Wednesday 30 July 2014

Dragons, Butterflies, and more cake ideas ~~~

Gentle Reader ~ it has been warm and humidly hot at times in the Garden this week so I have been doing very little other than necessary tasks such as watering and harvesting.  It has been too hot for it to be comfortable outside when working up a sweat ~~~ so I have spent time in my craft room this week ~~~ today is much cooler though so I have been outside preparing an area ready to receive the two butternut squash plants in a week or two ~~~

Meanwhile, the tiny Swiss Chard plantlets already show signs of the beautiful jewel~like colours that will brighten the garden in Autumn and maybe even in to Winter ~ I am looking forward to eating the stems, cooked, and served in a homemade four cheese sauce~oh! yummy ~~~

I do not know, but I think Swiss Chard is of the same family as beetroot because the seeds looked very similar, little gnarly things, and now they are growing they look very like the beets that are in another area ~~~

The tomato harvest, although small is delicious, and every two days there are enough to add to my salad bowl.  They are fresh and taste properly of tomatoes ~ I love how my hands have that tomatoey smell on them when I am picking them from the vines.

Mother Nature provides the best camouflage ~~~ the plot is jumping with grasshoppers, it has been like this for weeks when hundreds of tiny grasshoppers appeared all over the garden.  Now, there are not as many {for there are hungry birds and other predators in the garden} but they are much bigger and they provide the backing music to the buzzy bumble bees busily harvesting pollen ~~~ you don't see the grasshoppers, you hear them, until, that is, they leap from their hiding place because they think you got too close ~~~ then off they leap in a bound and away ~~~

Perfect camouflage, don't you think?  Can you see the Grasshopper?

There it is! If not for that tiny flash of orangey brown, it would be very hard to spot indeed ~~~

The courgettes are harvesting well now and I have them for my supper most evenings.  It is important to pick them regularly or they will stop producing fruit.  Did you know that the courgette plant produces male and female flowers?  This is a male courgette flower ~~~

and this is a female one ~~~

which bears the fruits ~~~

while the male just sits there looking pretty ~ however, for the overall benefit of the plant, and to aid in production of more female, fruit bearing flowers, it is a good idea to remove the male flowers as soon as possible ~~~

The garden is absolutely alive with dragonflies ~ naturally, I am thrilled, for I counted as many as fifteen whizzing around, darting hither and thither and then I gave up trying because there are just too many of them to try to count as they flit about at such a speed ~~~ did you know that one of the folk lore names for them is the Devil's Darning Needle?  I think we can all see why!  It was the answer to one of the questions on a television quiz show earlier in the week {I do love quiz shows!} ~~~

I love this shot and am quite chuffed with it.  Other than re-sizing for posting purposes it is unedited and is exactly how it came out of the sd card, not cropped in any way ~~~

It sat for a while ~ as do we with our tea and cakes ~ so I zoomed out to get this one too ~~~

at a jaunty angle it sits ~~~

It looks very 'knowing' don't you think? ~~~

Butterflies have appeared more slowly this year ~ I wonder if it was the very wet winter? ~~~ the Gatekeeper, here, is one of my favourites and often accompanies me around the berry patch ~~~

The wing looks like brushed suede or velvet ~~~

Such a pretty marked creature ~~~

Busy Buzzy Bees make me happy ~ all sorts of bees but especially big, fuzzy wuzzy Bumble Bees ~~ Bee~utiful! My name is Hebrew for bee ~ and my spirit soars when I wander off into the garden and hear them buzzing as they go busily about their business of gathering pollen and fertilising all the plants, flower, fruit, and vegetables in the garden ~ there I could stay all day listening, eyes closed driftin' and dreamin', or eyes wide open watching them ~ a hive of industry ~ have you ever stopped and listened ~ I mean *really* listened to their music? It is as varied as any symphony you will hear, for each bee sings their own sweet song ~~~

For those of you who read my previous entry, where I baked cake, here is a little update for you.  I have now made the cake three more times and really like putting the fruit in the bottom of the pan and pouring the batter over the fruit, like an upside~down cake.  I also added a generous teaspoon of powdered ginger to the flour and made the lemon syrup as shown on the recipe page to make a yummy lemon and ginger cake.   The parish vicar was here this afternoon and he is a big fan of my Rose Geranium plant.  He was very disappointed to see it wasn't in his favourite spot by the front door {where he bruises the leaves to release the heady fragrance} I had to tell him it is currently in the process of being cut back and re~potted.  I suddenly remembered seeing a recipe where the leaves of the rose, or lemon, scented geraniums are used to line cake pans before pouring in the batter and baking so that they impart the most heavenly fragrance to the baked cake.  So, no prize for guessing what I'm baking tomorrow!  I shall let you know how it turns out.  

