My Kitchen Tricks

Every household has its own unique kitchen hacks and tricks. Little smart habits we mostly do automatically that save time, help to prevent waste or just make things better. While at this stage all these simple things seem quite obvious to me, I still think they are amazingly useful and worth sharing and trying.

I had a pleasure to be working on the photos for this post with Marysia from the blog Pychotkowo and I want to thank her for all her help.

Here is my list of 10 kitchen hacks that I picked, well, along the way. They are listed in no particular order and each of them is well tested and sound. I hope you will find them as practical as I do.

#1 – TomatoesTomatoes Kitchen Hack

Funnily enough, this is the kitchen trick that I learnt while working in the office and in fact, this is one of the most important experience that my boss shared with me. She insisted that tomatoes should never be kept in the fridge as rather than being preserved they loose all the flavour. Well, she was right and the proof came in the taste. I never keep my tomatoes in the fridge. Instead they are stored in a wooden bowl and if anything they only get ripe and sweeter. We do eat plenty of tomatoes in our house and they are hardly any that get old or crinkled but if I see any I roast them and add to the tomato soup to make it rich and more flavoursome.

#2 – BananasBananas Kitchen Hack

Bananas are a bit tricky to store. They do not like the cold of the fridge and they do not like the company of other fruit or veg. What is more, they do not keep long, get the brown spots quickly and turn brown within days. On the other side, once they are ripe they have more antioxidants, are sweeter and easier to digest. I hate any waste in the kitchen and could not bear not using the brown and overripe bananas. Especially, they are perfect for banana bread or smoothies. However, rather than baking banana bread on a weekly basis, I peel the bananas, put them in a sealed bag and freeze for later.

#3 – VinegarVinegar Kitchen Hack

Vinegar has been used in the households for ages and then quite suddenly and sadly forgotten and pushed away from the cupboards by more fancy and professionally manufactured kitchen chemicals. I find it underestimated and essential and I always have a bottle of distilled crystal clear vinegar as it comes in handy on so many occasions and seems to be the remedy for so many problems. It is great for cleaning greasy glass, treating various stains and removing stickers and decals. We also use it to remove splinters. Just soak the affected area in vinegar for 15 – 20 minutes and the splinter will either slide out on its own or can be easily removed with tweezers. Also, due to its antibacterial qualities it it effective in treating verruca. Just dampen a little bit of cotton wool in vinegar or apple vinegar, press against the verruca, secure closely with a duct tape and leave overnight. The treatment might take up to two weeks but so far it has never failed to work.

And in case you wonder what else you could use vinegar for this article here will give you plenty more ideas.

#4 – Cans and jarsCans Kitchen Hack

This is just my way of trying both: being eco-friendly and minimizing the waste. It is truly useful when cooking tomato sauce or tomato soup as you need to add the water anyway. Obviously, while I add at least one full can of water to the soup, you will only need a quarter of a can for your sauce. I do go a step further and add a splash of water into my almost empty jar of mustard or mayo and use the jar to mix the salad dressing in.

#5 – CucumberCucumber Kitchen Hack

Did you know that the darker green end of the cucumber is more bitter? Therefore, I always start peeling the cucumber at the lighter green end. That way I do not spread the bitter taste and keep it right at the end where it should be. I must admit that I could never remember which end I should start at and was often wondering: light or dark? Until I came up with this little mnemonic trick that sorted it once and for all –  Let’s start with Light green.

#6 – CutleryCutlery Kitchen Hack

I admit I can be annoyingly pedantic sometimes and surely sorting forks, knives, tablespoons and teaspoons shows this side of me. However, this hack proves very time saving as once all your cutlery is washed and clean you just transfer it one to one, container to container, dishwasher basket to cutlery tray. I was actually able to talk my friend – Wiola, into it and she now would not do it any other way.

#7 – Avocados, lemons and mangoesAvocado Kitchen Hack

We all know how tricky it can be to get this moment when your avocado and mango is not too hard and not overripe but just right. Apparently, if you roll them a few times it can make them juicier and ready to eat, so I always do.

# 8 – Bread crumbsBread Crumbs Kitchen Hack

Why didn’t I come up with it earlier, I wonder. Possibly, I did not have a really powerful blender that does the job in the matter of seconds. Every now and then when the rolls get stale I keep them to dry out and then after a week or two I pop those in the blender and get a very fine bread crumbs. Honestly, we never ever bought bread crumbs and always make a good use of any left over rolls and baguettes around the house.

