Monday, 31 December 2018

In a Vase on Monday - Memories of the past Year

It may be that some of us have overdone the richness of Christmas and would benefit from more 'greens'....for greens go to Cathy's post.  I love greens in the garden and to eat...and there are some fine examples there.

My posy IAVOM this last day of 2018, because of the usually mild weather this year, is made up of blooms which normally will have been over by now, but remind me of arrangements during the past year.

Fuchsia Hawkshead, Jasmine Nudifolium which flowers throughout the winter, Fuchsia hemsleyana 'Silver Lining', Lophomyrtus ralphii Little Star,  a flower from Heuchera americana, and the spot of blue is from Salvia Corrugata, which is growing well in the open ground but sheltered by a stone wall and under the overhang of the Holm Oak.

Salvia Corrugata

Looking back at where the garden was this time last year, I can see that it had advanced well.  For gardeners, this time of year is the one for planning, with high expectations for the coming year.  Catalogues and wish lists are frequently referred to and updated.  The difficult part is working out where to fit plants in.

Wishing everyone joining in with In a Vase on Monday, and here I certainly include the lookers on....a Happy New Year

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Somerset Levels Willows

Each landscape has its iconic trees, and on the Somerset levels in the area surrounding Godney, I would say they are the pollarded willows.  I stopped at the edge of the narrow lane, which was subsiding slowly into the soggy ground, along which pollarded willows stood sentinel along a flowing rhyne, to allow a car to pass.

  Here stood two willows whose main trunks survived sufficiently to support numerous small branches which sprouted following pollarding maybe three to four years ago.  If they are not pollarded when this old and hollowed out, they collapse into the soft earth.

What starts off  as a road, becomes a lane as it drops to the levels from the Mendip slopes, and it soon straighten out to become a network of narrow droves that crisscross Godney Moor. Only drivers trying to reach one of the small hamlets or farms ought to venture on these narrow lanes, but for the cyclist they are a pleasant way of viewing the wildlife, cattle, hills, skies and flocks of birds. With the ever present Glostonbury Tor giving a marker and aid to orientation, if the sun is hidden behind a low blanket of cloud.

Pumpkin bread sticks recipe

A few weeks ago I made some bread sticks for a buffet meal at our local gardening club, and found the technique so useful for keeping bits whole and interesting, but within the confines of the dough.  Here I offer up a savoury pumpkin dough finger bread, which can encapsulate various bits and pieces.  The possibilities dependent on ingredients available and your taste.  I do like the taste of Nigella Seeds, and with the pumpkin dough they work very well.  The addition of coriander is a great taste, but for those who dislike that herb, may I suggest oregano, or sage?  Roasted red pepper scattered over grated goat's cheese is also an excellent filling.


300g Roasted pumpkin
50g good olive oil
1 egg
12g salt
2 tsp nigella seeds
100g polenta uncooked or maizemeal
550g white bread flour
20g fresh yeast mixed with 50g water

 200g of your cheese of choice, I used strong local cheddar the real Cheddar Cheeese from Cheddar
A good handful of coriander leaves
50g sunflower seeds, set to soak just before kneading the dough, to prevent scorching
Egg wash
Black sesame seeds
Cayenne Pepper

First wash and chop, and cook your pumpkin by baking it in the oven in even sized chunks.  Then as it is cools enough to handle, cut off the peel and remove the seeds.  You can freeze any left over, or keep it in the fridge ready to use another day.   I like to bake my pumpkin the previous day, and mix the dough in the morning, then bake by lunchtime.

Into a large bowl, sift the white flour and the polenta to incorporate air, tip anything left in the sieve into the bowl.

Add 300g of the prepared pumpkin to a small pan, add the olive oil, and warm gently to about 40 C.  Either mash well, or if you have a hand-blender, reduce it to a smooth-ish puree.  Add the salt, and the nigella seeds, then add the egg, and mix well.

Add the contents of the pan to the wheat and maize mixture, then add the fresh yeast and water mix, add a little more water to bring everything together to a kneadable dough.  Knead for about ten minutes by hand, then leave to rise for about 1.5 hrs.

Roll out the dough to a long oblong.  Here it was about 80cm x 30cm.  You will need to keep the work-surface lightly floured to prevent sticking.  Scatter the toppings as per the picture, then fold the bottom third up, then the top third back over.

I use my steel scaper, or you could use a knife, but be careful not to damage your work-surface.  Cut thin strips.  This quantity yields about 36 bread sticks or finger rolls.

Have two or three baking sheets, covered with baking parchment, ready to receive the twisted sticks.  As you twist them, you may stretch them to the length that suits you.  Place the the tins covered, to rest, for about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220 C.  Brush the sticks generously with egg glaze then scatter the sesame seeds on half and cayenne pepper on the rest.  The black sesame seeds give a good colour contrast with the yellow pumpkin dough and green herbs.

