Tuesday 28 October 2014

Introducing Emily ~~~

Gentle Reader ~~~ The weather is dreadful.  We shall not talk about it.  I have not been out in the garden for sometime, between the strong winds and gales, the rain, and my bad back I am letting the weeds grow and do their worst!  I could not mow the lawn during September for I could not push the mower and now the grass is long and wet, quite unsuitable for cutting, and looks so untidy and unkempt, but the birds and wildlife love it and are happy, so I am happy {as long as I don't look too hard at it all} ~~~

However, I am barely able to contain myself with great excitement ~~~ can you hear me sqeeeeealing with delight?  Long have I dreamed of owning a Kitchenaid stand mixer ~~~ by long, I mean over thirty years from the time I was a waitress and saw Chef using a Kitchenaid daily in the restaurant kitchen ~~~ I wanted one so badly that it hurt ~ I would go in to work early just to watch Chef use the Kitchenaid.  Oh, I had it bad ~~~

I dreamed in glorious technicolour dreams ~~~ then, one day I was given an Oster food center.  Now, don't get me wrong, I loved it, I used it daily, but it wasn't a Kitchenaid.  For over 20 years it served me well, but a few months back the arm that held the beaters cracked and it started to smell hot, that sort of burning rubber smell that does not bode well, and so my trusty servant of two decades left the building.  

I bought a hand mixer but after years of having a machine do the work for me, and with arthritis in my hands, it was not the easiest thing to hold and press buttons simultaneously while beating and whisking cakes.
The dough hooks that came with it were as useless for kneading bread dough as a chocolate fireguard ~~~ so I plodded on, but my heart returned to my dream machine ~~~

My birthday approached and I was asked what I would like ~~~ half joking I said "A Kitchenaid" ~~~ imagine my pure delight when that is exactly what I received for my birthday!  So, Gentle Readers ~ my dear friends ~ allow me to introduce Emily ~ yes, I have named my Kitchenaid ~ this is Emily ~~~ isn't she lovely? She looks as if she has always been here, in this very spot ~~~ perfectly at home ~~~

This is Emily in action, less than fifteen minutes after arriving in the cottage {it does not take long to open a box and quickly wash something to use for the first time} ~~~ making a whipped butter cream to fill a chocolate cake ~~~

Well, I could wax lyrical, but I shall try not to be the doting, overly proud owner of a Kitchenaid, so I will move on ~~~ 

Here is some useful information for any baker.  From time to time I am sure we have all had eggs in the house that are fast approaching their best before dates but we do not want to waste them if they are still usable in cooking and baking, but how can you tell if an egg is still fresh enough?  Well, here is a simple trick, and it really, really works!

How to test an egg for freshness ~~~ fill a deep jug or bowl with room temperature water and lower your eggs in.  Depending on what happens next tells you how fresh your eggs really are ~~~

~~~If they sink and lie on their side then they are perfectly fresh.
~~~If they sink and lie slightly at an upward angle, they are a few days old and still good.
~~~If they sink but are more upright in angle, then they are not quite as fresh, but still perfectly good and these are fine for baking.
~~~If, however, your egg does not sink but floats in the water, then it is stale and should be discarded.

It is all about the science and air content inside the egg ~ the more air, the less fresh the egg is, and the more upright it stands in the water and eventually a stale egg, which has a lot of air inside, floats. Simple!

This one was slightly raised and ended up in a chocolate cake ~~~

Here is a recipe for Bara Brith ~~~ This is a traditional Welsh fruit tea bread which is absolutely delicious and keeps quite well ~~~ I did this by hand as Emily had not arrived and does not require a lot of fast beating to incorporate air, more of a gentle stirring to bring the ingredients together.

Ingredients ~~~
6 oz currants {I used dried cranberries this time}

6 oz sultanas
8 oz soft brown sugar
10 fl oz hot strong black tea 
10 oz self raising flour
1 large egg, beaten

I also added 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves, {which are not traditional, but I like the flavour}

Make the tea. {I used Whittard of Chelsea's Spice Imperial leaf tea, but you can use any black tea you like, it is fine to try different tea to see which one you like best.  I plan to use Guinness in a future recipe as I am experimenting with flavours at the moment}

Put the dried fruit and sugar in a mixing bowl and pour over the strained hot tea. Leave to soak overnight, or for at least eight hours.  

When the fruit and liquid have soaked and you are ready to add the rest of the ingredients, grease and line a 2lb loaf pan and light your oven to Gas Mark 2 or 150*C and adjust your shelf to just below the middle of the oven.