#9 – Icing SugarIcing Sugar Kitchen Hack

While bread crumbs seemed a natural solution, it never occurred to me that you can actually make your icing sugar in the very same way.  I only learnt you can easily turn caster sugar into icing sugar when I went, as neighbours do, with a regular “can I borrow a cup of sugar” visit and Kasia, my neighbour,  showed me you do not need to store both at home as the blender will powder your regular caster sugar so that you can use it for baking and decorating.

#10 -Hand peelingPeeling Kitchen Hack

This is the best home made peeling ever that I picked ages ago from a girls’ magazine. I must say I never used anything else. It leaves your hands soft, moisturized and pale as sugar removes any old tissue, oil makes the skin nourished and lemon gets rid of any red stains.

I would love to hear what your kitchen hacks are and I am really looking forward to your feedback and comments.

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Walk a Mile

I do not think there was ever a pair of shoes that I desired more or that I was more determined to get. And if I ever wanted to make a fashion statement or express myself by wearing footwear, that was it. I still clearly remember the ad that to me sounded more like a life slogan back then:

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and you will understand all their problems,

Walk a mile in someone else’s Dr Martens and you will never want to give them back.

Dr Martens Blue

My first pair of Dr Martens was navy blue ten eye size 4 boots that I bought with the money I earned working as a copy girl over the summer. The job was rather boring and involved long hours but it let me saved just enough to finally be able to afford my dream shoes. And once I got them, I would never want to take them off and I was literally wearing them everywhere, for every occasion and all seasons. In my teenage opinion they matched sleeveless chiffon mini dress, oversize dungarees and corduroy bootleg trousers just as perfectly.

Dr Martens Blue Label

Me and my Dr Martens were practically inseparable and bound to walk together through whatever life brings. When I trudged through heavy snow, I was wearing my navy boots. When I was walking my dog on a warm summer evening, I was wearing my navy boots. When I was celebrating on a night out, I was wearing my navy boots. Looking back and flipping over my notes from more than two decades ago, I can see that Docs did not only give me comfort but strength as well. This is what I wrote:

With no shoes I feel weak and vulnerable. I’m ashamed of my bare feet and get even more uneasy wearing socks only. Shoes give me confidence. Soles give me strength. It means I am always ready to run. 

 

There is a very well-preserved tradition in Poland that a visitor takes of their shoes. I never was able to understand the reason behind it and always thought that as long as you wipe your feet and are not wearing muddied wellies, drenched squelching trainers or insulated snow boots you should keep you shoes on, as they are the part of your outfit. To me the respect to the host would not come from leaving your shoes in the hall. On principle no one takes off their shoes in my house.

Dr Martens Yellow

We all had our Dr Martens at the secondary school, well most of us did. While boys were quite happy with just the black ones, each of the girls had their own colour – cherry red, blue, yellow, white … Not having a school uniform, we felt the boots united and distinguished us. There is a picture of our collection of Dr Martens in all colours that I took years ago and that, indeed,  inspired me to write this post but as luck would have it, and a part of life, it got lost and even though I searched high and low I cannot get my hands on it at the moment. I do promise I will add it on here as soon as it is found, as I am sure will eventually happen.

What shoes would you walk a mile in?

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Blueberry Hunt

It was always the last weekend of the summer holidays that we went to the Beskid Mountains to pick blueberries. Year by year we climbed Pilsko of over 1500 m.a.s.l. that dominates the landscape of Żywiec Beskid and is its second highest peak. The place, that is one of the oldest and most beautiful Polish ski resorts in the winter, offers a few picturesque trails in the summer and plenty of blueberries on the way. The berries grow and ripe quite late at this height but are worth waiting for.

We started the day quite early to arrive at the bottom of the mountain when the sun was still low. We packed a good assortment of empty containers that were clinking in the backpacks as we hiked. We climbed slowly as we were making our winding way through the wild blueberry bushes. We picked the little sweet berries and filled the containers one by one. I snacked on them until my mouth was blue. The time passed by quickly and soon enough all the jars, boxes and bottles were full of berries and we were just a short distance from the top. Now it was time to enjoy the sunshine and see the views.

Pilsko. Summer of 1986
Pilsko. Summer of 1986

We got back home in the evening and neatly lined all the containers on the kitchen table. We had so many ideas what we could make and bake. Berries with sugar and cream. Pierogi – Polish dumplings with blueberries. Blueberry soup. Blueberry smoothies. Blueberry compote. Blueberry crumble cake. Blueberry buns. There were enough berries to suit all tastes and cravings.

