Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Nocturnal Garden Party

Our American nieces are budding Zoologists, fascinated with all sorts of animals.  On one shopping trip I offered to buy them each a cuddly toy.  I thought they would choose a teddy bear, bunny or other 'cute' animal.  They choose a stuffed fish each, one was a trout!   I knew then and there we weren't dealing with ordinary little girls!  The words 'natural habitat' entered their vocabularies very early in their development - astonishing!  So, you will see lots of animal photos here because the girls love them and we do too.

Not long ago, Jessica asked what kind of animals visited our garden so I'd like to take this opportunity to show a few of the lovely creatures with whom we share our garden.  Most of them are nocturnal so we seldom see them but if you know what to look for you can tell when they have been visiting.

In a previous post, I introduced our hedgehog, Mrs. Tiggie-Winkle.  She is very helpful in the garden, eating the slugs and snails that would ruin the plants.  I don't see her very often but I know when she has visited.  She leaves, how do we put this delicately, 'calling cards'.

The fox usually stays in the allotments and we watch him making his rounds early in the mornings and around sunset.  I have seen him stand on his hind legs and delicately eat raspberries off the bushes. Sometimes we hear him at night.  Foxes have a very distinctive cry.  He is very handsome. 

Badger is rarely seen.  He only comes out at night and is very secretive. He loves the peanuts we feed the birds.  He has excavated a large opening under our fence which is an 'animal highway' used by all the animals.... including our little Dust Bunny!

There are lots of little voles and mice that come into the garden to collect the sunflower seeds that have fallen out of the bird feeders.  They scurry about, taking the seeds back to their homes.  They must be very cautious and quick or the little black cat might catch them!  

It's lovely to think they have the garden to enjoy when we are asleep.... sort of like a nocturnal garden party!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Toffee Apple Cake

It's picnic time!  What can we pack for dessert that will be easy to transport and easy to eat?   This is no time for squidgy frosting but I still want cake!   I think this Toffee Apple Cake might just be perfect.  

This is one thick, moist layer of  apple cake, spiced with cinnamon and topped with buttery toffee frosting.  It's delicious and sturdy enough to stand up to a picnic. 

Here is what you will need to make it:

 6 fl. oz of vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup white sugar
2 apples- any kind will work
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F/ 180 degrees C.  Line a 9 inch round spring form pan with a paper cake case or grease and flour the pan.

Cut two medium size apples into quarters and remove the cores.  Slice the quarters into fine pieces and set aside while you make the batter.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the oil, sugar, vanilla and eggs together until they are a pale yellow.   In another bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together to combine them.   Beat the dry ingredients gradually into the wet mixture. 

Using a wooden spoon, stir the apple pieces into the batter.  When the apples are evenly dispersed, pour the batter into the lined cake pan.

Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Remove cake from the pan and cool on a wire rack. 

You can stop here.... this cake is delicious plain, without any frosting.  But a plain cake isn't a Toffee Apple Cake.   Here is how to make the frosting:

1/4 cup soft brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon milk

In a small sauce pan, stir together the brown sugar, butter and milk and cook over a  medium heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly for one minute.  Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool for several minutes then stir in:

1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Stir until the frosting is smooth and thick. Spread over the top of the cooled apple cake.  Store the cake in an airtight container, like an old fashioned tin.  Just the thing for a picnic!

Unexpected Garden Visitor

I have an odd habit, actually I have LOTS of odd habits, but this particular one is taking my cup of early morning breakfast tea and strolling around the garden to see how my plants and seedlings are doing. Since this activity takes place VERY early in the morning,  I usually have the garden to myself or have a little black cat for company at most.  Today I was surprised by this......

By surprised I mean screeching,, tossing tea all over myself  and terrifying an innocent pheasant! 

The pheasant's immediate reaction was to panic and flutter into the side of the house.  Now what do I do!?!

Run inside and grab the camera!   I know, it sounds hard-hearted but by now the pheasant was much calmer and obviously unhurt.  He graciously posed for a few photographs before flying up over the rooftop and into the allotments. 

