Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turducken. Yes, we actually made one. And it was good.

I was thinking about Christmas traditions today.  My husband and I have a date tomorrow night to plan the Christmas menu.  Anyhow, I posted this on Facebook last year.  The majority of comments suggested that we may, in fact, be somewhat mad.  This is the kind of Christmas spirit I'm after - the kind that leads to mad food experiments, photos and a high-spirited dinner party with good friends.  This one will be hard to top though...

The photos have proved a bit of a challenge - I can't resize them, and it feels like way to much work to go and add each photo again.   I promise not to make a habit of it!

 (Originally posted on Facebook 2 January 2011).

Every now and then my husband and I come up with some kind of mad cooking adventure.  At uni, we used to cook elaborate Chinese meals in our poky kitchen for our chums still in hostels. There were the pavlova wars, finally won by me and the electric mixer (over DH's chopsticks). The annual duck adventures (blow drying with a hairdryer to get crispy skin) were great - we couldn't get duck in Dunedin and so memorably I once bought one back from a work trip in my carry on luggage. Add in a long running Iron Chef addiction, and way too much Food TV and we do mad cooking things occasionally.  We are not in any way showing off great cooking skills or anything, the rest of the time our cooking is pretty average.

An annual tradition is buying a discounted turkey after Christmas, brining it and cooking up a bit of a feast.  This year when I got the turkey (half off) DH rather madly suggested turduken.

Turducken rather intrigues us for a couple of reasons.  One, it is stupid crazy in terms of meat.  Two, there is a technical challenge in deboning and butterflying the three birds that make up turducken.  Three birds.  Our turkey will be stuffed with a duck, which in turn will be stuffed by a chicken.  Each bird will have a layer of stuffing (each different).  Cooking estimates seem to settle around the eight hour mark, with one hour of resting time.

So today, when I went to hire a carpet cleaner from Woolworths I sought out a duck and a chicken.  There will be a traditional bread stuffing (with cranberries and pinenuts - stolen idea from my Mum), a couscous stuffing and finally a sausage and cranberry stuffing.  The cranberries are currently soaking in a cinnamon/ five spice essence I made.  It is now 10.54pm the night before, we are sitting in a house reeking of carpet cleaner and DH is finishing up deboning of his first chicken.  I have deferred on the deboning to him, as his classical medical school training included dissection room time (with actual dissection).  I spent an hour in the dissection room once, to help acquaint myself with it prior to doing a bioethics tutorial on death.  It took a number of showers and the consumption of corrosive soft drinks to get the taste of that distinctive smell out of my mouth.

Will the bird be in the oven by 10am?  Lets see.


11.46pm update.  The chicken is deboned - DH was masterful.  The sausage, fennel and cranberry stuffing is made.  The bones are in the crockpot to make stock.  We are still cleaning the carpet as well!
The carcass!
Beautifully jointed and deboned


10.38am update.  Well the turkey and duck were not so defrosted when DH got them out this morning so there has been a lot of rapid defrosting.  After some more early morning carpet cleaning (why do we always make these things more stressful than they need to be) and returning of the carpet cleaner it was stuffing time.

As I type the chicken is stuffed with the sausage meat stuffing and the duck surrounds the chicken tightly, with a nice couscous barrier.  DH is frantically deboning the turkey and we have stock from all these bones in the crock pot, and in a large stockpot on the stove.  We are also rendering the duck fat.  There are a surprising number of dishes, and my love for the dishwasher continues.
The turkey gets it!


3.10 update.

Well the turducken has been in the oven since 11.15.  We just took it out and basted it - it smells amazing.  Four more hours of cooking to go and we have decided that we cannot be bothered cooking anything to go with it!  We have nearly four litres of stock and a cup of duck fat.  Feeling slightly over it.   We also realised that we were so busy concentrating on cleaning the carpet and preparing the jolly thing that we hadn't invited anyone!  DH remedied this while I napped.  Off to buy baby presents for a friend!


11pm update.

I checked the turducken at 6.30pm with a meat thermometer and it was done.  The most fragrant smelling juices had leached out during cooking, which meant that the turducken was half poached/ half cooked.  We rested it for an hour and half as we had planned to eat at 8pm.

