Friday, 22 November 2013

Birmingham Library Visit

Great day spent with Nicki today at the new Library in Birmingham. 

This is truly a temple to the book, to knowledge, understanding, study and entertainment, there are so many books new and old on the reference levels, and even some of the very old and worn books have been turned into works of art:

We found a section with older books, with interest inserts of 'secrets', I don't keep secrets in my books at home, but keep cards, or programmes or pieces of paper and love coming upon them years later.

The central area with escalators and walkways is itself an interesting and pleasing area to look at

 plenty of space, nice seating, excellent views. 

I love the building, and wish the Library much success.  It is a civic space which the City must be proud of.  We met and spoke to a few people,

had lunch, looked at some books, the art works dotted around the place, and the gardens on the upper levels. 

We walked up some stairs and admired the murals.

Walked up more steps to view the transplanted Shakespeare Library,

I even found this Dodo, and checking the quote, feel that since the quote mentions Shakespeare and they have this wonderful room, that I have a certain attachment to the Isle of the Dodo, may I award everyone who had a hand at bringing this library to fruition a prize: that of knowledge that they have given to the City something to be very proud of..and my 'thimble' is my enjoyment of the Library Space.

Daily Bread made with Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Wholegrain seeded Bread Flour

It was nice to hear from my very good friend and baking guru this week.  I said I would 'pin' up a picture of my current favourite 'Daily Bread' which I was in the middle of kneading at the time.  I alternate this with spelt, or wholemeal, or a rye mixture, but Sainbury's Taste the Difference Wholegrain Seeded Bread Flour is a firm favourite with us.  With a good malty flavour, the sunflower, pumpkin, and linseeds are in just the right proportion.  The whole 1Kg is mixed, and the spare loaves go into the freezer for the rest of the week.

I get two good loves made in my 500g Silverwood tins, but put in just over 600g weight raw dough, and the balance gets made into a free form loaf or buns. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Mary Berry's Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybake

Within the last month or so, we must have heard together Mr S and I about one of Mary's Favourite Recipes, maybe it was on the Bake Off master class.  Well with this in mind, I got the Mary's Baking Bible off the shelf, and made her Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybake early on Friday in plenty of time for it to be cooled, and iced, ready for tea when Mr S got home.  Also he had often talked of his mother's gingerbread cake made with treacle.  Just in case you would like to make it and don't have the book, here is a link

This is a very easy recipe, but here are just a few extra tips:  use a very large bowl for mixing, I warmed the butter up by putting the bowl with the butter in, over my washing up bowl full of warm water, which I later used for the washing up!  Measure everything accurately and add, then mix all together.  Level well in the lined tin.  Bake just below half way down if you have a convection oven.

Since the cake is large, and Mary says it freezes well, when it was cold, I cut it into three.  With two pieces in the freezer, I only used one bulb of ginger and much less icing to top the remainder, which had make ten nice sized pieces.  It makes a rich and tasty cake, just right for this time of the year.  We had a piece just now for our Sunday after tea, with the last of our two Doyenne de Comice pears from the garden.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

A few weeks ago, I picked up a collection of Pumpkins from Mary Arden's Farm.  We went there and enjoyed a day of activities including carving a Pumpkin for Halloween.

The first carved pumpkin was soon dispatched into soup, and this last week, I popped the second pumpkin into the oven after my bread came out, for about half an hour. 

Just washed then cut in half and placed on a tray, I find this the easy way to deal with pumpkin, as it so much easier to remove the seeds, and the skin when the flesh is soft.

The following day, I had little left in the fridge but some odds and ends, three rasher of bacon, some Pecorino Cheese, and few olives, and this baked pumpkin.  I wanted to go out shopping, but I thought if I cooked when I got back in, Mr S would be far too hungry, and I too tired, so I thought of what I cook before going shopping. 

I was in a rush, and did not have time to search my recipes, and just thought that if I can make gnocchi with potato, why not with pumpkin?  I took 500g of baked pumpkin, added some salt and pepper, fresh thyme and sage from the garden, and mixed it well with a beaten egg.  Then I added about 300 to400g of oo pasta flour, and rolled out into long strips onto the semolina strewn surface.  I cut them into little parcels, and used the edge of my fork to make little patterns.

This is half of the batch, which I froze, yes, gnocchi freeze very well, and they can go straight into the pan from the freezer.

It takes only a few minutes and four to five for them to cook.

