Friday, 30 October 2015

Day out at Mary Arden's Farm

Remembering her last visit two years ago to Mary Arden's Farm, Izzi's decision on a day out yesterday was a return there.  We all had a great time, and with few visitors there, we could look over the various houses, and animals.  I particularly loved the curly pigs, and baby long horn cattle.

Izzi got to carve her big pumpkin, and I loved chatting to the lady cooking lunch over the open fire in the hearth.  We went upstairs and saw how people slept on the floor, except the master or mistress who would have a more comfortable four posted bed.

One little highlight was watching a family of squirrels play in an old crab apple tree.


One of the big boughs was hollow, and different heads kept peeping out at us.  They were not at all distracted by us as we watched them munch on crab apples.



Izzi and Veronica were playing an old game, later we had dressing up, and drawing.



I enjoyed looking round and  admiring the Falconer's room,

with beautiful embroidered gloves


There was a basket maker, and this reminded Veronica how much she enjoyed her day workshop making a small basket.

They were having mutton shaped like a pear for part of their lunch.  They were often filled with gooseberry sauce, as a sort of joke I think, but I am sure it would go well with the mutton.  When we got home, I was inspired to make minced turkey shaped like a pear.  Those Elizabethans loved their jokes, so in true spirit I added a date stuffed with a brazil nut in the middle to resemble the centre of a pear.


A few spices, chopped sage from the garden, some shallot and garlic softened in a little butter, and mixed with the turkey meat, a slice of my sourdough made into fine breadcrumbs, and an egg to bind the lot.  They were all baked in the oven on baking parchment, and we all enjoyed them.  The little spring of rosemary is added for decoration after baking.  Roasted chestnuts, sweet potato with fennel seeds and other spices and peas for the little one...added roasted red onions for the rest of us.  Baked figs for pudding!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Ocado came to the rescue ...arriving at food shopping on line rather late

I guess many people are already shopping on line and having a timed delivery.  I have just had my first delivery!  Why now...just because I wanted some Swedish sugar pearls, and the only place I could get it without large postage charges was Ocado.

The whole experience has been an eye opener..so easy.  I had to call the help desk once and the person on the end of the line was so pleasant, easy to talk to, listened to me, made suggestions..and I now have my stash of sugar pearls, but two will be passed to other bakers. I also got some other flour including Maize flour....The delivery man was very helpful too.

I had a present too of a colourful tea towel.  They even suggest inviting a friend and there would be a £20 discount for each the friend and myself.  So if you would like to try this, then leave a message below, and we could both benefit.

Soudough success

I like a challenge, and sourdough is a challenge..I always like it, but Mr S sometimes says it is a little too sour for his palate, or the holes are too big!  So when my 'rye mother' passed away a few months ago, I let it be.  

Just a couple of weeks ago, Marie Claire turned up with some bread.  She was extremely proud of her sourdough which I had been 'mentoring' her on.  Mr S loved the bread...so I asked for a little of her wheat mother.  This is the second loaf in this latest batch.  I reread some of my books, and followed more or less the process explained by Jane Mason in All you Knead is Bread for her Virtuous Bread.  The timings are a little different in that it takes me two days rather than three.

I refresh my starter after breakfast, 

90g of starter from the fridge, 90g white bread flower, and 90g water..and it is bubbling away fiercely by late afternoon.  
Late Evening
I keep 90g back and put it in the fridge, and to the rest I add my mixture of wholemeal, rye and white stoneground bread flours totalling 300g of flour, and 200g of room temperature water.  I mix this  and leave it covered with the shower cap overnight on the kitchen counter.

Day two, 

about 6 hours before I want to bake the loaf,
I add 100g mixture of flours as above, 10g salt, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 teaspoon diax and 1 tablespoon molasses.

Then the dough has to be kneaded for a good ten minutes.  I chose to add about 50g sunflower seeds, which I had already soaked overnight, drained, then roasted in a low oven.

It is then left covered to rest, then folded as per Jane Mason's techniques, three times with about 3/4 hour interval.  It does not matter if it is a little longer, if you are busy doing something else.

