making it at all! I have loved having this in the fridge over the winter, I think it’s delicious and definitely worth the effort. First things first, though: elderberry cordial tastes nothing like elderflower cordial. They’re completely different flavours.

I would say elderberry cordial tastes like a slightly more herbal/medicinal Ribena. If you’ve never had Ribena? Then I don’t know how to describe it. But it’s really warming and lovely on a sore throat, or if you have a head cold.

Is elderberry cordial good for you?

Is elderberry cordial good for you? Well, it’s a traditional remedy for colds and coughs. Elderberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants – you can even buy elderberry supplements that promise to boost your immune system.

But is there any actual evidence that elderberry cordial is good for colds and flu? Well, a few small-scale studies have shown that people taking elderberry products experienced a reduction in cold and flu symptoms compared to placebo. But they’re only small studies and the effects of elderberry have not been tested against pharmaceuticals. So it’s probably best to just enjoy the yummy soothing nature of a glass of hot elderberry cordial when you have a cold or flu, but don’t assume it’s an actual treatment.

Can you buy elderberry cordial?

The lazy option is clearly to buy elderberry cordial – but unlike elderflower cordial, which is popular and widely available, elderberry cordial is a bit trickier to get hold of. There are products available, often labelled as elderberry syrup or elderberry liquid. But the ones I’ve found are super expensive! We’re talking £9.99 for 100ml. Considering you can make four times that at home for the price of half a bag of sugar, it did seem a little pricey.

Other foraging recipes

If you’ve enjoyed this foraging recipe, or you’re looking for something a little more boozy, why not check out my recipe for hawthorn berry gin?

baby · Just for fun · parenting · Seasonal

First Spring Into Nature: A Toddler’s First Steps In Springtime

Little Man is now 16 months old. Since last autumn he’s changed from being a baby into a toddler, and sometimes it feels like it’s difficult to keep up! Over the winter, he learned to walk, and one of the best things about the weather warming up for spring has been the opportunity for him to really explore the natural world on his own terms as a toddler, and take his first spring into nature.

Of course, last year we spent plenty of time outdoors – thanks to lockdown, there often wasn’t much to do other than to sit out in the garden together in the afternoons. But the ability to walk rather than crawl (or just lie there!) has completely changed how he interacts with nature, and also (let’s be honest) slightly reduced the frequency with which he tries to eat pebbles, dirt, and leaves. I wanted to write a post about Little Man’s first spring into nature, what he’s enjoyed most in the great outdoors, and some of the fun ways he’s engaged with springtime.

First Spring into Nature: A Toddler’s First Steps in Springtime

Meeting the birds

Little Man loves birds. When walking him to and from nursery in the pram, he would sometimes point up at the sky, or behind us. After a while, my husband realised he was pointing at birds, which of course were usually gone by the time mum or dad turned to look.

He’s fascinated by birds, and now we make a point of stopping to look whenever there’s a fat pigeon on a fence that’s too lazy to fly away when we get close. There’s even a little blackbird who has been flying back and forth from a particular berry-covered tree on our way to nursery all winter, who sometimes will perch on a branch and watch us watching him for a little while before he flaps off.

Going to see the ducks on the river has also been a big hit this winter, although I’m not sure that Little Man has worked out the connection between swimming ducks and flying birdies…

Down by the riverside

First steps on grass

The first time after Little Man had learned to walk that it was mild enough to take him out to the garden and let him try walking on the grass was so lovely. He didn’t know what to make of the grass but once he discovered how soft it was to fall over on, he threw himself (often quite literally…) into the challenge of learning to walk on it.

I love the fact that when you have a young child, you almost rediscover the world from their perspective. As a grown up, I wouldn’t say that walking on a freshly-mown lawn is any more difficult than walking on a flat pavement – unlike, say, walking on sand, which is noticeably more difficult. But for Little Man, it’s a completely different experience. Plus, there are loads of little rocks everywhere to eat look at…

One of our first trips to the garden this spring

First snow

We didn’t get heavy snow here at any point this winter (unlike most of the rest of the country, it seems!). But we did get a decent dusting one day – enough for wee man to get out and discover snow for the first time. We bundled him up and set him loose on the driveway.

He was fascinated and really enjoyed it for a little bit, until he fell down onto his bum and I wasn’t quite quick enough to pick him up. A chilly rear end was apparently enough to put him off snow completely, and so we retreated back into the house. I think the fun of snow is perhaps more pronounced for slightly older children.

