Sunday 22 September 2013

Spider Webs and Gossamer Threads

Gentle Reader~it is that time of year when the garden is draped in a raiment of the finest threads of gossamer silk, as spiders weave their magic right across the land.  Although I do not like spiders, I wish them no harm, and some of them are quite beautiful indeed.  It is big, hairy, and feathery fast house spiders that send me screaming in the opposite direction, whereas I find orb web spiders especially beautiful.  Have you seen those tiny, amazingly marked jumping spiders?  With their black and white markings I call them Zebra Jumping Spiders, but have no idea what they are really called.

The perfectly formed mystery of a web suspended across a seemingly impossible to span space with a prettily marked arachnid sitting happily in the centre of it's masterpiece is one of nature's greatest feats. 

Spider silk is the strongest fibre known to man, and a couple of years ago, a project was completed by capturing orb spiders and harvesting their silk to be woven into fabric and if you click here it will direct you to a page on the V&A website where you can read a bit more and see some of that very fine and costly fabric that was made into a shawl.  I do not agree, personally, with such methods, but it is done now and it is a particularly magnificent cape, and fascinating too.

I love waking up to a gentle Autumn morning, when dew has drenched the land and sparkles as myriads of glistening diamonds, strewn carelessly and softly by some fairy hand in the night across the webs that drape the leaves and flowers of my garden.  Today, a heavy blanket of fog sits upon us, it is not warm for there is no sun, but this serves to make the webs even heavier with dew, and it does not burn off, so that in turn means lots of photographs of dew~laden webs and plants too.

Here are some of the many webs that covered the Garden~~No spiders, just webs, for the arachnaphobes amongst us! {that's me} and this time of year I walk about the garden using my eyes as much as my feet, for often webs are strung between the widest of gaps and the unsuspecting walker is snared in some very strong, almost invisible, strands! Shudders~~~

This is probably the most scary one, so let's get it out of the way first!  Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, the light glinted and gleamed from every sinister web that covers the rosemary bush~~

Delicate patterns strung across the rosemary in the front, and to the back is  a tightly woven meshy net~

Even a damaged web looks beautiful, capturing metalic looking dew, a s it sits,hanging above the drying seed heads of Alchemilla mollis~

An unusual shot of a web across the corner of a window pane and reflecting in the glass for a special effect~

Another fine, seemingly unstructured net of web ready to snare an unsuspecting insect for lunch~

One of my favourites, this one looks like a net cast across the sky, capturing the stars that shine at night~

Here I had one web in focus and the other one out of focus for effect~

and I did the same here, but I do like this one much better~I think it looks like fairy lights~

Shudders~~~this one makes me think of Shelob's web in which poor Frodo Baggins got ensnared~~~

