I love DIY gifts. I have always cherished the idea of spending time to plan and prepare a custom-made present. It can be a T-shirt, a framed work of art, a home made preserve or decoration. The list is as big as your imagination. Sometimes you need more time, effort and expertize and sometimes, as in the case of a nappy cake, you need only about an hour and a bunch of nappies to create a very impressive, and yet very practical gift. You’ve bound to wow the parents-to-be and to make a statement and you will find it surprisingly easy and a great fun to make. Here is a step by step tutorial …
(for a three tier cake)
60 (plus some extra) size 2 nappies
a kitchen roll tube
60 (plus some extra) small transparent rubber bands
6 medium and large rubber bands
ribbons in a colour of choice
a round large paper doily
a large sheet of transparent cellophane wrapping foil
First roll tight each nappy starting outwards from the open side of the nappy. Secure with a small elastic band in the middle of the nappy.
When your nappies are ready – assemble the cake starting from the lower tier. Place the kitchen roll tube in the middle and arrange the first ring of rolled nappies around it. Secure with a medium rubber band and add the second ring of rolled nappies. Put another rubber band around to keep the nappies together. Add the third ring of rolled nappies and use the largest elastic to hold tight.
Continue with the second tier. You will need to arrange two rings of rolled nappies for the middle layer.
Add the final top layer with only single ring of rolled nappies. Place one nappy in the middle of the kitchen roll tube. Secure the bunch with a rubber band.
Now you are ready to decorate the cake. Carefully wrap and tie the ribbons in the middle of each tier.
You can place any centerpiece on the top of the cake. I like to use a soother as well as a small bunting on two kebab sticks. At this stage you can personalize it with name, colour and miniatures.
Finally, place the nappy cake on the cake doily and wrap with the cellophane foil and ribbon.
Ireland is the country of rainbows. I have never seen more rainbows anywhere else and, before you say anything, it is not because it rains all the time but because after every lash of rain the sun will come out and the rainbow crowns the sky. Rainbow spotting is a must on my bucket list of things to do in Ireland and more often than not you are bound to see not one but two or three at the same time. And who knows, if you get lucky you might even find the mythical Leprechaun lurking at the end of the rainbow with a pot of gold just for you.
If you want the splash of colour in the kitchen – whatever the weather – these rainbow muffins are fun to make, if a bit messy, and are sure to impress. No one – big or small – will resist the intense mix of colours. Obviously, they are full of chemicals but every now and then it is no harm to get a bit hyper.
I came across those bright muffins at one of the bake sale at work. The baking level was always really high there and yet the little vivid treats that Janice brought that day stood out and hit the right spot. I was very happy to get the recipe and when I tried it for the first time it turned out actually very easy and well, a piece of cake. I halved the ingredients of the original recipe and following Janice advice skipped the frosting so that everyone can see the twisting colours on the top.
Beat the butter, oil, creme fraiche and sugar together until smooth and thick.
Add in the vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time and combine well.
Stir in the flour and baking powder and mix in evenly, then divide equally into bowls (three to five will work best), depending on the number of different colours you have.
Slowly – drop by drop – fold in the colour of choice into each bowl and beat until combined. The colours will be really intense at this stage but will subdue while baking.
Arrange the paper muffin cases in a muffin tray. Dollop a teaspoon of each colured dough into each muffin case. Be careful not to mix the colours.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into the cake pulls out clean. Do not overbake as they will loose the bright colour at the top. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
If you want to have cupcakes rather than muffins make the frosting by beating the creme fraiche with a few tablespoons of icing sugar. It should be smooth and yet still hold its shape. Swirl on the top of the cakes and decorate with rainbow sprinkles.
Some things are just too good to last long. In kitchen it translates into an even simpler formula – the better something is the less long it lasts. Good things are meant for sharing and experiencing together.
When I was a teacher at the Jewish primary school we would all gather together in the school hall every Friday to celebrate Sabbath and share challah bread. We would tear a piece of chałka while saying a Hebrew blessing that I learnt sheerly by repeating the sounds every week, and that I still remember today:
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who sanctified us with the commandment of lighting Shabbat candles.
When you bake challah bread you usually get two loaves which makes it perfect for sharing. One day our lovely neighbour, Kasia, baked chałka at home and brought us one loaf. The smell of the freshly baked challah that filled the whole kitchen was amazing and even though some of us were very tempted to have a slice straightaway, we decided we will all wait and share it for breakfast the next morning.
