Friday, 29 April 2016

Madeira Holiday close by the Hotel

I shall flit around the pictures and try and make some sense of our lovely two weeks on Madeira.  It will take several posts to cover the many trips, and walks we enjoyed, but it will be worth my while adding some over the next few weeks.

We stayed in a lovely hotel: The Savoy Gardens Hotel, which had great food, and well placed to walk into Funchal.  We had holidayed on Madeira quite a few years ago, and our new hotel was only a short walk from the lovely Quinta Magnolia Park.  It is open during daylight hours, on most days, and has a lovely variety of trees and planted areas, as well as tennis courts etc.  I loved this large Camphor children our father had set us up a swing from a branch of a Camphor Tree so of course I love them.

The succulents looked wonderful and fresh, the large ones in the background:  swan neck agaves are showing off their flower spikes.

We watched lizards

and looked closely at flower spikes

Then we walked towards the bridge and growing from the floor of the ravine, the Kapok Tree with its spiny bark almost ready to shoot with its spring leaves was just starting to release the fluff from its large seed capsules, which hung down at head height as we stood looking down towards the sea from the bridge.

and on our very last day, as we were waiting for the transport back to the airport, during those last minutes, when I was nosing round the lovely gardens at the hotel, I found this little kapok lined nest most probably brought down by some blustery winds we had the previous evening.

Just a little further down the road towards Funchal are the Quinta Vigia Gardens.  Sometimes they are open to the public, but you have to be lucky to get in, as it is also the Official Residence of the President.  These gardens have some lovely fountains,

and plantings, several parrots in large aviaries, great views over the harbour, and a small chapel with beautiful old blue tiles.

Plenty of angels too..

This little blackcap was singing its lovely song

and the plant which intrigued me the most was this one

I've since found out that one of its name is the Mickey Mouse Plant, but we ought to give its botanical name: Ochna serrulata.  Its the first time I have seen this shrub, some of the seeds had started to turn black, and with the yellow flowers, the red sepals, black and green seeds, this South African Shrub was a real stunner.

Just next door, a little further down the hill towards Funchal, you can step off the main road and walk down to the centre through the attractive public Santa Catarina Park.  On the many times we walked into Funchal we saw different plants and flowers, this one was growing on long stems but I don't yet know its name.

and being quite early in the season, saw several deciduous trees sprouting their first flowers and leaves, and sometime you just smell a beautiful perfume and then realise that the trees lining the streets along the black and white pavements are Jacaranda, if the sky is really blue you can hardly see their blue flowers!  We often stopped like Christopher Columbus

to look down over the harbour, where the large cruise ships would stop for the day.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Knitting Workshop with Marie Wallin

Its ages since I've been on a workshop.  Several of my knitting friends, even though they are pretty nifty with the needles and have loads of experience have enjoyed Marie Wallin's workshops, so when one came up, with Mosaic Knitting at its core, I was interested.  It was a lovely way to spend the day and also catch up with knitting friends from Stratford.

Linda kindly offered me a lift and it was a lovely day to drive out to Brooksby Hall near Melton Mobray.  We sat in what would have been the entrance hall, the light from the windows was superb, and make concentrating on the pattern quite easy.  It is made even easier with strips of highlighter tape, and now I am home, I have arranged my sheets in a folder in plastic inserts and it really easy to move the tape along.  Also today my own roll of highlighter tape arrived as Kenilworth Diane had ordered one for each of us.

and here is the one that Marie has knitted earlier

rather liked the look of this lovely hot water bottle cover....

Just ticking over during a Cool Spring

So what has been occupying my I glance out over the garden, the lovely 'wild' flowers with  their cheery blooms remind me that it is spring.  They are wild cowslips, which I started from seed many years ago, and just appear around the garden, and are left to grow where they sprout, depending on whether it suits me or not and yellow primroses which came from a friend's garden.  These are growing at the foot of the bird bath.

I was going to post this little vase in my In a Vase on Monday, but never got round to it!

After a warm winter, we are having frosts and snow in April.  I cycled to my craft group this week in a flurry of snow.  The first clutch of robins are already fledged and I have a regular visitor now, with his red feathers just starting to come through, for whom I leave little morsels in strange places, hoping that the wood pigeons will not find them first.  The older robins have learnt to eat from the bird feeder even though there is a cage to stop the squirrels.

I've been enjoying reading through the WI's book club latest read, and learning to knit with two strands of wool each in a different hand for these mittens.

and of course a little baking, again sfoof buns for breakfast.

Zig Zag Socks

There are many reasons for my lack of posts recently....having come back from holidays I am yet to post about that...and that seems to be causing an impasse.  Its not that I have been indolent, au contraire, I have been forging on with my crafts.  I have felt more like doing, rather than writing about doing.

However I love that my blog is a record of things I love doing, seeing, friends, visits etc.  A friend who dips into Kenilworth happened to came round a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned my Crassula, so it was with that lovely succulent, that I posed my latest pair of socks to come off the needles..two circular ones of course!  I have written of course about my Crassula Falcata Budhas's Temple before, and the ones with the socks are the third generation.

