Monday, 30 November 2015

In a Vase on Monday - Late Harvest end of November

I have no greenhouse or cold frame..but I am happy to play the game of moving plants around to gain the greatest benefit for them, from a window sill, to the conservatory to the patio.  A few years ago I bought a chilli plant from Waitrose, and kept it going for three years, then last October just scattered a few seeds at the base of the mother plant.  A few seedling were potted on, and all except one given away.  The whole plant was covered in ripened fruits, but with a sign that some greenfly were starting their assault on the plant.  Before tackling the infestation, I picked all the fruits.

A few roses are surviving the winds and rains.  Cathy who hosts this meme is also featuring roses this week.  In the vase at the back is Shropshire Lad which is not opening well, but in the foreground is Crown Princess Margareta.  Both plants were acquired in the Winter of 2013, and are only slowly adapting to their new homes.  I am really pleased at how Crown Princess Margareta is performing in the low light...David Autins's site does say that it is ideal in shade, so I am beginning to think that it is well suited to these low light days.  I placed the roses in my narrow vase, but then just put that in my pot on the Kitchen Window sill in which I usually have a pot of basil growing.

I moved the arrangement to Conservatory where there is better light, and still the beautiful deep apricot blooms of Crown Princess Margareta glow in the low winter light.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Christmas Morning Breakfast Bread

In recent years we have had panettone for Christmas Morning Breakfast and I have enjoyed making several versions.  This year I felt like a change, and was really happy to find Orange & Anise Snowflake Bread on Domestic Gothess's blog, and Hannah has cleverly organised things so that there is als an easily printable version.

As Mr S was away at a show today, and I had this damp and dreary Sunday to myself, I thought it was just the time to try this. The one I am freezing is the better one which I shall finish off on Christmas Morning, in the oven, and will freshly apply melted butter and icing sugar on the day.

I started off with warming up the milk, and to cool it down, poured the 100ml straight onto my weighed and chopped orange and lemon candied peel mixture...I did not have sufficient candied orange peel, so added some of the lovely candied lemon peel from a different batch.  In the meantime I pondered about the Star Anise.  I have the whole ones, and I have ground Anise, but no ready ground Star into my little spice grinder I added two whole star anise and some of the sugar and ground that down together.  This worked rather well.

I then drained off the milk, and added the 80g bread flour, and the fast action yeast....after doing the clearing up of the breakfast things, the Starter was Ready to Go!

The orange had just a few tiny dark dinks in an otherwise lovely skin, so I cut them off before grating the zest off directly into a larger bowl to make sure I caught all that lovely orange oil.  To this the egg, orange blossom water from my lovely little brown bottle from Nielsen Massey, my organic cold pressed rapeseed oil rather than the olive oil of the recipe, and two eggs, and the sugar and anise mixture.  After a good whisk round, I then added the flour and the Starter.

With no bread kneading machine except for my arms and hands, it all went onto the worksurface, and with my scraper in one hand, I managed to work the dough beautifully, and after ten minutes stretching, then softened butter was added and kneaded again, before finally the chopped candied peel was added.

After resting the was time to shape it, and I followed the instructions...but got rather carried away or was it just a mistake, but I cut too many times, and ended up with an eight armed snowflake..but the second one had the six as per the recipe.  So not a snowflake at all since all snowflakes have six points only, and they are made of frozen water, but oh so pretty, and so tasty.

After resting again they were brushed with egg glaze then went into the Oven at Gas Mark 4, half way along the cooking time, I swapped them over in the oven, and also turned them round on each shelf.

Maybe a little more pulling to get the star shape as good as Hannah's.  Tomorrow my little taster is coming round with Penny, so I am planning to have some left to have then.  Just now, I am off to make Sunday Afternoon Tea with a taster of Christmas Breakfast Bread!

The second loaf is going into the Freezer...which I defrosted and cleaned out today, ready for the Christmas stash of goodies.  The one I am freezing is the better one which I shall finish off on Christmas Morning, in the oven, and will freshly apply melted butter and icing sugar on the day.