Bake for about 15 minutes, then place on a cooling rack.  They freeze very well, and are lovely served warmed up.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

When a Panettone can be a brioche

For some of our breakfasts over the holiday period we usually enjoy a large Panettone.....

In more recent years, I have 'tampered' with the recipe and have come, for the moment, to prefer a pumpkin based panettone dough.

However this year, I felt that with just the two of us being around for breakfasts, a different option was called for.  Since the dough is veering towards an enriched brioche dough, why not bake the mixture in brioche molds:

Since I am also continuing in 'my use what we have' phase rather than stashing a yet greater variety of ingredients, for the dried cranberries I used some dried dark cherries than I had been macerating in calvados, some local somerset walnuts, pistachios, raisins that had been soaking in marsala wine, and my home made orange candied peel which I now find much better stored in the freezer.  Next time I ought to glaze them with egg wash.  These were made a few days ago and were frozen ahead of time, and have been warmed up each morning, after being taken out of the freezer the previous evening.

The tins were a gift from my sister Lizzie many years ago, and they are just the right size for a nice generously sized breakfast treat.

Other bread baking was a sourdough bread enriched with egg...which has worked amazingly well, and was delicious with the pate I made.  Again just a use what we have...I had bought some pheasant and apple mincemeat from the game keeper at Well Market.  Having first lined the tins with streaker bacon, I then half filled them with the seasoned mincemeat, added a layer of soaked dried cherries, completed the filling...and baked the pates in a bainmarie in the oven.

I have refined my canape sticks and will offer up the recipe in another post.

Anaphalis margaritacea 'New Snow'

In my last garden, one of the plants which I liked very much was Anaphalis margaritacea.  I had grown it for several years and it had established itself in a large clump.  Its leaves are wooly and grey and its flowers charming in every way.  They worked very well as dried flowers too.  I have just the spot for it.....

It was only today as I read through the blog of a fellow IAVOM contributor who hails from New England, that I was reminded how much I miss this plant.  Joanna's web page is well worth exploring, and she has done some research on this and other plants from her area of the US.

I have even put up a request on my Gardening Club facebook page to ask if someone has this in their garden, and are willing to have a swap.....plants, home made bread, preserves etc on offer!!

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Three Christmas Rings....

To wish everyone a Merry Christmas I have not quite five rings to post.......

Wreath base woven willow kept from my wreath making last year, and simple ivy from the garden...Christmas ribbon which has been round my Panettone for at least ten years!  Little light up balls, new this year.

Most delicious and aromatic biscuit wreath made by my Grand daughter Izzi.  Its now half way demolished after our long walk around Wells and out along the stream....

The little Christmas Tree is a box I made a few years ago, guided by our sewing queen bee at Kenilworth WI.   The beautiful embroidered white table cloth and large napkins are from my mother's linen treasures.  The red edged napkins is Swedish a present from my nephews Grandmother many moon ago, which has an outing each Christmas.

Our breakfast made by Mr S was my favourite: boiled egg, with sourdough brioche and plain sourdough break and preserves.  A 'stasher' bag yet to have its first use.  A present from the Ws...and Mr S laughed, well we both did, as we recalled the day a few months ago, when I found out that my blog had been knocked off the top spot when you type in the manufacturer of these alternatives to plastic bags. 

In the middle of our breakfast little ode to nature's beauty.......

Monday, 10 December 2018

In a Vase on Monday - Party Games

 Firstly:  here is my vase this Monday.  I watched the strong winds and rains bash the garden, and like Cathy last week, I decided to go out and cut all the flowers off my two new rose bushes during a lull in the rain Sunday morning.  I have had so many blooms this autumn, there were just a few blooms left this month, and I had been hoping to keep them a little longer.

  This week again Cathy too has picked roses from a December garden and celebrates 'getting to know your garden'.  With our paths now complete and being free draining I can venture out between showers and being a small garden and see almost to every tiny bit of the garden.  An alternative is of course to check out via Cathy's blog the lovely blooms and foliage from other contributors from around the World.

The foliage is left over from a party game.....

It was Henton and District  Horticultural Club's Christmas Party last Wednesday.  During a committee meeting a few months back when we were discussing ideas for the party, I put forward the idea of a game which I had first experienced a few years ago at the Warwick Tree Warden's party.  There we had far more twigs of trees to identify in the ready made arrangement.

With all the weeks of In a Vase on Monday under my belt, I worked out a slightly different format, and the practicalities were discussed and fine tuned over the last couple of months during committee meetings. 