The soft fruit picking is nearly at an end now, so maybe I will have more time to browse the Spring Bulb catalogues as very soon the time will be upon us for planting all the bulbs that make the garden so pretty in Spring ~~~ in the meantime, remember ~~~

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

Monday 28 July 2014

The Garden Raspberry Cake ~~~

Gentle Reader ~~~ today I have been playing with my food ~ well tweaking a recipe I found in a charming, out of print book that I recently secured from a second hand book shop ~~~

While the bees buzzed busily about their business gathering pollen from the foxgloves in the garden ~~~ 

I went about my own business in the kitchen ~~~ and after the heat of the last few days there was welcome respite with a much cooler day today so I didn't mind turning on the oven ~~~

I am sure you want to know all about the book, so here it is ~~~ oh! and I came across it by way of the blog of Rachel, owner of Sugar Moon Brownies who wrote two lovely blogs recently about her baking history and her incredible cook books ~ in one of these entries she mentioned this book ~ "Through The Kitchen Window" by Susan Hill ~ it is one of the most delightful books I have come across in recent times ~~~ 

It offers us a glimpse into the world of the kitchen through the year, and is full of evocative, seasonal tidbits and recipes and remedies, beautifully written by Susan Hill and sweetly illustrated by Angela Barrett ~~~ I think if you love Susan Branch you will enjoy this little gem too ~~~

As I turned the pages, each one full of its own special magic, my eye came to rest on something very near to my heart ~ a Lemon Cake!  I make Lemon Cake in some shape or form quite often, a top favourite is my Crunchy Top Lemon Cake from my favourite cook, Mary Berry's "Baking Bible" so I was intrigued to see this recipe which differs substantially from the one I usually use.  Here is the page with the recipe and a sweet illustration of a cake baking while the cook looks on in eager anticipation ~~~

I have never made a cake where the butter is melted, nor have I made one where the sugar is split.  The recipe I use most often has a separate list for the topping, so I was duty bound to try this out!

I gathered my ingredients and equipment and greased and lined my cake pan ~~~ and I had to guess at a 'moderate oven' so I turned the gas on to Gas Mark 4 ~~~

I still work in Imperial, and have a very old fashioned balance scales that I've owned for over thirty years.  The Hornsea Pottery "Saffron" pattern sugar jar belongs to my mother and we have several pieces ~ she has Saffron and I have Fleur {which you will see later}  The glass lemon juicer is a reproduction of a vintage one and I like it so much better than the cheap plastic ones you can buy today.

So, I weight out my ingredients and followed the recipe carefully, making some notes to myself for later ~~~

I melted the butter and added it to the sugar in my glass mixing bowl and carefully blended the two together ~~~

allowing the mixture to cool slightly before adding the beaten egg {to avoid cooking the egg and making the mixture into scrambled egg} ~~~ 

Next, I added the flour, which I sifted in and added a scant teaspoon of baking powder to aid in the raising of the cake ~~~

and I folded it in.  It looked very messy and lumpy and I got a tiny bit worried ~~~

but the lumps soon disappeared and I was left with a very unfamiliar sight when making cakes ~ a very loose batter almost like a thick pancake batter {so that gave me an idea} ~~~

Now, the best laid plans, as they say, of mice and men ~~~ and with just a few minutes of baking time left my lovely cousin arrived on the doorstep and I managed to let the oven door slip ~ it shut too quickly and my cake sank in the middle ~~~ but, never fear ~ as the photograph shows, it sank rather evenly so I planned to turn it into a flan filled with fresh fruit and whipped cream ~~~ except my cousin took a fancy to it and I sent her home with half the cake for her tea!  The cake never received the crunchy topping!