Blueberries Book

Wild Berries. Book by Irena Gumowska

The Polish name for the blueberry buns – jagodzianki – sounds almost like little blueberry ladies. They are soft and tangy and make a great picnic snack. The real secret is to fill the buns with as many blueberries as you can, so that when you bite through the outer bun layer you get to a very gooey, very berry and very blue inside.

Jagodzinaki Blueberry Buns

Jagodzianki – Blueberry Buns

500 g flour

1 cup of milk

4 egg yolks (plus some whites for brushing)

1/2 cup of sugar

50 g fresh yeasts

1 tsp salt

120 g butter (at room temperature)

vanilla pod or vanilla extract

2 – 3 cups of blueberries

3 tbs of sugar

In a small pot gently warm up the milk to the room temperature. Make sure not to overheat it. Cut the vanilla stick in half and add to the milk to infuse. Pour half of the milk into a large mixing bowl, add a tablespoon of sugar and crumble in the yeast. Stir and leave for a good few minutes to let them start working.

Once the mixture becomes foamy and little bubbles pop up, add in the remaining milk, flour, salt, egg yolks, sugar and soft butter. Mix well until thoroughly combined and the dough becomes smooth and silky, yet still a bit sticky.

Cover with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour. It should double its size.

In the meantime rinse and dry your blueberries. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Preheat the oven to 190°C and line the baking tray with the baking parchment.

Jagodzinaki Blueberry Buns

Once the dough has risen, sprinkle some flour on the table top so that the dough does not stick. Tear a handful of the dough and form a little ball, then gently flatten it with your palm. Place as many blueberries as you can in the middle and fold in the edges. Turn around, pat in the flour and place the bun on the baking tray. Continue with the rest of dough until you have the tray full of buns (the recipe will make 2 trays of buns). Keep them in a warm place so that they continue to rise. Brush the buns with the egg white and put into the oven for 20 minutes.

Enjoy at the picnic, at the seaside or just at home with your tea.

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Are we really there yet

Summer Road Trip 1988

This is one of the funniest holiday stories that I just love telling, especially in the summer. It was summer 1989 and this supposed to be a fantastic holiday break. Not only were we going camping but we were going to the seaside. And we were not going north to the Baltic Sea but we were heading south to sunny Greece. 1,500 km to drive. Four borders to cross. And then just careless splashing in the Aegean sea.

Of course 30 years ago travelling in Europe was somewhat different. Especially if you travelled from the Eastern European country. Going abroad required to obey certain rules. Not only to get your visa and provide a proof of means for every single country to be visited but first and foremost to get your passport from the authorities. Back then all passports were stored in the local passport office and could be only collected if a relevant officer examined the request and – satisfied with the purpose of the trip – issued a permission to leave the country. Importantly, each and every passport had to be handled back no later that 14 days after the return. It was a big deal and a challange. The day we collected the passports we felt Europe was there waiting for us.

Passport PRL

There is something super exciting about going on a summer road trip – planning the route, packing all essentials, preparing food. The moment you hit the road you know your holidays have started and it does not matter where you are heading or how long it will take to get there.

Summer Road Trip Collage

We started packing the day earlier. The big tent took up most of the roof rack and the small tent took up most of the booth. We packed camping chairs, camping beds, inflatable mattresses, portable gas stove, sleeping bags, towels and blankets. We packed tins and cans and homemade pasta. There was not much room left for us in fairness and when we looked at the car it seemed to sink in a bit but the excitement was too high to care. We went home to get some good night sleep. As if I could! Reisefieber kept me awake until it was time to go. And so at 4 in the morning we got into our packed to the gills Volkswagen Shirocco and headed towards the Czechoslovakian border.

Few hours and one moderately long queue later we crossed the border, got our passports stamped and were now officialy abroad.

I was squeezed in the back in between bags with clothes, food basket and rucksack but I did not seem to mind. On my knees I kept my most important baggage item – small vintage red sack bag where my Barbie, Ken, their little baby and dog travelled to a far far away beach in Greece.

It was early afternoon when we heard a slightly concerning noise coming from beneath. We stopped to investigate. A quick look under the car and we discovered the suspension collapsed and was now nearly touching the ground. We needed a car mechanic.

Pit Stop # 1
Location: Zlin, Czechoslovakia
Currency: koronas
Distance to Greece: 1,300 km

How they managed to find a mechanic on a Sunday afternoon at the outskirts of a foregn city without a phone and Google maps, I don’t know. While they were searching I got myself busy in the nearby fields following the ups and downs of a grasshopper family. I was a biologist explorer unveling the secret life of bugs. Eventually that evening the car got towed and we ended up to stay for a night at a very helpful and hospitable mechanic’s house.