Then it is shaped, and allowed to rise to about 1.5 times.  This time I chose to use the long thin tin, which Penny gave me last year.  It gives a smaller slice, useful if you want to have a smaller sandwich or slice of toast.  The addition of the molasses balances the acidity very nicely, and with the crunch of the sunflower seeds, makes for an excellent loaf.  For the previous load I used honey and just the soaked seeds, and baked it in my wider loaf tin.  Two very nice loaves.  The holes were not too large, but very evenly distributed...Mr S gave 5 stars!





Lime Marmalade with Juniper

I've been trying to perfect my Lime Marmalade for several years and I may have just arrived at my goal of getting a good set.  My last batch even won a first prize at a competition, but I was still not at all happy, as it was far too sloppy for my liking.  The judges just take a spoonful from the top, but I like to see a consistent set throughout the jar.  I recently gave a jar to my friend Marie Claire as they had no marmalade left, and she had missed the Seville Orange slot as they were in New Zealand.  Since I taught Marie Claire how to make jam and marmalade about three years ago, she and Steve have been enjoying making their own preserve.  Of course I sent it over with my apologies.  One very good thing has come out of this gift, is that Steve searched the internet, and found that generally there is a problem with lime marmalade as the acidity is too high.  Dan Lepard, one of my food heroes mentioned this in the Guardian.

Like the chestnuts which I wrote about earlier, I am always attracted to limes.  I love the flavour, and the colour, and the very best of limes were the small Citron de Rodrigues.  I'm not sure if they were lemons or limes, but the flavour is fabulous, and I have loved those since my early childhood.

I had about 500g limes, which I cut into quarters only, and put them just like that in water to soak overnight, with about half the amount of water 0.75litres rather than the 1.5 litres as I was pressure cooking the fruit.  Usually you pressure cook oranges for marmalade at 10lbs pressure, but I know from experience that limes are tough.  I gave them about ten minutes at 15lbs, before turning off the gas.  Then I let the fruit soak overnight in the liquor.  The next morning I scraped all the flesh and most of the pith, cut the peel into shreds, and brought the peel and drained liquid up to boil.  I looked at the pith and flesh, and since there were no pips, wondered why I was throwing it away, so decided to pulverise it and added it to the pan, with 1Kg of Tate & Lyle Sugar, and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.  It really frothed up, so I was pleased that despite the small amount of marmalade had decided to use the large jamming pan for the boiling stage of the marmalade.  I used the jam thermometer to test for 105C, then put some in a ramekin dish in the fridge.

The empty washed and rinsed jars had had their 10 minutes in a hot oven, and I was ready to pot, when I had an idea....

Why not add some Juniper.  I love Gin, and good tonic, and a slice of lime.  What I particularly like about Gin is the Juniper which is used to give some of the flavour.  I love juniper so much, I often add it to pork and chicken dishes...


I've potted up two medium and one small jar without juniper, and reheated the remaining lime marmalade in the pan and added about 10 berries, bruised in a mortar, waited about ten minutes again for the marmalade to cool and start to jell so that the peel remains evenly distributed.  I'll wait a few weeks for the flavours to blend, then do a taste test.  When I send round one of each to Marie Claire and Steve, no apologies will be necessary, I hope.



Sweet Chestnuts and are they worth processing at home?

It must be the hunter gatherer in me that means I am always attracted to the Sweet Chestnuts as they arrive in markets and shops.  The glisten round and brown, and this year they are quite large. I've walked past a few Chestnut trees, this autumn and have looked through the leaf litter to see whether there is any 'mana from heaven', lurking and waiting for me to home and process into something tasty.  Sadly this year the prickly outer shells have split to reveal many very small nuts, so they have been left for the squirrels.

We have only just recently eaten my little stash of chestnuts from last year, which I found in the corner of the freezer.  I took the whole bag out and over several days enjoyed them in a number of dishes.  It was with the thought of these tasty morsels that I picked up about a kilo from Kenilworth Market last week.  It is always best policy to process the nuts as soon as possible, as they are liable to get musty if left in a bag for a couple of weeks.

