Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Easiest Focaccia Bread

Yesterday my son baked his first loaf...I am as gleeful as when he took his first steps.  I was sent pictures of course.  He usually has a fresh crusty loaf and some of my way he has made me into  a proud mother!

Just in case any friend wants to have a go at making something when they can't go out, I found an excellent tasting Focaccia Bread recipe and technique with video of some of the key techniques.  You are welcome to share this.

For British Bakers, I would only add that I used 500g flour and 450ml water.
I used dried yeast not the instant yeast as that is all that I had, and soaked it in the room temperature water with about 50 g of the flour. As I was making this overnight I used room temperature water and half the yeast. I just weigh the water in grams.

The mixture is brought together, without any of the conventional kneading, and left to rise overnight.  We have a small under the counter fridge, so the bowl spent the night in the conservatory.

This is what it looked like this morning.....

Greasing the pans with butter or lard first then adding olive oil...other oils at this C time if that is all you have will be fine.  Next time I will make three in smaller cake pans then just half of the cooked ones will be fine for lunch...

They came out of the oven and were left to cool for ten minutes or so.

We had it with a mixed salad....

I have several posts on different focaccias...I particularly like the sourdough focaccia.

Monday, 30 March 2020

In a Vase on Monday - 30 March 2020

Cathy has a gem of a post with a gem whose properties she explains has "healing qualities: amongst other things, it is believed to bring courage and creative energy, and assistance in times of chaos, disruption and emotional trauma…"

Yesterday in an effort to keep the few Pelargoniums I have in tip top condition,  they had a good soaking and titivation in the garden.  When they went back into the conservatory,  I noticed that some of the very brittle stems of Pelargonium myrrhifolium var coriandrifolium were damaged, and had to be removed.  I thought they looked so pretty and lacy and put them in a tiny vase on the Kitchen windowsill.

Primula Lilac Lace which has been an absolute star in the garden had more than a few stems to spare...

On Reflection......Lacey

(Added show the Primula Lilac lace in the garden following Cathy's comment)

From one little plant bought Spring 2017, I now have five good clumps like this one.  The plants need a lot of feed to keep them strong...with all those flowers they would otherwise wear themselves out.

Keep safe and take care......

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Polenta shortcake in a time of crisis

I have enjoyed the way my friends have come out to 'entertain' during the lockdown  Susan, a friend in Warwick, knits tiny little figures and has posted such an amusing time lapsed 'for now silent' film of her mini dinosaurs emerging from knitted eggs which this morning got me in fits of laughter and I am most certainly the wrong side of 10.

However I am old enough to do kitchen things unsupervised...and this time washed up quickly afterwards, so Mr S has a treat without the usual kitchen clean up afterwards payment. When I saw


from a regularly viewed blog called Italy on my Mind there was a huge urge to try this. Now that I have baked this, I must thank Paula and send her a big kiss xxxxxxxxxxx

Just a couple of days before viewing thispost,  I had checked through the 'ingredients' cupboard and had found a small bag of Polenta.  I can't remember what I had bought it for originally but it was well within date and had decided to find something interesting to inspire me to use it.
I had even started to search through a set of Regional Cooking of Italy which Vicky had given me a few years ago.

When I read Paula's recipe it said 'yellow polenta not the instant sort'...I had to go and check.  Yes I had the right type. As for figs there would indeed be something wrong if there were no figs in the cupboard.  As well as salt, figs are something I hunt for when on holiday and almost always bring some back.  I had a great time searching for figs when we were on holiday in Dubrovnik.

Late yesterday afternoon which not my usual time for baking, I just had the urge to loose myself in a new recipe.  I had no Pine nuts and substituted some lovely green pistachios.  These were in one of glass jars on my open shelves where I love to display choice ingredients, just for their beauty, and to remind me to use them frequently.  In another jar were large dark raisins which were maturating in some Marsala Wine, and I also added some freshly zested orange from my breakfast orange.  I still have four oranges, and will use every bit ......even the pips can be used to extract pectin.

A little light dusting of the white stuff...