First snow for Little Man

Meeting the flowers

I love spring bulbs and flowers. My garden is filled with daffodils, tulips, hyacinths – you name it. I love the way that bright daffodils really make it feel like spring has finally arrived, even if the weather is still cold. And for Little Man, the daffodils are almost as big as he is, which is strange to imagine from an adult’s perspective.

He’s been loving discovering flowers, from the bulbs in our garden to the cut flowers we’ve had in the house over the past few weeks. But when he fell over in the local park and squashed a lovely bed of narcissus perfectly flat, we did run away pretty sharpish…

Meeting a daffodil

Your first spring into nature:

What fun discoveries have your little ones made this springtime? Let me know in the comments!

baking · celebrations · food · gluten free · Just for fun · recipes · Seasonal

Ridiculously Delicious Pancake Day Inspiration and Ideas

So the 16th February is, of course, Pancake Day. And let’s face it, what with lockdown and coronavirus, we’ve not got much to look forward to this year. Which means (in my mind) that Pancake Day should now be treated as a major holiday and celebrated as such. To that end, I’m bringing together some of my personal favourite recipes and ideas for incredible pancakes – including sweet and savory recipes, gluten free pancakes, and some slightly outlandish ideas as well… By the time I’m finished, I might just have to turn it into Pancake Week!

Pancake Day Inspiration and Ideas

Big Fat Pancakes

Ah, big fat pancakes. You know the ones. The kind of fluffy pancakes you find stacked up like the Empire State Building and smothered in syrup, on a plate that’s much too small, in a cheap American diner…. Om nom nom. Here’s a recipe for big fat pancakes from BBC Good Food – the normal flour can be directly substituted for gluten-free flour. And see below for ideas on how to make them a bit more exciting…

Savoury Pancakes

These kind of American pancakes really work well with additions to the batter. If you’re a fan of the Hawaiian pizza, I highly recommend scattering shredded ham and small pieces of pineapple into the pan along with the wet batter. They will cook into the pancake and, served with a little melted cheese on top, create a delicious (if slightly unorthodox) Hawaiian pancake treat! Unless you are my husband, in which case you will think it is the pancake of the devil. Fair enough.

If you are of my husband’s mindset, with regards to the combination of ham, pineapple and cheese, then there are of course big fat savoury pancake alternatives. Another great choice is to keep the shredded ham in the batter (but drop the pineapple!… not into the batter…) and then top your pancakes with smoked cheese and chives.

Sweet Pancakes

The obvious choice is, of course, to drop blueberries in your pancake batter and serve with syrup or, if you’re feeling especially extravagant, blueberry yoghurt and maple syrup. I think pretty much any fruit + yoghurt combination works – I’m not the biggest ever fan of blueberries but I love these pancakes with raspberries and yoghurt (in fact you can see that exact combo in one of the pictures on this page!). Ice cream is a more than acceptable yoghurt substitute if you don’t care about pretending that your breakfast is remotely healthy.

Another amazing big fat pancake is a cinammon swirl pancake. These are perfect breakfast pancakes! Basically it’s a normal American pancake but with an addition of sweet cinammon butter, swirled into the batter. I make them at home on a semi-regular basis and they are super delicious, but fair warning: I have never managed to get them looking particularly attractive (hence the absence of photos). To this day, I have no idea how the folks over at BBC Good Food managed to get theirs looking so perfect. But who cares? They don’t last long enough to photograph anyway.

I also weirdly love the combo of banana, bacon and maple syrup for the ultimate sweet and savoury twist.

Skinny Flat Pancakes

Let’s be clear. By ‘skinny’ pancakes, I mean pancakes that are physically slender, not ones that are in any way healthy to eat. That is not in the spirit of Pancake Day. The best thing about skinny flat pancakes, a.k.a. classic French crepes (basic recipe here, straight swap the flour for gluten free flour if needed), is that you can eat a lot more of them before you’re full! As we all know, on Pancake Day one should maximise the quantity, as well as the quality, of pancakes consumed…

Savoury Crepes

Crepes work super well with savoury flavours. My favourite is to spread the crepe with cream cheese, sprinkle with cracked black pepper, smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon and a generous scattering of chopped chives. It’s sort of like a smoked salmon blini, but much much bigger!