At this time we also had the plumber make an emergency trip over as there was a leak from the beloved dishwasher.  He promptly fixed it, which was very appreciated.

The bird was delicious.   I can't describe it better than that.  We were all so excited when DH carved the beast and we were rewarded with beautiful layers of meat.  We feasted.  We all claimed fullness, but then had delicious rhubarb fool and a box of dark chocolates for dessert.  We were all then genuinely full, and sat around to enjoy great conversation.

Twenty four hours very well spent.
The skeleton coming out of the turkey
The chicken and duck all stuffed and ready for insertion!
Stitching up the stuffed turkey. DH's experience with surgical stitches came in handy.
All trussed and ready to roast.
The complete turducken
Six layers

There were six of us eating on the night, and we sent one serve home for leftovers.  My husband and I then had leftovers the next day, and the next day.  We admit defeat and have thrown out the last of the leftovers.  There was probably enough for at least four- five more servings!

Boysenberry meringues

I've been rather busy lately trying to adapt to the new routine of the Sweetheart's school run.  It feels as though she has been at school for ages; it will be three weeks tomorrow.  So I have been rehashing all the family standard meals and put food experiments to one side.

But then yesterday I decided to try Ray McVinnie's beef and asparagus salad recipe (published this Sunday past).  It involved a dressing that contained two egg yolks, leaving two lonely egg whites.  Ten minutes later these meringues were in the oven.

Take your standard meringue recipe and once whipped add some freeze-dried berry powder (I used the 'Fresh As' brand (purchased from Moore Wilsons).  This berry powder is awesome for icing, macarons and smoothies.  Sometimes I add it to cakes when baking.  Since it is just pure berries it is a nice way of adding a little something different.

I think that the best colour with this powder comes if it is dissolved in liquid first.  When I put it in the meringue mix it left beautiful pale purple streaks - on breaking the cooked meringues open they were a pale lavender colour on the inside.

It was the perfect day for boysenberry meringues with cream here in Wellington - so hot.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bad berries = yummy jam

Like most people I really look forward to summer.  Berries are the best and just when they start fading away you get summer stonefruit.  Can't lose really. I tried waiting when the strawberries appeared at the supermarket, I really did.  But last week my husband and I both gave in and purchased strawberries.  They looked good, but did not deliver.  Picked too early.  Poo.

But there is generally an upside and the upside is strawberry jam.  I can't quite work out why homemade strawberry jam is so much better than shop jam.   Surely it is just berries, sugar and maybe a dash of lemon?  Strawberry jam made at home tastes like summer, goodness, deliciousness and the promise of happy days.  It really does. 

The Mad Millie people have extended into preserving goods.  I don't need a lot but when I saw that their preserving kit had a wide mouth tunnel and preserving tongs I couldn't resist.  I really like chunky strawberry jam and it will not go through my standard funnel.  So I try and scoop it into the jar, creating a big sticky mess down the side.  So I was ridiculously pleased with the wide mouth tunnel. 

The jam will turn into strawberry ice cream later this evening.

Preserving tongs (in my head I refer to them as forceps) make getting a good grip on the jar easier than with metallic tongs (although I have a huge Chinese metallic food strainer that I tend to use).  I also thought that the magnetic on a stick that comes with the set (there are five items in the kit) was brilliant -when properly preserving food with metal and rubber seals they are very hard to place on top of jars in a sterile fashion.  I suspect that the simplicity of this little device will pay off when my cranberry tree fruits in the New Year.

I do lust after their preserving pan.  The picture online makes it look thick and sturdy and I can imagine it hanging in my dream kitchen.  At the moment though I have a functional kitchen and my stock pot is sufficient.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Grapefruit curd ice cream, rhubarb jelly and good intentions

Rhubarb jelly - is there a more beautiful colour?

Grapefruit curd vanilla ice-cream

Are you from Wellington? Was it HOT where you live yesterday? It was hot here. So hot. We went to the supermarket after the school run yesterday to cool down my overheated and super cranky five year old. She now knows the joy of cooling yourself in the freezer section. While there we decided to make cheeseburgers for dinner.  I'd made Nigella's rhubarb jelly and prepped the ice cream maker* so we also got some ingredients to make ice-cream.