Having eaten some, I must say that the 'bread' is more sconey than I would like, so having had some advice from Jane Mason, I shall try it with less yeast next time, and allow for a better longer first rise.  The flavour is excellent, but I need to work on the 'mouth feel'.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

New Hat

When we were away in Cambridge, and the cold wind was blowing Mr S started to look for a new woolly hat since he had not brought one with him.  We looked and looked, and suddenly he looked at my hat, and said he wanted one similar to that.  When we got back, I got out my STASH of yarn, I have one that is rather on the large size, however we just could not find the right manly shades, and it would have to wait!

Last weekend we had a drive out to Notcutts Garden Centre at Solihull on the pretence of going to look for slippers at the Moshulu Shop, but sadly discovered it had been closed some time!  Of course if there is a Wool Shop there is always the need to pop one's head in.  So after we had a turn round all the sheds...we popped into the very big shed 'Cedar Cottage' housing Stitch Solihull.  Ana was away so instead her Mum helped me...we got out the tape measure, measured D's head, compared other patterns, and decided that one ball of 100g Aire Valley Aran from West Yorkshire Spinners would be sufficient.  Mr S chose the colour called Autumn Forest.  I also bought some new double ended needles.  Normally I use fixed circulars as these usually have the best bonds for lace knitting.  However with this yarn I would need a 5mm size needle, so decided to try out the needles with an interchangeable 50cm cable to give the right size.  However on the decreasing I reverted to my double ended needles.

The autumnal colours in the Aire Valley Aran are gradually blended giving a nice graduation which shows up well in the ridges of the Scrunchie Hat.  It looked by the end of the fifth ridge that the hat would turn out quite dark, so I found the other end which was russett, and started to knit from there.

I have been a great fan of West Yorkshire Spinners for some time now, as their sock yarn is beautifully made and comes in some great colours.  Its great to support British Wool, and British Manufacturing...

Today we went back to Notcutts again.  This time it was to buy a Christmas Tree.  We have been using the same old Christmas Tree which is brought down from the loft each year, since I don't know when.  It has had several washes under the shower, and last year, some of the little bits that you have to straighten out started to break off!  I have been looking closer to home all week, and we did pop into a garden centre, but there was nothing that we liked or real trees which had been pot grown.

When we had come out the yarn shop last week, we started chatting to a family with a young boy.  His excitement at choosing his own Christmas Tree was infectious.  They had been looking at these trees, and we had joined in with their discussions.  When we arrived there this morning we were not disappointed...the trees were as good as we remembered.

We then popped back into the Cedar Cottage, and this time Ana was back, and Ana's Mum and Pop were in the shop too, and Mr S proudly modeled the hat.  They have a great selection of fabrics, and I notice they also run some interesting workshops.

There are comfy sofas too if you want to stop and knit...

This time, I could not resist the new WYS sock yarn called Festive Holly Berry, since it brings some of my favourite colours: lovely greens, a rhubarb/cranberry red and cream into a pretty self patterning yarn.  For those who have not heard of this term, it means that the yarn is dyed in a sequence of colours so that when you knit it up, it comes out in a pleasing pattern reminiscent of fairisle knitting.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Tidying up in the Garden

With rain forecast, I grabbed what I thought would be half an hour or so, to go and clear some leaves off the heather bed, and I ended up spending a couple of hours clearing up some of the old debris in the back garden.  I have already noted a couple of plants which need moving, and now that the green bin is full, its time to come in.

One of the bonuses from my stint in the garden this morning, is that I found a couple of name labels for the two Dahlias that I planted this year.  I had some queries about the blooms' names in my vases which I posted during the Summer, so here they are:

Dahlia Phil's Kelpie was the first to flower.  It was smaller than the other Dahlia, and had loads of medium sized blooms.

Taller was the upright and strongly growing, and very pretty Dahlia Kiwi Gloria.  It is classed as Small Cactus.

Again another very floriferous specimen, a little later to come into bloom.  I guess I could have grown huge blooms if I had disbudded, but I love smaller flowers.  The colour is exquisite and goes well with blues, whites and violets.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

In a Vase on Monday - Very Late

Yes its very late in the Season to be cutting Nasturtiums.  I am also late posting my Vase(s) on Monday one day late.