The first note to myself was to freeze them so that I could take a few out at a time, to enjoy in dishes such as braised venison, or sliced and scattered between braised and roasted fennel or pumpkin.   Of course they are delicious finished off with a little butter together with sprouts.



I am sure that each year I surf the internet looking for the best way to prepare them.  I find getting the outer shell off, after a few minutes in boiling water fairly easy, but it is getting the second thinner skin off more troublesome.  I do pop them back into the boiling water, but by the time I have finished them all there is the dark liquid and wet paper and cloths around.  In fact by the time I had prepared them all, I just about thought I must be going mad!  Maybe I should try roasting them in the oven for 1/2 an hour at 200C.  I shall update this if and when I try this method.

The chestnuts are frozen, and ready to enjoy...will I remember the pain?  Probably not!  I love the fact that these nuts grow on large trees, that the trees are grown and have a crop, and some people somewhere care and grow the trees, gather the nuts, and get some sort of a living out of them.  I suppose by processing them at home, I am not getting all the preservatives or added chemicals.

If anybody reading this has any tips, I'll be delighted to read your comments.


Monday, 26 October 2015

In a Vase on Monday - Sunshine

Its Monday, the classical wash day...and yes it is October, very nearly the end of the month, and the clocks have just changed.

I have put a large load of washing out to dry, the sky is blue, the sun warm, bumble bees, honey bees and hover flies are out on the blooms.



We have had no frost yet, so here is my sunny vase for this Monday.  A new old vase from the charity shop, dark with brown with some nice green and black glaze 'dribbles' from the top.  Ideal for a handful of blooms 'stolen' from the bees...Helenium Sahins Early Flowerer or should that be renamed And Late Flowerer too, Rudbekia goldstrum, nasturtium, and golden feverfew.

Just in case you feel that all this sunshine is lulling you into a false sense of time, since this is the first work day when the clocks have changed, so to Cathy's page for the antidote...Moody Blues.  I think she is thinking of the song though, rather than Winter Blues which some of us suffer from.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Fothergilla gardenii Blue Mist

This is how my Fothergilla gardenii Blue Mist is looking this week.  The blue leaved plant is starting to turn...this picture does not do it justice, but it is so attractive that the pot has been moved close to the conservatory, so that I can, if necessary, sit inside away from any rain, and still admire the changing colours.


I first bought this plant last year in October, on my visit to Chris Pattison's Brookend Nursery.  I had been admiring this plant in the garden of my Honey Provider Mick Smith for several years.  His wife Pat is a discerning gardener, and their small garden has always something special to admire.

What I like about this plant is that it has at least two seasons of interest..the sweet scented flowers in the spring, then the autumn colour...but I love the shape and detail of the summer leaves and their matt blue green colour.  Then in the winter it has a lovely stem structure.  All in all one of my top five plants in the garden this past year.

It had turned the wonderful red colour when I first brought it home from the nursery,


and this spring the bottle brush flowers came out...


I have found a great extract from The Plantsman, and reading this I wonder whether I have Blue Shadow as the Autumn colours are quite spectacular.  Cuttings are best from soft wood in late spring.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Garden Update

Its past mid October, the weather has been very kind in that we have not yet had heavy rain, damaging winds or frosts.  Yet the leaves are turning and falling, whilst many flowers are just soldering on.  Some very unusual flowering of usually spring flowers:


yet the holly bush is full of berries, and there are not many weeks in which the blackbirds will feast before every berry is missing for Christmas!


Looking across towards the conservatory with the Eupphobia x martinii Ascot Rainbow in the foreground, you can see the lovely acer which has turned from green to bright red.


I've had so many blooms to cut and lovely shapes to look at from the two dahlias, bought as 50 p cuttings from the gardening club.



The roses too are still performing well, here are just a few this weekend.




The fushia Tom West just on the edge of the border is doing well


Close to the back door, and ready to be pulled into the utility room if a hard frost is forecast is this little Grevillea Lanigera Prostata.  Maybe it is because I am short sighted, I love to focus on the details of plants....I got rid of my larger Grevillea Canberra Gem, as I found the spiky leaves raised a rash on my skin.  The leaves on this one are much rounder.  I was happy to hear that Canberra Gem is much appreciated and performing well in Liz's Garden.