It was one of those grey and chilly autumn morning that does not make you jump out of bed to rise and shine. Still, the alarm clock went off reminding us it was the time to start a new day of the weekday routine. When I, half-asleep, made my way downstairs into the kitchen, Maciek was already there, eating … cereals. It did not occur to me at first but after a few seconds I burst, “Why, for God’s sake, would you have cornflakes this morning if there’s home-made challah bread for breakfast?” He had another spoon and mumbled that he didn’t see any and, sort of, forgot. I went dumb for a moment clearly digesting what I had just heard and then retorted, “But how the hell could you not see it if it is right here on the kitchen top?” And I turned gesturing behind me to the kitchen top. And there is was – a clean wooden kitchen top, with absolutely nothing on it. “But … , ” and I went speechless again. This time for slightly longer.
We were both staring at the kitchen top trying to envisage the scene that happened overnight. The challah bread, that was there on the kitchen top smelling divine. The dog, that loves bread and that could not contain himself. Was it a planned operation that took him a few walk-arounds, sniffs, jumps and snaps? Or was it a spur of a moment and all it took was one precise coordination of paws, jaws and tongue? We never found out what exactly happened in the middle of the night in our kitchen but one thing we know was that there was not a single crumb left. When we called Lucky, he had this distinctive “it wasn’t me” look on his face that we all know means guilty as charged.
Surely and truly, Lucky, whose other adventures are here, here and here, ate the entire challah bread one night. With no remorse and no desire to share. After all, doesn’t it prove how good the thing was. Definitely, too good to last too long …
The original recipe that my neighbour shared with me is the one adapted for Thermomix. I do not have the appliance myself but I tried the recipe out – with a little tweaks – and I must admit it works fine for both – Thermomix-equipped and Thermomix-less households. The recipe below does not require any special equipment. The original recipe for Thermomix can be found here.
from the Thermomix recipe at www.przepisownia.pl
makes 2 loaves
1 cup milk
50 g fresh yeast
550 g flour
2 tbs butter (unsalted) plus some more for greasing
2 eggs (at room temperature)
1 tsp salt
4 (1 and 3) tbs sugar
5 tbs lukewarm water
1 tbs butter (fridge cold)
1 tbs caster sugar
3 tbs flour
Warm a large mixing bowl by rinsing with hot water and pat dry. Mix together the yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar, warmed milk and 3 tablespoons of flour. Gently stir the mixture for about 3 minutes and leave in a warm place for about 10 minutes by when it should double its size.
In the meantime separate one of the eggs so that you can keep the yolk for brushing the bread. Beat together the remaining egg white, whole egg and 3 tablespoons of sugar.
Gently melt the butter and set aside to cool.
Once the yeast mixture has risen, add 350 g of flour, eggs with sugar, salt, water and melted butter. Mix the dough until nicely combined and smooth.
Add the remaining flour and knead until silky for about 10 minutes. If it gets too sticky add a little bit more of flour and knead on.
Cover with a cotton cloth and leave in the bowl for about an hour or two. It should double its size again.
Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 180°C and grease 2 baking tins with butter.
Take the dough out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Press gently down to remove the extra air from the dough. Divide the dough in two and then each of the halves into three parts. You will get 6 equal parts that will make 2 plaits. Stretch and roll each of the pieces until longer than the length of the baking tin. Gently gather three strands and start braiding. Once finished carefully place the challah bread in the baking tin and tuck in the edges. Repeat with the other loaf.
Leave to rise in a warm place for about 10 minutes.
In the meantime prepare the crumble by combining sugar, butter and flour.
Brush the challah with the egg yolk and sprinkle the crumble on. You could also use the traditional poppy seeds or both.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes.
September 1979 was a start of a dull and rainy autumn that gradually turned into a long, frosty and snowy winter. Ela was on her maternity leave spending days and nights with baby Sonia, looking at her growing as the time went by. As every mother she had her ups and downs, her joys and her doubts trying to make sure that the baby was well and the world around hadn’t changed as much as it seemed.
She kept a little diary – a red pocket notebook – where she wrote down – with love and wit – what the baby did, how the baby felt, what the baby ate and what everyone planned to be doing with the baby in the future.
Her granddad says he will buy her a pair of skates and that he will finally have someone to go ice-skating with. Her Dad says he will teach her how to swim and how to ski.
I always tell her how cute she is when I feed her, though she probably doesn’t understand a lot.