I love the way it is the droplets of water shimmer here~

and in this one, you can hardly see the web for beads of shimmering dew~

Even a small space between some apples is room enough for a tiny web to be spun~

I am starting to feel now that I will be able to go back into the garden very soon, with care, to start catching up on all those jobs, overlooked for so long, and prepare the garden for winter yet to come. 

~~~A Gardener's Work Is Never Done~~~

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Autumn Harvest and Braised Red Cabbage

Gentle Reader~I am at that dangerous stage now, where my back is almost healed, and my fingers are a itchin' and a twitchin' to get out there and dig that soil!  I must be strong!  I must not sally forth with undue care into the garden to do these jobs before my back is ready, for I do not wish to pay the price of rushing.  The work will still be there when I am fully able.

I managed a turn around the lawn pushing the mower, last week, and that was enough.  Pruning is happening where I am able to do so without reaching and bending, and I am gathering seeds from all the many flowers of Summer, so I will have free seeds to sow and share for next Spring.  There is much joy in the harvesting of seeds to set aside for future displays.

I'd like to welcome the new followers to my blog~~Croeso! Welcome! Thank you for following and I do hope you enjoy reading my ramblings and photographs.

First, I must share some sad news.  My neighbour has desecrated the ivy and honeysuckle along my Pembrokeshire stone hedge.  I think he thought he was doing me a favour, but he did not tell me his exact plans and I came home one day to find the entire section hacked into non~existence by a machete.  As one friend pointed out~at least he waited until after the birds had finished nesting and the young have fledged!  Even my two Elder trees are matchwood.  Here are some of the disturbing images~and I know you will share my distress~

Two splintered stumps are all that remain of my magical Elder trees~

I have been told the Elders may recover.  I can only hope they do, for I prize and value the berries and flowers.  I know nature has a way of healing and recovering, and this damage will soon be restored, it is was such a shock to come home from a day out to this sight.  I grieve and am concerned, not only for the damage, but the removal of shelter, for many small birds fed and sheltered in the tumbled growth of ivy and honeysuckle.

Gentle Reader~shall we move on? 

The weather is changing, Autumn chills the air, and there are now many small birds in the garden, foraging for seeds and insects, and one of my new friends is this adorable juvenile robin.  Do you see how his red feathers aren't quite full, there is still a vestige of the downy new fledgling about him, but he is more adult than baby now.  I call him my Teenage Robin!

This week, I have seen woodpeckers, blue tits, chaffinch, goldfinch, sparrows, and many more.  I must settle down to getting some photographs, mustn't I?

The raspberries are fruiting again!  They did the exact same thing last year.  They flowered and fruited (and were greedily devoured) in the expected time frame, and then, two months later cropped again!  The only difference is that in both years the second crop, although much smaller in quantity, is producing much bigger, firmer, and flavoursome fruits.  They are altogether a far superior berry to the earlier crop produced~~how strange is this?  Here is a photograph to show you the quality fruits~

Don't they look good?  Luciously red and deliciously juicy jewels of plumptiousness!

Here is my recipe for Braised Red Cabbage.  I devised this vinegar~free recipe because my mother is unable to eat anything containing vinegar.  I hope you like it~~

1 head red cabbage
2 medium onions
750 ml good quality apple juice
Seasonings: salt, pepper, 1/4 teasp each cinnamon, clove, freshly ground nutmeg, juniper berries, 1 tablesp grainy mustard. {all seasonings can be adjusted to taste}

pre~heat oven to Gas Mark 3
Remove outer leaves of cabbage and slice as thinly as possible. I use the finest blade on my mandolin. Finely shred the peeled onions.
In a large, oven~proof lidded casserole layer the cabbage and onions, adding seasonings to ea
ch layer. Pour over the apple juice.
Slow cook in the oven for around 3 hours, until cabbage and onions are buttery soft.

This freezes very well and is great for people who cannot take vinegar. When reheating, I add a tablespoon of loganberry or redcurrant jelly {optional} which gives a lovely glaze if serving the dish to company. 

Three hours later, this is what you should be removing from the oven~a casserole dish full of ruby red delicious goodness~~

Of course, it would not be Autumn if the Dreaded Giant Marrow Courgette did not rear it's fearsome head, and here is the one for this year~

Not as big as some I know, but big enough!  Until next time~~~

~~~A Gardener's Work Is Never Done~~~

Sunday 1 September 2013

Autumn Pizza and Fruit Crumble

Gentle Reader~today, September 1st, marks the "official" start of Autumn, at least the Meteorological start of Autumn, according to The Met Office.  The other "official" start of Autumn is still a few weeks away, on the Autumnus Equinox, in the Northern Hemisphere, on September 21/22.  I am grabbing today as the Official Start, as I adore Autumn and plan to get the most out of it as I possibly can, for it is my most favourite time of the year. 