The ice cream took a long time to make.  It wasn't completely solid at the end, but I just called it soft serve and gave it to my daughter to try while I went to give the baby her last feed of the day.  A couple of minutes later there was a worried call from the Sweetheart.  Turned out she wanted more.  Sadly for her I'd added a couple of dollops of grapefruit curd and made the single best batch of ice cream ever. It may be the flavour that I have waited my whole life for.  The Sweetheart didn't like it, what a shame.

And the good intentions?  I got a migraine and went to lie down for twenty minutes around 7.30pm.  Next thing I knew it was 3.45am and the baby was crying.  I hate falling asleep in my contacts!  My husband arrived home and was left to fend for dinner himself (lucky I hadn't tidied up so the sauce on the bench and the bag of open hamburger buns was a good clue) and he didn't find the ice cream.  So tonight, on a much cooler night we will finally have our jelly and ice-cream.

*We got a cheapy ice cream maker from K-Mart.  I wasn't sure that I wanted to commit to a major purchase, and for $22 and a one year warranty I thought that it should be OK.  The more expensive machines may not require this, but the ice cream maker bowl needs to be put in the freezer for twenty four hours prior, and the mixture needs to have been refrigerated for a couple of hours before churning.  It is not something that you make on the spur of the moment.

Postscript:  I also used our bunny rabbit mould.  Sadly, a few moments after removing the mould the rabbit's head rather freakily decapitated itself.  It just pulled off.  I hid it away rather quickly, least any children get nightmares!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It is over, she is five.

The party was a success.  Four and five year olds do not need much to keep them entertained, and two hours was definitely long enough!  I was running late to set up as the sushi people were very late with our order.  I had twenty minutes instead of forty and so it was rather a rush job.  A birthday banner was rapidly blu-tacked to the wall, along with a collage of photos of the Sweetheart aged 0-5.  I finalised the party food boxes by adding a heart shaped piece of fairy bread (using Olivani spread for the girl allergic to dairy).  The boxes were a great idea as they were so easy to prepare (bag of bagel chips, lollipop, fairy bread, and butterfly snack of popcorn with edible glitter).  I also gave the children a chocolate dipped apple each.  They either loved them or hated them (at 72% dark chocolate it may have been a little bitter).  I made jam sandwiches for the younger children, along with a pack of raisins and bagel chips.

I  put out a whole bunch of food for the adults and pretty much forgot about it after letting the pregnant people and vegetarians know about food suitability.  The Guinness Chocolate Cake was very well liked, and the icing was amazing.  I made the cream cheese using my Mad Millie kit, but otherwise this is the world's best ever party cake: great taste, easy to make and serves a crowd.

I can't remember who pointed this out, but the bonus of having an ice cream cake is that the children will eat it! I found some cheerful ice cream cups with wooden spoons from Moore Wilsons, this made serving up very quick.  We also had some raspberry sorbet for the girl with the dairy allergy, and adults who didn't feel like ice cream with sparkly cachous!  My Mum and I made a similar cake for my niece's fifth birthday a couple of years ago.  If you can snap the legs off the doll easily, and have heaps of sprinkles then this is a very simple cake.  It took about ten minutes to line a bowl with glad wrap and squish in the ice cream, then my mum decorated the ice cream with cachous while the children ate.

I want to remember more from the day.  It was chaotic and loud; there were some tears and tense moments, but also there were a lot of children having a lot of fun.  My husband was in charge of pass the parcel.  I warned him that having a lot of layers on the parcel would be confusing, but he liked the idea of randomness and building up to excitement.  As usual it was very stressful with myself and the other mums advising which child was next.  I made the mistake of trying to keep the children's attention by claiming that it was the last round (it wasn't: there were two more to go). This resulted in one incredibly clever child just holding on to the parcel and staring at my husband.  I laughed so very hard, seemed logical to me!  Finally it was over.  We decided not to do the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game, I think it might have killed us.