Sonia gets prettier every day. Her face gets rounder and you can notice she grew. She is now fast asleep in her cot covered with a blanket. She stretched her all 50-something-centimeter self up, put her arms above her head and spread her legs. Pure comfort!
I think she starts to get colic as she often cries after her feeds. I blow a little puffs at her belly then. I am not sure if it helps but she stops crying.
What Baby Did
Sonia grows nicely and gains weight. She laughs and says “GAA” now. For the last month she has eaten the vegetable soup and all is going well. She loves when you carry her around and opens her mouth with delight then. She has already outgrown her first baby clothes and got bigger and plumpier. I think she might be getting her first tooth out, as she drools and puts her little hands into her mouth. She also now gets apple puree and she has already learnt to swallow.
She has now finished seven months and the baby has developed her moves. She is very lively and turns from back to front on her own. First, she walked around her cot and now moved onto exploring the carpet and floor. She has difficulties falling asleep and growls when she can’t sleep.
Sonia makes funny faces and can roll her eyes. It’s very amusing. She looks like a little alien from another planet.
My little girl loves her pink winter suit. In general she likes wearing clothes she looks good in and she seems to be calmer and happier then. She doesn’t particularly like her pink bodysuit, though. My little fashionista.
She spends lots of time outside on the walks. She has her morning walk with her Granny, her midday walk with me and if the weather is nice her afternoon walk with her Daddy. She has a lovely collection of clothes and loads of toys. She is a happy baby and laughs a lot or waves her arms as if she was fighting a windmill. I’m a bit worried she doesn’t sit yet, but she will learn in time. She loves when I carry her around and grasps the curtains when she’s in my arms at the window. Sonia has beautiful blue eyes but is still a bit bald (her hair is very slow to grow).
She puts everything in her mouth now, in particular she loves the Squirrel and the Duck. She is such a silly adorable baby. She loves “tidying up” the cupboards and drawers and throws everything on the floor. She is so lovely and cute. She doesn’t eat much – she must be watching her weight – a clever girl. She loves her baths and she splashes the whole place with water then. She must enjoy that much. She is such a precious little bundle of joy.
A Winter Gift
On Monday, Grandfather got Sonia lovely sledge for the winter so that she can ride in style when the snow falls. The baby is unaware of all this at the moment but in a few weeks she will enjoy that a lot.So here’s me going on my first snowy ride. Dressed up warm and tucked in tight as – well – baby it is cold outside.
Some days are just made to stay at home. And for those type of days there is nothing easier than putting together a few pantry ingredients for a perfect teatime. Well, I have to admit that keeping some pre-made Eastern European thin and crisp waffles might not be a thing in every household, yet, I myself try to have a package in stock just in case I hear as random as spontaneous: “I feel like andrut. Will you make me some?” from my husband.
My mother in law – Wiesia – was famous for her andrut . She perfected the recipe and shared it kindly around. Unlike many other baking goods it was easy to make, easy to take on the go, easy to store and definitely easy to eat. For all these reasons she would often send or bring over andrut to Maciek when he was away studying providing a real feast for him and his fellow students.
To me, there is certainly something about arranging layers while cooking that I find appealing. And it is surely the combination of flavours that work well together and complete each other that wins the crowd. Whenever I make those I like to take out the slightly old now and covered in coffee and butter stains piece of paper with the recipe that she typed and printed for all those who wanted to recreate the delightful bars at home.
Layered waffles – Polish Andrut
1 package (approx. 10 individual sheets) of pre-made Eastern European waffles
5 egg yolks
150 g caster or icing sugar
250 g butter (softened at room temperature)
50 ml of strong coffee (made with 4 tsp of instant coffee)
50 ml calvados (or similar)
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbs of powdered instant milk
Prepare a “water bath” in a pot of simmering water. Place a metal bowl inside and cream together egg yolks with sugar until smooth and pale. Set aside. Once it cools down, add butter cut in chunks and blend in using a hand held mixer. As the mixture is smooth and silky add the instant milk powder and divide equally into two smaller bowls.
Now – spoon by spoon – add the flavours to the mixture. Add the juice of one lemon to the mixture in one bowl and the coffee infused with liquor to the other. You might not need to add the whole liquid but just make sure your mixtures are smooth and do not get lumpy.