Polenta Shortcake in a time of a Pandemic

Mr S asked if we could have some for dessert. When I said it had to cool first he said I was the greatest tease.......I made him wait but later when it was cool, relented: a piece each for a very late desert!  Accompanied of course by a little glass of Marsala Wine....they ought to serve a piece of this at Cantine Floria during the wine tasting of the Sweet Marsala.  Writing this, the memories of that holiday on Sicily have just come flooding back. Mr S and I reminisced and now a return trip to Sicily is on one list. 

At this stage I would normally have taken some to some neighbours...but this would break the rule for isolation.  When this is all over I think another street party is in order, and I shall make a version of this and call it Polenta Shortcake to Share with our neighbours.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Six on Saturday - 28 March 2020

Its been another strange week in the World of Humans.  I keep wanting to check on what the situation is, but then I go and put my head in the sand immerse myself in the garden, and all my tension is dissipated.  Mr Prop who heralds us all together in this weekly gardenfest has been working from home and has a interesting post which is well worth going to read.

After a winter of rain and very poor light this week has brought the most glorious light and sunshine.  It has been cool but warm in the sun, plants and wildlife appreciate the change.  Yellow Brimstone, and Peacocks have been flitting around the garden.  Each season I find I have to 'revise' the names and found The Butterfly  Identification site has excellent photographs and other information.  Yes I have books too!!!!

(1) The insects are waking up...no well fed greenfly yet, but ladybirds are emerging from their winter dormancy

Bee flies are numerous, but I have just read up about them, and they are probably around due to the large number of solitary bees, on whose larvae they lay their eggs.

(2) The state of the soil is dreadful.  Although I had lain compost in what I thought was plentiful amounts the heavy winter rains have damaged the soil, and now that we have had just a few days of sun there are large cracks opening up.  We have clay here and it will take a few years to improve it.  In better times I would have gone out and bought more compost, soil improver etc but instead have hoed the top of the veggie area to try to get some sort of a tilth for seed sowing...and found large 'tubers' where the runner beans had been growing.  These are pretty large and have not rotted down at all.  If I did these out now all I shall have are large clods of clay.

Trawling through the internet I found that runner beans are perrenials...I may leave the rest in and see what happens, but will start sowing seed mid April.

(3) Getting the jobs at the bottom of the list done has been my aim this week all around the place.  These may be last of the lists, small and easy, but the weight removed from ones shoulders when they are done is a relief.  Of course I have more time and am not able to go out and chase the next fix of excitement such as a visit to the HPS Sale and Rare Plant Fair at the Palace, all of which have been cancelled.  One example is this.....

Please note blue table made by Steve out of old pallets, it will be getting a lick of paint as will the old bench, now over 20 years old!

All winter  this little cream bonsai pots was languishing on the side getting mustier as it filled with rain and dead leaf debris.  Each day for weeks this had been an eyesore.  It took only five minutes to mix the compost, pick off side rosettes and  given a few weeks shelter on the side wall it will go out and join the others....

(4) Rose Munstead Wood being planted  in honour of my mother.

Only last Saturday the world was a different place: Rocky Mountain Nursery was still open, and we were permitted to travel..it is 5 miles away.  I had popped up get provisions from Wells Fruit and Veg:  best supplier for miles around, and they are in the car park of an excellent Nursery.    It was Mother's day the following day, and people were around in family groups.  It was hard to keep one's distance.  .  I was thinking about my mother, who died several year ago.   I used to have this Munstead Wood in my last garden, and I had been missing it.  A Fuchsia had to be moved, it was one of the young plants I had propagated from Fuchsia Upright Delta's Sarah.

(5) The small gravel garden is doing well and new plant Phlox bifida Ralph Haywood is showing its salver shaped flowers with notched petals to full advantage, though photographing it in the sun  was tricky.  

(6) Thalictrum delavayi in the conservatory border is jetting ahead. With the back of the border very close to the conservatory, I have been admiring it as it emerged around the Corydalis  Malkensis which is now waning.