 I went out and cut the nasturtium flowers on Saturday as a hard frost was forecasted.  At the same time, I removed all the plants, picked some seeds to dry to give away and also a few for next year.  This is the little vase photographed today Tuesday.  I picked the freshly opened and in bud blooms, and I was wondering whether they would they are all cheery.

Whilst I was pulling up the running stems from the nasturtium, I came across a shoot of my Alstroemeria, and fearing that too would just go to mush, picked the one stem that showed some promise of buds.  Here it is today....

When I found this stem I really felt so very happy.  I had moved part of the clump which I had to remove altogether from another spot, and replanted it last autumn, or was it early this spring, in my new 'yellow/red orange' corner and had feared that I had lost it forever.  I'm not sure of the name as I was given a very small piece of it when I first started the garden here.  Each year the clump had become more and more prolific.

I have also had my spirits raised as I have been looking back through my blog to find pictures of the vase I posted back in July 2014, but before joining this meme.  Here is the Alstroemeria growing in the garden.  At this time of the year, it is wonderful to look back over pictures from earlier in the year and previous years and realise that in just a few months time, plenty will be happening in the garden.

Another vase this week, which I hope will last some time is this one with three stems of Aeonium Zwartkop.  I had great success with my propagation late last year, and too many pots, so I just planted some in my 'stone strewn garden'.  It is so glum in my north facing lounge, that a flash was necessary.

This brings my contributions this week to an end, but at the same time I would like to mention 'Thanks giving'.  Its not a 'festival' we are yet to celebrate in the UK to any extent, and I shall be looking more into this.  We do adopt festivals from America, such as Trick or Treat, but then I have also read that we did have that here many years ago too.  Sunday Breakfast time saw Mr S make the breakfast, having first cleared the kitchen.  He had the Radio 4, and then the Service of Thanksgiving came on straight from America.  We continued with it on, whilst having Breakfast in a Sunny Conservatory.  It got us thinking. Neither of us go to church, but we do value many of the teachings, and with our culture, art, history and upbringing being grounded on the teachings of the Bible, we are quite open to many of its 'lessons'.  Instead of our conversation focusing on putting the World to Rights, fearing and worrying about what is happening in the World etc,  we turned to the things we had in our life to be grateful about.....and a little of this atmosphere of 'Thanks Giving' seems to have seeped into our lives since then.

I think Cathy and all her family will be having a great time celebrating her mother's big birthday.  She made up her vase from her holiday garden, which is just charming.  Its not too late to go and see what see and others have posted.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Autumnal Sticky Buns from The Book of Buns

Another five star bake from Jane Mason's The Book of Buns.  This is mid Novembers bakes from the face book page.  Jane explains that these sticky buns are a very Canadian Thing.  She also says that you can use pureed apple or pear, and I cannot wait to try a pear version.  I also find pecan nuts absolutely of my weaknesses is maple and pecan plaits!  I thought these were very appropriate so close to Thanks Giving Day.

I had bought a small but lovely pumpkin a few weeks ago.  It had the most wonderful grey green smooth skin, and I had kept it a few weeks admiring its beauty in the low winter sun...but it was needed for sticky buns.

In readiness I roasted the pumpkin a couple of days ago, again with the skin on, and then removed that when it was cold.

The dough needs 350g of puree and the filling another 50g, so there is plenty left over for soup.  I noticed that there are loads of butter nut squashes in the shops, so one of those steamed and pureed would the job very nicely too.

To the 350g of pumpkin which I blitzed with my blender stick, I added the egg, and blitzed that in, before adding it to the 600g flour,  3g instant yeast activated in 75g milk, 50g sugar, 10g salt.  

When I started to knead the dough, I realised that I would need to add a little more liquid, as the dough was very hard to get together...I must have 'roasted' out too much liquid from the pumpkin, so I just kept dipping my hands into a bowl of water on the side and kneading the dough till it was just right.  Not too much though, as there was 50g of butter to knead in at the end before a further 10 minutes of kneading.