Start arranging your layers. Spread the first layer of pre-made waffles with the coffee mixture then carefully place the next sheet of waffle on the top of it and cover with the lemon mixture. Keep adding the layers until the use all the spread or all the waffles, or both. You should have no less than six layers – three of each type, but ideally if you end up with ten.
Once ready wrap the layered waffles in a baking parchment, put on a flat surface and place a baking tray or a book to press down. Leave for at least 6 but ideally 24 hours. Cut into little bars and serve.
This memory dates before the chocolate advent calendars and gingerbread thins and its nested safely in the early childhood flavours and cravings. It is one of those festive baking that gently signals that Christmas is near and yet there is plenty of time for more preparations. Zosia, my beloved grandmother, would usually start with a generous batch of those little crunchy biscuits and then day by day would add more, making sure there is enough to keep us going up until Christmas and beyond. Walnuts give the biscuits the texture, the flavour and the twist and because there were always walnuts galore at my grandparents house using them for baking seemed natural and practical.
Surely, it involved many trips to the attic where walnuts were stored and spread on meters of old newspapers to dry. Clearly, it required hours of cracking and grinding. Yet, definitely, it was worth time and effort.
Most of Zosia’s recipes could be found in The Book. It is a thick, manila covered, tattered notebook with grease-stained yellowish pages that years ago must have been crisp and stiff. Zosia, being obviously a talented baker and knowing her way around the kitchen and the oven – would only scribble the gist of the recipe, i.e. the ingredients and the proportions. For a less experienced mind it could be baffling and challenging, which is why, my grandfather, Bronek, would rewrite some of the recipes for those well organized minds that need more instructions. I am so glad he did as many a time I would be struggling recreating Zosia’s famous and excellent creations. Luckily, the recipe for the walnut crescent biscuits appears in The Book in both versions, side by side. Once scribbled in a hasty manner and then neatly noted down in a beautiful handwriting. Still, the proof of the recipe is in the baking so without further ado …
Walnut Crescent Biscuits
100 g walnuts – ground (ideally in a walnut grinder)
200 g butter – soft and at room temperature
100 icing sugar, plus some more to sprinkle
250-300 g flour
1 tsp vanilla essence
egg white for brushing
Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Whisk together butter and icing sugar until light and pale.
Gradually add walnuts, vanilla essence and finally the flour. Mix until combined and smooth.
Take small ball of dough and roll to form little crescent slightly bigger than your index finger. Place on the baking tray and delicately pat it down.
Spread the crescents on the baking tray, brush with some egg white and put in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until golden – but not brown. Take out of the oven and leave to cool. Sprinkle generously with icing sugar and crunch on.
When the evenings are dark and I do not get back home before dusk I try to tame the gloom with lights, tealights and candles, and crave for something sweet. By sweet I do not necessary mean a bar of chocolate (though not saying it never happens) but a meal that has it all – including the rich dark and sweet flavours.
This is the dish that everyone enjoys and everyone asks for a recipe. It comes from one of my favourite and most used cook book – Home Cooked by Donal Skehan. It is a great combination of juicy pork and apples, sweet maple syrup and onions, tangy soy sauce and cider vinegar. It is quick to prepare and makes a perfect workday meal, yet it is very refined and can be proudly served for Saturday dinner.
If you do not keep these staples at home anyway – this dish is definitely a reason to stock up with maple syrup, soy sauce and cider vinegar. I even persuaded my mum, who is not a big fan of maple syrup, into buying one and this dish is now one of my father-in-law’s favourites.
And since it is dark and gloomy outside, why not give it a go.
Glazed Pork Chops
from Donal Skehan Home Cooked
4 pork chops (with a good layer of rind on them)
1 red onion
4 tbs maple syrup
4 tbs apple juice
1 tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs of butter
1 tbs of rapeseed oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 gem lettuce
Preheat the oven to a 190°C.
Pat dry the pork chops with kitchen paper and season with salt and pepper. In a frying pan (ideally a cast iron one that you can transfer into the oven) melt the butter with the oil. Gather the pork chops together and place on the pan with the rind side down so that it gets golden brown and crispy. You might need to hold the meat upwards with tongs while doing that.
Once the rind turns into crackling place each pork chop flat on the pan and fry until it gets golden brown on each side.
Finely slice the red onion and add to the meat. Keep frying for a minute or two so that the onion gets golden and sweet. Then add the apple juice, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce and maple syrup and give it a nice stir so that everything is combined and the chops are covered in the dark sweet sauce. Transfer to the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
In the meantime – prepare the gem lettuces. Cut each in half lengthwise, brush with a bit of the rapeseed oil and place on a preheated griddle. Grill on a high heat for about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown but still crispy and holding the shape.