Sweet Crepes

Having started with a savoury crepe (or two, or three) obviously you need to move on to dessert. When I was a kid, my mum always served up crepes spread with strawberry jam, and/or a sprinkle of lemon juice and sugar. Sometimes the classics are the best!

But these days I often dish up a range of sweet fillings, so people can pick and choose their favourites and maybe have a few different combinations. Strawberries and banana are the perfect versatile fruits to have available to fill your crepes, along with Nutella (other chocolate spreads are available…) or caramel sauce.

Fun and Fruity Pancakes

Speaking of fruit, my husband was the one to first introduce me to banana pancakes. Before he came along, I thought ‘banana pancakes’ were the same as ‘banana and pancakes’ – I clearly didn’t pay enough attention to Jack Johnson in my youth. Boy, was I missing out! Proper banana pancakes are now a staple in our house, and Little Man loves them too.

Making banana pancakes can be as simple as two ingredients – banana and egg – making them naturally gluten free, although I prefer recipes that include baking powder for a little extra lightness. My go-to recipe is here, but I usually add a tablespoon of gluten-free flour – because I find the addition of flour makes the pancakes much easier to flip! Banana-only pancakes can be very runny, and you end up with rather unattractive melty blobs (although to be fair, they are absolutely delicious melty blobs). I recommend serving them hot from the pan with either maple syrup or golden syrup – both are delicious.

I’ve heard a rumour that you can make other types of fruit pancake, but honestly why would you bother?

Boozy Pancakes

The classic boozy pancake is, naturally, the Crepe Suzette. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a delicious recipe, but also requires a certain amount of confidence and fancy chef-y skills like making caramel and then setting it on fire. The BBC conveniently have an easy version recipe which they call Cointreau Pancakes (other orange-flavoured liqueurs are available).

I have been religiously Googling alternative alcoholic pancake recipes for Pancake Day 2021 inspiration, because as we all know, lockdowns are vastly improved by the addition of booze. The ones that have caught my eye the most are these caramelised banana and rum pancakes (drool!), these Bailey’s red velvet pancakes with whipped cream (I love the idea of red velvet pancakes!), these pina colada pancakes (my favourite cocktail) and these strawberry lime margarita pancakes which just sound straight-up amazing. Will I get the chance to try all these recipes before Pancake Day? Clearly, no – so if you try one, let me know what you think in the comments!

More Pancake Day Inspiration

Do you have any 2021 Pancake Day inspiration of your own? Let me know your favourite recipes in the comments! Or check out my other recipes and gluten-free baking ideas here.

celebrations · history · Just for fun · Seasonal

Just Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway? Love, Beekeeping and Epilepsy

Ah, Valentine’s Day. If you have no-one to spend it with, it can be an unwanted reminder of singledom. And if you do have someone to spend it with, there’s a lot of pressure for the perfect romantic day. But you may not know that St Valentine is one of those greedy saints who is the patron saint of all kinds of random things, not just romantic love. So just who was St Valentine…?

Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway?

St Valentine The Romantic

First things first: there are various legends and stories surrounding St Valentine, which may actually refer to multiple different figures. Valentine’s Day itself honours Valentine of Rome (who died in 269) and Valentine of Terni (who died in 273), but there were apparently even more early Christian martyrs named Valentine, which at this point seems like it was basically the Roman Empire’s equivalent of the name John Smith.

The legend that most obviously connects a St Valentine to a tradition of romantic love relates to a Roman priest during the reign of Claudius II, who was apprehended performing marriages for Christian couples and assisting Christians, who were at that time being persecuted. This was a major inconvenience to the emperor at the time, who supposedly believed that unmarried men made the best soldiers (legend is silent as to why he believed this, but perhaps the widow’s pension scheme simply proved too costly on the imperial purse). St Valentine was therefore promptly put to death. How romantic.

So next time you’re single and a newly coupled-up friend tells you about their Valentine’s Day plans, you can smugly remind them that Valentine’s Day is a holiday for married couples, and St Valentine (or any one of the various St Valentines) would certainly disapprove of chocolates, flowers and a romantic dinner out of wedlock.

St Valentine The Epileptic (?)