The next morning we woke up to the inviting smell of scrambled eggs with freshly picked wild mushrooms which our inadverent hosts made for breakfast. Was it the fact that is was a pure act of kindness or the fact that we were – dispite minor complication – in the holiday mood, but it was one of the best breakfast I ever had.

As the day went by and all the adults got about mending the car I discovered the little rabbits in their pen and was delighted to pet and play with them. This holiday was getting better and better …

It took four men and twelve hours to fix the car but our Shirocco was now back in action and we were back on the road heading south again.

Late at night we arrived at the hotel in Hungary and I was so tired I literally fell asleep at the dining table and did not even bother to open my sleepy eyes for ice cream. I guess my body just needed rest more than anything else. The next morning we were getting ready to leave and drive as much as possible to make up for the lost time, when we discovered one of the passports was gone.

Pit Stop # 2
Location: Salgotarian, Hungary
Currency: forints
Distance to Greece: 1,150 km

We searched the car. We searched the rooms. We searched the hotel lobby and restaurant. We searched the car park. We searched the car again. We hanged around the whole day hoping it would be found. We spent the evening at some newly made friends’ garden and had a lovely five course meal. I learnt that in Hungary you can never finish off your food and leave your plate empty as you will immediately be served a second helping.

All in all, the next morning, as there was no sign of passport we had no other option than to attend the Polish Embassy in Budapest and request the temporary ID to allow us to get back home.

We followed the road signs for the capital and arrived at the Embassy early enough to get the document the very same day. It was just after lunch and as we realized it will be our last day of holiday we wanted to use it well. And what is a better way to finish your holiday than to go to the biggest water park that you had ever seen. I could not decide whether I liked the slides or the waves at St Margaret’s Island more. I was just one super excited and overjoyed child and I did not want to leave. We stayed till the closing time and splashed most of the money too. But we did not care.

Are We Really There Yet Collage

That evening when we came back to the hotel the receptionist greeted us with a big smile on her face and handed us the lost – and miraculously found – passport. Hold on Greece. Here we go again.

We packed all the bags into the car, squeezed ourselves in between, set destination on the map and hit the road.

We drove along Hungarian towns and villages and did not care about the ongoing loud noise that the car was now making. Well, it was just a broken silencer in the exhaust pipe. A part that was not essential and but for the bup-bup-bup clunking sound did not affect the journey. And in fairness after a while we just got used to the noise.

A few hours later when we were almost at the Hungarian Yugoslavian border and driving up the bridge over the river that divided the two countries, Shirocco stopped. It was not even possible to pull over on the bridge so we just rolled the car down to the first crossing and pushed it aside.

Pit Stop # 3
Location: Szeged, Hungarian Yugoslavian border
Currency: forints, dinars and Deutsche marks
Distance to Greece: 910 km

The bad news was the car would not start. The good news was there was a camping site just 250 meters away.

We took the tents, the sleeping bags and as many other essentials as we could and and went to the campsite to check in for the night. It started to get dark and some heavy navy clouds were gathering. The lightning crossed the sky. There was no time to loose. If only we knew how to pitch up a tent … We were still fidgeting with the last pins when the big drops of rain started falling. Five minutes later it was lashing but we were safe and sound in our big tent. Listening to the rain falling and hoping things would look better in the morning we fell asleep.

The next morning it was sunny and warm. I quickly discovered the campisite had a pool and naturally spent hours splashing in there. I was at the pool the first thing in the morning and stayed until it was getting dark. I would only be persuaded to get out for meals – jam sandwiches for breakfast and homemade pasta with tinned food for dinner. The campsite was full of friendly people. Two motorbikers who pitched up next to us turned out to be keen on mechanical engineering and lended a hand trying to fix the car.

I do not remember how many days we spent in there. Was it two or three or four? Certainly not enough for me to get bored with swimming, diving and splashing in the pool. Anyway, it finally dawned on us that the car will not be fixed and our journey to Greece finished here – a few kilometets from the Yugoslavian border. We were runnung low on food. We were running out of money. And eventually the spirits were getting lower too. As we were literally at the border we saw many tour couches returning to Poland. Some of them would stop at the car park for a quick break. My mum chatted to the travellers and used her charm and reasoning to persuade them to take us on board and bring back home. There was one bus that had two spare places. We had no time to spare. Myself and my mum hastily packed up a small bag of essentials, I grabbed my red bag with Barbie dolls and we ran across the camping field to catch the bus home.