It's amazing how close we are to nature's wild creatures and we don't even know they are there.  

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Weekend Brunch - Kedgeree

This recipe was inspired by Khichri , an Indian dish made of rice and lentils.  The original dish can be traced back to 1340 but Kedgeree was an invention of the British Colonials returning from India in Victorian times.  It is usually served for breakfast and makes a great main course for a weekend brunch.

To make Kedgeree you will need:

300 grams of long grain or basmati rice
2 onions diced
400 grams (more or less) smoked haddock or smoked mackerel
2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon curry powder
2 eggs
lemon juice- optional

Cook the rice according to the package instructions.  Hard boil the eggs for about 10 minutes, a bit longer if you don't like the yolks soft.  Flake the fish into bite size pieces.

Put the oil in a hot frying pan and saute the chopped onion until it soft,  add the curry powder and cook for 1 minute.  Add the rice, lemon juice and flaked fish.   Cook until warmed through.  Check for seasoning, you may want to add more curry powder, salt or pepper. 

Peel and quarter the hard boiled eggs.  Place the eggs on top of the hot Kedgeree and serve!  

Tasty Terriers

It's pretty obvious we have a sweet tooth at our house, so when we saw these tasty terriers we HAD to buy them!

Sweet is the only way to describe them, both in looks and taste.

I can't decide if he looks like Snowy from Tintin ......

Or if he looks like Hamish!

Either way, these shortbread puppies won't last long! 

When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.   John B. Bogart

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Kitchen Doohickeys, Widgets* and Gizmos

I've been cooking for a LONG time..... well, maybe I wasn't that young when I started but I couldn't reach the kitchen counter!  Fortunately I had a very handy, little, red, wooden chair on which to stand.  Maybe that was my first kitchen gadget!

So... I think I know a thing or two about kitchenware and the superfluous machinery sold to home cooks.  The reality is, you don't need much to make great food!   We all know the basic requirements for a well stocked kitchen; pots, pans, bowls, wooden spoons, etc, etc, etc.   I want to show you a few of my favourite kitchen gadgets.  You don't have to use them but they make cooking easier and  more fun!

You can never have too many measuring spoons and cups.  I especially like these big spoon shaped measuring cups.  You can use them as measuring spoons for  baking, reaching into deep containers and as portion control serving spoons.  They are just the thing for making waffles and pancakes evenly sized.  Saves on washing up, too.  Measure, mix and serve all on one spoon!

Speaking of spoons, I always have a supply of plastic baby feeding spoons.  The long handled ones are great for getting into spice jars with skinny necks.  They hold about a teaspoon so you can use them for measuring, if you aren't too fussy.  The ones in the jug, I use for making tea and coffee.  They won't damage the glaze on the inside of your mugs if you stir your tea too vigorously. 

Super scoops!  Make cookies, muffins and cupcakes with a spring-loaded scoop and you will NEVER go back to dropping batter with a spoon!  I paid an arm and a leg for the little one and I ADORE using it.  (Ok, maybe I exaggerated a bit about the price)

Old fashioned enamelware, cook in it, serve in it, eat from it and you have an instant country kitchen.  Rustic dishes demand enamelware.  Everything looks more tasty when served from an enamelware dish.  I have great affection for enamelware saucepans.  I remember them from my Mom's kitchen when I was very young.  The best part is they are almost indestructible and inexpensive to buy. 

I just bought this silicone covered whisk and it has been a brilliant purchase.  Just as metal spoons will mark your cups, metal whisks will ruin the inside of your stoneware mixing bowls.  With this whisk you can beat away and not leave a mark. 

The pastry brush is also made of silicone.  I have always worried about what was living in my old pastry brush.  I never felt as if I could get it clean enough.  The silicone pastry brush is easy to clean but it isn't pretty.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice form for function. 

Speaking of not pretty,  wearing Onion Goggles won't make you look very attractive but they are great for keeping your mascara from running down your cheeks when dicing the stinky little alliums.  My mum-in-law, Maggie, gave me these for of the best gifts a cook could receive!

