Thursday, 18 June 2015

Clematis make lovely cut flowers

Just wait a couple of days for the flower to firm up after it has opened, before cutting, and invariably the clematis will last well in water.  This is the vase made up Monday.  The roses are nearly over, but the clematis is doing very well.  One started to flounder yesterday morning, so I snipped the stem and changed the water, plus one drop of bleach...

Wednesday, 17 June 2015


This is the mid June bake from Jane Mason's the Book of Buns, p 30.  They are a light tasty stick/bun which will be eaten here with tapas and soups, and no doubt one sneaked into a salad packed lunch for hubby...

They came out light and fluffy, herby with a nice crunch from the coarse sea salt, which I had brought back from our Sicily Holiday.  The crystals are hard and square and stand up well above the olive oil glaze on the buns.  You can also see the layers where more oil, salt and fresh oregano from the garden were spread.  The dough itself has no salt in, and there is quite a different mouth feel as a result.

You start with a predough, for one day it was on the work-surface, but for the next 24 hours it went into the fridge as it is really warm at the moment.

The recipe gives clear instructions, and a note to say there is no salt in the dough!  After a jolly good knead, it is left for its first proof under a layer of olive oil and clingfilm.  Sort of reminds me of my youth, on beaches in Mauritius, when you would sunbathe with just oil...

You then start to make the salt and herb layers.  The recipe suggest rosemary, but also gives alternatives.  As I have some roasted red peppers with rosemary to go with these, I thought a different flavour would balance this out, so chose some of the shoots of majoram which are just peeking into flowers.  A few days more and I would have to wrestle the bees and hoverflies for get to them!  Don't worry there are several clumps of different types in the garden...just because the bees love them.

You do this layering, folding into three as you would do for a piece of paper going into an envelope, three times.  As the dough is quite soft and a little tricky to handle, I took full advantage of using both the long side and short end of the work-surface.  As it had been a problem with the dough sticking to the work-surface, I decided to do the final rise on the piece of clingfilm I used for the first rise, with a little oil brushed on..this really worked well for me.  Maybe I should have been much more generous with my flouring of the work-surface first time round.

After another hour resting under a tea towel, it was time to get out the pizza wheel and get cutting the dough into little fingers.

As I lifted the sticks onto the parchment lined tins, I realised how long they were, and cut them into two.

 They are delicious, and quite different from any other bakes I have made.

As I was making these I have been listening to the radio, and wondering what the future for Greece will be.  I expect that there are many Greek people making their bastounakia today who will be also be extremely worried about their future.

Monday, 15 June 2015

In a Vase on Monday

As a garden and flower lover, I love to look for inspiration.  Although I have been picking flowers from the garden since I was a little girl, I still prefer the informal bunches I make.  I do love to look at the artistic and elaborate arrangements in competitions, but this is not my style.

I've been encouraged by looking to see what other people have posting, Rambling in the Garden is a favourite.

Today the garden yielded so much, that again it is two little vases:

Can a pewter tankard be a vase?  Of course, but with no beer, or maybe beer is good for flowers?
Rose Crown Princess Margareta, Blue Centaurea Montana, Geranium Ibericum, and the 'Chelsea Chop' of the sedum.  They were just the right green, and helped to keep the roses firmly balanced in the mug.

One of my favourite places to place a small bunch of flowers is by my Terracotta Soldier, which I brought all the way from China hand luggage, many moons ago.

The next arrangement is really just to try some blooms to see whether they hold, and how they will perform perfume wise.

Self seeded love in the mist, Centaurea Montana Alba, sprigs of parahebe, but the petals are already falling, Rose Princess Ann, Astrantia Major, Clematis, name not known, leaves and flowers of various Heuchera, Valeriana officinalis, and Dicentra Eximia commonly called Fringed Bleeding Heart, and I almost missed the two leaves of Hart's tongue fern.

Tomorrow is my Old Friend Rita's Birthday, but lucky for her, she has been whisked away by her daughter for a little holiday.  I have just heard this, which is why I had made two posies, one to take over to her with a card.

More roses and other blooms

Two roses coming out for the first time this year, at the weekend were absolutely full of scent

 Gertrude Jekyll

Munstead Wood

The garden is full of bees and bumble bees, and they just love the drifts of Astrantia.  Close up you can see so much detail.

Another plant much admired by Fiona on her visit was the tall majestic plant which grows close to the end of the garden.  I really could not remember the name at the time, but I knew that it had a really beautiful smell.  It is Valariana Officinalis, also known as Allheal, Set Well, Fragrant Valerian, Heliotrope, Cat's Valarian.  Some people say it smell horrible, but I can only smell vanilla cherry, it may be that it is crushed stems rotting which smell bad.  It is supposed to attract cats, well we have had one or two calling recently, but it may be the baby birds they are after.  I love the foliage and also the intricate pale pink flowers, and with its perfume the small clump of Valariana, quite as tall as me, makes sitting down in the gazebo reading, or even sitting on the pebbles weeding them a real calming occupation!