I dressed them in the bowl, with a couple of spoonfuls of pesto, and topped them with pan fried strips of bacon, and sliced olives,

then a little grated cheese to finish.  On the plate and ready to eat within 20 minutes of wondering what would be for supper...and Mr S did the washing up whilst I went shopping.  The gnocchi were wonderfully light and fluffy and very tasty too.  This will be in my what to do with pumpkins list.

I thought I was being very original but if something is really good, others will have most probably thought of doing the same thing too..and with the magic of Google I found this to be so!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Dubrovnik markets

Wherever I go, I try to find out about the local markets...there were three markets in the area, open most days mainly in the morning.  The one in the walled town is really colourful with pretty hand made souvenirs for the hoards of tourists who tumble out of the cruise ships, and also oddments of fruit and vegetables.  I had some freshly crystallised orange peel from the maker on a very small stall, and got two packets, not for eating just like that as the lady suggested, but for putting in cakes and biscuits.  I wish she make other candied peels and fruits too.

On the other side from the Hotel in the centre of Gruz there is also another daily market, with a good sized covered area, for the fish sales.  Outside the local growers bring in flowers, fruit and vegetables.  I bought a large bag of dried figs, which also had bay leaves in the packet.  You could tell from the shape of the figs that they must have all been laid down on some rack to dry naturally.  The market changes in size and was much busier on Friday and Saturday.

Another morning, leaving Mr S in bed I went in search of the Lapad Market which I would not have found but for the detailed directions from the hotel staff.  There were just three market holders on this mid week morning.  I sort of had a chat, and worked out that the women were the growers too, at least their hands had that look of hard work on the land, and their faces darkened and wrinkled after a summer in the sun.

I bought another bag of dried figs which I understand had been gathered and dried by this lady, a bunch of grapes, and was given a big bunch of rocket which I later had with our packed lunch.

During our visit to the Ethonographic Museum Rupe, in the old 16th Century Granary in the Walled City, I 'defied' the no photography edict, and took a picture of this fig drying rack make from reeds or fine bamboo.

Earlier I had tried to take some pictures, and was 'set upon' by a stern room steward, but I felt that with no flash, and no picture which could risk infringement of some copyright, or jeopardise security, I did sneak in just a second one of this basket.  It reminded me of the basket Veronica had only recently woven. The top is make from two strong forked tree branches, and the longitudinal struts were spliced pieces of wood which had been grafted into the rim.  They are then woven with some strong pliable material, maybe reeds.  I'm not sure of any of the terms, but I hope this gives an idea of its construction.  It would definitely be strong enough for its job of moving earth, and with the two handles could be carried by two people.  I would just love one for use in my garden, much nicer than a big plastic bucket!

I would have loved to have taken other pictures of the wonderful artefacts, and costumes even just to remind me of the wonderful detail.  Most British Museum do now permit photographs.  The building itself is most impressive, and its use as a large exhibition space very good.  I would love to be able to visit this one again.  I could find no book at the desk with details of the artefacts, but I have found some lovely pictures on line of the Rupe Museum.

When I was making the biscuits for the Trick and Treat Callers for Halloween, I took part of the Anzac biscuit mixture and added some chopped orange and fig, and they were wonderfully fresh and delicious tasting.


Mr S and I had our first holiday to Croatia.  Through Thomson we chose our Hotel Lapad for our week away.  We had not done too much homework before leaving or booked any trips...  With flight time of only two and a half hours, and individual transfer on half an hour to the hotel, we were soon unpacking.  We had a smile on our faces, our 'private' transfer was shared with two other couples in a comfortable minibus...

Within a short time we left the hotel, armed with the detailed map offered by the helpful desk staff to explore along the shore. Straight across the road, we gazed at the numerous small fish, anemones etc in the crystal clear waters. 

There were beautiful Villas and walled gardens.

We walked all along the inlet to the other side where the ocean going boats, island hoppers and cruise ships berth.  There are pretty little walkways and avenues to take you there.

Fancy yachts, fishing vessels, island hoppers and huge cruise liners all park up...

After our long walk, we went back to have lunch at a small restaurant close to the hotel.  Blidinje was a small restaurant.  As the weather was glorious, we went and sat on their upstairs open air terrace under large red umbrellas, with magnificent views across the harbour.  They do all their cooking on an open wood fire...even the Pizza which was delicious, Mr S gave me a taste, and I just worked my way through my plate of grilled prawns, with salad etc.  Later in the week we went again and I opted for the plate of wood 'roasted' squid with braised swiss chard.  The flavours are made for each other.