Less well-known is the fact that St Valentine is also the patron saint of epilepsy. And once again, he’s not the only one. According to Epilepsy Action, there are forty separate patron saints of epilepsy, although St Valentine is the most famous one… which does seem a little unfair, considering some might argue that he’s already famous enough for the celebrations on February 14th. He’s very much stealing the epilepsy thunder from other saints like St Vitus. Ever heard of St Vitus? No. But after he freed the Emperor Diocletian’s son from demonic possession (read: epilepsy), he was promptly put to death for doing it like a big old Christian. That’s gratitude for you.

Anyway, the point is that St Vitus literally died to cure epilepsy and you’ve never even heard of him.

So how did St Valentine become one of the many patron saints of epilepsy? Well, allegedly it once again comes back to the name Valentine. Epilepsy was for many years known as the ‘falling disease’ and in German, there is a similarity between the word ‘fallen’ and name ‘Valentine’, which led to alternative names in German for epilepsy, such as St Valentine’s disease. Bit of a weak connection, if we’re totally honest. St Vitus is pissed as all heck about it.

St Valentine The… Everything Else

Saint Valentine (well, one of them anyway) is also, for some reason, a patron saint of beekeepers – a link that seems even more tenuous than his connection to epilepsy, but there we go. The best justification for this link that I could find was a few beekeeping websites that vaguely referred to a supposed relationship between love and honey/bees. I can only assume they’re confusing love with pollen.

Now, you may be thinking that, well, someone has to be the patron saint of beekeepers, and maybe there just weren’t many volunteers for the job. Perhaps St Valentine just offered to help fill a blank spot on the celestial staffing rota? But no. St Ambrose and St Bernard of Clairvaux (you have to include the “of Clairvaux part, because otherwise people assume you’re talking about a dog) are also patron saints of beekeeping. If anything, you might say it’s a little oversubscribed on saints.

On top of this, Catholic Online lists St Valentine as the patron saint of fainting, greetings, plague, travellers and young people. It’s certainly a miracle that he has time to rest at all, especially as he seems to have overlooked the opportunity to become the patron saint of something a bit more chill, like embroidery (Rose of Lima got that gig). No wonder he needs Cupid to lend a hand on the 14th February…

So there you go. If you’re feeling a little left out this Valentine’s Day, why not try a spot of beekeeping, or celebrating your love for travel? It’s just as valid a way to mark the occasion as a box of chocolates and a bunch of roses…

food · health · Just for fun · Seasonal

Brussels Sprouts: A Festive Safety Warning

Now, there are apparently some people in this world who actually enjoy Brussels sprouts, and they will insist on saying things like “it’s not Christmas without sprouts!” and “they’re incredibly good for you, you know!” BUT ARE THEY? I have always believed that Brussels sprouts are the work of the devil, and now it turns out I may well be justified in that belief. So I’m sharing this festive Brussels sprouts safety warning with you: these little green vegetables are dangerous…

brussels sprouts safety warning festive christmas hospital blood thinner vitamin k sickly mama blog

Brussels Sprouts: A Festive Safety Warning

Brussels Sprouts Overdose: The Facts

Back in 2011, a man was hospitalised at Christmas after overdosing on Brussels sprouts. Yes, really. You see, sprouts contain vitamin K, which the body uses to help with blood clotting. This can be a problem if you’re on medication to stop your blood clotting (a.k.a. blood thinners or ‘anticoagulants’ – like warfarin, which you may have heard of). All the vitamin K counteracts the effect of this medication.

The man in question suffered from chronic heart failure, and had been fitted with an artificial pump in his heart, while he was awaiting a heart transplant. It’s normal for patients in this situation to take blood thinners, and he was prescribed warfarin and his blood was monitored to check it wasn’t clotting too easily. All was well for four months, when the festive season approached. Suddenly, blood tests indicated that the man’s blood was clotting much too quickly. The doctors increased his warfarin, but it kept getting worse and worse. They told him not to eat too many leafy green vegetables due to the vitamin K content. But nothing seemed to help. Three days after Christmas, he was admitted to hospital.

While in hospital – eating hospital food – things started to improve. Eventually, under (presumably) intensive questioning from his doctors, he finally admitted that he’d been eating Brussels sprouts three or four times a week during the festive period. But not just that. Oh no. He’d been eating 15 – 20 Brussels sprouts at a time. That means he was munching down around 45 – 80 sprouts PER WEEK.