There you have it, a little tour of my kitchen utensil drawer.  If you have any handy gadgets, widgets or doohickeys, I'd love to hear about them.  Comments and emails are always welcome. 

*A Widget is a baby gremlin.   Just looked it up .... blimey, I didn't know that!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

You say Po-TAY-toe and I say Po-TAH-toe........

I just realised that in the post for Sweet Potato Fries, that I called the fries 'chips' and the chips 'fries'.  This may leave some people confused on both sides of the Atlantic.  It's the Trans-Atlantic problem with speaking English.

'England and America are two countries divided by a common language.'  George Bernard Shaw

It is calculated that there are over 400 words that have different meanings in American-English from the same words spoken in the Queen's English.  No wonder we don't always communicate as well as we would like.

That doesn't take into account the difference in spellings!   I bet some of you in the United States think I don't know how to spell properly.  Well, I don't, but I know how to use spell check.  If you type COLOR into a British document and do spell check it will change the spelling to COLOUR.   It goes on and on....FAVORITE becomes FAVOURITE.  And the use of Z or ZED, as the British call it, will have you ripping out chunks of hair!  

For fun, let's make a short list of confusing words.  I'll arrange them like the countries appear on a map, American words on the left ----British words on the right.  Already I am confused! 

BANGS (as in hair on forehead) - FRINGE
MUG (as in mug of tea) - BEAKER
CRACKER - BISCUIT (has two meanings in the UK...AUGH!)
HOOD ( of a car) - BONNET
TRUNK (of a car) - BOOT
SUSPENDERS (for holding up pants) - BRACES
FRIES (french fries) - CHIPS
CHAPS (those things cowboys wear) - MEN OR BOYS (sort of like guys in the US)

Ok, that's enough!  You get the idea.  Then there are the Imperial measurements used in the US and the Metric Measurements used in the UK.  But I can't cope with that at the moment.  Right now, I need a beaker of tea and a lie down in a dark room until my head stops spinning! 

Sweet Potato Fries

Looking for something different and healthy for supper?  Why not try some sweet potato fries?

Yams or sweet potatoes are full of nutrients and flavour. The Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value.   I think you can call them a SUPER FOOD. 

I like them because they taste good.  I usually  bake them and top them with a bit of butter.  But they are lovely cut into thick battons and oven fried.  It's easy...all you have to do is:

Peel and slice a big sweet potato into pieces that look like fat French Fries or 'Chips'

Heat the oven to 200 degree /400 degrees F

Pour 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil into an iron skillet or a roasting pan and place it in the oven to get hot.  Don't let it get to the smoking stage....just hot!

Spread the sweet potato fries in an even layer in the hot oil and put into the oven to cook.   After about 10 minutes, turn the sweet potato chips over to brown them on all sides.   Cook for about 10 minutes more then check to see if they have browned slightly and are soft when you pierce them with a knife. 

 Sprinkle over a bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper before serving. Slightly sweet, a little salty and full of nutrients, too!  Yum!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Otterton Mill, Making Flour Since 1068

I bake almost all of our bread; some by hand, some by using our bread machine.  Today is a bread machine day.  I can load it and leave it and in about four hours you have hot, great smelling bread!   Good stuff!

All this bread baking requires flour...LOTS of flour.   Let's take a trip to Otterton Mill and buy some flour.

There has been a working watermill in Otterton at least since  Norman times.  The earliest record of a mill at Otterton dates to the Doomsday Book in 1068.

Today, Otterton Mill grinds local, organic grains into flour just as it did all those centuries ago.  You can take a bread baking course, have a meal or a cup of tea and a slice of cake in their cafe, visit the shop full of art, crafts and gifts, purchase Otterton bread and other local foods and take a walk along the river which turns the ancient water wheel.  

Oh.... you can also buy FLOUR!

Read more about all the events and activities at Otterton Mill by clicking on this link.  It's well worth a visit.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

It's World Baking Day Today!