Buns and Loaves

With only a couple more recipes to catch up after this, I thought I should at least make the first lot of buns on the list.   With these light mornings, its an early start for me, because despite pretty good blackout linings, the sunshine peeping along the edges of the curtains brings to me life, and calls me to either start baking or going down the garden.

I had cornmeal in the cupboard, and just sufficient molasses left in the bottom of the it was Cornmeal Buns on p 149.  I used white flour for these, as I wanted to take some round for Marie Claire and Steve.

Again I found the dough very tight and hard to knead, so I had a little bowl of water by my side, and kept dipping my fingers in it.  Not only did this keep my hands clean, I could add just a little water each time until I could feel the dough just as I wanted it.  I am working through a bag of Very Strong White flour, and maybe it is just that the gluten is so much stronger in this one.

They finished off a lovely golden brown colour on account of the molasses.  The smell in the house when they were baking was divine.  Normally my sense of smell gets overcome and goes into 'what smell mode?' when I am completely surrounded by it, but as I was mainly in the garden with the timer, then each time I came into check the buns, I really could smell the wonderful aroma.  

That was the Sunday morning early bake, when I was completely astounded to find Mr S in the kitchen just a few minutes after I had weighed the ingredients.  Our whole Sunday was full of activity because of this early start and we even set out from the house at around 9 am for our walk up through the Town, through the park and back home.  It was the two Castle Run and we clapped the first runners through by Castle Farm Recreation Center.

A brilliant quick 'summer pudding' type desert, without all the made in individual portions, came to me on the spur of the moment, just as I was clearing away from the main meal yesterday...

Take a delicious sweetish bun, in this case one of the Cornmeal Buns.  Slice down as if you are slicing a loaf into about six thin slices.  Place them in two glass desert dishes, dribble on the cooking juices of some fruit you have poached earlier, in my case this was some lovely cherries bought on Thursday.  Resist a teaspoon or so of your choice liqueur or other tasty alcohol, top with poached cherries or other poached red summer fruit, and top with cream, yogurt or creme fraiche, whatever you have.  The puddings  looked delicious, but we were so tempted that there was no photocall.  Even Mr S who normally does not like summer pudding very much, said it was superb.  I love summer pudding, after all it is fruit held together in a blanket of bread...and I love bread!

Saturday's  bake had to be one from James Morton's Book 'Brilliant Bread'.  I remembered him from the Great British Bake Off in 2012, and have just had his book for two days, borrowed from the Library.  You can really hear his voice in his writing.  I know I am going to love this book, and will most probably buy this one, if I get to the end of my  renewals on line, and get to the point of having to take it bake in to renew this.  I call this the 'prove you have not dropped this in the bath, lost it, or sold it on ebay moment!'

My first recipe was Honey & Walnut Loaf.  Absolutely delicious.

I decided to divide the dough into two, to have smaller slices, and to have a 'spare' in the freezer.

We had a couple of slices each for Sunday Morning breakfast and since I love walnuts, love sunny bright sunny mornings, love birdsong, love have a leisurely breakfast with hubby, even though it was 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning, it was a perfect start to the day!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Wednesday Posies

So many lovely flowers this week that there are two!

Very grainy must have the wrong setting on the camera!  However, here is the 'list of contents':

St Swithun Rose, Blue and White 'Alba' Centaurea Montana, Hardy Geranium Ibericum, and Astranta Major, a pink one whose name is missing.

And now for Crown Princess Margareta with her ladies in waiting....

the flowers: Alchemilla Mollis also known as ladies mantle, Geranium Ibericum, Blue Centaurea Montana, with a background of Bronze Fennel, Astilbe Chinensis Pumila, and Sanguisorba officinalis, aka Burnet Leaves.

Some more reading

Reading has been fairly high on the agenda this year.  As ever I pick up books whilst volunteering at the Library, and have also joined my WI reading club.

Our first read at the club was Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid.  Quite enjoyed this 'mild' read.  The second book was the Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.  I enjoyed this book particularly since I had just returned from Amsterdam and had visited the areas mentioned in the book, the old houses, and had seen Petronella Oortman's cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum.

The most recent book was Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.  I decided to reread this, and a second time round enjoyed certain nuances that I probably missed the first time, because I was hurrying along to see what happened.  As I did Geology as one component of my OU degree, I really enjoyed this one, as well as Tracy Chevalier's clear understanding of the place of women in society during that period.  Of course now I want to go down to Lym just to enjoy the scenery again.