Hot chocolate supplies are now sitting happily at my Hot Drink Station in the kitchen {yes, I really do have this} and scarves, mittens, and woolly jumpers are getting an airing and freshening up after their long, Summer storage, for soon it will be cool enough to wear them.  Quilts and pillows will be washed, ready for use on those chilly evenings that are nigh, books and magazines are waiting to be read on the darker evenings ahead, and fragrant candles are scattered across the hearth~~

At the moment, daytime temperatures are sitting in the low 60's, but are slowly slipping into the high 50's already!  The winds are fresh, and leaves are preparing to turn colour.  Although my back is a good bit better, I am still unable to garden, so I am simply going to keep the blog going for the meantime with some images from my photographic library, some thoughts on Autumn, gardening and planning ahead, and I shall share a recipe or two. 

There will be many thoughts as I sound out my plans~which are certainly bound to change~on establishing the changes to the garden that make it easier to manage with arthritis in my spine.  This little episode has made me all too aware that changes must be made if I am to continue to garden without bringing in help~~not an option!

Here is a happy little banner I made to celebrate Autumn~~I now need to find somewhere to hang it!

Although the harvest from my garden has been small, I am regularly cropping courgettes {zucchini} now, and my favourite recipe for these is~

Fried Courgettes, Apples, Onions, and Sage

In a heavy pan {I use my cast iron skillet} heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil and saute, over a gentle heat, a peeled and roughly chopped onion {red, white, or yellow} with two medium courgettes, {washed} cut in 1/2" rounds.  When they start to colour a little {about 15 mins}, add two cored and chopped {skinned optional} tart eating apples and a chiffonade of fresh sage leaves {thyme is also good}.  Place a lid on the pan and continue to cook until the apples are soft and courgettes are browning.
Serve hot or cold, as a side dish or a salad with fresh, crusty bread

I am not good with quantities, but this recipe can be adjusted to personal preferences, and doubles up very well.

This plate shows the recipe, bottom right, with a garden salad of mixed leaves, parsley, fennel fronds, and nasturtium flowers~

Here are some variations and suggestions for this base:

Mix in a can of cooked chickpeas and some Zatar seasoning instead of the sage.  Serve with pitta bread and salad.
Use as a topping on a home made pizza base (see image below)
Serve with slabs of griddled Halloumi cheese (scrumptious) and crusty bread
Add a handful of sliced runner beans or broad beans at the same time as the apples.
Add some roast parsnips, stock or milk and seasonings and blitz into a soup.

Needless to say, this is one of my favourite things at this time of year as I grow almost everything in the garden, fresh food from Plot to Plate in minutes~~does food get any better than that?

There have been crumbles too~~blackberry, and blackberry and apple.  Such a simple thing, but few puddings bring more pleasure than a bowl of warm and juicy, fruity crumble with lashings of creamy custard~~

Fruit Crumble

Put 4 oz self raising flour  and 2 oz butter {or butter cooking spread} and 2 oz sugar in a mixing bowl.  Rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. 
In an oven proof dish, put about 2 cups of your chosen fruit, or combination of fruits, sweeten to taste with sugar or stevia, and gently press the crumble topping over.
Bake in a moderate oven {Gas Mark 5 or 6} until the topping is browned and the fruit is bubbling, juicy, and cooked.  This can be anything from 25 ~ 40 minutes depending on the fruit, you may wish to partially cook it first.

Serve hot, warm, or cold.  I like it best warm with either custard sauce or vanilla ice cream.

Some good choices for fruit are: Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Apples, Gooseberries, Rhubarb, Peaches {if you are lucky enough to have them}, Plums, Apricots, and Pears.  A lot of these make good combinations too, like Blackberry and Apple, but it is entirely up to you!  Add things like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cardamon, or any spices of your choice too~~no rules in my kitchen {except when you need to be exact!}  As you can tell, I am a bit of a hit and miss cook, I don't really do set recipes. 

Gentle Reader~do let me know if you try any of these recipes I'm sharing.  Please, share some of your own in the comments.  I'd love to know how you get on, or what suggestions you have for alternative toppings, maybe, for the fruit in the crumble ~~ Buon Appetit!

Finally, here is how the sky looked a few evenings ago over my little corner of The Shire~~fierce and stormy, though it was calm as can be!

~~~A Gardener's Work Is Never Done~~~