I managed to start winding things down by yelling out 'party bags, party bags' a few times.  I got the Sweetheart to pass them out and thank each child for coming to her party.  I really wanted to get her to think of the other children and remember her manners.   She then opened her presents, thanking each child/ their parents after opening them.  I don't really know the etiquette around present opening at parties.  I thought it was a good way to end the party, and show appreciation for presents that were very well thought out and just perfect for the Sweetheart.

The rain came as the party ended and it was off for a very quiet afternoon.  I had a nap for a couple of hours - I was shattered.   When I woke up the house was quiet, the cake had been finished off (too slow!) and it was off for dinner with the immediate family.  As you can see below, she had her first ever soda/extreme flavouring drink.  She loved taking a sip of each layer, but couldn't even get through half of it.

The next day was a rush of departing families, returning equipment and tidying up.  Actually, it has taken a couple of days to tidy up everything.  I've been prepping for the party for so long there was a dedicated location for all the stuff in the corner of my bedroom.  Looks very empty now.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Joanna pattern

My mother and the ladies at her work used to have a large knitting circle.  They ran out of babies to knit for locally (my children are very well stocked in knitted items) and my mother got everyone to start knitting for the Wellington NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and Wellington Hospital Trust.  The pattern and drive to help the hospital came from loss: the hospital is where Joanna was born and died and the work gave Mum a practical way to 'give back' to the hospital.

One thing she did was create the pattern below.  It makes a small blanket: about the size of bassinette or to cover an infant in a baby car seat.  You can easily make two or four and join together if you would like a large blanket.  I still use the single blanket on my daughter's bed.  It goes across the top of her other blankets - more for decoration than anything else.  It is the absolute perfect size for a prem/ sick baby.  If you want a cot blanket or pram blanket then I suggest making it wider or knitting two and joining them together in panels.

The Joanna pattern

Cast on 80 stitches in double knit.

Knit four rows
K5P2(K8P2 x7) P2K5
K7(P8K2 x7) K7
Repeat the above two rows five times.  Then start over from the beginning.

Make it as long as you want it!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cute baby/ she- who-must-not-be-named

I'm walking around my neighborhood. Trying to get this little one to sleep at night has been horrid this last week. Good thing she is cute during the day.

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Location:Mansfield St,Wellington,New Zealand

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Party time

I'm trying to minimise the stress of kid's parties.  When the Poppet turned one I was so horribly sick with asthma and had barely slept in days.  It was horrid, and I barely remember the party.  I had great plans to make everything - I do enjoy a good excuse for party baking but in the end made a few token efforts and the rest turned up courtesy of online grocery shopping!  This time round I'm after as much impact for as little effort.  I keep reminding myself that children are easily charmed at birthday parties, they don't need a lot of fuss.  For me, I enjoy all the food prep but often feel worn out by the time the party starts.  I've focused on stuff that can be made ahead of time, or comes premade.

I've done a fair amount of brainstorming for this party as there are a number of food allergies/ requirements amongst the guests.  I hate the idea of kids missing out due to food allergies.  I went to a party a few months back where the most amazing birthday cake was brought out - and then a tiny undecorated allergy -friendly one.  It felt ungracious, and I felt sorry for the girl.  However, I find myself in a similar position - the Sweetheart picked her birthday cake a long time ago - an ice cream cake and one of her friends is allergic to dairy.  I discussed with the mum pulling a swifty with rice milk ice cream (I hadn't known such a product existed) but her daughter isn't so keen on the stuff so I've got a lovely raspberry sorbet instead.  It matches the colour of the ice cream cake and the children can choose to have the cake ice-cream or the sorbet.

Recycling bins make for handy storage!  My daughter was inspired by watching the Disney channel and wanted a pinata for her birthday.  I consider myself lucky I found one in the local dollar store.  It is filled with mainly plastic crap I'm afraid.  I thought that I did well on the party bags avoiding plastic junk but a pinata lends itself so well to junk!  There are little rings, 'gold doubloons,' some little plastic magnifying glasses and we will throw all the leftover lollipops in there.

A Kete (Maori word for bag for my handful of overseas readers) of party Kete!  I saw these cheerful paper bags months ago in Daiso, Auckland.  For some reason I thought that they might be cheerful vomit bags (I vividly remember my stash of aeroplane sick bags carted around during pregnancy) but they are just paper lunch bags.  I got some to stash away as gift bags.  At Moore Wilsons I found the usual party bag items, and incredibly competitively priced.  Mini play dough, a large stick of chalk, a windmill, noisemaker, mini notebook and a few stickers should keep most children happy.