Everyone on the bus were talking about the lovely time they had in Greece and we were talking about all our adventures we had so far. Jason Donovan’s Sealed with a Kiss was playing on the radio on and on …

In the middle of the night we arrived at the Polish border. The bus stopped at the end of the long long queue of cars, couches and camper trailers all waiting to cross the border. The queue was winding through the town streets for well over two kilometres and we were told the estimated waiting time was about ten hours. My mum woke me up, we said goodbye to everybody, thanked the helpful driver and walked along the string of moveless vehicles towards the border to cross it on foot.

The customs officer looked somewhat baffled when he saw a woman with a ten year old child returning from Hungary on foot at 3 o’clock in the morning. He raised his brow, sighted and stamped our passports. Now we were only 30 kilometres from the hometown, yet it was the middle of the night and home seemed as distant as ever. We had a look around. The streets were empty. The lights were out. The night was cold. Suddenly, we heard the engine start with a roar, the headlights flashed and a giant lorry turned up. The driver was as surprised to see us as we were surprised to see him. He stopped the vehicle with a thump, rolled down the window and offfered us a lift. We must have looked rather hopeless and desparate. The lorry was so huge and high that the driver had to get out and lift me to get on. I got the seat in the middle and never felt so small as when travelling in the lorry in the middle of the night clenching my old red bag with all my might.

The journey did not took long. We were dropped off at the car park just at the exit to our hometown. We were now merely 10 minutes from home but with no means to travel this final leg of the journey. It was a real stroke of luck that the taxi had just passed by and was turning at the car park. We hailed and jumped on.

It took us ten days to never get to Greece. Any other summer we would arrive at the destination, spend lazy sunny days in there and come back with beautiful summery pictures of us happily splashing in the sea, walking on the beach, sunbathing and relaxing. But not this year.

This holiday was all about getting there and about enjoying the fact that we were not really there yet but still persistently on the way. We never got to Greece in the end but the story will always remain told as The Trip to Greece.

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I just call …

I just call collage

“Call me when you get there!,

I would hear my mum saying any time when my teenager me was leaving for my summer holidays. And surely I did. No later than 48 hours after the departure I would call to say all is well and there is no need to worry. Absolutely unthinkable and unbelievable now. Just imagine the uncertainty and impatience every mother would feel not being able to check on their child for a long 48 hours. We expect to get the double ticks on WhatsApp, current location on Google Maps for an instant whereabouts update and at least a decent photo or a video of the room you have just checked in or the view outside within the mere minutes after the arrival.

No message is a good message,

as my mum always says and that I echo now to get this little piece of mind and reason the lack of communication. Clearly times have changed and the technology gives us all the amazing possibilities to stay in touch. Still, let’s rewind twenty-five years and let’s go back to the times where the phone booth was not a tourist attraction or a vintage landmark but an amenity and necessity.

telephone booth
Mum calling from the seaside in 1990s and from her Nokia in 2016

And so my every summer holiday – whether it was a summer camp, family visit, festival or a trip abroad, would start with locating the nearest phone booth, getting the right amount of required coins or a suitable phone card and dialing the home number – that obviously you would know by heart – hoping there is someone on the other side of the line to pick up the phone and hear my brief news. That I keep safe. That I eat well. And that I behave properly. We tried to be to the point and relay the basic details before the line started cracking, the credit finished and people in the queue started knocking on the plexiglass partition to gently remind of their presence and politely ask to round up.

Calling from a phone booth
Maciek calling from Belgium – 1980s

Even if the phone booth could be found nearby there was no guarantee that it was in the working order. It might have as well swallowed your last coin, misdirected your call or simply had no signal. The ones that were working were in high demand and needed to be queued for. But hey, so is the ATM nowadays.

What took the phone booths to the new level was assigning each booth a regular landline number, which meant you could actually dial into one in a sort of Matrix style. Myself and Maciek would schedule a rendezvous and I would be there in front of the phone booth waiting for the phone to start ringing. We were miles away and mobile international calls were extravagantly expensive so we used the good old phone booth to talk. It still felt a bit unreal to hear the public phone ringing and once I picked it up I was never quite sure who will I hear on the other side of the line.