Now, I have some sprout fans in my immediate family, and they’ve long tried to convert me to eating this appalling vegetable. But I have never met anyone who loves them so much they’re guzzling down 20 sprouts a day (unless they’re so rightly ashamed of this sick behaviour that they’re hiding it from me, I guess). Anyway, the point is: not only are sprouts gross, they’re also potentially little green balls of death, so heed my festive Brussels sprouts safety warning and steer well clear.

Why do I hate sprouts so much?

Random side note: the the hatred of Brussels sprouts is, in fact, genetic (or at least, probably genetic). Those people who have this gene can taste the bitter and hideous taste of a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, which is extremely similar to a chemical found in brassicas, like Brussels sprouts. And cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower… pretty much all the vegetables I and so many other sensible people hate. So if you’ve ever been sat around the Christmas dinner table, watching your family guzzling down sprouts and wondering: why do I hate Brussels sprouts so much? Now you know!

food · Seasonal · tea

Best Christmas Gifts For Tea Lovers

It’s no secret that I love tea. That’s why my Instagram account has a regular ‘Tea O’Clock’ feature, where I photograph and review various teas. You’ll also occasionally find tea round-ups and reviews making their way onto this blog. So as Christmas approaches, it seems logical for me to write a post with some great ideas for gifts for tea lovers. And no… They’re not all just different types of tea!

I’ve especially tried to focus on finding tea gifts that are sold by smaller independent UK businesses, and ones that try to be eco-friendly, so you know that your gifts are ethical as well as awesome. If you’re not based in the UK, you may want to double check shipping charges.

best christmas gifts for tea lovers small uk businesses and eco friendly the sickly mama blog

Best Christmas Gifts For Tea Lovers

1. Bath Tea by the Samovar Tea House

If you really love tea, you’re probably familiar with that sinking feeling when you get to the end of a cuppa. There’s just never quite enough tea in one cup (no matter how ridiculously oversized your mugs are). Well, now you can combat that feeling by quite literally bathing in an entire bathtub of tea, thanks to the Samovar Tea House’s Bath Tea. They offer two blends for your bath – a relaxation blend with camomile, lavender and rose buds, or an invigoration blend with green tea, peppermint and lemongrass. Just don’t try to drink it afterwards…

2. Self Fill Eco Teabags and Tea Scoop by VeryCraftea

An ideal gift for the eco-conscious tea lover. Put loose-leaf tea into these eco-friendly teabags for convenient infusing without a teapot or infuser. They contain zero plastic (did you know that loads of big-brand teabags contain plastic and may leach microplastics into your cuppa?) and are fully biodegradable and home compostable. And make filling your self-fill teabags that bit easier with a beautiful wooden tea scoop.

3. The Tea Test Kit Gift Set by Arthur Dove Tea Co.

Okay, I know that at the start of this post I said that this gift list wouldn’t just be a list of different kinds of tea. And this gift is… a bunch of different kinds of tea. But bear with me! This gift set is by Arthur Dove Tea Co., who often stock some really lovely and creative tea blends, and it’s a set of five incredibly Christmassy loose leaf teas: their Mince Pie Chai, Yule Log, Mulled Wine, After Eight and Fairytale of New York blends. All of which sound amazing. They’re also presented really nicely: each tea is presented in its own test tube, and the set includes a reusable muslin tea bag, so it’s eco-friendly as well. I think this is a fab gift for the voracious tea lover who enjoys trying lots of new blends of tea, or for any tea lover who’s nuts about Christmas!

top gifts for tea lovers tea subscription loose leaf teabags and scoops the sickly mama blog

4. Tea and Book Club Subscription by Bookishly

If your tea lover is also a book lover, you’re in luck! Bookishly offer an awesome Tea and Book Club subscription, where you receive a vintage book, pack of tea, and stationery every month. You can select a 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, or 12 month subscription – so there are plenty of options! I’ve actually been given this gift previously as a present, and I can testify it’s super. The teas are by Jenier Teas, and include some fantastic flavours you probably wouldn’t try anywhere else. And the books are awesome and very varied – everything from classics of literature, to vintage sci-fi, and more.

