Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Forty Rules of Love

I've just returned this to the Library.  I borrowed it on the evening when Elif Shafak came to Kenilworth Library.  I started it just over a week ago.  Its well worth reading...

Where has all the Tate & Lyle Granulated Sugar gone?

I knew it would not be long before I had to make some more lime marmalade.  I had finished my last pot a few weeks ago.  There were some lovely bright green firm limes unwaxed in Waitrose, so I popped a whole pile into my basket.  The next problem was the sugar, of course for me, the best and only sugar for preserves is cane sugar, and until recently I could get hold of Tate & Lyle even if I had to go to Tesco.  However, the local store and the large one by the University no longer carry this brand as their standard white.  It seems to be the trend in supermarkets recently to change their standard white granulated sugar to be the beet sugar grown in the UK.  However it just does not pass muster for jams or jellies.  Of course you can buy the premium jam sugars which cost a lot more than standard granulated.

I noticed Whitworths white sugar creeping into local shops, but no explicit source of the sugar on the packet.  A few phone calls resulted in some interesting information.  Whitworths sugar is no longer owned by Whitworths, but is now owned by The Real Good Food Company.  So I called them to ask about their sugar.  I was told that it comes from various sources, could be beet could be cane, maybe a mixture...I feel this was an answer just to fob off a casual enquiry.  

When I explained why I was asking and why it mattered both to jam makers and bee keepers, they seemed not to realise the problem.  I suggested that at least they mark the bags with the type of sugar.

After that little session, I was really pleased to have my new pencils delivered by the postman.  When I opened them, and they were beautifully packed, there was a little note with the name of the packer.  I just felt I had to phone Newcastle Arts Centre up and thank them for the quick delivery and excellent packaging.  Jon said I had made his day!

Of course, I am just starting with the drawing/painting/mark making hobby.  My sister Lizzie has been really good at art for a long time, and she recently gave me a little encouragement after I heard that my local lessons have been temporarily put on hold.  So today, I got out my new pencils and sketched the pink carnations Izzi and Veronica had brought last week.  I shall have to work on this one....

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Spring Time Visit

It felt like Spring.  It was warm, a little too warm in the conservatory,

so Izzi had her lunch on the patio, then looked for pretty stones in the garden.  'Mum's' phone was taken down the garden, and pictures of the spring flowers taken.  We found a hidden clump of snowdrops, and Izzi even noticed that we had different types growing in the garden.

On Friday I picked a little bunch to take down for Annie who was cutting my hair.  The scent was again much commented on in the salon.  As there was no vase there, I improvised, raided the bin, found one of those sweety packets, turned it inside out so that the silver part was on the outside, filled it with water, stood the flowers in, and gathered the top with the flimsy white opaque bag I had used, and it looked absolutely stylish...

In between we managed sessions at the swimming pool, at the park, and at Charlecote House.  On the way we visited Charlecote Mill, where Izzi was really pleased to watch the miller.  We climbed onto to the first floor where Karl fed the wheat into the stones.  Of course a nice bag of stone ground bread flour for bought for Izzi and I look forward to receiving a picture of any bread made.....

Already adept at things pc, a few minutes were caught in between activities to 'construct' a pizza in a game....

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Khara Buns

Again a recipe from the Book of Buns, and five stars for this one.  This book is just filled with superb recipes.  The mixture of added spices: garlic, cumin seeds, fresh and dried coriander, and chilli really appealed to me.  This gives only 8 buns, so it would be worth doubling up on the ingredients for a party or large picnic.  I used 200g stoneground wholemeal flour from Charlecote Mill

Not something we had in Mauritius, but the spices reminded me of gateau piment.  As I love coriander I used a large bunch of fresh coriander.  This 'large' bunch is an equivalent idea to saying '25cs cotomili'.  A large bunch is a 'packet' from Sainsbury's lol.  Anyway coriander to taste, and I love coriander.