Early this year, I read The Girl with a Pearl Earring, again a fabulous and atmospheric book, with a 'Dutch' backdrop.  I've watched the film several times, but there is so much more in the book, and as I was reading this at the time I went to Amsterdam earlier this year with Vicki, I was able to look at some of Vermeer's paintings with a different sort of eye.

Just before going off to Mallorca, my 'boss' passed me a few book which might make fun holiday reading:  I loved this one, and having traveled to China many years ago, and seen some vintage slippers for sale in the streets, found this interesting.  Of course I had to buy a couple of fans in Mallorca: one for Izzi, and one for myself, for fanning of course when it gets hot.  One of my knitting friends carries one in her handbag just for the 'is it hot in here or is it me' moments, and I thought it was such a good idea.

A second more sultry read was this one by Stella Duffy

More recently I have just finished this lovely novel by Sally Vickers.  I loved the gentle denouement of the story set against the backdrop of this beautiful Cathedral.

A tatty read, because I picked it up from a Charity Shop, in Mallorca, having run out of books, was A Parrot in the Pepper Tree by Chris Stewart.  As it was set in Spain and also having read his previous book: Driving over Lemons, found it an enjoyable read to pass the hours and to finish off at the airport and plane coming home.

Roses this week in the garden

This is the most wonderful apricot coloured rose, with full blooms and well shaped buds.  

This shrub rose: Grace, which I bought on my first visit to David Austin, spent a couple of years in a large pot, and now is in its second year in the bed by the patio.  Its leaves are still a pale green, but large and strong and still disease free, though I have one stem with Rose Sawfly damage.

The sawfly seem to be attracted this rose tree in paticular.  When I sit on the patio watching for them, to my husband's consternation I jump up, and catch them and squish them hopefully before they deposit their brood.  Each morning I check for signs of damage, and dispatch any eggs, which line the scared tear in the stem.  It is only in the last couple of years that we have had these rose pests in the area.  I had never seen them before.

With all the bees and beneficial insects flying around I really do not feel like spraying, and hope all the broods of baby blue tits are going round gorging themselves.  Any more than a very small cluster meet the similar ends to the Large rose sawflies.

The climbing rose Etoile de Hollande continues to flower and gives me the most wonderful view down the garden from the Kitchen sink.

Much admired both for its flowers, and its healthy strong growth is Princess Ann.  Yesterday I had more visitors: Jean, Moira, Letti, and Dave for tea and garden,  and I think there will be several orders put in for this one.  The lower part of the bush seems to have the first flowers.

With many strong stems above carrying buds yet to open.

A little disappointing has been Crown Princess Margareta.  I planted it in late Autumn 2013, as soon as it arrived through the post as a bare rooted specimen from David Austin.  I even complained and sent a picture last year, when it had not really moved, and was told there were other plants growing too close.   This year there is a little more growth, and new growth coming from the bottom.  I dressed it well with a good amount of rotten manure last autumn, and this spring fed it well with the Austin's rose food.

I am hoping that it was just a slow starter and makes better progress this year, as the blooms are just magnificent.  Moira also has this rose and it is similarly lank and lax, lacking in vigour too, and it was interesting to discuss this with her.  Maybe the seasonal conditions have not been favourable.    I have seen pictures of it performing well, so I am hopeful.

Other roses are in tight bud and yet to open, so the season for some is later than last year.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Echeveria Elegans admired by visitors to the Garden

This is the first year we are 'opening' our gardens to fellow members of the gardening club.  Since this was my suggestion when we were looking for ways to raise funds for the club, and  also looking for ways of introducing a new element to our activities, I am the first to have visitors to my garden.  I explained that it was a very small garden, crammed with plants, and also pots.  Maybe the attraction for some would be homemade tea, scones and preserves, and a chance of chatting to fellow members of the club.  As there is limited seating on the Patio, I gave a choice of dates so that four members could come together.

Already Liz has visited, just one member this time, and we had a good look round the garden.  We agreed that it is really useful to see just how a plant performs in the local area.  I love to propagate and also sell a few plants to raise funds for the club.  On Saturday Fiona and Muff visited, and went away with some ideas for roses.

Fiona was taken with the rose Grace which happens to be the name of her grand daughter and Muff was thoroughly impressed by Princess Anne, which has just started in bloom and is growing very well with glossy healthy leaves.  I heard lovely stories about flowers and ferns, and how Fiona loves growing flowers on her allotment.

Fiona was particularly taken with the succulents, and I now have a home for the next lot of Echeveria Elegans which I shall be propagating again shortly.  From my original plant a few years ago, I grew three, which sit in a small oblong pot above the drain, against a brick wall, just outside the kitchen and which stood outside all winter.  They are now in flower and also sending out little ones again.

Last year when the three plants were doing this, I took the little offsets and just pushed them in a shallow pan with well draining compost, topped with some grit.  All of them took, and these spent the winter in the conservatory.  Their silver blue foliage contrasts very well with the other pots with sempervivums, of course these stay in the garden outside all the year round.