Take the meat out of the oven and set aside to rest while you reduce the sauce so that it gets even darker, sweeter and stickier. Place each of the pork chops on the plate with the charred greens and add some generous spoon of the sauce. Sprinkle a dash of chopped spring onions and bring to the table to the absolute delight of everyone.
Depending on the season I like to pair it with roasted chestnuts – just like this time – roasted sweet potatoes or plain cooked baby potatoes.
This is one of those stories that have no definite beginning nor ending. This is a story of a cinema that was built in the 70s, flourished in the 80s and 90s and vanished into oblivion in the noughties.
The cinema – Kino Złote Łany – was a part of a grand design that included adopting the former hilly golden crop fields into a huge modern estate that would be able to house and cater for thousands of people. Everything was supposed to be prodigious and profuse. Among the high buildings, schools, creches and other facilities – the cinema was the cherry on the top and was meant to bring quality leisure for all the hard working people living in the neighbourhood.
It was designed on a large scale with ample space and extensive features. A set of steps was leading to the vast partly sheltered entrance. When you entered the hall on your left and on your right you could see huge film posters behind the glass displays and once you were making your way to the ticket office along the glossy tiled floor it felt like the walk of fame.
Once you got your ticket and had it inspected and quite frequently asked for the ID, you climbed up the staircase onto the first floor. Behind the set of glass door was a spacious foyer with a cloakroom and a café – most of the times closed and unused but still waiting for the occasion to reveal its full potential.
The screening room was one of the kind – or so I thought – with walls furnished with dark wooden boards and long rows of seats with red geometrical pattern upholstery and wooden armrests. It was supposed to be fitted with a – back-then, of course – state of art sound system that apparently could and did blow the audience away.
Surely while there was a lot going on inside the cinema even the outside part of the wide-spread building was the place to be. The well-spaced steps, super smooth landing and little bordering walls made one of the greatest spaces for skateboarding tricks. My teenage friends would spent hours here riding, popping ollies and being chased by the cinema ticket office ladies.
Unfortunately, there are very few pictures that could show what the cinema looked like. After scavenging my personal family archives and asking many friends for help as well as searching herehere and here I was only able to find these few pictures to illustrate the story.
Possibly one of the greatest moments for Kino Złote Łany was the national premiere screening of the Polish TV production Panna z mokrą głową.The venue was chosen to honour a young actress – Paulina – who played the leading role in the film and in real life, lived just a few minutes away. A cast of famous Polish actors, film executives and media all arrived to the little town in the south of Poland to celebrate the release. To me that was the high life as I knew it. The local school representation was invited and I was lucky enough to be there and even got onto the stage as a flower girl. All this splendour clearly required special measures and extra efforts so for the first time my 13-year-old self was wearing high heels. I borrowed them from my mum and practised walking up and down the hall the day before so that everything could go smoothly. And it did. The cinema was made for such events. The foyer filled with mingling people, the stage was perfect to host the celebrities, the steps looked great in camera flashes. The cinema grew bigger in our eyes.
I started going to the cinema at the age of seven when my parents brought me here to watch a family adventure fantasy called Podróże Pana Kleksa. Going to the cinema was the adventure itself, not to mention watching in the dark and looking at the huge screen. I was so impressed and intrigued I demanded more. As the cinema was just a few minutes away any time I passed it by I would check the posters and if any was colorourful and possibly involved fantastic creatures I would nag for the tickets.
I was dazzled with the animations I got to see at Gremlinsand Howard the Duck and held my breath and bite my nails watching their adventures. I even secretly dreamed that my godfather might bring me a Gizmo-type creature from his trips to China.
A few years later – and this time as a part of cinema school trips – I was keen to follow the never ending battle of good and evil in the comic strip adaptations of Batman and Dick Tracy.
I cried there watching The Lion King. I remember it so well as it was the first movie I ever cried at and one of the very few in the years to come. I guess, I was this sort of pretend toughed-up person who would hardly ever cry at the cinema and was consciously looking around to see others sobbing. At least – up until I met my husband who was able to change that little hitch of mine.