Here is my half of the cake sitting on my Hornsea Pottery "Fleur" pattern plate ~~~

The texture is quite good, despite the mishap, and it tastes just fine with only two ounces of sugar, so it will not waste ~~~

So, as soon as my cousin left, clutching her freshly baked treat, I made another version.  This time, having seen how the batter turned out, I omitted the lemon rind {see recipe} and instead of using two ounces of sugar in the batter and reserving two ounces for the crunchy topping I put three ounces into the cake batter instead.  Then, when I poured it into the prepared cake pan, I sprinkled a generous handful of fresh raspberries over the top and popped it in the oven like that {for around 25 minutes} ~~~ and out it came like this ~~~ in case you were wondering, the texture of the batter made me think of Clafoutis, which is one of my favourite desserts ~~~

It has sunk a tad but I'm not too worried about that ~~~

To turn it out, I tipped it onto a plate and flipped it over, then I turned the plate over with the cooling rack underneath ~~~

and voila! ~~~ one turned out raspberry topped cake! ~~~ I have to say I'm quite chuffed over this little adaptation of mine ~~~

While it was still warm I cut a wedge and had it quite plain so I could judge it properly without the distraction of cream, custard, or ice cream ~ all of which would be very yummy with this invention ~~~

It was very tasty indeed and I will make it again ~~~ the extra sugar made the top and edges sort of chewy ~ I knew I'd done something a little different from the original one and I really liked it!  I'm looking forward to a piece for my morning break with a mug of coffee tomorrow now!

So, Gentle Reader, there you have my little experiment!  Next time I think I might put the berries in the bottom of the pan and pour the batter over them instead ~~~ but I am so happy that I now have another way to use up the harvest of raspberries from the garden ~~~

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

Sunday 20 July 2014

Shooting Dragons in The Garden ~~

Gentle Reader ~~~ After this morning, I cannot resist another entry today, for I have been shooting dragons across The Shire {as any Hobbit worth his, or her, bacon would do}

I do hope you won't miss the blog entry, yesterday, and you can find it here just in case you did ~~~

Back to the dragons ~~~ of course, they are not real dragons but dragonflies ~ well, just the one who decided to visit the gnarly old tops of the blackcurrant bush before it gets pruned back later this week ~~~ imagine my surprise to find one flitting about as I went on my usual morning check over the Garden and thanking providence that I'd taken my camera with me, for a short nip back to the cottage and I might well have missed the moment ~~~

He {or she} sat there for ages, so I got a few tidy images from different angles, and he {or she} had the good manners to, not only sit still for a few minutes, but to be perfectly angled against the grey sky so I got some good shots from underneath {I stepped down the drive which is slightly lower than the soft fruit patch so I was able to look up at him {or her!} silhouetted against the {thankfully not bright} greyness ~~~ so, without further ado, here are the photographs I took this morning ~~~ oh, and don't forget to take a peek at yesterday's blog, will you?

All photographs are not edited or cropped, other than resizing for uploading purposes and adding copyright information.  The bottom one is a composite, stitched together from two images.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Fairies in the Garden ~~~ When Life Gives You Raindrops ~~~

Gentle Reader ~~~ I cannot believe that it is over a week since I posted!  By now, I have picked so many boxes of soft fruit I am starting to feel like a berry!  The first batch of Raspberry Jam was made here and boxes are now stacking up in the deep freeze, full of more raspberries, blackcurrants, and gooseberries.  I hope the courgettes crop as well as the soft fruit has done!  Oh, and there are still many more raspberries and blackcurrants to pick again!  At this time of year I feel like a soft fruit picking and processing machine ~ I also know, from the arduous job of topping and tailing why companies such as Ribena make only juice drinks!

Have you ever picked raspberries?  Did you notice how, as soon as you think you have picked the last one, you turn around and there are more?  They have a quaint knack of hiding themselves, to pop out and say "Boo! ~ You missed me!" ~~~ I have learned much about raspberries this summer and there is much to do so things will be more productive and easier to manage next summer!

I have picked the first tomatoes ~~ and eaten them ~~ with two more picks since.  I must go and tie up the stems too, for they have slipped a little and the branches are sagging, laden with fruits ~~

They are growing up against a south facing wall, in a Gro~bag and coming along very well, I think!

Here is a little update on other things growing and coming along ~~~ do you remember I said the Butternut Squash had found themselves on the menu for slugs, along with the runner beans?  Well, sad to say, the runner beans will not recover now, but I have managed to save two of the four lovely Butternut squash seedlings and they, so far, are recovering.  I will take photographs when they are looking better again!