5. Alcoholic Tea by NovelTea

Full disclosure: I’ve never bought anything from NovelTea, so I don’t have experience of this company directly – but I love the idea! NovelTea make a range of alcoholic teas (or, let’s be honest, teaholic alcohols) – green mint tea with rum, oolong tea with whisky, earl grey tea with gin – and for Christmas, spiced tea with whisky. Sounds like a great idea for any tea lover who also likes a tipple!

top christmas gifts for tea lovers the sickly mama blog inspiration

Your ideas: best Christmas gifts for tea lovers

Do you have any great ideas for Christmas gifts for tea lovers? Are you a tea fanatic who’s received an amazing gift? I’d love to hear all about it (especially if the gifts are from small UK businesses and/or have an eco-friendly vibe)! Let me know in the comments.

As Christmas is approaching and you may not get the tea-related gift your heart desires, I also wanted to share this great guide on recycling unwanted presents for a more sustainable festive season…

baking · celebrations · food · recipes · Seasonal

Christmas Round-Up: Fun Ideas For Christmas 2020

It’s that happy season where everyone is posting about Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… In my house, the Christmas season doesn’t start properly until the 7th December, as my husband’s birthday is the 6th December and clearly takes precedence over the other festive season! But that doesn’t mean the preparations haven’t started, so I thought I’d share my Christmas round-up post, including ideas for festive baking, food and drink, gift ideas and family activities…

Christmas Round Up: Fun Ideas For Christmas 2020

Festive Food & Drink

Christmas is, of course, the season of food – and for those of us who love baking, it’s an opportunity to get into the kitchen and get creative! I’m planning on trying out this festive white chocolate rocky road traybake (complete with candy canes!) and this sticky gingerbread recipe. I’m not sure if I’ll get the time but I’m hoping to manage this impressive looking chocolate twist Christmas tree! Of course, in our house gluten free baking is pretty important, so I was also excited to find this recipe for gluten free mince pies. Let’s be honest… It’s not Christmas without mince pies!

Baking with kids at Christmas

If you have young children, the festive season is a lovely opportunity to get them involved in baking (and eating, of course!). These easy no bake sweet treats are just the right kind of safe and fun recipes to make with your kids at Christmas. Slightly older will love this Mars Bar fudge recipe for slow cookers, which is also a lovely, simple recipe that they can get involved in creating.

Christmas drinks and cocktails

Cranberries are one of those ingredients that I really associate with Christmas, but other than cranberry sauce with your Christmas dinner, it’s hard to come up with much to do with them… I’m planning on using cranberry juice and orange juice to make some tasty morning mocktails over the festive season – just what you want to wake up to!

On the alcoholic side of things, earlier this year I made some delicious hawthorn gin which should be ready for Christmas – I can’t wait to enjoy it in some prosecco in a festive hawthorn fizz. You can find my recipe for hawthorn gin here. I’ve also tried making some Christmas pudding vodka – so I’m pretty excited to see how that turns out!

Christmas Gift Guides

Buying presents can be so tricky, and especially this year when lockdown and the Covid tiers system means it’s not easy to get out to the shops and just browse.

If you’re buying gifts for kids, there are some great ideas in this Christmas gift guide for children, or why not consider a magazine subscription so they get a new gift every month?

In our house, we’re very much aware that food intolerances and dietary requirements can make Christmas gifting challenging – so I love this guide to buying gifts for vegans!

Moving away from food and drink gifts, this guide has some lovely homeware gift ideas, to or this weird and wonderful gift guide gives some quirky and different ideas for gifts your loved ones won’t be expecting. If you’re looking for super-specific gifts, I even found this gift guide for fans of the TV show Friends (I actually re-watched the entirety of Friends over maternity leave so it’s kind of perfect…)

If you’re buying gifts for a tea lover in your life, I have a guide coming soon on the blog – keep your eyes peeled!

Fun Christmas Activities

Christmas is definitely time for relaxing in front of the television… But it’s nice to use your time off over Christmas to do some other fun activities – and as we’re all going to be staying indoors this Christmas, I’m trying to plan some fun activities in advance.

Christmas Crafts & More

I’ve always vaguely wanted to try making my own decorative Christmas wreath for our house, so I was excited to find this guide to making your own natural foliage wreath – hoping to get the chance to give it a go this year!

I’m also planning to use the time to do some home improvements; we’ve got some old furniture that we’re hoping to paint and upcycle, and we want to put up a mural in Little Man’s room.

Your Ideas For Christmas

What will you be getting up to for Christmas this year? Let me know your ideas for Christmas and the festive season!