As a teenager I would spend many many evenings, and lots of my pocket money too – in front of the big screen watching new releases, old good classics and independent productions. Every Monday me and my friends would rush for the cinema club – DKF – not really knowing what would be on and whether we would like what we were watching, yet very happy to be taken on the journey. Two of those films I remember particularly well – The Big Blue and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
There was some unspoken magic of watching the big blue ocean on the big screen and I felt utterly submerged and deeply moved. I also remember how we felt discovering the vibrant and colourful world on the other side in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It definitely opened our eyes and started a discussion that in turn opened our minds.
It was also on that big screen that I watched the original trilogy of the Star Wars as the episodes IV, V and VI were re-released in the anticipation of the prequel series. We made it slightly more American by bringing in (or actually smuggling in) freshly home made popcorn and cold canned coke.
I never went to the cinema alone. It always seemed more of a social event – a group outing, a friends get together, a date, a girls night out … It was sharing the experience and sharing the opinions afterwards that made it real quality time.
My boyfriend and I would have endless discussion of “What would you do” after watching Before Sunrise – one of my favourite romantic movies.
For my 19th birthday myself and my friend dressed up and put full make up on. I even got myself my first red lipstick for the occasion. All that to go to the cinema, sit in the red chairs and watch Lolita together.
Funny enough, Shrek was the last film I saw there. A bit of a weird choice of a movie for a twenty year old, I realize. Yet, to think of it, what a great sum-up of all my adventures at Kino Złote Łany it was. A mixture of great animations, cute talking creatures, engaging plot and every day, every man and every princess problems.
Myself and my husband-yet-to be were home from the universities for the summer holidays and got us free tickets from the local magazine – Kronika Beskidzka. You did not have to do much to get those. Just be there first before the ticket office opened. We arrived way too early leaving no chance, claimed the tickets, watched the film and … lived happily ever after.
Sadly enough, there was no happy ending for the cinema and the next time we came home it was just not there anymore. It was one of those changes that strikes you and makes you realize some things will never be the same and a certain chapter closed. It feels sad that there was no room for the cinema with a difference in my hometown. There is an undeniable charm in those old cinemas that do not have a cup holder in their seats and do not urge you with meal deals at the ticket office. Fortunately, there are a good few survivors that managed to prosper against all odds and you can find more stories of old cinemas in the new multiplex world here. Apparently, there is a twin cinema – with same architecture and interior design in Głogów and I now added it to my bucket list of things to go.
For Kino Złote Łany, however, the story finished when it was put up on sale and converted into a convenience store. It is a sore sight now and I shiver any time I happen to pass by as I still keep comparing the before and after images. Just see for yourself – the first picture that I found here shows the cinema right before closing, while the other two I recently took for the purpose of this post.
I want to send special thanks to all who were so kind to help on this post, searched for photos and shared the stories.
And if you have your cinema story, please share it with me.
I simply love how September blends summer into autumn and slowly brings the inevitable change of seasons. It lets the summer linger while mornings bring first frost and evenings cover with mist. Until one day you can actually feel the crispy air in your lungs and you know that the autumn has fully arrived.
There is nothing more luring than the early autumn garden. The warm palette of colours. The sun-kissed grass. The trees laden with plums, pears and apples. It is one of those childhood memories that I cherish for life. I would be five or six and I would be playing in the garden and any time I felt peckish I could just pick a fruit or two right from the tree.
The picture below shows little Ela picking plums. Or maybe some other fruit. It is really hard to tell as Ela would, and apparently still does, call any fruit plum.
Later on, I might not be playing in the garden anymore but I would still pick random fruit right from the tree. And plum tree in particular. I developed a distinctive taste for late September plums. Those small, dark and slightly frost bitten plums that might be even wrinkled on the outside but are nothing but rich and sweet inside. While I would have them freshly picked with Earl Grey Tea, my granny, Zosia, would make them into a decadent slow cooked jam that I could shamelessly eat all. Kind of like in This Is Just to Say poem by William Carlos Williams.
For many years it has been my guilty pleasure to eat the whole jar of plum jam. Spoon after spoon. I was solely responsibly for making sure that those dozens of jars filled with plum jam would not go to waste and that there is none left before the winter is gone. Not that my granny minded. She would gladly spend early mornings in the kitchen to stock up the pantry. Somehow I always thought it was a very complicated recipe and after Zosia died I never imagined making it myself. It was only recently when I came across the recipe in the old family cookbook and found out that it isn’t complicated at all. I also learnt that it is actually so much less guilty pleasure than I ever thought as there’s very little sugar and the so called “frying” is in fact slow cooking. All you need for this Pantry Perfect recipe is plums, sugar and lots and lots of time.