It has a interesting glaucous wavy green leaf with a tinge of purple on the leaf stems and around the leaflet edges.  I have two sets of three along the same border and this set is far stronger and ahead.  That just shows what 2 meters difference makes...even in the world of plants!

6 Bonus picture

View of some of the Amelanchiers this morning

Friday, 27 March 2020

Soft fluffy white loaf

For a change from our usual sourdough, today I made Sprodrige bread.  Left over porridge, spelt and stone ground white flour, a little milk and dried yeast. 

I even allowed myself the crust with butter and homemade raspberry jam as a treat for 'BunFriday'.

And Mr S said he thought we weren't allowed to cut into a warm loaf.  I said in these times allowed something a little naughty would help keep up our spirits!

Monday, 23 March 2020

In a Vase on Monday - Escaping along the lanes

Today's IAVOM is made up with wild hedge and tree material brought back from today's walk.  Mandy and I had been talking about biscuits, so today my 'biscuit-less' barrel is acting as vase for the Wild Sloe and Ash buds.  Ash is seriously affected by a virus and is sadly succumbing in this area.

Several nearby Ash Trees have been felled

I wonder whether this arrangement is a metaphor for how I feel, a little prickly but still with hope.

Close up the Sloe flowers are fairly insignificant, but en mass outside against a blue sky they shout out the arrival of spring, and are covered by early bees and bumblebees.  Later there will be a harvest for any Sloe gin makers.

Today's short walk simply took us through three fields close by the house.  Yesterday we had seen some primroses, and I wanted to check how they were doing of a sunny hedge topped ridge.

We pass an unusually shaped  Oak tree: here the hedge is old showing signs of having been layed, but now a machine does the quick trim early enough so as not to disturb nesting birds.  Song birds were in full swing this sunny morning.

This bank is probably an old one, reinstated is the past thirty or four years with newer hedge plants.

Turning back we have clear views of St Cuthbert's tower with the Cathedral behind, whilst Glastonbury Tor just on the horizon on our right.

Amongst the primroses, tiny white flowers of Potentilla sterilis aka Barren Strawberry

Barren Strawberry
I am joining Cathy whom I am sure will have a 'clever and thougtful post' as well as lovely garden flowers. Having just read Cathy's post I can testify to this, and it is worthy of lengthier reading.  Bon Courage everyone.....

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Loved to bits on Mothers' Day

This morning here it was bright and clear with wall to wall sunshine.  When I wake up I love to walk into each room in the house, look out of the windows, turn round appreciate each room, and spot something that gives me a smile.

Today my eye was drawn to my cushion of brooches, and without any arrangement this is what was looking up at me.

We had already cancelled a visit to our beloved on account of my feeling unwell, and it would not have been an option this Sunday either for obvious reasons. After breakfast I open my lovely card with hand written message, so thank you M.  I thought about my Mum and my Grandma too.  My English Grandma was a great walker around her village and would know what all the wildflowers were called, the names local Lincolnshire names and where to find them.

The first yellow, therefore male, Brimstone butterfly flew across the garden...

This was therefore the theme for this morning, a short nature walk, as Mr S is now not on top form, simply to peer at the wild flowers on the other side of our garden wall.  Some of my friends know of my battles, for which I have completely dropped my weapons, to ensure appropriate management of the area over the wall in order to maximise wild life.

Whether because it has been so very wet up till now, or whether mowing the grass in the pauper's graves areas has been put on hold for the moment, the consequence is that primroses, wild white violets seen for the first time this year, has not been mown down with a hairbreadths of their life.

Varied lichen on the gravestones

Clumps of primroses

Primroses and moss

Primroses just over the wall
At this moment we Mr Renard trotted across our path, I could only stand and stare and admire its beautiful coat.

Carpet of white violets

Yet to be identified, probably a type of red dead nettle
We then left the cemetery and took a footpath back home.  By the stile .....


Wild Sloe
No mother's day with or without child may pass without cake.  On our return I made up a Victoria Sponge sandwiched with home made raspberry jam.  Happy Mothers day....