Just for fun · lifestyle · reviews · Seasonal · tea

Top Teas For Autumn

Well, we’re well and truly into autumn now, and if you’re anything like me you’re spending your evenings bundled up in cosy jumpers and slippers (and sometimes a snuggly woollen blanket as well!), and enjoying some tasty autumnal treats. But what tea should accompany them? As you know, I’m a total tea fiend – so I’ve pulled together my recommendations for the best teas which reflect the flavours of the season – warming, cosy, spiced teas with hints of delicious autumn fruits. So if you’re looking for your next tea purchase, read on!

my top teas for autumn article the sickly mama blog - warming cosy spiced teas with autumn fruits

My Top Teas For Autumn

Apple Spiced Fruit Tea – Jenifer Teas

When the summer starts fading into autumn, one of the things I’m always excited about for this season is making spiced apple crumbles and pies, so for me this apple spiced fruit tea from Jenifer Teas really encapsulates the spirit of autumn. This tea is made with real dried apple pieces, along with classic seasonal spices – cinnamon, clove, cardamom and pepper. Unusually, it’s available as a loose leaf tea or as pyramid teabags, so you can make tea your preferred way.

apple spiced fruit tea jenier world of teas review the sickly mama blog top teas for autumn

Liquorice Mint Toffee Tea – Very Craftea

This unusual loose-leaf blend by Very Craftea is made with peppermint leaves, vanilla extract and liquorice root. The first taste of this tea is a beautiful fresh peppermint, which fades away into the liquorice flavour, with a very light hint of vanilla. It’s nowhere near as sweet as you might expect from the name, and I’d say it’s just about perfect for curling up with a book on chilly autumn evenings…

very craftea liquorice mint toffee tea - the sickly mama blog

Pumpkin Spice Tea – Arthur Dove Tea Company

It doesn’t get much more autumnal than pumpkin spice, so this loose leaf tea by Arthur Dove Tea Co. is a perfect choice for the season. It’s a sweet, spiced tea not dissimilar to a chai, with a lovely hit of sweet ginger and a gentle, peppery aftertaste. I’d say it’s an ideal after-dinner drink.

It’s recommended to drink this pumpkin spice tea with milk, but I think it’s great with or without depending on your preference – with milk it mellows down into a perfect drink for snuggling up on the sofa on a rainy afternoon.

pumpkin spice tea arthur dove tea company review the sickly mama blog

Cherry and Cinammon Tea – Twinings

This tea bag offering from Twinings is another lovely warning tea that’s great for the autumn season. It has a really bright, fresh cherry flavour that hits you straightaway, then gently melts into the comforting taste of cinnamon. It’s a tea for crisp autumn mornings and warning up after a walk out in the frost. Plus, it’s a fabulous colour – check out the picture below!

cherry and cinnamon tea twinings teabag review the sickly mama blog autumn

Those are my top picks for autumn teas this year! Do you have any favourite teas that always make a reappearance at this time of year? Let me know in the comments!

craft · days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · Seasonal

Window Wanderland: Making An Illuminated Window Display

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve used pretty much all my spare time when Little Man was sleeping or doing his settling-in sessions at nursery to work on creating an illuminated window display for Window Wanderland 2020. I themed the display around the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro, because a) it’s one of my favourites, b) I assumed there would be lots of families out and about with kids, and c) honestly the characters have nice simple designs that should be easy to recreate in a papercut.

I was really happy with the final result!

The front view

In this blog post, I’ll talk about how I created my window display, and also share some photos of some of my favourite illuminated window displays from my local Window Wanderland event this year. Hopefully others will find it useful for information, ideas and inspiration if you’re planning on creating a illuminated window displays yourself. But first things first…

What Is Window Wanderland?

Window Wanderland is a scheme encouraging communities to set up “fun, local, all-people-friendly, window-display-based walking trails then share them with the world.” Illuminated window displays are set up by individuals or families in their homes over a couple of days, and then you can look up a map of your local area showing you where to find displays. It’s a really fun scheme, and obviously it’s especially great this year with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, because it’s all outdoors and compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

How Do You Make Illuminated Window Displays?

The flippant answer is: however you want to! As I walked around the illuminated window displays in my local area, I would say that it looked like most people (like me!) did displays using coloured crepe paper and black card. I did spot what looked like a display that had been painted onto tracing paper (?) so that it illuminated beautifully, which I thought was a great effect and allowed for a lot of detail:

How Did I Create My Window Wanderland Display?