The courgette plants are growing steadily, although two are eaten almost completely away by slugs, another is recovering, two are doing quite well, and two are taking off!  Such a difference in seven plants all sown and planted out together!   Here are the two strongest and most healthy ~~~ and I think you will agree that they are quite sturdy plants indeed ~~~

The carrot experiment continues in the bin ~~~ I have sown more seed in the gaps ~~~ a full conclusion will only be reached, though, once harvest is made ~~~ for only then will I know if the carrot fly failed and my plan worked ~~~

Here are just a few of the tiny seedlings of Swiss Chard that germinated ~~~ very soon they will need thinning and weeding too!  The twigs are there to protect the seedlings from birds and cats ~~~
I am looking forward to Swiss Chard in a cheese sauce this winter! ~~~ oh! and the seeds were well past their 'sow before' date by about four years or more ~~~ I always say the old, folklore adage of "one year's seeds is seven years weeds" holds true for vegetable seeds too! 

The weather has not been brilliant ~ lots of thundery showers, sticky and humid ~ you know the sort ~ and with the wind too, some of the flowers are going over more rapidly than usual.  However, always one to be on the lookout for something to snare with my lens, I took these ~~ they are my Fairies in the Garden photographs!  I hope you like them, I think they are quite fun ~~~ take a close look, see if you can guess what they are and I will tell you later on ~~ Remember ~~~ when life gives you raindrops ~~~ take photographs! ~~~

As well as Fairies, we have fairy clothing, or gloves for foxes!  They say foxgloves are so called because foxes wear them to soften the sound of their padding paws, but I rather fancy them as little hats for tiny fairies dancing in the pale moon light as it casts silvery shadows across the lawn ~~~ there are volumes of folk lore attached to these beautiful, elegant spikes that line our hedgerows and paint our gardens ~~~ freely seeding, I have never been without foxgloves in my garden ~~~

I love the green caps that hold the glove to the stem ~~~

I love how close the gloves are to each other ~~~

~~~ and I love the spots inside and the tiny hairs that point the way for bees to gather honey ~~~

For those of you who are fans of Tasha Tudor {as am I, she is a particular heroine of mine} you may know that she had much of this in her garden ~~~ Rose Bay Willow Herb or Fireweed ~~~ and I have much of it too!

I am pleased to say that the Evening Primrose is still seeding around my garden, and I found some growing on the old stone hedge ~~~

I took this for reference, because I love how the colours and textures all work together ~ well, I think they do ~ I love the frothy white oregano flowers, the purple lavender spikes, and the bright acid yellow of the oregano leaves {Alchemilla Mollis would work well in this group also} It is important, when planning, to keep a record of things you like, things that work well together, and, very importantly ~~~ things that thrive in your soil and situation ~~~

I love this purple Clematis bloom, softly moistened with early morning dew ~~~

I have dead headed pots and tubs of flowers on so many evenings this past week ~~~ an arduous task but must be done ~~~ put your portable radio on with some good music and switch your mind off from the job ~~ then set to work with your tiny snips removing all the spent blooms before they set seed ~~~ for soon you will be rewarded with more flowers and fragrance ~~~ the trick is to fool the plant into thinking it still needs to make seed ~~~ it will make more flowers if the already fertilised flowers are taken away ~~~

Here is the view from my cottage, across the early morning fields, bathed in a swaddling mist of night ~~~

Here is the same angle, with those fields in the distance, showing the Elizabeth roses that bloom in profusion outside my window ~~~ what a sight to wake up to each Summer's morn ~~~

Am I blessed, or am I blessed?  I am very blessed indeed, and I give thanks for this each day when I look out across The Shire ~~~

Did you guess what those Fairy photographs were of yet?  Well, here they were just a few days before ~ the seed heads of a tiny Willow Herb that I captured as it broke open ~~~ quite feathery looking with that row of black seeds just waiting for the right moment to fling themselves into the wind ~~~

Unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong day!  They sprung forth from their spring~loaded pods straight into a nearby spider web and then it rained!  I just happened to notice the fluffy, dew~covered web and put my camera to work immediately!  Seren~dipity~do~dah!  ~~~

Then, the sun came out again and left them high and dry ~~~ still trapped, forever, in a spider's web of doom! {shudders} See how different it looks ~ yet you can see exactly what it is too ~~~

Finally, here is a little hover fly drinking nectar from a purple Verbena Bonariensis ~~~ a nectar rich plant which does well in the Garden, seeding everywhere, standing up to the winds as it bends on whippy, elegantly long stems, providing colour, structure, and nectar for the butterflies and bees ~~~

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