Thursday, 29 December 2016

Ebbor Gorge

A very short distance away is open countryside, and as we are on a break from DIY and refurbishment, we thought we would explore the local Nature Reserve.  The weather was magnificent and from the top there were clear views across the Vale of Avalon towards Glastonbury Tor.

I do love a little climb, and thankfully we had taken a pair of sticks with us...I think we may need to buy another set so that we can have two sticks each.  On one stretch, we lent one stick to a more mature much easier than helping with a sprained ankle further down the slope!  One of the billboards rightly describes the walk as a scramble.  We shall be visiting this National Reserve again and again over the different seasons, as it promises many wild flowers, insects and birds!  We even saw a butterfly in flight....and by the way the robins are paired off in the garden too!

In a Vase at Christmas

Mr S & I spent a lovely day with our nearest and dearest. In a Vase at Christmas was on Izzi's list of decorations for the big day.  

Decorated cake, gingerbread house, tree laden with interesting decorations, crackers filled with windup father Christmases and reindeer, which we then raced with much fun and excitement...non went in straight lines!

and to top the Christmas Tree a hand made fairy....

We enjoyed a lovely meal cooked by Matthew, with contributions of peeled veggies from Somerset at lunch time.  In the afternoon, a walk, a few rounds of the board game Labyrinth  which everyone had turns to join in. Then a little ballet concert given by Izzi...but I also just had to join in, the music was too enticing.  Its so lovely to think that all the steps were the same as I had learnt when I was little.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Happy Christmas

Mr S and I went out for 'our office' Christmas Party.  We chose the Swan Hotel and we both opted for the traditional Roast Turkey and all the trimmings.  The Christmas Pudding home made of course, was particularly good, and had it been pudding shaped it would have warranted a 10 out of 10.  Instead it got 9.75 from me!

Straight outside the entrance to the Hotel, there is a wonderful courtyard, where customers can sit out at other times of the year, which looks straight onto the Cathedral with its large green in front.  For now, they have decorated it with a snow scene....After dark it has some interesting lighting effects.

Austrian Christmas Bread the Sourdough Way

This is the December 2016 Challenge from Jane Mason's Perfecting Sourdough book, the recipe is on page 144..  I love to bake at Christmas:  most years I bake Christmas Cakes and other treats.  This year in our New Home, we have both been busy unpacking and getting to grips with urgent DIY etc.  I was to have bought a small Christmas Cake from the Country Market, but it closed before I got there!

Most years I buy a Panforte, and I could tell that I had, for many years, been meaning to make my own, by the date on the unopened rice paper in the drawer!  So a home made Panforte is taking the place of Christmas cake this year.  A small slice with a glass of Port is a fitting finish for a special meal.

One of our favourite eats for Christmas Breakfast is a Panettone.  One year I even devised a recipe for Panettone based on Pumpkin.  We do love this tradition, so I may well bake one for the New Year.  I rather like the one with Pumpkin and will use butternut squash this time.

This year we shall have the sourdough Austrian Christmas Bread.  I set this as a December Baking Challenge on our Facebook Page.  With ground almonds, sugar, butter, anise seeds, and fruit, I am expecting some delicious slices with a large cup of coffee, on Christmas Day morning.  I used up the last of my own home made crystallized orange and lemon peel.  This has been so successful that I am thinking of making another batch after Christmas.  It was quick and easy using the Pressure Cooker, and there are some very good citrus fruit around for Christmas.

I left the sourdough overnight with its first refreshment and got kneading this morning.  By the time I had got back from shopping, it was ready to have the fruit folded in and be shaped ready for its last rise.

Before it went into the oven, as per the recipe I brushed it with melted butter before slashing it, but it did not have the glossy finish of the loaf in the book...

I'm happy with the rise, and its beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

Friday, 16 December 2016

Catching up with Sourdough Challenges

Spiced sourdough gingerbread, with added fruit, and nuts:

The Gingerbread recipe is on page 133, and was the challenge I set for the facebook page for early November, and would have been lovely for bonfire day.  As it was I was in the midst of packing, and when I read through the recipe I felt it would have been a bit 'plain' for my taste, so added some raisins, chopped home made candied peel and topped it with some whole almonds.  When I first made this, the neighbours were out decorating their home with lights for Christmas, and asked if they could festoon our tree near their garage...of course yes, and I took them out a slice of the freshly baked gingerbread.

It makes for a large loaf 20cm square, so having frozen some of it, some was defrosted today for Bun Friday, and it was delicious buttered, and topped with apricot and pistachio conserve.

I had not managed to use up all my flour supplies before moving, and was happy to find a kg bag of Shipton Mill's French Flour Type 55, so felt a good bake to choose for December was the Sourdough French Bread.  Jane Mason gave us the link to her demonstration of a good shaping technique.  I watched it a couple of times, and followed it for the shaping.

The shaping went well, and I used a lovely heavy linen vintage tea towel called a Huckaback.  Its actually a large towel, from when towel were not woven in the loopy weave.  I love them, and look out for them in vintage shops.  It worked very well at keeping the loaves propped up whilst they were rising.  However, the last two somehow got to sticking together...I must have pulled the wave down, whilst I was placed the first three baguettes on the baking sheets and giving them their slashes.  The last two therefore got twisted together to form the large 'baguette'.  I froze the three smaller ones, and have since defrosting and warmed one up.  It worked very well, and we have been enjoying this with Somerset Saucisson, olives, goats cheese etc, everything from Somerset except the Olives which were bought from the market were imported from Morocco!