It was early when I started this dough, before breakfast, and I let the dough rise in its own time just a room temperature which was on the cool side.  After breakfast and a Pilates Session down at the Gym with David, and cup of coffee etc., the dough was ready.  It has risen beautifully, and ready for the next process.  To get the dough out of my bowl I use my much loved and well used plastic scraper from The Bertinet School of Baking which my dear friend Vickie gave me many moons ago.  Every Holiday deserves a little souvenir, and for our Cambridge stay it was stainless steel dough cutter and chopper.  It won't replace the flexible scraper, but it is great for cutting through large pieces of dough, and I even used it to chop up the pecans.

I had been thinking of what to bake the buns in.  My usual roasting tin has ridges in the bottom, and all my other tins have loose bottoms, so I was very tempted to buy yet another baking tin.  I resisted and decided instead to use the grill pan.  It was a 34 x 26 cm, just a little larger than the 40 x 20 cm pan recommended.  My tin was only just deep time I will line it with foil to add a little collar.  I only lost a few drops of so of goo as the buns bubbled in the oven.

I know that nuts are usually better is gently 'roasted', so I put the chopped nuts in the oven at Gas Mark 4 for about five minutes, then added the lovely buttery soft brown sugar, and butter to melt, before adding the milk.  For the goo, you need 100g butter melted, 100g soft brown sugar, 75g milk, and 100g chopped pecans.

I gently pulled out the dough on a lightly floured surface, and patted and pulled the dough into a rectangle before leveling it out with the rolling pin.  The filling is made up of 50g pumpkin puree, mixed with a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ginger, allspice, but I substituted mace for the nutmeg!, 50g soft brown sugar, and 50g soften butter.  I spread it across the dough with plastic dough scraper....

Then rolled it up starting with the edge further away towards me.  I usually end up with a thicker middle bit, but this time I teased and stretched it out until it was even all along.  The slices went into the grill pan on top of the 'goo'.  I decided that twenty smaller slices would fit the bin better than the 16 buns recommended.

After an hour or so rising, they were ready to go into the oven. 

 These are cooked at Gas Mark 6, and after 30 minutes, I covered them with some baking parchment, and then they had their final 10 minutes before coming out of the oven.
You are meant to turn them upside down on a large plate...but I do not have one large enough!

Four hot ones went round to Dawn, whose daughter had just arrived home to be looked after, after what looks like a leg fracture.  Then we settled down to tea and a bun each. The verdict...SUPERB.  The buns are so soft and light, and tasty, and with a special gooey bottom with contrasting crunchy pecan nuts

When I had finished I 'walked' four over to Marie Claire.  Steve had been in the garden all day reinstalling a fence panel which had got damaged during the recent storms....  Just as I returned home, the phone was ringing, it was Marie-Claire: she wanted to say this must be the best bake so far!!!! But the other ones were very good too!  Steve had had two with his cup of tea, and she had had there was just one left! I explained that it was in The Book of Buns, the same one that I gave to her for her Birthday only a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Cambridge first stay

We had planned this stay some time ago, and it had been booked before Storm Abigail was forecastered.  However we still had a great time exploring...but with all the walking I now have a pain in the hip, which hopefully will be gone by tomorrow.

From our B & B, we chose to walk along the river into the City, and for our first lunch we went to the Pint Shop, which Vicki had recommended...and now I too recommend it. It is close by the information centre and without lots of the usual street facing adverts, billboards etc it is not easy to find.  The beer was well kept and absolutely delicious..I had a 'smoked' one which went well with my roasted Jerusalem Artichoke, frisee and smoked bacon salad, and then my Venison and Steak baked suet pudding and pudding I have ever had...pastry really thin and crispy and packed full of meat.

Of course I kept my eye out for angels

Mr S wanted to visit the Cambridge University Library where some of books from Moore's Collection of over 30000 books, donated by King George I to Cambridge University Library in 1715 were on show.  The Books and manuscripts on display kept us enthralled for ages.

