Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Ex-Box Topiary

When we bought our house, about eleven years ago, my Mum-n-Law bought us two very nice stone planters as a house-warming present.  We planted a conical Boxwood Topiary in each planter and they flanked the front step in a traditional Georgian manner for the past eleven years.  They were beautiful.

But in the past couple of years, things began to change.  The boxwood trees began to turn yellow.  This summer one planter actually began to STINK!  It was time to face the truth, our beautiful topiary trees were not long for this world.

At first I deluded myself, believing I could save them by removing them from the planters and pruning the roots.  But, try as I might, I couldn't budge the boxwood plants.  

And this photo shows you why!  This is beyond root bound, this is just ROOT! 
Even the stone lion laughed at my foolhardy ambitions to save these plants.

Well, there's only one thing we can do now.  We must start all over again from scratch.  

For a moment I thought I'd try something different in these planters, but our house just wouldn't look like home without two topiary boxwood trees to greet you at the front door. This time I might not plant directly into  the stone planters but use  lining pots.  I certainly will be more aggressive with the pruning! Some plants are just victims of their own success.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Today's Home Grown Bouquet

I missed Almost Wordless Wednesday again so this post will be a Frank Friday.   Here is today's home grown garden bouquet. 

The rose is an English Shrub Rose called PAT AUSTIN  and she is beautiful!

As you can see there are a couple of Oxeye Daisies, a yellow miniature rose and a few Geum flowers.

And the scent is amazing!  The Pat Austin Rose smells slightly of sliced cucumber, the fresh, clean smell of Summer.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Snail Bouquet

I've set myself a little gardening goal.  I want to have fresh flowers cut from our garden every day this summer.  I'm not talking about a massive floral display.  It may just be one blossom in a bud vase, but that will do just fine.

It was easy to fill a small vase with roses and daisies today.  June is the most bountiful month for flowers.

I was admiring the delicate yellow of this miniature rose when I thought I saw a petal move!

And here's why, a tiny baby snail was snuggled down in the heart of the rose.

He was so tiny and young he was transparent!  The only thing I could do was carry him and his flower bed outside and try to release him in a safe place.  He was a only a baby after all!

I tried several different plants but the baby snail wouldn't stay on them.  He kept crawling back onto my finger.   Finally he decided the pot of chives looked like a good place to hide.

He snuggled down next to the shell of an empty sunflower seed,  curled up inside his shell and went back to sleep.  

And I took my snail-free bouquet back into the house!  

Monday, 24 June 2013

'Tater Salad

For some reason I crave potato salad in the summertime.  In a weak moment I've been known to buy the ready made stuff from the supermarket.  You know,  the one in those little plastic containers made from unpeeled new potatoes and that mystery sauce.  What IS that stuff?  

I buy it, we eat a spoonful or two, then it spends a day or two being shifted around the fridge.  Finally, I throw it out and feel guilty for wasting food and contributing to global warming.  (plastic containers and transportation of mass produced potato salad...bad, very bad)

It's mad to buy the stuff when I already have everything I need to make potato salad.  It's more of an assembly job than a recipe.  You can put in almost anything you like; onion, hard boiled eggs, chopped pickles.  I am tempted to add some diced pickled beetroot but Andy would probably freak out at the sight of pink potato salad.

I don't even buy any special kind of potatoes.  I buy good all purpose potatoes in bulk and use the small ones.  Just make sure they are about the same size so they will be cooked at the same time.  Boil them for about 15 minutes or until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a sharp knife.  Drain off the cooking water and let the potatoes cool a bit so you can remove the skins.  

Slice the potatoes into bite size pieces and place them in a large mixing bowl.  Dice some onion, two or three hard boiled eggs and a few sweet pickles (if you like them) and add them to the potatoes.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and  black pepper.  I like the slightly sweet taste of Salad Cream so I use that for my dressing.  You can use mayonnaise if you prefer.   Add enough to moisten the potatoes and stir well to combine everything.   Have a little taste and adjust the seasoning.  Add a bit more of whatever you think is needed.

Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the potato salad for a couple of hours. Sometimes the potatoes will absorb the salad dressing and you will need to add a little more Salad Cream or mayonnaise.  Just before serving, I like to finely chop some chives and sprinkle them over the top of the salad to add a little colour.  Parsley would look pretty, too.   

One day I am going to add some pickled beetroot.  Who says potato salad can't be PINK!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Cappuccino Coffee Cake

While I was baking this cake I had a sort of flash back to my early childhood.  My Mom used to belong to a lot of different social clubs and these clubs would have coffee mornings to raise funds for different charitable activities.   Back then a coffee morning was called a 'Coffee Klatch'.

From the outside it looked like a lot of middle aged housewives eating cake and gossipping, but these ladies were a valuable asset to our little community.  One group raised enough money to furnish a local children's home.  Some of these organisations even had scholarships which provided funds for local University students. Many church building funds were subsidised via the Coffee Klatch.  It wasn't all cake and tittle-tattle.  

The charity Coffee Morning is popular once again.. perhaps it never went out of fashion and I was just too busy with my day job to know.  Anyway,  I think this recipe would be the perfect cake to serve at a Coffee Klatch or just for elevenses with a friend.  Here's my recipe for Cappuccino Coffee Cake:

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.   Grease an 18 cm round pan and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper.  I had one of those handy paper cake liners so I just used that.  

Ingredients for the Cake:

125 grams butter - room temperature
140 grams self-rising flour
125 grams caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs - room temperature
75 ml plain natural yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
50 ml strong coffee made with 1 Tablespoon instant coffee granules

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder.  Add the butter, sugar, eggs, yogurt, vanilla and HALF of the coffee to the mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until all of the ingredients are combined and lump-free.  