Of all the recently conceived 'special days', this might be my favourite!  I don't usually need an excuse to bake.  I love baking and eating.   I am not a mother or a secretary. I don't fit into any of the other categories that merit a  special section in the greeting card shop, therefore, I proclaim 'World Baking Day' my official holiday! 

To celebrate lets bake another British classic - Victoria Sponge!  It is said that this was Queen Victoria's favourite teatime treat.

The REAL way to make a Victoria Sponge is to weigh your eggs in their shells and then add the same weight of flour, sugar and butter.  Let's make things a bit easier by using the the following recipe by Mary Berry.

Grease and line the bottom of two round cake pans, pre-heat the oven to 180degrees C or 350 degrees F.

For a 7 inch cake  you will need:

3 large eggs
6 oz. butter or margarine
6 oz. caster sugar (white sugar)
6 oz. self-rising flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
strawberry or raspberry jam

If you want to make a larger sponge you will need:

4 large eggs
8 oz. butter or margarine
8 oz. sugar
8 oz. self-rising flour
2 level teaspoons baking powder
strawberry or raspberry jam

This cake is made by the 'all in one' method so it takes hardly any time to make.
Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter, sugar, flour and baking powder.  Beat until all the ingredients are blended together.  Do not over beat or you will activate the gluten in the flour and make the cake tough.

Divide the batter between the two cake pans. Smooth the batter evenly out to the edges of the pans.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched and is a pale golden colour.

Remove the cakes from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.  When completely cooled, place one cake on a serving plate - top side down, flat side up.  Spread several tablespoons of jam over the cake and top with the second cake.  (Flat sides touching).  Dust with icing sugar and serve with a pot of tea! 

That's the traditional way of making a Victoria Sponge but I like mine to have a sweet filling between the two cakes.  If you are feeling rebellious, use this super-light frosting to sandwich your Victoria Sponge together.  This recipe generously fills the 7 inch sponge cakes.  You may want to double it if you want LOTS of fluffy filling.

In a small sauce pan cook together, stirring constantly, until thick:

2 Tablespoons regular flour
1/2 cup milk

When the thick mixture is totally cool beat in:

4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoon vegetable shortening
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 
Beat until the frosting is very light and fluffy. 

You can substitute this for the jam or go mad and use both jam and frosting!   It's not the traditional Victoria Sponge that Queen Victoria loved but World Baking Day is my official holiday!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Prince Charles' Sustainable Garden Party

I bet you can't guess who owns this vegetable patch!  There's a hint in the title of this post.   Yes, it is Prince Charles' personal patch  in London!  In 2010, Prince Charles opened his garden at Clarence House to launch Start .  (Everyone was invited!)  We couldn't miss an opportunity to attend a Royal Garden Party so Andy and I went to see how the other half live. 

It appears they live very nicely, thank you, but with sustainability in mind. The garden at Clarence House was transformed into a showcase of eco-friendly mini-gardens.  Each design featured recycled materials and water saving techniques that could be utilised in any size garden..... even mine!

But it's not just about gardening. Start is a charitable initiative set up HRH The Prince of Wales in 2010, with a mission to inspire people to start living more sustainably.

 "Our goal is to work collaboratively to create a mainstream movement  of people who 'do more with less'."
Here are just a few of the brilliant garden designs created from recycled and reclaimed items:

Mis-matched wellies and an old chest become a raised planter.  Wonder what happened to the other Wellies?

This garden featured a vertical hydroponic system made with old plastic bottles! 

Recycled car parts were fashioned into this scary sea monster.

 More vertical planting to maximise space.  These plants were in old ice cream tubs and recycled soda cans attached to plywood.

For more information and ideas for  more sustainable living, visit  If we all do a little it will help A LOT!

Thank you, Prince Charles, for letting us visit your garden.  A jolly old time was had by all!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Amazing Diamond Jubilee Cakes!

No celebration is complete without a fancy cake.  Here are some of the fantastic cake creations made especially for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  Be prepared to be amazed!