The smell in the kitchen , and the taste of a warm bun with a beer to start off Friday evening was just the ticket.  I even made a lovely vegetable curry with coconut milk, fresh ginger, other spices, cauliflower, carrot, cashew nuts, chickpeas and of course fresh coriander.  And talk about serendipity, when we went for a little walk today, we popped into Robert Dyas, and there on a shelf was a copy of the Hairy Bikers Great Curries for just under £6.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Let the pen make its mark

This week's art class:  we used some pens, and a little paint...I limited myself to just one fabulous colour:  Quinacridone Gold.  The pens we used were waterproof when dry:  I went in fast and free with the allium seed head, having first gone very slowly on the seeds heads of Bridal Wreath.  Then it was a dried dock flower

At first I was hesitant, then it all came together.

Lastly I  had a quick go with Caran D'Ache Neocolour which can be worked dry and wet...wow what fun!

I had been thinking of one of my friends who is poorly at the moment, waiting for an operation, and somehow a very quick 'Daisy' came out.

Pogacsa from The Book of Buns

First you make the dough following the recipe in the Book of Buns,

250g flour, and 200g butter,  egg yolk, sour cream, but changed to goat's double cream with lemon juice added in this instance ....that is very rich, but such a coincidence that yesterday when I was making these,  on the news they are telling us that butter is not bad.  Thank goodness I had already bought my butter, I hope there will not be rush on it with the ensuing empty shelves.  We now use all goat and sheep dairy produce so maybe it will be only cow produce which will fly off the shelves.

Then I weighed the goats cheddar type cheese, and the Pecorino Romana, and I realised that these would definitely have to be rationed.

I cut some into small pieces then had the inspiration to cut a few small heart shaped ones with a dusting of smoked paprika to have as a canape for Valentine's Day.

The remainder got squished up and made for the 'Baker's Treat'.

The majority are in the freezer...just look at the lovely lamination.

Another delicious recipe.  With the high calorific content this will be only a very occasional bake, but it is absolutely yummy.  Everyone else on the facebook page has had a great success with these, and one person even asked me if she could copy my heart shaped ones for Valentine's Day.  How nice to hear that my idea has given inspiration, and also to have an acknowledgement.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Confidence wobbles

I like my old things, which perhaps is one of the reasons why I am happy.  I appreciate them, look after them, value them....

This is the old cooker we 'inherited' with the house.  It had no plinth, and here is it ready for the removal, with the plinth of the unit removed to get at the electrical supply.  This kitchen was only tiled up to the cupboards, so there was no chance of moving the cupboards to accommodate a different width cooker.  The alternative would be to retile the floor, move the cupboards, or rather new cupboards, so really a whole new kitchen for the sake of a thermostat, and being told by Leisure New World that the cooker was discontinued in 2001, so no spares.  I wonder now whether I should have persevered longer to find an engineer who would repair it.  But it is gone, and there is no point crying over this now....

Here is the new cooker.  Not a patch on the old one, yes it has windows, and a light...and its a good job that I am on advanced pilates and exercises at the gym, and can do press ups, squats etc on the kitchen floor to see in the oven!!  The fan comes on to keep the knobs cool, even when the oven is being used.  Next house, we shall have an eye level oven, but then I shall have to do more squats, press ups etc to keep my figure!

As they say, you need to get use to a new oven, so I decided that the best first bake would be two victoria sponges cooked side by side and this showed they are no nasty hot spots.

And then I make some buns to catch up with the bake your way through Jane Mason's Book of buns.  As I heard that my friend Linda had just become a Grandma again to her new grandson, the second son of her daughter and son in law in Germany, I thought Die Brotchen von Meiner Grosmutter would be the one to try.  A very soft dough rich in butter, sugar, egg, lemon zest and soaked sultanas.

However was it the oven, or the recipe, or me?  I think it was me, when you are yet to totally fall in love in your oven, other little nerves tighten up, and with yeasted doughs, you 'knead' to be in the zone.  I knew perhaps that things were not quite right when I turned up for a dentist appointment one week early...well I had the automated message a couple of days ago, and with my last dentist they never sent it a week and two days before!  A new dentist as well...that is an upheaval.  I rushed the prove, probably did not knead enough, and baked too soon.

So it no wonder that I went into the garden to seek out the signs of spring.....

Winter aconites, so very beautiful,

The dark, so dark hellebore, here the camera lied, brightening the dark spot under the large conifer tree.