Food boxes are waiting to go.  I saw this idea at a friend's party not so long ago and I think it is just perfect.  The children have their own food in their own box.  It allows for portion control (I seem to remember my daughter only eating potato chips at one party because they were yummy and she didn't see the point of eating anything else) and can be useful if you have guests of different ages (we have a bunch of one year olds at this party so their parents are unlikely to want them eating say lollipops) or who have food allergies and need slightly different food.  At the end of the party the child can take the box home with any uneaten food - so a lot less waste.  I got these food boxes from Moore Wilsons.  They came in bags of fifty.  I'll use around 20 for food boxes and various party things.  The rest I will use for presents and for keeping the Sweethearts glue/painted craft projects safely enclosed!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

The birthday menu: A five year old.

The big party is at the weekend and the food prep is well underway.  But what is it that a five year old wants for her birthday dinner?

Garlic bread
Sashimi and seaweed bento box from Japanese kitchen

She is absolutely, truly the product of her parents.

The night before the big day!

A long time ago I saw a really cool idea to celebrate a child's birthday.  I think it was on Grosgrain.  You prepare a whole bunch of helium balloons the night before and put them in the child's room while they sleep.  When I saw a do-it-yourself helium balloon set at The Warehouse a couple of months back I decided that this would be a fun way to celebrate turning five!

I inflated about 15 balloons - but I think that more is more when it comes to balloons and I think if it hadn't been so late I would have done all of them.  It was too dark to show the balloons in her room, and she wakes up so early so we didn't catch her initial reaction.
Here are the few left in her room this morning when I went in to pull the curtains.  The rest were in either our room or the hallway.  Two had already sunk.  I saw the sunken ones at 3.36am, the third time I'd gotten up to the baby overnight.  I don't know what was up with her last night, but I've had about four hours sleep.  Anyway, If I was a more Type-A personality I might have quickly done a couple more balloons at that point, but I'm a self-declared Make-do Mum, with a very high priority on my sleep!

The balloons are now everywhere.  To avoid them escaping the Sweetheart tied them down in numerous locations.  As I type, the helium has worn off all of them, and there are some rather forlorn looking balloons with silvery tails trailing along the floor.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Christmas craft

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was doing felt shape bunting as Christmas/ birthday presents. If you happen on a bag of cheap felt shapes then this is a simple project. It took 15 minutes for the small flowers and five minutes for the butterflies.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guinness chocolate cake, Guinness Beer Braid and Beef and Guinness Pie

This is probably three blog posts but, as I've written them over a week they have been amalgamated.  I don't really drink alcohol so I'm often behind in discovering the impact of different alcoholic beverages on cooking/ baking.   I have a new favourite beer!  It is Guinness.  I've never actually drunk any, but it is a damn good cooking liquid.

My favorite blog Lovely Wee Days tests recipes and shares the results. It is the first place I search now when I want a good cake recipe. They have reviewed and baked quite a few, and it is a good location to find a special occasion cake.

I'm often disappointed by chocolate cakes - particular dry cakes that look chocolate-y but do not taste great.
For this reason I was intrigued by their post mentioning Guinness Chocolate Cake.  It is a Nigella Lawson recipe and quite possibly one of the simplest cake recipes that I have come across.  Yum Yum Yum.  The cake has a depth of taste that ordinary chocolate cake lacks.  It is not overly sweet, and it is very moist.

I didn't feel like properly lining a cake tin as I was rushing to get this cake in the oven before the creche pick up.  So I used two single use cake rings from my beloved Daiso store in Auckland.  It is the first time that a product from the store hasn't lived up to expectations!  Both rings burst and luckily the oven tray below caught most of it!  The slightly less depleted one will go to work with my husband tomorrow.  Health professionals of course advocate healthy, well balanced lifestyles.  But a decent chocolate cake left in the break room will be gone by lunchtime I'm sure!