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Six on Saturday - 21 March 2020

So much has been changed recently and over the last week it has been even more evident that  this Virus is causing the whole of humanity to enter a period in which  a hiatus greater than one could have imagined.  I have decided to 'withdraw' as much as possible, when going for walks, smiling but keeping my distance.  Already I had been unwell with a cough etc, and had decided not to go to any meetings.  I was on the point of feeling that I could have gone to the talk our gardening club had organised with Matthew Biggs as our main speaker, when it was cancelled with only two days or so to go.

There has been sunshine for a few hours and we have more to come next week, and we shall probably have more frosts that we have had all winter.

The Propagator our 'leader' has urged us to celebrate Spring whether you have a garden, house plants, or enjoy looking at front gardens on your suitably socially distanced walks.  Do join us to peer or even to join through comments on his blog. 

(1) Spare plants...I had suggested a friendly competition for our club, which we were to have held for the first time this year.  It is an idea that had caught on in The Kenilworth Club and had been very much enjoyed there.  In March each member is given a 'plug plant' and asked to grow it on.  Our chairman had collected something in the region of 80 plugs and now without 'an outlet', has distributed them as best she can, mainly around the committee members and 'helpers' who had the ability to bring them on.  Friday morning saw some plants left on my doorstep: Fuchsia Southern Belle Happy Wedding Day,  Petunia Tumbelina Cherry Ripple, and Geranium New Century Red.

They are now potted up and in the conservatory for protection from the cold nights

(2) Last weekend Sally arrived with a plant that had been on a joint order, and had been looked after by her for a couple of weeks, whilst I was out of circulation.....Blackberry Karaka Black.  The white rose iceberg has been moved to another place to make way, and against the fence the little stems hopefully will develop over the next couple of years to yield delicious pickings.  In effect it was a gift from Sally..she took home the 'mystery' plant which was the source of my little battle a few weeks back.

We are now a two Blackberry Plant family with Blackberry 'Thornfree' on the other side of the garden close to gooseberry corner.

(3) Back indoors the flower spikes on Pelargonium ardens are just beginning to open.

I bought a couple of plug plants in 2018 which had been micro propagated, they went dormant during the summer and then leafed up in the same year.  Last year I decided that I would be ruthless and cut the plants right down to soil level when they were repotted in an effort to generate a multi rosetted plant.  It worked out well, with four rossettes on the smaller plant and six on the stronger one.  It is the one with four rosettes that has sent up two flower spikes.  I don't know whether this is early for Pelargonium ardens, and whether there is time yet for the other plant to flower.

(4) Plum Tree Mirabelle de Nancy is blooming.....

The tree is still rather small and I have yet to pick any fruit...hopefully this year they may be some.

(5)  From the vantage point by the plum tree,  I noticed that some of the Ipheion bulbs were showing their first flowers.  I was given sufficient for several clumps by my neighbour Val who had brought them from her mother's garden.  I took pictures and then downloaded them almost straight away.  Look closely....

The smooth shiny coppery 'thing' emerging from the wall is a slow worm.  I rushed out to check whether it was still there but it was gone.  Only last Monday I had disturbed a much larger slow worm a little way along the base of the wall in some leaf litter.  I had noticed these holes near the bottom of the wall and had wondered how they were kept free and open.  Now I know not to arrange to mortar these up.

A pair of garden warblers have been visiting the garden this week for the first time this season.   The gold finches have been on the feeder.

(6) Planting up and rearranging plant pots

Being undecided as to where in the garden I wanted to plant the new Clematis Sugar Sweet,  it went into a large pot for this season, and to grace the base,  I chose  three little plants dug up from the borders.  One of the reasons for this indecision is that I want to be able to get up close and admire the flowers and also its scent.  As I write this, I wonder whether it may have its ideal spot.  It was also time that the carnivorous pitcher plant went up to a bigger pot.   The Sarracenia has been outside all winter and now the new pot has been slipped in a tall flower bucket with stones weighing it down.  It used to fill up with rain water, but that is a benefit to this bog plant.