The soft white heads of the snowdrops.  It amazes me that they can stand the hard frosts.  With a little warmth and sunshine, maybe we shall get some early bees soon.  I think the garden despite the recent cold weather is a couple of weeks ahead of last year.

I am so wanting to dispell the gloom of these cold days, that one day last week, I got my pencils out and drew a little orange primrose plant...I favour only the near wild ones in the garden, but my hand was drawn to the warmth of the orange colouring pencils.  This is my first drawing of a plant in flower.

and finally just a couple of trial bits from Monday's art session.  We had a play with gesso, but mine wasn't dry enough before starting to paint, so maybe its just a big mess.  Maybe that was the start of the wobble.

Today I reverted to baking some bread that has always been a great success, and the new batch looks great, but I had to play a little with the oven temperatures.  The Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Wholegrain Seeded Flour has always resulted in a good flavoured loaf, with good rise.  So my confidence is returning....

Friday, 6 February 2015

More good reads

Its great working as a volunteer at the local library.  As I shelve or select for others, I come across books, from authors new to me, and of course I read the synopsis.  This one had just been left on the counter by a previous volunteer for a customer and I had to complete the choices.  That day I also had  a couple of books on William Blake, on order and ready for me to pick up from the lending library upstairs.  How about that for serendipity.  ...just finished this one.

Again with another novel with the theme of William Blake.  I would really recommend this one.

Another well written novel well worth reading, featuring William Blake is Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier.  Both these novels help the 'non academic' and someone who enjoys placing people in their time to understand living conditions and the historic context of William Blake's life.

From Beryl Kingston's site I copy this across:

"I have been awarded this year's Blake Society Tithe Grant award 2014 for one of my 'Proverbs of Hell'.

Incorruptible plastic proves the value of decay. 

Congratulations Mrs Kingston, I shall be borrowing other books by this author very soon.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Gardening prowess

The love of gardening, and achievements of design, implementation, or just caring for an individual plant does bring a wonderful richness to one's life.  Of course, not everyone has yet to find this out!

At Uncle Noel's remembrance service, his love for his garden was clear.  There was even a picture of him looking as pleased as punch in his garden, on the front of the Order of Service.

On a table at the front of the church, his spade and a swede freshly dug from the garden had pride of place, as well as his hat, his camera, his darts cup and a couple more items.

Aunty Ruth brought out her tablet and showed us pictures of her wonderful garden, and I had no hesitation of letting her know, that in my experience of being Chairman of Kenilworth in Bloom, now 'retired', had she been here, she would definitely have won Gold, and most probably the cup.  Other aunts and uncles have been great gardeners, and I have some lovely plants from Colin and Doreen's garden.  It so nice to have these mementos, one of my favourite from them being the Lilly of the valley.  Of course in the Old Days Grandad's gardening was mainly to provide vegetables and fruit for his large family.

As the eldest cousin, Pat came to the rostrum and gave a heart felt tribute on behalf of his many nephews and nieces, quoting from a couple of letters my mother had written to her father in which she mentioned him, Uncle Noel, back in 1993.  Uncle Noel and Mum used to exchange all their gardening news.  I knew they sent each other photographs, her Chinese Urn had plenty of Uncle Noel's little photographs which he used to include in his air letters.  I am sure that when I took this one, she told me to make sure to send one of her with the tomatoes to Uncle Noel.

Pat very kindly gave me the two letters, and as I read them, some old pictures in my little box flashed into mind.  I've scanned them in, and can now use them on line.  Now we post on blogs like these, and add pictures and notes on facebook for family and friends to share in and comment on.

Mum had just cut two whole stalks of bananas, and mentioned the mango trees,

and that she had 20,000 Amarylis bulbs....here are just some of them, at least she knew it would be impossible for Uncle Noel to beat that, but it would equally have been impossible for her to grow swedes, parsnips, plums etc like him

I had bought an amaryllis, but I ought to call it Hippeastrum bulb, for my grand daughter for Christmas and gave her a call to see it was getting on.  A friend of mine is posting about Amaryllis on facebook, and another on her blog, so I had been thinking of adding it to my repertoire to give winter colour in the conservatory next year.  Now I think I should definitely send off for some bulbs next autumn.

My parents grew 'house plants' in the garden, or in shade houses

Of course they made it a business, but even as Mum wound down, everything in the home garden was kept up to scratch, with the help of one or two of her long serving gardeners.