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, spreading it evenly to the edges of the tin.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until a skewer poked in the middle of the cake comes out clean.  

While the cake is still hot, brush the remaining coffee over the top of the cake.  Cool the cake completely before frosting with Cream Cheese Icing.  

Here's a basic CREAM CHEESE FROSTING RECIPE  that would be lovely on this cake or almost any other flavour of cake.   Dust a bit of cocoa powder over the icing, just like a real cappuccino, and you are ready to cut fat slices and serve!

Store any left over cake in an airtight container in the fridge.  I think I am going to have another slice now!


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Nigella's Custard Creams

Back in March I showed you how to make JO WHEATLEY'S CUSTARD CREAMS. It was such a popular recipe that it made me curious about other Custard Cream recipes.

It didn't take much research to find Nigella Lawson's Custard Creams recipe.  Well, you have to test these things out.   It's all in the name of science and to find the BEST possible Custard Cream recipe.

Are you ready to do some research?  Here's Nigella's recipe:

For the Biscuits

175 grams plain flour
3 Tablespoons custard powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
50 grams butter
50 grams vegetable shortening
3 Tablespoons caster sugar
1 egg
1 Tablespoon milk

You can blitz the ingredients in a food processor or do it the old fashioned way.  Cream the butter, vegetable shortening and sugar together.  Beat in the egg.  Sift the dry ingredients together and add them to the creamed mixture, stirring until all the flour has been incorporated.  If the dough seems to dry, add the milk and mix well.

Wrap the biscuit dough in plastic wrap and chill for about 20 minutes.  Heat the oven to 180C/350C.  

When the dough is chilled, dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough to about 4mm thick.  Use a cookie cutter dipped in flour to cut the biscuits.  Nigella used a heart shape cutter so I did too.

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Leave some space between each biscuit. They expand as they bake. Bake for about 10-12 minutes.  The biscuits should be firm but not brown.  Cool the biscuits on a wire rack before filling with Custard Cream. 

Beat together the following ingredients to make the Custard Cream Filling:

1 Tablespoon custard powder
100 grams icing sugar
50 grams butter
1 teaspoon boiling water

Make a cookie sandwich by filling two biscuits with a spoonful of Custard Cream.  Gently squish the biscuits together to distribute the filling.

Now here comes the science bit, the taste test and analysis.  I really like Nigella's Custard Creams.  But you will have to conduct the Custard Creams Experiment come to your own conclusions.  

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Roses Only

Here are a few photos of the different roses blooming in the garden today, complete with black spot and bugs.  You have to be tough to survive in our garden.  

This one looks like the pink icing roses on a birthday cake. 

White spot, this is what happens when you don't have a clue how to grow roses.

The buds of this tiny rose are the colour of a ripe cantaloupe melon.

Lemon is the only word that comes to mind.

This rose was in the garden when be bought the house.  I didn't know it was there until we chopped down a huge, horrible shrub.  

This is my favourite rose of all.   It's just stuffed with petals and the most wonderful aroma.  Best of all there are more to come!

Horrible Histories Song - Transportation!

It's time for another wonderful Horrible Histories song.  This time it's all about the history of transportation.  Innovations came like 'GREASED LIGHTING'! 

Click on this LINK to see the TRANSPORTATION VIDEO.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Sewing Basket, A Charity Shopping Bargain

I love baskets and I love a bargain!  So when I saw this brand new basket in the local charity shop I was in there like a shot.  The little basket had it's original manufacturer's tag and a second little price tag, it said £2.

Only £2, I had to buy it but what would I do with it?  It seems wrong to purchase it and not have a use for it.  But it was so cute!

I was about to put the basket back on the shelf when an idea popped into my head.   SEWING BASKET!   I need a sewing basket, this would be perfect.

As you can see, I am not a great seamstress.  The truth is my sewing these days is limited to replacing buttons and mending an occasional hem but everyone needs a few sewing supplies.

I was always fascinated by my Granny's sewing supplies.  She was a professional seamstress when she was young.   Granny had a collection of the most wonderful 'notions'.  Her button box was like a treasure chest filled with bits and pieces taken from 1920's dresses.  Fabulous!

This little sewing basket holds a tiny bit of treasure too.  These are my Granny's thimbles.  They are priceless to me!  Maybe should start a button box.  Every family should have a tiny treasure chest.  

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Peanut Butter Brownies

Don't ask me why, but we have three jars of different kinds of peanut butter in the cupboard.  One smooth for me, one chunky for Andy and one I bought for baking cookies.  Now we are down to two jars!

I've used one to bake these, Peanut Butter Brownies!

Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons butter - melted
2/3 cup peanut butter - you can use smooth or chunky
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup soft brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  Line a square baking tin with baking paper or just butter the bottom and sides of the pan.  

In a mixing bowl, beat together the melted butter and peanut butter until the mixture is smooth. 

Add the brown and white sugar, eggs and vanilla, stirring until they are well combined. 

Sift together the salt, flour and baking powder.  Add the dry mixture and stir just until all the ingredients are just combined.

 Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it out to the corners of the tin.  Bake for 30 -35 minutes or until the center is set and the brownies are cooked through.   

Remove the brownies from the pan and let them cool before cutting into servings. Who am I kidding, we were eating these warm!

If you love peanut butter be sure to visit this site: PEANUT BUTTER LOVERS.COM

Have a peanut butter brownie while I tidy up this mess!