I just call collage

 

Even if you had the luxury of your own landline you could never indeed know who will be on the other side of line. You picked up the phone, heard no signal so pressed to hang up a few times. There was a short crack followed by a momentarily beep and then suddenly you would hear a rather concerned and slightly annoyed, yet completely unfamiliar voice:

Hallo!,

Maciek had a real knack for taking those wrongs calls that due to faulty lines were misdirected to his number. People calling authorities with mundane complaints. People calling local offices with unreasonable demands. People calling banks with ridiculous queries.

Thank you for your call.

I try to figure if – with the mobile phone around me all the time – I call more, or if in fact – as I text, message, chat or comment, I call less. Mostly the phone is a tool to get things done and move on, yet, the best calls are those random ones when you just call to hear this voice on the other side of the line.

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Strawberry Birthday Cake

Strawberry Birthday Cake

Once upon a time in June my husband decided he will bake the birthday cake for our – then – four year old. I must say I was rather doubtful and had a back up plan in case things went slightly burnt, sloppy or in any other way inedible, yet the cake was as perfect as could be. The recipe is simple. The ingredients are seasonal. The cake is refreshing and not too sweet or not too heavy. The decorating is plain yet impressive. Making of the cake is the family team work by combining me baking the sponge cake by my grandmother recipe,  Maciek cutting the layers with precision and decorating with perfection and Natasha helping all the way. We have been making the cake for many years to celebrate birthday, adding more candles and picking different colour of the ribbon, yet the taste stays the same and it never fails to please the guests.Strawberry Birtdhay Cake Collage

Sponge Cake

6 eggs

300 g (or the equivalent of the weight of 5 eggs) icing sugar

240 g (or the equivalent of the weight of 4 eggs) flour

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease the 30 cm round spring form with butter and sprinkle with flour.

Separate the eggs into two large bowls. Beat together the egg yolks with the icing sugar until smooth and pale. Gradually add the flour – spoon by spoon and keep beating until well combined.

Beat the eggs whites in another bowl until stiff peaks form (you may dare to turn the bowl upside down to test). Slowly add the beaten whites into the mixture of yolks, sugar and flower. Stir gently until combined. Do not use the mixer at this stage.

Pour the sponge mixture into the spring form and put in the pre-heated oven for 40-45 minutes. The cake will rise in the oven and should fill the form to the brim.

After 40-45 minutes it should be golden brown and a tooth pick will come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely (and ideally until the next day).

Cut the cake into 3 equal layers and pick the best layer for the top.frozen strawberries

Strawberry Cream

2 packets of strawberry jelly

500 ml double cream

500 g frozen strawberries

Prepare the jelly as per the instructions on the packet.

Chop the frozen strawberries and add them to the jelly liquid. It will instantly get cooler and begin to set.

In a large bowl whip the cream. Add the cold strawberry jelly mixture into the cream ans stir gently until combined. If it is still too runny you might want to put the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes but be careful so that it does not become too thick and firm.

Now assemble the cake. Spread half of the strawberry cream on the bottom layer of the cake. Be generous. You will want a good centimeter of the cream filling. Gently place the middle layer of the cake and spread the remaining strawberry cream. Arrange the top layer and put in the fridge so that it sets nicely.I Never met A Cake I Would Not Like

Decorating

500 ml double cream

15 fresh strawberries

a large packet of lady fingers biscuits

a ribbon

Beat the cream until thick yet still smooth. With a spatula spread the cream on the sides and on the top of the cake. One by one arrange the lady fingers biscuits around the cake and secure with a wide ribbon.

Cut in half or slice the strawberries and arrange them on the top of the cake.

Keep in the fridge until ready to serve and blow the candles.Strawberry Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday Natasha!
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What little girls did

What Little Girls Did Collage

This story brings me back to my childhood and spending hours and hours outdoor playing with whatever a garden, a meadow or a mere field had to offer. Some of the games were silly. Some wore off quickly. And some are creative enough to pass onto the new generations of little girls.flowers collage

A bunch of little girls were picking flowers in the garden. Once they got a pretty colourful collection, they wanted to make it into a piece of art. Surely, you could take them home and arrange in a vase, or preserve them in between the pages of a book, yet we came up with another idea for flower art, mainly the flower collage. To make it – all you need is a glass from a small picture frame, a selection of wild flowers and some creativity. You arrange the flowers on a flat surface – try to find an empty patch on the flowerbed – cover them with glass and there it is – your own flower picture.dandelion dolls