On the hot patio the succulents just look right.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Panini al Pomodoro

 Just as the sun had warmed up the garden, I went out to collect a few herbs ready for the topping.  The Predough, started up Thursday was light and puffy, so I got started with my dough.  I had run out of my normal flour and had picked up a bag of Waitrose's Leckford Estate Strong White Flour the day before.  I'll be popping back to pick up another bag of this batch.

The smell of all the ingredients: the dough, the onion, olive oil and tomato mixture, and the herbs filled the kitchen.  I used sun dried tomato paste, which is less red than standard tomato paste, but that is what I had in the cupboard, so with standard tomato paste would make for a different coloured dough.

Here is the dough divided into 12, it has been resting under a tea towel for 15 minutes, and ready to be formed into balls.  I have this technique well under my belt now, but a little too much, as I think that a little rustic look, a little hand made look, is more appealing compared with an almost machine like finish.

When they were ready for the oven, they were gently brushed with olive oil, and topped with a little sun dried tomato paste, and herbs.  In the meantime a friend arrived with a jumper, and I managed to find some fine wool and make a pretty good 'invisible' mend to a hole in Marie Claire's jumper.  All the while popping up once or twice to check the buns.

The buns rose really well and were very light,

Early evening we had a Friday Evening moment, with a 'sharing board' and a drink on the patio, this is another delicious savoury bun, from Jane Mason's The Book of Buns.....

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

New Plants from Ashwood Nursery

When we were on holiday in Mallorca Mr S often stopped to admire this little plant, with its flowers like little snapdragons, sometimes it was growing wild, sometimes it was planted into stone walls, so much so that I did take a picture for him.  We have also seen this growing in similar situation in the UK.

I knew I did not really have any space for any more plants...but  I have come to realise that I also have far too many in pots too.  But there you are, I am a glutton and cannot resist.  I shall have to cut back in future, and for now, reduce some of my larger clumps of cherished plants and plant more out. For the ones which are not performing, I shall have to ruthless...quite difficult and maybe I shall repent at leisure.  On this occasion of buying,  none on my list were available, and I did succumb to the buy 6, and more or less get one free, why oh why do I fall for this.  Anyway when I got home I looked them up and I think I am pleased with all of them.

When I saw a similar plant, I thought this would be the little present for Mr S...Cymbalaria Muralis.  When I looked it up and found one of the alternative name, I was flabbergasted!  Kenilworth Ivy.  I also remembered its other name Ivy leaved toadflax.  Mr S was delighted! He loves little wild flowers.

This one with the pretty pink flowers reminded me of other seashore plants, with silvery leaves and compact flowers,  I found on on holiday.  This one is Antennaria Rosea, and comes from North America and I was really tickled pink by its other name Rosy Pussytoes

Just to add a very nice shade of lemony yellow, Alpine Achillea King Edward

and because this reminded of my lovely daughter in law: Veronica Prostata Mrs Holt

and then I was tempted by this pretty Aethionema Warley Rose, I'm not sure I have got quite the right conditions for it, as it likes alkaline soil, but I will dress it with lots of broken eggshells and see if it flourishes or not.

and then because I have a thing about geraniums
Geranium Farreri

Visit to Ashwood Nursery and Garden

For once I went on the Kenilworth Gardening Club outing, also without Mr S.  As I kissed him goodbye, I asked:  Would you like me to bring you something back?  I expected the answer to be something like a bar of chocolate, but no the answer was a plant.  Oh heck...this was difficult, I kept thinking about it, and eventually as I walked around the garden led by John Massey himself, and then the nursery, the answer came...will write about this in my next new plant post!

The coach trip led us down roads, high up above the hedgerows, the countryside was just about as pretty as it gets, with lambs, and blossom, and cattle grazing.  The outing was on the 16th. of May, still quite cool but lovely and sunny.

John Massey's garden is full of almost all the features a good garden can have, and it makes the most of its long boundary along the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.  In most corners there are fun sculptures too.

The large pond was a delight

there were plantings of frost tender plants to envy

cleverly trimmed cloud bushes

and the borders were starting to come into their own, but I loved the ferns just emerging in a shady corner by the house

Elegant containers were planted up with the new Lewisia Carousel Hybrids.

The garden centre had a large range of very well grown plants, but sadly the plants from the garden which I would have loved, were not available.  The glass houses were packed with interesting plants and their Auricula stand was alluring but I did resist, as I am letting my collection wind down.

I loved the shop and particularly this display of Haws Watering Cans, made in England.  If I needed another watering can, one of these would be the one for me!

I joined other members of the club for a snack from their delightful restaurant, sitting outside, and musing over what I would buy.  Of course I had cycled up to the Clock, and I knew I would have to restrain myself to what I could carry back!