I repotted some of my sempervivums rather late this year


The sedum is attracting bumble bees even this late in the season


and the pot planted up with this season's Echeveria Elegans is filling out nicely.


The nasturtiums from four seeds have been spectacular this year.  I think I shall follow the same regime of planting a few seeds in a pot,  then planting them in the garden as early as possible.


Monday, 19 October 2015

Apple Day at Hill Close Gardens

We both cycled all the way from Kenilworth to Warwick for the Apple Day at Hill Close Gardens......for me one of the longest cycles for a long time.  I'm on my bike most days, but just poddling around town maybe with loads of shopping in my panniers, on whizzing to the gym with my sports togs on.  Mr S has been cycling to work when the weather has been fine, and he is feeling up to it.


What a delightful few hours we spent there!  We used to be 'friends' of the gardens, but allowed this to lapse a few years ago.  We know the layout, and had also bought a little apple tree there three years ago.

Some clever person had made some seasonal wreaths with fruit, and even conkers.  I'm sure they would have been all sold out by the end of the day...had we been in the car, I am sure that one of these would have come back with me!





Penny was on the Stall for Warwickshire Tree Wardens and she was able to 'admire' David's new slim line shape!  We bought some apples, I bought a little French Tarragon plant which I shall have to protect through the winter...and generally enjoyed looking round the stalls and gardens.  In some of the gardens there are very pretty restored houses, and this one has a nice collection of old tools


One of the gardens had a good selection of asters, mostly named varieties, but I loved this light one


They had made great use of their auricula house for a display of pumpkins and gourds.


One of the plots had a very tidy greenhouse with succulents and chillis.


Of course it was apple day, and with the many old varieties which are grown on the gardens, there was a spotless display...

and visitors were enjoying having a go at guess the weight of their largest apple


What not to like about Dahlias, and without any frosts one of the plots had some excellent plants, and this one of 'Spanish Dancer' was really looking superb.


In a Vase on Monday - Time stands still

In the back garden, it is as if time is standing still...the same plants are performing, flowers keep coming.  I've been admiring nasturtiums this weekend both in my garden and Hill Close Gardens, and it is nice to see them featuring in Cathy's contribution based on the theme of 'St Clemens'.



Some blooms seem to be growing bigger and better, whilst others are putting out smaller blooms.   Cathy has quite rightly asked about the sizes, since it is difficult to judge the sizes without much context.  The Vase is around 18 cm high, and the total arrrangement 45cm high and 36cm wide.  The largest aster flower is 8cm wide, as wide as the rose, the smallest aster flower 6cm.  The Dahlias are just between 6 and 7 cm.   The Aster Monch blooms are growing larger, and together with a stem from the climbing Shropshire Lad,



a few stems of smaller dahlias, and stems of Lophomyrtus x ralphii Little Star, some heather and small bits of conifer, make up my vase for this week.




This little New Zealand Myrtle is performing beautifully in a pot planted with a fushia and fern on the shady side of the house.  I love the colourful  very small leaves and wiry stems.


This is Izzi's contribution:  I wonder what the lovely pink bloom in the middle is?


Saturday, 17 October 2015

Coconut Buns from The Book of Buns

This is the bake for the second half of October...and since Friday is Bun Day chez moi, I rose to the challenge...

I baked two types of buns on Friday...

The first  was a no knead batch of Khubza Bil Ashab, a savoury small bun, which had been rising overnight in the fridge.  This is about the third time I've baked this recipe from The Book of Buns.  I added some cooked millet seeds, red onions, chopped olives, sage and coriander and dipped them in seed mixture  too!  Marie Claire  who is a lovely friend who lives close by and is improving by leaps and bounds in her bread making, came as requested straight from her session at the gym, and I gave her a small bag full...and her copy of The Book of Buns.  I had thought to save it for her birthday next month, but I think it was getting too cruel to hang on to it any longer.  Today I picked up a 'lame' from Leamington and delivered it as a 'Prize' for the excellent sourdough bread she made on Thursday.  I first helped start Marie Claire on her bread journey back in 2007....and I wrote about it back then.