Slow Cooked Plum Jam
3-4 kg of plums
a few tbs of sugar
The following recipe comes from our old family cookbook Kuchnia Śląska (Cieszyńskiego) by Emilia Kołder.
The best time to make the plum jam is at the end of September or the start of October when the plums are the sweetest. Make sure to use the small oval blueish plums ( I got my węgierki from the local Polish store). It is fine if they’re wrinkled as the flavour and sweetness are even better.
Wash, dry and pit the plums.
Place the plums is a big and rather wide heavy bottom pot. You might grease the pot with butter to avoid the plums sticking. A wide pot will help to reduce the liquid and the mixture will get thicker more quickly.
Very gently bring to boil stirring the plums with a wooden spoon. You will not need any water or sugar as the plums are juicy enough. Just keep stirring to make sure the plums won’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Simmer and stir for 2 – 3 hours. As you stir you will break the plums and will see the mixture steam. The plums will start to reduce and get darker thicker.
Leave to cool till the next day and then repeat the process of simmering and stirring for another 2 – 3 hours. The plums will reduce and thicken again.
On the third day repeat the process again. Keep an eye on the pot and keep stirring as the mixture is now very thick and sticky. At the end of the slow cooking taste and add as much sugar as you think is needed. The sweeter the plums the less sugar you will need. You might not even add the sugar at all. Simmer and stir for another 10 minutes then turn off the heat and leave to cool a bit.
Fill the sterilized jars with the jam and place in a warm oven – 100°C / gas mark ¼ – for about 1 hour. That will preserve the jam.
The plum spread is great with rolls, brioches or challahand will bring some summer sweetness to your breakfast table.
There are some things about the summer holidays that never change.
Eating ice-cream each day, picking flavours and toppings and rushing up before they melt … Wiggling and wincing while mum applies the sun cream on your face … Playing cards to simply pass the time … Buying bits and bobs in the kitschy souvenir shop … Trying out the peculiar beach snacks of unfamiliar names from the beach sellers …
Boat trip, sun sets and milk soup
Holidays would not be proper holidays without a boat day trip. Nothing beats the excitement of arriving at the port and looking for your boat. Rushing on board and reserving best seats. By the way, I quickly learnt never to pick the upper deck seats for the whole trip as you never know what the sea holds in for you. One day you cruise over flat blue waters, roast in the sun and enjoy the salty breeze on your face and another day you struggle to hold on as the ship sways and surges on choppy waves.
The evening seaside walk was, is and always will be one of my all-time favourites and a highlight of the day. Many a times we were sitting at the beach on the sand that was still warm and watched the sun go down and gently sink into the sea. To me, looking at those last rays of sunshine was the perfect way to finish off the day and say a proper goodbye.
It still puzzles me how we managed to have so many meals each and every day. The day would start with a two course breakfast, followed by a hearty snack at the beach, two course dinner, a dessert, afternoon tea and very often finished with fish from one of the many local chippers.
Of course summer holidays menu in the 80’s was somewhat different to the nowadays all-inclusive. The menu was set and so were the meal times. There was no such thing as a’la carte. You simply had two choices. You could choose an early group and have your breakfast at 8 am, dinner at 1 pm and super at 6 pm or a late group and have all the meals an hour after. Well, also, you could choose to eat a meal or leave it. One of the most controversial dish on the menu must have been the milk soup for breakfast. You either loved it or hated it, and I was definitely the first kind, though, I cannot imagine starting my day with a milk soup day after day now. Still, the combination of warm milk and cooked pasta brings back lots of childhood memories, offers comfort and is definitely the alternative to the omnipresent breakfast cereals.
This is a variation of the milk soup that is called nic (nothing) in Polish. It must have been the egg whites that are shaped into tiny balls as light as a feather and as fluffy as a cloud that gave it the name.
1 l milk
4-5 tbs sugar
In a medium pan gently warm the milk and then add the vanilla stick. Keep it at simmering point but be careful not to boil. Beat the egg whites with 3 tablespoons of sugar until peaks form. Make tiny balls – or fluffy little clouds – and fold them one by one into the simmering milk to set. Remove to the serving bowls. Whisk together the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar until smooth and pale. Stir into the simmering milk. Pour a generous ladle or two into each bowl and serve immediately with some summer berries on the side.