On our first visit we had spied a lunch set out on the table downstairs which was for the staff lunch and I asked what it was...and knew I would be back to taste it.  Another local dish which I had in Dubrovnik one lunch time was their black rice: a risotto made with sea food, and coloured with octopus ink...delicious.  Otherwise we went to local bakeries and picked up a variety of their bakes, and pizza for making up a picnic.

After Lunch we were entertained by the stick insect which had landed on the terrace.  Later in the week, we also found a praying mantis.  In the woods and in the gardens there were also a large variety of butterflies.
More about this holiday later!

Autumn Flowers

Compared to last year, this autumn has been warm, and to date we have had no frosts.  I love gathering a few flowers from the garden to put in the little vase my father bought years ago when travelling in Japan.  My mother mostly used this little vase too, so I also always think about them when I make up my little bouquet...they were very good gardeners/plant collectors and flower arrangers.

October bouquet with fuchsias, phloxes, roses, and hydrangeas.

November bouquet with roses Ghislaine de Feligonde and Grace.

I'm working over some of the garden borders:  moving plants around, dividing clumps of perennials and making room for a few more roses for next year.  I love bulbs and particularly love snow drops.  When we first moved here, I planted various clumps around the place, and during my border digging put my spade through several.  I've split them and planted them up into pots, as I don't know for sure where best to plant them, and will wait till the bulbs are peeping through to place them.  A big change for next year will be the lack of wisteria...they were just out of scale with our small garden, and for flowers for just a few weeks, we had to do battle with the growth for the rest of the year.  More gentle climbing plants such as clematis and roses will be taking their place, and hopefully I shall have even more roses to cut and enjoy!

All my tender plants are now potted up and in the conservatory, and around the house.  The watering system we put in during the summer has really meant a difference to the plants and the ones in pots are in good condition.  I planted up three pots of tulips for the spring, but covered them with netting as we have the pesky grey squirrels who are always looking for places to dig.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Looking back over the Summer

What better way to spend some time on a damp wet Sunday...I'm looking through pictures taken, and thinking back over the summer.  Its been hot, and busy....busy with organising the Kenilworth in Bloom Summer Garden competition, and numbers of other things....for a long weekend during the very hot weather we headed off for a few days break.

On the way down we stopped off at Shaftesbury, found a pub with a shady patio to have a drink and lunch, then went to peer at the famous hill..

We wandered around the lovely town, and enjoyed the small museum where I found an interesting display on Dorset Buttons, and bought a booklet, and a little Lavender cushion with dorset button on it.  Later I made some for a cushion....

Another little detour on the way down for a visit to Cann Mills where I bought some organic stone ground flours: strong white, rye, spelt and Maltstar.  We had a chat with 'dusty' Michael the Miller about his mill.

We arrived in Wareham where we stayed at Gold Court for a few days...a really charming place to stay right in the heart of the Town.  We loved this little town, encircled by river or high walls, with interesting old building, a small museum, river walks with boat rides, river side promenades for cooler evenings. 

Also a short drive from the Swanage Railway,  of course we had a day on it, using it to ride to Swanage.  On the front, with delightful tables facing the sea, where we had lunch, I had a platter of sea food, Mr S a char grilled tuna steak, with chips and was hard to think we were facing the Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean Sea.  On the way back we got off the train to visit Corfe Castle.  What did we do at Corfe Castle?  We entered the Castle, walked up towards the keep, and found a shady spot against a wall, and sat down to watch others climbing up the hill...but soon many more came to join us, as it was too hot to stay in the sun.

On another day, we drove to Studland Bay, and found the only bit of natural shade...and 'chilled out'.  I went for a paddle, but had to put on shoes to walk back, as the sand was far too hot!

During our stay in Wareham, Mr S and I treated ourselves.  One morning we went for coffee at Priory Hotel, their garden is absolutely glorious, with well tendered areas, including shady lily pond, sunken gardens, and walks under arches of roses and clematis. 

We had spied it the previous day from across the river...morning coffee with home made cakes offers free access to the garden.  However it was so good we decided to book for dinner....down in the cool cellar dining room.  We opted to have our coffee and petit fours in the garden, watching the bats come out and swoop across the lawns rolling down to the river.  This was one of 'our best meals out ' in several years.

On our way home we visited Kingston Lacy...what a place!

After a tour of the house, we explored the gardens, and given the hot weather this was one our favourite places...a fernery, with a shady fern bench.

Even the estate pigs had been moved to a shady spot under the trees.  Here a large sow with her piglets take a mid day siesta! 