But this is about the Coconut Buns, which Jane Mason says is one of the nicest Chinese Buns.  Of course I followed the recipe to the letter this time, except for the technique of shaping and rolling...as the dough was beautifully soft and elastic, I used my hands, and did not extend the dough so much between the foldings, as I wanted to keep my little lump of coconut filling somewhere inside rather than thinly spread in the layers.   I realise now that I missed the opportunity of doing half one way and half the other...They took a little longer to rise, well the weather had turned markedly cool.  I think using part of the flour first scalded with boiling water may the first time I have used this technique and now understand  what this adds to the dough: I did get a soft and elastic dough, and soft end bun...a little more digging has found this explanation....Techniques are also explained in Jane Mason's other book on my shelf called 'All you Knead is Bread'.




Since I will definitely be making them again, and I shall try both ways next time: keeping the blob of coconut, sugar and egg, and folding it more evenly in the bun.  Today we had our first taste  after a couple were carefully warmed up..Mr S loved them, and said finding the 'cash of coconut' in the middle was like finding the jam in a doughnut!



Sometime next week I shall have MC over and enjoy a bun each together with a cup of Mauritian Vanilla Tea, after we have had a good workout at the gym!  I have made coconut buns before very similar to Macatia ena Coco,  with a different technique altogether, explained back in 2012.  The coconut is pan roasted, with some of the coconut in the dough, as well as spread on the surface of a flatted circle.  I wonder whether the 'Mauritian Macatia ena Coco' buns were introduced there by the 'Chinese Mauritians'?

Monday, 12 October 2015

In a Vase on Monday ..New Vases

The apprentice is now on her own journey.

Yesterday I received this on facebook....

Izabelle enjoyed your 'in a vase on Monday' so much she started her own 'on Sunday' one. Here's her first vase (bought today in a charity shop) with garden flowers...    

Veronica Wastell's photo.























To be correct the first one bought by Izzi, maybe the first one was the one given by Grandma last week?

The composition is lovely, and I wonder whether she took on board some of the tips I passed on, or is it a question of DNA?

During an afternoon spent pottering in the garden yesterday, mainly replanting some overcongested sempervivums, using my new lovely wooden dibber, my eye was caught by two pale pink blooms.  As I thought they would be spoilt by a probable overnight frost I cut them and brought them into the house.

The colour of Izzi's vase had been on my mind, and I was searching the 'dark recesses' of my mind, over the washing up this morning, when my eye fell on the very large jam pot, which stands as an ornament on a Kitchen shelf.



Yes that would be the one I would use for many reasons: it was blue and white, and there was a link between this pot, Izzi and I, a very tenuous link, but a link non the less.

When I first moved to Kenilworth, with very few friends, a lovely real 'lady' from the WI became good friends with D and I.  She has a lovely little dog Dudley, and they both come over from time to time, for jam and scones and tea etc.  In addition to the famous scone recipe which was given to me by Jean, and which has won me many prizes, Jean gave me this lovely Jam Jar.  I am in the habit of passing small jars of jam to her,  and she had seen my bowl and mug in the same design.  One day when I took over some jars of jam for her, she gave me the jam pot.  The potter is Laurence McGowan who has his studio in Wiltshire.

The connection between Jean and Izzi is that Jean gave Izzi her first soft rabbit as a Newborn's present.  Now Izzi has an extended family of rabbits!  I think I should take the dahlias round to Jean this afternoon.



For myself I picked a few blooms from the climbing Shropshire Lad.  Close up the blooms show the soft and peachy petals.


Supporting the blooms is some Pittosporum Tom Thumb, which is the dark purple one, and the two tone green and cream with a few pink 'freckles' is the Garnettii.  The vase is a simple, very well loved, and useful vase brought back from Japan by my father many years ago.

Cathy who is hosting this has a lovely collection of Dahlias this week, so do go along an see her entry, and others.