Nigella suggests a cream cheese icing in her recipe - as an homage to a glass of Guinness with a foamy white head.  Lovely Wee Days went with a fudge icing.  What do you think?  I'm torn.

Also, I don't really drink so I'm curious as to why there appears to be a solid plastic ball in the can of Guinness.  Funky manufacturing defect, standard can of beer inclusion or unique to Guinness?  I'm sure a few seconds of internet research would clarify things, but I prefer to ponder over the options.

This rather blurry photo was taken late in the afternoon on my iPhone.  I'm quite intrigued by how it has come out.

I only needed 250ml of my 440ml can of Guinness so decided to use the last of my fresh yeast and beer to make beer bread.  You can use any basic bread recipe, substituting beer for water.  Lagers make a light bread, darker beers lead to darker breads. ETA: if you are using a bread maker to knead the dough as well as using fresh yeast then let the yeast froth up with the sugar/ honey and water first.  Then throw in the other ingrediants.  This way you will know if your fresh yeast has worked.

This was delicious.  The beer and fresh yeast were an amazing combination.  Sooooo good.

Now I only had three cans of Guinness left so decided to make Beef and Guinness Pie.  I added two teaspoons of tomato puree, and about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.  My husband went nuts for this meal.  Pies are quite the special treat and he was very happy to take a leftover pie to work the next day.  These pies can even be frozen with the uncooked pastry lids for later baking, but since I used store bought pastry we just microwaved the leftover pies then reheated them in the oven to crisp the pastry.  If only the girls liked casserole mix! 

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Elderflower cordial and Elderflower champagne

Three years ago there was a lovely feature story in the Dom Post one Saturday regarding elderflower trees.  The author wrote beautifully about her childhood, then gave recipes for elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne.  I wish I'd clipped the whole article rather than just writing down the recipes.

Elderflower cordial is one of the most refreshing drinks you can have in summertime.  It tastes like a beautiful, carefree summer day you are experiencing while wearing a floaty dress and straw hat.  It is just lovely.  It is great with soda water, lemonade or vodka.  Once you have made the cordial you can also use the cordial as an essence, flavouring sorbet or panacotta.

Making this is so satisfying.  It looks pretty while it is being made.  I've got a bit of a production line going as I'm making small bottles to give as gifts to all of the Sweetheart's creche teachers next week.  I didn't have enough stored bottles (they are all full of grapefruit cordial and in various households in the region) so I bought some from New Zealand's premier bottle/ jar/ closure supplier!  They are in the street opposite where I live.  If you want to buy one bottle or a thousand they will do it.  I could have purchased dozens - particularly of the gorgeous jam jars!

Elderflower champagne, the second recipe, is also very charming.  Elderflower heads can sometimes (and sometimes not) be filled with a natural yeast.  For this reason it is quite delightful for making brewed drinks.

To those of you reading this who know where I live: the elderflower tree is open for business!!!  First in, first served.

Elderflower cordial

20 Elderflower heads
4 cups caster sugar
1.5L boiling water
2 lemons (juiced and sliced)
1 orange (sliced or chopped)
50g citric acid (this is quite a bit - about quarter of a packet).

Wash the flowers to remove dirt, bugs and spiderwebs!  There are the smallest black bugs on these, particularly later in the season.  Elderflower are best picked after there has been sunlight on them for a couple of hours - and the cordial best made within an hour of picking the flowers.

Put the sugar in a heatproof large bowl and pour over the boiling water.  Stir and leave to cool.  Add the fruit, citric acid and flowers.  Leave for 24hrs in a cool spot.  Stir occasionally.  Strain through a muslin and bottle.  Refrigerate.

To serve: one part cordial to four parts water/ vodka.

Elderflower champagne

4 or more large heads of elderflower
2 lemons
1kg of sugar or honey
10L cold water
4 TBSP white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dried yeast (optional)

Wash and juice the lemons.  Peel off rind thinly.  Put flowers, lemon juice and rind in a large clean container.  Slowly add sugar and vinegar, do not crush flowers.  Pour in water and gently stir.  Cover and stand for 24hrs, stirring every six hours.  If no signs of fermentation, add yeast and stand another day.  Strain and bottle (old soft drink bottles).  It is ready in two weeks.  Store in a cool place.