When we got back home, our own lily had bloomed..

Monday, 30 September 2013


What a month it has been....warm and sunny right to the end....

Busy, busy, busy, so busy I have not had time to update my blog....

Poorly, I seemed to have strained/damaged my right hand and it is only just getting better.  So much so that I am considering dropping some activities.  I've learnt to use pain killers and wrap and strap it so that I do not use my thumb so much.  Go through my Pilates class doing exercises on my elbows rather than my hands after all, the rest of me still needs the exercise!  Of course, we have continued to enjoy our walks.

I've decided that I am not going to do my huge library run up to Attleborough and Nuneaton.  I tried it once, and with all the drops and visits, driving and getting in and out of the Library Van, I was exhausted by the end of the day.  After doing several runs around Warwick and filling in, I thought I would be able to do take up my own run, but this one is a huge one, starting just after nine and not back to the Library till nearly five...a bit too much for this volunteer!

I'm baking far less frequently, and even had a complete rest from making bread...but we both found the shop loaves a real let down.  I'm developing a left handed kneading technique, as even the mixer did not develop the dough quite to my liking, but for two batches it was the only way I could manage to make the bread.

After more than five years on the Kenilworth in Bloom Committee and two years Chairing the Committee, running the Annual Competition for Schools and the Town for two years, I've decided to step down, to give me more time during the summer to pursue all my other activities....

At the beginning of the month, we had our lovely daughter in Law and Grand daughter to stay.  What a joy they are.  All of us, including hubby went on a great day out on a Severn Valley Railway.  At Bridgnorth, we went up the funicular railway, then popped into the seventeenth century Town Hall, where this trainee judge presided over the benches.

Our Plum Tree this month very nearly broke its branches so heavy were the fruit.  At the start I thought that the whole crop had been damaged by pest, but it was those fruit which were damaged which 'ripened' first.  We had a good harvest, and several friends received sufficient to eat and to make their own jam or chutney.

September is my busiest month with respect to making preserves...and the fruit this year, has been bountiful.  I could not resist buying a tray of figs to make some jam.  This was my father's favourite jam, we would get tinned green fig jam in Mauritius.  I like the dark fruit equally.

A short break organised to take in Yarndale in Skipton, took us to a great Bed and Breakfast in Harrogate, as even weeks before, all accommodation in the Skipton area was fully booked.  We had the most magnificent weather.  On the way up we stopped at Nostell Priory and had a guided tour.  We were amazed by the extensive and well looked after Chippendale Furniture, and the paintings particularly the Breughel's Procession to Calvary.  We would have liked to stay for the free flow when we would have had more time to look in depth, but we had other things to do.  This is such a wonderful National Trust Property, that we are sure to take this on in again some time soon.

We spent the rest of the day at Harlow Carr on the outskirts of Harrogate.  I felt a little underwhelmed, but maybe I have been spoilt by the likes of Wisley.  The wonderful gardens in Harrogate were great and the wonderful central Valley Gardens were best of all.  We sat by the little CafĂ©, and later by the fountain.

I was dropped off at Yarndale in Skipton....there were so many stands that it took me quite a long time to go round.  I'm not sure of this Venue though.  It was literally in the sheds where cattle are brought together for Auction.  If it had been wet and windy it would have been a disaster.  I think many more people turned up that expected, and it was difficult to move around....and there was a loo disaster.  Something was wrong with the loos, but with a queue longer than 20 mins, there was just no way I could wait, I was even trying to work out where was the nearest wall I could hide behind, and on my way I managed to find some port a loos at the father end of the site.

During our full days and evenings in Harrogate, we left the car and walked everywhere. 

H is for Harrogate caught here in the roof decoration:

and on the paper carrier bags:

The Villas with the wonderful stonework and iron work gave an insight to the quick development of this spar town.  During our visit to the  the Royal Pump Room Museum, we went down to the basement and viewed two of many of the town's wells where we had a sniff of the sulphur fumes coming off the water! 

A short detour on our way out of Harrogate took us to Knaresborough...what a delightful small town.  Everything was quiet on the Sunday morning, and in the sunshine we enjoyed a walk around, up to the Castle and down toward the river.

On our homeward journey, I had planned for us to stop at Brodsworth Hall.  This English Heritage House was so very fascinating.  We had a great walk round, with music from the brass band playing on the croquet lawn.  The gardens were interesting and very unusual, with interesting collections of ferns, roses, and clipped shrubs.