Sally Gregson and I walked round her winter garden , trying out material and by the time we arrived at the potting shed I had a rather lovely arrangement of items in my hand.  We took these to the committee meeting to which all of us had brought interesting foliage and berries, if we could spare about ten to allow for all the tables to have one stem. My contribution was variegated Ivy.  I thought it would be a good idea to whittle down the numbers to the best twelve representing the 12 days of Christmas.

Here are just the left overs crammed into the handiest pot on my kitchen counter.

We decided to decorate the tables in the Hall with the material loose laid...of course our members had no idea that we were have this game, but in the meantime admired the novel 'not in a vase' decorations which even in this state would have been quite lovely as they were,  for any party or meal.  We did give out the warning of no eating of berries, and please wash hands before supper!

With one of each of the items, the table as a whole were asked to make up an arrangement...ribbon,  raffia, and tall empty jam jar provided. (Hartleys Jam jars saved over from the Harvest Festival Party arrangements).  The second part of the game was for the table, working as a team, to identify and  name the items.......They all laughed when I said that more than four or five latin names meant they we would have some candidates to act as substitute speakers in the situation that one of ours doesn't turn up or is late.  

Golden Privet: Ligustrum ovalifolium aureum
Pittosporum Tenuifolium Variegatum
Wisteria Seed Pods: Floribunda Alba...
Rosehips Rosa Seagull
Rudolfs Antlers     Horse Chestnut Aesculus Hippocastanum
Hazel: Corylus Avellana 
The black berries of Winter Box: Sarcococca hookeriana humilus
Pine Pinus Wallichiana.........................which is with Grace in my arrangement
Salvia seed heads
Cotoneaster: Aviestdonum Diana (Bird's Gift to Diana)...a seedling arrived you know how Thanks to Google for the Latin!
Variegated Ivy Hedera Helix Variegata

The following day a couple of members living locally took all the arrangements to Wells Nursing Home in the Village.  Another excellent idea which came about as a result of pooling ideas during our committee meeting.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Loosing a Good Friend

Earlier this week a brave daughter called to say her Mum had passed away.  Mr S took the call...I was resting, but the pain of grief only allowed for those few words, and it was up to Mr S to break the news to me.  Somehow I had a feeling from the previous day that my dear friend was more unwell than she had been letting on to me.  Last week, she was just waiting for a Macmillan Nurse to visit to discuss various options.

Since visiting Penny last month, again with the help of a friend here who was giving a lecture in Warwick with an overnight stay there, and the rescue of tea and rest with Janice in Warwick, I was able to spend some precious hours with my friend.  It was just a flying visit and even though weakened, Penny really wanted to spend time making a few almond biscuits for me, and had recently found a few items to give to me.  What was lovely was to see her eat the  brioche plait that I had made specially for her with some preserves I had taken.  It brought back many memories which she and Q shared with me of buying similar bread in London when they were young.

Here we are a few years ago....Ladies who lunch, it was Penny's treat and we drove out to celebrate her 'windfall' when I did my usual thing...persuading and cajoling her, and everyone else by the way, to trace pensions and also claim State Pension, both of which she thought would be worthless.....

Penny first turned up on my door within days of our first moving to Warwickshire, picking up an item I had posted on Freecycle.  A few question later, establishing that she had caught buses and walked to the house, Penny was invited in for a cup of tea etc., and an invitation to return again led to a wonderful friendship.

Penny was a doer not a preacher, it was in her actions not her words that she expressed her being. She was very into the environment, and was a leading light and coordinator of the Warwick Tree Wardens and was very much involved in Friends of the Earth.  Penny even managed to get me involved in planting then checking up on trees planted in grass verges in Kenilworth.  Penny gave me much support in my activities and my blog, but preferring to talk on visits or over the phone rather than leaving comments, but often sending personal emails etc.

It was Penny who introduced me to the NCCPG: The National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens, at first because she knew that I loved old buildings and the meetings were at Lord Leycester's Hospital, and by then after only a few get together, that I also loved plants and gardens.  Penny often volunteered at the Hill Close Gardens in Warwick, and we met there from time to time.  Together we went to visit Rob and Diane Cole on a couple of occasions, and spent time together in their wonderful garden.

Here is proud Grandma with little Daniel ready for his lunch.  Coming on the bus they both regularly visited.  From a shy toddler who first clung to Grandma's legs, he soon came to feel at home, running down the garden, and picking little strawberries.  Often we would go together for walks to the Castle, visiting swings etc en route.  I even bought, second hand which I knew Penny would approve of, a huge bag of wooded brio layout, which we would set up across the living room floor for Daniel to play with.

I was amazed and overwhelmed with gratitude when Penny decided to come and check us out in our new home, taking several bus journeys, during a week off of her treatment, to travel cross country to us.  We took her for drives to view the Somerset hills, and also visited some of her places she remembered from years ago, and always the 'explorer' here is Penny the other-side of the gate that says Private.