I cannot remember where the idea came from. It is so simple and yet so brilliant. What I do remember, though, is that we could sit on the grass, make the dolls and play with them as it they were Barbies. They were very dressy and very chic and had lovely long curls that any girl would want. We picked the bud of a dandelion flower with as long stem as you could possible get. That would be the head of the doll. Then we split the green stem into very fine strips to make the hair. Now, to make the curls we dipped it in the water – a puddle would be an excellent choice here – and swirled for a little while. Then we popped the head on a very thin stick and finally thread on a fully blossomed dandelion flower upside down to make a fine tutu style dress.

pop up street shop

When we played the pop up grocery shop a plantain leaf became lettuce, an elderflower became a cauliflower, and a rose hip became an apple. A small cone could become a walnut or artichoke and tiny inedible berries would become plums and peaches. Pebbles and leaves were coins and notes and could buy you all of your five-a-day. All the stock was within the reach of your hands.

neighbour post

Growing up in a block of flats and having your best friend living upstairs had a major benefit – mainly the string post. The little note attached to a long piece of string traveled from the fourth floor down to the first one and then – with a reply scribbled below – back up. It was instant, exciting and could easily be made weatherproof if a tube or a small plastic box was used.

Snails can make great pets. At least for a day or two. They may not be the cuddliest of creatures, I must say, but then, when you are not allowed to have  a dog you need to be a bit more resourceful and think outside the box. Snail search began after a rainy afternoon. We picked the finest specimen each, named them, gave them a decent shelter of a jar, fed them lettuce and watched them explore. Then, we would gather for the snail racing. It might not have been the easiest task to persuade the snail to crawl from A to B, yet somehow there was always a winner that crossed the finish line first and a runner up that was left only an inch behind.  cherry earrings

Cherries are one of the sweetest things. They have the splash of colour and the sweetness that any girl adores. They are great to eat but also, when you are lucky enough to find two of them on the stem, they make a very fine piece of jewelry. Pretty, pleasing and practical, because once you a bit tired of your earrings you may as well snack on them.

These are the things I did when the spring was blooming into summer and I was out with the other little girls. The very simple games became a very treasured memories and I hope I would inspire you to go outside – now that the weather is so inviting and the nature so abundant – and play what the little girls used to play.

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Once upon a time in Poland … Allocation

Osiedle Zlote Lany 1970s

This is the story that Bogdan told me when he was still with us. This is the story of love, dreams and challenging all these little hiccups that life brings.

Wedding

First, there was the wedding – well at least this is where this story will begin. The wedding happened in April 1969 and as was the custom those days started with a simple civil ceremony at the registry, followed by a ceremony at church and finished with a wedding reception that was held at the bride’s parents’ house. Over 30 guests were invited and arrived to enjoy the feast of homemade cold meats, sausages, cakes and as much vodka as was possible to provide in the communism times.

zaproszenie na slub 1969
Wedding Invitation 1969

The newly wedded couple were flooded with generous gifts that would make every young family happy – the latest model of the fridge, white goose down pillows and duvet, hand-embroidered bed linen, a crystal vase, and a porcelain floral dinnerware set for six accented with gold banding. They were all ready to set up their own new home, except they had no where to move in yet and could only wait and hope the allocation will happen soon.

Wedding Kiss 1969
Wedding 1969
Waiting list

Even though it was twenty five years after the second world war and the country was being rebuilt at allegedly a very speedy and efficient rate, the housing was still very scarce. Usually a family of  3 or even 4 generations lived together under one roof. Grandparents, and their children with their families shared rooms, cooked in the same kitchen and queued to the only bathroom there was. Wiesia and Bogdan were no exception and shared a two-room apartment with Wiesia’s parents, her sister’s family and soon enough with their little son and niece.

Dream

Wiesia and Bogdan had this dream of moving into their own new flat and so they thought, and they planned, and they did their best to make it happen. They knew they had to wait for the state to allocate them a house, as it was the state who actually owned all the housing. Money would not buy you a house or not even time, yet in the end you had to pay for whatever accommodation you were allocated. Choice was back then definitely one of the most overlooked human rights. Wiesia was already on the allocation waiting list and a member of a certain building fund, yet together they tripled the funds and with the savings of over 30,000 that was the equivalent to 1.5 annual salary they could even afford a 3-room apartment. As there were much more 3-room apartments being built and allocated, the plan was to apply for a bigger house consisting of 3 rooms rather than 2 rooms and be able to move in sooner. The state dwelling ratio, however, assigned 13.5 square meters per person and by no means a family of three would be entitled to a house consisting of 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. Wiesia and Bogdan applied for the allocation for five people to meet the requirements. To double their odds, they transferred the building fund membership to Bogdan who – due to his factory employment.- would be eligible for the prioritized allocation. They crossed their fingers and toes.