Sift in the flour {spice if using} and the beaten egg ~~~

Bring the mixture together but do not beat ~~~

Pour into the prepared tin and level off ~~~

Bake for about 90 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted comes out clean {I also like to listen to see if the cake is still 'singing' ~ a very good method to determine if a cake is cooked ~ if it is still singing it needs a few moments longer}

Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out on to a cooling rack and cool thoroughly before storing.  Bara Brith keeps well and improves in flavour after a few days ~ if you can keep from eating it fresh, that is ~~~

Mine had a little bit of sinking because I accidentally let go of the oven door when checking on it, but it didn't spoil the cake other than a slight dip in the middle ~~~

Turned upside down and you wouldn't even know!

I think it is best cut in slices about 1cm thick and spread with real butter ~~~ 

It is so easy I do hope you will give it a try.

Delicious served with a cup of hot tea and brings a little salve to my aching heart when I sit and look at the overgrown garden remembering that ~~~

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

Monday 20 October 2014

The Mysterious Nerines

Gentle Reader ~~~ I have been absent for some days.  Nearly a fortnight ago we had a rare and intense electrical storm pass over our area and a lightning bolt apparently hit something in our local telephone exchange and somehow fried all the BT HomeHubs across the village.  Oddly, other service providers were not affected!  

For nine days I spent hours on hold, and eventually my connection was restored. Had they listened to me I would have been back after only two days, but as it was they didn't listen and so I remained off line for all that time.  I learned how much I have come to rely on the internet, and that is a tale for another day ~~~

Apparently, it was quite a stormy night and while my friends and neighbours tossed and turned, some pulling the bedclothes over their heads in fright, I slept throughout the night as lightning thrashed and thunder clashed across the night sky ~~~

Here is a tale of mystery and intrigue, which is partly resolved and partly not ~~~

A long time ago, the gentleman who lived in the old farmhouse across the way told my mother that she could help herself to bulbs of the beautiful, multi~headed and intoxicatingly fragrant narcissus that flowered in his borders ~~~ time passed and my mother didn't like to go into the garden, despite being given permission, and eventually the old man died and the house was sold on.  The narcissus remained and bloomed every year in the Spring and each year my mother regretted not going to dig up some bulbs while she had the opportunity.

Many years passed, and a succession of owners came and went ~~~ then, four years ago the offer was made again by the then owners. Not being that shy, and with permission, I went along with my spade and carefully dug up a dozen or so of the precious bulbs and brought them home.  I didn't have a spot prepared, so I put them in a large terracotta pot and promptly forgot all about them!

The following spring, the pot was full of the healthiest, strongest leaves but not a single bloom was seen.  Time passed, and the same thing happened the following year, and again the year after that! What was happening?  I could not understand it, and thought that maybe they took time to settle in after being dug up, or maybe they didn't like being in a pot.  So, I made plans to get them out of the pot and in the ground this very Autumn.  

Now, as you know, my back is suffering quite a bit at present, so this task slipped from my mind ~ then, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that there were some green spikes emerging from the pot, and there were the start of tiny flower buds in clusters on the top of these spikes.  What could this be?  Surely they had not decided to produce flowers at the end of the year and without leaves?

I waited, with curiosity ever growing as the flower buds grew bigger and bigger and began showing slight tinges of pink! Certainly not what I was expecting to see and so the mystery deepened ~~~ what were these strange flower spikes?

Then, one day, the mystery was partly solved ~~~ the buds burst and showed their secret ~~~ beautiful, bright, pink Nerine bowdenii!!! Imagine my total surprise!  Here is the first one to open and reveal the secret ~~~

More followed to open, and more again each passing day ~~~ so now there are a total of four ~ each with a cluster of the elegant frilly trumpets ~~~

Aren't they just so beautiful?  I have always loved Nerines and wanted them in my garden for some time but have always managed to spend the gardening budget on other things ~~~ but now I have them, and for free!  Those are the best kind of plants ~~~

They are opening more delicate trumpets each day, and soon will be transplanted to the ground where I hope they will multiply {for they are good spreading plants} to give a striking display of colour to the Autumn borders year after year ~~~ now that I know they are Nerines, the flowering spikes are correctly called 'scapes' and the leaves will follow and I will closely observe them, for I am certain that these are bonus bulbs accidentally gathered at the same time as the failed Narcissus, yet there are no Nerines in that garden in that particular spot.  Only time will tell now! Curiouser and curiouser ~~~