Penny was interested in the culinary arts, and we often shared a bag of 'unusual' herbs and spices, and I very much appreciated the quinces which came from her garden.  Once she brought me a little box of white-currants, which, pending inspiration went into the freezer, only later to be combined with Mulberries from Janice's garden into three little pots of special Jelly.  One for each of us.  I  kept my little jar to have with my Christmas morning breakfast, when it is customary for me to remember friends and give thanks for friends and friendship.

Mulberry and White Currant Jelly

On one of Penny's volunteering sessions at a recycling centre, she found this little ceramic pot, and instantly thought of me.  We pondered on what they were used for.  I was delighted and said I would give one of the 'self germinated' wild ferns from the garden a special position in it.  Here it is posing with some socks I had knitted.

A few weeks later she found a further two for me.  When it came to my knitting, Penny would never accept any, saying that she knew just how long it took me, and as she would be afraid to wear a shawl in case she lost it on her many journeys!  However some months ago when she explained to me just how cold she felt...I didn't ask I just sent her something warm and woolly from my Stash, by post.  

I am sure that all Penny's friends have wonderful memories of her, and I cannot start to imagine how sad all her family are at the moment.  

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Primula alpicola var alba

Despite the mizzle and drizzle I just had to get into the garden today.  By the time I had got quite muddy it seemed a good idea to move some of the plants I had placed in 'temporary' spots.  I remembered from last year that Primula alpicola var alba completely disappears during the depths of winter, as once the leaves have yellowed they seem to dissolve into the soil, and as some of the leaves were still visible, this was the moment.  This is a plant for a growing shady border where I have also improved the heavy clay with a thick top layer of compost earlier in the year. 

I first saw this plant growing in the walled garden at Alnwick Castle...but I had failed to post about this back in July 2015.  I was going to write a part II but never got round to writing about the garden.  This is a picture I took that July of this lovely clump.  The stems are tall and the nodding heads held well above the foliage, give off the most delicious scent.  

Later I picked up a 'souvenir' at the Castle Gardens Gift Shop.  Just before we moved I took a piece to bring to Somerset.  I found the plant label buried by the plant.  It is now washed off, and will shortly be put back with markers to show the position of the plants.

Primula alpicola var alba photographed at Alnwick Castle July 2015

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Pan de Camote and beyond

Pan de Camote in Jane Mason's Book of Buns is one the recipes for which alone I would say the Book is worth buying.  There are many others recipes of that caliber too, and I have baked nearly all of them.    When I baked and posted on my first bake of Pan de Camote,   I put up a picture and a short piece about the flavour.  If you want the whole recipe it already is out there and is just as per the book.

Recently one of the 'friends' of the Facebook Page Perfecting Sourdough, having now finished bakes from that book, discovered that there is also a group for The Book of Buns, and has joined. There again we have gone through all the recipes, but that would be no reason to join if you have recently acquired a copy of The Book of Buns.

Since 2014, I have revisited this recipe, changing the flour for instance in October 2016 a combination of Einkorn and stoneground white flour, before that in January 2016 a mixture of millet, maize, spelt and white wheat, it has become my sweet potato and whatever ends of bags of flour I want to use bun!  I usually write a note on the recipe of how I adapted it.

This time, I used roasted some sweet potato with fennel seed, and having weighed it just prorated everything else, and used a combination of whole wheat, whole spelt, a little dark rye and white get it, all the ends of bags of flour.  I love sweet potato and tend to roast a whole kilo and use it several with our meal, cold  a day later with salad, and of course in in Pan de Camote

After bulk fermentation, approximately half was made into buns for breakfast with the addition of raisins that had been soaking in Marsala...I have a kilner jar of steeping dried fruit ready for such eventualiites!  Try them in a home made rice pudding!

I was in a bit of a creative mood and wanted to make some savoury buns too.  Having flipped through the book, and catching sight of Bastounakia, came up with the idea of the incorporation of a few savoury bits and pieces, and the rest was a question of playing!

On went sliced green olives, fried red onion, finely chopped rosemary from the garden, and then a sprinkling of grated Pecorina Romano...

Folding over  like paper ready to go in an envelope

Then cutting along in fine fingers 

The twisting came about because the slices were too thin to move whilst maintaining their stacked format...well necessity was the mother of invention here...Well brushed a couple of times with beaten egg, and a sprinkling of Pecorino and little fronds of purple leaved fennel from the voila.  All the (remaining) bread fingers are now frozen, and ready for our gardening club Christmas Party bring and share supper.

Just how many variations of these can be made and will be by me at the very least, is just a question of imagination!  Next time blue goat's cheese and walnuts for sure.  We did have some with our Cauliflower Cheese Supper...