 This is an illustration of Winter Cherry from a 1542 book: De historia stirpium by Leonhard Fuchs.

These were other little pretty  bits and pieces, but there was very much more, so much than at least one more visit would be needed....

To get to the library we had a walk across the Cam with wonderful views of the backs

There were punts, with large punts for groups of tourist, so had it been warmer and less windy, a nice punt along the river and under the various bridges would have been a nice way of spending some time, but I am sure that we shall return, so this is down on the list for next time.

We popped into various colleges, visited ancient quadrangles, with beautiful lawns, chapels where groups of students were practicing their music or singing, which gave an additional dimension

 and how about this, which is one of a pair of Pelican doorstops for the chapel at Corpus Christi College

..and as the light faded for a change the stained glass windows could be admired from the outside, and with wet pavements, and being to peep into splendid rooms, with books, chandeliers etc, it was worth being out still even though we had umbrellas and coats..

After the Library and a general walk around we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Fitzwilliam Museum.  There was so much to see there, and of course, like many a museum, so much more to see, and so many visits required to do it justice.  The building alone together with its grand entrance is worth seeing.  I loved these two pieces of ceramic which had belonged to William Morris.

After another walk along the Cam, across some fields and then into the City, we spent Saturday morning  in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  Even since I was little, looking through some huge volumes of Peoples of the World which my parents had, I have been interested in this area.  

Now I love to see the objects we have in our Museums collected during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and also more recent ones.  I admire the standards of craft and art, and get so much pleasure and inspiration from them.  How about this for the most beautiful of carved items which was used to bail water out of a canoe...surely made as a ceremonial piece to pay homage to a great leader.

This is a beautiful and intricate Bead Apron still on the loom.  The Macusi women of Guyana, in South America wove  ceremonial Keweyu or beaded aprons which they wore on special occasions.  The threads were spun and in this instance glass beads were threaded onto the cotton then woven in.  One of my blogging friends has told me that similar bead weavings are made in Africa too. I shall look out for those maybe at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford where many more artifacts are on show, compared to the Museum in Cambridge.

Another bit of weaving from New Zealand....these small bags known as ketes are made from New Zealand flax: phormium tenax, which is a strap like plant, not at all like the flax used for weaving linen type cloth. 

there were beautifully carved spoons

and huge food bowls/platters

We then went forth and found somewhere nice for lunch and a rest, then popped into Pepys Library. I was amazed that the whole of Pepys's Library which he donated to his old College Magdalene was open to the public.  All of the 3000 or so books and papers are in the original bookcases designed by Pepys himself in 1666 and made by dockyard craftsmen.  The original glass and desks are reasons enough not to allow any bags, and also no photography is permitted.  

There were some interesting books and documents open and exhibited in cases...and one which particularly appealed to me was his entry in his diary about his going to an interesting lecture at the Royal Society which covered several ways of making bread, of which he says the best bread was to be found in France.  We also loved the drawings of the fleet which were on display including a detailed drawing of the Mary Rose.

To finish off the day we attended Evensong at Kings College Chapel.  It was a really touching occasion, and we followed the Service with printed service and books which were in front of us as we sat in the Choir, with very little light except for some candles and low level lighting.  There were special prayers said for those affected by the dreadful events in Paris, and also around the world.  After the service I walked to the altar to admire the beautiful embroidered altar cloth and the Rubens Painting the Adoration of the Magi.  We were then invited to stay to an organ recital by the Organist of the Chapel Royal Windsor.  There were only a handful of us listening, but it was truly amazing to be so close to the organ.

For Sunday I had planned nothing but a visit to the Botanical Gardens, so after a great breakfast, and packing up the car, we made our way to the southern side of the City.  Unfortunately there were strong gusts well above 20 mph, and they were not admitting anyone...I can quite understand this, as there were many large trees swaying around.  Now for sure, I know we shall be returning!

Just to finish off our time in Cambridge we drove onto Grantchester, sadly it was not quite time for tea, and the clock was not at ten to three...there were pretty thatched cottages

But with the strong winds continuing, we decided to get back in the car and make our way home.