By taking over the dining room table for about two weeks! Apologies to my very patient husband. I’ll outline exactly how I approached it and some of my top tips for how to make an illuminated window display with paper and card…

Step 1: Measure your windows

We have quite a complicated downstairs front window set-up, with 10 panels of varying shapes and sizes, so the first thing was to measure them up. I did a really bad job of this and actually got the measurements for six of the panels wrong, which I only discovered on the night when I went to put my display up in the window… Oops. They were only about 1cm out, but still! I recommend measuring everything twice…

Step 2: Buy your supplies

For my display, I bought a pack of 10 sheets of A2 black card, and a mixed pack of 20 sheets of coloured crepe paper (I already had a lot of the dark blue crepe paper that I used for the background colour). I didn’t use tracing paper as a backing, but lots of people do, especially if you’re going for a more collage-style effect.

My dining room table is in there somewhere…

I already had a craft scalpel in the house, which was essential for the finer lines, and a cutting mat. I also already had Pritt Stick glue in the house, but I ran out on the last day and had to run to the shops to get more – so make sure you have enough glue, as if you have large windows you can end up using a LOT. I also used blu-tack to stick the panels to the windows.

Step 3: Plan your design

I had a vague idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but I first cut my panels of black card into the right sizes for all the window panels – in some cases I also had to stick extra bits of card together to get the right size and shape for my windows. Then I outlined a reasonably thick border around the outer edge of each panel, and then started designing.

I did this as an iterative process, working panel by panel and outlining a design in pencil – rather than designing every panel from the start, before beginning to cut and paste, and I’m glad I did, because the first panel I did was way too complicated and took forever! After that, I simplified my designs a little, and also learned what shapes were easy/difficult to cut etc. as I went. You can see my excessively complicated first panel here – the top one with all the leaves:

I definitely think that when coming up with your design, less is more! I saw some amazing illuminated window displays around town that were just done with two colours – black card and a white background (for instance, see the Halloween themed Window Wanderland display below!). I think the simpler panels of my design have more impact as well.

Spooky…

Step 4: Cutting and sticking

My method was to cut a design out of black card, using a craft scalpel, and then stick coloured crepe paper in the gaps. For a few features, such as the eyes, I then glued more bits of black card on top of the crepe. It was quite fiddly, but I definitely got faster as I went along.

Actually one of the trickiest things was just finding somewhere I could put the panels while the glue was drying!

From indoors, you can see the construction more

How To Illuminate Your Window Display

I simply used blu-tack to attach my pieces of card to our front room windows. We then put the lights on in the front room. To make the display brighter, I also placed a lamp on a table by the window. If you’re wondering how to make your Window Wanderland display brighter, using extra lamps or even a projector will help light up the windows perfectly.

Window Wanderland Ideas and Inspiration

Before I started making my Window Wanderland display, I really wanted to see other people’s displays, for inspiration! So I thought I’d share a few more illuminated window displays that I particularly liked from my local area. Perhaps they will give you ideas for your own window display. Personally, I think windows work best when they have a strong theme – I really liked some of the Halloween themed windows we saw, and those themed around literature or music. As we get closer to Christmas, I imagine that Christmas themed Window Wanderland displays could be really awesome as well. Anyway, here are a few photos of displays from my local event… and my thoughts on how to make something similar.

Koi carp and irises window:

This beautiful display looks like it was made in a similar way to my display: cutting the design out of black card, and backing it with crepe paper.

Abstract colours window:

This abstract design is so beautiful and I think something like this would be easily achievable if you’re not feeling confident about making your window display. Again, it looks like it’s made with black card backed with crepe paper.

Prehistoric ocean window:

This lovely prehistoric ocean display looks like it was made by glueing strips of crepe paper onto tracing paper, and then sticking black cut outs on top.

Your Experience of Window Wanderland Events

I hope this post has been helpful if you’re looking for some inspiration and ideas for a Window Wanderland illuminated display!

Are you taking part in Window Wanderland in your local area? I’d love to see your designs and ideas! Let me know in the comments or tag me on social media for a share.

how to make an illuminated window display for window wanderland pictures and inspiration the sickly mama blog art and crafts