Shipton's  flour worked very well...and I think after Christmas I shall treat myself to a fresh delivery, though I shall miss sharing my order with my Kenilworth baking buddy Tony.  Maybe I shall meet someone locally equally nutty about baking in Wells who would like to share an order.

Keeping up with the standard of the Close

Its just over a month since we moved in, and we have some very nice neighbours.  Last weekend there was quite a bit of activity of everyone started putting up their decorations in their gardens.  We had reindeer, a Santa with his sledge.  They are of course put up for the children!

All our decorations were still in the loft.  When we got them down, and we delighted to find a set of little multicoloured lights which we had picked up in Wilkinsons in the post Christmas Sales, and which we had completely forgotten about.  We had intended to weave them in and our of our heathers and conifers in our front the time of course, we had no idea that we would moved home.

David and I had fun putting the lights into our two small trees.

I took a video with my camera, and having tried to upload it, our broadband speeds are not up it!  Just another thing to look into, and maybe upgrade!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Seeking Angels in Wells

I have real angels in my life, they know who they are!  I also love  looking for and at angels in any form: whether depicted in ancient manuscripts, or carved in stone, or sometimes just the face of a kind person.  On my various trips around towns and cities, in any country, my eye is drawn to them.

There is so much to look at in and around Wells, where we are now settling down, and starting to get out and about, in between various refurbishments projects around the house.

Mr S and I popped into the Wells Museum just for a short visit.  We have joined for the year, so will made further visits.  Up the stairwell they have a few old statues from the Cathedral:

As we were leaving the volunteers on the desk were pleased that I had admired the angels and said that if it is Angels I am seeking, what did I think of the art exhibition?  We had not looked in, so quickly turned back.  The Exhibition called Sacred Places and Divine Fragments showcases the work of Elizabeth Hand and Derek Nice.

Here are just a few of Derek's Angels

 Liz Hand invited us back to their special opening day on Saturday, and although it was raining, I made a special trip back into the centre, as I wanted to have a look again close up and in detail at all the works.  It was lovely to meet and speak with Liz again, and be introduced to Derek and his wife Mary.  I loved the way that Derek has used old pieces of timber and made angels in all shapes and sizes...and quite masculine angels too!

Local walks

Just at the end of our road, there is a beautiful view of countryside and farmland.  The hedgerows even this late in the season show promise in that there are so many different trees, and plants growing in them.  Even the remains of the crops make a lovely pattern across of the field.

Just on the left we can see the tor in the distance, which seems to move closer depending on the weather conditions.

One afternoon, a little too late, we set off for a walk using our map, a short circular walk we thought, which led us between Hay Hill on our left and Ben Knowle Hill on our right.  This next picture is less than half a mile from our doorstep! 

The low winter sun was casting long shadows but also showing up the countryside to great advantage.  As we walked up and around Hay Hill, we were taken by surprise and 'chased' off the path by a herd of young cattle.  Luckily we are both fit enough to climb over a high field gate at great speed!  By this time we were off the footpath on the map, but with some map reading, we managed to find out way back....and as a present from the gods, found some of the largest apples as windfalls in a big that I could only carry back one in each hand, and Mr S three, with one in the crook of his arm.  It was quite dark by the time we got home.  As a special treat I cleaned off Mr S's trainers..well he had been working hard all day replacing the flush on one the loos, and dealing with other plumbing matters.

Lessons learnt:  don't go out for a walk in the country without having plenty of daylight ahead, take a torch, long walking stick, telephone having first checked for coverage, a whistle to call for help, and avoid any field with more than a couple of quiet old cows!  If it is going to be muddy, wear wellington boots in the countryside.

Friend bearing gifts

Even though we feel that we have loads to do to get the house ship shape, and be really comfortable enough to receive guests, it was Penny who was brave enough to come to stay and take us just as we were.  For this I am so grateful, it was lovely to see a friend, whose visits were always so very welcome.  It took a great deal of effort, with train and bus across the Country, but Penny loves a challenge and loves travelling by train and bus.  At least we had the heating up and running, but forewarned, Penny brought down a new hotwater bottle, just in case, and this was one of the gifts she brought.

During our walk into Wells, Penny could not resist going through this gate at one of the Almshouse complexes....

We enjoyed walking and admiring the buildings, and later when we visited the Cathedral, we found the well worn steps which Penny remembered from a visit many years ago.  I am really looking forward to Penny's next visit, when we can explore more places together.

Only a couple of days before Penny's visit, when we were talking on the phone, she asked me if there was anything she could bring for me.  I must confess that back in Warwickshire from time to time, I would ask Penny to be on the look out for some obscure ingredient on her various travels. When we found unusual spices, or ingredients, we would share them.  Penny was therefore not surprised when I asked her to bring me a couple of boxes of dates.  I explained that they were soft Persian Dates and normally I bought them from Joe Richards the greengrocer in Kenilworth, and that my favourite fruit and veg stall at the market in Kenilworth: Stodds of Leicester often have them too.

I've been on the look out here for these lovely soft dates, but had not seen any.  These are my 'chocolates' they are soft and delicious, and I love them stuffed with a brazil nut as an after dinner sweetmeat. The nearest I have found are these.  Mazafati or Bam dates are quite the nicest dates at the 'affordable' end of the price range.