So, the mystery, however, is only partly solved ~~~ how did I managed to dig up and bring home the dozen bulbs of narcissus that have not yet flowered, and now four years later Nerines are growing in the very pot where the narcissus give leaf but no bloom in the Spring?  Watch this space ~~~ remembering that ~~~

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

Sunday 5 October 2014

Fall in to Autumn~the Last of the Harvest ~~~

Gentle Reader ~~~ the days of Autumn are now well and truly upon us and we are preparing for the first storm in just a few short hours.  The forecast is for severe gale force winds, torrential rain, and later in the week thunderstorms may add their presence to the mix.  I have scurried around the garden as best as I can to quickly bring under cover all those things that will not stand up to wildly windy weather; bins and things that could blow over and away are now safely stowed in the garage.  The hatches are as battened as I can make them, but I am never fully ready for the bad weather.  

I know you know that Autumn is my favourite season of all, and I love it best for the cosy warm feeling I get decorating, sipping mugs of hot cocoa, the lengthening shadows, bonfires, bringing in the harvest, walks in the countryside, stomping through crisply crunchy leaves, and so much more ~ I don't mind the gales and rain either, although they do curtail our outdoor activities ~ what you do not know is that I do miss, deeply, in my little corner of the world, the rich colours of trees turning to gold before shedding their summer coats ~ for the winds rolling in across the Atlantic wreck their havoc before the trees have turned, and leaves, dry and burned from weeks of drought and salt laden breezes, tumble from the trees, dried brown long before the yellows, oranges, and reds take their turn ~~~ so I live this vicariously through the images of others on places such as my Pinterest boards of Autumn landscapespumpkins, and other Blissful Autumn themed images ~~~

Here is a lonely leaf, falling free from the tree ~~~

As each day passes into the next, I check the vegetable garden thinking each day will be the last before Spring when there will be a gift to bring inside ~~~ well, those days go on and on ~~~ each day I found something more to harvest ~ for everything is a bonus at this time of year ~~~

I was delighted to find a small pick of tomatoes, a small treat of raspberries, a fair few courgettes and a plentyful bowlful of cooking apples ~~~

The courgettes are bigger than I like, why, one is a 'dreaded marrow courgette' that escapes detection until the very last, and although not as delicious as the tender, younger, smaller fruits it will not waste for it can be stuffed with lentils and a served in a home made tomato sauce ~~~

Then again, a few days later ~ there were more ~~~

Courgettes, the very last of the carrots, and some delightfully red eating apples ~~~

The courgettes gave so generously ~ right up until yesterday! So, I have been busy putting up yet more stores for the winter ~~~ isn't it wonderful?

Then, just yesterday, when I thought all was safely gathered in, and with the warnings of imminent severe gales {why, I can hear the winds beginning to gather momentum outside my cottage as I type ~ believe me, they have not been missed} I picked the last few very small courgettes that will not ripen now, and cleared the stems and leaves of the plants to put in the compost bin, I found these ~ a big fistful of tiny baby beets that had escaped earlier detection as they hid and sheltered underneath the big leaves of the courgettes ~ so there was a delightful bonus on the last day of the Autumn harvest! ~~~

While out and about on the byways and back roads of the Shire there are blackberries on brambles, berrilicious goodness ~~~

Pies, cordials, jams and jellies, blackberry wine ~~~
Just look at all those colours ~~~

Hawthorn berries, fiddly to eat and with a big stone and little flesh, although delicious, I leave for the birds and mice ~~~

Aren't they beautiful, how they just hang so invitingly ~~~

The stream is running dry, but after this weekend the water level will rise substantially and all the trout will be happy again ~~~

I think I found a Faerie House ~~~ 

I waited, but no one was home ~ or came to call ~~~

As ever, sunsets are a special and spectacular gift and this one was no different except that I put a filter on {and now forget which one, so cannot tell you}

Here is a link to the church yard that my Great Grandfather used to have to cut by hand ~ this is only a small part, and my mother tells me he did it all with a scythe ~~~ can you imagine that?

It was a gently grey and dampening day, you can hear the rainfall pitter pattering on the leaves and the birdsong that is omni~present in The Shire ~~~ so calming and restorative ~~~ before the walk back up that hill!

A little advance news to end on ~ I am thinking to plant onion sets this month and see if I can crop an early harvest next Spring ~ something I have never done before ~ but more on this later ~~~ in the meantime, Gentle Reader, remember that ~~~

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