Przydzial Lokalu mieszkaniowego 1973
The Allocation Act 1973
Allocation

Two years passed and the prefabricated ten-floor buildings started to pop up around the town crowning its panorama. Everyone was admiring the newly constructed estates hoping one of thousands of flats will be theirs.

Zlote Lany - Beginnings
The beginnings of the estate
Photo: Bogdan Targosz

Bogdan received the good news at work. He finished a bit earlier and decided to walk along the main street to meet Wiesia on her way from work.

‘We have  a problem’,

he started with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘we’re going to need a lot of money.’ He hanged around for a tiny bit longer to cherish the moment and then happily announced.

‘We’ve got the apartment!’

Wiesia threw her arms around him and cried with joy.

Bielsko Biala 1970s
Bielsko-Biała 1970s
Photo: Bogdan Targosz

What for us now is a socialist realism architecture of mass constructed concrete ten-floor buildings, for them then was the ultimate dream come true. They had their own address now and could move into a shiny new flat that they would make their home.

Zlote Lany Widok
The view from the 6th floor
Photo: Bogdan Targosz
House Swap

It’s the early seventies and everything about the estate is brand new, launching or still under construction. There are no buses servicing the area and the nearest bus stop is 15 minutes away. The lifts are not fully installed. There are cranes, there is dust, there are snags. Bogdan does his bit of research and finds out the Dos and Don’ts of living in a ten-floor building. One commonly acknowledged fact is that the fifth floor, where their apartment is supposed to be, has the lowest pressure and therefore frequent water shortages. It gets even worse at the site visit that reveals a state of art pipework system that zigzags from the floor to ceiling. It is now clear that any other floor would be better to live on. Bogdan takes measures again. He spends his contingency dollars on a finest bottle of cognac and persuades the officer to change the allocated floor number. They are now going to move in on the sixth floor.

Protokol Zdawczo Odbiorczy s1
House Inspection Receipt
Moving In

After officially receiving the apartment in November 1973, the big day finally

Pismo dot. kafelkowania lazienki
Letter of Request 1974

arrived in January 1974 and the family moved into their own three rooms. First things first, the fridge had to be carried upstairs as the lift was not working. The semi-automatic washing machine had to be purchased and installed. The kitchen and the living room had to be furnished. The hall had to be fitted with wardrobe. The bathroom needed tiling yet the tiles are impossible to source. Bogdan writes a very well worded letter to the authorities requesting the tile installation as a part of – as he argues – providing facilities to the public. He succeeds and soon enough the whole family can splash in the white tiled bathroom.

Life goes by

It was the home of celebrations, cooking and welfare. Everyone was warmly welcomed. Food was always served. Help was always given. Things got always fixed. Everything was in spotless condition and perfectly organized. It was the happy place where you want to spend time and the safe place where you want to go back. Christening and communions, birthdays and anniversaries, Christmas and Easter all happened here for – as the saying goes – there’s no place like home.

Wiesia and Bogus Wedding Anniversary Podgorze
The 25th Wedding Anniversary 1994

The view from the 6th floor might have slightly changed over the years. The estate got more structured and greener, many new buildings appeared in the city panorama and all the new roads lit up brightly at night but for my husband it will always remain one of the most stunning views you can wake up to. 

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A gift for a mum-to-be – Nappy Cake!

nappy cake

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 …nappy cake

Nappy Cake
(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 soother

a round large paper doily

a large sheet of transparent cellophane wrapping foil

nappy cake

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. nappy cake

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. nappy cake tutorial

Continue with the second tier. You will need to arrange two rings of rolled nappies for the middle layer.nappy cake 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. nappy cake layer

Now you are ready to decorate the cake. Carefully wrap and tie the ribbons in the middle of each tier.

nappy cake

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.

nappy cake

Finally, place the nappy cake on the cake doily and wrap with the cellophane foil and ribbon.

Happy crafting!

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Rain or Shine Rainbow Muffins

ranibow muffins

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.

rainbow in Ireland collage

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.

ranibow muffinsRainbow muffins
(adopted from Dan Lepard’s recipe)
makes 12 regular muffins or 36 mini muffins

100g unsalted butter, softened
25ml sunflower oil
75g creme fraiche
175g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
235g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
A rainbow of food colouring

Frosting – optional

75g creme fraiche
3 -5 tbs icing sugar

ranibow muffins

Heat the oven to 180 °C.

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.

Happy Paddy’s Day

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