Early on, the old garden was set out as a formal rose garden, with the majestic Corps de Garde Mountain in the background.  This was taken in October 1963, or at least the picture was printed then.  Dad used to get up to work for a couple of hours in the cool of the morning, before going to work, and then again in the evening, and at weekends.  Once he retired it was full time in the garden.

Each of us girls were given an area as soon as we wanted one.  I remember Jenny loved pansies and the small plants were bought from growers on the higher plateau, I was taught very early on to graft roses, and prune.  We were never coaxed into working, but just dabbled, and through this continued my life long enjoyment of hands on gardening.

I had my party piece very early on, where I could identify different plants and weeds just as I was starting to talk.  Later on I used to search for weeds in the garden to feed the rabbit or chicken which lived in a hutch, and were really were being reared for the 'pot'.  One of their favourite weeds was purslane, I did not realise then the english name nor how good it was as a salad!  The hen and rabbit grew well on it.

Thanks for the memories Uncle Noel

January has been a sad month as the extended family heard of Uncle Noel's passing away and many of us came together to bid him farewell this week.  From a family of twelve, brought up on the shores of the Humber, Uncle Noel was a very much loved husband, father, grand father and uncle to his many nieces and nephews. He had a great many local friends too, who turned up and filled the church for his memorial service.

I remember visiting Uncle Noel and Aunty Pat for the first time when I was quite young on a big family trip when we were on one of our overseas visits back to the UK.  Whenever I was in England, Uncle Noel used to visit too.  He was a great communicator keeping in touch with my mum through airmails, in which he used to send many of his mini photographs of his garden, even though it was printed on the outside that nothing was to be included.  His always got through!  They also travelled out to Mauritius.  He often phoned his brothers and sisters in England, and visited them too.  Since moving to Warwickshire our visits have been more frequent and we have traveled together in more recent years to visit his brother and sister in Lincolnshire.  Enroute we of course had to stop at his favourite Fish and Chip Restaurant....He showed me around the family haunts in Lincolnshire, including the Great Grandparents Farmhouse and now restored windmill.

I took a few old family photographs and after the touching remembrance service at St David's close by their home, showed them around family members, and was also very happy to pass photographs of one of my aunts to my cousin.  I shall of course have digital copies, but it is quite right that nice studio quality photographs and original snapshots stay with the immediate relatives.

Uncle Noel and Aunty Pat paid us visits too and he was always eager to share in and encourage my love of gardening, and other interests.  Visits to Leamington Gardens and the Museum, walks around the Abbey fields were just part of the few hours when they came over for lunch.  Once I arranged for us to meet up at Tyseley Train Depot where we had a great time together.  He loved to sit up in the Engine and explain to youngsters how the train worked...his first job was on the railways, and he worked as fireman for some time.  Later he trained as an engineer and traveled widely to many firms advising on 'fixing metal bits together', my words!  He used to tell us the number of miles he had traveled , and the number of cars he had 'worn out', his words.

Some of the family are great walkers, and like my Grandmother, Uncle Noel would almost daily go out for long walks, keeping his eye out for plums growing in hedgerows, and mushrooms in fields.   One of his regular jaunts was round the reservoirs near Frankley. Aunty Pat had the job of making jams and chutneys with the results of his foraging.   He won so many prizes for his back garden that he was barred from entering one year, and he continued to grow vegetables, fruit and flowers to the end, with only a small strip of grass just wide enough for a deck chair sideways.  We would always go out exploring when we visited Uncle Noel.  This picture was taken a couple of years back near Bournville Village.

We loved to hear him playing the piano, and he would add his little trills having annotated his piles of sheet music.  He played almost every day to the end.

Uncle Noel used to turn up and take part in many civic occasions, as can be testified by this newspaper article.

Just a few days before he passed away he was on the phone asking for his next consignment of honey, which he enjoyed every day.  Since first tasting Kenilworth Honey about seven years ago, he regularly ordered a dozen or so jars, each time we visited!

They say you never know a person completely.  I learnt that Uncle Noel loved poetry, reading, reciting, and even writing his own.  He and Aunty Pat were a great team, and cherished their family.