The pattern is a Drops Design called DROPS 112-15, maybe it has a proper name to be assigned.  I think maybe Budha's Socks would not be quite appropriate..just zig zag socks.  If anyone can think of a better name, do post below, and I shall send it on to Drops, and see if they would like to adopt it.

As usual I made a few adaptations as the pattern....making them longer in the leg, and a little slimmer in the foot.  That is the joy of knitting, really well fitted garments are possible.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Dolce Milanese

 The baking challenge from Jane Mason's Book of Buns for the first part of April 2016 is Dolce Milanese.  These small morsels are packed full of juicy raisins.  For a dough based on 250g flour, it gives 500g raisins, which need to be soaked overnight.  I must confess that I just could not get all the raisins into the dough.  The balance I used to make a nice little salad with the orange flesh, after using the grated orange peel in the dough.  Maybe 400g raisins would do.  It was a game of trying to get so many raisins into just a little dough...just the right sort of challenge, which meant I really deserved a nice little tipple to go with the first warm ones for  dessert!

When we tasted our first little buns last Friday, we started to compare them to other bakes...think of Eccles cakes but with rich buttery yeasted dough, or garibaldi biscuits, which have currants rather than raisins, and are biscuits, and usually come out of a packet.  Maybe some Victorian travelling in Italy came across Dolce Milanese on their grand tour and felt the need to replicate and turn this delicacy into a manufactured biscuit.  I love both Eccles cakes, and garibaldi biscuits, but Dolce Milanese really are the pinnacle of raisin deliciousness.

As well as using the rolling pin, I felt for most part of the process it was easier to use my hands to pat the dough into shape.  Very generously Jane has previously given me permission to put up any recipes here, and often I have just alluded to the book, since I feel that any home baker ought really to have the whole book at hand, so that they can just sit down and read the recipes, make their annotations, and also skip to the face book page where a band of us, if time allows, put up pictures of our bakes.

I have made a couple of changes to the timings which I shall adopt next time, as I feel that it would fit in with a morning bake.

The morning before bake day put
500g raisins, to soak in water to cover.

The evening before bake day, make the dough

250g plain flour...I used half strong and half plain
1tsp dried yeast
25g sugar
150g raisin water
5g salt
1 tbsp brandy or rum
grated zest from a large orange
100g butter, cubed

Make up the dough according to Jane's techniques, with everything being kneaded for 10 minutes, before the butter is added, and then again kneaded for a further ten minutes.  The dough is soft and sticky so a good scraper is very useful, if like me you are doing this by hand.  Have your sleeves well turned up, a pinny on, because once you start, it will be almost impossible to get your hands clear.  I am diverting here from the recipe, as that is intended to have a six hour rise.  So to get the dough ready to shape and bake in the morning, I would put the dough in a bowl, leave it to rise for an hour, and maybe then finish off the rise overnight in the fridge, if the kitchen is warm.

Early on the morning of bake day, get the dough out of the fridge, and whilst you have breakfast etc, allow the dough to come to room temperature.

The dough is sticky, so a little more flour is required for the worksurface, rolling pin etc.  Whichever way is easier, gently turn then dough out and flatten it into a rectangle about 5mm thick, and scatter about a third of the well drained raisins over the majority of the surface, then bring in the two other edges to the middle.  Pat or roll out again, and repeat this twice. I used both a spatula and scraper to help achieve this.

Leave the dough to rest seam side down, floured and under a cloth for about 20 minutes, then go back, cut it down the middle long ways, then cut into about 20 buns in all.

Put the buns onto trays lined with baking parchment, and allow to rest for another 20 minutes, during which time the oven will have been turned on, so that it get to Gas Mark 7, 220 C by the baking time.
Glaze the buns, with Jane's glaze, which is made up of a whole egg, 1 tbs water, and a pinch each of salt and sugar.  I like to do a 'double glaze', glaze once, leave a minute or two, then glaze again.

They ought to take about 20 minutes...but watch them.  I change over the trays, and often at the same time move some of the outer ones to the inside if they look as if they are getting too brown.  You can also cover with foil or baking parchment.  Because the raisins have been well soaked, they stay very moist, and do not scorch.

They freeze beautifully, and if eaten later or when defrosted, it is well worth, warming them in a moderate oven, for five minutes...a little dusting of icing sugar gives them that extra sophisticated Italy look!   Questi sono così stupendo....

When my official taster came on Monday, we asked Daniel how he would score then from 1 to 5.  He said 1, when I said: "Oh, that is a really low score, so you don't like them", Daniel replied no 6,7, 9 out of 5...Well he is just 3 years and one month old!  But from the look on his face, we all realised that he liked them as much as we did.  My friends Mandy and Penny completely agree.

I used the remaining drained juices to add to my weekly standard bread......